Friday, 17 December 2010

Agnosticism Is A Nonsense Word

Ok, if you call yourself an agnostic, I reserve the right to call you a wimp; a big girl’s blouse, if you will. It’s a pretty simple conundrum – if I ask you, “Do you believe in any gods?” and you answer, “I don’t know”, you are only “agnostic” in a pedantically semantic sense, in as far as we cannot ever “know” for certain about such things. However, please for one minute consider the term “atheist.” The term simply means, “someone who does not believe in gods”, meaning that all agnostics are inherently atheists as well. If you answer, “I don’t know”, you’re still saying that you don’t believe, because you don’t live your life as if some celestial dictator exists – you’re just reserving judgement until further notice, which is exactly what atheists do, only we do it better. There doesn’t need to be a difference between atheists and agnostics – we essentially believe exactly the same things, but while the former are open about it, the latter hide behind political correctness and (sometimes) sanctimony to avoid having to present an opinion either way. In short, get off your fence.

A propos, this whole concept of “knowing” that there is or is not a divine or supernatural element in our lives is wholly ridiculous – of course we cannot know for certain – we simply have to analyse what we see in the world and come up with the best conclusions we possibly can given the evidence available. It is for this reason that I have a real problem with theists claiming that they “know” a god exists, when they in fact mean that they are certain that a god exists. Knowledge implies verification and actual proof – facts are known because the way the world works can be observed and independently ratified, ending up with a conclusion that constitutes what we consider “knowledge”. Blind speculation and evidence from experience simply cannot count when it comes to such claims, so the notion that a theist can posit that they know that such a being exists is risible – please demonstrate your “knowledge” before you try to make us all see the fairy as well. I’ll let you use the word “certain”, but that’s the limit I’m afraid, chaps. I also see an equal problem with atheists stating that there is categorically no such thing as a god, since that claim would, paradoxically, require omniscience. We are alltherefore, regardless of what we think, agnostic in one way or another - it's on the same level as saying you're a homo sapiens, obviousness-wise.

Charlie x

First Part Nearly Over

So it would appear that the first bit (not quite half) of my time in Angoulême is drawing to a close; all I can say about this is that time is sneakier than Mathew Bloch, and that’s certainly saying something. For my terminal (year abroad-related) post of 2010, therefore, I thought I’d bring a few miscellaneous items to your attention.

Firstly, French dogs are a strange combination of evil and completely insane. Those of you who know me at all well know that I’m not exactly a fan of our canine “friends” at the best of times, but these little blighters take the biscuit. Every single time I go for a run (it’s becoming a daily thing now), the same batshit dog runs alongside me, albeit on the other side of a garden wall, and attempts to eat me. No joke. If it weren’t for the wonders of modern construction technology, I’d be a carcass by now, my entrails being sifted through by a pack of ravenous hounds desperate for human blood. Hyperbolic, moi? The dog-owners also appear to let their beasts urinate and defecate merrily on the pavement without bothering to clean up after them. Ergo, French dogs are not my friends.

I thought I’d come prepared before I left for Angoulême back in late September, and decided to bring a large box of Yorkshire Tea with me, believing it to be superior to any tea I would be able to find in Frog. However, I was thinking about my reasons for doing so the other day, and realised that my rationale was completely bunk. It went something like this: I like strong tea; Yorkshire Tea must be strong because it’s gritty and northern, a bit like Geoffrey Boycott. Not fancy, pretty unattractive, but boy does it get the job done when you need it. It’s the kind of tea you’d drink before disappearing down a mine for 36 hours for £3.70 before returning to beat your children with a riding crop. It’s Yorkshire Tea, so it must be tough. “But”, I hear you say, “The tea itself is not from Yorkshire – it’s from Ceylon or Madras or Peking or somewhere wonderfully subcontinental” (yes, I’m using the Empire words intentionally) – “It’s just the merchants and packing folk who are from Yorkshire.” And you’d be right...maybe they just package it in a special way to make it tougher – don’t ruin the illusion for me, people!

Charlie x

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Whoa, it's been over a week. How time flies etc...

Ok, exciting things would be useful to report at this point, such as my trip to Bordeaux, where they had a Christ(sic)mas Market and, somewhat peculiarly, a rather large antiques' market tacked on at the end of it. While Bordeaux was in itself a rather pleasant city from what I saw of it, the market itself was a tad disappointing. There were no individual-looking stalls, nothing palpably decorative or twee; it was all a little bland it must be said. That and I wanted to buy gloves, but there was not a single glove-selling place which catered for anyone with a Y chromosome. Bad times. However, the trip on the whole was an enjoyable one, and it certainly made a change from a weekend in Angoulême, despite the exciting food that was available there a couple of weekends ago. So yeah, Bordeaux 1 - 0 My Hands.

I have officially decided that many of my students are worse than useless when it comes to actually turning up to things/applying themselves. I discovered today that no fewer than 5 people in one of my classes had been suspended for not doing work or skipping lessons, and was quite frankly astonished that they didn't just get rid of the lot of them and start again. Special mention must go to one of my students today who turned up just to tell me that the others weren't going to, thus saving me 10 minutes' worth of sitting around like a lemon waiting for my non-existent students. He gets a gold star and a sweetie, but the others not so much.

Anecdote alert: I am running semi-regularly at the moment (about four or five times per week on average), and tend to have a pretty similar route every time. However, my regular "back straight", as it were, is a large sports' centre in Ma Campagne which was today being used for some sort of athletics meeting. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I turned the corner, cutting through a gap in the hedge, only to be greeted by 50 or so French cross-country runners hurtling their way around a course which vaguely resembled my regular running route. Cue confusion as this random British boy appears from nowhere into their midst with some momentum, pauses confusedly and scurries off to the side of the course, attracting bizarre glances all the while. At least there was no ice this time...

Charlie x

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

And Another Thing...

Snow has returned to Angoulême, though I imagine it won't linger for as long as people would like, but still. I'm actually intruiged to see whether the French are any better at dealing with snow than we are in the UK - will there be mass disruption or does life just carry on as per? On verra...

I watched a debate the other day between Christopher Hitchens and Tony Blair in Toronto: it was really weird seeing Blair back on a stage speaking in exactly the same way, making the same unnecessary hand gestures and talking the same old bollocks as he did as PM. Yet I still felt strangely nostalgic watching the now-very-grey Tony do his thing - I never particularly supported Blairite politics, but for some reason there was this lingering feeling of solidarity between me and this much-maligned former politician...I can't really explain it. On another note, what a difference a week makes for Hitch. Whereas he looked well, sharp and fresh against Bill Dembski, the cancer certainly looked like it was winning in Toronto - here's hoping it was just a bad day and that his recovery is forthcoming.

I'm certainly more of a Times man than a Guardian man, but I will certainly dabble in the latter when the situation requires it (Charlie Brooker helps, it must be said). What does amuse me now is that the Guardian were so vocal about their support for the Lib Dems before the election and are now, quite rightly and understandably, castigating the Lib Dem section of the coalition for going back on all their promises. They have the right to feel aggrieved by Clegg and co, given his stance on tuition fees before May, but one wonders how they could have possibly supported anyone other than the Lib Dems prior to the election - they simply had nowhere to go. Being a centre-left paper means that they often attempt to take the moral high ground on certain issues, but aligning themselves with Labour would have been highly impractical, leaving them with no real alternative other than Nick, Vince et al. Their anger is therefore justified, but not altogether surprising - they indeed could certainly be accused of a lack of foresight.

Being without internet on the weekends mean that all sporting results come as a massive surprise to me on Monday afternoon when I can once again check up on them. No more so than the Gabba test - I was expecting nothing short of an England second-innings collapse followed by a strong media imagine my surprise on Monday to discover what had really happened, given my last update had been at the end of the third day! This is England we're talking about, right? I'm still sceptical about our chances, and don't think we're as good as people are saying just yet, but for the first time I'm actually daring to hope, albeit with everything crossed.

Charlie x

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Hair, Flair and the Fallout From Blair

So it's been nearly a week, and things are hotting up...ish.

Firstly, I've just returned from having the speediest haircut of my entire life. It was just a case of my explaining to the lady what I wanted before she set off at Mach 1 to remove as much hair from the top of my head as she possibly could, without appearing to care a great deal about the actual consistency of length etc. It reminded me of the people who work at the checkout in French supermarkets - rapidity is the order of the day, where they veritably fling each product through the scanner, testing both my reflexes and bagging abilities simultaneously. My theory about this aberrant behaviour is that the pace of life is sometimes so slow in Western Europe that they feel forced to make up for it in other aspects of life, giving everyone more time to wander slowly down the streets and embrace every other person they meet, "inconnu" or otherwise.

Last Friday, while attending a soirée at the house of one of the other assistants here, some French friends of theirs rocked up with a guitar and an accordian. It was the sort of situation you'd imagine an Englishman creating in an attempt to lampoon French culture, but THIS WAS FOR REAL. Needless to say, it was pretty exciting. Never have the words "Can I play on your accordian" had more connotations...

So there are protests again, this time involving smashing vans. Great. The more damage that's done as part of the democratic right to protest, the more public sympathy for the upcoming plight of students is going to dwindle - it's really not difficult to fathom. So here's my take: if you want to protest, go ahead and do so peacefully; I will support you to the hilt. If you want to act like thugs, please have the decency to kindly fuck off and not do it as part of a reasonable demonstration, thus ruining the reputations of those who actually care about the politics of the matter. Preferably this controlled thuggery can be contained within certain areas, perhaps like Fight Club without the schizophrenia. Or with - either's fine with me.

Predicting an Ashes fightback,

Charlie x

Friday, 19 November 2010

Loose Ends

Ok, no rant from me today - am just tying a few things here.

1) I passed a sign the other night that said "Club des personnes âgées" - I'm so intruiged as to what that means? Is this U3A or a retirement home? It reminds me of a new-Labour plan to not let old people know they're old..."You're old and need care, but we don't want you to feel like a burden. Come to our club instead." That's my take on it anyway.

2) Surely banks can waste less paper. I mean really, 3 envelopes with additional unnecessary rubbish contained therein to convey a card to me is not a good use of their time and energy. It's not just here, it's everywhere. Silly people.

3) This is the bowing to peer pressure part of the blog. I've been bullied by a certain other assistant here into talking at length about a certain activity, so shall endeavour to humour her in an attempt to save my metaphorical eardrums. Basically, she feels the need to act like a frog occasionally, and as a result of this, launches herself at a certain, very tolerant, English boy in what is colloquially known as a "frog hug." She crouches, springs, and lands, with various consequences. Add the ingestion of soft drugs into her system and the results can certainly be interesting (most of all ocularly). Anyway, that's my shout-out - she wants this thing to go viral, so girls, if you feel like acting like an amphibian, you have my blessing. Here endeth the lesson.

4) Q. When is a bin not a bin?
     A. When it's laden.

No good? It's a mere digression from my actual point, namely that at what point does a bin cease to be a bin due to damage. I tried to put something in one the other day that resembled a pot with broken slats, and I couldn't be certain whether to go for it despite the possibility that it would just fall out straight away. Oh the civil dilemma...
That's all for now, folks.

Charlie x

Monday, 15 November 2010

Angoulême Has Mormons!

The title says it all basically. I was stopped in town on the way home last night by 2 Mormon chaps who were doing missionary work, in Angoulême of all places. Now, my knowledge of Mormonism is pretty sketchy, but I certainly didn’t let that stop me having some fun with these guys. After having asked me what I believed, they proceeded to tell me about their revelation stories, both of which involved their god revealing himself in prayer to them. When I asked for evidence of this celestial dictator, they responded in the most wonderful fashion: “Look at the earth.” Sweet, no? A question followed about whether I thought evolution was the cause of life on earth (I had to double-take at this point), and they finally offered me a Book of Mormon. I am still angry with myself for not taking it – free comedy literature should never be turned down, but for some reason this didn’t occur to me until after they’d moved on. So no Book of Mormon for me – alas.
This leads me on to something vaguely serious though. The 2 guys, both of whom were my age, clearly had no way of dealing with a conversation that did not follow their script – it was like talking to small, Mormon clones of Ray Comfort supporters. They did not possess the tools to argue their case, admitting to me freely that they had no chance of convincing me of their god’s existence, and in a way I pitied them. Growing up in an environment where you are not privy to a basic level of education, scientific or otherwise, before being thrust into a secular nation such as France to preach, does not sound like a healthy way to spend one’s formative years. They were very nice people; it is merely a shame that unfounded beliefs can be hammered in so strongly and unerringly into such young minds that they become unaware of reality.
As for the actual year abroad stuff, it’s really quite rainy. Little work is being undertaken due to the vagaries of my timetable, allowing me to sleep, eat, play the odd spot of golf and see friends ad nauseam. The real stuff recommences tomorrow though, whereupon I shall do my first full week (weeks for me here are always 4 days) for nearly a month – quite frankly it’s a disgrace that I’m being paid to do so little, but I certainly shall not complain!
Charlie x

Friday, 12 November 2010

The Same Coin

Yes I know I’m posting for the second time in quick succession, but something recently got me thinking, in an irksome sort of way. Those of you in the UK will no doubt be aware of the student protests taking place against the raise in tuition fees, which is absolutely fair enough. Indeed, were I in London and had nothing better to do, I would probably go along just for kicks. I would, however, be put off by the fact that the whole protest is an NUS project, given the proverbial beef that I had with them last year, and indeed still do. Just the association with them would be enough to dissuade me, unless they decide on some radical about-turn in violence policy. Because they sort of like it, this whole violence to make a point thing. Remember Durham last year? Apparently it would be OUR fault if the NUS and UAF brought up coachloads of people to incite violence, in order to effectively quash free speech (yes, the BNP are a hateful group in every single way, but tough – this is how a free society works – they get a say, no matter how deplorable and ridiculous their opinions are). But I digress. The whole thing sort of got me thinking about Nick Griffin (NG) again, and led me to compare his actions with an interview I heard earlier this week with Shirley Phelps-Roper (SPR). For those of you who are unaware of this bastion of tact and sanity, SPR is the daughter of Fred Phelps, a batshit crazy American fundamentalist preacher-cum-ex-lawyer who has his own church in which it is predicted that the rapture is about to happen ANY FUCKING MINUTE. Tinfoil hats at the ready etc. They’re even more famous for being the lovely individuals who stand around outside dead US soldiers’ funerals picketing, claiming that the fact that these young men have died is part of their god’s wrath at the USA’s tolerance of homosexual activity, among other things. So yeah, a wonderful lady.
So why compare the two? Yes, NG (I was tempted to use the first two letters of his first and second name to create an ironic abbreviation, but didn’t wish to inadvertently offend anyone) and SPR are both depraved lunatics whose political (the former) and religious (the latter) opinions are testing the boundaries of the free speech/hate speech debate. However, the way in which they deal with their publicity is completely different, and certainly interesting to notice. What NG does is squirm and avoid the question, pretending he never said the hateful things he actually did say, despite recordings (both in audio and paper form) of his having done so. SPR on the other hand is straight up about her beliefs, merrily shouting to all and sundry that she’s right and that everyone should just (and I’m quoting verbatim here) “shut up, stop thinking and just obey”, all while spitting vitriol at anyone she deems to be immoral (that’s everyone by the way apart from the majority of her family). Oddly enough, I sort of respect her a little more for that; at least if you’re going to be an ignorant, callous little cunt (I beg forgiveness for the word – I don’t use it lightly, but some situations require severe expression, and this is one of those occasions), at least have the decency to admit it and be consistent with your views, rather than hiding behind a veil of respectability before plunging once more into the mire of racism and bigotry, in NG’s case. So in a sort of wonky way, SPR leads the credibility stakes, though only in terms of consistency of action and the fact that she’s not actually running for political office or anything. Regardless, the world would be a better place without these dreadful people, yet we must soldier on as best we can.
Sorry for the rant, but it needed to be said. Love to you all.
Charlie x
P.S. There are no words in the English language that exist to encapsulate exactly how I feel about SPR and her ilk. To understand where I’m coming from, give the interview a listen on the link below:

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The Clash

Ok, so I've given France the benefit of the doubt on most occasions; sure, the strikes were a bit excessive, but freedom of expression is nice I suppose. However, the banking system leaves a lot to be desired, the sneaky bastards. Basically, my nice shiny new bank card arrived the other week and appeared to be doing everything it was being told. So far so good, right? However, come the drawing-money stage, it doesn't bother to tell you that the PIN you entered the first time was wrong, allowing you to carry on as if everything's fine while secretly storing up tiny little microchips of vindictiveness (you know how a group of crows is a "murder" - this is the technical term for a collection of vindictivenesses) before pouring out all its bent up frustration in one fell swoop. Long story short, it ate my card without my knowing it, since it didn't tell me I had done anything wrong. Hooray. So, being France, the actual bank is shut for a 7-hour lunch break, meaning I have to come back after one of my classes to sort it out, whereupon I'm told that I can't simply reclaim the card thanks to their silliness, but that the card itself has been cancelled, blocked and destroyed, and that I have to have another one ordered (a feat that will take several days thanks to bank holidays etc). Quod. The. Fuck. In short, not a happy bunny. Also, my classes today were rubbish. Even the ones I tend to consider as pretty competent were in sleepy mode, meaning I was effectively trying to squeeze blood out of a stone, which by all accounts isn't the easiest task in the world, though I have yet to try it. One of my students did decide to take umbrage at the notion of Guy Fawkes' day because we were effectively celebrating the execution and posthumous proxy-burning of Catholics in protection of the monarchy. True, I say, but just you wait 'til I release my lions...

Remembrance day tomorrow. We work, we stand still and twiddle our thumbs for 2 minutes at 11am, everyone carries on as per. Right? No. Not here. We have a day off, followed by another one on the 12th because it allows for continuity into a long weekend. A very long weekend. 3pm Wednesday afternoon to 5pm Tuesday afternoon is my weekend, with exactly 4 hours of work undertaken. It's hard this language assistant thing.

Saturday, 6 November 2010


Anyone who even vaguely knows me knows that I have no interest in football whatsoever: it just doesn't appeal. I also have this perverse pride in knowing as near to sweet FA (get it?) as I possibly can achieve, and, as such, a small part of me dies every time I accidentally acquire any item of football-related trivia (using the word in its literal sense here). Imagine my consternation, therefore, when the newest member of "English Footballers Whose Names I Vaguely Recognise" appeared in my brain, without actually knowing why. There is a man, it would appear, called Gareth Bale. Apparently he did something quite impressive recently, though I have no idea what it exactly was. Apparently he's young, and quite good. So there, another trivial fact enters my brain, despite my attempts to evade the sport while in France. Give me Radio 4 LW any day, listening to TMS as Henry Blofeld describes in great detail the texture of the cake he's just finished eating, all while 3 England wickets have fallen, seemingly unnoticed by the great man. That is the essence of British sport, not silly people being idolised for kicking a ball before the media inevitably turn on their new "hero" in 6 months' time for sleeping with 3 male prostitutes while simultaneously injecting the blood of children he cut up the night before into their eyeballs.

I would have thought that, when one does an international exchange, it would normally be for the purpose of learning the language of the other country? Apparently not. 6 French students are on an exchange with 6 Swedes, neither of whom can speak the language of the other, so they use English as their common language, despite the...interesting...linguistic level of the French hosts. Cue my entrance as interpreter etc. Most peculiar...


Monday, 1 November 2010

Cleggers and Loud Bikes

This entry will be jumping to the defence of Nick Clegg, just to warn you. Firstly, let me say that I did vote Lib Dem in May, but not because of Clegg - it was a local thing. I know, tar me with the tactical voter brush etc...this is all irrelevant anyway.

Basically, he's getting a bloody raw deal from the press, and I'm not entirely sure it's merited. People seem to think that the coalition will ignore the Tory majority and do everything Clegg, Cable et al had promised during the run-up to the election. Sorry folks, it doesn't work that way. Nicky was always going to be Cameron's bitch, with the only decision for which he'd be responsible being whether to spit or swallow (and even then there'd be considerable pressure from Mr C). However, better that than the spearhead of the angry 3rd party, to whom nobody ever listens, receiving occasional scraps of patronising allusion by the Tories and Labour. Whatever you may think of the coalition, at least he's actually in a position to MAYBE change things, unlike before. If he can't, fine; no-one really expected (I mean really) Clegg to influence things all that much. Even this London Oratory thing isn't really his fault - everyone knows Miriam rules the roost chez Clegg, so Catholic education will be the way to go, no matter how much he postulates about his atheism. Call him hypocritical if you must, but remember the limits of his choices in both his political and his personal life. After all, he's even more autonomous than Lassie.

There's something rather odd about the yoof of France, at least certainly the ones I've spoken to. Ask the boys what they're interested in, and the answer is invariably some combination of video games, motocross and football. Ask the girls, and it's art and reading. Gender stereotyping much? It's as if they combined the most polarised examples of the male/female divide and shoved them all into one school. Of course there are some exceptions (one boy liked guitars, had long hair and wore a Dirty Pretty Things T-shirt), but on the whole that's the trend. However, if you drive your stupid unsilenced motocross bike along normal roads, I reserve the right to think of you as a complete pillock. I don't care how nice you may come across, any respect I might ever have had for you will disappear instantly, replaced with nothing short of loathing. Please, please please please, wrap it around a tree.

Monday, 25 October 2010

My Dictionary, Holiday Time and Others

I decided to write a song in French a couple of weeks ago. It was ok - standard fare really, albeit in French. In the course of this adventure, I had to look up the gender of a word, but didn't have a French dictionary or anything like that. However, there happened to be a very old one left behind in my flat from a previous resident, so I used that one and order was restored. It has since remained untouched by me, though its title is still visible underneath the other books I have stacked on a shelf. It does make a strange claim though on its subheading, stating that it is "La Bible des dictionnaires bilangues" (I shouldn't need to translate that). It only really hit me the other day what an odd thing this is to claim.

So what exactly did they mean by that? Does the first part (French-English) act merely as a precursor to the second (English-French), making bizarre half-predictions about what's going to be featured later on? Is the second part considered by many to be more important than the first, rejecting the silly French-English claims as being unrealistic and brutal, and deciding that the words in English-French section are more representative of the true translation? Is there a group of people who reject the second section entirely, choosing to focus solely on the French-English part while waiting for a "real" English-French part to displace the currently existing one? Are there wild contradictions throughout, with the initial translation of the word "table" being cross-referenced in the second section as "armadillo", without anyone seeming to notice. Did a group of people in Utah extrapolate on the translations, putting special emphasis on the word "underwear" and "polygamy"? Did they claim that the founders of the dictionary travelled to America, where they proceeded to reveal the real translations to a select group of people? Ok, maybe that one's a little silly, but you get my drift. It amused me anyway.

So after 3 weeks of teaching very little (owing to the strikes), I have a 10-day holiday. Whether this is a good thing or not is still uncertain, but I'm sure I shall find ways to remain busy.

Peace x

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Cuts? Try Civil Unrest

The government is cutting things, apparently. People don't like this, apparently. Fine, go and ahead and dislike it - your thoughts are your own and no-one can or should stop you. It does beg the question though, "What the fuck did you expect?" We are in a seriously sticky economic situation and no amount of sticking our fingers in our ears is going to solve that. People are going to be affected, some more fairly than others, but that's life; we must attempt to make the best of our situation, regardless of whether we agree with it or not. Throwing our toys out of the pram will not get us anywhere, especially as everyone considers themselves deserving of immunity from cuts. It just does not work that way. Yes, hit the higher earners with more stringent taxes - as far as I can tell, leafy suburbs in the home counties have not really been affected by the recession at all (in any practical sense), and a little sacrifice for the national benefit is a worthy one to make, in my opinion.

At least we're not French though. They take insane politics to a new level, quite frankly. "2 years' more work!? 'Ow very dare zey. On va tous manifester!" etc etc etc. Seriously guys, deal with it. If we protested/went on strike every single time a vaguely unpopular law was passed, we'd become a laughing stock. It would be like a world run by Bob Crow, and no-one wants to see that, except for Bob Crow (and maybe Ed Milliband). So yeah, we're not all that bad at the northern end of the Channel.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Strike 3?

So yeah, I knew the French would start striking spontaneously, but still.
Background: I was meant to be on some sort of handy training course to learn how to actually do the job I'm supposed to be doing for the next 6 months or so. Having been presented, however, with a timetable for a certain specialist group that could not be moved, it was decided that I not go on this training day and teach them instead. They had ensured me the week before that they would all be present and correct etc etc etc, despite the strike. Guess what? No-one rocked up. Not a word of apology or anything, despite my having taken time out for their benefit before they try to speak a vaguely coherent sentence to vastly more hard-working Swedish people. Not impressed. Seriously, if you want to strike, fine. But don't pretend you'll be there, causing me to change my plans, then decide you can't be arsed. It is seriously not on.

It's weird being back in a school environment. 2 years of university makes you forget the things we considered completely normal at the time but now seem completely ridiculous. Bearing in mind that the people I'm teaching are often older than me, it is expected that the relationship be that of pupil and teacher, not student and lecturer (or equivalent thereof). I find it most peculiar, though at least they haven't started calling me 'Mr Homewood' yet...

Apparently it's perfectly acceptable for French people to start singing the Marseillaise to each other on nights out. I was asked to provide a rendition of 'God Save The Queen' for good measure and duly refused for obvious suicide-related reasons, but did consider teaching them slightly more colourful uni-based night out songs...perhaps another day.



Sunday, 10 October 2010

Ratios, Potatoes and Hungarian Luncheon Vouchers

Right, a week done. Teaching people older than me is always interesting, but for the most part it was manageable. In short, technology tried to screwed me over but ultimately failed. A bit like I-Robot...

Things to note:

(i) If you're going to spend a day on the coast/beach, prepare things to do/places to go. Organisation has never been my strongest point and leaving it up to 2 Germans seemed a perfectly reasonable decision for obvious stereotypical reasons, but standing around in a provincial tourist office looking for places to go isn't a wonderful experience after a while. Bless the Germans for finding things.

(ii) If you're invited to a "typical French evening", expect there to be potatoes. They really lap them up for some reason. Seriously. I got into the car on the way over having completely forgotten to bring anything, and asked the girl driving me whether it would be a problem. Her reply (translated) - "No it's ok, we've already got the potatoes." Brilliant.

That's about it for this installment, so be grateful there's no rant this week.


Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Existing in France and Miscellaneous

Right, France/Angoulême. Larger than I expected, and a little prettier in parts. I'm actually living in the school itself, which is a half-hour walk from town. Could be a lot worse though, as the French Government keep trying to find ways to give me money for no discernible reason. Maybe they felt guilty for Vichy or something...
So yeah, I'm here. Saturday is the critical day in this account though. Basically I was looking for somewhere to watch the Ryder Cup, as the TV in my room didn't have the right channel (Canal+ Sport for those of you interested). So, where better to watch it than a golf club, right? Right; well at least until C+S decided to cut off the final hour of Saturday's coverage - the climax of the entire day's play no less - for the sake of some football match between the Lyon 4th XI and the Parisien Blind School (insert real team names as appropriate). WHAT? C+ actually has its own specialist football channel, so WHY ON EARTH ARE YOU FILLING A CHANNEL FOR REAL SPORTING COVERAGE WITH THIS RUBBISH? The switch was met with genuine indignation from my fellow watchers - I somehow felt vindicated.

So that's Me 1 French TV 0 (in hockey scoring, that is). The people are remarkably friendly too - people meeting other friends whom I have never met will randomly shake my hand just for being in the same room: that's quite nice. The people I'm teaching appear to be manageable for the most part as well, which always helps. All in all, no complaints.


Tuesday, 21 September 2010

If You're Going To Cheat, Cheat To Win

Once again the Pakistani cricket team has come to England and controversy has ensued. In 2006 it was over alleged ball-tampering: Inzamam took his boys off the field in protest at Darrell Hair and Billy Doctrove's decision and that was that. This time, however, sport has been tainted even further. At least with ball-tampering there is an attempted gain from the practice. Spot-fixing is quite the reverse.

I can understand cheating to win; I certainly don't condone it, but I can see why people do it. The desire to be at the pinnacle of your chosen discipline can be all-consuming, and weak minds can be led to break rules in that pursuit. If they're caught, fair cop. If not, that's a job for the conscience. Cheating to lose (or indeed induce a negative outcome for you and your team) is a different kettle of fish altogether. In this instance, both teams are devalued. If a team cheats to win, and does so, the team who loses is seen as the victim, leading to speculation that they would have won had the offenders not acted in such a way. Cheat to lose, however, and succeed, and both teams must bear the brunt - the offending party for committing the act in the first place, and the opposition whose victory is effectively negated due to the notion that they were not competing against a willing opposition. It's a lose-lose situation, and one which has very sinister connotations for professional sport. Let us hope that it is a flash in the pan; history may dictate otherwise though.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Some Things Just Have To Be Said

Ok, I’m not going to go down the typical “The Pope Encourages/Supports/Shields Child Molestation” route or anything like that. To my mind, that’s completely the wrong approach when tackling such a large problem as that of faith. And I’m exceedingly irritated with both moderate sceptics and smug agnostics for marginalising the group of people who best understand those problems. The moment you begin to attack the people whose objections are perfectly valid, simply because you’ve seen a load of people apparently doing and feeling good because of their faith, you lose any credibility. I am going to lay out the reasons why the growing political and media support for Catholicism and faith in general is both foolhardy and dangerous.

First of all, let’s look at what was actually said by the Pontiff and his advisors while he was in Britain:
"Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live."
A mere Google search for quotes attributed to Adolf Hitler will immediately refute this assertion. The most powerful indication of Hitler’s Christianity comes from one of his earlier speeches, where he states,
“My feelings as a Christian point me to my Lord and Saviour as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. ...Today, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed his blood upon the Cross.”
The misguided assertion by the Pope that Hitler’s persecution of the Jewish people was due to some sort of atheism is beyond belief; indeed, Hitler wrote of modern Christians in Mein Kampf that:
“They even enter into political intrigues with the atheistic Jewish parties against the interests of their own Christian nation.”
It is hereby apparent that the Nazi tyranny of which the Pope speaks was not born from atheism; rather a belief that it was the Jews who murdered the Christian saviour and that they should be punished for it. The irony of this, of course, is that it is the very death and resurrection of Jesus that is celebrated by Christians, so why on earth early Christians took it upon themselves to persecute the Jews is beyond me – a practice that still took place in the 20th Century, and one which is unlikely to die until all religious doctrine has been abandoned.
Furthermore, the Pope brands secularism as “dangerous”. How exactly? An article was published, asking atheists to apologise for Hitler, Mao and Stalin, just as many secularists have called for the Pope to apologise for many deeds undertaken by the Catholic Church (which, to his credit, he duly did). The point still remains, however, that there is no dogma or doctrine in atheism – secularists do not act because they have been told to do so; rather that morality has developed through our own evolution in order to enable us to get on as a species. If it did not, we would simply cease to exist in a functional way. The arrogant assertion of theists that it is only through divine intervention and decree that we have any sort of morality is thoroughly dehumanising. Alternatively, they may argue that it was their god who placed an inherent morality within us, allowing us to see our own mistakes through our conscience, or similar. That, however, raises a whole hotbed of issues, none of which I shall go into in detail (we will be here all day otherwise), but will outline as follows:

1) If morality is inherently within us (from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil as per Genesis), why bother writing the Ten Commandments and the list of laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, not to mention the new “Golden Rule” of Christianity?
2) Our moralities are clearly not equal. Humans are intrinsically imperfect, while the Christian god claims to be perfect. If he would go to such lengths to instil different levels of morality within us, he must know that different people will act according to their respective morality, causing others to suffer in the process by their hand. The free will argument can be trotted out here, but it makes not the slightest bit of difference: predestination stipulates that the Christian god knows beforehand who will enter Heaven and Hell and creates us accordingly, thus rendering our own free will completely futile.
3) Look at nations such as Japan, which are predominantly secular. Have they descended into anarchy without believing in a god per se?
Morality is, therefore, not something on which religions have a monopoly. Some would argue that they do not even have a claim to genuine morality. The number of people killed (or ordered to be killed) by the god of the Torah (Christian Old Testament) is astonishing – the religion practised was one of barbarism and brutality, with the god at the forefront of the bigotry and violence. Yes, the vast majority of Christians and Jews do not adhere to most of the laws laid down in the Old Testament, but they are now cherry-picking. Either they believe that the word of their god was perfect, and that slavery, the stoning to death of women who were found not to be virgins on their wedding night, the prostitution of daughters by their fathers to strangers and countless other wicked acts were all, by their very nature, good; or they believe that these decrees were somehow wrong and that their god made a mistake (thereby imperfect) or indeed was acting maliciously (and thereby not omnibenevolent). If it is the former, I do not wish to share a world with such people, for obvious humanitarian reasons. If the latter is the case, then the foundations of their religion are fundamentally flawed and their god is not the perfect being they so imagined. Either way, the Pope’s claim that secularism is “dangerous” does not stand up to any sort of rational scrutiny (if you’ll pardon the potential tautology of that statement).
The other problem I have with this visit is David Cameron’s reaction to it. This, I believe, is the more concerning problem facing us as a society. In the aftermath of the Pontiff’s visit, the Prime Minister was quoted as saying about the religious people that “…it is their faith that inspires them to help others.” Maybe so, but what of those people of no faith who do equally good deeds in all parts of the world without being told what to do by a supposed deity, or, more importantly, with an implicit religious agenda to follow? It cannot be denied that a shipment of Bibles (for example) to the people affected by the disaster in Haiti or the floods in Pakistan will do any real material good to feed, clothe and sustain these people. So by all means, if you are part of a religious aid group or similar, please do not dilute your attempts at helping by applying your religion to all aspects of your aid campaign. More concerning, however, is the Prime Minister’s apparent justification of the religion which is preached and led by the Pope. The United Kingdom is not a Catholic country; indeed, the majority of “true” Protestants would claim that Catholics are destined for eternal torture, and vice versa. People of faith seem to have forgotten their intrinsic, irreconcilable differences in belief, simply because they have been taught vaguely similar things as a child. Besides which, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever to indicate that either belief is approaching the truth. The incoherent writings of superstitious Bronze-Age folk do not really stand up to the weight of scientific evidence that has been discovered, and continues to be discovered, every day. Slowly, the “God of the Gaps” is running out of places to hide, with religious authorities changing their story regularly to suit the overwhelming evidence against their previous teachings.
What is truly dangerous, however, is the fact that faith is effectively guesswork. Any believer who claims to be absolutely certain of the existence of a god is either lying or deluded – the whole point of faith is that it is the act of believing something without good reason to do so. The moment David Cameron encourages “faith” to be a central pillar of our society, he is saying that guesswork is justified and that it has a place in public office. The last Prime Minister to make a serious national decision based entirely on guesswork was Tony Blair in 2003. Indeed, his castigation for the Iraq War goes to the show the strength of feeling that decisions made by the ruling powers should not be determined by merely guessing what is there and what is not. Had Tony Blair had real evidence that WPDs were in Iraq, I can imagine that the public outcry would have been sufficiently weaker than it in fact was. Guesswork is no basis for leading a country – take note Mr Cameron.


Hello all,

Well I'm off for the long stint of my year abroad. This blog will attempt to keep people updated about my life/travels etc. However, if it were that alone, it would be a tad boring. Therefore I have resolved to include certain other elements of my life, discussing things that interest me in the realm of sport, politics etc. If I can, I shall tie these in with my current location.

The first one is a little topical, for which I ought to apologise, but I won't. I leave for France on Wednesday, after which the first installment of the year abroad section of the blog will commence.

Much love folks,