Like me, you might like nothing better than to come across this news story in the real world, but unfortunately it is what Trump strategist Kellyanne Conway would probably call an alternative fact. Instead you might be interested to read the following, about the Banksy show which is on in Lisbon.
Banksy, genius or vandal? (Discuss)
This (without the Discuss) is what posters around Lisbon have been asking eagerly over the last couple of months, advertising the exhibition by the same name which is on at the Museu da Cordoaria . Happily the curators make no attempt to address this fatuous line of enquiry, or any other, but in nodding towards the idea of vandalism, the show raises one or two interesting questions.
In Portugal there is an awful lot of stuff spray-painted on public walls, from basic, dogged, repetitive tagging, to elaborate ADHD-type word-doodles, to the sort of villainous street ‘art’ commonly sponsored by local councils. We have a desperate example of the latter in Carcavelos, down by the market, which you might recognise as a type if I describe it. It depicts, among other hackneyed images straight from the psychedelic era, a sort of Native American sky-maiden girl (high cheek-bones, hippy-chick flowers in her hair), smiling gently and blowing something or other off the palm of her hand (perhaps the universe), flanked by a sort of Pacific-Island-looking girl (high cheek-bones, hippy-chick flowers in her hair), looking soulfully upwards at a convoluted tangle of bulbous, shiny-looking letters, so overwrought as to be indecipherable, and beyond those the huge blue face of a mermaidy sort of girl, with sparkling, anime-style eyes and tentacle-like hair (with no flowers in it). Beyond her a bloodlessly amputated but not very well-painted hand bears a bright blue dove with a keyhole in its breast (I’m not making this up), and there is also a herring-gull and a chimp with a shiny transistor radio (graffiteurs can’t get enough of shininess, once they have learnt to do it). And so on and so forth. You know the sort of stuff, it’s what is produced whenever public officials give money, support and carte blanche to skilled young spray-painters with plenty of time and no artistic sensibility.
The work exhibited in the Cordoaria’s Banksy show is nothing like that, and the reason for that, so goes the legend, is precisely because Banksy wasn’t given plenty of time. At the age of eighteen (the story goes), he was fed up with being interrupted and chased by the police, and one day was hiding from them under a dustman’s lorry when the stencils on it gave him the idea of using them in his own work, because stencils would allow him to take his time producing images, but work fast when applying them clandestinely. You are welcome to believe this tale if you like (it’s suspiciously like the sort of road-to-Damascus incident loyally peddled in revolutionary hagiographies) (and anyway why did Bristol dust-vans have stencils on their underside?) but it doesn’t matter either way. The result of his switching to stencilling has been the instantly recognisable global brand which is Banksy’s work as we all now know it: arty, clever, restrained in its use of detail and colour, visually witty, stylish, self-assured .
The catch is that the work gains so much of its power from the visual surprise of seeing these incongruously clean, classy images in their original context – in dirty streets, on warehouses, incorporating the door-steps and windowsills of terraced houses. So anybody curating a Banksy show seems to have a bit of a context issue. Banksy’s project is coherent, the thinking goes, precisely because it is clandestine: by being placed illegally in public places, the work is not only visually striking, but expresses its anti-establishment position through a non-establishment practice. Take the spray-painted lumps of brick and concrete out of this setting and stick them in a museum, and the images become just more artistic product to be consumed approvingly by the Artworld establishment. So any Banksy show misses the point a bit. Perhaps not many people are all that bothered about this, or what curators can do about it, but for the record what the Cordoaria ones have done is dim the lights, show a lot of videos and photos of the work in situ, fill the rest of the wall-space with screen-prints and a selection of Banksy’s epigrammatic sayings (he can be a bit of a smart-arse), and put on some rap-music. This worked well enough for me.
There has also been some fretting about what right people have to exhibit Banksy’s stuff without his authorisation (this show is no more authorised than the Brussels one last year or the Melbourne one in 2016.) But never fear. Writing on his website, Banksy says: “Members of the public should be aware there has been a recent spate of Banksy exhibitions, none of which are consensual. They’ve been organised entirely without the artist’s knowledge or involvement. Please treat them accordingly.” He then very likeably adds “Not sure I’m the best person to complain about people putting up pictures without getting permission.” Exactly, Banksy.
The show is at the Museu da Cordoaria until October 27th.
Others have privately mourned the missed opportunity for a
briskly carried out assassination a lá
Sadat (that may have only been me), or have marvelled at how jaw-droppingly vulgar
and grotesque the whole vanity project was. However, what was truly and
genuinely bizarre was Trump’s delivery of his speech. Have a listen to this
excerpt, which also contains the ‘took-over-the-airports’ and ‘rammed-the-ramparts’
I have tried to find the words to describe the creepy, would-be sonorous, oleaginous falseness of Trump’s tone here, but they elude me. I ask myself what other politician would be allowed by his minders to sound like this, but perhaps they can’t do anything with him. It all adds to the enduring Trump enigma: it isn’t hard to understand how so many Americans lap up his jingoism and xenophobia, his sexism, racism, homophobia and philistinism, because after all they feel these things too, and they admire someone who doesn’t give a monkeys and just says them. The mystery is how such people fail to see how personally ridiculous he is, what an ass he makes of himself and of America.
Crumbs! I doubt one person in ten thousand had heard of cuddly, balding diplomatic fixer Kim Darroch until yesterday, but overnight he has ushered in the Post-Lies Era with the mischievous publication of his insightful views on the Trump gang. Given that Darroch had no idea that his memos would be made public by some Brexiteer mandarin (he is a dyed-in-the-wool Europhile who it seems somebody wanted rid of) they are notable for their moderation, though one could scarcely expect inept, insecure and incompetent Donald to see it that way. The language is dry, descriptive, restrained, rueful: ‘we don’t really believe this Administration is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction riven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept,’ mourns one letter, culpable perhaps for its awkward use of the semi-colon, but surely for nothing else. Trump is much more fun, and has taken to the twittersphere like a wounded and barely literate teenager, calling ‘the wacky Ambassador that the U.K. foisted upon the United States’ a ‘very stupid guy’. Warming to his theme, the President sulks that ‘we’re not big fans of that man, and I can say things about him but I won’t bother’, and takes the opportunity for a side-swipe at poor old Teresa May while he is at it. I had completely forgotten she is still Prime Minister.
Her office, meanwhile, has issued a
statement supporting Sir Kim but citing the United Kingdom’s
“special and enduring relationship” with the United States. Peter Spiegel, the US
Managing Editor of the Financial Times, observed drily this morning that
The Special Relationship is a term more often used by British people than Americans. In
fact, I doubt that most Americans had any idea that it existed. It reminds me
in this way of the enduring football rivalry which English journalists and commentators
detect between England and Germany. I think it was a puzzled Lothar Matthaus
who once suggested politely that, insofar as Germany had any particular rival
at all, it might be Brazil, or Argentina, but no, not really England.
But where was I? Oh yes, the aptly-surnamed Boris Johnson,
who struck a new nadir on TV last night, laying unchallenged claim to the moral
low ground on the Kim Darroch story. Jeremy “Mike” Hunt could scarcely believe
his luck, as Johnson writhed and prevaricated and publicly did everything he
could to avoid backing Darroch in the face of Trump’s petulant bluster. Mike
kept it simple, said the obvious right thing and looked good by comparison. But
the cowardly Johnson will go on leading a charmed life as the UK’s next Prime
Minister, delivering British industry and services into the hands of American
As perhaps expected, Kim Darroch has jumped before he was pushed, giving Boris the opportunity to disgrace himself further as he embarrassedly vows this and insists on that. It calls to mind the image in Samuel Johnson’s delicious letter to Lord Chesterfield, who belatedly had a good word to say about Johnson’s dictionary, having declined to be his patron in the writing of it:
‘Is not a patron my lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and, when he has reached ground, encumbers him with help? The notice which you have been pleased to take of my labours, had it been early, had been kind; but it has been delayed till I am indifferent, and cannot enjoy it; till I am solitary, and cannot impart it; till I am known, and do not want it.’
Meanwhile, Sir Kim is Britain’s newest National Treasure, and the world is surely his oyster. Before the year is out, he will be on I’m a Celebrity Get me Out of Here.
Thursday 20th June. So, farewell for now to yelping, likeable public-school misfit Rory Stewart, with his skinny legs, wizened pixy face and tie taken off like somebody finally unwinding at a wedding. Following the rejection of the well-scrubbed but perhaps not terribly bright Dominic Raab (perceptively dubbed The Turnip in Brussels), our Rory was hooked from the Leadership Debate by Tory MPs last Wednesday, to be followed a day later by the permanently queasy-looking nonentity Sajid Javid and the deeply unappetising coke-sniffer Michael Gove, whose display of pop-eyed, weak-chinned, wet-lipped boasting was insufficient to dislodge the other one, whose name for the moment escapes me, as favourite to be run over and left writhing in Boris Johnson’s dust when the Tory faithful vote in July.
I say farewell for now because if the Brexit mess has revealed a rising young star it is surely our Rory, who has captured the hearts of liberals and centre-lefties right across Britain (all right, southern England), mostly because he is clearly in the wrong party. Rory seems like the sort of decent, wryly humorous, well-mannered bloke you wouldn’t mind standing next to and having a chat with at the stand-around-pointlessly stage of a wedding, as you consume nasty wine and greasy finger food which you know will give you heartburn later in the evening. The other debaters would probably spend the entire time looking over your shoulder to check that nobody had walked into the room behind you who was more worth being seen with.
The exception would be Boris Johnson, of course. He would be looking over your shoulder to eye up women and keep a lookout for the next waiter with a full tray of drinks. Polly Toynbee was good on Johnson and his ‘rotten-to-the-core character’ the other day in the Guardian. If you missed it, here’s a rousing sample: ‘a man without qualities, devoid of public spirit or regard for anyone but himself, consumed by lifelong ambition, needy for acclaim and irritable when it’s denied, willing to swing dangerously in any direction to be loved, a man to shame the country as its figurehead.’ That does sound like Boris, you have to agree. The saintly Max Hastings weighed in a day or two later. ‘There is room for debate about whether he is a scoundrel or mere rogue,’ he mused, ‘but not much about his moral bankruptcy, rooted in a contempt for truth (…) I have a hunch that Johnson will come to regret securing the prize for which he has struggled so long, because the experience of the premiership will lay bare his absolute unfitness for it.’
The problem is, however, that Johnson doesn’t give a toss about what journalists say about him. Like a man holding onto a lifeline in a stormy sea, eyes tight shut, he knows that all he has to do to win the vote, no matter how much shit is directed at him, is to be clearly identified for loony Tories as the man who will ‘deliver’ a no-deal Brexit. This is a task which should be well within his capabilities, because it entails nothing more than sitting back and doing nothing at all (by all accounts hisforté).
Saturday 22nd June. But I digress. It’s perfectly clear why Johnson went into politics, and why he did so as a Tory, but I’ve never understood why anybody with a moral sense would do so, and it was queer to the point of dream-like last week to see Rory Stewart, exuding sincerity, intelligence, energy and social conscience, trying to charm the Tory faithful, the hard-core, deranged 150,000, by briskly dismissing the idea of a no-deal Brexit, uncompromisingly opposing tax-cuts for business and the well-off, promising massive government investment in the social services, and saying salaam alaikum to Abdullah from Bristol. It was only when he said that we needed to stop thinking about the immediate future and turn our thoughts to the next ten or fifteen years that the penny dropped: Stewart has known all along he wouldn’t get anywhere near the loony-Tory vote – what he was laying claim to in the debate, for the benefit of the TV audience, was the left-of-centre middle-ground, that large area of the political landscape that should by rights be permanently occupied by Labour, or if you ask the Liberal Democrats by them, and which is going to be up for grabs when Johnson’s hopefully short time in office leads to an election and the fundamental restructuring of British political alignments.
Doom-and-gloomers are already cheerfully predicting the fragmentation of the Conservative Party along the europhile and eurosceptic fault-line, while Labour looks like it may be weak and divided for the foreseeable future as it tries to work out what it wants, including if it wants to be led by a shifty-looking man who is systematically attacked by the popular press and sincerely disliked by far too many people for comfort. There is surely an opportunity there for someone, so why not Stewart? A couple of weeks ago Ken Clarke twinklingly identified the ‘Oooh, I do like that Boris Johnson’ factor in Johnson’s appeal, but perhaps the factor we will be hearing more about over the coming months will turn out to be the one that goes ‘Actually, I quite like that Rory Stewart. Did he really walk across Iran and Afghanistan?’
Well, you never know. Interesting, anyway.
don’t forget we’re Labour.
Blimey, just goes to show you never know. Johnson is pushing his luck here. Is he so catastrophically amateurish that he’s going to mess this up? Manhandling his girlfriend and refusing to answer questions about it? Lying to everyone about the make-up-and-be-friends photos? Capriciously inventing a mad, fictitious hobby out of the blue, and earnestly, visibly lying about it as his incredulous interlocutor tries not to giggle? This is a big wobble. His handlers must be gnashing their teeth. They strain every sinew to keep arrogant, ignorant, verbally incontinent Boris away from anything on TV where he might have to take part in a grown-up discussion, and he goes and does all this. But I still think sticking to the ‘no Deal’ undertaking, come what may, do or die, will win the day with the Tory faithful against the other one, whatsisname, the dull one. And if Johnson is afterwards found to have lied about no deal, well there we are.
Max Hastings, who may be moving to Argentina soon, is certainly consistent. Do you remember what he wrote when Johnson lost his nerve and backed out, after being the front-runner in the 2015 Tory leadership race? Probably not, because it was in the Daily Mail, but the headline was a gem: ‘If this charlatan and sexual adventurer had become Prime Minister, I’d have emigrated, says his former boss’. In the course of this energetic article, he mused: ‘I suppose that I have some personal interest in Johnson’s withdrawal from the leadership contest, because it will spare me from having to fulfil my 2012 pledge in these pages that I would catch a plane to Buenos Aires if this essentially brutal buffoon became prime minister.’ Better develop a taste for mate, Max.
Speaking of arrogance, incompetence and ignorance, have you noticed that Donald Trump has been doing his Buzz Lightyear face a lot recently? It involves jutting out his lower lip, narrowing his eyes and lowering his eyebrows moodily. He has been practising this expression in front of the mirror and believes it epitomises resolve and toughness .
Does anybody else find that watching the News currently feels like watching the backstory to ‘Years and Years’? If you missed this series on BBC, it is a sort of What-if, science-fiction-ish drama about what things in Europe and especially Britain might look like in ten years’ time, if things go badly wrong. It finished last week but it’s just started being broadcast on HBO, and is (just about) worth a look
Thursday June 27th I can’t keep up with this any more. After yesterday’s come-what-may, do-or-die stuff, Boris has now reassured us that there’s only a million-to-one chance of a No-Deal Brexit. Presumably he got this statistic from the same place he got his bus-making hobby. But anyway, to quote Max Hastings again: ‘Johnson (…) always wants to tell an audience what it wishes to hear. That applies whether with one person or a thousand. And if the following week they want to be told something different, that, too, will be genially provided.’
In my last post I referred to an artist called Anesh Kupoor. It has been pointed out to me that this person doesn’t exist, but the artist Anish Kupoor does. Putting two and two together, this must be the one I meant. Apolidgies to Anish, and thanks to Katie J.
‘Why can’t they just leave things alone?’
“The greatest happiness”, Genghis Khan once slurred into a bowl of fermented mare’s milk, “is to scatter your enemy and drive him before you, to see his cities reduced to ashes, to see those who love him shrouded and in tears, and to gather to your bosom his wives and daughters.”
Well, that was Genghis for you, and fair enough, but to be honest that sort of thing was never my cup of tea, and now that I’m retired I find another sort of contentment in the quiet routines of life, what George Eliot called those “good and sufficient ducts of habit, without which our nature easily turns to mud and ooze, and at any pressure yields nothing but a spurt or a puddle” (I am reading Daniel Deronda at the moment, where this eccentric metaphor appears).
Anyway, this morning, following one of these life-structuring, nature-stiffening habits, I set off at 9.30 with the dog, down to Carcavelos beach via the Quinta dos Ingleses. I do this a lot with her. She is a small black and white mongrel with bits of brown, getting on a bit, called Gucci (we took her on after the death of her previous owner, and that’s the name she came with.)
We are going to go across the little local park by the school, past
the Black Alsatians, and from there to the railway line and across the
The Black Alsatians are penned in a scruffy, overgrown back yard behind flimsy wire fencing. As we pass, they throw themselves at this in a paroxysm of rhythmic barking, eyes staring and teeth bared to the gums. They do this every time. Gucci is unfazed, because she is a sensible dog and they are behind a fence, but I have jumped half out of my skin as usual, and am prickling with unwanted adrenalin and strong dislike. Dogs like this aren’t too bad when they are barking their stupid heads off behind high gates and fences (the Portuguese believe in general that guard-dogs, unlike children, should be heard and not seen) but it’s horrible to have them in your face. I would like to vaporise them.
Gucci was attacked recently by a big young dog. I wasn’t there, but apparently he got over-excited and boisterous and things got out of hand. That’s something you hear quite a lot when you have a small dog, ‘Oh but he’s only playing’. Anyway, she got a bad scare, a couple of small cuts, and some painful bruising on her neck (it had never occurred to me that dogs get bruises). Also the vet had to remove the damaged dew-claw on her right forepaw.
I watch her adoringly now as she trots busily up the tarmac ramp
ahead of me, tail hoisted jauntily. ‘There’s no love like a dog’s love’, some
woman said on TV the other night, but surely that’s nonsense. If Gucci is
anything to go by, dogs are mostly partial to:
sniffing things thoroughly
having their ears fondled
going for walks (see 1)
unconditional love is mostly on the side of the humans. That’s why dogs do us good,
because we love them, not because they love us. ‘Until one has loved an animal’, Anatole France said,
‘a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.’
We reach the top of the ramp. The broad footbridge is very high above the railway line, and gives a fine view over leafy Carcavelos and away to the distant Serra de Sintra. It’s a fine sunny morning, very quiet, and the rapid ticking of the dog’s paws is loud as we cross over. My own steps chime faintly as we descend the iron stairs on the other side, Gucci’s small rump bobbing rhythmically as she goes down two legs at a time.
From here it’s a
short stroll to the Quinta dos Ingleses,
which will take us all the way down to the beach.
The quinta is an old country estate, nowadays run pleasantly wild, to which the public have de facto right of access. The English connection began in the nineteenth century, when the estate and manor-house were bought by Cable & Wireless Co. The manor-house, in the western half of the estate, now houses a school for the children of wealthy Portuguese, in its own leafy grounds and bit of pine-wood. Adjacent to this is the scruffy little site of our local football club, GS Carcavelos. To the south and south-west, there is sandy open heathland, with the odd pine-tree or acacia, sloping down to a big pot-holed car-park for beach-goers, and beyond that the Avenida Marginal and the beach. Northward on the western side it’s more thickly-wooded, and bounded by a high wall. You see rabbits here, and the occasional kestrel. But we are heading down the eastward side of the estate and will take the other way on the walk home.
This north-eastern corner of the quinta seems unpromising at first, being near the junction of two busy roads. However, the main one soon slants away to the south-east, on its way to the marginal, so that as we head south the noise of traffic quickly fades to a soft faraway roar like distant surf. After thirty seconds, it’s quiet enough for me to hear the dog sneezing and swishing in the grass, and the thin repetitive whistling of what could be meadow-pipits, unless they have all gone back to northern Europe by now.
We are following a rutted track, with meadow-grasses grown high on either side. Mixed in with the grasses are the flowers of Portuguese springtime: rose mallow, camomile, ball mustard, mauve-flowered thistles, purple and pink viper’s bugloss. Down the middle of the track are patches of little blue pimpernels. Our course is converging with that of the Ribeira de Sassoeiros to the east, its bramble-shrouded bed hidden behind the tall bamboo which is everywhere in this little valley. Beyond the stream the ground rises steeply, clothed in mixed woodland, mostly pines, above dense brambly undergrowth, wild montbretia, rough grass. The further south we go, the further back this wood stretches, shot with shafts of morning sunlight.
Beyond the meadow stretching to the right there are more stands of bamboo, and beyond them well-developed eucalyptuses and pines, half concealing the little football ground with its tiny, rickety stand. A buzzard can sometimes be seen roosting in the tallest of the pines.
I realise I have lost the dog. I whistle a few times, and after a while she emerges from the grass a long way back up the track, and begins trotting towards me. She will catch up in her own time.
The bamboo closes in on either side for a time, and the path narrows to a single file, so that the backs of my hands are knocked lightly by encroaching grasses as I walk. I have been hearing the occasional peep of a whistle and the shrill shouts of pre-adolescent boys for a while. Now, a clearing on the right suddenly reveals the sports fields of the school, green and orderly behind a wire fence. There are three big maritime pines in the clearing, where I have in the past observed chaffinches, great-tits and blue-tits. No luck today.
A little later the path swings to the left and dips to ford the dry, mud-caked stream-bed, continuing southwards on its other side. It’s becoming a hot morning now, the warmth drawing out the sweet dusty fragrance of the pine-woods along whose edge we are now walking, but when I enter the pool of shade cast by one of the big eucalyptuses the air is suddenly cool again, and faintly astringent.
The place is not ornamental or pretty in a conventional sense: the basic ingredients are prosaic – pine-woods, stands of bamboo, stringy-bark eucalyptus, a dry crusted stream-bed running beneath a roof of brambles. The ground is strewn with fallen leaves, long panels of bark, twigs. A short exploration of any side-path may end you up in a bramble- encircled clearing used as an emergency toilet. But it is nonetheless deeply satisfying that a short stroll can take you to such a quiet, abandoned place. The traffic noise has gone, there are bird-calls, there are no buildings in sight, and we seem to be miles from anywhere.
At the south-eastern corner of the school grounds, there are three ways to continue seawards. One is through the main woods on the rising ground to the south-east, following one of a network of paved tracks, half-covered by fallen pine-needles, which in a few minutes bring you out on the pot-holed, eroded car-park. Due south, there used to be a way between the clumps of bamboo along the shallow valley, but nowadays it is very overgrown and marshy-looking. These days I always head right, re-crossing the stream in its deep culvert and following the seaward boundary of the school gently upwards through the shade of younger pine-woods, carpeted with wild freesia in early spring. At the top of this incline is open ground, a glorious 150-degree view of the ocean, and a five-minute stroll down to a tunnel under the marginal which leads to the promenade and the beach.
I would understand if even the keenest nature-lover were no longer with me, but there is a good reason for such a detailed and affectionate account, because this place, the last green space worth the name on the linha de Cascais, is scheduled to be destroyed in the near future and replaced by an immense urbanised estate of large residential blocks, with the blessing of the private school housed at the quinta’s heart. Needless to say, few locals will be able to afford to live in one of these blocks. The project, it is feared, will also have very negative effects on local wildlife, on the beach itself, on traffic, and on the quality of life in Carcavelos.
There is a movement of protest against this, called SOS Quinta dos Ingleses, but when you get to my age it’s hard to be optimistic about any challenge to big money. Anyway, if I have understood correctly, the group accepts the inevitability of the project, and is agitating mainly for an ‘urban park’ to be built alongside the residential blocks. Better than nothing, you will say, but it makes little difference to me. This place as it is seems to be doomed.
But there we are. Boo-hoo. This walk looks like one well-established habit I will soon have to do without. Expect my nature to turn to mud and ooze, and at any pressure yield nothing but a spurt or a puddle.
Readers who can still remember things will recall that in the two posts before my last one, I talked about online misogyny, the shameful toleration of domestic violence in Portugal, and the treatment of date-rape and wife-murder in popular culture. It will further be recalled that in these posts I took a position intended to be supportive of women, and critical of the sort of coprocephalic[i] misogyny encountered, in particular, on the web.
In this way, it seems I may have left myself in danger of being identified as a Male Feminist. I am not sure how I feel about this. I have found out that there’s nothing much worse than a Male Feminist.
A site called returnofkings.com has been especially influential in setting me straight about these ‘turn-coat gender traitors, [who] publicly self-castrate, lying to themselves and others about their own sexual imperatives’. The site’s ‘columnist-at-large’ Tuthmosis Sonofra identifies a male feminist as someone who ‘engages in the typically feminist mental acrobatics that—when it’s all said and done—have turned night into day, made up into down, and rendered men into women.’ Such a person has ‘a slovenly appearance, a false veneer of intellectualism and academic grounding, and a vegan-style beard’. Worst of all, he has ‘a lispy, effete gay voice, and does condescending, snarky girl-tone and eye-rolling’.
I am surprised that the writer has missed the opportunity to dub such a person a hag-fag, and do so now.
I have not yet caught myself doing any of the things he mentions, but will be on my guard from now on.
More fun with inversions
If you liked hag-fag (and even if you didn’t), what do you get if you invert the initial ‘h’ and the ‘t’ in hash-tag? There, isn’t that amusing? It calls to mind what a Portuguese male acquaintance of Veronica’s said the other day: ‘mulher sem bigode é como um ovo sem sal’ (my translation: a woman without a moustache is like an egg without salt). I’m not sure if this was an expression of personal taste or the repetition of a Portuguese saying, but I hope it’s the latter. The Portuguese sense of humour is perhaps an acquired taste, but it has its moments.
I can’t think of any more thigh-slappingly humorous inversions. Contributions gratefully received, good ones reproduced with acknowledgement.
Call me paranoid…
‘Returnofkings?’ I hear you thinking, ‘Tuthmosis Sonofra?’ What sort of weird little hobbity spaced-out person runs this site, and why am I taking it seriously enough to even mention it? Isn’t it a bit like the Urban Dictionary, mostly done as a kind of joke anyway, which only someone as out-of-touch as me would keep trying to get a cheap laugh out of?
Well, OK, maybe, but I’m not so sure these wankers are harmless. Other articles published on returnofkings.com recently include ‘The myth of never hitting a woman’, ‘Seven ways modern women treat men like dogs’ and ‘Street harassment is a myth invented by socially-retarded white women’. These pieces are flanked by click-bait with titles like ‘Beautiful single chicks available’ and ‘Russian girls make the best girlfriends’, and they get plenty of comments (the street harassment one has 1,056). They are energetically argued, and without spelling or punctuation mistakes, but otherwise they seem to have been written by much the same sort of male who contributes to the Urban Dictionary – where, on male feminists for example, we find a contributor calling himself Chad McIroncock (tee-hee), but also one who goes by the not-so-amusing sobriquet niggarkilla 123 (probably not the sort of person Samuel Johnson had in mind when he defined a lexicographer as a harmless drudge.)
The experience of exploring sites like these is like lifting a rock and seeing what’s crawling around underneath. They are mostly ignorant and nasty, even the clever ones are bitterly resentful, and they seem to speak for a large number of obnoxious males, who in the US are probably armed to the teeth. This brings us back to domestic violence, of course (the Number One cause of which, according to the UD, is ‘women just wont [sic ] listen’), but why should it stop at the front door? What happens when a not-terribly-well-adjusted American male, armed with an automatic rifle and a furious sense of grievance, has had enough? Well, in the sixteen months from 1st October 2017 to 15th February 2019, there were twenty mass shootings in the US, killing one hundred and eighty-eight people and wounding six hundred and sixty-six (figures courtesy of Mother Jones magazine). It is rare for these killings to be completely random. Who would really be surprised if the next one, or the next-but-one, or the one after that, had a gathering of feminists as its target?
However, what about Joana Vasconcelos?
Your average male supremacist loony would probably have very little time for the gorgeous Joana Vasconcelos retrospective show, on till June 24th at the Serralves Foundation in Porto. We went to this with my brother and sister-in-law last month, and if you are in Portugal between now and then, I recommend you do the same (or you can go with somebody else if you prefer).
And of course you can see a feminist purpose in many of her sculptures and installations – ‘Burka’ and ‘Marilyn’ (the high-heeled-shoes-made-out-of-shiny-saucepans one) spring to mind straight away – but while such subversive readings are obviously available, they are mostly suggested with a light, allusive touch. I must say what I liked most about the Vasconcelos show was not its feminism but its femininity. That’s probably a no-go word these days, but if you go, have a look at big, tactile, colourful pieces like ‘Egeria’, ‘Finisterra’ or ‘Lilicoptére’, and see if you agree.
If you take the time to watch the Vasconcelos interview, you will probably feel as sorry as I am not to have seen the show at the Guggenheim, particularly the huge, gorgeous ‘Egeria’ drooping and prying and exploring all about the central atrium, but the Serralves museum and lovely garden are nice places to see the stuff (‘Marilyn’ looked fabulous on a well-mown lawn on a sunny Spring day), and the garden also has an uncompromising Richard Serra (great if you like huge rusty iron things) and Anesh Kapoor’s stunning sky mirror.
See you next time.
[i] I was congratulating myself on inventing this clever word all by myself when I found out that it has already been coined. There is even a facebook page called ‘coprocephalic’, which seems to be about a death-metal record label, as far as I can work out, or maybe a group, or perhaps a record.
This month, the Brexit Desk team have all hanged themselves or run away. This has left me short-staffed, but I feel something needs to be said, on this day of all days, when the thing has finally gone officially tits-up. It reminds me of the old Country Joe song about the Vietnam draft, ‘Feel like I’m fixin’ to die’, but Brexiteers will go on petulantly insisting that Britain is not crashing out of Europe, nor even tumbling out, and can we please avoid such sensationalist language. OK, are we storming out, perhaps, or striding out, or swanning out, leaving Europe feeling foolish in our wake ? A lot of people are certainly Freaking Out.
The piece below refers back to a happier time, a few weeks ago.
Saturday, February 23rd, 8.15am
Today I am in Lisbon for my Portuguese language test. This
is going to happen in the Universidade de Lisboa, pleasantly located just off
Campo Grande, down which my Uber is now taking me. I have allowed myself this
piece of self-indulgence (what’s one more, after all?) rather than have to
drive into Lisbon and park, or get up at 6.30 and do the trip in by train and
tube. I am perfectly sure I am going to pass this test, but I have been feeling
oddly nervous yesterday and today.
For a major urban thoroughfare, Campo Grande is very easy on the eye. You don’t notice that there are three lanes going south and three going north, because in between them is a large park, running the best part of a kilometre north-south, and two hundred yards wide at its broadest, with plenty of well-grown trees, lawns, a large tree-fringed boating lake, cafés, tennis courts and so on. It is all very attractive in the early-morning sunshine, with more lawns and trees separating the main avenue from the parallel exit road, down which we are now rolling comfortably, preparing to turn right. By now large blocky buildings of different shapes have started to appear on that side, beyond lawns, spindly trees and carparks. I am a fan of Cement Institutional, and there are one or two fine examples here as we turn right, especially the stunning Torre do Tombo. I get a good view of this as we drive past before stopping at the Faculdade de Letras, which overlooks a big grassed area, featureless as an Indian maidan.
I hop out and scurry up broad steps to the entrance, passing between tall rectangular columns supporting a deep, forty-foot-high porch. The front edge of this porch is an exact white square, as if a tall box has been laid on its longer side. You can see what the architect is getting at with the geometric simplicity of this, and the four brownish-pink columns running along the front. Even so, it’s a bit like an improvised cage for a giant guinea-pig.
Beyond the doors is a long high entrance hall, lined with more
square pillars. Something about it makes me think of 1984, or perhaps Russia,
or perhaps just the nineteen-forties. There is a knot of people gathered about
one of the pillars, which has a list of candidates and exam rooms to go to. I
find my name, and after a bit of wandering about corridors I find the room as
well. There are about twenty other people already there, sitting at desks
arranged in rows. They are mostly Middle-Eastern or Slavic in appearance. A limp,
mildly attractive middle-aged woman with hair rather too long for her age is
standing by the desk at the front of the room. She takes my name and I find my
I park my bag, get out my stuff and look round the room,
which like the rest of the building needs a coat of paint. I notice there is no
clock. I have never seen an exam room without one, so I put up my hand and ask
about this. We will be given a fifteen-minute warning before the end of the
exam, I am told, as if that solves the problem. OK, I say, smiling sunnily.
The first exam will be of an hour and a quarter, and will test reading comprehension and written expression. Unfortunately it cannot be started because a few candidates are not here yet. In less sympathetic contexts, the exam would start on time and late arrivers would simply have less time to do it, or would be disqualified. However this is Portugal, so we wait until every last person is in and sitting comfortably, whereupon the lone invigilator asks if everyone has all they need for the exam (we have all been told by email to bring a pen, a pencil and so on) and five or six candidates put up their hands to confess they have brought nothing to write with. As I shake my head to myself in righteous incredulity, the invigilator nods understandingly and asks if other candidates could oblige by lending what is necessary. In the end the exam starts thirteen minutes late. I know this because we are not asked to switch off our mobile phones, another generous concession I haven’t come across before.
For the reading comprehension test we have to read fifteen short texts supposed to be text-messages, each followed by multiple-choice questions. Following this we have to hand-write our own text-messages, based on simple imaginary situations. This is harder than you might think when you don’t want to make mistakes, and overall there is quite a lot to do in the time. However, candidates around me rise to the challenge with a heart-warming display of autonomy, two behind me colluding throughout in loud whispers, and the young man to my left showing well-developed research skills by continually consulting his mobile phone. The invigilator notices none of this, having some marking to catch up with. After a break, the short listening test is much the same, except that the texts are short scripted conversations recorded by not-very-good actors. The pace and carefully controlled language of these little dialogues makes them much easier to understand than the improvised, disorganised instructions delivered by the invigilator beforehand. Anybody who could follow these, it seems to me, has no further need of a listening test, but what do I know.
In the afternoon there will be interactive oral tests in the form of paired interviews, but in the meantime I have two or three hours to kill. I decide to walk back down towards Campo Grande. I have brought a bottle of water, a sandwich and a bit of fruit, but that now seems an even less appetising lunch than it did this morning when I threw it together. However I noticed a little on-campus café called ‘ 100 Montaditos’ when I arrived this morning, and I am keen to try this; I am a big fan of montaditos, which I have eaten in the north of Spain. If you don’t know what they are, they are sort of tapas but better, comprising little sections of white baguette-style bread mounted with exotic combinations of delicious ingredients, pinned down by toothpicks.
With hopes high, I step into the trendily fitted-up café, to find it smelly and full of chattering young people queuing for or consuming catering-quality mini-pizzas, nachos with little plastic pots of sauce, and cartons of those skinny cardboardy chips you get in shopping centres. So much for montaditos. I cross the footbridge to the park and, needing a pee, stop into a surprisingly-located McDonald’s, where the truly terrible stink and hubbub make the café seem refined by comparison. It occupies the entire ground floor of a large two-storey building, which judging by its concrete and glass construction is owned by the University. Perhaps the administration has concluded that anybody who doesn’t know about healthy eating by the time they go to college is beyond re-education, but even so it is slightly shocking to see so many educated young people tucking into such awful food, especially in Portugal, where the food generally isn’t bad.
Outside, the sun is warm. I find a bench, take off my jacket and consume
my packed lunch, then walk to a big tree I’ve had my eye on. I lay my jacket on
the grass beneath it and lie down with my hat covering my face. It is pleasant and
relaxing to hear the pock-pock of tennis rackets, the distant squawking of
indignant ducks on the boating-lake, snatches of conversation approaching and fading
as people walk past.
Without realising I have dropped off, I am abruptly woken by
the stout bellowing of a female child. She is leaning against the tree-trunk
with her eyes covered by her hands, counting slowly and very loudly down from
twenty while her friends find somewhere to hide, apparently two or three miles
away. When she has finished counting I wait for her to go away and look for
them, but she stays, and I realise it is that game where they have to sneak up
and touch the tree without being tagged. This leads to a lot of panting,
squealing, argumentative fun, which I have soon had enough of being this close
to. I get to my feet, gather my stuff and move away, grumbling mutinously.
There is still time to kill, which in preparation for my oral test I fill with sitting on a bench watching what the Portuguese nation get up to on a Saturday afternoon. Or rather, since we are in central Lisbon and it is the weekend, watching the activities of those lisboetas who can afford to live nearby. It reminds me of Regent’s Park in London when I went a couple of years ago, except that here there are residents and no obvious foreigners (any tourists will be a good way off, in the older part of the city) while in Regent’s Park there seemed to be residents and no English.
Post-lunch, it is a busy scene. Strolling families share the wide tarmac paths safely with joggers and the odd cyclist, who display none of the bad manners and sense of entitlement for which their London counterparts are increasingly resented. Nobody is pushed under a bus, at least.[i] Children scamper, grandparents beam indulgently, young couples saunter by hand-in-hand.[ii] It is very pleasant and civilised, as Portugal mostly is.
My oral test is in the form of a conversation with another candidate, loosely prompted and structured by an interlocutor. it is recorded for later assessment. My partner in this is a Cuban woman in early middle-age who is living in the Algarve. We have a nice chat, in which the interlocutor sometimes joins. Asked what makes me want to get a Portuguese passport I own up about Brexit, but also am at pains to say how much I like Portugal. When this begs the obvious next question, I readily cite the weather and the wine, and after an artful pause for the interlocutor’s benefit, add ‘Oh, and the people, of course’. ‘Of course,’ he laughs. ‘But really?’, and casting my mind back to the garden this afternoon, I am able to say ‘Yes, I think I do’.
Looking at this unbelievable incident again, could anything look more like an attempted murder, à la House of Cards? It’s enough to make you wonder if the woman was an ex-spy and the jogger a Russian intelligence officer, who had come to Putney to see its world-famous bridge. Before you scoff at the notion, consider this: at the time, the hero of the piece was justly the bus-driver, whose astonishingly quick reflexes saved the woman’s head from being crushed, but look again and you will note the role also played by the woman’s own reflexes, presence of mind and steely abdominal muscles – just the sort of attributes you would expect in a secret agent.
[ii] … except in cases where the boy has the girl in a Lusitanian Headlock. This is a show of affection, or hold, in which the boy passes his arm right over the girl’s shoulders, squeezing her to him tightly so that his upper arm is at the back of her neck, his arm bent downwards at the elbow on the opposite side. Thus pinioned, the girl is introduced to the traditional model for Portuguese marriage. An alternative to this is the Belt-and-braces Straight-arm Cross-over, which I saw the other day for the first time. In this grip, the couple lovingly intertwine fingers in the normal way, with their arms straight down and touching, but the young male strengthens his hold by reaching across with his opposite hand and grasping the inside of the girl’s elbow. Anybody who would enjoy a musical exploration of other wrestling holds should not miss ‘The Crusher’ by the Cramps: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5gRD549UAo
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.
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.
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:
Was Star 102 Radio’s yanking the song an example of Political Correctness Gone Mad Again? (Looks like it).
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).
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)
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
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:
the guilty party for leading the rapist on, and thus deserving whatever she got.
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:
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.
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’:
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
[i] Leading a sheltered life, perhaps I am the only person still surprised by this.
‘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.
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.
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
ordinary, wash-your-hair shampoo.
You’ll find it underClassic 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.
Just the normal
It’s called that?
How long is it since you bought shampoo? Yes. What’s your point with all this shampoo business, anyway?
remember. Never mind. Well, I suppose I should thank you.
grudgingly, if you must. It would cheer me up.
Yes, woman trouble again.
sorry to hear you say that.
Thanks, it’s good
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.
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
It’s small stuff, annoying stuff.
Things can get on your nerves sometimes.
I’ll tell you oneday.
That would be very nice. But perhaps not today.
It’s often just something like the
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
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.
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.
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.
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 …
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
You know what she says I am?
freak, I imagine.
There you go again, it’s amazing. So,
we’ll come back to this another time then, will we?
forward to it.
Talking of shampoo, you know what the
French call a hair-wash?
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.
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.)
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.
Eating out is quite cheap. It is in general, but especially in the crowded, noisy little lunchtime restaurants which cater to the above clientele.
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.
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.
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.
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, founded in my last post. 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.
Sports Couch: Turds of Wisdom
I suspect not many people ever bother to read this section, but anyway the following may amuse:
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.
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.
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.
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].
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.
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.
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.
 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’.