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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Excewze Mee Ay dewnt speeke yewr Ingglissh

I don't speak English any more.

That is, I always thought I did. I was brought up to pronounce my t's and never drop my h's. I got beaten up at my private school for sounding posh, until the kids realised I was from a single parent family, whereupon they beat me up for not being posh.

I remember giving a speech on the quality and importance of maintaining the grammatical order and classical pronunciation of English once at the English Speaking Union. When I got hounded down by a smart-arsed 6th Former from a competing school accusing me of lack of cosmopolitanity (yes, she thought that was a real word) I should have been warned to change before it was too late.

But now it is too late. 13 years on and I realise I do not speak in a way that others can understand. The past two weeks' worth of interaction with the general shopkeeping public around Oxford Circus has convinced me of this fact.
To wit:

1) I endeavoured to get €100 for a trip to Greece from my local high street bank, which shall remain nameless, although it has a blue eagle for a logo. So the conversation went thus:
"Could I please have €100 - I'm going to Greece"
"You want three hundred locker keys? For a safe deposit?"
What? What on earth could he have possibly thought - how???
Me (for that is who it was) "No - €100 euro please."
"€100 - just €100 please."

2) I went into my local bead shop to buy some bails - small silver clasps that attach crystal pendants to necklaces.
"May I please have some bails?"
"Bows?" said the lovely lassie behind the bar, a Kent girl through and through.
Me (for that is who it was) "No, Bails, please, for necklaces."
"Bails. BAILS."
"Oh! said the assistant, brightening. You want BELLS."
"No" (still me). Not Bellz, Bay-ls." Thinking phonetics would help. HOW on this green earth can Bails sound like Bells? "Bails Bails Bails," I repeated like a madwoman, desperately pointing with each word to a picture in the order book. I felt like a foreigner pointing sheepishly to some unpronounceable portion of Polish sausage in a restaurant.
"Oh! You mean Ba'wls".

I did not say AAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH. She may have put that on the order form too and charged me for "ostrich feathers".

But the worst came at Subway. The chap had just served an entire Italian family who had as much English between them as a tree stump. All I asked was:

"Everything except the onions please."
"You want more cheese?"
"No thank you" (still me) "Just all the Salad, except the onions."
"Just onions?"
"NO ONIONS. Onions, no" (I said, gesticulating wildly and pointing at the offending tub of raw bulbs). "Salad, lettuce, cucumber, yes yes, Onion - no!"
Papa Italian turned round from the payment area and smiled. "She has no onion, all other yes." He beamed kindly.
"I see" said the assistant. He turned to me. "Sorry, I could not understand your accent."

If only my English teacher Mrs Smith could see me now, a sorry form of humanity, forced to drawl only inanities and relegated to a morass of incomprehension. It won't be long before I am reduced to drawing pictures of apples and showing them to the checkout girl at Sainsbury's. "A-p-p-l-e... hur hur, me speketh gud, gibber gibber..."

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Of mice and men

The verse for today - You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free" (John 8:32) has been resonating today in so many odd ways.

Firstly, you can't mention the word "truth" without another voice in your head whispering "what is truth"? Like Pilate of old, searching for a meaning, for something concrete and true, questioning what is, or is not, true has been a raison d'etre for so much of mankind since first we climbed trees, painted ourselves blue and clubbed each other over the head with a hearty "ugg". What is truth?

Can it set us free?

When so many are in prison because of the truth - the truth of human rights, of freedom of speech, of religion, of humanity - can it set us free? Maya Angelou in her writing spoke of a cage of social and educational and financial making, and yet she called herself a caged bird that could Sing, and sing from the heart. Has the knowledge of being imprisoned, and an optimistic resignation to that state, made one free? The assurance that we who are bound may be ransomed, that our spirits and our souls can never be enchained - does that truth make us free?

But after pondering this on the bus, as one does, I stepped off the 109 and onto my train, pulled out my book (Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders) and the first line my eyes glanced upon was: "He will be baffled by the truth. The mediocre always are."

Does the truth indeed enlighten us, set us free - metaphorically and/or physically? Or does it actually confuse us, binding us more closely in confusion or sorrow? Supposing our friend's husband has had an affair and we find out. The truth must be told. But in doing so - does not that lead to great heartbreak? Then we are sometimes guilty in telling the truth. Telling the truth has not set anyone free apart from our own consciences - and so we place truth at the top of our list of priorities, over and above the happy and blissful ignorance of our friends.... and yet... it is so easy to lie to help a friend... If someone has lost a person dear to them do we not tell meaningless lies to make them feel better? Are we not then guilty for lying to them? But if we were to tell the bald, ugly truth - we plunge them into deeper sorrow of spirit.

I'm not sure the truth does set us free. It comes with a price, a cost. It is of course imperative that we are honest, that we are true to our beliefs, that we speak of One who came to bring Truth and Light and Life - indeed, Jesus described Himself as The Truth (the truth being a person)... and yet yet yet it is so hard a course, so rocky a road and full of pitfalls that only the very brave must dare to be honest regardless of torment or torture. And only the very wise can tell the truth at all times without hurting others; only the very kind can add pure honesty to their virtues without causing other people to be trapped or chained up.

This morning we caught a very little mouse in the office. He was tiny - half the size of my thumb. Which is a useless description unless you have seen my thumb. Well then, he was just bigger than a 50 pence piece, with a tiny little head, miniature pink hands and feet and large black eyes fringed with delicate, twitching whiskers. Richard wanted to stamp on him but others and I objected. It ended up with me holding the little fella in a cardboard tube, and running downstairs to let him out into a nearby churchyard. I thought he would enjoy the abundant flowerpots with their profusion of covering leaves and scented blooms. He certainly seemed to be happy enough, scampering around. I felt pleased that we had set him free.

Five minutes later we heard the growl of distant thunder, swiftly crescendoing into a roar and the rain lashed down. Then I wished we had not set him free in the cold and the rain. Has his freedom come at a price? And what is the life of a little, motherless mouse worth? A slower death outside or a swift one inside the warm, waiting for the Rentokil man. What was the truth here?

Friday, May 25, 2007


Bored bored Bored bored Bored bored Bored boredBored bored Bored boredBored bored Bored boredBored bored Bored boredBored bored Bored boredBored bored Bored boredBored bored Bored boredBored bored Bored bored.... the more you write it, the weirder it looks. It should almost be pronounced bor-ed.
That's how bor-ed I am.

Worst introduction to a news story this week

"Annual reports are not fit for purpose - partly because they are used for too many purposes, a survey claims."

Please someone shoot me now....

Coming in here, stealing our cats...

I've never been comfortable with the Nimby Brigade living so near to me. I've felt a prickly sensation across the back of my neck every time I passed by a local news stand bearing the legend: "More immigrants to flood the UK" - a prickly sensation that might have been cooties, but was more likely to be caused by my inner fear of racists.

Moreover, I have been pleased to see Polish delicatessens springing up over South London. The Sausages! Oh my sainted aunt Rosemary! The Sausages - great big dripping spicy rolls of proper meat and herbs and chunks of fat... and the sweetmeats! Why have you never seen a fat Polish person, if all they eat is sausages and caramel-filled pastries? Like Indians - all that amazing Ghee and Lassi and curry with deep red grease three inches thick floating on top - why aren't they fat either??? I know my waistline has grown proportionately to the number of Polish nationals that have landed on our fair shore.

All this kerfuffle about "taking our jobs"... come on, who would you rather have: a hard-working Polish builder who comes in, wipes his feet, does the job and then goes, or an English builder who comes in, looks around, sucks air through his teeth and makes tutting noises, then goes out to make a call to "Ed...Ed... yeah... how much more have we got to charge for VAT...?"; one who drinks all your coffee and leaves coffee rings on your sofa arm, while dropping biscuit crumbs down the cushions, then has to pick up strange and expensive thingies from B&Q for 5 hours and then charges you £1000 more than the estimate cost for "additional time".... And that's if he comes back from B&Q at all.... AND when you go upstairs, you find the most enormous chocolate log in your toilet that can't be flushed away unless you break it up with a rolling pin? (I am aware that there should be a question mark there, but it almost seems inappropriate).

A further idiot's guide to spotting a Nimby is if you hear someone say: "England's full"... Is it? What a ridiculous thing to say... of course it's not full - people are not falling off the edges or being pushed into ravines because there are JUST TOO MANY PEOPLE HERE. Someone mentioned that there are 4.3m people coming in - and there are 5.6 million UK expatriates around the world. We're in Credit! We're 1.3 million people cheaper...

All this I know, and yet... if my polish neighbour keeps "accidentally" letting my cat into her flat and saying to me "he can stay" (no he flaming well can't), I might have to thump on her. Get your own cat and stop stealing ours.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Ginger nuts in top secret mission to Africa

So our Spare Heir is off to Africa instead of Iraq (or is he? He could already be in Iraq for all we know. Or in Brazil) and his ginger nut is going to be a tougher one for Iraqi insurgents to crack.

The poor lad is said to be "well gutted" at being unable to take a pop at the old towel-heads; he is reported to have said it would have been a "ripping time" and that he had been looking forward to smoking the odd wad of hashish courtesy of the Marrakesh Smoke Train that chuntles through the desert every now and then.

But our very own Hardy Boy was considered too high a risk to be sent to the front line. Excuse me? The chap is a soldier, trained in the arts of war and street-brawling. A prince should be on the front line, leading his chaps into battle with a rousing cry: "God for England, Lizzie and the St. George - best pub in Kensington."

But instead he's being sent to Africa. What a disappointment for the young prince, let alone the Pakistani snipers being shipped into Iraq for the sport. He was the best target they had - they've been trained to recognise a ginger barnet at 1000 paces. Now they've only got Chris Evans to take pot shots at in London, which will be fun but hardly as satisfying.

The rationale is that Harry, being potentially our King Henry IX (no, it's NOT short for Harold) is too high profile, putting his life and the life of his fellow-soldiers in jeopardy by his presence in Iraq-land. So he's going to a quieter area - West Africa.

This is a completely irrational argument put forward by the Mod - the Moderately Obtuse Department. Firstly, Iraq is a war-torn area. Soldiers have been killed and wounded there for years. Harry's arrival there is hardly likely to intensify the probability of mortar attacks. The very fact that these young men and women are in British Uniform is putting their lives in danger. They're soldiers. That's what they've been trained to do. A soldier goes into battle to fight the fight for his country, and is prepared to lay down his life for his land.

Incidentally, this is what irritates me about the media hype every time a soldier is killed or captured. They portray it as a tragedy. It is not a tragedy. Tragic, perhaps, but not a tragedy in the dictionary definition of the word. These men and women are trained to kill or be killed. They are putting their lives on the line deliberately and selflessly so that their families and friends back home can live their lives in peace. And that is what really angered me about those muppets who strayed into Iranian waters and blubbed like babies to the media. Medically they were all treated far better than we could have imagined. And yet they readily told their Iranian capturers heaps of information. What? If these idiots had been parachuted into France pre- D-Day, and been captured by the Vichy or SS, we'd have lost the war. And the SS had much more evil ways of torturing information out of people, but the heros of WWII had far more self-respect, love for country and honour to open their mouths. They died for their ideals and went to their graves in silence. I tell you, if I ever meet any of those rat-faced weasels who were captured by the Iranians, I'll ship them back to Iran with the words: "Ahmadinejad is a gayboy" tatooed to their foreheads.

Where was I?

Oh, secondly, they tell us Harry is going off to Africa. It's TOP SECRET. That's why every paper in the country knows about it. Secret Service, my ass. About as secret as Flasher John's genitals on a hot summer day on Clapham Common. Africa offers Harry the Red far less security than he would have were he to be posted to Baghdad! It would be far easier to capture a prince in a less-defended, less high-military-profiled area like Africa than it would in Iraq. Hell, my mum could capture Harry in Africa, and she's a as subtle as as earthquake. I could capture Harry easily. Just sneak in a bottle of Jack Daniel's into the compound, with a note: "Hey, prince dude, there's more of this by the Forest entrance, and lots of beautiful dancing girls. Come along at midnight. Alone."

Of course, my motives for kidnapping the Ginger Windsor would not be quite the same as the motives purported by the tribe of Saladin. After all, he is of legal age and far cuter than his balding brother.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

horns of a dilemma

There are many kinds of people in the world. Slow ones, happy ones, misanthropes, puckish people, salt-of-the-earth, dull people, scared people... but I am discovering very quickly that there are a new breed of people squeezing their way up the creation chain.

These are called, for want of a better word, the uncomfortable people.

By this, I don't mean that they are unbearably bony, all angles and elbows and knobbly knee joints sticking into your soft and tender flesh. Nor do I mean to suggest they are all rolls of slippery fat, rippling and undulating with microcosmic seismic activity when you try to get comfy in close proximity.

I simply mean that their sole conversation is geared around making the recipient as uncomfortable as possible.

For example. You are in a pub, and the person next to suddenly turns to you and says: "I don't shave my legs often but every now and then I shave my *****".
It's enough to put you off your chilli flavour crinkle cut Real McCoys.

Or again, you are sitting in a group of people, and a girl turns to you in front of everyone, including her boyfriend, and asks: "Would you find my boyfriend sexy?"

How do you reply? Upon which horn of the dilemma should you willingly impale yourself?

If you say: "Not in a million years toots, he's got the face that a back end of the bus would disown. In fact, I've seen better busses in Thailand than that physog"... well you may make her feel like you're not a threat at all to her love life, but that's the end of the friendship with her fella.

If you say: "Of course, he's such a nice guy, really cool and trendy...."

You just can't win.

Sarcasm then has to come into play. And I hate being sarcastic. It's so mean and cutting and unnecessary. I especially hate sarcasm when adults employ it around young people. Kids ask questions, its how they learn about life. And it's really unfair that an adult should fob them off with a smart alec answer.
But around uncomfortable people, I have to become sarcastic. I have to speak in italics.

"Oh yeah, well, he's the office stud don't you know? Everybody fancies him, even the office cleaner."

And then you get a reputation for being sarcastic. For being bitter and twisted. Well I think I was already twisted. But bitter? I suppose there is a possibility of that happening - I already have a cat, I live on my own and I am single. And almost 30. OH MY GOSH - I am, I am a bitter and twisted spinster. I hate the world and the world hates me. And I don't care. Really.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Stand up and be counted!

I have just experienced an extremely dull three days. This was the result of spending the bank holiday weekend on my own with nothing to do - which in turn, is the result of having been single for the first time in three years.

When you're in a relationship, you get accustomed to having someone to do interesting things with, like day trips or visiting exhibitions or throwing things at each other in the park, or going to the cinema to watch some shonky Yank-flick and canoodling in the back row.

It wasn't that I didn't DO anything. It was just I wasn't doing anything with a boyfriend in tow. I wasn't WITH anyone. It was a bothersome feeling, like that nagging sensation that you were meant to do something today, but forgot about it, or that you feel you may have missed an important meeting but you can't be sure.

But I did have some interesting first-time experiences. Such as a friend and myself being the only two people in the Cinema on friday night and we walked out half-way through the film. That must have been a first - a film being shown to an audience of two, who walk out mid-way. She's a lot more sensitive than I am. Being a journalist de-sensitises you I guess, although I am sick in the head and found the idea of an Inquisitor being tortured over the dinner-table rather amusing. But then again, I think jokes about poo are funny. Takes all sorts to make up a world.

That evening, after ditching the film (Goya's Ghosts if anyone cares) we headed off home and I decided to finally crack open that £125 bottle of Bollinger I had been saving in the fridge for when Laurence proposed.

YEP, another first for me. Not that no-one's proposed, but that I drank a whole bottle of Bolly by myself. What a sad git. I was afraid I was turning into Patty and became very emotional about becoming a middle-aged woman (I am 29). Perhaps it was this irrational phobia about such a metamorphosis that made me dream that I was a trainee Padawan. Yes, for the FIRST time in my life, I dreamt about being a Jedi.

It was the thought of this dream - of course, I was the GREATEST padawan that the world had ever known - that made me feel slightly invincible the next day. Or perhaps it was the fact I was still bolly-ed up.

The effects of this superhero-inside feeling became apparent when I offered to pop down to the local shops to pick up some groceries for mum. It's a nice walk, about 20 mins, where she lives. Residential, quiet, a few pikeys around, but nothing too bad. Except... two small boys on a bike - one fat kid about 12 and a smaller one of 10 tail-riding on the back of it - swept past me.

As they did, the small tyke tried unsuccessfully to pull my tiny handbag off my shoulder (I always hold the strap in front). They cycled off, as fast as the fat kid could pedal, and I was mad. I was steaming. HOW DARE THEY? Little punks. I was so mad that I started to run after them. They never looked back to see me. But there I was, three months of training at the gym paying off in my pace and stamina, and my mind full of the heroic strength I had received as a Jedi knight... they were going to see what a Jedi/Middle-aged drunk woman could do...

I was not sure whether I was going to box their ears or not. 50 years ago, had I been alive, I would have boxed cheerfully, knowing that there would be no repercussions. Indeed, had a friendly Bobby been lumbering around the vicinity in 1957, and had seen the incident, he would have given free reign for an ear-boxing retribution. "Here's a clip around the back of the head from me, too, laddy." Then they would have been taken back to their houses, where their own mas would have tanned their fat hides with a broom. Ah the good old days that I dont remember at all. They were lovely days.

But it's 2007, I'm a youth worker, and 10-year olds carry knives. No matter. Patty the Padawan soon caught up with them. By now Fatty had stopped puffing away on the pedals and had dismounted to spend a few moments breathing very heavily through his nose. Small Tyke was sitting on the bike. Neither heard me creep up behind them. I bent towards Small Tyke and shouted

Boo? Boo? They tried to steal my purse, and all I could say was BOO?

You remember, of course, that famous scene in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, where Luke creeps up behind Darth and shouts: "BOO! Ha ha ha ha ha! Where's the Force now, then, eh Dad? Got you that time!... Ow! Get off my arm! That hurts.... Mommy..."

Well whatever. It had the same effect as if I'd boxed his ears, but without the fear of a) being beaten up by the FUZZ, or b) being bitch-slapped by his teenage mom.

The Small Tyke screamed. His eyes bulged and he went pale - as pale as he could. His FAT friend froze and stopped gasping for air for a second.

I didn't have a smart answer. I gave THE LOOK. And I walked off. True, I hadn't said anything. I'd not boxed or even clipped his ears. I'd not been particularly brave or fierce or BIG.
But for the first time in my life, I had made a child scream. And it felt good.