Forwardspringing Through Technicality

For a long time we were regaled with ads for motorcars which ended with some deep-voiced actor mumbling Vorsprung Durch Technik. And not translating it. I suspect it was the same actor who voiced that Irish butter ad – the one where he does his damnedest to seduce you into baking a large spud slowly and luxuriously in the oven instead of microwaving it like any normal person would – and then slathering it with Irish butter. I am something of a connoisseur of ads.

Anyway, at the time nobody except real Germans and German A level students knew what Vorsprung Durch Whatsit meant and most, like me, were too idle even to look it up. In a way, it was more interesting untranslated, like a mantra. Who really needs to know what Om Mani Padme Hum means?

But of course, worrisome Translating Mind would not, could not leave it alone. Way back in the past I had made a couple of attempts at learning German, the first being a term of adult education evening classes. I had been good at French at school. Unfortunately being good at French does not make you good at German. Two totally different Kettles of Fish.

The classes consisted mainly of nouns and verbs. Our teacher, a thin, weary man with an untidy beard and corduroy trousers, must have decided it would be too difficult to explain to us the masculine, feminine or neuter article so for a whole term we chanted (in German) such things as Cat Sits On Mat, Dog Walks in Park and Hedgehog Hunts in Hedgerow.

Part Two of each lesson involved a very long film. Every Thursday evening we watched this same film, starting from the beginning and never, ever getting to the end. It was something to do with two unattractive backpackers called Mary and John, who were really looking forward to sightseeing in Köln. Mary and John, having first changed their money at something called a Wechselstube, bought tickets at the Hauptbahnhof von Köln. That was how you always had to say it – von Köln. We never got any further than that and I have been unable to ‘wipe’ the Hauptbahnhof von Köln from of my mind ever since.

So, rather than look up Vorsprung Durch Technik I toyed around with it, idly splitting it into its component parts.

Vor I was fairly sure meant Forward, and the sprung bit was probably something to do with springing – the spring has sprung, the grass is riz, and all that – so Vorsprung must mean Forwardspringing.

Durch I actually remembered was ‘through’.

Technik I decided, losing interest now, must be Technicality.  So, this car firm was Forwardspringing Through Technicality. (Yawn…)

This leads me, finally, to flea traps. I have eighteen cats and, now, in spite of expensive flea treatments and in spite of the fact that they are indoor cats and until recently were flea-free, I appear to have eighteen cats with fleas.

It only takes one. You open the door, and in it hops, and onto a cat it hops and then you’re done for. You take a cat to the vet and it comes back with a flea. Yipee! Rich pickings!

This afternoon two German Flea Killers or Floh-Vernichter (Flea-Make-Notter) or alternatively Destructeur des Puces (Destroyer of Fleas) and Matapulgas (Flea-Matador) arrived, one for upstairs and one for downstairs. German engineering is famously splendid, of course, but it seems only Germans are clever enough to assemble items designed by Germans. It took me an hour and a half to put together one kit and almost as long again to assemble the other.

I just couldn’t get that piddly little light bulb into its piddly little socket. The bulb socket was designed only for German fingers, for those mutig enough to risk a finger-and-thumb-ful of brittle glass. All Germans, I think, must be right handed.

And that was only the beginning. Then there were the little plastic supports which had to be placed inside the lid using something called the non-return end (benutzen sie hierzu die Rücklaufsperren an den Enden).

And then there was the sticky paper disc which, as I discovered too late, had to go in before you attached the lid to the base with your Rücklaufsperren. Super-sticky, this paper disc. I couldn’t detach myself from it. In the end I had to anchor it with the top of a biro and wrench my hand away. No mere Floh would stand a chance against a Schutzpapier this ferocious. It would be Vernichted, slowly and excruciatingly.

It would be an ex-flea. This flea would be no more.

It occurred to me that rather than bombing us during the Second World War it would have been wiser to drop great sacksful of Floh-Vernichter kits. Shortly thereafter the invading armies could have hopped across the channel and taken over the whole country quite easily. As  we puzzled over our Rücklaufsperrens, our Glühlampes and our Schutzpapiers, we’d scarcely have noticed.

Just Another Solo Sunday

Christmas Eve. I have been sitting in the dark watching forgettable TV and feeling sorry for myself. My sister phones me from Canada.

We talk about family matters for a while. Practical matters. She is distracted by her husband who, despite advanced cancer, is determined to drag the washing machine back into position after re-tiling the kitchen floor. Go and help him  – you can phone me back. But no, he’s a man and he Doesn’t Need Help.

She tells me she is going to have to entertain one of her husband’s work colleagues and family on Boxing Day. Last time they saw me I was a weepy mess, she says. It’s embarrassing.

Think yourself on the other side of it, I counsel, knowing I couldn’t do so myself. Remind yourself that it’s only a few hours and then they will be gone. How many hours can they stay?

Well, now they’ve got the two-year-old to think of, maybe five hours…

Five hours! I think.

Five hours! she says.

Maybe you can have a few excuses lined up – things that will get you out of the room for twenty minutes here and there… I’ve run out of inspiration.

We turn to the subject of my solo Christmas Day. I’ll be on my own, Mum being unexpectedly in hospital with a broken hip. Would probably have been on my own anyway, Mum having been in the home since April or thereabouts. Somehow or other I haven’t planned for it. Why didn’t I think to volunteer to muck cats out at the local sanctuary? I know the answer – the cats would be pleased to see me but the worthy women at the cat sanctuary wouldn’t. They would look at me askance as people – and particularly women – tend to do. I was born without the ability to Bond.

We talk about our other sister – how come two sisters can never have a conversation without talking about the third? She will have her family around her – her partner, her daughter and ‘the boys’, ie her son and his partner. We think/hope maybe it won’t be as jolly and wonderful as it sounds. They’ll probably get fractious and bored. The boys will probably wander off somewhere. Couldn’t cope with all those people ourselves, etc. Not that sociable.

But it would have been nice to have had the option.

If we’d been in the same country, she says, you would have been coming to us for Christmas. It would have been only natural, the two childless ones.

Yes, I say. Or we might have taken it in turns to invite? 

I am comforted, inspired even, by the thought of the succession of Canadian Christmases we might have had. I remember my one and only trip to Canada back in the ‘eighties. It was Christmas then. There were plastic reindeer galloping merrily across every front garden (or should it be yard?) and plastic Santas attempting to squeeze themselves down non-existent chimneys. Fake snow decorated every window, real snow fell ‘snow on snow’ into the garden and creatures that might have been squirrels or maybe skunks looped their way along the tops of boundary fences. It would have been nice to be there every Christmas.

It would have been nice…

A bit of a long paddle, though. She is talking about the Atlantic.

She goes on talking and I suppose I am listening and making the appropriate replies, but also I am imagining myself walking on water, skimming the Atlantic Ocean on foot, only it isn’t icy cold and mind-bogglingly, Titanic-sinkingly deep like the real Atlantic but shallow and warm. Yes, I am that woman in the Dior perfume ad – Charlize whatever – and I am slender and young and wearing a gold dress so tiny and yet so beautiful it seems part of me. Water glistens down my throat, and the sun catching it and glinting off it, and I am perfumed and mysterious and splashing my way across calm waters towards a golden sunset.

Maybe something old with plenty of beams…

So I was sitting in the car eating a Tesco sandwich and saving till last the Yorkie Bar ladies are not allowed to eat. I only permit myself chocolate bars on these in-the-car occasions, which usually follow inexplicable road trips back to the town where I used to live. Somehow I am drawn back to the Tesco’s there at intervals. It makes me feel safe – comforted. I tend to go there when I’m stressed. I know – how weird can you get? It’s just that – that Tesco’s is kind of the centre of my ‘map’.

I’m even worrying myself now.

So, I drive all the way down there, which takes an hour and twenty minutes and uses petrol I can’t afford. I nearly always get stuck in three separate traffic bottlenecks, which wastes even more petrol. And the sun is usually in my eyes on the way down. I have these pathetic old eyes nowadays – I can see out of them same as ever, via specs, but the sun hurts them – a lot. I have therefore taken to wearing giant wrap-around ‘overglasses’. But as soon as I put them on, people – especially men, for some reason – start honking at me. I can see much better in strong sunlight with the overglasses over my prescription glasses, but I suppose they may give me the air of a doddery, nearly-blind-person, still irresponsibly driving. No doubt I spook people. Tee hee.

By the time I return the sun will have sailed just far enough across the sky to get in my eyes all over again. Nevertheless, I seem to have to go. It’s like Therapy. Once there, I don’t usually buy much – odd stuff like cat food and magazines, sandwiches and manly chocolate bars. I drink water from a bottle I carry with me, and I read a magazine for a bit before setting off on the return journey. Sometimes I watch people – my Dad’s favourite occupation too, in his declining years. Not that I’m in my declining years as yet.

Sometimes over the top of my magazine I observe fat ladies wearing the wrong sorts of dresses; children with smartphones clamped to their little pink ears; dogs eager to get into the backs of four-by-fours and make them all muddy. And I like to watch the man who collects the trolleys from the Perspex shelters and pushes them back to the racks, from where they are immediately removed, re-used and dumped in the Perspex shelters again. He gave me my long pink scarf back once. I left it tied to a handle and he ran after me with it. I liked that long pink scarf. A modern-day Sisyphus, he is. What did he do so wrong, I wonder, this nice, kind, simple man, that the gods should have consigned him to an eternity of trolleyology at Tesco’s.

I would have made a good detective, I think. I notice stuff. Stuff that might come in useful, if I was a detective.

But on this particular day, I was actually reading the magazine, and this one was a free magazine that had fallen out of another free magazine. It was called Property and it was about (three guesses) property. I am a bit of a sucker for the useless and the glossy. I like the smell of glossy magazines, the sheer opulent shininess of them, the newness. And I’m thinking about moving house myself, so I suppose Property is lurking about in my brain at the moment.

But not this sort of property. This is the sort of stuff that costs £520,000. It’s fun to window-shop, though. I like to imagine myself in “a handsome country cottage with fantastic rural views” or a Desirable Detached Stone-Built Period House: 4 Bedrooms: Contemporary Family Bathroom: 4 good sized reception rooms… 4 reception rooms!!

What is a reception room?

I do rather crave a “long rear Garden adjoining a meadow” – adjoining a meadow… Ohhhh – a meadow – all those pretty flowers – and a “Fabulous Detached Studio Home Office or Guest Room”.

And they say money can’t buy you happiness. If only I could just try it…

But I came upon a nasty surprise. In the centrefold feature, a misguided estate agent had taken it upon him(or her)self to write poems on behalf of clients searching for Properties as opposed to selling them. Don’t you just hate the sort of poems people who can’t write poems write? I loathe the very assumption that as long as it more or less rhymes, it’s poetry. No matter if it scans, even. What’s scans?

Here are just a few, for your delectation and delight:

My Belgium (sic) clients are coming to Kent / A period property would be heaven sent / A rural retreat complete with a view / Entertaining clients is something he has to do / business or pleasure he needs great space, / A garden, a pool to relax the pace… / Although this fine gent would like to play – London still often calls him away / Thus transport to London for the working day… / Can you help this man find his work rest and play?

(This one was superimposed over a faded-out photo of a swimming-pool)

A young city couple, looking to escape the rat race / Would like a rural, leafy retreat with plenty of outside space / Looking for two or three bedrooms for their family to increase / Must have plenty of character and set in a haven of peace / A period home not far from the station / East Sussex would be their perfect location / Original features are wanted it seems / Maybe something old with plenty of beams

(This one was superimposed over a faded-out photo of an orange ban-the-bomb symbol. It took me a while to join up the dots. Haven of peace – ban nuclear weapons – sort of peaceful, innnit?)

No, it’s no good. I was going to type out a third, but I just can’t bear to. My fingers refuse to obey my brain.

Eeeuch!