Saturday, September 30, 2006
Really, Kiki? Why is that, do you think?
Because she's got red hair, just like them.
And long scrawny arms and a fat belly too.
Harry, that's not nice. Say sorry to your sister.
Grandpa, why have you got hairs growing out of your ears?
It's better than having hairs growing into my ears, poppet.
That's silly. Anyway, I think hairy ears are gross.
Maybe so, but it's better than having hairy eyeballs.
Grandpa, I don't wish to continue this conversation.
Mommy, Harry's put the cat in the refrigerator again.
Harry! You bad boy! Why did you do that?
It's a hot day, and she's wearing a fur coat.
So you thought it would cool her down, right?
No, I just think it's fun putting the cat in the refrigerator.
Kiki, finish eating your apple.
But, Mommy, it's got half a worm in it.
Mommy, I think Grandpa is dead.
What???? Why do you say that?
He's asleep in the chair, but he's not snoring.
Oh, what a relief. He's all right, darling. He's just taking a nap.
Well, I guess it's quite nice not having him dead around the place.
Traces of the second person singular - thou-thee-thy-thine - survived. The verb to be shows its Germanic origins, eg, German du bist, Dawley thee bist. Regular phoneme shifts occurred, eg, the /ou/ in "cold" becomes /ow/ "cowd".
The dialect had some unique vocabulary, eg, shommocks for legs (possibly cognate with French jambe?), larrup for beer, jonnock for honest.
Best of all, it had a range of colourful expressions, some of which make a sort of sense, eg, cowd enough for collar studs; others of which defy explanation, eg, as happy as an eight-day corner cupboard.
Along with the expressions came folk wisdom. The best advice you could give a friend who had to visit the police or the income tax office or any other daunting official institution was to tek on theesel soft, meaning, behave as if you were soft, ie, simple-minded.
One expression that has gained wider currency is All round the Wrekin, literally taking the long way round to get somewhere, and often used to describe the behaviour of someone who takes forever to get to the point; equivalent of the more widespread idiom "beat about the bush".
This was moreorless the language of my childhood years, until, after 11, I went to the local Grammar School, where my speech became, for want of a better word, normalised. But, never fear, I can still talk Dawley. The trouble is, like the man who spoke Hittite, there's nobody left to talk to.
Anyway, here is a selection. No translations unless requested!
Ow bist, owd jockey?
Thee cust say what thee't a mind
Shift thee shommocks
Tek on theeself soft
I anna sid im
An any on ya got an onion on ya?
Cowd enough fer collar studs
Cowd enough fer bootlaces
Wur'st bin? Round the back o Notties on a nail
Wur'st bin? Thur an back to see ow far it is.
Gizza a pint a larrup.
Thee'st like a bloke I'm uncle to.
A couple of anecdotes to conclude this obituary notice.
It is said that in the bad old days of poverty and hardship, Dawley women going to buy a sheep's head from the butcher's would say: "Leave the eyes in, it's got to see us through the week"
The pride of Dawley was the Dawley Prize Band. It is said that Dawley people used to put their pig on the wall to watch the Band go by. And there is a story that on one occasion, the Band were playing in the street when a woman from a nearby house came out and asked them to play more quietly as her husband was ill in bed. So they took their boots off and played in their stockinged feet.
And finally, for your language homework, translate the following story, told to me by Timmy Deakin (the one whose sister became Mrs Lennie Price qv): I ad a big yalla farret. One day I put me ond in is cage, and the bugger bet me. But I fonged owd o im and gid im a right cloutin. I tell thee, I made the bugger owk.
If Bud Abbott and Lou Costello were alive today, their infamous sketch, "Who's on First?" might have turned out something like this:
COSTELLO CALLS TO BUY A COMPUTER FROM ABBOTT
ABBOTT: Super Duper Computer Store. Can I help you?
COSTELLO: Thanks. I'm setting up an office in my den and I'm thinking about buying a computer.
COSTELLO: No, the name's Lou.
ABBOTT: Your computer?
COSTELLO: I don't own a computer. I want to buy one.
COSTELLO: I told you, my name's Lou.
ABBOTT: What about Windows?
COSTELLO: Why? Will it get stuffy in here?
ABBOTT: Do you want a computer with Windows?
COSTELLO: I don't know. What will I see when I look at the windows?
COSTELLO: Never mind the windows. I need a computer and software.
ABBOTT: Software for Windows?
COSTELLO: No. On the computer! I need something I can use to write proposals, track expenses and run my business. What do you have?
COSTELLO: Yeah, for my office. Can you recommend anything?
ABBOTT: I just did.
COSTELLO: You just did what?
ABBOTT: Recommend something.
COSTELLO: You recommended something?
COSTELLO: For my office?
COSTELLO: OK, what did you recommend for my office?
COSTELLO: Yes, for my office!
ABBOTT: I recommend Office with Windows.
COSTELLO: I already have an office with windows! OK, let's just say I'm sitting at my computer and I want to type a proposal. What do I need?
COSTELLO: What word?
ABBOTT: Word in Office.
COSTELLO: The only word in office is office.
ABBOTT: The Word in Office for Windows.
COSTELLO: Which word in office for windows?
ABBOTT: The Word you get when you click the blue "W".
COSTELLO: I'm going to click your blue "w" if you don't start with some straight answers. What about financial bookkeeping? You have anything I can track my money with?
COSTELLO: That's right. What do you have?
COSTELLO: I need money to track my money?
ABBOTT: It comes bundled with your computer.
COSTELLO: What's bundled with my computer?
COSTELLO: Money comes with my computer?
ABBOTT: Yes. No extra charge.
COSTELLO: I get a bundle of money with my computer? How much?
ABBOTT: One copy.
COSTELLO: Isn't it illegal to copy money?
ABBOTT: Microsoft gave us a license to copy Money.
COSTELLO: They can give you a license to copy money?
ABBOTT: Why not? They own it!
A few days later:
ABBOTT: Super Duper computer store. Can I help you?
COSTELLO: How do I turn my computer off?
ABBOTT: Click on "START"
Friday, September 29, 2006
Yep, I can attest to that.
Years ago, when I was reasonably fit and lissome, I was part of a ringing expedition to ring Storm Petrels on an island off the north coast of Scotland. On the way, the colleague with whom I was travelling said that, as it was my first time in the Highlands, I should climb a Monroe. A Monroe is a mountain over 3000 feet. With his help I did it, crawling the last few yards to add my stone to the cairn, the heap of stones on the summit formed by all those who had previously climbed this mountain.
"What's the technique for going down?" I asked my companion.
"Leaping like a goat," he said.
So I leapt like a goat.
It took four months for my injured left knee to get back to some kind of normal. Now, decades later, I still have problems with my left knee.
Listen, my beloveds, if someone invites you to experience an "Extreme Dream", tell him* to geh kak afn yam. I am sure I don't need to translate that particular Yiddishism.
By the way, I have been to the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro. It is a beautiful mountain, and I am content to admire it from way down below.
*I will not add /her, because generally women are much too intelligent to fall for this macho kak.
His faithful companion is Boot, an Old English Sheepdog (sort of). Boot believes he is of aristocratic lineage, cruelly deprived of his rightful inheritance by the lack of an opposable thumb. He is fond of sausages.
Then there are a whole range of characters: Maisie, fiercely female and hilariously unstoppable; Marlon, a dumb but lovable kid; Baby Grumpling, who knows that worms are for eating.
There are also wonderful animal characters with walk-on parts. the raddled poodle, Tattie Oldbitt, the sailors' friend: the bloodhound, BA Calcutta (failed); and a tortoise in the shape of a WWII German helmet who looks like AH and speaks in Fraktur.
Ask my children about the Eyeballs in the Sky, and they will tell you everything you need to know about an otherworld experience that happens to crabs in rockpools every summer, and confirms, at least for the crabs, that there is a Divine Presence after all.
Me, I'm with the crabs on this; it was the Perishers converted me.
Thursday, September 28, 2006
(I will not try your patience further, but please read this one. During our lives, we meet many Warty Bliggenses... Archy knows whereof he speaks)
i met a toad
the other day by the name
of warty bliggens
he was sitting under
he explained that when the cosmos
that toadstool was especially
planned for his personal
shelter from sun and rain
thought out and prepared
do not tell me
said warty bliggens
that there is not a purpose
in the universe
the thought is blasphemy
a little more
that warty bliggens
considers himself to be
the center of the same
the earth exists
to grow toadstools for him
to sit under
the sun to give him light
by day and the moon
and wheeling constellations
to make beautiful
the night for the sake of
to what act of yours
do you impute
this interest on the part
of the creator
of the universe
i asked him
why is it that you
are so greatly favored
said warty bliggens
what the universe
has done to deserve me
if i were a
human being i would
at poor warty bliggens
have only too often
lodged in the crinkles
of the human cerebrum
The creation of a New York journalist, Don Marquis, Archy the cockroach and Mehitabel the cat became such a part of my life that I can't imagine what life would be like without Archy's vers libre poetry. My children were brought up on it, and even today many years on, Sarah can still recite whole chunks of it by heart. I also corrupted a generation of schoolboys by getting them into poetry by way of Archy and Mehitabel. Here is how Archy first introduced himself to Don Marquis. (By the way, if you are wondering how Archy managed to type, he produced each letter by leaping into the air and coming down head first on to the relevant key. Of course, he couldn't do capitals or punctuation, but who needs them anyway?)
expression is the need of my soul
I was once a vers libre bard
but i died and my soul went into the body of a cockroach
it has given me a new outlook upon life
i see things from the under side now
thank you for the apple peelings in the wastepaper basket
but your paste is getting so stale i cant eat it
there is a cat here called mehitabel i wish you would have
removed she nearly ate me the other night why dont she
catch rats that is what she is supposed to be for
there is a rat here she should get without delay
most of these rats here are just rats
but this rat is like me he has a human soul in him
he used to be a poet himself
night after night i have written poetry for you
on your typewriter
and this big brute of a rat who used to be a poet
comes out of his hole when it is done
and reads it and sniffs at it
he is jealous of my poetry
he used to make fun of it when we were both human
he was a punk poet himself
and after he has read it he sneers
and then he eats it
i wish you would have mehitabel kill that rat
or get a cat that is onto her job
and i will write a series of poems showing how things look
to a cockroach
that rats name is freddy
the next time freddy dies i hope he wont be a rat
but something smaller i hope i will be a rat
in the next transmigration and freddy a cockroach
i will teach him to sneer at my poetry then
dont you ever eat any sandwiches in your office
i havent had a crumb of bread for i dont know how long
or a piece of ham or anything but apple parings
and paste leave a piece of paper in your machine
every night you can call me archy
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Badly overheard remarks, phrases without context, muffled words: these are the stuff of bad dreams. For example, I was standing in a crowded Tube train and I heard a seated woman say to her companion: "Send the bones to Woking." Of course she didn't say that, but to this day I have not been able to figure out what she did say.
Once on a crowded bus, I was sitting behind two women. There was such a hubbub of voices that the only phrase of their conversation that I heard clearly was: "So, it wasn't much use to him after that. Not as a leg, that is." No context.. Did she really say that? And if so, what on earth did she mean? And if not, what on earth did she really say?
Many years ago, I was teaching a Proficiency class when my Tunisian student, a serious and well-dressed man called Max Maarek, who had a voice like a cement mixer, stood up and growled: "I must go and change my shirt", and walked out of the classroom without another word. Who knows?
Once, a very attractive Swiss student, Marianne LeCoultre, sashayed up to me like a fullrigged galleon, and asked: "Sir, do you have the fire for me?" Hey, I'm only human! In that case, however, the fact that she was holding an unlighted cigarette in her fingers gave me a clue. Sometimes I can be real smart. Duh.
A colleague told me how he was walking along the street in Edinburgh when a bell began to ring in the distance. A woman passing by said: "It's the University, there'll be rain." Explanations on a postcard, please.
When I first started teaching adult foreign students, I was sitting with a group in a pub one evening and the German girl next to me asked me "Do you have a fairy?" You can write your answer on the same postcard....
I won't go on. All I will say is that, down the long arches of the years, this kind of thing has happened to me too many times. It's enough seriously to disturb a person's poise. I swear my REM sleep these days is just rapid eye movement. No sleep, just rapid eye movement.
Speeding is foolish and dangerous. Driving at 60 mph in a 30mph builtup area is criminal. Speed cameras are a means of identifying the maniacs who break the law in this way. So far so good. But how often do the following happen to ordinary jacks and jills like you and me:
1 The speed restriction sign is obscured by vegetation so you don't see it
2 You realise that you are not sure if you are in a 40 or a 30 zone, and there are no reminder signs
3 You slow down as you approach the 30 zone, but you are still going at about 35 when you enter it
Sorry, jack and jill, it makes no difference. If the camera captures you, it's a £60 fine and 3 penalty points on your licence. Accumulate 10 penalty points and you are banned from driving for 1-3 years. At the moment, some 40, 000 citizens, wicked or not, are banned in the UK..
Ah, but surely you can appeal against the conviction? Indeed you can, and much good may it do you. Very occasionally, the police have no choice but to accept migitating circumstances - perhaps allowing one appeal in every several hundred - but you can bet they grind their officious teeth when they have to do so - and remember you afterwards.
There's an interesting twist too, in that this seems to be the one case in English law where you are guilty until proved innocent.
Is there any solution to what many people perceive as an unjust situation in which thousands of law-abiding citizens are effectively being criminalised? My suggestion - and I am sure nobody is listening - is that each time someone is caught, the fine should be doubled. The punishment of penalty points on the licence should only be applied to cases where the driver is obviously driving dangerously.
If you have read this far, you deserve a treat, so here is a picture to gladden the eye. It has nothing to do with the traffic cops and their 'orrid speed cameras. It's Joanna Lumley wearing my djellabiyah.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Grandpa, why are your teeth crooked?
You couldn't get honest teeth when I was a boy.
That's a silly answer.
Maybe, but my crooked teeth are famous.
They modelled the Jewish cemetery in Prague after my bottom set.
I think it's time for your nap, Grandpa.
And the Lord said “Let there be light” and there was Light and you could see for miles and miles. And the Minister of Public Works sent Him a memo saying “Hast Thou, in Thy Infinite Wisdom, taken care to ensure that the Light that Thou has created is properly earthed?”
And the Lord, undismayed, madeth He Night and Day, just like Cole Porter, and the Minister for the Environment sent Him a memo saying “Hast Thou, in Thy Infinite Doodah etc, thought about Daylight Saving Time, for we cannot possibly afford to keep the Lights on all the time, Thou knowest, what with Oil Prices going up all the time, and Arabs being unreliable and all that.”
Then created He, still undaunted, the Beasts of the Field, and the Minister of Agriculture waxed exceeding wrath, for – as he wrote in a terse memo – clearly No Divine Thought had been given to the risks of Mad Cow Disease, Swine Fever, Foot and Mouth, never mind the bloody paperwork involved thereunto and therewith and thereupon.
And then, despite the onset of Doubts, continued He with the Job of Creation, bringing into being Man and Woman and a Snake to give them something to think about. And the Minister for Cultural Affairs waxed even wrather, and said unto Him: There’ll be Hell to pay once those two start procreating, what with Overpopulation, Climate Change, GM Crops, the Perils of Immigration and all Kinds of Darkies taking over and that.
And God thought about this for a while, and then sighed a long Divine Sigh, and lost interest in the Whole Fucking Project.
I have nothing against Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Shakers, Quakers and the Peculiar People, but I really didn’t enjoy having them knock on my door on a cold November evening to tell me how to get in good with Him Above just as I was curling up in front of an open fire and sampling the latest of my vintner’s 10%-off-if-you-buy-a-crate-of-it.
It seemed to me that God’s business should be subject to the Shops and Offices Act, and therefore conducted only between the hours of 8 am and 5 30 pm, miracles and emergencies excepted (My goodness, that ages me: all that restrictive stuff disappeared in the Thatcher Era).
Anyway, here I am relaxed as a newt and toasting my toes, my lovely 11-year-old daughter on the carpet before me working on yet another proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem (she was like that), when the doorbell rang. Bugger!
Says I: “Sarah, just tell them we are Catholics”. We weren’t, but it saved a whole lot of discussion.
Sarah went to the door, then came back and said: “Dad, it’s a man selling double-glazing.”
“That’s ok, just tell him we are Catholics.”
And, my hand to God, that’s exactly what she did: “My dad says thank you, but we are all Catholics here.” The poor guy! My guess is he went into a serious decline after that, changed his profession and emigrated to Tristan da Cunha.
When it comes to relaxing indoor wear, I prefer a djellabiyah. The first one I ever had was a gift from a Libyan student. It was a mid-blue in very slinky material with an embroidered pocket that must have been copied from a mural in the Alhambra Palace. It would have looked good on Joanna Lumley.
As to my hat, I have already described the posh fisherman’s titfer that my colleague gave me one drunken evening just before we entered Longi’s, the one that would look good on a scarecrow.
Now, imagine all three of these items on me together: sturdy gentlemen farmer’s Hunter Royals, a Joanna Lumley sky-blue djellabiyah and a rough tweed hat.
Now, imagine an infestation of rodents.
I had called in the city ratcatcher, who duly arrived and took two steps backwards when I opened the door dressed as described above. To give him his due, he recovered his aplomb, or whatever a ratcatcher needs to catch rats, and went upstairs to do the business, leaving me free to return to the garden to finish filling the bird feeders (hence the Hunter Royals and the tweed hat added to my usual djellabiyah).
Later he came into the kitchen so that I could sign off his invoice. He stood well away from me, apprehensive at being in the presence of a bearded oaf in a frock, and then said in that delicious Dorset twang that makes you want to love them all: “You don’t mind my asking, but what do you do?”
At that time I was on a fulltime writing contract, so I said a little self-consciously: “I am a writer.” He frowned, then, as he backed away, he said: "You don't get many of them round here", and went out of my life forever.
The internet is awash with unfunny funnies. I thought this one an exception. My thanks to Marjorie H for sending it to me.
Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak
He who laughs last thinks slowest.
Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.
Those who live by the sword get shot by those who don't.
Nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool.
The 50-50-90 rule: Anytime you have a 50-50 chance of getting something right, there's a 90% probability you'll get it wrong.
If you lined up all the cars in the world end to end, someone would be stupid enough to try to pass them, five or six at a time, on a hill, in the fog.
If the shoe fits, get another one just like it.
The things that come to those who wait will be the things left by those who got there first.
Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will sit in a boat all day drinking beer.
Flashlight: A case for holding dead batteries.
The shin bone is a device for finding furniture in a dark room.
A fine is a tax for doing wrong. A tax is a fine for doing well.
When you go into court, you are putting yourself In the hands of 12 people who weren't smart enough to get out of jury duty.
Monday, September 25, 2006
The Bush Hotel was an old coaching inn with lots of pokey rooms, so that different groups in the village could meet in different rooms to talk gardening, sport, politics, women or freemasonry.
The Snug was where the common folk met, the ones who just wanted a pint and maybe a game of dominoes. Among the regulars was one that I loved. His name was Lennie Price and he was blind from birth. He was a small man, wizened almost, but always animated. We played dominoes with him using tiles with raised dots, and he was a wizard at the game. He only drank half-pints of Bass, but he seemed to get through a fair few of an evening. The locals joshed him that when he went to the urinal he had to pee down his stick to avoid wetting his trousers. Sounds cruel put like that, but the affection that everyone felt for Lennie was palpable, and he knew it.
My favourite story about Lennie was that, after a bibulous lunchtime in the Bush, he wobbled his way home down the High Street and bumped into one of Farmer Billington’s cows. According to witnesses, Len raised his hat and apologised. Later he explained that he “thought it was a woman in a fur coat.”
When he was already pushing sixty, he surprised everyone by marrying a village woman who was only ever known as “Timmy Deakin’s sister.” Timmy Deakin’s sister was as ugly as sin, God bless her, but Len was happier than he had ever been. Shades of J M Synge's Well of the Saints.
Fortunately it didn’t stop him taking his corner in the Snug of the Bush, but he tended to leave well before closing time after that...
Love is blind, as they say.
Envoi: When Lennie Price died, the funeral was one of the biggest that Hadley had ever witnessed. As for the Bush Hotel, the bastard developers pulled it down, with many other fine old buildings, to make way for Telford New Town.
Sunday, September 24, 2006
Autumn: "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness". As far as I am concerned, the mellow fruitfulness means fungi. We don't take them seriously enough in Britain (leaving aside the expatriate Italian community, who know where the good stuff is, and will never tell you). I lived for a while in Catalonia and went with a colleague, Cristofol, on fungus forays into the pre-Pyrenees. I got a lot of tips from him, perhaps the most important of which was his response whenever I took a worthless fungus to him to ask if it was edible: "Pues, si, pero no hace falta," he would reply, which meant in effect "Well, you could eat it, but why bother when there are so many better ones to be had?" The truth is that most fungi are edible but not worth eating. A few are delicious, most are harmless, a few are deadly poisonous, and some aren't dangerous but would make you feel unwell. The trick is only to eat the ones you are sure of. Admire the rest but leave them be.
So, which ones are good to eat? In addition to the field mushroom that everyone knows, there are other Agarics, including the Wood Mushroom, which are just as eatable.
There are the Parasols (Macrolepiota procera, which is delicious; and M. rhacodes, the Shaggy Parasol, which is coarser but still good eating).
There's the Giant Puffball when it's fresh.
And there's the Shaggy Inkcap Coprinus comatus, sometimes called Lawyer's Wig. Fry your bacon and then cook the shaggies in the fat, and to hell with your calorie-controlled diet. Delicious! Also, when it's fresh. there's its cousin C. atramentarius: also good eating, but avoid alcohol or you will get the collywobbles.
If you can find them, the Blewits are delicious despite their disconcerting blueish or purplish blush.
Under birch, you might find one of the Lactarius species (so-called because they "lactate" - ooze a milky liquid - when cut). This one is L. piperatus, the Pepper Mushroom. Break off a little piece and test the milk with the tip of your tongue. Chilli peppers are mild by comparison.
Chanterelles are aristocrats among fungi. The "boleteieres" or fungus collectors, of Catalonia make a good living providing "rovellons" - Chanterelles - for the restaurants. These bright orange beauties with their copper-sulphate stains are startling to behold but divine to eat cooked in garlic. But take care you do not confuse them with one of the Clitocybes, which will do you no good at all.
There's a whole family of fungi, the Boletus species, which have spongy gills. The most famous must be the Cep Boletus edulis, which French gourmets will kill for. The various Boletes are mostly associated with particular trees, so in my woodland-poor area, we are not likely to find many.
Closer to home: if you are lucky you might have Fairy Ring mushrooms Marasmius oreades growing on your lawn. Instead of cursing them, pick them, dry them and use them in winter soups.
For those looking for thrills, there are some naughty "magic" fungi, one of which, Paneolus sphinctrinus, is a cowpat-lover. If you find the quintessential toadstool, the Fly Agaric, that's the one with the red cap covered in white bits, you could always bite off a piece and see if you end up in a Yellow Submarine, but no more than a nibble, or you might end up in a Pine Box. Of course, our Nanny Government has made it illegal to pick magic mushrooms.
But, eating apart, there are many species of fungus which are just very pretty to look at. My favourite is the one called "Little Japanese Umbrella" and you will know it immediately you see it - probably on your lawn - because that is what it looks like. Others are spectacular, like the bracket fungi, which attach themselves to the boles of trees. Dryad's Saddle is a good example.
There are many books to help you identify fungi, but the only one I can recommend is Mushrooms and Other Fungi of Great Britain by Roger Phillips, published by Pan Books. Excellent photographs.
One last word: brightly-coloured fungi are not necessarily dangerous, pale "mushroom"-coloured fungi are not necessarily safe. As for magic mushrooms, if you find any, leave them alone, but do send me the Grid Reference. Immediately.
Hawkmoths are the big spectacular ones, always a joy to find in the trap.
At this time of year, we all get excited at the prospect of catching migrant moths.
National Moth Night was good to me, because I caught my first ever Convolvulus Hawkmoth, illustrated here, and it's a BIG one.
In case you are wondering, all the moths are released safely into the vegetation after being identified.
Saturday, September 23, 2006
Today marks two important events in the world calendar. In Muslim countries, it is the start of Ramadan, the thirty days of fasting. And in Britain it is National Moth Night, when every mothtrapper in the country has their traps set. I am sure there is a mystical connection between these two events, but I am damned if I know what it is. Wait a moment, though, maybe there IS a connection......
How does a Muslim know when to start and stop fasting? How does a mothtrapper know when to switch on and switch off the Mercury Vapour lamps? If you are sitting comfortably, I will tell you.
To determine the exact moment of sunset and sunrise, the imam – or the mothtrapper – holds up two threads, one black and one white. When it is no longer possible to distinguish the black from the white, when, that is, the threads look grey, it is the moment of sunset and time to break the fast and to switch on the moth trap lamps. In the morning, when the grey threads separate into black and white, it is time to start fasting and to switch off the moth trap lamps.
All of the above is true, except for the fact that Muslims no longer depend on holding up two threads, and mothtrappers, as far as I know, never did.
I just hope I have said nothing offensive. I would hate for the Imam or the National Mothtrapping Council to put a fatwa on me.
Ceanothus - also known as Californian Lilac - has had a good year. Interestingly, while my two have flourished here in the Fens, Sarah's in San Diego have failed to take. This photograph was taken in Spring, and there are still a few blossoms left. I don't think it is very useful for wildlife, but it's so pretty that I really don't mind.
So, Dad, why did you choose to do your postgraduate course at Liverpool?
My first degree was Ivy League; I wanted to experience Redbrick.
A sensible decision?
Not really. I hardly attended any lectures, and I regretted that I hadn’t gone back to Oxford. But you make your bed, you lie on it.
So, did you get anything out of your time on Merseyside?
Certainly. I learned to speak English with a Scouse accent.
Be serious, Dad.
I worked for a while in a local Grammar School where I met some wonderful people: I am only sad that I have lost touch with all of them.
I visited a local nursery school and chatted up a delicious blonde teacher. My goodness, she was a stunner.You know her as “Mum”
What about all this social mixing? What was that about?
Well, as a friend of mine, Jack Balmer, once remarked: we have working class origins, an upper class education and a middle class income. So effectively we beneficiaries of the 1944 Education Act didn’t belong anywhere. It has taken me a lot of years to reconcile the contradictions.
Liverpool became famous because of the Beatles, didn’t it? Were you part of that scene?
Your mum and I visited The Cavern once, but that was 1961 and the Beatles were still in Germany. And we used to frequent a coffee bar called the Jacaranda (known locally as the Randy Knacker) which later became famous. But of course I am always happy to lie about my Beatles connection.
Tell us about your courtship. Was it very romantic?
Ask your mother.
During the late fifties, when I did postgraduate stuff at Liverpool University, I lived on the other side of the Mersey, in Seacombe, a poor suburb of Wallasey. I regularly used to drink in a pub, the official name of which was the Five Bars Rest, but which was known locally as “The Jawbreaker’s Arms”, for obvious reasons (Joke: If a stranger asked about all the sawdust on the floor, he would be told: "Until last night, that was furniture.")
Now, by the standards of Seacombe in those days, I was not only a bit posh, but also, being six feet four, an easy target in a public bar for any aggressive midget who wanted to prove that “The bigger they are, the harder they fall”. Damn little men.
But I had a secret weapon in the form of a no-hoper called Jeff Sanders. Jeff had no job, no life, no prospects. His ambition in life was to get “the latchlifter”, the price of half a pint of bitter, to get him esconced in the pub, after which he waited in hope that others would buy the rest of his evening’s intake.
I liked Jeff. He had had a bad start in life, but he wasn’t a bad man. In fact he was intelligent and thoughtful, but he carefully disguised those qualities since you can’t use intelligence to headbutt a man. Instead, he depended on the sort of innocence that characterises the village idiot. I subsided his boozing, and in return he was, amazingly for such a puny fellow, my protector. If any marauding midget came near, Jeff would explain “He’s all right, he’s good skin. He's a friend of mine,” and I was left alone.
After a while, I was accepted by a proportion of the regulars in the public bar, mainly because I could throw a pretty straight dart. I don’t think I could hit the treble-twenty now, but there was a time when I could….
One interesting consequence of my acceptance into this blue-collar community was that I was regarded as the person you would consult if you needed information. Such a request would often start with the words “You’ve been to Oxford college and passed all your degrees, answer me this….”
I didn’t mind, but quite often, the question was on the lines of “Who scored the winning goal for Everton in the 19xx Cup Final?” At that moment, my refuge was to offer to buy the next round of drinks. And maybe knock off a few treble-twenties while I was at it.
Can you complete an alphabet of birds on the British List? Not as easy as it seems, and I will even let you have an escapee Zebra Finch for Z.
After you've done that (or instead of doing that), complete an A-Z list of birds on the North American list.
Or instead of doing either of those, just open another bottle.
Friday, September 22, 2006
French gaucher; Italian sinistro; Spanish zurdo; Portuguese canhoto
You see? In French we are gauche, awkward, clumsy. In Italian, we are sinister, not to be trusted. In Spanish, we are associated with the absurd, the unnatural. The Portuguese canhoto is also a word for the devil.
To be fair, there are languages which are non-judgmental, simply recording the fact that we are left-handed:
German linkshändig; Dutch linkshandige; Russian ЛЕВША
I have no idea about the following, but I would bet a bag of Bassett's Allsorts they are not saying anything nice:
Greek αριστερόχειρας; Arabic اليسار مسلم
It's possible - or it was - to be sacked for one's lefthandedness. As a student, I went to work in the sorting office at Wellington Post Office. There were rows and rows of pigeonholes for various destinations, and our task - there were several sorters to each bank of pigeonholes - was to flick the letters into the correct pigeon hole. Where they rested diagonally. I'm sure you are ahead of me. Yes, everyone else was right-handed, so their letters landed top right to bottom left. All of mine went top left to bottom right. End of my career as a Post Office sorter.
One more thing: please don't coil my hosepipe for me: it'll end up in a terrible tangle.
There is no point in an old scrote like me railing now against the illogicality of these perceptions. The reason I am raising the issue again is to make an observation and to ask a question.
I have noticed that the pluralising of the pronoun has become widespread as a means of avoiding circumlocutions. Thus, for example, a clumsy sentence like Everyone must put his/her books in his/her locker, or take his/her things with him/her when he/she leaves is much more likely to be rendered these days as Everyone must put their books in their lockers, or take their things with them when they leave. And instead of A teacher should listen to what his/her students are saying, the plural form can be used: Teachers should listen to what their students are saying.
Does this issue arise in other languages? How, for example, do Germans nowadays render the proverb Man ist was er isst (One is what one eats)? The word man is an indefinite pronoun like the French on (The word for a male is ein Mann in German), but the word er is the masculine pronoun he, in contrast to sie (she). I assume the same kind of construction occurs in other Germanic languages like Dutch and Danish. Fortunately for them, the Romance languages don’t have the problem, eg, On doit faire son bouleau, where on is gender neutral, and the possessive is masculine gender (son as against sa) to agree with the masculine noun le bouleau.
Postscript: you will have noticed that I translated the German man using the English definite pronoun one. The reasons why the pronoun one was not adopted to solve the pronoun issue are obscure, but there is a perception that it is affected, and that only posh people like Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the Archbishop of Canterbury use it. One wonders if one would be on one’s own in starting a campaign for its wider adoption. One suspects that one would only end up making a right fool of oneself, wouldn’t one?
Thursday, September 21, 2006
There are only two parts of the human body where the skin does not move freely: the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet. It has something to do with swinging about in trees, I believe. A strange thing can happen to the palms of your hands, namely, that the tissue below the surface can contract, causing hard lumps on your palms, and, more seriously, pulling your fingers forward into a clawlike position (usually the annular finger).
I have already had an operation on my left hand for Dupuytren’s Contracture, and I shall soon need an operation on my right hand.
Of course, there is no reason why you should give a tinker’s cuss about my medical condition, and there is no reason why I should tell you about it, except that I was looking for an excuse to post a picture of a pretty nurse. Well a person has to do something to brighten up a dull autumn day.
My first mechanised mode of transport was a Lambretta scooter (Li150 for the technos amongst you). Bloody good, except it froze the gonads off you if you went any distance in the cool times of year, which in England means most times of year. I also bought a duffel coat, very trendy gear in the early sixties, trust me on this. Not one of the poncy things you buy nowadays: this was ex-Navy stock, designed to withstand Arctic blizzards on the Archangel run. It was so voluminous – as indeed I am myself – that anyone seeing me zooming along the Queen’s highway on me scooter, duffel-wrapped,could only see a seated figure, not the scooter. That must have been disconcerting.
When I moved to Bournemouth, I fell in with the expat Italian crowd – mostly restaurant and hotel workers – and it was a joy to zoom round the Square beduffled and bescootered in the morning to cheers and cries of “Ciao, Professore!”, this being the only time in my life that I achieved celebrity status.
The pillion was a hallowed place, having many times felt the warmth of the lovely bum of the lovely lass who was later to become Mrs Allsop. One winter’s eve, we rounded a corner, hit ice and skidded. I went one way, the scooter went another, and the future Mrs A yet another. I picked myself up and immediately ran to see if my scooter was all right, completely forgetting the spreadeagled lady on her back in the middle of the road. Why she married me after that, I will never know. Love’s a funny thing, ain't it?
That's ok, Kiki, you don't have to eat it if you don't want to.
But Harry keeps stealing my cabbage. That's not fair.
You are right, sweetheart. He should steal something you like.
Grandpa, I don't think you are listening to me.
Harry, why are you digging a hole in the lawn?
I am looking for buried treasure, Grandpa.
Have you found any?
I found this beer bottle top.
Keep digging, dear boy. You never know....
Mommy, Harry just ate my carrot!
Harry, why did you eat Kiki's carrot?
Harry, would you like another carrot for your very own?
No, that's ok, Mommy, Kiki needs them more than I do.
Harry, tell Kiki you are sorry you stole her carrot.
But I'm not sorry, Mommy. I don't want to tell a lie.
OK, OK, tell her you're sorry anyway.
What's the big deal? It was only a carrot.
Listen, you monster, don't go all Republican on me!
An Arab client entrusts a number of young men to your care for training. But, it is not always easy to determine the names of your trainees. Every Arab has three names: a first name, a patronymic (father’s name) and a surname (often related to a tribal connexion).
We had a trainee whose first name was Issa (Believe it or not, that is the Arab equivalent of Jesus). His patronymic was Abdullah. His surname/tribal name was Ettwager.
Faxes and telexes flowed back and forth, and he was constantly referred to by any one of his three names. So, for our own purposes, we named him IOWOFNI, which stood for “Issa, or whatever his fucking name is”.One day, the Chairman of the company called us in to resolve a problem: he could not invoice for one trainee, because, he told us, he had no record of a trainee called Iowofni.
Days like that, I really loved my job.
Between 1974 and 1978, long before the expression “yuppie” had been invented, I worked for an organisation that had something of the Wild West about it. Great years! We were selling English language courses to foreign learners, and it was, frankly, a licence to print money (Later, the market got tough, and I moved into industrial and management training with an equally buccaneering company based near Cambridge).
Anyway, the point of this story is to tell you about Longi’s. Longi’s was the poshest and most expensive restaurant in town, and we could afford to eat there any time we felt like it, whereas for most people, it was a once a decade treat.
With my cronies, usually after a good night in the boozer, we would go to Longi’s for a late supper, generally some expensive fish and white wine. On one occasion, one of my colleagues had presented me with a hat, the sort that an upmarket angler might wear. I wore it going into Longi’s and asked Longi what he thought. “Rassomigli uno spaventapasseri,” he said with more than a touch of venom in his tone (The restaurant was full of respectable customers, you understand, not people like us).His words carried a double insult: first, he told me I looked like a scarecrow; and secondly, he used the “tu” form, which is reserved for intimates, family and people you want to humiliate.I gave up being a yuppie after that. Mind you, I still continued to eat at Longi’s, first because the food was so good; and secondly, because I was always guaranteed quattro chiacchiere – a nice chat in Italian – with Signora L, who didn't think I was a yuppie or a scarecrow, but just a nice chap. One day, I intend to live up to her expectations of me.
PS Longi was interned on the Isle of Man during WWII as an undesirable alien. I don't blame him for being bitter.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
"In my day, we had to make our own amusements."
How many times have you heard old scrotes say that to today's youngsters? Here's a short list of such home-made amusements:
- blind man's buff
- musical chairs
- tag (we called it "tick")
- tin can murkey (obscure, that one)
- scrumping (stealing fruit from orchards)
- oranges and lemons
Personally, I have given up all these childish pursuits, except for scrumping.
While I was in Istanbul on business early one September, I told my host that I wanted to spend a day birdwatching from the Camlica Hills. This is the vantage point birders use to watch the raptors and storks migrating south over the Bosporus. It's a magical sight, seeing the birds coming high out of the mist over the wonderful skyline on the European side - all mosques and minarets - and flying over our heads on their way into Asia and points south. Eagles and buzzards and falcons and hawks and white storks and black storks: a bonanza of birds.
I had a bonus that day. I was driven there by my host's driver, Mehmet, who sat in the car patiently while I joined the birders at the parapet, a chattering mix of German and Dutch and French and others. At a certain moment, Mehmet came up to me and asked - in Turkish of course - if I would like something to drink. I asked - in Turkish of course - for elma çay (apple tea), which he brought to me ceremoniously on a tray. Later, he came again to ask me if I wanted something for lunch, and again brought my order to me on a tray. The gobs of my fellow-birders were well and truly smacked. It's the only time in my life that I felt as if I were royalty. And, being an ass-hat, I offered no explanation to the lesser mortals around me.
I got my comeuppance later, though, when I called a Lesser Spotted Eagle that turned out to be a melanistic buzzard of some kind. After that, nothing brought to me by my faithful majordomo on a silver platter could have made up for such a pathetic gaffe.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
For many of my generation, the war was immediate and terrifying: the blitz in London, the bombing raids on major cities, the mass evacuation of city children to rural areas, deaths of relatives and neighbours, and so on. But, for a child like me, living in a small farming village in an obscure part of an unimportant rural county, the war was on the periphery of our vision. What follows is my war, nothing you could make a blockbuster movie about, that’s for sure:
I remember my dad in his Air Raid Patrol uniform. What I liked best was his police whistle, which he carried on a braided yellow cord over his shoulder. I still have the whistle.
With rationing and shortages, the British learned to queue. Outside the village bakery, early in the morning before it opened, a queue would form. Not a queue of people, but of their shopping baskets. A touching demonstration of trust, honesty and civic spirit.
Packets of dried (powdered) egg were only one of many food substitutes that came – I think – in food parcels from North America. Dried egg made thin leathery omelettes, which is why to this day, I prefer my omelettes that way. I can remember, too, a sardine substitute, a grotesque fish called Snoek, but only its name, not what it tasted like. And whale meat (Punsters, remember the wartime song sung by Vera Lynn: “Whale meat again……” Groan).
Strips of silvery foil were dropped from aeroplanes to confuse radar, lots and lots. These silvery ribbons were like a currency, along with circular card milk-bottle-tops, so part of my childhood was devoted to scouring the fields round the village looking for this precious booty, as negotiable as coin of the realm. You could swap it for marbles or comics or all sorts of treasures...
Some nights, we heard the German bombers going over to bomb Liverpool and Manchester, but we knew they weren’t going to waste bombs on our scruffy little village. One night, though, for reasons I never discovered, my mother, sister and I slept the night under the huge oak farmhouse table in the living-room while my father spent his on ARP vigil, whistle at the ready. That was fun.
We didn’t see many, but my cousin Ray Wetton came by once (His Company were billeted at a nearby camp for two days en route to god knows where). He was desperate for a bath. He let me hold his rifle, so naturally he became my hero (after Tarzan) . After the war, we were aware of the village men who were not coming back. Their names were inscribed on the Village War Memorial, family names I knew because their younger brothers and sisters were my schoolfellows: Stringers and Sherwoods and Perrys….
We had seen pictures of bananas but had never the fruit itself, till one day a cruel boy called Turner brought one into the school playground (His sailor father had brought some when he came home on leave). Turner shared it with his friends. Those of us, including me, who weren’t his friends, looked on enviously, our flabbers utterly gasted. Then he magnanimously gave us the skin. Greedily, our front teeth scraped the lining off the skins, rabbitlike. We had sore lips for days afterwards.
We had a few, including a cockney boy whom we envied for his ability to spit a great distance through a gap in his front teeth. We called him Spitty, but we didn’t like him, because he talked funny, and because the village girls preferred him to us locals.
Preferred reading, mainly because of the cartoon strips: Belinda, Garth, the megamuscled hero, Just Jake… And Jane (Wow! So that’s what girls turn into!).
But the issue of the Mirror that I can never forget was the one that published photographs of the liberation of Belsen in the autumn of 1945. Heaps of emaciated bodies, faces showing suffering beyond human understanding. Horrible. Years later, I met a man who was with the Company that first entered the concentration camp. His job was to drive one of the machines that shovelled the dead bodies into mass graves where quicklime finished them off. Forgive me if I don't post pictures of this.
To tell you the truth, I prefer now to remember the silver foil, the dried egg, Jane and my father’s whistle on its braided yellow cord.
Monday, September 18, 2006
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Anyway, we raised several hundred pounds, thanks to Tabeeya. The dancing was elegant and exciting, the music exotic and the costumes absolutely stunning. This was the only time in my life that my motive for watching beautiful women was totally pure! Well, almost. And this posting gives me an excuse to adorn my blog with something a little more glamorous than toy bears and redstarts.
Saturday, September 16, 2006
Why is that, dear?
I want to be pretty.
Pretty like mommy, you mean?
Oh no, much prettier than that.
Eat your antioxidant sprout souffle, dear.
Grandpa, why don't you go on a diet?
I AM on a diet, honeybunch.
It isn't working, is it, Grandpa?
Sure it is, it takes a lot of will power to stay this fat.
Grandpa, I think you are truly truly weird.
Look, Mommy, I drawed this picture for you.
Drew, dear. Show me.
Don't call me Dru! My name is Sophie Marie Glazebrook.
Yes, dear. Drink your polyunsaturated sugar-free turnip strainings.
Grandpa, wouldn't it be fun to have a dog!
We already have a cat.
A cat's no fun, you can't take a cat for a walk.
Sure you can. Just strap it to Harry's skateboard.
When are you going back to England, Grandpa?
Friday, September 15, 2006
So I can talk to people when they are not there.
Why do you want to talk to people who are not there?
Well, Grandpa does!
Does what, honey?
He talks to people who aren't there.
Eat your fair-trade sunkissed banana fritter, dear.
Very occasionally you meet a person who radiates goodness. In their presence, you feel better about yourself. It's almost a physical thing, the aura that surrounds them, and it washes over you like a benison. I am not much for the touchy-feely stuff, but there is a reality here that can't be explained by any laws of physics that I am aware of.
Goodness. Goodness, what a quality to have! I am sure that the converse, an aura of evil, also exists, but I am relieved that I have not met that first hand, although, like you, I have met some villains in my time. Few people have the aura of goodness (or evil), but we all have capacity for both to some degree.
I have done some things in my life that I am proud of.
I have done some things in my life that I am ashamed of.
I will not boast about the things I am proud of: that is vanity.
I can do nothing now about the things I am ashamed of: if it has been possible to make amends, I have already tried to do so.
Now, I try to be as good a human being as possible in all my dealings with others. Without being pious about it.
If I have done something good for you, I am glad, but don't tell me about it or I might become conceited.
If I have done something bad to you, try to forgive me and tell me what I can do to put it right.
If there is nothing I can do, forgive me anyway. Like you, I am fallible.
Maybe you can understand a little better now why one of my heroes is Pooh Bear: he is not a good bear, he is not a bad bear: he is just a fallible little bear of very little brain.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
vi (punning; punned) to play on words alike or nearly alike in sound but different in meaning.
n a play on words.
[A late-17c word; origin unknown; Ital puntiglio a fine point, has been conjectured (see punctilio)]
The correct reaction to a pun is a groan. The better (worse?) the pun, the louder the groan. Anyone laughing at a pun is either simple-minded or not very British. The first pun I can recall was made by a fellow pupil, Hudson, in a geography lesson about South America. The teacher made reference to the "hacienda" and was shortly afterwards called out of the room on some business. My fellow pupil Hudson said laconically:
"And hacienda the lesson".
Groans all round. I thought it was hilarious - why else should I remember it all these years? - but learned at that moment that puns are not for laughing at, but for groaning at.
Look at this one (the invention of a fellow blogger):
What South American capital was named after a monkey? Lemur, Peru
Shame on you, D!
I'm not sure if it's really a pun, but I relished an addition that someone made to a poster outside the Albert Hall which announced BACH'S ORGAN WORKS. The punster had scrawled at the bottom of the poster: "So does mine." In all honesty, hard as I tried, I couldn't groan at that. I had to give it a full-on belly laugh.
I was delighted to discover that the pun is not an exclusively British thing. For those of you who know Italian, savour this one. Pierino - who else? - identifies the perpetrators of poo as he walks along a country road. His companion says "How do you know who did what?" Pierino replies, "Gli amici si riconoscono nel bisogno." Another Pierino story, much more scurrilous depends on the double meaning of this interchange:
Mother: "Pierino, Pierino! Le chiavi! Le chiavi!"
Pierino: "Mamma, le ho appena conosciute!"
If you want an explanation, email me privately: this is a respectable blog.
Usually, but not always, the moment of "turning" is as the result of an event or a person. I can think of three major turning points in my life, and each is associated with a person, someone who changed my life, or at least my Weltanschauung. If you will bear with me, I will name them as a kind of homage and respect for what they did for me:
John Llewellyn Morgan-Jones, who believed in me when nobody else did (I was 17); RIP
Mariarosa V-T, still alive, thank God, who taught me to be a mensch, just in time;
Alf Crosby, who did so much for me in so many ways. Alf, I miss you.
Enough of that. My point - and there IS a point - is this:
We can all name the people who changed or influenced our lives for the good. But can we name any people whose lives WE have truly changed or influenced for the good?
I hope I have helped people in the way that I have been helped. My problem is that I can easily bring to mind the people I have wronged, intentionally or by default. Why, then, is it so hard for us to recall our good deeds?
Enough of that too.
My son talks about acts of unconditional love. Believe me, I try to perform them, and I also subscribe to the view that one should do good by stealth. One day I will get the hang of it.. I promise.
Envoi: Why the bear? Pooh Bear is my hero, one of the good guys. I thought he deserved a cameo part in this blog.
So, guys, we have some hard choices to make: ban anglers, ban migrant workers or ban fish.