Blog News

1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

2. There are now several extra pages - Poetry Index, Travel, Education, Childish Things - accessible at the top of the page. They index entires before October 2013.

3. I will, in the next few weeks, be adding new pages with other indexes.

Thursday, 31 July 2008

More strange people.

This morning, strolling down to the school after breakfast, I was accosted by an elderly lady with the kind of upper crust voice that can shatter glass. Think of Penelope Keith in To The Manor Born, but a bit more strident. She saw my identity badge and asked me if I were a teacher. When I told that I was she said,
“I have just spoken to one of the boys…”
My heart sank as I wondered what hideous transgression he had committed.
“…I said good morning and he didn’t reply.”
I don’t know if my bafflement was obvious. It didn’t seem such a crime to me, but she was continuing,
“… so I asked him if they no longer teach good manners at Harrow, but he still didn’t answer me.”
There was a sudden glimmer of light as I realised that she hadn’t distinguished between the regular term-time “Harrow Boys” and the overseas summer students. I explained to her that it was entirely possible that the boy had little or no English and hadn’t understood her greeting. She seemed unconvinced.
“I have never known such a fall in standards,” she said, “Why, some time ago I was walking on the hill, near to the small tea room – do you know it? – when I saw a boy playing with himself. He stood there in the street with his hand inside his trousers holding his dick. I’ve never known such a thing.”

Before I could compose an answer to this decidedly unexpected piece of information she had gone on her way, up the steps and towards the street, doubtless off in search of further impropriety.

I on the other hand continued down the hill to search for someone to tell about this odd encounter. Some stories are just too good to keep to yourself.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

It's hard work, honest.

There are some who believe that teaching is easy and that summer school teaching is even easier. There are even some who suggest that it can hardly be called work at all. I'd like to stamp out these vile calumnies here and now. Summer school isn't one endless round of parties, socialising and getting drunk. It's one endless round of finding resources, preparing and delivering lessons and working until we drop.
And I can prove it.

So there.

And shortly after posting that, I thought of this. Can't think why.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

The fleeting nature of fame

It seems that Andrew (see previous entry) has been going around telling everyone that someone has blogged about him and giving a link to this blog. I look forward to the temporary increase in traffic. Please feel free to stick around and read the rest of it.
His sole complaint is that I have tagged it as "strange characters". Sorry.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

The Buying And Selling of Saints

The Buying And Selling Of Saints

A wooden carving of Saint Mickey Mouse
raises a three-fingered hand
in unauthorised benediction
at the centre of the stall.
Other, more conventional, saints
gather at his red boots
acknowledging their lesser status
in the modern world.
Welcome to Santuranticuy,
the buying and selling of saints.
Statues and portraits,
nativities and crucifixions,
silver and gold,
plaster and plastic,
fill the stalls that fill the streets
until there is almost no room
for the people.
I sail through the sound;
I steer a course from voice to voice;
I circumnavigate the cacophony
and reach the safe harbour
of a first floor bar
where I can sit in the window
playing backgammon with a friend

and watching the Christmas crowds.

I like to think that I'm a reasonably amiable sort of a guy. Mostly I get along with people. Of course, like anybody else, I can get irritated or angry at times but on the whole I'm fairly placid. Also like anybody else there are some people I don't like and, it goes without saying, some who don't like me. Usually though I know why.

Sometimes I don't.

That was the problem in Cuzco. After months of travelling with a group where everyone got along just fine, there had been a new group. For reasons I couldn't fathom at the time – and still can't to this day – I had become something of a social pariah, ostracised by a substantial section of the group. My travelling companion for the last six months, Manu, had found himself in the same situation. We were about as popular as dead slug flavoured crisps.

I had been seriously considering leaving the trip and travelling on alone. Before I committed to such a final action though there was a chance to get a break from things – the Inca Trail. Manu, as far as I knew, had never had any intention of doing it and, while I had, it hardly mattered as I had hiked it a few years earlier.

Both of us decided to stay in Cuzco, while the others went off to do it. We would take the train in a few days and rejoin them at Aguas Calientes, near Machu Picchu.

It was no special hardship. Cuzco is really lovely. We had arrived at the perfect time to see it at its best – the day before Christmas Eve. Our hotel was a short walk down one of the streets leading off the main square – Plaza de Armas. The square was filled with a lively colourful Christmas market. This was Santuranticuy, "the selling of saints". There were all sorts of colourful stalls there. Most were selling plaster representations of various religious scenes. There were saints and nativities and staues of the baby Jesus. Many had figures of a child with a thorn in its foot that the stall holders said represented a child who had preached from village to village in the mountains. (Others claimed it to be the Infant Jesus.)

Those weren't the only stalls though. Others had more secular items for sale – jewellery, alpaca sweaters, Incas versus Spaniards chess sets, pottery, statues of Mickey Mouse. From early morning until way past midnight the square was so filled with people that crossing its two hundred yards could take half an hour or more.

On Christmas day the market had gone but it was no less crowded as thousands crowded the cathedral steps and the square to hear the Christmas service. Many of them were carrying the plaster saints and icons that they had bought at the market. I'm not a religious man, quite the opposite in fact, but it was a fascinating and colourful spectacle. The Latin words of the priests and the songs of the choir were amplified first of all electronically and then by the natural acoustics until they merged into an unintelligible echoing rhythm.

By boxing day everything was once again deserted. With both the crowds and my unfriendly travelling companions gone I felt almost alone in the city. I strolled down the eerily deserted street to the square in the early morning, accompanied only by a couple of stray llamas, and sat eating a breakfast served by a waiter whose obvious hangover made him very slow indeed. It didn't matter. I was feeling more relaxed than I had for weeks. I had nowhere to go and no time that I had to be there. I could just sit in the bright morning sun and do nothing. When breakfast was finally finished I went for a long walk around the city and marvelled again at how pretty it all was. I felt a new sense of optimism. I hoped that it would survive rejoining the group but for now, for the next few days, until it was time to take the train out to Aguas Calientes, I could just wander around the streets and alleys check out the galleries and museums, visit the Cathedral and churches, pass time in the bars and restaurants and generally take the time to be happy.

Random Gibberish


• noun a tendency to be extremely talkative.
(Compact Oxford English Dictionary)

I don’t know whether or not my trips, every summer, to Harrow to teach English should be included as “travel”. They involve getting away from all my usual places and meeting up with other people – some familiar, some new – so they certainly have something in common with travel.
That’s actually one of the great highs, and great lows, of travel – the people you meet.
Over the years of moving around I have certainly met some… shall we say “interesting”… characters. There was the bullfight-loving bar manager Captain Ron in Quito, the stoned-out-of-his head felucca owner Captain Jamaica who took me down the Nile (and why are so many of these people captains?).
There was Murray, the security guard in the Chicago Art Institute, who insisted on following me round giving me his thoughts on all the pieces in the modern art section. There was the lady (whose name escapes me) at Wolfsong in Anchorage who explained at length about how wolves are much misunderstood animals, and the owner of a guest house in the same city who has filled it with literally tens of thousands of teddy bears.

And here in Harrow, there is Andrew, who insisted that I should write a blog entry about him*. Now, I’d like you to spare a thought for poor Andrew for he is one of the afflicted. He suffers from the terrible condition of logorrhoea. He cannot stop talking. That in itself would be less of a problem if not for the nature of the random gibberish ( • noun unintelligible or meaningless speech or writing; nonsense. Ibid.) that forms the backbone of his conversation. Take dinner yesterday. He had eaten most of it but left some peas which he had spread out on his plate. Looking at his own plate, and the plates of his fellow diners inspired in him a surreal flight of fancy in which they were all planets, his – if I recall – being a society divided and at war, mine being a garbage planet and others being variously a society living on the edge of the ocean, a barren and desolate wasteland and a jungle planet which caught fire as the diner in question dropped a screwed up napkin on top of it that reminded Andrew of smoke.
All of these thoughts and themes were lovingly developed and shared with us.
It didn’t get much better later in the pub where the conversation was so utterly random (not to mention being devoid of actual content) that it’s hard to recall with any accuracy now, next morning, though I do recall his previous pub pronouncements that "pigeon hole" is not a very good description because you can't get a pigeon into one so he was going to call them "information holes" from now on.)
As I left him he was off in search of a time machine to return me to my native second century. (I find it’s best to go with the flow and join in with the bizarre world that fills his head but by then I was a little confused and had forgotten whether my time machine was a blue telephone box or a silver De Lorean. He did keep suggesting that I should try the red telephone box at the top of the hill)

So, as I said spare a thought for this poor afflicted soul and his logorrhoea, and while you are at it spare a thought for me. I think I’m developing logophobia.
*There you go, Andrew, how's that?

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Some facts aren't.

On my visit to London Today I bought a couple of cheap animated Batman DVDs. Inside one of them was a postcard-sized advert warning me against DVD piracy. Now I don't support or condone piracy but something struck me about this bit of propaganda. It states boldly "90%* of all pre-release pirate DVDs are filmed from the back of a cinema with a camcorder". Now leaving aside the question how they can possibly know this, there is the question of that little asterisk by the quoted figure. At the bottom of the page it says. *Source:FACT: The federation against copyright theft.

Who produced this document? Glad you asked. The Federation Against Copyright Theft, of course. So they quote a doubtful figure and then cite themselves as the source. I've long been annoyed by the pointless and misleading adverts that used to appear at the start of videos and now appear in an unskippable form at the start of many DVDs (and get shown before movies in cinemas), but this method of quoting statistics is sheer duplicity. You can take my word for it, a massive 94.6% of people agree with me.*

*Source Bob Hale Invented-On-The-Spot Statistics Limited.

Maybe when I win the lottery. (wistful sigh)

There is one edition of Alice in Wonderland that I would love, above all others, to own – the Salvador Dali Illustrated edition. I have seen it on the internet and am familiar with all the pictures in it but as there were only 2000 ever produced I never expected to even see one.
Today I made one of my occasional visits to “The Children’s Bookshop” which is off Charing Cross Road. Whenever I’m in London, I pop in and spend half an hour or so looking at things that I can’t possibly justify buying, sigh and go about my business. Today though, the window display stopped me dead. Spread out in all its glory filling the whole window was the Dali edition. I looked at a lot of books inside (ranging from £25 to over £250 but somehow my heart wasn’t in it. So I went back outside to look at the window again. And then back inside to find out (for curiosity’s sake only) how much it would cost. It turned out to be an absolute steal at £4,500. I don’t expect it will be there long at that price.
If anyone is looking for a present for me I can pass on the address of the shop.
At least I can now say that I have seen a copy. Bloody marvellous it was too.
(You can find copies of the illustrations by scrolling down here.)

Sunday, 20 July 2008

A curious sense of time not passing

As I’ve mentioned before, I used to have another blog that died from lack of attention. One of the entries that I put on it was about a Mensa* party that I went to that turned out to be uncannily similar to the same party the year before. I titled the entry “A curious sense of time not passing”.
The sharper-eyed among you will notice that this entry shares the title. In fact it applies even more aptly to how I spend my summers than it did to the party.
When I first passed my CELTA – literally on the day the course ended – I was immediately offered a summer school post at Harrow. The result was that I found myself, only one day later, standing up for the first time to teach in earnest and facing a class of mixed nationality teenagers who were expecting to have a professional teacher in front of them. After all, it’s what their parents had paid for. Somehow I muddled through and I must have done a decent job because I was asked if I’d like to come back the following year.
I’m in my eighth year here now and each time I return I’m seized by that same sense of time not passing. I see many of the same faces in the staff room, similar (and in some cases identical) faces in the classroom, the same faces in administration, on the activities staff, in the dining room and around and about on the hill.
By and large I get the same level classes and teach similar lessons in similar ways. I make the same conversation with the same people and go at the same times to the same pubs. This year I even have the same room with the same curtains, the same square of torn poster too high on the wall to remove and the same inexplicable red marks on the ceiling.
Time not passing, indeed.

Right now on the radio there is the mournful and melancholic Lord of the Rings theme that so perfectly evokes the towering grandeur of the mountains, the immense open sky, the bone-deep ancient knowledge that the world is vast and that you are too tiny to even be noticed.
But I am in a room in Harrow, a student’s room with a bed, a chair, a wardrobe, a desk and a shelf and the world doesn’t feel vast. It feels tiny – collapsed to this single point in time and space; into this sense of time not passing.

Strangely though it is accompanied by a simultaneous sense that time has passed. That great sections of my future have raced past me with the irresistible force and destructive effect of an avalanche. I had passed forty when I first came here. I’d already had one life as a computer programmer and systems analyst. Now I’ve passed fifty – but that isn’t time passing, it’s time passed; time gone; time vanished. And I find myself at a loss to work out what happened to it all because though eight years have clearly come and gone there is still only that sense, that curious sense, of time not passing.

*I'm not actually a member of Mensa, I was there as a guest of a friend who is.

Saturday, 19 July 2008


This time around, a pictures only (well more or less) blog. Whenever I travel I bring souvenirs home. Mostly they are recently made imitations of traditional crafts. They are almost always things I can hang on the wall, occasionally things to stand on the shelf and very occasional items that you can't really stand anywhere. Anyway here are a few of them.

Let's start off with a native American sand painting. I could have bought a dream catcher but this appealed to me rather more.

This evil looking set of knives was purchased in Malawi. It's actually a lot more flimsy than it looks.

Paintings on camel bone. Or so the man in the shop in Iran told me.

A bit of a cheat. This piece of decorative upholstery wasn't bought by me. It was bought for me as a present from a friend who lives in Singapore.

One of a number of African masks, or at least African looking masks. This one was actually purchased in Malaysia.

But this one was purchased in Africa - Malawi to be precise.

This dragon was smashed to pieces in the hold of the aeroplane on the way back from Thailand. I spent a long time restoring it and it now looks a lot better than it ever did when I bought it.

The table was from a roadside stall in Zambia, the metal pot from Tunisia. Note the cunning construction of the table legs. They have been carved from a single piece of wood and can be folded back together to see how it was done.

A present from Tunisia.

A painting on a feather from Costa Rica. I don't know if this is traditional or not but I saw it in a shop and thought it was great.

This painting comes from china. I watched the artist creating them so I know just how modern it is. I love it for the vibrant colours.

A rather marvellous painting that I paid a rather exhorbitant price for in Finland.

A couple of trinket baskets from Madagascar.

Carvings from Peru. They are actually carved from soft stone and, as the smell will attest, subsequently blackened with boot polish.

My favourite ever souvenir - an Iranian chess set. The picture doesn't really give you a good enough idea of how intricate the decoration really is.

A couple of "trick pots" from Peru again. Turned upside down you can fill them with water. Turned the right way up again no water falls out, but you can then pour the water from the spout.

And finally a picture of pressed flowers on paper bought, if memory serves, in Malawi.

That's it for now. I hope you enjoyed this brief respite from my writing to glance at a few souvenirs. Next time, back to the writing.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Doing well...

I've been considering literary adaptations. I don't mean adapting a book into a comic or a comic into a film or a film into a book or any of the other possible combinations of media. Nor do I mean translations from one language into another, though that, as with the other possibilities would also be an interesting area of discussion.
No, I mean adapting a book into another book in the same language – perhaps for a younger readership. In essence I'm talking about taking a published work and just rewriting it. Exactly the same story in new words.
You are puzzled. You are (unless you are John whose area of expertise it is) thinking, "what about copyright?" Well copyrights expire. Trust me, there are adapted versions of books out there.
Specifically I have been thinking about a recent addition to my Alice In Wonderland collection. I saw it in the bookshop. Recognised from the cover that it was a version I didn't own, skimmed through to check the illustrations and found that they were also not in my collection and handed over the paltry sum required to purchase it. What I didn't do, until I got home, was look at the text. Why should I? I can recite great chunks of it from memory. I've read the book hundreds of times.
So, there I was at home, book in hand, open at the first page and what did I see?
Well I didn't see this.

"Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, `and what is the use of a book,' thought Alice `without pictures or conversation?'
So she was considering in her own mind (as well as she could, for the hot day made her feel very sleepy and stupid), whether the pleasure of making a daisy-chain would be worth the trouble of getting up and picking the daisies, when suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her."

Instead, I saw this.

"Oh what a hot day it was. And what a most curious day it would turn out to be for young Alice. She and her sister had just finished a picnic by the pond in the meadow. They were sitting in the shade of a great oak tree.
Alice suddenly felt very sleepy. She yawned and wondered what to do next. She looked over to a grassy bank by the hedge. It was covered in daisies.
'I wonder,' she thought, lazily, "if the pleasure of making a daisy chain is worth all the effort of getting up and picking the daisies.'"

It was clear that this was an adaptation. A look at the cover revealed it to be "Alice In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll: a new adaptation by Archie Oliver." Illustrations were by Andrew Hopgood.

I'd like to just consider these two opening paragraphs, though the whole book is similarly adapted. Additionally I'll add two more opening versions from my extensive collection. The first is Carroll's own adaptation for young readers – The Nursery Alice.

"Once upon a time there was a little girl called Alice: and she had a very curious dream. Would you like to hear what she dreamed about?
Well, this was the first thing that happened. A White Rabbit came running by in a great hurry; and just as it passed Alice, it stopped, and took its watch out of its pocket."

The other one is a curiosity. It's from a book called Starshine Favourite Tales which is illustrated by Carlos Busquets but which credits neither the author who has adapted it nor Lewis Carroll anywhere in the volume.

"One beautiful, summer's day, Alice and her older sister, Anna, were spending the afternoon in the country. Anna was reading a book but Alice was beginning to feel bored when she suddenly saw a White Rabbit go racing by. He was a very strange sight, with his top hat and tails and his little briefcase."

What I find most curious about these versions, the Nursery Alice excluded, is not what they have left out in the adaptation but what they have added. The Archie Oliver version, for example, has added a tree (presumably by comparison with Disney rather than Carroll), added the fact that it's an oak, introduced a meadow and a picnic and specifically named the water as a pond when the original refers only to 'sitting on the bank'.

The unnamed one has, perhaps a little ironically, given a name to Alice's sister who is now 'Anna' and dressed the rabbit in a top hat and tails with a briefcase.

Now I can see from the language used that all of these alternate versions are meant for younger readers. The most complex of them, the Archie Oliver, still uses sentences that are shorter than the original and with a simpler structure. Clearly that's the purpose of the adaptation – to provide a book more accessible to younger readers. But 'The Nursery Alice' does the same thing without introducing any new elements, just by removing some of the existing ones. (It's also designed to be read out with lots of asides from the adult reader to the young child, but that's a different kind of adaptation.)

I can see the point of adapting. Really, I can. What I can't see the point of is adding all this extra detail. The original Alice is an acknowledged classic and, while there are certain elements of it that would be incomprehensible to a modern child, can be enjoyed still in its unamended form. The Archie Oliver one is tolerably well written with decent if unexceptional illustrations but what, actually, was the point? Why did it need to be rewritten? Should a version for younger/more modern readers be abridged? Perhaps. Should archaic references be removed or explained? Again, perhaps. Should the book be rewritten as from memory by someone who once saw the Disney version twenty years ago? Well, there's no reason why not, but also nothing, as far as I can see to be gained from the exercise, except perhaps the feeling by the adaptor that he has done something to earn his fee and perhaps a feeling that he has somehow stamped his own mark on it.

The Starlight version is more curious than I have lead you to believe. The opening paragraph is a model of sane abridgement compared to what follows. It introduces pirates and parrots (and parrots dressed as pirates). The tea party doesn't have a hatter and a hare and a dormouse, it has 'a strange group of characters' including an elephant (and, in the illustrations if not the text, a fox, a tortoise and a teddy bear). Alice is arrested for hitting the queen with a flamingo and sentenced to be thrown into a dungeon. And so on. Nothing at all to do with the book really. This isn't so much an adaptation as a random variation. And why? Certainly not for the fame as my researches have been unable to identify any author's name.

Anyway. My verdict on these versions is that they are strictly for collectors. That they are well done isn't in question but someone once said "there is nothing so useless as doing well something that should not be done at all" and that sums them up perfectly.
If you like the illustrations, by all means get the books but if you want a story to read to your kids, I'd go with the original or with Carroll's own Nursery Edition. They are classics for a reason.

Saturday, 12 July 2008


Note: This entry appeared previously on my old blog. Apologies if you are one of the three people that ever read it there but sometimes time constraints force a little recycling.

Before I begin I want to make one thing absolutely clear - some of my best friends are vegetarians ! I have absolutely nothing against them. I respect their beliefs and their lifestyle choices. I have eaten dinner at their houses and found it to be delicious. I do not in any way condone my fellow carnivores who bleat on about "rabbit food" and "nut cutlets" (the latter usually a reference to mental health rather than a recipe suggestion).
Vegetarians are perfectly nice, normal, decent people.
Let's face it though they can be a pain in the arse on a camping trip. I've camped everywhere from Alaska to Zambia, often in circumstances bearing too close a resemblance to "I'm a Celebrity-Get Me Out Of Here!". Occasionally we've been lucky and had no vegetarians in the group but more often there have been one or two. Now cooking for twelve people in camp conditions isn't especially taxing as the technique adopted by most people is to whack everything available into a pot and boil it death for a couple of hours. This of course doesn't work if you have vegetarians but it can be easily circumvented by using two pots.
Inevitably though there will be someone for whom this isn't good enough.

Many years ago I did a two week package tour in China with a large group - about thirty people - and it was all conducted in nice high class hotels with high quality restaurants. The trouble started at the airport when our Chinese guide informed us that vegetarians might find it a little troublesome because - in his words - "if it walks, crawls, swims or flies, we eat it."
There were dark mutterings.. We had arrived just in time for lunch in a local restaurant and it very quickly became apparent that our vegetarians were not happy. The vegetable soup contained chicken, the fried rice had small scraps of something unidentifiable as to species but definitely meat, dish after dish arrived with bits of things that had clearly once been squawking, bleating, mooing or in some cases barking. A cadre of about ten people formed and the only dish they would eat was plain boiled rice.
It was a pattern repeated over the next few days - I won't begin to repeat their remarks when we ate in the restaurant where the speciality was Peking Duck !
In Shanghai our local guide had got wind of the rising tide of gastronomic rebellion and took us to a restaurant where he arranged for a whole series of vegetable dishes to be produced. There were delicate soups, flavoured bean curd, flavoursome mixed dishes of hot peppers and bean sprouts - all sorts of things. It was delicious. I felt certain that this would please even our most militant vegetarians. Then I noticed one of them pushing it about on her plate with a fork.
"Has this" she queried loudly "been cooked in animal fat ?"
Nobody knew and when our guide asked the waiter he said he couldn't find out. She took this as oriental duplicity and flatly refused to eat anything. She would, she announced, be complaining to the holiday company. Her grumbling companions agreed.

It's happened all over the place. In Peru one of our party refused to eat for three days after being subjected to the hideous trauma of being forced to witness other people eating guinea pig. It spoiled her salad to be in the same room.
In Germany a diner in a hotel sent back her salad because it contained ham and then sent the replacement back because she suspected that they had just taken the ham off the old one and swapped it for cheese - the lettuce remaining contaminated.
In a Mongolian grill in San Francisco one man refused to eat food that had been cooked on a griddle that had previously had meat on it.

Camping is the worst though and when camping the ones who irritate me most are the part time vegetarians. These fall into two groups and it's tough to decide which is worse. Fist there are the ones who claim to be vegetarians unless they like the look of the meat option that you have cooked and then cheerfully tuck into that. Once while I was cooking a fry up I had a separate pan of fried vegetables and rice going on the other burner for the two people who had so far claimed to be vegetarians only to have both of them help themselves to sausages and ignore the food prepared for them. If there had been enough sausages to go around this wouldn't have been a problem but as there weren't it struck me as both inconsistent and extremely rude.
Then there are the ones who haven't been vegetarians at all but become so from pure squeamishness when confronted with certain foods - say chickens that are still basically chicken shaped rather than already processed and wrapped in film at the supermarket.
In Bam, in Iran, the cook team for the day had bought what they thought were frozen chicken portions. At lunch time as they took them from the ice box to thaw for the evening there was a penetrating shriek of
"Oh my god it's got a head !"
The "chicken portions" were whole quail complete with heads, wings and feet. None of the three people who were supposed to be cooking would go near them. A couple of us volunteered and chopped off the offending body parts but it was too late. They had already been seen, whole and intact. Nothing could persuade the cooks to return to the kitchen so we carried on and cooked them ourselves. Given that five people flatly refused to eat something that they had seen with its head attached, it gave the rest of us two each.
It was the same palaver - with the same people - as we worked our way through Pakistan and China. Whenever we had to buy chickens whole, especially if they had been running around in cages when we arrived, they refused food that they would gladly have eaten had it come in a polystyrene box from Tesco. Of course my insistence on giving our chickens names before they were killed probably didn't endear me to some people who thought that killing and cooking Annabelle, Lucinda and the gender-confused Tarquin was an act of monstrous cruelty.
Genuine and permanent vegetarians have my - admittedly rather baffled - respect and the ones who were vegetarians but suddenly change there mind when faced with sausages could just be considered lapsed but I find the squeamish variety nothing more than irritating.
Still I suppose they think the same about my mushroom allergy.

This weeks poem is a simple Limerick that I wrote many years ago when I was working with a vegetarian colleague who was rather partial to curries. The name has been changed.

John Robinson treated with scorn
Any food that had ever been born.
He would simply not eat
A dish made with meat
But sometimes stretched a point for a prawn. *

* Note for Americans. In UK English the words scorn/born/prawn all rhyme. I am aware that they don't in US English.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Iffleage Arties?

And now a post that not only combines something interesting about travel with something interesting about language but also manages to be a sequel to last week's post AND shows how poems can sometimes write themselves.

Intrigued? Pity, it's not as interesting as all that.

One of the things I quite like when I'm abroad is the odd, sometimes seemingly random, nature of the signage that is apparently intended to be in English. A particular favourite was in Nepal where a restaurant proudly, and perhaps appropriately, proclaimed "Try the real test of Tandoori!".

A rich source of such items can be found by examining the lists of hotel regulations that is usually taped inside the door of your room. In a hotel in Chang Rai I found a sign which is transcribed word for word, spelling for spelling and random gibberish for random gibberish, below.

Regulation to link the guest who come to stay

wellcome to Ian kum hotel quests are requested to co operate withthe hotel's directions here under

1. please deposite the valve belongings with our hotel safty box-

. we will not be responsible for any artesies lost or stolen ~ in the room

3. iffleage arties are not allowed in the room or within the premises of the hotel

4. any danger caused to thehotel property during the pestrol of stay shall be responsible by guests

5. gambling are prohibited in the room

6. please do not disturb your heighbours

7. check out time in 12 hours

thank you

By Order:Foreigness Mancegment

I think most people would agree that it has a kind of poetry about it already. When I read it I spent ages trying to puzzle out exactly what an "iffleage arty" might be, worried in case I might have inadvertently taken one into my room. I f not for rule six I might have asked the heighbours.

In spite of it's inherent poetry I decided to add a couple of items from a similar notice in another hotel and turn it into verse. And here is the result.

Regulations to link the guest who come to stay.

In order to tidy the sociality and safety - peace to the guest who come to stay also in sure to the way policy nation wided tourism

1. Before 12 O'lock
Tourist visiting of the quest
Must retrun hotel
This rule from policy, so we tell.

2. Must passport bring
To the reception or section
Of the reception
For registartion - no expection.

3. Please to deposit
Value items in receptionist
Guest house is not
Responsible for any item that is lot.

4. It is to bring prohibit
Any procession into room
That is ilegality
Includin all weapon (Unles in militry)

5. Diasllow to apply
Another betting or a dopes
In room or house
Result of guest to be expelled out

6. For getting out or in
Please remember every tim
Handing in of the key
Before leaving room to go out to be free

7. Checking out before
12 O'cloak is required
Before leave please inspected
All belongs, room to be detected.

8. Forbid to get all
Belonging in hotel room

To hotel or house of guest
When you checking out please to not test

9. Guest to meet first
At reception only place
Awseome to lead to room
Without staff permission so seeking soon

10. If anyone guest not
To perform in activity
With these hotel style
Full panalty of law to
put such guest on trial

By order

Immigration and foreigness mancegemant.

Perhaps not the greatest poem in the world, and certainly not in any way at all recitable but nevertheless my own small tribute to the unknown writer who had penned the original. Poetry like this is so easy that it almost writes itself.

But I still don't know what an "iffleage arty" is or why they were forbidden. If anyone can enlighten me, don't hesitate to do so.

Friday, 4 July 2008

What makes a perfect trip?

A quick anecdote, sadly not my own.

This week I saw my brother, freshly back from a trip to Borneo. He had been there with his wife and a friend and his wife. Everything, he assured me, had been absolutely perfect. The trip could not have gone better. Then he told me this story. With wives back at the lodge, he and his friend had gone exploring and they'd found a snake. It wasn't venomous but was sufficiently unusual to warrant a photograph session. The trouble was that it needed a more photogenic setting. They decided to capture it, take it home. photograph it and release it.

And that's what they tried to do. Unfortunately the snake had a different game plan which included sinking its fangs rather hard into my brother's friend's arm. And not letting go.

Together they prised the snake loose and let it go.

I was naturally very interested in this tale.

"That's your idea of 'nothing going wrong'." I said.

Without a moment's hesitation my brother's response was

"Well it didn't bite me, did it?"

It's very hard to argue with that kind of logic.