29 April 2013

The ultimate positive spin

"We expect to gain a 15 minute extension to our journey time today", the "train manager"l has just announced, a propos a signalling fault between the Slough of Despond and Paddington. He went on to say this means an arrival time of 0930, which in the language spoken by ordinary people is 15 minutes late.
I am heartily sick of being lied to by the train operating company. Some years ago, their services were usually announced as "the slightly delayed First Great Western service to ...", so a stranger might assume the qualification was part of the company name, but they have rewritten the definition of "on time" so no qualification is needed except in extreme situations. When the dot matrix departure board on the platform tells me that the train is on time (the time posted being the timetabled departure time) yet it is not even visible half a mile down the line to the west, it is clearly late and they are therefore giving false information. As a Latin American fellow commuter remarked to me years ago, civil disorder on the station would be unavoidable in her home country. I never see her on the train these days - last time I saw her she had carved out a career in viticulture that minimised her need to commute to London.
I have spent a few hours in the past 24 putting a positive spin on my election address for the management committee of the Society of Authors. Having questioned the proposed constitutional reforms last years (both the substance and the process) and joined the task force set up to seek a better model, I would consider myself a hypocrite (not, perhaps of the most egregious stripe, but a hypocrite nonetheless) if I stood by and allowed a raft of candidates picked by a Magic Circle modelled on the one that brought in Home to succeed Supermac to be "elected" unopposed. William Horwood and Charles Palliser, also members of the task force, are doing likewise: we are, if you like, a slate, standing on a platform of democracy and transparency.
Yesterday also found me marking mock exams for my Russian students. As usual, too many demands on their time meant inadequate preparation and incomplete scripts. I cannot imagine trying to write an exam in a foreign language, even having to write in a foreign alphabet: surely you cannot write very quickly that way, and certainly the results can be rather untidy. One script was actually much easier to read than I had expected, in fact, and it was interesting to see how that student had formed Latin letters the Russian way (elaborate capital Ds for example. (Update: the train manager says that "the disruption is now complete", but contradicts the clear meaning of that statement by promising an earlier arrival time than previously advised.)
Another problem for the Russian students is reading the questions. The problem questions take a few minutes for me to read: were they in French it might take me four times as long, and I guess that's comparable to what my students have to do. And they miss things in the question: an English student would easily recognise that a question featuring the trade mark WONDERFUL will involve possible invalidity, but a foreign student can easily fail to appreciate that.
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