Friday, 27 June 2014

Hold on a minute, I'll look it up

I have at least two Greek phrasebooks and somewhere around the house I think there is a third and possibly even a fourth. They are the sort of thing you accumulate over time and jolly useful they are, too. Well, at least in theory.

Nothing can replace having in your head a working knowledge of a foreign language. Even if it's a bit sketchy, I genuinely believe you're better off stumbling along and learning as you go rather than constantly leafing through the pages of a phrasebook.

Yesterday, I successfully purchased a ballcock for our toilet cistern. Ballcock is not a word that appears in either of my phrasebooks nor in my Greek dictionary. Anyway, the transaction wasn't that difficult, I took the broken part with me and in my rough and ready Greek asked: "Have you got one of these, please."

But I still wouldn't be without my phrasebooks, if nothing else they provide plenty of entertainment as I try to work out the sort of situation where I would refer to the book rather than throw myself on the mercy of the Greek person I am trying to communicate with.

The two phrasebooks I have in front of me are a Berlitz, published in 1973, and a Lonely Planet, published in 2006. What a difference more than three decades makes.

The Berlitz book was published when Greece still had the Drachma - something which many Greeks wish was still the case - and besides the usual sections on checking in to hotels includes help on going to the hairdressers. Phrases include how to ask for a pageboy cut and also having ringlets put in your hair.

Having got your hair looking good, you might then want to go to a boxing match. I kid you not, the book even includes a phrase for finding a bout at lightweight. If all that activity leaves you feeling a little peaky, then maybe you need to see a doctor. The book admits it might not be much use in the case of serious injury or illness when you should just let the doctor take over, but the section includes how to explain more minor ailments. My favourite phrase here is one telling the doctor that you've been having nightmares.

In contrast, the Lonely Planet guide reflects the needs of a more modern readership, even including a phrase for explaining that the drugs you are carrying are for personal use. In fairness there is also a section on hairdressing, although no mention of ringlets.

My favourite section in the Lonely Planet phrasebook is the one on sex. While sex might be a universal language, I suppose there are still occasions when you need to make yourself perfectly clear with words. Having said that, I'm not sure that in the throes of passion you'd have either the time or the inclination to look up the phrase or word to say things like "touch me here" or "faster/harder/slower/softer". Maybe actions would speak louder than words.

All this talk of words and love has got me thinking of one of my favourite albums of the 1980s, The Lexicon of Love. Enjoy this video, it's a bit of its time, but the song's a cracker. In fact, the whole album is stonkingly good and I don't care if that makes me sound a bit dated.

Question: What is the most useful phrase you've learned in a foreign language? I make no bones about it, that the phrase which has stood me in good stead in Greek is "I'd like a beer, please". Purely by coincidence it was the first phrase I learned. 

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The sound of the summer

AS I write this all I can hear is the sound of cicadas. I live in the middle of an olive grove and so I suppose there must be thousands of the little buggers everywhere and they're all doing that weird thing they do to make a noise.

I suppose, to be fair, I call it a noise, they regard it as communication. But whatever, it is a sound I associate absolutely with summer here on Skopelos. When I used to come here as a holidaymaker, the sound of cicadas was one of the first things I would notice as I got off the plane at Skiathos.

It always seemed quite charming and while it's not the case that I dislike it now, it is relentless and sometimes it would be nice to have a break. Informed sources tell me - I looked it up on Wikipedia - that it is the males that make the noise using a part of their body called a tymbal. The abdomen is largely hollow and acts as a soundbox and so the male cicadas can create a special sound to attract a mate. Be my guest if you wish to draw a comparison with lacking inner substance, making a lot of noise in the pursuit of sex...nah, silly idea, isn't it?

The sound is quite overpowering and at the hottest part of the day is so loud outside my house that it almost blanks out other sounds. Every now and again, the cicadas stop, even if only for a few seconds, which is quite extraordinary.

Give it a couple of months and the wall of sound will come to an end as the cicadas move on to the next part of their life cycle. To find out more about cicadas, and there are many different types, click here.

Watch this video from the USA to find out what one cicada sounds like and then multiply the effect a couple of gazillion times and you'll get some idea what it's like here.

I called this post "The sound of the summer" and bubbling up through my subconscious came this splendid little ditty from The Members, Sound of the Suburbs.

Question: Have you got a sound you associate with the summer? If you live in the suburbs it might be the sound of drunken young men calling each other various parts of the human anatomy, or it might be slightly older people talking incessantly about house prices. Or it might be the sound of rain pounding on the roof of your tent. Let me know, if I get enough answers we might end up with a scientifically valid survey.

Friday, 20 June 2014

In the land of ifs and buts

The late, great Bobby Moore. England fans
 will know of his significance, everyone else
will just have to accept he was a great man.
 Pic by Carlos Yo. Used under GNU Free
Documentation License

I know a lot of people are already fed up to the back teeth with the World Cup - yes, rugby fans, the football world cup, your turn is next year - even so I can't help following up yesterday's post.

Last night I went out to watch England who were beaten 2-1 by Uruguay, and Greece who achieved a no-score draw against Japan. This leaves England and Greece both needing a) to pull their fingers out and actually win a match, and b) other teams in their groups to have results that favour England and Greece.

Interestingly I noticed this morning that players on both teams have already invoked the Almighty as a possible means of getting through to the next round.

England captain Steven Gerrard, a man who rarely lets a carefree grin cross his face, admitted that England were now at the stage of "clutching at straws." In particular he said: "We need to be professional and pray for that scoreline to go for us."

Specifically, Stevie G needs to pray that Italy beat Costa Rica and Uruguay, something I am sure the Italians are more than capable of, and that England beat Costa Rica by a hatful of goals. Oh dear, can you see where that might go wrong?

Greece were dogged against Japan even after going down to ten men when Greek captain Konstantinos Katsouranis was sent off, something he seems to have a penchant for, having been so punished three times in his last 16 games for club and country.

Dogged or not, bottom of the group is bottom of the group. Defender Sokratis Papasthopoulos has taken a philosophical view, but then, of course, he is Greek and with that name, too. He said: "If things go well, let us get four points with a win in the next game - and if God decides that we are eliminated because of the other result, so be it." What was missed out, but I bet he said it anyway was that favourite Greek phrase "Τι να κάνουμε" - What can we do?

Decision day for both England and Greece is Tuesday, June 24. I can hardly wait, can you?

While writing this I was reminded of the desperation I feel nearly every time I watch the English football team play and "hanging on in quiet desperation" led me to this:

Question: Do you feel desperation while doing something that you really ought to be enjoying? Or is that only for England fans harking back to 1966 (and the late, great Bobby Moore)?

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Listen, I can explain. It's not what it looks like

Oh, I'm a bad, bad blogger. It was all going so well, I was posting regularly for the A to Z Challenge and then.....woomph! Nothing for more than a month.

Well, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, all I can say is that I went back to the UK for a month - during which I managed one, yes, one, post - and then I just found myself always doing something else. OK on that basis I'd convict me, too, on charges of wilful slackness and culpable workicide.

Anyway, now I'm back on the rock with all the distractions that life here offers in the summer. And on top of that we've got the World Cup to contend with. Actually, when I put it like that it's quite amazing that I'm even writing these words now, but miracles can and do happen and so here I find myself tapping those keys to produce the deathless prose that is my attempt to stave off a full-on descent into bonkersness. I'm not sure it's working, but I'm giving it a go.

Having mentioned the World Cup I might as well admit that I've been watching quite a lot. It's still the group stage when there are at least three matches a day and four on the concluding day of each group, so the potential to put in almost a full working day just watching football is always there. I try to be discriminating, if only to prevent the onset of pressure sores from sitting too long gawping at the big TV sets in my local café where I watch matches.

Tonight is a big night. England play Uruguay and Greece play Japan. I'm English and would like England to do well, or at least not be disgraced, and I live in Greece and would like to see them do well also. Unfortunately, my footballing loyalties are causing me some pain and both sides need to win or they might as well head for the airport. I suppose supporting teams that might not triumph is where the character-building element of sport resides. We shall see.

Since writing the opening line of this post I've had a song in my head and it eventually surfaced through my murky consciousness as Bad, Bad Boy by Nazareth, Scottish heavy rockers formed in 1968 who I'm pleased to say are still going, albeit in a slightly different line-up than they started with. As a way of making amends for dilatory behaviour with the blog I offer you Nazareth at their raucous best.

Question: Does anyone have any top tips for avoiding fecklessness? There must be a way, or should I give in now?