This might be the end

I’ve decided this blog has been redundant pretty much since I left Russia, and seeing as I hardly ever update it anymore I am probably going to keep it in stasis for if/when I do something interesting again or leave all my friends and family behind and need some way to keep in touch.

For the few who’ve been reading, thanks for your comments. I’m pretty sure I know you all personally and will speak to you some other time, but if not, thank you and goodbye.

I do have another blog: – for practice at Russian and French. Feel free to visit (and correct my mistakes) if you speak either of those languages.

My account remains open and I’m not cancelling any subscriptions (unless I get bored of you)

Take care. Au revoir, and possibly adieu x

Freshers’ Fun

It’s Freshers’ Week, and that means several things. Firstly, it means that the streets are packed day and night with students – students shopping, students drinking, students talking loudly about their gap yahs, students running around in packs wearing identical t-shirts or outfits constructed from binbags. I am glad that Freshers’ Week is an ordeal I only had to endure once. It is a week of clubbing every night, of trying to remember where you live, of finding as much free food as possible and of trying to stay awake through faculty meetings and tutor sessions. For the fourth-year student, it is a heady mix of reunion café jaunts, cider down the one pub the Freshers haven’t discovered yet, and cramming your reading list until your head can take no more. I should be reading right now.

There are two more Fs that the new student should be aware of – Freshers’ Fair and Freshers’ Flu. The former is a chance to give away your contact details to all and sundry with a cavalier disregard for personal identity security, in return for a boatload of amusing but useless freebies and tempting offers you’ll never be able to use or afford. The dizzy abandon with which one signs up to every mailing list in sight leaves one with a sobering headache the next week when one’s email inbox needs a new spam filter.
The Fair is a sacred ritual that all students must learn to navigate ruthlessly and efficiently if they wish to join their chosen societies and leave the building unencumbered by the mass of vouchers, sweeties and pens that is lying in wait to ensnare them. I signed up to the mountaineering society (yes I did!) and left the building with only one free bag, and confectionery/vouchers for only the stuff I am likely to use. Dominos is a honey trap, boys and girls. They will give you a free slice of pizza, sure, but in return they want the personal info holy grail – your mobile telephone number! Be strong, brothers and sisters, do not be seduced by their stuffed crust cheesy ruse!

The ‘Flu is harder to avoid. Minor ailments, sniffles and colds from across the nation meet and join forces to create a cold to which no-one is immune. It hits the party animals first – the combination of late nights, booze and hookups renders the immune system powerless to resist – but the scourge soon spreads through the lecture halls, the faculty meetings, the tutors’ offices, and the Freshers’ Fair, and no one is spared. I’ve got it already, lost my voice and everything. If I’m lucky, it won’t mutate fast enough for me to get it twice. Here’s hoping…

Souvenirs de la France

Checking through all my material from my year abroad and compiling a ‘language portfolio’ has proved more of a task than expected. In combing through various notebooks, memos and diaries I kept while abroad, I found a few notes about my discussions with colleagues over lunch. Apologies for any pretentiousness:

I feel that French people, whilst ready at any moment to quote republican values on which France was founded, do not necessarily uphold the principles of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité* unless there is a law that requires them to do so. In other words, while they may not be acting against these ideals, they are not necessarily actively engaged in promoting them. In discussion with Alexis, the subject of racism came up. When he explained why France was not a racist country, he pointed first to the laws against racism, and then the immigration statistics. It wasn’t until much later that we discussed integration, mixed marriages (his wife is Chinese) and opportunities available to immigrant population groups.
I have found it hard to form a social circle, even among younger interns and PhD students who don’t have families and established life patterns to keep them busy. He said this was down to the attitude of the French towards authority and direction in general. Because the people make their voices heard (strikes being the most obvious and oft-quoted means) and have input into, and therefore a sense of ownership over, the law, there is a sense that anything that is not enshrined in legal obligation is not something that would necessarily warrant any thought or action in day-to-day life. This is summed up in Alexis’ gently mocking amendment to France’s famous motto – ‘liberté, égalité, légiférer’.**

On striking:
I have undergone many a confused grilling over lunch about the British governmental system, the character of the population and the nature of the press. All this in the hope of answering one question: why don’t we strike?
I think the fundamental tendency of the French is to go through life without grumbling. They take it easy, don’t work too hard – two-hour lunch breaks, company perks, public holidays and generous amounts of leave make sure of that – they pop their pills from their over-numerous pharmacies and watch their lamentable television. They eat well, drink sensibly and live at a good pace, balancing work- and home-life to an enviable degree (the French attitude to the family seems to have remained stronger and more deeply ingrained than it has in Britain) and generally try to enjoy life. Their humour is based primarily on smut and farce, and they are proud of their country. When the government takes a decision they don’t like, they take to the streets and make their voices heard. I think this partly has something to do with the ownership they feel over the law and the Constitution, mentioned in the paragraph above. Contrast this with the Brits.
We love to complain. We work hard, often to the detriment of our families and employees, we support the underdog and mistrust the success stories. Our press is full of scandal and scaremongering, and our humour, whilst subtle and witty, is based on self-deprecation and satire. We grumble about the government but very rarely take action. We don’t trust our politicians, we don’t like them and we don’t expect them to achieve much more than keeping the economy stable and not messing up too badly. If severely provoked we may occasionally write a strongly worded letter. It takes something big to move us into action (see the student marches on tuition fees for the first big example in a while) and we don’t keep it up for long. Our press does a lot to pressurize the government in our stead.
There are benefits to both approaches, but as I am commenting here on the French, I will conclude: while the strikes have been inconvenient, I do admire the French willingness to contest government proposals, and the ownership they seem to feel of their country and their laws.


* freedom, equality, brotherhood

** freedom, equality, legislation

How can I help?

Grandma’s ill again.  Of course, I’m worried that she’ll die, but I know she has to go some time.  It’s not about me – she’s having a really rotten time.  She can’t walk for long or very fast at all, has trouble breathing, a weak heart, trouble reading, watching TV or using any technology more advanced than a CD player, and on top of that, everything hurts and she only gets out of the house to go to the doctor or the hospital.

Mum suggested making some kind of CD for her, so I’m compiling some audiobooks – Austen classics, The Secret Garden, Wind in the Willows and the like.  Later on I’m planning to make some kind of audio magazine for her, using bits of music, interesting facts and news and things.

In looking for these books, I came across – a free audiobook resource supported by volunteers, who read and record out-of-copyright classics.  I think I’ll bookmark it and try to contribute at some point.  Also of interest is the BBC archives.  Genuinely fascinating stores of old material.  I’ll have to dive in there some time and make the most of it.

Does anyone have any ideas as to how I could ease the pain of a lovely old lady?

Tasty Time

For my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary dinner tonight I made olive penguins, honey and ginger chicken with a roasted red pepper and mango relish, and awesome chocolate brownie.  A good time was had by all.  Come visit me sometime.

Under Pressure

So I’ve been volunteered to play at an open mic night on Friday.  Usually I’d go along with my housemate or some other friend who can play guitar and do some backing vocals for them, but none of said friends are here right now.  In a couple of weeks time my sister and I could do some kind of a capella harmony thing, but she’s not moving in until the 18th.  Luckily, Alex did leave his guitar behind when he moved in.

I’m going to learn You’re My Best Friend and possibly one more, with a view to performing in front of a live audience, four days from now.  Best get practising…

Does anyone have any advice on learning to play bar chords?  Particularly the chord of F, which seems to ruin my puny fingers and still sound awful.

Feeling flat

You know when it’s just one of those days?

Hayfever-like symptoms have been getting to me today, and for no real reason I’ve been on a short fuse.  Nonetheless I have a good few things keeping me chirpy.  I finally unpacked my new sewing machine yesterday and made myself a miniskirt and a couple of useful pocket things out of an old pair of jeans.  I wore the skirt to the pub, where we had a lovely evening and won the pub quiz!

Today (after much cross-ness and mumbling of swear words) I made a pinhole camera and a necklace.  Instructions for the camera here.  I’ll post up the pictures once they’re developed, if any of them come out alright.

I bought a cyclamen and put it in a pot, which I put in one of the denim pockets I made yesterday, and it makes a lovely addition to the general jolly mess of my desk.

There are butter biscuits in the oven, and Kurt is out buying me a chocolate bar.  Life is nice, despite the constant sneezing.

Yours sniffle-ly,


Soundtrack for today: Duke Special.  Have a listen, especially if you like Rufus Wainwright or Chicago.  My favourites so far are Wake Up Scarlett, Last Night I Nearly Died, Sweet Sweet Kisses and Our Love Goes Deeper Than This, though it’s all pretty good.

Edit: I also love Freewheel, Flesh and Blood Dance, Why Does Anybody Love and Digging an Early Grave.  Favourite artist of the week!

Happy Boost

Just in case anyone is reading this, here is something to put a smile on your face. Top ten witty one-liners from the cream of British comedy, fresh from the Edinburgh Fringe:

  1.  Nick Helm: “I needed a password eight characters long so I picked Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.”
  2.  Tim Vine: “Crime in multi-storey car parks. That is wrong on so many different levels.”
  3.  Hannibal Buress: “People say ‘I’m taking it one day at a time’. You know what? So is everybody. That’s how time works.”
  4.  Tim Key: “Drive-Thru McDonalds was more expensive than I thought… once you’ve hired the car…”
  5.  Matt Kirshen: “I was playing chess with my friend and he said, ‘Let’s make this interesting’. So we stopped playing chess.”
  6.  Sarah Millican: “My mother told me, you don’t have to put anything in your mouth you don’t want to. Then she made me eat broccoli, which felt like double standards.”
  7.  Alan Sharp: “I was in a band which we called The Prevention, because we hoped people would say we were better than The Cure.”
  8.  Mark Watson: “Someone asked me recently – what would I rather give up, food or sex. Neither! I’m not falling for that one again, wife.”
  9.  Andrew Lawrence: “I admire these phone hackers. I think they have a lot of patience. I can’t even be bothered to check my OWN voicemails.”
  10.  DeAnne Smith: “My friend died doing what he loved … Heroin.”

Callously pilfered from:

Russian Camp

This year instead of spending five weeks in Moscow, Russian camp came to me. We spent ten days exploring Nottingham, which was a treat for me as I’ve never been before. Robin Hood showed us around the town and the Sheriff of Nottingham sent us to the dungeons to find out about the history of the British justice system (including convict ships to Australia). We ran around Sherwood Forest shooting each other with laser guns and shooting arrows into targets, took a cruise on the River Trent, let the kids loose in shopping centres and shook our heads, incredulous, at the amount of money some extremely moneyed parents were willing to give their empty-headed offspring as spending money.

The highlight for me, without a doubt, was the Robin Hood Festival. Visitors are invited to wander around Sherwood Forest and soak up the atmosphere, serenaded by minstrels, amazed and bewildered by jesters and magicians, admiring of the handiwork of master craftsmen, and wary of the Sheriff’s men who demand taxes (or one of your fingers) for Prince John’s coffers. As well as chatting to a master bowyer, I learnt several uses for human urine, specifically male urine. Our predecessors, it seems, were not so squeamish!

For the most part, the kids were interested and delightful, though the same cannot be said for the teenage boys, who behaved far worse than the nine year-olds. So after three lost kids, four huge bruises, thousands spent in pocket money, twenty-eight goodbye hugs and a note reading ‘I LIVE YOU’, I left them at Trafalgar Square and spent the beautifully peaceful coach journey back to Bristol mostly asleep. I arrived home to gammon and vodka – boy knows the way to my heart – and we went out to test-fly his birthday kite the next day. Home, sweet home.

Photographs courtesy of Taras Kononets and Olga Golshuch of Robin Hood Camp except the minstrel one which was taken on my camera, hence the huge quality dip.

P.S. The Russians have a saying – ‘Первый блин комом’, meaning ‘the first pancake is always a mess’. Thankfully it didn’t apply to ‘s first foray to Misty Albion.