Sunday, 25 November 2012

Bear with

I was ironing a shirt, for work, when S appeared. I said, ‘”OK, pause for breakfast.”

“Sounds indigestible,” said he, “the fur gets between your teeth, and the claws scratch on the way down. Let’s have toast instead.’

'Or maybe polar bear paws would slip down easier - they are furry on the bottoms...'
The other homophone that always gets us smiling is custody, so when we hear, “He was taken into custardy” we conjure some sad soul (or is it sole?) in a dank cell squelching gelatinous yellow stuff between his toes. Or maybe it is a flat fish that has been apprehended. Hmm... Dover Sole and Custard – another unattractive dish.

An overused expression used to annoy me, but now – with the help of homophony –  it makes me guffaw inside each time I hear it. This is “Bare with me.” So what does she want me to bare? My chest perhaps? Or worse? Or is she really saying “Bear with me”, hinting that there is a grizzly in the room so I must talk quietly for fear of angering it?
An unambigous peacock at our window

Tuesday, 20 November 2012


Awake. Suddenly. Pitch black. Beside me, there is steady even breathing. Opening my eyes wide, scanning around, there’s not a glimmer of light. Dawn is still distant. What woke me? Not nerves. Not bladder. No tension. Not too hot. Nor too cold. One part of my intestine talks to another. A gentle breeze – outside. No quite a strong wind, moving fallen leaves. A few raindrops hit the window. I rub my eyes. Sparks in the blackness.
“Wake me up when September ends.”

I’ve good things on my horizon: tonight a visit from my expat sis, so why do odd thoughts crowd in? A clumsy comment. An undiplomatic swipe. An unacknowledged kindness. A half-forgotten task left undone at work. Events long past, forgotten, I thought, even by me. Why didn’t I ask, that time? Could I have helped? Things I wanted to ask my Dad. Is there any way of unlocking Mum’s fading memories? “Will you still need me / will you still feed me / when I’m 64?”

An itch on the side of my nose. A tickle at the back of my neck. Another borborygmus – I love that word. Are there enough spuds in the cupboard? What shall we have for pud? Did I miss a text from sis? Where did I put my phone? Waterloo – that infuriating Abba song blunders into my brain. Let’s swamp it out with “You fill up my senses / like a night in the forest...”
Shall we go to see the Northern Lights? Will I get a chance to start some Christmas letters? How could I forget to respond to those two lovely emails? What about that Madagascar reunion? And the kindle version of my lemur book? And the next Wanderlust piece? Should I get that knee op? And I must call the bank / insurance / optician / dentist/ bike shop... Now my bladder starts signalling unnecessarily. 5am. Intestines ask why-oh-why-oh-why? Maybe a stimulating cup of coffee will send me back to sleep.

While the kettle boils, I make a list – with one thing on it.
Back to bed. The cosy covers will warm my toes. An early-bird car rushes by – some poor soul is off to work already. A click and our hot water system starts up. 6ish. Empty the head. Concentrate on a black velvet curtain.

Maybe I’ll fall asleep five minutes before the alarm wakes me again.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Author event

A relaxed, well-lubricated author event at my local - Rock Road Library - earlier in the week

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Debasing a legend

I don't generally admit to watching such things on TV but my son must have had it on: I'm talking about I'm a celebrity - get me out of here. It is engaging in an odd sort of way... fascinating watching people not really coping in what they see as an alien environment, while I sit wondering why on earth they would voluntarily put themselves in situations they must know they'll hate. But then again, we should salute them really - since facing the fear has got to be good for you: giving you resources for later. Giving you courage for future travails.

What I quickly took exception to yesterday, though, was the attribution of one celeb. He was labelled the "legendary darts player".

Well I'm sorry - and no offence to the man concerned, who I'm sure is very nice and highly skilled in his field - but how can a darts player be a legend? How can a footballer, when it comes to it? Surely a legend is someone who has really faced adversity - and risked all or even died in the attempt. Like Amelia Earhart or Malloy and Ervine??

Please ITV don't debase the English language like this. Keep at least some overblown language for the real heroes. And let's celebrate the astonishing wealth of English, which makes it so easy to avoid repetition. We've sooo many words, and it is great to be able to dip in and discover more.

The richness and scope of English really came home to me when I was living in Indonesia, trying to learn the rudiments of the national language. The first thing to surprise me was that the English to Bahasa Indonesia section of my dictionary was about twice the size of the Indonesian to English section. Why? Because there were simply no words for concepts we English-speakers deem important. There is no Indonesian word for vegetarian, for example, or for brown. If an Indonesian wants to refer to something that is brown they will either say 'red' or 'the colour of chocolate', or rather just 'chocolate'. This got me into culinary confusions. When I'm overseas long-term, I have a thing about baking my own wholemeal bread if I can't buy it. Consequently, when shopping for brown flour in Jakarta, Ujung Pandang and Mataram, I bought an interesting array of brown powers. I bought chocolate power, bread crumbs, gravy browning (or at least that's what it smelled like) as well as a few packets of very good wholemeal wheat flour.

So use the diverse language we have at our command. Let's keep words like legendary for people who have really earned such adulation, and strive to search for other lesser known words to discombobulate the illiterate and the uneducated.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Leech attack

I've been talking today to intrepid development engineers on the subject of staying healthy abroad, and they've been encouraging me to tell stories. I was reminded of this one.
A leech was feeding on my leg in Nepal. It was during the monsoon when there are lots about. There is something utterly revolting about watching a slimy black parasite bloat up on your life-blookd but I didn't want to just rip it off. That can leave mouthparts behind and promote infection.
I walked up to a woman who was squatting by the path smoking. I asked in my best Nepali, ‘Please may I use your cigarette to get this leech off.’

‘You have a leech,’ the woman said, looking in pity at this numbskull.

‘Yes, and I want to get it off by burning it with your cigarette’

‘Don’t be daft,' she said, ripping it off my leg and cackling.

She must have had some skill, though, because she didn’t leave the mouthparts behind. I just had to walk home with blood dribbling down my leg - because of the anticoagulant. Most unattractive.

An unfed leech