From East to West, North to South; in pursuit of perfection.

Music It’s been a while. I’ve been busy trying to coax language out of fossilized theoretical compartments into more fluid, active and engaging use. It’s not easy and takes time, patience and resolution; as long as I have any two of those 3 at any given time I’ll be okay and students will learn. Or learners will study. Depends which side of the fence you’re on.

The theme for this post took me on a musical voyage. Over the past few years, in trying to explain in class how dynamic and experimental English is, I’ve had to delve into its history in terms of how the language had changed and evolved, thus having a better idea of global variations and cultural usage. English is a remarkably flexible and open language. It’s been described by those who know better than me as a ‘monster which devours all in its path.’ When it meets a new language, it doesn’t resist it but pulls from it what it needs, incorporates it into lexis at incredible speed and moves on, and on, and on.

A bit like music really. That’s where jazz and blues come in. I could describe so many other styles but these two have the most interesting balance between what language is – what perfection is – what art is – what experimentation is.

These most artistic of musical expressions were born in the 19th and evolved through 20th century america. It was the music of the poor, the racially oppressed and the grammatically illiterate. It also, however, went on to transcend preconceived ideas of what music was and became an art form; so much so that the ‘doesn’t’ is rarely pronounced in the 3rd person in any modern musical form with english speaking artists of the highest cultural level much preferring the musically better sounding ‘he /she/it don’t’, or the authentic qualities of the double negative (I ain’t got no time).

So what is perfection? When is a language simply a communicative device, and when does it transcend grammar and become an art form?

I’ll let van morrison help you make up your mind on that one. Born in Ireland; moved to the states as a young adult; made astral weeks in 1968; virtually unclassifiable, an album which is commonly considered one of the finest of all time and an album that transcends multiple musical genres; was literally starving when it was released; was unable to tour with the album due to the lack of financial and artistic support from his record company, until he finally performed his masterpiece live in the hollywood bowl, 40 years after its recording. It had been a very long time.

His spoken pronunciation is now a mix of American South and his original North of Ireland twang (North of Ireland and Scottish accents being principally responsible for that Deep South twang in the first place).

But when he sings, accent, form and grammatical precision disappears as the performance transcends music and language form, the way the best artists do!

Oh my common one

With the coat so old
And the light in the head

Sufferin’ so high
Take a walk with me

Among the regions

Among the regions
Let’s take a look

I was sittin’ down

In a mystic church
In the mystic church

At the Notting Hill Gate
Notting Hill Gate, I was sittin’ down
In the mystic church, at the Notting Hill Gate
At the Westbourne Grove bus station
At the Swedenborg church

At the Notting Hill Gate
I was thinking about it

I take you out, get you in my car

Gonna go for a long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long drive

Take you down
To a town called Paradise
Baby we can be free
We gonna drink that wine
Gonna jump for joy
In town called


I wanna squeeze you tight
Make everything alright

Until we get that, ‘till we get that, ‘till we get that, until we get that, until we get that

get that, get that, get that, get that, get that, get that, get that, get that get that get that
Squealin’ feelin’, squealin’ feelin’, squealin’ feeling, squealin’ feeling

(Voice as instrument)

Go ahead and scream

Can you feel the silence?
Can you feel the silence?
In a mystic church…
Can you feel the silence?

Can you feel the silence?
In the mystic church
In the brotherhood of the light
At the Notting Hill Gate

Can you feel the silence?

In a mystic church

In the brotherhood of the light

Can you feel the silence?
Can you feel the silence?

Can you feel the silence?
In the mystic church
Can you feel the silence?

Can you feel the silence?
In the mystic church

Pulp Fiction


Okay, Christmas is coming and I’m going to need a few books to read. I’d like to get through 3 if possible so I need to get thinking about what to read.  I came across the following video recently, and was immediately transported 16 years into the past, to a time when I was studying at university and enjoying the freedoms that accompanied this period of my life. One of those freedoms included having more time to read than I have now.

During this time, I was given a copy of Charles Bukowski’s Post Office, which was a hilariously vulgar description of alternative-living in 50’s and 60’s America. It deals with ideas explored by the Beat Generation, a literary movement which represented the American counter-culture at that time.

So in this moment of crisis, general disaffection with politics and distrust of the ruling classes,  it could be refreshing to re-read some of those writers, those who looked at life from another side of the social divide.

The following video is a recital of Bukowski’s poem, Nirvana.

Charles Bukowski’s Nirvana from Patrick Biesemans on Vimeo.


Sam Maguire

Mayo Legends

This is an important sporting weekend for me. My home county, Mayo, is playing against Donegal for the Sam Maguire Cup, in the All-Ireland football final. The last time we won this competition was in 1951. We’ve been in the final many times since but just haven’t been able to go the extra mile. Hopefully that will change today. Most of you reading this will have no idea what Gaelic football is. It was constituted as a sport in 1887 and was part of a determined effort to promote Gaelic games and Irish culture on our island, while Ireland was still under the rule of the British Empire. It was founded on a strictly amateur ethos and had to compete with rugby and association football (soccer) for popularity. The most interesting aspect of the sport is its tribal nature. You’ll say that all team sports are tribal but Gaelic football is strict in that sense. To play for one’s county and win an All-Ireland, is the highest honour for a player. Only players who are born, live and work in the county can play for their county. There is no transfer system for players, unless you happen to live and work in a different county for an extended period, so as a result changing allegiance is unusual. Players do not receive payment for playing, although there are reimbursements for expenses. Players hold down full-time jobs and train 4 times per week, after work in the evening with games at weekends, and have the fitness levels of professional athletes.

Each of the 32 counties can take part in the All-Ireland Championship. The 4 provinces in Ireland: Ulster, Munster Leinster and Connacht, are involved in play-offs until a champion emerges from each province. Mayo are the Connacht champions this year, while Donegal are the champions of Ulster. There are a further series of games until the two finalists are decided. The final takes place on the 3rd Sunday of each September.

The final is played in Croke Park (Páirc an Chrócaigh), and is watched by 82,000 spectators; an incredible statistic for an amateur competition and a testament to the importance of Gaelic games in Irish life. The sport has endured even with the overwhelming global evolution of football in England and the development of rugby in terms of popularity.

Of no less importance for many Irish people this weekend is the most important derby game of the English football year, Liverpool vs Man United. Although coming from different cities they are separated by a mere 35 miles and more importantly by 1 title (United having won 19 and Liverpool 18), being without doubt the two most successful sides in English football. I’m regularly asked why it is that so many Irish are passionate about English football; Man United and Liverpool in particular. The answer surely lies in the fact that United and Liverpool both hail from traditionally working-class, immigrant cities with huge Irish populations. Another reason is that the best Irish players have always played club football in England. An example of this is Kevin Moran, who won two All-Ireland finals with Dublin and then went on to win two FA cups with Manchester United.

Paul Scholes, who Zinedine Zidane said was the finest midfielder of his generation, had the following to say about United – Liverpool games; “Manchester United against Liverpool is always the first game I look out for when the fixtures come out. Maybe the games against City and Chelsea are now just as important because they are more of a threat in the league, but United and Liverpool are the two biggest clubs in English football with huge, worldwide fan bases. It’s a massive game.”

And this for me is without doubt is one of the most significant aspects of this weekend from an Irish sporting point of view. It’s on the one hand a celebration of our culture, our identity and our stubborn determination to extol those characteristics which define us as Irish, while on the other hand a celebration of certain teams in the country of our former oppressors, which through emigration we helped to shape and build. It’s something that defines me as an Irishman, and something that makes me proud.

Come on Maigh Eo!

Highlights – Mayo vs Dublin All Ireland semi final 02/09/2012

Writing Letters


Hi again,

I recently received a wedding invitation. These often contain a card inside for the purpose of RSVP which derives from the French ‘répondez, s’il vous plaît’. Traditionally, this card wasn’t included, so invitees had to respond using their own stationary, as was the case with this invitation. The last time I wrote a hand-written letter was in 2002. That’s a long time ago. To make a long story short, I didn’t have any specific stationery and so went out to find some. I went to 3 different stationers and guess what . . . they didn’t sell the stationery I was looking for because in their words; ‘nobody really uses it anymore.’

I eventually found a shop that sold something close to what I was looking for. And this made me think about this video I watched a few months ago, which describes how digital technology is changing the way we use (or don’t use) the materials around us, and how not using these materials (pen and paper in this case) can cause the disappearance of services linked to them, such as the printer and paper experts in the video you’ll see below.

The speakers are American and they speak clearly, so although it’s 9 minutes long, it’s worth it from a comprehension, and mechanical engineering point of view.

A day in the life . . language is everywhere. Chew on that!

On yer bike . . .

So what exactly / does / this video have to do /with learning English? To be honest it took me a while to come up with something. The reason I posted it is simply because I liked the video, as well as being struck by the music accompanying the song; I then started to analyse it more carefully from a didactic perspective.

The video you see below, describing a general day in one’s life, was filmed in the Canadian city of Montreal. Canada is a predominantly English speaking country with the exception of the province of Quebec, which is principally french speaking. Around 50% of the city of Montreal is bilingual, in that both French and English is spoken fluently. The existence of two languages so historically and culturally opposed, while at the same time existing within the same sociological sphere /sfɪə(r)/ (UK) /sfɪr/ (US), is intriguing. And it’s just the excuse I needed to put this clip online.

Language is everywhere. Go and find it. The irony with regard to this post in particular and language in general, is that this video has no spoken English content; yet look at the amount of language analysis that was generated. Now chew on that!