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f/e 2021-09-12

Hello, it’s been a couple of weeks.

§ After six years of using apps such as Duolingo, Memrise, Lingvist and now Busuu to improve the five years of German I did terribly at while in school, last week I took the fifteen minute A2 level test provided in Busuu and… failed.

I guess six years of 15 minutes a day just isn’t enough to “understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance” etc. Or I’m just incapable of learning languages (German was the only ‘O’ Level I failed at age 16, doing so badly that I got “Ungraded”).

Or else solely using these apps just isn’t good enough for actually learning a language. I feel like I’m not bad at filling in missing words or doing the equivalent of multiple-choice exercises, which is the kind of thing one does in a language-learning app. But, after six years, about 550 hours, I would be hard pushed to write or speak any interesting and meaningful sentences beyond the most very, very basic.

§ A long-expected event came to pass and Spotify finally dropped the £4.99/month “Unlimited”, which I’ve managed to hang on to for years. Now, to avoid ads, I must pay twice the price for “Premium” like everyone else. It was good while it lasted and I’m sure all the artists I listen to will rejoice at receiving a fraction of a penny more per year.

§ Last week we got round to watching season one of Sex Education which was a lot of fun, and not just because it was a nice change from the murder and death that a lot of our TV drama watching seems to involve.

I’m fascinated by the production design, the ambiguous time and place in which it’s set. There are smartphones but the immaculate cars are all from the 1990s or earlier, and people use shiny but old landline phones, radios and cameras. The school has lots of aspects familiar from US shows – a corridor lined with lockers, those varsity jackets with the school’s American-style letter logo, a big prom, etc. There are lots of big houses, often filled with a mixture of late 20th century decor. The shops (at the start of season two) have very simple 1970s/80s signs. It’s fascinating. And, in this very pretty, un-named rural English village (or town? who knows?) there’s a surprisingly large black community, big enough to support a full and lively church.

It also reminds me a bit of The End of the F***ing World which had a very American feel – big, mid-century houses, roadside diners – and seemed set in an ambiguous period, with features from the 1970s to early 2000s.

In England there’s an almost standard conservative fantasy of a past that some people wish was still the present: vicars cycling down country lanes, village cricket pitches, cosy pubs with tankards of beer, children who know their place, and (going unsaid) everyone is white and straight and does as they’re told. I like thinking of the setting of these shows as an alternative slightly-in-the-past, fantasy Britain, full of interesting and diverse young people, a big dash of American influences, and a mish-mash of modern fashions, designs and technologies from the 1970s onwards.

§ At the end of last week we went on a walk up the not-far-away Sugar Loaf mountain with a local walking group. I’m not a big country walker, especially with groups of strangers, but there were good views to be had:

A photo of a grassy and rocky peak, with two distant men sitting on top, looking out at rolling hills covered in fields, fading into the distance

More photos on Flickr.

§ Then it was off to Pembrokeshire for a week where we stayed in a caravan near Newgale beach and, luckily, had a few days of good weather. More walking around a couple of bits of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path for more good views:

A photo of a blue bay with rocky cliffs on either side and a small, dark, rocky island between them

Again, more on Flickr. It’s frustrating when my “proper camera”, a Fuji X-E3, which I enjoy using, doesn’t take photos as good as those that I take with my ageing iPhone SE (like the one above). Sometimes it’s just that the wider lens on the phone is more suited than the 50mm equivalent lens that I use on the Fuji in favour of a more flexible zoom, as if punishing myself with a prime lens makes me a better photographer. Sometimes it’s just that even a five-year-old iPhone’s computational photography is quickly better than a four-year-old “proper” camera and me poking around aimlessly in Lightroom.

§ While we were away we got back to the grim TV, watching the Swedish true-crime drama The Hunt for a Killer. It was oddly un-dramatic, as if they were really trying not to fiddle with how things happened in order to make it more exciting. The first couple of episodes in particular were really quite dry, with little sense of the personalities of the detectives involved and what seemed like some random, barely-related investigations. It picked up though and managed to raise a little “will they find him and prove it’s him” tension by the end.

We were also pleased to see the return of Grand Designs. If you’re only an occasional viewer I can recommend last week’s Billingshurst, Sussex episode as a lovely, warm-hearted and uplifting one. So nice.

§ Now we’re home from holiday, from a week of peace and quiet and nice views, back to peace and quiet and nice views. One of our apple trees fell down while we were away – the weight of the apples being too much for a slightly rotten trunk we think. Otherwise, all is well and we were even home in time to go to a neighbour’s 50th birthday barbecue. After 20 months here it’s the first time we’ve been to an event with a load of people at it. It was great, and weird, and easy to forget there’s still a killer plague around.

§ I hope you had a good fortnight. Keep keeping safe.

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