Saturday, September 27, 2008

Bugger structure. I never really liked the idea of it anyway

So… blah. Blah, blah, blah...

(alert: fearful navel-gazing of blogger with existentialist crisis ahead)

For the first time in absolutely ages, I’ve got working internet, laptop, and nothing pressing to do apart from creatively dodge the guilt-driven instinct to alphabetise my books or something. What better time to catch up on all those must-visit websites? The ones I used to go by every day. The ones I would post at. Or (shock! horror!) perhaps even write a post or two here, to stiffen the sinews of this rather weedy-looking blog.

Except I can’t. Somehow, the vim has gone. It left months ago, slamming the door and leaving behind nothing but a lump of wet laundry in the washing machine.

Since this blog and my old internetovating haunts have or had a lot to do with books, perhaps it’s not surprising. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve come to the hardly earth-shattering realisation that it has been absolutely bloody ages since I last read a book that got me really excited. They’re all, sort of… blah. Neither dreadful, suck-your-brains out, pound-your-eyeballs into mush crap that forces me to keep reading just to stagger, reeling at its sheer awfulness, nor oh-my-god-i-love-this-oh-my-god-yeeeesss wonderfulness that leaves me blissed out and re-reading my favourite bits for days on end.

Nope. They just sort of all hover in this middle ground of bland, boring, blah. Okay to pass the time between metro stops, but instantly forgettable to the extent that TWICE now this year, I’ve bought a second copy of a book because I forgot that I had already read it.

Anyhow, I know it’s time to worry now, because after pretty much a day of on-and-off surfing through romance etc., websites, blogs and so on, the book reviews that have me most fired up (at least to the extent of looking up the delivery charges on Amazon) are two from the Fortean Times: Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction, and an anthropological study of the history of cannibalism written by the daughter of a paleoanthropologist and a master chef.

I think if I had to put my finger on what’s made the books I’ve read recently so unexciting, it’s perhaps that they take themselves too seriously. They’re just not as much fun as they used to be. Same thing for a lot of the sites I used to frequent. The humour seems just a tad forced, the reactions and posts a tad predictable. The joins seem to show. It’s like there’s less joy in it now. And I don't feel like writing because I can't help worrying that the same applies here. Sigh.

Is this a consequence of the last few years of looming doom and gloom? Or even that I'm realising this now because of the current doom and gloom? Or is the change in my own attitude and outlook? Are these the first symptoms of conservatism-with-a-small-c that strikes so many as middle age approaches? As the new austerity creeps in this deadly pace, will I develop preferences in reading and blogging that are serious, earnest and meaningful? Okay, maybe not the cannibals. But they could be leading me in a merry dance towards an inclination to seriousness. Who knows where this could all lead to? Discussing oven cleaning? grammar? central heating? (patience, my lovelies) *blushes*

I should never have done that course in economics.

Monday, September 08, 2008

More structure...kinda

And now, for the next exciting, czechtastic piece of vocabulary...









There is no other similar word alas. Unless you count "Februaryish". But this particular bit of vocab does start us down the long and winding road of Czech diacritics, with its extra-special "ú". meaning a long "u". Or ooooooooo.

Sometimes you can see the long "u" written with a little circle above it, like this: "ů". It sounds the same, but harkens back to a dim and distant past, in which the letter "o" was mysteriously involved in the word, before something, possibly angry diacritics or vengeful graphemes, ate it. Or maybe just the top bit.


Sometimes... sometimes... the "o" comes back.


But not in ůnor, because it's not spelled with the little "o", but with an acute and rather dashing accent, as in únor. How can you tell when to make your ooooo with dash not dot? Well, the dash happens when "u" comes at the beginning of the word.

In 1848 (count 'em, baby) some madmen decided that no Czech national renaissance could possibly be complete without an orthographical overhaul and decided that the "ou" (oh-ooo) dipthong at the beginning of the roots of words should be changed to "ú". Because that's how it was pronounced.

But somewhen around the same time, the long "o" ("ó") was being pronounced, "uo" (ooo-ohh - I like it when the beat goes -), and so to save paper in a time of wood-pulp and vellum scarcity, they decided to write the "o" part of the dipthong (-thong, -thong, -thong, -thong) much, much smaller above the "u". And then, the pronounciation changed, and the rest is history... er... orthography.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Trying for structure

Ahhh.... structure. Very important thing. Number one in the top tip of being a better, stronger blogger. A more noble blogger. A finer blogger who blogs on more beautiful things in a more beautiful way. So I hereby give myself the gift of structure. From now on, Monday will be Czech word of the week day. "See how easy it is?" they cry.

Well, to be frank it's also a bit of a cheat, because this way, I get to revise my vocabulary and thus perhaps decrease Mrs. Jana's agonised looks as I plow my way through the wild and crazy range of practice sentences using "If..." Besides, who wouldn't want to learn Czech?

I'm cheating even more, because I've got the 1st twelve sorted out already. Here goes number one.

"Leden". Say it like "leaden". Exactly like "leaden", in fact. Which is a very good thing because what it really means is "January", and that's pretty much the colour of the sky that time of year (when it's not night, of course. Or one of those glorious, piercingly bright winter days where the cold and the sky threaten to strip the colour out of your eyeballs. In a good way.)

If you're into your Czech etymology (not entomology - do I detect the stirrings of another theme?) then of course, you probably already know that the root of "Leden" is "led" which means "ice" or "cold" or gets shoved into all kinds of words to send chills down the spine and raise mental goosebumps.

By this, I mean words which refer to all things icy (ledovy), cold (led, but also zima - don't go that way, it's dark and scary and seasonal) and glacial (ledovcovy), like fridges (lednicka), freezers (lednicka, yawn), ice-breakers (ledoborec) and icebergs or glaciers (ledovec). Or to put it into real terms, right now I am drinking a lot of "ledová káva" which can only be a good thing, because this month is pretty much the opposite of Leden. At least as the temperature goes.

Friday, July 04, 2008

I will blog more often.

I will blog more often.
I will blog more often.
I will blog more often.
I will blog more often.
I will blog more orphans.
I will blog meer ooftans.
I vill bleurg moo raftans.

Oh soddit. Or is this just the death rattle of this blog, aka its râles d'agonie? This, by the way is neither big nor clever, but just an indication of too much Zola at an impressionable age.

Possibly it is merely ras-le-blog. Ouch.

Actually, come to think of it, I do have an idea... Hmm...

Monday, June 23, 2008

Once upon a time, in a blogiverse far far away...

There was a person who regularly posted. That was about a year ago.

Then the ebhil curse of the drinking classes (or even glasses, I assume) got in the way.

Then she got her library shipped from home and trapped herself in her front room with some over-ambitious Ikea self-assemblage. After devouring three packets of rye crackers with only mustard ease things down, suddenly MDF looked rather tasty, and she managed to nibble herself free through a week spot in the backboard...

Only to decide that a holiday was the solution to all ills. So off she went (by train, metro, foot and ferry) to a remote mountain hamlet in Crete where she fulfilled a life's ambition and learned to milk a goat. There are pictures. She wasn't very good at it. It was cool. There was no electricity. Unfortunately, she had to come back by plane and is now scarred for life by the "complimentary" meal served to console her for missing her connection in Athens. To say nothing of the hotel room and its lovely view of one of the city's finest roundabouts.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

It's been so long that I almost forgot my password...

...perhaps, this should become the greatest ever blog of excuses for not writing blogs?

Except I don't think I have the stamina and determination for that either. Or else, those trivial minor details of life get in the way. Like work... and the other stuff. What was it again? Oh yes. More work.

Anyhow, this is probably not the best place to go into detail about the truly disgusting ex-summer-cold-now-officially-diagnosed-hay-fever that I have managed to develop. My doctor knows that it is hay fever owing to the subtle nuances of my mucus coloration. I know it is hay fever because a) it won't go away and b) no one else is as miserable as I. Oh woe.

But of course, along with hay fever comes hay fever remedies. Teeny tiny pills. Counsel that I should cycle more in open fields. Advice that I should cycle less in open fields. Recommendations that I should source local Praguish honey and ingest it for its local pollen qualities. Earnest discussion about the healing properties of natural yoghurt, dried figs and industrial-strength quantities of vitamin C. Lavender pills. Horsefly tincture. Snorting of fresh water. Of salt water. Cold team.

But will anyone shut the ****y window?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Still not ded yet...

...just continuing to be a little preoccupied with learning a long list of names of animals in Czech. And some other stuff

This is of course, very handy since I now get to have really good conversations with Mrs. Jana:

"This vikend I wented to the zooooological park-u."
(This account of my extra-curricular activities is in fact a tissue of lies, constructed purely for the express purposes of showing off my animal-naming skills. Alas. I feel that Mrs. Jana and I will never have a true meeting of souls until the day arrives when I can describe my real freetime activities in Czech lessons.)
"Good. Did you see any animals?"
"Yes. I saw a giirraffe."
"Excuse me?"
"I saw a giraf-?" Her head shakes slowly.
"Girraph-?" More shaking.
"It's not giraffe?"
"No. You did not see a giraffe."
"I didn't?" Hang on... wasn't this my fictitious account of my artistically-enhanced-for-language-lesson-purposes weekend?
"No. You saw another animal."
"I did?" But they have giraffes in Prague zoo. I have seen them on posters.
"Yes. Another animal."
"Ummm... I saw a tygre?"
"No. You also did not see a tiger."
I am beginning to feel stalked.
"Yes. The tiger is too easy. The giraffe is also to easy. You saw another animal."
"Ohh..." My mental lightbulb goes "ding!". Giraffe in Czech is žirafa. The "ž" is pronounced like a French "j". Tiger is an even greater cop-out since it's tygr.
"I saw a rheeenouserousooos."
"Good. Talk about the rhinocerous."
"Um... it is big."
"It is more big."
"Yes. The rhynouceroos is bigger."
"Bigger than?"
"Umm... the rhynouceroos is bigger than... than... a cat?"
"No. Cat is too easy. What else?"
"Umm... the rhynouceroos is bigger than a moose. Mouse."
"Good. What else?"
"It is bigger..."
"No. Not bigger."
"It is not bigger..."
"No. It is something else. It is more dange..."

(The discerning reader might have noticed some time around the second "bigger" that we are also reviewing the comparative and superlative of adjectives. Sadly, I didn't catch on until about now. It's tricky. They get prefixed and suffixed. If those are words.)

"Dange... Dange... Oh! I know! It is more dangeroose... It is more dangerooose... thaaann... aaaa... pig!"
"It is also more expensive than a pig."*
"Excellent. Now. Tell me about the pig."

ad infinitum, or at least ad fortyfiveminutum

*This is, in fact, a cunning linguistic joke based on a well-known, hardcore Czech saying about something being "as expensive as a pig". My colleagues who taught it to me find it hilarious when I say it. Especially when I preface it with the classic and extremely pervasive Czech expression of astonishment/shock/disgust, "ty vole!"**. Taxi drivers find it it less amusing at about 1 in the morning.

**"Ty vole!" is probably worth a whole post of its own. Learning it opens whole new worlds of expressiveness. Well, at some point. Maybe.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Under here?

I'm sure there's a subtle meaning here that escapes me...

Underwear. Genuinely a cause for astonishment. Particularly for wearers of the ladies' brand, "LovelyGirl", it would seem.

But perhaps some translation is in order. The debonair (you can tell by the scooter) gentleman to the left has doffed his mohair cardigan and matching driving gloves to casually enquire of his charming companion, "Ty nosíš lovelygirl?". This is Czech for "Are you wearing lovelygirl?"

To which insightful query, she shyly responds, "Ano!!!" or, "Yes!!!"

But I'm sure that the many dedicated followers of fashion who patronise this blog are anxious for a closer view of the tattoo on the gentleman's stomach, in order to more closely inspect such a tasteful and aesthetic example of body-art.

(Apologies for photo quality - I had to take the picture through a shop window)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

That weather? It's a cultural thing, see...?

So spring has unsprung, to put it mildly. We've gone from balmy, sunny 15-degrees-and-a-light-breeze T-shirt weather to freezing and snowstorms in about 2 days.

This is all the more bizarre because the Easter markets are out in full force, with bunting, decorated eggs and ribbons a-go-go, all now covered in slushy yuck and a fine dusting of snow at higher altitudes. Sigh.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Thought for the day

When scheduling rather pleasurable activities such as a trip to see the latest big, showy, blockbusting musical at the cinema and a visit to the hairdresser's for a much-needed trim, on the whole, it is perhaps preferable to ensure that these happen in the reverse order to that given above.

Particularly when the the film is Sweeney Todd and the stylist likes to talk about how much she "loves the cutting"...

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Catch-up photo, the first.

pre-Christmas, but not by much, and not in Prague

Once upon a time in Birmingham*, they built a new shopping centre on and around the site of an old marketplace. And both the old marketplace and the new shopping centre, and a shopping centre created in the 1970s that no one likes to talk about much, were called the Bullring. And outside the new shiny mall, part of which looked like a giant silver alien beehive hairdryer, they placed an 8-foot bronze statue of a bull.

And to this shopping centre, the mighty Selfridges came from far-off London to open a new department store so that humble folk from far and wide (or at least the ones in Midlandcestershire) could obtain those sturdy, shiny yellow plastic carrier bags with dramatic black writing and thereby declare (in a not-terribly-subliminal-way) "Behold! I have (expensive) style!"

And to the basement floor of this department store of marvels, came an American sweet company. And they opened their only European store with much fanfare and rejoicing for they were able to help the inhabitants of Midlandcestershire, and their visiting relatives, to fulfill their ultimate destiny. And their destiny was, of course, to obtain limited edition Hershey's Kisses and gobstoppers the size of tennis balls. And the crowning glory of this marvellous achievement was an 8-foot statue of the bronze bull made out of jelly beans, and priced at £20,000.

*not the one in Alabama, more the Midlandcestershire area of the UK...

Monday, February 18, 2008


List of shamefully pathetic blog avoidance excuses:

1. The (mythic) dog ate my blog.
2. I forgot my password.
3. The (mythic) dog ate my password.
4. Mrs. Jana has become crazed with power, and the consequent outpouring of homework has burned out what little of my brain cells remain after their usual daily abuse.
5. Mrs. Jana ate the (mythic) dog.
6. Fried cheese. In fact, it really should be held accountable for more of the world's problems, in particular the weirdly chewy plastic stuff rolled in orange breadcrumbs that is sold as the veggie alternative to the dodgy-sausage-in-a-bun post-evening's-entertainment snackerel from stalls in Wenceslas Square. Actually, the stalls are also open in the daytime, but I suspect that only crazed tourists, blinded by the lust for cobbles and driven mad by over-exposure to the bong-bong-bongs of that clock, think this is a good idea in broad daylight.
7. It's too cold.
8. It's too hot. (weather is v odd at the moment)
9. (Mythic) aliens ate the (mythic) dog, cold with some (mythic) pickled onions.
10. Oh dear... ten. Nope. Just not happening.

Sadly, none of these are actually true except the last one, and I suspect that things will remain erratic for a wee while. But will try catch up with some photos.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Return of Mrs. Jana. v.2.0 (The ReWenge)

Due to various complicated reasons, the most complicated of which was probably laziness on my part, and not much helped by the inherent difficulties of the conditional mood, I haven't had Czech lessons with Mrs. Jana for over a year now. (my very, very, very bad).

All that changed one rainy day a couple of weeks ago, when, propelled by one of my more feeble-minded and naïve New Year's resolutions, she relaunched herself and exploded smack-bang in the middle of my normally innocent weekly round of activities. Thunder would have probably rolled quite ominously, if I had not forgotten my words-for-discussing-the-weather in Czech and so pretended not to notice. Besides, I was mesmerised by her steely will (not steely wool - that's still in a cupboard under the sink for cleaning the oven) and savage glint in her eye.

The first lessons have concentrated on revision. They went a bit like this:

Mrs J.: (in Czech) "Today we are discussing nouns and adjectives. What are the 3 genders and how do they decline?"
Me: (in Czech) "Huh?"
Mrs. J.: (in Czech, but more slowly) "Today… we… talk… about… nouns… What… are… types… of… nouns?"
Draws three columns on a blank sheet of paper
Me: (in English, but with a fake Czech accent) "Ummm… Maskulin*? Feminin*? a Neutr-- Neutr-a-..."
Mrs. J. shakes head, ominously.
Me: "Neutraa--- uum??"
Mrs. J: "Good. Now, what are the endings of these nouns?"
Me: "Uhhh… Feminin* je (Czech for "he/she/it is") '-a'"

Bets firmly hedged at this point, on the grounds that many languages that have genders tend to consider words ending in '-a' to be feminine. Except those Italian Andreas, of course, on whose situation we shall briefly touch later, although probably not when their over-protective signifcant others and loved ones are looking.

Mrs. J.: "Good. Now, what are some other feminine endings?"
Me (weakly covering frantic thinking with awkward smile): "Ummm… -ka?"
Mrs. J.: "Yes. But this is like -a. What other endings?"
Me: "Wait! Wait! I know this! -kyně!" (It's pronounced -keenyeh. Or somehow like a reverse "quinoa", but less posh, and not so much of the Karen Blixens/Happy Valley set.)
Mrs. J.: "Good."
Birdsong. The sun comes out.
Me: (now on a roll) "And maskulin* je… without "-a" and without vowel! Je konsonant*"
Angel choirs (theologically speaking, neutrum, I believe) bellow with joy.
Mrs. J.: "Except for?"
Me: "Errr.. Honza?"
Mrs. J.: "Yes. Honza je logicky maskulin. Logically masculine**."

Delirious cheers and rapturous applause all 'round. Big bunches of flowers in gratitude to the angel chorus, with regard to whom I refuse to embroil myself in a debate vis-a-vis masculinity, logical or otherwise. That is clearly a job for those men with beards, tonsures and well-polished pins.

Mrs. J. (cont'd): "Also maskulin are some words that end with -ska." (She writes this down with some emphasis.) "And for neutrum?"
Me: "Words with -e… and -o."
Angels faint with delight.
Mrs. J.: "Good. And what about adjectives?"
sccrreeechh… angels exit, genderstruck

And so the lesson rolls on…

Mrs. J's verdict at the end of my ordeal by revision? "You have remembered a lot. This is good. But it is nothing to do with you, of course. It is only because of my teaching that you have remembered well."

She's right of course. Mrs. Jana is always right.

PS. Other Mrs. Janas are also available. But that is another story, for another time.

*Note. These are not real Czech words, but they are real Czech endings. Handle with Care. Do not attempt to use in the comfort of your own home without the assistance of a specialist.

**Other note. Still making these grammatical words up. But Honza is quietly confident that he is far more than logically masculine, although of course this is always a rather nice option to exercise on alternate Tuesdays in the Fitness Centrum whirlpool.

ETA: another few words.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

And now featuring one of my absolutest favoritest book series that I read last year

Don’t mind me – I’m just warming up my blogging muscles - such as they are.

I’m not the sort of person who deliberately catalogues what I read in any particular way. It’s more that the vast and growing-ever-more-mountainous-yet accretion of books in my room has a life (and a structure) of it's own. Regarding the first, flatmates have speculated on the leporine breeding habits of the common or garden liber fictionalis (sic[k] - and sorry to any latinists). At least in such close quarters. And doesn't all the noise keep me awake at nights?

But as regards the second, on the Great Paperback Mountain, if you know how to read the topology, patterns emerge... Duly extracted from the third pile of paperbacks in from the left (spines out) at the back on the top shelf of the Bower of Bliss that is my incarnation of A Well-Known-Swedish-Modular-Furniture-Flatpak-Company's birch-effect "Mötesplats"* model I offer for consideration Laurie R. King’s "Mary Russell" series.

Except anything that follows is going to be crap, because whenever I try to explain my adoration for this series, I am woefully ineloquent. I end up talking like this, “They're really, really good. Promise. Seriously. They're soooo goooood. Wait - please don’t read the back cover. It's much better than that, really. You’ll like it. You might love it. Please stop reading the back cover. It's not like that. I promise. Well, okay a little. Yes, it is Sherlock Holmes and yes, he is married. I've just made that sound really weird. But it’s not. Well, okay, he is a lot older than her, but I just sort of channel Sean Connery and it helps. But it's like all about their meeting of minds...

"Wait, wait a sec before you put it down. Please? Yes, that one has Kipling’s Kim in it. But he’s a great character she really makes him her own. Anyhow, they're all sort of inter-textual and each book is like a homage to these classic genres of popular fiction. You know the Gothic mystery, and the Locked Room mystery… And they’re really cool, because she’s a feminist, and there are these ideas about the outsider the observer and how she makes her own place, because she’s half English and half American and Jewish. And she’s a theologian. So she questions everything and doesn't accept the way society would try to limit her. Oh. Okay. Not really your thing. Try this Meg Cabot. A cheerleader has her head chopped off and put in a saucepan.”

But secretly? Secretly, I want to be Mary Russell when I grow up. Just like I want to be Harriet Vane when I grow up. Not for the events or the mysteries or the men in their lives, but for the thoughtful and even (ungrammatically) thinking way they live their lives.

Actually, I owe a huge thank you to Marianne McA who recommended this series to me, and hooked me by way of an extract from the first of the books, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. I can do no more, it seems. Alas. So don’t pay attention to my witterings – go read the extract.

*(koff) not a the name of the real product - their word means "shop assistant". This word doesn't and I like it better.

Edited to update links. My bad. Thanks Suisan for spotting this.