The End.


Not quite how I'd chose to spend the last two days of the year - vomiting, diareaha, and feeling too weak to stand up. I suppose I could think of it as the purging of an old life to make way for the new.

Anyway, happy new year and all that, and here's to new experiences and new starts.

Give a Little Love


“There are very honest people who do not think that they have had a bargain unless they have cheated a merchant”
- Anatole France

Christmas messages sent to my mobile:

* A very Merry Christmas and a smashing New year!

* Happy Christmas everyone from Bangladesh.

* Happy Christmas Buddy.

* Merry Christmas!

* I would like to fuck your mouth and give you a good rimming.

Under the heading of "Why didn't I think of that?", it turns out there's an easy way for me to be an english teacher without leaving the country. Or indeed teaching any english.

It seems anyone has the legal right to stay in the UK if they're a student for at least three hours a day, officially enrolled at a school. All the school has to do is rent some space, employ someone as "teacher", charge the "students" a nominal fee for enrollment, and keep fake records of attendance.

The school turns a profit, the immigrants are free to stay and work (and incidentally pick up some english), their employers get rich off them, and the state turns a blind eye because they need cheap labour.

Oh, and the immigrants are forced to keep a low profile, because at any time they could be "discovered" and repatriated to an even worse country.

Maybe that's why there are five language schools around here, but only two of them seem to have students.

Still, at least I know the school in Moscow is kosher. It's too badly organised to be suspect.

Six teachers fly out in January...but the school doesn't get its licence till April. In the interim there will be setting up of classrooms, library and (sigh) computer room - and training courses. Some of which the company runs in Turkey, or places dotted around Europe, but not in Russia.

I'm quite happy to get flown around for extra training, or hump tables up and down stairs, for the same wages and benefits as a qualified teacher. I generally like being in at the start of things - it means the operation has a chance of being designed from the ground up by people with brains and experience, instead of management consultants with neither.

A few more seasonal text messages:

* Hope you're having a lovely holiday season.

* How's your crimbo going mate? Overindulgence and festive fun I trust.

* Do you spit or swallow? I would love to fill your mouth with cum right after I've given you a good knobbing.

I should probably point out that I have no idea who sent the final message. Or several like it.

Kapitano at Kristmas


“Christmas is the Disneyfication of Christianity”
- Don Cupitt

"Christmas is forced upon a reluctant and disgusted nation by the shopkeepers and the press; on its own merits it would wither and shrivel in the fiery breath of universal hatred."
- George Bernard Shaw

"Christmas is the one time of year when people of all religions come together to worship Jesus Christ."
- Bart Simpson

Tis the season to be slobby
Tra la la la laa, la la la la
Take a break from drunken nobbing
Tra la la la laa, la la la la

Gorge the goose and stuff the turkey
Do do do do doo, do do do do
Sit for hours, feel ill and burpy
Do do do do doo, do do do do

Give crap presents then feel guilty
Me me me me mee, me me me me
Drink and drive to Casualty
Me me me me mee, me me me meeeee....

Ah, christmas.

Office parties where you spend all evening with the same people you see all day, but pretend to like them. TV film channels showing wall to wall Jimmy Stewart and Julie Andrews. Scoffing chocolates till you're nauseous.

Seasonal music that absolutely no one in the universe likes, piped out from supermarkets manned by pissed off staff in santa hats. Having to tolerate members of distant family who say "Oh haven't you grown!" and "Have you got a girlfriend yet?". Morons who think the words "Bah humbug" are an immensely witty rebuttal.

Tuneless kids knocking on your door and singing half a verse of something devotional, expecting to be paid for it. Moralisers who wag their fingers at commercialisation and think they're getting in god's good books by giving a plastic cup of soup to a homeless man once a year. Spending money you don't have buying things no one wants for people you don't like.

Plus, having a stinking cold through the whole thing.

Last christmas I decided I wanted to (a) write murder mysteries (b) leave the country and (c) stop being bankrupt. I've still got a detailed outline for "The Christmas Murders".

The year before that was a red christmas - spent getting splendidly drunk with comrades. The year before that, I was fixing up computers. Before that I wanted to spend the rest of my life writing songs, and avoiding the emotional entanglements that gave me stuff to write about. Before that I joined a gym and became briefly slim and desirable.

Ten years ago I was finally out of debt. One year earlier I was getting into nightly punchups with my alcoholic boyfriend. Another year earlier I was hoping he'd give up the drink. And another...I was moving in with someone who loved me.

Twenty years ago I spent christmas with my grandmother, who fed me enormous amounts of red jelly and ice cream, and wouldn't let me read books about anthropology. Twenty five years ago...I was frantic with excitement and couldn't wait to open my presents.

Oh well. Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, enjoy your festival of Saturn, have a nice holiday season...and don't eat too many chocolates.

Siberia, the Place to Be


"My luck is so bad that if I bought a cemetery, people would stop dying."
- Ed Furgol

I'm cold, ill and depressed - and I'm going to Moscow in a few weeks. Which is unlikely to change things. The famous Russian weather and equally famous Russian soul.

The Polish school couldn't offer much in the way of perks, the Bulgarian school isn't actually finished yet, and the other Moscow school has a five page contract consisting mostly of threats. The Czech school is impossibly slow to communicate, the Hungarian school want someone better qualified, and the other Czech school refuse to give any information.

On the plus side, My near future employers arrange visa, accommodation, insurance etc, and pay well. On the minus side, it's in a paranoid, freezing city and the school's dull and corporate. On the plus side it's useful experience, it'll look good on my CV and I'm finally getting to see the world. On the minus side...well, paranoid, freezing and corporate.

Yesterday, a woman in a white coat stood over me, sticking needles into my flesh. Yes, inoculations - against measles, rubella, tuberculosis, two kind of hepatitis and polio. With rabies to come.

After that, window installation. No, not the operating system - an actual window. With hammers, chisels, nails, pliers and putty. And some glass. Lots easing into position, pushing into crevices, smoothing gently with hands, leverage, and banging.

On the front page of the local rag, a mother pleading for a police crackdown on marijuana. Why? Because she's convinced it made her son kill himself. Oh, and it also caused his schizophrenia.

What has this woman been smoking?

Years ago, my hobby was collecting language textbooks. I must have hundreds of them, stacked away in boxes - Croatian, Mandarin, Icelandic, even some Hopi. But they've come in useful because...there's five books on Russian there.

How many weddings have you been to where you just knew the marriage wouldn't last? Where it was just painfully obvious that the groom had been pressured into it, or the bride was trying to persuade herself she was it was what she wanted, or the two of them were just hoping they'd regain their fading love over the honeymoon.

After the dull bit in church, after the eating of bad catered food and the disco (and the punch up, if you go to that kind of wedding), you maybe compared predictions with a close friend in a quiet corner. You give the happy couple eighteen months, possibly a year; Your friend says a year at the outside. You nod sagely to yourselves and drink some more cheap red wine.

Of course, you might be wrong. I've known couples who were perfectly suited but barely lasted six months. Actually I've been one half of several couples that were amazingly well matched - but only by moonlight. And more importantly there's been some odd couples who grew old happily together.

Well, now there's an online version of that conversation in the corner. Wedding Betting dot com. Is it a bit of hard-bitten cynical fun, one more indicator of a sick and dying civilisation, a hoax...or all three?

While you're pondering, add Rate My Cock and Marry Our Daughter (which is a hoax) to the list.

Moss Cow


"Moskau, fremd und geheimnisvoll"
("Moscow, foreign and mysterious")
- "Moskau" by Dschinghis Khan

"Diese Stadt ist eine Dirne"
(="This city is a prostitute")
- "Moskau" by Rammstein

I have a fairly simple philosophy of life. It consists of things like:

* In an argument, both sides are probably wrong.

* Respecting someone is not the same as liking them.

* The conventional wisdom is long disproven. So are the alternatives - except one.

* People are mostly silly, but not bad - except when they're organised in their sillyness.

* Competition produces improvement only when cheating is impossible. Cheating is always possible.

* There's no point in talking to someone who won't listen.

* If something needs doing, and you know roughly how, and no one else seems inclined, do it.

* If there's no good and clear reason to do something, don't do it.


All quite uncontroversial, yes?

Well, no. As regards the last one, I've had to deal with some bureaucracy lately, and it's been conspicuously absent. Instead, I've found some alternative maxims:

* If it's a stupid idea, but it's in the rulebook, do it. But exonerate yourself by saying you know it's stupid. Because that makes it all right.

* If your situation doesn't fit into a neat box, you're being deliberately awkward just to annoy me. And you probably eat babies too.

* Every other department in this organisation follows procedure because they're too dumb not to. We follow procedure because we couldn't work with the others if we didn't.


So yes. I am now officially restarting again on a government scheme on January 7th. I've done the course before and it gave me a miniature nervous breakdown with two months convalescence.

Immediately after which they tried to get me to restart the course - but I disappeared and got myself got trained as a teacher instead.

Now, I've also been offered a teaching job in Moscow, and if I accept it I'll be leaving...guess when? Go on, I bet you can't guess the date.

And yes, I did tell them. It didn't stop them filling out for forms for an hour.

I could go to Moscow, or the opportunity's still open in Bulgaria...and there's two more interviews tomorrow.

It's nice to be in demand.

I just may end up as the only socialist in Moscow.

Nose Poison


“Living is abnormal.”
“The universe seems to me infinitely strange and foreign."
“Banality is a symptom of non-communication. Men hide behind their cliches.”
- Eugene Ionesco

I think "Rhinovirus" would be a great name for a techno band. The conjunction of the charging horned pachyderm of "Rhino" with the Latin word for "poison" with it's connections to computer technology, sabotage and chaos. Even though all it means is a cold in the nose.

Anyway, I've got one. No not a pachyderm, or a technoband - a headcold. Rhinoviruses (rhinovires? rhinovirii?) are indeed caused by viruses, not cold weather. My next-door neighbour - who happens to be a GP - tells me it's much more common to get colds when it's hot, so it should be called a "hot" instead of a "cold".

But having cold air in your nasal passages makes the symptoms (not the infection) worse.

So yes, I've got a hot.

How do people find me? I don't mean "what do they think of me?". I mean "By what mechanism do people locate me?". Answer: by these search terms.

poisoned toothbrush

sleeping on the phone

London Bomb Scare Oxford Circus December 4 2007

octave voice changer sing -karaoke, -spy

vinyl shop´s deutchland

cpgb-ml

beethoven mum and dad

FUCK SHIT DAMN BUGGER

"Joy Bang" actress

what rhymes with bugger

respect split

word rhyming with ignored

rhyme with pan

global variable in drool

"stop the cavalry" blogspot

Grey pride

Shit Blast out

repair tascam 4-track cassette

the world i want by kingone

Meghalt a szeretet

"henry VIII had two wives"

blogspot damon blows america

lemski noam

door +latch closed from outside mysterious death

pit and the pendulum gifs

"open channel d" +wav

what rhymes with relaxed

i'm just apoor boy

who invented the sandwich

professor Branestawm burglar catching machine

what rhymes with tedious

"humans have four nostrils"

shit blast

blow-up tommy gun

proteus cabinet illusion


But better than all that - someone had a compelling urge to have me computer translated into french. Mon dieu!

And as an extra added supplemental bonus:

kapitano - saw


El KaPiTaNo GuErNo is nineteen, German, and makes instrumental music for rappers to rap over. With the singer on YouTube, that makes three musicians called Kapitano on the net. And both the others make more music than I've been able to recently. Which isn't annoying at all - no not one bit.

Lingvo estas Viruso


“The ideal place for me is the one in which it is most natural to live as a foreigner.”
- Italo Calvino

The good news: A school in Indonesia have offered me a job.

The bad news: I didn't contact them - they contacted me. And they don't want an interview - they just saw my online CV and offered me the job with no questions asked. And their "contract" is a mindmangling sludge of pseudo-legalese.

So far as I can tell from the website, it is a real school, just one that's at the bottom of the pile.

Nevermind - I've got telephone interviews on Saturday (with an endearingly shambolic operation in Bulgaria) and Monday (with a hyperefficient outfit in Moscow).

There are two concepts the British civil service can't cope with. That people are different from each other, and that people change.

Faced with someone who teaches English and won't be around in a month, they've decided their only option is to put him on a training course. For three months. To teach him how to look for jobs. In engineering.

I'm much too busy to go along with their silly schemes.

Today's fascinating fact: The unit of currency in Korea is the "Won", with an exchange rate of roughly 930 won to the American dollar, or 1880 to the British pound.

If I worked there, I'd get about GBP1000 (USD2000) per year. Or two million won. I wonder how many suitcases you'd need for a year's wages?

Kapitano's current musical squeeze: Icehouse. The Cure with more synths, Duran Duran with mellower vocals, Alphaville with, erm, what Alphaville had.Yeah okay - it's more 80s synthpop with new-wavey post-punky new-romantiky guitars.

I knew someone at college whose musical soul was firmly in American stage songs from the 1920s and 30s. At a different college (I managed to go to three) there was a fellow from India who was very much into Cliff Richard and 70s soft rock. Another thought everything written for the past four hundred years was rubbish. Mine is only from three or four years before I switched on the radio.


Chiu tago estas Zamenhof-tago!

(Today is Zamenhof day!)

Mi nur eksciis acidente.

(I only found out by accident.)

Ludoviko Zamenhof estis la viro kiu komencis Esperanton. Li publikighis la "unua libro" en 1887, donata nekompleta gramatikon kaj malgrandan vokabularion, kiu estis malgrau suficha ke homoj povis komencu paroli.

(Ludovik Zamenhof was the man who intiated Esperanto. He published the "first book" in 1887, giving an incomplete grammar and a small vocabulary, which nevertheless was sufficient for people to begin speaking.)

La lingvo kreskis dum la unua duono da la dudeka jarcento, sed char politikaj kauzoj ghi kontrauighis per registaroj, kaj atakita per konservativistoj.

(The language grew during the first half of the twentieth century, but for political reasons was opposed by governments, and attacked by conservatives.)

Certe ghi ne estis la perfekta ponta lingvon - kio ajn tio vere signifas - sed estis (kaj restas) bona ideo, kaj ghi funkscias. Eble vi ne kredas min? Mi estas skribanta tiuj vortoj esperante, sekve tradukanta mi mem al la angla.

(Certainly it wasn't the perfect bridge language - whatever that may really mean - but it was (and is) a good idea, and it works. Perhaps you don't believe me? I am writing these words in Esperanto, then translating myself into English.)

Philip Glass Buys a Load of Cred


"There's something magical about a room full of strangers, sitting in the dark, eating."
- Laurie Anderson (on cinema)

Here's an impromptu competition. It's called "Spot the Bollocks". Just read the text below, and as soon as you find a sentence which is complete bollocks, shout "Bollocks!". The first one to shout gets a...chocolate bollock. Or something.

Ready? Here we go:

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to apply for the post of English Language Teacher, as advertised with ESLBase.com.

I am a native speaker of British English, newly qualified with a Cambridge CELTA, plus an MA. I have an approachable manner and a love of learning new things.

My CV is enclosed in Word format. I can take up the post immediately. If you need any further information, please do not hesitate to ask.


Did you spot the Bollocks? Well done. I've just emailed it to twelve schools in Eastern Europe.

Oh, and got a response from a tiny school that wants a teacher but what they really want is a computer technician. Gah.

An easier quiz: what was Kapitano doing last night?

Answer: Getting drunk and shagging in the back yard.

Seeing as I was pissed out of my head, he was stoned out of his, and the air was cold enough to freeze the cliches off a brass monkey, there wasn't much hope of "completion". but I thought it was great fun and didn't want to stop.

Have you ever taken an encyclopedia, opened it at random, and started reading? I did that all the time at school and university - with the result that instead of the completely useless education those places tried to give me, I have a different completely useless education. I discovered Heidegger because he came alphabetically after Hegel.

Nowadays we have a giant worldwide machine for doing the same thing - the articles contradict each other just as much, and half are written by people who shouldn't write anything at all - but "surfing" isn't so different.

Keeping your music in mp3s on a few hundred badly catalogued discs works in the same way. You get to discover (or rediscover) stuff from years ago, just by sticking your hand into the box at random, and seeing what comes out.

Today, it's Philip Glass' "Quatsi" trilogy. And some Laurie Anderson. Erm, and some Prodigy remixes.

A school in the Czech Republic have got back to me. This is their supereffecient system for hiring teachers:

(1) Applicant sends CV by email
(2) School sends application form by email
(3) Applicant prints out form, and copies the CV they've already sent onto it by hand
(4) Applicant posts the form, plus a photocopy of their certificate, by snailmail to the school
(5) A week or so later, the school get it, and contact the referees by snailmail
(6) When the referees get back from Christmas holidays, they send a letter back
(7) A week or so later, the school gets the confirmations, and emails the applicant to arrange a telephone interview
(8) Applicant does the telephone interview
(9) School contacts the Czech embassy in London to arrange a travel visa
(10) Applicant travels to London to confirm that they want a visa
(11) Three weeks later, Applicant travels to London to collect the fucking visa

Unless, of course, the applicant finds a school which doesn't take two months to do what the others do in two weeks.

By the way, have you noticed how to job of designing questionnaires and application forms is given to those who have the design skills, but not to those who know what makes a good design?

It's like employing a chef who can operate the oven beautifully, but has no idea what ingredients go together.

Now I've got to wade through headings like "Education School + Major", "Subjects I have worked for" and "Internet Y/N?" - trying to work out what the hell it is they're asking.

Incidentally, these examples are from a school which prides itself on helping businessmen communicate effectively.

Cold Feet


"If sunbeams were weapons of war, we would have had solar energy centuries ago.
- George Porter

Ah, there's nothing quite like slipping into a freshly formatted computer, with a crisp, clean, unfragmented drive structure, and the unmistakable waft of a neat registry.

It almost seems a shame to mess things up by using it.

I am now eating, on average, one packet of dry cheese biscuits per day. Which is not quite what I had in mind. They're not especially appetising or moreish, they just...there. As in "there to be eaten".

Drat. There's always something I forget to back up. And that something tends to be notes on possible stories and songs. Like it was this time.

Drat.

I spent most of Saturday riding in a coach up to a demo in London, trudging through rain, puddles and cold holding a soggy placard, and riding on the same coach back.

The demo was the (now annual) broad environmentalist protest called by the Campaign Ag inst Climate Change. There were about ten thousand of us - meriting a small sidebar mention on the evening news - trying to build a mass movement capable of, well, saving the world actually.

The route was a little strange, roughly from Hyde Park to Grosvenor Square - near the American embassy, which the anarchists decided to picket for some reason - where we stopped for a miniature rally and live musical interlude...before looping around to Hyde Park again for another rally. A plan presumably designed by committee.

A few things I noticed:

* 10K people - down from the last two years.

* Almost no chanting. A distinct lack of rhythmic or rhyming slogans from the marching crowd. In fact, the event was mostly silent.

* Most of the single issue campaigners didn't turn up this year - "save the seals", "save the fox", "ban nuclear power", "build wind turbines"...all these conspicuous by absence. There was a small showing for "end cheap flights" and "no to the expansion of Stansted airport".

* A token smattering of antiwar banners, and also of the small political sects I'm so fond of - including a damp squib showing from George Galloway's new "mass" party.

* It was nearly all white. The national UK average for "non-caucasian" population is reckoned to be 6-7%, and in London you'd never walk down the street without seeing afro-caribbean, asiatic and middle eastern faces. So who was marching for the planet? Middle class white folks, and no one else.

So, as you may guess, it wasn't the best demo I've ever been on. But maybe I'm a little biased, seeing as both my shoes had holes in them, and I've spent the last twelve hours with sopping socks and frozen feet.

Pitstop


It's that time again, when I have to backup my data, reinstall Windows, and spend a day putting all the software back on the laptop.

So, as has become tradition, here's a selection of pictures that I've stumbled across, uploaded for your pleasure before I consign them to oblivion.

My how things change over the years. For instance...the 70s:


...the 80s:


...and the 90s:

Fantasy:


...and Reality:


Seeing things in new ways:


...while respecting to old ways:


Protecting the forests:


...and sealife:


...and endangered species:


...especially the cute ones:


Always be prepared to meet new people:


...and make friends, even if it's a bit awkward at first:


...be patient with their faults:


...even if they're a bit creepy:


Crackers Don't Matter


"Great liars are also great magicians."
- Adolf Hitler

When I qualified as a teacher, I was told schools all over the world would be desperate to have me. And to an extent they are. But in the wrong way.

Some schools in the far east are so desperate for teachers, they're sending me unsolicited emails and even phoning me up. Of course, the reason they're so desperate is no one wants to work for them. And the reasons no one wants to work for them...

(1) The pay sucks
(2) The resources suck
(3) The contract sucks
(4) The hours suck
(5) The perks...aren't.

And that's why the majority (80% or more) of EFL teachers in Southeast Asia are backpackers with no teaching qualifications. And although regulations about qualifications in the EFL world are being tightened up worldwide, I don't imagine they'll be tightened much there. Not unless they want to close down most of the schools.

I'm a snacker. When I'm bored, or depressed, or too tired to think but too awake to sleep, my first instinct is the head for the kitchen. That, combined with a fondness for large conventional meals, is not good for my general health.

The thing is, the presence of something abundant and munchable seems to be more important than the actual flavour or experience of eating. So I'm trying an experiment.

If it doesn't really matter what I nibble, why don't I try having some packets of cheese crackers handy instead of biscuits and cake? And no cheese on them. Or anything else.

Well, aren't you supposed to have crackers at christmas?

There are seven kinds of move in slight-of-hand manipulation:

(1) Palm - to hold an object in your hand, shaped and positioned to make it look empty.
(2) Ditch - to dispose of or store an object, disguising the action as a natural but functionless gesture, or as a different gesture.
(3) Steal - to retrieve an object from its hiding place, likewise disguised.
(4) Load - to move an object from one place to another, similarly disguised.
(5) Simulation - to pretend to perform an action, while actually not.
(6) Misdirection - any action which distracts attention away from another.
(7) Switch - to transpose two objects.

Any given trick will probably use more than one of these simultaneously. For instance, in a "vanish take" the magician appears to take a small object from between the thumb and forefinger of one hand with the other hand, which is then shown to be empty. This involves pretending to grab the object (simulation), while dropping the object from the fingers into the hand (load) and concealing that it's there (palm).

Yes, I'm reading about magic. There's a number of professions that involve deception as an integral part of themselves - politician, prostitute, police officer, door-to-door seller - but magicians are probably the only people who have to lie openly to do their job.

However, there's also those magicians who do pretty much the same tricks, but claim they're doing it for real, with supernatural assistance. Victorian spiritualist mediums, witchdoctors and shamans in Africa and India, Edgar Cayce, Sylvia Browne and Helena Blavatski.

To my knowledge, Uri Geller is unique in having been both kinds of magician - he made the transition from stage magician ("honest liar") to huckster thirty five years ago, and maybe his career hangs on people not knowing that. I think there's a good reason why debunkers of these people are often stage magicians - Harry Houdini, James Randi, Penn and Teller.

Anyway, my current reading matter is "The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading" by Ian Rowland - possibly the world's foremost authority on how to get people to tell you things by pretending you already know. He lists thirty eight ways to do it, thirteen ways to avoid getting caught out, and ten ways to cover up when you do.

The People's Popular Front


“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy.”
- Tony Benn

My second conference in a week, this time the "World Against War International Peace Conference". Representatives from anti-war movements all over the world, addressing and debating over a thousand delegates in a dozen languages - with headphone translations.

It was both inspiring and productive, but rather than tell you about all that, I thought I'd tell you about the various little groups who weren't at the conference, but set up stalls outside it.

I spent time between forums asking them about themselves. There was the RCG, the CPGB-ML, Socialist Resistance, and the LFI. So who are these people? I'm glad you asked me.

The RCG (Revolutionary Communist Group) are Leninists (or orthodox Trotskyists, depending on who you ask) who split from the RCP (Revolutionary Communist Party) after the RCP were expelled from the IS (International Socialists) who later became the SWP (Socialist Workers Party). The RCP later imploded and the remnants became the Institute for Ideas. Meanwhile the RCG expelled three of its members, who became the CF (Communist Forum).

The CPGB-ML (Communist Party of Great Britain - Marxist-Leninist) were a faction - formerly members of the ACW (Association of Communist Workers) - expelled from the SLP (Socialist Labour Party) who were a breakaway group from the Labour Party.

SR (Socialist Resistance) is an ecosocialist group formed mainly from the SSN (Socialist Solidarity Network) and the ISG (International Socialist Group). They joined the Respect coalition - together with the SWP, the IMG (International Marxist Group), the CPGB (Communist Party of Great Britain) and others, but not the SP (Socialist Party) or HOPI (Hands Off the People of Iraq, who are the CPGB in disguise). Then late this year a faction within Respect split away, calling itself Respect-Renewal.

Still with me? Well nevermind. Now, SR refuses to acknowledge the split has occurred, and is therefore part of both parties, which hate each other, have separate premises, finances and publications. Though only Respect-Renewal recognises SR, and seems to be under the impression that SR has dissolved itself.

The LFI? Oh, they're the League for the Fifth International, a coalition around the MSF (Movement for a Socialist Future) which believes all the existing socialist groups are too weighed down with ideological baggage and mutual enmity, so advocates starting a new grassroots group from scratch.

They recently expelled several members, who became the PRT (Permanent Revolution Tendency).

Update: Videos of all the speakers are on YouTube, linked to here.

Noel, Noel


"In life, he suffered from a sense of unreality, as do many Englishmen."
- Jorge Luis Borges

How long is a keyboard supposed to last before it develops a serious fault? A year? Two years? How about less than a month?

My CELTA graduation present was a spiffy new miniature USB keyboard, to replace the three year old built in keyboard on my laptop, which had five keys non-responsive. It was light, nicely designed, and fit easily into a small shoulderbag. And the letter L has just stopped working. Odd how losing just one letter from a keyboard makes it almost impossible to use.

So what am I typing this on? An obsolete second-hand keyboard that's at least five years old, and still works perfectly.

A small insight into the mentality of police officers. Sometimes police exceed the speed limit, sometimes they get caught by their nominal colleagues, and sometimes they get a speeding ticket as a result.

This site argues that law enforcers should be above the traffic laws. Apparently it's called "Professional Courtesy".

Quis custodiet...?

How about a pagan Christmas?

It shouldn't be too difficult. You just need a indoor tree symbolising the circle of life, songs no one understands lead by men in robes, and alcohol.

Oh hang on. It's the Festival of Saturn I'm thinking of.



(Image from the "Oh My Gods" pagan comic strip)

The school in Vietnam got back to me, asking that I reconsider. They say costs can be spread over the year so I pay less up front - oh, and beer is as cheap as water there. They're obviously a bit desperate but...I don't think so. The "hidden" costs may be spreadable, but I'd still be basically breaking even after a year.

A different school sent me an email, just hours after I put my CV up on an EFL site. They have branches in...Vietnam! Plus Taiwan, Cambodia and China. After perusing the site, I'm dubious - the pay isn't great, and the don't always reimburse flights.

Plus, I'd be teaching large classes of children, a prospect that doesn't fill me with joy. I like the company of individual children occasionally, but 25 hours a week with 50 of them...not really me.

Am I being too picky? I'll decide on the basis of whatever response I get from the East European schools.

After trying out several chairs, I've found the thing to to sit on that gives me exactly the right height to type at my computer. It's my other computer.

Current reading: Short stories of Jorge Borges. There's not many times summaries of the works make me want to read the original ("original", in translation), but this is one of those times.

Do I do too much politics sometimes? Answers on a postcard please. But in the meantime, here's a link to one more indication that rightwingnuttery is (a) in the mainstream and (b) undergoing meltdown anyway. The biggest coverup conspiracy theory since Alternative 3. Fnord.

The East is Pink


The conference was actually called "Being Gay in the Middle East", though it inevitably morphed early on into a discussion on what's called "Liberal Interventionism" - invading Afghanistan to stop them shooting their women, bombing Iraq to stop them persecuting their Jewish population etc. Forcing people to be nice by pointing a gun at them.

There's a lot of liberals around who take an interventionist stance. They're the ones who say "We're against war in general but this one is righteous because the enemy oppresses Group X", for each war that comes along. Some prominent liberals who avoided falling into interventionism for previous wars (Christopher Hitchens, Peter Tatchell) have fallen for it big time in the war on terror.

It was highly surprising therefore, and very pleasing, for these people to be absent from this debate. Surprising because they advertised it and anticipated it in the blogosphere. Pleasing because arguments about interventionism can get really vitriolic and unpleasant.

The first speaker was Jinan Coulter, and her spiel set the tone for most of what followed: Some Islamic countries kill and harass people for being gay, and some don't. Some christian, Buddhist and Hindu countries do, and some don't. Some used not to but do now, and vice versa. So to advocate going to war with "Islam" because it's uniquely homophobic is absurd, even in its own terms.

The second speaker was Nathan Shaked, aka "Mr Gay Israel" and "Mr Gay International". He had nothing to say beyond (paraphrasing), "I'm Israeli but I don't agree with the way my government treats the Palestinians, and I think if everyone could just get together and stop hating each other long enough to have a proper discussion, we'd be able to see we're not very different, and come to some mutually beneficial arrangement over our disputes."

Heartwarming, and in its way true, but not very useful.

The third speaker was Ali Hili, who is involved in setting up safe houses in Iraq for gays and women.

Prior to the occupation, homosexuality was illegal under Saddam Hussein, but the law was not enforced. Now that Iraq is reduced to dozens of warring splinter groups (including the puppet government), there are death squads roaming around, killing anyone they think might be gay, plus any women who aren't sufficiently covered up. Or collaborators, or anyone who doesn't follow exactly their line.

That lunatic fringe that Fox News presented as representative of all Arabs/Muslims...they've rushed into the power vacuum and there's no one left who can hold them back. Nice one, Mr Bush.

Most contributions from the floor were unremarkably sensible and filled in details of what the three "platform" speakers said. Though there was one mad woman at the back who, upon learning that the anti-sodomy laws of Asia and the Middle East were put in place by colonial occupiers (British, French, and Portuguese) and retained by the local rulers afterwards...demanded to know how anyone could say there was a link between homophobia and colonialism.

On the horizon, shadowing everything else, was the possibility of an attack on Iran. Which wouldn't fall instantly like Afghanistan and have the opium production back up to previous levels under new masters in under a year. And it wouldn't dissolve into civil war like Iraq.

It would...actually, no one know what it would do. Declare war on Israel? Start funding terrorist groups all over the world? Buy nuclear weapons from the Russian Federation? All the above? No one can say, but it would be bad. That's "bad" the same way the pacific ocean is "moist".

If you want an alternative view of the debate, from people who do this stuff all the time, go here. I'm sure you'll find it balanced and diplomatically phrased.

Reality Failure


"I honestly believe, that in certain parts of America now, people have started to mate with vegetables."
- Jeremy Clarkson

"The Ark" are a Swedish glam-rock band who played a free gig in Washington DC in October. Seeing a plane fly overhead, lead singer Ola Salo said to the crowd, "In this country, you don't know where those planes are headed. Well, this one seems to be heading in the right direction anyway - the White House!"

Within days, the Swedish ambassador gave in to loud demands for a public apology, Salo apologised profusely to nutjobs making death threats against him, and the band cancelled their planned tour of the US.

So the audience were offended by the joke, right? Wrong. They laughed and applauded.

The threats and demands came from people who weren't there, the apologies were addressed to people who had no interest in tbe band and were never going to be appeased anyway, and the tour was cancelled because...well, the fans weren't offended but they darn well should have been.

It wasn't many decades ago that the mad were put in cages and the public paid to see them. Now thanks to the internet, the mad build their own cages, and we can see them for free. For instance:

9/11 was part of the gay agenda. And Hitler was gay too.

Socialists are postmodern because they're obsessed with victimhood. And by the way all videos of Palestinians being shot are fake.

Shortness causes paedophilia. And so does left-handedness.

The always delightful Hashishan Prophet has acquired some followers - some of who visit the real world long enough to run a cyberministry - Operation Terra.

Holy Hamburgers Batshit-crazy-man! How's this for a gap in the fast food market: raising fundamentalist cows to be made into godly hamburgers to be eaten by god-fearing folk. This one's probably a satire, but part of me really wishes it weren't.

"Lenin, the leader of the Russian Bolshevik Revolution was a paranoid atheist religious whackjob who got shot and in his schizo-paranoia, had his Communist press publish he is "The Chosen One". ROTFLMAO."

"...not a single Middle Eastern Studies Department in the United States offers a course on Islamo-Fascism". They don't teach you about shape-shifting jewish alien lizards either.

As an unexpected bonus, I've been invited to a conference tomorrow on "Gays and Islam", or as it may turn out to be "Some Islamic regimes kill gays therefore all Islamic countries need to be bombed because that'll stop them doing it". And in parentheses, "Anyone who defends anyone muslim against oppression is supporting all the Islamic regimes in the world, especially the nasty ones".

Anyway, until then, I'm looking at biblical skip codes with some free software. So far it's found 72 instances of the english word "shit" (transliterated into hebrew) in the torah. I'm vaguely tempted to write a program to look for "flaming closet queen" in the works of Shakespeare.

But I won't, 'cos that would be silly.

Kingdom of the Blind


"One way of feeling infallible is not to keep a diary."
- George Orwell

It looks like I'll be around over christmas after all. I'll be spending the time looking for contracts in Eastern Europe and bits of the Russian Federation - when not overeating christmassy foods and watching the abominable christmassy TV while trying to digest them,

Whether I have any money over christmas depends on the mood of the "jobsearch" "advisor" who will "interview" me tomorrow. My reserves of patience with bureaucracy, phony training schemes and people with policy instead of brains is at an all time low, so being polite and diplomatic will be a challenge.

A small Marxist Forum last night, on "The Roots of Racism". All familiar territory - how "race" is a pseudoscientific notion originally created to justify the African slave trade, and how racism is an example of "divide and rule", later revived and modified into national or religious forms when governments need scapegoats.

There was the traditional newbie question on whether freedom of speech should extend to fascists - as though there were no fundamental difference between debating the merits of Anthony Trollope with a literary critic...and debating the merits of genocide with someone who doesn't believe you have the right to an opinion and thinks you'd look good in a gas chamber.

There were also the equally traditional mad questions from the traditional mad comrade - in this case "Should all black folks be socialists?" and "My half caste acquaintances are always making fun of me so isn't that black-on-white racism?". Insert emoticon of eyes rolling.

The "freedom of speech" thing was obviously about the Oxford union being controversial ("brave") for the sake of it by inviting a British fascist and a holocaust denier to "debate" with it. Protesters more-or-less prevented the debate and the newspapers are full of sanctimonious editorials about how reason is the way to defeat racism, not censorship.

Evidently written by journalists who (a) don't grasp the difference between racism and fascism, and (b) have never tried to reason someone out of racism. It's exactly like trying to reason someone out of religion or patriotism.

Is it that 80s pop music was brilliant, or is it just that it looks brilliant next to almost everything since?

Or is it that creativity is like a fluid, of which there is a fixed quantity, and can only exist within a few genres at a time, and which around 1990 moved into genres that I haven't heard of, but should probably search out?

Or am I just nostalgic for my teen years, latching onto whatever was on the airwaves at the time? Which would be odd, as I hated pretty much everything about the time.

Or do we just only remember the good bits?

Nah, I reckon the 80s was a great time for music. It was a horrible time for everything else - politics, AIDS, nuclear paranoia, recession etc. But if you were into computers, music, and music made with computers, it was...invigorating.

Which is why I've been pigging out on synthpop, electropop, technopop, elecroclash, electro, new romantic, neu-romantik, new wave, post punk, krautrock...and probably a dozen other overlapping categories of disposable-but-immortal music from the time you could have guitars and synths in the same band, and musicians didn't have to be young and pretty to be on TV...but usually were anyway,

I must try and make some more of it.

Damn Bugger Hell Shit Blast


I knew it. I just fucking knew it. Something had to go wrong and mess up everything. Money.

Everything is cheap in Vietnam - food, travel, entertainment, lodging etc. But deposits on lodging turn out not to be. Well, I could just be frugal and get by.

But flights to get there cost twice as much as my initial research led me to suppose - the cheapest is GBP500. The school reimburse the cost, but I have to afford it first.

In the small print, they recommend taking USD1500 with you, for incidental costs in first month, before reimbursement and pay. Oh and I forgot the USD200 for vaccinations.

Can the school buy the air ticket for me instead of reimbursing me afterwards? Possibly, they say, but probably not. Can they forward me the salary for the flight, initial accommodation and basic cost of living? Not that much.

So what do I do? Borrow a load more money from the bank just to be able to get out of the debt I'm in? No. Fuck it and fuck them.

I know, I know. I should have seen it coming. I should have checked out details and prices earlier and more thoroughly.

So, what do I do now? Apply to other places? Yes, and try to find places I can actually get to. Try to teach here in my home town? Maybe, but it's fraught with possible difficulties. Find some other temporary source of income they'll pay for me to get to somewhere where I can start earning properly? That's how endless deferment starts.

Cold/War


“I was seldom able to see an opportunity until it had ceased to be one”
- Mark Twain

Saturday was the original Sabbath, but I haven't been resting.

At midday, a small antiwar rally. Called at short notice, in the wind and cold, thirty people (including some strangers) standing with placards at the guildhall steps, listening to a few speeches, then placing a white lily peace wreath at the nearby war memorial and observing a minute's silence.

Not a fiery event of protest, not a mass mobilisation, just a way of saying "We're still here, still determined, still against the war which is still wrong and still a failure." Oh, and bombing Iran is not, on balance, a good way to stabilise the middle east.

Then drinks with comrades, tea with Donna S, a stroll with Paul T, evening meal and more drinks with Simon M, and, er, there was supposed to be a late night blowjob against a wall from the man who sometimes can't control his urination.

But it was too cold, which is why this post isn't called "War and Piss". Anyway,,,

Go to Hanoi for three months...go for twelve months...or wait till there's another offer and go somewhere else entirely. What to do?

If I go for three months, it's in one way like dipping my toe into the ocean, and in another like treading water while appearing to swim.

Essentially, I'd have spent a dozen weeks getting by in a foreign culture and climate, and nothing would have changed at the end of it. With the pay level, I'd be about as much in debt as before - to the bank and the friend who loaned me the money to do the CELTA in the first place.

Low risk, low return.

If I go for twelve months, it's high risk and high return. I'd actually have to settle into a lifestyle, complete with tropical dampness, functional fluency in the language,

I'd also be out of debt at the end of it, with significant teaching experience, and the world could be the molosc of my tefly choice.

If I decline and wait for another offer...well I'll just have a load of similar deliberations at a later date for a different country, and meanwhile I'd be stuck here, in debt with miserable cold weather.

So, that's why I'm thinking the twelve month option is better for me.

It would be nice if the school's arrangements for work visa, accommodation, flights and inoculation were a little firmer. I've never done this before, I'd like some guidance with a lot of the details, and I don't like vagueness anyway.

Today's aphorism: Business English is to English as business ethics is to ethics.

I thank you.

Chào Anh


“The ideal place for me is the one in which it is most natural to live as a foreigner.”
- Italo Calvino

I'm off to Vietnam in a week or so. For a year.

There's endless red tape and preparation first, plus the usual gnawing fear that it'll all go wrong and I'm not good enough to make it work. My parents don't want me to go there.

But all that can wait till after a decent night's sleep.

Goodnight.

Going Places


“Teachers are those who help us in resolving problems which, without them, we wouldn't have”
- Unknown

Okay, I might be off to Hanoi in two weeks, This is how you get to spend twelve weeks in Vietnam:

* After applying for a short-term contract, do a telephone interview at eight in the morning, because they're seven hours ahead. Assuming everything goes well...

* Get vaccinated against typhoid, tetanus, tuberculosis and a few other things. Start a course of anti-malaria tablets.

* Fax your passport to the school. They will arrange a work visa with the British immigration office and the Vietnamese embassy, and email the confirmation back to you. You then visit the embassy in person with visa number and passport, they provide a visa three days later, after which you've got five days to leave.

* The school pays for your airline ticket but you book it.

* You buy health insurance, which for any period less than six months is travel insurance.

In short: A few needles and a lot of red tape.

The interview will probably be tomorrow (Friday).

People tend to confuse good writing with good content, and I don't think it's a new thing.

I don't really know what makes good writing good, but then I don't know in detail what makes good cookery good, and we can all tell the difference even when we don't know how we're doing it.

During my studies of christian theology some years ago, one fact kept cropping up in parentheses, but was never explored. Those texts chosen (after a century of debate) for inclusion in the bible are notably well written - while the vast heap deemed philosophically unsophisticated or politically undesirable are mostly bad from a literary point of view.

It's as though the four canonical gospels were chosen, not for their historical accuracy, moral rectitude or coherence within and between themselves - qualities they rather lack - but because their authors knew what they were doing.

This is obviously to overstate the case. The bible was assembled as an ideological tool to support a political power structure, not to be a good read. But if the author of the gospel of James had been a better wordsmith, or the author of John had had an off day, theological disputes over the centuries might have been different.

Happy and Glorious Queen


"I'm like a cake that wants to be baked,
I'm like a pie made for hungry guys."
- Fancy, "Slice me Nice"

Brno don't want me. Ho Chi Minh City are considering.

At this rate I'll be running my own school by the time they get to Moscow.

Exactly how do you pronounce "Brno" anyway?

Today's word:

Nillionaire: Noun used to describe a person with no money.

My current reading matter: The collected works of George Orwell, online.

Orwell is one of those writers who I can always return to for inspiration or provokation - whether on the limits of pacifism or how to make a cup of tea.

Like Wittgenstein always makes me want to ask deep questions, Beckett makes me want to write, and er, Christopher Hitchens makes me want to punch the author...Orwell gets me wondering whether I've been wrong all my life about subjects I've never thought about.

Question: Who reads Kapitano?
Answer: People who use these search terms:

HUMAN FUCK ANIMAL

gay man furniture

sex and death

"lesson plan"+"word stress"

"Stop The Cavalry" buzz

lying previous jobs p45

"I went to the bank yesterday" TEFL

"jeff stryker" thunderstorm porn

devo satisfaction "drum sequence"

Hugh Pugh Barney McGrew

murder notes

anna portsmouth strict machines

matt bianco blogspot

short white boy raps

"countermand my trousers"

torchwood jack and gwen love

term for permanently stoned

cash advance

Get a Cash Advance



Here's a patriotic quiz.

Who wrote the British national anthem?
(1) Elgar
(2) Beethoven
(3) No one knows!

How many verses does it have?
(1) One
(2) Three
(3) It varies! But at least two.

What is the officially recognised version of the lyrics?
(1) "God save our gracious Queen / Long live our noble Queen..."
(2) "God save the queen / The fascist regime..."
(3) There isn't one!

So how many commonly accepted versions are there?
(1) Just one
(2) Fourteen. Except in February, when there's nine and a half.
(3) The first verse is pretty much standard, after that...no one knows!

What do we call someone who knows the second verse?
(1) Educated
(2) Patriotic
(3) Strange, and possibly dangerous\

Incidentally, the American national anthem is written to the tune of a British drinking song. Unless you read Douglas Adams, in which case it's an ancient Betelgeuse death song.

Of Custard and Computers


Where did people get the idea that they ought to be able to use computers without knowing how to use them?

I mean, what would you think if you heard this conversation?

"I want to drive to London, but I'm not exactly sure how you do it."

"Okay. You know all about the highway code and traffic lights and stuff?"

"Oh sure. Well not really but I'm not concerned about that kind of thing right now. I just want to know the basics of how to drive a car."

"Right, well you've got the ignition, wheel, accelerator, clutch and brake. Once you've turned the key in the ignition you pedal the clutch..."

"Hold on! Hold on! I don't know what all those fancy words mean and I don't think I need to know. I just want you to tell me in simple terms how to drive to London."

Would you let this person drive your car to the end of the street? Somehow I doubt it.

But when someone wants to do their accounts without knowing the functions of a spreadsheet, or edit some video without knowing what a keyframe is, or email a graphic attachment without considering whether PNG and JPEG might be more appropriate...that's perfectly normal.

Cars, cookers and computers are all complex, often idiosyncratic, and take time to master. People take great care to get to know the quirks of their kitchen devices, and pride in knowing how to use their kitchen to prepare good meals. It's a comparable story with their cars.

Even when they play fast and loose with the rules of cooking and driving, they generally do so in a skilled and well thought out way. If someone exceeds the speed limit, it may be illegal but they probably know what they're doing. If your custard is on fire, it's probably crème brûlée.

Oh I'm not saying everyone who drives a car is a brilliant driver - obviously they're not, The majority have only a minimum level of competence - enough to avoid hitting trees and each other most of the time.

My point is that most computer users don't even have that level, and what's more important, they don't see why they should take the trouble to become competent, because only nerds are competent, and nerds are weird and somewhat contemptible.

Though somehow auto mechanics and good drivers aren't.


On the other hand...

I downloaded a single file in Stuffit format. So of course I had to spend ten minutes searching Google for a Stuffit expander that (a) didn't require me to register with any site that sold my details to spammers and (b) wasn't a broken link.

I found a Stuffit expander...which wouldn't install until I'd installed MS .NET. So I download Microsoft's .NET (version 3.5) installer. Which doesn't actually install anything on its own - it downloads the real installation files from the Microsoft server - and ran it.

The installer then informed me that I need to install Windows 3.1 for it to work. Huh? I haven't even seen Windows 3.1 running since 1992.

So I went back to the MS site, and tried to download .NET (runtime) version 2.0. On the third attempt, it started downloading. It took five minutes to download, and another ten to install.

After which...I could install the Stuffit expander. And unpack my file, Except I couldn't, because my file was in the old Stuffit format (.sit) and the expander only works with the new Stuffit-X (.sitx) files.

In fact, this minor problem is quite clearly specified in the small print at the download site.

So. I downloaded "Stuffit Deluxe" (15 day trial, naturally) from the official Stuffit site. Oh, and I had to register to do it, so I expect to receive some additional spam soon. Fifteen minutes to download, five to install.

After all this, I rather expected my file to be corrupt - it would make a perverted kind of sense. But no, it unpacks just fine.

Though the contents aren't as described.


So, in conclusion. If people treated their cars like they treat their computers, no one would drive. Because every car would get totalled on the day of purchase.

And if cars were built like computers, no one would drive. Because they'd do a million miles to the gallon, but wouldn't start.

Gay as Dumbledore


"Don't be a prisoner of your own style."
- Armin van Buuren

It may be the time of computer fixers like me is coming to an end. A month ago I was asked to fix a tower PC with a dodgy hard disk - and in fact couldn't make it work. Now the owners have inherited a hand-me-down replacement with flat screen...and given me theirs. Complete with monitor, mouse and speakers.

If I hadn't got it, it'd be in the dustbin. Yep, for some people (and poor people at that) it's easier to throw away a computer than fix it, because there's others (slightly richer) who can give away last year's model following an upgrade.

Ah, you're thinking I've been given a nonworking computer as a gift, which will end up in my own dustbin if I can't make it work this time. Possibly, but I think I can get it working...and possibly then give to one of the two people I know who could use a new (old) computer. Hmm.

Mother has got herself a (slightly) early christmas present - a miniature laptop, and I'm quite impressed by it.

With 4GB solid state HDD, 512MB RAM, and a 0.9 GHz single core running speed, its specifications don't approach my own old laptop. But being about 12'' across and weighing less than a kilogram, plus built in Wi-Fi and decent onboard soundcard, you can carry it in your shoulderbag without getting cramp or carrying another shoulderbag for everything else.

It's marketed at children, or rather their parents, as a learning tool, but I reckon it'd be a useful tool for teachers too. Oh, and it's GBP200.

I'll even forgive the immensely silly name - Eee PC.


The lead actor from Doogie Howser MD (which I've never seen) came out as gay. So did an actor from Grey's Anatomy (which I've never seen). And one of the wizards from the Harry Potter films (which I've never seen) was outed by the writer.

Which of these caused the most activity on blogs and bulletin boards? Yes, the outing of a fictional character caused more fuss and heated debate than two real people coming out.

Is it me, or is that a bit daft?

I now have two new movies to enjoy. One is a sensitive exploration of unquenchable desire and the fleeting impermanence of human contact in modern urban culture, entitled, um, Damon Blows America Volume 8: Los Angeles. Yes, well. Anyway, [Cough].

The other is...Can't Stop the Music! The 1980 camparama which created the Village People, featured Busby-Berkley-style set pieces of athletic young men jumping into swimming pools, and tried at the same time to be a family friendly film about a band of musicians.

I know which is more homosexual, but I'm not sure which is gayer.

I've been getting increasingly into music that isn't really music at all - slow developing drony ambient stuff.

The kind made by (for instance) swinging a microphone in front of a faulty heater, feeding the result through delay and cutup modules, mixing with birdsong and rainstorm, and stuck on a CD with unenlightening titles like "Subreticulate 3" or "Sparkling the Dimmest Memory".

Current favourite among those ambient artists who get record deals with incredibly obscure labels and put hours of back catalogue on their website: Drone Forest.

Oneirology


“An autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful."
- George Orwell

One evening, when I was seven or eight, walking home from school, I nearly died.

I was walking past some scaffolding, against a building that was presumably being repaired. It was late summer, the sun was hot, and the workers must have gone home early because there was no one on the scaffold.

A half brick hit the ground with a loud clunk, a few inches to my left, and broke in two. If I'd been walking on a slightly different part of the pavement, I think it would have killed me.

I stood still a moment in surprise, and anger that some unseen person on the scaffold had been so careless. Then continued my walk home, pondering my own mortality.

About a decade ago, I slipped and fell from the spiral staircase in my home, landing painfully on my back, my head narrowly missing a lump of broken plaster.

Shaken, and not sure what else to do, I took myself off for a walk, discovering a new part of town that I'd never seen before.

The incident with the half brick really happened, but I can't be sure how much is memory and how much invention, because I don't remember it intensely, and I don't know how aware of death I could have been at that age.

The staircase fall I recall vividly, including how it felt to fall and land. Except it never happened. I've never lived in a place with a spiral staircase. It was a dream.

Now, I almost never remember my dreams, which is probably a good thing because those I do remember are nightmares. I remember the staircase-fall dream now because...

...because I've just awoken from another, similar dream, in which I remembered falling from the staircase and discovering a new part of town. I'm sure I didn't remember the staircase dream when I had it, but now I remember it because I remembered it in another dream - a decade or so after I originally had it.

Yes, I know, maybe I dreamed the memory. Maybe I really did fall from someone's spiral staircase as a child and half remember it, embellishing the memory and misidentifying it as a dream. And maybe there was no falling half brick all those years ago. I have fair certainty, but no proof and no way of knowing.

But this thing of remembering dreams (as reality) in other dreams (taken for reality), with years separating the two - that's happened several times before.

It's as though I have an entire dream personal history (composed mostly of nightmares), which is available to me only when I'm dreaming - except for those rare occasions when (a) I remember a dream and (b) the dream included memories of another dream.

I do not want to explore my own subconscious, uncovering dreams and childhood memories, integrating the insights thereby yielded into my adult waking life as a way to become a happy, well adjusted person.

No, I just want cut out my dreams and much of my childhood with a scalpel and throw them away.

George Orwell once wrote that writers are all deeply selfish and self-absorbed people, driven to write by demons they can't hope to comprehend, let alone deal with.

If so, I really should be a writer.

The Fast Show


we live in a high speed, highly organised world. Humans now work to the rhythm of the machine. The internet has changed everything. Yeah, right.

This is how you apply for a couple of teaching jobs:

1) Go to the school website. Hunt around for the list of vacancies for half an hour. Give up, go for a cup of tea and remember that the vacancies are on the school's other website.

2) Go to the other website, find the list of vacancies to apply for them online...and download the application for to be sent off by snail mail.

3) Fill out the form, including the silly part about how a hostile critic would evaluate you.

4) Go back to the website, and find by clicking the wrong button that actually you can apply online, by filling out a form which barely resembles the paper one. But first you need to register.

5) Register.

6) Wait for a day for your instant registration confirmation email.

7) Get the email, finish registration, fill out the online CV for five of the jobs. Click the "Submit" button.

8) Wait for something to happen.

9) Get an email saying they'd like more information about you. Spend an hour summarising the last five years of your life, and send the result.

10) Wait two days for something to happen.

11) Get another email saying their policy is to allow only one application at a time, so could I please indicate my order of preference for the jobs.

12) Spend a minute staring incredulously at the screen, then reply listing your applications in random order, "most desirable" at the top.

And that's as far as I've got. But at least it gave me plenty of time to re-register as unemployed - a much simpler procedure:

1) Arrive ten minutes before your scheduled re-activation interview. Tell the receptionist you're there.

2) Wait forty five minutes. Get called.

3) Watch as the interviewer spends ten seconds going through the forms you filled out this morning. He forgets to ask you for the vitally important ID and bank details without which they allegedly can't process your claim.

4) Sit as the interviewer finds you a low paid job vacancy in a city a hundred miles away, prints it out, and spends ten minutes calculating how much richer you'd be if you got the job.

5) Sit still some more as he realises he got the figures wrong, and recalculates.

6) Restrain your joy as he arranges another interview in two weeks time. After which someone different will put you on a training scheme for warehouse work.

So there you have it. With any luck, one pointlessly slow piece of bureaucracy will get me out of the fucking country before a pointless and slow piece tries to give me lessons in how to carry crates.

While waiting to hear back about the job vacancies in Moscow, Brno and Ho Chi Minh, I've been perusing other sources of TEFLy work.

There's i-to-i, who for the modest sum of GBP450 will fly you to the Czech Republic, train you to teach, and give you a guaranteed job. Yeah, right.

There's HuntESL, who offer a wide range of teaching qualifications, seemingly ratified by, erm, no one at all. And once they've awarded you the qualification only they recognise, you can search for a place to work on their extensive list. Which is currently empty.

And there's CactusTEFL, who I'm sure are respectable, but have so far proven impossible to register with.

Piles


What does it mean when you apply for a raft of teaching posts, and within twelve hours the school asks you to provide more information about yourself? I guess it means I'm on the "maybe" pile of applications...and they don't have a "definitely" pile. Or probably much of a pile at all - which is probably good for me.

Anyway, tomorrow (later today) the jobcentre have finally found time to see me so I can claim. There are several ironies implicit in this, not least that they'll want me to restart that worthless government scheme yet again.

Now is not a good time to lose my passport. Therefore that is exactly what I have done.

If I believed in Freud, I might think I did it deliberately. If I believed in God, I might think he was trying to tell me something. And if I believed in fate, I'd be inclined to fight against it.

I just believe I'm a bit untidy,

Oh Man


Sometimes my life is one long whirlwind of social engagements.

Afternoon.

A walk along the gently lapping seashore, speaking of love lost and love regained, and sitting on the pebbles watching the sun set, red and big and romantic behind rolling clouds...with, er, Paul T.

He's an experienced TEFLer who wants to emigrate to Hungary, to teach, be with his girlfriend, and get out of this godforsaken country. I'm a newly minted TEFLer who's looking to emigrate to Eastern Europe. It would be...somehow ironic...if we both ended up at the Budapest school of languages.

Evening.

This town has a skatepark. When my age was barely in double figures, I went along and tried to rollerskate with my brother and parents. None of us were any good, and after a few months we quietly gave up trying.

Next to the rollerskating rink for families, there was the skateboard area for cool teenagers. I was envious of them - their skill with the boards, their clothes and gear, their confidence and lack of visible parents.

Now the cool teens are boring parents with cool teens of their own. The park is threatened with closure and the second generation of skaters are mounting a credible campaign to keep it. One part of this campaign was a fundraising party at the re-cently re-named and re-novated "Havana Bar".

There's not many parties with four simultaneous DJs in different rooms, but that's what the Durty Sound System provides, allowing the punter to coast between 70s rock, ambient, synthpop and chilled reggae , all with short films and shifting sculptures of light projected onto the walls.

If you sat in exactly the right spot, you could listen to sound leakage from three at once. The spot was, inevitably, the room with chairs and tables for drinking and chatting.

I was somewhat relieved to be not the only punter over 25 with pattern balding. And no I did not hit on any of the grungy skatepunks, so there.

Night and morning.

After leaving the party, and a pleasant couple of hours for roast dinner and jeering-at-crap-TV-shows with a comrade...a night of getting a little too drunk with other comrades. And being used as a bouncy castle by their infant daughters.

I'm told I became rather animated and thumped the table, of which I have no recollection. I slept on a couch, and woke to a pounding hangover, an extremely welcome mug of sweet tea, and a three year old girl painting my fingernails blue.

One language school in Moscow needs twelve teachers of English to start as soon as possible. Either they're an extremely large school, or the place was so unbearable all the teachers left at once. Considering that the school of Zheleznodorozhny (I know I could pronounce it, but haven't got the strength) wants five teachers and the one in Zelenograd wants three...I'm guessing teacher retention in Russia isn't high.

Ho Chi Min city need ten too, and Mexico want even more. I decided, on balance, not to apply for Oman.

Better than the Real Thing (Part 2)


I've got about 250 CDR discs full of mp3s. And the same number containing software, plugins, ebooks and miscelainious data. I suppose I could take 500 discs with me wherever I end up...but 50 is a more sensible number to bundle with the laptop. That way people might not think I'm a computer geek. Cough.

So, a night of judiciously selecting the gigabytes I'm actually likely to use, and putting them onto DVDRs.

Um...there's also the three or four dozen "adult DVDs", so called because of the grown up plotlines and mature actors. Just how many European twinks and American musclequeens do I need on my shelf?

[Update: I've just counted. There's eighty of them. How in hades did that happen? And I've only seen maybe ten of them.]

Quick change of mood. There aren't many things that make me cry. This is one of them, but I'm not sure why.

You can get CDs of ocean waves, thunderstorms, forests at night, rain and wind. You put them on at low volume and they lull you off to sleep. It sounds rather hokey - largely because it is rather hokey - but I find that kind of quiet ambient noise helps me sleep much better than actual silence.

You can also get CDs of music - in the loosest sense of the word - by bands like my current favourite, Sleep Research Facility, who recreate and "musicalise" these ambient sounds.

I've got a program that generates these soundtracks, mixing running water, lapping ocean, night wildlife and "brainwave tones. It works quite well.

Just one detail though. Outside my windows there's real live wind and rain - and it's not relaxing at all. Hmmmm.

Today's pearl of wisdom posted to someone else's blog was written for David:

A lot of people seem to get into relationships just to be seen in them. A bit like listening to music you don't care about simply because the cool kids are doing it.

I've certainly seen people get married out of a vague conviction that married life is somehow more fulfilling than single life. And once they are married they swap it for the similar conviction that having secret sex with a third person is more fulfilling than having it with your partner.

And so, I've come to the conclusion that people who don't need their marriages to be happy...have the happier marriages.

So there :-).


B(l)ack


One of my earliest memories is of a power cut. A blackout, a brownout, a powerout, a powercut.

It was during a birthday party in the house where I spent my first four years - I must have been three, so the party was most likely my own. There was jelly and icecream, and one of mother's marvelous homemade cakes.

Abruptly all the lights went out with a click. One half of my mind was startled and terrified - I clung to mother and she told me not to worry. The other half of my mind decided instantly what had happened - the TV news had been carrying stories about how electricity workers had been selfishly going on strike for more money, I assumed this was one of those strikes.

Tonight, another powercut, again plunging us suddenly into darkness. Though this time the lost illumination was from computer screens, and the event afforded us an hour of family fun.

Out came my father's collection of oil lamps, plus a dozen candles, followed by the portable gas stove for making tea and coffee.

One of the many things I have occasionally wondered is: Can you make toast by holding a slice of bread over a candle flame? I can now reveal the answer is "No" - the result is warm bread with a circle of carbon in the middle.

But resting a slice against the grille of a gas fire, speared on your grandmother's toasting fork braced against a convenient brick on the floor for one minute each side...produces excellent flame grilled toast to go with your tea.

The most fun I've had with my parents for years,

Comment I left on Andre Mcfarlane's blog:

I just want a time machine.

Specifically, I want to go back and meet my ten year old self. And tell him to worry less about sex and more about overeating. To fight back less against his parents and more against bullies. To read exactly as much as he felt like, and make as much music as he wanted.

I'd tell him he should stop being ashamed of being smarter than everyone else, but to stop assuming he was smarter than everyone else.

I'd tell him he'd twice fall in love with men he just couldn't have, even when they loved him back. And twice there'd be men who fell in love with him, but the worst thing he could do was pretend to love them back.

One small detail, which may be good or bad: If I told him all these things, and he acted on them, he wouldn't grow up to be me.


Bonfire of Inanities


I did write something caustic and political for Guy Fawkes night. All about terrorism, corrupt governments, and religious scapegoating. But no one wants to read me being caustic, least of all me, so...

I also wrote something about the sex I had at the weekend - when a man lost control and urinated while I was fellating him, after which he bought me deep fried squid to make up. But I'm assured that this is TMI, so...

I found some Bollywood songs about eating motorboats and nipples, but that's just silly, so...

We did have a bonfire tonight - of about a decade of my life. In the late 80s and early 90s, I was a graphic designer. There's weren't many good professional designers around at the time, so our little family business with designer (me), technical support (mum) and managing director (dad) was in constant demand.

We got contracts to design logos from all over the UK, plus some from the Netherlands, and some from Germany and even India! Then the UK economy collapsed and design software got cheaper - our former clients couldn't afford to employ us, and they could afford to do the work themselves. Which resulted in some painfully bad logos.

Until today, there were around ten thousand (!) designs mouldering away on floppy disks and printouts in the basement, next to thirty years worth of accounts, some particularly unsuccessful experiments in winemaking, and my homemade gym.

Now the ashcan is, for the first time ever, actually full of ash.

I hate writing CVs. Specifically, I hate the parts where I'm supposed to describe myself as a person, as opposed to someone who can do the job.

All the employer wants to know about me is whether I'll make trouble for them, but to find that out they have to ask a lot of cretinoid questions and pretend to be interested in my life outside work. Which is odd really, because they'd rather I didn't have a life outside work.

Here some of the questions, with honest answers provided:

How would you describe yourself? I don't.

Are you a team player? I work with the team if they're competent, not for the boss who never is.

Why do you want the job? I don't want the job, I need the money you idiot.

Where do you see yourself in ten years time? Someplace they don't ask fucking stupid questions like that.

What are your interests? Music, musicology, music production, psychoacoustics, computer programming, computer maintenance, constructive linguistics, analytical linguistics, reading detective stories, writing detective stories, reading science fiction, writing science fiction, insolitology, physics, chemistry, biology, art, politics, religion, philosophy, anything else that looks interesting.

What did you learn in your last job? That the best way to get your employer to do something is to make them think it was their idea. Even when they're a bit vague on what the idea is.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell us? I'm better than you in every way. If only because a squashed slug is better than you in every way.

Fright Night


It's Halloween, so I should write about something scary. Death, monsters, mad scientists playing the organ in their castle basements - that sort of thing.

Last weekend I was talking to someone who said western cultures are all in denial about death, and we need to teach people as children to confront their own mortality.

I told her the Tibetans confront death by publicly feeding their corpses to vultures. I'm not at all sure that's true, but it's what I've been told. She was horrified and quickly changed the subject. I think she had in mind something like when parents sit their children down and tell them about "the facts of life" - but for "the facts of death".

I never had the sex-ed talk from my parents - they say they thought I'd get it all from watching David Attenborough documentaries. Actually I eventually got it from reading Desmond Morris books, before they were taken away for fear they'd corrupt my fifteen year old mind.

I'd been groping with other boys for two years by then. At the single-sex school they'd sent me to, to give me a better education than a state school could provide. The school was a shambles and a sham - I received no education and learned nothing there. Except that I liked "having fun" with the other boys, which produced vintage gothic screams of terror from my parents when they found out.

All if which is probably a bit scary.

At the STW conference, a speaker said he wasn't convinced the occupation of the middle east was really about oil. He said the neocons were all following an ideology where it made sense to bomb Iranian nuclear power stations and create multiple Chernobyls, just to make sure the middle east couldn't build nuclear weapons to use on America,

I don't think he was right - I think the point of attacking the middle east is to control it's resources and extend industry there, not to make these things impossible by making the area uninhabitable. But even so, it's a scary idea.

I've never seen a dead body.

I've been to a few anodyne funerals (without vultures), seen endless sanitised-and-glorified killings on lousy cop shows, seen hundreds of people dead and dying for real on the TV news, watched a few dozen horror movies...but I've never see a real live corpse.

In politics, the electoral left in the UK is just poised to dissolve into an orgy of splits, recriminations, allegations, defeatism and bitterness. Not that most of the country will notice.

Meanwhile the electoral right has "apologised" for allowing a grand total of 1.1M immigrants into the country, promising to make the UK more racially pure.

I don't know about you, but I find that just a little bit scary.

My October Revolution


In October 1917, a few hundred dedicated revolutionaries spent ten days shaking the world.

On the nintieth anniversary, in October 2007, I spent twenty days preparing to explore it.

In the days following the revolution, a lot of the bolsheviks discovered the extensive wine cellars of the tsar, and took the opportunity to get really really drunk in victory celebrations. Lenin, arguing that this was precisely the time revolutionaries should be most sober and cautious, arranged some trusted comrades to smash the vine vaults, to keep order.

In the evening following the final day of the course, a lot of trainees and students (and one staff member) discovered the pub down the road in end-of-course celebrations. And got smashed.

Tsarist Russia used the Julian calendar, making it out of step with most of the rest of the continent. After seizing power, the bolsheviks conformed Russia to the Gregorian calender. This means the October Revolution retroactively happened in November.

Although we finished the course on October 26th, notification of grades probably won't be sent out till early November, so although I'm as certain as I can be that I've passed, I can't put on my my CV till then. And, the grade won't be "fully" confirmed till sometime in December, when the moderators grade the gradings.

It is said that when Sergei Eisenstein filmed his re-enactment of the storming of the winter palace, there were more casualties than in the actual event.

We had one casualty, well, dropout - a businessman who basically wanted to keep busy in retirement. His multiple-day headaches and beetroot-coloured face turned out to be early indicators of shingles - probably from an immune system weakened by stress. I had bad shingles when I was fifteen, and I wouldn't wish that pain on anyone,

Apparently it can also be infectious in the early stages, and it's perversely fortunate that none of us liked him. If we had, we might have got close enough to be infected.

There are two kind of leaders. Those who know how little they know and organise because it's needed...and those who don't know how little they know and give orders because they like it. The leader who does things to get things done...and the one who does it for something to do. The authoritative philanthropist...and the grey bureaucrat. Lenin...and Stalin.

We had both kinds in our ranks. You can always tell the difference - when you're feeling depressed and self-doubting, one encourages you to succeed by drawing on your own strength, and the other by being more like them.


After the revolution, Russia was invaded by (so I'm told) armies from nineteen countries, trying to topple the new government and stabilise capitalism.

After the course, fourteen of us will join the army of TEFLers, invading the rest of the world, contributing to capitalism by teaching Business English.

Russia apparently has a shortage of English teachers.

The Weekend After


How quickly life returns to normal.

I've got into the habit of not staying up until four in the morning, but sleeping at midnight and waking at eight - meaning I'm now out of step with pretty much everyone I know, including my parents.

There was a Stop The War conference on Saturday - and seeing as (a) I was in London anyway and (b) a comrade had phoned to tell me I was going, I went.

It was mostly about Iran, with, shall we say, a variety of viewpoints expressed from the platform and floor. There was "Iran is a dictatorship but not a bad one so it doesn't really deserve to be bombed", "We've got to make the soldiers mutiny, comrades", "We want the resistance to win and British soldiers to come home in bodybags", "The neocons want to bring about the nuclear Armageddon by bombing Iranian nuclear power stations", and the old favourite "Iran has a lot of Jews so anyone who isn't antiwar is antisemitic".

Fortunately, the majority were quite sensible - "You don't change a regime by bombing its victims, and if you do want to give the Iranian people freedom you help them get it in their way for their own purposes" and "the war is about oil and control, not punishing people for living under a dictatorship".

Galloway spoke, and (this time) managed to avoid telling half the audience to "piss off, go on get out, the lot of you". There was also a painfully portentous speech from a man who couldn't have been over 25 - "...it is you, you who give us the strength to endure the struggle...yet how strange the worm turns...for these are the times that try men's souls...". Hmmm, yes, worms do indeed turn strangely.

So, STW may not be what it was, but it's still significant and still broadly on a reasonable track.

On Sunday a dusky sixteen year old boy begged me to taste his mayonnaise. It was rich and creamy and he made far too much for me to swallow. Okay, he is a trainee chef looking for taste-testers, and I was fixing his mum's computer at the time, but...well, anyway.

It somehow wouldn't have been fitting to return home in trains that ran on time, that weren't replace by crawlingly slow busses because the tracks were still being repaired, and didn't finally deposit me home with a half hour trudge in the rain carrying three rucksacks. So I didn't.

And it's somehow comforting to get three calls before you're even home, asking you to babysit a daughter, record some music and, yes, repair a computer ASAP please.