Posted Apr 10, 2006
Spiggle spiggle spiggle pop.
On the Road Again
Posted Mar 31, 2006
This is about the 38th time I've moved - not the whole kaboodle, just moved base. So it's not the moving itself that's traumatic - hey, this is my fourth place in Oxford and I've only been here a year and a bit. Neither is it because of the nearly overwhelming amount of emotional stuff going on with me at the moment now that I've stopped anaesthetising my problems with alcohol.
This time will be harder than most because of who I'm leaving behind. House setup: landlady (Bertha, late 30s), landlady's son (Max, 12), fellow lodger (Jane, 23). Landlady: a blunt, humourless, posh hippy, she dogmatically clings on to suspect views and is used to ordering people around imperiously. And cannot take a joke. Max: sarcastic, thoughtful and damn smart. Jane: vivacious and funny, but is friends with the landlady and tends to side with her.
Add mid-30s emotional, caustically ironic ex-heavy drinker with anti-authoritarian tendencies (especially towards older women), and stand well back. For the first couple of weeks, I felt like I was part of the family. But I had an almost prescient ability to say the wrong thing to Bertha, and when it came to financial arrangements, apparently I was dictating the terms of my [rather late] rent/deposit payments rather than suggesting them, which I still don't understand
Meanwhile, I got on fine with Jane and Max: we could laugh and joke together, no problem. The only tension was between me and Bertha - I think this was exacerbated by how well I got on with her son, whether she was jealous, or, more reasonably, thought I was irresponsible, acting too much like a big brother and not maintaining rigid parental distance, I don't know.
But, whatever the reasons, after three weeks, she gave me a month's notice, claiming it was a group decision. A couple of nights later me and Jane made things up at a party, where she revealed it wasn't really her decision [Bertha had oppressed the others into agreeing with her, in other words] and she still wanted to be friends. Being a like-minded person, Max brought out strong parental-type feelings in me, and I'd also like to keep in touch with him in an avuncular capacity. But contact with her child is of course entirely in the hands of Bertha, and, to be frank, the chances of her agreeing to this are slim.
Which means, tomorrow morning, I have to just walk away from that house, quite possibly never seeing Max again. What with all the pain and grief there is currently swimming around in my life at the moment, it's going to be incredibly hard
Sanity Welcomes Careful Drivers
Posted Feb 13, 2006
Aaah, that's ... vaguely human again. For the last 11 months I have been experiencing highly unsatisfactory living arrangements. My first two months were with a live-in landlady who is quite easily the most despicable person I've ever met.
Then in my panic to leave there I moved into a place run by a dodgy, cash-in-hand type of landlord. Deciding he was above as well as outside the law, he would make heavy-handed and arbitrary rules, make alterations to the house without warning and generally act like a crook. Unfortunately due to my lack of steady job plus intransigence partly caused by an increasingly worrying drinking habit, I didn't make a serious attempt to move out until he forced the issue a month ago.
After being dumped by my previous would-have-been co-tenants, I managed to find a place within two days that is actually pretty nice, and I my life in Oxford is finally on an upward spiral. Touch wood and everything.
Inscrutable 1 - Shi ma? (see below!)
Posted Oct 11, 2002
Having learnt about 3 phrases and a handful of words, I brought a dictionary (bought at Foyle's in London ) but no phrase book over with me.
I insisted on trying to speak at first. I was confident with my pronunciation, but got rather hung up on getting the tones right (being a linguist can be a disadvantage as well) and got rather embarrassed and flustered, since it reduced my speech rate to about a word a second. I was at that time unaware of the Beijing Mumble.
The Chinese have a peculiar attitude towards foreigners attempting to speak their language. They usually assume you're still speaking some barbarous tongue, unless the context is super-clear. They say 'shi ma?' (what?) a few times, then carry on speaking Chinese at nineteen to the dozen, blissfully unconcerned at your total incomprehension.
I soon learnt that, as they say, a picture tells a thousand words. In other words, mime you fool! Once I'd got over my British embarrassment, this started being fun. Then I managed to pick up a few crucial expressions (the most useful probably being 'bu yào', no thanks, considering the amount of vendors that hassle you). Combined with mime and the essential use of props, to make things as obvious as possible, I have generally been able to get the message across.
When I got round to buying a phrase book, I found it was useful in a rather different way than I'd expected. The chances of you being able to pronounce a whole sentence correctly *and* for a Chinese to understand you are minimal at best. So I have been using it to show people what I want to say in writing when communication completely breaks down (which is all too often).
I have heard vicious rumours that there are actually seven Chinese languages, each used on a different day of a week to bamboozle the foreigners. Well, at least it seems that no two Chinese people speak the same language...
Posted Sep 13, 2002
I've made it. But I'm now too knackered to write anything else...