Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Lusts of the Flesh #6

After my intemperate book-buying spree(s) in the Borders Closing Down Sale, I not only had to assemble six new bookcases, but also had to sort through all my books and cull them. I'd rather club a baby seal over the head than cull my books.

After four hours, I had one book in the charity shop pile: The National Trust Handbook 2002. After five hours, I'd added another book: a very worthy vegetarian cookbook, all brown rice, beans and carminative qualities. Eventually I added a book about The Chinese Art of Conning Money Out of Gullible Westerners (The Joy of Feng Shui) and one on aromatherapy. Look, it was the '90s: everyone went through a hippy-dippy phase.

And then I had to lie down and mainline ginger and Sal Volatile.

I suppose I ought to make my point. Books are a Lust of the Flesh. The solid weight in the hand, the texture of paper (soft and loved as a worn leather glove or smooth, crisp and new), the font, the cover, the familiar publishing logos. The makers of Kindle and other e-readers would have us believe that books are obsolete, outdated, so very yesterday. Phooey! I bet the Kindle will go the way of the Beta Max video tape - anyone remember Beta Max? Anyone remember video tapes?

We buy pulp fiction along with our Utterly Butterly and Fray Bentos pies, and forget that books were once so very precious they were chained to the shelves of the Bodleian Library and no-one, not even the king, was permitted to borrow one.

King Charles I: I'd like to borrow a copy of La Chanson de Roland, please.
Librarian: Sorry, your Highness, but that will not be possible.
King Charles I: But I am the King!
Librarian: Yes, Sir, but that is a book.

I was taught to love books but also to treat them with respect; not to crack their spines, make dog ears and certainly not to write or draw in them. I remember the horror of being given my mother's original copy of When We Were Very Young and discovering that she'd coloured in the pen and ink illustrations. Wicked, wicked child.

Still, a colleague has written a book about Robert Louis Stevenson's reading habits - having tracked down his original library and studied the comments he'd scrawled in the margins of his books. And the Bodleian librarians not only know that Romeo and Juliet was the most popular of Shakespeare's plays, but that the divinity scholars read and re-read the balcony scene more than any other. The evidence is on the Quartos: all grubby finger marks, worn page corners and even an elbow print where one reader rested on the book and swooned.

I cannot bring myself to write in the margins of my books (the memories of beatings and coal cellars linger) and so any future reviewer of the Moptop Archive will think I had a mind as empty as a drunkard's purse.

I shall go to my maker (a small factory in Taiwan) with a head full of characters, plots, poems, plays, obscure literary conceits and the odd drug deal in Baltimore. Take my jewels! Take my furs! Take the Limoges porcelain! But leave me my books.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Dreadful Relly Bingo*

The Holidays are bearing down fast and, for many of us, this will entail spending time with our families. Families: can't live with 'em, can't shoot 'em - and believe me I've tried, but the little blighters will insist on running for the hills when they see me oiling the Purdey Sporter 12-bore.

Out of the goodness of my heart, I am taking time from my busy schedule** to post details of a game you can play whilst visiting your family.

Every family, however lovely and loving it might be, contains at least one Dreadful Relative. It is The Law. It was constituted in 1370 - along with the legally-enforced wearing of caps in order to boost the woollen trade - and has never been repealed. If you are without a Dreadful Relative, then keep it under your cap (which you don't have to wear, by the way, as that law was repealed - in 1390) because if The Government gets wind of it they'll assign you one.

(By this I mean they'll assign a Dreadful Relative, not a cap because I hope I've made it clear you don't actually have to wear one any more. Yes, I know I told you that you had to, but it was a joke. You know, something funny. All right, well, you didn't find it as funny as I did. Yes, yes, you've made that clear. Look, can we talk about this later? I'm in the middle of a blog. Don't slam the -.)

Where was I? O, yes. I had a wonderfully Dreadful Relative; Great Aunt Edie. She never improved with age - except in wickedness.

"New frock? Doesn't suit you. I didn't think you could gain any more weight but I was wrong. Girls who think they're clever seldom are."

Wasn't she dreadful? (I miss her so.)

The Rules of the Game

You will need a small square of paper and a pen. Yes, that is all! It's a marvel.

Divide your sheet of paper into squares and in each square write a favourite dictum of the Dreadful Relative. (I was going to write bon mot, but Dreadful Rellies are rarely bon.) Examples might include:
I see you're completely bald now.
Still doing that boring job?
I don't think you need another scone.
You've been a great disappointment to your father, you know.
Your uncle drank, too.
You're looking very tired. No, haggard. Definitely more haggard than tired.
It's a shame the children take after you in looks.

And so on. I expect you all have your own examples.

Now, this is where the game becomes challenging. You must set time and prize bands for each comment. Does your D.R. launch straight into the plain speaking or do they need time to warm up?

If the D.R. refers to your weight within the first ten minutes of the visit, then you may award yourself a bottle of Champagne. If it takes an hour for the D.R. to tell you you've got fatter, then you win a bottle of South African White (c. £5.00 mark). If it takes over two hours for the comment to be made, then you win a packet of Maynard's Wine Gums.

You set the time bands and decide on the prizes, according to personal taste.

You see, the absolute and utter GENIUS of Dreadful Relly Bingo is that you positively anticipate the cutting comments. In fact, you are willing the Dreadful Relative to be rude because you know that at home there are several bottles of Champagne, cheap white wine and stacks of wine gums nicely chilled (and stacked) in preparation for your triumphant, nay, victorious return.

* Dreadful Relly Bingo, from an original idea by Cro Page
** I've bought an iPhone and I'm downloading a map of the stars and a compass so I will always know where North is, even in places like Surrey where there are no hills to guide me. Has there ever been a flatter, duller county?

Overheard Conversation # 14


Location: A charity shop in a small market town in North Yorkshire.

Characters: An attractive, tall, slender woman with an intelligent glint in her eye. Let's call her Jane.

A plump woman with curly grey hair of pensionable age (the woman, not just the hair). She is standing behind the counter and is very much in charge of the till. (Which seems to be getting the better of her.) Let's call her Agnes.

Various onlookers/customers displaying various degrees of impatience.

JANE PERUSES THE BOOKSHELVES AND SELECTS A BOOK OF SHORT STORIES ENTITLED 'EXPLAINING DEATH TO THE DOG'. SHE JOINS THE QUEUE AND WAITS HER TURN. SHE HANDS THE BOOK TO AGNES.

AGNES LOOKS AT THE BOOK, LOOKS AT JANE, LOOKS AT THE BOOK AGAIN AND THEN STARES AT JANE - FOR LONGER THAN IS SOCIALLY ACCEPTABLE. THERE IS AN UNCOMFORTABLE SILENCE.

Agnes: Funny title ...
Jane: Yes, that's what attracted me to it.
Agnes: You wouldn't think it funny if you'd buried as many dogs as I have.
Jane: Er, no ...
Agnes: You wouldn't find it funny at all.
Jane: No.
Agnes (PUTS DOWN BOOK AND FOLDS HER ARMS): Last year was a dreadful year.
Jane: Oh?
Agnes: Yes. I lost my husband.
Jane: Oh, dear ...
Agnes: Forty-eight years we were married.
Jane: I'm sorry.
Agnes: And six months later, the dog died.
Jane: Oh -
Agnes: I still miss him.
Jane: Yes.
Agnes: It's why I work here.
Jane: To keep busy?
Agnes: The house seems so empty without him.
Jane: It's very sad.
Agnes: He seemed to know what I was thinking; could read my mind.
Jane: After forty-eight years -
Agnes: No, not him. The dog.

Monday, 29 March 2010

High Rising Terminal

Uptalk, upspeak, a.k.a. turning perfectly reasonable and definite statements into questions by letting your voice rise quizzically at the end of the sentence.

Like this?

Yes, like that.

It has been blamed on the Australians. It has been blamed on the New Zealanders. It has been blamed on the Valley Girls of 1980s California. And, apparently, the citizens of Bristol and East Anglia are not entirely blameless either. I don't care who started it, but I'd like it to stop.

Now?

Now.

Picture the scene. A tanned, thin, youngish man, sun-streaked fair hair. He's dressed in cut-off denim shorts, flip-flops and appears to be holding a human skull.

"To be? Or not to be? That is the question?
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer?
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune?
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles?
Sea? Did someone mention sea?"

He drops the skull and runs athletically across the sand. He reaches the lip of the ocean, dives in and saves a young woman (who is sporting what looks like an ikebana flower arrangement in her hair and who was at the point of drowning). You can guess the rest.

Or this one. A portly, balding man wearing a boiler suit, the trousers rolled up to reveal blue-white ankles (finely turned). A knotted handkerchief is perched upon his bonce. He is slumped in a striped deckchair, puffing on a cigar.

"We shall fight on the beaches?
We shall fight in the landing grounds?
We shall fight in the fields and on the streets?
We shall fight in the hills?
We shall never surrender?
Really? Never?
I think I need to lie down ..."

The whole course of history would have changed if the High Rising Terminal had been around then.

You will all agree that I have clearly and concisely proved my point?

Overheard Conversation # 13

New Feature! Added Analysis! (Poo, Gosh, &c., &c.)

Location: Queue in the inaccurately named Fast Checkout Lane of supermarket.
Characters: Man in steel-capped boots, man in yellow hard-hat - both in their mid 30s.

Boots: So I turns round and goes to the boss I'm not 'aving tha'.
Hard Hat: Yer never!
Boots: And he went Well it's in yer contract, lad.
Hard Hat: Right!
Boots: Then I turns round and goes I've never even seen a bloody contract!
Hard Hat: 'e tried to pull that one on me. I wasn' 'avin' none of it.
Boots: So then I goes None of the Lads'll be 'appy 'bout this, Boss.
Hard Hat: Bloody right. I turns round to Joe and warned 'im Don't be working too fast on tha' wall, kid.
Boots: Then 'e turns round and goes We'll see wha' the Site Manager 'as to say.

And so on. Reader, I was dizzy with the amount of turning around they'd been doing. More pirouetting than a ballerina en pointe - and not nimble looking chaps by any means.

Teenagers - stay with me; all will become clear. Teenagers: we feed them, clothe them, put roofs over their heads, send them to school, straighten their teeth and encourage them to bathe occasionally. They are hardly ill-used if the only joy we get out of this arrangement is annoying and embarrassing them.

One delicious way to annoy teenagers is based on the above conversation:

Banshee: I wasn't happy with Riviera this afternoon. She's that stuck-up cow whose mum's on Hollyoaks. So I went -
Ma: Where? Went where, darling?
Banshee: I didn't go anywhere. Listen. So she turned round -
Ma: In a full circle or only ninety degrees?
Banshee: Are you on something? So I went -
Ma: You left the room?
Banshee: No! I goes -
Ma: Where did you go?
Banshee: I didn't go anywhere! LISTEN. So Riviera goes -
Ma: Riviera left the room?

At this point the Banshee will scream and storm out in High Dudgeon. The Ma smiles (like La Gioconda - subtly satisfied), flicks off the T.V. and picks up Saturday's Times Jumbo Cryptic Crossword which she's been staring at for three days now, yet has still only managed to solve nine clues.


P.S. Blogger won't let me post a picture, and I'd found a very fetching ballerina to illustrate my point. Bah, Blogger, Bah!

P.P.S. O, how lovely. You're fixed again.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Jenny Fresh Brasso

On Friday, the Berlin correspondent of The Times filed a story about abusive priests in Germany. I couldn't take much note of the story, fascinated as I was by the journalist's name: Roger Boyes.

What on earth were his parents thinking?

Pot, kettle, black. At one point I intended to call the Small Boy Sam Mustang. I'd heard a Radio 4 programme about wild horses in the USA and had been transported - out of my wits. Not much call for cowboys in my neck of the woods.

Then I was seduced by the Irish (culture, not the entire population) and thought Padraig was the ticket. You were going to call me Porridge? wailed Small Boy when he was much smaller. Or Gabriel, I added which provoked him to tears - An angel? An angel??? - and a lengthy huff.

Count yourself lucky, my boy; if you'd been a girl, Redinka was first choice.

I gave up on Irish names after the Baby Name Book stated: We have not given any indication as to pronunciation as this varies in different areas of Ireland. Well, that was helpful. You may as well scatter a handful of Scrabble tiles across the kitchen table - SAOIRBHREATHACH - and insist that it's pronounced FRED.

These days anything goes with names. I met a woman who'd called her daughter Cheminee. I think we'd all agree that Chimney doesn't have quite the same cachet. (Pronounced Catchett in English.)

So perhaps it's not so odd after all that Mr & Mrs Boyes didn't stop to consider whether Roger was the best name for their son ...

No-one has nicknames any more. (I was actually christened Moptop.) I expect when we were all called John, James, Mary and Susan it made sense to create nicknames. It was important to differentiate between Tall Mary, Nice Mary, Fat Mary and Barking Mad Mary Who Shoots On Sight.

And nicknames were needed to conceal identities. Many writers still use 'em. Nom-de-plume, nom-de-guerre, alias, pseudonym, anonym - a moniker by any other name would be discreet.

I strongly suspect that not all romantic novelists were originally called Rosamund. Unless all young women called Rosamund are honour-bound to become romantic novelists? Perhaps their parents sign them over to Mills & Boon at birth?

Dockers were notorious for their nicknames - there's a list here - but once a nickname was applied, it stuck, regardless of whether or not you were a docker.

The Jenny of this post's title, as a proud young wife, annoyed all the Pontlottyn shopkeepers by asking 'Is it fresh?' about anything she purchased. 'A loaf of bread, please. Is it fresh?' 'Six ounces of loose tea. Is it fresh?' Her undoing was asking for a tin of Brasso - is it fresh?' and having to live with that nickname for the next sixty years. Still, she was luckier than Mrs Ackerman-Rice-Pudding ...

Friday, 26 March 2010

Rhubarb, Rhubarb, Rhubarb

The Art of Coarse Acting suggests that when one is on stage and engaged in sotto voce conversation, one should mutter rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb in order to mimic real speech. Of course, the reality is that the actors are muttering You cut my best line, you bloody cad and Only because you ruined my comic pause, you great fat ham &c., &c.

It is nothing short of tragic to see the depths to which this noble plant has fallen: upstage mutterings or the odd crumble.

Earliest records of rhubarb go back to 2700 BC in China where it appears in The Divine Farmer's Herb-Root Classic. It was used medicinally and was considered more valuable than the rarest of spices. In fact, in 1839, the purgative quality of rhubarb had the Imperial Commissioner, Lin Zexu, writing to Queen Victoria insisting that she put a stop to the Opium Trade or else China would put a stop to the export of rhubarb which would, well, put a stop to the English Barbarians - if you get my drift - full stop.

It has been suggested that in order to scupper The Great Rhubarb Embargo, the crafty Victorians smuggled out the rhizomes and cultivated rhubarb in Yorkshire -

Excuse the self-indulgence, but I must digress for one moment. My favourite, favourite passage in the writer Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall is between Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell has just returned from Yorkshire where he's been upsetting monks.
"How was Yorkshire?" asks the Cardinal.
"Filthy," says Thomas. "Weather. People. Manners. Morals."

- in the Rhubarb Triangle, which is somewhere in the region of Wakefield but is a bit like the Bermuda Triangle because once you go into a Rhubarb Shed you are never seen again -

- without a flat cap.

The plants were fed with mungo and shoddy from t'mills (dark and satanic, naturally).

The reason I am so interested in all this is because a quantity of fleshy petioles came into my possession (cough) only yesterday, and I've knocked up 6lbs of rhubarb and ginger jam.

And rather than just eat it, like a normal person, I've spent an hour or so researching its origins.

F 'rinstance, did you know that rhubarb has an astringent effect on the mucous membranes of the nasal cavaties? So don't stick it up your nose.

Last year, I was given some posh bath oil scented with rhubarb. Every time I bathed in it, I was propositioned. I expect I smelled like a tart.

And on that note I'm away to toast my crumpets.

(Come on, it's still National Euphemism Week - let me squeeze that one in.)

Rhubarb jam recipe available here. (But even nicer if you add some finely chopped ginger.)



Thursday, 25 March 2010

Is she not fragrant?


Everard Wright, Esq.
Beaumaris
Frinton-on-Sea

Sir Terence Wogan
c/o Points of View
Broadcasting House
London
W1 5QT

Dear Sir Terence,

I would be extremely grateful if you could arrange for the experienced and fragrant newsreader, Miss Moira Stuart, to be returned to her post.

It is only a matter of time before we can expect to see our Proud Nation once again in mourning. Lady Margaret Thatcher - the Greatest Prime Minister this country has ever seen; Envy of the Kremlin; Scourge of Sue Lawley; The Cast Iron Fist That Plucked the Miners' Canary; Arch Enemy of General Gaultieri; Patron Saint of Handbags - will sooner rather than later - and, oh, how it pains me to commit this to paper, Sir Terry! - be shuffling off her mortal coil and joining the majority. (And the other members of her cabinet she saw off first.)

Each morning, Chester my Airedale Terrier Cross, fetches The Telegraph from the mat in the hall, and I, sitting by the thick-cut Seville, open that esteemed broadsheet with half-closed eyes, hardly daring to look ... (I've forsworn the television and wireless news lest they take me unawares.)

The only thing that can possibly make this grief-striken scenario even slightly bearable, is to be secure in the knowledge that the lovely Moira will be there to guide me - and the Nation, of course - through this future and inevitably tragic period of our lives.

Moira, as we all know, maintains a solemn and dignified demeanour - even now, when she is so sorely misused by your incompetent replacement on the bbc Radio 2 Breakfast Show. Only she can be trusted with the responsibility of announcing the passing of our dearest dear Iron Lady.

I have taken the liberty of enclosing one of my many photographs of Miss Stuart. She is on our screens so seldom these days, I fear you may forget her face.

Yours, in hopeful anticipation,

Everard Wright LLB (Hons).

Post scriptum: If you could arrange for Moira to adopt the fashionable stance of reading the news whilst perching pertly on her desk, it would be much appreciated.

Monstrous Wigs ~ 2

Farter Duck
Savage Crangle Chambers
Chancery Lane
London

Dear Ms Moptop

I have had occasion to write to you before on matters of a similar nature. Tappertit and Rudge, my Clerks of Chamber, limped down to the Stacks and dusted off our previous correspondence. And a fine, heavy file it makes. Not to put too fine a point on it, Madam, you appear to delight in causing mischief.

Only today, it was brought to my attention that you have published the confidential minutes of the Liberal-Fascist Collective Against the BBC (L-FCABBC).

Members of the Collective are extremely unhappy about this situation and have instructed me to - shall we say? - fire a warning shot across your bows.

I am sure that you will appreciate that being both Liberal and Fascist is a challenging position to be in, not least because of the dangers of inadvertantly slipping into Reactionary.

The members of the L-FCABBC face a difficult task; united in their desire to see the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) dismantled, the Television Licence Fee abolished as well as ensuring that optimum conditions are created for Cats Do The Funniest Things to be shown nightly on the major T.V. channels during peak viewing hours.

To then discover that you have published confidential minutes could have turned them Libertarian! Have you considered just how irresponsible you have been? You, Madam, do not have the excuse of youthful folly.

It simply will not do.

Take this as an informal - if not entirely friendly - warning. If you persist, further action will be taken by the L-FCABBC subcommittee: The Wirral Alliance of Televisual Sceptics.

Yours sincerely

Peter Farter Duck

It is best not to mess with the duck

P.S. Mr Wright, a fellow Fellow in Law, insists that I inform you that Points of View did reply to him and noted the contents of his email.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Minutes of the Liberal-Fascist Collective


Present: Mr Stefan Ego, Mr Everard Wright LLB (Hons), Ms Phyllis Sinistra, Mrs Shirley Trot.

Apologies: Mr Wright apologised, blamed the broad beans and opened a window.

1 Mr Ego began the meeting calling the comrades to order to discuss ways to smash the BBC.

1i Ms Sinistra objected to the word smash on the grounds that it was far too violent a verb to be considered. On principle, she was against any sort of violence: violent action, violent language, violent thought and viol -

1ii Mr Ego interrupted to ask whether dismantle would a more appropriate verb?

1iii Ms Sinistra told Mr Ego to shut his ducking cake-hole before she shut it for him and that if he ever interrupted her again she would not be responsible for her actions.

1iv Mr Wright said he'd prefer it if the word Comrades was not used because he didn't like Reds or anything they stood for and that the BBC was fatally and fatuously infected with Reds, and the wearers of suede shoes, was a state-funded propoganda machine, was over-blown and mediocre (except for David Attenborough), and since they'd sacked the lovely Moira Stuart he had no time for any of them. Moira made even bad news sound acceptable and if anyone was going to break the unbearable news of Lady Thatcher's demise he wanted it to be Moira as she would at least be gentle with him. As it was, he lived in dread of the 9 o'clock news and whichever underfed harpy was going to be perched on the edge of a desk with her shirt undone to her waist. The Lady Margaret was worth more than this - much more! - and he was going to write to Points of View and tell them so.

The minute-taker asked for a few seconds respite to regain the feeling in her right hand.

2 It was proposed by Ms Trot that the BBC was a Stalinist tool of State Suppression as evidenced by Homes Under the Hammer -

2i And sickle was the next minuted interruption, although no-one would own to it. Mrs Trot muttered that it was possibly a collective remark.

2ii Mr Ego asked what was wrong with Stalin? What had he ever done to anyone? And why was it so bloody cold in here?

2iii Ms Sinistra said that Central Heating wasn't Socialist, whereas in buying and wearing hand-knitted woollies from a Peruvian Collective she was supporting The Workers and Workers' Rights.

2iv Mr Wright suggested the The Workers didn't have a right to make such horrendously patterned jumpers and that llamas didn't look like that anyway.

3 Calling the meeting to order once again, Mrs Trot asked whether they were all in agreement that the BBC should get much smaller?

3i It was unanimously agreed that henceforth the corporation would be referred to as the bbc in all L-F C Minutes.

4 It was unanimously agreed that Antiques Roadshow hadn't been the same since that nice Mr Aspel left.

5 It was unanimously agreed that things had gone downhill since Terry had departed from the breakfast show on bbc Radio 2.

6 It was unanimously agreed that - Moira apart - no-one had ever read The News quite as well as Richard Baker, although Robert Dougall and Kenneth Kendall weren't bad considering.

7 It was unanimously agreed that Angela Rippon had brought the noble art of newsreading into disrepute by showing her legs on the Morecambe & Wise Show in 1977.

8 Mr Ego proposed that there were too many metrosexuals currently on the bbc.

8i Mr Wright said that he had been far too busy with his own criminal practice to keep count of any passing metrosexual.

9 Mrs Trot suggested that they send a letter of support to poor Mr Murdoch who was struggling to make a living in the face of very unfair business practice by the bbc monopoly.

9i Ms Sinistra wanted it minuting that there was no social housing anywhere on a Monopoly Board.

9ii Mr Ego suggested that what England needed was a Fox News Channel. And to break the Metroplitan Monopoly, it could be situated in his home town of Barking.

9iii Where's the fox that? asked Mr Wright.

The meeting was temporarily adjourned as Cash in the Attic was about to start.


Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Ecce Romani!


Not a euphemism to be had for love nor money, as I've been very sensible all day - apart from a small (but explosive) rant about the Middle Classes of Bristol snorting cocaine whilst asking whether the milk in their Fairtrade coffee is organic.

So to cheer myself up (being sensible is vile), I've unearthed my Latin exercise book. (It was buried in the garden in a Huntley & Palmers biscuit tin, so that verb is fully justified.) On p.3 a bold, cross scrawl: Number your pages and name your book! On the front cover in careful copperplate I have printed: I name this book Polyphemus III. I was an irritating little git from the start.

I should have paid more attention in Latin. Really. My ma(ter) said it would come in useful (it hasn't) and that I'd thank her for forcing me to take it (I don't) and that it would help with my English (my English was fine by itself, thanks all the same). And how much fun was to be had in the act of declining. (You're telling me.) Still, now that I have reached the Age of Reason, it would be nice to nod gently at the Young Scholars and say something witty in Roman.

In the High School on a hill in Yorkshire (posts passim), any child too dim for bottom set French had to study Classical Greek, so I suppose I should count myself lucky.

My Latin translations have comments (scrawled in a bolder, even crosser hand): Where is the comprehension? Feeble. You have not thought very hard about this. This is ridiculous. You are writing absolute nonsense. RUBBISH. Most pathetic. And no mark is above zero. Most are well into the minuses.

This is immensely cheering. And my feeble, rubbish, ridiculous attempts at translation are even more cheering. Occasionally, younger relatives beg, wheedle and cajole, 'Please, please, read your Latin translations, O Moptop. Read the one where Caesar burns his socks and trips over a centurion. Or the one where as Antoninus is hesitating, the Volcis put up their tents and proceed to run about which greatly worries the Romans.'

My final translation, before I sat (and somehow passed) an O Level, reads: The camp of Pompeius was attacked by cohorts of whom there were some left defended bravely. But the rest of the soldiers who had fought, who had frightened them and were tired, left their weapons and thought about the camp's defenders. Then when he threw down spears into the mountain and or valley -

See? Latin didn't do my English any good at all.

But what's this? A final sentence: out of breath they weren't able to keep it up for long.

It might not be the euphemism I've spent the day looking for, but on a wet Tuesday evening an entendre - even one as obvious as this - is not to be sniffed at.

GAVDIVM. MIHI. VAE. TIBI.

Monday, 22 March 2010

National Euphemism Week - Day 2


Before supper, I popped out for a bit of Poet on Toast - and very good it was too. In fact, after having got lost on the Wirral Peninsula (which breaks all the laws of geography, geology, gravity and doubtless genealogy) again, failing to find West Kirby again, and wondering why it is impossible to tell whether you are heading North, South, East or West on The W.P. again, I was relieved that the toast hadn't taken on the consistency of a rubber car mat.

Still, I'd missed none of the poetry because a gallimaufry of musicians had assembled and had bagsied the mic first.

[A word to the wise during National Euphemism Week: Avoid Folk Music Clubs and Anyone With a Banjo.]

Titles of traditional songs are inordinately suggestive. First on, a woman in a fleece who sang (loudly) Keep Your Wick Well Trimmed and Burning.

I bit my lip.

Next, a chap in a checked shirt sang Goliath of Garth - which I misheard as girth.

I bit my lip harder.

Then a duo; winsome boys with sweet voices. In a lengthy preamble to All That Meat and No Potatoes, the one without a beard said, "So I grabbed my dictaphone -". Which I also misheard.

I chewed the knuckle of my left hand.

This segued into a rousing rendition of Bang Lulu, which I thought meretricious. A euphemism has to have the possibility of doubtful intent.

I sipped my peppermint tea calmly and with dignity.

The man with the fiddle (and a beard) then played a lament: Put It In a Cool Dry Place.

Well, I ask you. Luckily, some paper towels were at hand so I could mop up the tea.

If You're Irish You Can Come Into My Parlour had the audience clapping - and me slowly rocking. O so slowly. I've had an Irishman in my parlour. Once.

Fanny Power and This Way and That Way were both performed without an ounce of self-awareness. If irony is the first defence against feeling, then these musicians were feeling their banjos most unironically. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that their intruments were being strummed vigorously.

At this point I left the room before I disgraced myself completely. Sadly, this meant that I missed out on all twenty-two versions of Robin Hood and the ------ (You can fill in the blank with any aristocratic or clerical title: Earl, Lord, Abbot, Nun - that sort of thing.)

But I calmed myself in time for Broken Biro's poetry, which was subtle, moving, funny, clever and not the least bit euphemistic.
Alas.


Joyful List #6

The mrs joyful prize for raffia work *, dinner parties, drunken doctors, dessert wine, quince blossom, ice cubes, vests, gin, Bakelite telephones (adds gravitas to every conversation), shouting lessons, oysters, grilled squid, cafe bars, loofahs, plump cheeks, second-hand bookshops, Illy Dark Roast, steamed milk, big mugs, boots, narcissi, debate, silence, bottlebanks, toast, The Sullenness of Youth, bad influences, passing fancies, glace cherries.

EDIT: Some OIK is masquerading as my hero, Nigel Molesworth, on Twitter. It is reported here in The Telegraph. I suddenly feel much less joyful. Chiz, chiz.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

My Tubs Are Blooming


Would you believe that such an innocent remark about my spring bulbs would provoke so much hilarity? I was questioned as to whether my crocus was engorged? Were my tulips drooping? Audrey Hawthorn-Hedge, last week's guest on Gardeners' Question Time, doesn't have to deal with this sort of thing. I understand why Gordon Brown throws things (allegedly). You just can't get the staff.

Only the other day someone - whoshallremainnamelessyouknowwhoyouareDeborah - someone asked me what friend of the preserving pan meant? It might mean I'm a dab hand at making jam, or it could mean I'm rather fond of fruity 'n' sticky situations. Or it could mean I've become an objectophile and am taking the relationship slowly. (It doesn't do to rush these things.)

But putting my personal life to one side, this question put me in mind of all the euphemisms we use daily and how they seem to be increasing, erm, daily.

Bill: He dances on the other side of the ballroom, him.
Bob: Really? An afficionado of the patent shoe?
Bill: So I've heard. I think he's a pain-au-chocolat short of a continental breakfast.
Bob: And not unfamiliar with the preserving pan.
Bill (AGHAST): Not the (WHISPERS) preserving pan?
Bob: Indeed. (BEAT). Lately, he's become a solo-oboist.
Bill: Double-jointed then?
Bob: No, he really does play the oboe.

You see, it's very easy to take things the wrong way - Enough! - and one could get into terrible trouble supposing a chap was being euphemistic when he wasn't.

Would you like to see my etchings?

He disappears, one disrobes swiftly and - p'rhaps - drapes oneself artistically over his sofa (displaying ones perfect peach of a bottom to its best advantage). He comes back with a leather-bound album full of not very good drawings of his cat.

It takes years to get over a mistake like that.

Why he couldn't just say that he danced on the other side of the ballroom and wasn't interested in my spring bulbs is beyond me. Bloody periphrasis.

There are euphemism generators to be found on The Internet, but I shall not direct you to them as they are uniformly sordid. However, I shall direct you to an excellent blog about the English Language. X marks the spot. Here, Mr Fool discusses euphemisms for death - which was, apparently, the very first word that Broken Biro looked up in a thesaurus. (Whereas in my first deflowering of a thesaurus, I looked up variations of the word slut as I wasn't very happy with one Bronwyn Smallbones at the time.)

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Pirate School


Talking about career changes (see posts passim and, by the way, after leaving my business cards in several phoneboxes, I have been inundated with inquiries - all male, but I expect they have more trouble communicating with their pets on a psychic level).

Where was I? Oh, yes, a poet friend, bored one day, posted up an advert in a local wine bar - Pirate Lessons: A two day intensive course. Phone for further details. And then there was a row of little tear off strips giving his phone number.

After only a week, he changed his phone number. Who could have guessed there would be such demand for Pirate Lessons? People were ringing at all hours, eager to sign up for the next available course, some even offering a deposit (in Ready Money) and when he explained that he'd created the advert as a joke, they got very cross. Very cross indeed.

It's amazing how much wickedness arrives out of boredom ...

Anyway, given that there is clearly an overwhelming need for Pirate Lessons, I thought it would be sensible to create a curriculum with Aims & Objectives, Learning Outcomes, Required Reading, Examinations - that sort of thing - and knock up a Business Plan to present to my Bank Manager.

I'll get Linguaphone on board. They've done all they can with French, Italian and German. How to Speak Pirate is bound to be a best-seller.

Pop on your headphones and repeat after me: Aargghhh.
Yes, that's right. Now say that again: Aargghhh.
Good. Lesson 2. Advanced Variations on Aargghhh.

Other Learning Activities would include Parrot Care, How to Assemble a Hammock, Eating Without Cutlery, An Examination of Health & Safety Directives 36a (Planks), 114b - i (Cutlasses), 257a-ii (Rum), The Identification of Fish, Treasure Burying, Map Reading, Blackspot & How to Avoid It, Beard-growing & Aftercare, Doubloons & the Euro, Do You Really Need a Monkey? - &c, &c.

After three years of study (one of the former-Polytechnics will doubtless create a degree), the Pirate Apprentice will be obliged to commit an Act of Larceny on the High Seas in order to achieve full pirate status. Storming the Mersey Ferry to steal a saucer would suffice.

So, has this idea got (peg) legs?

Friday, 19 March 2010

Spiritually Barking

Today, on the way home from an afternoon in Albania, I was struck by a sudden flash of inspiration.

I intend to retrain as a Pet Psychic.

How much training does a Pet Psychic need? I hear you mutter. Don't be catty. Some of us have gifts. Some of us have vocations.

One such Pet Psychic was interviewed on the radio. (Hence the sudden flash for which, you will note, I claimed not one jot of originality.) She tunes into an animal (tunes not turns, because that would be ridiculous) and translates the images the animal telepathically transmits to her. Last week, a camel called Sofia suggested that a birthday breakfast of champagne and strawberries would be in order. That's a camel after my own heart. Clearly, I have an affinity with camels. A good start, wouldn't you say?

Practice makes perfect. Once home, I began my psychic training with the goldfish. In five second intervals, I discovered he is still holding a grudge about the time he was dropped down the toilet. It was an accident! I telepathically transmitted back to him. I'm a girl! she telepathically transmitted back to me - in images, by the way, and we're talking piscine genitalia ...

The dog was more difficult. The dog has always been difficult. The dog has the attention span of a flea. Though, to give the dog his due, perhaps I had tuned into the telepathic brainwaves of an actual flea ...? I must learn to focus. There's a knack to it.

Knack is an interesting choice of words considered the dog's telepathic images. It was years ago! But if it will help you achieve closure then, okay, we'll focus on your - sorry, I was talking to the dog.

So, anyway, you can see I've taken to this new career like a duck to water - and I've only been doing it for ninety minutes. I'm designing business cards: Moptop's Psychic Menagerie ~Bestiality a Speciality.

Look, I've told you! You'll just have to find something else to lick! Sorry, that was the dog again.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

She wouldn't let it lie ...

Though I might tell many a story (Did you know that Miss Edna Gussett, inventor of the elasticated haversack was born in my house in 1862?) I cannot tell lies. By lie, I mean something opposite to the truth and not something that was clearly untrue from the get-go. (Are you following this?) For such inventions, as Elvis once said to me, are just the edge of reality. (Don't read too much into his lyrics; he was having a bad day.)

On the rare occasions I find it politic to lie, I blush, stammer and develop a fixed expression. My mouth twitches, too, which is a bit of a giveaway. (As if all the other numerous tics weren't.) The silver lining in this cloud is that I cannot, therefore, be a psychopath, which is a relief as I'd always wondered ...

But it's also why I've never beaten Daniel Craig at Baccarat. Sigh.

Is there a difference between a fib and a lie? Confused, I asked The Pope. One of his minions emailed back: A fib is a lie with good intentions; a lie is a lie with bad intentions. See, even The Church doesn't get too hung up on honesty these days.

Nietzsche was very big on truth - and if that's not enough to make you go and tell the biggest porkies, then I don't know what is - but even he concluded What in us really wants Truth? How much more fun to believe in the Elasticated Haversack! (I said that last bit, not Nietzsche, in case you were wondering.)

Mark Twain - never a man short of pithy quotations, and here's another one - went for the cliched blah-blah-blah is the best blah-blah-blah approach: If you tell the truth then you don't have to remember anything. And Abraham Lincoln, equally moral: No man has a good enough memory to make a successful liar.

I bet they were a barrel of laughs. "Does my bum look big in this, Abe?" "Yes, it looks enormous. The fabric highlights the cellulite rippling across your buttocks. But let's face it, your bum would look big in anything."

I'm not going to tell you what Mark said - except that truthfulness shows a distinct lack of imagination.

Oddly, when I'm meant to blush (Are you still following this?) I don't. Not at nudity, rudity or prudery. Hmm, I might have to investigate this psychopath thing further ...

For example, most people who found themselves accidentally tied up by the gasman (by candlelight, with drawn curtains - before lunch - wearing a nightdress, coat and padded boots) might find this a highly embarrassing position to be in. In such circumstances, a certain degree of flushing, blushing, and reddening is to be expected, no? You'd be covered in embarrassment and very little else - apart from, obviously, the nightdress, coat and padded boots.

I'll leave you to work out the parts of this post which are true and the parts which are false.

Stealing shamelessly from Hilary Mantel - A rough guide: anything that seems particularly unlikely is probably true.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Telling Stories


Before I begin this post, I'd like to make it clear that this not a photograph of Gordon Brown throwing a tangerine during a fit of pique. Most definitely not.

However, that story - and the way it was repeated by the media - did make me chuckle. It's so easy to get caught up in a flight of fancy (also known as a Big Fat Fib), make up some silly story - purely for self-amusement, you understand - and then a week or so later have it repeated back to you as fact.

I went to a high school on top of a hill in Yorkshire. There are many hills in Yorkshire, but I'd prefer to be vague about this particular hill to avoid any recriminations. The Head Teacher was very proud of his All Weather Playing Pitch, an enormous, brown, gritty expanse on which we could play various sports against other High Schools - football, hockey, netball - and lose.

The All Weather Playing Pitch was almost at the top of the hill, but at the very top of the hill was a telecommunications tower studded with satellite dishes, aerials, sharp metal things, wires and the like. It could be seen for miles around.

This was the period of the Cold War. Reagan had his quivering finger over the Red Button and was just waiting for Nancy's astrologer to divine a propitious date to bomb the shit out of Russia - or so we all thought.

On a dull day in February, I happened to mention en passant to a friend that there was a nuclear fallout shelter under the All Weather Playing Pitch, but that in the event of a nuclear strike - and the telecommunications tower would surely attract a nuclear strike? - only teachers would be allowed in. The pupils could all go hang - or something more atomic.

Gosh.

Only an hour later, during a lesson on Tudor law-making, Duncan Jacques stood up and shouted at Mrs Jenkins, "I don't think it's at all fair that we won't be allowed in the nuclear fallout shelter!"

Of course, Mrs Jenkins didn't have a clue what he was talking about. In fact, none of the teachers who were asked to defend this indefensible position (during Lat. Hist. Geog. Lit. Arith. Fr.) knew what the pupils were talking about. But the more they denied any knowledge of the Top Secret Bunker, the more the pupils became convinced of a pedagogic conspiracy. One group even went so far as to dig holes in the beloved All Weather Playing Pitch in search of the secret hatchway.

Some say confession is good for the soul, but memory of this just makes me want to tell more stories ... That's not good, is it?

By the way, did you know that during the Triassic Period, Liverpool was off the East Coast of Java?

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

And All By Page 4!

I am going to be a terrible bore now, and bang on about an author I have just discovered - or rather, was introduced to: Mary Renault. I am reading a 1972 Book Club Edition of her novel, The Persian Boy. (50p in a charity shop). This picture (see below) is a hasty sketch of me entranced by this book.

Entranced? Yes, truly - although perhaps mesmerised in horror would be more accurate. So far we've had a paternal mutilation (nose and both ears sliced off), decapitation, a maternal suicide (complete with skull exploding as it hit the courtyard), the rape and murder of three pre-teen girls, the enslavement, 'gelding' and subsequent prostitution of a very young boy - and all by page 4. Erk. On Chesil Beach it is not ...

I expect it's all right, though, because it's historical and they're all foreign.

I've also been told (by the same grate fiend who gave me Mary Renault) to read the novels of Dorothy Dunnett. As encouragement, two plot threads were described to me, including one where the protagonist is forced to play a game of chess with live people. (Hmmm, where have I read that before, Ms Rowling?). One chess move will result in the death of a three year old boy. There are two small boys to choose from, both of whom may be the hero's small son. (Yes, I know this is a bit garbled, but I was in shock. Again, OCB it is not.)

The second 'great selling point' has the protagonist espying (it's also historical; a lot of espying went on in those days) the Love of His Life dozing serenely on a garden terrace by a fountain. He rushes to kiss her - and notices yellow straw poking from beneath her eyelids. She has been flayed and stuffed.

I came home and Goggled (that is not a spelling mistake, by the way). Yes, Goggled.

Dorothy Dunnett looks like my Demon Aunt - a fine woman - who has only ever stuffed anyone full of scones, fruitcake, Victoria Sponge, oatcakes and Malteser Biscuits.

But it's still stuffing, isn't it?

To extend this argument: does this mean that all les femmes d'un certaine age are plotting really terrible comeuppances? (Which may or may not involve stuffing.)

You might think I've jumped to this conclusion because of one photo of Dorothy Dunnett. Not so! Look at Mary Renault. (Click on the link as you have no idea just how tricky this insert image stuff is. It's gone wrong several times already.)

That's two of 'em for starters, and I've not even begun to mention my mother ...

I mean, I've been plotting terrible comeuppances for ages now ... So I was struck by a thought more shockingly dreadful than anything Dunnett and Renault could conjure - does this mean I, too, am of a certain age?

I pondered this for a good five minutes, but consoled myself with the thought that I am still too young to be referred to as sprightly*.

Right, onto page 5 ...

* Many thanks to Patrick Joseph who assured me of this fact.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Overheard Conversation #12

Location: Post Office Counter
Characters: Female Customer (limping and carrying a parcel and a shoe). Behind the counter, a Young Chit of a Girl, with dyed black hair and nose-stud.

Woman (PLACING BROWN PAPER PARCEL ON SCALES): I'd like to send this first class, please.
Chit (POINTING AT PARCEL): What's that say?
Woman: Near Keighley, West Yorkshire.
Chit: Airmail, then?
Woman: Airmail?
Chit: If it goes by boat it'll take longer.
Woman: Boat?
Chit: I'd pay the extra for airmail, if I was you.
Woman: First Class will do, thanks.
Chit: But it's going Abroad.
Woman: No, it's going to Yorkshire.
Chit: Isn't that Abroad?
Woman: No. It isn't.
Chit: It's in Ireland.
Woman: No, it really isn't.
Chit: You sure?
Woman: Yes. I'm sure.
Chit: It's in England?
Woman: Yes, it's in England.
Chit: Oh. That'll be £2.49, then.

The All-Purpose Apology

Dear Mum / Partner / Lord High Admiral *

I apologise deeply / profoundly / 1000m below sea level *

For not noticing
- that my shoes were muddy
- that the remote control was on the coffee table exactly where you said it was
- a 433 ft underwater pinnacle made of rock.*

My failure in this matter caused a significant amount of damage to
- the cream shag-pile in the hall
- the 42" wide-screen TV which makes even the skinny weather girl look short and fat
- a Royal Navy nuclear submarine. *

In my defence, I had lost my
- door key
- temper
- Signals Communications Officer.*

If I promise to
- do the dishes for a week
- stop talking during Antiques Roadshow especially when the experts are revealing the valuations of hitherto unprepossessing objects
- stay on dry land*

will you forgive me?

Yours etc. etc.

* Delete as appropriate








Sunday, 14 March 2010

Keeping Mum


Schtum, quiet, silent, mute, inaudible, SHUSH! Note the topical title as today is Mothering Sunday. Where would we be without our mas? Unborn, that's where. But, actually, this post is really titled Why Coventry?

Being sent to Coventry is to be given the silent treatment. Why do we send people to Coventry? No-one seems to really know. (Not least the person being sent there.) Why not somewhere in Yorkshire? Huddersfield or Bradford? Places not famous for garrulity. (You can always tell a Yorkshireman. But you cannot tell him much.)

Is the miscreant Mexican also sent to Coventry? What about the degenerate Dane? The criminal Canadian? Is Coventry prepared for this mass immigration? Have they constructed enough doghouses?

If someone talks to you just a little bit, in grudging mumbles, teeth clenched, eyes averted does that mean you've been sent to (hurriedly checks AA Route Map for somewhere slightly north of Coventry) Nuneaton? Or if you're not being spoken to and also - magically - appear to have become invisible, are you being sent to (checks AA Route Map again - next page, further south) Royal Leamington Spa?

A note, printed in block letters. I CANNOT BELIEVE YOU DID THAT. (What? What did I do?) I'M SENDING YOU TO ROYAL LEAMINGTON SPA. (Where? Hurriedly checks AA Route Map). BE GRATEFUL IT'S NOT SWINDON. (I am, I am.)

I'd much rather be sent to Royal Leamington Spa. It sounds like a better class of punishment. Especially if you have a penchant for blue rinses, dentures, bathchairs and gin - I'm speaking hypothetically, of course. (Cough.)

All I know about Coventry is that it was bombed during the war, it has a cathedral and is populated by people (subdued, chastened, mildly contrite) who have no idea why they have been sent there.

(As an aside, am I the only person who assumes that whenever I travel uphill, I'm heading north?)


Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Let's Form a Collective


Look at that flock of cows!
Herd of Cows.
'Course I've heard of cows.
Cow Herd?
I don't care what the cow heard. I got no secrets from cows.

It's a funny old thing, English. (That's the language not the people though, granted, they're funny too.) I was considering this earlier whilst pondering on the murmuration of starlings swooping above the shopping trolleys in Tesco, Old Swan. (Nary a swan to be seen, mind you.) Murmuration suggests, well, murmuring but these birds were raucous chatterers. A prattle of starlings would be more appropriate. Let's leave the murmuration to Librarians. (Of whom -Welcome to our country!)

Collective nouns are beautiful but bizarre. Prides of lions ... Are lions proud? Are they more noble, arrogant, illustrious and self-satisfied than any other beast? The peacock'd have something to say about that, I'm sure. (Edit: Did have something to say and now, in beastly one-upmanship, comes in an ostentation.)

Or take baboons. They come in a troop, congress, rumpus, or flange. (I suspect flange is a wicked calmuny. Writers of dictionaries invent things all the time, mainly as acts of revenge.)

Buffalos come in gangs, herds or obstinacies. Do mules therefore come in stubbornesses? Alas, the poor mules come in a rake or barren.

Of course, one goes looking for these collective nouns and some wag, wit or Writer of Dictionaries has got there first.

An implausibility of platypi, a parcel of penguins? What fool would try to parcel a penguin? And the name for a group of monks is an abomination. No, quite seriously, it is an abomination.

What have crows and ravens ever done - except help the Vikings find land? - to warrant being grouped in murders and unkindnesses? But a pandemonium of parrots, a parliament of owls, a cloud of bats all are gorgeous and make perfect sense.

Do slimmers and opera singers come in scales? Journalists in columns? How about a wager of gamblers? A thicket of idiots? A number of mathematicians?

I am slapping down the gauntlet. Firstly, what is your favourite collective noun and secondly, how should teachers, writers, poets (gruntled and disgruntled), vicars, students and bloggers be grouped?

How to Dump Your Apostrophe

I know the Pitstop belongs to Moptop and that therefore, as a sign of possession, my blog should be entitled Moptop's Pitstop.

However, in losing this one, single, not-all-that-significant apostrophe (and, on my honour, I promise not to lose any more), I have also lost an ampersand, hash, zero, thirty-nine, semi-colon which - you must admit - is a mouthful in anyone's language. (Note how I kept my promise there).

The language that insists on using ampersand, hash, zero, thirty-nine, semi-colon instead of a perfectly simple apostrophe is, I believe, called HTML and a lot of fuss and nonsense it is too. On other bloggers' blogs, it wrote my blog title as MOPTOP & # 0 3 9 ; s Pitstop (only a bit more squashed).

Now, I am not known for my tidy, fastidious nature but you must admit that inserting arbitrary symbols, numbers and a semi-colon is taking things too far. If HTML can manage a semi-colon, then why not an apostrophe? It's almost the same. In fact, an apostrophe's even less bother as it doesn't have a dot.

I expect that if I had a semi-colon in my blog title - for example, Moptop; a mop with a top - or even a colon - Moptop: a mop with a top - HTML would have to further complicate matters by writing ampersand, hash, squiggly line, bracket, bracket, zero, ten, sixty-six (and all that), apostrophe - just to be awkward.

So, having clarified the situation, you can see the loss of this one apostrophe (a measly one at that) will not lead to the collapse of civilisation, the Internet or life as we know it. Though Lynne Truss might get a bit miffed.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

How To Dump Your Girlfriend

... is the title of a very funny book by Manchester-based writer/comic/poet/compere, Julian Daniel. Recently, I attended a promotional reading of this book in a LIBRARY.

(Libraries are a Good Thing as Broken Biro will confirm, not least because people who work in libraries provide me with a quip that I shall never grow tired of. )

Anyway, at the end of the reading, Julian asked the audience to share stories of dumping or of being dumped. I once pushed a boy (Peter Bird) off a wall and ran away but, as earlier that evening he had cracked a bullwhip in his bedroom causing his mother to come charging up the stairs and crashing through the door, I feel that was wholly justified - though hardly interesting enough to share with a literary audience. (No offence).

And then I remembered The History Teacher. A man so obsessed with sport that he locked himself in the bathroom on Saturdays in case I distracted him whilst he was writing down the football scores in his spiral-bound notebook.

The relationship wasn't going well - Leeds United was not on top form that season - but I didn't have the courage to end it. So I avoided him. I particularly avoided talking to him. For months.

I worked in a theatre box office. Not answering the phone in case it was The History Teacher was tricky ... but I managed it. I could rely on colleagues - "Could you get that, please?" - on customers who were queuing up to buy tickets - "I'll give you the concessionary rate if you'll answer that call for me" - or simply ignoring the ringing phone altogether. (Apologies if you tried and failed in 1987 to book a subscription ticket for Camille, Little Shop of Horrors, Season's Greetings, Noises Off and The Sea).

The only time it got really problematic was when customers took messages and I had to return calls.

"What does that say? Your handwriting's dreadful."
"Erm, C.O.C.U.P. I think ...?"

Mrs Cocup (long O) was most irate at my mispronunciation of her name and took her custom elsewhere.

Eventually, of course, The History Teacher did get hold of me. I let my guard down and answered the phone on a match day. Gently, ever-so-carefully, I broke it off. Surely he'd got the message by the long silence?

"I just assumed you were having trouble with your wisdom teeth," he said.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Right then, Tom Swifty


"Can you help me prepare the apples?" Tom appealed.
"But I'm nervous about cooking with spices, " she said gingerly.
"We'll just use the one herb," he said sagely.
He opened the cupboard and they stared at the contents.
"Bisto? Oh..." she said gravely.
"Own brand Cream Crackers?" he snapped.
"And where's the tinned pineapple?" she asked fruitlessly.
"I shopped from memory," he said listlessly.
He closed the cupboard door.
"You think I'm dull, don't you?" he said bluntly.
"I think you need to see a doctor," she said patiently.
"Why? Because I'm losing my hair?" he bawled.
"Because you've gained a lot of weight," she said heavily.
"I've had a bad leg," he said lamely.
"Let's change the subject," she said topically.
They surveyed the kitchen.
"When did you last clean this fridge?" he said coolly.
"I have no idea," she said thoughtlessly.
They consulted the recipe book.
"Once upon a time ..." she said grimly.
"You might need glasses?" he speculated.
"Everything in this bloody book is drizzled with sodding oil," she said crudely.
"We could make soft, smooth dumplings," he suggested wantonly.
"Or homemade soup?" she said uncannily.
They gazed at a photo of raspberry tartlets.
"I could eat one hundred and forty-four," he boasted grossly.
"Me, too," she agreed.
"Then we'll have to double the ingredients," he added.
"Perhaps use a little less sugar, darling," she said sweetly.
He moved over to the dresser.
"Shall I play a CD? How about some Crosby," he said probingly.
"He peaks at average," she said meanly.
He took a deep breath.
"I want to date other women!" he said unsteadily.
"You Irishmen are all the same," she said wryly.

Friday, 5 March 2010

The Truth, The Whole Truth and Nothing But ...

Oi! Poets! This post is for your benefit. Dedicate your next book to me, chuck a percentage of the royalties my way (cash only), place laurels on my brow, scatter rose petals where'er I walk - the usual poetic shenanigans. You'll be begging to do all this and more in an attempt to convey your deepest, most sincere gratitude.

Why? Because I've found out where you've all been going wrong.

There is simply no point in sending off poems to competitions, sealing the envelopes with a hopeful kiss, and waiting for your genius to be discovered. Or submitting poems to magazines, pestering editors with manuscripts, trawling round the literary festivals or (shudder) networking.

Only a dunderhead plays that game.

The real Poetic Genius invents competitions and poetic crowns, then awards them to himself. He claims to have appeared on the same platform as the Big Name Poets. (He was moving the furniture but that's by the by). He says he has been given the keys to New York and the padlock to Birkenhead. He has taught poetry to the brightest of young minds.

And it's all true ... because he says so.

With this in mind, I should like to draw your attention to my ALL NEW! Poetic CV.

(CLEARS THROAT)

Moptop is a well-regarded poet who has gigged extensively throughout the known universe.

And Wirral.

She was poet-in-residence at the Sydney Opera House where she became a personal favourite of Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. She has been given the Freedom of Bootle, Walton Vale Shopping Centre, several engraved pens and umpteen blessings by The Pope. She is well known down The Docks.

Seamus Heaney is a meany unless Moptop opens for him.

Carol Ann Duffy gets huffy when Moptop's name is mentioned.
(Moptop turned down the job of Poet Laureate).

Kanye West and Eminemineminem have both said (separately), "She taught me how to rhyme, bro, ya dig?"

Roger McGough and Brian Patten say (in well-practised unison), "There's only one Liverpool poet: Moptop. We've been living a lie all these years."

Moptop has taught poetry at all of the Oxford and Cambridge Universities, and was visiting Prof. of Poe. at Harvard, Yale and Cal Tech in 2006, 2007 and 2008 respectively. In 2010, she will be made Temptress of India - a new role created in her honour for her series of mind-altering poetic essays, Lay Me on a Poppadum and Lick Me.

Winner of the Frowst Award for Poetry in 2009, she was awarded a Caithness Glass rosebowl and a cheque for $100,000 (Canadian) in a ceremony organised by the Liverpool Couture Company and the Deadwood Poetry Society.

Her other poetic triumphs include:
1st ~ National Pottery Competition, 2001
1st ~ Carduff Academi, 2002
1st ~ S.T. Elliott Prize, 2003
1st ~ Foreword Prize for Best Ever Poem in Britain, 2004
1st ~ Foreword Prize for Best Ever Poem of the 20th Century, 2005
1st ~ Foreword International Prize for Best Ever Poem in The Known Universe, 2006

And others far too numerous and tedious to mention.

Her most recent book, The Girl Who Tried to Shag Cumulonimbus, (Fabre & Fabre) was chosen as a Poetry Book Society Book of the Month - for sixteen months running - and is now in its 24th edition. It has sold (in hardback) 1.8 million copies, is a set text on the GCSE syllabus in Kent and is studied extensively in Albanian schools.

She has written 37 books in total, many of them published.

Moptop turned down the offer of permanent residence in Dove Cottage, Grasmere, as she (generous to a fault) wanted to give other poets a chance.

Currently Poet-in-Residence at Costa Coffee (Bold St.), Moptop is working on her next book, the climax of which will be her epic 1400 stanza poem (title as yet to be decided) on the subject of Afternoon Tea.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Lusts of the Flesh #5



Today's Lust of the Flesh was experienced yesterday. Yesterday afternoon to be exact.

Tea to the English is really a picnic indoors. ~Alice Walker

Take two bad friends, two teapots, tea-cups and saucers, loose leaf tea (Earl Grey & Scouse Breakfast), a three-tiered glass stand, finger-sandwiches (no crusts), homemade shortbread, coffee cake, orange cake, buttered fruit loaf, scones, clotted cream, strawberry jam (no honey), and little pink cubes of quivering, sugar-dusted Turkish Delight. Mix in a view over the Albert Dock, some scurrilous conversation, a waiter with a propensity to dampen trousers and there you have it - Afternoon Tea.

A Proper Tea is much nicer than a Very Nearly Tea, which is one you forget about afterwards. ~A.A. Milne

In 1944, Great Grandma Nicolson took afternoon tea in a tearoom in the Kyle of Lochalsh. Upset at having been 'overcharged' for the mean slice of Dundee cake she had consumed, she is alleged to have swept the remaining contents of the cakestand into her capacious handbag. This charge has made it into print - Memories of Raasay (Berlinn) - but, of course, every Moptop family member denies the allegation conceding only that Great Grandma Nicholson did go a bit strange and did, in her latter years, do the gardening in her nightdress.

There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea ~ Henry James.

Coffee shops are all very well, but they don't encourage lingering. Noisy, clattering places, with metal machines that hiss and spurt like geysers. No towering cake stands - plain baking at the bottom, tiny fancy cakes at the top - but engorged muffins (as painful as they sound) and rocky biscotti (ill-designed for frail British teeth).

How much more civilised the world if we stopped each afternoon for tea? Sipped and spoke? Politely shared the last meringue?

Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves - slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future. ~Thich Nat Hahn

Then let us meet in the Maritime Museum! The top floor dining room, riverside. I’ll be there at three, just in time for afternoon tea.

Find yourself a cup of tea; the teapot is behind you. Now tell me about hundreds of things. ~Saki

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

The All NEW Banned List!


Delight in my misfortune if you will, but after creating an ongoing Banned List on this blog, I have now been issued with my very own Banned List. It has been constructed by the Banshee and the (not so very) Small Boy.

1. If I am going to insist on listening to Kanye West's Gold Digger in the car I am not allowed to
a) sing along or 2) appear to be dancing whilst waiting at traffic lights.

2. In fact, any dancing to Kanye West's Gold Digger is BANNED unless it is
a) conducted in the kitchen with the blinds down and 2) whilst no-one else is in the house.

3. Never again am I allowed to say "Goodness, the language in this song [Gold Digger] is dreadful. We couldn't play it to Grandma, could we?"

4. Similarly, I am BANNED from saying "Kanye West's very inventive in his rhymes, isn't he?" on the basis of listening to one song [Gold Digger].

5. I am not allowed to ask who Busta or Usher is as - apparently - I have already had this question answered several times.

6. I am BANNED from reading out any Top Sentences whilst Banshee's friends are in the house. This rule was constituted this evening after I read out my current Top Sentence* whilst Banshee and friends were in the middle of eating. It was not the digestive process per se that caused the upset. It was the nature of the Top Sentence.

Do not read on if you are in the middle of eating.

*Current Top Sentence: Flies swam in the ceiling lights and the toilets spat out their usual stink of clitoris sweat and warm shit.

6a) I am BANNED from saying clitoris in public.

(I was tempted to misspell the final word in the previous sentence for comic effect, but feel this post is already verging on gratuitous).

Monday, 1 March 2010

Overheard Conversation #11

Location: Bookshop on Bold Street: the Children's Section.
Characters: Yummy Mummy and a Small Boy (aged 5-ish)

Small Boy: But why do I need a diary, Mummy?
Woman: Because it will help you remember how to write, darling.
Small Boy: But I know how to write, Mummy. We do it at school all the time.
Woman: Yes, but it's the school holidays now and Mrs Jones said you had to keep a diary because last year you forgot how to write.
Small Boy: But I don't want a diary! I want the Thomas book!
Woman: You can have the Thomas book if you choose a diary.
(BEAT)
Small Boy: What's a diary?
Woman: A book you write in.
Small Boy: Oh. (BEAT). I've got one of those.
Woman: No, Benjy, that was your sister's French book. It was really very naughty of you to write in it.( SHE HOLDS UP A RED NOTEBOOK). How about this one?
Small Boy: Don't like red. (BEAT). Hate red. Red is yucky.
Woman: Well, there's lots of colours here to choose from ...
Small Boy: Pink. I want a pink diary.
Woman: Pink?
Small Boy (FIRMLY): It's my favourite colour in the whole world.
Woman (SIGHS): How about this nice blue one?
Small Boy: Pink. That one.
(HE WALKS OVER TO THE SHELF AND SNATCHES THE PINK NOTEBOOK HIS MOTHER IS ATTEMPTING TO HIDE BEHIND OTHER NOTEBOOKS).
Small Boy: This is a lovely diary, Mummy. (BEAT). I'm going to write in it now.
Woman: Let's wait until we get home, darling.
Small Boy: But I want to write now!
Woman: Benjy, Mummy has to go to Marks & Spencer's to get Daddy's cake.
(SMALL BOY IS NOW SEATED AT A BRIGHTLY COLOURED PLASTIC TABLE AND IS OPENING THE PINK NOTEBOOK).
Small Boy: I'll wait here.
Woman: No, you have to come with me, darling.
Small Boy (WAILS): But I want to write in my diary!
Woman (WARNING): Benjy ...
Small Boy: I'll forget how to write, Mummy! (BEAT). I think I've already forgotten a little bit.
Woman (EXHALING LOUDLY): Five minutes. Five minutes and then we have to go.
(SMALL BOY REACHES FOR A POT OF CRAYONS IN THE CENTRE OF THE TABLE, DELIBERATES, THEN CHOOSES A RED CRAYON).
Small Boy: I'm going to write hello. (BEAT). How do you write hello, Mummy?
Woman: Huh.
Small Boy (FORMS THE LETTER CAREFULLY): Mmm ...?
Woman: Eh.
Small Boy: Mmm ...?
Woman (WANDERS OVER TO THE BOOKSHELVES): Luh.
Smal Boy: Mmm ...?
Woman (CALLING): Luh.
(SMALL BOY SHRIEKS AND COVERS HIS MOUTH WITH HIS HAND).
Small Boy (UPSET): I've got a swear in my diary!
Woman (CONFUSED): What?
Small Boy (WAILING AND JABBING AT THE PAPER WITH HIS FINGER): I've got a swear in my diary!
Woman (REALISING AND SMILING): No, that's not a swear word, darling. Hell isn't a swear word.
Small Boy: Oh. (BEAT): Is it just fucking by itself, then?
(WOMAN GASPS)
Small Boy (SLOWLY): Fucking Hell.
Woman: Stop that!
Small Boy (VERY SLOWLY): Fuck-ing Hell.
Woman: I said stop that!
Small Boy (QUICKLY): Fucking Hell.
Woman: Your tongue will go black and fall out of your mouth!
Small Boy (SINGSONG): Fuck-ing He-ell, Fuck-ing He-ell ...
Woman (GRABS BOY'S ARM AND YANKS HIM TO HIS FEET): Stop that this instant! You're making Mummy very cross!
Small Boy (SMILES. BEAT): Fucking Hell -
Woman: I'll tell Daddy!
Small Boy (LOUDER): Fucking Hell.
Woman: I said stop it!
Small Boy (NOW CHANTING): Fucking Hell, Fucking Hell, Fucking Hell.

(WOMAN DRAGS SMALL BOY DOWN THE STAIRS AND OUT OF THE SHOP. THE PINK DIARY IS LEFT ON THE TABLE).

Roll credits