Category Archives: Europe

Multilingualism Day at the European Parliament – 30 September, 2017

Yesterday was international Translators and Interpreters Day and lined up with that, the European Parliament ran a Multilingualism Day at the Parliament buildings in Brussels. In particular, I think, it was targeted at would be interpreters and translators and featured some specialist talks; some briefing talks in the debating chamber, and some games and try it out stuff. The interpreting service had temporary interpreting booths set up with a bunch of recorded speeches for anyone to try.

Because of issues between Luxembourg and Brussels, I wound up arriving later than I would liked so I missed a bit of a talk about life long education for interpreters, and also because I decided to do what they called a Hemicycle briefing tour, I missed the tips and tricks talk. I sort of regret that because I’m sure there were some great war stories.

One of the things which struck me about the population of visitors which I saw is that it was heartening to see the range of ages of people who were interested in knowing more about the language careers, particularly the interpreting. You could see this watching people having a go at interpreting – there was a broad range of ages stepping into the booths to voice their versions of Plastic Waste or The Beetle in French.

I’ve been in the Brussels Hemicycle a couple of times now between the Open Day in May and this. It’s quite a stunning room – my eyes are always drawn to the interpreting boxes, and English in number 2 and Gaeilge in Number 23. We had a terrific speaker who didn’t just talk at us about the Parliament but also engaged us in debate about the present and future of Europe, and the contexts which sometimes get forgotten and how they feed into the choice of representatives sent by the different countries. I’d strongly advise anyone who hasn’t seen either it, or the hemicycle in Strasbourg to grab opportunities when they present themselves. May is usually good for both and the plenary sessions should be accessible as well I think. It was heartening to see young British people attending, even now when it seems as though the EU may not be a part of their country’s future. It seems to me they still hope.

The one interpreting talk I did get to was interesting in terms of listening to the questions people ask. The young Dutch interpreter who gave the talk admitted that it took him about 4 years to get any newly acquired language operational for interpreting and that yes, learning for interpreting caused different learning strategies with a focus on passive understanding more so than active writing, for example. You could understand that too. I kind of wished things like this existed when I was a recent graduate – I would have killed to sit in those rooms wishing and dreaming.

As for the interpreting itself, I was slightly disappointed not to get to sit in one of the hemicycle booths to look out on the room but I had a go at the plastic waste speech which didn’t go too badly. I can’t complain.

On a vaguely related note, uncomfortable and all as they are, I’d really like to know how to get my hands on headphones similar to the ones the Parliament has. Yes they are flat, yes they are plastic and sure they are fairly austere compared to my nice puffy on earphones that look like they date from the 1970s but the sound is crystal clear from them.

Anyway, I think outreach events like this are great – I loved both this and the SCIC Europe conference thing in the Berlaymont in May – and I really do think any one with an interest in working for the institutions, particularly as an interpreter or translator, should try to get to them when they turn up. Finding out about them – well the best thing to do is follow both the European Commission and Parliament Interpreters on Facebook.

 

Holliers in the mountains

I discovered rather too late that the school holidays in Luxembourg ended two weeks’ later than every other country in Europe which means that those two weeks where I had time off work, chosen because “shur all the schools will be gone back” were extortionately expensive to get to Spain with. Plus, bad and all as it was to get to ¬†Spain, it was profoundly bankrupting to actually get home.

So I had to go somewhere cheaper instead and I chose Switzerland. The irony is not lost on me here.

The easiest way to go to where I wanted to go in Switzerland is usually fly into Geneva, have lunch with a friend and get a train and a couple of buses. However, that was too expensive because only Luxair flew into Geneva, and only Swiss flew into Zurich which left not-terribly-obvious option three, fly into Milan with either Ryanair, EasyJet or Luxair. In the end, I flew into Bergamo with Ryanair.

 

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You can see the mountains there. In fact, since we flew over them, you could probably have seen them from the aircraft. I had an aisle seat and could see nothing.

I had to overnight in Milan with a really early morning train on a Sunday morning so I picked somewhere near Milano Centrale. Milano Centrale is a great building.

It’s massive.

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It screams delusions of grandeur and when you realise Mussolini had an interest you kind of understand why. It’s a stunning building.

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with lots of halls and massive high ceilings.

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and art.

I could spend a day in Milano Centrale and probably go bankrupt in the shops there.

Growing up in Ireland, the train network is kind of limited to Ireland, and doesn’t seem terribly exotic.

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Continental train stations on the other hand…Mine was the EC 32 at 8:23, destination Geneva.

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It was a Swiss train. It takes a fascinating and stunning route into the mountains via Lake Maggiore.

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…and then the landscape starts getting a bit pointier.

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and pointier.

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The last stop before the border with Switzerland is a place called Dommodossola. This is a good warning to switch off your data roaming because in Switzerland, there is no Roam Like Home and even the phone calls come in at 1.72 a minute.

We don’t do snow capped mountains in Ireland much, never mind in summer.

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Switzerland does.

I was staying in the Valais.

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The mountains are full of character.

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I got off the train in Sion and had an early lunch.

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Surprisingly, there were a couple of shops open, including a bakery. This was unexpected since it was Sunday.

From Sion, I had to get two buses to Ovronnaz. The next change was in Leytron.

This is vineyard country.

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So lots of vines on practically vertical terraces.

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Leytron was kind of quiet.

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But it was Sunday morning.

And the land was a bit pointier than I am used to.

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Despite McGillycuddy Reeks being a formative part of my life

I got on the second bus.

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That’s Leytron as we started winding up our way an eternal number of hairpin bends. I don’t know that we would send buses up there if it were Ireland to be frank Some of the turns were nervewracking and we frequently met enthusiastic traffic coming at us. I’ve only been more scared in a bus once and that was in Fuerteventura.

I was staying in Ovronnaz.

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Ovronnaz is at around 1200m, and it’s well known for thermal baths and skiing. During the summer it also gets a bunch of hikers. I didn’t actually take any pictures of the baths but what follows are pictures of mountains, quite a few of them.

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I think this one was the view from my apartment.

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and we were below the snowline.

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The place is stunning when the sun comes out.

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So I decided to take the skilift up to 2000m. This was still below the snowline.

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Apparently you can walk to the top of that. I didn’t.

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Yay. Snow caps.

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We don’t get a whole lot of snow in Ireland or indeed in Luxembourg so I find this joy inducing. Although I draw the line at doing those hairpins in a bus in the snow.

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This is the chairlift posts looking down. I didn’t want to take my camera out while I was hanging in midair so that’s really all you’ll get of that.

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But I loved it up there.

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Sunset one evening.

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Weather not so great another day:

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Sunset another day.

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View from my balcony.

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View from the front of the hotel.

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It rained the last night I was there.

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This was how it looked at 7.20 in the morning as I started the 12 hour journey home. The trip down the hairpins was sufficiently dizzying that I took no photos and I only had 60 seconds in Leytron to make the bus back to Sion.

The train from Sion to Milan was packed. This is what the luggage area looked like half an hour out from Milan

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Would I do this again? Yes, despite a few stupid mishaps (I lost a full swim kit including swimsuit, goggles and nose clip on day one) but I’d like to be a bit hill walking fitter. There is no actually horizontal piece of ground up there – you’re either walking up a very steep hill or down a very steep hill. During the snow season, there are buses moving people from hotels to skilifts and the countryside is dotted with skilift lines which leads me to think there’s a good few more than the one I got up to 2000m, Jorasse. Switzerland is not terribly cheap and the exchange rate is really not in the EU’s favour at the moment (but it was more than offset by the cost of flying to Spain). Ovronnaz is a hassle to get to from outside Switzerland but the buses worked out okay. The food was generally good. Plus, if you’re European, seeing the Alps really should be on your bucket list. You can also do it in winter (duh) and I did the Glacier Express in 2016.

Feierdag

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Luxembourg rather sensibly has its national big party event in the middle of summer. I was thinking of this as I considered the absolute novelty of standing outside in the warmth of 30 degrees to watch a fireworks display rather than standing out in the freezing cold waiting for the rain in March.

23 June is Bonfire Night in Cork. When the Independent Republic of Cork is declared, make that the Independence Day festival. Trust me. You’ll wonder how you tolerated marching bands in March. There is no comparison.

In Luxembourg, the whole national celebration thing starts the day before the National Day. This includes turning the place into a giant street party. It is unbelievable.

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This is from the Ville Haute near the main expensive shopping district. Just around from this the party starts.

Bar after bar after bar has DJs playing sets on the street.

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including dry ice machines

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and like 20 metres away from all these club on a streets you have gigs on a street.

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These were the headliners on Place d’Armes. Around the corner in front of the Hotel de Ville there was this lot.

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That gives just a bit of a taste of the atmosphere there was in that square last night. This was their audience by the way.

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This here was the main stage where the Military Band were lined up to accompany the fireworks.

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They were brilliant. You can here them in the following videos.

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Jupiter Bringer of Joy

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Jupiter Bringer of Joy

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Bolero

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Bolero

Here are some stills of the fireworks.

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This was me at one of the gigs.

I have to say last night was great fun. There were food stalls everywhere. In the Knuedelplatz, where the guy with the fiddle and the girl on the accordion were rocking out, you went and exchanged cash for tokens. There were stalls over the place selling light sabres and light up hairbands. The buses were rerouted for the evening and free – seriously, they are dead serious about getting people to get buses. Three routes were added to support park and ride. Bunch more photos and weirdly aligned videos (don’t look at me – this happened automatically) to be found here.

Spotlight on Spotlight

One of the things I discovered in Luxembourg since I got here are the Spotlight Verlag language learning magazines. I cannot think of a single corresponding example in the English media market but most of the newsagents have some if not all of these.

Spotlight Verlag produce regular publications in French, German, English, Spanish and Italian for learners of those languages. For English, they have two – a regular English one, and a business English one. In addition to Spotlight, another company called Colour Media, I think, produce a couple in English, also regular and business level. I’ve picked up some of the English stuff purely on the back of how interesting – despite being targeted at beginners – the Spanish ones are. I have the French and German ones but I haven’t been finding time.

ECOS is the Spanish one. It is very obviously directed at Germans as its tagline is Einfach Besser Spanisch and the glossaries are Spanish German. My Spanish is limited and goes back 30 years and I am planning to bring it right up to scratch in the next two years. If you were to ask me what is the best language resource I have found to date, it would be this. The articles are colour coded and there are idiomatic pieces each month for Easy and Intermediate levels. There is plenty of content in advanced Spanish as well , along with puzzles and games.

I cannot think of corresponding equivalents in English which is, I suspect, damning to say the least. I suppose it is not helped by the fact that English magazine market seems to be dying a slow painful death. I have had a look at some of the resources available for maintaining foreign language skills – I’m mildly disappointed with them (which means I should write one myself). Mostly the issue is that I find the creators of content guiding people in how to maintain their foreign language skills are more of a Look At MEEE I’m trying to maintain 13 languages…

I suppose for Spanish I had expected something helpful like “Here’s a list of Spanish news sites and magazines online” and “Follow this link for 100 Spanish radio stations.” Instead I get “Sign up for my product here” and “Here’s a mini essay about how the only people I speak Italian to are my parents”.

In summary every time I look at online language learning resources I feel cheated and hard done by. But magazines which give you interesting content and which are about give you steps forward, that’s great.¬†It is a pity that the availability is a bit limited.

French Presidential

The first round of the French presidential election is taking place today and I am a little fascinated by a lot of things about it.

The top three candidates are pretty much within the margin of error for polling purposes so it really isn’t safe to attempt to predict the outcome on the basis of polling data. Additionally, there is some variation between the top two which means some polls indicate Marine Le Pen will come first; some indicate Emmanuel Macro will come first.

The coverage in the United Kingdom has been interesting. I know the world suggests you should never read below the line in the Guardian but I find it more entertaining at the moment given Brexit than it has been for years. Below the line on the New York Times is good. We have forgotten to value other people’s views.

It seems to me, vibe wise, that a lot of UK press seems to be gunning for a Le Pen victory and a lot of their commenters (usually ones angling for a free and perfect Brexit) too. Almost as though what is likely to be most disruptive is also most desirable. I call this playing with fire.

You could, to some extent, understand the desire on the part of the average rabid Brexit supporter for Le Pen to win in France as they are being fed a line that this would finish off the hated EU altogether. I consider that a bit childish in my own view – whether the EU continues to exist or not is of limited importance if you really believe what is right for Britain is to be outside the EU. If Britain’s only chance of success is that the EU gets smashed also, then that has to call into question the convictions about Freedom, Independent Britain and a Bright New Future Taking Back Control. I sometimes think they’re a bit like that character in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the one who crashes his father’s Ferrari.

Both the New York Times and the Guardian have large numbers of commenters below the line who truly appear to be convinced that France’s only chance is if they vote in Le Pen. On the NYT in particular, some commenters have a focus on how dangerous France is given Terrorism but who don’t appear to understand that regardless of the numbers killed in France through terrorism lately, it is still less than the numbers killed through gun violence in the US since the start of the year. In other words if you want my opinion, the US is probably far more dangerous than France is by some distance and accelerating. France is fighting terrorism. The US is not giving up the second amendment.

I wouldn’t pretend to suggest that France got a great choice of candidates this year but as a country, they are not unique in that. I estimate that the most visionary speech made by a prime minister in the UK in the last 20 years was Hugh Grant talking about David Beckham in Love Actually. And let’s face it, the US voted in Donald Trump who makes absolutely every French candidate look competent and statesmanlike, even Le Pen.

As a general note, I sometimes feel that the English language populations are somewhat poorly served by their media when it comes to news about foreign countries where they do not speak English. Absent forcing every one to somehow magically become fluent in a foreign language, I wonder how we fix this. Force journalists to have some command of the language of the countries they are reporting on, I suppose.

A lot to think about…difficult to find a practical solution.

Walking around a winter wonderland

It snowed in Luxembourg this morning.

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It was a rather lovely, peaceful snowy scene in the park near my apartment this morning so I took a walk around it before going in search of furniture. I wandered over to the lift down to Pfaffenthal but that was closed for some reason. I don’t know why.

This is what you could see from the Ville Haute near the lift anyway so you got the view even if you couldn’t get into the viewing platform.

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The bridge is called the Charlotte or the Red Bridge. I think they like the colour idea because the new bridge in the city centre is called the Blue Bridge. It was built because the main bridge, called the Adolphe Bridge, is in need of serious repair so it had to be closed. Imagine, if you will, closing O’Connell Bridge and building a temporary replacement almost right next to it. That’s what the Luxembourgers appeared to do.

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The glassy thing on the left is the elevator.

Anyway, flickr is not cooperating with me right now so I might add other photographs later.

The quest for knowledge

First up, I am going to recommend a book which I am in the process of reading called The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan and it is the history of civilisation and trade geographically from the Middle East rather than from Western Europe. It is absolutely fascinating. I bought the paperback the other day because to be frank, it is one of the rare text dense books which is worth having a hard copy of rather than loading up to your kindle. By the way I need new bookshelves.

With that said, one of my guilty pleasures lately has been reading below the line on Guardian articles regarding the impact of the UK vote to leave the European Union – I will not call this Brexit – I did not much like the term Brangelina either. The Guardian was broadly in favour of rejecting the referendum to leave and it has a bunch of columnists who are ready to write reams on the impact. So far, they have not yet found any benefits although below the line, there are plenty to say “we got more sovereignty”.

Before the vote, I questioned an online interlocutor based in the UK how he was able to convince himself that voting to leave the EU would gain him in democracy since the Head of State was a hereditary monarch and their second chamber was also unelected and part hereditary. Plus, they have that awful first past the post system which is designed for “stability” but means that they get sea changes rather than stable incremental changes. It was a start, he advised me, pitifully.

I’ve tried to understand his argument, particularly in the context of him favouring the so called Norway Solution where you have to comply with a bunch of EU legal instruments, pay into the EU and allow all four pillars of the single market, specifically freedom of movement of labour being the contentious one in the UK at the moment.

You could write reams on the unintended consequences of the UK referendum result – for me one of the fascinating one is that it has pre-empted a change in views across Europe with EU membership currently gaining in favour in countries like Finland where the True Finns party is now desperately trying to shore up support for a referendum in the face of a population which has looked at the UK, looked at their borders and gone, you know what…things could be a whole pile worse.

Within the UK, though, the comments pages of newspapers are a fascinating reflection of the different facets of British society. Even if you choose not do discuss the geographical differences, there are clear differences in understanding the issues. Because I have friends who work in the academic research sector, I happen to have somewhat more of an interest in the impact on research budgets so I tend to read pieces on that. There have been a few lately because grant proposals are being prepared for Horizon 2020 – a huge European research funding program – and uncertainty about the UK’s position in Europe over the next five years – is causing grant applicants grief. Do we apply with UK based researchers even though they might be out before we draw down funding or start the project? The answer is increasingly “wait and see”.

This was forecast pre vote. Like a lot of forecasts, it was written off as fear mongering.

I do not especially want to talk in detail about the impact on science funding, or the impact on jobs or what will or will not happen with immigration and points systems. These are all details. What has struck me most about reading below the line is the absolute certainty of people who cannot accept that voting in favour to leave the European Union has huge costs associated with it. From the ones who point out that the UK pays more into the EU than it gets back but who still can’t work out that if their economy takes a hit, the money won’t be there to finance the science that historically got money from European budgets – and getting funding from UK research budgets has become increasingly difficult.

This kind of certainty worries me sometimes. It is indicative of people who are far too willing to reject other people’s experience in favour of what they know to be true. Very often it is indicative of a closed mind. One of the biggest problems the Remain campaign had was that explaining reality was generally rejected. Even now, as things are starting to rise to the surface in an none too positive way, there is still a strong desire to reject reality in favour of what people know to be true when in fact, what they know to be true is a) untrue and b) based on some misinterpretation and or misunderstanding.

There is some evidence to suggest that there is a correlation between those who left school early and those who voted in favour of exit. One of the things which interested me – and stunned me – about the UK as I was growing up was that it was more or less common and socially acceptable to leave school at what was then O-level stage, or 16 for the most part. People doing A-levels seemed to be sort of special butterflies.

The UK has recently updated its legislation to make sure that young people stay in full time education or some sort of training until 18 now.

Online discussions become heated because a lot of people – particularly and often on the wrong side of a debate – refuse to take a step backwards and ask “could I possibly have gotten this wrong” whereas people on the right side of the debate frequently do, and frequently own their lack of knowledge, and they also demonstrate that they are willing to add to their knowledge.

I suppose this is where I am getting down to the crux of the matter. Where do people learn to step back and question their own knowledge, and where do people engage in certainty so certain that demonstrating to them that they are wrong has no impact?

It seems to me that people who have a greater knowledge are more open to a) adding to that knowledge and b) updating that knowledge than people who have a lesser knowledge. You see this in any debate online although a few generate a lot more heat than others.

If I had one question for the world today, it would be: how do we get people interested in learning more and recognising the limits of their knowledge (and then pushing them back) rather than hiding in their comfort zone of certainty.

It’s not a question of making information and sources available there – this is already done although sorting valid sources from invalid sources is increasingly hard – but it’s something in education and something in media. What is fascinating is that…it works for some people. And it doesn’t work for some people.

How do we get people on a quest for knowledge that changes attitudes and dogma in this way? In my opinion, if the UK is to respond effectively to its decision to leave the European Union, it needs to do this for its population as a whole because it otherwise will not develop the agility to respond to its new place in the world order.

In the meantime, The Silk Roads was number 2 in the UK non-fiction chart last week. That desire for knowledge does already exist. Harnessing it now…that’s the next question.

Nice is news

Late last night before I went to bed I saw a worrying headline in my social media feeds to suggest some sort of tragedy had happened in Nice. I like Nice. I’ve been there on holidays a couple of times. Some gorgeous buildings. The city is colourful. Not a big fan of the somewhat stony beach mind, but the prom is lovely.

And today it is in mourning because someone decided to drive a truck through a crowd. There is no valid justification for doing any such thing deliberately, no matter what your political stance is, no matter what your purported religious faith is. It’s a stupid, ungodly, evil thing to do.

I cannot watch the news and I don’t want to see the papers. Far too often I’m waking up of a morning and the world is a little bit stranger than it used to be the night before when I went to bed.