Friday, October 30, 2009

Speaking and understanding

Language is infinitely fascinating. I've been thinking of our ability to understand our own accent or dialect, filling in the bits that aren't actually said but just exist in our heads.

For example, one day recently in the supermarket I heard one assistant saying to another, "Nyoff?" and I knew immediately that she'd said, "When are you off?" meaning "What time do you finish this evening?"

And yesterday one student remarked to another, "Lay eeay i'." To translate: "I'll hae to hae it" or "I'll have to have it".

No wonder I didn't understand every word I heard in Berlin if the Germans were speaking like this.

Cat language is much simpler. Feed me, let me in, let me out, stroke me, put me down.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Berlin 2

Isn't it a nuisance when life gets in the way of blogging? And it does; it certainly does. This life has recently featured a bit of painting of Daughter 2's new flat, quite a lot of looking after my mother (who fell and cut her head on Sunday in church - now, that's no reward for churchgoing, is it?) And work. Far too much work.

Can I tell you a bit about Berlin? (The non-toothache aspect.)

My generation grew up thinking of East Germany and especially East Berlin as a sort of badland full of grey concrete and anxious people. As it quite possibly was to some extent. I certainly never thought I'd visit it or stay in a hotel on the east side. Nowadays, however, some of it's not terribly different from lots of other cities and the visitor isn't really aware - or I wasn't anyway - of passing from East to West - apart from where there are bits of wall standing isolated and gloomy-looking as historical landmarks.

Here's Mr Life taking a photo of this chunk in Potsdamer Platz. This bit's been transplanted, I think.

But this bit stands where it did.

We walked around a lot and saw the sights: Berliner Dom,

Under den Linden (somewhat distant here)

the Brandenburg Gate,

the Reichstag.
The weather may look good but it was chilly.

And the Jewish Museum - we didn't go in. I don't think that would have been a cheery experience. And we wandered through the Tiergarten and in and out of various shops and churches.
The city is still obviously in development and there are still many derelict sites, often right next to expensive new buildings.
Indeed wherever you go you're very conscious of bomb destruction - and who caused it. You feel it when you see these gap sites, like missing teeth in a sparkling smile (why did that simile come to mind, I wonder...?). You're aware of it when you look at beautifully restored old buildings, damaged during the war. You see it when you pass churches which haven't been rebuilt entirely but just in part, half-old, half-new, strikingly reminding you of man's inhumanity to man. I felt a little cloud of guilt following us.
So I didn't find Berlin an entirely comfortable place to visit - though interesting and in parts attractive. Maybe we'll go back sometime, without toothache, and explore further.

Friday, October 23, 2009


Well, we're back from Berlin, which was sunny but very chilly. I had to buy a scarf. We had difficulty finding one costing less than 80 Euros and some were considerably more. Who on earth pays £100 for a scarf???

We stayed in former East Berlin - which seemed very odd - near this television tower in the picture above. And then we went up the tower - which was quite a remarkable thing for me to do, since I don't at all care for heights. You go up to the big ball bit and the views are extensive - see below. I hope you're impressed by my daring.

Berlin was very interesting in various ways, but the big snag for us was that I had gone to the dentist the previous Thursday for some treatment to a tooth which was causing me no trouble (but which showed problems on an x-ray). This was on the Thursday. "It might be a bit tender tomorrow," said my lovely young Irish dentist. And it was. So I thought nothing of it. It was worse on the Saturday but we were off to Berlin on the Sunday at 4.30 am so I took lots of paracetamol and ibuprofen and crossed my fingers and went.

And the tooth got worse and worse. We were due to come back on the Friday - today - and my dentist doesn't work on Friday afternoons. So this meant that I wouldn't be seen till Monday, and I have a full teaching day on Monday... so... we changed our flights and came back on Wednesday instead. When I say that we changed our flights, I mean we had to book new ones. Mr Life had to book new ones, to be more accurate. And the dentist saw me and things are now greatly improved.

Mr Life is a saint. Never a word of complaint. Even when I fainted on the plane and had to be laid out along three seats with an oxygen mask and "Is there a doctor on board?" and all that. Cringe.

Well, we did see quite a lot of Berlin in the three days we were there.

And I'll tell you more about it another day.

And it was certainly a memorable holiday though as you'll understand not entirely in a good way. I managed to speak a bit of German, though not much.

Unfortunately, my vocabulary is not good. I kept being able to translate things up to a point, such as: "It is very important that you should something the something, so that something something isn't somethinged." Menus were much the same: being a vegetarian, I kept understanding that that dishes contained potatoes, cheese, beans and something.
Many words and phrases did keep coming into my mind, such as the German for naturally, for example, immediately, hearty greetings - but it's a bit hard to fit these into a conversation involving what's in the pasta. "Naturally I don't want any meat... For example is there sausage in this dish?.... Bring me my meal immediately.... ".
I could have described the weather a bit - "Die Luft is kuhl* und es dunkelt", I could have remarked, or said something about the landscape: "Der Gipfel des Berges fulkelt im Abendsonnenschein". The wind certainly was cool and it did get dark, though there were no mountains to sparkle in the evening sunshine. But alas, the occasion never arose to impress anyone with these conversational gems. Pity.
* Kuhl should have an umlaut. But I don't know how to do them.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

An autumn walk

Our son came home for lunch today and Daughter 1, SIL and my mum were there too. Daughter 2 popped in and out with three friends she has staying: they're going to a university reunion. In the afternoon, Son, Mr Life and I went for a walk. It was a beautiful day.

The colours of the trees are picture-book perfect.

Looking towards Corstorphine Hill.
A bit further on.

Look at that leaf against the sky. Yum.

Some of the shades are more subtle.

Back along the main road.

Trees in...

... various gardens.

Nearly home - looking towards the Pentland Hills.

My hanging baskets still bloom away - no frost yet.

And the tender plants - not for much longer.

Will this Busy Lizzie still be in flower when we get back from Berlin?

Oh yes, Berlin. We're off there tomorrow and the taxi's coming at 4.20 am. Seemed like a good idea at the time.

I should pack. I hope the weather's as nice in Germany.
How much German can I remember from my two-and-a-half-years of classes, which ended in 1967? I do remember that "to buy fresh eels" is "frische Aale zu holen" - I think that's the right way to spell it. You never know: might come in useful.
Back on Friday. Keep your fingers crossed that the plane stays in the air.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


I went to the dentist in town this afternoon and afterwards walked up to George Street to meet Mr Life so that we could go home together. This poster was stuck to a letter box.

It says:

Have you seen this girl?

Then please tell her she is perfect *

[then in handwriting at the bottom]

* and that I'm sorry.

I hope it worked. I think.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A post for Anna

An extract from an essay by a Zimbabwean student:

When I first arrived in Scotland, I expected to see bagpipers on every corner and men in quilts walking along the street like you see on postcards.

Admit it, Thimbleanna - that's your fantasy, isn't it?

Friday, October 09, 2009

An invitation I think I can resist

I've been invited to a seminar. It's called:

Pedagogy, Culture and Society: Whatever Happened to Curriculum Theory?

I'm not all that tempted to go.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Season of mists and lots of stuff like that

I have a clear memory of walking through George Square towards Edinburgh University library one autumn day when I was a student. It's one of those snapshots of the mind - separate and distinct like a dropped flower. I don't know where I'd been or what happened next. But I do remember the sun shining brightly, low in the sky; and I remember the chilly air; and the trees in the garden in the square, their leaves turning various shades of flame. And I thought to myself: autumn is my favourite season. I felt really enlivened by the chill, the glancing sunlight and the bright colours.

I don't feel like that now, 40 years on. Autumn has its charms but Spring - that's the season that lifts the heart. Thrusting shoots, fresh leaves, baby birds, lengthening days, renewed hope. Autumn - well, I wouldn't go so far as to say that it brings thoughts of death but it does remind me how fast time is passing. Whoosh.

I probably feel this particularly because my working year runs from August to June. So autumn also brings grindingly hard work and a weary haul till the next long holiday.
At this time of year we Scots tend to say with pained surprise, "The nights are drawing in" - as if we'd never noticed this happening in previous years. At the moment it's still light at breakfast time but darkish by 7 at night. By December the sun doesn't rise properly much before 9 and then starts setting about 3.30 pm. Those of us who work and don't stop for lunch live in the winter like moles, and emerge blinking into the daylight at weekends.
Will I feel differently when I retire? Will I once more enjoy the sharp air in my lungs on a sunny day; the cosiness of sitting with a book in a warm room as the workers fight the rain and the traffic to get home; the sooch of the wind against the windows behind the closed curtains and the realisation that I don't have to go out in it? Will autumn seem exciting again?
367 working days to go. Approximately. Or that's the plan. Meanwhile, back to the pile of marking on the kitchen table.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Another successful lesson

We were reading a newspaper article and considering the writer's style. We discussed his word choice, his use of sentence structure and imagery, the effect of the headline, the impact of the opening paragraph, the neatness of the closing paragraph, his use of repetition and humour and allusion and so on.

"Now write a paragraph on how effective you find his writing," I said.

And I got, from one student: "The language of this piece is short and simple but worth every penny."

Profound analysis.

Saturday, October 03, 2009


It's very windy today and the cats are refusing to go out. They don't like their fur being ruffled. If we firmly carry them out to the garden for a little run about, they circle round the house and are pouring themselves in through the cat flap before we get back inside. (They're supposed to sleep on that yellow blanket, not on the cushions.)

Although work continues unrelenting with loads of marking and preparation to do at home, and I feel SO out of touch with all your doubtless interesting lives, there have been two pieces of excitement in the Life household. One of these is that Daughter 2 has got the keys to the flat she's just bought - more of that another time - and the other is that the great, the wonderful, the talented and famous Shauna, aka Dietgirl, came to tea on Thursday. As did the also-very-nice Zanna.

Shauna, as many people know, is a shining star in the universe of Blog. She writes hilariously and touchingly and perceptively about her life and her travels in two blogs: What's New, Pussycat? ( and The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl (

(By the way, does anyone know why I can no longer cut and paste on to my blog? It's very annoying.)

She has many, many readers. She recently also wrote a fantastic book called "The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl" about how she became overweight and then slim and lots more besides. Hers was one of the first blogs I read, on the recommendation of Daughter 1. Shauna's writing combines humour and observation and information and wisdom - an old head on young shoulders if ever I met one - and now I have met her. It was such a pleasure. I knew what she'd be like - perfectly lovely - and she was.

This was thanks to Zanna. Confusingly, Zanna ( is a Scot living in Australia and Shauna is an Australian living in Scotland. Zanna is a keen traveller, currently visiting her family in the middle of a European tour, and she suggested we meet up. So we did. Daughter 1 came along too. I provided an unimpressive salady meal - I can cook but I didn't know what they liked, work has been so busy that my brain has given out and anyway I didn't want to be responsible for making Dietgirl gain weight...

Shauna brought some brownies along and we had them with our tea/coffee. They were delicious and of course, because they were made by Dietgirl, contained no calories.
It was also very good to meet Zanna. Though I knew she was originally Scottish, I'd always read her blog (in my head) in an Australian accent, but in fact even after 27 years in Australia she sounds more Scottish than I do.

Well, well, this bloggy thing does bring delights. And now I must do some ironing. No marking for me today! Tomorrow, now; that's another matter.