I am learning to give an English voice to a speaker of another language in real time. It’s a strange sort of ticklish feeling, a mixture of drawing upon my knowledge and cultural insights, showing off, and making things up. Continue reading


Sweet… but it can get sticky


One of the “jury” assessing my ability to understand short presentations in my languages, and render them in eloquent English, was Leopoldo Costa. A slight, unassuming, charming man, as I remember him, he was bilingual Italian-Spanish, interpreted into both from all 7 other official EU languages, and was studying Finnish, his first non-Indo-European language, to be ready for when Finland joined the EU the following year.

A prize for relaying idealistic platitudes about the future of Europe has since been named in his honour. Continue reading

Formal qualifications


Oxford was, overall, an extraordinary, nurturing place. Although I had no idea of it at the time, the tutorial system was also an excellent preparation for being an interpreter, since it involved trying to hold your own with an expert, being picked up on for any slip in intellectual rigour, and in a sense giving supremacy to the spoken word over the written.

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A toddler in the boxing ring

Previously, I had “done” a thing called Languages, the way other people had “done” History or Politics, as a sort of stepping-stone. Now I am back in England, they have graduated, and I am turning inside out. This process is accelerated by a book I happen to come across in Spain before leaving. It is a recent novel, set in Oxford, and I think it might be an interesting experience to look at the city through Spanish eyes, as I return, tainted by my time away. It turns out to be set within the university itself. Within the Sub-Faculty of Spanish.

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No more orange spaceship

In spring and early summer there are many long weekends when there is an exodus of students from Granada. The academic year seems to start winding down from April on, apart from the exams. My classmates look forward to retiring to their second home, for a break from routine, to do their revision away from noisy distractions, and catch up with school-friends, and Mum’s cooking. A stillness descends on the city, and I prowl the streets alone. Continue reading

Sweethearts through the cat-flap

On long dark idle winter evenings, as a teenager living at home, you can imagine what I was getting up to, right? Yes, you got it- browsing my parents’ bookshelves in the sitting room. There were lots of Folio hardback titles, some of which Dad had signed up for without meaning to, including a lovely Lord of the Rings with wafer-thin pages, an extraordinary and incomprehensible (to me) set of jokey kitsch pre-war cartoons entitled “Love is…”, Gerald Brenan’s South From Granada, An Almanac of Words At Play, A Pictorial History of Slough, The Birds of the British Isles, A Gardener’s Yearbook, World Airports Magazine Pictorial Supplement, and a dark brown slab quite simply entitled The Last Two Million Years. Continue reading