Cast ne’er a clout ‘til the pandemic be out

Clothing life after Covid by Daniel

I’m sitting here, thinking about which clothes I’m looking forward to wearing again after the pandemic finishes. What clothes could they be? ‘Fancy’ clothes for nights on the town? A suit for the théâtre? A tuxedo as I hang around in high class bars and pretend to be James Bond?
Do I miss all of those? Did I wear them before? Do I even remember that far back in time? The more I think, the more I realise that I, like most other people, have been working from home a lot. And one advantage of working from home is that we can wear casual, comfortable clothes all day. If you are reading this, ask yourself: Do I prefer to wear comfortable clothes? Are the ‘fancy’ clothes that I wear when going out for a night on the town really so comfortable? Do I prefer to be comfortable? Is there anything wrong with wearing your old, casual clothes to a restaurant? Is James Bond comfortable? I’m not sure; he never seems to smile much.
Well, my answer to that is comfortable is really…comfortable. And I like comfortable. So if I’m being honest, of all the bad and terrible things this pandemic has been, the comfy clothes have been one of the few positives. I hope we will continue to dress casually. When the pandemic ends and the world returns to normal, if I see someone walking down the street in their pyjamas, I will smile and give them a thumb’s up. I understand their choice

 

The Search for the Post-Pandemic Fashion Trend by Amy

“I have always had a very strong sense of fashion”

After all major crises, fashion has changed. After the constraints of the first world war, women’s fashion became more casual, in the 1930s and 40s, fashion had an escapist theme and maps were even printed onto clothes in case of emergency! In the 1960s, when the economy was robust and divorce rates were rising, there was a liberation of fabric and mini-skirts became all the rage. In the 70s, in reaction to the Vietnam War and Human Rights issues, people began to dress in camouflage, and this was adopted by designers on the catwalks…

People have influenced fashion throughout the ages:  think Jackie Kennedy, think Madonna, think Kim Kardashian, think my personal favourite: Boris Johnson …..!

But the question now is, how will Covid-19 affect the fashion industry? Already, we are seeing a conflict of tastes between indoorwear and outdoorwear with social media fans warring between wfhfits (‘working from home’ wear) and #goingnowherebutfuckitimgettingdressed (no explanation required here).

My predictions for the fashion industry are the following:

– with our growing awareness about the environment, the clothes of the future will be sustainable and use organic products, like cactus (without the spikes obviously);

– there will be a movement away from high street designers who produce in mass and a preference for local designers making one-off pieces (watch this space for ELC’s favourites in the coming months);   

– With months spent at home, people will have developed sewing and knitting skills and will begin making or transforming their own clothes, creat ing a fabulous world of unique personal pieces, and

– All new clothes will contain little pockets for emergency items like hand sanitizer, phone rechargers and a roll of toilet paper (one never knows).

 

 

“Do clothes make the man?” By Nick

For longer than I care to remember, I’ve used clothes as a kind of armour. Fitting the clothes to the occasion has always felt like deflecting potential criticism from my imagined weaknesses: if the clothes look good, then the man inside must be worth something.

It’s a vain and superficial façade. It always has been, but society thrives on vain and superficial façades; good suits suggest success and often the suggestion of success is enough to boost your income.

At the same time, dressing up is also a game of seduction and sensitivity: the clothes you choose reflect what you feel about the people you are to meet during the day and may reflect ease, empathy or a power play.

But all that was before the pandemic.

After a year of Zooming and Teamsing from home, where the half-hour commute to work has been reduced to the 10-second walk from my bedroom to my study and nobody sees anything of me below my shoulders, I’m pleased enough if my face is washed, my hair brushed and my shirt not too creased. The idea of choosing an outfit, putting on my best shoes and a dazzling tie is something I can no longer get my head around. After all, what’s the point? And strangely, I don’t feel any less of a person as a result. Was all the worrying about clothes, and image and armouring myself against the world a complete waste of time?

Now, the end of pandemic life is in sight. Slowly but surely, we’re getting vaccinated and we will arrive at a level of herd immunity that means going to the restaurant or meeting a client for a coffee will be both possible and desirable.

And then, nothing will stop me from putting on my glad rags and dressing up to the nines. I can’t wait to walk out again sporting that vain, superficial façade…!

 

Searching for my “Sole” Mate by Katie

Why is it that no matter how many millions of pairs of socks I buy, I never seem to have any?

It is one of life’s great mysteries!

I have a sock box full of sad, lonely, single socks and I have no idea where their partners are. Did the washing machine eat them?   Does someone break into my house every night to steal one sock? Or did I even buy a pair in the first place? Since the first lockdown, I have appreciated my socks even more than usual as I have exchanged my high heels for slippers and comfortable trainers so socks are an essential part of my outfit. And there are so many varieties….animals, spots, stripes, flowers, the possibilities are endless. I have even seen ones that make you look like you have chicken legs. Amazing!

Socks also often appear in many English idioms:  if we feel sorry for someone we say “bless his cotton socks!”, (‘Bénissons ses petites chaussettes en coton”), if someone needs to work harder, we tell them to “pull their socks up” (Remonte tes chaussettes!’), if something surprises you it “knocks your socks off”! (“Ca m’a fait tomber les chaussettes!”)

The humble sock is a wonderful and underestimated thing, and if any friends or family are reading this…. a very welcome present (just make sure there are two!)

ELC meets TED

As our avid readers will surely know, ELC has a particular passion for TED. For those of you who do not yet know the TED conferences, they bring together people with fascinating stories, innovative ideas, and positive messages for the world. Their motto is “Ideas Worth Spreading…” and their initials stand for Technology Entertainment and Design. ELC has been both a sponsor and part of the organisational team since 2017 and is very proud to present this year’s event. True, the talks are in French (for now … once uploaded to the TED website, they will be translated and subtitled into English) but as you are so important, we thought you might like quick preview …. Beware, the link will only be available for a week, but it is definitely worth viewing! The speakers are moving, inspirational and touching. We hope you love them as much as us.

You can see part 1 here  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pT6Wf8OUHvo and part 2 here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMqFfldE2yA

 

Beware the Ides of March – Upper-inters

2020-21 The Journal of a Pandemic year

Two young blonds and an escaped sheep enjoy a picnic in the carefree 1980s.

I have just had an incredible thought. It may have been intentional. It may have been a co-incidence, but when I think back to my A-levels studies in German, French and English literature, no less than five of my compulsory novels were about people living in lockdown. And if I could remember ANYTHING at all about my A-level German novels, I am sure I could find more! 

The first was Sartre’s “Huis Clos”: three people living together in a room with constant light and no eyelids, condemned to live out the rest of their existence in each other’s excruciating company.

The second was Jean Anouilh’s: “La Belle Vie” the last aristocratic family in an imaginary country, spared from execution as long as they live as they lived before … eating, drinking, gambling, general debauchery … but from inside a museum where the people can come an observe them like animals in a zoo.

The third was Shakespeare’s “Tempest”: a ship carrying a prince and his crew is caught in a magical storm and crashes onto an island, leaving them in the company of precisely the people they usurped ten years before. Tense party atmosphere guaranteed.

The fourth was Daniel Defoe’s “Journal of the Plague Year”: A detailed account of the lockdown in London in 1665 during the outbreak of the bubonic plague. Lots of descriptions of boils. Nice.

The fifth was Camus’ “La Peste”. Need I say more?

I can only imagine that someone, somewhere in the universe was preparing me for the great Huis Clos Plague Year of March 2020-21.

I am happy to report that my experience was more Belle Vie than Huis Clos (minus the threat of execution of course). And who knows? The phenomenon of living in confinement has inspired great men and women to write some of the finest works of literature in the whole world. Maybe in 300 years, people will say the same of the ELC blog! Now wouldn’t that be nice? 🙂

 

Beware the Ides of March – Advanced learners

The Ides of March continue their grim work as Nick is garrotted by his own necklace.

‘Beware the Ides of March,’ the soothsayer warns Julius Caesar. Perhaps we should too. One year ago, the Ides of March, the ancient Roman name for 15th March, marked the beginning of lockdown in France. With a grimdetermination, we locked ourselves down, put on our masks, sanitised our hands and stopped seeing friends and all but our closest families. Somehow, we were sure our small sacrifices would ensure our survival.

Julius Caesar believed he need not worry too much about the soothsayer’s warning. But on 15th March in the year 44 B.C., he was stabbed to death for treason.

Over the past year, 118 million people have been infected with coronavirus, and 2.6 million have died. The Ides of March 2021 bring a warning of continuing infection, uncertainty as regards governmental and social strategy as we all grow tired of the monotony of living with the pandemic; meanwhile new variants are running wild throughout the world.

Nevertheless, vaccines exist and slowly our populations are being inoculated. We can begin to see a way out. But, like the Roman empire after the death of Julius Caesar, we are at a crossroads: for them, it was the choice between the populist Marc Antony and his strong-arm tactics, or the idealistic Brutus and the rule of the people. For us, it is the choice between the return to the old normal, with its known imperfections and comforting certainties, or the construction of a new, fairer, less polluting and more equitable world. I know what my preference is but I am not sure to have the courage to enact change.

Soothsayer Augure
Grim determination Détermination inébranlable
To stab Poignarder

Beware the Ides of March – Intermediates

Beware the Ides Flies of March!

Marseille put on high alert as giant horsefly roams the Vieux Port, attacking passers-by.

While I really like the month of March, it has given us many memorable experiences and expressions over history, and not all are good. For example, the Ides of March was an important Roman religious date, famous for being the day when Julius Caesar found out that knives are really sharp. The term March Madness refers to an important basketball competition for American colleges, when supporters get a little crazy from all the excitement. The expression ‘Mad as a March Hare’ refers to the European Hare (lièvre), which has its peak breeding season (saison des amour) in March, during which they all—much like American Basketball fans—go a little crazy with all the excitement.  A number of disasters have also happened during March: in 1562 the Guerres de Religion began in Vassy; in 1909 the Titanic sank; in 1918 the ‘Spanish Flu’ officially started, and; in Japan in 2011 the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster happened, just to name a few examples. Is March bad luck? I hope not, but the month does have some explaining to do!

 Actually, the purpose of this text is to introduce the most diabolical (diabolique) thing associated with the word ‘march’—the March Fly. The March Fly is known as a taon in France, and as a horsefly in the US and other countries. If you’ve ever spent time with this little guy, you’ll know that its job is to terrorise you, sucking your blood and leaving you with painful reminders. It’s like a giant mosquito with a bad attitude. The name March Fly comes from the UK, and refers to the time of year when they first start to appear (March, at the start of Spring).

Much like a hole in the bottom of your boat, the March Fly is very good at being annoying. It’s known for its stinging bite (morsure cinglante). Usually, you will be minding your own business, enjoying life, and the first sign that you are in trouble is when you spot (repérer) one of them sitting on something, staring at you with its beady (perçant) little eyes. Now, at this stage, like any good horror movie, you can run but it’s too late to hide (se cacher). You can try to watch them, or shoo (déguerpir) them away, but sooner or later you will look away for a moment and then it will disappear. Dun dun dun! where has it gone…? You can try to pretend everything is ok, but you know that everything is not ok. Thirty seconds passes. A minute. Did it leave? No! Suddenly you feel a sting (piqûre) on your arm or leg. It’s got you! You try to hit it, but it flies away. Will it get you again? Most likely. The stress….

Beware the Ides of March – Beginners

A Year in the M***e

Katie celebrates a new delivery of toilet paper with her friends.

I love an excuse to celebrate : Birthdays, anniversaries, festivals, the list goes on, but this month we’re celebrating” a year of living with Covid.

When I look at the photos on my phone or my Facebook feed at the beginning of last year, I see images of my family and me enjoying our carefree lives. No masks, no curfews, and not a second thought to toilet paper !

I have been lucky (touch wood!), and I’m grateful for that, but I know people who haven’t: people who have lost loved ones, people who had difficulties at work and people who have suffered from the effects of the virus. On the positive side, I also know people who have created new life during the pandemic, found new relationships, reinforced existing relationships and have found inspiration and creativity. The only regret is that I cannot share these moments with them in person.

My hopes now are simple: I want my young daughter to see the green rolling hills of England and feel the embrace of her English grandparents. And maybe in the future we will have a National Lockdown Day every March when we wear party masks, have a drink with family and friends or kiss strangers in the street.

Right now, I’m celebrating life. Spring is here, flowers are blooming, birds are singing and I’m setting up a virtual party with my BFFs in the UK. A perfect excuse to celebrate and buy some more wine! Cheers!

ELC gains a member

It is with great pleasure that I say hello to you, and I do hope you have been staying safe and out of the wind as winter wraps itself around this beautiful city. Though having spent the previous six years living in Milan, I do prefer the winter here than further north!

I’ve been in this city now for about 3 months, and though I’ve spent several short periods of time living in Marseilles in the past—I was actually married here, in 2013—it’s only been this time that I’ve really been discovering the beauty of the city and surrounds. The sea! The calanques! The range of opportunity for getting outside and enjoying the nature is amazing, and I plan to make the most of it during my time here, which I hope is for a long time to come. As an Australian, spending time outdoors and in nature is a big part of my life, and as I jog along the coastline, hike through the parks, or throw a fishing line in the water I can see that it is the same for the people of Marseilles.

My path to Marseille has taken 43 years to achieve and has had some interesting stops along the way. I spent my 20s in the Australian Army, where I was a member of the Royal Australian Engineers corps. In that capacity I completed 2 tours of Iraq, in 2006 and 2007. I left just before I turned 30, and after a 6-month stay in Biarritz I headed back to Australia to complete a university degree in French and classical languages. I spent several years working for a casino and hotel group as their customer feedback coordinator. After that I spent some time working for a major subcontractor for an Australian national project to upgrade the country’s internet infrastructure. During this time, I also completed the CELTA course to teach English. After a short stint teaching in Australia, I moved to Italy in 2014 to join my wife, who had moved there to complete her PhD in neuroscience, and began teaching fulltime. In Italy I first spent a number of months in Genoa, and then we moved to Milan where my wife completed her studies. After another year of teaching, I also began working on didactic projects, where I was responsible for creating tests and programmes, and training teachers and staff. During these years I’ve developed a strong affinity for methodology, test design, and especially for spoken fluency. As someone who has studied several languages, I have a lot of personal experience with the struggle and uncertainty that comes with learning a language, and I do my best to use that knowledge when teaching and creating lessons and programmes. I like to focus on the things that block us when we speak—as you will know, there is a lot of language knowledge in your head, but it’s difficult to find the words quickly when you speak —and work on removing them.

So, it is with that experience, and that focus on really improving your spoken fluency, that I have come to Marseilles, to ELC. I’m incredibly fortunate to be involved with English Language Consulting, and to be able to benefit from the experience and positivity of Amy and all the team. I do hope that I get a chance to meet you and say hello, if I haven’t already. And if you see someone fishing or hiking that looks like the guy in the photograph, don’t hesitate to stop me and share your favourite nature locations!

Happy New Year, but before you forget 2020 …!

As per the usual tradition, ELC will be presenting its very annoying Quiz of the Year to all its lucky readers. How much do you remember of what happened during the pandemic? What were the main geopolitical hot spots of the year, what happened in the sports industry (not a lot, admittedly), and just what did Kim Kardashian get for her 40th birthday?! Suspense!! http://www.englishlanguageconsulting.com/big-fat-quiz-of-the-year-student-version/

ELC goes green

Amy barks up the wrong tree

I have always loved plants.
When I was an infant child, my mother used to stimulate me by asking me to point to the different species growing around the house whilst I sat in my pushchair. “Where’s the begonia?” she would say, and I would smile sweetly, while thinking “Yes, but do you mean the “begonia semperflorens” or the “begonia coccinea”, mother?”

When I grew up and went to university, my mother bought a Baby Tears plant (or “Soleirolia soleirolii” for those plant lovers among you) and explained to me that she would always know whether I was happy or not at university if the Baby Tears was green and healthy or not. From then on, the Baby Tears became something of an obsession and when I came home during the holidays, one of the first things I would do was to check whether my plant avatar was indeed happy and healthy. If it wasn’t, I would take myself straight down to the local pharmacy for a dose of vitamins and then straight down the pub for some natural fertilizer.

When I met my partner in Marseille, I was living in a flat with morning glory (“Ipomoea nil”) creeping up the outside walls and threatening to come in through the front door, and ivy (“Hedera Helix”) growing up the inside walls and threatening to strangle me as I slept. In spite of my obvious first love for greenery, he still decided to stay.

And now, we are lucky to have our own plant babies. Lili and Lulu, (in human form), the most beautiful flowers of the valley, and, since September this year, 30 olive trees which we will love and care for while we comb their lovely branches for olives this month, for it is harvest month and we are about to make our very first olive oil.

Very proud!

Thoughts from an Italian Garden

In this strange, unsettling year of 2020 where even the most ordinary things have taken on extraordinary dimensions so that we no longer know if we’re living in March, June or November, the simple rules of social living have gone out of the window and we’re not quite sure if it will ever end, I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy the unchanging cycles of the seasons in my garden, here in the south of Italy.

The first lockdown coincided with the advent of spring which meant I had the time to plant and prune as the roses and hydrangeas began to bud. At the same time, the birds started mating and I had to do the hard work of cleaning up after the ravages of winter: of course, my machinery was all seized up after four months of disuse and it took weeks to get the wild grass eliminated and to scrub down the patio and pathways. But the cats followed me around and basked in the sun, a pair of peregrine falcons nested in the camphor tree and little by little, the garden became a mass of green and colour as the scent of wisteria filled the house.

As spring turned to summer and the heat stopped up all desire to work, I took to basking like the cats, or staying late into the night talking with friends, the background sounds of cicadas giving way to the crickets and the occasional night-owl. Colour was everywhere: the bright yellow lantana, the purple South African plant whose name I don’t know, the red, white and pink roses, the bottle brush trees and the clouds of daisies and gaura, with a hundred butterflies flitting through the haze. If it were not for the mosquitoes, it would have been paradise.

Now, as we prepare for another lockdown, it’s autumn, the nights are drawing in and the leaves are falling. The roses are flowering again and in these mild days of an ending October the coral tree dominates the garden with its tall spikes of red flowers. But the nights are growing cold and I need to chop wood and prepare for the winter days ahead.

Many things have changed this year, but as I prepare to cook the mushrooms we picked this afternoon in the forest, some things never change.

Nick.

 

Green fingers by Katie

In Yorkshire, I grew up surrounded by green. My family lived next to a wood and our garden was small but abundant with wild flowers, thick grass, invasive ivy and three silver birch trees.
We even had an extra plot of land where my father would show me how to grow all sorts of vegetables like peas, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots and we’d often have competitions to grow the highest sunflower.

Moving to Marseille, I realised that I had taken all this greenery for granted and how much I owed to the English weather. I tried to fill my life with plants but little did they know that it was just the beginning of my reign of terror. I shamefully started accumulating pots of soil and dead twigs, unable to throw them out.

Then, when I moved into a new flat with my husband, my mother-in-law bought me a yucca as a house warming gift. She was well aware of my reputation as a notorious plant killer so she told me she had chosen something that needed the least attention possible.
“Maybe this is the one”, I thought to myself. The next day I chose a bright pink pot for “Yuccalanda”, repotted her and lovingly placed her in the corner of my balcony. There she stood for the next few years; through mistrals, rainstorms, scorching summers. Never complaining, just surviving.

I must admit, once she’d accumulated a few spiders, my visits became less and less frequent. (Also, I had a real baby and choices were made.) Until one day, I went out to my balcony to visit her and found that she had given up and wilted. Disappointed in myself, I gave her some water (for old times’ sake) and left her in her corner.

Happily, this wasn’t the end for my tenacious Yucca because the very next month, new leaves were already sprouting. Like a phoenix, but green!

Proof that even when times are tough and space is restricted, life still finds a way and we should never give up hope.

I certainly won’t give up until I’m once again surrounded by green and with Yuccalanda by my side, I can do anything!

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ELC reads some books

Summer is a time I always put aside to catch up on the numerous books that I have wanted to read during the year. I put my subscriptions to newspapers on standby and instead turn to the joys of “real reading”.

On a trip to Book-In-Bar in Aix in July, I was drawn to the recently published “Too Much and Never Enough” by Mary Trump, niece to Donald, and, in spite of my misgivings, decided to buy it.

There is nothing in this book which will make you change your mind about Donald Trump. If you are an avid fan, you won’t read it, if you are not, then you will not suddenly find yourself suddenly sympathetic to the family and the man. There are no state secrets revealed, nor are there any surprises about his personality.

The book is more a chronological account of the Trump family, from Donald’s grandfather who fled Germany so as not to do his military service, to Donald’s father, who used state subsidies to become a highly wealthy (and rather unscrupulous) property-dealer, to the five children, including Mary’s father, Fred who died of a heart attack, aged 42 …

Now a clinical psychologist, Mary Trump describes the lack of empathy in the family which creates the sociopathic behaviour in later life: Fred Senior’s emotional absence creates either complete neurosis in some of his children or the hugely inflated ego that we recognise in Donald.

There is also insight about Trump’s ineptitudes as a businessman and the numerous bankruptcies which occur as a result of his out-of-control spending, his lack of business acumen, his ability to listen to anyone and his over-riding feeling that he is always the most intelligent man in the room.

As daughter of Donald’s “loser brother”, and someone who was written out of the biggest part of the Trump fortune, there is always a little feeling that “Too Much and Never Enough” is revenge for a life of family injustice, but the book is an interesting insight into the dysfunctional and twisted world of the Trumps and it is definitely worth reading.     

By Amy


 

The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante

Over the summer I allowed myself the pleasure of rereading the four Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante back-to-back.

If you are unfamiliar with the books they trace the relationship between the narrator, Elena and her best friend Lila, from their childhood in the years just after the second world war to their late middle age. There are three main reasons why I find them compelling reading: the quality of the writing; the lucid and honest exposition of feeling that bleeds into thought and action; the evocation of Naples as an active participant in the lives of the characters.

Ferrante’s writing is direct, concrete and focused. Her detailing of childhood friendship with its passion, misunderstandings, jealousies and reconciliations is so accurate it makes you feel you are reliving your childhood in a new setting. The directness can be breathtaking, because rooted in physical reality: the concreteness makes you feel emotions physically, the focus allows you to share in the intensity. Greater even than this is her ability to show how deeply childhood is the foundation for future life, and how the insecurities of youth infect the certainties of adulthood. We understand deeply how the ‘brilliant friend’ of childhood becomes the empty parallel of unfulfilment in later life, a blank mirror for the unsuccessful relationships that lurk beneath outward success.

Accompanying this, or rather, omnipresent in this, is the fact of Naples itself, developing as the characters grow up. Like Marseilles, and very few other cities in my experience, Naples is a city that you are forced to relate to, it is never a passive background to people’s lives – it takes an active part in them. In the novels, Naples is at first the simple neighborhood where the girls grow up, with its unspoken rules, its clan-like mentality and grinding poverty; then the changing, broadening perspective as the city opens up with increasing prosperity and hot water; finally it is menacing, a mockery of ambition.

If you have not read the novels, I encourage you to do so.

By Nick


 

Mo Willem’s Goldilocks and the three dinosaurs.

A small girl learns an important life lesson while trespassing in a suspiciously large house. If you like adventure and chocolate pudding, then this is the book for you. An emotional rollercoaster set in a time when dinosaurs and humans coexist. Packed with highs (Papa Dinosaur’s chair), lows (the brazen youth of today) and mystery (why is one of the dinosaurs Swedish?). All with a simple yet invaluable moral to conclude:Lock your doors!

Julia Donaldson’s A Squash and a Squeeze.

A perfect book to read during a lockdown. A thought-provoking story about an elderly lady living alone, who takes dubious advice from a “wise” old man. You can really sympathise with the old lady in her small house filled with bad mannered farm animals, but don’t worry, the story has a satisfying ending….and no animals were harmed in this book.

By Katie (and Maddie)