Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Conversational German for Travellers: Arguing with an Obnoxious and Officious Little Airport Shuttle Bus Driver and Two Policemen

Unit 6

Role Play (work in groups of 4)

Student A: Character and Background

You are an easy-going, well-travelled British businessman returning home, finally, from a business trip, tired and stressed after working bloody hard, yet almost losing your bags on the way out and missing your flight on the way back. Having blown the best part of £300 rescheduling flights and trains for a new route home, you have paid for a train ticket online which is to take you from a large city in Germany to Wherethefuckisthat Airport. Your train taking you as far as a tiny shuttle bus in the middle of nowhere was half an hour late, making you particularly anxious that you are about to miss a second flight in as many days. You are also concerned that this will not only incur further unnecessary expense, but also bring about the ridicule of many Facebook friends to whom you have already revealed your current ineptitude for overseas travel. You have followed advice in good faith from a helpful German passenger to get off the train at a particular station (oh, but not the one shown on your ticket…) as it will be easier and quicker to get to the airport. You have got off, pulled your heavy bags behind you (wishing you’d lost them for good on the inbound flight), and found said shuttle bus and have got on, only to find that you have entered a whole world of pain and obstruction. Your conversation begins just as the bus starts off and the driver has seen your ticket but is not at all happy that his bus stop is not mentioned, demanding therefore an additional €4.90 which, for him, is missing in this process. Your goal is to avoid paying this extra sum as you have a valid ticket to take you all the way to the airport no matter what bloody bus stop you use. Your part in the conversation is to be held at the top of your voice from the back seat, and must continue for a good twenty minutes until you reach the airport and then taken to the police.

Student A: Conversation Tips

When arguing with the bus driver, try to stay calm and sane during the conversation, whilst trying to absorb the absurdity of the situation and the deplorable way in which driver speaks to you. Keep trying to explain that you have paid, and are terribly sorry that his bus (not a proper bus) stop isn’t mentioned, though inside you know you’ll be damned if you’re going to shell out an extra €4.90 just because the driver can’t be more flexible and see I am not ripping anyone off). Be sure that your blood boils as you realise you might as well talk to the bloody wall. Be quietly pleased, however, that your German is still good enough to argue your point at the top of your voice from the back seat, whilst remembering three genders, various plural forms, some weak masculine nouns, time-manner-place word order, four case systems and related adjective declensions. Whilst countering his astonishing rant, throw the driver temporarily off guard by reminding him of his duty to drive responsibly and watch the road before he takes us all at 60kmh into a ditch. Student B will be talking to you into a rearview mirror. He will move his head a lot and spit. Move around a lot as if the bus were swerving all over the place. Which it is. Try to convey your feeling that you are about to either pass out with rage, or hurl yourself to the front of the bus (not a proper bus) and stuff the online ticket print-out down the driver’s throat. Including the staple.

Student B: Character and Background

You are the local bus driver of an airport shuttle bus which isn’t even a proper bus but a mini-van with some extra seats. You clearly hate your job, your bus (which isn’t a proper bus) and anyone who rides on it. You do not know - and will never know - the meaning of courteous behaviour to a foreigner, customer relations, and the fundamentals of give-and-take in basic human kindness.

Student B: Conversation Tips

Be sure to be very irritable and abrupt right from the start. Continually interrupt Student A and do not listen to a word he tells you. Stand your ground as if this were is a life and death situation, and ignore Student A’s legitimate online print-out proof of his fully paid fare. Move your head a lot in a head-butty sort of way. Try to practise having some spittle shoot out of your mouth at the end of your every loud and bombastic claim for the world to do what it says on a piece of paper. Remember that you are driving and talking into your rearview mirror. Move around a lot as if the bus were swerving all over the place. Which it is. You are allergic to staples.

Student C: Character and Background

You are a small, unshaven policemen with a gun and big boots and a cigarette in your mouth. You are so bored with your never-ending airport duty, and have long-since given up the idea of ever amounting to anything in the force, or one day encountering a terrorist or stopping a real criminal. You are friends with the bus (not a proper bus) driver. You share a common bitterness with Student B in that, just as your driver friend doesn’t drive a proper bus, you don’t police a proper airport.

Student C: Conversation Tips

When tell-tale Student B pathetically marches Student A to you, do not greet anyone and talk slowly and patronise Student A as much as possible, until Student A thinks he is about to vomit. Interrupt Student A at every possible opportunity, whilst being sure to convey that you are on the side of the driver. In fact, talk to Student A as Student B continues to harangue Student A loudly (with spit), to see if Student A’s command of German is good enough to process two diatribes at the same time. Switch to English sometimes to show you can be bloody awkward in a second language, too.

Student D: Character and Background

You are a very tall, clean-shaven policemen with a gun and big boots but no cigarette (there is not enough oxygen at your height to fuel combustion). You do not say a single word. [Teacher note: this is a good role for the shy students, or very tall ones, obviously - or ones with big boots, or those who have come to class having lost their voice. Also good if there is a total beginner in your class who doesn’t know anything and can’t join in. Please note that guns are usually not permitted in schools]

Student D: Conversation Tips

Try to stand tall with your head in the clouds and not give a shit. Say nothing with as much indifference as you can muster. Stare at Student A the whole time.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Puppy Love

We’ve just got a dog. A puppy. 12 weeks old. A border terrier called Bella. The result of a two-year campaign my three children to wear me down and get a pet.

I’m not a dog person at all and I didn’t really want a dog. I was quite happy to have a goldfish. You know where you are with a goldfish, and you certainly know where it is. There’s no barking and no walking with a goldfish. It loves you in its own quiet way, and doesn’t kick up a fuss when you leave the room. A goldfish doesn’t jump on your leather sofa and it doesn’t chew your slippers. And when it dies, you simply flush it down the toilet and it doesn’t complain. If and when this dog grows up and dies, how am I going to get it down the toilet? It’s going to be very messy. And speaking of messy, will I have to chase after this dog all its life with a Morrisons' bag cleaning up its poo? Why the poo? Always the poo.

That said, so far, I must say, the kids have been quite good at looking after her. Well, my two eldest are (11 and 9 years old). Our 2 year old still tends to squeeze her, drop her and hold her back legs up to see if it can do wheelbarrow races. Admittedly, we could never do that with a goldfish but, on the other hand, if we tried that with a goldfish it would never complain. The puppy really moans when he does that.

We’re still trying to train it (the pup, not my 2 year old) and it is starting to do what my wife tells it. She chews my laces (the pup not my wife). I’m told it’s a sign of affection, but frankly it’s very irritating when you work from home and you’re on the phone to a customer, and you can hear this growling going on (the pup, not the customer).

And then there’s all this stuff about showing the dog you’re its leader and not the other way round. But it’s all very confusing. When you come in it wants to show you it’s pleased to see you, but my doggy guide book (pup fiction?! ha!) tells me I can’t show it too much, or it will think she’s the leader, and I’m the subordinate. Fat chance of getting that right now, given that it doesn’t do anything I tell it, gets me to serve it food (warmed up, no less!) and clean up its pee and poo.

I think it’s already clear who’s in charge, and it’s certainly not me. And if I die before she does (of stress, exhaustion and dog-care fatigue, no doubt), I’ll be the one being flushed down the toilet, and who’s going to clear up that mess?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Night and City

In night time damp

And darkness heavy,

I see the moving crowd

And mood,

Find upbeat rhythm

In a downtown city pulse beat.

And speculate

How great

And vast

The possibilities are

In urban dreams,

As nightmares

Play upon a screen

Of our own making.

In wine and beer

And song and laughter,

There is a unity of sorts

With distance recognised.

More words out loud

Than any space or hearing,

Or any town or city,

In any time,

Can contain.

More thoughts now breathing

Like full lungs are to bursting,

Under water,

Darker still,

And cold.


Somewhere in a memory,

I hear the urgent sounding siren

And start running.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Bees on their knees

A few weeks ago, as summer shone its last, I walked past a dying bee. Or rather I walked past it, stopped, realised it was a dying bee, and walked back to take a look. It was a big one, or had been. It looked like he’d been there for quite a while. Had he felt a bit tired in mid-flight and managed to land, but found he couldn’t take off? Or worse, found he couldn’t even walk? Or had he passed out at altitude and dropped like a small stone, only to come round on the hard concrete in this sorry, sorry state, dizzy, confused, disorientated? Or had he stung himself? It must happen.

I stood over it and stooped down to take a closer look, cautious all the same that despite its fluffy insect body, one has to be wary of its dangerous stingy bottom were I to touch it. Not that I was so inclined. What kind of man would I be to molest an insect in its hour of need?

So there I was, and there was he, the bee. Me, all human and big and towering and threatening, and it, all insecty, weak and bottomly dangerous, but not doing very much either, as if to represent the death throes of an entire species. Its legs were twitching, I noticed, but slowly though, tired, heavy and without co-ordination. Useless in the gaining of purchase. There was none. It was going nowhere. His movement, such as it was, said that it wanted to be anywhere but here, though it couldn’t crawl much at all, which must be a bit disappointing, not to mention humiliating if you’re an insect. If there’s one thing an insect ought to be able to do, even when close to death, is crawl. Even the tiniest and most primitive can do it, but not bees, I suppose, and certainly not this one. In fact, maybe this paralysis was the final insult to one whose gift of flight has always made a bee, quite literally, look down on lesser things who only ever looked up with wonder at their black and yellow dominance and crawl, only a pitiful crawl, wishing they, too, could fly in swarms and heat to kiss a flower and kiss again, and know that they are at the very heart of a certain reproduction. Stealers of the nectar. Keepers of the honey. Creators of life.

But bees don’t crawl unless they’re in trouble, and this one was in such considerable turmoil that the pain and sadness was overwhelming. This was without a doubt an end. Gone were his (or her? who could tell?) days of buzzing, whizzing, droning round on summer days of petal honey, dreaming bee dreams of times when he might chance upon a blossom and know a new bee mate, fall in bee love and settle bee down in a hive of their own, looking forward to the tiny flap of urgent bee wings.

I took a closer look. It was a sad bee-death sight to see indeed, and I brushed him gently to the grass by the pavement with the side of my shoe, as if for him, I thought, dying slowly in the grassy verge might be more preferable to being squashed by the next passer-by or eaten by a dog. Or both.

“I’m sorry,” I said. And I was. Sorry for him, and sorry for the whole bee race whose sudden demise has been as rapid as it is surprising. But sorry most of all for those days as a child when I captured dozens, maybe hundreds of them in jam jars in my grandmother’s garden.

It was all my brother’s idea.

I was simply following him.

But I was good at it and I enjoyed it. Shame upon shame.

Nannie, as we called my mother’s mother, kept empty jars for her home-made jam in an out-house by the garage and one day, my brother and I started gently and oh-so easily capturing bees or all sizes in them. It’s awful, it’s childish and it’s cruel, but whilst the bees went about their beeziness (sorry) in the safe haven of the flower cups, a jar and its lid would come together placing the unsuspecting creature in a tiny glass prison to sit on the lawn and watch his friends and relatives meet a similar fate. Over an hour or so (where did my grandmother get all those jars from? I blame her!) one can only wonder at a rather unsettling yet impressive collection of bees and hornets set out on display.

There was some humming and buzzing, but not as much as you’d think. More of a resignation to fate. Some struggling at first, some panic even. But soon the resting. Later, we’d let them go, but some would have been in their jars for a bit too long, the glass steamed up, the bee flying out (or crawling – oh dear…) relieved if not a little puzzled, but with a brain the size of, well, an insect, they’d surely have forgotten all about it before they’d even reached the next garden. It was hard to tell over the months and summers if the same ones ever came back (forgetting – doh! - the jarboys were there), but I often used to wonder, as a 7-year old might, if they would go away and tell all their mates, then group together by their thousands or tens of thousands to plan a vengeance and fly from miles around to launch an attack on my brother and I, stings at the ready, bottom-first, zumming in from the right and from the left, in my hair, and down my shirt, up my sleeve and in my pants.

I had never really thought much about my guilty childhood bee-keeping until I saw the bee that day, and wondered if he'd known from generations of stories passed down, to bee-ware the nasty kids who snatch you from behind and look at you through glass. Of course not, though the irony was not lost on me that I was tempted for a moment to run back to my house, barely five minutes away, and get a jar to collect him up, take him home and nurse him back to health.

But I didn’t. Because it was too late. Too late for him, and too late for all his kind.

And so what are we and all the flowers, and all the jam jars, going to do without them?

Friday, August 14, 2009

air today, gone tomorrow

I went for my annual visit to the gym on Monday, and had a fitness test with an instructor who had halitosis so severe you could chew it and taste it.

I didn't notice it at first. When you're being moved around the room and weighed and measured, you're not in the line of fire long enough to get a whiff. It wasn't until I sat down for the blood pressure measure thing that I started to wonder if there was a four-year old egg sandwich in the room somewhere. As the pump pumped and the arm compressor compressed, Hal (not his real name) kept telling me what good blood pressure is and bad, and all the time I'm wondering what the dreadful smell is. It did occur to me momentarily it could be the poor boy's breath, but to be honest, I dismissed the idea because I thought nothing that disgusting could possibly be emitted from a person's body. Mouth or otherwise.

Hal gently told me to relax so he could see what my resting heart rate would be, but by this time the putrid stench was hitting me in waves which were clearly coinciding with the times when he was talking right at me, and so I took in the awful truth. Literally.

As the digital read-out dropped to what we both hoped would be the sort of number that didn't show me up as a bloater who's had one chocolate Hob Nob too many, I held my breath. My heart rate stayed steady, which is amazing because I must have held my breath for a good fifteen seconds trying to look as if, well, as if I wasn't.

As the arm-grippy-blood-sleeve loosened its grip, I exhaled slowly, professionally, like a weight lifter might, to show that I was quite a fit bloke really and breathing it out carefully. Controlled. Calm. Disguised. Not at all the breathing out of a man now utterly nauseous from the stench talking to me a meter away.

I felt pretty pleased with myself for averting that particular assault but, being too unfit to even hold my breath sitting down, I then had to inhale more than I normally would, to compensate. Which, because Hal is still banging on about my BMI divided by my IBS (I'm joking, I don't have IBS, but maybe he did? orally), meant trying to look interested (which I wasn't) whilst moving my face away, side to side, up and down, and then, ooh! is that an itch in both nostrils? I must scratch both by pinching them and squeezing them. He must have thought I was an asthmatic with twitch.

Things didn't get any better when we went into the gym itself to go through my tasks on the machines. He showed me a few and demonstrated that breathe-in-lift-breathe-out thing whilst still telling me to snack from now on with green beans and carrots. But, if anything, his breath seemed to get worse. And it's rude not to look at a man whilst he's talking, and certainly when he's bench-pressing fifty kilos and discussing vegetables, so what can you do? And then, whilst I was pedaling away on a bike that goes nowhere, and him standing there with his watch and clipboard and bin-liner breath, I was now starting to feel really sick and considerably dizzy. The problem was, as I did my best to keep pedaling and trying not look like a complete loser (yet all the time suppressing a monumental gag reflex) I couldn't be sure if I was just ludicrously unfit or, thanks to Hal breathing on me, going into some sort of coma.

Of course, many times it went through my mind that someone ought to tell him about his problem. Or that maybe that I should be the one to tell him, but added to my dilemma was the guilt that I couldn't. I mean, what do you say? Really? Sorry, look, I really appreciate this fitness programme thing you're working out for me, but I think something has died in your mouth? Or maybe, Hey, I've just noticed I've got some mints in my pocket, would you like one? no? oh yes you do. You bloody DO! TAKE ONE FOR PETE'S SAKE, TAKE THE PACKET TAKE IT ALL AND SWALLOW IT WHOLE OR YOU'RE GONNA KILL SOMEBODY... ARRRRRGGGGH!!!!! before I, job done, civilisation saved, cancer cured and the world a better place to raise our children, let go finally, let it all go, and no more holding of my own breath, no more stench and skunk and pain, and collapse, collapse helplessly in slow heroic motion, down, down, my dying (unfit) body dropping to the ground, my eyes watering, (fat) face green, and nose bleeding, life exhaling out of me, leaking air, leaking thoughts wild, memories vivid and then...and then...


And still.

The whisper of my final breath.

Clean, pure and with minty freshness.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

hair today, gone tomorrow

Finally went for a hair cut on Monday. It's quiet on a Monday. The hairdresser's. Not my hair.

I can't remember when I stopped calling it the barber's. Probably when I was about 16, the last time it seemed acceptable for my peers to notice that hair had indeed been cut and, in a friendly, manly, scholarly nay jovial way, try to beat the shit out of me and offering at the same time the complex chant of "hair cut!" hair cut!" Just to welcome it, I suppose. Or say goodbye.

And I sort of remember that it was in the 80s when hairdresser's started getting all fancy and offering a menu of the exotique to us mere blokes, like mullets, foil hats and coffee with your own hair in it. It was around the mid 80s when I seemed to stop going in somewhere and plonking myself down for the slash and thrust of blade and trimmer. You would be met instead, as you are now, by the person who'll be doing the styling (I've only ever wanted a short back 'n' sides, for chrissake!), greeted, consulted, then swiftly and expertly handed over to some apprentice, or student (or the cleaner - how would we ever know?) to have your head wedged in half a sink and your hair washed. A science it must clearly be.

Over time, as with all modern consumers (except the bald ones obviously), I got used to this extended and clearly professional service, and quite liked it. I still do. "How's the water?" the washer slave will ask, and I'll say "wet", and regret it straight away, knowing full well this is neither witty nor unique. Then, some water, wet water, might trickle down the back of my ear and slide down my neck. Often, actually.

Though one time, I thought my wit and banter had struck home. A washer slave, young and pretty, female, greeted me, shook my hand (a wet fish, sadly) and sat me down. Soon she was washing my hair. Shampoo this, conditioner that, moving her fingers through my lovely, flowing locks. Slavely, wetly, fingerly. And then, to my stunned disbelief and excitement, she very deliberately slowed down the rubbing to a gentle massage from her fingertips, moving them firmly, knowingly, probingly across my eager scalp. Yes. Yes! YES!

I lay there. Tilted back, neck-wedgedly. Eyes up at the ceilingly.

Unable to swivel my head or neck or anything, and she still fingering me (what else can you call it?), I tried to look up through my head and behind at her, to make it clear the message was getting through, that the signs were clear, and that the feeling, my darling whoever you are, was mutual. "My turn next, cupcake" my eyes tried to say. "I'll do you next, if you like. I can rub you. Oh yes I can. Just you wait."

Then I pulled some sort of eye muscle. It really hurt. Panic. Now I'm a guy with one eye forever looking the wrong way. Shit. When she sees me now she'll never fancy me. "Lovely clean hair he had, " she'd tell her mum, "but he looks in both directions at once."

No. I'm ok. That was close. But I was trying so hard to look at her, my eyes must have looked completely white to anyone sitting waiting and watching. Like a zombie having a rinse. "Morning, Mr Z. The usual? Looking a bit rough, aren't we? Been on yer holidays? Anywhere nice?"

Before I remained forever bog-eyed (now blog-eyed?) and staring at my own forehead, I finally got my eyeballs back into their normal position, looked up and down, went a bit dizzy (people still watching?) and wondered about my new love, and the danger she might now be in. No other washer slave in a million hair-dos would be allowed to get away with molesting a customer like this? But what a bold and forward approach. Hey, I'm a modern bloke. She can make the first move. I'm ok with that. Thus were her advances welcome on a young, understanding, sex-starved Adonis such as myself.

But no sooner had the scene begun, the affair ended abruptly as a harsh, unforgiving towel was unceremoniously wrapped around my head. The sink was dry, the girl was gone, and I was sent packing like the Queen of Sheba with a squint. And you don't see that everyday.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

19 going on 20

My good lady wife reliably informs me, with regard to the recent message I posted, that we have only been married for 19 years. Not 20. We discussed it thus:
Me: I was j
ust rounding up the number. I thought it gave a sense of how, erm, complete we are...
She: I see.
Me: ...and
the magnitude of our togetherness.
She: Magnitude of our togetherness?
Me: Well, yes.
She: Magnitude?
Me: I guess.
She: Are you saying I'm fat?
Me: God, no! Not at all. I want to be absolutely clear about that.
She: Good
Me: Anyway, I thought you'd be pleased.
She: About what?
Me: About that fact I'm blogging about us so early on in my blog and mentioning us being a large- no, not large - greater than the sum of the two parts. In some way. I thought. Right?
She: Greater?
Me: I see your point.
She: Which parts, exactly?
Me: But you have to agree, in flowing prose, 20 years captures more than 19 years the magni-, er, lovliness and, may I say, endurance of?
She: Not really
Me: Enduringness?
She: Only just.
Me: Ok, Ok, I'll put 19 years in a new post and update it.
She: And make me look good.
Me: I don't have to. You already look good.
She: Correct answer. That's my boy. Love me?
Me: Love you.