Wednesday, June 27, 2007

More funny English from recent student exam papers.
Job application for a chef: "I think I would be really good at this job. I've always wanted to be a cooker". (We have all the equipment we need sir, it`s a chef we want!).

In a composition about holidays: "We all need a holiday. It is important to have a break from your dairy routine". (Yes, but can I have a holiday even if I'm not a farmer?).

Goodbye Henry.
The legend leaves. For the sake of posterity, I'm so pleased I saw him score at Highbury once. Cesc and Gilberto the way for the future. Either that, or I'm supporting Barcelona next season...

Hello R.E.M.
The greatest band in the world (IMHO) are playing five dates in Dublin as an open rehearsal for their new album. After 27 years they're still flying the flag although it's uncertain if (to mix metaphors) the boat floats as well as it did... Sadly, I shan't be going to Dublin but I have found the dimmed coals stoaked into life for the music of Stipe, Buck and Mills by an excelllent blog where a chap tries to write a commentary on every R.E.M. song ever recorded (that`s about 250 tracks!). I have also been quite amused by the cultural marriage of two of my favourite instituions - R.E.M. and the Simpsons. Ever wondered what Homer would sound like singing "It's the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)". Well, click here and see.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Things I miss about England #29: The Police are generally not bent.
Following the mid-week wedding of Rachel's cousin Natasha to K Max (not sure how to spell his name, but that's how it sounds...) we were stopped at about 10.00am just outside Joao Passoa at a police roadcheck. Mark was driving and four officers were annoyed he didn't have his passport even though he didn't need it and had never been asked for it before. They tried every trick in the book to get us to pay up - "This can be settled here and now" etc. They feigned calling the Federal Police (which we were fine about as this would have confirmed Mark was in the right). They even took Mark and I out the car to semi-frisk us for "armas", but it was actually a cunning ploy to get us to look in our pockets for 10 bob they could have. Anyway, we stood our ground and within 20 minutes were on our way. Just a pain is all. You can see how it is easy to play this game - if we had handed over just R10 (£2.50) at the start they would have waved us through...

Things I love about Brazil #19: People know how to throw a party. To say goodbye to Mark some friends of ours (Marcello and Veronica and their two kids Kaka and Jonathan) organised a huge, no-holds-barred send off. It was a surprise party at their apartment complex with BBQ, some brief dramatic performances, speeches, prayers, hugs, tears and video messages on a big screen. All week everyone had managed to keep schtum during the planning and not let Mev in on the secret. The big event is still going on as I write - we came back to put Nelson to bed. It all seemed to work exceedingly well. Veronica said her aim with the party was "to make Mark cry" (Brazilians love everyone to bawl at farewells). I said, being a British lad, he wouldn't. I wish I could say I lost the bet, but despite torrents gushing forth from Brazilian tear ducts, Marks eyes remained resolutely dry throughout the night.

I was mighty impressed with the affection poured on Mev at this party. If I had been organising his farewell he would have been lucky to get a piece of pizza at the airport and a hearty slap on the back...

End of the Semester shenanigans... All the kids are panicing and excited in equal measure at the end of the semester. More exams so more amusing uses of English to correct. Really, it is hardly fair to write this stuff here but this student got a very good mark in all other respects: "Huteri's is a club with very loud music. You can dance until your legs can't handle you anymore!".

I know exactly what she means, but the implication is that if you dance too much your legs might get so exhausted they will detach themselves from your waist and literally walk out... if only she had put "it" instead of "you".

For people learning English, prepositions (by, in, on, at, about, with, for, of etc.) are a nightmare - so small, totally irregular and liable to alter meaning considerably. in fact, it's still the one area my wife and her sister get wrong despite having total fluency in English in all other respects. One of the teacher´s here told me that when he writes English he does everything in his power (rewriting and rewriting sentences) to make sure he avoids using prepositions because he fears he will make a mistake. As an example, one student volunteered this mistake she had made in a test last year: "I lived in a house made by trees".

Monday, June 18, 2007

Sunday Times. We had an excellent Sunday lounging round the house after the hectic running about for Nelsinho's Saturday party. After church in the morning, Steve and Celia, various other relatives and Nelson and Marcella came over. Natal is in the midst of it's rainy season and so we couldn't venture out even if we wanted to because the skies were hurling down torrents of water... a great excuse to sit back, finish off Nelson's birthday cake and watch Beckham leave the Santiago Bernabeu with La Liga trophy. It would have capped a perfect weekend except...

The short but exceedingly significant life of Perry "Muggins" the Gatinho, died 18th June 2007 aged 3 weeks approx. Last Thursday one of the Cultura Inglesa students found a very young kitten under a box under a tree outside the language school. Whoever left him there was smart as lots of kids pass by that way to and from the Cei and Floca schools. Sure enough, one of them picked up the kitten and came into Cultura. This "gatinho" eventually ended up on my lap, and in a moment of childlike compassion I decided to take the cat home without even consulting my wife (known for being less feline friendly). Perhaps, I still harbour some need to atone for my treatment of young cats when I was a kid (a story of which was quoted by my best men at my wedding).

I soon realised that looking after such a young kitten was going to be harder than I expected - perhaps, as a kid you forget the responsibility that comes with having animals if your parents are around. Anyway, after checking the internet and consulting Uncle Nelson's girlfriend (a vet), we got him a nice box and fed him formula milk through a syringe. He perked up well and soon began to work his charm on us, including my wife. By Saturday, after having cared for him for three days around the clock, I felt we should get him out of here to somebody else. Sadly, Brazil is not equipped with an RSPCA and we were a bit short of options on who to call... However, by Sunday I was amazed to hear a chorus from the family - led by Rachel! - suggesting we should keep Perry. Nelson seemed to enjoy him and he would be less of a pain to keep than a dog. Marcella (the vet) gave advice about injections and said she would help. So, I too became convinced - Perry would be our family mog.

But, alas, when I went to give him his 11pm feed he had become quite listless and lethargic. A bad sign, and despite various attempts to revive him, he passed away during the night. Cause of death unknown - perhaps he got a bit damp and caught a chill from all the rain.
Perhaps the thought of a life of being whumped and verbally abused by Nelsinho was too much of a shock to the system for young Perry. Who knows? In any case, I hope we gave him a better shot at life than he would have had. (I find myself being strangely philosophical as I write this: "Why did it happen? Was it the right thing to take him in? What if...? What does God think about the life of a small cat? What's the right perspective to have when the world, Brazil even, has much much greater problems and tragedies?")

So, here is a short biography of his accomplishments:

Perry was named after the Arsenal footballer of the same first name (Perry Groves). They have in common the same ginger haircolour. In his short career as a cat Perry survived the traumatic experience of leaving his mother aged only 2 and a half weeks. He also survived a 1 year old's birthday party, learned to feed from a syringe and contrbuted two chapters to a collected academic work on the price of fish in 16th Century Switzerland. He passed away in his sleep surrounded by his friends. R.I.P. Perry.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The first birthday party of Nelson (aka. Pocoyo). Just a quick note, exhausted after a great day. Lots of family and friends around for the little one's first. Big thank yous to many, many people - not least Rach (for planning), Nels (for sleeping in the morning so he could be awake for his party), Steve and Celia (for everything), Mev (for blind photography), Amy (for making Pocoyo's Mum's dress), Barbara and Mariano (for offering a spare nappy in an emergency), Granny and Grandpa Mac (for singing Happy Birthday via a tape sent from Chad) and all you others who travelled distances and gave top pressies.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

"I'd like a diet baby, a toddler burger, extra cheese... thanks". Last Thursday we went to Maracajau and to a water park they had there. Nelson loved it, as did we all. Spotted this amusing use of English at the entrance.

Busy but fun few days.
On Saturday we flew down to Recife for Miguel's first birthday - Miguel being Nelsinho's best mate and the son of our good friends Barbara and Mariano. First year birthday's are huge events here - this one had 8000 balloons for decoration and was on the scale of a wedding reception.

On Sunday it was round to Tia Aurora's new flat and a surprise lunch for Nelson's Great Grandma Laulau who is soon 79. I hope nobody will be offended if I say that Laulau is a nutter - but the best kind of a nutter: the really good egg sort of a nutter. Much good family banter was had by all, the only hitch being when, after some short family speeches in honour of the great lady, Laulau took to the floor herself and got immersed in telling unconnected stories from her youth. (Excerpts: "I grew up in a lighthouse... My Father who was a strict Presbyterian made us dress up for a Bible study each evening... I was trying to come from the interior with a huge suitcase that was too big for the car...). Half an hour later the food was cold and people were trying to gently usher her toward a conclusion so we could start eating.

Things I miss about England #31: Bringing your own bags to the Supermarket. I've just come back from the weekly shop at Nordestao (a very good chain of North East Brazilian supermarkets) with another two dozen plastic bags. The problem here is that labour being so cheap, Supermarkets employ a small battalion of baggers. These baggers are generally amiable but they take their job very seriously and practically bag every single object TWICE. Today, I thought I got away with it as the till I was passing through did not have a designated bagger. I quickly started stuffing as many fruit and veg into as few bags as possible hoping to stem the tidal flow of crinkly plastic to our larder at home... but, alas, bagger "Maria" spotted me, (a customer!) bagging my own produce and so she stepped in and promptly took over. What's more she re-bagged (twice!) the fruit and veg I had safely put into the shopping trolley.

In the interests of saving the planet, Rach once brought our old bags to the supermarket to re-use like we would do at Tesco's in York. She was flatly ridiculed by the cashier, who then called over his colleague to look at the "crazy" lady who brought her own bags. The bagger was unimpressed by Rachel bringing her own bags as it encroached upon her job description of bagging customers produce with NEW bags. Last weekend, I saw an item on the news about an old lady in Sao Paulo who makes cloth satchels and takes them to the Supermarket to use instead of plastic bags. This was clearly seen as being "barmy" enough to warrant a news story... but, slowly, maybe due to her efforts and the efforts of my wife, the message of bag recycling is getting out there...

Things I like about Brazil #65: Cheap Internal Flights. Brazil is vast and travelling between cities can take many hours by bus or car. There is a very limited train network too. Internal flights are far more common and, if you buy smart, can be the cheapest and quickest mode of transport for any distance over about 200 kms.

So, we took some discounted GOL tickets down to Recife and were due to fly back late to Natal (on a "red eye" as Americans say) on Sunday night. Sadly, our plane was delayed over 2 hours. Imagine trying to entertain a confused, extremely wired but exhausted nearly-1 year old at 2am in a crowded airport. The main problem was trying to keep him from waking other people who were trying to have a kip. We finally boarded, took the half hour flight back, and set our heads to our pillows in our Natal home at 4.30am. Within two hours Nelson was up and I had a lesson to teach at 9am. Mental note: let's not do this again. Pay more for a day flight, but pay less in loss of sleep.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Random things round our way: the 3 Kings. Before there was Natal, there was a small fort called the Three Magi Kings ("Forte dos Reis Magos") which began to be built in January 1598 on the day of Epiphany. Natal ("Christmas" in Portuguese) is so named as it was established as a village outside the main coastal fort on 25th December 1599. Consequently, throughout the city signs and symbols alluding to the Nativity are visible everywhere. Driving up from the south on the main highway into town a huge bridge in the shape of a shooting star with statues of the Three Kings following greets visitors. And, about 200 yards from our street, these three lit up Kings, each about 40 ft high, can be seen from our house.

Buy a house in Natal. Well Done Aunty Betty for spotting this ace article in The Times travel section about why Brits are flocking to Natal to snap up beach homes. Read about here.

Things I miss about England #23: York Minster. I miss the familiarity of this enormous, beautiful building. You could turn a corner in any part of the city and come face to face with the Minster. (In a strange way, I always took this as a reminder of God being with us always - you'd turn a corner in life, and God would be there already). Anyway, about the Minster: it was just nice to know it was there. And I miss Constantine on his statue who I could see weathering all seasons from my office window...

Things I love about Brazil #2: The Beach. "The best thing about Brazil is it's just nice to know that the beach is there", said Amy recently. Couldn't agree more.

WWIW update. Electricity rewired (although the electrician had to take a hammer to our patio which has left a hole), car working again more or less, most things roughly functioning as they should... except for some reason I can't call Rach on my new cellphone or vice versa. WWIW?

Corpus Christi holiday. Today is another Brazilian holiday (see May 6 blog). Rachel's folks are here. I think we may go snorkelling.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Why Would it Work? (WWIW). This picture may look like Rach has got a corkscrew stuck up her nose but that's not what's going on... actually, in her right hand she is holding the top of the corkscrew which broke while I was trying to undo a bottle of wine yesterday. It is a recent and classic example of WWIW? - Why Would it Work? Brazil is great for many things, but it has to be said (and I think most Brazilians would agree) things, don't always work as expected... And I know, back in the UK everyone has "one of those days" but sometimes round here it feels like a novelty NOT to have one. The phrase Why Would it Work? (WWIW) was coined by Richard, a Brit on the CELTA course in January, and it has been uttered with frustrating regularity around here over the last couple of weeks. As a taster, within the last fourteen days...

The clock at the bottom of the stairs stopped working (WWIW)
The car wasn't going right because of dirty petrol (WWIW)
Half the electricity is missing from our house, although it momentarily returned during a rainstorm before flickering out again (WWIW)
The cable TV sometimes cuts out (WWIW)
The TV has very strange sound levels that mean you have to watch films constantly fiddling with the volume on the remote to try and hear the dialogue as well as avoid waking Nelsinho with the deafening music (WWIW)
The internet server is temperamental and shuts down often (WWIW)
The car needs a new starter motor (WWIW)
My new watch resets itself every time the alarm goes or you try to use the stopwatch (WWIW)
The fan in Nelson's room has packed up (WWIW)
I couldn't get hot water from the shower on Friday (WWIW)
The printer in the Teachers room only works occasionally (WWIW)
The computer in the Teachers room reboots at random (WWIW)
The DVD players in the classrooms at Cultura sometimes spit out the DVDs they're supposed to be playing (WWIW)
The natural gas option in our hybrid car pops worringly so we have stopped using it (WWIW)
Nelson manages to burst his nappy on regular occasions (WWIW)
I try to speak Portuguese but nobody understands (WWIW)
The light bulb in the fridge has stopped working (WWIW)
The man coming to fix our electricity can't come on the day we thought he would (WWIW)
and so on...

But before you start quoting me the Scripture "Do everything without complaining", let me be the first to hold my hand up and say that sometimes we create our own problems. We have become so used to our car having problems that we took it straight back in last Wednesday when the A/C stopped working. A/C is essential round here, and it had been working before we took it in to the shop about the dirty petrol. (One theory: is the garage sabotaging our car so we keep giving them business?). Anyway, our fears for the car were unfounded on this occasion - the mechanic called us up and, with barely disguised amusement mixed with contempt, he explained we had simply failed to turn the A/C on... it was in fine working order, but the reason we weren't feeling any cooler is that we had failed to PRESS THE SWITCH. So, in conclusion - sometimes my brain malfunctions (WWIW).

ps. WWIW should not be confused with WWJD.