Sunday, April 19, 2009

Escape to Paradise

So there I was in the garden of delights: 'Grant & Cutler', off Regent Street. Now this is what I call a bookshop –stuffed with foreign language and literature as well as a fantastic collection of ‘World DVDs’.

I’m too weak willed for browsing there, so I don’t go very often, but I was desperate. I recently joined an Italian conversation group and my attempts to speak had met with sniggers. ‘She’s talking Spanish’, I heard someone whisper.

I only needed an oral ‘brush-up’, as I could read a book in Italian and understood most of what was being said. I did three years part-time at Goldsmiths a while back.

A little research and telephone call pointed to Grant &Cutlers. If I kept my head and practised self-discipline I’d be safe. Besides, the CDs cost £50, which was shocking enough . It was an advanced ‘audio only’ course, devised by a famous teacher called Michel Thomas. No books required.

I’ve been fascinated by foreign culture as long as I can remember. When I was thirteen my father shouted when he found out about my Japanese pen-friend. It wasn’t hard to spot the airmail envelope among the bills, not to mention a small box of carved figures. My parents had shown indifference to letters from France, but poor Akio’s photo was consigned to the back of the door of the outside loo. My father fumed about my ‘fraternising’, after he’d risked his life, etc. The correspondence ended, although I later had a boyfriend whose father was German.

Being born at the wrong end of the English class system probably gave me a positive attitude towards all things foreign, especially as it gradually dawned on me that revolution wasn’t on the cards. Whatever the reason, I remain fascinated by other ways of doing things. It was a kind of epiphany, the first time I saw a French film. A lot of people take to drink, I notice, but speaking foreign languages, eating foreign food, is my way for of pretending I’m not English.

It’s not so rare as you might think. Although most of my friends are foreigners, one, who’s definitely English, is convinced she has Chinese ancestry.

I managed to skirt round ‘end bins’ of discounted books, rows of audio tapes and carousels of DVDs. The Italian section has three parts, all with bookcase so large they require a kick-step to reach the top shelf – dictionaries, language courses and literature. I admit to looking at Korean language books, and fingering a Balzac recording, but I managed to leave with only the discs I came for. Mmm... if my will-power is that good, maybe I can risk another trip to Paradise.

Grant & Cutler

Michel Thomas Italian Course :

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