A collection of climate stories mostly
It’s snowing and raining at the same time? The snowflakes are huge and appear unbalanced, spiralling down like sycamore seeds until they explode on the windscreen, their icy pattern washed away almost instantly by the rain.
I’m in Chamonix, enjoying the guilty pleasure of staring into nowhere on a Tuesday morning.
The skiing yesterday was amazing. Our patience, waiting for the low cloud and that wet misty rain to clear out, finally rewarded with the reappearance of the sun, a foehn (warm alpine) wind and tons and tons of snow.
We’d arrived just in time for the start of the weekend and worsening weather. A dash for the channel tunnel on a late, London, Thursday afternoon, not proving much help with the forecast.
But there was another reason to hasten our exit. We needed to eat and were hoping to improve slightly on another Paul boulangerie sandwich, which seem to monopolise the French motorway service network.
The Eurotunnel, whilst a perfectly acceptable terminus for departing British shores is significantly flawed when it comes to restaurants. Those wishing to eat more than a WH Smith snack or a Starbuck’s cookie, face a tough decision, Burger King or Leon.
The trains must have been busy enough when we arrived because we weren’t offered a bump onto an earlier train. We had an hour to consume.
Leon, for those unaware, is described as fast food mediterranean by those more knowledgeable. Half of its food sales are plant-based or vegetarian, making it particularly agreeable for me and Mrs H.
A quick look online confirmed a closing time of 8:00pm, but this evening it had decided to close two hours early. It seems counterproductive, even if there were fewer passengers. 6:00pm is dinner time?
The shutters were drawn, which meant a gourmet bag of chips next door at Burger King was all we could expect on our travels tonight.
I was reminded of a debate I’d once had with an old boss of mine, when I was out repping, selling food ingredients to chicken shops in London.
He argued that Burger King’s chips were superior to McDonalds. When the restaurants were on the same faceless retail parks, he was daft enough to go and buy his chips at Burger King and then drive over to McDonalds for his quarter pounder and milkshake.
I was about to settle for his preferred chip, but couldn’t help noticing the significant menu space dedicated to vegetarian and vegan burgers. It had to be a commercially inspired decision, giving customers something else to munch apart from cow or chicken. We ended up ordering plant-based whopper meals. Well, we were on holiday.
I’ve never been a fan of meat substitutes. I usually ignore them. One of my favourite veggie burgers, an occasional treat, is miles away from meat. There’s no pretence. The restaurant uses a seasoned, sweet potato patty, a slab of veggie in a bun.
Burger King, by contrast, took me completely by surprise. Wow. I was expecting chips, a coke and some hopeless excuse for a burger. I couldn’t have been more wrong. My thinking was years out of date. The original veggie burger was a barely palatable excuse on the menu, satisfying a noisy, but small minority.
This was an unbelievably fantastic facsimile; a flame-grilled soy-based patty apparently. It was like eating beef again, except this time there were no losers.
With Leon closed and only three staff working at Burger King, everything was cooked to order, hot and fresh.
I may have discovered a new guilty pleasure.
Learn French in 3 weeks
Headlines like these play on our emotions to learn a second language. The benefits are obvious and tantalising close apparently, just a little dedication required. Who isn’t prepared to work hard for less than a month to become a polyglot. The bragging rights alone would have many of us putting our lives on hold to focus on achieving this skill.
It’s also a headline, designed to grab our attention. Closer inspection revealed that Babbel, a language specialist company, which I like and subscribe to, had challenged some participating novices. They got away with the headline, because conversation had started within three weeks.
Conversation can have many meanings. I expect it did not include riffing about the underlying metaphors of Albert Camus’, L’Étranger, or more mundanely talking to a plumber about the back boxes waiting to be fitted. That’s toilet talk, if you’re interested.
It made me feel a little better. My first introduction to French, when I was 8 years old, was Mr Ley’s class, five decades ago. The sentence still stuck in my memory phonetically from those days is, jun - snay - pa, which is somewhat disappointing. The reason it’s lodged there is because we all kept saying it - I don’t know or je ne sais pas, in response to the questions being posed like, what colour is a banana?
Contrary to what we might believe, learning a language may not be as complicated as we might think. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, or can be learnt in three weeks either. I’m told it’s more about grit and grind, doggedly staying on the learning path, rather than needing to rely on intellect.
I like the idea of a target. It turns out that the 1,000 most frequently used French words, will allow me to understand 85% of spoken French. I’m beginning to see why grit might be such a key ingredient.
Having a target is great, but what is the best way to rote learn 1,000 words assuming that’s even a good idea?
Courtesy of livescience.com
The answer may lie in an unofficial world record set by Akira Haraguchi in Tokyo in 2006. He was able to recite 100,000 digits of Pi in 16 hours. A word is one thing, but how do you remember thousands of single numbers?
He decided to link every digit to a syllable. From there the syllables were constructed into words and then sentences. Finally, the sentences became stories which was all tidily locked away in his memory.
I remember that slightly smug magician Paul Daniels, entertaining us all one evening years ago on BBC1, with language learning and a technique which he’d coined Linkword. Never missing a business opportunity, he demonstrated the system on the BBC, getting paid to entertain, before getting paid again when he sold his shiny new system by mail-order.
The idea is to link the French word in my case, with something I can visualise in English.
I learnt a new French word from my recent trip - le tabouret, meaning stool or foot stool. I can remember, but only because I have a way to get back to it. I started by thinking of Top Cat - TC. The c also stands for cabaret which is pronounced exactly the same way as tabouret, just replace the c with a t.
It might seem awkward and convoluted, but the mind makes these jumps remarkably quickly. It reminds me of scaffolding, supporting a walkway. Once I really know it, the planks disappear.