Inane Whittering #20 Introducing…

…Mr. and Mrs. Stripes. Or Herr und Frau Streipze, as they’re known in German. This is a still taken on set whilst filming for their upcoming debut.

Filming’s nearly done – got 2 more scenes to go tomorrow before editing can begin and then it’s basically finished. The first version has to be in German, but I’ll make sure to do an English version too!

I’ll bung it up on youtube and link it back here when it’s ready, I just thought I’d give you guys a taster…

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Inane Whittering #19 KITTENS

So I thought you could do with some cuteness. And hilarity.

I give you: THE KITTENCAM.

This is a foster home for rescue cats in the States, and they currently have Rosmary and her four kittens: Pepper, Sage, Basil and Mace.

There’s also sound, if you turn it up loud enough, you can hear them mewing at each other mid-fight.

Best study aid ever.

Inane Whittering #17: An Ode to Fridge Magnet Poetry

Today I suddenly found myself looking at our fridge magnet poetry. I’ve been back at my parents since the end of March, and I’m surprised that this is the first time since then that I’ve actually taken the time to read it all.

Poetry can be incredibly diverse: one the one hand you have sonnets, there are ancient sagas, the slightly off-the-wall classics such as Blake, and then you get the Byrons, the Sassoons and the angsty teenage “You’re the love of my life” stuff written by wannabe drama queens of today that you see on various sharing websites. One thing’s for certain: I remember doing poetry at school and it was hideously boring.

They tried to do a multi-cultural poem that most of the class didn’t really understand and neither were they interested in it. They were more interested in painting nails and other girly stuff that I thought was as equally boring. Sad, but true.

Well, I say hideously boring, but the only poetry I ever took an interest in is nonsense poetry, as those of you who have read my previous post on The Jabberwocky and its translations will know.

If only there had been a form of poetry more engaging and interesting to the teenage version of myself, then I probably would have started with my wordplay and manipulation of imagery a lot earlier.

On second thoughts, maybe it was a good thing that I didn’t.

One of the main reasons I find nonsense poetry so interesting is because it makes me think. At least, it makes me think in a far more abstract manner than “normal” poetry, for want of a better word, does. It certainly encourages me to play with imagery and produce things such as describing something as “bright black”.

My solution to the whole poetry problem in schools? Fridge magnet poetry. Wanting to get a bit of Shakespeare into the curriculum? Never fear, there’s a Shakespeare kit (which features on our fridge at home and further on here). Foreign language exam coming up? No worries, we have a German kit, too.

As the German kit in our house has not quite yet developed to the same level as the Shakespeare, I shall leave that for another time.

In any case, I think that fridge magnet poetry is seriously undervalued. The number of evenings spent gathered, sniggering around the fridge like school children has certainly provided more entertainment that most board games that you end up being forced to play at family gatherings.

Cluedo? Oh no. We don’t play SquabbleScrabble any more, either. (And anyway, I received the equivalent to a lifetime ban as apparently you have to stick to the one language when playing? Spoilsports. They claimed it was unfair if you start speaking gibberish and called it Roospeak.)

In any case, I think I can safely say that my family are downright weird.

The one thing that is very apparent is that there are varying types of fridge magnet poetry. Some have the tone of a biblical commandment:

Thou will let him be vile at sea

Whilst some are a tad risqué:

We would be on earth, but alas circumstance has slain our passion king

I sleep with my tempting romeo as I love to rub his frothy wagtail

Prince sword fickle in o nunnery

Need an excuse for no homework? No problem:

Trouble is, I hast wilteth

Other phrases have a distinct style and the author is nearly always obvious:

The queen doth bestow dire wind on me then treachery doth soon bolt out

which is followed by:

Brest canst only quicken arrow spot of discontent as I bid thee war and say swod oft

These, however, are by no means a match for the classic:

slain by far toil

Say it out loud and think school boy humour. I can say that this was without the influence of alcohol. Anybody familiar with the phenomenon that is “Dad humour”?

Yeah. All I can say is apple. Fall. Tree.

But best of all, you get the epic Shakespearian sagas which are clearly dramatic works that have taken several alcohol influenced hours of sniggering, gesticulating and musing on the complexities and the finer points of life and human existance:

Well farewell noble trifle,
What straw seizeth golden fortune o’er ere?
Alas, after much woe and thought
From said,” o scorn melodious humility
& break every damn goblet!
How can one wage above?”

Overcome ladys, yield paid your arm,
Beware no jest;
Thus horse is up your breach but no mercy,
So thence there’s sorrow morrow.

Speak! You vile precedent!
We vow at all twire wherefore get loath by sullen vow,
Nay more love this direction.

Ambition dost strive when perchance ado,
Mind your wit to use about ghost hunting,
For impatience was madness and dire kingdom lose a drunk.

Record full wonder of mercy who say they suffer defunctive window blinds,
Could a midsommer beseech thy enemies to kiss despair and die?
Galeth doth speak of stanly; curse tongue of death day,
Our poor wench not eaten, like, if art a bloody tempest die like thine dair will.

Nor toil here, o chronicle lord, shall winter plead or weep?
‘tis frailty hadst haste’d,
Were oak to see well – thou damdt myself.

Foul reason I am sweating,
Is unfold her villain, where the wicked laughing which goes nay mouth.
How art my convent; methinks, tale hast pluck, Denmark.

Do dream she know well, vaunt & slinging you oftly vow, herein est un idle borrower on my thandess, toil by far questioning goblet
Woe, ‘doris.
Why chance almost found sun!

Fool! Marry cold steel maiden:
God hither.

And remember, when in doubt:

Always ask for the night witch.

Travellings: Deutschland #21/Inane Whittering #14

Apologies for the radio silence – and for the fact that I will probably end up posting a series of posts of various episodes from Roo’s adventures abroad (I’ve just made that name up, but it already sounds far more interesting than Year Abroad) and then may well end up with another dry spell – I will try to avoid it, but I do need a break from being witty from time to time…

The first blindingly obvious observation I would like to make is how sodding cold it’s gotten. During the day here in the rather bemusing Bavarian Beer Monster, it’s around -15 degrees at the minute. At night it drops between -20-25 degrees. Friday night dropped down to -27, apparently.

It’s enough to give you goosebumps on your goosebumps.

As a result, I now resemble an onion in terms of the number of layers I’m wearing; I’ve had to break out my Matrix coat (it’s woollen, floor-length and black) and I’ve been knitting all kinds of weird and wonderful things for my wardrobe.

So far, I’ve made neckwarmers, scarves and wristwarmers. My current project is a pair of thigh-high legwarmers.

Now there’s a mental image for you.

Pictures will follow.

(Of the finished products, of course – not random pictures of my thighs. That would just be weird. Anyway, on to saner ground…)

My other recent habit is baking. Now, this happened when I was feeling a bit blue and was in one of my moods where I just wanted to go home and curl up on the sofa with the cat. Now, seeing as that wasn’t possible, and I don’t have a cat, I decided that some comfort food was in order.

But what? I already have huge quantities of teabags stashed in my room (I kid you not, my current total is around 5 kilos of the stuff) and I have marmite for my usual marmite on toast pick-me-up. But for some reason, it just wasn’t enough. No amount of B vitamins and caffine were going to pick me up out of this particular rut.

The much-needed solution?

Scones.

Up until now, I have never made them. 2 minutes of googling revealed that they’re suprisingly quick and (theoretically) easy to make.

Explaing to my flatmate what a scone is, however, proved to be rather more challenging. Needless to say, there is no German equivalent for scones. The dialogue resembled something like this:

(rough English translation of the actual German conversation)

Becca: I’m going to bake scones.
Cathrin: Scones? What are scones?
B: *looks shocked* What do you mean, “what are scones”?
C: *blank look*
B: *with a look of disbelief* You’ve never eaten scones before?
C: *shakes head*
B: *somewhat agitated* B-but, you’ve not lived!
C: *bewildered and somewhat frightened look*
B: Okay, um, they’re about this big *gestures with hands*, and can be eaten sweet or savoury. Traditionally, you eat them with *upper class accent* “Afternoon Tea” and you generally make them with sultanas.
C: *look of utter disgust*
B: …or not. The sultanas are optional.
C: *look of relief* How do you make them?
B: Well, you kind of make a dough-
C: So they’re cakes, then?
B: Well, not exactly…
C: Ah, so more like bread then?
B: Umm, more of a cross between the two.
C: I get it – like Brioche.
B: No, no – nearly the opposite of Brioche. Scones are heavier and denser.
C: So they’re cakes then.
B: *noise of protest swiftly followed by resignation* N-yes, I guess you could say they’re like cakes.
C: So, what do you eat them with?
B: Traditionally, clotted cream and jam.
C: What’s clotted cream?
B: …you don’t have clotted cream here?
C: …I don’t think so.
B: ah. Think of double cream but thicker.
C: Double cream? You mean Schlagsahne?
B: *head in hands* …probably, yes.
C: So, you only eat them in the afternoon?
B: Traditionally, yes. But I some people who munch them for breakfast too.
C: *absolute bewilderment* You people eat cake for breakfast?
B: No, I didn’t say that, they’re not really cak-
C: You eat cake for breakfast. God you English are weird.

So, in a bid to demonstrate to my flatmate that 1) they are not cakes and 2) us English aren’t that weird, I had a go.

My first attempt looked like this:

scones with jam
My children, my beautiful NON-CAKE-like children.

Whilst being far from perfect, it’ll do. For those interested, the recipe is as follows:

For glazing
1 egg beaten with a little milk added

The dough
55g of cold butter
(a generous) 150ml cold milk
225g (2 cups) self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Optional
50g (1/4 cup) sultanas

Because you can’t seem to buy SR flour here in Munich, I used the following substitute (and didn’t add any extra salt as stated above): for each cup of flour, I added 1/4tsp of salt, 1tsp of baking powder and 1/4tsp of baking soda (Natron auf Deutsch).

On a important note, it’s best to have the ingredients as cold as possible – and it’s also better to have cold hands; you want to avoid melting the butter.

The first thing is to sieve the flour into the mixing bowl – you will need a big one for this. If you’ve not had to recreate your own SR flour, then add the salt and baking powder now. Then add the cold butter.

Come to think of it, this recipe can get rather messy, so maybe implementing the use of little people here would be a good idea.

You need to stick your hands in and combine the butter and the flour so that its consistency resembles that of breadcrumbs.

Yes, it will stick to your hands and get under your nails. The things we do for food, eh?

Once you have a lovely floury buttery mess, it’s time for perhaps my favourite part. You know when you have bangers and mash as a kid and you used to make a well in the potato and then pour gravy into it and create your own mashed potato and gravy volcano?

That’s exactly what you do here. Create a well in the flour and pour in the milk, brave the sludgy feeling and stick your hands in to combine it all into a smooth dough.

DO NOT overwork the dough.
Or they won’t rise :(

Once you’ve combined everything, roll the dough out on a floured surface so that it’s around 2cm thick, and then cut them out. I don’t have a rolling pin so have to use my hands and I don’t have any cutters, so I use a glass tumbler.

Then place your beautious creations on to a greased baking tray, glaze them with the egg/milk mixture and bung in a hot oven (preferably near the top) at around 180 degrees C for 5-10 minutes.

It will depend on your oven, but Holger (our oven) seems to enjoy burning things to a cinder.

Et voilà! You have scones. Eat with with jam etc and enjoy.

Except don’t be surprised, if, like me, you decide to snaffle several for breakfast/afternoon snack/out of boredom and then discover that your trousers no longer fit.

I learnt the hard way :(

Travellings: Deutschland #17/Musings #7

I was on the tube on Thursday mulling over various unhinged thoughts in my little head when something insanely obvious jumped out and smacked me right in the face with a wet fish. Hard.

Fish slapping

I have been misplaced.

By misplaced, I mean when you’re about 9 (or in my case, 20) and you can’t find a particular (and often very important) document/possession. Naturally, you go to mum/dad/the nearest responsible adult and bemoan the fact that you’ve lost said item, only to receive the following unhelpful response, which is usually accompanied by a sigh:

“Are you sure you haven’t misplaced it?”

At which point you indignantly reply that no, you certainly have not misplaced it and then give them a reproachful look in an attempt to make them feel bad for making such a ludicrous and hurtful allegation, only for them to go and find said missing item in the first place they look.

Anyway, back to me being misplaced.

At first, I thought I was homesick. Wednesday was another howler of a day and so I decided to speak with family back home. It consisted of The Leggings Incident, The Mosquito War and an unfortunate trip to the supermarket.

Firstly, The Leggings Incident:

On Tuesday, I decided to go and buy a cardigan after work, except that failed miserably and I ended up buying legwarmers and leggings which were in a sale. I then decided to wear the red pair – yes, I actually have something colourful in my wardrobe – to work yesterday. Now, I’m incredibly lazy when it comes to my appearance, (as my father will confirm) and so I decided to wear a long sleeve t-shirt instead of a tunic – the length of this particular item is key. If you pull it down far enough, it comes just short of half-way down my thigh.

So, yesterday morning I got up (in the dark) and got dressed (in the dark – because I’m lazy thinking of the environment and saving energy) and went to work. I did get a few odd looks on the tube, but this isn’t particularly unusual, so I didn’t pay any attention.

I then spent the morning working and attending various meetings with colleagues as usual. At lunchtime, I went to the loo and discovered – much to my absolute horror – that my leggings were opaque on my lower legs, but the higher up my leg, the more transparent they became.

The looks on the tube this morning were because you could clearly see my underwear through my leggings. Mortified, my face promptly turned the colour of said offending item of clothing.

Leggings Incident

Cue walking around for the rest of the day trying to pull my top down far enough to cover the tattered remains of my dignity:

Leggings Incident 2
Subtil.

I then had to go to the supermarket on the way home and in true keeping with the day, I got to the till and realised I had no money on me. I had to run home, grab my wallet and then run back.

When I got home, I then had the Mosquito War. For the past few days, I’ve been waking up each morning with insect bites, which is rather confusing given the time of year – but not when you realise that the weather has been uncharacteristically warm as of late. The thing is, back home in England, the mosquitos/bitey insects there were typically British and we had an understanding: you don’t touch me, I won’t kill you.

Mosquito
Yes, he has a pipe. No, don't try to understand.

I’d just gotten out of the shower and was getting dressed in my room when I noticed the little bastard hanging upside-down from my ceiling:

Mosquito War 1

What happened next can only be described as an epic battle of titans.

Epic battle of titans

My eventual victory, however, was short-lived.

Victory

Whilst I had remembered to shut my bedroom door, I hadn’t shut the curtain to my balcony. Being on the 4th floor, this wouldn’t normally be a problem. But because I was obviously having such an underwear-orientated day, it would just so happen that we currently have builders working on scaffolding directly opposite and they’d seen the entire debacle of me half-dressed, seemingly dismantling my bedroom single-handedly, all the while waving an old newspaper around.

Needless to say, I was disctinctly unamused.

I then decided to ring home and whinge/laugh/cry about the utter rubbishness of it all. After an hour or so of singing to/with my Grandmother and catching up on all of the adventures and happenings back home, I felt…weird.

Which is where my original statement about being misplaced comes into play (if you can remember that far back). Living here in Munich is interesting. I don’t know any other country which can have an international stereotype of being so straight-laced, (and here in Bayern) religious, and yet is still perhaps the only place in Europe where an annual beer festival can take place for 3 weeks without people rioting and the whole place being burnt down to the ground. The public transport is generally on time (I hope you’re reading this, TfL), clean – at least, by British standards – and efficient.

In short, it’s clean, orderly and I swear that it even occasionally has that “new car” smell to it. The streets are built in the rather American grid-like layout, so should you miss a street, then you can easily turn down the next one and the buildings still have something of their original colour to them.

In other words, I currently feel like the child who has forcibly been made to relinquish their favourite, much-loved and lived-in slobby jumper for a brand-new, smart looking suit that itches and is bloody uncomfortable.

Or you could compare it to being the messy person who’s just been invited in to the living room of their OCD colleague/friend and then feels horribly uncomfortable and out of place.

I don’t belong here in the orderly and the clean; I belong in the mess, the chaos and the dog-eared.

Don’t get me wrong – London is far from perfect. I have slowly been learning that there is no such thing as absolute perfection. (Which, as a perfectionist, has been exceptionally hard to grasp) London is grimy and sooty; the transport system is an absolute shambles and everything is mind-bogglingly expensive. Yet it has a certain dog-eared quality to it that your favourite teddy has. I bet your favourite teddy isn’t looking anywhere near as clean as he did the day you first got him.

I like the chaotic layout of the streets, too. It makes getting lost interesting and you also never quite know what you’re going to find on account of the vast mix of cultures we have. I like it when the weather’s cloudy, drizzly and a little nippy – it’s what London’s known for. But most of all, it’s the character that the city has – the intricate gothic architecture, the historical sites and the quirky little things like the Jewish cemetery in the middle of my university campus.

I moved to London about 2 years ago to start my degree, and I guess the reason I miss the place so much is because I associate it with feeling like I truly belong somewhere for the first time in my life.

I enjoy what I do and I have met some of the most amazing, genuine, intelligent and inspiring people there.

In other words, it’s home.

So, my course of action? Why, sulk, of course.

That, and maybe some slightly inebriated singing along to Adele’s Hometown Glory in my room this evening. And maybe tomorrow, too.

Or just all week.

Because the problem isn’t just that I’m misplaced.
London’s calling.

Travellings: Deutschland #5 Catch-up II/Musings #6

Right, it’s now part-way through August, and apart from my tetchy, disgruntled rant about German vending machines, I’ve been neglecting this. Forgive me.

I moved in with D for 2 weeks, and at the beginning of August, moved to Eching. I say Eching, it’s actually Dietersheim, but apparently that counts as Eching? In any case, it’s a half hour walk to work (and therefore the nearest tube station) and I have pretty much everything crammed into one room. The house is owned by a couple who speak proper There’s-only-five-people-in-my-Kaff-Bavarian, which means that complete sentences are a rareity and most of the conversations we have are guesswork because neither party can understand what the other is saying particularly well.

Oh, and I think I’ve lost the French accent. Shame, I was quite enjoying pretending to be French.

So to catch up:

After I moved in with D, I flew home as a surprise for my mother’s birthday. I flew home the night before and my uncle collected me at the airport, so I spent the night with him and my Gran (he lives in France normally, so when he’s back he stays at the family home) and my Dad came and picked me up the next morning. The thing was, he simply told my mother that he was going out to buy the newspaper. I told Mum that I was going out Friday night and so would phone her during the day sometime. So he came over to Gran’s and we then spent 2 hours trying to wrap up a box big enough to fit me in. I should explain that the day before, I’d doctored an Amazon confirmation of order email and sent it to my mother, so that it looked like I’d bought her something called “Surprise Mystery Box” and that it was arriving on the day. Eventually, we got everything sorted, I hopped in the boot of the car and we drove back. Now, when my father usually goes out to the supermarket he takes several hours, so the fact that we’d taken 2 hours to get back wasn’t too unusual, but I could hear them coming back out to the car (I’d stayed in the boot for best impact) and my mother was none too impressed with the amount of time it had taken him to simply buy a newspaper and a “gift that was too heavy to get out of the car” by himself (thanks, Dad).

Then he opened the boot whilst she was mid-sentence and she saw the Surprise Mystery Box with me behind it. It’s not often I see my mother speechless, so to break the ice I came out with “Mama! Fancy seeing you here!”

Result.

Then I had to fly back out the following day because I had to work. /grizzle

The next bit of travelling I did was to take 2 days holiday, and try out the Deutsche Bahn service between Munich and Berlin. My excuse was a house warming party and the fact that I’ve never really properly visited Berlin. This resulted in staying up quite late, having an absolute whale of a time and somehow managing to bring back more luggage that what I started out with.

Then it was back to Munich to work again. (There’s a pattern beginning to emerge here.)

Oh, and in the meantime Ben moved out to Munich, so I now have someone to pester about being bored :D

Except he’s buggered off to Bonn until Monday, so I’m by myself again, but I’ll come to that in a minute.

My next bit of travelling is this coming Wednesday, when I fly home for a week. It’s my Grandmother’s birthday on the Tuesday and I feel bad about not being there. Combined with nobody being in the office, and me wanting to avoid having all phone calls redirected to me, I thought I’d mosey back home.

Oh, and about a week and a half ago, I was sitting at my desk in the office and it was one of those days where I was having to wear my reading glasses. The next thing I know, my bosses show in this random man saying “We don’t have any blonde girls, but we can offer brunettes…”

My first reaction was to think that it sounded like a horribly dodgy deal of some sort. It was in fact, a member of the photography department looking for someone to pose as a Promovierende (kinda like a PhD student) for photos for our new publicity material. Apparently me wearing my glasses was exactly what he was looking for, so I ended up going and taking part in a photo shoot in one of the science labs where we got to play around with petri-dishes full of coloured water and pipettes.

Shame one of my bosses took one look at the finished pictures this week and burst out laughing. Apparently, the colours of the water make the image look like it ought to be part of a Durex promotional campaign. Great.

As a result of all the working, moving and running around, I’ve not had much in the way of time to read – except when I’ve either been on a plane/train for at least an hour or two. I have however, taken a break from reading linguistic material to read trashy vampire novels aimed at teenagers that were on Amazon for under a pound each.

Having said that, I did discover “Don’t Sleep, there are Snakes” – which is a cross between memoirs and linguistic material and presents evidence which yet again bring Chomsky’s theories into question.

I know it must currently look like I have something against Chomsky’s work, but to be honest this is more about me reading theories which go against the mainstream ideas. Think of it as a kind of academic rebellion, if you will. Either that, or just being open-minded.

The book is written by Daniel Everett and offers an account of his work with the Pirahã (pee-da-HAN) tribe in the Amazon rainforest. He originally went as a missionary and to study their language. Whilst there, he made some interesting discoveries, managed to adapt to a completely different lifestyle and culture, began to question his faith and generally makes my current year abroad pale in significance.

The entire account is fascinating, but what interested me most is the linguistic evidence that the Pirahã culture actively influences their language and that each shapes the other. For example, this is a language which has no words for colour – something I think Chomsky said was “innate” (feel free to correct me; it’s been a while since I’ve read this book) – they focus on the present and only tell stories about things which have recently happened. He began to question his faith when he realised that when you tell stories to people from the Pirahã tribe, you have to be able to justify it – not with literature, but with eye witness accounts, or the whole thing gets dismissed.

So trashy vampire novels aside, that was quite interesting and rewarding to read at the same time.
My current read (physical copy, not Kindle format) is “Through the Language Glass” by Guy Deutscher, who, if you’ve read my other posts, you should already be acquainted with. If you don’t know who he is, then shame on you and go read the post where I first mentioned him.

This book deals with the question that he briefly mentioned in “The Unfolding of Language” to only say that it was fascinating but there simply wasn’t the space in the book. Here, he looks at the influence of language and culture on each other and in the second part, how language shapes cognitive skills and our perception of the world.

Having started it this morning, I’m only part way through the first chapter, which has so far consisted of an analysis of the use of colour in Homer’s Odyssey and the Iliad, which probably sounds boring, but actually is quite interesting. If anything, blame a certain Mr. Gladstone (yes, that one).

As previously said, Deutscher’s style is easily accessible and it’s satisfying to read something vaguely academic and be able to understand it without looking up every other word.

I still maintain this guy has the brain the size of a planet, though.

On a related note (how language shapes thought, not brains the size of planets), I found a series of interesting articles in the German language magazine, Gehirn & Geist, which I might try and use for my mammoth task of writing 4,000 words on some Anglo-German cultural relations topic.

It’s not due in for ages, but when I’m given a free-reign to choose what I want to write about, I take forever to come up with something interesting (and good enough). Although what usually happens is that I choose something and then change my mind and write about something completely different the night before the deadline.

Somehow I don’t think I’ll be able to get away with it this time.

Anyway, back to recent events.

This weekend is a long one because tomorrow (Monday) is a Feiertag, or Bank Holiday. I didn’t realise this until Thursday night, otherwise I would have booked earlier flights. So my plan was to go and visit various museums and wander around Munich all weekend. Yesterday I woke up late (result) and ended up missing the bus there and had to walk for half an hour to get to the tube station. I ended up wandering around a bit, did some reading with a cup of tea and came back only to discover that I’d also missed the last bus back. (Cue lots of cursing public transport and living am Arsch Ende der Welt)

I then saw that on Sundays and Feiertags, there’s no bus service. It’s about 30 degrees today, so there’s no way I’m walking to the tube station. Bugger that for a laugh. So whilst I was planning on wandering around art museums and the Jewish Museum here in Munich to look for inspiration for essay topics, I have in fact spent my time cat-napping, reading and generally lounging about; I can’t say it’s a bad thing.

It has meant that I’ve been reading up on Yiddish in Jewish culture, learning some more Russian and of course reading Deutscher’s book. Unfortunately for my bank balance, this has resulted in me buying yet more books. Oops.

The seemingly random interest in Yiddish has reasoning behind it; it’s not quite on a whim. I was informed recently of the death of a relative, which had one of those profound impacts on me – as something so sudden and tragic often does – and it made me realise that 1) life is too short and 2) for some us, time isn’t in great supply; something which saddens me greatly.

It also reinforces/reminds me of something that was said to me last year by someone who I consider a mentor (or Studium-Mutter if you like) – a fiercely intelligent woman – “wir sind alle sterblich”. Sad, but true.

I remember being told that there is Jewish heritage in my family, but until fairly recently, it’s seldom been mentioned. So I’ve started looking into Jewish culture and more specifically, Yiddish. Yiddish is – quite literally – “Jewish”; “Yid” being Yiddish for Jew. Looking into it, it’s has an extremely complex (and therefore fascinating) relationship with Jewish culture – at various stages it has either been rejected or viewed with pride – and considering both the East End of London (where apparently said Jewish part of my family lived) and Munich have got somewhat chequered histories involving Jewish culture, I’ve been wondering whether it’s possible to compare the two and somehow link it to Yiddish and its status within the respective Jewish communities.

I do realise, however, that it’s beginning to increasingly sound like a dissertation topic or PhD thesis material.

On a final and random note: while at home, I often play about with the English language (my father, easily confused by my creations, calls it massacring) and I tend to add syllables to words, for example “lucozade” becomes “lucomazade”, and “interesting” becomes “intermeresting”. You can imagine my surprise and delight (and my father’s despair) when I found this in the local supermarket:

Ovomaltine
Ovaltine. AS A CHOCOLATE SPREAD. Life = complete.

Travellings: Deutschland #3 Disgruntled Rant

The German stereotype is that they’re efficient, hard working and that they know how to build machinery. So far, I have found instances where the efficiency has been brought into question and today I can honestly tell you that there is at least one piece of machinery that they can’t seem to build. And let’s face it, if the Germans can’t build it well, few people can.

The item of machinery in question is the vending machine at the bottom of the building. Since I started work here nearly a month ago, it has refused to do as I have asked every single time. Today, I have had little sleep, have currently got low blood sugar which is slowly getting worse and am generally in a bad mood because I’M HUNGRY. So I decided that in order to generally stay concious and also for everybody else’s sake, it would be a good idea to wander downstairs to pay extortionate vending machine rates for not very much.

I have just spent the best part of 15 minutes repeatedly arguing with, swearing at and becoming increasingly bad-tempered at the serious lack of cooperation from the bloody thing. (And so received some strange looks from passers-by) I put money in about 15 times (sometimes having to put more in because the crap-arse piece of German rip-off technology decided to eat my money), only for it to spit the money back – the machinical version of waving 2 fingers at someone and blowing a loud raspberry. The worst bit? To buy food in the canteen here at the university, you need an electronic card because the system’s cashless. Mine is in my wallet – with my money – which for some reason isn’t in my coat or my bag. So not only have I been bested by a crap hunk of metal, I have to sit here hungry and try to work (which is nigh-on impossible) and I only have the odd bit of small change to try and buy lunch.

Fan-bloody-tastic.
I thought it was only Mondays that were supposed to be crap?
/rant

Oh, and I did write a post about a week or so ago, but forgot to post it. I’ll post it soon, promise.

EDIT:

Okay, reading this several hours later this is a little harsh in places. I should probably add that there are lots of things that the Germans do a lot better than the English – but then again, that’s not particularly difficult to do these days – their public transport system is impressive enough. And kudos to German guys too, who, unlike British men, seemed to have moved on from the stage where showing affection/interest consists of name-calling, pulling hair and flicking snot balls at a girl.

Not that I’m speaking with experience in regards to the last point on that list, mind.

Travellings: Deutschland #2 Deutsches Museum

I have decided that day 8 (today) is going to be a lazy day – it is a Sunday after all. Yesterday was spent wandering around the Deutsches Museum for the best part of the afternoon. Imagine the Science Museum crossed with the Imperial War Museum and from a German perspective. It’s truly an amazing place (particularly if you’re a history/science person or a petrol-head) and there’s no way you can absorb everything in a day, so I am determined to go back at a later date.

The first hall I walked into was dedicated to various types of craft – it starts off with boats and rafts from the earliest designs and then walks you through various historical stages and improvements with a mixture of miniature and life-size models – some of which you can go inside and take a look around. Then there’s a fascinating section on engines and the individual components until you reach the aircraft section. Out of all the sections, I spent the best part of my time walking around the aerospace and “astronautics” – their wording, not mine – sections. I have to admit I have a thing about flying things (I blame the cat’s influence, personally.) There were helicopters, gliders, jets, propeller craft, rockets; the lot. The bit that really pleased me was when I managed to recognise a Messerschmitt (see, Matt? Proper spelling just for you :p) without having to read the placard – silly, I know. And in another hall, there were life-size replicas of the very first flying machines – Bleriot’s craft in which he made his successful crossing of the Channel included – as well as replicas of the first hot-air balloons and wing-like contraptions that were used to glide. The interesting thing here is that one side of the hall is dedicated to flying creatures, the physics behind their capability to fly and how they inspired the creators of our modern-day flying machines.

Replica of Bleriot's aircraft which crossed the Channel
Replica of Bleriot's aircraft which crossed the Channel

Then there was the more science-y bit and less of the Imperial War Museum side of things. There were entire rooms dedicated to various means of providing energy: how we mine for oil and gas, hydro-electricity and of course nuclear power, amongst other things. Then there was the really interesting section on lasers and their role in modern industry, the process of casting and smelting and a load of other machinery bits that I couldn’t understand because it was all in complicated German and by this point my brain had given up and turned to a pile of mush. I did understand the section in the optics room on holograms – those were pretty cool.

I didn’t spend nearly enough time in this section, but by this point it was mid-afternoon and I was hungry. There is also a section on musical instruments and astrophysics – there is, I think, some form of an observatory there, neither of which I saw. Oh well, looks like I’ll just have to go back another time. What a shame. I also made a new friend in the form of a grumpy-looking chef in the café-type place on the ground floor of the main building – shame he only spoke Bavarian to me, so communication between us was fairly limited – I think I guessed what he was saying correctly; he only looked confused once – but out of all the customers that left, I was the one who got a wave: best friend #6.

And yesterday evening I managed to film some of the amazing lightning strikes we seem to be getting most evenings. At the moment it’s averaging 26/27 degrees today, although the past few days have been 28-30 degrees with very little cloud. For the past few nights, however, the weather breaks and there are the most amazing thunder storms with lightning – they last for at least an hour, if not several. By the next day, however, it’s all cleared up and there’s no sign of the stormy tantrum from the night before.

lightning snapshot
lightning snapshot - the most impressive was a strike the spanned the entire horizon

This morning was spent outside around the back of the hotel in the sun reading. I decided to turn into a bit of a sun-lizard (lizard because I’m rather cold-blooded in that I need my surroundings to be warm to feel the warmth myself.) Except I’ve had to come inside now because I have a tendency to go from alabaster to a lovely shade of lobster very quickly. Anyway, I’ve just finished reading (finally) Guy Deutscher’s book “The Unfolding of Language”, which I mentioned in a previous post. Okay, I didn’t mention it, I waxed lyrical about it, but that’s only because I wish I’d read it earlier and the points he makes in the book make so much sense I couldn’t believe that they hadn’t occurred to be until I sat down and read about them.

Personally, I think this would have helped explain any tricky aspects of one of the modules I took this year on the development of the German language because there’s an entire chapter on the types of language change and he doesn’t just reference German (which is both helpful and not at the same time.) The only drawback is that although the material is explained in such an accessible way, (and is not only gratifying to read, but you also feel like you’ve learned something whilst actually enjoying it) the actual linguistic terms are not always introduced to the reader. So if you wanted to research it further, you’d either have to already be familiar with the topic, or be about to study it, in which case you’d understand the processes, and would just need to learn the correct vocab. Then again, maybe I’ve found it easy/enjoyable to read because I’ve already studied the topic and found it gratifying that I knew what he was talking about in some chapters and could smugly scan the pages – it’s not often that you feel you’re on the same wave-length as someone with the brain the size of a planet.

Marvin the paranoid android from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
"Here I am, brain the size of a planet, and they ask me to take you down to the bridge. Call that job satisfaction? 'Cos I don't."

In any case, there are chapters which I know I will want to go back to and read a second time – although I understand things on a basic level, there’s still a lot to absorb and internalise. In the meantime, I shall let its contents take a while to sink in and read another book also by Deutscher called “Through the Language Glass”, which takes you through the differing perspectives and I suppose cognitive abilities that different languages give you. Prepare for me to rave about that one too in the near future – bear in mind that I don’t start work for roughly another week and there’s only so much of wandering around museums I can do before I get bored.

Having said that, I do plan on visiting the Alte and Moderne Pinakotek in Munich – from what I’ve heard/read, they’re essentially massive art galleries – the “Alte” for classical and “old” works, and the “Moderne”, well… for more modern artists, surprisingly.

Oh, and in the past two days, I’ve only been into a McDonald’s once – see? I’m improving all the time.

Ciao :)

Inane Whittering #10

So, I should probably be sleeping right now, but as usual I’m hoping that by not sleeping, I’ll somehow avoid tomorrow. Although I’m that sleep-deprived that I just wrote “so I’ll avoid yesterday”. Interesting idea, that.

I move to Munich tomorrow and I’m at that weird stage where you have doubts, the “I want to stay here with people I know” and all the other sentimental stuff.

I don’t like it. I can’t say good-bye at the best of times, let alone casually say bye to my parents for the best part of a year. Okay, I know I have Skype and the interweb and other weird and wonderful things that technology gives you to keep in contact. 10-15 years ago, I would have gone and relied on letters to keep in touch. So things could be a lot worse.

So I’m currently telling myself that I managed work experience at 15, flew out alone to the middle of nowhere in France to near strangers, had a pay-phone as my only means of contact, spoke rudimentary French (at best) and stayed with people who spoke no English: I can do this.

Maybe.

In any case, I’ll not have internet until Wednesday evening/Thursday, and I have to make my way through the German Jungle of Bureaucracy.

So, farewell land of tea and crumpets. Right, München, you Bavarian Beer Monster, let’s be having you.

travelling Roo
See you soon :)

Inane Whittering #9/Musings #6

First, apologies for having gone silent. I have been dealing with exams, birthdayness and now I’m preparing for my adventures in the Bavarian Beer-Monster, Munich. I got a Kindle for my birthday, with the hope that it would save space in my luggage.

Being a part-time book-worm, this has been absolutely fatal. The ability to simply click a button from the kindle whilst you’re sitting in bed at 3am having finished the first gripping tale in a trilogy appeals to the worst side of human nature – that impulsive, I-want-it-now side of our personalities.

There’s also the whole “oh, it’s only £3/4.99” aspect, which after several books, can add up to quite a bit. However, it has meant that I have read several books that I wouldn’t normally have read. This was because I spent hours trawling through the free “classics” section, which resulted in me “buying” Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” in English and in French, “Crime and Punishment”, “The Divine Comedy” and a whole hoard of Mark Twain’s work.

It also resulted in me buying “Sweating the Metal” by Alex Duncan, a Chinook pilot who’s served in Afghanistan at least 3 times and was awarded the DFC – the highest medal for bravery within the RAF – earlier this year. Think the Afghan version of Chickenhawk. I couldn’t put it down and had to be reminded to interact with other people/eat/drink.

Regardless of your point of view on the war in the Middle East, this is certainly worth the read – I can’t remember the last time I read such a humble and down-to-earth account where all the acts of bravery are recounted as if it was a standard part of the job.

In other words, I simply cannot reccommend it enough to you.

My current read (although not on the Kindle this time) is a book called “The Unfolding of Language” by Guy Deutscher. This guy is stupidly smart. I mean, he’s Israeli (so speaks Hebrew), but speaks English perfectly, has taught in German universities (so speaks German too) and studied Maths at Cambridge before doing a PhD in Linguistics there. As you do.

Anyway, back to the book and enough of being intimidated by the guy with the brain the size of a planet. Think of it as linguistics for beginners – it does stretch your brain a bit if you’ve never studied linguistics before, but it’s laid out in a fairly accessible way.

Which is quite surprising, really. Most of the literature in this field is written in such a complicated way that just looking at the covers makes my brain melt. Anyway, there are lots of example sentences involving seals picking fights with walruses and the like and the most amusing little ditty the author himself wrote about the frustrating nature of the English verb system:

“The teacher claimed it was so plain,
I only had to use my brain.
She said the past of throw was threw,
The past of grow -of course- was grew,
So flew must be the past of fly,
And now, my boy, your turn to try.
But when I trew,
I had no clue,
If mow was mew,
Like know and knew
(Or is it knowed
Like snow and snowed?)

The teacher frowned at me and said
The past of feed was -plainly- fed.
Fed up, I knew the what I ned:
I took a break and out I snoke,
She shook and quook (or quaked? or quoke?)
With raging anger out she broke:
Your ignorance you want to hide?
Tell me the past form of collide!
But how on earth should I decide
If it’s collid
(Like hide and hid)
Or else – from all that I surmose,
The past of rise was simply rose,
And that of ride was surely rose,
So of collide must be collode?

Oh damn these English verbs I thought,
The whole thing absolutely stought!
Of English I have had enough,
These verbs of yours are far too tough.
Bolt upright in my chair I sat,
And said to her “that’s that” – I quat.”

He then goes on -as you would expect- to mention Mark Twain’s essay “The Awful German Language” from his book, “A Tramp Abroad” – also worth a read, if you haven’t already. (See this post for the link.)

Perhaps one of the most interesting things mentioned in the introduction is the debate on language acquisition and the argument of “innateness”, or for the unacquainted: the discussion on whether language is “hard-coded” into the brain at birth. The author mentions this purely to say that whilst it’s fascinating and rather impossible to solve, he won’t be addressing this issue much, if at all.

He does, however, outline the basic arguments, which can more or less be simplified down to the whole “nature vs. nurture” argument. I blame the best part of this somewhat circular disagreement on a certain Noam Chomsky. I used to be of the opinion that it was a mix, but to be honest, language is as much a skill as it is a tool, both of which are refined as we age.

However my opinion changed when I recently read an interesting article in the Scientific American where it was trying to work out whether it’s possible that humans could evolve. The short answer: no. Why? Because some organs, such as our eyes and brains are at the peak of evolution. They simply cannot be refined any further. The brain, for example, can be bigger – take elephants, for example – but because the structure is so huge, it’s highly inefficient and therefore slow (a bit like trying to control Tsarist Russia, I suppose).

On the other hand, if you were to take the human brain and cram as many, much smaller neurons in as possible, they begin to fire so many synapses that all you get is “noise” and then they fire randomly, thus creating a rather chaotic situation where the brain is no longer capable of controlling the signals sent.

In other words, our current brain model is pretty damn optimal. Eyes too, which is really quite reassuring, when you think about it. It has also taken millennia for us to reach this impressive stage and so I find it quite hard to believe that changes (in language) so fluid, and which occur in an evolutionary blink can be “hard-wired” into something so carefully sculpted over aeons.

“Ah,” I hear you say, “but what if only the basics are hard-coded and the rest learnt?” Up until fairly recently, I would have agreed, that, yes, the universals – as they’re known as in linguistic circles – do have a lot going for them. That was until I read this article which casts doubt on the entire thing and has meant for some linguists that the whole world in now rather upside-down.

So basically, it’s all as clear as mud. Where do we go from here?
This is yet another one of those unanswerable questions like “which came first, the apple, or the potato?” (If that doesn’t make much sense, go read WATB: Potatoes)

I’m still working on that part. I’ll let you when I’ve come up with something.

************

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