Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Things I miss about England #36: second-hand bookshops. I came across a box of random literary, historical and political books in English at the language school this morning. I instinctively started rummaging through them to see what was there and how much they were worth (I didn't work at York's Barbican Bookshop for nothing!). When I was done I suddenly realised I missed secondhand bookshops. Books simply don't occupy as prominant a position in society here as they do back home. Bookshops of any kind are thin on the ground, let alone ones that sell second-hand books.

Things I love about Brazil #10: music. I've grown to be quite a fan of Brazilian music with bands or singers like Lenine, Kid Abelha, Maria Rita, Marisa Monte, Pato Fu, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Legião Urbana getting frequent airing on my musical equipment. Bebel Gilberto is also great but strangely she isn't famous in her own country and not many of my students know who she is.

Anyway, it's not just the musicians are great its the way they do music. Brazilians are a lot less coy about what's cool or not and they are a lot more relaxed about plagiarism and using each other's songs. It's not uncommon for artists to cover several recent hits of their contemporaries during a show. All this makes for a healthy culture of collaboration and idea swopping as long as everyone gets their due in the end (which is doubtful). Not surprisingly, British or American hits are often reworked into Brazilian musical norms and sometimes songs are translated into Portuguese or are written with English and Portuguese words mixed up.To illustrate this here are 5 (I would hesitate to call it a "top" 5) Brazilian pop innovations - you can watch all the clips on YouTube.

1. Kid Abelha and Donovan Frankenreiter - King of the free ride. American bluesman teams up with Brazilian acoustic outfit. Results extremely pleasing.
2. Vanessa de Mata and Ben Harper - Boa Sorte / Good luck. A beautiful duet with Lenny Kravitz wannabe and Brazilian soul singer. The song was released before they had even met each other.
3. Caetano Veloso - Come as You Are. Elder statesman of Brazilian pop music decides to make album of English covers including this odd version of a Nirvana song.
4. KLB - Angels. A fairly accurate and schmaltzy Portuguese cover of the Robbie Williams hit by a Brazilian rock band.
5. Rhianna - Umbrella (the forró version). The American diva's huge 2006 hit gets worked-over by an accordian in this surreal Portuguese version in the tradtional north-eastern forró style. (The video superimposes the Brazilian version on top of the official video. As far as I can tell the Brazilian lyrics have nothing to do with umbrellas).

Hope you enjoyed that. But, still, as much as Brazilians love music, the music industry is seen as the opportunity for the poor to advance themselves and it is uncommon for middle class families to allow their children to pursue music careers. Parents would rather their kids developed language and academic skills so as to become lawyers, doctors or diplomats. In short, whereas middle class kids in the UK might take music lessons and try joining bands at uni their Brazilian counterpoints sign up/get signed up for 2 and a half hours of English lessons per week with teachers like me.

One final note about music. Do you remember I mentioned a few weeks ago the musical exploits of Cultura's driver Sr Ricardo? Well, he leant me a CD of his music and I was astonished to see it had a "proper" inlay cover (above). If you know this man and you see him every day dressed in his work clothes you will probably, like me, find that front cover and fold-out deeply hilarious. But, I won't say a bad word against this guy - this man is a legend. Watch this space. When he's headlining his unique brand of worship music at Spring Harvest, remember I called it first.

Life. The CDC (Cultura Directors' Conference) starts today with Rach in chief co-ordinating role. This means all the Directors from all the Cultura's in Brazil will descend on our little town and have "a whiskey club" as Rach's Dad calls it. We've been bracing ourselves for this for several months and it's not been helped by an increasingly pregnant Rachel just two weeks away from her due date. So far, so good - nobody seems too stressed. By Monday it will all be over and maybe Rach can relax a little.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

24 hours later. Even more amazing than Natal's floods is the fact that they dissapear so quickly. Wednesday was followed by a very bright and sunny Thursday with no standing water around. See the before and after picture of the football pitch that had the car in. The Thursday picture was taken less than 24 hours after the Wednesday one.

Pictures. Some snaps of various things including ur trip to Pipa (see last entry) and from the Great Britain project my students did a few weeks back can be viewed here.

Crime and Punishment. I have been teaching various groups the vocabulary of crime and punishment in English. What's the difference between kidnap and hijack, weapon and gun, steal and rob, mug and assault, confess and accuse, convict and condemn? Easy for us, not so easy for a Brazilian. One amusing thing that came out of all this was several students independently told me they had had their baseball caps nicked. It seems a funny thing to steal but they are worn exposed to the elements and perhaps one could get a couple of bob for a good one at the market down town. One student of mine, Alberto, had his nicked when a kid swiped it and ran off a bus. A week later, having bought a new version of the same cap, it was thiefed by a passing cyclist who lifted it right off Alberto's scalp before peddling off leaving Alberto fuming in his wake. Alberto says he doesn't bother buying baseball caps anymore.

In any case, the crime in Natal is really not a major concern compared to other capital cities in Brazil. And yet, early on a Saturday morning, we found ourselves to be almost the victims of domestic burglary. Nelson woke up at 5am and wanted me to play with him. He requested his supply of cars be replenished so I dutifully went downstairs to get more toys only to see a man tip-toeing around our front patio. Without really stopping to think of the consequences, I thumped on the window and bellowed as loud as I could in any language I could think of. I opened the screen door, pounded over the tiles and chased him out the gate in just my undies. Complete with my gruff unshaven look I later supposed the total effect would've seen off a standing army. Anyway, he and an accomplice had already made it to the corner at the end of the street but to my relief they didn't seem to be carrying anything in their hands. At this point, Rachel came shooting downstairs looking like she expected to see the four horsemen of the apocalypse and was relieved when it was "only" robbers and that Nelson was OK in his bedroom and I hadn't tumbled down the stairs and broken my face.

Our thieves were probably 2 minutes from getting the bike through the gate so, thanks to Nelson ultimately, they didn't get away with anything. They had jimmied the gate with a crowbar (so we'll need to get a proper lock for that) and had spotted the bikes behind our parked cars. So, it made for a great story to tell my students this morning, and, of course, it was great vocab practice for them. I discovered quite a handy website this week when my good friend Jawad (who was one of my best friends at Turi in Kenya and now a facebook pal) sent me a link to complete a survey for him on ethical purchasing. He is somehow involved in setting up a business that distributes African clothes at a fair price to the producers. Anyway, if you have five minutes and if this subject area interests you, please help him out by taking his survey here. So impressed was I with which organises everything for people to do online surveys (for free!) that I have started using it as a way for students to submit homework online. I also made a very quick survey of my own to try and get a better picture on people´s blogging "habits". Please check it out too if you have a few minutes to spare. Much obliged!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

It's raining, it's pouring... The rains in Natal have started earlier this year and last night the torrents didn't let up resulting in a city drenched and sinking by mid-morning. The bad news is that this means the dengue mosquitos which breed in stagnant water have a free ticket to reproduce and spread their nasty progeny about the town. The other bad news is that this isn't the rainy season "proper" yet and the forecast for this week is more rain.

The affects to us in our lives have been that getting to and from the language schools has been chaotic and my classes have been half-empty as students and their parents haven't braved it out. In truth, most schools had to cancel lessons because of flooding. At the Cultura unit in Tirol (on the other side of town) several classrooms had leaks, streams and puddles.

Meanwhile, down at the bottom of our road we spotted a commotion and found this car, a rather nice car, parked neatly in the middle of a lake (see above). But how did it get there? I could only assume the driver left it stationed without the handbrake on and the vehicle floated away from where he had pulled up. I got a few snaps of it and later that afternoon Rachel (accompanied by a deliriously excited Nelson shouting "Carro! Agua! Carro! Agua!) happened to go past as they were towing it out. They also got the inside story on what really occurred.

It turns out that the driver wasn't from this neighbourhood and when he drove down the road, early in the morning, the whole area, including the nearby houses and shops were covered with water. He decided to turn around and thought it easier to do a u-turn behind some parked cars. What he didn't realise - and you would only know this if you had seen the surroundings pre-flood - was that not everything is perfectly level whatever appearances may suggest. In fact, as he pulled off the pavement he unwittingly drove into a huge gulley some 10 or 15 feet deep that normally housed a sunken sandy football pitch when dry. In one of the pictures above you can just make out the top of the goal posts. He must have got the fright of his life when the ground gave way and his shiny car began to nosedive, submarine-like into unknown depths. It was actually pretty dangerous and it was good he got out OK and fortunate his car was not completely lost underwater. Whatever damage was done to his car (and to his groceries which were in the boot all day), it can't have been as much as the damage to his pride as a small crowd of tutting locals chortled about the incident by the roadside all morning. All I can say is that if it had been me, a gringo, doing this, I think Rachel and I would have had to pack up and move to another city to escape the shame.

Whether you see this story as a tragedy or a comedy, Rachel, with her keen business mind put a rather hard-nosed commentary on proceedings when she spotted that the car had sunk in front of a rival English teaching school. "Well, this will be in the papers tomorrow and that's free publicity for Wizard", she noted, tongue in cheek. Well, my dear, short of flooding the street where our language school is and sinking a client's parked car near the front gate there's not a lot we can do about that...

Throughout the day students were filling me in on their rain-related stories. Most seemed to think what was happening was pretty unusual and like nothing they had seen in recent years. One guy sounded astonished that the electricity was still working in the city (thank goodness, so far, it is!). One of my Master level students told a funny story about her day. Her street was badly flooded (one family had to be rescued by firemen from upstairs windows) and the rain started to make the electronic gate at her house go doolalley. In short, it would open and close with no notice whatsoever. And so, when on one occasion it uncerimoniously slid open, out trotted a barking troupe of her family's four dogs - a huge St.Bernard, two Yorkshire terriers and a Spaniel. Once out, they apparently terrorised an old lady walking by which in turn led to much confusion and shouting between the neighbours. All this just goes to show - when it rains big style in Brazil, it comes as close to an apocalyptic, end-of-the-world scenario as you can expect to see this side of the Second Coming.

I had a fever but, thank God, it wasn't dengue. Yesterday I had a nasty fever but I seem to be over it and I'm 99% sure I've escaped the dengue on this occasion as I had none of the associated symptoms of achiness, rashes or itching. My sister in law had this last year and she really suffered with it and Dad sent me an email this week to tell me he had had it in Africa once and that it was NOT FUN.

On a slightly lighter note... some of you readers out there have let me know that you like the Things I miss / Things I like series of posts that I occasionally do. Well, a complete list of what I've talked about so far is now included in the side panel (you see it if you scroll down). It is my ambition to complete all 100 of both lists before we leave Brazil so I mustn't slack on it.

Trip to Pipa. After all that, I don't have the time or space to write much about our weekend in Pipa. Well, all that needs to be said is that we got a great deal on a huge chalet overlooking a fantastic beach near some sand dunes. We really relaxed and recharged our batteries, I'd say.

The pros: great food in Pipa at an outdoor authentic Italian restaurant overlooking the bay and a seafood restaurant (Octopus rice anyone?) which also served the best shrimp pastries I've ever eaten. On Monday we met up with Rach's parents and young Nelson and visited a gorgeous little restaurant/club at Ponta da Pirambu near Pipa. It easily makes our top 5 list of Natal "secrets" and anyone coming to visit us will be taken here for an afternoon. Also, we saw some great scenery and wildlife - butterflies, iguanas, beaches, dunes etc.

The cons: when we arrived at our hotel they offered us a free courtesy fruit juice. We waited half an hour and it never came. Ahem, I think we can do better than that. Also, breakfast was outside but whenever we both left our table unattended to get some more food or drink, our plates were attacked by flocks of birds. And lastly at the Italian restaurant, a gust of wind (which could have been borrowed from a slapstick comedy film) blew a 20 bob note out of my hand and over the balcony and far away into the night air as I was counting up the bill. I had a good look around to see if the restaurant had installed a special set of fans near the tables as part of some cunning ploy - perhaps, they have some lackey running the street below collecting airbourne money. Maybe, it's their way of ensuring the waiters get healthy tips. Well, whatever, somebody will find it and it will make their day I suppose .

5am. I started writing this post at 5am because I couldn't go back to sleep after Nelson woke up. Must get nap later.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Looking down the barrel of a busy week. After a great weekend away in Pipa, Rach and I are back to get stuck into a busy period that doesn't look set to let up until sometime in August. Of course, the big thing is the arrival of baby number 2 in probably less than 1 month. Also, Rach is in the thick of organising a huge conference for all the Directors of all the Cultura Inglesa language schools which will be held here in Natal. Next week is test week for students so I have to write a few tests and give a few tests... More about our weekend away in the next post.

Some further notes from the open diary of how to (and how not to) speak the Portuguese language. Teaching English has helped me learn Portuguese in immeasurable ways. Apart from increasing my knowledge of grammar and how languages are structured and function, teaching English has also given me many ideas on best practice for learning a new language, tips on how to keep going and it has also given me an indication of my level of Portuguese and what I should be concentrating on at that level. For example, if I speak English to a student and find that their English is below my Portuguese (i.e. I know the words they can't find) then I know I'm above them and likewise below others. All in all, I think I am at least Intermediate level Portuguese with probably some aspects higher and others lower on account of not learning in a structured way from a course or book.

One of the chief advantages of teaching English to the people whom you are trying to learn a language from is that their mistakes highlight the make-up of their own language. Let me put that more simply. As Brazilians repeatedly make the same errors in English it teaches me how their langugage works and how they are thinking. Here are some examples:

1) Countable and uncountable nouns. Strange as it may seem, in Portuguese it is possible to count the words research, information, equipment and music. Try putting a number before those words and an "s" on the end in English and it will sound very strange. For all of the above we have to put "a piece of" before the noun to desribe one part of it. Brazilians (sometimes with very high levels) are always getting this wrong saying "I listened to some good musics on my ipod" or "I did three researches for my course" or whatever. Indirectly, I have learned that these are countable in their language and I try not to make the same mistake in reverse.

2) Verbs with similar but not identical meanings. There are countless examples of this, but I'll leave you with just two. In English, we use the verb "miss" in all kinds of strange ways (miss a goal/ miss a bus/ I miss you) and Brazilians don't really have that verb so they tend to use "lose" because in their language they would use the equivelent verb "perder" for some of these things. Consequently, they translate their Portuguese into English and say things like "I lost the taxi" and "Ronaldo lost the goal" which sound very strange in English and have completely different meanings. Either way, as I chuckle away at my students making mistakes I gain some new insight into the workings of Portuguese. Another example is that in England we use the verb to rob to refer to taking something from a person or organisation and the verb to steal to refer to the object being taken. Portuguese makes no such distinction and has just one verb "roubar" which sounds like the first of the English verbs. Students forget which is which and often say things like "The man robbed the car" or "The gang stole the bank" each with slightly different meanings. Again, it's a window into Portuguese for me...

All this is leading up to my final point: wouldn't English be a whole lot easier if it was just a bit more regular, standardised, streamlined and logical? It would certainly make my life easier and my students lives easier too. With this in mind I have written a proposal to alter the English language in 10 small ways to make it easier to teach and learn. I hope you like my ideas. You can read them here.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Dengue fever. Natal's rainy season has started early which means more mosquitos and sooner than people expected. Sadly, this also means more disease and Natal is suffering a dengue outbreak. So, here's hoping we don't get it - Amy got it last year and it is nasty. There is no vaccine and even when you do have it you can only really treat the symptoms. Prayers for health for us all, please!

(Having said that, we've been hearing a lot from our friends in the UK about endless viruses and bugs that their kids have got in the winter months. We have been very healthy here, actually, and rarely have any colds of flu).

Weekend away. The week's just seem to get busier. I have a lot to do before Saturday and what's keeping me going is the thought of a weekend away with Rach. Next Monday is a public holiday and Steve and Celia will babysit Nelsinho while Rach and I steal away for one final break before the arrival of baby 2. We have a place booked in a hotel close to the gorgeous town of Pipa, 1 hour south on the coast.

New supermarket. I did a recent survey with my students and found that the most popular and trusted supermarket in Natal is the Brazilian-owned Nordestão ("the big north-eastern"). As it happens this is where we shop although that's only because it's the closest and cheapest. A few days ago we tried out Bompreço ("good price") with their new store just a couple of hundred yards away from Nordestão. Here is my review:
selection: better than Nordestão. Seemed to have nicer cereal and more kinds of vegetables (still no fresh mushrooms, asparagus or celery, though). They did have a Garfield book (in Portuguese) which I immediately bought. I had never seen anything like that in Nordestão.
value: OK, but not as cheap as the big N.
ambience: quiet, clean, new, as nobody is shopping there yet.
bags: bagger who bagged at a similar bags-per-item ratio to the Nordestão bagger. Bags were more flimsy and broke when taking the things from the car.
parking: ample and free.
choice of piped music: odd (but so is Nordestão, to be fair)

Overall 7/10. Not enough to forever change from my proven and known brand, but when I know Nordestão will be busy, I'll definitely be coming back to Bompreço for the convenience of having no crowds.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A week is a long time in blogging. It's been a busy few days which is why I haven't updated my blog since last Tuesday - quite a long time for me. What have I been doing? Mostly, not sleeping too much (Nelson is waking up each night in a bit of a state, not sure why) and teaching private English lessons at no notice to a Jewish man (a rare thing in Brazil) who is a store manager (not such a rare thing) and watching countless...

Great Britain projects. Each year students of Cultura are encouraged to do a project. This year's theme is Great Britain. I'm finding it fascinating watching Brazilians give their opinions on my homeland. Part of the interest lies in their choice of what to do their project on - the traditional, "stereotypical" British things are well represented - the walls of the language school are plastered with posters of David Beckham, football, the Beatles, the Queen (both the monarch and the Rock band), tea drinking, London tourist attractions and fish'n'chips.

Other titles have included Mr.Bean, Sherlock Holmes, The X Factor and Harry Potter. The one project that so far actually taught me a lot about something I knew nothing about was an Advanced group's presentation of famous British fashion designers: Vivian Westwood, John Galiano and Stella McCartney. (You will notice that for many people here Great Britain = England. Despite encouraging my students to try and "think out the box" and maybe do something about Scotland they all stuck to what they knew. One project was entitled "Ireland" and talked about the Republic - an interesting political mishap out here in Brazil which would infuriate a significant percentage of the Irish population).

British pop music has featured highly in many presentations and it's a reminder to me how much British rock bands and singers have influenced the landscape of world music. The Rolling Stones, Amy Winehouse, McFly, Lily Allen, Oasis and Led Zep have all featured in students' projects. On one level I'm proud of British music - I enjoy it and a lot of it is good - but the students seem to emphasise the reputation for drug taking that many of these personalities have and that's a shame.

I especially enjoyed listening to an excellent presentation from Moyses and Leonardo (students of mine from last semester) who gave an adlib, blow by blow account of the history of Oasis beginning with how Kurt Cobain's death spelt the end of grunge and Oasis' first album the introduction of Britpop. They were followed by Raul and Daniel talking about the history of British music festivals - Reading/Leeds, V festival and Glastonbury. I had to hold my tongue from interjecting throughout with "I was there!" and "I went to that, it was ace!".

Afterwards, I spoke to the students and Leonardo asked me: "have you ever seen Oasis, teacher?". My reply, "Yes, I have - on the Be Here Now tour" led to raised eyebrows from the young chaps. I felt like the old timer at the home asked to retell his war stories or an astronaut recounting how he stepped on the moon. I maybe overdid it a bit, spouting forth with tales of being a teenager in mid-90s London but they all seemed generally awestruck. Leonardo's closing words to me were: "I hope to go to a concert one day". What was telling about his response was that it wasn't just that he wanted to go to an Oasis concert, he wanted to go to ONE concert... Natal is 3000 kms from Rio, the place anyone big would play if they toured South America. Leo's ambition to make it to ONE gig of a large international act was still a pretty big dream for a Natalense. If you're reading this in London you need to remember to thank the Lord in your prayers that you live in the centre of such a rich cultural world. Many people wish they could be there.

Things I miss about England #56: Going to Rock gigs. In view of the above, R.E.M. have announced their tour support and will be playing some European dates with the Editors (who are OK) and the Disciplines (who are ace). Akkk, I wish I could see them but I'm stuck in the middle of nowhere!

Things I love about Brazil #95: Radio Rede Hallelujah. It's helping me to learn Portuguese even if it's a bit cheesey. Rede Hallelujah is a Christian radio station and I have it on in the car at the moment.

(ps. I've lost count of where I'm up to on the things I miss / things I love list but it will be resolved this week).

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

What does Gotham's caped crusader drink? Why, Batmilk of course. At the supermarket last week and came across this delightful prospect - yoghurt either made from the milk of bats or perhaps yoghurt distributed (or enjoyed by) that famous superhero of the night, Batman. I can confirm the yoghurt does taste nice and Nelson is hooked.

The real explanation? This is yoghurt as made by Batavo, a Brazilian dairy brand. However, it is another funny example of how English words (in this case "milk") are cut and pasted into Brazilian culture*, marketing or advertising most likely (according to my students) because it lends products an air of sophistication since it mimics imported European and American goods. In this case, I just think the whole scheme horribly backfired.

* driving back from dropping off Nelson this morning I spotted posters for a reggae event called "Rastafeeling".

Orphanage. On Friday we managed to squeeze in a quick visit to the orphanage to leave some supplies. All the kids were having a nap so we didn't stay too long to play. But, we were pleased as it seems other people are taking an interest in this little project and they had a water cooler and some new kitchen equipment too.

Sunday. We've been seeing pictures of 3-inch snow back in the UK. On Sunday here we went snorkelling in warm weather during the best low tide of the year so far. Rachel's parents were around and it made for a great day out. Here are some pictures that document the whole day including some snaps from our little church group which meets on Sunday afternoons.

R.E.M. quiz answers. Thank you to all NONE of you who entered my mini competition to get the names of R.E.M. songs from snippets of lyrics I used in a recent post. Er, it was quite hard and save for my cousin's husband Rob Miles who appreciates R.E.M. to approximately the same degree as I do, I wouldn't expect too many of the uninitiated to get the answers without using an internet search engine - so, never mind. For all NONE of you that care the answers were:

Let's talk about the weather - the song Stand from the album Green.
Baby's got some new rules - the song Me in Honey from the album Out of Time
When you greet a stranger - the song Good Advices from the album Fables of the Reconstruction
The music will provide the light, you cannot resist - the song I'm Gonna DJ from the latest album Accelerate.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

What rhymes with Maclure? A post in the style of a poem.

Saturday lunch on Brazil's northeast coast
Just finished teaching my Master threes.
Compared to the last one, this is a shorter post
written online to save on trees.

I can't remember when I last saw wife
the week was so crammed, so busy
but sometimes that's the way of life
when you work and care for a young baby

Speaking of which, Nelson's fine
After a small fever at the start of the week
He's OK now even if he whines
But he's potty trained now: he don't leak.

Rach is doing a weekend course
on Project Management and related joys
8 months pregnant, she's quite a force!
also paying the staff that Cultura employs.

This weekend the outlaws are here
(thanks to Caz for that clever pun!)
Nelson loves it when Grandparents are near
for this equals presents, attention and lots of fun.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Let's talk about the weather... The heavens opened on Natal over the last 3 or 4 days, gushing forth torrents of tropical rain. When it rains in Natal (according to some of my teacher friends) the whole place grinds to a hault and people are confused, late, bothered, disoriented, ill and generally not themselves. Basically, it sounds like what happens in England when it snows. Anyway, everything is leaking: our house, the supermarket and the language school have all had dripping corners. Nelson caught a small bug which he seems to be coming out of, but now I'm worried I have it... thankfully, today the sun is out.

When you greet a stranger... Do you remember this guy? Well, he came back a few days ago asking for some money if he cleaned the grass at the front of our house. This was our conversation.
Me: I don't have any money (which was true!)
Bloke: OK, do you have any old clothes that I could have?
Me: Yes, I do. Wait a minute (Dave finds old shorts, St.Mikes houseparty T-shirt and old flip-flops). What about these?
Bloke: Will you let me have those if I clean the grass?
Me: Sure.
Bloke: But, I don't have anything to cut the grass with.
Me: Neither do I.
Bloke: If I go home and get some equipment can I come back and clean the grass for those clothes?
Me: Yes, that's fine.
Bloke: If I came back at 2pm?
Me: OK, no problem.
Bloke: Can I take the clothes now?
Me: (remembers how he gyped us before) Er, no, it's better if I give you them after you do the work, isn't it?
Bloke: OK, bye! See you later.

2pm came and went and I still haven't seen him.

Baby's got some new rules... Nelson is being potty trained. We wanted to get him "sorted" before his sister arrives next month. He was quite reulctant at first and even now generally seems to think having to sit on his little throne is a waste of valuable seconds when he could be doing something else like playing with cars.

Anyway, following a system of incentives in which he won a small wrapped present after each successful poo or pee in the specificied zone he's got the hang of it. Saturday was a different matter, however. Sporting his new undies we went out for a few hours to a shopping centre - bad idea. Half way down one toy aisle there appeared a small puddle on the floor. Rach got the shop assistant with the mop on to it (to be fair, judging from their reaction, this was not an uncommon occurence). I picked up Nelson and took him to the changing room.

Depending on how you look at it the changing rooms in Brazil are either very nice or really annoying. Basically, as with most things in Brazil, the cost of cheap labour means people are doing jobs that don't exist in the UK. And in Brazilian shopping centres there are often half a dozen employed women on hand to help you clear up your child's mess (a good thing, you'd think!). Now, if you remember what we learned about Brazilian women and how they feel about men taking care of babies, I was eye-balled by these assistants the moment I walked in. A man in here? A foreign man? With a baby? This I got to see!

Being the kind of male who hates asking for directions or any kind of assistance I saw it as my mission to get in and out of there as quick as possible - I was not interested in any help whatsoever. But, when I went to change Nelson and they all noticed he WASN'T wearing a nappy and that, lo and behold, he had wee-ed on his pants and I WASN'T going to put a new nappy on him it was just all too much for one woman in the dumbfounded semi-circle of curious females that had formed around me at the changing table. From beneath an extensively furrowed brow, she said, "have you run out of nappies? We have some if you want one".

Grrrrr, no! We're potty training him! Go away, all of you!!!
After that experience, Nelson and I had a pretzel to calm down.

The music will provide the light, you cannot resist... Happily, R.E.M. release their new studio album this week - the first one in 4 years. Even more happily, it's actually very good and everyone else says so too. There's some quite funky videos here by French filmmaker Vincent Moon of R.E.M. playing acoustic songs from their record in odd places - in a car, under a tree, in the road, in a cavern etc. A prize for the person who can tell me which R.E.M. songs I've cited lyrics from in the headings on this post. I cheekily downloaded an advanced copy of the new record a few days back and reviewed it here on my other blog.

(For those of you who don't know, this other blog is called beyond random, and it is where I write about everything else that's not connected to living in Brazil - it's about music, art, film, God, life etc. Take a peak if you have the time).