Talking like a grown up

Did you ever find, as a person of limited years and growth, that the Big Folk talked above your head (literally and metaphorically)? For those of you who have the luck to be parents, did you do that to your Offspringses? I can assure you that Sigoth and I employed such techniques on a regular basis. Life is complicated enough without having to try and explain it to children, especially when you can’t even explain it satisfactorily to yourself.

There are plenty of websites out there if you want to learn about the various differences between dialects in spoken English. In my part of the world there are also numerous books dedicated to trying to interpret Yorkshire dialect for foreigners, such as anyone from London.

In fact I once took a colleague from London to her hotel in York, where she was asked for her passport. She was quite discombobulated. “I’m only from London!” she wailed. The receptionist looked at her sceptically. “It’s true,” I confirmed, “and she’s going back tomorrow.” So they let her in anyway.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today. I wanted to talk about some of those odd phrases adults use when talking to each other. The kinds of phrases that, as a small child, tend to make you stop and say “Whaaat?” and scratch your head.

some feet on stairs

I’ll go to the foot of our stairs!

This phrase I had never experienced in the actual eardrum until sitting on the top of a double decker bus hurtling down a very steep road in Sheffield. It was in my green and growing youth when I was exploring various universities to decide on courses I might want to study. I was visiting Sheffield, had wandered rather far, and decided to catch a bus back to the railway station. Largely this was because I was lost and a bus with a destination of “Railway Station” seemed a rather neat solution; plus sitting up top meant I got a good view of the city as we travelled.

A couple of middle-aged women came up after me and sat down just behind me. They started chatting about something or other, involving a lot of “She I said” and “Well I never!”. As we started down an especially steep hill, and I gripped the rail in front of me to keep firmly on my seat, as opposed to being pressed like a distressed mime act against the front window pane,  I was delighted to hear one of the women exclaim “Well, I’ll go to the foot of our stairs!”

“Foot of our stairs?” I thought to myself, clutching grimly to the rail, “it’ll be foot of the bloody hill in minute, without the bus!” However, miraculously we made it in one piece, and I found my way safely back to the sunny shires of southern England before midnight, with a richer appreciation of our island’s cultural tapestry.

The translation for anyone unsure is roughly “Goodness me, how very surprising!”


All fur coat and no knickers

My mother used to use this to describe a woman who lived down our street. To be fair the woman in question, who was a very kind lady and free with the distribution of sweets and drinks of orange squash to local children, did often wear her fur coat, even in the summer. As a child I assumed this was because unfortunately she had no knickers and was therefore too cold and/or embarrassed to go out without her coat. I felt very sorry for her and wondered how she could afford the squash and sweets if she couldn’t afford knickers.

Later I learned it really meant she was perceived to be a woman of easy virtue. It certainly explained the variety of people you met coming and going from her house, given that grown men rarely enjoyed sweets and orange squash as devotedly as the rest of us.


Cough up chicken, it’ll be a gold watch next time!

When I was suffering a coughing fit, for whatever reason, my mother would say this.

As a child I was naturally concerned about the possibility. True, some coughs, induced by swallowing the wrong way, could make you feel like you were about to cough up a substantial part of your insides. On the other wrist, so to speak, the option of a gold watch was appealing. I got my first watch once I learned to tell the time in Miss Weatherill’s class (I must have been 5 or 6) so I was very keen on getting a shinier one to flash about in emphasis of my academic superiority. Sadly I have yet to achieve the feat of coughing up an actual gold watch, no matter how hard I hack my lungs. The phrase itself must be from her childhood as my mother still says it dutifully every time she coughs and splutters at us. Still, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

My family used strange phrases and sayings all the time, but the strangest was one I have never quite got to the bottom of. When I was a grizzly little toddler, having a particularly moany and whingey day, my grandmother would try and cajole me out of my soggy sullenness by saying:


Cheer up for Chatham, Dover’s in sight!

The confusion this provoked was itself sufficient to stop the grizzling. I believe it may refer to an old railway line, the London, Chatham and Dover, but beyond that I can’t tell you any more I’m afraid. I wonder if there’s a connection with hop-picking…


Even my dog wears boots!

Last but not least is a local nugget of wisdom. “Even my dog wears boots” is a legendary, and possibly apocryphal, response made by a builder who carried on working with a fractured ankle. When pressed to go to a doctor or A&E or somewhere of a medical nature because he had fractured his ankle, it is said that this was his answer. Apparently it is intended to indicate that the person in question is so hard that he will not be inconvenienced by such a triviality. That’s Yorkshire Grit, tha knaws. Aye.

Every family has their odd phrases and sayings: I’d love to know yours!

Later, alligators…




I’m sorry to say I missed wishing you all a Happy Yorkshire Day yesterday!

Buy your bunting!

Buy your bunting!

Be assured the flag was hanging in the window at EBL Towers, and Yorkshire Tea Loaf (made with Yorkshire tea) occurred, if a little unsuccessfully due to a) a delay in acquiring all the ingredients, and b) the non-stick loaf tin failing to live up to its primary advertised operational parameter, namely being non-stick.

So the tea loaf fell apart but tasted very good and we ate it today while we played games.

We had intended to go and walk the Hole of Horcum, but it was too hot and some of us had slept badly and didn’t feel like a 7 mile “intermediate” hike in hot and humid weather with rain predicted to arrive just in time for the final scramble up from the bottom of the gorge to the top. Somehow, playing some games in the comfort of the kitchen was preferable; eating cake at the same time was merely an added bonus.

The Hole of Horcum, North Yorkshire Moors

The Hole of Horcum, North Yorkshire Moors

We did not on this occasion celebrate more lustily with the Yorkshire Anthem. However, I am reliably informed by the BBC that there is a new version out this year for the musical cognoscenti among you.

So, now it’s August and the nights draw in. Time to go out for bat walks in the greying evenings, and to finish the Pimms for another year. The horse chestnuts are losing some early, unripened fruits, early heralds of the new school term and conker fights in the playground. Celebrations of the turning of the Wheel, everywhere.



Whitby Abbey

My dears, I have a few days holiday and I intend to spend them with Sigoth and as many of the Offspringses as possible. We are aiming for a confluence of bodies over the coming weekend, and until then I must manage with only one fully vacationing child for the first half of the week. The rest turn up Wednesday and Thursday. Treats will be perpetrated. Weather permitting there may even be excursions. Certainly there will be games and films and talk and wine.

Whitby AbbeyNaturally Sigoth and I were keen to get some practice in regarding excursions, so we took the early-vacationing Offspring to Whitby Abbey on Monday. We do like our ruins, and there are so many around this area it can be hard to know where to start. Funnily enough we have never started with Whitby, or even ended with it, until now.

Inside Whitby AbbeyThe Abbey itself is not the original of course, the one founded by King Oswiu and presided over by the Abbess Hild from 657 AD, and the location of the Synod of Whitby in 664 AD to decide whether the English church would calculate Easter by the Irish or Roman method. Nor was it even the Benedictine one from the 1190s. No, this is the modern makeover one from the 13th century, standing proud on the headland looking over the sea cliffs and being embarrassed by a richness of fresh air, most of which is travelling with considerable speed and vigour.

Whitby Gargoyles

Back at the Abbey we wandered around the museum, pulling faces at the gargoyles on display, before having a cup of tea then heading off to town to find some fish and chips for lunch. There are steps to be climbed down in order to achieve this; you walk from the Abbey through the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin and arrive at the top of a long and winding stair. 199 of them to be precise.

Top of Whitby StairsThere are seats and waiting spaces at various intervals in case the climbers need a rest. In fact on our way back up there was an ambulance at the bottom dealing with someone who had been talken poorly.

The other big thing about Whitby Abbey is the connection with vampires. Bram Stoker had Dracula come ashore at Whitby and in recent years the town has become a centre of Goth attention as a result. There is a Goth festival every Halloween, and it remains popular with the alternative community throughout the year. The tourist shops sell either traditional Whitby jet jewellery or else Goth fashions. Both are black and ornate, so there’s a natural fit.

Changeable beach weatherIt was a blazing hot day on Monday though, with nary a Goth in sight, so we ate our fish and chips inside then waddled down to the beach before the rain set in. Being England, this was the inevitable consequence of a hot and sunny morning which tricked holiday makers into going down to the sand with no more protection than a knotted hanky on their head and a deckchair under their arms. English weather has a sense of humour.


Dark clouds began to gather.

The seagulls hesitated then took to the skies with screams.

Suspicious shipIt was unclear whether they were perturbed by the change in air pressure or the arrival of a suspicious ship from Transylvania.

We went home and found the sun was still shining. It had rained while we were away, so we enjoyed the best of the weather all day. Sometimes things work out that way.


Together we are stronger

This month’s Bloggers for Peace topic asks us to consider our relationships. My brain ferments such questions. Today I uncork for you some early brewings.

You know how it goes: one minute in the privacy of your head you are thinking deep and meaningful thoughts; the next, someone else, outside your bony skull echoes them in public. It happened today.

To start at the very beginning: I am reading a book. I know, who’d have thought it? It’s about the Civil War, by which I mean the English Civil War in the 17th century. The book itself is a peculiar mix of history text book and historic fiction. It’s a bit peculiar but fascinating.

As you will no doubt be aware, there is nothing civil about a Civil War, and the English variety was no exception. It tore apart the country, respecting no person, destroying trade, harvests and cities, families and friendships. It was as uncivilised as war can get, with civilians being used as human shields or hostages, or just target practice. Your immediate neighbours, with whom you had lived cheek by jowl all your life, might suddenly mutate into the Opposition. One man was for the King, his brother for Parliament, and they were followed for better or worse by daughters, wives and children. Both armies, and their camp followers, slogged through ice and snow, rain, sun and mud, starved, died of fever, disease and trench foot (this war was fought in trenches in some cases, just like the calamity in the Somme in the early 20th century), as well as wounds and quaint medical practice.

At the end of it all we, the people, killed the King for treason. We had a contract, you see, where in return for his life of privilege and riches, we could expect his service through good governance and a dedication to our collective welfare. He believed he had a Divine Right, but it turned out he was mistaken, fatally so.

The execution of the reigning monarch would have sent shock waves through an already fractured society and across the Channel throughout Europe. As everyone returned wearily from the years of war to try and rebuild their lives, it would have been hard to trust their neighbours again. During this period a number of extravagant and radical religious groups flourished, in part by offering to replace the lost trust and sense of community desired by a shocked and stricken populace. Among them were Quakers.

It didn’t last, of course. In the end we brought back the king, a new one, whom we held to account. Well, it was that or give up Christmas, and as Narnians will tell you, that is not much fun. The English reserve as their inalienable right the opportunity to celebrate a mid-winter festival. It’s the long, dark nights, you see. You have to take your mind off them, preferably with alcohol.

In my more old-fogeyish moments I sometimes feel we are experiencing similar upheaval today, as communities fracture under the pressures of modern life. There seems to be a lack of connectedness which, I think, can result in the total lack of love for others evidenced by bankers, care workers and certain celebrities. Obviously, many bankers, care workers and celebrities are kind, nurturing people; it’s just we hear about the others. Equally these behaviours are not new.

Whatever the causes, or not, and whether it’s true, or not, people do like to feel part of a community. Some communities may be closer than others, but no one likes to feel alone always and forever.

So there I was, sitting in Quaker meeting and thinking about how we are the same as those distant forebears of the 17th century, when someone stood up and said:

How can we make the meeting a community in which each person is accepted and nurtured, and strangers are welcome? Seek to know one another in the things which are eternal, bear the burden of each other’s failings and pray for one another. As we enter with tender sympathy into the joys and sorrows of each other’s lives, ready to give help and to receive it, our meeting can be a channel for God’s love and forgiveness.

Well now! There’s a thing. Because I had been brooding over Isaac Penington’s letter from 1667, which begins like this:

Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand, if there has been any slip or fall

Isaac lived through a terrible period of history and he, like others, wanted to leave behind all war and occasion for war. He was a religious man, and saw love and peace and tenderness as a calling from God.

These times are not as religious as then, although it seems superstition is rife instead. We have learned so much and most of it is magnificent, as Professor Brian Cox likes to point out in excited tones.

Reason is a mighty instrument, but reason without love is empty. Reason does not soothe tears or smooth away bad dreams. Compassion and wisdom, as some might say, are the way to enlightenment. Or as Bill and / or Ted would have it:

Be excellent to one another



The Great British Bank Holiday

Well, my dears, what an exceptional weekend we have just experienced. Someone must have mentioned to Spring that it was a Bank Holiday in the UK and she got her vibe on. Most of the population was too stunned to cope, I am sure, but in EBL Towers we did manage tea on the lawn with home-made scones.

Admittedly, there were some challenges.

The first challenge was how to present tea to my mother, who has a very restricted diet thanks to various medical issues. She has age-related diabetes, so is not allowed treats. Naturally, I ignore this when it suits me but I didn’t want her to stuff down too many scones in case of complications. I decided to compromise by pre-buttering an assortment and regulating her intake.

The big debate in Cream Tea circles (these are not the same thing as Crop Circles, I can assure you), for those unfamiliar with the English Cream tea, is about where the cream goes. Firstly, to be clear, it goes on the scone and not in the sacred brew itself. That is understood by all civilised people, I think. However, there are the two schools of thought: Devonian or Kernowian. The main issue at hand is whether the jam goes on top of the cream or vice versa.

The next challenge, however, was the fact we had no cream. I know! How very unprepared we were. The weather has been a total surprise, what with it being a Bank Holiday and all. We expected monsoons, as usual, despite the Met Office alleging warm weather. I had hot chocolate ready at hand.

Well, we had no cream, and due to the diabetes issue already mentioned, I was against the concept of jam. However, I was also faced with the immutable opposition of Sigoth to scones with sultanas embedded. I need not tell you, I am sure, that what is left after that is a sorry lack of taste. Faced with another challenge I decided to improvise.

As fortune would have it the garden had yielded almost 4 lbs of rhubarb to Sigoth’s knife, and it was freshly stewed in the kitchen. Naturally it made sense to pop some into the scones along with some ginger, and voila – flavour!

Time for a quick stock take: tea in pot, scones (pre-buttered), chairs and table arranged, tray laid out with cups and milk, kettle boiled. Something was missing…

Oh yes, the mother.

I escorted her out across the uneven lawn to a chair in the shade, and she wolfed down a scone before Sigoth had properly taken his seat. Luckily I had counted them and we both grabbed out allotted portions before she lunged for more. She can still strike with the speed of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi on amphetamine when there is cake or cake-related product involved.

Regular readers will know my mother is demented. Conversations are on 30 second loops, but can be enlivened by a judicious drip feed of comments which then get lodged into the cycle of topics and add a little variety. After we had confirmed about a dozen times that yes, it is a nice garden, and yes, it is lovely for a Bank Holiday, and that it does take about half an hour to get all the grass cut, and yes, the sky is a lovely bright blue, and yes, the birds are lovely to listen to, I dripped a new idea.

“It must have been busy at the seaside,” I said.

Mother agreed. We went round the cycle again, and then as if by magic, the seaside cropped up.

“It must be busy at the seaside,” she said. We said, yes, it must, wouldn’t want to get caught in all that traffic.

Reassured she was taking on new suggestions, I dripped in the fact that the daffodils were still out.

“I like daffodils,” she agreed. “They’re a lovely, bright yellow.”

Sadly they did not reappear, although the seaside traffic did make it into the mix again.

Finally, in our wimpy, blonde, English way we decided that was quite enough sunshine thank you, and all staggered back indoors. No point in giving the poor old girl sunstroke on her first dose of Vitamin D since last year.

Anyway, Sigoth had promised me rhubarb crumble for the evening, and I didn’t want to jeopardise that.

I hope your holiday (if you were lucky enough to have one) was warm, and happy, and delicious. I hope you were not caught in the seaside traffic, and that you too enjoyed the bright, blue skies and birdsong or whatever your equivalent pleasures might be.



Today I had a day off and Sigoth and I went into York to buy each other birthday presents. It’s that time of year.

On the way into town, sitting on the Park and Ride bus (the one that was late because the previous one broke down), I stared out of the window at Monk Stray, enjoying the daffodils that lined the roadside. They clustered thickly, bobbing in the draft from passing traffic and gleaming in the Spring sunshine. What a beautiful day.

Hold on!



It’s 2nd of May!

Crazy Springtime seems to have hit various corners of the globe (and by corners I mean curved edges) this year. Pretty much every Northern Hemisphere blog I read is talking about the wrong kind of weather, even when it isn’t British.

God knows we Brits like to talk about the weather. We have so much of it, in such a short space of time, that it seems rude not to. It’s not epic, like some countries; just a continuous, ever-shifting pattern of change and confusion. The other day the weather forecast predicted overnight frost, sunshine, showers, snow flurries, winds and general cloud all on the same day. In the same place. Temperatures between Aberdeen and London can easily and regularly vary by more than 10 degrees Celsius.

Back to those daffs, though. It’s not right. I have checked the historic record, by which I mean family photos of trips to Farndale to see the daffodils, or pictures taken of spring flowers.

For evidence:

199504 Farndale running down path1995 April

Farndale. Wild daffodils cover the area and attract visitors every year. They bloom later in Yorkshire than down south.







R199504 Rillington daffodilsillington, also North Yorkshire. These were planted by the local schoolchildren to brighten up the beck in the village.







1199903 Helmsley 001999 March – Helmsley, North Yorkshire. Just a nice place to be.








OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA2005 March – we planted some trees at the end of the garden…also in North Yorkshire. We had to fit them around the daffodils.





Just to reiterate, today is 2nd May. I should be seeing gorse, rhododendrons, hawthorn, bluebells…even in North Yorkshire.

Then I noticed that the trees were getting this fuzzy, green stuff on their twigs, which it turned out were “leaves”. There were gorse and hawthorn flowering elsewhere on our journey, on Strensall Common and even opposite the Stray, above the daffodils on the banks.

It’s like the weather has become fractured, doing March and May simultaneously.

Either 2013 will be over in double quick time or we’ll be having June in November and it will be always Autumn and never Christmas.

At least we can have fun finding out!


Which side of the fence are you on?

Rarasaur posts her Prompts for the Promptless on a weekly basis, but as I operate in a different space-time continuum I may appear to be out of step. It’s a challenge for those of us who choose to interact with you Earthlings.

Anyway, the other week the prompt was about the Litmus test.

The Litmus Test is a test in which a single factor (as an attitude, event, or fact) is decisive.  In other words, it’s a single question test, not necessarily related to the information that is gleaned from the test.

I knew what I wanted to write for this but then life got all inconvenient and it didn’t seem right. This morning the sun is shining and the birds are shouting and I have a spare hour, so I am throwing caution to the wind and writing what I wanted to write regardless of consequences.

The reason for the hesitation, my dears, is that my Litmus Test is Margaret Thatcher.

I left university in 1983 to unemployment, riots, IRA bombings, the miners’ strike and all kinds of social ugliness which I blamed on the government’s policies.  Indeed, they must take responsibility for much of it, although ugliness can only come from within. The provocation was extreme and we were all pretty ugly back then, whichever side of the fence we were on. I don’t think anyone was on the fence. It was a very polarised time.

I had a friend who was suffering from extremely serious depression and was suicidal. She had a few attempts to kill herself, which were clearly of the kind where she was asking for help. Her friends did their best, but the health services were in such disarray that they basically put plasters over here wrists and sent her home again. Three times. Finally she went around visiting each ofus to tell us how she appreciated us and we hoped she was turning a corner. Then she jumped off a multi-story car park and died.

I blamed Margaret Thatcher.

For years I planned to celebrate when she died in turn. I judged people by whether their view of her was that she was a decisive leader who made difficult decisions, or whether she was a divisive figure who split society in two when we needed to pull together, took us into war and taught a generation to worship money and consumerism over love and hope. You will have worked out, I am sure, which I think.

Then the inconvenient woman died, just as my post was starting to coalesce in my brain. Honestly, Maggie, give me a break!

I was surprised how uninterested I felt. The woman herself has been irrelevant for some years, and I feel a little sorry for her having seen her being manipulated in her turn by wolfish politicians trying to boost their own public approval ratings.

What I have realised is that it’s the Idea of Margaret that lives on, regardless of her particular tenure in this world. She left a legacy: and so she remains my personal litmus test, slightly amended, to how a person’s view of her and her ideology.

She remains my litmus test because she was divisive. You couldn’t be ambivalent about her policies or attitudes or achievements. You have to come down one side or the other. Whatever the subject, if unsure of how to respond, you can ask yourself “what would that bloody woman say?” and it will tell you which way to go.

Her behaviour, attitudes and actions made me sad, they made me angry and they made me choose.




EBL enjoys her pretend champagne

Yesterday I told you about how things were going with the Great Project. Well, in summary it all went live on schedule and by 17.20 I was settled in front of the television with a glass of pretend champagne and a sense of doom and futility as England decided that the best team to win the Six Nations was clearly the Welsh. As the pain of supporting a team so hopelessly erratic washed over me, I reflected that I would rather my project was successful and England not than the opposite, with all due respect to Stuart Lancaster. I’m sure he would say the reverse about me.  Admittedly I won’t rest completely easy until we get through Monday with real humans trying to break the system for a day.

However, now that the Great Project is over (or is it really? Conspiracies abound!), I find myself turning to thoughts of reintegrating with the rest of humanity.

I have my own pet projects of course: learning Anglo Saxon, getting back to my guitar, becoming Mistress of the Universe, one planet at a time, crushing the human detritus beneath my tentacles, and knitting. Always knitting.

It was the Anglo Saxon I was contemplating the most though, when a thought came slicing out of the dull, grey March sky and slapped me round the left ear. Anglo Saxon is mostly just English with different spelling and a bit of an accent. The next observation that tends to follow this is that all the common words, especially around labour and production of food, are A-S while the posh words around cooking and eating are French. Comparisons usually resort to Cow (A-S = Cu) and Beef (Fr. = Boeuf).

The use of foreign words in English is what makes it so interesting, to me anyway. Rara’s recent PromptForThePromptless on Schadenfreude was another example of the gay abandon with which English adopts and integrates words from other languages rather than coming up with a new word itself. I think it’s fabulous, very cosmopolitan, pragmatic and efficient. There are loads of these words, admittedly reflecting our colonial past as much as our open dictionary policy. So we have words such as bungalow and pyjamas from the Indian sub-continent, Schadenfreude as mentioned above, haute cuisine and nouveau riche, alcohol and algebra from Arabic and so on. These words are often called “borrowed” words.

And I thought: “Borrowed? Really? Really?

I mean…

It’s not like we’re going to give them back. It’s not like they’re shoved at the back of the shed along with Jim’s hedge trimmer and Jane’s camping stove that we borrowed that time because we thought we were going to have that big summer party with all the kids from Brownies staying for a sleepover in tents on the back lawn.

Do we expect M. Hollande to come knocking at the door of Number 10 asking Dave if he’s finished with the boeuf yet, because he’s got a few friends coming for supper and not a thing in the house to offer them. Dave might suggest he’ll hand to over in exchange for the “five o’clock” or even “le camping”, if Francois is going to be like that.

What if Dr. Manmohan Singh decided to take back all the bungalows next week? We already have a housing crisis here, and a crisis in care for the elderly, who tend to be disproportionately engaged in bungalow habitation. It would mean grannies on the streets and grandpas sleeping on park benches in all weathers. Madness, my dears, utter madness.

Certainly as a nation we are indelibly wedded to the enjoyment of Schadenfreude. Take away our joy in others’ misfortune and you take away our joy. Let’s face it, without it there is only so much soap-opera tragedy we can take seriously before we hear the Archangels sounding the trumpets for Judgement Day and the pits of Hell open beneath us. We are not psychologically equipped to handle joy for its own sake. This isn’t The Waltons, people, this is real life.

Let’s not even think about alcohol. We are a nation of drinkers. Any town centre high street at midnight makes that clear. And while uisge works north of the English border, and win is a good A-S word, along with beor and alu, I fear they all need a basis upon which to ferment. The withdrawal symptoms alone could destroy the NHS.

So here I sit, listening to the rain on the conservatory roof and wondering if we will ever see Spring sunshine, and wondering what to do without a Great Project, and hoping against hope that common sense will prevail and we can stop talking about “borrowed” words, acknowledge that we have pilfered them for good, that possession is nine-tenths of the law, and that after all we live in a global society. Really we have taken them as our own. I might not steal a car / handbag / television, (although I think the summer riots of 2011 may suggest otherwise for a percentage of the population) but I’m more than happy to copy and re-use a word or two. No one gets hurt. It’s a copy after all. Information wants to be free.

And that, my dears, in a nutshell, is why fighting media piracy is such a challenge. It all started when William invaded and murdered the rightful king.



I was brave today.

Not Brave, like a mythical Scottish princess in a tantrum.

I am not now, nor ever have been, a Scottish princess. At least, to the best of my knowledge I have not. I have no affinity for tartan, although I don’t mind haggis or bagpipes, but am neutral on the Campbells. Sigoth meanwhile can trace his ancestry back to the Ancient Kings of Scotland via Rob Roy McGregor, which means the Offspringses may have Scottish princess in their veins, in a more or less diluted form. I, however, hail from different stock, more English, more Southern, more stiff upper lip.

So I was brave with a small b, but also in a big, heart-thumping, screw myself up to it kind of a way. Worse than a sack full of spiders, worse than an attic full of wasp-nest, I had to talk to someone about my feelings.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am of the IT Project Manager persuasion. This means people think I am logical, rational and reasonable. No doubt any one of you who reads this blog will be able to tell them better. EBL is a right-brain mess of emotion and fanciful ideas, popping and fizzing with little structure or coherence.

In every test known to humanity I score right-brain, creative, intuitive to the extreme. I’m not just a bit that way inclined. I am X-treme with a capital X. Yet I work in a job requiring logic, process, and structure. I can even do those things passably well.

Partly people see what their prejudice expects. It’s enough of a shock for some people that I am blessed with more than the usual number of X chromosomes for an IT goblin. After that they redefine me as a weird bloke in a skirt. I comfort them by drinking beer, watching rugby and laughing loudly at my own jokes.

Being expected to behave a certain way can result in behaving in a certain way. You need processes and structure? Fine, I’ll give you some. Then when I get home I kick off my shoes and knit, or write, or teach myself Anglo-Saxon.

Hwæt! Þū willt leornian Eald Englisc? Yes, actually, it’s fun. And the poetry is magnificent.

Whatever the reason, I have learned at work to be a veritable Vulcan. Sometimes due to the need to control excess emotion I have to meditate or perform the Kohlinar (on this planet, also known as having a nice cup of tea), but otherwise I try not to let my feelings get in the way. My colleagues think I am thick-skinned.

Today I had to talk to someone about how I had been feeling about a problem at work. It took me days to summon up the courage to do so, but after three sleepless nights in a row I knew I must. I didn’t have the opportunity until mid-afternoon because of meetings, and the fear of it prowled around me all morning. I couldn’t eat lunch. I barely tasted my cup of tea. I refused to look at emails in case the person had sent me one that I had to answer. I rehearsed what I wanted to say, doubting that it was really a problem, doubting that I was allowed to feel like this, but then recognising finally that if I wasn’t sleeping and felt sick it might be important. Eventually I called.

My dears, I look back on that phone call now and it was such a little thing. We talked and I felt better.

How big I make these problems, which are in reality so small.

So, today I was brave. In being so, I took a small step on the path to peace. One day I may be able to take another. And if I can do it, so can you.


Boiling Point

When I am at work I often fancy a cup of tea, nectar of the gods, to ease my day. I like tea. If I had not had the fortune to be born British this may have been more problematic, but here tea drinkers are looked on with affection and understanding.

Sometimes. In offices across the land there is a terrible blight and I need to tell you about it. I will not shield you. Prepare to be shocked.

In many offices kettles have been replaced with…hot water taps!

The tap is supposed to dispense boiling water. My dears, the tap lies. The water is not boiling; it is warm but it is not boiling. It cannot brew tea, not even the mass-produced, bagged variety.

Office workers are betrayed, and in their agony they turn to instant coffee or immerse tea bags in the tap’s effluvium to produce a drink inaccurately referred to as tea, but in fact, not tea. No one is clear why the taps are there. ‘Elf and Safety is blamed, but I am not sure. I believe it is a conspiracy to weaken our moral fibre in preparation for the Great Invasion.

Meanwhile, colleagues offer to provide me with the elixir of life.

“Tea?” they ask brightly as they take the round. Some have already turned to the Dark Side and request the granulated coffee option. I can sympathise. We have all been tempted and not always resisted. We are only human after all and these taps are inhuman.

I continue to fight the good fight, today at least. “Yes, please,” I say, heart sinking.

“How do you take it?”

“Like my men, strong, dark and handsome,” I tell them. They remember that better than “Strong please, not too much milk.”

One colleague in particular is excellent at managing to wring flavour from a limp tea bag suspended in warm water. I applaud his ingenuity and am pathetically grateful that he turns his talents to providing me with a drink that is more palatable than the usual alternative. He understands and shares my pain. In fact, he makes it his mission to produce a drink that is recognisably of the tea family. Each time he succeeds it is a little victory against the Dark Forces.

There is a storm coming, possibly in a teacup.

A couple of weeks ago the tap refused to provide water at any temperature. It runs out now and then, as if dribbling luke warm liquid is so exhausting that it cannot be expected to meet our insatiable demands any longer. Drama Queen!

I needed tea. I don’t mean I just fancied a cup. I needed it. Like a junkie. The Want drove me. I knew there was a kettle, hidden away for emergencies. I asked around, wheedling. I found it and got it out and boiled water. God, that tea was good. Oh so good.  I left the kettle out for other people to use until the tap was restored. I became a pusher.

It’s still there. It turns out that I am not alone, that many of us prefer to boil the kettle. We smile and look a bit embarrassed and admit that we prefer to drink tea made that way, as if we should be ashamed of it. This is the evil of the tap, that we do not claim our God-given right to drink tea as free-born English folk. The coffee drinkers use the tap, because instant coffee is fine with less-than-boiling water. To be honest, nothing is going make that stuff OK to drink.

I think it may be too late to put the kettle away again. We know it’s there. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle. You can’t pretend the kettle does not exist, any more than you can claim the earth is the unmoving centre of the universe. “And yet it boils,” you might say, so long as the Inquisition were not around.

If I am remembered for anything, let it be this. I found the kettle and brought it to the oppressed. And if that kettle ever disappears, then I will seek it out again. I will not rest. I will brew.