French: Its Part In My Humiliation

South London tried its hand at snow today (Sunday) without much success. The alternating snow-rain-snow combo isn’t going to work, weather-people. It did generate a little brolly-flattery as we walked Dog, with a passer-by calling out ‘nice umbrella’ to the Textiliste.

As happens at these moments the word ‘parapluie’ popped into my head. Umbrella in French, if you’ve not been keeping up. I love that word; there’s something delightful about it.

But as we walked on, in the sleety-mush, other memories of French and being taught it at school in the early 1970s crept back to me and, with it, a case of PHT. Public Humiliation by Teacher. I’m sure today’s educators have other tricks up their sleeves as part of their armoury – wit, debate, tazers… – but back then sarcasm was a staple method to encourage a pupil to work harder.

My Life In French has been a roller-coaster that mainly goes downhill at tremendous speed. I was gifted a problem, of course – naturellement – in my surname which has a soupçon  of the French about it. Can you spot it?

Le Pard?

Good. Well done, class.

The trouble is, I’m very much not French. There is none of this La Manche crap about my very English Channel, merci buckets. My ancestry has a French component, persecuted out of there in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries. But the ability to conjugate ‘avoir’ with anything other than a grimace did not come naturally. Indeed, from talking to my next door neighbour in an early French lesson, circa 1969, I was made to write out the present tense of avoir 100 times. I will go to my grave hating that sodding verb.

When I reached the third form, I was placed in the ‘adequate’ set for French, somewhere below those stars who could sound out the French alphabet and just above those whose principle skill set meant they could mimic French farm animals with a convincing accent. And here began the humiliation.

I don’t know how it is done today but French back then comprised four elements: the spoken word eg the oral; dictation; French to English translation; and its counterpoint, English to French. Here are four examples from the years 1972 to 1974, covering each section.

English to French: in my mock O level, the short piece I had to translate included the sentence: ‘Father used his lawnmower’. Now, call me a fusspot but who in their right mind, aged 15, is going to know the English for lawnmower let alone the French. Tondeuse, if you are really interested, a word I now know off by heart as it was written – no, make that embedded – into my paper by a clearly irritated Peter Taylor, my less than patient French master. Now, give me credit; I don’t like to leave gaps so, in place of whatever the bloody word was I profferred coup de l’herbe which roughly translates as blow of the grass.  Mr Taylor gave me no leeway or credit for imagination.

Oral: I was seriously crap at speaking French, and my ear for the language is, still, less than sharp. So when, during one session I had to be told I could go, in English, you knew the writing was on the wall.

Dictation, or dicté: as above I never could work out what was being said. Every Thursday we had to listen to a French broadcast: ‘Ecoute Moi!’ and, for our homework, write out the same story in our own words. This challenge was beyond most of us, the best hope being to scribble down such of the phrases we could pick up during the lesson, and weave them into some semblance of a tale in the hope we were at least working in the same genre if not actually telling the same story. This particular week involved a policeman (Le Flic) warning a little old lady about some yobbos (les blouson noir). He told her: Don’t open the door to anyone. Now, as I listened I had no clue that what he was saying was: N’ouvrez la porte à personne. All I could do was have a stab. This led to the ultimate in PHT: a three exclamation mark marginal note and a call out in class that went something like this:

Taylor: Some of your attempts at this week’s homework were woeful. Pathetic

Class (sotto voce – note the wide linguistic skills I am now displaying): Some poor sod is about to get it

Taylor: What, for instance do you think this means (He begins to write on the board)

Class: Oh dear someone is really going to get it (many eyes scan room for likely victim)

Taylor: (having finished writing stands back revealing)

Nous Vrai La Porte A Personne

Taylor: So, Le Pard pray enlighten us on what this means? (He sniggered, a real snot inducing snigger). Let me see… Yours Truly The Door To Nobody perhaps? 

The sod knew – of course he did – what I meant. I wasn’t that far off. I was quite proud, in retrospect that I’d fished out the à personne from the alphabet soup I was wrestling with. But I wasn’t allowed to forget my howler. Pah!

French to English: at some point we had a passage to translate – I’d worked out the MP of the piece was by a river when, from his bag he extracted une canne à pêche. Even I can see, in hindsight, that the likely translation is a fishing rod but in the blurry panic that were French classes I latched onto the canne a little too enthusiastically and released into the wild corners of my paper the suggestion that he extracted a can of peaches from his bag, which he proceeded to toss into the river.  Why our hero should bring a tin of fruit all the way to the river only to throw it away did not occur to me – this was something in French and necessarily abstruse and perplexing.

For reasons I cannot now recall I took French to A level. Somehow I managed a B at O level but that was to be my peak. When the A level results came out I’d repeated my success at O level – in that I’d been awarded another O level, a gratuitous piece of rubbing-my-nose-in-dog-dirt compensatory marking that was handed out to those who passed every paper bar one – in my case the dreaded oral for which I apparently scored under ten per cent.

My lack of any linguistic abilities has not held me back. For sure I come across as half-witted when in any jurisdiction where English is not the first language.

But at least I was present when Mr Taylor had his comeuppance, courtesy of Melissa Courtney.

Melissa was in the same set as I was at A level and Taylor taught us occasionally. We were working on a piece of theatre that eventually saw the light of day as a school play and he was desperately trying to have Melissa say ‘feuille‘ – a difficult word to say in French – with just the correct inflection.

In those far gone days, I attended a trendy sixth form college and we sat in a semi circle using modern plastic chairs with a table that folded up at the side. When unfolded the chair/table combination did rather trap you.

Taylor, as was his wont, lent on the table and breathed the correct pronunciation into Melissa’s face. She tried to squirm back as far as she could. Poor thing had a slight disability in that, in certain circumstances her hip could dislocate. If it did she had no choice but to twist sideways and straighten her leg. Quickly.

Everything, at these moments, happens so fast but in fact seems incredibly slow. As her leg shot out, her heel – we were on trend for 1974 and she was wearing four inch stacks – buried itself into his groin. We couldn’t be entirely sure but, from his expression and the register at which his voice was subsequently pitched, it is a fair guess to say his testicles were rammed home, with much the same panache that one might see for the winning black at the end of a hard fought snooker tournament.

As he staggered back, I appreciated spoken French for perhaps the first time as the debollocked Mr Taylor used merde and foutre both in context and colloquially.

PS, for anyone who is French, speaks French fluently or at least reads it to  passable standard and you find errors and omissions here, all I can say is bully for you and keep your smart-arsery to yourself. There is no need for the facts to debunk a good story…

Posted in humour, memories, miscellany | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments

Remembering Kiwis: the resilience of people

Three years ago the Lawyer and I spent a month cruising around New Zealand.  We had a delightful time, full of thrills and smiles.  And then we reached Christchurch and the mood changed. via Kia Ora day thirteen – tears for a town.

Posted in miscellany | 4 Comments

There I Was, Doing This Job… #writephoto

This week’s #writephoto prompt from Sue is 

‘Morning Harry.’

‘John. You well?’

John Plont climbed into the van and turned up the heating. ‘Missus was a bit runky and the mutt had a touch of the dribblets but otherwise, can’t complain. You got the worksheet?’

Harry Pettimoron handed over a clipboard and started the engine. ‘Just checking it. A couple of underwibbling grommoids, a spectral orc was debilitating twibilitis and an another of them leaking photoroids.’

‘More photoroids? Has Colin negotiated us an upgrade for them yet? Last one pretty much jellied my tooblocket. Helen was dead unimpressed.’

‘I bet. You said she’d had her scroomboottles reframbigated.’

‘Yeah and her nails done too. I could barely maintain a smile.’

Harry pulled the van out into the traffic, took his hands off the wheel and lit a marginal-gain. ‘Anyway, Colin was having a hang-in with management. Tuesday. So I ‘spect we’re on double-wonders. Shall we get that photoroid out of the way and then we can warm up our prantiles on a froomdogle over at Mrs Patterson’s. She’s had the zip-zoomers refragranced, I believe.’

‘Nice idea, though I’m trying to cut back. Me orifices are clagging again.’ John tapped in the directions and sat back. ‘So what are you doing for Christmas?’

‘Oh the usual. We’ve decided to give the Mother in law to medical research again. Apparently her latest kidney is about ready to harvest and the doc said he thinks her brain is ripe enough to take some cuttings.’

‘Nice. We’re on our own this year. The kids’ school has managed to hire a Time Warp and they’re going on a Build An Alien Culture camp for a couple of millennia over the holidays.’

‘What base material do they use these days? When my kids went it was just carbon or silicon.’

‘Oh that’s so old school, Harry. They’ve chosen a zinc based ginger and cardamom compound; seems you get naturally peace-loving bipeds with little flatulence and good posture.’ John sat forward. ‘Looks like we’re here.’

Harry and John manoeuvred their scaffo-magnets from the back to the van and floated them towards the pouring light.

Harry wrinkled his nose. ‘Looks deliberate. Bloody office parties. I bet someone thought it funny to climb up there to have a look across the space-time continuum and they’ve snagged the fabric of the universe on their party heels. You grab the stream and I’ll fix the ‘ole, ok?’

John held the magnets steady as the jetting light of the photoroids poured down through the stone slabs, past the soil and clay and into the magma. Meanwhile Harry threaded a needle and began to stitch the rip carefully. ‘Anyway, I was saying to Doris, maybe we should have a couple of nights on a cruise. Sort of Christmas treat. Jupiter’s good value, I think.’


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Bloggers Bash: We Can’t Stop Chatting….


Every Sunday evening between 7 pm and 8 pm (BST) bloggers from across the globe unite and take part in the Bloggers Bash Blog Bash Chat using the hashtag #BlogBashChat

It’s an hour of introductions, learning, connecting with fellow bloggers, and fun. The Bash Chat following is growing and the engagement is incredible. One of our dedicated bloggers is Australian and gets up at 5 am his time just to take part!

We don’t want you to miss out on this fun interaction. It’s just an hour out of your Sunday (which goes very fast!), but the possibility of finding answers to your blogging questions, making new friends, and discovering alternative blogs to follow is worth your time.


If you’ve never attended a Blogger Bash event before then you’re in for a treat. Created by Sacha Black and aided by her intrepid committee of eight bloggers, the Bash is open to any blogger, regardless of age or niche. Previous events have included speakers, competitions, a panel, and attendees from all over the UK, Europe, the US, and Canada.

There will be an opportunity to network, eat cake, and meet some amazing online friends in person! The event takes place in a single day, and you’ll be guaranteed a fantastic time and a sore face from all of the smiling that you’ll do!

Timings and the exact breakdown of the day will be available closer to the event, but it will start mid-morning and end in the evening. We announce the winners of the Bloggers Bash Awards, which you, the blogging public, vote for. You can see last year’s winners here.


Join your Blog Bash Chat host, Suzie and other members of the committee every Sunday on Twitter – don’t forget to use the hashtag! #BlogBashChat

NEW Bloggers Bash Website COMING SOON!

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In Which A Possessed Can Of Beans Explodes, Contributing To The Gaiety Of Nations #microcosms

Timothy whistled. Not much of a tune and no real power but a definite whistle. Lori Perchance opened the Health & Safety box extracting the Rod and the Staff and headed for the shortbread tin. She caught a glimpse of Timothy holding a vibrating can.

“It’s a PNR. Boisterous too,” he hissed as his knuckles whitened.

“What’s in the can?”

“Beans; always causes the little buggers to conflagrate.”

“How long we got?”

Timothy held the can a little closer. “Five minutes.”

“Ok. Push it here.” Lori held the Rod and Staff over the can while Timothy moved a shortbread as close as he dared.

While they waited, Lori said, “Management say they’ll get the exorcists in. The last possession was a turning point.”

“Oh? Careful, the seam is splitting.”

“Yeah. Noted. It was a rebarbative PND.”

Timothy nodded knowingly. “A Person Named David? Tricky one that. What was the filling?”

“Artichoke soup. In under 100 words he evoked a flatulence reflux in the foreman. Poor love; it’s been Bovril and nettle poultices all week.”

The can had begun to dissolve. Lori started to incant while Timothy knelt down and pushed more shortbread at the ooze. In moments a spectral redhead, manically grinning and banshee wailing the Hills of Shenandoah flashed out of the sauce and grabbed a biscuit. Then a second.

Before the banshee could wail them to death, the controlling Rod and the elevating Staff enveloped the PNR. Still smoking and chewing on the shortbread the PNR was dragged away. As she left, Lori called back. “You hear about the Redditch factory? They had a Person Named Geoff last month.”

“Gosh. How’d they deal with him?”

“They let loose a couple of compound gerunds and he didn’t know which way to turn. Utterly bemused.”

this weird little tale follows the latest Microcosms prompt; it pays homage to three lovely providers of flash fiction prompts, two of whom who are no longer prompting – David Borrowdale (Microbookends), Rebekah Postupak (flash friday) and, the mind behind Microcosms, Geoff Holme, a real stickler for grammar and word counts.

What is especially pleasing is I won! Get me. Out of 24 entries. Obvs it’s utterly random that I did and many others were better but still, that leaves you feeling slightly chuffed.

Posted in flash fiction, microfiction, prompt | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Last Will of Sven Andersen – another teaser

During Nano, I’ve posted a few small extracts for the upcoming sequel to Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle. I thought you might like one or two more. Titled ‘The Last Will Of Sven Andersen’ the book is set int he summer of 1981, five years on from Dead Flies. Harry Spittle our hapless hero is now training to be a solicitor in the West End of London. he’s living with his old Uni friend Gary Dobbs – ‘Dobbin’  – and his on-off girlfriend Penny has moved out (so it’s currently ‘off’) but may be about to move back in (so it may actually be ‘on’). No, Harry doesn’t know, either. 

In this extract we meet two new characters. 1981 has punk rock at near its height before it tail-spun to its own demise and Gary has dragged Harry out for the night, as Harry is recalling the morning after. 

I was ready for a quiet night, so I’d be fresh for action in the morning, but bloody Dobbin had other ideas. He had tickets to see a new punk/prog band called the Twats at a pub in Clapham. The lead singer was something else, he said. He whined so badly I said I’d go for a couple of drinks and leave him to it.

The place, The Drunken Monk, was rammed and the band were shite but the lead singer was, indeed, something else. For starters, she could barely find a note let alone hit it and the crowd became a touch boisterous as she maimed Richard Hell and the Voidoids punk classic ‘Love comes in Spurts’ even if her accompanying dance routine was both unique and quite likely to corrupt public morals. When she launched into a cover of X-Ray Spec’s ‘Oh Bondage Up Yours’ a riot was on the cards. To calm them down she announced ‘I’m gonna pierce the other nipple now’ and sure enough, up went the slashed T shirt, out came her boobs and in went a safety pin which, until a moment or two before had been in the bass guitarist’s nose.

Several people in front of us fainted, causing a distraction and somehow, we were sucked to the side of the stage where the band were making a retreat. Some bloke in an orange suede jacket and red framed specs was pulling at the singer. He was yelling something about septicaemia and clawing at her shirt but he was so bladdered he barely made sense. Some roadie punched him flat, someone punched the roadie and then we were out back, Dobbin, me, the singer, the lead guitarist and a man in a suit who kept asking if we had any drugs.

My ears were ringing and, frankly, I wanted my bed, but Dobbin was determined to make a move on the girl and her on him.  Eventually we headed for our place, me setting a brisk pace and those two groping and pawing each other behind me and then running to catch up.

I left them to it and hit the sack only to be woken at three by a panicked Dobbin. “Her tits have exploded and she’s dead.”

He’d taken something – pupils like pin pricks and he wasn’t making sense. Anyway, he dragged me to his room – bloody hell had they been hard at it – everything strewn everywhere. But the girl was out cold on his bed. One of her breasts was red and swollen; it was pierced with a nail, the other, the one she had pierced on stage, had the safety pin. Whatever, she looked in a bad way.  We called an ambulance and since Dobbin couldn’t be trusted to make sense I went with them to St Tommy’s.

“What’s her name?”

Dobbin struggled so I filled in the form. “On stage, she calls herself Vera Copula.”

The triage nurse looked amazed. “You’re joking?”

Dobbin shrugged. I said, “That’s what the flyer for her band said.”

He was swaying badly and kept asking for water. It was clear the nurse knew they’d both taken something. She looked at me. “And you are?”

“His flatmate. He picked her up at a concert where she was singing. She pierced herself on stage. The safety pin. The nail was done before the gig. I don’t know when.”

The nurse nodded. “It’s badly infected. I imagine the other will be the same. Still you’ve done her a favour, getting her here.” She smiled at me, despite the hour and the racket outside from Friday night drunks. “Good job someone stayed off the pills. Any idea what they took?”

“Nope. Gary doesn’t normally indulge so I guess she gave it to him. What’s going to happen?”

“Given her condition, I’d guess we will admit her and keep her under observation. Any idea who she really is? I mean that can’t be her real name, can it?”

“She’s probably a law student. It’s Latin for, erm, consummation of marriage.” I’m amazed I remembered.

“Are you a lawyer?”

“Training to be.”

“You know your stuff. Look…”

“Harry. Harry Spittle.”

Up went an eyebrow. I waited for the snigger that didn’t come.  “My mum is a Spittle. Maybe we’re related.”

I must have been feeling reckless. “We should get together and compare family trees.”

She studied me for a moment. “I think I’d like that, Harry Spittle.” She grabbed my hand and in biro wrote a phone number and ‘Jackie’ on it. “Why don’t you take your friend home before one of the boys in blue find him? If you call this number,” she handed me a note, “in the morning you can find out how ‘Vera’ is doing.”

If you have any feedback, do let me know.

Posted in Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

The Care Bearing Of The Spotlessly Declined

‘Why so glum?’

‘Mrs Twistelton says I don’t care enough to be in the orchestra.’

Mary stopped writing. ‘Do you?’


‘You hardly practice.’

‘Everyone is in the Orchestra.’


‘Maisie, and the girls.’

‘Ah! Maisie. I hear her name a lot.’

‘She’s cool.’

‘Once I wanted to be a cleaner – I know, me – because Daisy Fullerton had a cleaning job that paid for her cool clothes. Hated it. I learnt.’


‘I needed to care about myself and what I really wanted.’

‘It’s different now.’ Penny wandered off.

‘Really?’ Mary said to the space vacated by her daughter.

Charli’s weekly prompt at the Carrot Ranch

November 30, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes self-care. Does the character need it? What does the character do? Think about how you can use this action to deepen a character or move a story. Go where the prompt leads.

If you want to catch up with Mary and her family, click here

Posted in carrot ranch, flash fiction, miscellany, prompt | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments