Thursday, March 19, 2015

Lookin' Out My Back Door



Two heartless traffic wardens prepare ‘Welcome to our town!’ parking tickets for three poor visitors whose only crime was to park on a ridiculous yellow line while visiting their elderly relatives in the nursing home opposite. Meanwhile, another driver is forced into a dangerous overtaking manoeuvre because some idiot with flashing lights has parked on the bend.

Well, that was my immediate reading of the situation as I stepped out onto our balcony earlier this week. Bastards! ... Poor sods! ... Haven’t they got anything better to do? ... And look where they parked their own car, for heaven’s sake! ... Incandescent with rage, I rushed off a couple of photos on my trusty mobile, while simultaneously preparing my indignant letter to the local newspaper. These people needed to be taught a lesson!

Needless to say, that letter never made it to print for various reasons: I still hadn’t made the dinner; I calmed down in the meantime; I could no longer be bothered; I am, despite appearances, a lazy sod; I already have enough enemies in the town hall; and, last but not least, Mother Mary Miguel Ruiz came to me, whispering words of wisdom: “Don’t Make Assumptions” (The Four Agreements, 1997). Personally, I suspect Don Miguel nicked this idea from that classic Guardian  “Points of View” ad:


Oh dear, there I go again making those terrible assumptions! What ever happened to “innocent until proven guilty”? Had it never occurred to me that these noble officers of the law were simply obeying orders from above? Did I seriously think that they got some kind of perverted pleasure from persecuting their fellow citizens? Yes, I did, as a matter of fact, but could I actually prove this? And what about the drivers? Could I state categorically that they were visiting their nearest and dearest, as opposed to having a quick pint down the road?  (The jury is still out on this one.) Besides, why couldn’t they park like everybody else on the estate?



Be that as it may, I’m sticking with my “heartless traffic wardens” theory; not least because that sodding yellow line has resulted in thousands of euros in compulsory donations to our local Policemen’s Ball fund. Bastards. Not that I would ever wish harm on anyone, you understand J.

------------------------------------------------

‘Excuse me, I’m looking for the men’s.’

‘Well, good luck, mate.’

Another mistake. Never ask a smiling person for directions: they are only there to take the piss.

‘Thank you. Could you tell me where it is, please?’

‘Where what is?’

‘The men’s.’

‘The men’s what?’

‘The men’s toilet, of course.’

‘Oh, why didn’t you say so?’

‘Well, I would have thought it was obvious.’

‘Well, you’d be wrong. Never assume because when you assume, you make—’

‘An “ass” out of “u” and “me”. Yes, I’ve heard it.’

‘Well, actually, clever clogs, I was going to say, “You make an ‘as’ out of ‘sum’ and ‘e’.” ’

‘That doesn’t make sense.’

‘It does to me. Now, where was I?’

‘You were going to tell me where the men’s is.’

‘Ah yes, that’s right. So if somebody asks me where the butcher’s is, I don’t immediately assume that they want the butcher’s toilet, do I? In fact, it’s far more likely that they want the butcher’s shop, isn’t it? Ditto baker’s, greengrocer’s and fishmonger’s. It’s what they call “ellipsis”, I believe.’

dayrealing, chapter 3, “Don’t Stop”

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Remember The Days Of The Old School Yard

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFwDEqLQ0bA

Brian (3), Mike (6).

A result that was to be repeated on many occasions whenever we played tennis.

My friend and I were having a drink together the other day when Purple Rain started up. As we both happened to like the song, we challenged each other to name the year...

‘Nineteen eighty-eight?’ I said.
‘Nineteen ninety,’ she replied.

Upon which, we returned to far more important topics – What are you making for dinner tonight? What did you have for lunch? Have you done the shopping yet? Have you seen the price of artichokes? etc. – and forgot all about poor Prince.

Once home, I opened my beloved Wikipedia, and discovered to my surprise that Purple Rain had been released in, wait for it,... 1984! We were both miles out – even if, technically speaking, I was less wrong than she was and had therefore won the bet. As always.

So, what was going on here? Put simply, neither of us has any personal or vivid memories connected with this particular song – which doesn't detract from its merit in the slightest, of course. Indeed, the song's intrinsic quality, musical worth, or whatever you want to call it, is totally irrelevant here. As we struggle or breeze through life, certain events  mark us more than others; and, in my case, the songs I was listening to at the time provide a convenient ongoing soundtrack, which I can dig out at any moment. Or, as my literary hero, Karl Ove, puts it so graphically:

“If my memories were stacked in a heap on the back of my life’s trailer,
music was the rope that held them together and kept it, my life, in position.”

Karl Ove Knausgård, Dancing in the Dark

What wouldn't I give to be able to write like that! But never mind Karl. Who here remembers what they were doing late September 1984 when, if Wikipedia is to be trusted, Purple Rain first hit the airwaves? Hey, I do! I was just starting out as an English teacher here in the Basque Country, tormenting my delightful students with Stevie Wonder's greatest contribution to music, I Just Called To Say I Love You ("Listen and fill the gaps"); Band Aid's Do They Know It's Christmas? ("Correct the lyrics if you can"), and George Michael's Last Christmas ("Just watch the sodding video, please").

One of the advantages of writing a blog that nobody reads is I can make terrible confessions and get away with it. OK, then, are you ready? Here goes... The songs I remember best – and even today still, very occasionally, listen to when nobody is around to whack me over the head – are all those glam rock classics from the early 70s: Starman, Sorrow, Block Buster, Ballroom Blitz, Metal Guru, Solid Gold Easy Action, Gudbuy T'Jane, Cum On Feel The Noize, School's Out, Elected, All The Way From Memphis, Roll Away The Stone, Ballpark Incident, See My Baby Jive... David Bowie, The Sweet, T.Rex, Slade, Alice Cooper, Mott The Hoople, Wizzard and, heaven have mercy on me, The Rubettes. Personally, I blame my parents for letting their kids watch Top Of The Pops when we really ought to have been listening through the walls to our neighbours’ Pink Floyd, Deep Purple and Genesis LPs.



I’ve done my best to make amends in the meantime by buying up every 30th and 40th Anniversary “deluxe remastered CD, complete with bonus tracks, DVD and previously unreleased footage”, of every single album ever released in the 70s by ‘proper’ musicians. Amazon regularly writes to me to thank me for being their best customer ever, and to remind me that customers who bought  Pink Floyd’s entire back catalogue “also bought Brian Eno’s entire back catalogue”, “also like Roy Harper’s entire back catalogue”, and maybe I should consider joining them?

But where was I? Well, the point I’m trying to make is, much as I love Wish You Were Here, and while I would infinitely prefer to be stranded on a desert island with Pink Floyd’s Finest as opposed to, say, Slade’s Smashest, the fact remains that the former will never be a part of my childhood’s soundtrack whereas the latter always will. And whenever I hear one of those awful childhood pop songs, I can’t help being transported back 40 years in time to happier and more trouble-free days.


-----------------------------------------------

‘Got anything from nineteen seventy-four?’
‘Seventy-four?’
‘Yeah.’
‘Why seventy-four?’
‘Because it came after seventy-three.’

And, more importantly, before seventy-five, the year in which his music died; the year in which his childhood ended and his teenhood began; the year in which Colin passed away and Craphead was christened; the year in which football in the playground was replaced by rugby on the playing field; and, in brief, the year in which innocence and youth made way for sinners and truth.

‘You’re weird. OK, here you go,’ said Mal, throwing Colin the mic. ‘Catch!’
‘Ah, da-da-dum-da, ah, da-da-dum-da …’
Rubettes?
‘Ah, da-da-dum-da, ah, da-da-dum-da …’
It’s definitely not Barry White.
‘Ah, da-da-dum-da, ah, da-da-dum-da …’
Those “Ah”s are getting higher.
‘Ah, da-da-dum-da, da-da-da-da-dum-da-da …’
Wish me luck!
‘La, la-la-la-la …’

And he was away! How he hit those high notes was a mystery. But he did. Just as he used to be able to hit them back in 1974. Suddenly he was in the playground again, running after the ball; he spent a lot of his childhood running after balls. And then he was just running. He wasn’t going to win any MTV awards for this videoclip.

‘Sugar baby love …’

How he loved this song! If you were serious about your music, you were supposed to despise stuff like this – even more so when killjoys pointed out that the Rubettes weren’t even singing the falsetto parts –, but Colin had never had much time for the music snobs, the so-called experts who always proclaimed, “Of course, their first album was the best”, even when anyone with ears could tell you it was a stinker. Well, whatever, it was thanks to hundreds of three-minute gems like this that Colin was able to reconstruct his entire childhood; the hundred happiest months of his life. Now that wasn’t bad, was it?

dayrealing, chapter 47, “Sugar Baby Love

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LAdmdunWvsA


They say snow is on the way. Hurray! My son and all his university pals are terribly excited about the prospect but, then again, they would be: they’re all on holiday until further notice. Meanwhile, we downtrodden workers of this world have to keep the wheels of industry spinning, don’t we? And there’ll be plenty of wheels spinning on the roads this week, by the look of it.




Put simply, snow is bad news all round for nearly everybody, but especially for those poor sods – such as yours truly, of course – who get caught up in the crossfire. Would-be teachers ring in to say they can’t get their car out of the garage; on-call teachers call in to say they’ve got lost on their way to the coast; gung-ho teachers phone in to say that they traipsed through 300 metres of snow up a mountain only to have no students turn up. Angry clients fire off emails demanding to know where their teacher has got to; confused students text their teacher wanting to know whether they can have a lie-in today; beleaguered secretaries promise customers that normal service will be resumed as soon as possible... and, failing that, by next Monday, we promise.  




Meanwhile, back at the ranch, furious bosses demand to know why you cancelled today’s classes because of a few harmless snowflakes; why you promised your students a full refund; why you told your teachers to stay at home; why you hadn’t foreseen this disaster; and why, in spite of everything, you still find the whole sorry affair so damned funny.

I’ll keep you posted J


(This mountain overlooks our town. Whenever it snows, a smiling lady appears. Can you see her?)

------------------------------------------------------

Complaints, complaints, complaints. Being director of studies was the most thankless job you could imagine, but every school needed one: someone you could bore, blame or bollock whenever things weren’t going quite right.

The official title for the school scapegoat was “director of studies”, but in practice you rarely directed studies; “director of strife” would have been a far more accurate title in Simon’s case. He spent most of his working day – most of his life, in other words – dealing with angry people: angry students, angry teachers, angry parents, angry bosses … Why was everybody always so angry? Why did they always vent their anger at him? Didn’t they know that wrath was one of the Seven Deadly Sins? Why did he have to answer all the “Why?” questions? Because he was director of strife; that’s why.




‘Excuse me, Mr. Holepunch.’
‘What is it, Alison?’
‘Why do I have to repeat the course?’
‘Because you have to pass the exam to go up a level.’
‘Yes, but Jeff failed his exam and he’s not repeating the course. Why’s that?’
‘Because Jeff’s father’s our local MP, Alison.’ …

‘Oy, Simon!’
‘What now, Colin?’
‘Why do I have to give this class?’
‘Because it’s an emergency.’
‘And why can’t Kevin do it?’
‘Because he’s far too young to take Drowning in Drink, don’t you think?’ …

‘Are you in charge here?’
‘Sort of.’
‘Why did you send my Samantha home?’
‘Because your Samantha set fire to our library.’
‘Nobody ever used that bloody library. Why’s it such a big deal?’
‘Because Miss Tedley was in there having forty winks at the time.’ …

‘Got a minute, Simon?’
‘Sure.’
‘Why haven’t you finished the teacher-class assignments yet?’
‘Because we have five thousand groups and only fifteen teachers.’
‘So why haven’t we advertised for more teachers?’
‘Because you won’t let me pay for an advert, let alone a teacher. Any more questions, Dolores?’ …


dayrealing, Chapter 27, “Private Universe”

Friday, January 30, 2015

Walk Like A Giant

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bemz-7fofcs

Mamel died yesterday. He was two years younger than me, but he knew two hundred times more about the world than I did; or ever will. He was “our friendly and adventurous colleague”, as one of my students so accurately described him. Wherever there was danger or excitement to be found, you could be sure that Mamel would be there too. It was hard to imagine Mamel spending his summer holiday in Benidorm, Brighton or Biarritz when he could be risking his life in Baghdad, Beirut or Bombay. I gave him my copy of “Holidays in Hell” by P.J. O’Rourke. In return, he gave me his copy of “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini. I loved “The Kite Runner”; and I immediately bought “A Thousand Splendid Suns”, which I loved even more. I doubt Mamel ever read “Holidays in Hell”; he didn’t need to.

I was privileged to be Mamel’s English teacher for the past ten years or so until he took early retirement just before Christmas. He never missed a class, unless the San Sebastián Film Festival was on; he never changed his folder; and he never studied his notes. In class, he never sat anywhere except next to me; he never complained about his appalling health problems; and he never uttered a boring sentence in his life.

He never took a selfie, either – to my knowledge at least – and more’s the pity. This is the only photo I could find of Mamel on the Net:


Rest in Peace, Mamel. The world is a far less colourful place without you, and I don’t care if that’s an overworn cliché. That said, I’m not sure you ever much cared for “resting” or “peace”, did you? So, I’ll sign off with a word which, I suspect, meant a lot more to you, and which you always used in your mails to your friends:

“Hugs”

Mike x

PS. I know you loved Neil Young, so I think you'd approve of my choice of title and song for this tribute. And if you don't, there's not much you can do about it now, is there? ;)

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Words


I’ve just finished re-reading Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, and loved it every bit as much as on my first reading about five years ago. The main differences for me the second time round were: a) I read the novel on my Kindle rather than in paperback format; b) I could almost follow the plot at moments; and c) I learnt several new words along the way, thanks to the wonderful Oxford Dictionary of English that came with my Kindle.


In my pre-Kindle days, I would never have dreamed of reaching for the dictionary to look up a word; well, not unless it was preventing me from following the story, let’s say. Nowadays, however, I happily highlight any word that arouses my interest and, in less than a few seconds, a simple definition appears, together with an enticing invitation to read the full definition if I’m curious about its pronunciation, origin, and so on. Indeed, I think it’s fair to say that the Oxford Dictionary is to Kindle what Wikipedia is to the Internet: once you enter, you’ll never leave.

Well, anyway, here are six of the words that I clicked on as I raced through Catch-22:

1) flak
2) ersatz
3) strafe
4) callipygous
5) catatonic
6) piebald

Those of you who are better-read than I am will doubtless be appalled that a so-called English teacher and would-be writer should need to check the meaning of such simple words as “flak” and “piebald”. You’re not the only one who’s appalled by my lack of vocabulary, believe me. That said, I do make a cracking Euro omelette, so I reckon that just about evens the score, don’t you?


But where were we? Ah yes, I remember! We were talking about omelettes words, weren’t we? Personally, I use my Kindle dictionary primarily for three different reasons:

(A) to look up the meaning of a word that’s genuinely new to me e.g. “callipygous”

(B) to check the meaning of a word that I always thought I understood e.g. “piebald”

(C) to confirm the meaning of a word I understand from the context e.g. “ersatz”

And, talking of contexts, here are those same six words in context:
  1.  “He wove his way through the filthy barrages of flak
  2.  “They preferred ersatz [to cotton]”
  3.  “In that case, I’ll strafe
  4. “He enjoyed her long white legs and supple, callipygous ass”
  5. “[He saw] devout mothers with catatonic eyes nursing infants”
  6. “Her whole face [was] disfigured by a God-awful pink and piebald burn”

So, how many of these words are genuinely new to you (A)?  Which ones did you know already (B)?  Which ones have you worked out from the context (C)? 


OK, then, let’s have a look at what Mr. Kipling Kindle has to say about all of this...


How interesting! In much the same way that it’s quicker to say “TV” instead of “television”, so “flak” is, I’m sure you’ll agree, somewhat easier to reel off than “Fliegerabwehrkanone”.  



This was pretty close to what I had imagined “ersatz” to mean, namely “imitation”. Just below the entry for “ersatz”, I noticed the following entry for “erst”:


Although words like “erst”, “erstwhile” and “ere” are part of my passive vocabulary – and, alas, still part of my Dickens-obsessed students’ active vocabulary –, I had never made the connection between “ere” (= “before”) and  its superlative form, “erst” (= “most before” i.e. “earliest”), despite their obvious similarities. Fascinating, eh? Well, er, it was to me. 



What the Dickens! By this point, I was beginning to wish I had studied German rather than French at university. Again, I had pretty well worked out the meaning of “strafe” from the context, though I could never have come up with such a beautifully precise definition.



When they say, “RARE having well-shaped buttocks”, I suppose they mean that the words "callipygian” and “callipygous” are rarely used, rather than it is rare to find somebody with a beautiful rear. Still, that could make a good discussion point for my next class, I suppose. Don’t you think “callipygous” is a great word to slip into your next conversation by the pool?



I already knew “gintonic”, of course; abuse of which may well have catatonic effects and catastrophic results.



And here’s another great word! In fact, I got something of a shock, as my hitherto working definition – “as bald as pie; be that apple, rhubarb or steak and kidney; rather similar to ‘as bald as a coot’, whatever a coot might be when he or she is at home” –, despite serving me well for the past 50 years or so, proved to be rather at odds with the actual pie in question. Never had it occurred to me that this particular “pie” had wings!


Well, whatever, I hope you’ve enjoyed my ersatz definitions and piebald photos, and that you weren’t offended by my ribald comments on your callipygian features, in which case I apologise most sincerely for having left you in a state of total catatonia, and strongly urge you to feel free to strafe me, as I can take the flak. Time to stop, I think. I’m talking total bollocks again IJ


----------------------------------------------------------------------

Indeed, one of Colin’s dreams was to see the word “dayrealing” make it to the Oxford dictionary one day …

‘Mr. Raphead?’
‘Listening.’
‘We decided to include “dayrealing”. Just before “dayrise”.’
‘Before dayrise? Surely you didn’t get up that early?’
‘I mean, “dayrealing” will go before “dayrise” in the dictionary, you twat. And don’t call me “Shirley”.’

dayrealing, Chapter 25, “Dream Catch Me”

----------------------------------------------------------------------

It all began on Facebook, of course, when a bored young lady challenged her fellow writing friends to come up with a story that was just six words long. Why six? Don’t shoot the messenger! As somebody who until that moment had never written a six-word sentence – let alone a six-word story (what with all those dashes and brackets for irritating yet important afterthoughts) –, Mick’s initial reaction had been to admit defeat gracefully: You win. I lose. So what?
Needless to say, however, Mick ended up succumbing to the challenge, and even went so far as to record his first Mikicast and post it on You Tube (where it languishes to this day – but that’s another story). Anyway, Mick’s Sikicast went something like this:

Sikiatures

six silly six-word stories in sixty-six seconds

1
Once upon a time I cried.

2
-Marry me!
-Piss off!
-Fair enough.

3
Woke up . . . got up . . . threw up.

4
-Was it you?
-Yes it was.

5
-Hey, mind the gap!
-What gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

6
Here lies Mike Church. Silly sod.

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If you enjoyed this Mikiature, please show your appreciation by donating six cents to a worthy cause or tramp. 
fifty shades of Spain, Chapter 40, "Words"

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

When A Child Is Born



It all started a couple of weeks ago when my niece gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. “I think we should send them a present,” said my wife. “Good idea,” I replied, going into autodrive, since everything my wife says is, by definition, “a good idea”. “I’m sure you’ll find something on Amazon,” I added, little suspecting that my wife had no intention of using my sole shopping supplier.

Seven shopping days, one hundred hours and two thousand websites later, my wife finally announced that she had found a lovely toddler’s outfit on next.co.uk, and that I could take over from here. It was at this point that we discovered you have to be a UK resident in order to buy stuff on next.co.uk. Had we considered moving to a proper country? their website wondered. They suggested that we try nextdirect.com, so I clicked on the link, located the very same outfit in less than a minute, and proceeded to register, carefully sidestepping the invitation to be inundated with irresistible “Buy twenty anoraks, get one free!” offers for the rest of my life. Now we were in business! Or so I thought. Back came the reply that nextdirect.com could only deliver to Spain, and perhaps we’d like to consider having another bash on their UK website?

My wife had long since retired to bed, having given up all hope of getting the toddler suit to her grand-nephew before his own retirement. Meanwhile, I dropped my sister a line to let her know that, despite our best intentions, her newly born grandson would not be getting his toddler’s suit until Next got their act together. It was at this stage that Deb, my brilliant sister, offered to order the goods herself. And we further agreed that I would give her an Amazon voucher to cover her costs.

Thank goodness for Amazon and sisters, eh? Merry Christmas!


---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

It had all started over the road in Sorrisons, where Colin used to do his weekly non-shop: ‘Got any milk left?’ ‘Sorry, son.’ ‘How about eggs?’ ‘Sorry, son.’ … There was something therapeutic about aimlessly pushing an empty trolley up and down the aisles in a semi-hypnotic trance, accompanied by I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For on the panpipes, Irish though this might sound. A lot of Sorrisons’ first-time customers ended up in Looniversal Learning, having been misled by the promising “This way!” sign that Slapper had put up outside the front entrance. Their latest manager had complained bitterly to Slapper that she was confusing their customers, but his complaints fell on deaf ears. He didn’t last long at Sorrisons, and ended up enrolling for a Conspiring to Con the Consumers course. At least Slapper had the decency to give him a five-pound discount by way of compensation for ruining his career.

On this particular occasion, Colin was happily browsing the rubbers when he chanced upon an eye-catching blue biro. It was just like any other biro, only it was exactly half the size and perfect, therefore, for slipping into his trouser pocket alongside his stick and rubber. Two hours later, having finally managed to convince the Sorrisons store detective that he was not actually intending to steal the bloody biro and that, had he wanted to take up shoplifting for a hobby, he would have chosen something rather more exotic than a sodding ballpoint, Colin eventually made it to the checkout, together with his salt ’n’ vinegar crisps, carton of orange juice, and assorted stationery; though not before pointing out to the lady on the delicatessen counter that she should have put an apostrophe in “todays specials” and, for a bonus point, did she have any idea where?

As the cashier rang his items up on the till, Colin noticed that the standard biro cost 30p whereas the pocket biro cost 45p. In other words, you were paying 50% more for 50% less, just for the novelty value of being able to put a pen in your pocket without enduring “the pen is in your pocket” wisecracks from colleagues. And then it struck him that if small was beautiful, it followed therefore that minute was divine, and that if otherwise bright people were happy to buy half-size pens for one and a half times the normal price, what was to stop him selling quarter-size pens at twice the price, half-quarter pens at two and a half times the price, or quarter-quarter pens at three times the price? Perhaps he could even sell just plain old pen caps at five pounds a throw and fob them off as “nanoscopic biros”?

            dayrealing, Chapter 29, “Carry On”

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Get It Right Next Time

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXW-sL5gzHQ


I spend most of my working day correcting my students. It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that I like to unwind at the end of the day by correcting the first poor soul who crosses my path, whether that be on Facebook, Kindle or Google. Indeed, I am seriously considering setting up my own business: “MOKIA – Correcting People”.

Whilst I give my poor students hell – it’s in my contract –, I rarely correct my friends, family or fellow writers; among other reasons, because it’s not as if I have many friends left to lose. So, to quote my rock heroes Lynyrd Skynyrd, all I can do is write about it. And where better than on my invisible blog? OK, here goes …

Below you’ll find 20 sentences, all of which contain, in my opinion, mistakes of one kind or another (misspellings, poor punctuation, incorrect grammar, inappropriate words …). Can you correct them? I’m sure you can, so, for an additional 20 points, can you identify which sentences were produced by my non-native English students (whose mother tongue is Basque or Spanish), and which sentences were produced by native English speakers?

1.    You must to help us.
2.    They think your mad.
3.    I need a carpet for these papers.
4.    It’s plot is complex.
5.    People thinks it’s easy.
6.    There wrong of course.
7.    Did you introduce your password?
8.    So who’s fault is it?
9.    It’s a good advice, isn’t it?
10. Have you got there number?
11. It’s been a large day today.
12. What were the disk’s made of?
13. Do you fancy to join us?
14. You should of told me.
15. He started crying. He’s too sensible.
16. Thank’s for your help.
17. Before to start, I have a coffee.
18. They compliment each other nicely.
19. I think I did a mistake.
20. When’s your fathers’ birthday?


Finished? I’ve included the corrected sentences at the end of this post just in case, though I doubt that you’ll need them. Anyway, never mind that, what really interests me is, Were you able to identify my students’ mistakes as opposed to native English speakers’ mistakes? Again, I’m sure you spotted the pattern immediately, didn’t you? The odd-numbered sentences (1, 3, 5 …) sound distinctly odd to a native speaker’s ears. By the same token, none of my students would even consider producing any of the even-numbered sentences (2, 4, 6 …).

So, what’s going on here? Before sharing my conclusions with you, I’d like to simplify matters by putting names to these speakers, so let’s introduce Peter, my fictional friend from Manchester; and María, my fictional student from Bilbao ...

Peter has been surrounded by English all his life. He speaks and understands  the language perfectly, so he knows instinctively that “before starting work” sounds better than “before to start work”, in much the same way that he knows that the logical place to keep his papers is “in a folder” rather than “in a carpet”. When it comes to writing, he manages pretty well on the whole, although he does struggle somewhat with those damned apostrophe’s apostrophes, not to mention all those silly little word’s words like “your” and “you’re”, who’s whose spelling is rather different despite there their being pronounced the same. His teacher’s teachers should of have warned him about all these things, but its it’s too late now.

María has been studying English all her life. She’ll never speak the language as well as Peter, but at least she knows how to use apostrophes correctly, thanks to her teacher who told them, “Never use apostrophes to form plurals unless you need to express possession”. Phrases such as “Your mad” and “There stupid” make no sense whatsoever to her; and every student in her class knows that you have to put a verb, not a preposition, after “should”. Often she She often puts her leg foot in it, but that’s inevitable when you’re learning a foreign language, no? isn’t it?

Well, by now, I’m sure you’ll have gathered where my sympathies lie. [Clue: not with Peter]. But is it such a crime to forget the odd apostrophe or misspell word’s ocassionally words occasionally? Definately Definitely not – unless your you’re a deluded sole soul like yours truly who still dreams of writing that bestseller one day.

Talking of bestsellers, it’s reassuring to see that even the best writers are capable of horrendous howlers when they drop their guard. Here are three gems that I spotted in Robert Harris’ otherwise wonderful tale, An Officer And A Spy:


Disgraceful proofreading, I’m sure you’ll agree, but sadly these days, I get the feeling it’s more the norm than the exception.

Thank’s for reading ;)

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


“There's nothing sillier in the world than a teacher telling you don't do it after you already did it.” (Frank McCourt)
Solutions. (mistakes underlined; corrections in bold)
1.    You must to help us. -> They must help us.
2.    They think your mad. -> They think you’re mad.
3.    I need a carpet for these papers. -> I need a folder for these papers.
4.    It’s plot is complex. -> Its plot is complex.
5.    People thinks it’s easy. -> People think it’s easy.
6.    There wrong of course. -> They’re wrong of course.
7.    Did you introduce your password? -> Did you enter your password?
8.    So who’s fault is it? -> So whose fault is it?
9.    It’s a good advice, isn’t it? -> It’s good advice, isn’t it?
10. Have you got there number? -> Have you got their number?
11. It’s been a large day today. -> It’s been a long day today.
12. What were the disk’s made of? -> What were the disks made of?
13. Do you fancy to join us? -> Do you fancy joining us?
14. You should of told me. -> You should have told me.
15. He started crying. He’s too sensible. -> He started crying. He’s too sensitive.
16. Thank’s for your help. -> Thanks for your help.
17. Before to start, I have a coffee. -> Before starting, I have a coffee.
18. They compliment each other nicely. -> They complement each other nicely.
19. I think I did a mistake. -> I think I made a mistake.
20. When’s your fathers’ birthday? -> When’s your father’s birthday?

Non-native speaker mistakes: 1, 3, 5, etc.
Native speaker mistakes: 2, 4, 6, etc.

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‘So, what did you have for lunch, Dani?’
‘A salad and chicken. And chips. And peas. And bread. And ket—’
‘Yes, OK, very good, Dani. And did you have a dessert?’
‘Yes. A yoga.’
‘Yoghourt, Dani. With a T.’
‘No, tea no. Coffee. With milk.’
‘A white coffee, Dani. And what flavour was your yoghourt?’
‘Flavour?’
‘Lemon? Chocolate? Kiwi? Mango and papaya? Cheese and onion?’
‘Estramberry.’
‘STRAWberry, Dani.’
‘Yes. Estramberry.’
‘OK, thank you, Dani. Alright, then, let’s move on ... I wonder, How many of you saw that documentary last night about those poor people living in the desert? How about you, Angel?’
‘Ice cream.’
‘Ice cream?’
‘Yes, ice cream is my favourite desert.’
‘Where's that, Angel?’
‘Where?’
‘Yes, where?’
Where?’
‘Yes, where's the Ice Cream Desert?’
‘I don't understand.’
‘Well, the documentary last night was about the Sahara Desert. That’s in Africa, isn't it?’
‘And?’
‘Is the Ice Cream Desert in Africa, too?’
‘The Ice Cream Desert?’
‘DesSERT, Angel. Ice cream is your favourite desSERT; not DEsert. “Ice cream is my favourite desSERT”. Can you say that?’
‘Yes.’
‘Let’s hear you, then.’
‘Sorry?’
‘ “Ice cream is my favourite desSERT”.’
‘Is mine too’ ...
            fifty shades of Spain, Chapter 41, “Ice Cream Man”
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They were finally getting to the only worthwhile points on the agenda; as far as Colin was concerned, that is. Slapper always left Colin’s questions for the end, evidently hoping that they would run out of time before reaching them.
‘Colin?’
‘Sorry, Miss Slapper, I was bloody miles away! What was the question again?’
‘The toilet signs, Colin.’
‘Ah yes, that’s right. Don’t you think it would be a good idea to label our toilets intelligently?’
‘Smart signs for small minds. Good idea, Craphead!’
‘Thank you, Jack. Let’s hear Colin out first. Colin, what are you proposing exactly?’
‘Well, Miss Slapper, I was thinking of something simple like, “MEN” for the men’s toilet; and “LADIES” for the ladies’ loo.’
‘Don’t you think that’s a bit risky, Colin?’
‘How do you mean, Miss Slapper?’
‘Well, as you’ll recall, Simon’s superb State of the Studies Survey suggested that sixty-seven point six per cent of our students are still illiterate,’ said Slapper semi-alliteratively.
And a hundred per cent of our directors of studies. Simon’s latest report had been compulsory reading for the staff of Looniversal Learning, Colin’s favourite line being, “Many studnets jumped staright from Section A to Suction C of the questionnaire, pissing on Section B completely”. In all fairness to Simon, at least he had finally learnt how to spell “questionnaire” correctly.
            dayrealing, Chapter 17, “Live Forever”