No, your concerns about immigration are not about immigration

I wasn’t going to write this. I didn’t think I needed to write something parading my many privileges. But it’s been on my mind for weeks. Since Brexit, since Trump and now since Pauline Hanson, Sonia Kruger, since people all across the developed world are claiming they have concerns about immigration. For all sorts of reasons. But it’s doublespeak. It’s a cover for nasty prejudices that people would rather pretend they didn’t hold. But people are not really concerned about immigration. And I know.

know.

I know because I am an immigrant. But the nice kind. The kind that people don’t have a problem with. The white, middle class, childless kind. The kind who is steeped in privilege.

But going deeper, and removing the many layers of privilege, I have been a very bad immigrant. I have done many, if not all, the things that people who have concerns about immigration cite as reasons for their concerns. And none of the people who have these concerns have objected to me.

I moved from one country to another

In 2012 I moved from the UK to Australia. It’s glaringly obvious that I’m a migrant, but it still needs saying. None of the people I know who have concerns about immigration objected to my migration. Most thought it was a good thing. Some attended a party I had to celebrate my migration (and, ironically, discussed their objections to immigration with me at the party). But not a single person has ever objected to me – and specifically me – moving from one country to another. That’s how I know you do not object to the concept of migration – you didn’t object when I did it.

I arrived in Australia with no money

Many people who have concerns about immigration suggest that immigrants are a drain on the economy. It’s okay for wealthy people to migrate because they are able to support themselves, but people who do not have healthy bank balances should not migrate. They don’t have concerns about immigration per se; just about people who have little money migrating.

When I moved to Australia, I arrived with little more than enough money for a flight back to the UK in case some emergency meant I needed it. That’s all I had. And from people I know who have concerns about immigration I received words of encouragement and offers of support. That’s how I know you do not object to the concept of a person migrating with no money – you didn’t object when I did it.

When I arrived, welfare supported my family

When I moved to Australia I was unemployed and my partner was studying and receiving Austudy – a welfare benefit. For the time that I was unemployed, this was the majority of the money our family of two had coming in. People I told about this – people who have concerns about immigration – didn’t voice any objection to this. Some told me how it was good that we had some money coming in. That’s how I know you don’t object to the concept of immigrants relying on welfare – you didn’t object when I did it.

Shortly after arriving, I took a low-skilled job

Quite a lot of people who have concerns about immigration base this concern on unemployment. There aren’t enough jobs, and immigrants are taking those jobs. Immigrants are the cause of unemployment. Especially when immigrants are taking low-skilled jobs. It’s okay for highly-skilled immigrants: nurses, sports players, scientists – we need those kind of people, but low-skilled immigrants just contribute to unemployment.

When I arrived, after a couple of weeks of unemployment, I took a job cleaning ashtrays in a leagues club. A low-paid, low-skilled job that anyone could do. The response I got when I told people I know who have concerns about immigration was, strangely, a positive one. “That’s great!”; “Good on you!”; “It’s good that you’re earning money”. Nobody told me that I was stuffing up the economy and contributing to unemployment amongst Australian citizens. Nobody suggested I resign for moral reasons. That’s how I know you don’t object to immigrants taking jobs – you didn’t object when I did it.

There are probably a myriad other reasons people cite for having concerns about immigration – things that the faceless hypothetical immigrant does that cause untold damage to society and to the economy. I’ve probably done most of them. I arrived with no money but I had a mobile phone (I can’t have been that poor if I had a mobile phone!); I spend money outside of the Australian economy, sending gifts to my family overseas; I hang on to my culture and traditions, doing things I did in England; I haven’t adopted Christianity; I eat English food; not applicable here, but wherever I moved, I would have continued to speak my mother language; I watch English TV; I lived rent-free with adopted family for a while when I moved here; I’ve been a burden on the health service. Nobody has ever objected to any of it. Nobody.

So I know your concerns about immigration are really concerns about something else. Because you only have concerns about things that I have done when you strip away my privilege. When you take away my whiteness, you start having concerns. When you take away my middle-class upbringing, you start having concerns. When you take away my native speaker level of English, my childlessness, now my income, my abled body, my lack of religion, all of it. That’s when you start having concerns.

So let’s be honest – what are you really concerned about? And are you quite comfortable holding those concerns?

More letter writing, this time to the council

There’s a proposed development for a plot of land with a house currently on it in our area. I read the application, and I was very much “don’t care either way”. Then yesterday, a flyer found its way into our mailbox that was littered with racism and NIMBYism, and that pushed me very quickly from “don’t care” to “fully support”.

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SAY NO! – TO 28 ROOM BOARDING HOUSE

Chinese developer, Jiankai Pty Ltd wants to demolish the historic old home and gardens at 154 Welbank St, North Strathfield and replace it with a huge 28 room boarding house.

The boarding house, designed by architect firm Ghazi Al Ali, could be housing 60 or more renters on this small residential block.

This boarding house would be on an unprecedented scale for this area and if allowed could be the beginning of a tidal wave of similar developments destroying the value of our homes and the character of our beautiful and safe suburb.

Please contact Canada Bay council to submit your objection to this proposed development.

I was unable – and unwilling – to respond to this directly, as it did not say who it was from, and in any case it seemed more productive to take action against these people rather than engaging them in an ultimately pointless argument. But here are my objections to their objections:

  • Highlighting the Chinese name of the developer and Arabic name of the architect (when those details really are irrelevant) is out-and-out racism. We should oppose racism whenever we see it, even (and especially) when it causes some inconvenience to us.
  • The house and gardens are not historic. Neuschwanstein is historic. Taj Mahal is historic. Westminster Abbey is historic. An unremarkable three-bedroom house built on stolen land is not. The history of the Wangal clan of the Eora nation (of which I am, woefully, largely ignorant) is the history of this piece of land, and this house plays no real part in that history.
  • Change is good. The house is old and tired, and the architect’s previous projects are beautiful.
  • House prices falling would be a good thing for this area. More families being able to afford to live here.
  • This area is perfect for this sort of development. It has good transport links and is perfectly situated for access to Sydney, Sydney Olympic Park and Bicentennial Park.
  • This area is modern and multicultural, and this sort of development is in-keeping with that. Opposition to it is not.

In honesty, the development will cause a bit of inconvenience. It’ll be noisy and annoying, and the people who end up living or staying there might be noisy, rowdy or generally irritating. But the choice between that and supporting the cause of people who push a NIMBY agenda using racist rhetoric is a very very easy one.

So I wrote to the council to register my support for this project.

Dear General Manager
I write regarding the development proposal for 154 Wellbank Street, North Strathfield, and and I would like to register my full support of the proposal.
I have lived in the vicinity of this property with my boyfriend for three years, and I have never been particularly fond of the appearance of the 20th Century house that is on the block and I am irritated by claims from some in the local community that it has any historic value.
The property was sold last year for $2.25m, which is an outrageous price for a family home in any area. Some members of the local community have said that this development will lead to a drop in the value of homes in the area: given the astronomical price of this property at its last sale, a drop in house prices is certainly a good thing. Further, a $2.25m property being occupied by a single family seems to me to be a case of excessive under-occupation and I welcome the proposal to use the land more economically to house more people.
Although I have not seen the type of intended occupants of the proposed boarding house, developments of this kind tend to be marketed to either students or tourists. The location of this property is a perfect location to house either students or tourists. Its proximity to North Strathfield station would make it attractive to intended residents, giving a boost to the economy of the area.
There have been other developments in Wellbank Street recently, some of which are ongoing, and disruption and disturbance has been minimal. I am confident that the proposed development would not cause any excessive disruption to me or to other residents in the area.
I have researched the architect linked to the proposal, Ghazi Al Ali, and have found the other projects they have worked on, especially Omar Mosque in Auburn, to be modern and beautiful. The proposed development would be a welcome replacement to the tired, ugly building which is currently on the block.
North Strathfield is a modern, multi-cultural, and forward-looking suburb, and this development is exactly in keeping with its character. I hope council will recognize this and approve this proposed development.
Yours,
John Avocado

Here’s a fact sheet about the Wangal People, produced by Canada Bay Council. [PDF]

I wrote to my MP about Brexit

Last week I wrote a letter to my MP, David Davis, about the outcome of the EU Referendum. He responded yesterday. His response was entirely predictable – he was a vocal Leave supporter, and clearly has a fetish for whatever he thinks is left of the British Empire – but I was glad he responded. Here is our correspondence:

Dear David Davis,

I write concerning the recent referendum on the UK’s membership of the
European Union. The results made it clear that this time last week, the
majority of voters – including you – in the UK as well as in
Haltemprice and Howden supported leaving the European Union. I’m sure
you agree that the result of the referendum has been disastrous for the
UK in less than a week. Claims and promises made by the Leave campaign
have turned out to have been false – we won’t see any extra money spent
on the NHS, we won’t have access to the single market on any terms the
UK would agree to, and the restrictions on immigration that many voters
(though not including me) wished to see will not be possible.

Already we have seen a tremendous downturn in the UK economy, the
effects of which will surely be felt particularly harshly in our
region, especially as we face losing funding from the European Regional
Development Fund.

My family faces hardship as a direct result of this referendum – family
members are small business owners, and other family members rely on
welfare benefits to support their income from work, which George
Osborne confirmed will be at real risk.

I urge you to do all you can to now ensure the future prosperity of the
UK, our region and my family. I believe the best way to do this will be
to work to ensure the UK remains a member of the EU – applying the
advice obtained from this advisory referendum when it has already
proved to be disastrously damaging to the UK simply cannot be an
option. I hope, having seen the fallout from last week’s poll, you
agree with me. Please help.

Yours sincerely,
John Avocado

His response came in a week, which is actually pretty good I’m led to believe.

Dear Mr Avocado

Thank you for your email regarding the outcome of the EU Referendum.

I am afraid I do not at all agree with your statement that the “result of the referendum has been disastrous for the UK”.

We have not seen a “tremendous” downturn in the economy, what we have seen is the predictable hysteric reaction from the establishment. This hysteria was always to be expected in the event of a Leave vote.  And it is just that – hysteria.

In reality there is much cause for confidence. The Germans have swiftly indicated their desire for minimum disruption to trade. The Americans reaffirmed their belief in the special relationship, with senators calling for a fast-track trade deal with the UK. And Australia and New Zealand lead the calls for Britain to rediscover our Commonwealth links.

It is now the job of the Government to implement the instructions of the UK people in a way which enhances democracy, improves our economy and maintains the tradition of liberal open minded and generous views of the rest of the World, including remaining friends with our European partners.

Thank you for writing to me in this way.

Yours sincerely

 

David Davis
Rt Hon David Davis MP

I hope he’s right, but I don’t think he is.

Creativity from the past

Here’s a song I wrote in about 2000 or 2001. I’m a dreadful singer, otherwise I would sing it for you. Interpretation is left to the reader; my interpretation of it has changed over the years, but one reading is of an abusive/manipulative relationship, so this is a content note for that.

You Know

I couldn’t escape if I wanted to;
you wouldn’t let me out of your sight.
However much I hate it I’m here right now;
I know that I’ll be here for the rest of the night.

I know that when tomorrow comes
I know I’ll want to leave.
I know that when tomorrow comes
I know you’ll look at me

and I’ll stay

because you know, you know
when you walk on in,
you know, you know
you’ll always win.
You know, you know
how much I try.
But you know, you know
I just can’t hide.

I’m helpless and I know it, I’m weak I’m through.
I know that I will do what you say.
I know that I’m delusioned, I know it’s you.
However much I fight it you’ll have your way.

I know I should see through your lies
but – oh – the seem so good.
And I know that you have empty eyes
but – oh – they seem so good.

so I’ll stay

because you know, you know
when you walk on in,
you know, you know
you’ll always win.
You know, you know
how much I try.
But you know, you know
I just can’t hide.

Yes I know that when tomorrow comes
I know I’ll want to leave.
And I know that when tomorrow comes
I know you’ll look at me.
And I know I should see through your lies.
And I know that you have empty eyes
But you know I’ll stay
and you’ll have your way.

because you know, you know
when you walk on in,
you know, you know
you’ll always win.
You know, you know
how much I try.
But you know, you know
I just can’t hide.

You know I’ll stay.
You know you’ll have your way.

 

I’m making a hat

I have taken up knitting again. Not seriously, but just as a pastime. I have in the past knitted a couple of things – well a couple of scarves, because that’s all I knew how to do. But last week, I did a little bit of learning, including learning how to read a knitting pattern, and I found a very simple pattern that wasn’t a scarf and I made a start.

This is the pattern I found –  it’s a simple hat, “Cozy Cobblestone Cap”, and the pattern looked manageable.

I felt a little apprehensive about starting because it really is the first thing I have ever made from a pattern, but I was brave and cast on and knitted the first row.

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The first ten rows were garter stitch, so it was a pretty easy start, and got me well into the flow. And I progressed quite quickly. Then the tricky (not really) part. The second section was the “cobblestone” pattern bit – alternating between knitting and purling every couple of stitches – I’ve never managed to do that before, but a couple of YouTube video lessons, and I managed it. Day two and the pattern was emerging.

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By the third day I’d knitted enough that the pattern showed and I was able to wrap it around my head – it was starting to look like a hat!

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IMG_20160426_173607508Disaster struck on Sunday night though – after knitting about six rows, I noticed I was knitting on the wrong side – I’d either missed a row or added one somewhere, and I couldn’t see exactly where. I spent an hour or so on YouTube trying to learn how to rip back the stitches to get back on track, but… I wasn’t game enough to try. I decided to just add another row to get back onto the right side, and hope the inside-out section looks like it’s just part of the pattern.

Last night I finished the main section and started the crown. I had to learn to decrease – the simple but new-to-me SSK (slip, slip, knit) stitch. Again, a couple of YouTube lessons, and some practice on a practice bit of fabric that I have on the go. The crown didn’t take long, and the knitting of the hat is finished! All that is left to do is form the shape and sew the seam. So I think a couple of YouTube videos on seam-sewing will be the order of today.

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I’ll update when it is finished – hopefully it will be a hat and it will be wearable. And hopefully we’ll have a cold winter so I can wear it!

Last albums & pop goodbyes

I grew up listening to M People. I’d probably still say they are my favorite band, although I listen to them much less now than I did when I was 15. Mum & Dad bought me their album Bizarre Fruit II for Christmas in 1996 and I became addicted to it. Then in 1997 we went to see them live at the Hull Arena for their Fresco tour. I bought the album shortly after that and became addicted to that too.

Over the next few years most of my money was spent on building a collection of M People CD singles: their total of four albums I managed to collect quite quickly – and all the international versions thereof – but by probably 2000 I had managed to complete my collection. I owned every M People release.

After Fresco in 1997 and their subsequent Best Of album in 1998, I waited for their next album. It never came. And I never understood because they were at the top of their game, they were successful and so popular, but the next album just never happened. Heather Small made a solo album, and the band toured and kept touring for years – in fact they never split, so I always hoped. Even until last year when Heather finally announced she was leaving the band, I had hope that they might record new material. It didn’t happen.

Artists that I love do seem to have a habit of doing this. Not all of them, of course, but I become wary of getting too attached to bands and artists now. My favorites seem to do disappearing acts too often, so I tend to just assume that every album is their last nowadays.

I discovered Moloko pretty late in their career – towards the end of their promotion of Things to Make and Do which was their third album. I bought their fourth, Statues, on a whim and I fell in love with it. I am still in love with that album and I think I always will be. It was a wonderful final album for a band that I discovered I loved when I went and bought the rest of their albums on the strength of Statues, but like M People, they put out a Greatest Hits and then just stopped recording. Lead singer Roisin Murphy put out a couple of solo albums, but then even she disappeared for eight years before recording (the rather delicious) Hairless Toys last year. She’s got something new coming this year but because of what seems to happen with artists I love, I won’t believe it until I’ve bought it.

Confessions on a Dance Floor would have been a perfect final album from Madonna. To me it felt like a retrospective, like a goodbye, and like it was the album she had always wanted to make. It wasn’t of course – she’s put out another three since then. But I’ll say the same about her latest, Rebel Heart – it feels like it could be her last. I’m sure it won’t be.

Macy Gray’s Big should have been her last. I loved her first three records, but when I bought Big over Easter in 2007, I was sure she would never make a better one. To date she hasn’t. The Sellout was flat, her collection of cover versions was dreadful, and although she gave a good effort when she recorded a version of Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book in its entirety, it was disappointing.  I wonder if I would have lamented Macy Gray’s disappearance if she had quit after Big. I’m sure I would have.

Perhaps the Spice Girls should have given up after Spice World as well. Their two albums were pop perfection (despite most of the non-single tracks on Spice being garbage), and what became their last album seems to tarnish my memories of them. The Ting Tings, whose first album I adored, made a “could do better” second album, and then a third which honestly sounded like they were happy enough with demos of some songs they had written, and didn’t bother to do any real production on them. They should have quit while they were ahead.

So I wonder – was M People’s disappearance a good thing? Could they ever have made an album as good as their first four or would they have become tired and gone the way Macy Gray did? I’ll never know I guess.

But I wonder.

A Letter to First

Today’s glance through the archives has revealed parts of my personality that are probably not as far in the past as I think they are. I like to think I’m not quite as insufferable as I was five or ten years ago, but people are not always the best judges of their own characters. Either way, it’s been interesting to look back and see what I wrote in the past and think about how much of it represents who I feel I am today.

I used to be the sort of person who would write letters of complaint to companies for fun. I don’t really do that any more, apart from the occasional review on TripAdvisor, or a rant here on the blog or on Twitter.

Twitter’s an interesting one because more and more people are writing letters of complaint in 140 characters. I like it actually – when I do it, it makes me think about exactly what the issue is. With 140 characters you can’t ramble on, your complaint has to be precise, specific and targeted. But I also like that companies who use Twitter properly to engage with customers are increasingly understanding that a long letter does not necessarily mean a more serious complaint.

But I haven’t always been on Twitter, and as I said, I did used to write real letters of complaint. Here’s one from 2009 – it’s to First, the bus company, about a not completely out of the ordinary bus trip.

Dear First

I travelled this evening (June 4th) on the number 12 service in Leeds from Roundhay Road to Leeds City Centre, and was disappointed with the service.

As I boarded the bus I was ignored by the driver for around a minute (a rather long time) as he adjusted the sign on the front of the bus, making me feel particularly unwelcome on the bis.

Further along Roundhay Road, the driver stopped at a bus stop and waited for around five minutes with the engine left switched on. Whilst I understand that such waiting is necessary for timetable purposes, I was, and still a, unsure why the driver did not switch the engine off. Aside from environmental concerns, this appeared to me to be an unnecessary waste of fuel which, given the current economic situation and especially recent fare increases, is totally unacceptable.

Again, further along Roundhay Road, the service was further delayed as the driver parked the bus (once again leaving the engine running) by the Tesco Express store close to the Thomas Danby College. He left the bus, went to the store and apparently made a purchase (as he came back with a full carrier bag). This delay to my journey was clearly not for timetable reasons, and a delay for the driver to carry out seemingly personal business is both inappropriate and unacceptable.

I would add that my experience this evening is not typical of the First service, leaving me extremely disappointed by this journey, and I would therefore like a refund of my fare.

I look forward to hearing to you.

Best regards

John Avocado

And here is the response I got from First:

Dear Mr Avocado,

I am writing in response to your email of complaint recorded with us on the 05th June 2009.

We are currently investigating the matters highlighted and will send you a full response as soon as the investigation has been concluded.

Thank you for your continued patience.

Yours sincerely

pp scribble

Nicola Davenport
Customer Services Team

I did get a follow-up asking me to phone them to discuss the matter, but for the £1.80 fare I couldn’t really be bothered.

There are a few other letters and whinges hanging around in my sent items mailbox and probably in archives at my parents’ house somewhere. Maybe I’ll stick them up here.

Saturday 30th March 2002

As a teenager I kept a journal. I’ve looked back at it a few times over the last ten years, and it’s cringeworthy, but slightly amusing. Though also bloody boring – I didn’t lead the most exciting teenage life, and certainly not the sort of life that was worth documenting, but I did anyway.

My journals are in boxes now at my parents home, up in the attic somewhere, and I daresay I’ll retrieve them when I next visit, and may perhaps even publish more entries depending on what embarrassingly awful morsels I find.

In the meantime, here is my entry from 30th March 2002.

Saturday 30th March, 2002

I warmly welcome myself home from another ‘holiday’. We went to Otley near Leeds for the Easter weekend and arrived back today at five o’clock. We stayed at a hotel called ‘Chevin Lodge’, which was, by all standards, a most bizarre place, almost like Fawlty Towers; the staff were so dizzy it was untrue. Good/bad news: there were some waiters in the (rather nice) restaurant. To save space on the Love Web, I list them HERE!:

1/ Will, student (at Leeds uni!!), (longish) blonde [sic] hobbit-hair, v. attractive, but looks quite dim.

2/ Santiago (from Spain (?) ). Tall. Black hair (short). Not really that attractive, but he was a waiter.

3/ “Manuel” (unknown real name. From France (?) ). Short (yay!), but didn’t have the youth of the other two.

What is it with me and waiters?! No, but we had quite a nice (if somewhat amusing) time.

In other news (or (rather) the main news to everyone else …) the Queen Mother died.

I don’t remember now, but it seems I had a bit of a thing for waiters, which is an oddly specific attraction I think. Or maybe it was”just a preference”. (And in case you’re curious, the Love Web was basically just a list of all the boys I had crushes on, but organized, with any friendships and relationships they had with each other marked accordingly. I was a very odd teenager!)

Steaks, sauces, and Delia Smith

This was originally published in 2012

Steak au poivre, peppered steak, steak with peppercorn sauce: call it what you will; it’s pretty much a culinary classic. I’m inclined to believe it is French because of its name, the use of flaming brandy and the French love of pouring rich, creamy sauces over anything that is put on a plate.

First a note about steak. Well a few notes actually. Rump, sirloin, and rib-eye are delicious cuts, full of flavor and so totally inappropriate to be cooked in a rich sauce like this one. Fillet is perfect: it is beautiful to cut, but needs a lot of help in the flavor department, and is an ideal cut to serve with rich, creamy sauces. It’s expensive, but one often deserves a treat! If you can afford fillet, buy good quality meat, and the steaks must be thick!

Secondly (and I mean this), I am very opinionated about how steaks should be cooked. My first opinion is that it is a shame to cook a steak at all. That said, for this dish cooking is necessary. The recipe below gives instructions on how to cook your steak if you like it rare. If you don’t like it rare, I wouldn’t bother to cook it at all: you will destroy the delicate texture of the fillet and will have wasted a lot of money on what is an expensive piece of meat.

The sauce is very rich and creamy, but hopefully the finished dish will not resemble what is so often served up in third-rate Italian restaurants; a glib bit of meat swimming in cream and brandy. Delia Smith’s version of this recipe includes no cream or brandy and is, although delicious, not nearly as indulgent as my version!

Steak au Poivre

Serves 4

4 fillet steaks
3 large shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves, chopped
4 tsp black peppercorns
75 ml brandy
200 ml red wine
400 ml good beef stock
90 ml double cream
2 tbsp butter

Begin by flash frying the steaks. I prefer to fry steak on a heavy cast iron griddle, but a large heavy-based frying pan is perfectly suitable. Get your griddle as hot as possible – heat it over a high heat for a good fifteen to twenty minutes. There will be smoke, but do not be afraid: an extremely high temperature is necessary. Spread a layer of butter over each steak (not the pan!) and lay butter-side down on the hot griddle and fry for one minute on each side, turning every thirty seconds. Remove the steaks to a warmed plate.

Next, over a medium heat, melt the rest of the butter in a large, thick-based frying pan (if you fried the steaks in a pan, use the same one). Add the shallots, garlic and peppercorns to the pan, and soften gently for about five minutes.

Now comes the tricky (and potentially dangerous) bit. Heat the brandy in either a large metal ladle or a very small saucepan. Once the brandy is hot, return the steaks to the frying pan, light the brandy with a match and (standing as far back as you can) pour the flaming brandy over the steaks. Swirl it around gently to keep the flame going as long as possible, but as soon as the flame dies, remove the steaks back to the plate.

Now add the red wine to the pan, turn the heat up to high and reduce the wine by about one half; this should take around five minutes. Next add the beef stock and let it boil for around ten minutes or until the stock has reduced by about two-thirds.

Now turn the heat back down to medium and stir in the cream. Allow the sauce to thicken a little and return the steaks to the pan to warm through. Spoon the sauce over the steaks. Once warmed through, serve immediately with grilled corn cobs and stir-fried savoy cabbage.

Note for readers in Australia/New Zealand. Fillet steak means eye fillet; shallots mean eshallots – the french shallots that look like small onions; not shallots that might also be called spring onions or scallions.

I’m going to drive to work less

A statement I have made too many times is that I would go to work on the train (instead of driving), but my workplace is too far away from the nearest station, so it’s impractical and inconvenient.

What garbage.

A few weeks ago on Twitter, a friend briefly described his Public Health Utopia, and one of the points was that it involved more people walking more. And then it clicked. To walk to work from the station takes me fifteen minutes. Maybe twenty if I take it easy. But either way, it’s not a long walk.

So I’ve resolved to go to work on public transport more often.

The downside is that it takes longer overall for me to get to work, so I have to get up earlier in the morning, and if the weather is no good it’s not that nice, but otherwise it’s positive. I’ve found the walk from the station to work is a pleasant one: it’s relaxing and gives me some space to think. It’s suburban too, so the fresh (ish) air wakes me up, and I guess the walk itself loosens me up a little. I won’t pretend it’s a workout, but there must be some health benefits, even if minor.

Perhaps importantly, I like traveling by train. And I don’t like driving. Even though in the morning I drive away from the city, I still get stuck sitting in traffic, or otherwise have to deal with whatever dickhead drivers decide to assault the roads with their aggressive driving styles, and I arrive at work stressed. When I go on the train, this just doesn’t happen.

Although not a major motivation, it’s in my mind that tolls will be back on the M4 next year, and I would honestly much rather pay a train fare than a road toll.

I’m sure I’ll still drive to work sometimes; probably a lot at first, but hopefully less and less. Even then there’ll be days when I wake up and think “bugger it; I’ll drive”, or days when I just can’t work my personal schedule around the train timetable. But I hope that more and more this will become rarer and rarer.

In short, I’m working on becoming a proper train commuter, and I hope my life will be better because of it.

It might be interesting to say that I wrote this post on my phone on the train on my way home from work.

Pea Risotto with Chicken, Pancetta and Cep Mushrooms

A lot of people think that risotto is terribly difficult to make. But like most things that are commonly viewed as difficult, risotto is surprisingly easy. It does require patience and a lot of attention: turn your back for a moment and it could be ruined. But risotto is one of those dishes that is as comforting to cook as it is to eat. Rich, creamy and sensual, and you can definitely taste how much care has been put into the preparation.

The most important ingredient in any risotto is the stock, and here you can’t get away with using a stock cube as you so often can. The rice is cooked entirely in the stock and it will soak up the flavor, and stock cubes are notoriously lacking in real, wholesome flavor. That said, there are some options available if you haven’t made your own stock, and these include the concentrated jellies that you can buy, as well as ready-made stocks.

A note on stock: it is surprisingly easy to make. I use a lot of chicken stock, and I keep a bag of chicken bones in the freezer and keep adding to it. With planning, you can make your stock in advance (say, the night before) and keep it in the fridge, ready to use.

You can add anything you like to your risotto. It’s simply a base of arborio rice and onion cooked in stock, with whatever you fancy added at the end. In my mind, peas are mandatory, but it really is up to you!

Pea Risotto with Chicken, Pancetta and Cep Mushrooms

Serves 4

300 g arborio rice
700 ml home-made chicken stock, heated
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic
4 chicken thigh fillets, skin off
200 g cubetti de pancetta
1 small packet dried cep mushrooms
A handful of frozen peas
2 glasses white wine
A few sprigs of rosemary
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp groundnut oil
Salt and pepper for seasoning

Heat a small amount of oil in a frying pan over a high heat and quickly seal the chicken thigh fillets on each side. You don’t want to brown them, just seal them so they don’t fall apart. Add one glass of the wine and enough stock to cover the chicken, together with the bay leaf and the rosemary. Lightly season with a little salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Cover with a lid and turn the heat right down, and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked.

While the chicken is cooking, soak the mushrooms. Put them in a bowl and cover them with boiling water and leave to stand for ten minutes. Once the chicken thigh fillets are cooked, remove them with a slotted spoon, but retain the liquor, and reduce it to about 100 ml. Cut the chicken into small pieces.

In another large frying pan or saucepan, cook the pancetta over a high heat. There is enough fat in the pancetta, so you will not need to use any oil. transfer the pancetta to a plate and add 1 tbsp of the butter and 1 tbsp of the oil to the pan and turn the heat to medium. Fry the soaked mushrooms for a few minutes until they are cooked, and transfer them to the plate to join the pancetta and the cooked chicken.

Melt the rest of the butter in the same pan and turn the heat down to low. Add the onion and soften for about five minutes. Turn the heat back up to high and add the arborio rice, turning it over in the buttery juices. Toast it for two minutes or so, but don’t let it brown, then pour in the other glass of wine, and start stirring.

The trick now is to make sure the liquid is fully absorbed before adding any more. Rush, and you’ll end with soup. Once the wine has been absorbed, add the reduced liquor that the chicken was cooked in and turn down the heat a little. Keep stirring constantly. Again, allow the liquid to absorb fully, and you can start adding the hot stock. Add the stock a ladle-by-ladle and make sure to keep stirring. You don’t need to wait for the liquid to be absorbed completely, but you should wait until your spoon leaves a clear wake behind it before adding the next ladleful. It should take about 20 minutes to add all the stock.

By this time the risotto should be of a creamy consistency, and you can stir in the cooked chicken, pancetta and mushrooms. Season well and dot a few knobs of butter over the top before covering with a lid, or kitchen foil. Leave it to stand for five minutes to allow the flavors to intensify. Stir in the frozen peas (no need to cook them first) and allow to stand for another minute or so to allow the peas to warm through.

Serve immediately with a grating of Parmesan cheese and lots of freshly ground black pepper.

Microwave Cookery

I rather like cooking using the microwave. I know many people baulk at the idea of using a microwave for anything other than reheating leftovers, but there are some pretty great things you can do with a microwave.

Chicken

You can roast a small-to-medium chicken in a microwave in about half an hour, and it will be delicious and the meat will stay moist and juicy – no fear of a dry chook, which can happen if you overcook a chicken in the oven. Remember to shield the breast bone and the ends of the legs with foil though.

Eggs

You can buy those microwave egg poachers, which are quite handy, but what the microwave is really good for is making scrambled eggs when you are catering for a lot of people. Just whisk the eggs in a large bowl (and unlike when you’re making scrambled eggs the traditional way, you want to get them really really frothy here) and then microwave on low power, stopping every 30 seconds to whisk again, until they are done.

Cakes and puddings

Yes, you can bake in a microwave! The microwave is quite good for making sponge puddings – the type that has jam or syrup on the top – much quicker than steaming. And a pineapple upside-down cake is a great make in the microwave too. My favorite though is my microwave mug brownies. Ready in a flash, and so easy. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

2 tbsp melted butter
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup flour
¼ tsp baking powder
2 tbsp cocoa powder
¼ cup milk

Method:

Mix all the ingredients together in a mug.
Microwave on high for 1 minute and 15 seconds

Tip: before adding the milk, mix everything else together first. Make sure everything is mixed together very well.

My thoughts on MDNA

MDNA by Madonna is four years old today. I’ll be honest, it’s one of my least favorite Madonna album, and I don’t think it’ll be one of the ones she’ll be remembered for but, that said, I think it does stand up as a pretty decent dance album. Highlights for me are still Girl Gone Wild (which I do think is one of Madonna’s very best club tracks) and I Don’t Give A.

Here’s what I wrote about the album when I first listened to it.


 

I’ve listened to MDNA a couple of times, and I must say it is growing on me. I was hoping for something I’d love as much as Confessions or Ray of Light, but what I think I’ve got is something like Music: an album that is essentially good, but something I cannot fall in love with.

 

Girl Gone Wild

I was initially disappointed, but after having listened to this quite a few times, and with an open mind, the album’s opener does seem to be one of the better tracks. It’s very Madonna.

Who did it first?

For a song about girls just wanting to have fun and breaking the rules by, umm, dancing and having casual sex, Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun feels a little more authentic.

 

Gang Bang

Gang Bang feels very ‘underground’. A driving beat, very bassy. I like it. The production on the vocals is outstanding and even makes you forget that Madonna isn’t actually a very good singer. Overuse of the word ‘bitch’ is a little grating though.

Who did it first?

For a song about killing a lover and having no remorse, try Strange Behaviour by Macy Gray.

 

I’m Addicted

I’m still not sure on this one. It sounds like MDMA. I think there’s a really good song in there somewhere, but it sounds like a remix and almost as if the producers have tried to drown out Madonna’s vocals with special effects and, well, production.

Who did it first?

For a song about being addicted to a lover as if he were a narcotic, Like a Drug by Kylie Minogue ticks all of my boxes.

 

Turn up the Radio

More dance-pop-pop-dance, which is what Madonna does best. The lyric is trite, but not painfully so. In essence, it sounds like what a Madonna song should sound like in 2012.

Who did it first?

For a song about what to do when all else fails and you long to be something better than you are today and the advice being: dance, try Vogue, by Madonna.

 

Give Me all your Luvin’

What Madonna does, you see, is make music that is slightly ahead of the times. It’s off-putting, and even when she gets it right, people get confused. The other problem is that normally it isn’t as light and fluffy and, well, poppy as Give Me all your Luvin’. We were expecting something ahead of the trends like Music, and we got something ahead of the trends like Like a Virgin.

Who did it first?

For a song about being a bit in love and wanting to sing a song about it try … well … anyone. Everyone. This is just decent pop music for the year 2012.

 

Some Girls

If you can ignore the lyrics – which I can’t – this is a good track. It does for MDNA whatRunaway Lover did for Music: it tells you what the album sounds like, but it’s not what you’ll remember the album for.

Who did it first?

For a song about every other famous girl being a slut who gets what she wants by giving head, the similarly titled Some Girls by Rachel Stevens is a little more subtle.

 

Superstar

A lovely song that just makes me want to smile. It does win the award for Worst Line Of The Album (‘You can have the keys to my car / I’ll play you a song on my guitar.”), but it makes up for it in niceness and Madonna-ness. Madonna sounds very at home and relaxed on this track, and it feels like the sort of song she wants to be singing.

Who did it first?

Again, a song that is unashamedly unoriginal. So it would be wrong to lambast it for being so.

 

I Don’t Give A

She’s still drinking soy lattes. A dodgy bit of rapping that only Madonna can make sound good sets an uneasy, dark mood for this almost personal track. And Nicki Minaj does do rather well on this.

Who did it first?

For a song about the perils of getting married when you’re famous, and the inevitable messy divorce, I’m reminded of Tell Me by Mel B (nee G, nee B).

 

I’m a Sinner

William Orbit works his magic on this one, and I’m reminded how brilliant Beautiful Strangerwas. It’s a bit psychedelic, a bit full-on and a bit makes-you-want-to-dance (which the songs about dancing on this album, unfortunately, don’t). I like happy Madonna. And this is happy Madonna.

Who did it first?

For a cheeky little number about being a bit naughty, how about Bad Influence by Pink? I’m clutching at straws here, because Madonna has done this very very well.

 

Love Spent

William Orbit with some Die Another Day-style strings and a banjo that works surprisingly well. Madonna presents another more personal song that holds the album together, but is not single-material. A definite thumbs-up.

Who did it first?

Now, being a Macy Gray fan, I can’t help but notice that the lyric is very similar to Treat Me Like Your Money from Macy’s Big album, with some lines lifted almost directly from that track. Shameless plagiarism by Jean-Baptiste (although he did in fact write both songs).

 

Masterpiece

It’s been too long since Madonna has done a proper ballad (“ballad”), so it’s nice to have a bit of a come down, and as well for Madonna to show us that despite the fact she can’t sing, she’s a very good singer.

 

Falling Free

Remember all that vocal training that Madonna had for Evita. Well, so does she in this gorgeous, gorgeous song. Madonna glides over lovely string arrangement, with some plinky piano bits. I’m reminded of Mer Girl from Ray of Light, and how that left me feeling empty (in a good way). This leaves me feeling as full as that left me empty.

Who did it first?

Like with Masterpiece, this is Madonna just being Madonna with no front and no-nonsense and no hype.

 

 

Some more thoughts:

There’s nothing on here as awful as Spanish Lesson from Hard Candy.

There’s nothing on here as good as Hung up.

All in all, I feel the same way about this as I feel about Music.


 

I Remember When Diana Died

David Bowie died this week, and it seems to have affected a lot of people. And it’s hit me a lot harder than I ever could have imagined. Collective grief, or call it what you will, perhaps, but it’s been very strange.

At the David Bowie disco we went to on Wednesday night I wondered if his death will end up being one of those famous deaths and events that I will always remember finding out about. The famous ones of the past were Elvis, JFK and the moon landing. Gen Y’s famous events I suppose are Princess Diana’s and Michael Jackson’s deaths as well as, of course 9/11. Will David Bowie’s death be added to that list?

On August 31 1997 I woke up unusually early – about 4 am. And I have no idea why. It was a Sunday so there was no alarm. Even more strange was that I couldn’t get back to sleep. After lying awake for some time I put the radio on – and it was the news about a car crash in Paris. Diana was in hospital. She was alive still. I lay in bed just listening to the radio, and then the news changed to reports that she was dead. That’s where I was when I found out – in bed on a Sunday morning, awake for no good reason.

On September 11 2001, I was in my A Level German class – a small classroom – there were only 6 of us in the class. We were packing up because it was the end of the day, and one of the French teachers came rushing into the classroom. “They’re flying planes into buildings in New York” he said. I remember those words, even though at that point it didn’t seem significant. Only when I got home and put the TV on did those words imprint themselves on my brain.

On 25 June 2009 I was at home on vacation, alone and watching TV for the evening – back in the days when I watched TV as it went to air. BBC1 to be precise, and I think I was waiting for Question Time to come on after the news, or maybe Question Time had just finished. But between programmes there was a short announcement that Michael Jackson’s death had been reported. I was drinking red wine.

On January 10 2016 I had just got home from work and was getting ready to go to the gym. I went into the spare room to put my socks on, sat on the bed and glanced at my phone. A new email notification was on the screen. I opened it – it was from the Dead Pool group that I’m in (a slightly morbid game where each December we predict famous deaths for the upcoming year, and score points should any of our predicted deaths occur). It was just a one line email – “Surely someone had Bowie”. It didn’t make sense. How could David Bowie possibly be dead? But I discovered, when I opened twitter, that it was no hoax. I went to the gym.

Travel Poetry

IN 2004 I wrote a small collection of poems after  I came into possession of a number of postcards sent in the 1980s from a couple called Pauline and Rob to another couple called Sylvia and Charlie who lived in Sheffield. There were a few sent in successive years from Gibraltar, and a couple from Cornwall, and some single ones from other places in Europe. I lost the postcards, sadly, but still have a few of the poems based on them. Here’s a few of them that are still on my hard drive.

Dear Sylvia and Charlie

We are sitting here
at Lands End
in swirling mist.

We are based
at St Ives
at the moment.

(It is very pretty.)

We have also spent
a couple of days
at Dartmouth.

(The weather is disappointing.)

We’ll come home
early
if there’s no improvement.

We are enjoying
the rest of
the change.

(See you soon.)

Love
Pauline
and Rob.

Nocturnal view of the Rock of Gibraltar

Summer: cold.
Sylvia: bored.
Husband: gone.

Weather: perfect.
Rob: sunburnt.
Transport: sorted.

Washing: wet.
Housewife: (just).
Family: sad.

Pauline: driving.
Children: playing.
Postcard: written.

England: dark.
Offspring: school.
Lonely: yes.

Viva Las Vegas

The warm air hits you
as you step off the plane.
Riding down The Strip
in a taxi
you feel totally free,
and you realise that

a million lights are shining.
A million lights are shining bright.
And the world is shining bright.

A million lights are shining.
A million lights: they shine for you.
And the world: it shines for you.

Ding ding.

The Natural Features of Western Europe

The weather in Gibraltar is generally super:
It’s hot
and there are no clouds.

There are markets:
Sunday markets
and gipsy markets
and meat markets.

There are campsites
and timeshare apartments
and package tours
and zoos with apes.

There are English voices
and Dutch voices
and French voices
and German voices.

There are shops
and cafes
and beaches
and boats

and armies
and bands
and crowds
and cameras

and postcards
and palm trees
and fountains
and gardens

and then right in the middle of it all
there’s a bloody great rock.

 

More poetry

All the poetry I wrote years ago, it feels a shame to keep it to myself. I have more, and will probably share them soon. This was inspired by a photograph.

No Fairy Godmother

She smiles back to the on-lookers,
but she knows what they’re thinking:
Her shabby appearance doesn’t fit.
The dress was surely once beautiful,
but now it’s worn out like an old pair of shoes.
And she couldn’t afford new shoes,
even the stockings are hand-me-downs.
The necklace is plastic, with earrings that don’t match.
Her nails are clean, and her face natural.
Her skin is white and, like the dress,
it hangs, not quite fitting her bones.
Her hair is split at the ends,
but keeps growing like the lines on her face.
Her eyes are wet, but she smiles.
Because there’s nothing else she can do.

Sunday Creative Writing

A poem I wrote this in 2003, but it’s sat in my drawer since then.
[Content note: transplants, heart disease, death]

A Game of Give and Take

When she was younger
she could chew her food,
but it hurt.
So they pulled out her teeth,
and they gave her new ones.

So she grew,
And she ate,
but it hurt in her back.
So they pulled out her kidneys,
and they gave her a transplant.

She grew more,
She ate more,
but her legs buckled under her weight.
So they pulled out her hips,
and they gave her replacements.

She continued to grow,
She continued to eat,
But her chest was crushed.
So they pulled out her heart,
and they gave her a used one.

And she stopped growing.
And she stopped eating.
And it stopped hurting.
So they pulled out her heart
and they pulled out her lungs
and they pulled out her bones.
And they gave them away.


Sharing and licence conditions for this are the same as for the rest of my work: please share it, but pay me if you make any money out of it. JA

Ten Music Videos I Love

Driving home with Scot last night, he reported a conversation he was having on Twitter with Kat. She said that there hasn’t been a single good music video made since the 1980s.

I disagree, and here are my picks for amazing music videos made in the last 25 years.

1. Telephone – Lady Gaga & Beyonce

A ten-minute affair, telling the story of Gaga being bailed out of prison by Beyonce before going on a murderous killing spree. The story’s fun, the production is brilliant, the costumes spectacular, and there’s some pretty gorgeous choreography.

Let’s make a sandwich!

2. We are never getting back together – Taylor Swift

The song is [brilliant/a load of crap] (delete as applicable), but the video is fantastic. I’m generally a lover of one-shot videos, but here’s one that includes multiple sets and loads of costume changes. Fun stuff!

3. Happiness – Goldfrapp

Another one that appears to be one-shot, but I’m not sure it is. This features a guy bouncing around an English street (which must have been bloody tiring). I love the song, but the video is bouncy, uplifting and fun. Bonus points for various cameos from Alison Goldfrapp. Looks like quick costume changes, but I reckon it’s more like pretty slick editing.

4. Come Into My World – Kylie Minogue

Visually quite similar to Happiness by Goldfrapp, this sees Kylie walk round a neighborhood in several loops, and after each loop she’s joined by another Kylie making the same journey. Each loop sees order breaking down a little bit, as people and their situations are duplicated. I love it.

5. Keep This Fire Burning – Beverley Knight

Beverley walks through people’s apartments, collecting residents as back-up dancers as she progresses. It’s bonkers, and I love it.

6. Forever More – Moloko

A wonder of green screen and on-the-fly choreography. Roisin Murphy was filmed dancing to the song, and the dancers were added afterwards, attempting to follow her on a screen. No rehearsal, and a single take. Brilliant.

7. Be the One – The Ting Tings

I can’t even explain why I love this video too much. Boy and girl separated, go searching for each other, find each other, escape together. It’s the oldest story ever, but gorgeously told.

8. Say You’ll Be There – Spice Girls

I can’t think of a Spice Girls video that isn’t amazing, but this was particularly good. For absolutely no reason whatsoever, just a performance in the desert. There was a hint of a story, but I think we stopped caring after the first ten seconds.

9. Torn – Natalie Imbruglia

This is one of my favorite pop songs to date, and also one of my favorite videos. Natalie sings to camera as the story of the relationship that is breaking up is told in the apartment behind her. The video ends with the set being dismantled around her – an obvious but well-handled metaphor.

10. 1234 – Feist

I’m finishing with another one-shot video. This is simple, but fun and colorful. And I love colorful, and I love fun.

A response to Tom Ballard – LGBT isn’t inclusive enough, but GSD is no solution

I read this piece by Aussie comedian Tom Ballard on SBS Sexuality, and I was not impressed. I’ll start by saying his intent was certainly positive, but I think he got a few things quite seriously wrong.

In the piece he makes the case for abandoning the acronym LGBT and its extensions, in favor of catch-all acronyms like “GSRM” (“Gender, Sexuality and Romantic Minorities”) or “GSD” (“Gender and Sexual Diversities”). I see his point, LGBT, LGBTI, LGBTQIA etc are both cumbersome and they fail to be fully inclusive, and they always start with LGBT, leaving these four identities as ‘the main ones’, and leaving others as optional and supplementary. So he did make some good points.

However, Tom is a comedian, and the piece was intended as a comedy piece. It was fluffy and came across dismissive. And when discussing people’s identities, jokes are not the best way to do it. At least jokes that mock and ridicule the identities of people we are ignoring and excluding. And especially in a piece about inclusion. He used the too-often used tactic of fictitiously creating an absurdly long acronym to suggest that including identities we should be including is leading to the acronym becoming unwieldy, an (as he puts it) too long to fit on a T-shirt.

But (even ignoring the tired old joke) – who cares? Being inclusive sometimes is cumbersome. Sometimes it is inconvenient. They are some of the features of inclusivity – but the inconvenience is worth it. The identities we embrace by adding letters to our acronym are not to be mocked they’re to be celebrated (and as much as the L, and the G which, incidentally, there is always room for).

Tom’s point about it being impossible to be fully inclusive, though, is a good one. But I don’t think that favoring GSD or GSRM fixes this; I think it makes it worse. In our effort to be inclusive, we risk erasing identities. On paper, GSD works as a catch all – in practice it becomes the new LGB, a shorthand that really doesn’t include everyone it claims to. It becomes an easy way for people to claim allyship to the GSD community, when really they mean they gay men, and would never offer the same support to trans people, or asexual people, or polyamorous people. It’s a way of easily excluding identities while claiming to include them.

GSD and GSRM make me prickle as well because they seem to me a little sterile. A little respectable. They’re just not, well, just not queer enough. They’re acronyms that smack of gay men seeking assimilation. We know that gay men assimilate pretty well, but the rest of GSD/GSRM is left behind.

But more importantly, it extends this idea that we are one single community, when we are not. We are a collection of communities, often with a common cause, often with common enemies, often able to stand together and fight together as allies, but ultimately we are many, not just one. There is no single GSD community, and it’s harmful to pretend that there is. Rich gay men drinking champagne on a rooftop in London are not (always) the same community as, say, black trans women in the USA. Sometimes we have the same battle, often the same enemies, and we really can come together, but very often our communities are distinct and we should recognize and respect that. LGBT, LGBTI, LGBTIQ, LGBTIQA, LGBTQQIPPA, all give each identity and each community their own place in our common cause. They give us strength, not by saying that we are one, but that we are together.

All of this, however is worthless coming just from me, as I write from the same position as Tom Ballard. His piece, and perhaps mine, are examples of gay men wanting to lead the discourse on LGBT issues. It seems hypocritical to say this at the end of what I’ve written, but we need to let that go. It’s a privilege we have come to expect, and one we are so desperate to hold onto, but we have to let it go. We can’t be the gatekeepers of inclusivity. It’s not for us to be leaders, to decide how we brand our inclusivity. It is now simply our job to embrace diversity in our wide-ranging communities, and to celebrate each individual letter in whatever unwieldy glorious behemoth of an acronym LGBT+ becomes.

Note: all responses are welcome and encouraged. I anticipate that I may need to alter some of this based on others’ responses.

Hübsch and doch – language breakthroughs

I’m currently into week 4 of my German language course. For background, I learnt German at school, and continued my study of the language for a year and a bit at university before my life took a different direction. Since then, my study of, and exposure to the language has been minimal, but at the beginning of October I started a course at the Goethe Institut in Sydney to get myself back on track.

Language learning as an adult is hard. It really is. It’s tiring, and the process just doesn’t flow quite as well. I speak from experience, especially given that I’m learning the same language for a second time. One thing I have definitely noticed this time around is my brain’s urge to translate. It seems to want to think in English, and it doesn’t seem happy to have learnt a new word or phrase unless it knows that word or phrase’s English translation. This is irritating for a couple of reasons:

  1. I know it’s counter-productive. I know languages are not codes and that fairly often direct translations are not even possible.
  2. There is a guy in the class who does this vocally – he has to know what everything is auf Englisch bitte and it drives me to distraction. I’m there thinking you don’t need to know what it is in English if you understand it! while my brain is doing the same thing his is.

However, this week I had a breakthrough. I learnt two new words. Hübsch and doch.

I’ve been overusing hübsch at a ridiculous rate because I’ve fallen in love with the word. Not really because of the word itself, but because it is the first word in this period of my language learning that I haven’t needed a translation for. My brain is content with the idea that hübsch means, well, hübsch. I won’t say that I understand the contexts it is suited to, or maybe even cultural contexts, but I’m happy just to know the word. I haven’t looked it up and, more importantly, I don’t have the urge to look it up.

Doch is a word that probably has a thousand and one meanings, but it came up by accident in class the other day when it appeared in a text and someone asked what it meant. I can’t remember the exact context, but the teacher explained how it just made the phrase more polite, but it led to her also explaining its use as “a positive answer to a negative question”. And when aforementioned need-to-know guy asked und auf Englisch, bitte? her response was simply, “no idea”. A couple of confused looks and she did go on to explain how the word just doesn’t exist in English:

If we were having a party and everyone had a glass of wine, and I noticed everyone had drunk the wine, but John hadn’t even touched the wine, I might ask him “don’t you like the wine”, and it might be that he’s saving it for later, but he does like the wine. In English he’d reply “yes”, but “ja” would be wrong in German; you’d say, “Doch!”

And it made sense to me – another breakthrough, and another realization that sometimes language can just exist in its own right without reference or translation to another language. Doch might translate to yes  but in order to understand the meaning of it, you really have to tell a story and explain how to use the word, and provide context. And my brain is comfortable with that.

Sometimes language learning is hard, but I mostly really enjoy it. Little breakthroughs like this, though, are when I really love it and I feel like I’m getting somewhere.


In case your brain needs to know, here are a couple of links to dict.cc for translations:

Hübsch
Doch

“Do ya too?”

It’s been a while, sorry! And it’s the weekend. I save the weekend for happy & creative stuff, so here’s a song I wrote in 2005 that I’ve never shared before. It’s called Do Ya Too?

For all those times I used to
stand around waiting,
For all the things I ever
gave to you.
For all those nights I used to
lie awake, faking,
I don’t know just what to
say to you.

When I remember you
and all the things you’d do
I have to say it’s true
that I
never had feelings for you.

Well I guess it’s been a year now,
and every now and then I think of you.
I don’t remember any good times,
but I guess there must have been a few.

When I remember you
and all the things you’d do
I hate to say it’s true
that I
know I had feelings for you.

Now I remember you
and all the things you do
I have to say it’s true
that I,
I still have feelings for you.
And I’ve
never seen nothing like you.

That ‘straight queer’ bullshit

I added some thoughts to Sonya’s. Apologies for ugly formatting, Sonya’s words don’t deserve careful attention to things like aesthetics. John.

A friend recently used the term “straight queer” to describe someone who is very involved in LGBTQ activism but identifies as straight.Sounds like a double-barreled insult to me; ally is the usual term, and even then, we’re very careful how we use it.I fell in love with this term immediately.I bet you did. It allowed you to completely invade our space.

Although I dislike the word “queer” itself (I don’t agree with reclamation) just a thought – you don’t get to decide what words we use to describe ourselves, and why we use them I absolutely love what it stands for. I bet you don’t know what it stands for. It shows that sexuality is not something we can pin down, nor that we should be trying to. That’s not what it stands for.

The ever-growing LGBTQQA alphabet soup wow, “alphabet soup” is a term used by people who aim to mock inclusivity, so way to show that you’re one of them is a testament to the fact that sexuality and gender identity are very complex things specific to the individual. I personally identify as queer because I don’t want to categorize my sexuality in a society that is obsessed with clearly labeling it. Actually our society is obsessed with labeling genders and sexualities that are not cishet. Your identity is the default, so even when you remove all labels, you are still not queer. Sorry to burst your bubble.

The term “queer” disrupts how we think about sexuality it doesn’t, it’s been used for decades to other us and we’re now using it to strengthen our own identity. The only disruption it caused was to our cause. and “straight queer” builds upon this disruption in the sense that it tries to destroy our identities, yes, you are right. It destabilizes what we believe about the LGBTQ community well, it destabalizes the LGBTQ community, but maybe not what you believe about it; most notably that LGBTQ and straight are mutually exclusive you’re talking about heterosexual trans people here, right?. Queer includes straight it doesn’t . Straight is queer too. It isn’t . Sexuality is a big melting pot that doesn’t need, nor functions well with labels. We need labels because they give meaning and reality to our identity. Shoving us in your melting pot labeled “OTHER” is not helpful. At all.

Some might argue that it’s not fair to allow people with all the societal privilege of straightness to identify under the LGBTQ umbrella and thereby enter LGBTQ space. You can identify however you want, but stay the fuck out of our safe spaces with this attitude. I disagree. You don’t get to disagree. We are living in a time when “the closet” is becoming more and more obsolete frankly, it’s feeling more and more necessary right now and the LGBTQ community is slowly becoming a part of “mainstream” society but only because of people like you invading our spaces and trying to destroy our sense of community from within. There is less of a need for exclusively LGBTQ space there is ALWAYS a need for safe spaces. Additionally, queer activism is at a point where we are working to normalize a variety of sexualities you basically know zero about queer activism. Calling in to question the normalcy of “heterosexuality”, the way the term “straight queer” inevitably does, is a surefire way to destabilize the association between heterosexuality and normalcy. It doesn’t though, it just allows you to believe that you have removed yourself from the group that oppresses us, and allows you to believe that the acts of oppression you are carrying out are actually you being oppressed. With this attitude, I repeat: stay the fuck out of our spaces.

Although I believe “straight” can be a part of “queer”, I don’t believe every single person now falls under the LGBTQ umbrella. Correct I wouldn’t feel comfortable calling people like Paul Ryan or Glenn Beck “straight queer”. Good. On the other side of the spectrum, I also don’t believe that one needs to engage in LGBTQ activism in order to “prove” themselves to the LGBTQ community. Correct. But really, I shouldn’t be picking and choosing who is “straight queer”. Including yourself, tbh. No identity label – gay, queer, straight – should be slapped onto any person. Correct. People should be able to embrace the term “straight queer” themselves – whatever their reasons may be. Stay. The. Fuck. Out. Of. Our. Safe. Spaces.

-Sonya

John

Tamal is gay and our response is harmful

In an interview with Radio Times magazine this week, Great British Bake Off contestant Tamal Ray was asked about his relationship status and responded “I wouldn’t have a girlfriend; I would have a boyfriend, but I’m single at the moment”. It’s been described as him “coming out” (Attitude, Passport), or a “revelation” (Daily Mail, Digital Spy) – but it’s neither of these things, and it has been met with a response of dismay and disappointment from the straight women of twitter, contrasted nicely with a good deal of excitement from The Gays Of Twitter.

It’s all got me rather irritated.

All of the response – from the reporting of the interview, to the tweets from, well, everybody is indicative of a society that views heterosexuality as a default. We’re assumed straight until we specify otherwise [I’ve written about this before and how I’m not putting up with it any longer] and even our friends who otherwise oppose homophobia still view sexuality not established as meaning heterosexual. Heterosexual is default, so unknown means straight, not specified means straight, anything other than a widely announced public coming out means straight. We have to stop doing this.

We also have to stop referring to incidents of people making comments that indicate that they are not straight as “coming out” or “revelations”. In the case of Tamal, this appears to be him simply correcting an interviewer who mistakenly assumed he was straight, but it happens all the time – people correcting lazy interviewers or making comments to colleagues are referred to as coming out. This sucks because it puts the onus on us to be clear about our sexualities and to comply with society’s rule of Straight As Default. But even worse, because it shames us. It furthers the idea that when society doesn’t know details about us (mostly that we’re queer), it means we’ve been hiding it – but this is usually just not the case. With Tamal, but also with almost every other celebrity who is known to be queer, we haven’t seen a change of status (despite how it’s reported); we just have some new information. And we have to stop believing that we are entitled to this information. We are not entitled to this information.

But we are also not entitled to other people’s bodies, their affection, their love, and their attention – and that’s what I say to the straight women of Twitter who have expressed disappointment or heartbreak over finding out that Tamal is not straight.

Firstly, he was never available to you anyway. Same with Ricky Martin, Lance Bass, Neil Patrick Harris, the list goes on. They were never available to you – not just because of their celebrity status, but because they were gay before you knew. You haven’t “lost” anything except, perhaps, your sense of entitlement. And because your sense of entitlement instills within you an expectation for us to disclose our availability (or lack of) at our earliest opportunity, you feel disappointment when that entitlement is taken away.

Secondly, please stop making public announcements of your disappointment. What you are saying is that being gay is a bad thing. Maybe you don’t hold this belief more generally, but even when you express disappointment about a specific person being gay for a specific personal reason, you are coming from a position of regarding being gay as being a bad thing. So please stop that.

But think also about the people who read and hear your announcements of disappointment. Young queer people who are establishing their identities and how they want to present themselves. Do they care about your own personal celebrity crushes? No. But what they do hear is that you value people less if they’re not straight. That you cannot celebrate their lives unless they are straight. That their being queer will be regarded by some – maybe including you – as a disappointment. So please stop doing this.

There has been mentioned a contrast with gay and bisexual men expressing excitement or joy each time they discover a beloved celebrity is gay or bi or anything other than straight – but it really isn’t the same thing. Part of the excitement comes from the pleasure representation brings. Seeing ourselves represented in the world of celebrity brings validation and a sense of positivity. (It’s true for other underrepresented groups, but I’m not in a position to speak for those.) Having role models to in positions we can aspire to really does bring excitement.

But I shouldn’t shy away from the fact that some of this excitement does come from a sense of entitlement. We see celebrities who are known publicly to be gay or bisexual as (newly) sexually available to us, and we now feel entitled to their bodies and their affection. It seems odd that we appear to be contributing to the very system that tries to keep us down, but we must remember that we grew up in the same heteronormative society that everybody else did. We are not removed from that and our responses are influenced by that. We have homophobia built into us the same as everybody else does. It’s no different because we’re queer.

I suppose personal responses to finding out high-profile people are queer may seem little things that are mostly inconsequential, but they’re not. They come from, and further society’s insistence that heterosexuality is default. They come from and cement heteronormativity, and that is so much more harmful than we realize.

Five tips for top tea

Tea is wonderful! Here are my five tips for the perfect brew:

1. It’s all in the water

Quite literally! Look after the water you use and the water will look after your tea. Famous tea drinker The Queen pays particular attention to her tea water – according to ABC News she used to travel with a case of Malvern water specifically for making tea until the brand was discontinued in 2010.

Tap water is fine though (unless you live in Adelaide I’ve heard), but filtering it will make it better. But the two golden rules: it must be boiling (you cannot get a decent cup of tea on a plane because the water boils at such a low temperature) and you must never use re-boiled water.

2. Give your tea room to move

If you want the perfect cup of tea, you need to give it space – that means using a teapot and loose leaf tea, even if you’re making tea for one. This will allow the molecules to move about as much as they possibly can, and the result is a better flavor.

3. Timing is key

If, against all my advice, you choose to make tea in a mug with a teabag, give the tea time to develop. For English Breakfast Tea that means letting it brew for three to five minutes: a thirty-second dip in and out is just not good enough. For those who like a stronga cuppa, don’t be tempted to leave the tea to brew for longer; it will become bitter. Simply use more tea!

4. The question of milk

Some teas really don’t work well with milk – Earl Grey being one of them. But since this post is primarily about English Breakfast Tea, adding milk is an excellent idea. Add the milk to the tea, not the other way round. My recommendation would be to use skimmed milk, as the fat in whole milk does not work all that well with tea.

5. Make an occasion

Sometimes tea is all about the occasion, and none of the rules apply. The best tea I ever had was out of a flask in a pop-up storm shelter when we were stranded in bad weather in the North York Moors. We broke all the rules – it wasn’t hot (it was warm-ish), it was stewed, and we added powdered milk. But the situation made it the perfect cup of tea – an escape with friends. Sometimes tea exists just to facilitate an occasion – don’t fuss over the tea at the expense of the experience.

Jingonyms

My favorite TV show at the moment is The Great British Bake-Off. It’s a celebration of home baking, a celebration of tradition, and a celebration of Britishness. Only, well, it isn’t. It’s presented as something that is uniquely or quintessentially British, but aside from the people who are actually in the show, there’s nothing in it that is particularly British. And in many cases, quite the reverse.

In the first episode of this series, the contestants were asked to produce a showstopping version of a British classic from the 1970s – the kitsch classic Black Forest Gateau. Surely anybody who grew up in Britain (me included) recognizes Black Forest Gateau as a cake that is classic British cuisine, which is bizarre given that (as Christian points out), it’s very much a German cake.

This led to more discussion on the use of the word British tacked on to seemingly everything to give things an air of respectability or superiority. So at the supermarket, we’re presented with The Great British Sausage to cook on the Great British Barbecue, which would normally happen in the middle of the British Summer. Like what should simply be the Great Bake-Off, there is nothing inherently British about any of these things, but it seems that in Britain, unless you can stick “The Great British…” in front of something, that thing is worthless.

What caught my curiosity was that until Christian pointed it out I had never noticed it. Now, of course, it irritates the hell out of me, but before that I didn’t even realize it was there. Even curiouser, I didn’t notice that the British do it despite the fact that after moving to Australia I noticed instantly that people in Australia do the exact same thing and it annoys me intensely. It’s alienating and screams of this awful superiority complex that nationalism encourages.

Politicians talk about all Australians (but never all people), the post office is branded Australia Post, the supermarket Woolworths changed its slogan in 2012 from simply The Fresh Food People to Australia’s Fresh Food People. And I noticed all of this, and still thought that we didn’t do that in Britain.

It’s related, I think, to banal nationalism, but it’s not exactly the same thing. During the discussion, Matthew Smith coined the word jingonym – a portmanteau of jingoism and demonym, and I think that captures the concept perfectly. Demonyms that are added to things to assert some national superiority. There’s nothing British about summer in Britain any more than there is anything French about summer in France. The weather isn’t somehow warmer because it’s British, there’s not somehow less chance of rain in June because of Britain. It’s absurd, yet we do it without noticing.

It’s not exclusive to Britain – as I mentioned Australians do it, and Americans are notorious for it – my example here would be the Americans With Disabilities Act – a very important piece of legislation, but one whose name exerts the importance of it being applied to American people only. But I wonder if it is exclusive to the English language (surely not, but I can’t be sure) – another tweet from Christian points out that there’s certainly no such thing as the Great German Summer.

What do we do? Stop attributing value to a nation for the sake of it? I think we should do that, but that’s a hard sell. But I think it could be worth it – let’s try to enjoy things whether they’re Great and British or delicious and from Baden-Württemberg, masquerading as 70s British kitsch.

Five Resume Tips

I don’t claim to be an expert on resumes or recruitment, but I do read a fair few resumes, and I have to say I see a lot of, erm, interesting resumes. Some are interesting in a good way, catch my attention and make me want to read more, but some are painful to read. I used to feel I had some sort of duty to give each one I read equal attention, and to read it whether or not it grabbed me, but nowadays I’m quite happy for my advice to be “don’t hire this person” based on the briefest scan of a poorly constructed resume.

Here are my five tips to get your resume onto my maybe pile.

Ignore resume advice

The internet is full of advice on how to produce the perfect resume (this post is no exception), and most of it is absolute bollocks. Your TAFE course likely includes being taught how to write the perfect resume. Your careers centre at high school or uni will give you endless tips on resume-writing. None of these people have a clue. Why? Because they don’t hire people. People who hire people, people who read resumes – they know what they want to see in a resume. And they are literally the only people you want to listen to.

The golden rule on resume advice: do not listen to any advice from anyone who is not involved in hiring people. Anyone else will give you bullshit advice about fonts, making your resume stand out, being quirky, including buzz words, summarizing your character. Ignore all of it. People who actually read resumes (and read them for the purpose of finding candidates to interview) will tell you what they want to see in a resume, and since that is the sort of person who you’ll be sending your resume to, they’re the people you should be taking advice from.

Include signposts

I am very lucky: I don’t read resumes on a daily basis, and I whenever I do read resumes it’s rare that I have more than four or five to get through at once. But chances are wherever you send your resume, it will be in a pile of about ninety. The first time I read your resume, I probably have around fifteen seconds to spend on it, so it’s very important I don’t spend those fifteen seconds aimlessly searching for the information I am looking for.

The way to make sure that doesn’t happen is to make your resume look as standard as possible. It should be plain, and (for want of a better word) visually boring. And the most important part of the “standard look” resume is signposts. Guide me through it. I want to know what your experience it – show me, and in a way I can find it at a glance. I want to know where you work now – make sure I can see it instantly. Any super-important skills? Signpost them.

Your resume should stand out, but not because of a quirky design, but because of outstanding achievement that stands out because I can see it at a glance.

Don’t lie

Don’t lie. At all. Don’t be misleading. If it’s “technically true”, it probably counts as a lie. If you’ve worked somewhere for ten months, you haven’t worked there for a year.

The reasons are fairly straightforward: you’ll get caught (or if you don’t, you’ll spend months or years worrying about getting caught), or you’ll end up in a job that’s just not suitable for you so you’ll hate it.

In short: don’t lie. Sell yourself, but make sure that your resume is a true, fair, and accurate representation of your experience and achievements.

Talk shop

Your resume is a business document, and it’s a marketing tool. When I’m reading your resume, I’m looking for how well you will fit into the business. So I care about how well you have fitted into other businesses. I don’t care about your personal life (and that includes your hobbies). I don’t care about your family, what books you have read, what you watch on TV.

I promise, I assume you have a personal life. I promise I understand that it’s important to have a work/life balance, and I promise that I understand you agree. I promise that I understand that when you finish work you don’t stop existing. And I also promise that if your after-work activities involve nothing but sitting on the lounge with your cat, eating Doritos and watching reality TV, I’m okay with that – I’m only – only – only interested in what you will achieve at work.

(That’s not to say if you, for example, look after the finances and budget for your church as a hobby you shouldn’t include it, because that is something I want to know.)

Your opinion is irrelevant

The number one thing I will definitely ignore on your resume is any opinion you offer of yourself. Examples include good attention to detail, excellent communication skills, or great team player. You are using this document to sell yourself so of course you are think you are all of these things. So seriously, tell me about your achievements and let me decide whether that is indicative your communication skills or your attention to detail.

Read your resume again, and for every single statement ask yourself “is this a factual example of something I have achieved or is it a quality I am claiming to have”. If it’s the latter, replace it with the former or delete it altogether,

Your resume is a marketing tool, but it’s also a business document. Keep it relevant, keep it business-like, and keep it true. Your resume should stand out, but not because of gimmicks, but because of factual achievements that easy for the reader to find.

Good luck!


Any thoughts? Let me know in the comments! Any resume faux pas, or things you’ve seen that you loved? Let me know!

This is what the fuck just happened in Australia

I’m fairly sure a lot of people who have half an eye on world events and international current affairs are wondering what the fuck happened in Australia yesterday and today. So here’s a two minute primer.

Why you’re confused

Almost without any warning at all, Australia got a new prime minister. There was no prime-ministerial death, no public election, no campaigning, just all of a sudden, boom, “In international news, Australia has a new prime minister for some reason”. There was a flurry of activity on twitter (read: twitter fucking blew up) and, and, and, something happened.

What happened: a brief timeline

Yesterday morning it was business as usual in Canberra. Government ministers were doing their obligatory popping up in various places around the country. At one of these pop-ups the Prime Minister was asked about a potential leadership challenge, which he dismissed as gossip and “Canberra games”. Other ministers were asked about the same thing, they all said it was nonsense.

During Question Time in parliament between 2pm and 3pm, the Leader of the Opposition asked a question implying that the Prime Minister did not enjoy the support of his party (the Liberals).

After Question Time the Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, went for a meeting with the Prime Minister. Shortly afterwards the Deputy Leader of the Liberals went for a meeting with him.

At four o’clock Malcolm Turnbull held a press conference and announced he was challenging the Prime Minister for the leadership of the Liberal Party.

Just before seven o’clock, the Prime Minister announced there would be a Liberal party room meeting where an election for the positions of Leader and Deputy Leader would be held. He confirmed he would be a candidate for Leader.

Just after nine o’clock this meeting started, and shortly afterwards it was announced that Malcolm Turnbull had won the election and was now the leader of the Liberal party (and so would by virtue of being the leader of the majority party in parliament become Prime Minister).

The Prime Minister disappeared for fourteen hoursbut turned up at 12:30 this afternoon and gave one of the most ridiculous concession speeches in the history of political defeats, in which he blamed the media for his demise (despite News Limited giving him wall-to-wall support, and Fairfax’s negative coverage being lacklustre at best).

Just after one o’clock this afternoon, Malcolm Turnbull was sworn in as Prime Minister.


I should note there’s been instability for the last 18 months, and this has only intensified since there was a failed “spill” motion in February, so this didn’t come totally without warning. We were expecting one some time soon-ish, but this snap challenge took us all off-guard.

The language of love

There’s a guy in my life. We sit next to each other and watch TV. We share a house, share a bed. We share some of our money. We’re invited to parties together. Sometimes we fuck.  We report each other’s incomes on our tax returns. We reported every last detail of our relationship to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship so that I could come and live here.

But I don’t know what to call him.

It’s a strange thing, not having a go-to word for that person; I think it comes from a few places:

Heteronormativity means that unless I make it explicitly clear, most of society will assume that the person I’m talking about is a woman. Sometimes this will be because, well, society just assumes people are straight, but bizarrely this will often be out of some strange, misguided ‘politeness’ where, based on gay stereotypes, they’ll assume I’m gay but pretend to assume my [whatever we want to call them] is a woman so as not to offend me.

(To be clear: this offends me.)

Internalised homophobia contributes to this dilemma in a huge way too. And it is, in a way, working with heteronormativity but in the opposite direction. Not always, but sometimes, I feel the desire to hide, and to keep the gender of him as ambiguous as possible. It’s absurd, and as I’ve discussed before I’m very much “out”, and it is a very rare thing that I feel a need to actually hide my sexual orientation out of fears for personal safety etc.

Put these two things together, and combine them with a desire for honesty as well as warmth, and I’m left with essentially zero good choices for what that guy actually is.

Partner is the one people like to use to sound inoffensive, and whilst it doesn’t necessarily offend me, it does make me want to vomit. It’s so sterile and bland, makes our relationship sound like a business arrangement, transactional. It is totally unrepresentative of a relationship based on love and mutual admiration.

Lover. Fuck off.

Spouse crops up on forms and official documents. The Immigration Department uses spouse and I don’t like it at all. Partly because it’s incorrect (yes, de facto spouse is correct I suppose, Border Force), but we’re not married, we have decided not to get married, and we don’t like the idea of marriage. Our relationship looks a little bit like a marriage, at least from the outside, but that is certainly not what it is. (I also really dislike the word, aesthetically.)

Husband is a word I sometimes use to piss people off, but mostly I don’t like it. Again, it’s too marriagey for my taste, and if I’m honest it makes me feel subordinate.

I sometimes use Other Half but I don’t like it all that much. It implies that people are not complete unless they’re in a relationship (and note the “half” – it could never be “he’s one of my other thirds”, which is another reason – even though I personally am not polyamorous – I dislike it). It’s slightly better than Better Half though, which makes me see red.

Related is Significant Other, which I suppose isn’t too bad, but it feels a bit glib. He’s more than just “significant”, but like other half, I feel it does downplay the significance of myself in my own life.

I used to dislike Boyfriend intensely. It seemed okay for young people, or people who hadn’t been in the relationship for a very long time, but for a co-habiting couple in a stable, long-term relationship, it always sounded a little immature. My feelings on that have changed a little now. Using boyfriend feels like a rejection of societal norms. It feels like an acknowledgement that marriage is not some ideal or a goal to aim for. And I like that it pisses some people off or confuses them (as I’ve said before, I’m over caring whether people are confused or not).

Still I don’t call him my boyfriend nearly as often as I’d like. Maybe it’s a feeling that I ought to hide something about him, maybe it’s a desire to be taken seriously. It’s all indicative of an urgent need to unlearn all this rubbish that surrounds relationships and society’s ideals when it comes to talking about them. But I’m working on it.


I’d be interested to know what words you like, dislike, use and avoid. Let me know in the comments or in a tweet!

Something for the weekend: Idiom

This week I decided to go back to school. Not full time or anything like that, but a twice-weekly evening class to improve my German. I learnt German at high school and started a university course in German (why I didn’t finish it is a whole other story), but I haven’t spoken German in about ten years, so I have forgotten a lot. Coupled with my never-ending difficulty in meeting new people, my frustration at no longer having any real fluency in a language I love inspired me to take some action.

I have taken the placement test, and term starts next month. It’s a little bit exciting, but a certain apprehension last night:

Idioms are phrases or expressions that have figurative meanings, and they’re usually specific to the source language, that is translated word-for-word into another language leaves the phrase either meaningless or (perhaps worse) with a literal meaning that is something other than intended. An example in English is I’ve got butterflies in my stomach. To a native English speaker the meaning is clear: it means you’re nervous or anxious, but what it doesn’t mean is that you actually have butterflies in your belly. And translated into most other languages the meaning is unclear: you have to use a phrase with a different literal meaning to convey the same figurative meaning. In Chinese, for example, you would say that your heart is beating as hard as a deer bumping into a tree. Perhaps you could guess the meaning, but it doesn’t really make sense. One of the most curious things about idioms is that often, as a native speaker, you don’t notice them until you start learning another language, or someone who is not a native speaker points them out. And oftentimes they are very difficult to explain. Christian asked:

The meaning of love child is wrapped up in culture and subtlety, almost irony, and it’s very hard to convey the exact meaning of the phrase. Wiktionary defines it as a child born as a result of a romantic liaison between unmarried partners, but the phrase itself is supposed to draw attention to the infidelity: the essence of the phrase is difficult to translate, or even to explain in English. The fascinating topic of idiom was expanded on last night in a discussion with Dave, who studies Auslan (Australian Sign Language) and should soon be an interpreter. I asked

And the answer was basically some do, some don’t and yes. For instance I was able to make a good guess of how to sign it went over my head (meaning it was too confusing for me to understand or often used to indicate that what was just said appeared to be an in-joke that the speaker was not in on), but Dave explained that there are examples of phrases that are idiomatic in English and Auslan, but rely on different figurative language:


In short, idioms fascinate me, and the best way, I think, to discuss them is just to give examples and to explore them. But back to my original worry. Ich bin nicht von gestern might be translated for the Australian learner as I didn’t come down in the last shower. And as a boy from urban Yorkshire, neither one of those phrases is part of my native tongue!