As I wrote in a recent post, I have begun to learn a little Japanese using Duolingo. What attracted me in the first place was the promised ‘Learn Japanese in 5 minutes a day’. I cannot usually read the blogs I follow, let alone comment on them as I like to do, over my morning tea (Yorkshire tea of course!); the same often applies to messages received on Messenger. But something ‘useful’ I could do in those few minutes appealed to me so I installed the duolingo app on my iPad.

Ten lessons completed I can say that ‘learning Japanese in 5 minutes a day’ is not quite true; ‘Learn a little Japanese in 5 minutes a day’ would be more true.

Mistakes?

In the first two or three lessons I was repeatedly clicking the ‘report’ button when what I was hearing (the ‘characters’ are vocalised, which is great) did not seem to match up with the ‘spelling’, in English characters, of the sound. There did not seem to be anywhere any explanations of this, or of many other things encountered in the lessons, which further confused me.

Hiragana, hirakana – let’s call the whole thing off!

At the most basic, each of the groups of ‘5 minute lessons’ is titled ‘Hiragana #’ but what on earth is Hiragana? It’s not the obvious ‘Lesson’ but a Japanese syllabary script, one component of the Japanese writing system. Note the “one component”!

However, there are only 48 Hiragana ‘characters’, so that doesn’t sound too bad. So, we are learning one Japanese syllabary script – Hiragana. Fine. Once you get the idea of using sounds rather than consonant plus vowel it’s not so bad, so vocalises as hi-ra-ka-na. I’m not going to get into the ‘ga’ being ‘ka’, there is no ‘ga’ as such, but you can understand why I was confused at the start.

Then, for some reason I cannot remember, I opened duolingo on my Macbook, not the ‘app’, and discovered another world. In particular I found there was a forum for each of the languages. So I posted a question on the Japanese forum, something like ‘Why are there so many mistakes in pronunciation?’. Almost immediately my question was answered (they were not ‘mistakes’) by other users. These answers made me trawl through many forum postings, by the end of which I knew much more about the Japanese language, and duolingo Japanese. That probably took me 12-24 5 minute lesson times.

Hang on! In the forum words like kana, kanji, katakana, are bandied about; what on earth are those? It turns out with research (thank goodness for Google and Wikipedia!) that kana are the syllabic Japanese scripts, including hiragana; katakana and kanji are others (note I didn’t say ‘the others’). I understand that to find your way about Japan, or to read a newspaper, you will have to learn about 2,000 Kanji ‘characters’, more complex like this 漢字 – that is ‘kanji’ written in kanji.

Put off?

I haven’t been but how much better it would have been if there was a short ‘introduction’ explaining these things, before you begin the lessons.

I don’t know whether some similar confusions exist for beginners with other languages; I could check with a language I know well – Romanian – or a few I know a little – French, Spanish, Italian – but to be honest I’d rather spend the time exploring other sources for the Japanese.

Not a classroom learner

Our fridge door. The magnets and ‘common English words), remaining from many more after some 14 years when Petronela was learning English, will be replaced by kanji when I begin to try to learn them.

Our fridge door. The magnets and ‘common English words), remaining from many more after some 14 years when Petronela was learning English, will be replaced by kanji when I begin to try to learn them.

I have never been good at learning languages in the classroom but picked up the essentials rapidly when living in, or visiting frequently, the respective country (France, Spain, Italy, Romania), but forgot them equally rapidly when that was no longer the case. So a little further down the road I’ll take the opportunity to speak with other learners or, if possible, Japanese natives.

When it comes to learning kanji, I’ll resort to what I did for my Romanian wife when she first came to the UK with no more than 8 words of English – cover the fridge in stickers, in her case common words, for me kanji ‘characters’. I already write the hiragana in a note book as I’m doing the lessons and I’ll begin to do that correctly following the guide I’ve found (see picture above).

It’s unlikely I’ll visit Japan again (I was there for about 2 weeks in the late ’60s). However, even now, ten lessons in, I see why I came to the conclusion instinctively, as I posted here, that ‘haiku’ written in English are not haiku at all. If my learning efforts allow me to write a haiku in Japanese with which I am satisfied it will all have been worthwhile.

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Photo of the Rex Cabernet Sauvignon bottleI can hardly believe that it’s taken me until now to discover Slovenian wine. Several decades ago, when I was a bit ‘wealthier’ than now, I used to buy ‘Grand cru’ wines by the case at auction. Despite this level of interest in wine I’d never heard of Slovenian wine. Shame!

I’d probably have passed by this odd-shaped bottle (red wine) had it not been for following a Slovenian writer/blogger for the past couple of years. That being so, I bought a bottle for interest (Vinakoper Rex Cabernet Sauvignon), quite prepared to find that it was rubbish. What a revelation: intense red, for me (and Petronela and our Saturday evening supper guest) just the right level a tannin coming through all the fruit. Just wonderful. I’ve since researched Slovenian wine and found that this tiny country is among the world’s earliest wine producers (also home to the world’s oldest fruit bearing vine, 400+ years old) turning out top class wines , particularly white wines but not exclusively, obviously. My ignorance is not entirely my fault; evidently until recently little was exported – they drank it all themselves.

From what I’ve read, the vintage I bought (2013) is probably not the best; it seems that 2012 is better so that must be astounding. Sadly, returning to buy another couple of bottles it was no more.

Better than Mary Berry? Did I dare to say that?

Photo of Six of the dozen soft hamburger rolls I made

Six of the dozen soft hamburger rolls I made

Having begun a ‘foodie’ blog, which I haven’t done for some time, I’ll continue but no recipes (though links to a couple), just a run down of our Saturday supper. As the ‘foodies’ among you will know, I rarely follow recipes to the letter but this time I did: Stefane’s grandmother’s Vichyssoise, which cannot be bettered; soft hamburger rolls from Veena Azmanov (they tasted great, beautifully soft, though too soft and sticky a dough to form well – I think I’d add more flour next time). My hamburgers are always based on ‘Biftek haché à la Lyonnaise‘ from Julia Childs, but never quite the same.

Really wicked chocolate mousse

For dessert I started with Mary Berry‘s ‘Wicked chocolate mousse‘ but made it a little more ‘wicked’. For my taste, Petronela’s and our guest’s I think even better than the celebrity cook’s version, less sweet, more intense chocolate taste and with a kick. How? Substituting 85% cocoa chocolate for 40% of the ‘plain chocolate’ specified by MB and dosing it with a little chilli. I served it with fresh strawberries. I’d recommend it.

The Slovenian wine would go well with anything like a steak or game, or such an intense chocolate dish.

My love affair with the fountain pen has continued and having written my first poem with it I’ve now hand written my first story with it and, what is more, read from the exercise book draft at our writers’ club (Writing on the Wharfe) meeting earlier today. I’m not sure I’ve finished with the story yet but I’m putting it below.

The result of my first couple of Japanese lessons, written in the same exercise book as the story posted here

The result of my first couple of Japanese lessons, written in the same exercise book as the story posted here

As I’ve also just begun to attempt to learn Japanese, having used the pen has given me an urge to write the Japanese characters with a calligraphic brush. Maybe later.

My writers’ club colleagues asked me why I’d suddenly decided to try to learn Japanese. Two motivations: a bit of new brain exercise; as followers of this blog will know I sometimes try to write haiku but recently came to the conclusion, as I posted at the time,  that they could only be written in Japanese so I don’t think any of the large numbers in English on internet are haiku, including my own.

I digress. Here’s my story:


The warm feeling flooded into his throat. He was surprised when it spread to his groin. He tried to see if the rather lovely young radiologist was touching him but he could not; the giant doughnut machine was in the way, just his head out on the side he could see.

“Are you feeling the warm sensation?” she asked.

“Yes, it’s rather pleasant,” he answered.

“Good. I’ll be back in a minute. Any problem just say; I can hear you.”

He strained to look to his right and could just see the cannula taped on the inside of his elbow, his blood making a pretty pattern under the transparent tape holding it in place.

“It’s just a dye,” she had said.

“Just!” he said to himself with a smile; “I reckon they’ve mixed it with Viagra.”

“Breathe in and hold your breath.” A different voice, female, gentle but with some authority.

A short time passed. “Breathe normally,” said the voice.

He slowly let the breath go and sank into a sleepy torpor as first his chest then, one by one, other parts of his body relaxed.

He sensed the table on which he was lying moving back through the doughnut until the whole of his body was outside the machine.

He felt someone lifting the flimsy surgical gown and sliding down his boxer shorts, which he’d been told to keep on.

“What’s going on,” he asked as that warm feeling began to return, not in his throat but in that place lower down. His throat was becoming dry . He swallowed hard as he felt something soft and warm cover first one of his thighs, then the other. Skin on skin he thought.

That gentle voice again.

“Don’t you move,” she said.

“My God, it must have been Viagra,” he thought.

“Hey, wake up, you’re not supposed to go to sleep in there.”

That gentle voice again, a little more urgent, penetrated his dream, just as it was getting interesting.

—–

My draft of my entry for the Ilkley Literature Festival, handwritten with the ‘new’ blue and black fountain pen. It was only copytyped on the iPad when finished, a couple of hours before the ‘performance’. I’ll hopefully grt the two ‘attic gems’ working soon.

My draft of my entry for the Ilkley Literature Festival, handwritten with the ‘new’ blue and black fountain pen. It was only copytyped on the iPad when finished, a couple of hours before the ‘performance’.
I’ll hopefully get the two ‘attic gems’ working soon.

I just made a breakthrough in my writing. I picked up a fountain pen.

I had not handwritten anything other than short notes since writing to my mother when I was first in Romania in 1993 and had no access to a computer; even then it was with a ballpoint. I found it very difficult, having been used to a computer for the previous ten years, and a typewriter before that, since becoming a journalist in the early ‘60s.

How welcome a handwritten ‘letter’ was

What prompted me to move to handwritten was the reaction of my former student Paula, now a Romanian high school teacher of English, to a handwritten note included in a packet I sent to her (one of my ‘attic gems’ – a special English course I wrote when teaching in Romania). She said it was wonderful to receive a handwritten ‘letter’. I promised to ‘keep in touch’ with handwritten letters from time to time (among brief encounters on Messenger) and as two more of my ‘attic gems’ were fountain pens I decided to go the whole hog and go to fountain pen. The two old ones were not working (I intend to fix them) so I acquired a new one.

Transformation

Having begun the first letter to Paula during the time I had to write my contribution to our writers’ club ‘performance’ at the Ilkley Literature Festival, I began to scribble my ‘poem’ in a primary school exercise book with the fountain pen. What a transformation!

Ideas tumbling out of the fountain pen

Firstly, the ideas tumbled out like never before. Secondly, I began to do something I’ve said I almost never do – edit what I’ve written, neither during nor after writing (this comes from journalism where I almost always had no time to edit – often writing as many as 60 stories a week including one or more long features). With the fountain pen I found myself crossing out, writing alternative lines, jotting down ideas as they came, making lists of rhyming words as I was following Lewis Carroll’s ABAAB rhyming scheme. All very strange to me.

Even stronger urge to write

Now, the urge to write ‘creatively’ is far stronger with a fountain pen in my hand. I wonder if this will bring my ‘novella’ out of it’s long hibernation. Or even extend it to be a novel.

This writing by hand doesn’t extend to what you might call ‘non-creative’ writing, like writing blog posts. Those are still written on the the iPad (more rarely on the MacBook). So this post is written on the iPad, as will be most future posts, but if they include some ‘creative writing’ you can be pretty sure that will have been written first on paper, with a fountain pen. The only disadvantage of writing by hand is that to include hand written pieces  in something ‘digital’ they have to be typed up on a digital device.

PS. My first, 10 page, letter to Paula, composed over a couple of weeks, was posted on Saturday morning.

I’d  be really interested to hear from others whether the medium with which they write influences their writing, particularly use of a fountain pen (or not).

You can read my finished ‘poem’ on a previous post, or hear me read it on the post of 5 October.

The inevitable 'group photo' after the performance - l to r: Jo, Sam, me, Kayla, Ruxandra, James, David, Bob, Johm, Martin and Sussi

The inevitable ‘group photo’ after the performance – l to r: Jo, Sam, me, Kayla, Ruxandra, James, David, Bob, Johm, Martin and Sussi

Youtube videos – over the past few days I’ve gained a lot of admiration for those who seem to roll them out regularly. Earlier I’d done a little editing of photos from our ‘performance’ at the Ilkley Literature Festival for my previous blog post. A doddle! But editing video is something else, for me.

Wanting to put titles, end credits, etc on the just over an hour of our writers’ club ‘performance’ at the Festival, I discovered I’d forgotten much of how to use my graphics program and video editor (2 years or more since I used them). An added complication was that one contribution to our ‘show’ (the first in order of appearance) had been entered into a competition for which rules state no previous publication or broadcast, so I had to take that out before making it ‘public’. Another cut had to be made for another reason so I had to work out how to make this not too ugly.

Superb flamenco guitar

If you appreciate superb guitar playing (Samuel Moore) it’s worth watching the video (our complete ‘performance’, with writers, lasted just about an hour).

Some good short stories

If you’re a writer you may enjoy our club writers reading their own pieces. If you want to avoid me reading mine (published in my previous post) I’m now ‘first up’ in the video as the first on the night has been cut at the writer’s request.

Of course I use only free programs, open source or those offering free basics but the possibility to pay for advanced facilities, which I do not. When in paid employment I used Adobe programs like Indesign, Photoshop and occasionally Illustrator, but I never needed to edit videos.

Scribus and NCH VideoPad

The graphics/publishing program I use now, Scribus, is excellent but rather quirky and with a steep learning (relearning) curve. Much the same can be said of the the video editor, NCH VideoPad. What I didn’t expect was the 2 hours 20 minutes to convert the VideoPad file (for a video of just over one hour) to something suitable for uploading to Youtube (.mp4). Maybe that’s down to my ancient MacBook. Even less expected was the 4+ hours to upload to Youtube (finally I went to bed and left it to it so it could have been much longer).

The inevitable 'group photo' after the performance - l to r: Jo, Sam, me, Kayla, Ruxandra, James, David, Bob, Johm, Martin and Sussi

The inevitable ‘group photo’ after the performance – l to r: Jo, Sam, me, Kayla, Ruxandra, James, David, Bob, Johm, Martin and Sussi

Presenting as part of the main Ilkley Literature Festival, one of the premium literature festivals in the UK, has to be a high point in the life so far of our local writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe. In the previous two years we have done a performance as part of the ‘Fringe’.

However, I doubt our wonderful founder and leader, Ruxandra Moore (neé Busoiu) will let us rest on our laurels. Full of energy and enthusiasm, she’s dragged us, sometimes screaming, from maybe half a dozen aspiring writers meeting in an Ilkley coffee bar to a group of around 20 confident enough to take to a stage occupied at other times during the Festival by some of the best writers in the country.

Evocation – in fact Evocation 3

Our Festival performance, titled ‘Evocation’, follows two broadly similar performances in Leeds Art Gallery earlier this year – eight writers from the club presenting a story or poem evoked by a painting in the gallery then an astounding flamenco guitarist, Samuel Moore, improvising music evoked by the picture and the words. Then I chose to write a short story, inspired by the Brontë sisters, particularly Emily.

For the Festival performance, on Saturday evening, we had just four pictures, photographs taken by a club member – Robert (Bob) Hamilton – of scenes around Ilkley, projected on a large screen behind us. Two writers presented in about four allocated minutes what one of the pictures evoked for them. Samuel then played what those two pieces and their picture evoked for him.

Many thanks to Petronela Prisca for the photographs and a video of the whole one hour ‘performance’, which I hope I can feature sometime in the future.

I was lucky in that I was ‘on’ second so could then relax and enjoy the others. My ‘partner’, Kayla Herbert, opened the ‘performance’ with a delightful short poem about witches. Its brevity allowed me a little over my four minutes.

Again inspired by a celebrated author from the past, but secondly also by a modern Yorkshire poet with whom I spent a great time on a barge on the Leeds-Liverpool canal in Leeds a couple of years ago, Matt Abbott. I chose to attempt to parody a poem, Phantasmagoria, by the first – no lesser person than Lewis Carroll – my spectre speaking in Yorkshire dialect. I’d never attempted such a parody before.

§

My ‘poem’ presented at the Festival and the photo is below, with ‘translation’ for those who don’t understand my attempts at Yorkshire dialect. (Click twice to magnify it enough to read).

Apologies to Lewis Carroll of course.

Phantasmagorias were a popular Victorian entertainment, where ‘scary’ images – ghosts, skeletons, etc were projected onto a screen, much like our Festival presentation but, of course, a different, earlier, ‘technology’.


From Rocky Valley, Ilkley Moor. Photo by Bob Hamilton

Brocken Spectre from Rocky Valley, Ilkley Moor. Photo by Bob Hamilton

My 'poem' presented at the Ilkley Literature Festival, with 'translation' for those who don't understand my attempts at Yorkshire dialect.

Photo of after rehearsal last Saturday. Full caption on the village website

After rehearsal last Saturday. Full caption on the village website

Winding myself up for next Saturday’s ‘performance’ at the Ilkley Literature Festival, including promoting as much as I can. I even put a link on my now almost unused Facebook and resurrected my ‘alternative village website’ on which I haven’t posted for over a year.

I won’t post my contribution until after the event – I think I’ll have to ‘translate’ my ‘Yorkshire dialect’ before posting.

There’s more information on the resurrected village site, if you want it.

https://wp.me/p3LVH3-1MU