Challenging times at the Premier Inn (Cumberland Lodge) Southampton

November 23, 2018

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My visit to Southampton was marked by the normal provincial routine of inflated prices, offhand service and disappearing change.  I say nothing of dirt, grease and cracked crockery.

The Premier Inn (Cumberland Lodge) proved to be a remarkable experience, even ignoring the automatic door that opened with deathly slowness as you tried to gain admittance.  Upon arriving, I signed up for a £ 9-50 breakfast and paid with a £ 20 note, for which I got £1-00 back, until I protested.

Then check-out was at midday on the following day.  At ten o’clock I went out to the shops and when I got back…they had taken my stuff away.  Eventually after protestations I was admitted to the linen room and got some of it back.

Surely taking people’s things away without asking is theft?

So when I finally decided to depart shortly before midday I had a sudden urge to go back and check that I hadn’t left anything behind, but the keycard had been deactivated.

When I checked out I was asked how things had been and I said they had been difficult for the reasons above.  The reception staff searched briefly for an Internet address and then said I could find it myself so as to complain, there was nothing they could do for me.

Following our previous experiences, we can only say:  don’t go to Southampton and if you do, don’t stay in a hotel.

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Conversation Exchange, use and abuse

November 21, 2018
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FIGURE 1:  COMPARATIVE M/F INDICATORS BY LANGUAGE SOUGHT

Once my Conversation Exchange partner Kseniya (from the provincial town of X, well-known in 19th century literature) and I discussed the proper use of that resource.

I said that it was useful to have defined topics of conversation to avoid either having the same conversation time after time or getting into details of one’s life, thoughts and feelings that one would not necessarily want to share with a stranger or chance acquaintance. I also said that you needed either a reasonable level of the target language (I think that the site used to say that you needed Upper Intermediate for conversation to be any good–compare the definitions) or a degree of linguistic sophistication so as to make use of material you didn’t necessarily understand immediately.

Kseniya felt that these points were of frightening irrelevance. Her thoughts were that it was very difficult to find an English speaker who wanted to practise Russian and many of those you did find were in fact just looking for a woman.

I said that there were plenty of sites for that and these days you could surely speak to your intended via Skype on one of those. She had asked one of her undesired contacts about this and he had said that all the women there were crazy. I also said that she could look for female conversation partners, but they were apparently likely to want to talk about clothes and cosmetics.

She asked me why such men were looking for women particularly from Russia or Ukraine.  I said that since I wasn’t one of them I didn’t really know.

Anyway, the aim of the present study is to see whether there is evidence of men looking to use CE specifically to make contact with women from Russia/Ukraine (that is, Russian speakers) rather than to enhance their language skills.

The hypotheses to be tested as indicators of this behaviour were:
i) There is an excess of M over F for ENG->RUS;
ii) This surplus is more marked below Upper Intermediate;
iii) This excess is greater for ENG->RUS than for comparator languages.

Here by ENG->RUS and so on we mean English speakers seeking to exchange with Russian speakers.  From the data at https://wp.me/pBfTB-28k we take Portuguese, Italian, Turkish and Japanese as comparators, because they seem to be languages of similar importance and popularity to Russian among English speakers and also to avoid excessive labour in counting instances.

We give some results above.  (Data was collected on 18/19 November 2018.)

TABLE 1:  NUMBERS OF CE USERS LOOKING TO EXCHANGE ENGLISH FOR RUSSIAN BY SEX AND LEVEL

ENG-RUS via chat M F
Beginner 1205 219
Elementary 276 52
Pre-intermediate 160 41
Intermediate 153 35
Upper intermediate 65 13
Advanced 40 15
Proficient 11 2
TOTAL 1910 377

A comparison of males and females as in Table 1 above certainly showed an excess of males, which is strange in view of the belief that the vast majority of students of modern languages in English-speaking countries are female.  However, this anomalous pattern was repeated for the other languages considered, for instance Italian as in Table 2 below:

TABLE 2:  NUMBERS OF CE USERS LOOKING TO EXCHANGE ENGLISH FOR RUSSIAN BY SEX AND LEVEL

ENG-ITA via chat M F
Beginner 675 570
Elementary 332 249
Pre-intermediate 265 154
Intermediate 264 173
Upper intermediate 125 66
Advanced 82 44
Proficient 26 9
TOTAL 1769 1265

Now then, Italian is really only spoken in Italy and Switzerland, so it is hard to see the excess men here all looking for an exploitative relationship with a woman from a poor country.

We can also see from the data above that a great many of the users of CE do not claim to be at a level to make use of it effectively.  But we can compare the difference in the percentage of M and F declaring themselves to be below Upper Intermediate level.  For instance, with regard to those seeking Russian speakers (Table 1), 93.93 % of men assign themselves to a level below UI as opposed to 92.04% of women, a difference of +1.88%, indicating that the men report themselves as less linguistically advanced than the women.  Similarly, the ratio of M to F here is 5.07.

Table 3 below shows these indicators for English speakers seeking the languages indicated:

TABLE 3:  COMPARATIVE INDICATORS OF M/F RATIO AND PERCENT <UI BY LANGUAGE SOUGHT

RATIO PCDIFF
ITA 1.40 -3.76
POR 2.87 -4.71
RUS 5.07 1.88
TUR 2.12 -6.81
JAP 2.23 -2.03

These results are illustrated in Figure 1 above.  We see that by comparison with the other languages considered, those seeking Russian are marked by a large number of men relative to women and a large number of these men assigning themselves to lower levels of proficiency.

To summarise:  this study provides support to the hypothesis that such men were looking for women particularly from Russia or Ukraine.

Perm-36 at Pushkin House

October 4, 2018

This film looks very interesting, especially if you have visited the site as it used to be.  Aleksey Kamenskikh says:

It’s a brilliant film! Its author is my friend Sergei Kachkin.  The film itself is not about “politics at present”, it’s theme is “past perfect” of the museum: in 2013-14 Perm-36 was invaded by a pro-governmental group, its conception was radically modified. 

Sergei himself adds:  well, everything is politics and yes, Aleksey is right, my film is not about politics, let’s call it this way – about a human inviroment in nowadays Russia.

I will certainly be going along to this.  Event details are here.

Update:  there will also be a screening at QMUL the following day.  It seems as though you can also stream it on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/video/detail/Perm-36-Reflexion/B07CR8KD2R 

Красный цвет, “червонность”, и “Смерть Сталина”

September 26, 2018

 

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Данный киноплакат из Любляны (в июне) интересен тем, что:

а) в Словении также издеваются над кириллицей;

б) русский и словенский отличаются от всеж других славянских языков тем, что у них красный цвет никак не червонный.

Tu so barve, po slovensko, angleško in v Sanskrtu. Dodal pa sem še sanskrtske glasoslovne vzporednice (fonetične paralele) z angleškim prevodom: 
Slovensko English Sanskrit // English – Sanskrit
Barva – color varna // to digest – bharv
Bela – white – balakša // power, the sun – bala
Rumena -yellow – hariman // yellow – hariman
Oranžna – orange – naranga varna // orange tree – naranga
Rdeča red – rakta, lohita // growth – rddhi 
Violična (lila) – violet – nila lohita // blue – nila
Modra (plava) blue – nila // sea (swim)-samudra (plava)
Zelena – green -samula // fluid, water – jala
Rjava – brown – kadru // honesty, nobility -aryava 
Siva – grey -dhumra // bright – šveta 
Črna – – black -kršna // powder – čurna

Интересно, спасибо. Думаю, что red/rdeča восходят к праиндоевропейскому корню *h₁rewdʰ-, означающему то же. По каким причнинам русские и словеняне отказались от червей (и от братских славян) в этой связи мне остается неизвестно.

Česky by to šlo napsat jako čer(ven)ná komedie. Černa = black, červená = red. Opravdový český titul je ale “Ztratili jsme Stalin” (We’ve Lost Stalin) se sloganem “Komedie, při které uvidíte rudě” (A comedy which will make you see red).

Смотрел фильм здесь в Лондоне, никак не фигурировал красный цвет. Кажется, что интерес к этой теме возник впервые в Восточной Европе. Не знаю, насколько такая любовь к красному цвету харатерна для всех славян (оставляя в стороне русских).

The Burial at Thebes, CSSD 25 July

July 26, 2018

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Picture acquired from Twitter

A large audience of thin and good-looking young people followed with interest this version of Antigone, which struck me as a mainstream translation without added Heaney.  The theatre was also quite Greek, with its curved and raked rows of seats and a bare playing space.  The production alluded to Greece at the time of the War of Independence and some effective choruses were sung in a language that was not Attic or Greek or Irish.  The production concept worked rather well and effectively captured the necessary scale of the public and the communal. Our Antigone was probably mad, certainly dangerous to know and definitely her father’s daughter.  I was not sure that Heaney’s version captured the contrast between her language and that of Creon, though he did get some dead monsters of metaphors.

Our Antigone was certainly vehement, but especially at the beginning I had difficulty following her words.  The same kind of thing applied to Ismene, and it meant that Antigone tended to come off worse in her confrontations with Creon.  Creon and Eurydice were the performers who actually dominated the stage.  The Messenger for some reason had a Scottish accent that sometimes turned Irish, especially for constructions like I was after…The production was not entirely in control of time–the narrated deaths of Antigone and Haemon passed by rather quickly, then Eurydice’s death became one more thing after another.

All in all, a production that recognised the issues in staging Greek tragedy and dealt with them thoughtfully, though it did not always succeed in resolving them.

 

11 pictures, 8 days, 4 places, 2 countries, 1 holiday

June 8, 2018

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Ljubljana Castle was quite a nice tourist attraction (from the outside).

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And there was also a bijou opera house, which put on a very nice performance of Pepelka/La Cenerentola/Cinderella:

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The orchestra were especially good and really tore into the music as though it meant something, while our Angelina dealt very prettily with her coloratura and the Prince also impressed. The Slovenes’ idea of bringing their Slovene children along was less successful, causing me irritation and the children an eternal agony of boredom. I’m not sure the grown-up Slovene’s really got bel canto either.

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This picture of the really rather impressive gluten-free section of Maximarket earned me a telling-off…

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…while here is a further example of disrespect to the Cyrillic alphabet–rdeča must just be ‘red’…

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The journey to Nova Gorica occasioned scenes of wild panic, as he bus managed no more than 5 metres in the direction of Nova Gorica when the driver declared it was kaputt. After lengthy consultations on his mobile, he said there would be another bus in ten minutes and we could transfer our luggage. Then he couldn’t open the baggage compartment because the bus was kaputt…

Or rather: said something in Slovene which starting from Russian I interpreted as indicating there would be another bus in ten minutes and we could transfer our luggage.

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This is the border between Nova Gorica (Slovenia) and Gorizia (Italy), with an abandoned Cold War style checkpoint–you just walk, drive or cycle on through. Wouldn’t it be great to be part of the civilised world like these two countries?  (Even though recent elections produced desirable results in neither of them.)

O Iago the pity of it, Iago the pity…

What confused me was that the signposts in Nova Gorica failed to acknowledge the existence of Gorizia (though they are now essentially the same place). Then at the suggestion of a helpful local gentleman I got the shuttle from the Nova Gorica bus station to the Gorizia train station, which was just as far from my hotel but did have a map on display, so I eventually reached safety.

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A picture of Italians talking in the street, accompanied by small dogs.

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The hills above Lake Bled had something of Caspar David Friedrich about them, or perhaps Arnold Böcklin…

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…while the lake itself provided a picturesque pre-lunch walk.

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Back in Ljubljana before flying out, some traditional British-style holiday weather cleared the streets pretty quickly–you can’t expect these Europeans to understand the point of taking one’s pleasures sadly, masochistically even.

An interesting shop sign in Ljubljana

June 5, 2018

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At first sight, this sign has two points of interest.  It turns out that trg pronounced ˈtə́rk is just square, like torv in Danish say or torg [trade] in Russian–trade happens in a square.

It does seem at first glance that GERM is an unfortunate woman’s surname though… 

On further investigation, we find that Germ is a Slovenian surname, but the less-worrying echt-Slovene form is Grm (grm being Slovene for bush), which may have arisen from somebody localising the German surname Busch: https://www.dnevnik.si/1042412578

Gosh, how exciting!

On a less happy note, the mention of Danish led a friend to point out that Sick is a surname there.  A site devoted to German surnames says that was originally the same kind of thing as Siggi, a nickname derived from the root Sieg/victory: http://www.deutsche-nachnamen.de/index.php/herkunft-a-z and it’s common in Schleswig-Holstein, which is next to DK.

Brooklyn again again

April 24, 2018

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Two incidents which disturb the generally realistic flow of Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn may indicate another level of meaning to this work.  In the first, Eilis while assisting at a Christmas dinner for the insulted and injured of Irish New York encounters a man who at first she takes for her dead father before deciding there is really no resemblance.  That man who is not her father the entrances the company by singing a traditional Irish song.

Now traditional Irish beliefs hold that the dead enjoy a state of blessedness  in a land way to the west, so that way we can say both that America is a rich and blessed country and also a place where the dead (like Mr Lacey) are to be found.  This then leads to the question of the type of sacrifice that Eilis’s sister Rose has made.  At the level of Eilis’s consciousness, Rose has sacrificed the chance of having a family of her to look after their mother so that Eilis can go to America.  But at the folktale or mythological level  she sacrifices her own life to cause Eilis’s return from the Land of the Dead.  Indeed her offence in keeping silent about her life-threatening medical condition may be the expiation of Eilis’s silence regarding her marriage to Tony.

That’s the other strange thing of course.  The way they marry suddenly at Tony’s insistence recalls the typical fairy-story motif where the hero meets a fateful female in some enchanted or unreal sitting and receives a token or a wound which means he is still bound to here when he returns to his home.

Another aspect to think about…

 

Some inconsistencies in ‘Eleanor Oliphant’

April 21, 2018

eloli

SPOILER ALERT:  In what follows we consider some inconsistencies in the plot of Elinor Oliphant is Completely Fine, which of course gives the plot away…

Work

At the beginning of the book, we are informed that EO works in a graphic design agency whose owner Bob took her on while she was bearing signs of a beating on the presumed grounds that she would be cheap.  So this seems to be a pretty hole-and-corner affair.  But later on when EO has been on sick leave Bob has to follow HR procedures in filling in forms and a phased return to work, which sounds like a rather large organisation.  Also after her promotion to office manager EO describes herself as a section head, one of the Praetorian Guard reporting to Bob.

EO’s colleagues also seem to have undergone the same kind of process of melioration.  At the beginning they make fun of her because she is different, while at the end they react like the typical kind of concerned colleagues.

The workplace also has a staffroom, which seems strange for a design agency…we will pass over Sammy Thom saying I don’t know anything about graphic design when nobody has in fact mentioned it…

An extra-literary explanation would be that the author Gail Honeyman was just reverting to the kind of public sector background she was familiar with.  We will come on to literary explanations later…

Eleanor and health issues

EO tells us that she drinks two [litre] bottles of vodka every weekend.  I doubt that a woman of normal weights (she tells us) could do that for nine years and go on living, never mind go to the office on Monday morning.  But I could be wrong!

She also tells us that she cannot sing because of the effects of smoke inhalation, but later on she and Raymond sing at Sammy Thom’s funeral.  People turn round and look at them of course…

With regard to mental health, we are clearly in the realm of fantasy, especially regarding auditory hallucinations that can be dismissed at will…

Eleanor and housekeeping

On page 83 as part of her normal routine Eleanor cleans the bathroom, washes the kitchen floor and takes out the recycling, all of which sounds quite efficient.  Then on page 313 as part of her recovery she fills four black bags with rubbish.

Where does Raymond’s mother live?

On the one hand, it’s a neat terrace.  On the other hand, when Raymond and Eleanor visit they go round to the back door, which is difficult even in an end terrace…

What does Eleanor know?

Although she seems to watch a lot of TV, Top Gear is a mystery to her.  Similarly, while she seems to know at least some classics of English literature, Arnold Bennett is as well.

That leads on to her education, where the questions are more wide-ranging.  Ignoring the point that nobody is likely to allow a child with suspicious bruising to be home-schooled, the question arises of how she got to do a degree in Classics.  If an Latin A-Level was required, that implies a rather posh type of school, while if she studied Latin and Greek ab initio that still leaves the question of where the specific interest came from.

So what does all this mean?

The book starts of seeming to be about loneliness as a widespread social ill and ends up by blaming it all on the evil fantasist Sharon Smyth (pictured) 29 who has quite literally scarred EO for life.  So is she supposed to represent loneliness or the causes and consequences of loneliness, which might be unrealistic expectations, inappropriate behaviour, a feeling that one has to be superior to one’s surroundings or that Life is Elsewhere?

An alternative explanation would be that these inconsistencies show that Eleanor is really just having a fantasy about escaping from her misery but it doesn’t quite hold together.  I doubt they are systematic enough for that, though it might explain why Raymond’s mother is specifically described as having no character–Eleanor’s imagination can’t extend far enough to create one for her…

 

In Search of Pavel Filonov

March 31, 2018

udarniki

So when Tanya from Vologda kindly sent me a listing of the most popular Russian painters  to talk about, I was impressed by Filonov’s Udarniki (or Shockworkers) as shown above.

Some time later I thought I would buy a reproduction to hang on my wall.  Putting some combination of filonov and udarniki plus one of price print reproduction into Google did not yield anything.  But I did find out that the work was apparently also known as Eleven Heads.  

Searching with that title showed that you could buy reproductions on amazon.com, but only framed versions could be sent to the UK.  That sounded expensive and inconvenient. So then I decided to see what might be available from Russian sources.

There turned out to be a variety of Internet shops selling reproductions of this picture and on the whole they expected you to collect though they could also deliver within the boundaries of Moscow or St Petersburg or possibly in the extreme case to the rest of Russia.

What most impressed me was the offering from Ukraine:

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They had decided to turn it from portrait into landscape by chopping most of it off–a novel idea, one might say.

All seemed lost.  Then I thought of searching for an image rather than a name (in whatever language).  Putting the first image above led to discovering it was available from a place in North Shields called Spiffing Prints in a variety of sizes and finishes, under the name of Blue Faces.

Extreme patriotic excitement!

So I’m trying that.  The moral seems to be that if you are looking for an image you should search for an image and not guess at words…