Sunday, 28 December 2008

A neat trick

The media don’t report the rocket attacks the Israelis are subjected to on a daily basis so everyone can express outrage when, at the end of their tether, the real victims decide to respond in kind.

For the past few days, I’ve listened to the news with trepidation and heard the now- familiar biased wringing of hands, as it were, but I was pleasantly surprised by a journalist’s blog. The post itself was the usual hypocritical waffle about ‘disproportionate response’, but a lot of the comments were taking the author to task about it, and that was unexpected and rather heartening.

Update (1/01/09): Watch this.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Saturday, 29 November 2008

No, but, really!

I just think that a PC from a reputable maker, in the hands of someone who’s been using a computer for nearly 20 years and who knows what she’s doing, should last longer than 16 months and not poof off without warning.

I’ve been a nasty shade of livid for the past few days.


Update (1/12/08): if you want to retain your sanity, do not buy a Hewlett-Packard computer, and do not buy it from John Lewis.

The stress of it all!

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Some Health Hero!

I was reading the Boots magazine the other day and came upon this – about their pharmacists:
High Street Health Heroes
[They can] advise on vitamins and supplements:
we can assess your age and lifestyle and advise on what nutrients you might be missing from your diet.
Ha! They can advise me on what vitamins to take, can they? So why is it that when I asked a Boots pharmacist about a good, easily digestible brand of vitamin C (because I have IBS and can’t have things like citric acid, an ingredient of effervescent tablets, which are supposed to be the easiest to assimilate), he looked like he hadn’t understood the question, hesitated and then mumbled, ‘But citric acid is vitamin C!’ I answered, ‘With respect, vitamin C is ascorbic acid, not citric acid.’

Actually, I didn’t say ‘with respect’ because I had instantly lost all respect for him. I told him to look it up, and walked away. His two assistants had witnessed the encounter and I expect they didn’t have much respect for him either after that.


Saturday, 15 November 2008

Mixed messages

A couple of weeks ago, the largest shopping centre in Europe opened within spitting distance of where I live. If my flat was higher up I could probably even see it from my desk.

It's called Westfield. Gorgeous, innit?

Except... I’m not fond of shopping malls: I find them claustrophobic, even when they’re very spacious. I need to breathe a bit of fresh air from time to time. If I can’t, I lose the will to live after a while. They’re not kidding when they say Westfield is the largest shopping centre in Europe. It’s absolutely ginormous: I’ve been there three times since Day 1 (when I took the pics above) and still can’t quite find my way around.

It should be ‘a good thing’, though. We’re all hoping it will signal the start of the long-promised regeneration of Shepherds Bush. Not before time, we thought, when we first heard about it. The ‘gentrification’ was going to happen, years ago, when it was announced that Kate Moss would be buying a flat in the area; she never did. Then, Nigella, who’d been living around here for years, dissed the place after John Diamond died and soon moved to a much posher address with her millionaire husband. So let’s hope it won’t be a case of jamais deux sans trois. But it might, and Shepherds Bush may never become a new Notting Hill Gate since hardly any residents will have the money to avail themselves of what Westfield has to offer. The only customers will be those foreign multi-billionaires to whom we owe the fact that London is the most expensive city in Europe, if not the world. At the moment, business in Westfield is booming, apparently, but what about after the holidays, when all the fairy lights have been switched off and everyone has received their credit card bills? What then? Some of the stores will survive, but others are bound to close down (I think I can already tell which ones). Will this bright and shiny temple of consumption turn into another desolate warehouse, full of mobile-phone stores and charity shops?

Curiously, Westfield has revived my fondness towards Hammersmith, which has been my playground until now. It has a wealth of fun, cheap stores, like Primark and Tiger and the newly opened Poundland and, of course, TK Maxx, where I can get items of clothing I couldn’t afford otherwise. I can have fun in Hammersmith: I can spend the odd pound without feeling guilty. Westfield is for ‘serious’ shopping. Although it will be very nice not to have to traipse to the West End if I want to visit Debenhams or House of Fraser or a large branch of M&S, I predict I will mostly come back empty-handed and rather frustrated from my trips to Westfield.

I will just have to resist going there and instead stay at home and make preserves and mend my tights using my hair, as India K probably advocates in her latest book on thrift. I am so sick and tired... of clichés... no, of wealthy people giving me advice on how to live frugally. I could hardly be more frugal than I am already. I gather there are adults out there who’ve only lived in a time of boom and who would welcome some tips, but someone who wrote a bestseller entirely devoted to shopping – and who will be raking in the royalties for this book too – is in no position to tell them anything about not spending money. Or doesn’t credibility matter any longer?

Oh, and one more thing: what is missing in Westfield – and that will sadden some of my readers – is a posh perfume shop. There isn’t a single ‘niche’ fragrance to be had – nothing but so-called department-store stuff. There is a branch of Beauty Base (the Queensway perfumery), but it doesn’t even sell the Serge Lutens scents it used to stock a few years ago. Actually, talking of Beauty Base, the boss should have a word with some of his employees and tell them not to antagonise customers by using words like ‘You’re not allowed to...’, etc. Considering Beauty Base sells miniatures clearly marked NOT FOR SALE, I don’t think it has a leg to stand on when it comes to things not being allowed, do you?


Sunday, 2 November 2008

I’ve been tagged again!

And this is a fun and easy assignment from Trina at My Life My Words My Mind : ‘Grab the nearest book. Open the book to page 56. Find the fifth sentence. Post the text of the next two to five sentences in your journal/blog along with these instructions. Don’t dig for your favorite book, the cool book, or the intellectual one: pick the CLOSEST. Tag five other people to do the same.’

Now, let’s see: the book that is always closest to me is my trusty Collins Robert Comprehensive English > French Dictionary. It’s very big and a great source of comfort: I know that should my memory fail (as it does more and more often these days) I can always rely on it to get me out of a tight spot.

Page 56 bang / bar
* to bang one’s fist on the table taper du poing sur la table
* to bang one’s head against or on something se cogner la tête contre ou à qch
* (fig) you’re banging your head against a brick wall when you argue with him autant cracher en l’air que d’essayer de discuter avec lui
* to bang the door (faire) claquer la porte
* he banged the window shut il a claqué la fenêtre

Fascinating, isn’t it? If you want to know what comes next, you’ll have to buy your own copy of the book: there’s another 1284 pages like that.

I’d like to tag:

GSE at Really Quite Useful
Brian at Brian Sibley: the blog
Bowleserised at Bowleserised

Monday, 27 October 2008

The Monday tip

You already know how much I hate hanging participles, but there is something I abhor even more: the absence of a comma before or after a vocative. The ‘before’ comma is essential. If you don’t put a comma in, you get something like this:
Fanny: ‘Hey, I heard Madonna was in the area today.’
Marius: ‘Oh, did you see her Fanny?’

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Oedipus interruptus

So, the house lights go down, Ralph Fiennes, as Oedipus, enters, comes downstage and says, ‘Citizens of Thebes, I...’ and the mobile of the woman sitting two seats down from me goes off. She reaches into her bag and shuts it up, then tries to turn it off completely, thereby making it ring again!

To his credit, Mr Fiennes did not walk off in disgust. I might have.

The companion of the woman in question arrived fifteen minutes after the start of the play and plonked herself in the empty seat next to me: she obviously was the person who had been calling at such an inopportune moment. I saw them both later at the Press Night party: they were with one of the actors in the Chorus. People who are somehow involved in the theatre can be the worst audience.


Saturday, 11 October 2008

Across the Pond

The more I get to know Americans, the less they fit the image I used to have of them. Surprising as it may seem, they are not all like characters in Woody Allen films. Some attitudes I have encountered recently on the (mostly) American message board I visit have puzzled me quite a lot.

Question: if you see two strangers arguing in the street, do you go up to them and interfere in their argument? If one of them insults the other and then, realizing they overreacted, apologizes, do you – before the insultee has time to respond – tell the insulter there is no need to apologize? Or do you tell them they are forgiven for what they said? I don’t think so. Yet that kind of thing happens all the time in the virtual world.

What on earth makes a person think they can exonerate or forgive someone on behalf of someone else? As Primo Levi said, in a much more serious context of course, only the victim can forgive the person who did them harm. And, in the case of murder, the culprit cannot be absolved by anyone, not ever.

Anyway, if I’m having an argument with someone (yes, it does happen), I do not want anyone to come to my rescue – I am old enough and articulate enough to defend myself – and, if I’ve been abused, I do not want some meddler turning up and telling my ‘adversary’ that all is well. It’s up to me to say so, not them.

And then there’s the idea that you can be proud of someone even though you aren’t their spouse or a member of their family or directly involved in their achievement – like their teacher or trainer, for instance. (On that forum, the ‘achievement’ in question is very often spending an enormous amount of money on a luxury product, not discovering a cure for cancer, and I will never understand how that warrants congratulations, anyway, especially these days.) I thought it might just be me, so I asked around and no one can understand why one should say ‘I’m proud of you’ to a stranger either, so it
must be a US thang, like dressing up one’s pet or newborn baby for Halloween, using buttermilk and canned soup in everything, allowing a creationist anywhere near the White House, and owning a gun.

Friday, 10 October 2008

I have a new blog

It’s called Les Planches d’Outre-Manche and it’s here. It’s about the theatre (which is my abiding passion – apart from collecting McDonald’s ‘The Dog’ – er – dogs).

I will be posting fairly erratically (as opposed to like clockwork on this one, LOL!), but I hope you will find it interesting.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Laughing matter?

Do you like double acts? I do. French and Saunders, Fry and Laurie, Les Frères Ennemis (in France), Laurel and Hardy, Dudley Moore and Peter Cook, Morecambe and Wise – they all make me laugh like a drain. Being French and therefore exposed to them from a young age, I even used to like Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis (yes, I know!).

I am less fond of those married actors who perform with each other all the time or are never seen without each other. Could any couple have been more annoying than Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson (that was before Brangelina, of course)? In the end, they became figures of fun and had to split up. I even despised Judi Dench, whom I normally adore, when she acted with her late husband Michael Williams in inferior shows. Then there are the directors who always employ their wives. Claude Chabrol, for instance, who somehow couldn’t make a film without the detestable Stéphane Audran. She couldn’t act to save her life and, as far as I am concerned, spoiled every single film she was in. The less talented partner usually brings the other one down.

There are no problems when people achieve recognition simultaneously, but what happens when someone who is already well known in his or her field teams up with a novice? The former loses some of their credibility if they let the person who shares their life share the limelight as well – their own reputation is dented, and the latter faces accusations of riding on their partner’s coat tails. If the more experienced of the two is not competitive or insecure there are no sparks, but what happens if he or she is an egomaniac in need of constant admiration? Suppose they end up becoming a foil to their more flamboyant, newbie spouse, what then?

But as much as I dislike couples who work together in the world of entertainment, what I detest most of all are real-life double acts (sometimes they belong to the previous category as well): they are not just ridiculous, they are slightly repellent too. There is something so smug about them. Excluded from the cosy relationship, one feels like a voyeur. Is there anything more unfunny than two people who constantly laugh at each other’s jokes in the presence of a third person, or finish each other’s sentences? They both deserve to be slapped.


Friday, 12 September 2008


Why don’t you play with my new widget... over there... on the right... scroll down a bit... that’s it! Yes, click on Decide!

Who knows where it’ll lead you...

Update (8/10/08): OK, that was fun, but enough playing.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Please bear with me

while I try to restore my blog to its old self.

I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.

Update (8/09/08): That'll do, Pig!*
*Know where that comes from, yes?

The Peter Pan syndrome

A recent article in a UK newspaper reported that Japanese society was getting more and more infantilised, as evidenced by the increasingly trivial calls received by the emergency service hotlines – dumb things like, ‘Help! Police! Quick, I can’t stop my ice-cream melting.’ Or – more surrealistically, ‘I think there may be something on my head.’

The UK emergency services get silly calls like that too, although perhaps not in such huge numbers, yet there is another sign here that we are getting just as infantilised as the Japanese: it’s the way everyone has started referring to their parents as ‘mum’ and ‘dad’, in formal situations – regardless of how old they are. It’s bad enough when it comes up in conversation, but when a reporter says it on the radio or the television it sounds inane. I’ve even heard a journalist talk about some murdered child’s ‘nan’! Is it supposed to make us feel closer to the family? Are we not capable of feeling compassion towards people we don’t know unless they are called by those familiar, childish names?

Everyone gets the treatment – a serious actress is described thus in the current issue of the Radio Times: ‘Mum-of-three Geraldine Somerville....’ Ugh!

Very soon, we too will be calling 999 and saying, like those Japanese, ‘I need you to give me a morning wake-up call tomorrow!’


Saturday, 30 August 2008

Boast of the Day

I don’t have a pussycat asleep on my bed these days (soon, maybe), but today I have the next best thing: a pile of books with my name on the cover (under the title).

The book I spent so many months translating last year is coming out in France, on 11 September – as part of the Rentrée littéraire.

Guess how I’m feeling today!

Wednesday, 27 August 2008


Busy today so just time to slap people who think BUYER TO COLLECT means SELLER TO DELIVER.

*Read The Bl**dy Description!

Update: Actually, as I was writing the above, the guy I was slapping turned up, and turned out to be a really charming person. Just needed to be told ‘no’. Very unusual man, that one.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Phew !

Some people practise extreme sports to add thrills to their boring lives. Me, I don’t have to: I have cancer scares.

At the end of June, I discovered a brownish spot on my back that I didn’t remember ever seeing before. I went to my GP straight away (years ago, I would have worried for weeks before consulting a doctor, but not these days) and got the usual mixed message: ‘It’s a mole; it’s nothing, but you could have it removed. Shall I arrange it for you?’ Which begged the question: if it’s nothing, why the rush? Still, I came out of the surgery half reassured that I could leave it alone if I wanted to.

I soon realized I didn’t want to, though, so I tried to arrange to have the nasty-looking thing cut out at the Cromwell Hospital (home from home, as it were). It wasn’t easy: because of the holidays and because most of the dermatologists there are women with kiddies, the earliest appointment I could get – with someone I had already seen for something else last year – was for last Wednesday, i.e. over six weeks later. As it happens, I had to visit my GP again in the meantime and, although she said that of course it could wait until then, she intimated that removing the mole was not an option but a necessity. That’s when I got really scared and considered rushing to the Hammersmith Hospital’s walk-in skin clinic, but someone I know had a mole removed there and she said they made her feel ‘like a piece of meat’. I decided to wait and use the time to accustom myself to the idea of hearing the dreaded words – ‘You have cancer’ – for the third time.

Anyway, I have a small – healing – wound in my back, but earlier today I was told that what I had wasn’t even a mole, it was a benign lesion (seborrheic keratosis). Those things never turn cancerous, but are apparently very difficult to distinguish from melanomas. No kidding!

Now, once more, I have to learn to live again and do all the things I promised myself I would do if I was all right.

Slapping stupid skin!

Friday, 8 August 2008

Drat, I could have made a killing!

A few months ago, I bought two pairs of tickets for Leonard Cohen at the O2 on 17 July (see why here). A couple of weeks before the show, I managed to sell the extra pair on eBay for a few pounds (no, really, only a few pounds) more than its face value. Before the man announced he was coming back on 13 November, and now also the following night (if that concert is sold out too, he will have filled 60,000 seats in London – not bad for an old guy of 74, is it?), my tickets were something very precious and some people did buy seats for hundreds of pounds on eBay. But I’m not a ticket tout, I wasn’t trying to make a profit, I just wanted to get my money back. The few extra pounds certainly didn’t cover the hassle and time spent trying to get those precious tickets. Still, someone bought them and I was very happy.

Forget Leonard, though, it’s tickets for the new RSC Hamlet with David Tennant and Patrick Stewart I should have bought seats for! I’m on the priority mailing list, I could have got tickets (for the Stratford and London runs) very early on for £40 and sold them on eBay for around £300 (that's their current price).

Problem is, I don’t watch Dr Who or Star Trek and I had no idea a whole lot of mad fans would suddenly want to sit in the theatre and watch the longest play in the Shakespearean canon. I think some of them are in for a shock and a disappointment: when it comes to supernatural beings, there is a ghost in Hamlet, but that’s about it – and there are no intergalactic creatures at all.

The RSC has ‘asked people to desist from bidding for the tickets. As part of our terms and conditions, they are not to be sold for commercial gain. The tickets are for their own use.’ However, unless eBay closes the auctions down, I can’t see how the RSC can stop people from buying and using those tickets.

People’s names are printed on the tickets, but in order for them not to be used the ushers would have to check IDs at the door; or the RSC would have to scour the auctions, draw lists of performance dates and seat numbers, and the ushers would have to check tickets against those lists every evening. I don’t see it somehow.

Forgot to say: it’s not just that I’m not a fan of those TV programmes, it’s that I don’t really like David Tennant and Patrick Stewart. The former was a terrible Antipholus of Syracuse in a dreadful production of Comedy of Errors a few years ago. He was good in a wonderfully frightening play entitled The Pillowman at the National, but, basically, I think he lacks charm – and he makes faces. As for the latter, I’ve known him – as an actor – for nearly 40 years. I’ve seen him in dozens of RSC productions: he is what you might call a ‘solid performer’, i.e. someone who’s never very bad, but rarely very good. He was pretty good as Antony in the latest RSC Antony and Cleo, and I remember him as Launce with a hilarious, gloomy dog in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, in 1970, but I can’t think of any production where one came out saying, ‘Wow, wasn’t Patrick Stewart amazing!’ Oh, and he nearly killed me once, but that’s another story...

Also, I feel a little bit Shakespeared out: I have seen all of the guy’s 37 plays ten, nay, twenty times over. Even the obscure ones (Timon of Athens, Titus Andronicus...) I’ve seen at least three times. I need a Shakespeare moratorium. The thought of seeing another production of Hamlet gave me a migraine, so I didn’t book. My loss, obviously.

Slapping the silly – and ignorant – fans who wouldn’t touch Hamlet with a barge pole if it didn’t have TV stars in it!

And the RSC for pretending to be surprised by what’s happening. Yeah, right!

Addendum (31/08/08):
The day I was nearly killed by Patrick Stewart:

I was watching a poorly attended matinee of a very bad production of Titus Andronicus, with PT in the title role, at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford. I was sitting in the front row; there were several empty seats on either side of me. In the course of a furious fight, at some point in the first half of the play, PT let go of his heavy sword (the RST craftsmen pride themselves in creating ‘authentic’ weapons), which did several somersaults in the air – watched in disbelief by me and a few hundred people – before landing vertically at the foot of the nearest seat on my left, i.e. a few centimetres from me. There was an audible gasp from the audience, as the sword remained there, swaying gently. The look of horror in the eyes of all the actors on the stage was something to behold, but they never missed a beat. I don’t think I heard much of the play after that. In the interval, PT and several of the actors rushed towards me to ask whether I was all right. They were pretty shaken up too. The sword was unstuck from the floor and everything went back to normal. The second half proceeded without any other drama – either in the auditorium, or on stage (unfortunately).

Thursday, 31 July 2008

The pornogrification* of mainstream culture

Apparently, I have no sense of humour. I love the Marx Brothers and Bill Bryson and laugh at all sorts of jokes, but, no, according to some, I have no sense of humour. Why?

Mostly because:

– I don’t think pole dancing is an ‘empowering’ activity for young women, let alone little girls.

– I don’t think calling a perfume Putain des Palaces is either witty or charming; it’s a cynical marketing ploy on the part of Etat Libre d’Orange (a French perfume company), aimed at épater le bourgeois, that’s all.

– I don’t think choosing the word ‘brothel’ (albeit in its Latin/French version) as one’s message-board username is cute.

I’m told I get my knickers in a twist for nothing; that I take myself too seriously; that I should ‘relax’. It seems I’m not ‘a good sport’.

But then neither is that old feminist Rosie Boycott, who, a couple of years ago, reported that, in a lads magazine she had been reading, ‘every woman who had achieved something in her own right – other than possessing a great pair of boobs – was routinely dismissed as a boot-faced minger or dyke. Dame Ellen MacArthur, who had just achieved another nautical first, came in for a particular drubbing: “a miserable, sobbing, whining bitch in a boat... basically a frigid dyke-looking, yachting c***”.’

Ariel Levy, who wrote Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, is not amused either. She asks, ‘How is resurrecting every stereotype of female sexuality that feminism endeavoured to banish good for women? Why is labouring to look like Pamela Anderson empowering? And how is imitating a stripper or a porn star going to render us sexually liberated?’

As the journalist Fenella Souter says, ‘Sexiness has become the new political correctness.’ Woe betide the woman who finds it objectionable!

Well, I would rather be in the company of those humourless ‘harridans’ than that of any ‘team player’, who, brainwashed by men, objectifies herself.


* Does anyone know where the term comes from? I read it first in an article by Ginny Dougary in the Times, but I don’t think she coined it.

Update (2/08/08): If you don’t agree with me, and – obviously – know nothing about the Suffragettes, who fought for women’s equality, back in the last century, go and see Her Naked Skin at the National. You will learn a few things that will make your hair stand on end and possibly make you feel a bit guilty for betraying their ideals (they certainly didn’t fight for women to behave as badly as men). If, on the other hand, you do know what you owe these brave women, don’t bother: apart from a history lesson, it is one of the shallowest pieces of drama I’ve seen for a long time. There is a play to be written about the subject, but Her Naked Skin ain’t it.

Friday, 18 July 2008


I made it!

A minuscule taste of what it was like at the O2 Arena earlier tonight.

More about it later...

Update (25/07/08): One of my commenters asks, ‘I hope it wasn't entirely spoiled by being with 19,998 other people?’ The answer to that is, ‘No, not entirely.’ The O2 Arena is absolutely HUGE, but it feels quite intimate from the stalls (I got cold shivers down my back when I looked up and pictured myself on Level 4, in what would had been my original seat: I could hardly see it, it was so high up). My partner and I were still a long way from the stage but the two large screens on each side of it enabled us to see the faces of the performers (and the people operating the camera knew exactly what to shoot so we didn’t feel we were missing anything). And the seats were surprisingly comfortable. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the constant stream of people going to the bars because they couldn’t listen to music without having a glass in their hands, the evening would have been utter perfection. I was hoping I wouldn’t have cause to slap anyone on that occasion, but those people were so disrespectful to the artistes on stage and to the rest of the audience that I must. Slap!

Yes, yes, yes, but what was Leonard like? What can I say that hasn’t been said before? He was wonderful: funny, charming, boyish, ironic, warm, courteous, wise – just lovely, skipping on and off the stage between the four encores, obviously delighted with the rapturous reception he was getting: the sound of 20,000 people on their feet cheering and clapping was exhilarating even for the audience. The energy that man has!

Oh, and the voice! Deep, low, soft, rasping, caressing... He sang some of my favourite songs, and others I didn’t know so well but now love as much as the others. Sharon Robinson, who was the ‘star’ of the backing singers, was fantastic: intense and focused. I adored her intro to Boogie Street. I’ve always loved Julie Christensen and Perla Batalla, his previous backing singers, but, although they don’t quite have the same ‘rapport’ with Lenny yet, the Webb Sisters were superb: they have beautiful, pure voices and their rendition of If It Be Your Will was very moving. All the members of the band – you know, those musicians one usually doesn’t care much about – were virtuosi in their own right, on some very strange instruments. And we got to know their names very well too. LOL! (There are some extraordinary videos on YouTube now: you can practically watch the whole concert.)

What amazed us was the wide range of ages in the audience: lots of grey-haired people, like me; lots of younger adults; lots of older teenagers; I even saw a couple of children. LC’s music really appeals to everyone. Who would have thunk it back in the ’60s, eh?

Only a few hours before the concert, it was announced that Leonard was coming back to the O2 on 13th November. I am tempted, but I would rather hear him again in a smaller venue, where buying drinks during the performance is not an option and the audience listens to the music instead of trying to get sloshed. I don’t need to be drunk to appreciate a great artiste, do you?

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

A few people I won’t be slapping

Brian of BRIAN SIBLEY: the blog tagged me the other day. Sorry for the delay in responding to the challenge.

The brief was: List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now. I can’t really do the ‘enjoying now’ thing because I don’t listen to music all the time: I can’t work with it, although I can perfectly well with the radio or television on. Furthermore, I’m not that au fait with what’s currently ‘in’ (I hear songs that are in the charts in shops or cafés, nowhere else), so I can only talk about singers and songs I’ve always loved.

Thanks to all those nice people who upload videos on YouTube, I am able not only to tell you about my favourite singers, but to let you hear them too. I am a YouTube fan, just like Norman Lebrecht, who enthused about it recently in the Evening Standard. Funnily enough, he singled out the singer whom I listened to most when I was a teenager (at the same time, I was learning English with Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack). Her name was Barbara. All her life, she was a huge star in France. She died in 1997. I remember seeing her for the first time on television in 1959. I was 11 years old and she frightened me a little bit: she was dressed all in black and looked like a bird of prey. She was an auteur-compositeur in the tradition of Georges Brassens and Jacques Brel. I saw her on stage several times in Paris in the ’60s; she had an amazing, if slightly affected, presence.

Serge Reggiani is mostly known abroad as an actor (he played opposite Simone Signoret in the wonderful Casque d’Or), but in the late ’60s he started singing. His parents were Italian so he had a head start. He was fantastic.

I am a fan of so-called World Music, or, as my partner’s mother says, ‘songs in languages no one understands’. That’s true. It comes from not really listening to the lyrics and not being able to remember them at all. I could never quote a verse from a Beatles song, for instance, to illustrate a point. Still, as you can see, not all my favourite songs are in foreign languages (obviously, French isn’t a foreign language to me, LOL!).

I couldn’t find any of the tracks from my favourite album of Joan Baez on YouTube, but here’s a lovely old ballad in a recent interpretation. Her voice is as limpid as ever (and she looks as gorgeous as ever too).

I love folk music. So there. My favourite English folk singer is John Tams. I heard him for the first time in the National Theatre’s production of The Mysteries , back in the ’80s. He was extraordinary. I was very chuffed last year when I had to translate the script of a BBC programme entitled The Song of Steel, whose music and songs had been written by John Tams. You can't hear that fascinating programme any longer, unfortunately, but some of the songs are still here: The Song of Steel

But if you don’t know what John Tams looks like, here he is (he is the walrus on the right). Oh, one more thing: he always makes me cry (just like Anthony Hopkins).

The singers that follow express themselves in languages I don’t understand (and you may not either), but they never cease to charm me.

Lhasa de Sela (she’s Mexican): I heard her for the first time on France-Inter, some years ago. The song was ‘Los Peces’. I missed her name when they broadcast it and spent the following week ensconced in the Nice FNAC, listening to masses of CDs and trying to describe to the sales assistants what the song sounded like. Finally, on the eve of my departure, a clever young man persuaded me to listen to just one more CD and there it was – no.6 on the album entitled ‘La Llorona’. Here Lhasa sings another track from that album (there is no YouTube video of her singing ‘Los Peces’, unfortunately).

I will never forgive myself for missing her concert at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire – only a few hundred yards from where I live.

Paolo Conte: a long time ago, one of my partner’s colleagues, who is Italian, made us a CD of one of his albums. We subsequently heard him live at the Barbican. He was wonderful, of course.

Esther Ofarim: there is no purer voice. Here she sings – with her then husband Abi – a song written by my ‘famous uncle’ (as opposed to the ones who were not celebrated writers). The song is so well known that most Jewish people think it’s ‘traditional’.

Another Israeli singer, but one who, unlike Esther Ofarim, never got a worldwide audience, even though he deserved it (perhaps he wasn’t cute enough) – Arik Einstein. I first heard him in Israel, in 1977. He was a big star there at the time. He probably still is. (The sound on this clip is quite faint: you’ll have to turn up the volume.)

I know I’ve already gone beyond my brief and mentioned eight singers, instead of seven, but I want to talk about one more: Petru Guelfucci. I discovered him somewhat like Lhasa, during a short stay in Nice, about ten years ago. The night before I left to return to London, I saw a documentary about the marvellous ballerina Marie-Claude Pietragalla. They showed an excerpt from her ballet ‘Corsica’ and I became haunted by the music and the voice (I especially love the polyphonic choral bit). It took me several months to find out what it was. This is the song I couldn’t get out of my head. Pity Petru Guelfucci can’t actually be seen singing on this clip.

The one singer that is missing from the list is, of course, Leonard Cohen, but I have mentioned him often on this blog so you all know I adore him. I don’t like to wish my life away, but right now I can’t wait for next Thursday to come.

I am supposed to tag seven more people, but, just like Brian, I’m finding it difficult because I don’t read that many blogs these days, so if you’d like to tag yourself, please feel free to do so – on your blog or here.

Addendum: I have to add two more singers (because they belong together and with the others). Milva. I saw her in Paris in the mid-’70s in a show entitled Io, Bertolt Brecht devised by the great Italian theatre director Giorgio Strehler. She was unbelievable. But I only like her when she sings Brecht and Kurt Weill. And while I’m talking about those two, I can’t possibly omit Lotte Lenya (Weill’s wife), who obviously knew better than anyone how to perform their songs. Here are Milva and Lotte Lenya singing the same repertoire – the former in Italian (the clip is from the above-mentioned show), the latter in German. I can’t choose between the two.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

A bit slapped out

That’s how I’m feeling right now. I’ve railed against the Post Office, the Pension Service, incompetent employees, arrogant and stupid sales assistants, unruly children, etc. etc. and I find myself without anyone to slap. Not that there aren’t things that are irritating me at the moment, but they’re a bit too personal to blog about.

So...I am opening these pages to you, dear readers. For a few days.

Be my guests – slap away!

Play nice, though. I can’t edit comments: if yours is too rude, inflammatory or libellous, I won’t be able to publish it at all.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Breathing more freely

I am pleased to report that I am indeed alive. It was confirmed by a nice woman at the French Consulate yesterday. I met my latest deadline on Sunday night, and first thing on Monday morning – since it’s only open until noon – I set off for the French Consulate. The process took all of five minutes and I was told that, although the Attestation d’existence says it should be filled in and signed by an official in the country of residence of the French national applying for a pension, in fact the form has to be processed by the French Consulate and no one else, and it would have been returned to me even if the Hammersmith town hall had agreed to do it. It’s a little game they’re playing: let’s see whether that person manages to guess where they should be going, hee hee!

Having to go to South Kensington in the morning nearly killed me, which would have been rather ironic, wouldn’t it, if I’d died trying to prove I was alive.

While I was in the area, I went to see the newly reopened Jewellery Gallery at the V&A. It’s out of this world – I was drooling. Once they’ve removed a beautiful silver Star of David, found in Spain in the 15th century and labelled simply and erroneously ‘Star Ornament’ (!), from the display entitled ‘The Islamic World’ – or given it its proper Jewish name – it will be perfect.

One more bugbear: if the V&A specify that large bags may not be taken into the gallery, they need to provide something for visitors to put their valuables in. Do they really expect people to leave behind their money, their keys, their precious Attestations d’existence? No way! I shouldn’t have had to beg the cloakroom attendant for one of those transparent bags they supply to people who use the library, nor should I have had to lie and say I’d travelled specially to see the exhibition that morning. Slap!

Sunday, 8 June 2008

...therefore I am?

So, because I’m no spring chicken and because I worked in France for a few years before moving to the UK, I'm entitled to a couple of peanuts from the French government. So far so nice.

Hmm... Yesterday, I received a form from the French pension service headed Attestation d’existence, which reads,
‘We the undersigned hereby certify that So-and-So [basically, me] is alive, having appeared before us today.’
I need to have it filled in by some petty official (officials are always petty), preferably in a big, imposing official building (it doesn’t actually say which one would be suitable). The British pension service believed the person who spoke to them on the phone a dozen times and who sent them a whole bumf was me. But, the French, you know, are much more suspicious, much less gullible. So I have to prove to them that I exist.

I think I do, but will the person behind the counter agree?

How easy will it be to prove my existence, I wonder. Harder than proving that of God, I fear.

Update (9/06/2008): As expected, I have been passed from pillar to post at the Hammersmith & Fulham town hall and the officials have been very petty. ‘We don’t do this kind of thing in this country!’ Er, could you go and tell the French, please? It would save a lot of aggro.

In the meantime, I have to traipse to the French Consulate: they said they would probably be able to find someone to fill in that form for me.

To be continued...

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Who are these people?!

Quiz on the RNIB’s website.

If you see a blind person in the street, you should:

1) Leave them alone
2) Pet their guide dog
3) Ask if they want help
4) Shout to get their attention
Apparently, 26.8% of people (the second highest number) who answered the quiz think they should shout to get the blind person’s attention in the street. What on earth for? To show them their new shoes?


The correct answer is, of course, to leave the person alone unless they look lost or in need of help. I know it’s hard, but resist petting their guide dog first.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

How to go too far

If you have a bad cold and want to annoy hundreds, nay thousands of people who know what influenza is truly like, announce you have the flu on a message board, i.e. sitting at your computer, in front of a bright screen, while complaining of a splitting headache, etc. Don’t forget to malign anyone who suggests you might be overplaying the sympathy card.

If you want to make someone very angry indeed, let people write vicious and unwarranted comments about them on your blog, and leave those comments there so your friends can put links to them on their own moronic blogs. Then, years later, even though that person chose to forget about the earlier incident, write something just as vicious and just as unwarranted about them. Don’t forget to deny having any friendly communication with them in the meantime, in case your friends think you are a hypocrite.

If you have already given birth to one healthy baby and want to insult hundreds, nay thousands of women who cannot have children, call yourself barren.

Congratulations! Now you can also call yourself a

Addendum: You need to do all of the above to qualify. Only one of those things is not enough. Sorry. WinterWheat

Friday, 16 May 2008

Men, give up now!

Rehearsal photo, taken by his daughter Lorca

I’m working again. Yes, I know, I’m supposed to be retired. Yeah, right! Anyway, I’m well-disposed towards everyone at the moment. Well, almost everyone. There is one person out there who deserves to be slapped repeatedly, but ‘elle ne perd rien pour attendre’. The slap, when it comes – and it will come, trust me – will be all the more satisfying for being delayed.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to Leonard Cohen’s concert in July. Just quietly looking forward to it: I hate wishing my life away. I’ve been reading a few accounts (not all - don't want to spoil the surprise) of the concerts that have already taken place in Canada and visiting the lovely forum devoted to the guy. One of the fans, Steve Wilcox, posted this earlier today:

At the third show, during the intermission, I overheard two women agreeing that it wouldn't be fair to expect all men to be like Leonard Cohen. One of them was my wife. I don’t hold it against her.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Happy Birthday, Israel!

Many happy returns of the day!

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Life: A User’s Manual*

I have already slapped women who play at being ‘helpless’ (Me, my goat and women), but it’s not just they who expect others to be ‘capable’ and in possession of the user’s manual, is it? Just a certain kind of person, who thinks that those of us who are not fazed by life have some sort of innate knowledge of how things work, of how to find information, etc.

We don’t.

We don’t believe we’re entitled to ‘exploit’ other people, that’s all. We believe we have to spend our own time (not someone else’s) looking for this phone number or that website. We believe we need to speak to helplines or official organisations on our own behalf and ask relevant questions ourselves so we can solve whatever problem we're having. There is no mystery, no special skill. We just get on with it.

Slapping the spongers.

* with apologies to Georges Perec

Monday, 5 May 2008

Too much publicity

Ken Livingstone, the ex-Mayor of London (hooray, he’s gone!) apparently employed 55 PR people. Fifty-five minions to make him appear less of a repulsive individual than he is.

It didn’t work quite, did it? You can fool some of the people...

Boris is busy getting rid of those parasites.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Such a busy little bee

A couple of weeks ago I went to the London Book Fair and I can tell you they’re not joking when they’re talking about a ‘credit crunch’: there were hardly any complimentary goodies to be got this year. It was really pathetic: sweets (what adults eat sweets?), a few crisps, a couple of cheap-looking pens. You can tell how buoyant an industry is by the freebies it gives away at trade fairs.

Still, as usual, I came home with lots of brochures, full of attractive blurbs praising thousands of books, most of which shouldn’t have been published in the first place.

Much* too many books everywhere.

Anyway, about those brochures... I have two in front of me as I type: one is for Gallic Books and the other for Bloomsbury (yes, the publisher of the Harry Potter series; apparently, they haven’t been doing too well since the publication of the last HP, but that's neither here nor there). They both have books in translation on their lists; in fact, Gallic, whose motto is ‘The best of French in English’, only publishes books translated from the French. Yet, one looks in vain for the names of the translators. Not a single one is mentioned in their catalogues.

So, just like most of the texts I’ve worked on in the past 20 years, those books were translated by the Holy Spirit.

I’m slapping him for not raising his hand and shouting, ‘Hey, that’s not my work; so-and-so did it.’ He doesn’t, and translators in this country remain uncredited and unknown.

*Note to the Grammar Police**: I know it should be ‘Far too many books everywhere,’ but it doesn’t sound so funny.

** I’m told I am the Grammar Police.

Update (2.05.08): As it happens, Scott Pack (of the Friday Project), whose blog is so entertaining, recommended one of Gallic Books’ – er – books yesterday, here, without mentioning the translator’s name – obviously, since it’s probably nowhere to be seen. So I repeated my little rant there and, because he is a nice man (I think) and he cares about the written word, he took it seriously here. Thanks, SP!

Friday, 25 April 2008

From now on...

...I am entitled to free travel on London’s public transport.

I would rather pay.

I am not a happy bunny at all today.

Addendum: After I acquired my Freedom Pass today, it occurred to me that since I didn’t have to pay for my bus/tube rides any longer it might not be right for me to complain about the sorry state of London’s public transport. However, I believe it is my duty to grumble about things that affect us all, so I will carry on slapping on behalf of younger travellers who still have to pay outrageous fares and endure unconscionable delays every day.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Scandal in a slightly bigger pond

In his forthcoming book, Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?: A Swashbuckling Tale of High Adventures, Questionable Ethics and Professional Hedonism, Thomas Kohnstamm, a Lonely Planet author, reveals he didn’t actually travel to some of the countries he wrote guidebooks to. As CNN reported, ‘He plagiarized or made up portions of the popular travel guidebooks and dealt drugs to supplement poor pay.’ He used information supplied by friends who lived in those countries and some he found on the Net. He also accepted free travel, which is against Lonely Planet’s policy.

I have firsthand knowledge of how little travel writers and updaters are paid. I can confirm he wasn’t being greedy.*

His employers panicked and urgently double-checked all his books and didn’t find any inaccuracies.

Lonely Planet isn’t the only travel-guide publisher that panicked after Thomas Kohnstamm’s revelation. They all did. They all reviewed the way their writers and updaters operate, in the hope of being able to say that they worked in a totally truthful way. However, since none of them pays well enough, none of them could issue such a statement. They all cut corners.

When told by an editor (not a million miles away from where I’m sitting) , ‘And you think we double-check the facts of the update at editorial stage? We would only check if a fact looks contradictory or suspicious,’ one boss queried, ‘Why do we proofread, then? And what do copy-editors do?’

This is the editor’s answer.

‘What copy-editors do:

- edit the text while looking constantly at the map to ensure that the text is structured correctly using four or five levels of heading, and that the map matches the text exactly.

- check that any changes made by the updater in one chapter are transferred to other places where they might be relevant such as the architecture chapter, colour section or maps.

- check that the updater has done their job properly, followed the brief and not missed anything out.

- compare the text with competition guides to see what elements are missing, focused on by others or covered unsatisfactorily in the guide.

- edit the text, especially new text, for grammatical and spelling errors and then edit it also to make it read well and flow. Then edit again to length if the book is over or under.

- edit the history, art and architecture sections to make academic information clear to a lay reader. Check that all artistic movements, architects and artists mentioned in the rest of the book are covered generally in an explicatory way here so that the chapter serves as an introduction. Check then that unfamiliar terms in this chapter and the rest of the book are explained in the Glossary of Terms at the back of the book.

- edit the Food and Drink chapter so that all typical types of food and drink mentioned in the guide are explained.

- look out for anomalous facts such as phone numbers that look as if they have a digit missing or websites where the name of a hotel is spelt differently from the name in the text, and check such facts again.

- apply house style to all the practical information such as addresses and opening hours, which must be the same throughout the book and the series otherwise the guide will be unusable.

- study practical sections intelligently to see if they apply to the text they belong to. Rework such sections or request more information e.g. if a getting there section leaves out how to get to a major place or a bus is not mentioned but happens to be mentioned in the running text.

- ensure that listings sections are at the end of text they actually belong to, and that all villages and towns mentioned in the listings boxes are in the same order that they appear in the descriptive text. Ensure that listings sections follow the same order of information throughout the book.

- in [name of imprint] guides, sort out the top five highlights for each chapter and mark them on maps and in the text.

- edit the travel chapter and compare with the travel chapters of other guides to ensure consistency of material and that everything is covered; recheck any discrepancies.

- in [name of imprint]’s case, decide which kind of box to apply to stories and background information.

- brief the author on writing their colour sections and the kinds of themes that would work with the images available or that suit the book.

- edit the colour section and do picture research if necessary, or brief the photographer if not.

- check that foreign languages are set correctly especially those needing special fonts such as Greek, Russian, Turkish, Swedish, Icelandic, Latvian, Polish, Hungarian, Czech. Keep an eye out for adjectives that don't look as if they agree with their nouns and plural verbs with singular nouns in the basic European languages Italian, French and Spanish. Check with a native speaker if in doubt.

- ensure that all scale bars on maps look correct.

- dealing with prices and putting them into ranges.

- questioning whether there is enough information to be genuinely helpful at every point.

- making sure the hotel listings don't read all the same or use the word 'pleasant' or other meaningless adjectives.

- looking out for consistency in foreign proper names that may have English equivalents (Seville/Sevilla, or famous people, or the chosen spelling of Velázquez).

- having to know your Renaissance from your Reconquista, your apse from your apsidum, your quattrocento from your medieval – not in depth, but just enough to spot errors.

- cross-referencing the maps with the text, e.g. in church plans or Roman site plans with keys or for listings in the few books where hotels and restaurants have numbers with blobs on the map and then the updater changes three and every single number has to change in three places but remain correct or it's worse than useless.

- having to do all the cross-references for the text, of which there are around 100 per book, plus all those in the colour section.

- editing the index to see whether it makes logical sense and has the right things in it.

As one does *one* copy-edit (at around 70 pages – 35,000 words – per day) one has to do all this in one go alongside the spelling and grammar, which is why the latter has to come absolutely naturally.

What copy-editors don't do:
Recheck all the facts provided by the author and updater, doubling up on work the company has already paid someone else to do.

What proofreaders do:
Proofread. While doing all the above, the copy-editor will have made typos and errors, not lined up practical information correctly, missed essential bold and italics and will have missed spelling and punctuation errors because they have been trying to do all the above in a matter of a few weeks.’

Slapping bosses who haven’t got a clue what their employees actually do day to day. Especially those who drive around in expensive cars. They don’t live on the same planet as us – lonely or not.

* I know of an editor who went on a two-week trip to Holland once to help an author finish their book quickly: she planned it all out and worked out she had to visit five towns a day. She parked her car, got out, went to the tourist office, picked up leaflets, possibly went to one museum or anything that was brand new, looked around and made a few notes on atmosphere, and then an hour and half later got in her car and went to the next place. She wrote it all up in her hotel room each night. She stopped for ten minutes in small villages. She was paid £1,000 for that trip, and she spent £890 on travel and accommodation and food. That means she earned £7.86 per day.

Battle in a small pond

In the red corner, we have the Emperor of Scent and, in the blue one, the Professeur de Parfums.

Two big fish. Both with big, fat books.

Who’s gonna win?

The Emperor with the smiling consort or the lonely Professeur?

Monday, 14 April 2008

Who are you?

I have kept a diary for over 30 years. However, I don’t examine my life (sorry, Socrates), I just record it. I don’t want to cringe when I read what I wrote later.

Which is what I have just done – read it, not cringed. Well, only a couple of years (1974-75), but several thousand words nevertheless.

Gwendolyn Fairfax was right*, but what bothers me is that there are several people mentioned in those pages that I have completely and utterly forgotten. I have no idea who they were. Only their first names are mentioned (at the time it was obvious to me who they were) and now I cannot conjure up the faces that go with those names. I seem to have been quite friendly with them, but now they are nothing but shadows

We meet many people in the course of our lives; we part with them and, in some cases, we don’t give them another thought, but when their existence has been recorded we should remember them.

Slapping myself for my bad memory.

* ‘I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.’ The Importance of Being Earnest

Addendum: of course, there are also those people who should be mentioned in my diary and who aren’t – for some reason. That’s even worse. Probably. Sigmund, where are you? (He’s never there when you need him.)

Sunday, 6 April 2008

‘Nuff said – the sequel

Last week, I wrote: If you think God moves in a mysterious way, you haven’t dealt with Ticketmaster.

I owe you an explanation for that cryptic pronouncement:

You know I love Leonard Cohen (Yes, you do! You’ve been reading my blog for a while so you are aware of that fact). Well, he’s embarking on a world tour in a minute (please keep your fingers crossed he doesn’t give up the ghost because of it; the poor man is 73 this year; I am, er, xx years younger and I know how I feel when I go out just for a couple of hours; I can’t imagine singing my heart out every night and travelling from city to city for an entire year)... where’s the beginning of my sentence... ah, yes, and he is coming to London.


Yeah, right! He’s going to perform at the O2 Arena (aka the stupid Dome). I ask you! In Nice, he’s going to stand (or sit down maybe, poor darling) in the middle of a beautiful Roman amphitheatre, surrounded by scented trees, on a soft, warm, quiet summer night (the crickets will presumably have shut up by then). In London, he will be surrounded by 20,000 people, a good number of whom will be hanging on for dear life on tiers as high and sheer as any cliffs.

The tour was announced in January, I think, but I wasn’t aware of it. On Friday 14 March, I noticed a small, mysterious ad in the Evening Standard that seemed to indicate that something was in the offing – a new album, OMG, a tour maybe? So I logged on to a wonderful forum full of lovely Leonard fans (his music attracts nice people) and discovered that tickets for the London concert (on 17 July) could now be booked on the O2 website (they had, in fact, gone on sale that very morning).

So, like thousands of others, I logged on, went through all the Ticketmaster hoops to secure two seats (the best available at that point), and sighed with relief when I got the email confirmation.

Only later did I notice the blah blah saying:

PLEASE NOTE Seats located on Level 4 (Upper Tier, Upper Bowl) are not recommended for those who have a fear of heights.

I have problems standing on a stool to replace a light bulb. I started getting nightmares about it. What if I couldn’t actually climb up to my seat on the night; what if, once seated, I couldn’t bear to look down at the stage (a million miles away); what if I couldn’t leave my seat at all at the end (I have been known to freeze at the top of a ladder, when retrieving a book in a library)? I started panicking. And then I read on the forum that Ticketmaster deliberately kept seats aside and released them bit by bit later.

Indeed, three days on, better seats came up for sale, and I immediately grabbed two. So now I won’t be hanging from the ceiling, but I will need powerful binoculars to even catch a glimpse of that lovely, lived-in face, because it’s going to feel like he’s in Greenwich and I’m still in Shepherds Bush, the seats are so far away from the stage.

And then, a few days later, Ticketmaster released even better seats, for the same price. This time, I abstained because I can’t really fork out that much money all in one go, without knowing whether I can get rid of my extra tickets first*. And, at the moment, I only have virtual tickets because Ticketmaster are holding everyone’s tickets hostage. They ask people not to contact them if they haven’t received them. They warn they might not send them until five days before the event. Like I’m going to wait until then to raise a stink.

Slap slap slap!

*I will let you know when I actually get my tickets so you can fight over them here. Won’t that be fun? I will charge what those tickets cost me (i.e. quite a nice sum plus some ridiculous booking fee – why? – plus even more ridiculous postage), plus a year’s worth of psychotherapy sessions for the stress I suffered in the course of booking those tickets and waiting for them to arrive, please god.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Laugh of the Day

Advertisement for Ocado (the home delivery service - selling mostly Waitrose goods):

This Pesach we'll beat Elijah to your door.

Update: All you puzzled, non-Jewish readers, I will now put you out of your misery.

Pesach is the Hebrew name for Passover, which is, as Wikipedia says, ‘the Jewish festival commemorating the Exodus from Egypt and the liberation of the Israelites from slavery’. A meal kicks off the festivities, during which the story of the Flight from Egypt is recounted. Wine is drunk at some point and a glass is poured for the prophet Elijah, who is supposed to herald the Messiah at this time. The door is opened for him too, for a little while.

Don’t you find that Ocado ad funny and clever now?

Monday, 31 March 2008


My deadline was today, and I returned my translation (all 100,000 words of it) a couple of hours ago.

Free, free at last! If only...

I now have to do all the chores I’ve put aside over the last few weeks.

I’m feeling a bit dazed.

See you later. An awful lot of things have annoyed me recently and not being able to vent has been rather frustrating. Grrr!

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

‘Nuff said

If you think God moves in a mysterious way, you haven’t dealt with Ticketmaster.


Monday, 24 March 2008

Normal service...

...will be resumed soon. But not just yet.

While I’m here: I have read all emails sent to me. They will be answered as soon as I have a moment.

See you later.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Still around

I am in ‘Positively Last Read Mode’ at the moment. My deadline is almost upon me. My faithful readers (I may have one or two) will remember I’ve been translating a novel for the past several years – that’s what it feels like, anyway. ‘Positively Last Read Mode’ is when you want to slap yourself for being so stupid earlier and writing weird sentences that no human being – not even a French one – would ever say. ‘Positively Last Read Mode’ is when common sense comes back to you at last (no common sense – no translator). ‘Positively Last Read Mode’ is also when the Translation Fairy finally appears. You’ve called her to the rescue several times before, but she always waits until the last minute to turn up. She sits on your shoulder and whispers in your ear, ‘Change this sentence like so. You’ll see: it’ll be much better’. I always follow her advice: she’s never let me down.

Anyway, all the above to explain why I’ve been a bit elusive recently. It doesn’t mean I don’t get mad at things; it just means I don’t have enough energy to share my anger with you lot.

In case you all go away and never come back (we wouldn’t want that, would we?), here’s a medley of blood-pressure-raising stuff.

Today, dear readers, I’m slapping:

* Our Chancellor of the Exchequer: yesterday was Budget Day and, as usual, I’m gonna be worse off.

* The builders who’ve been renovating the bathroom in the flat next door: they should have finished last week and, guess what, they haven’t yet. I don’t mind the noise they make in the course of their work (can’t be helped), but if they carry on slamming the front door, which is, like, two inches from mine, every time they go in and out (and there’s a lot of comings and goings all day), I will come out with a big kitchen knife and stab them in their newly installed shower. Ee ee ee ee ee!

* Hospital food. I haven’t been in hospital recently (thank god) and I hope I don’t in the near future, but I saw a TV programme about it last night and it is a disgrace. No, you have no idea how bad it is. There are no guidelines regarding hospital meals: it’s up to each NHS trust to set their own standards. And they only have something like £2.10 to spend on each patient per day. Do not get ill in this country: you will be well cared for but you will starve to death: no one will help you eat your meals if you’re incapacitated; they won’t give you a spoon to eat the disgusting soup they’ve plonked in front of you and then they’ll take the tray away and write ‘Meal refused’ on your chart. Things like that. A disgrace, I tell you.
Stay healthy!

See you later: the Translation Fairy is calling...

Addendum: The Translation Fairy has another name: Adrenaline. What she can’t stop you from doing, the mischievous little minx, is opening a previous version of your translation, working away on it for a while and suddenly thinking, ‘I could have sworn I spent two hours yesterday formatting the b***** thing. What’s happened to it?’

Stay healthy, and don’t forget to label your files unambiguously!

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Only one choice, really

What does the word ‘ethnic’ mean? Choose the sentence that conveys its meaning accurately:

1) I bought this lovely Kenyan bracelet in an ethnic shop in Camden Town.

2) This delicious French jam comes from an ethnic grocer’s in South Kensington.

OED definition of ‘ethnic’:
a. Pertaining to race; peculiar to a race or nation; ethnological. Also, pertaining to or having common racial, cultural, religious, or linguistic characteristics, esp. designating a racial or other group within a larger system; hence (U.S. colloq.), foreign, exotic.

b. ethnic minority (group), a group of people differentiated from the rest of the community by racial origins or cultural background, and usu. claiming or enjoying official recognition of their group identity.

To my US readers: although the OED mentions ‘foreign’ as a possible meaning for ‘ethnic’, you have to use your common sense here and understand it is ‘foreign’ as in ‘exotic’. European products/goods are not ‘exotic’ – at least to people of other Western countries, who share the same ‘culture’. The word does not apply to them. If you do use it in that way, you end up with preposterous sentences like 2).

What does the word ‘antisemitic’ mean?

1) Mr Abdul Hussein claimed he had been the victim of an antisemitic attack.

2) Three youths subjected Mr Solomon Isaacs to a torrent of antisemitic abuse.

OED definition of ‘antisemitic’:
Hostility to or prejudice against Jews.

Forget the etymology, which includes all Semitic groups: ‘antisemitic’ is used exclusively to mean hostility towards Jews. I believe anyone who insists that the word should be used in its larger meaning (as I’ve read on a blog recently) is, in fact, harbouring antisemitic views.


Oh, hold on, Happy International Women’s Day!

Friday, 7 March 2008

The evidence of one’s own eyes

Are the Palestinians going to deny rejoicing in the streets over the murder of eight Israeli students in Jerusalem tonight, just as they denied jumping for joy when the Twin Towers collapsed?

Is the BBC going to boycott those disgusting images tomorrow, just as they stopped showing those same images in September 2001?

I saw them – both times.

Friday, 29 February 2008

Sensitive flowers

Apparently, some American teachers have been instructed not to grade papers in aggressive red ink for fear of hurting students’ feelings, denting their self-esteem. Another generation of ‘approval junkies’ is being nurtured. Slap!

In the meantime, I am correcting the 78th draft of my own translation (the deadline is soon, very soon) in red ink, but not any red ink: it smells of roses.

I just hope I don’t scar myself for life.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

My lucky day

I don’t go out a lot these days – I don’t mean I don’t go out in the evenings; I mean I don’t set foot out of my building much. I’m not agoraphobic, just very busy. And, it’s cold out there. And, if you’ve tried to use London public transport recently you will know that it’s a hassle at the best of times. And, it certainly doesn’t help that our nearest Central Line tube station has now closed for eight months (this deserve a slap of its own – some other time).

Anyway, from time to time, I get the urge to leave my postcode, and yesterday was one of those times. The abiding reason was this: I wanted to buy a French beauty product that is not widely available in the UK. I couldn’t find it on the Net (or rather I could, but the postage and packing costs would have been exorbitant) so I got in touch with the company, who gave me the name of their UK distributor, who in turn told me where I could get it in London. (I’m very good at this kind of sleuthing.)

It so happened the said product was apparently on sale at the ‘pharmacy’ (chemist’s shops are called ‘pharmacies’ in posh areas) I used to go to when I lived in Notting Hill Gate (obviously, at the time, it was just a small local chemist’s, whose owner was very good at not noticing things: ‘I can’t see anything,’ he said once, when I pointed to a huge gap in one of my eyebrows – caused by stress, in case you’re wondering). So I called the pharmacy (hey, Pooh Bear wouldn’t set off on an ‘expotition’ into town without checking everything in advance, and neither do I) and this very nice, but practically unintelligible man, assured me they stocked the product I was looking for. I still couldn’t be certain, but decided to take a chance. I hopped on a bus and walked along the streets I used to know so well. Notting Hill Gate is only minutes away from where I live, but I feel as if I’m entering alien territory now. One thing I noticed on the way was that all the still-familiar stores (Tylers, Boots, WH Smith, etc.) now had automatic doors. Posh people don’t ‘push’ or ‘pull’ like you or me: they glide in or out, unobstructed, whether or not they’re carrying armfuls of posh bags.

The guy from the pharmacy welcomed me like a long-lost friend when I put the product in question on the counter. We were both very pleased with ourselves and each other. Had he not told me he carried it? Was I not as good as my word when I had said I would pop in? Encouraged by my good humour, he asked me to fill in an NHS questionnaire while he was torturing my credit card. It was about how satisfactory my ‘experience’ had been in his establishment. It had been fine, thank you very much. To make sure I expressed the ‘correct’ opinion, he pointed to all the ‘Very good’ boxes and prompted me to tick them, which I cheerfully did – well, it had been very good.

What I didn’t know yet was that the experience was soon going to be even better.

As I always do when I buy cosmetics (especially rather expensive ones), I asked if I could have a sample of ‘something’ – after all I had filled in a questionnaire in a way that made his pharmacy one of the best in the country. He nodded and motioned me to the displays; there he opened a drawer and took out a basket full of Caudalie samples. I exclaimed with delight (I’m so girly sometimes) and prepared to select one suitable for my skin type, but before I could do so he said, ‘Open your bag!’ I obeyed and he tipped the entire contents of the basket into it; then he turned to another display, opened a drawer full of Avène samples this time and filled my bag with them. It was preposterous and delightful and made up for all those years of being refused ‘a little tube of something’ by snooty sales assistants – all in one go. (Of course, there was the time when I was left alone with a basket of Alexander McQueen perfume samples in a large Oxford Street department store... but that is another story.)

I could slap the above-mentioned snooty sales assistants, who lie through their teeth when they tell you they don’t have any samples of ‘anything’, but today I’d rather pay tribute to that lovely, generous pharmacist who made me laugh so much yesterday.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Where shall I go?

Already, living in Hammersmith feels like being in Eastern Europe sometimes (my parents would have felt at home and been appalled at the same time), now it looks like we might become an Arab country. The Archbishop of Canterbury said earlier today in an interview on BBC Radio 4 that the introduction of Sharia law seemed ‘unavoidable’ in the UK. Over my dead body, I say, and, judging by the thousands of people who left comments on the BBC message board and elsewhere, so does the majority of the country, thank goodness.

Still, things can change in the blink of an eye. So, please suggest where my fiddle and I could go if we suddenly found ourselves in danger of being stoned, etc.

Slapping old religious men who shoot their mouths off!

Friday, 1 February 2008

Talking about unread books...

Woolworths have had to remove a range of bedroom furniture for six-year-old girls. A member of staff had had the bright idea of calling it ‘Lolita’. No one at Woolworths knew what the name referred to or meant. Parents did, though, and complained.

The fact that Books etc., the only bookshop not a million miles away from where I live, is due to close in three weeks’ time won’t help with the pervading ignorance. Although, I can’t really be too outraged because I haven’t patronized it as much as I should have (I buy my books on the Net, like a lot of people these days). But the café attached to it was cheerful and the store itself – on two floors – brought much-needed brightness to an otherwise fairly dreary shopping mall (you should have seen it a few years ago, before it was renovated: it used to make me feel suicidal... and it might again if all the fun stores abandon it).


Monday, 14 January 2008

The book freeze

A small book written by a French academic is currently causing a stir in the UK. It’s entitled How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read – and I haven’t read it, but I can talk about it, thanks to all the reviews and blog posts I’ve found about it on the Net. It’s a guilt-free approach to literature, and we’ve all put it into practice at one time or another. We all talk about books we haven’t read; plays/films/exhibitions we haven’t seen. Does it matter?

Well, as far as not reading books is concerned, if, like me, you suffer from ‘Completion Syndrome’, you have to ignore certain books: it’s a question of survival; you might go mad otherwise. I am totally incapable of leaving anything unfinished – especially books. Once I start reading I am in danger of getting an attack of ‘reader’s block’, and that is very painful.

The first time it happened, I was trying to read The Scarlet Letter. I wasn’t enjoying it and when I came across a particularly stodgy page I froze. And that was it. I couldn’t drop it, but neither could I put it aside and give up on it. So I didn’t read another book for a good long while, until I forced myself to skip that page and a couple more, and finally managed to resume reading. I was triumphant when I got to the end. And I can now say I’ve read The Scarlet Letter, although, as Pierre Bayard points out in his book, we forget most of what we read and I have indeed forgotten the intricacies of Hawthorne’s novel. Was it worth the trauma? Probably not.

My most recent attack of reader’s block was even more distressing.

My father's eldest brother was a famous Jewish writer in the first half of the 20th century. (He lived in the USA and I was 11 when he died in 1959 so I don’t remember much about him – except he was very imposing and a bit scary, and yet cuddly, and very generous.) His novels and poems are part of the school curriculum in Israeli schools; there is a street named after him in Tel-Aviv. He was highly regarded by his peers around the world. There was even talk of a Nobel Prize in the 1930s, but it couldn’t happen in the political climate of the period. Anyway, only a tiny number of his books have been translated into the two languages I read, so, unfortunately, I haven’t been able to acquaint myself with his entire oeuvre, only with the novel that won him most of the acclaim, a few short stories and a couple of poems. I was delighted when another one of his books (a semi-fictional depiction of life in a small Russian community in Belarus before the First World War) was published in France a while ago. I acquired a copy and prepared for a good read. However, to my dismay, I struggled and finally stalled. It was The-Scarlet-Letter-big-freeze all over again, and this time the author was a member of my family. Had he usurped his fame? Sadly, I put the book down and didn’t pick another one up.

And then my cousin (the writer’s daughter) wrote to me and in the course of her letter mentioned that book and its execrable French translation, which harmed her father's reputation). Of course! I couldn’t read it because the translation is an absolute disgrace. I took the book out of the big pile by my bed, sat down and started reading where I
’d left off. I was able to edit the French – in my head – and work out what it should have sounded like, and the book is wonderful. The colourful characters (one of whom, a small child, is my father) are so endearing, and the whole atmosphere is funny and melancholy at the same time. I love it.

As a literary translator, I usually defend translators because they always get the blame when readers can’t get on with foreign books (and, until I started reading blogs about literature, I had never realized how quick people were to condemn the translators), but this particular one should be slapped – or even shot.

Hooray, I don’t have reader’s block any longer and I’m ready to tackle that big pile again. The next book is not a translation so if I freeze again I will know straight away whose responsibility it is. Alain de Botton, you have been warned.

Update (24/01/2008): I changed my mind about what to read next because cute Alain never disappoints me and I know I won’t be ‘frozen’ with him, so there's no rush. Instead, I turned to a Nick Hornby book I bought as a hardback (and I don’t like hardbacks: I don’t have the space for them in my tiny flat) as soon as I flicked through it in Books etc. – so long ago that it’s now in paperback.

Anyway, it’s entitled The Complete Polysyllabic Spree (I know!) and it’s about reading and books and life, etc. I cannot tell you how much I am enjoying it! And, on page 5, I found this, ‘I would never attempt to dissuade anyone from reading a book. But please, if you’re reading a book that’s killing you, put it down and read something else, just as you would reach for the remote if you weren’t enjoying a TV programme.’ I will from now on, Nick. I promise. Unless I have absolute proof that it’s a bad translation, of course.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Not a happy bunny

I was all right this morning – I woke up in a fairly good mood – and then I opened the one envelope that was lying by my front door. And that was it!

‘It’s time to think about claiming your state pension,’ it said. Three and a half months before I even want to begin to think how old I am. I keep telling those people I am 27, but they refuse to listen.

Anyway, do not speak to me today! I will not answer you.

Slapping my parents for having me 33 years too early.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Best of 2007

It’s that time of the year again when I wonder whether I truly belong with the perfumistas and make-up junkies listed below. I bought even fewer cosmetics and skincare products in 2007 than in 2006. I didn't fall in love with any fragrance: I am still in thrall to Tubéreuse Criminelle and see no reason whatsoever to be unfaithful to it.

Still, here are the few items that ‘made it’ to my bathroom shelves in 2007.
The main discovery of the year was undoubtedly Boots No.7 Protect & Perfect Beauty Serum. I am not usually swayed by hype, but I saw the TV programme that started the stampede and the evidence that P&P was effective against skin ageing seemed compelling so I decided to give it a try, thereby betraying my resolve to only use products devoid of parabens, etc. By the time I went to my local Boots the shelves were empty and there was a notice warning of a shortage and to expect a long delay. The situation was apparently the same all over London. I waited for a while and checked the display in Boots regularly: it was quite funny, actually, you’d see these women approaching the counter and glancing around furtively and then walking away; no one wanted to be seen openly looking for that product. I got rather impatient – you know, I was getting more wrinkles in the meantime, but one of my Internet pals – a very generous woman – took pity on me and sent me a large sample of the serum. I used it up and finally managed to buy a whole bottle. After a few weeks, someone commented, unprompted, that my skin looked smoother and plumper. Hooray, it worked!
However, things are not that simple (are they ever?) because at exactly the same time as I started using Protect &Perfect I also began to use Avon Ultimate Day and Avon Ultimate Night creams. You see, P&P is not a moisturiser; it has to be used under one. The question is then whether my skin has benefited from P&P or from the two Avon creams. I intend to test this further: when I have used up the tube of P&P (it’s now in a tube not in a beautifully luxurious but infuriating bottle – at least two days’ worth of precious serum was lost in the first bottle I bought), I will stop using it for a while and stick to the Avon creams. If my skin shows signs of regressing to its former state, I will know P&P is not the miracle-worker it’s been hailed to be, which would be a shame.
As I said above, I slipped, and slapped high-tech creams on my face again, but, I’m happy to say, not on my lips (well, except for the lip gloss below, of course). I have added to my small collection of natural lip salves: Badger Chai Rose, which tastes deliciously of cardamom and rose, and which, I have this minute discovered, is supposed to be for the body too – difficult when you only have a small tube of it, though. And Fresh & Wild Vanilla Honey, which tastes wonderfully of – yes, you guessed it – vanilla and honey. They are both 100% natural and 100% yummy.
I also have on my desk a small tube of Clarins Baume Couleur Lèvres in Coquelicot (Poppy - 11). I don’t like gloss: at my age, when the outline of your lips become rather ‘vague’ and you don’t want to look tarty by drawing it with a pencil, you need to wear ‘proper’ lipstick. Not too shiny is best, otherwise your lips look younger than the rest of your face and that’s not a good thing (the same goes with bright white teeth and long hair). I got that sample of lip gloss with a French magazine. How could I resist: it’s the cutest thing you’ve ever seen. It’s a gorgeous shade of red (the pic is of another one) and it smells of cherry; it glides on easily and it’s not sticky. I recommend it to anyone not ancient as I am, who can still wear lip gloss without looking silly. I just use it while I work – for me.
My only other purchase in 2007 was a small bottle of Palmer’s Olive Butter body lotion. I’ve never been able to use the original one: the smell of cocoa butter makes me nauseous (or nauseated, if you live over there, to the left of us) so I was delighted when I found the same great product with a smell that I could tolerate, nay that I could ‘love’. It doesn’t smell of olive oil, though, as one might expect, it smells of flowers, possibly hyacinth or lily of the valley. I can’t quite tell. What? Am I supposed to be a perfumista or something? Anyway, it’s gorgeous and soft and emollient. It’s not greasy and goes in very easily. A great, cheap product.

And that’s it for the new stuff. Told you I’d been very frugal in 2007. But don’t go away just yet: I must tell you about my favourite eye pencil. It was discontinued several years ago, obviously – anything that works and is attractive gets taken off the shelves; it’s a fact of life, but I got wind of it and stocked up. I am currently using the last of my little stash of five L’Oréal Eye Artist crayons in Muscat. It’s a purply brown with a hint of shine that suits me better than any eyeliner I’ve ever used (certainly better than the peel-off liquid eyeliner Dior launched in the early 1970s. It was so silly: it would come off in the middle of the day and you’d end up with a kind of thin, curling caterpillar on your upper lid, LOL!). One day, in a couple of years’ time, I will have to go in search of a replacement. I’m not looking forward to it.

This time, I’m done. Check out what the ladies below (Word 2007 is telling me I’m not supposed to use the word ‘ladies’; how sweet, I have a feminist copy of the program) are recommending. I will be joining you there...

  • 15 Minute Beauty Fanatic

  • Afrobella

  • All About The Pretty

  • All Lacquered Up

  • Beauty 411

  • Beauty Blogging Junkie

  • Beauty Talk

  • Beautiful Makeup Search

  • Beauty Hatchery

  • Beauty Jones

  • Blogdorf Goodman

  • Canadian Beauty

  • C’est Chic

  • Coquette

  • eBeautyDaily

  • For The Love of Beauty

  • Give Me Your Eyes I Need Sunshine

  • Getting Amped

  • Grayburn

  • HauteMommaStuff

  • Koneko’s Beauty Diary

  • Makeup Bag

  • The Makeup Girl

  • Miss Whoever You Are

  • My Life,My Words,My Mind

  • Legerdenez

  • Perfumista

  • Periodic Style

  • Platinum Blonde Life

  • Product Girl

  • Shop Diary

  • Slap of the Day

  • Steeping Beauty

  • The Beauty Alchemist

  • The Daily Obsession

  • The Life Of A Ladybug

  • The Non-Blonde

  • Urbane Girl

  • Victoria’s Own

  • We Love Beauty

  • My thanks to Annie of Blogdorf Goodman for organizing this fun event and to Melanie for the beautiful logo.