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 said..so 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!”

fur_coat_1910

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.

goldwatch

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:

Lcdr_badge

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…

dogsinboots

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…

Namaste.

800px-AmericanAlligator

Borrowers

cheers

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.

Namaste.

No one expects the comfy chair!

Rarasaur is kindly providing a series of prompts for the promptless and this week it’s on the 11th Possibility: the 11th Possibility is the idea that, regardless of data to the contrary, something unexpected and outside the realm of ordinary thought is always potentially around the corner.

This, my dears, speaks to my very soul. I love that kind of non sequitur, and all I could think of after reading the prompt were prime examples of humour that make me go <snort>.

For example, Monty Python’s hapless Spanish Inquisition, bursting in to cry “NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition!” and then failing miserably to torture or maim anyone, beyond making them sit in the Comfy Chair, ensuring that the victim will get “only a cup of coffee at 11” o’clock and making the torture “worse by shouting a lot”.

Ah, Messieurs Pythons, how I love you. I never wanted to run a pet shop anyway, I always wanted to be a lumberjack.

You know when you get an ear-worm – one of those tunes you can’t get out of your head, sometimes for days? It’s been a bit like that with this prompt. I keep thinking of something completely different.

Most clamorous have been Messrs Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. Both writers convey the 11th Possibility with expertise and panache. In both cases I appreciate their sudden twists of logic which leave me wrong-footed but amused by the dissonance.

In Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, apart from the invention of the Infinite Improbability Drive to power a spaceship, there are little moments when things just don’t quite go according to the usual script.

“What’s so unpleasant about being drunk?”
“Ask a glass of water!”

As for Terry Pratchett, almost any page you care to look at will have some kind of twist or turn that leaves the brain faintly disoriented.

The question seldom addressed is where Medusa had snakes. Underarm hair is an even more embarrassing problem when it keeps biting the top of the deodorant bottle.

So does an 11th Possibility matter? For me, it’s about opening up new ideas, creating space to try something different, or just experiencing uncertainty in a safe but stimulating way.

I am making it sound dull. Let’s try this.

Humour is what makes the world go round without us falling asleep or falling out; our creative brains are engaged and exercised and expanded by indulging it.

In my team at work I am the most right-brain of us all. What that says about our team I dread to think. Anyway, on one occasion we were on a workshop together and during the day various members of the team would leave the main room to go and take part in an individual exercise elsewhere. My colleague sitting next to me said, during the tea break, “You know, I keep seeing people going out but I never notice them coming back.”

“There’s a mad axe murderer out there,” I explained. “We’re actually being picked off one by one. By tonight there will just be one of us left. It’s management cutbacks.”

She looked at me strangely. “Trust you,” she said. “I just meant I was impressed by how quietly they all slipped back into the room.”

I sighed. How boring.

Namaste.

 

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls

Rarasaur has suggested (and who am I to disagree?) that in our unending quest to find reasons to blog, we might do worse than to think on the theme of wabi-sabi. For more details of her prompts for the promptless, read her post. As I have been caught up with work, I am utterly un-prompt in my response. Nevertheless, better late than never, as Grandma used to say.

Wabi-sabi is the beauty of the imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is the beauty of things unconventional and modest.  It’s not just a style of art, it’s a world view.

I read the definition Rara thoughtfully provided, and immediately a poem popped into my addled brain. Honestly, I seem to go on about poetry all the time, which is very strange because while I enjoy it, I rarely read any poetry these days. I am beginning to wonder if my brain is trying to tell me something. Either that or the microwaves from the aliens’ Mothership are hooked on Rhyme and Reason. Well, why not? I expect they came to our planet to enjoy the culture, and they could do worse than school poetry books.

Which poem, EBL? you prompt your promptless correspoondent.

Oh, yes, my dears, that.

It was Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Pied beauty”. GMH was a Victorian poet, but his style was quite new and different so although this poem was written in 1877 it wasn’t published until after the Great War more than 40 years later. I think that is fitting; the poem is about finding beauty in unconventional places and things, and so too I find beauty in his unconventional style. It just took publishers a while to catch up.

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things –

For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;

And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.

There are some gorgeous images in there. “Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls” – isn’t that just the most perfect way to describe those leaves in autumn as they drop from the trees to make bright, crunchy piles on the path for us to run through? I don’t know why that is so much fun, but it just is.

Even thinking about it makes me feel better. I’m not sure if it’s exactly wabi-sabi, but who cares?

Scuffle leaves with me and feel the love!

Namaste.

Live Adventurously

Today has been a thoughtful, peaceful kind of day; the kind of day we all need once a week or so to recharge batteries and gird loins to face the tumult of the working week.

Today someone reminded me, standing there in her bandage from where she hurt herself through misadventure:

Live adventurously.

Today I tried something new, adventurously in my old lady, careful way. I finished knitting the baby cardigan for the imminent-new-team-member-by-proxy, and started knitting myself a cable pattern jacket. I have never knitted cable, largely because my mother taught me to knit and she didn’t know how.

“It’s really difficult,” she said to mini-EBL, and so for more than 40 years I have thought it too difficult for the likes of me.

Today I decided the likes of me would give it a whirl. So far, it’s looking pretty good. It’s fiddly and my fingers haven’t yet worked out the acrobatics of balancing three needles at once without spilling all the stitches while my brain still remembers to keep counting. Instead of my usual rushing, untidy, flailing knitting style, a kind of free-form fingered version of Norman Wisdom, I am having to learn to be thoughtful and quiet and peaceful as I work. I think it’s good for me.

Until I get lost and swear and have to unpick it and snap at poor Sigoth. So much for trying to speak more thoughtfully. It seems I can’t be thoughtful in two places at once.

That phrase, “live adventurously,” has a little more to add. It’s from the Advices & Queries of Britain Yearly Meeting (that’s how the body of Quakers in Britain are known, because they meet together once a year). It goes on like this:

Live adventurously. When choices arise, do you take the way that offers the fullest opportunity for the use of your gifts in the service of God and the community? Let your life speak. When decisions have to be made, are you ready to join with others in seeking clearness, asking for God’s guidance and offering counsel to one another?

Today I thought quite hard about that. The first bit, the bit that sticks in the brain and can be easily remembered as some kind of mantra to help us try new things, that bit on its own can be a sorry excuse for recklessness and thoughtlessness. We can throw ourselves into wild new adventures without thought for how it will affect other people, or how we put ourselves or them at risk. On its own it’s not enough.

I have mentioned before I’m currently incarnate as a Project Manager. What I do is manage risk. It means I plan, plan some more and finish off by planning. It doesn’t mean not taking risks, it means talking them consciously, knowingly, considerately and in such a way that when everything goes wrong, and the Hellmouth opens, then you know what to do. It sounds dull, and often it is, although it plays to my strength of catastrophising everything around me.

Today I noticed the follow on bit for the first time, really noticed I mean. I’ve heard it many times before, but like a truculent teenager or defiant toddler, I have chosen not to hear it in my heart. I thought I could live adventurously and not worry about consequences. I thought it was a bit foolish, because EBL is by nature a cautious old bird.

The Advice, though, doesn’t suggest that at all. It says “Hey, EBL, when you have a bright idea, check it out with people whose judgement is sound, who know what’s what, who can tell you where their towels are.”

It’s taken me over 30 years to notice, but better late than never.

It’s funny how you think you know something, but then, when you finally look at it properly instead of brushing it aside with a “pfft, I know all about that!”, it turns out to be new and different and better than ever.

Namaste

Three Hundred

My dears, this is my 300th post and I wanted to celebrate my ability to churn out endless drivel with you all. I decided that clearly the best thing to do was to free associate with the number, but of course, I only got as far as that film and then ran into a cul-de-sac. So I am going to write about Leonidas instead, and why he is a banner boy for the peace movement. To be fair, this is also because I realise I have failed to respond to Kozo’s challenge to write about Acts of Kindness this month (I am interpreting a bit liberally here), so if nothing else my 300th post will allow me to meet my commitment and evidence a creative flair for twisting the facts to fit my own agenda.

Specifically I am not going to write just about the film, you understand, although in itself it is a guilty pleasure. Guilty because it is really not very good, and because it promotes a world view that I do not subscribe to. However, I think we miss something important it if we dismiss it altogether. Here, in my circumlocutory way, is why.

As a child I started to learn difficult words like “Spartan” fairly early because I was a prodigious reader. I associated the word in my mind with “spare” (as in “gaunt” or “basic”), because my brain likes to make those kind of links to help it understand.

Later I learned about Leonidas and his army of Three Hundred Spartans, in their bronze armour and red cloaks, and the inspirational story of their courage (the Spartan soldier Dienekes is credited with the response to the news that the enemy archers were so numerous their arrows would block out the sun that then the Spartans would fight in the shade – Herodotus 7.226) and betrayal – the treacherous dog Epialtes who showed the army of Xerxes the way around the mountain to ambush the Greeks.  It’s a great story and all the better for being about real people.

That quote of Dienekes underpins it all, and sounds ridiculously modern and sound-bitey. But the reference is irrefutably Herodotus, reliable or not.

Equally Leonidas was a man for a James Bond quip, almost certainly said with a slow drawl and raised eyebrow. According to Plutarch this time, when invited to surrender his arms by Xerxes, he replied “Come and take them.” You can hear the follow-on “…if you think you’re hard enough.” Who knew Leonidas spoke with a Glaswegian accent?

In short, Spartans admired brevity of word and the term “laconic” derives from their other name – Lacedaemonians. I am sure Twitter would have been more to their tastes than blogging.

The Spartans were unflinching in their dedication to duty and their commitment to military excellence. They understood the psychology of intimidation, and polished their bronze armour until it shone so brightly their opponents were terrified (being more familiar with leather than metal war gear). They had a rigid hierarchy and rigid rules; in a sense they were utterly egalitarian within clearly defined and enforced social strata. When their Three Hundred died at Thermopylae, the Greeks remembered them with a specially dedicated inscription (apart from the many other Greeks who died there, about 4,000 in all – never forget in real life they were not alone by a long way).

“Stranger, report this word, we pray, to the Spartans, that lying
Here in this spot we remain, faithfully keeping their laws.”

Those laws, so beloved by the Spartans, were fierce, and bred fierceness. Spartans were required to put the state above all else, including family. They exposed weak babies on the mountainside to die. They rationed food to teach children to survive by stealing, punishing any who were caught for carelessness. Both boys and girls had to participate in the education programme, but the boys went onto the military lifestyle, through a rigorous and dangerous series of competitions which not all survived. It was a Spartan woman who is credited (Plutarch again) with telling her departing son to return from war either with his shield or on it. Failure was never an option. The rest of the Greek states thought they were insane.

They would not have had much time for Bloggers for Peace or other such wordy tree-huggers. Their culture was founded on the antithesis of what we moderns call kindness.

Would kindness have made them stronger? Might it have allowed them to forge tighter links with the other, quarrelling Greek states and so present a stronger face to the Persians? The Persians were allegedly defeated because of the Spartan stand – not because the Spartans won the battle, but because it gave the rest of the Greeks time and encouragement to make their own more united defence, a bit like Chamberlain was credited with buying time for Britain to re-arm to fight Hitler. (The Persians also lost because of geography – crossing the Hellespont – and the complex logistics of keeping such a vast army fed and watered so far from home, maintaining incredibly extended supply lines over enormous distance. But who’s counting? The Persians were amazing; but we remember the Spartans, in part because they are better documented.)

And yet, and yet, the peace movement can still learn from them. We can learn as much about kindness by its absence, and the consequences of that absence, as we can by its demonstration. A friend of mine, now sadly no longer with us, used to talk about the need to study and understand war if we are to be harbingers of true peace. As a committed Quaker and refugee from Germany in the 1930s, he became an influential Reader in the Department of War Studies at King’s College, London. He saw it as his best opportunity to work towards peace in the world.

So, back to that film. Apart from the undeniable enjoyment of watching graphically enhanced chaps running around in leather kilts and being tewwibly tewwibly macho (bless them), what can it teach us as a peaceful people? The inherent cultural norms in the film are not dissimilar to key Spartan values of freedom (as a justification for war) and military prowess as the pinnacle of achievement. Although the cultural practices of the Spartans have been softened in the film to make them acceptable and therefore sympathetic to a modern audience, the messages are recognisable across the millennia. Leonidas remains the hero. He does not flinch from what he sees as his duty. The story we continue to tell our youth is that we admire courage against the odds, in a very specific sense of going to war.

Be not downhearted though! We can redeem this story and make it shine. We can take back the narrative. We can oppose armies and the need for armies with our bodies and minds and hearts.  We can learn to stand firm and throw back a light hearted quip as we continue to deliver our message, no matter how unpopular or risky that may feel. If some of us are not up to the task, and I am often not, then we can hope that there remain at least three hundred who will not relent. We can hope that while they stand firm, unlike the Spartans, they can show the rest of us some kindness in our frailty.

Being asked why the best of men prefer a glorious death to an inglorious life, Leonidas said

“Because they believe the one to be Nature’s gift but the other to be within their own control.”

Let us take control and lead glorious, peaceful lives.

Other bloggers taking control include:

Mindmindful

Walking No Line

and everyone on The List

 

Namaste.

 

EBL’s One and Only Style Guide

Lately my mind has been distracted by thoughts of writing. Ooh, look, pretty, pretty writing!

In particular, by thoughts about my own writing, why it is so rubbish, whether I have the capacity or intention to improve it.

Let me take you, back, dear friends, to last November. I finally succumbed and signed up for NaNoWriMo because an idea for a novel had been rumbling in my brain and I had managed to work out what that novel was. I wrote like a demon, in the sputtering glare of candles made from the tallow-grease of bankers, my quill dripping scorching acid on the vellum of politician hide. I wrote my quota, oh yes. It was all about the numbers.

Now I would quite like to turn my carefully numbered words into beautifully crafted words, but I don’t know how. I read and re-read. I am occasionally struck by a passage and think, “Not too bad, that bit!” Then I remember Johnson’s sage advice:

“I would say to Robertson what an old tutor of a college said to one of his pupils: ‘Read over your compositions, and where ever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.'”
Boswell: Life of Johnson

My heart sinks. How can I know what is good?

I read all the advice and guidance, I read the blogs. So many of you write so beautifully and so wisely about how to write. I yearn to emulate your creativity. I started to try to write every day, and to read more, paying attention to the structure and craft as well as the story. I bought John Banfield, for heaven’s sake!

What I have learned is:

  1. Writing here almost every day is fun and means I can avoid my novel
  2. Writing here almost every day relates to my novel very little
  3. I enjoy writing here more than writing my novel

I write in this blog in a stream-of-consciousness, conversational, devil-may-care way. It’s not supposed to be great literature (which is just as well), and it’s not supposed to be eternal (also just as well, although ironically thanks to Internet caches it may well outlast some novels). It’s a bit of fun, a playground to try out new things occasionally, and a chance to share toys with other kids.

I have written in a number of styles: academic texts and papers; work reports and strategies; letters; teenage poetry (not so much a style as a hormonal imbalance). I can do them all fairly well (except the poetry), and have been told so directly so I am confident of it.  I have never written a novel, although I have read thousands.

The styles, my dears, are not at all the same. This is not a Huge Revelation, but what I am learning is that I may prefer blog-style, and may never finish my novel. I am a little sad about that because I am still quite passionate about the story and I would like to share it. It still perturbs my thoughts and prods me to pay it attention.

I have too many hobbies, and no matter how I structure my life I must decide whether to focus on a Great Work, or dabble at the water’s edge, tracing lines in the sand. My confidence suggests dabbling is less risky; I can’t really fail badly at it, or if I do, it doesn’t matter. This approach has driven my life, but lately I am more inclined to take greater risks and reap greater rewards; I am starting to grow into my purple.

Fear, as we know, is the source of conflict (hey, bloggers4peace – got you in again!), and I am conflicted.

And I enjoy your company so very much.

Namaste.

 

Old fogeys

Sigoth and I turn into a couple of old fogeys some nights, when it is dark and cold, and the wolves are howling in the hinterland. To distract us from the fear of Grendel coming to call, or worse, his mother, we turn to the bright, shiny presence in the corner, and watch TV.

I have a plan for spending my time at the moment which is going well. At least, I thought it up yesterday on the train home and managed to do some of it last night. So it’s going quite well, by my standards anyway. The plan for how EBL Spends Her Time is to avoid watching the bright-shiny-presence-in-the-corner all evening and then kick myself for failing to solve world poverty, finish my knitting or some such frippery. It finally guides me as to which hobby to pursue most evenings of the week, and is designed to be manageable when away from home, as I often am; it allows me evenings off, because I know that there are other things that will get in the way such as School Governors, or even, Heaven forfend, social interaction.

Meanwhile, the other night the wolves were loud and we turned to the television for comfort. It was a Top of the Pops Special for 1978.

Ah, 1978, that heady year! My dears, I remember it well. I was 16, completed my O-Levels and went on a couple of great trips to Germany and to the Baltic. I saw drop-dead gorgeous Swedish boys, fjords, the Tsar’s Winter Palace and the Little Mermaid. The sun shone, the birds sang and I got good enough grades to study A-Levels that September. I wasn’t allowed to take Latin, despite getting an A, even though I wanted to do Classics at university; so I rebelled, dropped History and took Maths instead, along with English, French and German. That showed them.

I remember the careers advice I got too. Our careers teacher was the chief French teacher, a fearsome spinster, with an interesting approach to pedagogy; in brief she wasn’t happy unless she had at least half the class in tears by the time of the first bell. She only managed it with me once, and that was a day she had the entire A-level class fountaining en masse because we failed to translate her reading of a JB Priestley novel in English into French on the fly. Indeed, we were veritable scum.

I entered the careers room, a dingy attic space full of dusty books and broken audio-visual equipment, keen to discuss courses, and options and the advisability of working immediately vs studying for 3 years. No one in my family had ever been to university and no one in my family, apart from me, could think why anyone would bother.

“What are you reading with French at university?” she asked.

“I’m not reading French,” I said.

She ignored me and continued to talk about careers for language graduates. It was fairly pithy stuff.

“You could get a job as a translator in Brussels with the Common Market. You can’t be an air hostess; you’re too fat.”

She was right. So I rebelled again. At least she settled the question of whether I was going to university at all. I was going and not reading French. Oh yes.

She glared, and assumed I was reading German instead. She and the German teacher were sworn enemies. It was worse than Paris in 1940. When she found out I wasn’t even reading a language she sent me away, unadvised but resolute.

School, eh? Worst time of my life. As Evelyn Waugh says in Decline and Fall:

Anyone who has been to an English public school will always feel comparatively at home in prison. It is the people brought up in the gay intimacy of the slums who find prison so soul-destroying.

That was 1978 for me, a topsy-turvy time, making life-changing decisions in the midst of hormonal fire-storms and the strenuous opposition of teachers and family. It was a bit lonely and a bit exciting and it was the year I made some good friends.

Back to the TV in the corner though. Sigoth and I watched amazed as our youth was exposed for examination from the distant perspective of middle age and parental experience.

The music – quite extraordinary! I hadn’t quite realised. There was everything from old glam rockers to punk, Mannfred Mann to Sham 69, Abba to Kate Bush, Brian & Michael to Althia & Donna: pretty much you name it, it was there. I remember thinking at the time that I hoped disco would go away soon, and that this new-fangled punk was pretty good if hard work to dance to (we had to pogo, it was utterly exhausting!).

For me the highlight of the programme was The Boomtown Rats. Bob Geldof in his youth, New Waving across the decades at me with “Rat Trap”. Absolutely fantastic. And is it just me, or does it make you think of “Dirty Old Town”, just a little bit?

Two years later I met Sigoth. We fell in love. We were kids. I realised it for the first time seeing that. Who knew?

Now we are older and greyer and more in love, and I hope always will be. Somehow it seems appropriate, in memory of that dreadful teacher, to quote Ronsard:

Quand vous serez bien vieille, au soir, à la chandelle,
Assise aupres du feu, devidant et filant,
Direz, chantant mes vers, en vous esmerveillant :
Ronsard me celebroit du temps que j’estois belle.

Lors, vous n’aurez servante oyant telle nouvelle,
Desja sous le labeur à demy sommeillant,
Qui au bruit de mon nom ne s’aille resveillant,
Benissant vostre nom de louange immortelle.

Je seray sous la terre et fantaume sans os :
Par les ombres myrteux je prendray mon repos :
Vous serez au fouyer une vieille accroupie,

Regrettant mon amour et vostre fier desdain.
Vivez, si m’en croyez, n’attendez à demain :
Cueillez dés aujourd’huy les roses de la vie.

Ronsard was a bit of an ass, but I do like the poem.

Namaste.

Yellow stockings, cross-gartered

My dears, a very happy Twelfth Night to you!

I hope you have taken down the Christmas decorations, otherwise the dreadful wrath of the elves will be visited upon you in 2013. I tremble for you, I really do.

Obviously for a woman with traditional and somewhat classical education, my first association with this date is the Bard’s comedy. We “did” Twelfth Night at school fairly early on. I think it’s supposed to be an easy introduction to the joys of Elizabethan English. I loved poor old Malvolio, thinking that wearing some outrageous garment would make him attractive to the ladies. Bless him, so human.

The season is all about dressing ourselves up to make us attractive but failing in a spectacular misjudgement of taste and significant dissociation from Reality. According to my extensive research, using my own eyeballs, an awful lot of people are afflicted with the Malvolio Syndrome. It proves to me every year that things on your planet are not as they were on mine when I was a young alien.

It’s not just people either. Oh no, nowadays even houses get all dressed up. Sigoth and I are genuine curmudgeons. Ours remained almost nude except for a tasteful wreath adorning the front door to protect its modesty. A Christmas Figgy Leaf, if you will. Personally I think it’s a tempest in a teacup, really just much ado about nothing. Some people (and I can assure you that I am muttering darkly at this point) even have flashing lights and music, and not even for charity, but apparently for pleasure. I shudder, my dears, I simply shudder. It’s just not cricket.

Christmas fashion, be it for party outfits or house couture, is an infinite wormhole of unending horror, fueled by alcohol and commercial connivance, spinning violently and irresistibly out of control. I have stared into the very abyss, like a young Gallifreyan encountering the Time Vortex at my initiation rite. It may have driven me insane.

And so to happier things.

As Twelfth Nights go, today has been a mild and mostly sunny one. We deposited Youngest Offspring at the railway station to return to the Home Counties University where he is studying. We visited Offspring Who Lives Locally to hand over a poster frame for a poster – sadly not the right size, but never mind – and did those kind of necessary things that Saturday mornings so often involve.

Then we took down the gay garlands and shiny baubles. We put the tree outside and phoned a neighbour who collects them for the aviary at the zoo. The parrots will be enjoying our Nordmann Fir soon, and I wish them well of it.

I’ll confess, it is a pleasant thing to be back in old routines. Remember the Bard? He knew that feeling:

If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.

That’s Christmas in a nutshell, my dears. Surfeiting, the appetite sickens and dies. By now we are ready to return to our daily round. When the decorations go up I am a giddy girl, and when they come down I feel I can breathe again as the space opens up and light pours in unrestricted by cards and dangling stars and a tree in the window. Honestly, a tree indoors! Whose bright idea was that? Clearly no one who had to sweep their own floors, I can tell you.

This winter’s tale ends happily. It is a comedy after all. Everyone lives happily ever after and gets married and all’s well that ends well. It’s practically a Disney film right there.

So for me, I’m away to watch the new series of Borgen and then to bed. Tomorrow we take flight across the moors to pick up a new netbook for Sigoth, so he can start blogging every day, like a real boy.

And so good night, my dears, may flight of angels sing ye to your rest.

If this blog has offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And EBL shall restore amends.

Namaste (as the Bard would say).

 

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I have been messing about in the blogosphere for some time, and only recently started to take it more seriously and build it into the fabric of my routine. Well, I say “routine”. Anyone who visits EBL more than once will realise that I am using the term in a very loose sense here, as in “not really a routine at all”.

There are a few blogs I read regularly which I find interesting or inspiring or just downright entertaining. Recently one of these writers suggested writing a post about why I read her blog regularly, what I liked and what I wanted from her in the coming year. Step forward, bottledworder!

It seemed a great idea to spend time thinking positively about other blogs rather than whinging about my own. So here we go.

The main reason I enjoy reading BW is that the posts are well constructed, clearly signposted, planned and full of good ideas and suggestions I can consider for my own writing. The failure to translate this wealth into quality blogging is all my own, but I have been adapting some of those posts for the Great NaNoWriMo Endeavour, and generally taking posting a bit more seriously. Some of us are born to blogging, others have it thrust upon us. I just kind of fell into a blog-pit and am planning to build an escape ladder with words. Life, eh?

Back to the purpose of this post, though. I like it that BW writes about her writing in an accessible way and shares her experiences generously with the rest of us. She engages readers very directly and pertinently – something I am yet shy to do as I am still nervous of blogging. I love you all for reading, but am terrible at telling you so.

So far, so fan-girl, and a bit dry. Honestly, just go read it. It’s good.

And yet – there is something else I enjoy about blogs that I would like to see more in BW in 2013. It is present, but not as extensively. It is this: more emotional intelligence. Don’t get me wrong, it’s there. Just not as often as the helpful, but factual and relatively unemotional, tips on blogging. Give me passion, BW, with ripped bodices, heaving bosoms and heart-stopping tension. Well, maybe not all those, but as the most popular stories to share are allegedly positive and emotion-rich, perhaps it is a strategy worthy of pursuit and conquest.

I enjoy reading bloggers for their ability to share experience of life, of how they feel, how they perceive the world (good or bad) and how they resolve the questions of existence. They might not put it like that, but that is how I, in turn interpret their writing.

The reason I pick up on this is because recently BW’s readers were commenting on what they like about blogs, and again the emotional connection was a recurring theme.

By reading a blog regularly and potentially by engaging through comments I start to meet new people and find new perspectives. I do a fairly mundane job, live a privileged life in a comfortable house with a great partner. Generally I am pretty OK. There are challenges, as with any life. Dementia, depression, redundancy, social conscience, people not doing what I want, lack of time, lack of ability, lack of choice, lack of cash, lack of public transport, not always getting my own way.  Blogging connects me to others going through or having survived all these and more. It can give me hope or strategies or tools to get through the day.

In fact, my dears, the more I think about it, writing a blog feels like trying to meet the needs of others, but it’s the reading of other blogs that’s all about me and what I need. I would have thought it was the other way round before I began this journey.

So, BW, I enjoy sucking your soul dry. In exchange, you are welcome to consume my little aura if it should please you.

And not one to shirk a challenge, what can EBL offer you, dear, patient reader, in 2013?

The great thing about blogging is that, like love, the output is infinite, if variously effective: if one reader takes it all away to read, yet still it is left behind for everyone else to consume as well. It’s a kind of magic.

Namaste.