Thursday, 24 February 2011

Tattooing the Students

From time to time the interests of my vocational studies students coincide with the English curriculum. On these rare occations there is nothing to do but to leap at the opportunity. A few years ago the planets aligned and one of these savoury moments presented itself.

Ta Moko

We were reading about the Maori version of tattoos, Ta Moko. The text is quite interesting and an audio version can be found here. I printed out large head shots of the students for them to draw mokos on which they duly did. Then, following a discussion on tattoos and their role in our society and the students' lives, they got to watch the following youtube video:

The fact that mokos are made by hammering a combination of ash and fat into the skin with a albatross bone chisels captivates most of the students. That is when it is time for the henna.

Ground henna leaves

Henna is the dried and ground leaves of the henna plant. It is prepared by mixing it with some slightly acidic fluid, like lemon juice. This brings out the dye after a while. It is then applied to the skin in a brownish paste. As the paste dries the dye will bind to the proteins in the skin and stay there for 2-3 weeks. The dye could be removed with lemon juice if one grows tired of it. It is, however, important to tell the students never to accept or apply black henna which might be harmful to the skin.

The shade is determined by the composition of the paste and how long
it stays on the skin

To show the students that brown henna is not dangerous, I normally draw a henna tattoo on my arm the day before. The students then get to apply the paste with brushes in whatever pattern they wish. This hands-on approach is guaranteed to make them remember whatever passed in the classroom that lesson, not only because it is fun and a kinestetic way of learning but also because they afterwards carry a visual reminder of the lesson for three weeks.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

The Cockney Bible, Innit?

In April 2001 Mike Coles, a teacher in a secondary school in Stepney, London published his Cockney Bible (or bits of it anyway). Coles had found that translating texts into Cockney rhyming slang made them more appealing and accessible for students. He translated nine stories from the Bible and had them published as the Cockney Bible, which was later endorsed by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Originally intended as a code language to keep information from the authorities, Cockney substitutes words for rhyming alternatives or pairs. Bear this in mind while reading and enjoying the following excerpts.

The Lord's Prayer

Hello, Dad, up there in good ol’ Heaven,

Your name is well great and holy, and we respect you, Guv.

We hope we can all ‘ave a butcher’s at Heaven and be there as soon as possible: and we want to make you happy, Guv, and do what you want ‘ere on earth, just like what you do in Heaven.

Guv, please give us some Uncle Fred, and enough grub and stuff to keep us going today, and we hope you’ll forgive us when we cock things up, just like we’re supposed to forgive them who annoy us and do dodgy stuff to us.

There’s a lot of dodgy people around, Guv; please don’t let us get tempted to do bad things.

Help keep us away from all the nasty, evil stuff, and keep that dodgy Satan away from us, ‘cos you’re much stronger than ‘im.

Your the Boss, God, and will be for ever, innit?

Cheers, Amen.

Jesus Calms the Storm

One evening, Jesus said to his chinas, “Let’s go to the other side of this ‘ere lake.”

So they left all the people, and the disciples got into the nanny and set orf. There were quite a few other nannies there too.

And then, would you Adam and Eve it, a huge wind started to blow up, and the waves got so bloomin’ big that they began to spill into the nanny. It got to the stage where the nanny was almost gonna fill up with fisherman’s.

Despite all this, Jesus was at the back of the nanny ‘aving a feather, lying there with his loaf on a pillow. The disciples woke him up and said, “Teacher, we’re about to die. Don’t you care?”

Jesus got up from his little feather and shouted at the wind, “Oi, be quiet!” and he said to the waves, “Oi, be still!” The wind suddenly died dahn, and it became really calm. Jesus then said to his chinas, “What is it with you lot? Why were you all so frightened? Do you still not have faith?”

But the disciples were in a right ol’ two and eight.


Saturday, 19 February 2011

German Sing-along - Die Partei hat immer Recht

The German hits just keep coming, do they not? After Papa Trinkt Bier and Staplerfahrer Klaus and the German Indian Winnetou, it is time for something a bit more pompous. This is the state sponsored Die Partei hat immer Recht - the party is always right - with the full text and my translation underneath so we can all join the chorus.

Ready? Eins, zwei, drei ...

Thanks to IA!

Thursday, 17 February 2011

A German Indian from France?

In his lecture on the portrayal of Native Americans, which I wrote a post about a week ago, Kevin Gover of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian mentioned Winnetou. Winnetou is a character from a series of western novels by the German Karl May. The novels sold millions of copies, making May, who never actually went to America, one of the best selling German authors of all time. Seeing as there already is a post on German weirdness on this blog Winnetou could serve as an update.

Films were made from the 60s onwards (thus preceeding the spaghetti westerns) featuring German actors dressed up as some sort of idealised indian and of course speaking German. The films were shot in Yugoslavia with the protagonist being played by a Frenchman. Granting "the wish of millions", this misguided attempt at multiculturalism with its German speaking French stereotyped Apache is a "monumental film" of cultural awkwardness and German weirdness.


Source: 1, 2

Friday, 11 February 2011

"A Trivial Comedy for Serious People" - The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

I am a great admirer of Oscar Wilde's and although The Picture of Dorian Gray captivates my imagination in much the same enthralling fashion as Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, there is no work of his closer to my heart than The Importance of Being Earnest, a Trivial Comedy for Serious People. With Wilde's sharp wit ever present, the light-hearted and playful tone coupled with the social intricacies of the play reminds me of a successor of his and a personal favourite of mine, P.G. Wodehouse (for my blogposts on everything Wodehouse, click here).

While the play can be found in its entirety here, this excerpt is one of my favourite scenes in which the protagonist Jack is being interviewed by Lady Bracknell for her daughter's hand in marriage.


LADY BRACKNELL [Sitting down.] You can take a seat, Mr. Worthing.

[Looks in her pocket for note-book and pencil.]

JACK Thank you, Lady Bracknell, I prefer standing.

LADY BRACKNELL [Pencil and note-book in hand.] I feel bound to tell you that you are not down on my list of eligible young men, although I have the same list as the dear Duchess of Bolton has. We work together, in fact. However, I am quite ready to enter your name, should your answers be what a really affectionate mother requires. Do you smoke?

JACK Well, yes, I must admit I smoke.

LADY BRACKNELL I am glad to hear it. A man should always have an occupation of some kind. There are far too many idle men in London as it is. How old are you?

JACK Twenty-nine.

LADY BRACKNELL. A very good age to be married at. I have always been of opinion that a man who desires to get married should know either everything or nothing. Which do you know?

JACK [After some hesitation.] I know nothing, Lady Bracknell.

Oscar Wilde

LADY BRACKNELL I am pleased to hear it. I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square. What is your income?

JACK Between seven and eight thousand a year.

LADY BRACKNELL [Makes a note in her book.] In land, or in investments?

JACK. In investments, chiefly.

LADY BRACKNELL That is satisfactory. What between the duties expected of one during one's lifetime, and the duties exacted from one after one's death, land has ceased to be either a profit or a pleasure. It gives one position, and prevents one from keeping it up. That's all that can be said about land.

JACK I have a country house with some land, of course, attached to it, about fifteen hundred acres, I believe; but I don't depend on that for my real income. In fact, as far as I can make out, the poachers are the only people who make anything out of it.

LADY BRACKNELL A country house! How many bedrooms? Well, that point can be cleared up afterwards. You have a town house, I hope? A girl with a simple, unspoiled nature, like Gwendolen, could hardly be expected to reside in the country.

JACK Well, I own a house in Belgrave Square, but it is let by the year to Lady Bloxham. Of course, I can get it back whenever I like, at six months' notice.

LADY BRACKNELL Lady Bloxham? I don't know her.

JACK Oh, she goes about very little. She is a lady considerably advanced in years.

LADY BRACKNELL Ah, nowadays that is no guarantee of respectability of character. What number in Belgrave Square?

JACK 149.

LADY BRACKNELL [Shaking her head.] The unfashionable side. I thought there was something. However, that could easily be altered.

Colin Firth and Rupert Everett as Jack and Algy in the
2002 film

JACK. Do you mean the fashion, or the side?

LADY BRACKNELL [Sternly.] Both, if necessary, I presume. What are your politics?

JACK. Well, I am afraid I really have none. I am a Liberal Unionist.

LADY BRACKNELL Oh, they count as Tories. They dine with us. Or come in the evening, at any rate. Now to minor matters. Are your parents living?

JACK I have lost both my parents.

LADY BRACKNELL To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness. Who was your father? He was evidently a man of some wealth. Was he born in what the Radical papers call the purple of commerce, or did herise from the ranks of the aristocracy?

JACK I am afraid I really don't know. The fact is, Lady Bracknell, I said I had lost my parents. It would be nearer the truth to say that my parents seem to have lost me … I don't actually know who I am by birth. I was … well, I was found.


JACK The late Mr. Thomas Cardew, an old gentleman of a very charitable and kindly disposition, found me, and gave me the name of Worthing, because he happened to have a first-class ticket for Worthing in his pocket at the time. Worthing is a place in Sussex. It is a seaside resort.

LADY BRACKNELL Where did the charitable gentleman who had a first-class ticket for this seaside resort find you?

JACK [Gravely.] In a hand-bag.


JACK [Very seriously.] Yes, Lady Bracknell. I was in a hand-bag – a somewhat large, black leather hand-bag, with handles to it – an ordinary hand-bag in fact.

LADY BRACKNELL In what locality did this Mr. James, or Thomas, Cardew come across this ordinary hand-bag?

JACK In the cloak-room at Victoria Station. It was given to him in mistake for his own.

LADY BRACKNELL The cloak-room at Victoria Station?

JACK Yes. The Brighton line.

LADY BRACKNELL The line is immaterial. Mr. Worthing, I confess I feel somewhat bewildered by what you have just told me. To be born, or at any rate bred, in a hand-bag, whether it had handles or not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of family life that reminds one of the worst excesses of the French Revolution. And I presume you know what that unfortunate movement led to? As for the particular locality in which the hand-bag was found, a cloak-room at a railway station might serve to conceal a social indiscretion – has probably, indeed, been used for that purpose before now – but it could hardly be regarded as an assured basis for a recognised position in good society.

JACK May I ask you then what you would advise me to do? I need hardly say I would do anything in the world to ensure Gwendolen's happiness.

LADY BRACKNELL I would strongly advise you, Mr. Worthing, to try and acquire some relations as soon as possible, and to make a definite effort to produce at any rate one parent, of either sex, before the season is quite over.

JACK Well, I don't see how I could possibly manage to do that. I can produce the hand-bag at any moment. It is in my dressing-room at home. I really think that should satisfy you, Lady Bracknell.

LADY BRACKNELL Me, sir! What has it to do with me? You can hardly imagine that I and Lord Bracknell would dream of allowing our only daughter – a girl brought up with the utmost care – to marry into a cloak-room, and form an alliance with a parcel? Good morning, Mr. Worthing!

Sources: 1, 2, 3

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Representations of Native Americans

While studying for a task on the Disney adaptation of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan I came across an interesting and captivating source on the representation of Native Americans in American images. Kevin Gover, Director of The Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian gives his talk on false, perpetuated images of the Native American called "Will the White Man's Indian Ever Die?" and points out how "memorable, powerful and hard to shake"* these are. Enjoy this entertaining, interesting and surprisingly hard to come by lecture!

*Source: Lect. (09:30)

Monday, 7 February 2011

To Rise above the Beasts - Shaun Ellis

The first post in this series introduced Laura, a musically agile soprano performing the impossible. Now, I am proud to present a rather differently talented gentleman;

Shaun Ellis
 aka "Wolfman"

Shaun Ellis is an Norfolk ex-marine who has taken a rather unusual approach to behavioural biology. Living with different packs of wolves and adopting their ways of communication and beaviour he has gathered fascinating information on these animals. He has explored the human-like social hierarchy in packs, most notably when he lost his position as alpha male during his 2005 stay with a pack in Combe Martin Wildlife Park. Through this unorthodox way of studying wild animals, he has shown how scent, sound and posture are central to their communication and that this can be used by humans to understand and control the behaviour of the wolf population.

Although it can be argued that Ellis' strength does not stem from any talent but rather from perseverance, his ability to communicate with animals which, as so many talents, has been cultivated over several years sets him apart. Through his talent for communication and understanding of the wild, Shaun Ellis, by stooping to the beasts rise above beasts and man alike.

The next four parts of this documentary as well as the one above can be found here.


Friday, 4 February 2011

Pulp Fiction in 11,5 Minutes

Been a while since you last saw Quentin Tarantino's decidedly best film? If you have 11.28 minutes to spare, search no further. Let us start off with a brief summary of the dialogue and the plot.

Following this display of the brilliance and versatility of certain words, emjoy a coulple of memorable scenes. First up is the lovely dance scene with Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta) (which, incidentally, is a homage to this dance from Fellini's 8 1/2).

The sad demise of Marvin:

The history of a heirloom as narrated by Captain Koons (Christopher Walken):

The perilous future of Zed, currently under the watchchful glare of Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames):

A clarification of techincal terminology as well as a short biographical note on Zed:

And finally, Misirlou as performed by Dick Dale & The Del Tones in A Swinging Affair (1963). Incidentally, the background for the odd name can be found in the original Greek traditional.

Sources: Youtube

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Three Songs I Wouldn't Expect Myself to Like

It' strange how music can move you, as ABBA pointed out. Sometimes, the most surprising songs might become favourites. It seems it is possible to enjoy music immensely without being part of the culture it describes or from which it sprang. This is the case with the following three songs. Although they are the outsiders of my playlist the their exclusivity make them all the more dear to me.

(If you are easily offended by strong language you probably should have stayed the fuck away from this post.)


Kid Rock's Cowboy from Devil Without a Cause

Green Day's 21 Guns from 21st Century Breakdown

Michael Zager Band's single Let's All Chant
(this one is probably due to its featuring in Watchmen)