Archive for the month “February, 2015”

The difference a word makes.

Anyone who has ever tried to learn a foreign language will know how difficult it can be to choose the right word in the right circumstances.

I am reminded of the story my father used to enjoy telling me about the Polish airman on a bus in Birmingham.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Poland fell very quickly to the German invasion.  Hundreds of pilots and aircrew escaped to Britain and were soon integrated into the RAF.  Many of them died in the fighting that followed.

Their knowledge of English was clearly a problem and many of these men has no English at all when they arrived.  However, as they trained and lived alongside British airmen, their command of English gradually improved.

The story, as my Dad used to  tell it, was that a Polish airmen was sitting on a bus when an older woman got on.  The bus was crowded and there was no seat available for the elderly lady.

The Polish airman immediately stood up, tipped his hat and said, with great politeness, “Madam! Would you like to park your arse?”

I found the following poster in a classroom in a teacher training college on the island of East New Britain.  It is a wonderful example of how the choice of the wrong word can completely change the impact of a phrase.  The first version is a lovely description of a bride.  The second version just makes you laugh.

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Just when you thought it was safe…

…to go back into the water……


Pacific Dawn comes to Town

Madang had been preparing for this day for weeks.  There was an awful lot riding on P&Os decision to include Madang on its itinerary and everyone wanted it to work.

Linda actually found herself, almost by accident, at a ‘Special Meeting to discuss the Visit of the Pacific Dawn. (She thought she was going to a meeting of the Friends of Madang Museum, but , hey, life’s like that.)

First item on the agenda: Selection of Ambassadors.

Dozens of bright young people were to be selected and trained to show the visitors around town, answer their questions and keep them out of danger during their seven-hour stopover in Madang.  This was no mean feat.  The Pacific Dawn carried 2000 paying passengers, all gradually going stir crazy as they ate their way around the Pacific, and very happy to get off the boat, with cameras, iphones and bulging wallets, to explore beautiful, downtown Madang.  (For those readers who have difficulty recognising irony, that last bit was irony.)

Many of the Ambassadors were students from Divine Word University and they were all dressed up in attractive, bright yellow T-Shirts, which doubled as their wages for the day.  To all accounts they did a very good job.

Second agenda item:  Clean-up of the town, the harbour and the seafront.  More DWU students with plastic gloves and black sacks made sure that Madang was looking its best when the floating village full of disposable incomearrived.  I have to say, the place scrubbed up well, although it didn’t take long for it to take back its normal scruffy aspect.

On February 19th, Pacific Dawn docked in Madang’s tiny harbour.  600 passengers were distributed around a motley assortment of buses, minibuses and trucks-with-benches to be taken to see some of the very few ‘sights’ around the town, including the museum, which had been completely re-painted for the occasion.  The rest of the cruising masses milled around town and, to the relief of all concerned, didn’t get mugged.  By 4.30pm they were all back on board and a relieved sigh spread around the town.


At six o’clock  the Pacific Dawn backed out of Madang’s small industrial harbour.

It performed the most amazing three-point turn anyone had ever seen.


Since the whole operation was such a big event for Madang, Linda and I had no choice but to go and watch the ship’s departure and wish it ‘bon voyage’ with a glass of wine.


At one point we thought the ship was going to  smash straight into us.


But it didn’t.  It passed safely by.


And continued on its merry way over the horizon

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Come again soon!  Missing you already!

Back in the Saddle.

I actually did some teaching today, some language teaching. It was great fun! Just like the old days!

The university is concerned about the standard of English of the new undergraduates arriving to start their various courses this month. To give them the best possible chance, given that all courses are taught in English, it was decided that all the new Health Education and Physiotherapy students should have four hours of remedial English per week. I volunteered to teach the grammar elements of the course.  Funnily enough, no-one else wanted to do it!

Today was my first encounter with my new groups. 56 Health Educators and 20 Physiotherapy students. My problem was that I had no information about their levels of English, so I had to pitch my first lesson at a pretty general level, whilst asking the students to write a short essay without the aid of dictionaries, first drafts or spell-checkers. That’ll be my homework for the weekend.

I tried to convince them that English grammar is the most exciting branch of learning that they would ever have the good fortune to encounter. I started off by asking them to tell me how they would define grammar. Several students offered more or less coherent definitions, suggesting that grammar was all about getting sentences right and communicating clearly with other people.

Then a quiet young man sitting at the back of the room put his hand up and said “Grammar is the science of language and the art of using it properly.”

I don’t think I’ll be asking him to come back next week. The last thing he needs is a remedial course in English. But I did introduce him to my general principle that, in teaching, if an idea is worth using, it’s worth stealing. I’ve already incorporated the new definition into my Powerpoint presentation, just in case I’m asked to repeat the lecture with any future groups!

Forensic puzzle.


On the evidence of this photo, what do you deduce?  Either we drove through plagues of locusts on our way through Australia or Linda found it hard to observe speed limits on the long, straight empty roads of Central Queensland.

Road-signs you don’t see every day. No 1.


This was what we went to Australia to see, after all!  And we did see lots of them, all different shapes and sizes, and a good number of them stone dead.  We avoided travelling through rural Queensland in the early mornings because that seems to have been when the majority of kangaroos sacrificed themselves on the roads by trying to cross in the path of oncoming traffic.  Not a pretty sight.  It was much nicer taking pictures of them in their natural habitat.


Note the bullet holes in the road sign above.  There isn’t much to do in rural Queensland on a Saturday night!

Big day for Madang next week.


Next Thursday the big one arrives.  It’s called the Pacific Dawn and it has 2000 passengers.  It will  be docked in Madang’s scrappy wharf for most of the day on Thursday, and the hope is that all of these wealthy tourists will be so sick of being cooped up on their luxury floating holiday camp  that they will want to walk the streets of Madang and buy things.

There will be a number of half-day trips organised but most of the visitors will probably just want to wander around town and explore.  The town is desperately trying to get itself organised  to make the best possible impression on the  cruise-ship passengers.  Young ‘ambassadors’ are being selected and trained to be available to help the visitors with any queries or problems they might have whilst on terra firma.  Pot-holes are supposed to be being repaired so that those tourists who hire bicycles don’t break their necks as they disappear into muddy holes in the road, never to return.  The Australian police, who are in PNG training the local constabulary, are being drafted in to help contain any threat of criminal behaviour.

I do hope that someone on board will be briefing the passengers about staying safe before they venture down the gang plank.  There was a small cruise ship in the harbor today, (That’s the third this year, which for a place like Madang is big potatoes.)  As  we drove through town this morning, we saw various small groups of tourists, clearly off the boat, wandering aimlessly around the town centre with their bags slung over their shoulders and their cameras on show.  The chances of a possibly violent bag-snatching incident are very high, and if that sort of thing happens, the cruise ships will just cross Madang off their itineraries and go somewhere safer.  That will be a great financial loss to the town, but more significantly, it will be a squandered opportunity to combat the negative publicity that Papua New Guinea always gets when it comes to international tourism.

If you put ‘Papua New Guinea’ into Google and press the button, you will learn about how culturally diverse PNG is, how wonderful the diving and snorkeling can be around the coast, but also how concerned you should be about the security situation.  If the cruise ships have trouble free visits each time they come, they could help PNG to rid itself of some of its dreadful reputation

Fingers crossed for Thursday.

Speak Australian -one word a day.

To background.  Verb.  To spread rumours behind someone’s back; to brief against someone.

I am sure that you will be relieved to hear that the Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has survived yesterday’s ‘spill’ motion and he has kept his job.

39 of his own MPs voted against him. 61 in favour.  No-one stood against to PM, so nearly 40 per cent of his own party said that they preferred nobody in particular to the present incumbent.  Watch this space.

In an attempt to instil some discipline into his own party Abbott said today that he would instantly sack anyone found ‘backgrounding’ against members of his cabinet.

Another new word for your burgeoning Australian vocabulary.  Enjoy!

Road-signs you don’t see every day. No 2


As soon as we left the city of Cairns at the start of our Australian adventure, we started to come across this sign.  I perhaps ought to own up here that, until this point, I had never even heard of a ‘cassowarie’, let alone seen one!

We were heading for the Danetree Rainforest, where these elusive birds lurk in the undergrowth.  Everyone told us that we would be lucky to actually see one, as they are very shy creatures and will disappear into the forest at the first sight of humans.

On our second day in the forest, we decided to take part in an ‘Ocean Safari” to go snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef, (more news of this to follow.)  In order to meet our boat we had to be on the road early in the morning and I think we were the first vehicle to travel along this particular stretch of road that morning.


Suddenly, about 100 metres ahead of us, ambling across the road, without a care in the world, was a real, live cassowarie!   I braked gently and rolled to a halt very close to the huge creature, only to find its mate grazing on the other side of the road.  Two cassowaries!  How exciting was that?

Quick!  Where’s the camera?  It’s not often you get the chance to photograph a cassowarie from such close quarters, let alone two!

Aaaaagh!  The camera was in the boot of the car, (or in the ‘trunk’ for my American readers, or ‘im Kofferraum’ for my German friends. If you are my reader in Mongolia or Palestine or Romania, you’re on your own!)  There was no way that I was going to get out of the car to retrieve my camera.  Linda also showed no great enthusiasm for venturing out of the safety of our vehicle, despite my entreaties.  I tried to point out that my eventual blog entry would be very much enhanced by some original close-up photos, taken in the early morning sunshine, but she was not to be moved.

So, dear reader, on this occasion, you’ll just have to take my word for the fact that we were within pecking distance of these two avian monsters.


They were quite beautiful creatures, but they looked rather more grumpy that I would have liked.  We kept our windows well and truly closed until the two birds lost interest in us and wandered away.


Australia is very keen to save the cassowarie, which, thanks to the conflict between housing development and wildlife preservation, is close to extinction.


The cassowarie is about the size of a small emu.  You wouldn’t want to run into one in your car/


Looking on the bright side, although cassowarie numbers in Australia are very low, it could be that Papua New Guinea could help.  A couple of million years ago, Papua New Guinea and Australia were part of the same land-mass and guess what?  PNG also has cassowaries!

Of course, in PNG, no-one will really know how many birds still survive in the wild and there is no campaign to preserve them, but an indication that they are considered part of Papua New Guinean culture is the fact that the bird appears on one of the  PNG coins, and that cassowarie feathers are a prized component of many traditional head-dresses.


And finally, the cruelest sign that we saw.imagesX8ZD419U

Speak Australian – one word a day!

And today’s word is ‘spill’.

Next Tuesday there is going to be a ‘spill’ in Australia, and it could result in the Prime Minister being toppled and replaced by someone else.

Tony Abbott is busy this weekend counting his friends and launching a charm offensive to try and neutralise his detractors.

If he succeeds, he’ll still be Prime Minister next Wednesday.  If he doesn’t, he can join the Premier of Queensland in looking for a new job.

His award of a knighthood to Prince Phillip was the last straw for many people.  Many people just didn’t believe that there was  a space on Prince Phillip’s mantelpiece that needed to be filled by one of Australia’s highest honours.

So, a ‘spill’ in Australian is what, in Britain, we call a ‘vote of no confidence.”

Use this word in your everyday conversation!

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