Friday, 31 December 2010

That was the week year that was

Christmas has come and gone. I did my customary Santa act on Christmas morning with the obligatory stocking! Raggs is working her way through the treats as fast as we'll let her, which to her way of thinking is s-l-o-w-l-y! She ran round excitedly with the little white snowman-thingy before losing it on Boxing Day, probably under the bed or somwhere. The red squeaky cracker has so far survived, and she retrieves it from wherever she's temporarily hidden it to have a little game every now and then.

The remaining snow thawed during the week, leaving a damp misty trail behind it to mark the end of 2010. For all its ups and downs, it's turned out better than at one stage I thought it was going to - perhaps proving the truth of the old adage that you have to experience a few upsets and moments of despair before you fully appreciate your good fortune in life. With that in mind I might even make a few New Years' Resolutions. I always used to, but I suppose like most people I never kept them - though that's hardly a good reason for not even bothering to make the effort. So, with about five-and-a-half hours left to go of the old year, I'll perhaps see what I can come up with?

Friday, 24 December 2010

White Christmas?

After a bout of bitterly cold weather including an inch or two of snow last weekend, the prospect of a white Christmas now seems unlikely (if you judge that as getting fresh snow on Christmas Day, that is). Compared to some people we've had it relatively easy here: deliveries have still been getting through and I did all the Christmas shopping easily enough without feeling the need to stockpile bread or milk. I remember that although they didn't bulk-buy as such, my parents always used to keep a stash of tinned food in the house as well as things like toilet rolls. In the days before freezers were a common item of domestic equipment, it was a sensible precaution I suppose to make sure that if we got snowed in, we wouldn't starve!

Raggs as usual has been delighted with the blanket of snow to snuffle around in: it's been slow to melt off the garden and it's fast turning to ice instead, making it decidedly slippery underfoot. For the second winter in a row she's getting quite used to it, in contrast to all those people who seem reluctant to adapt to the reality that if it's likely to snow, then a certain degree of preparedness might be in order! All the same, while I can just wrap up warm with my knee-high winter boots, I can afford a certain element of smugness by virtue of the fact I don't have to trudge off to work in it any longer. If I did, then I'd no doubt be moaning about it like all the other hapless commuters.

Enough of that. With my little tree on the window sill, and a plate of sausage rolls to nibble at, I'm all ready for the "big day". Coincidentally, this is my 100th blog post, although it wasn't my deliberate intention to mark the occasion, as it were. Anyway.... Happy Christmas!

Monday, 6 December 2010

The brass monkey is back

After a slow thaw of sorts at the weekend, hard overnight frosts and a brief flurry of snow have left it feeling as cold as ever tonight. Raggs thinks it's absolutely wonderful even though there's not *yet* quite enough to roll around in properly. It's already looking set to eclipse last year's cold snowy winter, having started somewhat earlier, though fortunately it's still easy enough to get around in - nothing like the infamous winter of 1962-63 (for those of us old enough to remember it!)

And with that particular point in mind, I do wish those pundits on TV who are referring to the current snowy conditions as "unprecedented" would learn what word actually means before they use it!

Friday, 3 December 2010

A rose by any other name

Into December, and I'm now coming to the end of the first term in my Italian course. I sense that I'm doing pretty well: I'm enjoying it tremendously and picking up the grammatical concepts really quickly - or should I say refreshing my memory, as the deep-seated recollections of doing it some 45 years previously are coming back thick and fast now. The homework is falling into place too, as I'm regaining the intuitive ability to recognize when something looks right and sounds right. Having had as a schoolboy a definite aptitude as a linguist, it seems that it's something I evidently haven't lost.

Nonetheless, it was with some trepidation that I found out last week that today the tutor would be giving us a test - or a "progress check" as she hastily rephrased it. I did do some revision, or at least tried to fix more clearly some of the things which I'd been finding I'd mis-remembered (or which I possibly never learned the first time round). But it's not as if I were going to get a detention for not having paid attention properly in class!

The 'test' kicked off with a sort of aural/dictation test - listening to a recorded spoken passage and filling in the missing words in a transcript. I'd anticipated this as being the most difficult bit, because it's something I've been having trouble getting used to again - mainly I think due to the dialogue being played at normal conversation speed rather than being spoken deliberately slowly and clearly. But with filling in blanks, there's a surrounding context to give clues, which I've always found is a big help!

Onto the test proper: no looking things up in textbooks or dictionaries! Some grammar exercises (things like rewriting present tense as past tense) and then some comprehension exercises which consisted of four 'holiday postcards' and answering questions in Italian on which of the four holidaymakers had done what. A bit of intuitive guesswork with the vocabulary, but apart from my briefly wondering whether in a couple of instances there was more than one correct answer, it was otherwise fairly straightforward.

The big difference, I noticed, from the type of O level tests I'd done at school was the tendency to use multiple-choice answer format. With four possible answers to choose, blind guesswork will statistically score 25%, while eliminating those answers which are clearly and obviously wrong can easily improve that to a 50/50 chance. And that became even more apparent in the final set of questions which simply required a true/false answer to a statement. In fact the only time I did approach something of a total guess was in wondering if nuotare meant to swim, which I either didn't know or couldn't remember, but it seemed as if it might fit.

As far as I know we get the answers back next week. I shall be surprised if I haven't made the odd careless mistake or two: it's easy just to get a temporary mental block and give a wrong answer to something simple and basic which you actually know. But I reckon the grounding I got as a schoolboy linguist was a very solid one and I hope my old Masters at
Leamington College for Boys would not be too disappointed with my efforts today.