Monday, 5 August 2013

The Chicago Diaries - Day 1

Flying is the best way to travel. I went through 6 time zones and spent 9 hours in the air, and have landed in the United States of America, a land where everyone has the Stars and Stripes outside their house in case confused foreigners forget exactly where they are. I've been warmly welcomed by Mary's parents and her pets (most of her pets, one took a single look at me and shot off as if it had been scalded). I was also warmly welcomed by the immigration agent, the waiter at dinner last night, and the cashier in the ridiculously oversized supermarket that Mary calls a "grocery store". A grocery store in the UK is a place you can walk around in twenty minutes.

But from the beginning. I arrived in excellent time, because my good father was kind enough to drive me to the airport, and sat and read for a couple of hours. I also saw this fantastic vehicle,
but unfortunately my flight was not in the TARDIS. I was actually on an enormous plane, a double-decker, and I managed to blag myself an aisle seat. As soon as I boarded, I set my watch to Chicago time - I'd read that living the "target" schedule would ease jetlag, but realised with sinking horror that this meant it was only 5am in Chicago and I wouldn't be able to eat for another three hours!

Longest three hours of my life. But the food came, and it was excellent. +British Airways is consistently the best airline, and this time was no disappointment. The food was great and the in-flight entertainment was varied and excellent. I saw the new Danny Boyle film Trance, which was absolutely weird from beginning to end, and G.I. Joe: Retaliation, which was dumb and explodey and dragged like a mobster with his kneecaps shot out. Not recommended.

So I arrived in Boston, and was faced with the full force of the American propaganda machine. Stars and Stripes everywhere, on every surface that could support a bit of cloth, and video screens that reminded us poor immigrants how amazing life in the US of A could be. In addition, they used American actors to portray people of all nationalities in a helpful video about what to do when going through customs. You have to declare everything you're leaving here, and also let them take all of your fingerprints and a photograph.

I managed to break the fingerprint machine the first time round. For me, this merely provides evidence that I am, in fact, a sleeper agent and have had my fingerprints removed. My theory was unfortunately proved wrong when the machine at the next window worked perfectly well.

I recuperated my luggage and re-checked it for my next flight, then bought a coffee with dollars. Very weird, and I now have three shiny quarters. I am not sure what to do with them. Vague childhood memories tell me I should buy gumballs. Naturally it's all stamped with the words "In god we trust" which makes me itch, but when in Rome don't point out the crazy Romans.

It was then just a short hop to Chicago, where I got body checked by my girlfriend Mary. The baggage took forever to come, and then finally we went back to hers. She has a gorgeous house (see below)


and gave me the full tour, basement included. Finally, her parents took us out to T.G.I Fridays, where we had the most gloriously stereotypically upbeat and cheerful waiter in the history of creation. Being, as I am, from Europe, I was a little suspicious of his attitude to begin with, but it turns out he really is that cheerful.

O brave new world, that has such people in't!

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Spotty postings

My posting has been exceedingly spotty recently, and I need to apologise for that. The fact is that current temperatures mean that at the end of the day the last thing I wish to do is do the keyboard fandango when the damn thing runs at body temperature.

Still; it's a little cooler today after a storm last night, and so I'm mustering thoughts to fire at you from my last days in this glorious country.

First thought is I will never get used to this heat. To give you an indication: the cream sheets I fitted to my bed on Monday now have a sharp line between the old cream colour and the new, bleached-like-a-bone-in-the-desert white colour they've achieved. The sun did this. The thing is like a billion miles away*. Nothing that powerful should be allowed near children.

My room looks emptier and sadder every day. Much like your skull, it is usually so covered in expressions and emotions that it is very easy to forget that if you take it all away you just have a very generic looking frame. It's like that, sort of. In the same way that it's hard to tell to whom a skull belonged, unless you do that sort of thing for a living, I don't think anyone would know what sort of person lived here if they looked now. And that's sort of sad.

Yesterday, in a segment I'm calling "New ways to disgust myself" I ate an entire roast chicken for dinner with potatoes. In my defense, I had no lunch, and it was really good chicken. You have never seen such a mess, nor seen such a sad, round man in all your life. I can guarantee it.

The reason I had no lunch was because I am absolutely powering through work. It's almost done. I can taste the finish line. It tastes like sweat and rubber, and victory. But the sweat and the rubber were the significant tastes. All the same, at this rate I should actually finish everything. Hooray! Now I just need to pack.

Aïe carumba.

Two more days, a three day weekend to pack and clean everything, two days of frantic finishing up and then home. So excited, so sad. Here comes the end.

*Ninety-three million if you wish to be more precise.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Cricket, allergies, mindless panic

I have 7 days left of my #thirdyearabroad.

This is a deeply upsetting fact for two reasons:

  1. I don't want to leave. I like it here, despite this ridiculous, furnace-like heat.
  2. I have way, waaaaaay too much work to do.
Reason two is the reason I've not been blogging much. Well, reason two and a whole new onset of allergies. My immune system has taken to treating pollen as the opening of hostilities by some unseen enemy and thus flushes my entire nasal cavity every two minutes, with six to seven enormous sneezes as an accompaniment. To round it off, sleeping is for people who are not under savage attack from pollen and being able to see is reserved for those not subject to ambush by flora.

My kinder colleagues tell me I look tired. I don't have any unkind colleagues, which is just as well because I'd go totally bananas if someone actually pointed out what an utterly unpleasant mess I must look right now.

The allergies were particularly bad last night because I played cricket with some friends from work; all interns, all Indian, and all light years better at cricket than me. I was glad England were playing well against Australia because in this little corner of the world I was letting the side down a lot. Still, it was a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon, if a little (a lot) roastingly hot. It is testament to my lack of sleep and wooly-headedness that for four hours today I couldn't work out why my right arm and side were hurting. Not a proud moment for me.

The work, as I said, is endless. Why people wait until just before they go on holiday to give work to the new guy is beyond me; I suppose they see me as the least important thing on a list but it does make it a touch difficult to get clarification on things I need...well, clarified. Still, I shall muddle through to the best of my prodigious abilities.

My final design for the invitations has been approved, and I got to spend several minutes groping paper. Oh, 350gsm gloss. Mm, 300gsm matt. Oh, Bristol, let me touch you with my fingertips. I used to work in a print shop, and some things never go away. And although it sounds odd, handling paper, looking at the different colours of white, comparing the gloss to the matt and imagining how your image would look...it's amazing fun. Never let me design your wedding invitations. You will lose hours of your life to talk about paper.

With that done it's on to the movies, two translations, and a couple of rearrangements. Six days, five projects. No problem.

Now I think about it...I might go in a little early tomorrow.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

The end is near

This morning, instead of sleeping my normal 7 hours and waking up bright as a button and twice as useful, I went for a walk. I went for a walk at half past one along the banks of the Seine because
  1. It was cooler outside than in (and although I'm used to this, I'm not used to the warmth inside being unpleasant and the cold outside being welcome).
  2. My friend Adeline, who's been mentioned here a couple of times, left today, and that was literally the only chance I had to have a longish chat with her.
We rounded off our meander at around half past three in the morning. That's far too late for me, and yet I woke up feeling rather chipper, which was good because my day was already looking long. It got longer on my way to work; my account manager at the bank, with whom I had an appointment booked for five, called to push it back to half past five. Sigh.

Still, there was plenty of work to get on with in the meantime. Remember my to do list? It's shrinking steadily down. Soon it'll be empty, much like the building in which I'm working. I'm a little worried that at the rate people are melting away I'm not going to have anything to do for my last week.

For the moment I'm working away though, and I've just about finished with the invite. I'm hoping it gets printed before I leave; I want to see a beautiful, physical copy of my work right in my hand. It's not as art-deco as I would have liked, but it's still a design I came up with and put together myself, teaching myself some basic GIMP skills along the way.

The latest assignment is a return to Excel, and I've got to make some teams that are well balanced in terms of girls and boys, foreign and domestic students, and a representative cross-section of programs.

Spreadsheets ahoy!

(Oh. And I'm going to be a Fresher's volunteer in September again! I may even get to drive a minibus. Toot toot!)

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

A stressful day that got better and somehow more stressful

If you don't want to read the entirety of this post, then this image will sum it up nicely.


If you don't get it, I'm afraid you're just going to have to read.

Alright, so yesterday and Friday several of my colleagues mentioned that the annual intern report was coming up, and had I prepared anything.

My reaction: whut?

"Oh wow," they said, "you didn't know? Every year the intern has to prepare an hour-long report and present it to the senior staff."

Oh hey, that sounds amazing fun, like running across coals or jumping out of an aeroplane - the kind of thing I'd love to do with more than two days warning. So the entirety, and I do mean the entirety, of my day has been spent in a frantic, sweaty panic. I read and reread my report speech. I argued everything three different ways, trying to find any criticisms that could be levelled at me and working out how to counter them. I put together a presentation. I sweated through two shirts, and that's a pain because I do not have a lot of shirts right now.

So I turned up at the appointed hour and place and knocked on the door. I heard the voice of the motherfucking Dean of the School on the other side. My knees, which were already doing an excellent approximation of castanets, switched up a gear and knocked out a tempo that might easily be labelled prestissimo, if one were writing a symphony for the body.

I digress. I was nervous. That's the point.

I entered.

"SURPRISE!"

My coworkers had thrown me a surprise party. I had sweated through two shirts and it turns out there is no intern report. I was set up. They got me, and they got me good. To apologise they'd bought cake, fruit, and gifts.

The gifts were two-fold. First some physical things: a guidebook to Chicago, in French; a gorgeous dark blue tie; and a flash drive and a keyring, both inscribed with my place of work.

They also filled a card and two sides of A4 with kind words. Amazing. I can read them. Even more amazing-er.

I still had to make a speech, mind you. I'm also still shaking from that. 

So that was my day. A stressful day that improved but got more stressful at the same time, and a very pleasing way to say goodbye to all the friends I've made on the staff.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Bastille Day!



Alright, so I am running at about 10% of my normal today because I had the worst night's sleep of my life. Every time I drifted off my body decided to swallow a whole load of thick nasal mucus and so I awoke, choking and hacking, drowning in it. This is due to the fact that hilariously my body sees pollen as an invading virus on a par with HIV/AIDS, and not as cute little flower-sperms.

Okay, try not to think too hard about that image.

In any case, today is the day after Bastille Day - and what an evening it was. The roads were choked with people and the people were full of booze, thanks to police roadblocks checking for alcohol. None was allowed onto the Champs de Mars (unless you'd arrived before the roadblocks, in which case tant mieux) and so people emptied their bottles. Into their stomachs.

As a result there was an air of street party in Paris, though in the cafés and bars there was more than an ounce of frustration as waiters (who, this being Paris, were surly at the best of times) pointing irritably to signs reading "For paying customers only" upon being asked the same question for the nth time. The Champs de Mars itself was as packed as it could be and some enterprising souls, seeing that nobody was using big stretches of space between the green spaces, enterprisingly set themselves up there.

The reason nobody was using them was because they were thoroughfares, you inconsiderate dicks.

However, let's breeze past these inconsiderate individuals and consider the wider scene. People jostling for space, pardoning and excusez-moi-ing and being polite, and sharing food and drink and really getting along rather well. Utterly charming.

The evening began with a concert. I love classical music, I do, but I do wish people would stop ruining it with their voices. There is something so beautiful about instruments and something so human and...unpleasant about voices. Leave the instruments to speak. Actually, mentioning instruments, I went to see an absolutely fantastic jazz band. The drummer was absolutely stereotypical: long, curled hair, manic and infinite energy - he had the lot. The guitarist, too, had the sneer that Jagger et al perfected in ages past; a kind of twisted lip movement that added to the heat some members of the audience were feeling.

And the trumpeter/trombonist/vocalist was born from the same mould as the great Miles Davis himself. In fact, I'm listening to him as I type, and you should be listening to him as you read. There's a button at the top, and buttons are made for pressing. Go back and press it if you didn't press it.

The jazz was in a the Parc Floral de Bois, right at the edges of Paris zone 2. It's glorious, and nearby is the fantastic Chateau de Vincennes. I intend to go back sometime when I'm not wearing quite so many clothes (for the love of all that is good, why did I not pack a pair of shorts? Sometimes pessimism carries its own penalties). In any case, my friends - those who are left, we are all now departing in dribs and drabs, in the middle of the night to catch planes to fling us far away - had camped out on the Champs de Mars and now had prime seats for the night's festivities. I made my way there, fighting crowds, heat, and hordes of tourists standing in the middle of thoroughfares stretching maps out.

If I were to stand on the Champs Elysées with my arms outstretched, obnoxiously ignoring all offers of help and simultaneously exclaiming how lost I was then someone would, and with good reason, smack me in the nose with a hammer (or something equally solid) for being an arse of the first water. But no. These tourist types do it wearing berets that say "I Love Paris" and get nothing worse than a shoulder bump. Wonders will never cease.

I made it on to the Champ de Mars, which was obviously once used for drilling and training soldiers for campaigns in the country (or, as we say here, campaigne). One assumes these useful drills included the setting up of tents, or making camp, and of course where a camp goes camp followers come too - cooks, bookies, and ladies whose affections can be negotiated at an hourly rate. These women would, according to history, wear heavy make-up and garish dresses to advertise their trade, and before long this get-up was camp. Now whenever a bunch of chaps get together, it's not long before they're dressing as ladies (don't ask me why, but it's almost universally true - perhaps a sort of reverse psychology; I'm so manly I can dress as a woman!) and so a fellow who wore these lady's outfits and make-up might be called camp too.

The reason I've suddenly gone off on a circuitous etymological route like that (oh yes, there's a point!) will become clear momentarily. In any case, my good friends had saved me a spot and I, alone, hot, sweaty, dusty and suffering from (as stated above) the worst case of hay fever since records began* could not find them. Not a single one. And I trudged wearily about the whole field, looking like a lost soldier, for several hours, before giving up and collapsing into the dust. My nose ran. My feet smelled. I felt distinctly upside down.**

I listened with half an ear to the concert before making my way towards the river at about half past ten. I arrived in place just in time; an "Ooooh!" went up as the Eiffel Tower went dark and, across the river, a red glow illuminated the banks.

What followed can really only be described with images, so there are plenty below, but to give you a little mental sound -

The sky was full of light and sound. The big fireworks - the really big ones - exploded with a bang that made your internal organs leap with fright. After each bang there was a silence; a sort of anti-noise as your ears struggled to normalise. Windows shivered in their panes; even the Iron Lady seemed to sway in the face of the celestial aggression.

Mingled with the thunder were gentler sounds; the crackle of static as you pull clothes from a dryer but magnified and high above, as if Zeus himself were trying to tug Olympian togas from a heavenly machine. Others sizzled like water poured from height into a hot pan, and everywhere a heavy smoke filled the air and nostrils. During a brief pause, I chanced to look back at the Tower and noticed that it looked a bit more colourful than normal.

Anti-gay reaction was immediate and venomous. Pro-gay reception was immediate and joyous. Government reaction was "This is about Nelson Mandela," at which point both groups fell silent because come on, that's definitely a rainbow flag there.
 
Fuck yea equality
See? From Champ de Mars to camp to gay to the Eiffel Tower which is on (drumroll please)...the Champ de Mars!

Luckily, before gang warfare (Sharks and Jets style) could break out, there were more explosions and the stars came out again. The best thing about a three colour flag with simple stripes is that you can quite easily pack it into a firework and explode it. 

Again...

And again...

And again...

And again...

and...well, you get the idea.
The journey home was uneventful, save for me feeling more and more bunged up with every metre we travelled. I finally staggered home and hit the hay at once, and it's from there that we get back to the start of this sorry tale - my body doing its best to commit seppuku with, admittedly, a slightly blunter instrument than is traditionally used. 

So that was my Bastille day weekend. If you want to see more photos, click here. If you want to read something I wrote for the lovely people at +Third Year Abroad, click here

*Citation needed
*Joke stolen from my uncle

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Happy 14th July!

Yes, ten days after our cousins across the river celebrate the day they finally broke free of our tyranny and could get on with the serious business of making really big pizzas and having the children that would one day result in Neil Patrick Harris (those are the only things I know of that America has thus far achieved) here in France it is Bastille Day.

Bastille Day celebrates the French revolution, when the hated symbol of the wealthy political class, the Bastille, was stormed and its many unfairly imprisoned inmates freed. Right?

Wrong, mon ami(e).

7 people were in the Bastille that day; four forgers, two lunatics, and only one deviant. There had been two, but the Marquis de Sade, the man for whom sadism is named (and therefore the indirect cause of the Fifty Shades... trilogy) had been transferred out ten days prior.

Still, it was a hated symbol of tyranny, and so this evening and tomorrow there is all the pomp and ceremony that is to be expected on such an occasion. Pooi Yee, the tiny driving force behind many of the social events that occupy me, has told us that we are all leaving tomorrow at 7am to get good seats for the all-day-parade.

Yeah, I know. I work all week and this is how I enjoy my weekend.

In any case, this evening was great - there was a fireworks display in the park just down the road, and that meant we all tramped along for much ooh-ing and aah-ing as things went bang and flash an awful lot.

I'll write more on that tomorrow, and may even include some photos, but for now my reveille is in t-minus 5 hours so I'm going to hit the hay.

Happy Bastille Day! Remember that revolutions are so named because they revolve; give it a few years and it'll all look the same.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Welcome to Stress City. Population: me

That's not really fair. Myself, H, and M are all up to our eyeballs in work, and poor H is also up to her eyeballs in tissues too - she seems to have picked up an awful cold. The rest of my colleagues, however, have no more classes to teach and don't want to do any work - so they're bothering me. Normally this would be amazing, but right now, my to-do list looks like this:



And quite frankly I do not have time for tomfoolery.

Still, I got a lot of work done, I'm forcibly animating the film for the Alumni by getting rid of most of the video and inserting plenty of images. A rough draft is finally ready and I should get feedback on that before long if I'm very lucky, which is exciting. Once everything's correct, I get to stamp the logo on the whole film, a process that will put my name on a thing produced for an international graduate school. Forever.

Gulp.

In addition to that, I've also dedicated a lot of time to an invite to the annual dinner. Before you see this, note that I'm nowhere near a graphics expert. I am using +GIMP and struggling like an elephant in treacle. But after encouragement from my colleague, I had a crack at it, going for a (very) basic art-deco style, using a font called Glover, which you can download here. It looks very Roaring Twenties and it's free.

Can I point out at this point that I'm continually stunned by the output of actual artists working for free? It's mad.

This font is the awesomest.

Glove by ~matiasromero on deviantART
 So anyhow, this is what I'm using. As you can see, it's got a really nice style, and I'm hoping it looks good on the background which is essentially monochrome. Bear in mind that this is a draft and, in addition, probably pants. It's the front of a two-sided invite, and the back will have a very similar style, though I'm working on a couple of different ideas, while keeping with the monochrome theme.

This afternoon I stayed an extra hour to finish off the translation of the source code (see above) for the website. I've got to input it tomorrow and find out if it works. My gut says yes.

Speaking of guts - mine has been getting just a little too big and, since in Chicago I'll be in shorts and pools a lot, I've decided I need to trim just a little off. I don't know how much it's going to help, but I've started the +7 Minute Workout twice a day.

It is not a good sign that I did it for the first time last night and less than 8 minutes later I looked redder than I have ever been and had managed to work up a very impressive sweat.

"Do you want to go again?" it asked, cheerfully.

I slipped on a patch of sweat and collapsed. That'll be a no, thanks. With any luck by the end of the week I won't be quite so ready to die afterwards, and by the end of the month I might even be able to do the whole routine twice.

Yea, okay. I'm not holding my breath either.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Tearful

Oh man. Spent another three hours on the video this morning. It's becoming THE VIDEO, this torturous little thing stuck in the corner and sucking my life. It is my own version of The Machine.

You don't know what The Machine is? Sit yourself down and watch The Princess Bride at once.

In any case, having had my soul drained out of my eyeballs for three hours solid I decided to make a break for it and fled towards the shops for a baguette, some ham, and a relaxing hour in the park lazily remembering the work I wasn't doing. I was nearly there when I got a call from an unknown number. Never have I been so close to simply pushing a call straight to voicemail. I think this is the first time - which says nothing good about my level of forever alone - that I've looked at someone calling me and wondered if I could be bothered to reply.

I did. I'm so glad I did; my solo hour of pensive reflection became a bubbling spring of conversation as my colleague Meyling joined me. She's trilingual, I've mentioned her before, and we had a lot of fun just sitting back and relaxing. Making a sandwich by tearing open a baguette, stuffing cheese and meat inside and then stuffing that bad boy straight down one's gullet is the pinnacle of civilisation. You can keep your tuxedos and champagne; give me orange juice, fresh bread, good company and shade from this cursèd sun and I am content.

It couldn't last forever; for a start it was only lunchtime and we had plenty of work to do. There were translations to do, of which I managed five pages in an afternoon, as well as a Powerpoint presentation to rearrange, and team lists to make up. Trying to get a good mix is tricky, but I'm sure there's an algorithm I could apply to make it work. I just have to work it out.

Finally, at 18h Hélène and I spoke to the stagiaire for next year. She sounded like she'd gone a long way beyond nervous as we quizzed her about her plans, how she'd be getting here, what her thoughts were, if she was looking forward it ("Uhh...oui..." was the squeaked response) and other such things. I'm really glad we got in contact with her before; I flew in pretty much blind and had no idea how to get to the residence from the station, which was where I ended up. That journey is still the worst I've suffered here.

I don't want to can't wait to not go. Heartbroken, especially after the new stagiaire's voice. She's so Scottish, and those tones have awakened a longing for 18-hour long nights and blistering cold and a face full of snow. Take me home and keep me here, please.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

And a few more of your least favorite things

My girlfriend's best friend turned me onto a group called +Vitamin String Quartet, who do stringed covers of bands. They are just incredible, so click play below and enjoy this band as you read on.






Today I finished the first cut of the Alumni video, which is turning out to be an absolute headache because the star is uncontactable for the foreseeable future and, regretfully, it's seeming like we might need an extra take. Still, the first cut is certainly watchable, and with a few cuts and some movie magic (I immediately regret writing that phrase) I'm sure I can make this project awesome. All the same, his voice was getting a trifle annoying, so while the film exported I started work on some statistical analysis.

In this particular project I'm looking at how many students said they'd take part in extra-curricular activities, how many actually turned up, and how many of those filled out the evaluation forms at the end. The numbers decrease exponentially.

(Side note, evaluation forms that are not anonymous are, to me, little better than useless. Nobody's going to tell their instructor they're rubbish and put their name to it?)

Still, it's a good opportunity to get grubby in Excel, and some string covers of rock bands (a combination of my two favorite things; their cover of +Panic! At The Disco is especially excellent) helped me power through and create some lovely shiny graphs. A short break from that brought me back to my Alumni colleague, with whom I'm working on some designs for our annual dinner - I'm feeling Gatsby Le Magnifique with an art-deco, monochromatic, angular style (say, do I know any event planners/graphic designers?) and then lunch with five women speaking in rapid French. I understood at least 3/4, which I'm counting as a massive win, because the quarter I didn't understand seemed to be a joke based around me. Not in an unpleasant way, but more in a "isn't-the-foreign-boy-cute-and-clueless" kind of way.

After lunch I got on with a couple of translations and was visited by a few colleagues, who seemed shocked that I had DVDs. I'm leaving in 22 days, and they discover this now.

I'm leaving in 22 days.

That's a really upsetting thought.

I don't want to go. I've got crazy stuff lined up; a holiday in Chicago with my girlfriend, a (paid!) fortnight of work with PRCA, and the chance to write a thesis in French. I'm going to see Derren Brown, and if I'm lucky he'll sign a couple of books that I had to summon demons to acquire. And yet -

and yet, I'm speaking to my replacement, and she's so excited and nervous and I remember being there. And I want to be there again. I want to taste that nervousness, and curse every tiny mistake, and meet again these enormous, wonderful characters that I've known while I've been here.

Nostalgia is cruel and kind in equal measure.

Still, there's nothing else to be done. Life must go on. I've got to take the next step, and fight the feeling that the struggle is Sisyphean.

Also, rediscovering +Spotify is amazing. 

Monday, 8 July 2013

Qu'est ce qui est jaune et attends?

Me, according to a 9-year old who's far smarter than she should be. Jaune-attends is close enough in pronunciation to my real name that I'm unsettled by how long it stumped me. It seems so obvious now, of course.

So I'm sneaking back to the blog. Sorry for the long hiatus. There are a couple of reasons for this, but they're both immensely childish and I'm not willing to dwell on them. Onwards.

My life has been absolutely filled with work recently; two video projects, colleagues with a whole host of things to do that are more important than my repeated requests for information (that sounds bitter, but it's not really - I'm aware that my emails get put into a folder marked "Deal with later" and that "later" means "never" because I am literally the most junior person in the entire organisation.) and a whole host of things to do before the entire company leaves for their summer holidays. I'm not kidding, it's highly likely that come the end of the month I shall be drifting, wraith-like, through the halls that once were thronged with students. My boss, my colleague, and their respective bosses are all leaving, and I'm genuinely a little concerned I shall be left swinging in the wind. We can but wait and see what is revealed.

Plans for the future are coalescing like a sponge that's been put through a blender. I've got a visit lined up to an actual nuclear research facility, which is making my inner geek (who bears a striking resemblance to my outer geek) leap up and down with glee. I've also organised a visit to a place in Chicago that I know Mary's going to love, and I know I'm going to love, and that I will not permit myself to take money into because it will all be spent. And I need to keep that money for the moment.

Speaking of such things, the flat-hunt is creeping forward. Suitable properties with suitable moving in dates are appearing, so I need to nail the next one I see and sort out contracts while I'm here. I'm hoping that's not going to be an issue, but again, we shall have to see. I'm also a few steps closer to bar work at home, if I need it, and I think I'll do a little - the forced socialising is good for me. Plus, being tipped for being handsome/charming/awesome/all of the above is an ego-boost, which is clearly what I need.

(Yes, the mere fact that I've stated it clearly demonstrates how desperately I crave attention. It's a thing and I'm working on it, but for god's sake I blog, and if that didn't tell you I'm desperate for people to look at me you're more blinkered than I am.)

I've got an interview for some copy-writing and photography with a company that deals in student housing, so I'm really excited for that - 9.45 CET and I'll keep you updated on progress there. It's minimum wage but it's writing and photography, and quite frankly I can do that in my sleep. Scratch that, I can excel at that in my sleep. So next year should be fun.

Oh, and I get to start writing a dissertation in September. I am so totally prepared for that!!

Yea, that's going to go as expected. As always I shall keep you informed.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Monday monday

What a weekend. I can't believe you're still here. I can't believe I'm still here. Monday was, by contrast, a relaxing and tranquil day. I had breakfast, I worked hard on translations and my colleague and I finished our crossword. It's been a massive team effort and my thanks go to everyone who helped, including Adeline, Susana, Ruben, Stefano, Sourour, Prakesh, Kathy and Elena. You all have my eternal thanks.

Despite feeling fatigued all day I made it through to the end where I was cornered by Adeline, whose friend needed help with an application letter in English. Since she'd so recently done me a favour, and she's a good friend, I stuck around for a half-hour and helped polish that off. She's going to keep me in the loop; I like hearing how these little projects I help with turn out.

After that I went to my last lesson with my normal Monday night student! I took cake - one must have cake for endings - and we drank a bottle of wine and essentially reminisced about the months we've spent as teacher and student. She's improved so much that I'd almost started to feel bad for taking her money, as the lessons have really just become 2 hours of great conversation and excellent wine. You shouldn't be paid for a life that good, and yet I was. I've said it literally hundreds of times before but teaching English on your +Third Year Abroad is the best thing you can do.

It was over all too soon and I said goodbye, making her promise that she would keep in touch. Like I said; I like hearing how these little projects I help with turn out. She has made such incredible progress - she's reading Hemingway now. Hemingway. And then she critiques it! Amazing.

I was soon home, having bypassed that kebab-house of temptation, and Adeline came to see me once more to return a dictionary and a book, and to give me a couple of beers. I am surrounded by excellent friends, and leaving them will be a wrench.

Still. The road goes ever on and on, and I must follow if I can.

Monday, 24 June 2013

What a weekend!

Good lord.

Yea, three days of blog to catch up on. Let's not hang about.

Friday

La fête de la Musique, or The Million Gigs. Million is no understatement; anyone who could hold a guitar the right way up two times out of three was strumming as if their very lives depended on it. I made my way into Paris after my usual Friday lesson, feeling quite horrifically ill. This was a theme that, like many of the songs I heard, would start softly and develop into something quite different over three movements. While out, I got a great message - a friend of mine, a fantastic friend, is travelling all across the world and she was in Paris that very night. Indeed, she - +Katy Campbell - is here until later this week, and she lives such a glamourous lifestyle that it's impossible not to adore her. I also got to meet her cousin and her cousin's best friend, both of whom are on their way to Madrid where they're nominated for an international film award against Sir Ben Kingsley.

Yeah. That Sir Ben Kingsley. (Credit: +David Shankbone/Wiki commons)

Like I said - glamorous lifestyle. Their names are Brandon Miradi and Bryan Becker, for the film Revolve. I've not seen it, but meeting these guys was the best part of my weekend - funny, charming, utterly disarming. In fact, they were so much fun that I figured I'd see them again. More on that later.

Friday itself was a mix of music; strolling through the city meant I got little auditory tidbits, a little rock and roll here, a little jazz there; here a drum circle, here a group of drunken stoners banging empty pots (though as the night wore on the line between the two became more than a little blurred). At half past one, thoroughly drunk - it was the Negroni at the Brooklyn Bar that finished me off - I managed to lose Katy, Brandon and Bryan and decided to make my way home. I thought this would be easy. I thought the RER would run all night.

Oh boy, was I wrong.

It wasn't as bad as it could have been; the location in which I'd lost my friends was close to a station that the 14, which was one of the only lines still running, serves. The 14 goes to St Lazare, whence my night bus departed. That was the longest, drunkest, most uncomfortable journey of my life. There is nothing so horrible as being drunk enough to want to get off a bus, but sober enough to know that if you do you'll never get home. It's easier to simply be drunk or sober. In the middle is No Man's Land.

In amy case, that brings us to a 4.30am weaving walk back to the flat and a 5am collapse into bed, still full clothed. A few short hours my phone, which had gone from 100% to 1% in 6 hours and then lasted another 5 hours at 1%, went off to remind me that it was a glorious new day and I should get up.

I had to get up, because my alarm requires you to calculate some basic mathematics (this morning's 4-part questionnaire featured 15 x 5 + 12) before it turns off. Not only does it wake you up, but it wakes you up and really annoys you. To join in my pain/fun, you can get the app here (android only). Waking up meant that is must have been

Saturday

The second movement of my illness. The Dark Knight of my nose and throat. The crescendo which culminated in deafness and no voice, just the thing when one is wandering around and performing magic tricks for students and parents of students who paid triple-digit sums to be there. Ever seen a magician ask you to take a card and then watched in horror as he apparently emptied the entire contents of his brain into a handkerchief? And then didn't even produce a rabbit from the sodden rag? It's not nice, I imagine, and from the looks I got I believe I am correct in that assumption. Nonetheless, a couple of little pieces I've been working on went exceptionally well, and the effect will be multiplied when I can

  1. Speak the same language as my audience with fluidity, grace, and less snot
  2. Hear my audience
  3. Take a breath without choking like a hanged man.
So that's enormously exciting. It was also the first outing for a new deck, which I can't show you just yet, but I assure you they're exceptionally nicely done. Alright, since I'm a show-off (I'm an amateur magician; as I am sure +Derren Brown has said, magicians are simply children who never learned to stop saying "look at me!") the four horsemen are below. In classic cards, they were supposed to represent four great rulers - Caesar, Alexander, Charles and David. 

I don't see it, personally.

The night was incredible. The cruise was unbelievable, and Paris by night and by river is the most romantic thing I've experienced. And I experienced it with a colleague who's been married for several years and has a child; I can't help but imagine what it would have been like with Mary. Still, there'll be other times. In any case, here's a picture of that tower that's always hanging about in the background of Paris. Apologies for quality.
Gaudy, awful, brilliant thing.

Statue of Liberty. Made way less sense after a drink.
There were stars above and stars below that night as this year's BDE turned out to congratulate last year's graduates and, as the clock turned towards 11, a great gaggle of this year's students waited at the quay for our return - not for us to get off, but to get on, as the party would continue until 4.30am. I confess I flaked out at a measly 2.30, but this time the bus ride was not quite so bad - only fatigue assaulted me this time, in place of the previous night's nausea.

The fatigue was because France apparently does not stock non-drowsy anti-allergy medication, and so I'd held off on taking a tablet until the last moment in case they were as strong as the pharmacist told me they were. I took one before I got on the bus and was woken up as we pulled alongside the residence, so the answer to that unspoken question is apparently yes. I've got them on my desk and I'm eying them with great suspicion; perhaps it is some lingering pride but something smaller than my little finger's nail should not have the capacity to put me out like it did, because put me out it did. I slept through until 2pm on

Sunday

when I was supposed to be meeting Katy in Paris, at ohshitonefortyfiveshitshitSHIT. I text her conveying my sincere and everlasting apologies and received in response a message so chilled I suspected I was communicating with a snowman. I really cannot express how much that was appreciated; anyone who knows me knows I hate being late for anything. I still hated myself, but at least she didn't hate me too. We met up at Châtelet-les-Halls and found a little restaurant to tuck into some grub and while away the hours speaking about nothing of great importance. I mostly listened, a consequence of an enormous and delicious burger and the fact that Katy's stories are wonderful. She's the one who got me onto the student newspaper at Aberdeen and into PR later still. She is a Big Deal.

Later that day we met up with Bryan, whom I helped chat up a French girl - I am on purely wingman duties for the foreseeable future - and had a very slow, very enjoyable drink and chat. Bryan is amusing, intelligent, and an actor. It doesn't hurt much that he has cheekbones you can shave with, eyes you can drown in, five o'clock shadow you could use to sand a door. He is the very pinnacle of good looks and an actor. By rights I should despise him immediately and mock him incessantly. Instead, he's such a nice guy that I couldn't help but get along with him. Brandon, Katy's cousin, was just as nice; a quick wit and a passionate foodie it was he who had found the restaurant we dined in later that night. It's called Le Verre Volé and it was pretty good. Nowhere near as good as I'd hoped, I confess, but I had high expectations. Any other night it would have got a solid recommendation, but this time - worth visiting, but not worth going out of your way for.

The bill was high, but not too much, and before long we were out into the fresh air again. I said quick goodbyes and dashed to the train station, making the last train for home by thirty seconds. I was home and in bed by 3. The fact that I counted that an early night can not be a good sign.

Three days is enough in one go, I think. Any more and you will start to chew off your own arms. Drop by tomorrow for more of my +Third Year Abroad.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

The grapes of sickness

Do you know what your uvula is? In latin it means little grape, uva being grape and -la being a diminutive. It's actually the little dangly bit that hangs from your palate; if you open your mouth up wide you'll see the little thing dangling far, far away.

Welp, mine is currently a grape. And not the little grape with the sudden sweet flavour, the huge grape that you look at and have to show people. (Incidentally, we humans seem to do that a lot if we find something that's much smaller or bigger than it is normally. "Look at this tiny little bottle of whiskey! Look at this huge chip!  This human is tiny, it's so cute! Bizarre.)

As I was saying - I seem to have an infected uvula and it's causing me some mild irritation. Being aware of the fact that I've got a dangly bit of flesh at the back of my throat is really quite a distraction, and I've been doing tongue gymnastics to try to touch it. I failed, but I question why I was doing it in the first place.

Today was slow; the translation drags on and I press-ganged a couple more students into translating things for me. Arabic and Chinese are now live, hoorah! I also played a quick game of chess, which ended with a barefaced lie from me (and they say chess is not a performance sport) and a sneaky mate on c7. Very pleasing. Aside from that, we had the penultimate French class of the year where I managed to insert and explain the words "meme" and "petrichor" which was also quite cool.

I got my T.F.I score back too, and it was abysmal. I'm going to blame it on the fact I was intolerably ill, though I also suspect I could have spent the periods of wakefulness during that day revising instead of going fetal. Still, it is what it is.

That's been my day; nothing overly exciting. Tomorrow you may well not get a blog as it's the music festival with literally hundreds of concerts all over Paris. I'm going for jazz and rock, and maybe some classical. The RER runs all night but I have to be back in Paris for 4 to set-up the graduation dinner, so if I'm lucky I'll get a minute to post on Saturday. If not, I'll be gone until Sunday.

Oh, and I ordered something from the States - does anyone have any experience of this? Would love to hear from you.

That's all for now. Thanks for reading as always.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Thunder and lightning/Very very frightening

Alright, so I'm writing this while sipping something alcoholic and iced because it has been boiling hot today. There has been torrential rain, non-stop thunder and lightning, but somehow it's remained utterly, swelteringly hot. My fingertips are sweating as I write this. My laptop is threatening to melt into a little puddle of metal. It's very hot, is what I'm saying.

So: today was more translation and the return of my morning colleague, who came back to 202 emails - I don't think I've even received 202 emails at work - which proved to be very exciting as she brought back sweet things. That tuxedo dream is disappearing faster than a far-right party leader in Scotland. Otherwise my day progressed as usual; my translation is slowly shifting and students are bringing back tests they borrowed last year. I've also converted my colleague to cloud computing, and we've shifted all our shared work to +Google Drive so we can edit together in real time. It's utterly brilliant to see her getting excited about collaborative work.

Yea, that's nerdy, but nerds run the world now. We have balloons that deliver internet. Welcome to the future people, where there will be a wireless signal everywhere you look and laptops will be wafer-thin. And just future, it's going to be amazing. Make sure you're there.

That was a tangent. My day continued with even more translations and work on the polyglot crossword for next year's students. So far I have clues in Greek, Spanish, English and French but I want more, so I'm going to capture me some Russians, Arabic-speakers, Chinese-speakers and anyone else I can grab. I want all the languages.

(Also, if anyone over at +ThirdYearAbroad.com wants to share some of their knowledge, do give me a little bell. Contacts are all over the home page. Ta.)

Aside from that it's chili for dinner and a stroll in the glorious petrichoric outdoors. Petrichoric from petros, stone (same root as Peter, Pierre, and petrify) and ichor, the blood of the gods. And it means, of course, the smell after rain. Best smell ever. So I'm going to go enjoy it, and hopefully come back with washboard abs.

It could happen.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Getting into the USA step one - done!

Alright, so today started incredibly well because my girlfriend sent me her reaction video from season 3, episode 9 of Game of Thrones this morning. It's brilliant. Like absolutely fantastically brilliant, even if it confirmed that she likes animals more than she likes people. You might not think this is a good thing, but she's dating me, which means she likes me more than animals and most humans. She likes me more than Robb Stark's butt, and I mean look at that thing.


There are two exceedingly good tushes in this picture, and I don't know which I like more.
So that's a good thing.

In addition, I finally got round to confirming my visa, so:

First step complete. 
I can, according to this authorisation (I'm hanging on to that spelling as long as I can), still be turned away at the gates and so I invite you to comment or tweet with the hashtag #whatnottosayatcustoms. I'll start with a couple:
  • Can I skip this queue?
  • I have nothing to declare...save my genius.
  • These are not the droids you're looking for.
Alright, those weren't brilliant. I have faith in you though.

Aside from that, it's been an interesting day. I'm starting to wind things up and do some prep for my replacement, including pitching a social media presence to a line manager (seriously terrifying) and setting up a template for next year. It's got to the stage now where I'm convinced if I touch it anymore it'll break, but it's still a mess. Like how you tidy your room. Starts untidy, so you get sorting, tidying, cleaning. Two hours later you look at your room and it's even untidier than it started. This is not possible. You feel suddenly uncertain and, if you pile stuff up like I do, suddenly lost and alone in a paper labyrinth. 

But of course if you keep at it you decrease entropy and make the system more organised, defying thermodynamics and the Dewey decimal system because nobody's got time for that.

That got away from me a little, but the point is that in setting up a template I'm at the point where my formulae run to nine or ten arguments and I'm really, really nervous that I've missed a letter. This will only become apparent when data are entered, so I've started doing practice runs with members of the families of the Game of Thrones universe. So far Joffrey is failing everything.

One other thing happened to me today - I got told I'm helping out with a graduation dinner on a boat that's going to cruise down the Seine. On Saturday. That means that before Saturday I need to lose about 4 inches off my waist or wear a different suit.

Different suit then. Damn you, France, and your delectable cakes. 

Monday, 17 June 2013

Side tracked

So it's been a little quiet on the blog front. I may have gotten slightly distracted by +Game of Thrones. Not so much the televisual series, which has come out as worryingly a) crap at representing homosexual relationships and b) seriously crap at representing what's on the page and ending the third series with, well.


The season closed with a whole lot of brown-skinned slaves being liberated by the white-skinned girl; the same white-skinned girl who'd been sold into sexual slavery, "civilised" her savage (brown) husband/rapist and, well, how does this image not make you just a little bit uncomfortable?

This isn't a reflection on Martin, by the by. He takes about slaves from all the corners of his imagined world; pale-skinned Westerosi to Summer Islanders with skin like onyx. The point is that anyone could be sold into slavery; it's not a condition that only affects people with brown skin.

Except HBO think it is, and I'm really quite pissed off with that. It's a dick move, playing to the audience who gets a little leery about white slaves because apparently that's more upsetting than - augh. Too much irritation.

So I've been losing myself in the books, which are normally the size of bricks. However, thanks to my mother and technology, I can carry the whole collection around on my kindle and add less than the weight of a strawberry to it. That's not a totally random analogy, by the by - the entire weight of the internet has been reckoned to come to about the same as a strawberry. Science, yo.

I've also been losing myself in translation work and travels in Paris, where I've been investigating things for my parents to do when they visit in two weeks time. Excitement. It was Father's day yesterday, and if you forgot ring your dad up now and tell him he's awesome because if you're anything like me telling your dad you love him would be weird. So tell him he's awesome and hope he understands.

Dad, if you're reading this, you're awesome.

M'colleague and I have almost finished with one of our tasks for next year; all that's left is to think up clues. I'm tempted to think of cryptic clues as well, because I happen to think they're cool. I've also started filling in application forms for internships for next year because being keen seems to be working for me so far. It's a stretch, I know, but I want to be interning somewhere - anywhere - other than Britain next summer. It's going to require a lot of work, I know, but I've got a feeling it'll be worth it. Chicago, D.C, New York or Paris. Or Berlin, if I can scrape together the few particles of German festering in my memory banks and force a sound out of them.

The students are leaving in droves to far off and exotic places, like Aberdeen, and today I got an email through from the Registry at uni - the countdown has begun. Before long I shall need to start sorting out my electives and courses for next year, and while I'm pumped, I'm not looking forward to the return to essays and lectures. We shall see.

I am looking forward to a return to the icy cold. This damp heat (22ºC and raining today folks) has absolutely laid me out, and I don't know whether it's a cold or hay fever but the entire liquid contents of my body are doing their best to escape via my nose. I'm starting to wonder if I'm asleep and dreaming; in real life, I'm hanging upside down, which is why fluid going into my mouth is seeming to exit almost immediately via my nose.

I'm going to try a cup of tea with lemon and honey. If that doesn't work it'll have to be two corks.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

A song of ice and fire

This morning I was loath to get up, and the blame lies squarely with my inability to stop reading the books that form A Song of Ice and Fire. I'm profiting from reading them slower, exploring the links between the characters and the houses. I warn you that once you get into it, you find yourself making maps, drawing family trees, wondering, breaking, weeping. The game of thrones is a serious business, my friends, and the Martin does away with the literary convention where the named characters survive by killing at random. After a couple of books you realise that what drives the story onwards is not the need to tell a story but the characters themselves, living out the world in which they find themselves.

As I said. Enter at your peril. Enter the French version with even more care, because you will soon wear through your dictionary, though your mastery of the passé simple will be legendary.

Today, as I said, it was hard to get up, but get up I did. This morning was slow; my colleague is in a hurry to finish all her work before she leaves on Thursday, but that didn't leave her an awful lot of time to find something for me to do. Rather than take up space underfoot, I moved next door and worked a little on some writing, though nothing was going well. Sometimes there are days like that, and the best thing to do is try something else. So I relearnt A-level Economics, because that kind of thing cheers me up enormously, though it does have a very Keynesian bent. I like Keynes, I just wish we were taught others, if only so we can debate them better. Still, Keynes is better than nothing, and it was a very pleasant way of passing a couple of hours.

Yes, I enjoy Economics. Goodbye the brave few daily readers.

Lunch was spent in pleasant company and then came the afternoon, which was absolutely jam-packed with students needing practice tests (for the test they'll sit tomorrow) and the thesis, part four. I feel that needs more of an introduction.

The Thesis, Part IV - The Conclusion

Still a nightmare. And there's more to come and, o joy of joys, she's given my address to her colleague who also needs their thesis proofread. More geology. More reservoirs. More about faults, and coarse-grain and fine-grain stone, and more modeling and on and on ad infinitum.

Still, I did have French this evening, and that was enjoyable. We talked about love, and how it hits the French like a thunderbolt while the Czech have it at first sight; how a person who falls in (and out) of love often is a Spanish hummingbird but has a French artichoke heart. I can understand the logic of the Spanish, but the French thus far evades me. I daresay I shall get there in the end.

An interesting assignment to work on tonight and more Song of Ice and Fire - I can't stop, even though everyone's dead. Although I have just got the part where Joffrey bites the dust, and if you want to avoid spoilers I highly recommend not highlighting that space there. It's a good moment though.

My final thought is that I have strawberries, my window open, and a small glass of beer, and I could not be happier. Winter is coming, but for now let's have strawberries.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Endings

I've not written, once again, for a couple of days. It's been an eventful weekend. Saturday was spent almost exclusively teaching A, and 4 hours of mathematics really take it out of a fellow. Raging against teachers who'd rather teach the long and winding road, rather than the simple path, is also a deeply tiring process. For the rest of Saturday I made more words into sentences for an article I finished a couple of hours ago for +ThirdYearAbroad.com. The rest of my Saturday was spent re-reading +Game of Thrones, because I can't watch it on the abysmal internet connection I have here. Well, I probably could, but I don't like pirating stuff. It's a weird thing I have, but it seems too much like theft. If I put up a chapter of a story I'm writing, and then everyone cheerfully read it and declared that it was fantastic and then didn't buy the book, I think the top of my head would explode with anger.

Anyway, that's something else, and entirely off-topic. However, it did entirely absorb me for the rest of the day, and I have to say it's the first time I've really appreciated my Kindle - the whole collection of books for £20 is a steal, and about 15 hours worth of reading to boot. I know this because my Kindle has a little countdown timer; it calculates the speed at which I'm reading and then tells me how much of the fantastic emotional rollercoaster is left. This means I keep tensing up as it gets to its final moments because I really, really want things to start getting tied up. And while there's no shortage of that, endings are pretty hard to come by. The fact that I'm still reading it as I type this should speak to just how engrossing it -

AH DAMNIT, RED WEDDING AGAIN.

By the way, I've not seen the episode yet, but this is a fun thing to do to your friends who aren't yet caught up with it.



Anyhow, Sunday. A lazy day, cooking a risotto (discovered I had no risotto rise halfway through. Did I panic? Did I fret? No. I used basmati, and it still turned out epic. Fresh pea and chicken, since you're asking.) and reading some more. Around half past two I headed out to meet Mary, who arrived in St Lazare station looking like quite the most ridiculous, the most beautiful tortoise you've ever seen. In all seriousness, if you've never seen a girl with a backpack approximately twice the size of her body then you've not lived. Still, we made our way to her hotel by the airport and she did the arcane things that women do to make themselves more beautiful. I am not privy to these arcane secrets; women are majestic and mysterious creatures and I am but a man. She emerged beautified and, with me feeling the luckiest man on the planet, we made out way to dinner.

We were dining, as regular readers will know, at the Georges restaurant, which can be found on top of the Centre Georges Pompidou. This museum and art gallery sits not far from Notre Dame, the centre of Paris, and with sheet glass windows in place of walls and six stories up Mary and I had quite frankly exquisite views of the city as the sun went down and the lights came up. The food was a mix of French and Asian cuisine and was delightful; we had foie gras to start with followed by cod with a light mandarin sauce for her and crispy duck for me. Utterly delicious all. Before glancing at the dessert menu we stepped out onto the terrace and looked over the City of Lights with a glass of white wine in hand.

I challenge you to find anything better than the moment of stillness that exists between two people when no words need to be said; when a view speaks for you both, and the moment etches itself on your memory like acid on metal. Life is made up of moments, and some of my moments I've spent snoring, and some drinking, and some holding my head and wishing I'd done less of the latter and more of the former. But this moment - it's one of my best.

On the way back we made a friend: a lost-looking girl from California who asked us if we spoke English. She was struggling with the metro system and so of course we helped her out and, since she was going the same way as us, the three of us enjoyed a bizarre and meandering conversation as we wound our way back to the airport.

Alright, alright. I'll stop. I can't tell if that's envy or disgust I feel from you, but I'll desist in either case.

So this morning we were up by 10 (ish) and out by 11 (ish) and off to the races, and by races I mean we walked down the corridor and onto the shuttle-train, got off, bypassed the queue - a side note: it is almost always worth checking in beforehand and it is absolutely always a good idea to see if you're in the right queue. We moved to the queue marked "Bag drop only" as Mary had checked in on-line, and thirty seconds later a woman with an accent straight out of Chicago asked if we had already checked in on-line. Mary said yes. In short order the queue reformed behind us. We were the leaders; the prophets, discovering the secret path to speedy bag-checking. And then we had a pain au chocolat, the fuel of kings. I'm sure I'm not overstating when I say Moses might have made it if he'd had this tasty pastry to keep him going.

All of this verbiage - and it is excessive, really - is to disguise the fact that saying goodbye to Mary was really, really tough. Goodbyes, and endings, are an ass, and having to say goodbye to someone you love is even worse. Still, with Skype, maybe goodbyes aren't quite as final as they used to be.

Plus...a trip to Chicago is on the cards, as well as a road-trip to Iowa to see the charming Paula for her birthday. And if I'm really lucky I'll get to meet someone from +Edelman while I'm out there. Cross your fingers for me folks.

Yea, this was the view. No big deal. Hey Eiffel Tower.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Something wicked this way comes

Going to see this in August. Words can't express. Also, there's a link to the title. Points if you know it.
The end of the week, when all my cheerful little students come to me to get practice tests for the exam in five days. I guarantee that flow of nervousness will only surge stronger as the date gets closer. As for me, I had the task of editing the video I shot yesterday. It's not all ships and wiggles, you know - I did some seriously hard graft today, not least trying to get iMovie to do what I want rather than what it thinks would look good.

Ken Burns.

Augh.

In any case, I managed to bash through that in a couple of hours, to be faced with round three of the thesis. I was armed with my red pen, and together Diana and I absolutely savaged that thing. It's almost legible now, but I can't guarantee it'll stay that way. In the course of this edit I've learnt more than I ever though I'd need to about modeling, and not the fun kind. The kind where you crunch a thousand data points and come up with a 3-D model of the way the earth beneath our feet looked 3 million years ago which is pretty cool. She's promised me that she'll come back on Monday to let me read her results chapter. "Only fifty pages."

Oh good. Only fifty pages.

In the afternoon I drafted a condolences email for a colleague (yea, that's a weird thing, writing condolences having been given a précis of the deceased's life and personality) as her English is not yet good enough to do it herself, which I found challenging. It's the first time I've ever needed to write one, and novelty is to be cherished even if it is rather morbid.

I also gave a presentation of a translation I'd done to the security guys, all of whom spoke no English and were each built like a small tank. When one shifted in their seat, I could hear the seat protesting. Seats were not made for tanks, the metal seemed to groan. However, I seem to have just about pulled it off - there were questions, which I managed to answer to their satisfaction, and there was some ribbing on the member of their crew who'd been volunteered for the video. That done, and only sweating a small river down my spine (it was the heat, alright, I don't get nervous) I made my way back to the office. A few more students, a commiseration with a friend about the exam she and I took together (French, don't ask. A need to vomit, a blinding headache and a buzzing about the ears do not make for a well-examined exam paper) and then it was time for lessons with C and B. C is making strides, and I suspect she's being the kind of student I despised when I was a student and revising between lessons. Swot.

(I was not a good student, but I've improved some, and it seems I'm not a terrible teacher.)

With B I've started on modals, which have thrown him a little - he's gotten used to "I want + infinitive, I like + infinitive," etc. So as a result I can almost see him furiously trying not to say "I can to get some water?" Modal verbs. Because nothing passive-aggressively says "I hate you" like making your language an arse to learn.

And that concludes my day, aside from one small thing. Well, two small things. +Lizzie Fane, editor, founder and all-round supremo over at +Third Year Abroad has asked me to write something for her fantastic website and I am so excited for that. If you're have gone/are going to go on a year abroad, get yourself over to that site. It is literally a one-stop shop for all you need.

Secondly, by this time next week I suspect I'll have passed 30,000 views, which is quite frankly mind-boggling. So here's the deal. If you've been reading but never commented, here is your chance. If you comment on the blog post that pushes me past 30,000 I'll write something for you. Whatever you want; a cover letter for the job you want, a poem to entrap the heart of the person you've had your eye on forever, or a blog post detailing just what a fantastically awesome person you are.

Up to you, but you've got to be in it to win it. Have a great weekend.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Got up this morning and felt crêpe-y

I made crêpe batter last night, and if there is anything that can pull a chap out of bed 45 minutes earlier than is his custom it's the thought of making wafer thin, lemon-juice-and-and-sugar crêpes. They are best when devoured quickly, and to ensure the rapidity of my breakfast I made like the professionals and ladled in my juice and sugar while the crêpe cooked. Folded, folded and folded again, my breakfast was three of these beauties in quick succession:

I tell you, when I have my flat in Aberdeen, and my coffee machine installed, every morning will be crêpes or eggs and toast or something glorious and hot and filling, because Aberdeen is where the Winter lives. Paris at the moment, it seems, has been gripped by solid, stultifying heat - when a step outside means an assault on the eyes, the nose, and the skin. It is as powerful a blast of heat as you might experience upon opening an oven door.

And so I, in a dark suit and a dark shirt with dark hair and dark shoes, near melted into the ground. Mary assures me it will be hotter still in Chicago. Splendid. It will be nice to have melted on both sides of the Atlantic.

This morning, as you can tell, started well. Yesterday ended well as well; I finally sat down and watched much ado about nothing via a wicked site called +Digital Theatre. There are plays on there that you can rent or buy, and my choice (since there's another version coming out soon, whose trailer is below) was Much Ado About Nothing, featuring David Tennant and Catherine Tate as Beatrice and Benedick. It's absolutely fantastic, with the laughs coming thick and fast courtesy of the brilliant leads and supports. My favourite is still this version, though, because Emma Thompson is beautiful and lovely and speaks Shakespearean English as though she were the lost sister of Elizabeth herself. Please, I implore you to watch it. It's how Shakespeare should be done.

This trailer is for the upcoming Joss Whedon (Avengers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) version of the same, and it's out in the UK on the 14th - hopefully not much longer after that in France. I'm really excited for it, because a new look at the best Shakespeare play - and yes, I said it - is always welcomed.

But I've been massively sidetracked, and I suspect I've lost some readers in Youtube's labyrinthine corridors. Onwards.

This morning I was faced with an extensive translation and a couple of articles to check, one of which the author had written in English. Though it seems cynical I suspect he had done so with the aim of sneaking past the committee the fact that it was essentially an extended advert for his professional services, since they do not speak a lot of English. I passed it up with a note attached to that effect. With a little spare time I lent a hand to a friend of mine, who'd written a cover letter to a very prestigious company without mentioning the prestigious company once.

Cover-letter-writing should be a class. Ditch an afternoon's PE or geometry and teach kids how to write a decent cover letter. Please.

At about half past ten I was cornered by a PhD student who wanted me to take a look over her thesis, which is "only" a third finished and "only" 120 pages so far. There are times when I wonder what happens in the polished corridors of Academia, where 120 pages can be graced with an adjective like "only". In any case, we set to it and cracked through 80 pages before lunch, which I ate in half an hour. This will seem normal - nay, luxurious - when I work at a desk,  but in France it is a sin. No, worse than a sin, because sins are forgiven. It is almost high treason.

The reason for my hurry was that I had an appointment with the head of security to do some filming. I spent about an hour and a half with him and his colleagues, directing a brief bit of film entirely in French. And then we went off to secure a filming slot with the nurses. I went away almost skipping; some days I only speak English due to teaching or reading. And then there are days like these, when I can feel the rhythm of the words and look back at how abysmal I used to be and see the progress - these are the best days.

After that it was time for round two of the thesis, as well as instructions from my supervisor and a call to update the project leader on what progress I'd made with the filming. It felt great to be able to say how much progress I'd made, and also to tell him what I'd organised for next week. Great day.

Finally, I had a French lesson, where I spoke more French and tried not to tear my hair out as a classmate tried to convince me that the soul exists because we can be moved by Art. Having emotions does not signify a soul. Still, it was a useful practice, and I managed to give the teacher a minor heart attack by demonstrating "soudain". I did this by sharply banging both palms on the table at once, without warning, demonstrating the rapidity with which attraction can strike. And apparently how swiftly heart attacks can come on, as I looked up to see him collapsed in a chair. I also managed to bring a little Wilde into the room, explaining that it is important to get engaged several times in order to be perfectly practiced when one does it for real.

Jack.  Gwendolen, will you marry me?  [Goes on his knees.]
Gwendolen.  Of course I will, darling.  How long you have been about it!  I am afraid you have had very little experience in how to propose.
Jack.  My own one, I have never loved any one in the world but you.
Gwendolen.  Yes, but men often propose for practice.  I know my brother Gerald does.  All my girl-friends tell me so. 

Well now. I think that's quite clear, don't you? No lady wants a man who is unpracticed in getting down on one knee and doing what it is necessary for a man to do.

A long day. I grabbed a bag of cherries on the way home and got them for free because of loyalty points. Today has been just a gigantic win. I hope tomorrow is the same.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Outreach

There is no better feeling than reaching out to another human being and feeling them react. I believe that wholeheartedly; it's even influencing my career choices. Today I got the opportunity to write a piece designed to tug heartstrings and elicit donations and, although it's not your every-day fare, I was really quite pleased with it. There's nothing more exciting than pouring your ideals into a message and it working. When you read it, you can almost feel the shift in the room, feel the synchronicity as the audience's breath and heartbeat start to move to your command, collectively building to the climax your proscribe. I'm probably overstating, but all the same - it is enough to know that you've reached even one person to feel that perhaps what you're doing is worthwhile.

It's a bit babbly, I confess, but today (with any luck) I wrote something that will convince the students to reach into their pockets and cough up a little money to help a student who needs it get into the School. It's a tough sell; students are poorer now than they've ever been, but - I look at it this way:

“I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being; let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” - Etienne de Grellet
I'm not a religious man, though Etienne de Grellet was - he was a Quaker, in fact - but his words ring true for me. I am an atheist, and that means I am certain that I will pass this way but once. I don't get to come back, or shower blessings down from Heaven - nor cast up curses from Hell. Instead, I get one shot, one chance, a big break of maybe one hundred years to do the best I can, to be the best I can. When I go I don't get to take anything with me, and as long as I'm fed, and I'm happy, and there's a roof on my head, I feel like I ought to give something back. A few euros now, when I'm certain I'll earn many more in the future - it's nothing.

Sorry, I sound disgusting. Charity should be more subtle, I know, but maybe some of my students will read this and find their hands reaching into their pockets by themselves. We can but hope.

Right. Enough of moralistic proselytising. Here are some pictures of my flatmate:

He's so fluffy. Or she. I'm really not sure.

Rest of today: putting together a crossword (holocene, refining, and thermodynamics are some of the words that need to go in and absolutely will not)

Showed m'colleague how to apply some clever macros to Excel to sort her work for her, and sat in on some tutoring with my other colleague. We had a fascinating discussion about connectedness; my older colleagues felt that the way young people were continually attached to their phones was horrifying; for me, it's a step on the way to making sure you enjoy your work. I love getting emails early in the morning about new opportunities - they literally make my day. That's why this response, from the Facebook page of +Edelman, made me do a little jumpy-happy-dance.

Ohh myyyyy.

So hopefully something may come of that.

Elsewise it's pretty much chilling with a beer on a balcony.

Enjoying it while I can. Aberdeen beckons.