Tuesday, October 28, 2008

6 Random Things About Myself

I got tagged by both Gyppo Byard and Kevin Musgrove, for which I feel very honoured. At first it worried me in the same way that chain letters worry me, but it seems that it's just harmless fun. I’ve got to “reveal six random things about myself”. In what sense of the word “random” they are random if they’ve been chosen by me, I am unsure, but here goes:

1: I painted my toenails scarlet

(Or: I painted my toenails, Scarlet... if you’re reading this). This follows on from one of Gyppo’s random facts. I did it at a party, for a laugh, but it was just a few days before I was due to travel to India for a friend’s wedding. The friend was at the party and said “Please, in the name of Lord Krishna, remove that nail varnish; many people will see your feet at my wedding and they will think that in England I associate with eunuchs”.

2: I got a Blue Peter badge

The circumstances surrounding its acquisition are too painful to recall, but I was in my mid-30s at the time and by then had come to sufficient understanding that the camera doesn’t love me, and vice versa. But I couldn't get out of it.

3: My dad used to write articles for Mayfair

A discussion at Gorilla Bananas’ place reminded me of this. They were about steam trains, racing cars, weapons and stuff like that, in the days when “men’s magazines” were supposed to of general interest to men. He had a stack of them in his study, though I suspect that I was the only one that dog-eared them. (I still don’t know if he ever knew that I knew about them!)

4: I’ve had Electroconvulsive Therapy

I feel a bit awkward saying this, not because I'm embarrassed (though I probably should be) but because it might come across as some bizarre attempt at one-up-man-ship after MC Ward and Mrs Pouncer's courageous revelations about their lives. But if I can get a laugh out of it - and the cure is surely more gag-worthy than the malady - then that's justification enough for me. Actually it was one the things instrumental in turning my life around. (Don’t try it at home though, kids.)

5: The Most Famous People I’ve seen are:

Denis Norden (in a shop); Alexei Sayle (walking down a street); Ben Elton (in a bar); Queen Mum (she visited a summer camp place where I was); Derek Taylor, the Beatles publicity manager (I knew his son); snooker player Steve Davis (standing next to him at a urinal - I wanted to look over and see if all the wealth, fame and adulation of the nation's filing clerks had made his penis permenantly engorged, but I didn't have the nerve). Sad to say I exchanged precisely zero words with each of them.

6: 1984

I was a nervous and suggestible teenager and was convinced that the world would end in 1984. This wasn’t just because of Orwell’s novel but also because when on a skool trip to the London Planetarium an incautious boffin said something about all the planets getting in line at a moment during that year. I became convinced that nuclear warfare would somehow also be a feature of this year and therefore planned which university to attend based on being directly under a bomb (dieing quickly rather than of protracted radiation sickness). This took me to Sheffield, which, as it had no industry left to speak of by the time I got there, would actually have been a really stupid target, unless the Ruskies disliked Arthur Scargill as much as Thatcher did.

Ooerr, that was a bit scary. I believe that I’m required to reiterate the tag rules, so here they are: Link to the person who tagged you. Post the rules on your blog. Write 6 random things about yourself. Tag 6 people at the end of your post and link to them. Let each person you have tagged know by leaving a comment on their blog. Let the tagger know when your entry is posted. The 6 people I nominate are Can Bass 1, Daphne Wayne-Bough, The Dotterel, Ellis Nadler, Barry Teeth and Andy from Csíkszereda Musings.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Farewell, Youssoufaki

Phew, I moved house and somehow managed not lose my job, my missus, my marbles, or - most importantly of course - my connection with you, gentle reader; I do hope you're still out there somewhere. We had to give up our lovely RDS broadband though. RDS is an extension of CERN's Large Hadron Collider under the Swiss Alps: modern, high-tech, and pretty darned fast. We could have gone for RomTelecom, which like The Dacia Car, another national institution, actually does kinda work, in its own way, but the power for it is generated in Moldavia by a donkey walking round and round in a circle with a carrot dangling in front of its nose; and even a Moldavian donkey will stop in its tracks occasionally and ask itself the question "why?" So we got UPC - bundled with cable TV channels like Discovery, Chav Shopping++ Gold, Red Hot Rijswijk, etc - which is responsible for peasants knowing more about the Serengeti National Park, bling and Dutch Housewives than they know about the next village, agricultural machinery and actual housework. But it's a bit slow.

Speaking of donkeys, it seems that my best male friend here in Romania is no longer with us. I don't know his name - being a beast of burden he probably never had one - so I'll call him Youssoufaki after the much beloved donkey in Kazantzakis' book The Greek Passion - named, but ironically, please note, after a Turkish Agha's catamite - whom his master believed understood everything he felt and said. My Youssoufaki used to pull carts of hay, bring shepherds down from the hill or simply stand around looking sexy. He was at his best though when rolling around scratching his back in a puddle of dust and waving his legs in the air. Like a proper townie twat I used to run up and stroke his neck and talk to him. But, "he's no longer with us", they told me when I visited his village recently. I thought this a little ambiguous, but to spare my feelings they wouldn't elaborate. So I fear I'll never know whether he's gone to some other, meaner master, to Dreamy Meadows Donkey Sanctuary Retirement Home and Devon Fudge Shop (pictured above), or to the dog food factory. Sorry to be so maudlin. Farewell old son.

Monday, October 6, 2008

G-G-G-G-G-Granville! (#3): Cunning Linguists

In previous posts I’ve covered how stammering made a me a dancer and a fan of popular music. In later ones I’ll tell you how it gave me an access-all-areas pass to the spirit world and the abilities to talk with animals and to pass undetected through the realms of the mad. A list of high-achieving stammerers is also planned, as is a generous offer to share a little of our coveted victimhood status with you. But now as promised, and laying all false modesty aside, I’m going to explain how stammering made me a linguist. Casual observers may think this strange: “Why’s he want to study languages? It’s not like he’s gonna be able to speak them!” Yeah, right. Well, I’ll discuss another time the perfectly possible business of grappling with a foreign tongue; but first I’m going to explain the stammerer’s special relationship with the structural concepts that underlie human language. (This might be considered appropriate recompense for the tax-payers money spent training me as a computational linguist, though, as I shall explain, I didn’t really need any training, so it was a waste of your money, but thanks anyway). Like stammering, linguistics - in any sense that is worthy of the name - is a long run rather than a 100 metre dash. Of course as a stammerer you’ll start at the back of the linguistic pack, less able to talk to the nice barmaid than the barfly who’s already got the previous 3 up the duff, but it ain’t over till it’s over. If you hang in there you’ll see there are advantages; oh yes; advantages that like a fine port wine you can only appreciate over time; advantages that are specifically and paradoxically linguistic in origin. I relate them here to provide, I hope, a little encouragement for any young stammerer who’s yet to espy the prize.

The stammerer’s journey on the Road to Wellville is, like that of the constipation sufferer, an inner journey. But while the much-awaited petite mort of expelling something meaningful can be just as exulting, here the similarity ceases; for while the former has no choice over which shit to spit the latter has the golden treasury of all possible sounds available from the human vocal organs! Yes, you learn to make word substitutions - English is particularly rich with such alternatives. Get stuck on your haitches? you say “pensione” instead of “hhhhhhotel”; trouble with voiced alveolar plosives? it’s “hound” instead of “d-d-dog”; “seafood” instead of “fffffish”, “old lady” instead of “mmmmummy dearest”; (but of course it’s “g-g-get it on” not “make love” if you think the the sympathy factor kicks in). You see, you’ve already learned to use twice as many words and phrases as your average non-afluent! And there’s more. Some words can’t so easily be ignored, like names* and pronouns. But here’s where it gets really clever: it’s easier if you don’t have difficult sounds at the start of a sentence. You therefore learn to switch the grammar around before you speak. You’ll learn not to say “Yyyyyou are getting on my tits!!” but, “The one who’s getting on my tits is yyou!! or even better “There’s one who’s getting on my tits, ‘tis thee!! See, it’s the perfect training for a poet, and after a while these linguistic gymnastics come as naturally as breathing (more so, in a stammerer’s case). Bingo, you’re the next Percy B-B-F*****g Shelley - and then the crumpet’s for free. (Ding dong!) And finally, I’ve only now realised that I’ve got into the habit of using the variant “stammering” rather than the more widely used “stuttering” simply because it’s easier to say. B-cheerio!!!

* This is obviously how epithets started back in the days of oral tradition: Homer can’t say his Zs so Zeus is “He who Releases Rain”. Kennings too: an Icelandic scald can’t say his Ss so it’s a “wound-hoe” not a “sword”. And you can make up entirely new names - Lewis Carroll was a stammerer.