Tuesday, 28 December 2010

A Day in the Life of ...

Whilst dozing on the sofa this evening, I'm sure I heard that nice Mr. Cox say 'A day on Venus is equivalent to a year on earth'. He was banging on about physics (which is why I was dozing), Saturn's rings, tornadoes and icebergs. With dedicated snoozing added to the equation, it was difficult to keep up. At one point his butler delivered a baby on the bathroom floor whilst his mother-in-law made cutting remarks and kept a child hidden in an attic.

Still, I am counting my blessings here at Chateau Moptop. Were I in my Venusian pied-à-terre, Christmas Day would have been rather more difficult.

6 a.m. The mini Moptops are instructed to return to bed until they develop pressure sores. 'Then, and only then, may you throw back the blankets - but please do not let the pillows float out of the window.'

7 a.m. The stockings disgorge their contents.
'Please, Mama, do I have to open any more presents? My fingers are bleeding.'
'Don't be ridiculous, Tarquin-Hurricane, Jr. It's barely February on Planet Earth. Pass me the wrapping paper; I'm going to wrap them all up again.'

10.30 a.m. Church. Who knew O Little Town of Bethlehem had this many verses? The sermon is long and - well - it's mainly long.

Noon. Pass out the pegs. The sprouts have been boiling for 39 days now. 'No, don't open the wind-!'
Too late. 'Phone Houston and request new dog.

2 p.m. Lunch. The turkey is very well-cooked. 'Yes, you do have to remain at the table, Concertina-Rose. I know it hurts. That's what the memory foam cushion is for. Finish what's on your plate. You may use a straw for the sprouts.'

3 p.m. The Queen's Speech. It is noted that Brenda's voice is not as squeaky as it used to be, she suits that colour and that she's looking well for a woman of eighty-two.

'She said anus!'
'No, she didn't, Concertina. Annus. It's Latin for-'

On Planet Earth, Brenda gets ten minutes. On Venus. with days to play with, she wanders off - sorry - orf script.

'Don't talk to one about Cameroon. He's terribly pink and his wife's in Trade. One doesn't think much of that Hughes chap. He's accepted a Special Position after putting himself in an untenable one. At least ones uncle had the balls to resign -'

And so on. And on. And on.
Sixty-four bottles of Bristol Cream required to toast E.R.'s good health.

4 p.m. Is Monopoly the longest game in the world, or does it just feel like it? Belgravia has vanished under a mountain of Cheesy Wotsits serving as hotels. (We ran out of real pieces several months ago.)

6 p.m. Dr Who Christmas Special. Everyone guffaws at the unlikely space exploits and willy-nilly abandonment of the Space and Time Continuum.

7 p.m. The Eastenders Christmas Special continues until all of the regular characters have drowned in the canal, been barbecued in a blazing pub, fallen over and hit their heads on fire-surrounds, succumbed to the fumes of something in an allotment shed or been savaged by rabid whippets. The Moptops are disappointed by the lack of gangland murders this year, but look forward to an entirely new set of tragic demises in 133,316 of your Earth Days.

9 p.m. Monsieur Moptop complains of a sluggish liver. We count the empty bottles and resolve to invest in a recycling business.

10 p.m. The mini Moptops are force-fed the last of the mince pies.
'But they're totally, like, stale.'
'Well, if you hadn't opened the window, you could have fed them to the dog.'

11 p.m. Exhausted by a long and festive day, we retire to our sleep pods. But not before putting the ham on to boil for the Boxing Day lunch.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Voyages Around My Father's Head #6

Woman: Hi, Dad. Merry Christmas.
Pa: Did you get our parcel?
Woman: No, Mum said -
Pa: What about our card?
Woman: The postman's not be-
Pa: It's mid-day! Work-shy. The sooner Vincent Price privatises the Postal Service the better.
Woman: Cable -
Pa: That's another thing. Did you know that you can't send a telegram these days?
Woman: Er -
Pa: I tried to send one to your cousin when she got married in Jamaica -
Woman: Jamaica?
Pa: I think she had to, yes. She was fatter than usual. Telegrams were abolished in 1981. Or so she said.
Woman: Who said?
Pa: The woman at the Post Office. I wish you'd pay attention. So you haven't had our parcel?
Woman: No, Mum said -
Pa: Snow! They manage all right in Alaska. And Finland. And Norway. And -
Woman: Mum said -
Pa: Phone them up!
Woman: Finland?
Pa: Phone the Post Office. Find out what's happened to my parcel.
Woman: Mum says you've had your parcel. It arrived last week.
Pa: No, your parcel. And your card. You should've had it by now.
Woman: When did you post it?
Pa: Hang on, I'll ask your mother. When did we post the parcel? (BEAT) What? Oh.
Woman: Did you send it Recorded Delivery?
Pa: Your mother said we didn't send a parcel. We put money in the children's bank accounts instead.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Great Hairy Ruins

I wish I could read dictionaries properly. Well, obviously I can read them; I just can't pronounce all the words. They have little symbols above letters which inform one - for example - whether the o is short or long (apparently). Only I can't read the symbols. It's some sort of code, I believe.

I went looking for an explanation and found this, which only made my head hurt.

Thesaurus is one of those words I never really know how to pronounce. Is it thes-aur-us as in tyrannosaurus? Or thes-aur-us as in - well, I can't think of an example.

(In my younger days, I once got into a terrible muddle with a clitoris. I thought the stress fell on the 'or' which isn't good when one is trying to give directions.)

I am thinking about dictionaries today because one of the Sunday papers ran an article on a new book based on A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, published in 1785 by Captain Francis Grose. I cannot give you a link to the article as the paper thinks readers should pay for the privilege of being subjected to advertisements for Mercedes Benz motorcars, but I can give you the link to the text of the original book. Here! And don't blame me if you are lost for days wandering amongst totty-headed mopsies, sosse brangles, twiddle poops and fribbles ... Welcome, in fact, to Blowsabella's Pitstop.

By the way, I am hugely amused to read that Capn. Grose was ably assisted by one Hell-fire Dick, Esq. of Cambridge. Now, there's a name that lingers on the tongue.

Slang is a funny affair. Many of Cap'n Grose's words lollop from the mouth charmingly and yet their meanings are lost to us. Modern slang is not nearly so lovely. For example, Twitter is an online thingum - O, I don't know, look it up. Anyway, Twits are people who use Twitter. They tweet to each other. I tweet/you tweet/he/she/it tweets. Twits whose tweets are read by lots of other twits are called The Twitterati. Some of them are Twats - that's past tense, not gratuitous swearing.* And all of this appears (a.k.a. masquerading as News) in respectable broadsheets without a raised eyebrow. Even Cap'n Grose showed greater delicacy:

THINGSTABLE. Mr. Thingstable; Mr. Constable: a ludicrous affectation of delicacy in avoiding the pronunciation of the first syllable in the title of that officer, which in sound has some similarity to an indecent monosyllable.

Perhaps Mr Naughtie should refer to the Culture Secretary as Jeremy Thing?

Anthony Buckeridge knew that slang was ephemeral and invented his own for the boys at Linbury Court School. Ozard (meaning bad) is the opposite of wizard (meaning good). Anyone at all clumsy, irritating or slow on the uptake is a great hairy ruin - which I'm campaigning to bring back into general usage (with some difficulty, I might add).

My society, the Campaign for Usage of Non-standard Terms (abbreviated to T.H.I.N.G. for obvious reasons) will be launched in the New Year. In the meantime, please consider joining Save The Words.

O, and if anyone can tell me another name for thesaurus I'd be ever so grateful.

* And the band played Believe It If You Will.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Inking Aloud

Talking of tattoos, I once dated a journalist who, when he was a Cub Reporter, had the misfortune to be put on Magistrate Court duty for months on end. Only one case stuck in his mind: Watergate.

Sorry, that wasn't it at all and if it had been it would have been petty theft in the Watergate Shopping Centre. No, the one case which the then (short-lived) innamorata remembered involved a man charged with breaking the Obscene Publications Act. My (but not for very long) chap turned up with his notebook. The defendant was slumped in the dock, a woolly hat pulled low over his brow. It was a hot summer's day and the man looked in danger of overheating. The Magistrate listened to the evidence of the Police and mulled over the charges. Eventually he looked solemnly at the defendant.

"Well, Mr. Shearer*, it is clear to me that every time you take off your hat, you run the risk of arrest. Either keep your hat on or grow a fringe. I am imposing a fine of -".

And so on.

Mr. Shearer - who was from Newcastle, by the way - in a fit of - what? Anarchy? Idiocy? Naked aggression? - had been tattooed across his forehead. Capital letters in blue ink announced :


I've remembered this for reasons which will become clear. For one, I've just read a short story which toys with a tattoo. It's in Polly Samson's latest collection which I've put down somewhere and now can't find. Anyway, it's very good. Then, of course, there's Parker's Back by Flannery O'Connor which is funny yet utterly, utterly heartbreaking. The Background by Saki is cleverer than a clever thing should be. It might even be the genesis of another short: Skin by Roald Dahl. And there are more tattoos than you could shake a dagger-pierced rose at in John Irving's novel Until I Find You. The tattooists mentioned therein are real people, as I discovered when I read Taschen's 1000 Tattoos.

Anyway, I haven't got a tattoo. I wouldn't dare. My mother glared at my pierced ears for decades.

"If God had intended you to have holes in your ears, you'd have been born with holes in your ears."

After fifteen years she didn't even need to make this statement aloud. I could hear her thinking it.

She extends this logic to body art. "You'll never get buried in a Jewish Cemetery if you get a tattoo."

The fact that we're not actually Jewish would be more of a hindrance to burial in The Mount of Olives, I suspect, than a tasteful butterfly on my ankle ...

Last week, I was talking to a man in his mid-eighties. I asked him about the tattoo on his forearm. He'd had it done at the Seaman's Mission in The Dingle. He pointed at a smudged and faded name. "I was knockin' about with a tart called Vera," he said. "And then I married Dolly and it caused me no end of trouble."

This morning was spent revolting again. (The Cuts, dear, must I remind you?) I have an antipathy to being addressed as Brother or Sister (even by close relations) but Comrade was a moniker too far. It propelled me towards a short spree of capitalist consumerism - and an eyebrow wax.

Alana, a purple-haired beautician whom I'd never previously met but am now intimately acquainted with, showed me - and I must stress that I had not mentioned tattoos at all at this point despite your impression that I'm obsessed with the things - her bum. A crown with Grandma inked above it. She then suggested I had my eyebrows tattooed. I declined (in more ways than one). After witnessing Grandma, I'd have been left with an expression of permanent surprise.

*Not his real name

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Two wrongs absolutely do make a right

This post will attempt to combine mathematics, grammar and naughty school boys in a seamless and educative fashion.

Here goes.

I once brought my mathematics teacher close to a nervous breakdown. (At least that's what he said to my mother at parents' evening.)

Mr Kilburn had spent weeks explaining the concept of negative numbers. In one particular lesson, I must have snorted loudly or made some other indication of disdain.

'What was that, Moptop?'
'Nothing, Mr. Kilburn, Sir.'
'Were you sniggering?''
'Not exactly, Sir. It was more of a sigh.'
'A sigh? Why?'
'Well, it's these negative numbers, Sir. I don't believe in 'em.'
'You don't believe in them?'
'No, Sir.'
'But, Moptop, if I gave you an apple and you ate it, you would have minus one apple.'
'No, Sir, I'd have an apple core.'

And so on. The battle over the existence of negative numbers ran three times a week for two years and goes a long way to explaining the Unclassified mark in my Maths 'O' Level.

Today, in a moment of rare joy and rapture, I stumbled across a copy of The Best of Jennings by Anthony Buckeridge. (I stumbled in all senses of the words as it was a pile 'em high, sell 'em low book shop - only the staff had Spoonerised this instruction.) I've been reading it tonight and am half way through Book One.

For most of my childhood, Jennings was my hero - along with Nigel Molesworth and William Brown. (Yes, I've always had a penchant for naughty boys.) In the local library, there was a row of Jennings' books which I worked my way through (1 - 23*) and then started from the beginning again. Tonight, I am beginning to understand that Jennings was clearly a very bad influence on an innocent and impressionable young mind.

Stop laughing.

Jennings has an answer for everything, using an admirable form of logic. For example: instructed to label his gym shoes he writes his name in one shoe and 'ditto' in the other. Half way through Chapter Six tonight, I realised that Jennings is the reason I argued with Mr. Kilburn. He is the reason I failed Maths 'O' Level. He is the reason my bank account likes negative numbers - which I still don't believe in.

I should sue that library.

It was odd that I couldn't bring myself to believe in something that wasn't there (not least because for several years I harboured ambitions to be a missionary). Odd, because I had very much taken to heart William Brown's assertion that 'Two negatives make a positive.' In one** of the Just William  stories, he asks his mother, Mrs Brown, whether he can have a party whilst she is away. 'No, William, you may not,' is the reply. William takes the double negative to mean that, yes, he can have a party - a technique I employed several times myself during my teens.

A double negative in English works thus: No, I do not agree becomes I certainly agree.

Therefore No, you may not have a party becomes Of course you can have a party. Please blow the dust off the Créme de Menthe and make a lethal punch that will bring most guests to their knees after three sips. Also, refilling the whiskey bottles with cold tea and the vodka  bottles with water is absolutely fine by me.

I recently applied the double negative rule to a double double entendre using the logic that one cancelled out the other.

It doesn't.

And neither does eating two apples result in minus two apples, but rather plus two apple cores.

Still, none of this is my fault as I was brainwashed as a child. That's mine, Jennings', William's and Nigel's story and we're sticking to it.

* Books 24 & 25 were written in 1991 & 1994 when I was going through my Virago Modern Classics phase.

** A Question of Grammer is in Just William (1922)

Monday, 6 December 2010

An excellent start to the day

O, what joy! What delight! Though doubtless not in Tunbridge Wells where they are easily offended.

During this morning's BBC Radio 4 Today programme, presenter James Naughtie said a very 'naughtie' word in relation to Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary. Although, it must be said, someone else suggested it first.


Warning! Do not click on this link if you reside in Tunbridge Wells. Naughty Naughtie has been inundated by emails from your compatriots. Please do not add to the gentleman's distress.

Naughtie was guilty of a Spoonerism, although many more tongue-tangles were attributed to the Revd. Spooner than he unaged to matter. I wish the Revd. really had said: "Three cheers for our queer old dean!" mostly because I'm hoping to use the line myself - fully credited - in the near future. (Spoonering soon.)

Count Arthur Strong also appears - though it is beyond me how anyone can 'appear' on the wireless - on BBC Radio 4. He could spoon for Britain. I expect it's a Desirable/Essential quality for employment by Auntie. Still, here's a thought: a new Olympic sporting category that we'd have a sporting chance of winning - Spoonerisming . As long as we didn't meet Finland* in the final.

So, with 2012 looming/bearing down fast/hurtling towards us, we - as in The Nation not just the select band who visit Chez Moptop - must get behind the soon-to-be-announced sport of Spoonerisms. Let us start with a warm up exercise. All together now:

I am not the pheasant plucker,
I'm the pheasant plucker's mate.
I am only plucking pheasants
Cos the pheasant plucker's running late.

I am not a pheasant plucker,
I'm a pheasant plucker's son.
I am only plucking pheasants
Till the pheasant plucker comes.

 - though - PLEASE - do not practise in Tunbridge Wells. I'm on their list as it is.

* If you are troubled with insomnia, you might care to read this article about how Finns spoon.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Other people who purchased this also purchased ...

This time last year I was going a bit banonkas in the Border's Closing Down Sale. Six new bookcases later, I decided not to buy any more books until I'd read all the books I had already.

Cue hollow laughter.

So now, with Christmas looming, what do all the newspapers publish?

Great, long, four-page spreads of the 'Best Books of 2010'. Now I realise there is 'you-scratch-my-back' collusion between authors, and some publishers' puffery, but still ... there are many interesting books that I really didn't know I was interested in until I read about them in the Books of the Year features. For example, the history of the finger. If you'd asked me which body part I'd most like to read about in an historical treatise, the finger is the last thing I'd have pointed at.

But now it is my finger that is doing the most damage. Time was when I'd read all these Books of the Year lists, think 'Ooh, I'd like to read that', take myself off to a bookshop some days later and stand there stupidly blank thinking 'What was the name of that book I wanted to buy?' (Please note, for the sake of keeping Broken Biro quiet, I do the same stupid, blank stare in libraries.) Now I think 'Ooh, I'd like to read that' and click, click, click I've bought it on Amazon. And it doesn't help that Amazon then helpfully suggests a whole shelf of other books I might enjoy.

Look, I had no no little trouble smuggling vast quantities of books into the house after the buying spree in Borders (at one point I took to tucking them into my socks) but when the postie leaves great big day-glo labels that proclaim 'YOUR HUGE PARCEL OF BOOKS TOO NUMEROUS TO LIST HERE ARE HIDDEN BEHIND YOUR GREEN BIN. OW! MY BACK HURTS. DOUBTLESS I'LL BE CRIPPLED FOR LIFE. THAT'S THE SEVENTEENTH PARCEL THIS WEEK' then it's not so easy to explain away.

Which books have made it onto your Christmas list? I'm asking because if they match any of mine, I can pretend I've bought them for you. Anyone pining  for the recent unexpurgated Mark Twain autobiography? (she asks hopefully).

Friday, 3 December 2010

The Students Are Revolting ...

Location: a crowded bus
Characters: a Banshee (quite obviously 17 years old); a Boy (even more obviously 16 years old).

Boy: How did the protest go today?
Banshee: It was too cold.
Boy: Yeah, but all that marching keeps you warm.
Banshee: No, it was too cold to go.
Boy: They protested in London.
Banshee: It's warmer in London.
Boy: It's not tropical.
Banshee: The policehorses and riot shields create a wind break, that's why it's warmer.
Boy: Ohhh ... (BEAT). Anyway, I agree with everything they're doing.
Banshee: Why aren't you protesting then?
Boy: It's too cold. (BEAT). But I didn't agree with them throwing paint up Nelson's column.
Banshee: There are always a few idiots. Last week I stopped one girl egging the former Tory party office. Former!
Boy: It's not as if Nelson Mandela's ever done anything to students.
Banshee: What?
Boy: Nelson Mandela. He's on the side of the oppressed.
Banshee: What's Nelson Mandela got to do with it?
Boy: There was no need to throw paint up his column - that's all I'm saying. He sits at the top, cross-legged holding his hands out, all peaceful -
Banshee: No, he doesn't!
Boy: I mean his statue does, not Nelson himself. I'm not stupid.

Roll credits