Chaos At The OK Corral

Chaos, etc

So, it is not the Iceman that Cometh after all, but the B-word. Or maybe not. Who knows? Who cares?

Unfortunately, we all do care, and that’s the problem. Mostly, in this country, we don’t care about very much. Cricket? Football? Taxes? The Cost of Living? Nah! Most of us shuffle about our daily chores in soggy old England, soggy old Wales, even soggier old Ireland and soggy, windy and snowy old Scotland, not really caring about very much. Most of us are more interested in who’s going to be in Strictly this year or what ghastly disaster is currently causing the cast of Coronation Street to bellow and screech at each other in unbearably exaggerated local accents.

Before the B word, most of us were wandering about in supermarkets trying to decide between salted peanuts or salt-and-vinegar crisps or, at the weekend, wandering about in garden centres trying to decide whether to plant tulips or daffs next spring. Unless roused, we are not a passionate race. It takes a lot to get us out on the street, bellowing stupidities through a megaphone for twelve hours a day, or throwing milkshakes at one another. Mostly we just do – in England, anyway, is a bit of vicious mumbling, the odd heavy sigh or – if really furious – a barely-audible click of annoyance.

But now we all do care. They – whoever they are – have actually made us care – and we are simply not equipped for it. We were mostly brought up to be polite, to the point of never actually saying exactly what we mean to anyone. We were mostly brought up to be deferential, retiring, obsequious, oblique – and now – now we are really, really, really angry, all of us, and we don’t know what to do about it. Who or what can we beat up? Should we take to the streets with yellow umbrellas, like in Japan? Who actually possesses a yellow umbrella, in this country? Who do we scream at? Is anyone going to listen if we do?

What can we break? Because sooner or later, something is going to get broken. And once that old Viking berserker has taken possession of us, do we actually have the wherewithal to turn him off?

I have decided, in order to survive the next few weeks and months, my plan is this: I will make myself numerous cups of tea and huddle in the corner of my sofa listening to Country & Western music all day. I will cry with Dolly Parton. Along with all those lonesome cowboys and cowgirls I will pine for parts of America I have never visited or heard of, and have no idea where they are in relation to all the other bits of America.

I will knit endless, pointless dishcloths just because I happen to have a lot of cotton yarn. I will carry on reading my way through a houseful of disintegrating paperbacks. I will feed the cats twice a day. If things get really bad I will turn Dolly Parton up to full volume:

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene… I will trill, off key and out of tune

… Please don’t take him just because you can.

Hindi in Three Months

This book arrived today and I read the introduction whilst munching my cheese and mayo sandwich. Not a good idea, grease-wise, but who cares? The world is about to end anyway. It seems reassuringly laid-back in comparison with the other books in the Three Months series, which strive to impress upon you how hard Language X is going to be, how much work you are letting yourself in for if you are foolish enough to proceed with the course, etc., etc. Hindi in Three Months tells you that it is not expecting you to actually write Hindi, just (with any luck) be able to communicate, in a basic sort of way, should you walk into a village in some remote part, where English is not spoken.  I particularly like this bit:

In Hindi, all nouns are masculine or feminine (with no logic to decide which). They can be singular, plural, honorific or ‘oblique’, and their endings change accordingly. Similar changes apply also to adjectives and verbs. In commonly-spoken Hindi, though, such rules are blatantly disregarded…

Hooray! It’s like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

My father was sent to India during the war. His job was driving trucks around. He had only ever driven his father’s car around a car park in Rochester, but because he admitted that… Never volunteer for anything, he told me. Never admit, for example, that you can play the piano, or they’ll have you moving one.

My father was an electrician. Apprenticed before the war, when they finally allowed him to return (along with the germs for recurrent malaria) he was employed in the same trade. Around that time there was a big wave of immigration, and Chatham, one of his main areas of work, seemed to fill up with people newly-arrived from India, many of whom, especially the ladies, did not speak English and were therefore isolated, in the poorest and most depressing back-streets.

Sent to investigate an electrical problem he would walk in – and I can imagine, all six foot four of him, deep voice, ready smile – and announce – well, it sounded like – Tora Tora Hindi Bolla which, he said, meant I speak a little Hindi. And then, he said, everyone would be delighted and very pleased to see him, and offer him Chai.

I never quite believed this. It used to make me cringe, rather, as one’s parents always do. Surely this mangled phrase fell into the same embarrassing category as Grandad’s Dooz Ooofs ay Pom de Tare Fritz Si Voo Plate! However, I just did some detective work in the mini-dictionary at the back and I can see he was more or less right:

thoRaa – a little

bolnaa – to say, to speak

So – a little, a little – Hindi – I speak. Somehow, this pleases me.

Writing on a Postage Stamp

Jane Austen pursued her unusual hobby discreetly, so as not to embarrass her family or attract censure but also, I would guess, so that she could observe, unobserved, the social rituals going on all around her and the characters who came to visit. Writing in secret – hiding tiny scribbled slips of paper under her blotter every time she heard the door creak – was her way of being herself. It was her way of being ferociously clever, when women were regarded as more of a – decoration.

So in theory one could write a blog post and make it interesting no matter how dull one’s life had actually become. I have this image of myself sitting in a tiny prison cell, creating the most amazing fantasy kingdom whilst day after day, year after year, nothing ever happened but the cell door opening and a plate of bread and cheese, maybe a mug of beer, being pushed through it by some unseen jailor. That would be the extreme.

My life was never particularly expansive, though I suppose it had its moments. Most of these were too ghastly, shameful or humiliating to want to write about. I have written about a lot of stuff here on this blog, and put out there for public consumption, many tiny episodes, sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes raging angry, sometimes frankly pathetic, that I have not told a single friend or relative: never would have, and never will.

Recently, life has narrowed even more for me, though we’ve not quite sunk to the prison cell scenario.  Partly it’s because of getting older and no longer being in the best of health. Partly it’s lack of money, unemployability, far too many cats… and partly it’s my natural inclination. I incline towards the hermit. This necessary stay-at-home, inward-looking-ness has thrown up new challenges, blog-wise. Mainly, the problem is that I am not Jane Austen. Jane Austen was so very gifted, she could have got blood out of a stone.

I think I got on to Jane Austen because I was debating whether or not to tell you the story of the Mystery Beep, and thinking no, that is just too small and uninteresting and generally paltry a sequence of events to write about it, and then thinking But Jane Austen…

I will tell you the story of the Beep, but in a separate post. In the meantime I will disclose that a second-hand Russian textbook has just crashed through my letterbox. The postmen round here are lacking in delicacy. Anything at all, they believe, can be got through a letter box if you shove hard enough.

That’s the thing about being retired and having no money to go out or do anything – you end up having to invent unnecessary but faintly interesting things to do. ‘Projects’. I have three of them on the go at the moment.

One is turning every scrap of yarn, material etc into something just in case I need to swap items for tins of cat food, should cat food be rationed in the case of You Know What. I just have a feeling they aren’t going to ration with nineteen cats in mind. That would constitute a cattery, and I am not one. Officially. So I am making things that could be offered as a swap for either one, two, four or six tins of Whiskas – hippie stuff – knitted dishcloths and pet blankets, knotted hemp bracelets, origami cranes and anything else I can dream up. I will probably end up with a box of items nobody ever wanted, but hey – before that they were boxes of odd balls of wool, balls of string, patchwork scraps. What’s the difference?

Another is re-reading a lifetime’s collection of paperback books. I know I have been determined to do this ever since I began writing this blog, and have never got round to it. I did give quite a few bags away to charity, but now I have sorted what’s left – still a lot – into alphabetical order once more. Since I do not have enough bookshelves (the bottom shelves have to be kept empty so that the boy cats can’t pee at the books when I’m not looking) I have brought in some splintery old apple crates from the garage. Apple crates, when lined with strips cut from plastic cat-litter sacks, make quite good bookshelves. Luckily I’m tall, as they go right up to the ceiling.

The third project is learning languages. I know I will never have occasion to speak another language to another human being, but why should that matter? What I am interested in really is linguistics, and what I really want is to learn as many languages as possible to read and to a certain level, i.e. I do not need to become an expert; I don’t even need to pronounce them correctly, though I’ll try. I’m interested to know how languages work, and how they compare to one another, and to find out whether I can still learn. I imagine myself, during those long, cold winter days – not so far off now – bundled in duvets and shawls to economise on heating, striving to master the intricacies of foreign grammatical systems – and keeping my brain alive.

Today it was Russian – most of these books can be had for less than £1 second-hand on Amazon, plus postage. I sat down with my cup of tea and dipped into it. Some kind soul had annotated many of the pages in tiny, annoying pencil writing, but I suppose for £1 you can’t complain. After a short perusal I decided Russian was going right to the bottom of the languages ‘to do’ heap, even under Welsh. I did learn one word, though – in the Cyrillic alphabet it’s written something like Myxa and pronounced (well of course) moo-ha. It means ‘fly’. So next time one of them is buzzing around my living room I can tell it to Buzz off, you little moo-ha.

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.

NaPoWriMo 7/4/16: Kenny

Kenny was a funny kind of brother

Spent most of the time on his back

Watching sky go over

Or crouched in the dust with the ants

To hear them whisper.

 Kenny lives in Canada now

In a heated apartment block

But I always imagine him out in the snow

And walking off into the dark.

His songs come over the radio

Beautiful fractured lines

For women he’s seen in the subway

Or in glossy magazines

He sings them sweet and sad and low

For ladies who can’t insist

That he love in a foreign language, or give

What he never has possessed.