Friday, December 19, 2014

Funniest events of the year in the Oude Haven

There's always something happening here in the Oude Haven - to me that is. One of the things I love about life on board is the potential for hilarity, half of which I manage to conjure up all by myself; the rest happens as a result of this rather special world in which I live - for which I take no credit at all.

So, I thought I'd dig into my memories of this year's happenings and see if I could post a few of the funnies; I may have mentioned some of these before, or even elsewhere. If so, forgive the repeats, but fair's fair, if the TV stations can get away with it, so can I!

The first of these was by far the most amusing of the situations in which I am often used as a local expert (see previous post on the subject). 

One afternoon in June, I was cleaning the barge - as is my wont when I need to ponder on the world - and while rinsing down the foredeck, a man stopped:

"Good afternoon" he said - very slowly. He had a strong accent which I guessed was German.

"Hello," I responded, also slow-ly - with what I hoped was a cheery smile.

"Are you cleaning?" he asked me very care-ful-ly.

"Yes," said I…slow..well, you get the idea.

He then proceeded to introduce me to his Bulgarian girlfriend and we talked about the boats and the history of the harbour. He asked me about the Vereeniging and whether I ever sailed with it. Altogether we had a very pleasant chat, all of which was conducted at about 16 rpm (if any of you readers remember such a ponderous pace).

Eventually, he put his arm round his girlfriend's shoulder and said by way of parting.

"By..the..way, I'"

With that, they both waved and wandered off.

It was just as well they didn't see me choke.

Talk about mistaken identities, or even double identities! It just goes to show how wrong our assumptions can be, doesn't it? Well, he didn't ask, but then neither did I. Still, it had me chuckling for the rest of the day.

And just because it's Christmas
the Christmas tree at the yard under the crane

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Audience? What's that then?

This is a post I've had as a draft since last year and never published. It seems quite a good moment to post it now as I'm in the same place again teaching-wise, not to mention being too immersed in work to write a new one. 

Just in case any of you don't know this by now, I'm a teacher. It's how I make my living and it's the day job I'm not about to give up because truth to tell, I really enjoy it. I know, I know. I moan and groan about having to work, but the rewards of really helping my students achieve something they've previously been unable to do is verging on addictive. Oh did I mention that my subject is writing? In English. Surprised? No, well, maybe not.

Sometimes I teach oral English skills. I'm doing that now with two groups of first year International Business students. They are a delight, but as yet, they haven't grasped the fact that seventy percent of their oral communication is about non-oral communication and reaching out to their listeners or audience needs more than mere words.

Like most teenagers, they think that surly and sulky looks lean and mean. They'll learn in time that a smile will leapfrog the inch and carry them a mile. They'll also learn that while accuracy in spoken language is admirable, it's something few people - even native speakers - achieve, so it's not the most important consideration.

Mostly, though, I teach writing skills to Master's students, Phd'ers and administrative staff, and I love that. I feel that accuracy and variety of language are much more important in the written than in the spoken word - not that I count myself as any kind of expert, especially as I'm nowhere in the PhD'ers league. But what I can help them to understand is the importance of knowing that whatever they write is largely determined by the expectations of those reading it. It's also about the craftsmanship of putting ideas, thoughts and opinions into textual form in a way that exactly suits the reader - or as we like to call it, the audience.

As a writing teacher, I've become very aware that this aspect is often ignored but incredibly important. I show my students models to demonstrate the difference between an academic text, a narrative text and a business text - how to say essentially the same thing for three different readers. It amazes them, and to be honest, it still amazes me too. I love the fact that we can re-shape, re-structure and re-package our language in this way and for me, this is one of the major delights of the written word.

So which style do I like best? That's hard to say. One of the most appreciative audiences I've ever had consisted of the management of the health insurance company where I worked for ten years in South Africa. It was my job to write the 'visit reports' - accounts of meetings with member firms I'd been to see as part of my job as assistant marketing manager. In theory, these should have been dry factual accounts, but I enjoyed adding my own take to the reports; brief descriptions of the people I'd met, the offices they worked in or the other employees in the firms, so in truth they were more like short articles or interviews than minutes of meetings. That said, if the managers hadn't told me they looked forward to reading my weekly write-ups, or if they'd criticised my style, I'm sure I'd have changed it, but my audience was receptive and so I carried on.

This brings me to the point that isn't really much of a point. I'm just rambling really. But the point is (yes?) it doesn't matter so much what you write as long as you write it right for the right types. So that's it. The audience is what matters, and in a language generally regarded as being 'writer responsible', it's our task to keep our readers happy by writing in a style they expect and like for the content they've chosen to read.

Sounds easy doesn't it? Well luckily for the teacher me it isn't, because if it were, I'd be out of a job. For the writer me, well that's another story. I wish it were just a bit easier to find the right audience…but I'll keep trying.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

My fourteenth Christmas

This year's harbour lights
My first Christmas in the Oude Haven was at the end of 2001, so this is my fourteenth end of year festive season as the proud caretaker of my lovely Vereeniging. Every year, the winter seems to change. Some are just plain cold, but not enough to stop us having the occasional spuddle. The photo below is one from December 2008, when my daughter and I decided to go for a row with a broom and a homemade paddle (we really did - and they worked perfectly!). Yesterday, we went for another spuddle, except this time we had a smart electric motor and a battery on my increasingly decrepit little rowing boat. Now you'd think that would be much more efficient, wouldn't you?

Well, the occasion will enter the annals of the ridiculously memorable because we wired the motor up the wrong way so everything was in reverse. I'd done about four pirouettes before my daughter grabbed the tiller and figured out that reverse was forwards and left was right! I did feel an idiot, but in hindsight it must have looked very funny.

The fact that we were trying to tow another rowing boat 'to help out' a poor neighbour who was rowing against the current just made things even funnier. Poor Bas didn't know what we were up to except that we were running rings round him. It was icy cold, but I wish I'd had a camera on me to capture the moment.

Then there are the snowy Christmas seasons. I know everyone seems to think we've not had a proper winter in years, but I have photos to prove otherwise. These three were taken in 2009, one of the prettiest winters we've had with lots of real snow and icicles as well as plenty of sunshine to make it all sparkle. Children playing ice hockey on the canals made a beautiful scene and everything was frozen solid.

This one below was, I think, earlier, but I don't know exactly when. The trees on the quayside have been gone for years, so I suspect it was back in 2005 or 2006. My photos are not always dated very well as the cameras were not set to the right date and time on occasions. Needless to say, this was a very snowy winter in the Oude Haven.

Last winter was unusual in that we had no snow, no frost and everything remained growing, even my annual primulas, begonias and geraniums. They all survived to flower again this spring. This last week, though, we had the coldest days since the winter of 2012/2013 so maybe things will be back to normal again. Much as I hate the cold, I think it's probably a good thing. The earth and the land need the ice and frost to kill the bugs, and snow gives lots of good things to the ground, but even still, I'd prefer not to have too much of the white stuff. Give me freezing temps with sparkling sun rather than this kind of whitout.

That aside, Christmas in the harbour is lovely as many of the barges put up lights in their rigging. This year, lighting up evening will be next Friday, so here's a taste of what's to come. I know I've shown this one before, but I love the atmosphere. This was Christmas 2006.

I'll be keeping my head in my books over the next few weeks, so I'll take this opportunity to wish you all a lovely holiday wherever you're going or what you're doing. May it be peaceful and joyous whatever your persuasion. I won't sign off completely as I might post again, but for now…

Happy holidays and blessings to those who value the season's spiritual message XX