Oh, for Pete’s Sake!

I’m not sure who Pete was, originally. I suspect he got slotted into this generalised expression of annoyance merely because he had one syllable and was easy to substitute for the word you really wanted to say. But then, you’d have thought Jack would have been better. Closer to the original, as in Cripes! for Christ, Heck! for Hell or – that old favourite of American scriptwriters attempting to write Cockney – Blimey! which was originally ‘Gor Blimey’ and before that ‘God Blind – or Blame – Me!’

A number of things have prompted me to exclaim Oh, for Pete’s Sake! recently. The Millennial or Snowflake Generation, it is claimed, have grown up over-protected and therefore tending to feel special, unique, entitled, overly emotional and easily offended. I am not actually in a position to discuss this with any genuine Millennials/Snowflakes and I wouldn’t want to tar all with the same brush. But…

Recently the Prime Minister generated a great cloud of apparent shock and horror by using the word ‘Surrender’ in relation to a parliamentary Bill. Apparently, ‘Surrender’ is a militaristic word, and therefore to be classed as inflammatory language. ‘Surrender’, it seems, has never been and cannot ever be used anywhere else than in the field of battle. So if I am driving erratically and a policeman should tap on my car window and say, Excuse me, Madam, I will require you to surrender your driving licence at the nearest Police Station … ??

‘Humbug’ is an ornate, old-fashioned, but no more offensive version of ‘rubbish!’ Dickens was fond of it and had Scrooge exclaim Bah, Humbug! in A Christmas Carol. A humbug is nothing more than a sugary sweet (see above). I don’t like them myself, probably because of their horrid stripes and tooth-cracking hardness, but I would defend anybody’s right to refer to them as humbugs as opposed to laterally-banded confectionary items.

So, in relation to the apparent shocking and terrifying of his fellow MPs by the use of the word ‘Surrender’ in relation to the enactment of a Bill which would in effect bring about political surrender, he replied

“Mr Speaker, I have never heard such humbug in all my life.”

Gasp! Another shocking word.

I suspect this parliamentary outrage is of the deliberately manufactured political kind rather than true Snowflakery, which makes it hypocritical and therefore twice, nay thrice as annoying. English is a vigorous, robust, joyous language; its rich, eccentric vocabulary has been drawn from wave after wave of invaders and conquerors. We had the Saxons, we had the Vikings, we had the Romans, we had William the Conqueror, let’s face it we almost had the Germans as well… And politicians in the past, whether within Parliament or outside of it, have never shied away from using this linguistic resource to its fullest.

A couple of examples:

From Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech. I for one am not afraid to find it on the internet and read it – yea, and carefully, from start to finish – for fear of some mental contamination, an instant attack of rabid racism:

“As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see ‘the River Tiber foaming with much blood’ .”

And then from possibly the most famous Prime Ministerial speech of all time:

‘We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills, we shall never surrender…’

‘Humbug’ begins to look a bit tame after that, doesn’t it?

What hope for us if we have even, now, become afraid to express our own thoughts in our own language?

Eat, drink and be merry – or not?

Funny how one passing thought leads to another, and another, until you end up with something completely divorced from the original thought. Especially now, with the internet. You can whisk through any number of random associations in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

I can’t believe I just typed ‘two shakes of a lamb’s tail’. I have never said that in my life.

I was thinking about my garage, and how it seems to be inhabited by tins nowadays, mostly cat food. This is because I am nervous about Brexit, or rather apprehensive as to the incompetence of civil servants in managing the transition from – oh, you daren’t even discuss this nowadays – from the way we were to the way we will be.

That lead me to think of an old episode of Alaska: The Last Frontier (before I gave up my TV licence) in which there was an earthquake. I have never been through an earthquake and it didn’t look much fun. The root cellar of one young couple had been badly shaken and much of the foodstuff they had worked so hard to gather/make over the short Alaskan summer had been thrown about and ruined. To please his wife the husband, ever practical, set about building shelves out of second-hand timber, with high boards at the front and sides. The idea was that in any future earthquake, supplies would be contained on the shelves rather than smashed on the floor.

And then I got onto, accidentally of course, the Parable of the Rich Fool. I knew there was a thing about a man smugly heaping grain up in his barn, then dying overnight, but I couldn’t remember what it was called or where to find it. There’s a bit in Matthew 6:19 which starts:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in…

The parable itself seems to be Luke 12: 13-21. A rich man has had a bumper harvest and is rejoicing over all the excess crops he has. There is so much, he hasn’t got room to store it all, yet he means to save it and be able to live the good life for many years, eating, drinking and being merry, which must be the origin of the saying Eat, Drink and be Merry, for tomorrow you die.

He makes a plan. He will tear down all his old barns and build much bigger ones in their place…

Now, here is one of those logic holes. I just love logic holes, which tend to leap out at me. Star Trek is an excellent source. If were the rich man, and didn’t yet know that God was about to thunder at me “You fool! This very night your soul is being demanded of you. And these things you have prepared, whose will they be?”

If I were that rich man, I would be saying at this point: what a waste of time and assets it would be to pull down all the barns I have already got. Why don’t I just build a number of additional barns? Then I can store my grain mountain and eat, drink and be merry etc till the cows come home.

I can’t believe I just typed ’till the cows come home’. I sound like my Nan.

But then of course God would commence his Thundering and I would realise that all my crops and possessions were of no use to me. I should have been concentrating on storing up ‘treasure in heaven’ instead.

I did come across a children’s bible ‘translation’ of this story, that began something like:

There was once a very rich man, and he grew fruit on his farm. We don’t know exactly what sort of fruit, children, but he grew so much of it he was beginning to wonder how he would store it all…

What was with all this mysterious fruit? There was no mention of fruit, surely. So I checked it back in the King James version. What it actually says is:

The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:

And he thought within himself, saying. What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits and my goods.

And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.

The writer of the children’s translation has taken this literally. What ‘fruits’ actually means is crops, ie ‘the fruits of his labour’. Fruits are crops, and goods are possessions, as in ‘all my worldly goods I thee bestow’. 

But to what extent was the parable itself mean to be taken literally? Should I not be storing cat food but trust in the lord not to let my nineteen cats starve. Should people not be saving some of their earnings, if they can afford to, because in the event of some financial crash Jesus will provide?

I am still thinking this one over. Where is the line between blind faith and fecklessness? Surely if you don’t worry a bit about the future and try to provide for yourself, you will end up in the gutter, or with other people having to take care of you, or unable to look after anybody yourself? Surely it is a person’s responsibility, as a member of society, to at least try not to be too much of a drain and a nuisance?

It all hinges on time, and predictability. The Rich Fool was called foolish because he decided to horde his excess crops (crops, not apples, pears, cumquats etc) against a future that, in the event, he was not destined to have. But he didn’t know that. If he had known it, maybe he would have made a different decision. If he had known it, maybe he would have given it all away to the poor and needy, and then sat down happily to await his transport to the next world.

Can we live as if there will be no tomorrow? What happens if there is a tomorrow after all?

Taken to its logical conclusion, if we brooded constantly on the thought that we might die at any moment, wouldn’t we all just curl up on the living room carpet and do nothing at all, ever again?  Isn’t everyday life only possible because the future is unknown?

Cor(e) Blimey

Well, I never thought I would find myself lusting after three pieces of orange neon Perspex shaped like apple-cores, but you live and learn. All over the internet are ladies commenting on quilting posts, and their universal reaction to a picture of an apple core quilt or the apple core template is “Where did you get it? I want one”.

I never learn. I’d been happily sewing squares together on the machine and waiting for my left-handed rotary cutter to arrive from America. (Left-handed rotary cutters are as scarce as the droppings of rocking horses, but right-handed ones are no good because you can’t see where you’re cutting.)  Well, happily… it was getting a bit boring. It’s OK sewing a few squares together but a whole quilt-full and it becomes like working in a Greetings Card Factory. Something I have also done. Believe me, you don’t know the meaning of tedious until you have spent the whole of July at a bench with a glue-gun attaching red glitter to luxurious padded Valentine cards.

I first saw an apple-core quilt on the internet. It was done by an Amish lady and it was utterly magical. I wanted one!  To add to the magic, it’s a template that can only be used on it’s own. It disdains to fit with anything else, like those common old squares and triangles and whatnot.

Anyway, my templates finally arrived today – all three of them, glowing a discreet orange and seductively heavy. From Poland! No wonder they took so long. In between my usual tasks – feeding, watering and mucking out after eighteen cats; doing several machine-loads of washing and so forth – I have been watching YouTube videos and experimenting.

I have watched ladies in tartan shorts sitting in rocking chairs on their back porches sewing apple-cores by hand. I have watched ladies with pearls and neat white perms sewing apple-cores by machine. I have read articles about the history of patchwork by unknown bloggers. This is the way I teach myself to do anything nowadays. I used to go and get books from the library and immediately lose interest at the sight of all those diagrams. Video tutorials are quicker and easier.

The thing with the apple-core is, it’s got a curve to it. That makes it difficult, and the more difficult the smaller the template you are working with. “It’s all right for you,” I tell the perm-and-pearls lady, “working with a template the size of a house brick”. But she does give some excellent advice, which is:

“You can’t hurry a curve.”

You can say that again. First you fold to find your centre, then you pin in an elaborate kind of way, and then you – well, then I – tack and then you run it through your sewing machine really slowly – like one of those slow bicycle races.

And then you unpick it and try again.

Eventually you get it more or less right and iron the seam flat.

Then you start again.

The thing is, if you are feeling depressed, if life has become a bit much for you, if you are harassed or in any way unhappy, I would recommend attaching one single apple core piece to another. This will take you about an hour of quiet concentration, and at the end of it you will be happy.

By the way, no British person has said Cor Blimey or its variant Gor Blimey since the 1950s. The last time I remember it was in a comic song by Lonnie Donegan entitled “My Old Man’s A Dustman”. The words went something like this:

My old man’s a dustman

He wears a dustman’s hat

He wears Gor Blimey trousers

And he lives in a council flat…

or something like that.

donegan2

Oh yes, and the Dick Van Dyke attempt whilst playing Bert the chimney-sweep in Mary Poppins, which sounded a bit like Gar Bloimey. Apparently DVD has recently apologised for his atrocious Cockney accent in that film. He said he asked a famous old English actor, then working in Hollywood, what a Cockney accent might sound like. So the famous old English actor demonstrated the accent and DVD copied it faithfully. The rest is history.

Apparently he tackled the elderly English actor about this later and the English actor said something to the effect that he never claimed to have actually met a Cockney.

No, no one much says Cor Blimey. It’s one of those phrases that went out with the Ark, like Stap Me Vitals or ‘Zounds, Sir, Have At Ye! (Both to be exclaimed by a sword-fighting nobleman in slashed knickerbockers or maybe tights, swathes of lace at his wrist and a pet monkey on his shoulder) or Avast, Ye Swabs! (Suitable for a pirate captain with a wooden leg and a parakeet on his shoulder). Or Arr, pieces of eight, pieces of eight! (Suitable only for the parakeet.)

Although I did actually sit next to an man wearing Gor Blimey trousers once, in a village pub. Ex was up at the bar getting the drinks (I just had to sit) and I was sat on this bench next to old – let’s call him Harry. And there was this smell something like the long-cooked cabbage we had for school dinners. When the opportunity presented itself I asked Ex (in a whisper, of course) what that smell was. He said it was Harry’s trousers. Innocently I enquired: But why would Harry’s trousers smell like that?

Ex explained.

(Ex, by the way, had a Lonnie Donegan blue-and-white sweater as a teenager. I believe his Mum knitted it for him.)

From Mum’s Old Recipe Book: Scones

Friend Daisy just tactfully pointed out that I forgot to include the quantity of breadcrumbs in Mum’s previous recipe. It’s 3oz wholemeal, and I have now corrected the recipe. You see, this is why I was a mediocre (looking kindly upon it) legal secretary and Daisy was a so much more excellenter one…

[Warning: if English is not your first language and you are using this rather odd blog to practice reading English – please do not employ that last sentence in an essay or drop it into casual conversation. You want to write proper English like wot other people writ it.]

Daisy is a very fast typist, conscientious and with an eagle eye for errors. I am a very fast typist but an impatient, slip-sloppy one who tends to lose interest in what she has typed the minute she has typed it. (Heavy sigh!)

Anyway, scones. Hopefully I can get this right as Mum’s scones were one of her best things. I still remember that waft delicious hot-air aroma when she opened the oven door…

SCONES – Recipe dated 27th August 1990 (Mum: These are good!)

8oz (ounces) plain flour

2 tbsp (tablespoons) sugar

Pinch of salt

1 tsp (teaspoon) Bicarb (Bicarbonate of Soda)

2 tsp Cream of Tartar

(Goodness, can you even buy Cream of Tartar nowadays? Isn’t ‘Baking Powder’ a ready-made mixture of Bicarb and Cream of Tartar anyway?)

2oz margarine

5 tbsp milk

Method –

Sift flour & mix all dry ingredients together

Rub in margarine

Add milk & mix to a dough

Roll out to about 1″ (inch) thick & cut into rounds

Place a greased baking tray and brush over top with beaten egg or milk

Place in a pre-heated oven

Turn out onto a wire rack to cool

Servings: 8 scones

Small (?) oven: 220ºC –   10 – 15 minutes – middle shelf

Fan oven: 210ºC –   8 – 10 minutes

Variations

  • 4 oz wholemeal flour instead of 4 oz plain flour
  • 3 oz grated cheese & 1/2 tsp mustard. Omit sugar
  • 3 oz mixed dried fruit
  • 1 oz dates, chopped and 1oz walnuts, finely chopped

Mum: The above variations should be added before the addition of milk to the dough

I am become a nervous boat!

I am become a nervous boat!

This is just to illustrate the perils of attempting to compose a letter in English, with the aid of never so weighty and prestigious an English dictionary, when English is not your first language. The same would apply to any other language, of course.

It’s a line from an anguished letter sent by a postgraduate Agronomy (or was it Food Science?) student in America. I remember it now, the ultra-thin prison notepaper, the raggedy scrawl…

I was working at an agricultural college at the time, and the department I worked in specialised in postgraduate distance learning courses – similar to the Open University but for agricultural subjects only. This particular student was a long-term prisoner in an American jail – I seem to remember Elk Creek or Moose Gulley or Buffalo Gulch. He was studying because he was allowed to, and perhaps also to maintain his sanity during a long incarceration.

It struck me as odd at the time that anyone who already had an agricultural degree of some sort, as he must have done to gain entry to a postgraduate course, should have ended up in that hell hole in Moose Gulley, Buffalo Gulch or whatever in the first place. I don’t know what crime he committed. He was never asked. At the time I hoped against hope that he wasn’t on Death Row. Nobody enquired about that, either.

Poor chap, his most recent batch of study materials had failed to reach him. Someone inside the jail had stolen them, he was convinced. And he was desperate. Exams were coming up. Kind ladies, I know not what to do, he wrote. I am become a nervous boat!