Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Birthday

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9CSYiOkNPSs



My blog is five years old today, so I thought this was a good excuse to celebrate by sharing a link to one of my all-time favourite songs by one of my all-time favourite groups, The Idle Race. I also decided that this was an appropriate moment to compile The Other Mike Church's Best Bits, which, as you can imagine, is a remarkably quick read... and an even quicker download.


If Blogger's statistics are to be trusted, this is my hundredth post since April 18th 2010, and these are the posts that have received the most views:



Walk Like A Giant and My Way are tributes to Mamel and Dad respectively, while Wasted Time is literally what it says: a completely useless list of anagrams that kept me fruitfully entertained for weeks on end. Knowing now, for instance, that "fear and ambition" is an anagram of "mortified banana" has completely transformed my file life.


Be that as it may, I find this audience chart rather more interesting:


And here are my conclusions:

1.  I need to work on my fanbase in America (South), Africa, Asia, Australia, the Arctic, and places beginning with A in general.

Having fewer than 120 visits over 5 years from 6,000,000,000 people is nothing to write home about. That works out at about 0.000000004 visits per person per year.

2. There is zero correlation between  blog visits and book sales; in my case, at least.

I estimate that about 90% of my sales are to the UK, but I get far more visits from Spain and the US. When it comes to sales, the Spaniards are usually reluctant to pay more than zero cents, while most of my American customers ask for an immediate refund once they realise what they have bought.

3. Watch out, watch out, there’s Russians about!

Despite having received 940 visits since the beginning of time this blog, I have yet to make a single sale to Russia; I have no Russian friends on Facebook (or, indeed, anywhere); and I was stood up by my gorgeous Russian brides many moons ago.

Furthermore, if we limit ourselves to pageviews in the last month, the Russians are straight in at number 2:


Well, whoever is reading this, wherever you may be, and whatever you think of all this nonsense, many thanks for your continued support. And here's hoping you'll put up with me for the next five years or so.
-----------------------

Some write wonderfully; some write woodenly; others write whateverly.

Colin was in the last group. He was always in the last group.

Writing was Colin’s catharsis. Whatever “catharsis” meant. And whatever “whateverly” meant, for that matter.

Well, whatever, writing whateverly, wheneverly, whereverly was a wonderful way to wish one’s woes away with words without wasting one’s whatnots by whacking walls or wailing to the wind.

dayrealing, chapter 10, "Don't Give Up"

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Searching

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



‘Can anyone help me? I’m looking for this song by Ricardo Igea,’ somebody asked on Facebook the other day...

‘Ricardo who?’ you ask.

‘Ricardo Igea.’

‘Never heard of him.’

‘Don’t worry. Neither has Amazon.’




Needless to say, Wikipedia is none the wiser, either:


‘No, Mr Wiki. I did not mean, “Ricardo Igor”; I meant what I wrote: “Ricardo Igea”, the most overlooked talent in the history of Spanish music.’

‘Oh, that Ricardo! You mean that mad poet from Zaragoza who smokes like a chimney but has a smile and a voice you could die for?’

‘Exactly.’

‘He’s bloody brilliant if you ask me. Didn’t he do Swimming Without Wings? That song reduces me to tears every time.’




‘Whatever.’

Poor Ricardo. Amazon won’t sell his albums, Wikipedia won’t give him an entry, and YouTube won’t get his song titles right.

‘What do you mean, We won’t sell his albums?’

‘Oh, hello, Mrs. Amazon. Sorry if I woke you up.’

‘Never mind that. Just answer the question.’

‘Why can’t I find Ricki’s albums on Amazon, Mrs. Amazon?’

‘They were discontinued ages ago, so don’t go shooting the messenger. You can still buy Todo Lo Que Tengo. It’s a cracker!’

‘I’m pleased to hear it, but my Facebook friend wants to download Gafeína. That’s on Las Manos del Médico, isn’t it?’

‘Have you tried Spotify?’

‘Of course. They told me to go and listen to Inma Serrano.’



‘And what about his web page?’

‘Inma’s a man?!’

‘Ricardo’s web page, you fool.’

‘Oh, sorry! Well, there are some great articles and links, but there’s no sign of Gafeína.’



‘At least the link to Indigencia still works.’

‘Eat your heart out, Phil Collins! I say.’

‘Eh?’

‘Never mind.’

‘So what’s Ricki up to these days?’

‘Well, he’s reinvented himself as Muchacho Mochila. Backpack Boy.’



‘Backstreet Boy? I’m pretty sure we’ve still got him on Amazon.’

‘Backpack Boy. Muchacho Mochila in English. Well, that’s my translation.’

‘And a pretty crap one if you ask me.’

‘Have you any idea how difficult it is to translate well from Spanish to English?’

‘What’s wrong with Google Translator?’

‘What’s wrong with Google Translator?! Did you see what they did to Báilalo?’


Ricardo, Ricki, Muchacho Mochila, Mumo... He’s still making the best music around. I wanted to finish with a link to his latest masterpiece, Hoy Es Siempre Todavía. It goes without saying, unfortunately, that I couldn’t find one that worked:



I’ll keep searching J.

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

186
–¿Por qué no bailas?
–¡Estoy bailando!

–Why aren’t you dancing?
–I am dancing!

187
–¿Vienes aquí a menudo?
–Bastante. Soy la mujer de limpieza.
–Ah. Encantado.
–Lo mismo digo.
–¿Bailamos?

–Do you come here often?
–Quite a lot. I’m the cleaning lady.
–Oh. Pleased to meet you.
–Likewise.
–Shall we dance?

188
–¿Cómo te llamas?
–Lola.
–¿Y eso cómo se deletrea?
–Tal como suena: L, O, L, A, Lola. La, la, la, la, Lola. Una Coca-Cola, por favor.

–What’s your name?
–Lola.
–So how do you spell that?
–As it sounds: L, O, L, A, Lola. La, la, la, la, Lola. A Coca-Cola, please.

189
–¿Tu casa o la mía?
–No tengo casa.

–Your place or mine?
–I don’t have a place.

190
Mañana vas a tener un clavo de mucho cuidado.

Tomorrow you’re going to have a terrible hangover.

Spanglish for Impatient People, Lesson 19, "at the disco"

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? ;)

Postscript
A few weeks later, friends and family gathered to pay Mamel our last respects by planting a tree with his ashes in this beautiful spot on Monte Urgull:

(photo courtesy of Leire Maruri)

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”