Boris’ Johnson

Alex and I are in Carcassonne, and it’s the most obnoxiously beautiful city I’ve ever been to.


See? Damn.

Yesterday evening we had a wine-fuelled picnic on the ramparts before returning to a bar themed around Medieval japery that we’d found earlier in the day.

As we paid the owner overheard our accents, then revealed himself as an Englishman and asked for our stances on the EU referendum. When we said we’d be voting in he offered us each a free pint in exchange for a conversation about the issue (“I don’t get to talk to British people very often”).

We’d have been mad to say no.

He took us to a table, the promised pints arrived, and he launched straight into an unsettlingly mad spiel about the referendum being part of an overarching Tory conspiracy to reinstate the serving class, almost exclusively for the purpose of giving Boris Johnson endless sexual favours.

He was also convinced that upon Brexit, Scotland and Wales would become independent and the Tories would  break the country down even further into individual city states, with a Tory as mayor of each one (“they’re great at winning mayoral elections”, he assured us).

But let’s focus on the sexual allegations.

Boris Johnson

The allegations are, presumably, false.

If he is to be believed*, Boris has bought none of his own merit to the role of mayor and is just copying Ken Livingstone’s plans verbatim. His energies have instead been focussed on creating unusually small new-build houses in the suburbs that, when we leave EU and certain laws no longer affect us, will be filled with peasants kept in artificial poverty.

Young ladies within that demographic will be obliged to fulfil Boris’ (and other senior Tories’) every whim.

(A mad glint in the owner’s eye accompanied this claim).

The whole time he was ranting I was searching for ways to escape (the promised ‘conversation’ never materialised). Alex and I were next to each other rather than opposite so we couldn’t exchange urgent glances, and he was too far away to give a subtle nudge. We had no choice but to finish our pints while listening to endless madness.

Attempts to change the flow of conversation were futile, too. Asking about his youth bought tales of an autistic Nazi father who raised 12 children: 6 of whom joined the RAF, the other 6 the Luftwaffe (and who only liked the Nazis “for their uniforms”). Asking his opinion on perceptions of the Irish after The Troubles bought a protracted Islamophobic rant.

In short, it was nuts.

We’re still on the fence as to whether it was worth a free pint.

* Very important note: I in no way condone or endorse this guy’s viewpoints.

Abandoning Books

I just finished reading For Whom the Bell Tolls, which is a pretty good book. I finished it on the ferry from Poole to Jersey, and decided to leave it in a pub there with a note in the front to see if anyone would pick it up / get in touch.

I wrote:


I’m Chris. I read this from 24/3/16 to 3/4/16, then I left it on a table in a pub on Jersey. I was on my way to St Malo, then onto Bordeaux by bicycle.

I’ve always wondered whether:

  • People look in books they find
  • People will get in touch if given the chance
  • People will share the book again when they’re finished with it

If you’re reading this you’ve already answered #1! For #2, send me an email at  it’d be great to hear from you. Then you can decide what to do about #3 🙂

I recommend reading – long story but it’s well told.

Bon journée!



Haven’t heard anything yet…


Out of curiosity I’m poking around work I did 4-5 years ago, and it’s cementing my opinion on just how futile it was.

Such masterpieces as “7 ways to increase your success at trade shows” and “5 ways to go green while exhibiting” will not be counted among humanity’s greatest achievements when our species is judged on its contributions to the universe.

But, all things considered, I’m OK with that.

The (lack of) quality of such pieces of writing, along with changes in how Google works, means they’ve consigned themselves relatively automatically to the waste-bin of history, and probably no one will ever find them (I struggled and I wrote them in the first place).

As a means of earning money, writing benign bullshit wasn’t particularly objectionable. Before changes to Google there was value for the clients too, so my conscience is clear.

It’s an interesting prompt, knowing that I’ll be able to look back on my achievements at any point in my life and, in the present, I’m solely responsible for ensuring these achievements aren’t dross.

Learning French

After many false starts I’m finally making progress in learning French. Mainly spurred by not wanting to look like a plum when I’m in Bordeaux next month.

This post is a combination of reflections on learning, and a bunch of resources that are useful.

For now it’s a relatively sparse list of tips, but the plan is to beef it up over time.

  1. Get a vocabulary book and write everything in it. Ensure it is:
    • Dedicated: only use it for French
    • Colour coded: always write French in one colour and English translations in another
    • Split into sections: I have verbs / nouns / adjectives / adverbs / prepositions / phrases / etc
  2. Watch French films with English subtitles and scribble vocabulary while you’re watching
  3. Listen to French radio in the background. This one is great, they talk relatively slowly.
  4. Use DuoLingo but not as the sole method of formal learning – the syllabus seems quite randomly ordered and they don’t explain underlying conjugation / sentence structure rules very well. A couple of thoughts
    • The comments usually offer more explanation of rules: I recommend reading them
    • It’s good for listening to spoken French and seeing written French
    • There’s a lot of vocabulary to pick up
  5. Work through (a) textbook(s) for the main portion of your formal learning. From what I can tell they’re better structured and it feels like a more serious statement of intent. I use this one on recommendation from a friend
  6. Try to read a French book! It’s hard as f*ck and relatively soul destroying when it takes 3 hours to read 3 pages, but it’s helpful.
  7. Get friends that speak French to send you random bits. Usually ends up being slang / useful phrases.
  8. Get these same friends to tell you keystones that they found particularly useful: examples are peux teux dois / infinitives / conditional
  9. Use WordReference! A fantastic translation site

Insights so far:

Learning about grammatical terms that I never learned in English: infinitives, transitives, conditional, etc.: will this framework make learning future languages easier? (Can’t believe in retrospect this wasn’t taught in English at school :-P)


Sometimes you get taught an important life lessons as well as good French. The list of regrets of Monsieur Dupond, a fictional vieil homme used to teach the conditional tense, is a perfect example:

Monsieur Dupond's regrets

He seems to have realised on his deathbed that he should have travelled more, learned more languages, been an artist, been famous, had kids, made more of life, bought a house, and saved up. Poor guy.


Learning idioms / phrases is really confusing, especially if the overall meaning of the phrase doesn’t match the words in it. “Il ne manquait plus que ça”, for example, = “that’s the last thing I needed”. Tackling it word by word I’d arrived at “it was not missing what that”…


Similarly to the above, the ones that do make sense are quite cute / charming. A ‘gros éclat de rire’, for example, is a guffaw, and seems to directly translate as ‘big sliver of laughter’ 😀


Reading is good for spotting weird versions of verbs and retroactively figuring out how they work in sentences. It’s not obvious that ‘tient’ is a conjugation of ‘tenir’ (or ‘dit’ of ‘dire’) when you’re not actively studying verbs / conjugation, but it’s a pretty vital skill to learn.


BEST OF ALL: seemingly nothing I learned in GCSE Spanish has helped in learning French. I thought there’d be some framework or scaffolding left over that would be transferable, but nope. Nada.

New skills

“Each year I learn a new skill that can give me a little income, this way I’m not wedded to just earning money one way. If I’m getting close to bored or frustrated with one particular form of work I just switch it off before it becomes a chore.”

– Dave Cornthwaite

This is from a great post in a great series by a man who, I’m pretty sure, is also great.

His ‘Say Yes More’ mantra is one of many factors that led me down the path I’m currently on. See here for the story of how it nearly led to me riding an Elliptigo for a 600 mile jolly through France.

The nugget of advice he gives above is another good nudge along the path: ‘web designer’ used to be in the list of services people could hire me for, but I took it out for fear of not being able to deliver.

Top bar gif


In retrospect that was a crappy way to deal with the situation. Formalising the experience I have of web design and backing it up with some kind of qualification is the better option, and one I plan to enact as this year’s new potentially earn-worthy skill.

It’s also a nice reminder that you’re never in a position where you’ve finished learning. If your situation or skill-set feels stale, it’s up to you (and within your capabilities, regardless of who you are) to freshen it up.