US President trivia

Liberal England has the news that it’s been confirmed that US President John Taylor, who was in office from 1841-1845, still has living grandchildren.

It’s one of those strange and unlikely sounding facts, and it brings to mind two further pieces of trivia.

The first is that there is a photograph of Mozart’s wife, which I blogged about here. (It’s also a little bit strange and unlikely that I can have a) blogged something six years ago and b) still remember it!)

The second is a great trivia question that came up as part of my car-share to Mordor last year: which is the only US president to have worn Nazi uniform? The answer is Continue reading


German Word of the Week

This week’s word is die Übernachtungsparty – a sleepover.

So many German words have been on the tip of my tongue when students ask for them, and have to dragged back to the front of my mind kicking and screaming from the recesses of my language learning synapses. But this one was completely new to me. I guess we didn’t have all that many sleepovers when I was at school, but it is now definitely firmly ensconced in the vernacular and social calender of the teenage girls we teach.

Other words I struggled to remember this week, some of which came back in time, others only floated to the surface, esprit d’éscalier like, just too late to be useful:

der Strand – beach
gemütlich – cosy
bequem – comfy

RIP Reginald Hill

I read from barely two people on Twitter that ace crime novelist Reginald Hill, auteur of the Dalziel and Pascoe crimefighting duo, has died. M’learned colleague Stephen Tall has a nice post on the subject, bemoaning the quality of the TV adaptations of his work.

For me this was not an issue, for although I was aware of the adaptations I have never seen either incarnation.

I had however read a few of his novels over the last few decades, and so was able to choose his work when I went on my long French road trip in 2005. It is always a pleasure to encounter the first time an author you really like with an extensive series of novels you can get your teeth into when you get time. I have a slight completist streak, mainly when it comes to the unproductive side of life such as crime novels and TV series.

So in 2005, in preparation for six weeks under canvass on my own in France, I bought a crate of Reginald Hill novels, almost all of his books that had been in print some time, and systematically set out to read them in order. I had particularly been looking out for the Ursprungsroman of the gay character Sergeant Wieldy, which is referred to obliquely in many subsequent books. I have definitely read it, enjoyed it at the time, and have no detailed memory of what happened in it.

I ended up tearing through the crate of books, burning up the D-cells in my tent lantern so I could read through the night, and ultimately read the six weeks’ worth of books in only three. The structure of my holiday was such that I took a holiday from my holiday to return to England halfway through for a stag do so was able to ensure that a whole new stack of Amazon 1p special secondhand books was waiting for me when I got there. I moved on to reading all of Sue Grafton’s alphabet books.

My route took in my dear friend, my former French teacher, and conversation there turned to novels, and I found out that despite her northern heritage, she had never read the Yorkshire classics. We ultimately effected an exchange – and my crate of Hill novels was handed over and in return I got a big pile of Georges Simenon novels – the Maigret books – in French. I fear that crate has languished neglected somewhere ever since. I hope it’s in the attic and is OK.

To return to Reginald Hill, it seems such a shame that so few people are talking about it. So few people have mentioned it on twitter, and I haven’t heard officially on the BBC news on either last night’s 6pm bulletin or this morning’s lunchtime headlines. And the Wikipedia pages are somewhat incomplete, with most Dalziel and Pascoe novels not having a page of their own. Which is a shame.

French word of the day

My (French) car started coming up with a weird error message the day after its annual service:


I had no idea what it meant and groaned inwardly that it started happening the day after a service.

Was PLIP an acronym for something weird hidden within the car?

A quick google to find out what it means takes me down a linguistic voyage of discovery.

Apparently, un plip is the onomatopoeic French word for remote key fob. Makes the English word seem staid by comparison.

Unhelpfully the car’s manual suggests that the replacement size of battery is one that doesn’t appear to exist – CR0523?? For now I will resort to using the spare key – a bit of a novelty given this is the first car I’ve ever owned that has a spare key!

“I like garlic but it doesn’t like me!” (Osso buco)

I’ve become One Of Those People Who Has to be Careful with Garlic.

Last night at Pudding club, I made Osso Buco with polenta.

Normally I would doctor a recipe so that it had no more than half a clove of garlic per finished portion. Last night, my husband was not eating with us so I threw caution to the wind, and made it as per recipe, four cloves of garlic for three people, plus the gremolata. The recipe called the gremolata, a garnish of chopped parsley, lemon zest and raw garlic, an essential part of the dish. Without that warning, I would probably have not made it, because I know that raw garlic almost always has unpleasant effects on my digestion, not least horrible burps, heart burn and the sort of acid indigestion that leads to me waking up traumatically feeling like I’m drowning in bile. My only real cure on nights like that is to trough a packet of gaviscon and spend a few hours trying sleep sitting upright.

I should have trusted my instinct, because that’s exactly what happened! After feeling garlic-sick all evening, I could only finally go to bed without problems at gone 4 in the morning.

At least I now know for certain that I don’t like and cannot eat gremolata!

As for those websites that see raw garlic as a cure for heartburn, well!

I made the osso buco in the first place really only because the butcher didn’t have any lamb shanks when I ordered and suggested this as a substitute, stewed, bone-in, meat.

Not a huge fan of polenta as a side dish either.

Single story danger for Aspley

One of the seminars we had about school culture in the last days of last term featured this TED Talk by Chimamanda Adichie called the danger of the single story.

In it she recounts her own experiences talking to people whose only impressions of Africa included starving orphans in mud huts, and the dissonance that caused with her own African life. She talks about how her own writing began in homage to her own reading, and that her childhood involved few stories written in Africa.

But as she she was talking of the danger of the single story, it was something a little closer to home that was going through my mind.

I had recently put “Aspley” into the Nottingham Post website to find a story there about a proposed and rejected 20MPH zone on a main road in what used to be my ward. If you do that you get a slew of horrible stories about bad things that have happened. Violence, theft, murder. Smoking, burglaries, tragic death of motorcyclist.

You have to do quite a lot of paging down to find even neutral stories, let alone any of the positive things that are happening in that part of the world.

And there are plenty. The Aspley SuperWarmZone. Fundraising for Motor Neurone Syndrome. The fab solar panel programme that got a photo in The Sun.

Pull the focus out just a little bit and you get Nottingham’s reputation, undeserved, for higher than average gun crime. Things you think are going away a bit until some idiot who should know better brings them all up again.

Troubling news about TEDxNottingham

Great news! TED is coming to Nottingham!

TED is the awesome, highly regarded website with fabulous videos of world leading speakers talking about interesting things.

TEDx is their programme of running local events, which, it appears are run by volunteers across the globe.

TEDxNottingham brings all the fun of TED really locally to Nottingham on March 17th this year.

So where is the troubling news? Normally if someone gave me this information I would have no qualms about letting people know as widely as possible.

The trouble is I learned about it because the TEDxNottingham twitter account are spamming the heck out of anyone with a vaguely local twitter presence. Which I think is MORALLY WRONG. This is not how you do twitter! Stop it at once!

So I don’t know whether I should be spreading the news because it’s interesting and lots of people I know would like to hear about it, or to stand well back and let the EVIL SPAMMERZ FOAD.

I called them on it, and they apologised, saying they were running their spammy tweets late at night so as not to splurge people’s timelines, but I still think they should not be doing it at all. Still, I’m not PR savvy enough to suggest what they might be doing instead…

This year’s Christmas newsletter

Well, I have finally written all my Christmas cards. I got most of the inland ones into the post slightly before Christmas, but delayed still further the overseas one, and since I will have to take them to the post office to buy stamps, they won’t even get into the post until Tuesday, and probably won’t arrive before the 12th day of Christmas.

As is my wont, I include a little Christmas newsletter with one or two snaps and snippets of my life this year. Here is a copy for 2011.

I see uploading my newsletter to my blog as a way of preserving them for posterity – another symptom of my almost pathological hoarding problem. I see on reviewing previous years’ postings on this topic that the links have not survived the most recent change of hosts. So much for posterity. (Actually, whilst writing this, I have discovered that all of the files are still there and are just fine. It’s just that the new host has put them in a different folder, so I will have to go back and find all the posts and rewrite the image URLs… #bohof)

This sort of newsletter is increasingly widely derided these days – there was even a programme on t’wireless about how awful they are, but I quite like receiving them and I know mine was warmly received in at least one location this year.

And, interestingly, or perhaps not, I think this is the first year I’ve barely even taken my SLR out of its case. All of the photos I drew on were taken on my mobile.

German New Year’s Eve

For the last ten years and more I’ve spent every NYE with the same group of friends. This year, as more of them have children than before, it was hard to arrange something that went to midnight so instead we had our traditional murder party during the day, leaving us free for the evening, and so instead I went and spent the evening with new friends from my teacher training course.

A traditional English New Year celebration doesn’t really include very much, does it? Auld Lang Syne and fireworks, and is that about it? Because most of the participants are training to be German teachers, and one of us was German and two of us had recently been in Germany for Christmas, we ended up with a German-themed NYE celebration.

Some components of this included:


You start with mulled wine (Glühwein) and you garnish it spectacularly. You take a six inch cone of sugar, soak it in rum and place it on a special grill tray over the pan of mulled wine. You then set fire to the rum-soaked sugar so that the rum burns, there are Christmas-pudding style flames coming off the punch and the sugar caramelizes.

See also my mulled wine blog post.


I half surprised myself by dragging the component parts of that word out of my long-dormant German vocabulary. Gießen means “to pour” and Blei is lead, as in Bleistift (lead) pencil and Bleifrei, lead free as in petrol. So Bleigießen is a fortune telling game where you have a metal spoon and small, hollow lead moulds of things like hearts, coins, etc. You put the lead moulds on the spoon and hold them over a candle until they melt. Then you quickly tip the molten lead into a bowl of water and match the shapes it makes as it quickly sets with a table of shapes on the back of the packet.

Dinner for one

This is a famous English music-hall sketch that is widely watched in Germany on New Year’s Eve. Despite being aware of it and having seen a few clips, and despite it being only short I’d never seen it all the way through before. The version I’ve got above from Youtube is not the one we watched last night, but it will do for elaboration purposes.

German board games

In the last few years there has been an explosion of new “Eurogames” – boardgames that take participants beyond the old traditional range of Monopoly, Cluedo and Mousetrap. Monopoly in particular is a horrible game. It takes ages, it continues after some players have been eliminated, most people play a version of it that isn’t in the actual game rules, and I’m glad I haven’t had to play it for years!

I’ve been playing new German boardgames, ironically with my old English friends, but they made a nice addition to German New Year’s Eve. And they count, because they’re made by Germans, even if they don’t have German names!

One of our friends brought Settlers of Catan, and unfortunately I still have never played it. It has a formidable reputation, but I fear it might be a bit fiddly, and not entirely suited to not entirely sober company (see Feuerzangebowle, qv).

So we played my games: Carcassonne and Nacht der Magier

I can’t rave about Carcassonne enough – it’s a simple game, with only three or four basic rules – but its simplicity belies a complex strategy game with lots of scope for competitiveness. You have a bag of tiles and a small stock of man-shaped wooden pieces called “Meeples”. The tiles depict aspects of mediaeval life: cities, roads, farms and monasteries. Every go, you must play a tile and you can choose to play a meeple. Roads and cities span more than one tile and each tile you play must fully line up with the existing tiles – cities must match to cities, roads to roads. You choose to play a piece, if you have some left, onto the tile you have just played, to claim ownership of a feature, and features are scored once they are complete, so when roads start and end and when cities have walls all around them and when monasteries are surrounded.

Once you have played and enjoyed the base game, there are numerous expansions to make the game just a little bit more interesting still. When I try and introduce this game to other people, I like to play the base game then incorporate the expansions, so that people have a chance to understand the extra simple rules separately to the main game.

We also played Nacht der Magier, a game ideally suited to young and/or drunk people. It has glow-in-the-dark pieces that have be charged under a lamp, and the game itself is played with the lights out. I’ve taken this to a few people to play, and everyone always wants to play it again. You have playing pieces that are witches, red cauldrons with symbols on and a glow in the dark fire. All of the pieces are round, and the playing pieces are surrounded by wooden pieces that replicate trees and discs. All of the pieces sit on an elevated playing board completely filled with the circular pieces. In the dark, you have to push your cauldron into the fire from the edge of the elevated board, but because all of the pieces are circular their movement is unpredictable. Your go ends when a circular piece falls off the board and you can hear it clatter to the table.

I shall now draw this blog post to a conclusion before it goes over 1,000 words, completely unacceptable for a blog!

Happy new year!