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Let’s play Edinurgh Fringe bingo!

15 Aug Cockburn Street

This post was composed in collaboration with my old friend, fellow A-ha fan and English teacher extraordinaire, Susan Main. We recently took a wee trip to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (or Edinburgh Festival Fringe, as it used to be) and encountered many of these phenomena.

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What’s that coming over the hill? Is it a heatwave? Is it a heatwave?

28 Jun

Sticking with my blog’s theme of failing to stick to a theme, I’m sharing a poem I wrote a few years back about the unpredictable, and usually disappointing, British summer.

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It’s Chriiiiiiissstmaaaas!

23 Dec

The race for Christmas number one is being fiercely fought between Ed Sheeran & Elton John, and Ed Sheeran & Elton John (with Ladbaby). The tension is entirely bearable. However, although I’m not a fan of Ed or Elton, I am a bit pleased that Christmas number one will be something Christmassy this year. It rarely is.

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A Question of Emphasis

14 Sep

One of the things my church has done to help people feel connected during the last year and a half of craziness is get a variety of members to do readings. They don’t give the reader’s name, but you often recognise the voices, which is nice, or you spend the entire reading going “whose voice is that?”, which is a little distracting. Anyway, as part of this I recently recorded a looong Bible reading for my church (Jeremiah 7, if you’re interested – it’s available on YouTube).

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My prescription for lockdown

25 Jan

There was much hilarity at the Glasgow Esperanto Club this month. We were using Gather (an odd little meetup platform with very ’90s graphics) to play the ‘Secret Rule’ game, and the secret rule was that everyone had to laugh whenever Peter’s hand(s) were in shot. Although the laughter started off artificial, it soon became real when poor Peter was sitting with his hands clearly visible on top of his despairing head saying that he just couldn’t work it out. There is something very funny about a group of people who are not allowed to stop laughing, while someone else has no idea why.

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Every song on Radio 1

5 Dec

Although I am demographically more of a Radio 2 listener, for the last few months I have been listening to Radio 1 every morning. This has exposed me to a great deal of modern popular music, and I have noticed some patterns. In fact, I have identified a few (a very few) categories that probably 90% of the songs fit into.

Rap/Grime/Drill/Hip-Hop (as if I know the difference)

There seems to be only one kind of song in this musical genre(s), at least among the stuff I’ve heard, and it goes like this:

I used to be very poor.

Now I am very rich.

My wealth and fame give me entry to exclusive locations, the ability to purchase expensive items, and access to many women.

I also swear a lot.

Pop

There’s more variety among the pop offering, and it’s largely divided according to relationship status.

I am in a relationship

You are very attractive.

I think about you all the time.

I enjoy having sex with you.

I am looking for a relationship

You are very attractive.

I think about you all the time.

I very much hope that we will soon be having sex.

Those songs are generally sung by men. The ladies’ response can be split into two other categories:

I don’t know what you’re waiting for.

I think I’ve made it clear I’m interested.

or

Not a chance, pal.

Now get out of my dancing space.

I am no longer in a relationship

There are two categories in this relationship status, too, and there is a pronounced gender divide.

Generally men:

I used to be in a relationship with you.

Now I am not.

The breakup was my fault / I don’t understand where I went wrong.

I am very sad and regretful.

Generally women:

I used to be in a relationship with you.

Now I am not.

The breakup was your fault and you were very foolish.

I am happy and have no regrets.

So there you have it: 90% of the songs on Radio 1 in a single blog post. This doesn’t cover weirdy indy songs where you don’t even know what they’re singing about (although often they are the men’s “no longer in a relationship” category, I think). It also doesn’t cover Christmas songs, which are starting to creep onto the Radio 1 playlist, and had already conquered Radio 2 by December 1st.

Speaking of Christmas songs, there is an utterly adorable new song about the weirdness and sadness of Christmas in 2020, our reassessment of what matters and our hope for better times. And it has a catchy chorus and a gorgeous video of Glasgow. It’s by a couple of Glasgow teachers called (collectively) Lapwing, and you can listen to here:

Let’s play Hyndland bingo!

26 Apr

It probably says a lot about the neighbourhood of Anniesland, in Glasgow, that after spending a month here I am writing a post about Hyndland. Anniesland is a bit betwixt and between, both in a literal sense (its main landmark is Anniesland Cross, a major junction between roads that run west out of Glasgow and south to the Black Hole and the Death Star (as I like to call Govan and the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital) and also in terms of character. It’s kind of west end but not posh, a bit down at heel but not cheap, not that far the city centre, but not actually close. Continue reading

Church ministers? Bunch of slackers! 

18 Oct

I’ve just done a blog post for Premier Christianity about why church ministers have the easiest job in the world. Before you start fuming, I should say that it’s not an entirely serious argument, to put it mildly.

It was commissioned because it’s Thank Your Vicar Week. So if you have a vicar (/pastor/minister) why don’t you give the article a read and then maybe send them a nice email? Although I can’t promise they will have time to read it.

The Art of Complaining

3 Apr

“I couldn’t sleep a wink!”

One of the joys of helping to look after my little nieces is getting to revisit things from my childhood. Last week it was paperchain people (try them with monkeys – it’s really cute!) but the week before that it was the Princess and the Pea, the Hans Christian Andersen story about a girl who arrives at a castle in a storm, claiming to be a princess, and whose royal pedigree is proved by her feeling a dried pea through 20 mattresses.

Coming back to this story many years on, instead of dwelling on how ridiculous this is (and it is), I instead found myself thinking, “Of course complaining about a pea in her bed shows she’s a princess. If she was a nice, middle-class girl she wouldn’t dream of complaining!” I mean really, if you were taken in on trust, out of a storm, alone and helpless, would you tell your host the bed was lumpy? I wouldn’t lie about it, but I’m sure I could find something more positive to say than, “I couldn’t sleep a wink all night!”

This got me thinking about complaining more generally. In Britain, we’re traditionally not supposed to be very good at complaining. To be more accurate, we’re very good at moaning about things, but we would rather die than complain to anyone who can do anything about it, like a waiter or shopkeeper, for example. Perhaps we might write a stiff letter, but never say anything to anyone’s face.

This is a Very British Problem, judging by the Twitter account of the same name, which is extremely funny. (It’s also available in book form for those who aren’t into social media.) This is also one of the areas where I’m not very British, perhaps as a result of spending too much time overseas (or it could just be my personality). I am fairly likely to complain if something isn’t right. I spent 15 minutes in Superdrug the other day trying to return some hair chalks that only cost about three quid, on the principle that if you buy something, it should work. The complaint has been forwarded further up the chain of management. By the time I get my three quid back (if I ever do) they will probably have devalued to the equivalent of 30p due to Brexit.

Maybe I shouldn’t have bothered. But there are some things you are supposed to complain about, or at least not sit on. I often find I’m annoyed by some insignificant thing someone has done again and start thinking, “He/she knows I hate it! They’re doing it to annoy me!”, only to realise that I’ve probably never told them I hate it, and they are blithely oblivious to my irritation. In a situation like that you either have to say something, or learn to live quietly with the annoyance, rather than explode in rage when it happens for the tenth time.

Addictions are another situation where you’re supposed to complain, according to official advice. Without going into any detail, there are some addiction/dependency ‘issues’ in my own family, and while a public blog post isn’t the place to drag them out, it’s not something I keep from my friends. In such a situation, silent forbearance probably makes things worse. But there is probably a level of willingness to complain that lies somewhere between doormat and drooket fairytale princess, which is healthy and practical without being self-centred. With that in mind, here’s a slightly altered version of the well-known Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity to shut up about the things I ought to put up with,
The courage to complain about the things I ought not to,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

(If you’re into Hans Christian Andersen, by the way, check out my lovely audio version of the Snow Queen, narrated by Sophie Aldred.)

How to learn Albanian in 20 seconds 

31 Jan

Bună!  I am in the process of trying to learn Romanian, as I’ll be going there next month for a few days. I enjoy the challenge of learning a language, and Romanian is shaping up to be a fairly easy one, for me at least – it’s basically just Latin, with the odd Slavic word thrown in. 

Despite that, I’m at the frustrating stage where I know a few words but can’t actually say anything. I can say that I should, I need, I must or I would like, but not what I should, need, must or would like – except coffee, so I suppose that is somewhat useful. 

So in light of my own frustration with Romanian, I’m going to teach you to speak Albanian in 20 seconds. You won’t be able to hold an intelligent conversation about Proust, but you’ll be able to cope in most social situations. All you need is one word: mirë. 

Mirë is pronounced meer, as in meerkat, and it means good or well. (Technically e/i mirë means good, and mirë means well, but let’s not complicate matters.) The wonderful thing about it is it can be a question (Are you well? Is that ok?) as well as an answer to the question, and an assent to some proposal. Let me give you an example of a conversation you could hold in which you only use the word mirë. (You have to imagine it’s all in Albanian, although to be honest it wouldn’t matter that much whether you understand it or not.)

Hi, how are you? 

Mirë. 

How have you been? 

Mirë. 

How’s your family? 

Mirë. 

How’s work? 

Mirë. 

How’s your health? 

Mirë. 

We should go out for coffee sometime and catch up. 

Mirë. 

How is Tuesday afternoon for you? 

Mirë. 

Great, see you then! 

Mirë! 

See? Now you speak Albanian, at least as long as you are prepared to be fairly passive in any given conversation. If you’re thinking that there never would be a conversation like this, with such a screed of questions, you’re wrong – I’ve actually cut it down a bit. When you haven’t seen someone for a while, this list of questions can seem to stretch on for aeons. And throughout those aeons, you will be able to give pertinent replies – provided that they are all “mirë”.

(By the way, if anyone does happen to ask you for your opinion on Proust, tell them he’s mirë.)