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100 up!

It’s taken a little longer than I thought it would – just under 3 years in fact – but I’ve finally reached 100 posts. I started off not really knowing what would end up on my site, whether it would be a blog, a resource site for teachers, a site for students, an academic site or nothing in particular. I think it’s ended up as a more student-centred site, with a focus on IELTS – 40% of my posts are about IELTS or are model answers. Perhaps this reflects the situation in English language learning in the UK, and student needs. Interestingly, about 40% of students in my current school are IELTS-focussed students, so perhaps I’m subconsciously responding to the needs of my own students – not a bad thing.

I hope I will continue to post more General English / Teacher Training / General Blog posts, because they bring me (at least) a lot of enjoyment. But I fully expect the IELTS section of the site to continue to grow and grow. I also hope that in the next 100 posts I can write a bit more of what my readers want – I’m happy to listen to and write about what my students, ex-students and peers would find useful. As always, you can contact me by clicking the tab at the top of the page, or just by commenting on this or any other thread.

Anyway, I’m really proud that I have kept going and am now averaging well over 1000 views a month. Thank you to everyone for reading, commenting, following, liking and sharing. Long may it continue! ūüôā

Simon

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Is the IELTS exam fair?

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while. In a twist of fate though, it’s the most recent post from the brilliant “Secret Teacher” in the Guardian, referring to the stress and pointlessness of the current exam climate in mainstream education that has led me to finally put finger to keyboard (link below). IELTS is the monopoly, THE exam for students wishing to enter our universities. But is it fair? Does it truly live up to its claim that it assesses students’ ability to cope with life at a British university? Do any exams really contribute positively to education?

With the IELTS exam, this is largely a question of time. There have been no significant updates to IELTS in years, and it’s not just the format; most other EFL exams are now available to sit online, which at least more closely mirrors motions¬†that students actually go through¬†in modern universities. IELTS as a paper exam falls down somewhat before you even inspect the content; who handwrites essays? This is a problem in mainstream education as well, but there are arguments for handwriting as a skill with younger students writing in their own language. In EFL, how many students will actually ever use handwriting – especially on an essay level – other than for sticky note reminders on their fridges? Online, yes. Emails for work and to friends, the general language of the Internet, and TYPING essays. But spellchecking and autocorrection is an advanced tool nowadays, with the grammar counterpart not far behind. Surely retaining 25% of marking criteria for grammar and 12.5% for spelling in writing is redundant and provides an unnecessary obstacle to success?

To further compound the problem with the writing paper, task 1 is a ridiculous exercise. Students analyse a graph which looks like it was drawn in the 1980s. No part of this task replicates anything that 99% of these students might actually do at university or in real life. Even the final 1%, the maths / economics students, of which there aren’t many coming in from the typical IELTS countries, wouldn’t realistically analyse a graph in this way, because it in no way requires objective thought, exophoric comparison or real “analysis” anyway.

Adding spelling in as the main criteria for the listening exam on top of this¬†just seems to be deliberately unfair. I know a great many English people can’t spell very well. Does it really matter that much? Is a student going to read back through their lecture notes and penalise themselves for a missing letter, or a misheard minimal pair? Granted, the listening test contains some isolated tasks that replicate real university life, especially the task 4 lecture note-taking, although students were even using their phones to record lectures when I last attended one in 2003. I imagine this is even more common nowadays, and obviously students can replay audio of a lecture again and again if there is any difficulty with comprehension, rather than being told that they “will not hear the recording a second time”.

The reading paper is the worst of the lot. The time pressure is absurd, so much so that students training to take the exam are taught how to AVOID reading, because there isn’t time. They scan, match shapes and numbers and fill in gaps. Not one of the tasks actually requires a critical response, or any in-depth reading, and the third paper is about a technical subject, often from New Scientist, that will in no way match the subject that the student actually wants to study at university. I can honestly say that I can’t find a single redeeming feature about this section of the exam. Why can’t students sit an integrated skills paper, with a reading and summary section, like the ISE exams? Why can’t they answer some critical thinking tasks? The cynical answer to the second part is that it would require IELTS examiners to undergo extra training or retraining in order that they an accurately assess a critical response. Ultimately, I have seen nothing to suggest that Cambridge want to spend a single penny on improvement in any area of the exam, and they are unlikely to as long as they are an accepted monopoly.

In the interests of fairness, I should point out here that the speaking test is quite good. The two-minute presentation and the discussion / opinion-based questions give the students a good work out, although it’s a shame that they don’t adopt an FCE / CAE approach and get two students in at once for a seminar-style discussion. Still, it is a reasonable exam, and the marking emphasis is (correctly) on fluency and ability to communicate rather than being pernickity over minute accuracy.

The danger of exams such as this is that, because they don’t really test ability in realistic situations, teachers then prepare students to pass said exam, rather than upskilling them in real-life tasks. This could be said of secondary school exams as well as IELTS, but this doesn’t make it right. The added external pressures that students receive from governments, workplaces or family, mean that they¬†are also happy to be taught to pass an exam in this way, and they become interested only in this. I can say that I have seen students leave IELTS preparation courses with a lower level of general English ability than they had when they started, but they are happy because they’ve ticked off the entrance criteria for their university of choice. Bearing this in mind, surely IELTS is actually detrimental to a student’s ability to survive at university, and is therefore negatively affecting the skills gaps¬†on university courses that it was put in place to close? And if so, why haven’t universities noticed this?

I imagine that I am writing this in vain, but I am also pretty sure that I’m not the only one having these thoughts. I’d love to hear from more people about their experiences either with EFL or mainstream examinations. I also hope that if this strikes a chord with you, you’ll share it. Maybe someone far more important than I¬†will read it.

 

Simon

Secret Teacher link: http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2015/aug/08/secret-teacher-i-know-my-students-wont-get-the-results-they-deserve

 

 

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Learning in Chunks – just a question of lexis?

It is not exactly revolutionary of me to mention the word “chunk” within the subject of ELT. It has been long established that vocabulary needs to be presented less as individual discrete items, but horizontally, so as to include and acknowledge collocation. Words are indeed the key to communicative language, but prepositions, adjective / noun or noun / verb combinations, and high-frequency connections are the glue that holds it together. Without these things, it is impossible to achieve any real level of productive fluency. None of this is in debate.

There is a particular part of this that is starting to interest me, though. It isn’t the fact that we ought to draw attention to collocation, or words “in chunks” though. It’s the implications of “chunking” for a learner. Chunking isn’t, in fact, just a method of expansion, for as it encourages learners to observe vocabulary in groups rather than individually, it also facilitates the breaking down of full, multiple-clause sentences, in to manageable, bite-sized chunks (Michael Lewis, The Lexical Approach). Again, not a new observation. But is the idea of “bite-sized” usable in other skills?

At this point, I’m going to switch to reading tasks, specifically, academic reading. As an IELTS teacher, I watch a lot of struggle. Students are faced with daunting amounts of text, answers hidden amongst technical terms and “distractors”, and a time limit that would have most native speakers struggling. Often, the sheer volume of text is enough to guarantee demotivation, and, ultimately, failure. I’ve looked at techniques, of course. We’ve scanned, skimmed and inferred until blue in the face, but often it just isn’t enough. Perhaps they aren’t up to it yet. Or perhaps they encounter problems because the task, not the text, isn’t “bite-sized”.

Let’s look at a typical task in an IELTS reading exam. True / False / Not Given questions typically present themselves in order in the text, and require the student to scan and skim in a linear fashion, albeit not necessarily having a clue about the percentage of the whole text covered by the task (unless there is a clear, “scannable” keyword). In general, students are presented with about seven questions, and 800 words of text. They then proceed to read question 1, scan the text, find the answer, write the answer, and repeat for question 2 et cetera. Of course, if they can’t find an answer, they don’t really have a point of reference from which to continue moving forward through the text. In other words, it is difficult to establish linear movement, and can result in time-costly rereading and doubling back. In an incredibly time sensitive exam (1 hour, 3 texts, 2400 words, 40 questions), this is not exactly ideal.

Now, let’s say that a student approaches this in a slightly different way. Upon receiving the task, they break the questions, and then the text, in to bite-sized chunks. They draw a line under question four, and look at questions 1-4 as a separate task. They are not only breaking the task down, but they are also immediately acknowledging that they are likely to be looking at less of the text; the first four-sevenths, roughly. Granted, this is still not exact enough to be comforting. The next stage then, is to isolate the text in a more precise way. The student scans for a keyword match in question 1. They aren’t looking necessarily to find the exact answer at this stage, merely to highlight the area of text in which the answer lies. They draw a line indicating where the text relating to questions 1-4 starts. The next part is to do the same again, but instead of doing this for question 2, they do it for question¬†four. Once they have drawn this second line, they have created a text box, in which four answers lie. The text box is considerably smaller, and therefore less daunting, than the original text, and task, as a whole. They then go through the standard question-answering techniques as they are usually taught. This process is then repeated with questions 5-7, again focusing on isolating “answer-heavy” text, and eliminating time-wasting and a general feeling of being overwhelmed by volume.

While early in my research in to the benefits of this, results so far have been good. Not only have 100% of my students responded positively to this concept, which I believe is more than half the battle (for I am a disciple of the affective filter), but success rates in linear tasks have also gone up considerably in over 80% of these students. I am keen to acknowledge that reading methods and techniques are very much individually subjective, and, as a result, it is difficult to say that there is a “right” way. However, if learners feel that they can approach a task with more confidence than before, I am positive that this will directly contribute to an improvement in results alone, as so many learners are beaten before they step on to the pitch, to use a famous sporting analogy.

I’d love to hear from teachers and students who would like to give this a go. My contact details are on this site. Get in touch, and help me answer the following question: “Can we use the idea of chunking as a reading test technique in general English and exam settings?” And, even more interestingly: “Is there a practical use for a technique like this outside of the environment of comprehension-based tasks – could chunking improve reading ability as a whole?”

 

Simon Richardson

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#3 – The Death of Music

Perhaps I have made a mistake almost immediately. Perhaps number 3 should be “When people decide to write¬†long lists of things they hate and then take so long to complete it that North Korea destroy the world before they have even reached #10”. Perhaps the time has come for me to hang up my hobnailed angerboots, put down my gun of vitriol, un-stab the unseen cloud of irritation that seems to cloud my every path.

The truth is, I haven’t been that angry recently. Well, not in any specifically-directed, coherent way, anyway. My recent anger has taken the form more of a general malaise than a focussed spew of tooth-shattering rage. I’m not going to misleadingly paint you a picture of a reformed gentleman, whistling his merry way down the sunny side of a cobbled street, handing out sweets to the young neighbourhood children – partly because this is now an arrestable offence – but still, all things considered, I’ve been fairly cheerful. I almost smiled the other day.

Smile!

“I love Mondays”

Unfortunately, a rule in life tends to be that if you stick your head up above the fog for too long, a seagull is going to poo on your head. In my case, the poo in which I have been recently covered is a musical poo. Not as novelty as you might expect, I’m afraid. It still smells bad. If I put my finger in it and give it a lick, it still tastes pretty awful. And if it happens in the middle of a crowded street, I still need to flee, red-faced, muttering “Oh, for God’s SAKE” under my breath repeatedly. Yes, that’s right. An extremely pooey poo.

I don’t like self-righteous, arrogant pseudo-folk – a subgenre represented by Frank Turner. I have no time for self-fellating, psychological-meltdown teen-idol gibberish – patented by Britney Spears, most “admirably” stepped up a few units of irritation by Justin “phallus-head” Bieber and Miley “chlamydia incubation device” Cyrus. ¬†I am certainly not endeared in any way to sexual-assault banterpop or its sister genre, gangster rap…e (see R. Kelly, Robin Thicke and an all-star cast of angry, tracksuit-wearing miscreants shouting bad “poetry” loudly in to microphones at staged parties, while surrounded by gyrating crack-whores with dead, dead eyes). And as for One Direction… I’d rather vote Tory than ever hear of them again.

cameron cunt

“I will shoot Harry Styles right in the face if you vote for me.”

What has happened to the world? Generations of youth swept away on an unnervingly quickening tide of time, to be replaced with the musical equivalent of join-the-dots. The legacy of the 60s and 70s – The Beatles, The Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Hendrix, Dylan, The Kinks, Clapton – through the 80s and 90s, glittering with gems as bright as Queen, Jacko, Sabbath, Metallica, Nirvana, Soundgarden, The Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, anything Dave Grohl has ever done, and, of course¬†the mighty and transcendental Toto… all this has been confined to the archives, sealed away in a cage somewhere in a library (what’s one of those?) to gather dust, as our ears are overrun with dirge until, in an evolutionary change fitting of a very bad horror movie, the children of tomorrow are born without ears as our genes realise that deafness holds a much higher chance of survival than being constantly exposed to the brain-melting musical acid that is known today as “Nicki Minaj”.

the children

Maybe, somewhere out there is an adolescent who will read this. If that is you, young “Hashtag Dollar-Sign LOLington-Smythe”, please read my words of warning. Go back to the roots of your ancestors and write something with actual music in it. And guitars. Guitars are good. If you don’t, you will be personally responsible for humans ceasing to have ears. And what’s worse is that this mass ear exodus will almost certainly result in our once-essential and seemingly-benevolent, flappy bits of head skin retreating to the sea to form a master race of giant, amphibious ear people, and they will surely have their grim vengeance on the world that has forced them to swap being squashed up against pillows for the bed of a litter-filled ocean. When this happens – and it definitely will – the only sound left will be the sound of¬†this grumpy old bastard saying “I told you so” (except nobody will hear it, because… oh, right, you get it).

 

I fear for you all.

 

Still, at least I’m angry again. Every cloud and all that.

ear attack

“I’m, er… watching you”

 

Simon

 

 

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Photo Shoot

I’m not usually one for modelling, but I was asked to take part in a photo shoot for work recently. I’m quite pleased with some of the pictures, so I thought I’d post them here – teaching action shots!

Simon

It's a small word - can you guess?
It’s a small word – can you guess?
Over there!
Over there!
This man is a LEGEND! (On the board, not standing next to it)
This man is a LEGEND! (On the board, not standing next to it)
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#2 – Don’t you know how to talk proper, like?

I hate change. Suffice to say, puberty was not an easy time. I have come to believe of late that even the most erratic and impulsive of folk do in fact embrace some level of routine-steeped life, whether it be a set bedtime, a plan of the week’s meals or even “touch-oneself-o’clock”. ¬†However, it would be something of a damp squib to devote part of my Sunday to writing about the trials and tribulations of that horrible moment when live Sport lasts longer than expected (resulting in the earth-shatteringly cataclysmic cancellation of ugly orange-faced posh people guffawing smugly at inanimate objects for 30 sodding minutes), so I won’t. Instead, I’m going to focus my twitchy anger on changes in language and, more specifically, why in gibbering ARSE it has become the norm to be as articulate or literate as a drunk parakeet with a toy shovel in its head.

5pm

Technically, this means that I NEVER have to stop masturbating

It isn’t just the old favourites. Don’t get me wrong though; Your / You’re and There / Their / They’re errors bring me out in a rash. It’s more the regression of language, the slide in to the lingual abyss, the inability to wear trousers that fit properly. Grammatically. I hear “could of”, “should of” and “would of”, I endure “irregardless”, “pronounce-iation” and “expresso”, my skin turns inside out and suffocates me half to death when I hear “LOL”, “OMG” and the dreaded “Literally”. I mean, what do people think this is? SPANISH? Wash your malapropic mouths out with minty word juice and then pick your teeth with a damned sharp apostrophe, the lot of you. But don’t you DARE attempt to retrieve said toothpick from a possessive pronoun (unless it happens to be “one’s”).

slide_5260_72230_large

Apparently the “price” doesn’t cover English lessons

I read an article in Metro recently. (The mere sound of those words leave the smell of rotting relative clauses lingering in the air like a language fart, so appalling is the overall standard of English found within). It was a piece on the evolution of slang or, as I’d prefer to call it, “how to decipher the moronic, structureless grunts of children”. Have a look at the picture below, but DON’T count the number of words that you actually understand. Instead, say them out loud to a friend and then you can both have a massive laugh at how unbelievably¬†incapable¬†other people are. Then go outside and punch a teenager. Punch some English back in to them. (NB: Don’t punch a foreign teenager and then use the previous sentence as an excuse, unless you’re fond of the EDL).

slang-graphic

 

I’ve almost finished now, but I’d like to leave you with a brief lesson. Next time you are subjected to a barrage of blarney, a deluge of drivel or a tirade of tittishness, please redirect the offending numskull to the below. It may save a life one day. Theirs. (NOT BLOODY THEIR’S).

Part 1: Your / You’re

“Your” is possessive, meaning it is used when indicating that something belongs to “you” (whoever that is).
Example: Your command of the English language is nothing short of atrocious. Get a grip, you arse.

“You’re” is an abbreviation of “you are”.
Example: You’re a poorly educated, ill-informed, illiterate moron. Avaunt, and quit my sight!

Part 2: There / Their / They’re

“There” is an adverb, usually indicating location or place.
Example 1: Look over there; it’s an English person with little command of his native language. See how his knuckles scrape against the floor.
Example 2: There is NO SODDING APOSTROPHE after that word, Angelica darling. I’m sorry I hit you. It’s for your own good.

Part 3: LOL / ROFL / OMG / BFF

These are NOT WORDS.
Example 1: Yes, your honour. I freely admit to using my favourite Thesaurus to brutally murder a young lady on the bus who I had overheard exclaiming “LOL” to her friend.

Part 4: Apostrophes.

Apostrophes are used to signify possession, meaning that the following noun belongs to the person / pronoun to which the apostrophe is attached. They are NOT required after plurals, nor are they necessary after “it”, unless you want to say “it is”. They are also used to abbreviate “is” or “has”.
Example 1: Simon’s fountain pen plunged in to Andrew’s heart, for he knew that to hear but one more misused personal pronoun would surely send him quite mad.
Example 2: A: “What’s happened to him? Is he…dead?” B: “I believe he’s split his last infinitive, yes.”
Example 3: His injuries, extensive as they were, were caused by a multitude of misspellings. (NOT “misspelling’s).

Part 5: Borrow / Lend

If you borrow something, you take it from somebody for a limited period of time, after which it is (usually) returned. If you lend something, then you give it temporarily to somebody else. You can NOT say:

“Can I lend a pen?”
“Can you borrow me ten pounds?”
“Can I have a lend of your tampon?”

Instead, say this:

“Can I borrow a pen?”
“Can you lend me ten pounds?”
“Can I borrow your tampon?”

Cleared that up? Good. Now bugger off.

Simon

english-grammar-on-signs-13

Some threat, that.

 

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Facebook buyout sparks mass unfounded cartoon-based hysteria

Facebook buyout sparks mass unfounded cartoon-based hysteria

American Internet giant Google have launched a successful $1tn takeover of Facebook, which will see Earth’s four largest powers combine in a move that has sent fear and reminiscence through the hearts of 1990s children all over the world. The move swiftly follows Facebook’s acquisition of Whatsapp, the world’s most popular time-wasting messenger service, and is thought to be the largest merger in the history of anything, ever.

‚ÄėIt‚Äôs like he‚Äôs, y‚Äôknow, becoming a Capitalist Captain Planet!‚Äô shrieked Martha Atkinson, an unemployed single mother from Bedford.

download

The Power is His!

‚ÄėIt‚Äôs very simple ‚Äď now that the four corners of the World ‚Äď Google, YouTube, Facebook and Whatsapp have joined together, the force of these elements will transform me.‚Äô boomed Larry Page, Google CEO, immaculately caped and masked, atop a $35,000 dollar replica of The Iron Throne.

¬†Experts have expressed concern over the sheer weight of the gold bullion used to make the purchase, stating that ‚Äėpolarisation of international wealth to this extent could cause a weight imbalance so catastrophic that the entire area could collapse in to the sea.‚Äô However, retired Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg remained unperturbed. ‚ÄėI recently relocated my private bank to an undisclosed location in Africa in anticipation of such an issue. You see, nobody gives a shit if Africa sinks‚Äô he smiled, casually lighting another $100 bill as he stepped on to his private submarine.

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Photos

This morning I decided that my site needed more pictures. I’ve done a fair bit of travelling and holidaying in the last few years, so I’ve put up photographic evidence of my trips to America, Portugal, Egypt, Brazil and Colombia, as well as a few from various places in England. I’ll put more up another day, but this is a good start.

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#1 Walky-Texty Gawp Machines

Allow me to paint you a picture. It’s a windy Tuesday afternoon and you’re on your way home from town. You’ve got a few shopping bags – perhaps a vacuum packed steak for tea, so bloody that it is gradually leaking red middle-class juice on to a new pair of 15% off Converse.

Converse

God, you’re¬†COOL.¬†You’re like that guy from that band.

Naturally, you’re anxious to get back to your semi-detached suburban bubblebox, put some Eric Clapton on your floor-standing speakers and sing tunelessly along to the first three words of each chorus (you silently mouth the other words, because you don’t know them). Anyway, there you are, briskly courting the edge of the pavement in order to breeze past the ridiculous assortment of dawdlers, aggressively obese women in tracksuits and children picking their noses, when POW! You’re unceremoniously shunted in to a puddle that has collected mud, cigarette butts and cholera at the side of the road over the course of the last 24 hours of British drizzle, by some utterly inconsiderate drone. Exasperated, you stare at your damp Sainsburys bag-for-life and then glance up to see that the newest object of your vitriol is none other than a completely anonymous, random bastard who is bashing, banging and bouncing into the rest of the pedestrian public for no other reason than they are BLOODY TEXTING. Or flicking through their Facebook news feed. Or looking at a semi-naked selfie that has been snapchatted to them by Shazza15 (who, it will later turn out, is underage).

video-opdoc-texting-articleLarge

OMG ur so funny lolz…cnt wait 2 c u babe. Stella xxx

Evidently, I am not the only person who is exceedingly irritated by this. In New Jersey, tickets are now being issued for “reckless walking”. The NTSA estimated 1500 accidents directly caused by this in 2010, with a projected year-on-year rise. And, hilariously, an American woman with a BMI higher than her IQ was so distracted while texting that she WALKED OFF A PIER. It’s incredible to watch. These dribbling cretins jolt from side to side as if they are steering themselves with their own thumbs, and, with the irritating “swish” motion now a feature on virtually every phone in existence, the switch of direction has become so rapid and chaotic that it resembles a string puppet dancing. Or someone accidentally slipping on Peter Andre’s hair.

Now, I’m not usually an advocate of vigilante justice (I am), but in this case it seems clear to me that the only way to combat this appalling crime is by legalising instant street beatings. I can’t imagine anything more satisfying than watching – even better, actively participating in – a hungover 19-year-old girl being set upon by every member of the general public within a cat-swing, and beaten to within an inch of her life as a punishment for being too absorbed in Whatsapping her BFF about where to get the morning after pill, instead of just looking where the hell she was going. Bitch.

Texting While Walking

You’re going to get punched in the head, love.

Other similar crimes include unnecessarily walking three abreast down a narrow street, suddenly stopping without warning, standing in doorways and genocide.

You have all had fair warning. Next time I come to town, I’m coming swinging.

tumblr_m17cue3MKF1ro2ryjo1_500

‘But on my way, I’m going to be doing this… if you get hit, it’s your own fault…’

Simon

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My Room 101 – A Labour of Hate

Before I begin, I would like to draw your attention to an EXTREMELY IMPORTANT WORD. Please remember it for later.

Atrocity – /…ôňątr…ís…ôt…™/ a.tro.ci.ty (noun, countable)

1. Appalling or atrocious condition, quality, or behaviour; monstrousness.
2. Behaviour or an action that is wicked or ruthless
3. The fact or quality of being atrocious

When I find myself tuning in to the immaculately coiffed reporters of doom, gloom and celebrity gossip that are “The Newsreaders”, they often use the above word when referring to war crimes, terrorism and British weather. ¬†They are, of course, unarguably (and equally) correct in their usage of the word in all three instances. However, in doing so I can’t help but feel that they overlook the need for its continued and everyday usage, for the sad fact, ladies and gentlemen, is that I experience atrocities EVERY SINGLE DAY. I only need to step out on to a road to find my senses bombarded, beaten and bullied by tiny little atrocities, living openly like bacteria upon a vast array of breathbags, brain-morons and all-round irritating little cretins worldwide. Put quite simply, I am having a clandestine hate-affair with the whole world.

ANNOYING
Simon was never readmitted to the Halitosis Anonymous group

Stop reaching for that straitjacket, Mother. I realise that not all of you are going to have been immediately convinced, which is precisely the reason that I have decided to start a little (ish) project, entitled “Room 101 – A Labour of Hate”.

It would appear that the “blog” section of this site is swiftly being transformed in to a personal crusade to win a place in your hearts as your second favourite hate preacher (after Abu Hamza – he is definitely more cuddly), so I may as well go the whole hog and embrace this as a fact to be celebrated. Taking the idea of popular BBC TV series Room 101 (but with a twist), I have decided to write 101 short pieces, each addressing a new atrocity – not a “Trevor McDonald atrocity”, but one that you yourselves may encounter from day to day. Perhaps this collection of musings will serve as a warning, so that you can be ever-vigilant of the unspeakable crimes that lie a matter of feet from you – on the other side of a supermarket shelf, round the corner of a crowded street, or on Track 9 of that utterly appalling CD that you’re about to cram nonchalantly in to your pocket noise-maker. DON’T DO IT!

Or perhaps you could simply upload pictures of your own faeces-covered rear end and then use this section (or any other) of my blog as virtual, pixellated toilet paper. I would be delighted with either outcome.

Hug Me!
¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† “Hug Me!”

Expect edition #1 of my anger-filled ranting to follow forthwith. Oh, and here is some appropriately rage-filled music, courtesy of a man who has spent his career being outwardly furious at being named after a river that flows through Nottingham: Trent Reznor.

Simon

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BP 180/110 and Counting

Somewhere, deep within the bowels of my brain – a metaphor that might go some way toward explaining why I talk so much shit – lies a switch. I like to think of it as being incredibly difficult to flick, kind of like a bogey with legs. Unfortunately, I have been reliably informed that I am wrong.

The switch to which I am referring to is embossed with the word “RAGE”. We all have one. Mine is either faulty or the size of a fist. A really angry fist with the word “hate” tattooed across its furious knuckles. In my experience, there are a number of things in life that, completely understandably of course, reach their horrendous little fingers out, insert them in to my ear and jab the switch repeatedly like particularly invasive q-tips. I’ve already vitriolically hammered my thoughts on a couple of these hideous little anger-goblins on to a keyboard here¬†http://simonrichardsonenglish.wordpress.com/2012/11/22/asbo/¬†and here¬†http://simonrichardsonenglish.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/christmas/. Well, they say that pent-up balls of maniacal aggression come in threes…

Anger Goblin

The Green Goblin of Apostrophe Misuse

‘I’ve got a bike, I can ride it how I like…’

It’s a glorious, sunny day. If you’re reading this from Southern Europe, South-East Asia, Australasia, most of North America, South America, Africa, The Middle East or any country where English is not the first language, this means it’s cold, but it isn’t raining. If you visit RIGHT NOW (just for one day mind), I can all but guarantee you that you might not immediately die from Pneumonia as soon as you get off the plane. Of course, if you’re a Muslim the EDL might stab you, but at least you wouldn’t be freezing cold. Anyway, I’m British, so when I catch a glimpse of the sun I’m practically naked within 5 seconds (strange how an enormous ball of fire can have the exact same effect on the male population as Scarlett Johansson, isn’t it?) and I take to the streets for a delightful little stroll through central Oxford. How quaint. Or it ought to be at any rate, but within two minutes I meet the first perilous obstacle of my aimless little waddle: a ROAD. That I need to CROSS. Fortunately, J.P Knight, and later, Leslie Hore-Belisha came up with excellent ¬†methods of facilitating this: Traffic Lights and Pedestrian Crossings. Comforted, perhaps complacent, I approach one of these marvellous and apparently COMPLETELY UNHEARD OF inventions and press the little button. And, after a little wait, the little red man becomes a little green man and happy little me can cross the little road and potter along happily to…..”DING DING WHAT THE FUUUUUUUU&%*$%&” As if from nowhere, like a ringwraith for the modern day, a lycra-wearing lunatic comes steaming straight through the red light / over the pedestrian crossing, a look of determination on his face seen thirty minutes earlier when trying to cram himself in to an outfit meant for athletes, or at the very least people who don’t resemble the blob from Blade that gets burnt to death by a UV ray. Take note, fatties. Wear anything other than a tent with sleeves and I will come at you with blue lightbulbs.

Bradley

Following stage 8 of the Tour de France, 
Bradley Wiggins removes his yellow jersey
and breathes out

Revenge is a dish best served on foot

It’s like a lottery. A really dangerous lottery only played by idiots. So, a lottery then. They appear from nowhere at speed, swerving unpredictably in front of livid bus drivers, resembling enormous flies evading a swatter. Stopping for nothing and nobody, caught up in the smug complacency that no number plate or other identifying mark adorns their metal chariot with which to locate or fine them, single-mindedly focused on the titanic task of getting from point A to point B without stopping or slowing down, lest their entire being loses its pedally sense of rhythm and spontaneously combusts. I can feel my blood pressure rising just from writing this paragraph. One day I will turn the tables. I’ll casually walk along the pavement in a logical, straight line until a cyclist passes, and then deviate completely illogically in to the road, knocking them from their vehicle. I’ll then beat the absurd engineless motorbike to death with my bare hands and rip its damned spokey-dokeys off (Did I mention that I’m currently imagining myself destroying a six-year-old’s bike from 1989?). That’ll level the playing field. Cyclists beware. Pedestrians are striking back, one broken bone at a time.

Bike

When the police arrived on scene,
Budgie was already dead.

The alternative is that Patrick McLoughlin reads this blog, and makes the following changes post-haste:

  • Number plates on all bicycles, or mandatory identity jackets as seen worn by Colombian motorcyclists
  • On the spot fines for cyclists who don’t follow the highway code / wear a helmet
  • Enable wronged pedestrians or motorists to legally strangle perpetrators to death in the middle of the street while humming the theme tune to Shaft

Job done.

Conclusion

I realise that this is going to tally up against me somewhat. I have already asserted in no uncertain terms that riding on a train is definitely what I’ll be doing on repeat in hell (if such a place exists). ¬†I’ve now followed it up by tearing in to bicycles like a live manifestation of rust, but much faster acting. It looks bad, but I’m not actually a mediaeval farmer in disguise. I’m not¬†terrified of the concept of, or even plainly anti-transport. I’m also not the kind of gibbering loon who would demand that the wheel be placed in Room #101. In fact, what I’ve come to realise is it’s not the train’s fault. It’s also not the bicycle’s fault. No. The fault, quite clearly, lies with all of YOU. The people who turn them from innocent little inanimate objects in to wheely whirly nightmares. So, I’m going to suggest that humanity is tossed nonchalantly in to the mythical BBC pit – though recent revelations seem to indicate that an underground lair full of hateful things housed within BBC headquarters, may in fact be more plausible than originally thought. Call in Tony Robinson and Time Team. They’ll get to the bottom of it (and then have to stay there, in accordance with my condemnatory wishes).

Tony

“ARGH! Savile’s got a hold of my leg….”

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This new-fangled thing called the “Worldwide Web”

It’s Wednesday. If you’re a bespectacled Kiwi, this means that ‘tonight is the night that we make love’. But I’m not in New Zealand. In fact, I’ve never even been, despite it effectively being a giant country-shaped rugby stadium in the middle of the sea. Instead, I’m sitting in my bedroom in Oxford. Well, when I say “sitting” I actually mean “crouching in the corner of a dark room wearing a coat hanger covered in tinfoil for a hat, gibbering poppycock about the Wars of the Roses to the wall”. Why, you ask? Why is this otherwise entirely sane gentleman of repute acting in such a way that might have him mistaken for a rabid Justin Bieber fan?

The length of....time you'll have to wait to see Justin Bieber

I’ll tell you, but ONLY you. You see, the Internet did it.

Cast your minds back, if you will, to the dim and distant past. The internet was in its infancy. Facebook, Twitter and the seminal Roundabout Appreciation Society hadn’t even been roughly conceived in the back of a Ford Transit yet. And, across the world, perplexed parents are speaking to their mothers on their landline telephones, when suddenly “BRRRRRRRRRRR…EEEEEEEEEEEEE….B-DN B-DN B-DN” – a noise that could only be described as similar to what happens when Q*BERT flushes the toilet after a long day lighting up cubes drowns out their fawning agreements and tiresome eye-rolling. It’s happened. Their children are connecting to “The World Wide Web”, futuristic land of pixellated paedophiles and pornography involving wallpaper and horses. “Say it ain’t so!” they cry. But so it was. And is. And forever shall darn well be. Thankfully, they just sigh, apologise, reach for the plug and…..”click”. Silence. Disconnected.

Qbert

So there was a time, you see, when the www’s and the http’s could be rationed. It was considered a routine request that the internet be “disconnected” so that homework could be completed, chores done or pets fed. However, let’s fast-forward a few years to the present day and try and conceptualise the same request, as presented to today’s snarling, square-eyed picture of youth. I believe it would go something like this:

Father: “Mike, it’s time for tea! Come downstairs and… OH MY GOD… I…er…I…”

Son: “Dad! Oh my God, what are you doing! You can’t just come… I was, er… I was just looking at this…er…”

Father: “OK OK OK, enough, I’ll be, er…. just… tea’s ready, come downstairs please”

Son:¬†“OK just… SHUT THE DOOR! I’ll, yeah, OK…”

Not a pretty picture.

Cup

I digress. The point is that the internet is omnipresent, omnipotent, omnivorous; it literally devours everything it touches – meat or vegetable. Everything that was once perfectly happy living a 3-dimensional, oxygen-breathing life has now been absorbed into “the all-powerful internet”, a place so backward that it contains sites where “following” people is encouraged rather than illegal. Books are online, jobs are online, I even overheard my family talking about taking my Grandmother offline the other day. I was incensed. How dare they upload members of my own family without even informing me?! Is she available on USB? Can I “share” her with my friends? So many questions…

Nan

All this madness brings about the question: what happens if, amongst this, you suddenly find yourself deprived of the internet for a length of time?

And so I bring you back to my current reality, chewing on nails and spiders’ legs while shivering under a blanket made of my own toenail clippings. Ladies and Gentlemen, I HAVE NO INTERNET. If I say this in public, I imagine I will be stared at while mothers ¬†usher their children away from me and preachers flick stagnant water over my face. I am impure! Unclean! Disconnected from the internet; disconnected from life. It isn’t fair. Imagine what would have happened if Jack Bauer had said “Chloe! I need satellite coverage of the hostile’s vehicle NOW!” and he had got the reply: “Sorry Jack, Internet’s down. Apparently someone from Virgin Media will be round in two Monday’s time, between 1 and 6 and can she have the first line of your address and postcode, please?”

What

I need help.

Missing: One “Internet”.

Size: Both minuscule and unfathomably huge.

Answers to:¬†“BRRRRRRRRRRR…EEEEEEEEEEEEE….B-DN B-DN B-DN”

REWARD: MY ETERNAL GRATITUDE AND (WHAT IS LEFT OF) MY FRAGILE SANITY

You know where to find me.

Simon

Posted on

“Mum… MUM! I think the planet’s dead!”

I hope that you all appreciate this. I’m hunched over, bottom lip firmly clamped over nose, taking valuable time out from the last day on earth to write about the last day on… yes. Well. My nonetheless valid point is that I deserve recognition for this selfless act. Of course, the painful agony of this is that the earth is about to be eaten by Godzilla, meaning that my long overdue Nobel prize will remain undelivered. Damn you, Gorilla-Whale. Anyway, while rocketing through my bucket list at a speed that would give Morgan Freeman an epileptic fit, I have had time to pause and reflect on the cold hard facts that form the undeniable truth that is the forthcoming apocalypse.

Marlon Harewood's Bad Hair Day 20.12.12

The Mayans

I feel compelled to begin by stating that I have never in fact met a Mayan. However, I have been told that the 21st of December represents the end of a 5125-year cycle in their calendar. This is terrifying news, but it DOES allow me to draw the following highly educated conclusions about their ancient society with some degree of confidence and authority:

  1. Their calendars were ludicrously expensive.
  2. They used rhinoceros horns embedded in to their walls to hang said calendars, which made a mess of their kitchen wallpaper.
  3. They are responsible for most species of rhinoceros being endangered today.
  4. Mayan Teenagers’ calendars contained an eye-watering amount of airbrushed soft pornography.
  5. This resulted in Mayan males having abnormal asymmetries in their wrist sizes.
  6. Mayan females liked to plan things an awfully long way ahead.
  7. Except for counting numbers after 20.12.2012

Hot Mayan Nurses

ARE YOU SCARED YET????? I start trembling and have to hide behind a pillow whilst sobbing quietly in to a bucket of my own sick EVERY NEW YEAR (although I have been told that this is actually affected by alcohol consumption rather than doomsday-phobia). All the same, imagine the state the Mayans must be in right this second, after stacking up 5125 New Years in to one night. I can’t even begin to imagine how one would go about dressing in 5125 different fancy dress costumes at once, let alone sing Auld Lang Syne 5125 times. The mind boggles.

The Music

Whilst there is no denying the quality of both The Beatles and Nirvana separately, the combining of two powerful forces such as these has no doubt confirmed that Armageddon is upon us. It doesn’t matter that 50% of them are dead, or that Paul McCartney has been melted by his own smuggery leaving only a magic singing toupee behind, the facts CAN NOT BE IGNORED. Strongly backing up this argument are musical collaborations such as Madonna and Nicki Minaj, Rihanna and Chris Brown and Iggy Pop and that staggering mountain of wildebeest turd with a dollar sign in her name. The mysterious release of a single called “Scream to high buggery” by Ban$hee on this very date has almost certainly swayed it for me.

Ke$ha is Swamped by Fans

The Guys with the Signs

I mean, they seem so sure this time, right? Undeterred by the previous 74 occasions on which they have been proven to merely be the kind of people who twitch on buses, stare intently at geese and sniff bridges, the placard-wearing brigade have once again taken to the streets in force, sporting everyone’s favourite judgement day slogans:

  1. “The End is Nigher”
  2. “Get your tissues for the second coming”
  3. “It’s not the end of the… OH WAIT”
  4. “I’ll NOT be back”

I’m pretty sure I also spotted a group of students near the back too, but their signs said “NOW will you legalise it??”

A-DOH-CALYPSE

They Killed Sir Patrick Moore

I don’t know who “they” is, but television has recently told me that Sir Patrick Moore was the only man in the entire world to have owned a telescope. Now nobody can see Godzilla coming. We are all surely doomed.

Conclusion

So it’s almost time for me to bid you adieu. The final curtain, the last hoorah. As Edith Piaf, a woman who could be transformed from a midget in to the tallest woman in the world through careful ironing, once warbled: “Je ne regrette rien…”

BUT WAIT!! An epiphany! Maybe all is not in fact lost! Remove the knife from your mother in-law’s throat, put your pants back on and return that Bugatti to its owner very, very quietly. And, for those of you just about to seal the airlock on your cryogenic chambers, first ponder over these three crucial, life-changing facts:

  • It’s already 21.12.2012 in Australia, so even if the end of the world is coming, at least they died first.
  • One of the four horsemen of the apocalypse recently received a six-month ban for the presence of a “prohibited substance” in his blood and is therefore unavailable for selection.
  • Kim Jong-Un’s fingers are too fat to press the big shiny red button on his massive mahogany desk.

FRANKIE DETTORI - DEFINITELY NOT A COKEHEAD

Simon

Posted on

‘Tis the Season

Hurrah! Huzzah! Brobdignag! We should all be sickeningly congratulatory, stand around in large circles and laugh heartily in rounds (until the laughter awkwardly fades away like that bit in Austin Powers).

Why, you ask?

“Well, it’s Christmas! You see that?! WE did that!!” Except….

It will come as no surprise to those of you unfortunate to know me that I dislike Christmas intensely. I wake up every December 25th with what psychiatrists specialising in providing an entirely unwanted supportive ear to hormonal teenagers will come to refer to as “an utterly stonking grump on”. Do you remember that time when Fred Durst nonchalantly flung strands of his pubic hair, 15 stone of lard and a dead clown in to a Play-Doh pasta machine and then furiously turned the handle, grinding away until, eventually, the band Staind popped out? Yes? Well, even more miserable than them.

StaindPlay-Doh

I have reasons which conveniently divide themselves in to two kinds:

  1. Poignant and Genuine
  2. Strange

I won’t ruin the surprise by telling you which of these will form the focus of the remainder of this post. Call it my Christmas gift to you all. Don’t thank me.

Drum Roll……………

1) Snow

On Christmas Day, 1941, Bing Crosby, via radio, released a version of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” so covered in treacle that a morbidly obese man, unable to beat hunger away with his giant back-scratcher until Turkey o’clock promptly devoured it. No known copy of the original broadcast exists. Undeterred, Crosby, who was later scientifically proven to have the most punchable face in human history, re-released it via the eye-wateringly terrible film, Holiday Inn. The following SUMMER. Such was the power of his dream of a white Christmas, that a terrified God invented snow almost immediately after, and that was that. Boy, did HE have egg on his face when he realised that Crosby had being singing about class ‘A’ narcotics all along.

The obsession with snow in this country is ludicrous. I have actually witnessed real adults flapping their wings with joy and utter disbelief when they discover that THERE IS ICE FALLING FROM THE SKY. All well and good, don’t get me wrong. But then, almost inevitably with us Brits, the complaining starts.

“It’s COOOOOOOOOOLD!” “It’s really sliiiiiippyyyyyy!” “My snowman looks like a fat Grand Imperial Wizard and it’s scaring the nice Nigerian family next door!”

KKK Snowman

Chaos ensues. The country literally goes in to meltdown (no pun intended).  People are unable to leave their houses and go to work for fear of the annual plague of Yetis, drivers reduce their speeds to 10mph (whilst still driving three inches from the rear of the car in front) and pensioners all across the UK start dropping dead in protest.

So my message about snow to you all, as you shield yourself from a barrage of suspiciously yellow-coloured snowballs hurled by the children across the way, is this:

It’s all Bing Crosby’s fault.

Bing

2) The “family meal”

Q: What’s the blandest, dullest, most depressing kind of meat in the world?

The answer of course is Andy Murray. But we can’t all eat him. Oh no. So, we use an unbelievably complex mathematical principle to calculate the optimum number of drunk, hat-wearing lunatics that comfortably fit around a dinner table, add seventeen, then sit in anticipation of the world’s second blandest, second dullest, second most depressing kind of meat, Turkey.

Turkeys were introduced to Britain by William Strickland upon his return from America in 1542. This was during the reign of King Henry VIII, an exceptionally fat man, who was pant-wettingly excited about the fact that turkeys were bigger than geese. He started eating them and, being as he was in no way an enormous pain in the posterior, he never once threatened death upon those who did not support and facilitate the breeding of these animals. ALTERNATIVELY…

Henry VIII

So here we are, picking disdainfully at our turkey while frantically clock-watching, beads of anticipatory sweat dripping from our brows as if our very juices are trying to make a break for it and save themselves, when things take a dramatic turn for the worse. How wrong D:Ream were with their 1993 prediction, because, that’s right, it’s time for Christmas crackers. I can’t adequately describe a cracker in a way that fully portrays its unbearable crapness. Fortunately, Wikipedia can. I would like you to read the following while imagining it being narrated by the blandest, dullest, most depressing kind of meat in the world:

‘A cracker consists of a cardboard tube wrapped in a brightly decorated twist of paper, making it resemble an oversized sweet-wrapper. The cracker is pulled by two people, and, much in the manner of a wishbone, the cracker splits unevenly. The split is accompanied by a small bang or snapping sound produced by the effect of friction on a chemically impregnated card strip (similar to that used in a cap gun). One chemical used for the friction strip is silver fulminate, which is highly unstable.’

Brilliant.

But wait? What’s that inside the cracker? Is it…. a joke??? Could things be looking up???

HILARIOUS joke

What follows this is laughter so forced that it can only be replicated on any other day by attending a Russell Howard stand-up routine. Not to mention the fact that I was absolutely positive that the answer to that joke was “Chuck Norris”.

Fortunately, I have a solution to this part of “The Christmas Problem”, the instructions to which are below:

  1. Unfurl “joke”.
  2. Pretend to read it, concentrate very hard on Russell Howard, and then make laughy noises.
  3. Instead of reading it, pretend to read it while instead telling a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT JOKE that is ACTUALLY FUNNY.
  4. Apologise to your grandparents.

Works every time. I call it “How not to be invited to your own house on Christmas Day”.

3) Jesus

Let me get this straight. I’m eating turkey, wearing a stupid hat and sitting twelve centimetres away from my Grandmother’s cleavage because there was once a story of a wizard baby who grew up, drank too much and enjoyed a “bit of a dabble” with a prostitute? Who does he think he is? Angus Deayton?

Angus Deayton

Two Weeks Later…..

Margaret, mother of two, has given up. The strain of Christmas has ripped her soul in to tiny, tinsel-covered shreds. She’s had more visitors than she could shake a stick at, and they have harassed, demanded, niggled, gibed, annoyed, baited, bothered, badgered, hassled, heckled and hounded her in to submission. Not only that, but she’s had turkey sandwiches, turkey risotto, turkey stir fry, turkey stew and turkey curry. Turkey is actually coming out of her eyeballs. She even called the President of Turkey to see if he could assist. He could not. Defeated and a shell of a woman, she wearily trudges across the new lino that was given to her as a present by her dreadful Mother-in-Law, opens the bin and…

“What about the starving children in Africa, Mummy?”

Spanking

The moral of the story is that Christmas also directly causes child abuse. I rest my case.

Simon

Posted on

The ASBO months

If I were a mathematician, I would suggest that age is directly proportional to irrational rage at every little thing around you. But I’m not a mathematician, so instead I’ll just say that I am a twisted, bitter ball of hatred. Or at least I am when I am on a TRAIN.

A TRAIN

Otherwise known as a wheeled hellbox, trains were first invented by FIAT in 1963 when they decided that they really were duty-bound to take their unique brand of unreliability to the public transport market. They rapidly became hugely popular amongst commuters, giving them something to moan about with even more irritatingly loud vigour while to-ing and fro-ing between upper middle-class Turdville and headset-wearing Utopia. After a few years, however, the novelty wore off and so FIAT, in their desperation to maintain a monopoly, decided to invent “regressopment”. Exactly like development, only backwards. By 1990, engines and electrics were a thing of the past and trains started running on the power of bloody mindedness alone, something which FIAT have since covered up by employing one man per train to constantly make train-like noises in to a microphone for the entire journey, thereby lulling passengers in to a deafening sense of security. I can only assume that the 2020s will see octogenarian paraplegics manning hand-pumped trolleys full of obnoxious businessmen in exchange for being kicked and spat at. I would enjoy this.

Old Person probably on Minimum Wage

In the last four months I have spent over £1000 on trains. This has given me ample time to devise a complicated and extremely intelligent system of categorisation of types of train people. These are:

1) Utterly hateful wastes of oxygen who need repeatedly stabbing and then force-feeding live dogs until they explode.

2) Me.

I find myself becoming more antisocial the more time I spend on trains. Seeking solitude, I sit in the aisle seat, plonking all my worldly possessions on the adjacent seat and then spend the rest of the time looking menacing, listening to loud music and ignoring everybody else. I sigh loudly if anyone dares to request that they sit next to me and am almost moved to insanity if the train so much as approaches full. To calm myself, I irrationally pick out the person around me with the most hateful face and focus my rage entirely on them. “What an appalling, wretched excuse for a human being you are. Melt, perish and decompose right here before me, foul urchin”.

Commuter on the 925 from Orpington

What then invariably happens, is that the train stops working / is late / falls over on its side. Then the real fun begins. “SQUUUUUUEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKladies and gentlemen… we apologise for the delay. This is due entirely to me, JOHN SMITH, being a completely incompetent, gibbering ape. I was born without opposable thumbs, half of my brain and the ability to distinguish between situations in which it is OK to fling piles of my faeces at passers-by and those in which it is not.” All of this is said at MAXIMUM VOLUME and yet is unintelligible even to an English teacher. OK, well. Turn up the volume of my music, sit tight and… wait… really? Is the man next to me really talking so loudly to his disinterested colleague that I can hear him over music that is being directly pumped in to my ear holes?

Colleagues have discrete train chat

“Well, you see Crispin… haw haw haaaaaw… Brian over at HR really doesn’t have the slightest clue who I am and what I’ve done for this company to be honest… so I got my sec to give him a bell and put him straight, you know… haw haw haaaaaaaaw…” Is there ANYONE out there who doesn’t feel a little violent after reading that? I just punched myself in the groin simply for typing it. I’m not even halfway to my destination and I have already committed at least five different unspeakable crimes inside my head. I am the Patrick Bateman of trains. By the time the train arrives I usually eject myself from its foul clutches at such an alarming pace that I am through the barriers and out of the station before Usain Bolt can eat a plate of chicken nuggets. Or at least I would be but for the cruellest of parting shots at the barrier:

X        Seek Customer Assistance

Simon

Posted on

Finished!

Celebratory cake!!

After 8 weeks of blood, sweat and tears (without the tears) I have discovered two things.
1) I have an attention span of no longer than 8 weeks.
2) 8 weeks of blood and sweat fills more of a bucket than you might expect.

Still, what this means is that I can devote a little more time to the site now, so expect more uploads to follow!

Simon

Posted on

The Inevitable (A career path devoid of responsibility)

I would like to thank and apologise to my Mother in equal measures for this short story…

I can hear the sun. It’s telling me drag myself from my pit and go outside. Honestly. It’s a lovely day. The problem is, it’s November. I am far too worldly wise to fall for that one. So, with the option of venturing more than 40 feet from my bedroom very clearly ruled out, I’ve slithered in to action. In this case, action involved making coffee and then going back to bed. Now here I am, shiny new web page, very exciting, I am a force of creative…bugger.

I am not a good student. I have a woefully short attention span and am prone to quite severe bouts of verbal diarrhoea. All this has, I imagine, not just made my recent decision to study for a DELTA intensively (more on that later) a skipping, whooping joy for all my classmates, but also means that I can more than adequately fulfil all the clich√©s of being a teacher by being gleefully hypocritical. What this also means, inevitably, is that I am now sitting here wondering what I should write. No, scratch that. I’m ACTUALLY thinking about Morrison’s High Juice. It’s extremely tasty, you see.

I am truly a lost cause. Relegate me to the back of the blogger’s class. Backs of classes are for doodling, absent-minded tapping and the insertion of index fingers in to an eye-popping number of orifices. Sadly enough, I am, if I say so myself, pretty damn talented at all of the above. So, with almost inevitable irony, my own profligacy and complete unteachability has led me to that self same fork in the road encountered by the Russian knight, and I have chosen, as I often tend to, to ride to the right and lose my head. Robert Frost will insist that I am in a yellow wood, but I’m not. I’m at my Mother’s house in an¬†excruciatingly posh suburban town, hunched up in my sheetless bed, drinking coffee and waffling desperately on to a page that 99.9% of the world will never set eyes on.¬†¬†Nevertheless, my fork in the road has led me to this point, a 28 year old teacher who, after four years of deliberating, cogitating and digesting to a level that would surely make Lloyd Grossman vomit, has taken the plunge in to the realm of getting a “proper qualification” and “committing to a career”. Wouldn’t my Mother be proud? Well, maybe not, seeing as I just referred to her town as excruciatingly posh. Sorry Mum.

DELTA is hard. If you are blissfully unaware of this acronym, just stop reading. Seriously, shoo. You are time-wasting to a level that even I can not aspire to, and I currently have a pencil inserted somewhere unspeakable. Still here? Right. DELTA is hard. I have essentially bankrupted myself in order to spend eight weeks practising my profession for free, while a smattering of teaching oracles poke me to see if I bruise. Then, every evening, I have gone home and discovered that, contrary to popular belief, books do actually bite. To outsiders, I may appear to be going to extreme lengths to ensure that my own native language becomes a form of personal torture, but, given my afore-mentioned goldfish-sized attention span and the fact that this career is not financially rewarding until a level 7 qualification is achieved, the decision to cram a 9 month course in to 8 weeks as if I were a WAG stuffing my suitcase full of fake tan in preparation for 3 nights in Magaluf, is actually the correct one to have taken. What is more, and this part is almost as shocking to me as the appalling demise of “good music”, I appear to be nearing the end of the course unscathed, fulfilled, enlightened and unnervingly motivated. I have enjoyed the last four years of work immensely and am genuinely looking forward to a career in TEFL. What has happened to me? Am I becoming an adult? Am I shedding the pimpled skin of my youth, forever replacing it with the wizened skin of experience? Am I… a nerd? It was not always this way.

I didn’t so much as choose to become a teacher as I did fall in to it, and I didn’t so much fall in to it as I did stagger, sway and ultimately tumble in to it with my tongue hanging out and my trousers round my ankles. Inevitably, my CV reads more like a scrapbook than a logical and sensible progression, the kind of collaborative classroom presentation where it is painfully obvious that none of the collaborators actually agreed on anything, but they painstakingly completed the task because the teacher told them to. A call centre, a bank, a hospital and a warehouse walked in to two bars, and the barmen say “Seriously?” In one line, I can almost, but not quite, tell a joke about my CV pre-2008. ¬†I obviously found this extremely amusing. However, my Mother (there she is again) did not.

So, one fine morning, I nonchalantly tore open an envelope displaying her distinctive italic script and was taken aback to see inside not a Guardian article about the dangers of excessive drinking, but a clipping from the very same newspaper about the ever-expanding universe of something called TEFL. Obviously, I threw it straight in the bin and went to work. It was only later that something started niggling, gnawing, eating away at the back of my mind like a persistent and apocalyptically powerful nit. Desperately unfulfilled and completely devoid of ideas, I vowed to rescue the now screwed-up clipping from its unenviable resting place of a student bin and actually give it a bit of thought. One thing of which I could be entirely certain, is that, despite being full to overflowing, the contents of the bin would not have been even so much as glanced at.

Making decisions has never been a strong point. So, deeply dissatisfied by this seemingly inseparable link between human existence and agency, I was instantly gratified beyond belief after reading Luke Rhinehart’s “The Dice Man”. The concept of assigning potential decisions that tackle the entire spectrum of possibilities – from the sublime to the utterly ridiculous – to an¬†arbitrary¬†medium seemed to be a shining beacon of light that pierced the darkness I had always perceived as mind-numbing sensibility. Of course, presenting this idea to a group of already wayward students embodied the stock tagline of theatrical farce throughout the ages: “…with¬†hilarious consequences”. Inebriation, idiocy and irresponsibility in equal and generous amounts had ensued (all above board of course, Mum) and now here I was, actually contemplating making a pivotal life decision. Ironically, there was only one option, and that was the option of not to opt. So, I scanned my bedroom, located a half-chewed biro from underneath a disturbingly discoloured tissue, and wrote the following:

1 – Take Mum’s advice: apply for the CELTA

2- Stick at this job

3- Quit this job TODAY

4- Apply to go back to University

5- Ask for old job back

6- Buy a plane ticket to a country that will be decided by a further dice roll

Lucky dice cupped in my right hand, I shook it in the kind of manner that could easily have been mistaken by a passing sign language expert, and let it drop on to my impressively stained carpet, bounce, tumble, deviate and eventually come to rest…

The rest is not, as Hamlet would say, silence, but simply inevitability.

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Day One

Well, I have finally got myself set up. I now have this page, a Twitter that links to this page, a LinkedIn account that links to this page and the twitter, a separate Twitter as a personal account which links to my Facebook page, which is linked to my Spotify, and all of these things are somehow magically on my mobile phone in the form of Apps, which do whatever they want without instruction and then tell me about it afterwards. I mean, what is the world coming to? Soon I’m going to have a fridge that links to my stomach, which in turn is linked to my neighbour’s dog and then we’ll all be in big trouble. Does anyone out there have any useful tips, hints, advice, mockery or unhelpful taunts that could steer me in the right direction on these sites? Actually, I’m getting the hang of Twitter now I think about it. I’m following all the people that I’m expected to: Stephen Fry, Mrs Stephen Fry, QI, Stephen Fry’s mother’s sister’s cousin’s great-aunt Brenda. Oh, and Lord Sugar. He’s definitely got a lot in common with me.

So anyway, if anybody stops by and wants to provide a metaphorical stroke of the head or soothing lullaby, please feel free. If you don’t then I’m worried I may have a technological breakdown. And, in this day and age, that could be very unpleasant indeed.