Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Dreaming of ice

There is an ice rink outside the Civic Centre.

When I get onto the bus, I notice a tiny old lady looking at the young ones having fun. Her happy smile hints of a special night, years before, when she and a dashing young lad similarly frolicked on the ice. At least, I hope so.

As the bus moves away, she keeps staring at the same spot, her fond smile starts to decay, passing through a not quite pleasant grin to merely shriveled lips and tired face.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008


In preparation for my Christmas trip to the continent (does that mean I'm currently on the incontinent part of Europe?), I'm running around - deciding where to go, organising accommodation, how to get the most out of my rail pass and how to exploit my friends to the maximum, with them feeling exploited.

I am also trying to force myself to organise many of the rooms we'll be staying in in German. After all, I used to know something - at least that's what the university, specifically Herr Annas, believed.

So I've made the following strategic decisions:
  1. Avoid difficult words (obvious, but useful)
  2. Write short emails. This allows me to ignore the gaping void in my knowledge about the form an email should take. And fewer words mean fewer mistakes. I suspect my current form might however be regarded as hasty, too familiar, impersonal, or not suitably respectful.
  3. If they offer an online form you can fill in - use it!
  4. Use dictionaries. I have installed a German-English dictionary on my computer, a German spell checker for Firefox and have two online dictionaries for dealing with those difficult phrases. But is it enough?
  5. Ignore questions I don't understand - if they really want the answer they will rephrase in the their next email.
  6. Ignore questions I understand but don't know how to answer - if I keep ignoring a question, they have to eventually give me a list with 4 options. Then I'll pick the one with the longest word in it, because it shows I can handle words with more than 4 syllables.
  7. Always refer to "us". Then I can use the infinitive form of the verb, without worrying about vowel changes (because they are the worst).
  8. Avoid tenses. The present tense is manageable and simple future can be used to show off (werden + infitiv), but all others are really unnecessary.
Due to a small violation of Rule 8, I now find myself frantically searching for an example of the subjunctive. Specifically "If we were running late, I would let you know."

I still suspect that I will arrive at the station, negotiate with the bus driver using hand signals, get off at the right stop, then search around to find my hosts. They will greet me, invite me inside and wish me a Merry Christmas. I will just stare at them. Confused, uncomprehending.

Sprechen Sie Englisch?

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Hammond's Passage

What does "committing a nuisance" entail?

Friday, 5 December 2008


The dryer leaves my laundry crackling with static. I keep expecting a lightning bolt when I open my sock drawer.

Thursday, 4 December 2008


There is something disappointingly commercial about recreating a German Christmas market, complete with real Germans, in the city center. By displaying a selection of premium wares and very careful control of the stalls, a centuries-old tradition is further sterilized for our shopping pleasure.

I should however confess that the glühwein and bratwurst were enticing. And the stall with würste from all over Germany was definitely impressive.