Friday, October 31, 2008


On Wednesday I went to the laundrette, to use the driers. Twice, actually. I had one of those cleaning fits that start off with, "It's time to wash the sheets," and progress to "And that underblanket thingy," then "And the duvet covers and that bedspread that has been in a cupboard for five years," and then suddenly the curtains look dirty. Not that we have curtains, but you know what I mean. Our bedding is now totally clean. I have aired and beaten the crap out of the duvets and the pillows, and I have also beaten the mattress. I don't think beating mattresses actually does anything helpful, but I was in a beating mood by then and didn't want to stop. Also, I had a feeling it was all the mattress's fault.

That wasn't what was I going to tell you about, though. I was going to tell you about the very old lady I encountered at the laundrette.

When I went there the first time, she was sitting on a low stool in front of a washing machine, leaning forward and peering in, her nose almost touching the glass as her washing went round and round and round. She stayed in that position the whole time I was there, apparently hypnotized.

The second time, about two hours later, she was sitting beside a drier, nose up to the glass, watching her laundry going round and round.

I went away, and half an hour later when I came back again to pick up my dried washing she was still there, apparently on to her second load. (She had several piles of laundry sitting around her, in large bags.) I started hauling my things out of the drier, and I guess there was something acrylic in there because I got zapped rather dramatically. I yelped.

This caused the old lady to look up at me, surprised.

"What was that?" she asked.

"Static electricity," I told her.

"Is that dangerous?" she asked, looking worried. "Maybe we should phone the laundrette people. The number's over there."

"No, no," I said. "It was just static electricity. It always happens. It's not dangerous."

"Will it happen to me?" she asked, looking at her drier suspiciously.

"It might," I said. "But don't worry. It won't hurt you. It just gives you a surprise sometimes."

"Oh," she said, looking doubtful. Then she brightened up, "This is the first time I've come here. Isn't it amazing!"

It turned out that someone had suggested the laundrette when she complained about how hard it was to do her washing properly, so she had decided to try it out.

"At first I thought it was a bit expensive," she said, "Three hundred yen for one load of washing, but . . ."

"Well, yes," I said, "But it's a lot easier, and you can do the big things."

"Yes! And the washing is so clean! Isn't it wonderful? I'm going to use it again! I didn't even know this kind of place existed!"

She was wonderstruck by the laundrette. The machines! Those magical machines that cleaned her clothes so well! And then dried them, too! I don't know what she had been using at home before, but I guess it must have been fairly primitive.

We chatted a little more while I folded the rest of my washing. Then I said goodbye, and she went back to watching her laundry go round and round.

I told a friend about this encounter today. She said,

"I wonder if there's something out there for us like that? Something we didn't know existed, that would magically transform our lives the way her discovery of the laundrette has done for her? Something that other people take for granted and we just somehow missed finding out about. . . "

We tried to imagine what that might be, and failed.

(But if there is something fantastically convenient in your life that seems not to be in mine, you will tell me, won't you?)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A lovely woman

Yesterday at lunchtime I went down to the river. I missed getting a picture of the large snake swimming across the river, because I didn't have the camera ready and it was too fast for me. I think it might have seen me coming. That was probably the snake I kicked a few weeks ago. That was probably why it was in such a hurry to cross the river.

I got a picture of the egret, though, who was fishing.

And a butterfly. There were a lot of these butterflies.

Also, there was a cormorant, trying to run on water.

And I took a picture of a duck. There are always ducks. If there were no ducks, it would feel wrong.

In the afternoon after I'd finished work, I was walking out to the bicycle parking lot when I heard some students calling to me from across campus. They were some of my students from last year.

"BADAUNT!" they screeched, excitedly.

"HELLO!" I shouted back. "HOW ARE YOU TODAY?"

They had forgotten how to answer that one. Instead, they bellowed, surprisingly,


"Er ... um ... THANK YOU!" I replied. I wondered where they had learned that one, and felt rather embarrassed. Why couldn't they just greet me in a normal way?

Then I thought, But of course! It's because I AM a lovely woman! Why wouldn't they want to say so?

And then I blew myself a huge raspberry.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Yesterday in one of my better but rather noisy classes, one of the girls started beating up the rather cute guy sitting next to her. I was shocked, and said so.

"What did you do that for?" I asked, as the cute guy picked himself off the floor. She grabbed a handful of his shirt and hauled him back onto his chair, where he eyed her doubtfully.

"I am hard-boiled!" she told me, and started to dust him down vigorously.

"Hard-boiled?" I asked.

"Yes, she is hard-boiled," nodded her victim, with feeling. "She is VERY hard-boiled."

She laughed and dusted him a little more vigorously. He winced and covered his head.

I don't know where they picked up the word, but apparently that's what hard-boiled girls do. They beat up the cute guys.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

How to ...

Years ago (three years ago, in fact) I wrote here about the instructional posters in my local bank that used to scare me. Last Friday I was in a bank near the university, with a friend, and saw to my horror that now a similar poster has appeared there.

I took a photo, this time. Unfortunately I took it with my phone, and the quality is horrible. (The phone camera doesn't work very well in artificial light.) Still, you can see what I was talking about.

At least this one has only one picture. The old ones in my local bank had little comic strips showing exactly how to rob an ATM customer, step by step. I suppose this is an improvement, of sorts. Having to read to get the finer details might put off the less intellectually elevated types.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A giant butt with a head

What an unkind thing to call an innocent baby.

Monday, October 20, 2008


Saturday, October 18, 2008


Today I did some dictation in all of my classes. I have been doing that a lot recently, because my students are so very, very bad at understanding even the simplest English they hear if it is spoken at anything approaching normal speed. I do not dictate word at a time. I dictate sentence at a time, and read each sentence twice. At the end, I read it all again so they can check once more, and then I tell them to go through and make notes where they think they must have misheard something because it does not make sense. I ask them to guess what they think I might have said, judging this time by the meaning rather than what they heard. I am trying to get them to make intelligent guesses.

They are not very good at it, but some of them are getting better.

Today one of the dictations I did was of a conversation. In it, a man is booking a hotel room. He says:

"I'd like to book a room for tonight."

Most of the students missed the for, which was not such a big problem. But I was surprised at how many of them missed book a room, and how bad they were at guessing what it could be, considering that we have just finished an entire chapter in the text about hotels and holidays.

One student had written,

"I'd like a blue moon tonight."

He didn't seem to think there was anything particularly odd about that, even though the man was then asked whether he'd prefer a single or a double. Perhaps he thought I was dictating some sort of weirdly romantic science fiction thing at them.

Another student, as I wandered past and looked over his shoulder, was staring at his paper, pencil hovering, and frowning. He had written,

"I'd like to boom tonight."

I snorted.

"What do you think that means?" I asked.

He looked at me, puzzled.

"I don't know," he confessed.

"Maybe he's a terrorist," I said. "A suicide bomber. You know, he wants to BOOM!"

He looked doubtful.

"No, probably not," I said. "But what do people USUALLY want when they go into a hotel?"

He stared at his paper again, then his face cleared.

"Oh!" he said. He crossed out boom, and wrote, room.

But actually, I think his version was more interesting.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


I will post again soon. I've been busy, and when I haven't been busy, uninspired. And when I was inspired, it was about something I couldn't post here because it wasn't my story to tell.

But I'll be back!

(Just not tonight. It's bedtime.)

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

I am going to be intelligent

I was going to tell you about tits and petty one-upmanship, wasn't I? Well, here goes.

Remember the cysts I grow, on my boobs and wrist? Well, I grew another one. When I found it, in my left boob, I was a little puzzled.

"What side was my biggest cyst?" I asked The Man.

"The right side," he told me.

I checked the other side, and discovered that the biggest one was still there, except it wasn't the biggest one any more. My new one on the left side is the biggest one. How did it grow so quickly without my noticing? Of course it is possible that I did notice it before, but just thought it was the old one because I forgot which side it was on.

It would be inaccurate to say that this new cyst hurts. 'Hurt' is the wrong word. It is, however, uncomfortable.

Now I am going to tell you another story, and not a particularly flattering one to myself.

At one of the places I work there is a woman who also works there part-time, but has a full-time position somewhere else. I do not know her very well, even though she has been working there for years. I see her now and again, but she always looks terribly serious and busy and academic, and is often in the boss's office, having terribly serious and academic discussions with him. I don't think I have ever seen her smile, at least not in a spontaneous way. She sometime gives a strained sort of forced smile when somebody greets her, but she doesn't come across as very friendly. She is always far too busy and serious for small talk.

I find this woman slightly intimidating. I don't know whether she intends to make me feel frivolous and silly, but that is the effect she has on me. She makes me feel as though I am not a serious and academic person, and I should not be teaching in a university. Whereas she, on the other hand, is academic and serious and deserves to have tenure.

I know this is ridiculous. I know I am a reasonably good teacher, and that quite frequently my teaching is most successful is when I am being frivolous and silly. I am probably as knowledgeable as she is about the academic side of teaching, and a part of what I have learned from my study and experience is that frivolous and silly is useful in the classroom. I will use whatever works. Sometimes my frivolity and silliness leaks into the breaks between classes, but who cares? Just because I do not have serious discussions about curriculum design with my boss (who cannot design his way out of a paper bag) does not mean that I know nothing about it.

See how I'm defending myself? Why does that woman have this effect on me? Why do I need to defend myself? Am I really so insecure? Besides, she has never said anything to confirm the impression I've managed to get from her. It is entirely possible that she is a perfectly nice person who just happens to not smile very much or be very sociable. Maybe she is not critical of my frivolity and silliness at all. Maybe she thinks I am terrifically intelligent. Her criticism of me is, I will freely admit, all in my head. But I do always feel that she looks down on me.


The only conversation I have ever had with this woman was shortly after my boob cysts were diagnosed. It was a very short conversation. I was telling someone else about my cysts, and she happened to be passing and overheard us, and said something about how she had some too, and how annoying they were.

"I bet mine are bigger!" I said. (Frivolously, I have to admit.)

"Mine are ten centimeters," she said. "They're really painful."

"TEN?" I said. "You win!"

"It's not something I want to win," she said.

"Are they painful all the time, or just at certain times of the month?" I asked.

"All the time," she said, gloomily. (She is always a bit gloomy, come to think of it.)

"So why don't you get them aspirated, if they're so painful?" I asked.

She shuddered. "Let them stick needles in THERE?" she said. "I'd rather have the pain!"

"Oh, yeah, the needle thing," I said, thoughtfully. "I know what you mean."

We both dashed off to class.

But later, when I thought about it, I thought I did NOT know what she meant. If my cysts were painful all the time, I'd get them aspirated. I also have a horror of needles, but would rather pass out and make a fool of myself once than suffer pain all the time. (Is that why she is always gloomy?) Living with the pain because of a fear of needles is not intelligent at all.

I decided that if my cysts ever got that painful, I would get them aspirated. And that would make me a more intelligent person than Ms More-Academic-Than-Anybody-Else.


I cannot think of a sillier reason to get my cysts aspirated. It is highly likely that all of this is in my head and the woman does not look down on me as a frivolous and silly person. It's probably just her manner, with everybody. But since this new cyst has turned out to be often (but not always) uncomfortable, I have decided I will get it done anyway, to prove how intelligent I am.

I have informed The Man of my decision, and that makes it final. He will not let me change my mind. Well, he will, but if I change my mind he will not let me complain about how uncomfortable my boobs are, and basically that means I HAVE to get it done because I am not capable of suffering in silence. I am not in the least bit stoical about pain or discomfort. I like to whine and complain, so everybody knows how brave I am being.

Now I am worrying about the squeaking thing. One of my friends had a needle stuck in her boob once, and told me that it didn't hurt, really. But, she said, it sort of squeaked. Well, not squeaked, exactly, but felt as though it would squeak if you could hear it. It made the sort of squeak a needle would make if you stuck it into polystyrene. Her description was very graphic, and when I think about it my boobs want to crawl off my chest and go hide somewhere safe.

But I'm going to do it. Maybe next week, even. I'll let you know.

*I taught four brilliant classes yesterday, in which all my students learned how to use the word anyway. They loved it. I don't know why everything went so well. Perhaps it was because yesterday was only the second class meeting of the semester for my Tuesday classes, and they're still keen. I just hope it lasts. At the end of one of the classes, one of the students came up to me and thanked me.

"I could understand everything!" he said (in English!), sounding somewhat surprised. "It was interesting."

"That's good," I said, and smiled at him.

He smiled back. Then he sighed, and said,

"Anyway, I have to go. I have another class."

He started to leave, then turned back. "Was that right?" he asked.

"It was perfect," I assured him.

And it was.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Mother magic

i promised, didn't I?

I'll start with the mother-magic and dreams story. Some of the details (the butterfly, for instance) may not be what my friend originally said (actually she couldn't remember what it was), but the gist is the same.

My friend told me that her daughter started having recurring nightmares when she was about seven or eight. One night my friend was comforting the sobbing little girl, and said,

"You know, darling, you don't HAVE to have these dreams. They're YOUR dreams, in YOUR head. You can dream anything you like. The next time that nasty man is chasing you, you just turn around and turn him into a butterfly!"

"OK, Mom," said her daughter, tiredly.

The nightmares apparently stopped, and my friend didn't think about the incident again for many years.

Fast forward to this summer, and my friend was staying with her daughter, who is now a mother herself. The family were sitting around after dinner, and after a while my friend's daughter announced that she was going to bed.

"I think tonight I'll dream about ... hmm, let's see ... the cottage by the lake," she said as she got up to leave the room.

"What do you mean, you'll dream about the cottage?" said my friend. "You can't choose your dreams!"

"Yes, I can," said her daughter.

"Who taught you to do that?" asked my friend.

"You did!" said her daughter.

It turned out that ever since the nightmare incident my friend's daughter has been able to choose what to dream about.

And isn't that a brilliant bit of mother-magic?

Friday, October 03, 2008


Why can't I remember all the things I was going to write about?

Why was this week so long? Did someone insert an extra month or so when I wasn't looking?

Why is my last class of the week always my most troublesome one?

Why can't I ever get a humane, civilized work schedule for Thursdays/Fridays?

Oh, I've remembered two of the things I was going to write about. One is about dreams and mother-magic (not mine), and the other is about tits and petty one-upmanship (mine).