Friday, 27 April 2007

Bl**dy nerve!

Last week I was asked to proofread the text and audio scripts of a new BBC French language course. The last time I undertook such work (for a well-publicised BBC Two series that turned out to be a disaster) the dialogues had already been recorded by the time the typescripts were sent to me (you can imagine my dismay). This time, things are being done in the right order and with a bit of luck the end result won’t make anyone cringe. Of course, it took longer than I was told it would (five hours more, in fact, than I was able to charge for, because – as usual – the project manager underestimated the time, and beggars.... see previous post).

What amazed and concerned me was that this language course was written, like the previous one, by someone who has been teaching French for donkey’s years yet still makes basic mistakes. Here’s a – far from exhaustive – list I compiled as I went along:

* du and de; des and de; c'est and il/elle est; dans le and au are not interchangeable and are subject to precise rules.
* the adjective that follows c’est is always masculine singular.
* ‘After ten minutes’ is not après dix minutes but au bout de dix minutes.
* Tu penses? is not English; the correct verb is croire: Tu crois?.
* les soirs, elle va... is a literal – and incorrect – translation for ‘in the evenings, she goes...’; it’s le soir, elle va...
* depending on context, ‘next’ is prochain or suivant (they’re not interchangeable either).

* In the past tense, se faire mal (to hurt oneself) goes like this: je me suis fait mal, tu t’es fait mal, il/elle s’est fait mal, nous nous sommes fait mal, vous vous êtes fait mal, ils/elles se sont fait mal. Yes, that's it, fait is invariable. Elle s’est faite mal hurts me a lot. LOL!

* Passer
(to pass) is only followed by a direct object in passer le temps, passer un examen, otherwise it’s passer devant. In giving directions, you say, ‘Vous passez devant l’église...’ not ‘Vous passez l’église...’

* proper names never take an ‘s’ in the plural – except names of dynasties: les Bourbons.
* The French love commas and use them much more liberally than the Anglo-Saxons.

Most bits of very simple French text written to illustrate specific grammar rules sounded clumsy and were often wrong.

What makes someone whose French is not 100% perfect think they can produce such a course? Who commissions them? Would it occur to me to write an English language course, even though I am just as qualified as those writers to teach English? Erm, no. The only foolproof way for such material to be up to scratch would be for it to be written by two native speakers – one for each language.

Obviously, if the author had been correct all through, I would have missed out on a job. I should be grateful, really. Hmm...


Wednesday, 18 April 2007

I’m so glad

Apparently, average earnings have grown like crazy in the past three years. Since I haven’t been able to increase my freelance rates for four years... grrr!

Hasn’t the cost of living gone up for me too in the meantime?

Sunday, 15 April 2007


No Slap today: it’s sunny and very warm and I haven’t got the energy.

Anyway, I’m in love. With these MOO cards. Well, wouldn’t you be? Aren’t they just the most adorable things you’ve ever seen? They are so tiny!

The MOOs above are business cards – but only because my partner and I put our details on the back. You can have whatever you like printed on them.

The London Book Fair is on for three days from tomorrow. We both need to tout for work. These little cuties will make it a little bit less unpleasant than it might otherwise be.

You would give us a job in return for one of these, wouldn’t you?

Friday, 6 April 2007

The bad old days

The picture above was not taken in the 19th century; it was taken yesterday – in the Cromwell Road. I was on my way to my favourite hospital. (As I always say, ‘What was good enough for General Pinochet is good enough for me.’ LOL!) I’ve been seeing this sign for years – every time I have a check-up – and it shocks me every time. I’ve always wanted to photograph it but usually when I go to the Cromwell the last thing on my mind is making sure I have my camera with me. Anyway, yesterday I happened to carry it in my bag and it only took a moment to make a record of that leftover of the past, when this kind of segregation was the norm; when there were other signs in windows of boarding houses that read, ‘No Jews, no Irish, no dogs’ (in whatever order).

I wish I could say that the sign is just there because it looks quaint but I can’t swear it is. The Cromwell Road is a posh area and I have a feeling it’s there because it still serves a purpose.


Sunday, 1 April 2007

Guest Slapper of the Month XV

My April Guest Slapper let me down yesterday. Maybe she thought it was a joke. I frantically looked around for a replacement and my gaze fell on Lulu, who, I knew, had lots to say about those controversial ID cards. Here’s her last-minute Slap. I will be eternally grateful to her. Yes, I will.

I Don’t Want to be an April Fool.

This is a slap that was never going to be a slap. In fact, for the past year or two, ever since it was first mentioned, I have always thought I would slap the people who were against the idea, for being so British and insular.

But recently I’ve changed my mind.

I’m talking about ID cards. Specifically, the introduction of them in the UK.

In the past months of public discussions, I always used to accept the argument that, if you had any reservations about carrying an ID card, it meant you had something to hide. That law-abiding citizens had nothing to fear from them, and the only reason you might have to be unwilling to prove who you were to anyone who asked you would be a guilty one. They have had them in France, a perfectly civilised democratic country, for tens of years, I would add, and no one makes a fuss there. Anyway, what’s the difference between a driving licence or passport and an ID card?

But things I’ve read, and seen, recently have really undermined my certainty. And no, it’s not about the £88 or whatever it is we are to be charged for the privilege of getting one.

First, as a middle-class, middle-aged white woman, I have to accept that the likelihood of my ID card being demanded for no particular reason by a passing policeman on my way to Tesco is minimal. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be concerned about the extra hassle it will cause a young Asian man who’s not wearing a suit and tie – every survey shows the UK police force suffer from ‘institutional racism’, and when doing jury service I saw to my dismay how ‘stop and search’ rights were part of the everyday lives of black kids.

Secondly, the ‘nothing to hide’ argument doesn’t work when taken to its extreme. I am not a terrorist or a drug dealer, but that really, really doesn’t mean I want the intelligence services listening in on my phone line or scanning my e-mail.

Thirdly, the belief that the innocent will have no problems with ID cards assumes that the computer system set up to administer them will be pretty much faultless. And there is simply no British system in the last ten years that hasn’t caused incredible mishaps and misunderstandings and trouble for ordinary people. The new NHS patient-linking data system has been abandoned, as has the computerised system for finding junior doctors a job. You can’t book a train journey without having to sort through up to 36 different prices for the same route, from £12 to £250. The congestion charging system in London sends the bailiffs out to repossess the property of non-fine-payers who in fact had their car stolen and trashed 8 years previously and police reports prove it. And they have written five times with documentary evidence of that fact but no actual person with common sense ever looks at the letters. The child support agency endlessly pursues people who happen to have the same name but live 200 miles away from real absentee fathers, while single mothers struggle to pay their bills. The new passport system, when installed, resulted in daily nine-hour queues down the street for passports for nearly a year before its ‘teething problems’ were resolved. Credit reference agencies blacklist you because someone who lived in your house five years ago didn’t pay their mobile phone bill, even though they are a married man called Robert Black and you are a single woman called Susan White. My GP tells me to pester the hospital myself for my test results because the hospital computer will never connect up patient with GP once you’ve left the building, and she, she says, cannot possibly remember to chase my results for me because she has 3,000 people to think about. The tax office changes its address without informing you, and when you send in your tax return by overnight signed-for mail in plenty of time, it takes five days because they have to forward it on from Cornwall to Newcastle, and then they fine you for being late. Incompetence rules every administrative system, because the people entering working life now and for the past 15 years have received an education that would shame a rogue African state in the middle of a civil war, and cannot actually form a sentence or add two sums.

Fourthly, and most importantly, the ‘ID cards are innocent for innocent people’ argument totally and entirely depends upon there always being a democratic government in place, with a reasonable view on human rights and privacies, to whom one can apply peacefully and democratically to change unfair laws, and whose administrative wings – the police, social services, the courts, the tax office, the armed forces – remain under its control and basically benign. We are incredibly complacent about this in Britain – we don’t bother going to vote, we don’t protest, we sleepwalk our way into the erosion of rights, we’re scared to speak up and offend anyone or stand out from the crowd. We really assume that the situation in Europe today (well, of 20 years ago, actually) – of the West, and late 20th-century western democracy, being forever in charge of the thinking world and hopefully even in the ascendancy – will be the status quo forever. But history does not back this up, and nor do recent events. This struck me at the theatre last week, watching Athol Fugard’s play Sizwe Banzi is Dead, which is about the monstrous Kafkaesque hoops a man – a black man, of course – is made to jump through simply to be allowed to leave his home town, get a job somewhere else and send money home to his wife and children. It’s the tiniest leap – it would take the tiniest event in history (like 9/11) or a simple change of government – to instantly, or, even worse, gradually and sneakily, turn ID cards into a tool for population control in the name of ‘national security’. All that even an elected government has to do is announce ‘special circumstances’ and they can detain people for three months without charge (in the UK, or goodness knows how long in Guantanamo). A move to make people stay in or go back to the city where they were born would be the next step – it’s been a motif throughout history, in communist states, in Russia, right back to the time of Herod. There doesn’t even have to be a pressing reason, it might just strike a government minister as less trouble that way.

And there is a difference between the UK and, say, France. France has a written code or constitution dating back to Napoleon. It enshrines the separation of Church and State, so no religious fundamentalist leader can worm his way into power and change the rules from within. No one politician, in fact, can ever trespass beyond agreed limits. And the French people are ever alert to any erosion of their liberties and take to the streets the minute they are threatened.

So now I’m most certainly slapping ID cards, with all the force I can muster. Is there anyone out there who can change my mind back again, and convince me I’ve nothing to worry about?