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Why I am writing this blog

This is a new blog. WordPress say new bloggers should say something in the first post about what their blog is going to be like and what the point of it is.

I live in Portugal. I am retiring from work very soon, and people concerned for my mental welfare are keen that I should keep myself occupied. They fret that I may become depressed if I knock about the house doing nothing. This is nonsense, because I don’t get depressed. However I may become:

  • bored
  • scared
  • gloomy
  • prone to bouts of staring introspection
  • unable to get up in the morning
  • a convert to Catholicism

so I have had to give it some thought. My wife will not be retiring for a year or two, and likes to assure me that a lot of my time will be taken up with cleaning, changing bed-linen, dealing with laundry, planning meals, sorting out the garden, going to the supermarket, cooking dinner, loading and emptying the dishwasher and so on. She also thinks it would be good for me to have an allotment and to spend more time with the grandchildren.

So I have decided to write a blog.

Why a blog?

Two reasons:

  1. I enjoy writing, and a blog may help the time pass more quickly until I can give up without embarrassment and begin quietly waiting for my final ailment.
  2. The other week a colleague at work said ‘Well, you could always write a blog’.

What will the blog be like?

  •  A sort of irregular journal, a way of publishing mockery and sarcasm at the expense of things which annoy or amuse me. There will be quite a lot about living in Portugal, language, sport, and what’s on British television. It will mostly aim to be humorous, but not always succeed. It will avoid complex issues like the plague.* It will not, even intermittently, be Tolstoyan in its seriousness, ambition and moral scope.
  • There will be anecdotal descriptions of incidents, places and so on. The easily-embarrassed reader may wish to give these literary sallies a wide berth, but I enjoy writing them.
  • It will be a ragbag of bits and pieces, reminiscences, jokes, other people’s poetry, critical comment on old pop songs nobody cares about any more…
  • And so much more.

* I don’t have much to say about the plague.

Cowards, bullies, bastards.

Wednesday morning, 14th February. 7.54 am.

The sun is up now, a pale molten disc behind the bare branches of the trees across the car park. I am third in the queue at the door of the prefab which houses the Carcavelos health centre. After me there are three more well-wrapped-up figures. It hasn’t been frozen, wintry weather by northern European standards, but it’s chilly enough, this early morning, and nobody wants to catch a cold, on top of whatever else has brought them to the centre. None of us is under sixty, I think.

We are all waiting for the health centre to open, at eight o’clock, so that we can book appointments with our respective médicos de familia. You can do this by phone if you’re very patient and don’t care about the phone bill, but that won’t do if you need to see your doctor the same week, let alone the same day. This is what I need today, so that he can renew his requisition for physiotherapy on my tennis elbow.

The door is pushed open from inside, and we shuffle in past the security guard, each tugging a little ticket from the dispenser. These senhas are supposed to determine the order in which we are seen, but three or four of the people I have been queuing with head straight for the counter and begin competing for the attention of the two receptionists. I have virtuously taken a seat and waited for my number to be called, but after a while, book perched on knee, I ask aloud (quite loud) if we have a senha system here or not, and the embarrassed security guard steps in and sorts things out. My very un-Portuguese protest is the sort of thing which makes people here look at you as if you’ve just stepped out of a flying saucer (and reading a book in public doesn’t help.) However a white-haired lady opposite me nods once in silent approval.

Eventually my appointment is made for nine o’clock, so I have time to go home and have some breakfast beforehand. Back in good time at the centre, I am not seen till nine-forty, which gives me even more time:

  1. To endure the presence of a very active six-year-old boy, who marches round the small waiting-room unrepressed, shouting and stamping his feet, as his mother consults her mobile phone and from time to time remonstrates without conviction.
  2. To try to get on with my book. It is ‘No Name’, a bulky Wilkie Collins yarn which has been an enjoyable read, though confident authorial intrusions about things like “that strange complexity of motives which is found so much oftener in a woman’s mind than in a man’s” jar a little.
  3. To scan the notices and posters on the waiting-room walls. One of these catches my attention straight away. It shows the roughly sketched outline of a heart, about to be struck by a clenched fist. Beneath is written the following question (my translation):

                                      “Has he ever hit you,

                         or imposed himself physically

                     in a way which makes you uncomfortable?” [i]

This is a bit of a mouthful (even more so in Portuguese) and also a bit of a coincidence, because I was present at a demonstration about domestic violence a couple of Sundays ago. The poster goes on to make the point that the violence always gets worse as time goes on, and that was what the demo was about, more specifically the fact that dozens of women are stabbed, punched or kicked to death in domestic attacks in Portugal every year[ii], and not much is ever done about it, nor about the other 27,000 cases of domestic violence which are reported annually in Portugal.[iii]

It was a drizzly day for the march, which was due to end up in front of the Portuguese parliament building, in the centre of Lisbon on a street which slopes down to the river. Our plan was to kill two birds with one stone, by having a quick spot of lunch at a little Lebanese snack-bar Veronica had wanted to show me for a while, then joining the marchers as they thronged by. The last march I had been on was ten years ago, against austerity and all that, so I had a vaguely-formed expectation of banners and shouted slogans, and megaphones, and passionate impatient young busybodies in gilets jaunes, and the shuffling of thousands of feet. In the event we nearly missed the march altogether. As we were finishing our meal I paid a visit to the counter to inspect the syrupy pastries on display, and caught a glimpse of small groups and clots of people drifting past along the broad street outside. Imagining that these were precursors of the march, in advance of the vanguard, banners and so on, I went outside while Veronica paid.  In the event there were no banners, megaphones or passionate slogans, only three or four hundred people strolling along in the light drizzle, some under umbrellas, most bare-headed, silent or chatting or checking their mobile phones. By the time Veronica joined me on the pavement the last stragglers had passed, and we made our way down to the parliament building in our own time.

The Assembleia da Republica is housed in a large neo-classical palace, white as a wedding-cake and full of columns, pediments and so on. It is set well back from and high above the street, and can be reached by pedestrians via a broad flight of fifty or sixty wide steps, flanked by sloping lawns and formal gardens. The march had washed up at the foot of these steps, on the bottom three or four of which stood a row of glum-faced men and women facing the crowd, holding hand-written signs against their chests and wearing gags. I had been expecting a bit more energy, a speech or two, but it was explained to me that today’s demo was a silent protest. This wasn’t quite the case for us and the people standing around us (who were greeting, chatting, exchanging news and trying to manage their children) but it was definitely pretty quiet. Somebody told me later that on the same day the Church had organised its own demo about the same issue, which explained the low turnout, though I suspect the weather might have had something to do with it as well.

After a while some chanting of slogans was organised, but shortly after that the drizzle began to turn to proper rain, and we moved away down the hill towards the train station.

“Well I married me a wife, she’s been trouble all my life.”

On the way down the hill we pass three elderly ladies discussing the demo. As we pass, one is saying scornfully: “Pois! Metem-lhes os cornos, e acontece isto”. This can be approximately rendered in English as “Well what do they expect? They play around, and that’s what happens.” 

Here we have the default narrative for femicide. The American Folk and Country music canons are packed with stories about cheating women, and loving men driven by their unbearable pain to murder them.
These songs tend to be centred on the murderer, to whom a very sad tragedy has happened, rather than on the woman, to whom a very painful murder has happened. The murderer deserves our sympathy, for his pain, his guilt and his destroyed life, the woman deserves everything she gets, insofar as she is considered at all.  As Othello puts it to himself, in a bracing appeal to Elizabethan male solidarity: “Yet she must die, else she’ll betray more men.”

The Kingston Trio’s “Tom Dooley” was the first song I heard on this theme (Lonnie Donegan’s skiffle cover of it was twice as good), and a few years later on, in the decade of love, it spread to rock music, with Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe”, the Grateful Dead’s rocked up “Cold Rain and Snow” and Neil Young’s over-long-but-fabulous-anyway “Down by the River”, among plenty of others (web-links below for your predilection, if you have the time and don’t have a life). Me and my long-haired pals sang along to these songs with gusto and air-guitars, only dimly aware of the way they imprinted and perpetuated wife-murder in popular culture.

Presumably rap and hip-hop took things considerably further, but then they would.

I’ll leave things there for now.

Toodle-oo.



[i] ‘Ele já lhe bateu, ou se impôs fisicamente, fazendo-a sentir-se desconfortável?’

[ii] more than five hundred women have been murdered in domestic violence in Portugal since 2004, (the most recent victims being the eight already killed by the end of January this year.)

[iii] Of these 27,000 cases per year, less than 7% of cases result in a conviction. A recent Council of Europe report warned about the extremely low conviction rates and strongly criticised the feebleness of investigations by the Portuguese authorities, given that domestic violence is supposed to be a priority crime, that the investigation doesn’t depend on the victim’s testimony, and that the identity of the perpetrator is clear from the first.

Brexitcetera, pop lyrics, misogyny and nitwits.

Happy New Year preamble

Sorry it’s a month late, but Happy New Year anyway, hope it’s a good one, and thanks again for reading the blog. I won’t labour the point, but I’m sure you can work out for yourself how much it means to someone purveying such idiosyncratic, fundamentally pointless material that a few people regularly take the time to read it.

A couple of weeks ago a friend who does read the blog asked me innocently if it had a purpose. I replied by referring her to the first post (‘Forewarned’), but that sounded glib, and I had the feeling I hadn’t really answered her question, which I haven’t been able to get out of my mind since.

But I’ve got nowhere with all that. The blog is a pastime, a self-indulgence which keeps me occupied, and in the end it is what it is.  So thanks again, readers.

Brexitcetera

OMG how bad is this going to get? Theresa May is still walking in that strange way, and has now taken to smiling in a strange way. Her deal has been kicked out, she hasn’t got another one and the CBI are beside themselves with fury. Just when we need an opposition, Jeremy Corbyn continues to present himself as an unlikeable smart-arse who doesn’t know if he wants a shit or a hair-cut. To re-tread a currently much-used image, the UK is sleepwalking towards a cliff-edge and the worst recession in British history, and nothing is being done about it.  I lived in Brazil for a number of years, and if this was happening there, or in many another country where there is an uncomplicated relationship between big money, tanks and government, business leaders would already have tapped the army on the shoulder and Brexit would have been put back in its box. But fortunately the UK is a democracy.

The Portuguese government has announced that British people’s rights of residence will be maintained even in the event of a no-deal Brexit. I am touched and very relieved by this, but even so will continue to pursue Portuguese citizenship. I have my Portuguese exam in four weeks’ time

More on pop lyrics, misogyny and nitwits.

Readers who don’t have much to do with their time may recall the media hoo-hah about ‘Baby it’s Cold Outside’, the 40s pop song and movie-tune taken off the airwaves by a spooked Cleveland radio station in the run-up to Christmas. If you are interested, and can stand musicals, here is the link: https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?fr=mcafee_uninternational&p=Baby+it%E2%80%99s+Cold+Outside%E2%80%99#id=1&vid=dc445952f2405c0b7355aa1e837a2169&action=click. There was a bit of a fuss for a day or two, as morning TV chat-shows and the social media debated whether the movie depicted an attempted date-rape by this Latin lounge-lizard, with his odd-tasting drink and even odder way of saying ‘gosh’, or the dilemma of a young woman actually bang up-for-it but constrained by contemporary social mores. Other questions suggested by the discussion were:

  1. Was Star 102 Radio’s yanking the song an example of Political Correctness Gone Mad Again? (Looks like it).
  2. Does no really mean no, or should women on dates indicate more unmistakably that they do not want sex, for example by turning black from head to toe, as female Parson’s chameleons do? (The former).
  3. How could the song be an American Christmas staple for seventy years without anyone noticing it’s really about date-rape? (Yes that is certainly odd, but times change: see below)
Handsome Emile

All the fuss reminded me of the complete absence of fuss about a much dodgier British number one hit I heard a lot as a young boy growing up in a café with a juke-box. If you haven’t heard Emile Ford and the Checkmates’ fabulous 1959 doo-wop version of ‘What do you wanna make those eyes at me for’ here is the link  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVSj8dKp7bE  and here are the words:

What do you want to make those eyes at me for
If they don’t mean what they say?
They make me glad, they make me sad,
They make me want  a lot of things that I never had.
You’re fooling around with me now,
Well you lead me on and then you run away.
Well that’s all right,
I’ll get you alone some night
And baby you’ll find you’re messing with dynamite.
So what do you want to make those eyes at me for
If they don’t mean what they say?

In 1959 not a single eyebrow was raised by the straightforward threat made in lines 8 and 9, nor the time-honoured tactic of identifying the victim as:

  1. the guilty party for leading the rapist on, and thus deserving whatever she got.
  2. Probably gagging for it anyway.

That was in the bad old days, of course, when the practice of disguising sexual messages could give the Beatles a number one hit  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=czw8eqepir8  in which a man begs his girlfriend to play fair for once and put her hand down the front of his trousers:

Last night I said these words to my girl
I know you never even try, girl
Come on! Come on! Come on! etc
Please please me, oh yeah, like I please you.

You don’t need me to show the way, love
Why do I always have to say, love:
Come on! Come on! Come on! etc
Please please me, oh yeah, like I please you.

(In contrast, I’ve still no idea how the Rolling Stones got away with Stray Cat Blues https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oOSYB38y2xA , which, far from disguising its topic, is engagingly frank about the debauching of a fifteen-year old girl) ( or maybe two).

At a loose end, I embark on a morning’s web exploration, one of the highlights of which is the Urban Dictionary’s clarification of the word ‘feminazi’. As is the way with terms of abuse, this irritating portmanteau has no precise denotation, so that any attempt to define it results simply in more long-winded abuse.  The orthographically-challenged UD has several goes, having first glossed Feminazzi (sic) as ‘a group of man hating feminists brigading social warriors’ (?), and Feminatzi (sic) as ‘everybody at montessori’:

Feminazi

  • Basically a woman that wants the same rights as a man, but then wants the same pampering as a woman, so really just a lazy power hungry bitch that wants to have it easy but have power at the same time without contributing to society
  • A feminist who supports the hatred of men, female privilege, the culling/extermination of men, censorship of opposing arguments..
  • A radical feminist; a women who says she is a feminist but she thinks females are the superior sex. Most of them are extremely fat, and they hate men so much that they say they are completely useless. They say only men rape and women cannot rape.
  • These women claim they only wish to abolish the patriarchal dominance and proclaim any male regardless of age to be a misogynistic rapist. These women truly do not want equality but rather to self glorify themselves and have men treat them as their Queens.

‘Well knock me down with a feather’, I hear you say. ‘Who would have expected deranged misogyny, misspelt English and eye-watering callowness from the Urban Dictionary?’ But stuff like this is all over the web (and apparently the White House) (and maybe America).  For a large number of men, especially those whose main aim in life is to get a good-looking one into bed, women are still the real enemy.[i]  Entering insults for women as a search term, I somehow wind up reading the following thread from a forum for thirty and forty-something males who need advice about picking up women: http://www.theattractionforums.com/showthread.php?t=18654.

Hold nose while reading. Or weep, according to mood.


[i] Leading a sheltered life, perhaps I am the only person still surprised by this.



THAT Christmas date-rape song – Trump wades in.

‘At Christmas they let you do it. You can do anything, grab them by the pussy, you can do anything.’

Donald Trump has hit out at scrooges, liberals and leftists attacking ‘Baby it’s Cold Outside’, Christmas, children, the family and American values. In a pre-Christmas message delivered out of the side of his mouth to a guffawing sycophant in a trailer, the leader of the free world has issued a timely reminder of an old-fashioned festive-season sentiment which he believes too many have lost sight of.

Taking aim yesterday at the liberal-elitist clique of pseudo-intellectuals, lesbians and frigid females who set the media agenda, a bravely smirking Trump dismissed the furore as a ‘storm in a D-Cup’ and stressed that ‘good will to all men’ has a timeless relevance in these feminazi-ridden days, ‘especially under the mistletoe’. He added: ‘I mean that, I really really do.’

No but seriously

One strange thing in this story is the unquestioned status of ‘Baby, it’s Cold Outside’ (like it or hate it) as a Christmas song. The only reason for this is because it contains the words ‘cold’, ‘ice’ and ‘a drink’. It’s as bad as ‘Winter Wonderland’, which has sleigh-bells, a snowman and an open fire (in front of which we’ll puzzlingly conspire, and face unafraid the plans that we’ve made) but not a sniff of donkeys and mangers, or in fact Christmas. Even ‘Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer’ sung by Elmo and Patsy in 1983, makes a better job of it (38th in the Top 100 Christmas Songs) as does ‘Leroy the Redneck Reindeer’, holding firm at 92.  My personal favourite is at 62, the Ramones’ ‘Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)’ which is everything you would want from a Ramones song.

More on misogyny, nitwits and pop lyrics in the next post.

Shampooing

The only reason I’m in the supermarket is because I need a bottle of shampoo. That’s all I need to find, and I can be out of here. I only nipped in because the queue for the cash desks was temptingly short and I thought I’d be out in five minutes. But that was ten or twelve minutes ago and here I am still looking.

The shampoo section runs the length of the aisle. The Pantene section alone is over head-high and five or six metres long. I have been up and down it countless times, swearing more and more audibly and generally getting myself into a state. So far I have found the following products:

  • Shampoo with conditioner
  • Anti-Ageing Shampoo and 2-in-1 Serum Bb7
  • Pro-V Curl Perfection Moisturizing Shampoo 
  • Pro-V Micellar Revitalize Shampoo
  • Pro-V Sheer Volume Shampoo
  • Pro-V Hydra Scalp Care Dandruff Shampoo
  • Pro-V Ice Shine Luminous Shampoo
  • Pro-V Hair Fall Control Shampoo
  • Pro-V Daily Moisture Renewal Shampoo 
  • Pro-V Repair and protect shampoo

But I’m no closer to finding what I am looking for.

What are you looking for?

Shampoo, are you deaf?

Just…

Just normal, ordinary, wash-your-hair shampoo.

You’ll find it under Classic Clean Pro-V formula.

What? OK, where?

Just there, next to the Pro-V Smooth & Sleek Anti-Frizz Shampoo. No, there. Christ, there. Good, you’ve got it.

OK. ‘Classic Clean Pro-V formula’. That’s it? How did you know that?

You’ve got some at home in the bathroom.

No.

Yes.

Just the normal shampoo.

Yes.

It’s called that?

How long is it since you bought shampoo? Yes. What’s your point with all this shampoo business, anyway?

I can’t remember. Never mind. Well, I suppose I should thank you.

Perhaps grudgingly, if you must. It would cheer me up.

Oh.

Yes, woman trouble again.

I’m very sorry to hear you say that.

Thanks, it’s good to talk.

No, it isn’t, please don’t begin. I was very sorry to hear you say it in the same way I’d be sorry to hear you begin: ‘I had such a strange dream last night’, or: ‘You want to know what this country needs?’ It was a kind of joke.

OK, very good. But seriously, thanks for being here for me.

Oh God.

It’s just one or two problems at home, silly domestic disputes. You wouldn’t want to hear about it all.

No. Best not to share, perhaps. Good fences make good neighbours and all that. Not that we are neighbours.

It’s small stuff, annoying stuff. Things can get on your nerves sometimes.

Yes.

I’ll tell you one day.

That would be very nice. But perhaps not today.

It’s often just something like the dish-washer.

The dish-washer.

Well, there’s a right way to load a dishwasher, right? There are little racks and compartments, a place for the tea-spoons, a place to lean the wine-glasses so they don’t fall over. A place for everything. You don’t put dinner-plates in the same rack as tea-plates, for instance. Right?

I suppose not.

Well of course you don’t. She does, though, that’s the problem. She just jams them in even though it’s clear they don’t fit properly. And when I pull out the top drawer sometimes, wine-glasses fall over for the simple reason that they haven’t been put in the right place.

Ah well, broken glass, of course. They break, do they, is that it?

It passes belief. Why can’t she just put things in the right place?

It must be very frustrating. Have you spoken to her about it? Something tells me you have.

I’ve tried, but it’s pointless.

Can’t you put things in the right places when she isn’t looking?

Well, of course I do find myself doing that, that’s what I have to do.

Probably best not to get caught at it, however.

Well oddly enough I did it right in front of her the first time. I thought, you know, if she has learning difficulties, perhaps she needs to watch someone making a proper job of it. There’s that saying, tell me and I will forget, show me and …

Yes, yes. So that went well, did it?

Well, I thought so for a while, not bad at least. She didn’t say anything at first, just stood there with her hands gripping the edge of the sink, looking down at the plughole. It must have been eight or ten seconds. I was beginning to wonder if she wasn’t well, then she said: ‘There have been divorces over less’, and walked out of the kitchen and straight up the stairs.

And didn’t speak again for the rest of the evening.

That’s amazing. How did you know that? That’s why I like talking to you, you just get stuff. The look she gave me was …

I can imagine. Well, here’s my car, still here, haha. This has been great, thanks for your help with the shampoo.

Funny word, shampoo. It’s like with champagne, isn’t it? Champagne for my real friends, real pain for my sham friends.

That’s a good one.

You know what she says I am?

A control freak, I imagine.

There you go again, it’s amazing. So, we’ll come back to this another time then, will we?

I’ll look forward to it.

Talking of shampoo, you know what the French call a hair-wash?

A sharm-pwang.

Hilarious.

Goodbye for now then. Have a good Christmas.

My other country, right or wrong

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The Animal Axis of Evil

TFSOM has had to hire extra staff to deal with the flood of applications to join this den of wickedness. Having narrowed the field to two outstanding candidates, the committee has been unable to separate William the Conger-eel and Genghis Kangaroo, extending membership to both.  Congratulations to them and to their sponsors Mick and Jane.

My other country, right or wrong

Living in modestly comfortable retirement outside the UK, I have looked on as aghast as anyone at the mess which has followed the lunatic Brexit vote of June 2016, and at the cast of awful characters it has thrown up. From what has felt like a safe distance, I have shaken my head in wonderment at the colourless, backstabbing weasel Michael Gove, the conceited philistine oaf and failed jester Boris Johnson, the unspeakable Nigel Farage, the slithery, patronising, impervious Jacob Rees-Mogg, the hapless Theresa May, tottering towards the tumbril with those little short steps as if her elbows have been bolted to her sides.

But while I have looked on in disbelieving fascination, I have all along felt complacently detached from the spectacle, because I live in Europe (proper Europe, not Britain), and have worked and contributed here for many years. Now that I am retired here, I get a reasonable pension from the Portuguese state which makes up the greater part of my income, and I feel not only quite lucky, but quite lucky to be a European – and not much like going back to live in Britain. And if I am a properly paid-up Portuguese pensioner, I have reasoned, surely they won’t kick me out just because I’m no longer a EU citizen. Will they?

Well of course, they might.

So the logical next step is to apply for Portuguese citizenship, so that I can have dual Portuguese-British nationality. Unfortunately, any expatriate Brit with an ounce of sense has already taken care of that over the last couple of years, so lazy complacent TFSOM is joining the back of a long queue, cap metaphorically in hand. The first stage is a Portuguese language test, which I will not be able to (even try to) register for until December. After that it will necessarily be a tiresome and apparently very long bureaucratic labyrinth, but theoretically there will be an end to it one day, and I will be the proud recipient of my ‘nacionalidade portuguesa’.

It’s easy for an expat [i] to fall into a habit of mind which patronises, dismisses or is wryly amused by the host nation and its customs (and perhaps particularly easy for the British, who don’t seem to be getting over the empire very well). I have seen people shake their heads, roll their eyes heavenward and say ‘this could only happen here’ in Greece, in India, in Brazil and now in Portugal. They say it in every country, just about different things. I’ve said it myself in all the above places, including Portugal. But when I used the word ‘proud’ above it wasn’t just a manner of speaking, because as the idea of being a Portuguese national has formed over the last few months I’ve realised (slightly to my surprise at first) that I would take great pride in it. There’s a lot to like and admire here. I could start with the obvious: the weather, the wine, the beaches, the birds, the countryside (all lovely); or with the way the country has found its own way to emerge from the global financial crisis, austerity and all that [ii] (very admirable); or to be topical, with the way Portuguese environmentalists have this month stopped Big Oil from drilling off the Alentejo coast (hurrah again). But instead I’ll be taking the usual worm’s eye view of things.

  1. The young aren’t too bad, at least where I live, which is not posh but not rough either. I’m not an especial fan of young people in general, but I like the patient and respectful way Portuguese ones often behave with the old, and the fact that I don’t get my head beaten in when I remonstrate politely with groups of teenagers in the park about revving their motorbikes noisily or damaging the plants. I am also amazed by the way they don’t seem to mind each other’s company when sober. In a café it is not uncommon to see seven or eight young people chatting and laughing for hours round two tiny tables bearing four coffees, one beer and three bottles of mineral water, with no compulsion to drink themselves stupid, nor any nagging by management to consume more (unlike the foreign students I was teaching in Cambridge once, who told me that the local pub had asked them to leave for not drinking enough.)
  2. People like going out for a proper lunch. When I worked, I always sat at my desk eating a sandwich, or forking leftovers into my mouth from a Tupperware, but as much as anything that was because I was busy and not very good at chatting to people. The Portuguese, in contrast, like to get away from the work-place, get their knees under a table and have a proper knife-and-fork, sit-down lunch. I approve of this, also the fact that nowadays you far less often see customers putting away half a litre of wine before driving back to work.
  3. Eating out is quite cheap. It is in general, but especially in the crowded, noisy little lunchtime restaurants which cater to the above clientele.
  4. People don’t go for walks in the country. In Britain, the countryside is seething with cheery ramblers, or fell-walkers with hiking-poles and proper footwear, who say things like ‘Just look at that, isn’t that beautiful?’, and smack their lips histrionically after a gulp of ale, and want to walk miles. In Portugal, once you’ve gone a hundred metres from the last parking-spot, you’re unlikely to be bothered by another soul.
  5. People just put up with each other. For example, there is a certain kind of Portuguese clever-dick who likes to jump the queue at motorway exit slip-roads by cruising slowly along winking in the inside lane, then diving in front of someone else at the last minute. Veronica and I simmer with disapproval, and shake our heads, and say ‘Unbelievable, just look at that fucker, why do people let them get away with it’, and are tempted to drive a yard from the rear-bumper of the car in front, just to stop it happening to us. (Veronica told me she did this once, but it didn’t work out well). However, in a recent road-to-Damascus moment I suddenly realised that it is far better for the blood-pressure if you don’t focus on the dickheads, but on the nineteen people out of twenty who are doing the right thing, which most people in Portugal do. I am working on this.
  6. Nobody in Portugal gives a tinkers about their royal family. Enterprising revolutionaries assassinated the king a hundred or so years ago, and made sure they killed his heir too. His younger brother was deposed after two years and ran off to exile in Twickenham (where he became the first president of the Twickenham Piscatorial Society), and that was that. There is ‘a prominent and active heir to the throne [iii]’ as the website The Mad Monarchist noted a year or two ago, and ‘some cause for hope that the horrendous error of October 1910 may someday be corrected and the royal house of Braganza restored to its proper place on the throne of Portugal’. But if you exclude a few Jacob Rees-Mogg nutters of this type, and Olá, the Portuguese royal family is taken no more seriously than it deserves.

I could go on, but will leave the matter there for now. It goes without saying that none of the foregoing in any way disqualifies me from being patronising, dismissive and wryly amused about Portugal whenever the need arises.

 Sports Couch: Turds of Wisdom

I suspect not many people ever bother to read this section, but anyway the following may amuse:

  1. Sky Sports Cricket have finally got rid of the charmless and unsightly Ian Botham as a pundit, but we seem to be seeing an awful lot of Nasser Hussein, with mixed results. Half-way through the women’s T20 World Cup semi-final, with England having been set a smallish total by a very feeble India, he sagely counselled caution, because ‘make no mistake, this is not a pitch to knock off the runs for three wickets, with three overs to spare’. Sure enough, an hour or so later England had knocked off the runs for two wickets, with three overs to spare.
  2. Or how about Eddie Jones’s prediction before the England-Australia rugby match last weekend: ‘We think Australia will come out like they always come out, like a bull at a china-gate.’

See you soon.

[i] It has recently come to my knowledge that the correct pronunciation both of this abbreviation and of the full personal noun ‘expatriate’ has the pat pronounced like ‘pate’ (though one source did acknowledge the peculiar British variant of pronouncing pat like ‘pat’). How long will it be before Trump tweets: “What’s wrong with these people, why did they stop being patriots?”

[ii] After a few years of conservative government collaborating with the ECB and the IMF in strangling the economy and punishing the population, in the last three years a Socialist-led coalition has dumbfounded neo-cons by increasing investment and public spending, resisting privatisations and reducing both the budget deficit and unemployment.

[iii] This was the Duke of Bragança, who is patron of the Portuguese version of the Duke of Edinburgh award, the Prémio Infante D’Henrique. A year or two ago he came to the school to present certificates. He was a pear-faced, absent-looking man, in late middle-age, with a moustache. He was well-managed by a clutch of camp, snotty little aides, but to the casual observer didn’t seem very active.

Another mixed bag

There are three headed sections to this post. I only point that out because at least one person missed the Sports Couch section of the last one (Heskey admits: ‘Thank Christ for that, I was shitting myself’) because it came at the end of the post.

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Journal: the weather, geronto-bullying, two days in Aveiro

It looks like autumn has finally, properly, come to Carcavelos. Up till a couple of weeks ago we would still get the occasional outlandishly hot afternoon, when flies would wake with a start to find they were alive after all, and blunder about the house buzzing and banging their heads against the windows before dying again, or you would go out with a jacket on only to find it was 80°F outside. But now we have had days of deep puddles, cold, thin, persistent rain, hissing car-tyres and old ladies’ umbrellas knocking your hat off in the High Street. Suddenly it feels like winter is coming.

I have been much bullied by old ladies in the last couple of weeks. In the supermarket, I was jostled in the queue for the cash desk by an elderly, thickset little woman behind me, who needed me out of the way because she was impatient to start laying out her shopping before there was really space for her to do so. When I asked her politely if she would mind giving me some room, she scowled at me contemptuously and did not bother to reply. A day or two later I joined a queue behind another one, partly because she didn’t have much in her basket. However, just as I was reaching the surface where you unload your shopping, she was joined by a young teenager, presumably her grand-daughter, whom she impatiently beckoned forward to push in front of me with a full trolley. As she and the elderly woman began unloading it I (foreign, male, but getting old at least…) was moved to protest, and was once again treated to a blank look of such implacable rudeness that I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had spat on the floor at my feet. The young girl at least had the grace to look apologetic.

These things bring to mind a little incident in the busy, picturesque town of Aveiro a couple of weeks ago. It was a rainy morning, and we were about to use a zebra-crossing across a side-street when there was an outraged cry from a young woman stepping onto the other side, as a car not only failed to stop but accelerated across. You will have guessed what follows by now, but the driver was a woman in what looked like her mid-sixties, her face set and looking fixedly ahead as if she was thinking ‘I’ve got this bloody thing moving now, and I’m not stopping for anyone’. As she joined the main avenue, followed by an indignant word or two, I wondered aloud if she even realised that she was supposed to stop – there was a rustic look about her. Veronica’s view, expressed drily, was that she was probably preoccupied thinking about all the things she had to do that day. Veronica has recently read the very funny spoof Ladybird book How It Works: The Mum, the first page from which is reproduced below and has struck a bit of a chord with her, although she is now a three-time grandmother [i].

1044188_oliver-bonas_homeware_how-it-works-the-mum-ladybird-books-for-grown-ups_2

Aveiro was worth the visit, if you’re ever thinking of going. We took the train from Santa Apolónia station on Sunday morning, the day after Hurricane Leslie made landfall, and stayed in the Aveiro Palace (the big pinkish building in the first picture), right by the canal. Our room was on the first floor, and had a narrow balcony running its length where you could sit with a drink and watch the canal and the main bridge, with crowds of tourists and day-trippers dawdling about or sitting on damp rowing-benches in moliceiros. These are traditional boats like gondolas only bigger, which used to go out into the lagoon and collect eel-grass for agriculture, but now spend their days carrying tourists up and down the canal.  They are beautiful, but we didn’t go on one.

troncalhada-eco-museum

My research on the reliable IPMA site had assured me that the weather that first day would be decent, with continuous rain to come on Monday, so we thought we would leave the museums for the next day and get out and about straight away. After some lunch we walked west along the broad canal and then north-west round a dog-leg, admiring it all, the moliceiros, the park, the picturesque house-fronts in the sunshine. After a few hundred yards we had left the town behind, and soon reached the bridge and lock-gates where the canal joins the lagoon. We sat on a low crash-barrier for a while, watching the lock-gates working and enjoying the cold fishy smell of the water (or maybe that was just me). By the lock was the Eco-Museum, which was not, as I had wrongly understood from the Internet page, the shed pictured above, but the salt-pans beyond it, which here and there have large signs you can stand in front of, reading all about salt. I do eat plenty of salt and was moderately interested, but there being salt-pans I had been hoping to see some waders too. Unfortunately there was only one bird, poking about as if it didn’t have much else to do. It was a black-winged stilt, a beautiful and elegantly-proportioned creature, but as it was alone I stopped watching after a while, not wishing to cause it embarrassment.

kineticgarden-archimedes-screw

Late the next morning, Monday, we are standing in light rain in a park I found on a pre-breakfast stroll, looking owlishly at an Archimedes screw by the side of an ornamental lake. There used to be a poster in our Design Technology room in the school where I worked. It was one of these stirring things teachers love to put on their walls, and went something like ‘Tell me and I will forget; show me and I may remember; let me do it and I will understand.’ On the internet there are plenty of variations on this, sometimes identified as a Chinese proverb, sometimes attributed to Benjamin Franklin (incorrectly, as one site primly points out, not that I give a monkey’s). Teachers, and especially educational middle-management types, and even more especially the ones you get at educational conferences, are great lovers of snappy sayings like this (‘fail to prepare and prepare to fail’ is another). We had a principal who had been a big administrator in the IB Middle Years Programme and thought he was a bit of a genius, and he used to say ‘Less is More’ quite a lot. It must have been newly fashionable about that time. I had a lot of trouble with it, because it seemed perfectly plain to me that less of something is less of it and more of it is more. When I was talked through the thing by a patient colleague I grasped the basic meaning, which seemed to be that moderation can be a more effective approach than overdoing things, but I didn’t feel that much new ground had been broken with this idea, once it was stripped of the meretricious gloss of verbal paradox. Anyway, the reason I mentioned that poster at the start of the paragraph is because today the opposite happens with me and this Archimedes screw, which is very similar to the one pictured. When I first learned about them, as a child at school, the principle seemed perfectly clear to me –  you turn that, this goes round, and the water in the screw is carried up and pours out at the top. But no matter how many times Veronica or I turn the handle, nor how narrowly I watch the water, I can’t see how it’s done. I’m like someone watching one of those TV magicians.

After Hurricane Leslie there are still a half-dozen or so fallen trees in the park, which is carpeted everywhere with snapped-off branches and twigs. We wander about, wondering at the destruction, but after a while the rain comes on harder and we head for Aveiro Museum, which apparently has a lot of things worth seeing and where we plan to spend two or three hours. What we have forgotten, of course, is that Portuguese museums close on Mondays. We go to the cathedral instead, which is noteworthy for the beautifully clean lines of its high, square transept, but where we are obliged to put up with a middle-aged Roma woman (I believe you can’t say gypsy these days) to whose aged mother I think I have just given money outside the cathedral. She is having an interminable, angry and very loud conversation on her mobile phone. Before we leave, I approach and ask her if she comes to the cathedral for a peaceful place to think and pray, but she is not amused by this.

Next day we are due to catch the early-afternoon train, but have time to return to the museum if we get a move on. We enter and approach a counter, where a woman on the phone jerks her head to indicate we should go to another counter further on. There, we are told that yes we can have tickets, but the museum will be closing for lunch in twelve minutes, and reopening an hour-and-a-half later. Even so we have time to look at the beautifully-worked marble tomb of Santa Joana and  at the Igreja de Jesus, which is hideously ornate and seems to be composed entirely of gold, in marked and ugly contrast with the stylish austerity of the cathedral.

Vlad the Impala.

… was the happy result of a slip of the tongue the other day, which has given me the idea of founding The Animal Axis of Evil, if I can find enough thugs to keep Vlad company. So far he has been joined by Ivan the Terrapin, Billy the Squid, and Jack the Kipper (not quite an animal, but this is harder than you might think). Osama bin Llama has been rejected on syntactic grounds, but even so I am considering a pair of Jerbils, one of them called Joseph. I have had to reject Lily the Skink, Winnie the Gnu and Robert the Moose as not being anywhere near evil enough, but Onan the Parrot (Dorothy Parker’s pet, so named because he spilt his seed on the ground) asks virtuously: ‘if masturbation isn’t an evil, what is?’ Suggestions for further adoptions are welcomed.

Adagio for Ingerland

It was bad enough having ITV Sport ruin The Verve’s Bitter Sweet (sic) Symphony for ever by using it as the theme music for England football matches. Now Sky (of course) have gone one further by appropriating Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings for their adverts trailing England’s autumn rugby internationals. I confess I had never heard the piece before I saw Platoon, but it seems to me still that the Adagio both dignified and was dignified by the film, in a moving and wholly successful synergy. It is painful to see it used by Sky as the background to a ghastly piece of patriotic doggerel about following the rose through the highs and the lows. They already did this to Nimrod, God damn them.

Toodle-oo

[1] At a lunch party the other week, conversation had turned to the horrors of being a lone parent flying with children, and she contributed the following, in a ‘top this one’ tone and without a trace of irony: ‘I was at the airport recently and saw this poor, poor woman with three young children and a husband’.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Go Away or Face Arrest

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October 12th

Carcavelos beach is busier than I expected this lunchtime. The weather is not yet fully autumnal, but it has turned cooler, and from the carpark just off the Avenida Marginal I am mildly surprised to see scatterings of beach-goers all along the broad sandy beach. Showing commendable fortitude, some still lie on towels in only swimsuits or bikinis, but those standing in little groups to chat, arms crossed, have mostly got T-shirts on over their swimwear. Nobody is keen to spend very long in the water, except for the scores of young would-be surfers who crowd the silvery-blue sea in their wetsuits. Surfing became fashionable among Portuguese children and young adolescents several years ago, but the boom in surf-schools shows no sign of slowing. However,  it is dogs which are banned, as a lifeguard in a yellow T-shirt is patiently explaining to a dog-owner down by the water’s edge, observed equably by the offending animal, a fluffy terrier with its tongue poking out slightly. Modest but surfable waves are breaking a little way out, bright spangles of light flashing along each foam-patched front as it rears. The sky is a gentle blue above high cloud, crisscrossed by faint vapour trails in varying stages of dissolution.

There was a sad scene last night. About ten o’clock, the doorbell rang.  As the dog barked and yapped, Veronica and I exchanged a wary look. Nobody calls at that time of night, so this wasn’t going to be anything good.  Sure enough, when I opened the gate there was a skinny, beat-looking man standing there, supporting himself on a single crutch. He had a battered baseball cap on, over dirty hair which needed cutting. He was unshaven, the stubble greying. He looked forty-something, but was probably younger. His clothes looked as if they would be greasy to the touch.

I gave an audible groan, but he had already begun his patter, delivered in a low rapid mumble. His eyes were on the ground, and I had to strain to hear. I understood very little, except that he was sorry to come back again, and he was sorry it was late, but he remembered I had helped before. His father had died, he had just come from the hospice, he wasn’t well himself, he had a condition of the blood which he had inherited from his mother who was also dead, he couldn’t pay for the medication. He was rummaging with his right hand in a bag held against his chest with his left arm, and presently produced an empty, battered-looking medicine packet which he showed me.

I was ashamed that I hadn’t recognised him at first, but I did now. I didn’t remember how much I had given him the last time, but I suspected it might have been ten euros. He was still talking, but seemed to have gone back to the beginning of his story and started again. I had been hearing him out with my own eyes down, but clearly it was time to close the gate or give him something.

“OK I’m going to give you five euros,” I said, feeling stingy. I went to fetch it and ran into Veronica in the kitchen, who had come to see why I had been at the gate so long. I repeated what I had understood him to say, and she looked mildly sceptical. I was sceptical myself, but what did it matter what we believed or didn’t believe? One look was enough to tell you that this bloke’s life had come off the rails, and things weren’t going to get any better for him.

I handed over the money, and he thanked me and limped off. Judging by his decently embarrassed mumble of gratitude, he didn’t remember that I’d given him more the last time.

Meanwhile, another day in paradise is in full swing at Carcavelos beach. Down by the water’s edge, parked windsurfing rigs lie with their single sails upright and rippling cheerfully in the freshening breeze. Their shape reminds me of the wings of those flying ants we used to suddenly get swarms of when I was young, one day a year in summer. The cafes and restaurants all along the promenade are packed with tanned, relatively solvent, relatively healthy individuals, tucking into grilled fish, boiled potatoes and salad.

It felt mean-spirited. giving someone whose life was such a continuing calamity a five euro note, but a hundred or a thousand wouldn’t fix things. Also I was afraid that giving  more would make me even  more of  an easy touch. You can’t be over-generous or you’ll never get rid of these people. It’s like Theresa May, creating a Hostile Environment for illegal immigrants with her nasty Go Home or Face Arrest vans (an instruction which will have raised a thin smile among the homeless).

But what can you do?

 

Sports Couch

Heskey admits: ‘Thank Christ for that, I was shitting myself’

Alarmed by growing rumours of an imminent recall to international football, Emile Heskey is able to relax after the strong performance of England’s strikers against Spain. It is now a week since England became world-beaters again, by totally outclassing and walloping the ex-world champs 3-2.

TFSOM was as delighted as Heskey and everybody else by the scintillating performance of the front three (as the commentator on Sky enthused, perhaps venturing into the ungrammatical: ‘Spain give the ball away to England in this mood at their very peril’), but without wishing to rain on the tabloid parade, it was a bit worrying that England had:

  • less than 25% of the ball
  • only 5 shots on goal (Spain had 25)
  • no corners in the entire match (Spain had 12).

On top of that, the defence looked as error-prone as ever, with the much admired Harry Maguire in particular misplacing passes, getting caught in possession, missing important defensive headers, and on at least one occasion being so well and truly stood up by a dummy that it looked momentarily as though somebody had left a step-ladder on the pitch. Let’s see how they do against mighty Croatia at home, but surely the jury is still out.

Toodle-oo!

Bits and Pieces

img_0842_11-1500x630Foreword

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.

Newsletter

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].

Football latest

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 master,
The best,
The great teams,
The champions.

A big meeting,
A great sporting event,
The main event,

The master,
The best.
The great teams,
The champions.

They are the best,
They are the best,
These are the champions.

The master,
The best,
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.

Tschüss!

 

 

[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.)