Welcome back after the Easter break.

The story under discussion is by Amit Chaudhuri: biographical information can be found at the British Council website here.

The setting of the story is Kolkata, to be specific, the Ballygunge neighbourhood of that city. Lots of nice people make their lovely photos available for everyone to look at: there are some good ones here.

In the story, Bishu meets his brother at Esplanade.

Kolkata Esplanade

They walk past K.C. Das, the sweet manufacturer,

towards the Governor’s Building

and the All India Studios,

finally going to Dacres Lane for a bite to eat:

Dontcha just love being able to see all the places that you’re reading about?

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Changing the clock, moving into November has made me a little sombre and philosophical perhaps. Anyway the general theme this week was time, which leads me on to the idea of how we use time wisely, waste time, kill time, bide our time (wait). Here are the two poems: one’s strength lies in its starkness, its economy, and the haunting final image of the priest and doctor running over the fields. The remaining picture is of them still running, they never arrive. The other is a magnificent musical celebration of the carpe diem motif, used, as so often it was, for the purpose of seduction.


What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

Philip Larkin

To his Coy Mistress

by Andrew Marvell

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day;
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood;
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv’d virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am’rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapp’d power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

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Book review: Freedom by Jonathen Franzen

FreedomFreedom by Jonathan Franzen

Since I apparently live under a rock, I last heard the name Franzen when I read The Corrections. I didn’t realise that there were weird amounts of media buzz going on about his requesting that work to be withdrawn as an Oprah Winfrey Book Club choice. Since Oprah has the ability to send book sales skywards, this was seen as smacking a gift horse in the mouth. However Mr Franzen felt he didn’t want her logo on his work, and was fearful that it would put off male readers. Now I can understand that. And, frankly, I don’t care if he comes across to some folks as arrogant, whingey, self-obsessed or what. He can write.
Basically it’s the two guys who are friends and one girl triangle, nothing new there, indeed he trots it out for those who maybe don’t know Natasha, Pierre and Andrei from War and Peace, and funnily enough it’s exactly the plot line of Diderot’s Le Fils Naturel, which I’ve just read. But he caught up my heart. He did it again; even the characters you hate, you still like. There’s that ambivalence, that multi-facetted light refraction. And at its heart there is a real question, how to live in this imperfect world, how to make the best choice (best for whom?), how to deal with all that freedom. “..the one thing nobody can take away from you is the freedom to fuck up your life whatever way you want to.” (p.381) Mistakes were made. Mistakes are always made, they’re unavoidable, or at least some of them are. In the end we need to be a little forgiving. It’s a family story that covers three decades of recent American history, but that makes it sound as bland as tapioca pudding. No, this is a satisfying, substantial meal.

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Spot the difference

Before and after Ken Livingstone’s campaign.

The article we read in Meerbusch about the remarkable change to Trafalgar Square is available here. I dunno, although I’m not a great fan of pigeons, it looks a bit dead to me, without them.
But then maybe you just need to fill it with other forms of life. T-Mobile managed to do just that with one of their legendary “Life is for sharing” adverts, a great sing-along in Trafalgar Square that you can see here. And while you’re there, check out the Welcome Back video, another brilliant T-Mobile idea for Heathrow Airport. Can’t we have that every day?

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Money, money, money

Talking about money is always interesting. But tricky too, as it is a sensitive subject. Naturally (why naturally?) most people see their pay slip as confidential, not something to leave lying around the house for anyone and everyone to see. But if there is not more openness about pay levels, more transparency, how will that 20% pay gap between men and women ever close? Is confidentiality over pay a huge conspiracy by men to protect their prerogative?
If you are very quick, then you can still listen to the BBC Radio 4 programme that inspired the lessons this week:
And if you miss that (I’m afraid it’s only available until the 23rd) you can still see the article that people took home with them that gave background information about what constitutes a large salary, where the median wage is, and how many people have to pay 50% tax in the UK.

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Book review: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (English Library)The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

In an exuberant adventure ride down the Mississipi, Huck faces the big issues of integrity and loyalty and the instinct to listen to your own ‘good heart’ rather than the distorted values of civilisation. The civilised world really does not come off well: feuding, cheating, callow stupidity and revenge reign supreme in the ‘sivilised’ towns along the banks and the raft is the only place of safety. I loved the exact rendition of various speech patterns, I loved the ironic tone, and I absolutely hated it when Tom Sawyer appeared on the scene in the last section. I know that Twain was attacking Romantic notions, showing how foolish and dangerous they could be, but his daft ideas with baking a rope ladder in a pie and smuggling all sorts of unnecessary equipment into Jim’s cell just irritated me beyond measure. Then I read the excellent introduction by Peter Coveney and was gratified to discover that I am not alone in finding that final chapter less than successful. “From the moment of Huck’s arrival at the (Phelps’s) farm the moral heart of the novel leaks away in all those contrived adventures of Tom Sawyer to ‘free’ (…) Jim.” Apart from the ending though, I loved it.

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New words

Yesterday’s lesson started with a short podcast taken from BBC Six Minute English and looking at words that have entered the latest edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED is the authoritative historical dictionary of the English language; if you would like to get an idea of how thorough a job it does of tracing the development of words, then you can see an example at the OED word of the day.
The OED was originally published in 1928 (work started in 1879!) in ten volumes and the version available for purchase now is in twenty volumes. As one might imagine, overhauling such a massive piece of scholarship is a huge undertaking and not undertaken lightly. From the OED website:

The Oxford English Dictionary was originally published in fascicles between 1884 and 1928. A one-volume supplement was published in 1933, and four further supplementary volumes were published between 1972 and 1986. In 1989, a complete Second Edition was published, consisting of the original OED amalgamated with the supplementary volumes, and together with 5,000 completely new entries. In 1993 and 1997, three volumes of Additions to the Second Edition were published. (For more details, see the history of the Dictionary.)

The OED is now, for the first time, being completely revised, with the aim of producing an updated Third Edition.

The BBC Learning English Six Minute homepage will give you a list of the words, plus definitions. I got the feeling yesterday that some people didn’t see this vocabulary as being particularly relevant or useful to them, social networking being only for young folk. Well, you might be interested to hear about Phyllis Greene, who started blogging at the age of 90. There’s a film of this feisty lady here and I would recommend her blog too!

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