Surplus Supplies of Surprise

Life, they say, is full of surprises.

Surprise No 1:
I have another student. This young lady knows nothing at all of English, and wants a gentle introduction. Now, my other student is above the level of any of the books I have here. But this one is below the level of any of my books.

I have no training whatsoever in teaching English this elementary. So, I'll just have to invent things as I go along, as usual.

Surprise No 2:
The boss has decided he's not coming over after all. It's good news, but I'll keep the celebrations on hold till he confirms - just in case he changes his mind again.

He called yesterday to lecture me for half an hour on how it's vitally important the office, which is half warehouse and half bedsit, looks like neither. He wants it cleaned every day. Yeah right.

Surprise No 3:
I got an email out of the blue, from someone I used to know vaguely at school. He was the best friend of a nodding acquaintance. I thought he was quite happily unbullied and uninvolved in any of the squabbles that teenage boys manufacture amongst themselves. A nice guy, not trying to be remarkable, and basically untroubled.

But no. He says he hated being there and the memories still trouble him. But that's not what he really wanted to say. He'd felt sorry for me, being treated like crap all day every schoolday by the hoards of hormonal morons, and had wanted to help, to offer some support, but he was scared to, in case they turned on him.

I'm...touched. That someone I barely knew, from a time I barely think about, should have felt that way back then, with me completely unaware of it, and has carried a sense of guilt for two decades.

So I guess it's true what they say - you never really know someone, and you don't know who your friends are.

We've exchanged some emails; We'll see what happens.

A bonus surprise:

How many cannibals could your body feed?

Half of my clothes now have odd white bits. There's a perfectly good reason for this, namely that bottles with label illustrations that lead you to think they contain detergent, sometimes contain bleach.

One of my teeth is thinking about developing toothache. I am going to hit it with a toothbrush until it changes it's mind.

My parents have offered to send me a small digital camera in the mail, so I can make a visual record of sorts of my time here. I can go for walks around the hills and lakes, and send snapshots back home.

It's a good plan, but it does require circumnavigating the Bulgarian postal service, which is part Chinese puzzle, part con trick and part oxymoron. Sundry charges are decided by a combination of size, weight and I Ching. Anything that isn't specifically marked as non-commercial is assumed to be a commercial import and subject to around 30% tax, it takes two weeks or more to arrive, and when it does the post office keep it in the basement, waiting for you to drop by.

If you want to get anything out of Bulgaria, it's quicker, more reliable and sometimes cheaper to carry it in your hand luggage.

It's Not Easy Being Green

Friday night, with vodka and orange juice, a big plate of pasta, and The Best Bits of Mister Bean. And I lost the ability to type again. Followed by more vodka and orange juice, eggs on toast and the second Stargate movie (The Pretentiously Named Ark of Truth). Hey, alcohol makes me hungry.

I know why people like to read fiction. It's easier to understand than reality.

Your nerd rating is calculated by counting how many digits of Pi you know. I have this on reliable authority - someone with a degree told me. After he bought me lunch as a thank-you for helping him get his degree. Mine is 9.

So I hereby suggest that your gullibility rating is how many seconds it take you to realise what's wrong with this online business.

Today was International Earth Day - the day when we all show our commitment to saving the planet by switching the lights off. I'm typing this with the lights off. But I'm typing this with the lights back on so I can see what I'm doing.

But what I really want to know is...are you gonna go my way?

No, what I want to know is: who thought it would be a good idea to give me permanent board markers? I mean, without mentioning their permanency? Possibly someone who thinks teachers wind down after a lesson by spending half an hour scrubbing bleach into their whiteboards.

Once, on a course that was supposedly about computing, me and eighteen others got a lesson on ethics. Just the one, and it wasn't on the ethics of writing software for the military.

So we spent an hour pondering whether a sixty three year old professor's life is more valuable than a twenty year old mother. Perhaps some well-meaning committee had decided computer programmers would be better at debugging C++ if we argued about ageism. Or they got confused between "being a well rounded individual" and "having a skill".

Some say being faced with an unresolvable ethical dilemma is a test of character. Though exactly what it's supposed to test is unclear. Whether you can live with being unable to decide, perhaps. Though most unresolvable dilemmas are immediately resolvable by "going with your gut" - ie prejudice. So I imagine it's just a roundabout way of discovering a persons prejudices.

Here's a real life dilemma. If you can resolve it in less time than it takes to read the article, you haven't read the article. That's not to say I have a solution.

The Saturday Night Movie: The Jackal. A remake of Day of the Jackal, but according to the credits not based on the book, but on the earlier screenplay. Which goes some way to explaining it's departures and deficiencies.

Now, I don't have a problem with remakes in general, or with the film being very different second time around - creatively reimagining an old idea is good. Or as artist Tom Phillips said in a different context, "A good old text always is a blank for new ideas". But there are two things to bear in mind. First, almost all remakes are rubbish. No one's entirely sure why, but they just are. Second, if you're going to reinterpret a great book or a classic film, you've got a lot to live up to - are you sure you can?

In the 1973 original, the assassin was played by Edward Fox, an actor who could at least portray the stone cold sociopathy of the methodical killer. In the remake, we've got Bruce Willis playing a thug with a gun fetish. Yes, it's the role Bruce Willis always plays. Though there's a fair supporting cast, including Sidney Poitier who puts in a typically scene-stealing performance as the FBI agent who bends the rules to do the right thing.

In the original, the target was General DeGaulle, who was just that - the target. He was barely seen, never spoke, and had no personality. In the remake, the target was the director of the FBI, and then the first lady. Now, DeGaulle is folk hero, loved and reviled by millions. The FBI director is a bureaucrat no one's heard of. And this target does have a personality - he's an arsehole. The first lady, like DeGaulle, is a cypher, but still a little lacking in mythological status, a poor choice compared to...the president, perhaps?

In the original, the Jackal is hired by Algerian separatists, fanatics with the delusion that killing DeGaulle will progress their cause, but they are believable. In the remake, we have a cardboard cutout Russian mafia boss in two quick scenes holding a personal grudge.

The original has a dedicated but fallible, rumpled and shy detective hero - somewhere between George Smiley and Colombo. In the remake, the FBI are effectively led by an IRA killer - another terrorist but of the good kind.

In the original, the leak from the investigator's office comes from a significant subplot, the good guys win essentially by sheer good luck, and there's a romantic subplot that adds colour to the characters. In the remake, the leak has no explanation and is dealt with in a one minute scene that makes no sense, the good guys win because the assassin gives them a clue for no reason, and there's a different romantic subplot whose only function is to have the assassin kill the girl, giving the hero a "this time it's personal" revenge motive.

Oh and it's just a small detail, but in the remake the Jackal is caught because he is at the shooting scene - which he didn't need to be, because he operated the gun by remote control. I thought the whole point of remote control was you didn't have to be there.

I could go on about why I think the original is better in lots of ways, but what it boils down to is this. In the remade version, the good guys are good (even when they do bad things), the bad guys are bad, and the victims are innocent. It's Hollywood, and the fact that it's an action movie doesn't excuse it being dumb. In the original film - and the book - both sides (French and Algerians) are misguided and immoral, but the twin heroes - assassin and detective - are equal and opposite players in a game of wits.


I am writing this in the middle of a building site.

Actually I'm in the office as usual, but it's also a building site. Starting at 0830, a man was building a wall around my desk. It's now half finished and there's dust everywhere. Yes, one of the boss's bright ideas.

The internet connection also wasn't working, and the road was full of water. The street's plumbing burst somewhere, so we had no hot water inside, but plenty of cold water outside. If this had not happened on an unusually warm day for the season, it may have been ice by now.

Still, on the plus side I may be moving into an actual apartment soon. And I actually got paid, only a week or so late - almost in time for the next payday, in fact.

On TV: Stargate: Atlantis, feature length pilot episode.

Among the cast of characters we have:
* A wisecracking, insubordinate young officer.
* His sidekick, a black guy who's not so much Uncle Tom as Man Friday.
* A beautiful and sometimes emotional female scientist.
* The officer's new girlfriend, a high priestess type who isn't as primitive as first appears
* A minor character from SG1 with lots of allergies
* A Scottish medical doctor who's a bit of a loner, and therefore functions as comic relief
* Camply gothic bad guys, defeated with suspicious ease

The thing is, I'm all for insubordination in the military, and wisecracking central characters can be engaging - as they did in Farscape and Buffy. But it only works if it hides (and therefore reveals) deeper insecurity. If your hero wisecracks and doesn't have sympathisable emotional weakness, he's just annoying. This one is (a) the main hero, (b) the male lead and (c) seriously annoying.

Love interest can add to the story, here it's a formulaic afterthought. Comic relief is good, but a character who's only purpose is comic relief is just shallow. And when humans march in and defeat an enemy that's terrorised a galaxy for thousands of years, using a few bullets - and, yes, some wisecracks - the whole story just goes limp.

Update: Oh yeah, and you know how children on American TV are vivacious, cutesy and say things like "Awww gee, I love ya dad"? And you know how they make you want to throw up? Yes, the show's got them too.

Dinner Dinner Dinner Dinner Batman

My first proper lesson, planned the night before, delivered on schedule without major hitches. I just don't know how I feel about it.

Having an advanced student is a blessing in that I don't need to simplify my explanations much, but it's also a problem in that 90% of a conventional lesson is old news to him. His knowledge of English is like a large mosaic which is missing many small pieces, the gaps scattered widely and randomly.

My job is to plug the odd little gaps, introduce wrinkles and idiosyncrasies, essentially turn Veli from a highly competent speaker into a native-like speaker. But I have no way of knowing where the gaps are before stumbling over them in conversation.

And today's TV, viewed with the now somewhat overfamilliar accompaniment of mackerel and pasta: The pilot episode of Batman Beyond.

I can just imagine the board meeting.

Suit 1: We need a new cartoon, something cyberpunk like Blade Runner. Dystopian with decaying old high tech and lots of neon.

Suit 2: Nah, what we need is something reliable. Something that's worked before. Something familiar like...Batman!

Suit 1: Batman was old hat even when it was live action. Anime's the new cool.

Suit 2: Batman in anime-land. Batman of the future! Batman reinvented!

Suit 1: The kids don't care about Batman. They want psychotic streetgangs.

Suit 2: The Joker was psychotic. How about a streetgang of psychotic Jokers?

Suit 1: The kids want counterculture! Corrupt governments that are indistinguishable from the mafia.

Suit 2: Batman fought the mafia.

Suit 1: Surveillance and secrets. Creepy mansions.

Suit 2: Batman had a secret identity. And a mansion.

Suit 3: Guys, I've got a great idea. You're both right.

The boss is coming over to "take charge" in two or three weeks. On the plus side, that means we get a pay rise. On the minus side, it fucks everything else up.

I've checked out plane tickets, just in case.

What's up, Chuck?

There's two kinds of office politics. One involves office drones conducting intricate, internecine wars with each other on the basis of "He keeps his stapler on my side of the desk", "She keeps looking at me in a funny way" and "That bloke hogs the photocopier". This kind goes on continuously for years and consumes 73% of office time.

The other kind is all about keeping the boss elsewhere so everyone can do their jobs. This takes up 14% of office time, leaving 11% for going on social networking sites and 1% for the paid work. Which everyone polishes off at the last minute.

Our office politics is of the second kind. The boss has decided he wants the office to have a washing machine (for which there's no room), a second sink (for which there's no need) and a partition with a door (for which there is both no room and no need). The last would cost at least 1000 leva, which he can't spare.

So he wants to fly over to put up the partition himself, on the grounds that it would be marginally cheaper. So we have to find a way to get it done cheaper so he won't fly over and implement any more daft ideas. These are the tactical compromises you make in order to keep the boss out of the country.

We do need a fridge, but he hasn't thought of that.

Tomorrow I get to teach my first proper lesson. I was going to go over the finer points of conditionals, but today I learned a new word - Anankastic.

Anankastic sentences are any with the meaning "To achieve goal X, do action Y". There's several different syntaxes used to express them, for instance:

* If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends.
* If you want it, come and get it.
* To attain enlightenment, you must sit under a tree for seven years, grasshopper.
* To become president, get rich and believe in nothing, passionately.
* All passengers for flight number blah bleeh blom for Burbleblob should go to gate number blurgh.

So I think I'll try teaching that. Elementary students learn forms what functions they have, advanced students learn functions and what form are used to express them.

The Tuesday Feature, with sardines a la pasta followed by chocolate biscuits with instant lemon tea: Seed of Chucky.

Or "Sperm of Chucky", as the title was retranslated back into English. With some prescience. You might have found it amusing if you like the idea of:

* Dolls having sex.

* A doll frantically masturbating to be a sperm doner. Followed by Doll sperm dripping from a turkey baster brush thing.

* Brad Dourif, who might one day not play a non-psychopath, and John Waters, who ought to.

* Britney Spears dying horribly in a blazing fireball.

* "You don't know me but a few years ago I killed your husband, and I am so sorry."

* Lots and lots of "Meta". Stuff like the killer dolls being found at the site of their previous murders and used in the production of a bad horror film about a killer doll called Chucky, and the female Doll Tiffany plotting to place her soul in the body of a slutty actress who can only get work in crappy movies about killer dolls - and who's played by the presumably non-slutty up actress who voices Tifanny. If you see what I mean.

* "If this is what it takes to be human, then I would rather take my chances as a supernaturally possessed doll. It's less complicated."

Meddling Kids

I have now been here a whole month - well, twenty eight days, which was my minimum commitment. And I might actually have an actual student. Actually.

There's a kid who, according to his father, already speaks English at an advanced level, and the father wants him to have more conversational practice. I take this to mean (1) the kid is probably at a low intermediate level, (2) The father wants him to go to America to make lots of money to support the family and (3) The kid himself isn't so keen on the idea.

Cynical? Moi? Well, we'll see.

Update: Veli is eighteenish, personable, eager to learn, and I'd say a mid-intermediate speaker. Very good on grammar and pronunciation, less good on intonation and phrasal verbs.

He also has the most adorable jet black floppy hair that...yes well anyway.

One thing about living in the office - I get to be the one who answers the phone. That's right, I'm the secretary. There can't be many companies that employ someone to answer the phone who can't speak the language. It could be a whole new business strategy.

So this evening I got a call that went a little further than most:

Kapitano: Ahlo?
Caller: [stream of words, but it sounds like a question]
Kapitano: Sori, serm angliiski.
Caller: Ah. Sprechen Sie Deutsch?
Kapitano: Nur klein.
Caller: Ah. Chao.

The night's movie? Scooby Doo.

A live action version of the cartoon, featuring lots of knowingly self-referential jokes, scarily accurate casting and voices, and a CGI Scooby.

The team are reunited to solve a puzzle, only to find themselves saving the world from ghosts that aren't janitors in masks. Daphne the purple one who's only purpose in life is to be kidnapped by the bad guys so her friends can rescue here gets played by Sarah Michelle Geller - and turns into a kung-fu kicking slayer of supernatural beasts. Vilma, formerly the red clad bespectacled one who solves the crimes and gets none of the credit, gets the credit and a boyfriend.

Fred, the vacuous self-obsessed jock who contributes nothing but self-appointed leadership, gets to do something, and Shaggy the cowardly hippy gets to be brave - and does male bonding with his hallucinogenic CGI Great Dane.

Oh, and the evil mastermind is revealed at the end to incredibly annoying puppy mysteriously convinced everyone loves him. Yes.

I expected to be unimpressed, but I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing. Does that make me a shallow person?

Double Trouble

Friday night film: Eraser

A 1996 Schwartzenegger vehicle, with Terminator-style guns, Terminatoresque computers, and some POV special effects shots reminiscent of Terminator.

There is a plot. Well, a maguffin. A weapons company have invented a new gun that doesn't use gunpowder or bullets. Instead it shoots aluminium. Yes that's what I thought. But it's okay because it shoots them at the speed of light - though they still take appreciable time to travel.

Still, not to worry. In this movie's universe CDRs can be wiped remotely, and you can set off a sprinkler system by shooting it. And you can open ultrasecure bankvault-type doors by doing the same thing to the keypad.

Anyway, the company boss wants to sell weapons outside America for profit, which makes him unamerican - no I don't understand that bit either - and Arnie stops him and saves the girl by by blowing things up.

There is a completely pointless and lavish scene in a gay bar - the only one with no menace or violence at all. Interesting.

But what's this? A double feature?

The Stepford Wives was a psychological horror movie made in 1975, about how it's hell to live in someone else's heaven. It quickly became regarded as a classic, and spawned several TV movie sequels - Revenge of the Stepford Wives, The Stepford Children (which I thought was okay), and The Stepford Husbands.

Then in 2004 some idiot remade it. As a comedy. With a happy ending. And I can't believe I just sat through it.

The idiot in question is Frank Oz.

Today I bought a tin opener. And...a tin of sweetcorn.

You know, sometimes it's useful to live in a room that's also a storage space for a whole school. Because after I've spent ten minutes failing to open the tin with the correct implement, I can just take into the other side of the room where there's a hammer and a screwdriver.

Next time I emigrate, though, I'll be sure to pack a penknife. Though for preference not one manufactured in Bulgaria, the country where the only sharp edges are on the tin after you've opened it with a hammer.

Different, but the Same

Tonight's TV: Two episodes of The Benny Hill Show from 1974.

* A couple in a hotel bed on their wedding night decide to order drinks. The woman picks up the phone and asks for "the usual".

* A seventeen minute comic version of Carmen.

* A woman swears she's a virgin. On her baby's life.

* Doctor: How are things at work?
Patient: I've been replaced by a younger man.
Doctor: Oh dear. And at home?
Patient: Replaced by a younger man.

* An old man roped to a big heavy rock carries it to a lake, intending to kill himself. He drops the rock on his foot and is so annoyed he gives up the plan.

* Nuns look like penguins. Though they're actually birds of pray.

* You know how cockatoos breed? Yes, through their noses.

Pantomimic, witty, sexist, and occasionally quite sharp. The obsessions with infidelity, frustrated lust and humiliation that most of the world still thinks Britain still has.

They may be right of course. The musical numbers are long gone, as are the stares into camera and women as passive but remote objects. The settings may now be living rooms and pubs, but there's still a combination of bawdyness and despair.

And some of the jokes are the same too.

"Sinecure", pronounced "SIN-eh-cyur". Defined as a highly paid job with nothing to do.

Well I've got half a sinecure, because there's nothing to do.

Oh there's plenty of old coursebooks I could read, but (1) they've all be rubbish so far and (b) I can't do anything with them because there's no lessons for me to incorporate them into because I've no idea what lessons are needed because there's no students.

It's like looking at the food in your larder and trying to plan a get together without knowing who's coming or what they'll want to eat.

I could learn some more Bulgarian, but I'd forget it pretty quick because there's no one to practice it with. Not that there's anything I particularly want to say.

"Excuse me, I'm a lonely English homosexual and I haven't touched a man in over a month."..."Greetings sir and/or madam. Could you direct me to the fully functioning language school with lots of students that's around here somewhere? I'm wondering if they need a teacher."..."A old Irishman once told me that enforced inactivity causes insanity."

Speaking of sinecures...Marilyn vos Savant. The woman who, at age ten scored 228 on a IQ test. She was dumb enough to think it meant something, but smart enough to realise other people were dumb enough to think it meant something. So she turned it into a job for life. The job being "Smartest Person in the World".

No one will ever get such a high score again. Because they changed the scoring system a few years later, and now you can't get above about 180.

I read one of her books when I was young - I'd picked up an encyclopedia of philosophy, an encyclopedia of psychology and her "Brain Building" for GBP1 each, in an introductory offer from a book club which went bankrupt immediately afterwards so I didn't have to buy anything else from them. Sometimes timing is everything.

Anyway, "Brain Building: Exercising Yourself Smart" revealed the true esoteric secrets of becoming clever. They were:

1) Don't watch so much TV
2) Read a lot of good books
3) Don't read so many bad books

...and there were others, but number (3) seemed applicable so I stopped reading.

She writes a column in Parade magazine, where her team of researchers split their time between finding logic puzzles that other people have written for her to set, and contacting experts to answer scientific questions sent in by readers.

Questions like: It is possible for a battleship to float on a gallon of water?

The answer turns out to be: If you could construct a container the exact shape of the ship but just a tiny bit larger, and have it and the ship perfectly smooth, and have the ship perfectly balanced in it's "bath", then a gallon of water would spread to be around 1000 molecules thick and the boat could sit on top of it. Provided you did this in an environment with no dust or bacteria, because they'd be large enough to tip it over.

Or as Marilyn summarises it: Yes.

There's a popular site detailing a few of the occasions when her answer is wrong.

Why won't jumping in a falling elevator save your life? According to Marylin it's because you can't jump in falling elevators. Why don't bicycles fall over? It's 'cos of spinning, somehow.

But, as I'm sure I've said before, a great way to get to the truth is to find out why the lies are wrong. Same result, but more fun and more informative.

Oh, why am I writing about this? Simple - my own half sinecure has given me time to spend most of the day reading about it.


Today's movie is Slipsream

This is how IMDB describes it:
Aging screenwriter Felix Bonhoeffer has lived his life in two states of existence: in reality and his own interior world. While working on a murder mystery script, and unaware that his brain is on the verge of implosion, Felix is baffled when his characters start to appear in his life, and vice versa.

I have a few alternatives:

* A collection of interrelated dreamlike vignettes and plot fragments, loosely clustered around the character of a film writer, played by Anthony Hopkins, who also wrote the screenplay.

* You know in those pop-psychadelic films of the 60s (like "Head" - the film of The Monkees, or Truffaut in "accessible" mode), there were moments when there's a series of rapid jump cuts, or the film runs backwards or freezes in the middle of a line, or the last ten minutes' action turn out to be a film within a film?

Moments of deliberate, vertigo inducing surreality, or of Brectian estrangement where the audiance is forcibly reminded that they're watching an artificial construct.

If, like me, you enjoyed them, you wondered whether an entire film could be composed of such moments...this is such a film.

So, this is either the pile of pretentious wank that my pretentious thirteen year old self dreamed of making, or a brilliant image of a highly stressed but constantly imaginative mind, seen from the inside.

I don't know. You decide.

* When students are learning how to use edit suites, their practice sessions result in something like this.

* It doesn't start having a cohearant plot until 70 minutes in. The film within the film is called "Slipstream". There's several references to "Slipstream" being a "piece of crap" or "written as a joke". The entire film runs backwards under the closing credits.

* A steady stream of arresting images that mean absolutely nothing, bricolaged into a story that means absolutely nothing.

* It annoyed me while it was playing. But when it stopped I wanted to see it again.

Last night's movie was to be Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey. But after fifteen minutes, I couldn't be bothered.

I think to enjoy the Bill and Ted films you need to be either:

1) An American stoner kid
2) Have a crush on either of the lead actors
3) Be capable of supreme ironic detatchment

Have you ever tried chili sardines?

Before today, I'd never heard of them. Now I think it'll be one of the things I miss when I go back to England. Together with enormous tubs of chocolate spread, amazingly cheap vodka, and the healthy-living, strong bodied college types they have around here, with fake-faded knock-off jeans and retro moptops.

If only there were some way I could bring the three together...

I think I'm losing a bit of weight. There's a good reason for this. In this country it's difficult to overeat because, if you eat too much of most of the stuff available, you feel ill.

I call it "The Bad Food Diet".

Speaking of which, the other culinary discovery. Poultry Pate.

That's what's written on the tin. Not pate made from chicken, or goose, or any other specific animal, farmyard or otherwise. Pate made from "poultry". Coming soon, books written by "Author" and alarm clocks that buzz at Time'o'Clock.

The worrying thing is, I quite like it.

The Devil is in the Details

Today's film, viewed with my evening meal of pasta salad with mackerel: The Exorcist.

An old priest, Father Merrin, is working as an archaeologist in Iraq.

A young priest, Damien, working as a psychiatrist in America, loses his faith, He's poor and can't support his aged mother, who dies.

A film actress, Christine MacNeil, works for an asshole director who doesn't know the difference between German and Nazi. She's a single mother with a cutesy daughter, Regan, who can't sleep because "the bed was shaking".

38 minutes into the film, Regan has a psychotic break, predicting a death. Doctors find nothing wrong with her brain despite using lots of big scary equipment.

50 minutes in, Satan starts speaking through Regan. The doctors use more big scary equipment before one suggests exorcism as treatment.

68 minutes in, the man whose death was predicted appears to have climbed into the tranquilised Regan's room, left behind a crucifix, been killed by something and pushed out of the window.

Regan bloodily masturbates with the crucifix, objects fly around her bedroom, and her head rotates 180 degrees. The mother contacts a priest.

79 minutes and 25 seconds - the projectile vomiting scene.

Damien sprinkles "fake" holy water on Regan, who reacts as though it were "real" (supporting a psychosis diagnosis), and speaks backwards (supporting a possession diagnosis), but the words are "I am no one". The words "Help me" appear as marks on her flesh.

The church authorities agree to an exorcism and call in Merrin - who arrives at the house in a shot inspired by a Magritte painting.

At 95 minutes, Merrin and Damien begin the exorcism. At 96 minutes and 43 seconds - the "Your mother sucks cocks in hell" line. The bed levitates. More green vomit. Head goes round 360 degrees this time.

"I cast you out unclean spirit." "Shove it up your ass you faggot."

At 106 minutes, as the priests take a break from their notably unsuccessful first round, Regan imitates Damien's dead mother. playing on his loss of faith and guilt.

At 110 minutes, Merrin has a heart attack and dies. Damien fails to revive him. In a rage he attacks Regan, demanding that the devil enter him instead. For no clear reason, Satan does so, and Damien, for a different no clear reason, retaining some control over his body, leaps out of the window, tumbles down the steps where the other man died, and dies - a friend priest giving him last rites. This, for a third unclear reason, banishes the devil.

Regan goes back to being cutesy.

In all, a rather slow and silly film - slightly less annoying than Leslie Nielsen's "sequel". It reinforces the notion that mental illness is demonic possession, and neither the premise nor the conclusion make sense even in the film's own terms.

On the other hand, it does have the music of Mike Oldfield and the amazing voice of Mercades MaCambridge.

The boss has made some decisions:

* I will have daily meetings at 9am with Tania the secretary/tranalator/organiser/etc./etc./etc. This will increase communication and get things done faster. Even though there's nothing we need to communicate about, and having more meetings will not make the bureaucracy less lethargic, the students more plentiful, or the technology more reliable.

* I will move next door. Into the second classroom, currently used as a warehouse. Exactly how moving a teacher to a room with no electricity or sanitation will help - and indeed what's it's designed to achieve - I'm not sure.

* The rundown house will be renovated and turned into a summer school. In a village with no prospective students, in a country that doesn't have summer schools.

* All problems can be solved by him giving up his job and coming to Bulgaria. So we have one more person hanging around, and no further income.

As a result, I'm not entirely sure I can stick this job for six months.

It's Only a Movie

Today's movie: The Kovak Box, a paranoid thriller.

Plot: A successful science fiction writer takes a flight to Spain to attend a conference. In his youth he was obsessed with "Gloomy Sunday" - the so-called Hungarian suicide song - and wrote his first book inspired by it. In the book the government has implanted chips at birth into the entire population, that when triggered cause suicidal depression. If anyone becomes a threat to society, they just press a button and the individual kills themselves.

At the conference an elderly fan asks for his autograph. At the hotel, the writer's wife gets a call which plays Ella Fitzgerald's version of the song - and she jumps out of the window.

A young Spanish woman also attempts suicide but fails - at the same time as her boyfriend kills himself by crashing his motorcycle, and several other strange deaths occur. In her hotel room, a man attacks her, incapacitates her with ketamine and tells her she is already dead - but before he can do whatever he wanted to do, he is interrupted and flees.

The woman and the writer team up when she begs him to help her, and they both witness another mysterious suicide. The fan reappears, giving a folder of press cuttings and photographs to the writer. They show he was a disgraced scientist working on ways to control human behavior.

The writer discovers a chip embedded in his dead wife's neck, and the woman sees her attacker. They confront him, and gives them a list of a hundred people scheduled to kill themselves - before killing himself when the chip activates as he tries to remove it.

The writer realises they are being led, as though in a novel, pushed by planted clues and planned incidents to follow a narrative. They find the scientist on his island, and his men kidnap the woman, placing her in the caverns where the hundred people will suicide.

The scientist wants the writer to turn what's happened into a novel - including how he saves the girl and kills the bad guy. The list is the passenger manifest of the flight the writer took to Spain. The passengers jump and drown, triggered by "Gloomy Sunday" played over the tannoy, while the woman survives by swimming underwater - so she can't hear.

The writer finds the scientist, who is dying slowly from a brain tumor. The scientist says when the bodies are autopsied the authorities will find the chips, reverse engineer the technology, and use it. He also says if the writer doesn't kill him to provide a climax for the plot, he'll active the chip in the woman's neck. The writer shoots him.

On the plane home, the writer, having no other way to prevent his first novel coming true, starts work on a sequel, detailing his adventure.

Review: A mad scientist with infinite resources on an island. A popular but fantastical story starts coming true. A villain with a Russian name but a British accent. An immense conspiracy to bring about a simple action by one man. A writer has to become like the heroes of his own books.

Maybe the only way to get away with using cliches like this nowadays is to be "meta" about it - present outmoded conventions as outmoded conventions being self-consciously re-created. Like the serial killer who's motive is a fascination with serial killers, or everything in the Shrek films.

The writer's name was David, the young woman Silvia and the scientist Dr Kovak - though I had to check the closing credits to be sure of the first two. So the characters were not what you'd call memorable.

There was no sentiment clogging up screentime, so the writer got over his wife's death with remarkable ease, and didn't have a romance with the girl he was being manipulated to save. He killed the bad guy (only because the bad guy forced him to) but didn't kiss the girl.

In short, it was completely daft, borderline incoherent, an exciting journey with nothing at the end. The kind of film I'll enjoy once, never want to see again, and wouldn't think to recommend.

I think tomorrow's movie will be...The Exorcist.

There's also the complete first five seasons of "Married with Children", but I'm not that desperate.

I was wrong about the fish.

There are not in fact five different species of fish in the supermarket. There is mackerel in five different sauces. For twice the price you can get sardines too.

It took three weeks. Now I'm getting email spam in Bulgarian.

The is a light switch after all. At shin height under a curtain. I was wondering.

I've been looking at phrasal verbs, aka multiword verbs aka compound verbs aka multipart verbs. And there are as many definitions as there are names.

These are phrasal verbs:
Give up (quit)
Take over (assume command)
Break down (stop functioning)
Come out (admit)
Knock off (imitate cheaply)
Pass up (decline)
Set to (begin)
Turn up (arrive)

Some writers treat these as phrasal verbs, and some don't:
Trip over
Pull apart
Pick up
Pass through
Stand up
Come over
Climb across

The first group are figurative, or at least highly metaphorical - there's no way you could work out their meanings simply by knowing the meanings of each component word. In the second group, you probably could.

But there's no clear dividing line. To come out (of the closet) is a metaphor, but not a dead one, and to get up does involve a literal "upping" of posture. So the boundary between "verb-particle constructions where the two form a meaning not derivable from either" and "verb-particle constructions where the meaning of the particle modifies the verb" is not clear cut.

Why does it matter? Because if you draw a line between the two groups, there are about a thousand phrasal verbs for students to learn, and unknown thousands of similar looking constructions that they don't need to memorise because the meaning should be fairly clear when they encounter them. If you don't draw a've got a language no one can learn.

There's the small additional problem that the "literal" phrasal verbs of the second group often have several metaphorical meanings. How many things does "pick up" mean? I count four:

* To lift something in your hand(s) - "Pick up your bed and walk"
* To give someone a ride in your car - "I'll pick you up at six"
* To take someone to your place for sex - "At the disco to pick up boys"
* To learn something by observation - "She picked up the language"

Raining, Cats and Dogs

I got taken to see the house today. That's the house bought a year ago by my boss and since unoccupied. Well, officially unoccupied. Judging by the way one room is full of empty beer bottles, I'd say someone has been there.

I was led to expect a rather large place. It does indeed have two large rooms, plus a toilet, a basement and attic. There's no electricity or gas, it's built on subsiding land, and it's thirteen kilometers from the school, surrounded by derelict factories.

It would cost at least 20,000 leva to renovate...or alternatively around 20,000 leva to knock down and rebuild. Either would take two or three months.

It would cost me 2.5 leva for one of the (unreliable) bus services to or from there - which adds up to 200 leva per month. And the last bus is at 5pm, so I couldn't do evening courses.

Please explain to me why I should live in this place?

Lights have now been installed in the classroom.

There doesn't appear to be a light switch. To turn them off I cut power to the whole building. I'm sure this is just a temporary oversight.

Bulgaria doesn't have a rainy season as such. It has a cold, windy, damp season, which we are now entering two months late.

Very British weather. Except Britain's been having very un-British miniature tornados recently.

As this website shows, cats are not so much pets, as imaginary friends.

Dogs on the other hand...

My parents have a new dog, a Maltese named Harry. Here he is with Dino (fluffier papillion) and Perry (silkier papillion).

Isn't he just adorable?

Night Life

Notes on Friday night:

* Do not mix vodka with blackcurrant juice. The result tastes something like prune juice, something aniseed, and quite a lot like something I never ever want to taste again. Ever.

* Do not attempt to speed dry your laundry after drinking three quarters of a litre of vodka with orange juice. Placing a heater next to your sopping wet jeans and lying down just to rest your eyes for a minute is a good way to wake up wondering vaguely why you can smell burning.

* The smell of charred denim tends to hang around.

* Alcohol makes me hungry. I'm not sure how many boiled eggs I've eaten in the last thirty six hours - it's somewhere between four and eight.

* Plots of CSI: Miami don't actually make a whole lot of sense. Even if you watch four in a row.

* Songs by Electric Six make even less sense, but that's okay because they don't pretend to be serious.

I can't read my email. Yahoo seem to be having problems in that area.

Notes on Saturday night:

Something must have happened on Satuday, but I have absolutely no recollection of it. So either I was kidnapped by aliens, subjected to intensive anal probing, taken to alpha centuri, shown the wonders of the cosmos, married to Prince Varglovile of the Xerokovax Federation, given a message of peace to bring back to all mankind, given another anal probing just to make sure, and then accidentally had my memory wiped when someone pressed the wrong button on the way back...or it was a particularly boring day.

The email's back. Spam.

Notes on Sunday night:

Did you know there are (so far) six films in the Highlander series? The first was an instant classic, the second was rubbish, the third was a stinking pile of crap...and after that they started getting really bad.

However, thanks to the internet, I now have the chance to watch the fifth film, "The Source". Or I could go for the three (or was it four) films loosely based on Knight Rider. Or there's the two Universal Soldier movies, the remake of The Wicker Man, the second remake of I Am Legend, or the "Alien vs Predator" films.

Some say the internet gives us access to an unprecedented variety of information and entertainment. And in a certain horrible sense, that's absolutely true.

I Was in This Prermaturely Air Conditioned Supermarket...

Things I have yet to do in Bulgaria:

* Have a conversation in Bulgarian. It's amazing what can be accomplished with single words, pointing, and the occasional bit of mime.

* Successfully poach an egg. I've tried it in a saucepan over a hot ring, in a boiling kettle, and in a slowly cooling bowl of boiled water. The result has been either pale and watery or hard and lumpy.

* Have sex. Gah.

* Develop a sleeping pattern that doesn't leave me exhausted at 2pm and WIDE AWAKE at 2am.

* Um, teach.

Still, there's hope. Yesterday I drank coffee, got paid and got drunk. all for the first time here. Oh, and this morning I got hungover.

Air conditioning is installed in both classrooms, and one of them has electricity - plus whiteboard and tables. We should start advertising after the weekend.

The going rate to pay for English lessons in Montana is two leva per hour. That's eighty pence, the price of a ten minute taxi (Taksi) ride, or a bar of good chocolate. Most people just don't have large amounts of cash to spare.

So you can see why most schools have a "quantity over quality" approach to things.

But before we start lessons I'm going to have to devise a set of tests to estimate how much English the students already know. Most students (who will mostly be children in early teens) will know 100-200 words and very little grammar. They'll be at the level of "Hello, my name is...", "I come from...", "What is your name?"

Sometimes the packaging on food tells you what's inside. Sometimes the labeling is useful - "Sol" and "Sardin" aren't hard to work out. But sometimes you're faced with a row of five different types of tinned fish, you don't know your picine species well enough to differentiate the photos, and (as usual) you forgot to bring your dictionary.

So tonight's evening meal will be pasta with...some kind of fish. With some clever orange juice. Yes - "Clever" (pronounced as the English word) is a brand name, covering dozens of basic food items.

Update: "Skoomriya" is Mackerel.


I've got a big bulge in my jeans today.

Yes, that's right. I've been paid, in cash. Five days late but completely.

The next wodge will be redirected to pay off debts, so this 350 leva will have to last four weeks. That shouldn't be too difficult - I reckon I can live on 300 leva a month, maybe 250.

Assuming of course the boss is frustrated in his mad plan to renovate a falling down house into teacher accommodation. And assuming no other teachers get recruited and need housing. Hmm.

Computer troubles.

I finally remember what should have been obvious - to remove the password from the BIOS...remove the CMOS battery for one minute, then replace.

Which makes the act of putting a password there in the first place even more pointless. If anyone could bypass any other password by unplugging the computer for sixty seconds, no one would bother with passwords at all.

So I try to install XP, and get one of those especially uninformative error messages that Microsoft like to provide. "Error type 4".

So I try to install Windows 2000, thinking I can install XP from inside that, and amazingly it actually works. So I install all the software. Then XP crashes and won't reboot. I bash my head against the wall until there's a dent in the plaster.

Still, nevermind eh? Life's too short to make holes in the wall. I try installing XP again and it works perfectly.

Then the USB keyboard on my laptop stops working.

So now I have a shiny new keyboard, and a night to look forward to of reinstalling all the software I've already installed last night.

Should you be able to cook pasta in the kettle? I'm not sure, but here's my recipie for Pasta a la Kap.

1) Boil 1.5 litres of plain water in the kettle.
2) Put the pasta in.
3) Five minutes later, boil again.
4) Wait 2-5 minutes, then strain.
5) Mix with whatever sauce you like, plus optional salt and cheese.
6) Microwave for 1-2 minutes
7) Eat while watching CSI: Miami.

My parents have a new dog - a small, white, fluffy, short legged bundle of energy called Harry. I'm not sure what breed he is, and every time they try to take a picture to send to me, they get a white blur or disappearing tail.

Surely it can't be significant that as soon as I leave, they buy a puppy? Oh the shame of it - usurped by a yappy fluffball.

1.78GBP for 500ml of vodka. That's quite cheap, isn't it? It's got "Product of Bulgaria" and "Select Premium Vodka" and "Distilled from Grain" written on the label in English and I'm losing the ability to type.

It's moderately horrible but I'm on my third cup of 1/4 vodka 3/4 incredibly cheap orange juice and have I ever mentioned I get drunk really quite easily?

Makes music sound groovier but it's not good to drink alone especially at 7pm. My boss is a twit - nice guy but a twit. We could start teaching tomorrow but he wants to wait until everything's perfect which it never is and wants to employ only the best (that's me folks!) but can't afford to pay them what they're worth and anyway if you're the best why would you want to work in a small town in a poor country where you sleep on the floor of the same damn office where you work, huh? I said I'd stay for seven months and it's kind of nice to be paid to do what I do anyway without doing any actual teaching but if things don't start to come together pretty damn soon I'm gonna have to reconsider. Even sinecures can be boring.

I like this.

Same Old, Same Old

My laptop is now the office computer.

A fortnight ago, I set up the old (and I do mean old) office computer with two XP installations - so if one crashed, the other could be a fallback. This morning, I switched on to find both were corrupted.

Okay, no great problem - all I need to do is use the Xp installation disc to run a repair procedure.

Oh. The computer won't boot from a CD. No problem - I just have to reconfigure the BIOS, and then it'll boot.

Ah. Someone's put a password on the BIOS. No one knows who, or what, or indeed why. Most passwords you can recover if you forget, but passwording the BIOS is like putting a padlock on all the other padlocks - lose one key and you're screwed.

Getting computers for the school may be delayed by another month.

Payment of wages was delayed from the wrong account was taken out to pay for the anticipated computers.

Employment of another teacher who's a native speaker of English is delayed because the boss has no time to look.

Employment of another non-native speaker of English is delayed because there aren't any.

Renovation of the "teacher house" is delayed because there's no money for it at the moment. See above.

I now have six different kinds of tea, the latest being strawberry flavour.

I'm living in a country that makes the worst butter I've ever tasted, and the best sunflower margarine.

It also makes expensive bars of chocolate that taste like cardboard, and staggeringly cheap tubs of nutty chocolatey stuff that I must stop dipping into.

I haven't been able to find any cheese that isn't made from goat's milk. Seeing as they all have "Koze" (Goat) written on the label, one of which shows a farmer and a goat dancing a waltz, I assume there are some non-goat cheeses.

There are two kinds of bread in the markets. One is white and needs toasting. The other is white, pre-sliced and is called "toasting bread".

The only difference I can find between the 0.75L salami and the 5.0L salami is...the price. It's less unbearable when fried - which is why I have a bag full of fried salami slices.

Bad mayonnaise tastes of stale air. Middling mayonnaise tastes of stale eggs. Good mayonnaise costs the equivalent of twice what you'd pay in Britain. Bulgarian people use a lot of mayonnaise.

Yes, my life revolves around computers, food, and waiting for things that have been promised but are delayed.

How could I feel homesick? This place is just like home.


I spent a sleepless night working on an algorithm by which a computer could analyse an English sentence into grammatical blocks. And I have come to the conclusion that it's easy as pie to generate sentences from a grammar, and monstrously complicated to analyse grammar from sentences.

Given a grammatical framework, it's easy to drop in words to make sentences. Here's a framework in BNF notation:

Sentence = Subject clause + Verb clause + Object clause + Complement clause
Subject clause = (Adjective)* + Noun
Verb clause = Present verb | Past Verb
Object clause = "the" + (Adjective)* + Noun
Complement clause = Adjective

This gives you sentences like:
My dad painted the big door red
Happy children ran the old sneakers threadbare
Old Harry sends the lame horse away

It will also give you sentences like:
Telephonic your paper creeps the biscuit reticular
Sideways flat aunt gives the sticky sticky moose deaf
Clout wobbled Marjorie loud it's not the most robust algorithm in the world, but for making sentences of the form "noun performs verb in such a way as to make noun adjective", it works. And if you try, you can make sense out of the last three examples. It's remarkably difficult to make sentences that have no possible interpretation if they are grammatically correct.

But what about doing it the other way around? Providing a computer with a set of frameworks, and a set of tools for it to try to fit any input sentence into one of them?

"Dad paints it red" is, as above, Subject (Noun) + Verb + Object (Noun) + Complement (Adjective). "Dad paints it fast" ought to have the same structure. But "fast" in this position isn't an adjective - it's an adverb which has an identical form to the adjective from which it derives.

"Fast" also has another adverbial sense, with no corresponding adjective, as in "The door won't budge, it's stuck fast".

Sometimes there's just no way to know from syntax alone how to parse a sentence - and computers by definition can only deal with form, not function.

One thing you don't want after a long walk is to find you've dropped your keys somewhere. You've locked yourself out, and you don't have a telephone number to call for help, and even if you did your mobile doesn't work and this country doesn't seem to have payphones. Gah.

So I retraced my steps and miracle of miracles found my keys. So from now on they don't travel on a belt loop - they go in a zipped pocket. Possibly on a chain, surgically attatched to my gall bladder. Or maybe not.

Anyway, there were two pieces of graffiti in English on the way. "Graffiti art for everyone", which was nice, and "Combat 18", which wasn't so nice. Just who in Bulgaria would have even heard of a bunch of British neo-nazi gun fetishists?

Like all languages, Bulgarian takes words from other languages. I've seen some from German (Tanz - Dance), and some from Turkish (Portokal - Orange juice, Chai - Tea), and a few I thought might be French.

For obvious reasons English derived words jump out at me - Taksi, Foto, Resterant, Apartament, Marmalad, Biskvito. But there's also some nice pseudo-angliscisms.

A teller machine is a Bankomat, and a shop where you buy hot sandwiches is a Tosteri. I think that's quite neat.


"Prayer is what we turn to when the only thing we have left is hope."
- Johnathan Elias

Sometimes I think I should read the newspapers more. Then I do, and remember why I don't.

In the Telegraph: Israel, instead of retaliating for the murder of eight students by a Palesinian, is nobly continuing with peace talks with its terrorist neighbours.

So remind me which country occupied the other, and has all the weapons? Palestine invaded Israel - that is right isn't it?

Nevermind, underneath are articles on important stuff like how gadgets break marriages, and how Victoria Beckham is on the cover of Vogue.

The Mail...isn't a real newspaper, so ignore it.

The Mirror have more on the latest dead missing schoolgirl. Madeline McCann is so old news now.

And an appropriately named singer forgets where her mouth is.

On the BBC news website, we learn there is a campaign to put the faces of the 175 British soldiers killed in Iraq on stamps. Because it honours their sacrifice, apparantly.

I'll happily lick the heads of all the soldiers you want, but how much saliva do they need to become national heroes?

This must be one of those campaigns with no actual people in it - just a journalist saying there is one. A bit like those adverts for films and shows you see on the metro, promoting something no one's heard of yet by saying "everybody's talking about it".

By the way - 175 in 5 years? That's an average of 35 a year. For a war - and a losing war at that - it's a miniscule number.

Socialist Worker talks in it's lurid way about what the Telegrah forgot to mention - Israel spent the last week bombing the Gaza strip. While conducting peace talks.

The money is indeed delayed. What a surprise. So I can't repay Mother, because Tania the secretary can't pay me, because Ian the director hasn't paid her, because Scott Ian's employer hasn't paid him, because...he forgot or something.

Some people like to say there are only four stories in the world. The same people like to say there are only seven jokes. The difference is, no one can list the jokes, but a few can produce a list of story archetypes.

So what are the only four stories in the world? A quick google search produces this list:

1) A man goes on a journey
2) A stranger comes to town
3) Star-crossed lovers
4) Of honor and revenge

...and this one:

1) Overcoming adversity
2) Being more than what you are
3) Falling in love
4) Finding revenge

...and this one:

1) Love between two people
2) Love concerning more than two
3) A struggle
4) A journey

...and this one:

1) The city that is defended by brave men but will be destroyed nevertheless
2) The return against all odds after a journey of many years
3) The quest for a very rare treasure
4) The god who sacrifices himself

Well I reckon I can do better than these. So here is Kapitano's list of all the stories you will ever hear, shoehorned into four categories:

1) Solving a puzzle or overcoming an obstacle to win a prize (Examples: the murder mystery, fighting war or revolution, hitting the jackpot, seduction, the quest, engaging in a worthy struggle and failing heroically, finding then losing then regaining love)

2) Growth through pain (Examples: coming of age, making a mistake and learning from it, pilgrim's progress, the book of job, ghost stories and alien abduction, frankenstein)

3) Transformation (Examples: Everyone's lives are disrupted when a stranger arrives, the protagonist goes slowly insane, going to jail, coming off drugs, get rich quick)

4) One damn thing after another (Examples: a sequence of events with no moral message, waiting for godot, pornography, soap opera, tristram shandy)

Note that funny anecdotes, vingettes, and stories about natural justice (eg. most episodes of The Twilight Zone) don't fit into any of the above. Nor do stories about personal sacrifice, missed opportunities, or men turning into insects.

Hair Tomorrow

Awesome Dude is a forum for gay writers, and seeing as I'm gay when I get the chance and a writer when I'm not busy being gay, I joined. I posted a very short story here.

There's some good writers there, so have a nose around.

I have been attempting to study the subjunctive. "What is the subjunctive, uncle Kap?", I hear you ask. Well...

In the present form (which need not indicate the present time), it's when verbs revert to their base form (or "bare infinitive"), producing senteces like these:

She asked that he go away
This is for everyone, wherever they be
A man shall not lose the things that he buy

Nowadays in English, it's used for mainly for rhetorical effect, but different languages use it in different times for all sorts of wierd things. But there's also a past form (which may or may not refer to the actual past), that looks like this:

If she were lying, I could tell
Were I invisible, I could still make noise

And there's a past-perfect form, viz:

If I had known, I would have prepared
I wouldn't be writing if you hadn't encouraged me (=had you not encouraged)

So what's the common theme between these three forms? None that I can see, except they're all called subjunctive. And the second two are in fact irrealis conditionals, used for talking about things that might have been, but aren't or weren't.

So why lump them together? I've no idea. But I suppose it makes as much sense as describing "My" and "Your" as pronouns instead of adjectives.

I'm due to get my first paycheque tomorrow. Though knowing how the banks around here work it'll be (a) cash and (b) late.

It is possible to do business by having cheques chase each other through the system, but it winds up being more practical to get the cash out of the hole in the wall, take the twenty minute walk to the other side of town, and hand over the wad in person. Or if the recipient is in another town, stuff the cash into an envelope, and it'll get there in four days instead of twelve.

I'm not lonely, which is surprising. Well obviously I do get lonely sometimes, but there's none of the terrible lonliness that I feared. Not the kind that makes you stare at the wall wondering whether to do anything about the impulse to hit your head against it.

I've had almost no conversation - except with myself - and have essentially sat here, waiting for something to happen and sometimes trying to understand English grammar.

What? Yes I do talk to myself. But I've been doing it since I was four years old. One day I was bored in the playground and I wondered what it would be like. I haven't stopped since - it's a good way to work things out when there's no one else to bounce ideas off.

I'd been told that only mad people talked to themselves, and I wondered whether I would go mad by doing it, and whether I would be okay to go only slightly mad and then stop. A bit like children who're told masturbation makes their hands hairy, so they decide they'll continute doing it until they start to see stubble.

Not Bread Alone

Today's new experience: A glass of apricot juice. Actually two because it's quite nice.

Seeing as I've been living on cheap tea, cheap eggs, and cheap bacon on cheap bread, I thought I could do with some fresh fruit and/or vegatables. Or failing that, a carton of cheap orange juice.

But what should I find next to the five varieties of orange juice but peach juice, mango juice, lemon juice(!), lime juice and juice from fruits I couldn't actually identify. None of which I've ever tried from within cardboard.

So, with my cheap salami (Salam), cheap biscuits (Biskviti) and cheap chocolate (Choko :-)), I got some Sok of Kaisiya. On special offer.

The BBC can be very useful sometimes. They do four weekly podcasts on aspects of English for learners. In fact, if learners consistantly made use of resources like this, EFL teachers wouldn't have much to do. Fortunately, the live teacher in the classroom still has a mistique about it.

This particular English teacher (who has no mistique at all) is busy studying the details of his own language, and is getting the kind of feeling you get when you look at a familliar room from an unfamilliar angle.

For instance, the sentence "I used to travel" isn't a thing of hidden depths. It's in the present-simple form, with the pseudo-auxiliary verb "used" indicating a current state relating to something in the past - specifically, to action that was habitual but has now ceased.

The emphatic version "I did used to travel" looks clear enough - it's just the implied auxiliary "do" being made explicit, much as happens when the statement "I travel" is flipped around to become the quesion "Do I travel?". But there's a problem.

In English, where there's a string of verbs in a sentence - as in "I regretted to want to start to stop" or "I was able to begin to decide to cease to pretend to act" - the first verb (auxiliary or not) takes the past tense if there is one needed, and all the others are in the present. In these examples the "passified" verbs are "regretted" (past of "regret") and "was" (past of "is/am/are").

But here's there's two verbs in the past form - "did" (do) and "used" (use). And what's more, the present of "did" can't be used - "I do used to travel" is ungrammatical.

So, I'm a bit confused about that.

Being here gives me the chance to do things I'd never do at home. lots of episodes of CSI back to back. Um, yeah.

It's one of those shows that's quite enjoyable in its simple formula, non-characterisation and faux high drama. I find I can sit through each episode quite happily, in spite of its risible portrayal of science and its right-wing agenda - messages of "drugs make you murder" and "the end justifies the means but only for the good guys".

But...once I'm done with an episode, there's no sense that I'll ever want to see it again. It's all used up and spent. Which is not the stuff of cult TV, or TV you make time to watch.

Chewing gum for the eyes indeed. So I think I'll just have one more stick.

One of the games I find myself playing a lot is "Supermarket Roulette". This involves trying to ascertain exactly what item is in what packaging, with only the pictures on the packs and a limited grasp of the language.

Bleach and detergent come in the same shaped bottles, and I don't recall the word for either, so I hunt around the brands looking for one with a picture of a washing machine or a shirt, and buy that one.

There's one product called "Ace" with the word "Automat" (both in roman letters) underneath. Which do you suppose it is? Or is it something else entirely? It turns out to be bleach.

Butter and cheese are stored next to each other, sometimes in similar packaging. Sometimes a quick squeeze will tell you which is which, but in this case I cheat and look at the labels - "Maslo" is butter and "Sirene" is cheese.

There's dozens and dozens of products called "Maioneza" - Mayonaise. I select one, thinking it'll go well with the "Klasik Khamburgski" - which isn't a classic hamburger, but a kind of pork salami - only to find it's prawn mayonaise. I'm dipping my bread in it.

And by the way I still can't pronounce the word for bread - "Khlyab".

I Have Done a Mistake

There's a book called "Practical English Usage" by Michael Swan that's the closest thing EFL teachers have to a bible. Most of the time I find it invaluable, but sometimes I think he's just wrong - not about what English forms are correct but about which are incorrect. I think his notion of acceptable English is too narrow.

Here's a list of utterances that he says show mistakes. I've followed the convention of indicating mistaken forms with an asterisk, and given the "corrected" form in parentheses.

* He's a difficult to understand person
(He's a difficult person to understand)

* I haven't got some free time today
(I haven't got any free time today)

* He said to me that he was Chinese
(He told me he was Chinese)

* She told me she has a headache
(She told me she had a headache)

* He has much money
(He has a lot of money)

* When you come, take your bike
(When you come, bring your bike)

* I like the 60s music
(I like 60s music)

* I've good knowledge of German
(I've a good knowledge of German)

* All along the centuries, there have been wars
(All through the centuries, there have been wars)

* I nearly wish I'd stayed at home
(I almost wish I'd stayed at home)

* No doubt the world is getting warmer
(There is no doubt that the world is getting warmer)

* Would you follow me wherever I would go?
(Would you follow me wherever I went?)

* I'm thankful for your help
(I'm greatful for your help)

* Stefan can never return back to his country
(Stefan can never return to his country)

* My older sister is a pilot
(My elder sister is a pilot)

* I love that fat silly cat
(I love that silly fat cat)

* This is not the least of the unemployed's problems
(This is not the least of the problems of the unemployed)

* Put the butter at once in the fridge
(Put the butter in the fridge at once)

I think all of these "wrong" forms are actually quite acceptable. Some are inelegant, some may be a little eccentric, but if I heard any of them I wouldn't automaticallacy think "That's wrong".

I wrote that last night and saved for further pondering. Then I made a nice cup of darjeeling to ponder over...and the lights fused - and because of the insane way the electrics in this place are wired up, everything is on the lights circuit.

Humph. So I tried to tidy the place up, and managed to drop the glass jar from the coffee percolator. And spent an interesting half hour finding bits of broken glass in odd places.

Stuck for anything else to do, I went for a walk. And twisted my ankle on one of those potholed pavements I mentioned. And then managed to get lost.

Eventually finding my way back, I made a goodnight cup of tea with the plug-in heating element and a newly discovered plug on a different circuit. Which lasted just long enough to boil the water before fusing.

Fortunately the boyfriend of my host Tania is an electrician, who fixed everything in the morning, ten seconds flat. While shaking his moptopped head sadly that anyone could wire things up like that.

Suspecting that the now partly melted heating element might be the cause of both blowouts, I made my first big purchase in Bulgaria - a kettle.

Now, I could tell you about my several wasted hours trying to connect my laptop to this net line, or my now swollen and painful ankle, or the strange smell coming from the bathroom, but I won't. Except I just have, but nevermind.

Something I've noticed about different types of tea - they actually do taste different when you don't put milk in them! Darjeeling has a smokey flavour, and Earl Gray is almost acrid. Ceylon is smooth by comparison, but with an aftertaste that reminds me of...tarragon, I think.

Odd how most languages come up with words for a hundred different types of foolishness, and as many for sex, but they don't distinguish so much between flavours or smells.

Wash Day

My grandmother washed her clothes in a large tub. It was roughly cubic, half the size of a large office desk, could be set to vibrate or stir the clothes, and had a built in mangle.

She knew about washing machines but refused to use one. She also knew about microwaves and once in a fit of technophillia that amazed everyone, bought the smallest, cheapest mictowave she could find. And then refuesed ever to use it. I did try using it once - it took twenty minutes to reheat some warm milk.

My grandmother's grandmother washed her clothes in a tin bath, and probably didn't have a mangle.

I wash my clothes in a bucket, stirring them with the handle of a mop, using a detergent that I don't know how to pronounce, because I can't decipher the script it's written in.

I then hang the clothes to dry on a long piece of electrical cord strung from the door into the bathroom. Thus there is a curtain of damp clothes seperating my "kitchen" from my "computer room", steaming gently from the portable heater mounted on a chair.

And so I claim the family prize for Slumming It. At least until one of my interpid cousins washes their clothes in a mountain stream and then builds a log fire to dry them.

According to a recent Gallup poll, gay people spend more time online than straight people. which is to say, about a hundred out gay people in a sample a little over a thousand in London said they spent an hour or more per day on Friendster, Facebook or YouTube.

So, how many gay grls and bendy boiz in Bulgaria use OutEverywhere? Erm, none. And none in Albania, Bangladesh or Camaroon. Afganistan manages two.

There's a few dozen on Gaydar - including one from this town. Squirt, which says "Fancy a shag?" when Gaydar says "Fancy going out sometime?", does even less well.

I could check GayM8, SocialButter or GLEE, but I wouldn't expect anything different. It seems that in much of the world, gay folks who are completely closeted where they live can be out online - but around here, they can't even do that.

Some websites will tell you a different story, but you'll notice they only talk about the capital city.

I asked whether I should concentrate on learning English to teach, or on Bulgarian to use - and I was told the former, partly on the grounds that English has a pleasantly simple grammar and Bulgarian has a horrendously complex one.

The thing about Engish's simple grammar throws up forms that are grammatically fine but, well, odd. They make you stop and ask whether what you just said was actually an English utterance.

Things like "English's simple grammar", which should be unproblematic, but seems to be the kind of thing native speakers just wouldn't say - or would say very rarely. They'd say "simple grammar of English".

So here's a sentence progression of four present tense forms, and I want you to tell me whether the final one is (a) a good, clear, well-formed and proper sentence in English, (b) not an English sentence at all, or (c) a sentence that is grammatically possible, but that no native speaker would produce:

I am patient.
I am being patient.
I have been patient.
I have been being patient.