Thursday, December 15, 2016

It Makes No Difference

‘Would you rather be attacked by a lion... or a tiger?’ I asked my students the other day. Beats, ‘Do you prefer tea or coffee?’ for an opening gambit any day, doesn’t it?

Can you tell the difference between a lion and a tiger? Which would you rather be attacked by?

There followed an embarrassing minute’s silence while my students debated whether it was too late to ask for their money back and, if so, who would be the brave soul to lead the way? Much to my relief, however, one of the ladies present took up the gauntlet:

‘I have a friend who can’t distinguish between a lion and a tiger,’ replied Garbiñe the Gauntlet Taker.

One of the greatest things, if not the greatest thing, about my job is that, every morning when I crawl into work, I have no idea whatsoever as to what conversations I can be expecting over the next ten hours or so.

‘A tiger, probably. If I’m going to be killed, I prefer to die as quickly as possible,’ said Jabi the Jungle Watcher.

Fair point, but I was still trying to come to terms with the fact that there are people out there, apparently, who can’t tell the difference between a lion and a tiger.

‘Did you see that video on YouTube?’ asked Lucía the Thread Spinner, as the discussion wove its way in competing directions. And talking of competing directions...

Is my wife the only person who can’t tell the difference between an up escalator and a down escalator in a department store? To be fair, they look much the same, though there are usually a few clues to be found if you are paying attention.

Can you tell whether this escalator is going up or down?

Reasoning to herself, I suppose, that she has a fifty-fifty chance, my wife heads for the first gap that she spots within a five-yard radius. Meanwhile, her loyal husband tags along, ready to chip in with, ‘Let’s try the other side, shall we, darling?’ in the event that some idiot has programmed the stairs to be moving in the wrong direction on my wife’s approach.

Interestingly, my wife’s mother adopts a similar strategy every time I give her a lift to or from home: On stepping outdoors, she simply stops at the first vehicle she sees, then waits for her chauffeur to open the door. Mathematically speaking, her chances of success are about one in twenty (of hitting on the right car, I mean; her chances of having the door opened for her are exactly one in one). Well, it’s worth a shot, isn’t it?

Black car or red van? So long as it’s comfortable, who cares?

Incidentally, and irrelevantly, my mother-in-law’s inability to distinguish a Mini from a double-decker has nothing to do with failing sight – she can spot a church, chemist’s or cake shop from a mile off.

‘Hang on a minute, clever clogs,’ I hear you objecting. ‘If you’re so smart, how come you brush your teeth with shampoo and wash your hair with toothpaste?’

Ouch! That was a bit below the belt, wasn’t it? I’m sure you’ll agree that we all have our little bathroom battles first thing in the morning. And I’m not just talking about bowel movements here, you understand.

Would you be able to tell these apart at 5:55 in the morning?
Having showered and dressed, it’s time to hit the road, where I notice that many of my fellow motorists are quite incapable of distinguishing between Stop signs and Give Way signs, red lights and yellow lights, continuous lines and dotted lines...

Once in class, I discover that nearly all my students are prepared to answer, ‘Did you have a good weekend?’, while my follow-up question, ‘Did you do your homework?’, draws blank stares all round. Hardly anyone appears to understand that “eight o’clock” and “ten past eight” do not mean the same thing. One hour later, however, as our class draws to a close, everyone is quick to ask me, ‘Is nine o’clock, no, Mike?’.

To hear my poor prisoners students, you would think they have better things to do with their time than be discussing the relative merits and drawbacks of being attacked by a lion or a tiger. So do I, now that we mention it, so I think I’d better sign off here.



20 Reasons Why I Should Be Allowed To Teach English

1.        I know the difference between singular and plural nouns.
2.        I know what “uncountable” means. I think I know what “countable” means too.
3.        I know all about verbs, tenses, stuff like that.
4.        I even know the difference between a gerund and an infinitive.
5.        I’m not so clear on the difference between a gerund and a gerundive, but I’m pretty confident I could find out if necessary.
6.        I’m well up on prepositions.
7.        I can spell words like “accommodation” and “correspondence” correctly (most of the time).
8.        I can be unreasonably pedantic: anyone who can’t distinguish between “fewer” and “less” should be shot (even if fewer students means less money).
9.        I know my articles and I know my particles.
10.    I can underline the adverbs and adjectives in phrases like, “He’s pretty jolly” or “She’s jolly pretty”.
11.    I can distinguish between idioms and idiots.
12.    I know how to use words like “whom” and “whose” correctly.
13.    I can churn out more phrasal verbs than you can take in.
14.    I can make a coherent statement without using moronic interjections such as “you know”, “like”, “sort of” … that kind of thing, right?
15.    I use commas, full-stops and semi-colons correctly; most of the time.
16.    I know the difference between “I hate English” and “I hate the English”.
17.    I know loads of silly jokes and puns – ideal punishment for silly students!
18.    I can bluff my way out of any difficult language question.
19.    I’m very good at making up ridiculous rules.
20.    I am English.

Numbers 18 to 20 were a bit of a cop-out, but Colin couldn’t stand odd-numbered lists, in much the same way that he would never understand people who, having started a perfectly good sentence, couldn’t be bothered to

In the end, Slapper had relented, even if this was more to do with Looniversal Learning’s resident English teacher having gone down with postphrasal depression, as opposed to any genuine confidence in Colin’s teaching ability.

‘Thanks, Miss Slapper, you won’t regret this.’ (‘You’ll be sorry.’)
‘We’ll see.’ (‘I know.’) 

dayrealing, Chapter 5, “Heart Of Gold”


  1. Loved this post :) I am like your wife with escalators and department stores put them in the wrong place anyway. There should be a law against such things :)

  2. You too, Lizzie?! Ha ha! Thanks for dropping in, and for commenting :) x