Hello anybody who is still there, sorry to have kept you, thank you for holding etc. I’m still not dead, but one or two people have asked if I have written another post, or have I given up or what, so I thought I’d better write something quick before people stop asking. In a week or two I hope to be publishing something outstandingly interesting and amusing, a real rib-tickler full of wisdom and insight. I can scarcely wait to write it. However, it is currently at what a student of mine once dubbed the pre-ideas stage, so for now I will write whatever this turns out to be. That’s 110 words already.
As predicted in my last post, a second-rate England team were nowhere near good enough during the rest of the World Cup, which didn’t come home. But it’s a dismal thing to have been right about. The rest of the summer was full of family visits, grandchildren and so on, and when that wasn’t happening we had building work going on. We also spent a week or so in the UK. Since then I have been busy emptying my flat, sorting out the garden and generally preparing the place for letting so that I can join the rentier class at last. The weather has continued sunny and dry throughout September, gradually getting cooler but with occasional very hot spells. Everyone is back at work or school now and the morning traffic is terrible again, though Veronica tells me the tourism in Lisbon seems to have slackened off earlier this year than last, to everyone’s relief.
Bits and Pieces
The RA Summer Exhibition
This is colourful and entertaining, not least the way some of the public turn themselves out. I lead a sheltered life, but you only ever seem to see people dressed like that at art galleries. I overhear a cadaverous, posh-sounding old man with a beard, long straggly hair and a strange long coat say with a dry chuckle ‘quite a few people are dressed as if they would like to be taken for artists themselves.’ I think he is probably an artist.
More on pork pies
In Saffron Walden market I buy an excellent pork pie, eat it while the others eat their pasties and so on, then sneak back and buy another one twice the size, which I hide in my bag. Later I bring it out and share what’s left round, because I feel quite sick by then. But if you’re ever in Saffron Walden, don’t miss out.
The charm of Devon
The following is an account of three little incidents which happened in Devon within four hours of each other. If it gives the impression that Devonians are surly, ill-bred people who can’t manage their tempers, this is regretted.
With my daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren, we are renting one end of a sizeable thatched cottage which stands at right-angles to the narrow road out of the village. A gateway off the road gives onto a gravel parking area, with our kitchen door and window on the right and on the left a high brick wall, pierced by a wooden door which leads to a large walled garden. Inside, there are broad herbaceous borders, wooden benches, a good-sized lawn, a little pavilion, a croquet set and so on. Unseen beyond one of the high walls the road continues down to a hump-backed bridge over a small river, but inside it is very secluded and quite magical. I am feeling reverential in here one morning when there is suddenly the loud huffing and squeaking and jouncing of a lorry brought to an abrupt halt, and immediately afterwards a rich Devon voice bawls out:
‘You’re the problem, if you want to know! And I don’t take kindly to being called an idiot.’
By the time I have scuttled across the lawn, through the door and across the gravel to the chest-high street gate, he has climbed down from the cab and is glaring back up the street. His lorry is no more than eight feet from the gate, but he doesn’t glance in my direction.
‘That is no way to bloody park, and if you don’t know that, you should. And if you want me to come back up there, I will.”
There is no reply, and he snorts disgustedly, climbs back up into his cab and drives on. Following him very slowly at a careful distance is one of those smart BMW minis, a convertible, containing a septuagenarian blonde dolly-bird straight from the sixties (without the PVC cap). She pulls a quintessentially middle-class face at me as she passes, midway between a shrug and a collusive, shamefaced smirk. ‘Well really’, you can almost hear her thinking.
Two or three hours later we are in Seaton, an old-school picturesque seaside town (though less picturesque than in photos), complete with an amusement arcade also straight from the sixties. The beach is pebbly, and slopes so steeply that Veronica struggles to clamber back out of the sea, which is chilly and grey-green. It’s all a bit Shoreham Harbour. Later, I am waiting for our order in the fish-and-chip shop, but step outside because a group of over-excited six-and-eight-year-olds are shouting and running about in the space between the counter and the dining area, where an overweight couple are finishing their lunch, visibly unhappy about the disturbance. I wander along the prom, returning to find a row going on outside the shop, where two slightly overdressed, slightly over made-up thirty-something women are haranguing the couple, especially the woman. She is in a wheelchair. The man stands behind her, looking stolid and resigned.
They are probably in their fifties, and dressed dowdily compared with the slim young mothers in their tops, jeans and heels. It’s not clear what has happened already, but the woman in the wheelchair is on the back foot, and looking shifty as her antagonists get into their stride.
‘Do you think it’s all right then, swearing at children?’ enquires one of them shrilly.
‘She didn’t swear’, says the man stoutly.
‘Oh yes she did,’ says the other one. ‘She said bloody. She said ‘get out of my way you kids, where are your bloody parents’.
The woman in the wheelchair rallies: ‘Well, they were blocking the way out, weren’t they? Kids shouldn’t be allowed to make a disturbance like that.’ She has a stronger Devon accent than the two mothers, though they are local too.
‘We were paying at the time. And that’s no way to speak to children’.
I have paused in the doorway of the chip-shop and am looking on quite openly, but the combatants are so intent on their row that I am ignored for the second time today. I am strongly with the wheelchair couple, of course. The two mothers weren’t paying when I left the shop, and the disturbance had been going on for quite a while by then. I had been annoyed by it too, and mildly indignant that someone having lunch in the restaurant area next door thought it was OK for their children to disturb other people in that way. Apart from that, it all seems a lot of fuss about nothing. As a boy growing up in a country town I was always getting shouted at and having fists shaken at me by older people. We called them ‘old moaners’ amongst ourselves and that was that; it would never have crossed my mind to bother my mum with it. And is ‘bloody’ all that bad, nowadays? Tell that to an Australian.
‘Well, it’s gone now, it’s over,’ says wheelchair-woman grumpily, as if making a concession.
‘No it isn’t, it isn’t over yet,’ says the first mother excitedly. ‘We’ll decide when it’s over.’
‘You should be ashamed of yourself’, says the other. ‘You should apologise to the children for what you said.’
This takes the biscuit. By now I quite dislike these young women, who seem to stand for something about modern parenting which I also don’t much like. I am strongly tempted to tell them not to be so bloody ridiculous, but the row has by this time reached that stage where the aggrieved parties have little choice but to walk away or launch an actual physical attack. They do the former, shaking their heads and casting dark scowls behind them.
Two minutes later, I have paid for the (excellent) fish and chips and am applying extra salt and vinegar to my own portion. There is nothing worse than finding a hundred yards down the road that the salt and vinegar haven’t penetrated below the top layer of chips, so I am turning them over with my fingers as I go, and tasting a chip from time to time. The amused owners look on benevolently, then the man turns to his left and says with a smile:
‘Are you ready to order, sir?’
‘Well, when this man has finished eating his dinner at the counter, yes’, says a weedy, querulous voice.
I turn in astonishment, but can’t think what to say to the man, who avoids my eye and keeps avoiding it as he gives his order. He is short and nondescript, middle-aged, accompanied by his wife (I presume). Surely he must know how rude that sounded.
‘When this gentleman has finished eating his dinner, you probably mean’, I feel like saying, but instead I apply more salt and vinegar, thank the owners and leave, holding my stack of cardboard cartons carefully.
I need you
Another interesting language misjudgement at Stansted airport, as we are shuffling with the rest towards the security gates. A young woman in a security officer’s uniform pipes up plaintively: ‘Keep moving please,’ (as they do) but then a little later ‘I need you to keep moving’, at which my hackles twitch. I have heard the form over the last few years from people with some authority who want a more PC (or formal, or professional-sounding, or something) way of saying ‘can you do it please’, but to me it sounds teacherly and mealy-mouthed, and coming from this person in this context, over-personal and presumptuous. I feel like telling her that her personal needs are neither here nor there[i].
Speaking of language, welcome back football and more particularly football pundits. A couple of baffling gems heard recently:
‘Lorente hasn’t hit the ground running yet.’ Ex-player Clinton Morrison on Sky News.
‘That’s the closest, by some distance, as Watford have come today.’ Commentator on Watford vs Manchester Utd.
And while we’re at it, if you find the uplifting music of the Champions League anthem as comically inflated as I do, you may enjoy reading the English text, which plumbs bathos’ vast abyss [ii] if anything ever did:
They are the best teams,
They are the best teams,
The main event.
The great teams,
A big meeting,
A great sporting event,
The main event,
The great teams,
They are the best,
They are the best,
These are the champions.
It makes me tingle all over.
West ham have just beaten Manchester United. It is very enjoyable to see Mourinho under such pressure. In his early years he was virtually canonised in Portugal, but I have always disliked him as a sulky primadona with a nasty tongue. I delight in his downfall.
You know, you could have used the word ‘schadenfreude’ there, and nobody would have thought any the worse of you for it.
Oh, are you back? OK, thanks for the tip.
‘Weltanshauung’ is another fine German word, which always brings credit on the user. I use it whenever I can.
And ‘angst’, I’m sure.
Do you know ‘zeitgeist’?
Another nice one. However, this won’t do, I must get on.
[i] But I don’t. I have no wish to tangle with airport security staff, whose hostile faces and lack of courtesy are a chilling foretaste of how we would be treated by the police and armed forces if the British government were ever to declare a state of emergency.
[ii] I think I remember this Byron quote from school, about Robert Southey’s poetry. (I was made to study Don Juan for my O-levels. Who says exams teach you nothing? From other subjects, I remember moraines and ox-bow lakes, and something called the coefficient of linear expansion, though I still have no idea what this is.)