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(Well, seeing it like that I can see why it might look a little intimidating but give it a go. I can always add your name to my ‘long hand only’ list or would you prefer a translation?)
[ there would be a picture here ]
Are bees busy? Well, what I mean is, why do we perceive bees to be busy? Most bugs and bichos are notable for their state of activity rather than otherwise. Take the ant. Ants are industrious. But maybe they aren’t cute enough to enter popular colloquial speech? (Are bees are cute? Husband would argue otherwise, he has a major problem with the entire species (and anything else that speaks the same language – bzzzz) because he cycled into one once upon a time whereupon the unfortunate creature stung). Ants creep. Humans, generally, don’t really trust creeping things. Or is it simply the pleasing alliteration of the phrase? Well, in that case, maybe we could make a case for assiduous ants. After all, being busy doesn’t have to have a purpose.
(I’m going with alliteration, the French apparently don’t do bees).
Anyway, that’s a nice random paragraph, a classic case of my idiosyncratic mind in full operation, but there really needs to be a point to this post. I mean, you don’t come here just to read random wafflings about apiformes, do you? No, I didn’t think so.
The point that I’m trying to make, and may well do so eventually, is that I have been a busy bee. Or just a busy human. Very busy. And, of course, being busy has meant that I’ve also had to spend quite a bit of time recovering. That is why I have been absent. (Is absence usually associated with busyness? Hmm).
Life has calmed (hopefully) and I’m bored of being rather poorly and bed-bound so I might have recovered, in which case, blogging will resume.
Remember how I said that I can’t call myself ‘linguistic’ simply because I can’t attain levels of perfection when it comes to my grammatical knowledge, vocabulary or pronunciation? Well, today I’m going to dare, to dare to start thinking of myself as someone with ‘linguistic skills ‘ or ‘linguistic aptitude’.
This is the evidence that I am considering:
- Because I am nervous and sometimes social phobic, I have learnt the art of conversation: I ask questions. This means that the other person does all the talking whilst I stick to questioning. (There’s an art too to not making this type of conversation sound like an interview).
- I try to include everyone in the conversation, especially those who don’t speak the language confidently or those who I know are shy or hesitant to speak up. Being nervous makes me sensitive to how other people feel in these situations and I always try to put them at ease.
- I can follow a conversation or discussion in another language, which I speak precious few words of, for extended periods of time, remaining interested, attentive and even enthusiastic throughout. I can also agree, disagree, gesture and make sympathetic noises in appropriate places.
- When I learn one phrase in a new language, I can cheerfully make this sentence answer any and all questions that I am hereafter asked.
- A language being ‘foreign’ does not stop me from attempting to read it.
- I can coax expressions and key words out of tiny phrasebooks and mini dictionaries to extend my (non-existent) vocabulary to deal with a situation. (However, proper pronunciation is a different matter).
- I always try to find a lingua franca when I met someone who doesn’t speak my language (well) and I don’t speak theirs (at all), this might be pidgin or gestural, but I don’t give up.
- I can read phonetics, those weird almost symbol-like letters given for pronunciation in dictionaries.
- I see language and words simply as gateways rather than barriers.
- To my complete surprise (I was never thought to be good enough to do this), I can teach. I love sharing so being able to share what I know is a beautiful thing. Despite the fact that my knitting method has recently been discovered to be idiosyncratic, I’ve just taught someone to knit. And to purl.
- I can communicate.
Does a badger badger?
Does a bat bat?
Does a bear bare?
Does a bug bug?
Does a carp carp?
Does a cow cow?
Does a crow crow?
Is a deer dear?
Does a dragon drag on?
Does a duck duck?
Is an eel ill?
Does a flea flee?
Does a fowl foul?
Does a fox fox?
Does a frog frog?
Does a hog hog?
Is a horse hoarse?
Does a lark lark?
What’s a lion lie on?
What’s a lynx’ links?
Does a moose mousse?
Does a pig pig?
What’s a robin robbin’?
Does a roe row?
Does a snake snake?
Does a squirrel squirrel?
Does a tapir taper?
Does a whale wail?
Does a wolf wolf?
Does a worm worm?
Writing is a pretty useful form of communication, we tend to write off (pardon the pun) entire civilisations as uncivilised or primitive simply because they didn’t develop a writing system and their oral histories have been lost or ignored. Writing can speak to not just two parties, the writer and the recipient, but the written word stays etched to talk to future generations and societies in a way that oral communication just cannot.
When I reflect over the couple of decades that I have been alive, I am constantly amazed by the rapid changes in technology. When I was little, LPs (or records) were still pretty normal things. I can remember CDs being developed but most of us still played cassettes. Using a similar ribbon technology, video cassettes were what we watched our films on and recorded interesting programs from the television on. We didn’t worry about scratches but ‘chewed’ tapes.
Technology was breaking new ground but it still wasn’t portable. The fax machine allowed instant communication from one place to another, even internationally but we still had personal cassette machines with bulky headphones (those seem to have returned for some reason) and carried ten pence pieces for emergency phone box calls.
I’m an unintelligent nerd or geek (I have no aptitude for the prerequisite sciences and maths or even computing) so I spent a lot of my later school years helping in the library. I think that the changes I saw in my time at school say the most about these rapid shifts of technology.
In middle school, we each had a certain number of green card square pockets or envelopes with our details on. When you wanted a book from the library you handed over one of these cards and the librarian (or monitor) would take the slip of pink or white card from the book and place it in your ‘library card’ before filing it in a special long wooden rack. The books kept those tongues of cards for much longer than there was this primitive borrowing system.
My senior school was high-tech. It had a computerised system. Probably DOS based. Green characters on a black screen and a multitude layer of menus to allow for navigation. We didn’t have cards anymore; our records were all digital, a window of dates and titles with our personal details. It wasn’t even a window like we’re used to on these modern computers, more like a frame. You’d have to go back rather than close it. And minimise certainly hadn’t been invented. I think the county library system was similar too.
Every week the library issued reminders for overdue books. It was laborious and accompanied by the unique screech of a dot matrix printer. Would today’s children recognise that noise? Or even the special paper that was required to fit within the teeth of its plastic cogs? We helping students would spend a long time peeling the punched edges from the paper then guillotining them into slips.
An unwanted ream (about five reams of modern printer paper) was also sometimes gifted to families for their children to use it for drawing paper. There were streamers to be made from the edgings and on the back was a magical system of green lines (on some but not all versions) that looked temptingly like musical scores.
The library system was backed up each night on a five-inch disk. Even my husband doesn’t remember those. His idea of a floppy disk is the three and a half-inch disks that were rigid plastic (sometimes, excitingly, in bright colours) that we used to back up our own work. The five-inch disks were properly floppy. A little like a bendy LP or record.
Before embarrassment finally won over, I saved countless stories to three and a half-inch disks. How much did those store? A mere megabyte of information? My camera now produces files of ten megabytes so that kind of explains why we outgrew that technology. But mind you, cameras didn’t make files back in those days. They were still using negatives, another ribbon technology.
Words are supposed to be permanent, a lasting record or memoir of who we are or were. But what happens when the technology changes this fast? Or when the writing becomes digital, embedded within legacy recording systems?
We can look at cave paintings from thousands of years ago and touch another hand, another human, his tangible marks connect us. Even vulnerable paper has left us an enduring legacy of countless billions of pages filed in libraries and archives.
Sometimes we struggle to decrypt ancient writing systems; we need discoveries like the Rosetta Stone that allow a translation between different forms, some now defunct. But the words were still there.
What about our words? Have we lost them forever?
PS. If you find that stone, let us know.
What does being an adult, reaching maturity really mean? I think that one of the most important definitions, if you will, or maybe criteria, is being able to take responsibility for yourself. We are born helpless and within not so many years we are weaned, potty trained and have learnt to walk. These are huge milestones in development, obvious markers of when we become responsible for ourselves. For other things though, taking responsibility is much more subtle, less obvious so perhaps we don’t appreciate the process or find it impossibly hard to pinpoint that exact moment when we become fully responsible for ourselves.
Being responsible for ourselves means accepting consequences, or in the place, just acknowledging that there will be consequences. For some reason, we find this hard. Often that difficulty stems from childhood, a profound sense of embarrassment or even fear can hold a child back from admitting that he has made a mistake.
How do we see mistakes? We often say that we have done something ‘wrong’. Wrong (yes, I’m back to nuances again) carries very negative implications, it can even imply that something was deliberate, a choice perhaps. Making mistakes, having accidents are a normal part of life. But when we describe it as something ‘wrong’ we inherently imply that there was a fault, someone is to blame.
A child with unbalanced psychology, or surrounded by people with unbalanced psychology, will quickly catch onto this connotation, especially when the consequences are appropriate to wrong-doing and not to a mistake or an accident. The child will quickly learn that they are at fault, being held accountable and will look to shift the blame elsewhere.
If we as adults are supposed to accept the consequences as part of taking responsibility for ourselves and our actions, what example are we setting to the children around us? Are we too embarrassed to admit that we’ve made a mistake? Do we try to blame someone else, anything else? Or do we accept responsibility?
This becomes an even more important issue in our modern culture. We live in a society where tacky daytime TV advertising, no win no fee solicitors tell us that we must blame someone else. This is fast becoming the norm. We have an accident and someone is at fault, to blame. And it’s never going to be us. (I appreciate that in countries where healthcare must be paid for that compensation is often quite necessary to cover a person’s medical expenses, a person who is a genuine victim of someone else’s wrongdoing).
That’s not what an accident is. An accident just happens. And perhaps that’s something we are deeply uncomfortable with, we are often desperate to control our lives, the world as we see it and live it. But unfortunately we can’t. Accidents happen. We’re not quite as in control as we’d like to think we are.
How do you respond when you see or hear of a car accident on the motorway or some major road? Do you assume, presume even, that this is the result of someone’s wrongdoing, someone who’s been speeding or driving recklessly? Someone must be to blame; it must be someone’s fault. To accept that a car accident can just be exactly what it says it is, an accident, forces us to admit subconsciously that it could also happen to us.
If we take responsibility for ourselves and our actions as mature adults, we cannot keep trying to blame others or anything else, animate or inanimate. We have to accept that sometimes we can mistakes and we also have to accept the deeply uncomfortable truth that sometimes accidents happen. If we can’t then unfortunately I don’t think we can really claim to be so grown up after all.
I had an accident. First of all, I railed against the ladder. Admittedly, the ladder does have form. But when I look at the incident rationally then I have to conclude that it was possibly actually a good thing that the pathetic ladder collapsed and fell in the opposite direction to me. If not, I might have got painfully tangled in it and ended up in a far worse state than I did. I have to accept that this was just an accident; there was no blame or no fault. My ever reliable grip failed in this instance. I was more tired than I cared to suspect. A truth that I’m not entirely happy to admit. But it was still just an accident, one of those things that just happened as accidents are wont to do.
Accidents are deeply unsettling because they do just happen. It’s a shocking and often painful reminder that we’re not in control of ourselves and our lives quite as much as we’d like to be. And yes, accidents are more likely when we are over tired, stressed out, overwhelmed. It still doesn’t make them our fault, we are not to blame. Hindsight might indicate how we could have prevented it happening, just as if that car driver had chosen to stay at home that morning after all.
There are other positives that I’ve discovered since that wee accident. I did not break anything on my way down, which considering our loft hatch is in a hallway three-foot square is seriously impressive. I landed next to a thirty year old Moroccan tagine. I would have been very distraught if I had damaged that. But being me, I would have been less distraught if I had broken myself. Another highly surprising thing was that there was no Voice, it remained silent throughout the entire incident. That was very strange. But I really don’t mind that. I also got to treat myself to some ‘get well’ yarn, yarn is always a good thing. It always make me feel good too. And really importantly, husband has decided that whenever I want something from the loft or to go into the loft, he will do it when I ask. (I’m not going to hold my breath but at least have leverage).
Accidents happen. Make of that what you will. But you might be surprised to learn that they can give us wise lessons and even positives can come out of them. However, you might still have a very sore tail a fortnight later.
These last few weeks there has been a minor ‘domestic’ rumbling; it is usually at that gentle simmer where you can leave the pot bearing some wintry stew-like concoction for a while to attend to more important and pressing matters. Until, of course, it starts bubbling a little too violently and seeping out from under the lid. Then the issue requires immediate engagement. And perhaps a stir or two.
How we act, what we say is all linked to attitude. What motivated us to do or say? What drives us? Attitude can have a marked effect in how we choose to deal with others. Our own attitude may be mild and forgiving and their own attitude may be excused by a variety of extenuating circumstances. It’s not exactly a question of justification but sometimes it is more appropriate to turn the eye, to excuse, to forgive.
Surprisingly, these two matters are linked.
There are some attitudes that I do not appreciate. I don’t like snobbery, it rankles me that some person or other has the cheek to think themselves better, superior, more perfect than another. When someone makes an unjustified claim on another motivated purely by such an attitude then I will rise to the victim’s defence quite quickly, regardless really of my own personal view. I’d rather help guide that someone to a more balanced approach, I prefer to both sides of every story and live in hope that one day they will be able to also.
Therefore, I find it a gross insult to be labelled ‘snobbish’. Not least because of the complete injustice in such a claim. And this is what lies behind the small rumbling ‘domestic’. My husband has dared to, deludedly, call me a snob. I was livid, annoyed, frustrated, hurt and insulted by turns.
Some behaviours are often motivated by a snobbish attitude, it is true. However, just because one behaves in that particular way, can you forcibly conclude what their motivation is?
I don’t think so. And I would hope not.
Just because I behave, or act, in a certain way in a certain circumstances should not mean that I am motivated by such an undesirable attitude. I wouldn’t like others to assume that. And I certainly wouldn’t like to find the slightest trace of such an attitude in me.
Today I found myself defending a particular demographic of parents, sinisterly described as ‘undesirable’, and a little boy who was labelled ‘naughty’.
Perhaps some parents aren’t as good as they could be or as good as we think that they should be. However, the sad case is that many people, parents included, are victims of circumstances. It’s not merely a question of ‘education’ as in what school one attends or for how long but of a vast array of complex issues as well as, often, a lack of opportunities. And when those issues are repeated generation after generation, can you really feel anything but sorry for both those parents and their children? I wouldn’t like to write it, or them, off as a hopeless case. Even from very dire backgrounds, people have time and again turned things around for themselves and for their children. Just not everyone can. It is easy to judge from the comfort of a presumed moral high ground but it only perpetrates the problems and the divisions. We need more compassion.
The little boy who was labelled ‘naughty’ is a good friend of mine, he’s a lovely, sweet child but he does have specific ‘issues’ that are in the process of being identified and helped. His language is behind that of his peers and when he gets badly frustrated (and who can blame him really?), he has been to known to bite. Is he motivated by mischief, by badness as that word ‘naughty’ suggests? No. He is frustrated by the handicaps that he faces day in, day out. And he cannot even express how he feels. Worse still, ‘naughty’ can quickly become a label that follows a child throughout their entire life and, unfortunately, also leads easily to prejudice, exclusion, discrimination. We need more compassion.
Instead of judging people, instead of presuming, we need to think a little harder before we speak, we need to think a little more carefully about how we view our fellow man. Yes, I may like ‘nuances’ but I think they help us be better people and make the world a better place.
I resent being called a snob. I am a working class girl who loves my humble (and oft slighted) neighbourhood. I have no desire to be ‘better’. I avoid as much as possible any tendency to superiority or of thinking that I am somehow better than another. I have few airs and graces.
I was naturally upset at the accusation. I didn’t like the subtle inference that my motives and attitudes were being questioned.
I was very happy to find a certain utensil in a shop. I have never seen them for sale before; they are slightly old fashioned admittedly. A lot of people are heavily condemnatory of ‘gimmicks’ and write off most kitchen equipment as such. (Maybe it’s another incarnation of that ‘making do’ attitude). I say that if a tool can make your job or life easier or happier then go for it. To each their own and to each the right to choose what he wants to use.
I hate eating my pudding or cake with a large (dessert) spoon. It feels awkward, ungainly and something very akin to stuffing my face, rapidly. I like to use a teaspoon (if the consistency requires) or, preferably, a fork. It adds delicacy, refinement and pleasure to the savouring. However, there is an even better, more suitable utensil, designed for this express purpose.
I had found cake forks.
I bought two and proudly bore them home.
And there the ‘domestic’ started.
Apparently, eating one’s cake with a cake fork makes one a snob.
Other than the emotions that I have already described, I was bemused.
Is it really criminal to want a cake fork? Is it really snobbish to want a cake fork?
This was a utensil chosen purely for practical (a case of the ‘right’ tool for the job) and emotional reasons.
Despite the fact that this is a rather elegant more, I’m sure, and ‘elegance’ is something that is never usually associated with me, I like using a cake fork. Well, we all have our little idiosyncrasies. Surely I am allowed mine.
The ‘domestic’ will rumble for as long as those forks are in the house, which, as I’m having my way, will be a very long time.
Besides, the issue has taken a new turn in the last day or so. I have taken to referring to this much maligned utensil as my ‘runcible spoon’. Husband is convinced that a cake fork is not a spoon. However, he was less certain about whether it is ‘runcible’ or not. And thus one of literature’s greatest etymological debates of the last century left the hallowed halls of academic sages and is now just as fiercely fought over in this more modest milieu.
What exactly is the runcible spoon? Is it merely an adjective for a piece of cutlery or does it have greater meaning and use?
The husband decided to go with that well used allegation that is summoned forth whenever bigger, more complex words get bandied about: I was making it up. Then he had second thoughts. He told me to look it up. I told him that I knew perfectly well what I was talking about and as he didn’t, he was the one who had to look it up.
The worm had turned.
Or the cake fork.
In the end I took pity on the poor, uneducated spouse and equipped him with my beloved compendium of Edward Lear’s works. This hardback edition was my father’s, which says something about him, then it was found on a shelf by a member of the next generation for whom it became regular bedtime reading, which says something about them too. Husband actually knew some of the words of the Owl and the Pussycat, but not the essential part. He read the words of that romantic tale then explored further. He read, he stared, he questioned, he stared, he mused and then he laughed.
It seems that many things can be described by ‘runcible’, not just a spoon for eating mince and sliced quince. But for now, we will restrain our usage to just cutlery.
And our botanical lore will be forever enhanced by that fascinating species, manypeeplia upsidownia.
Everyone uses the term ‘third world’. You don’t really hear anything of the ‘first world’. Maybe they feel it’s a bit presumptuous or something.
If there’s a first and third world, then what happened to second?
It all seems like train tickets.
Oftentimes it seems that we adults (I find it strange to include myself in that category. However, I can assure you that I most definitely am not a ‘grown up’!) are valued only for what we produce economically, in terms of whether we work and the work we do. Many people place the emphasis on having a career and earning a high wage, judging both their own success and that of other people’s by that stick. I am not motivated by money and while I’d love to be more productive, I know that work is not only the thing in life.
I’m a drifter; you’ve probably guessed that. I’ve never really had the encouragement to make plans or to fix goals and my personality doesn’t really push me that way naturally either. I left school and got a job and then another. I worked when I could get work. It was something that the older generation struggled to understand too, that there wasn’t always work available. In my case, there wasn’t always the health to go to work with either. I’ve never been able to work full time since leaving school.
If you’re not raising children then the foregone conclusion is that you should be in full time employment. It’s something of a moral duty, a responsibility. Or else what are you? A loser? A lazy person? It’s got harder to find work and to keep a job, in recent years people are accepting that being in or out of work isn’t necessarily something that you can control, it isn’t in your hands. I’ve seen that attitude change since my husband lost his own job three years ago.
The last I worked I had a terrible experience. It was absolutely wretched and my health really, really suffered. I’m still too stressed about it to discuss it. I think possibly because somehow I also feel guilty. As if I could or should have done something differently or prevented how other people chose to act and to treat me. That was six years ago. I haven’t worked since.
At the moment, I have to accept that I am probably not able to work at all because of my health. I say this as though I could or should maybe make some kind of effort but the reality is that I’d struggle to go and wash my dishes right now and writing a post like this is hard work, a big effort and I need to proof my work very carefully because I make all types of stupid mistakes (leaving v living).
And because I haven’t worked regularly or for such a long time, there are gaps in my CV. Having gaps in your CV makes you highly undesirable. I know.
And I’d need part time work if I ever returned to work. And it’s the mums with whom I’m competing. And any boss would rather give someone like that the job, someone who has a valid reason for wanting part time hours.
That’s even before we start the conversation of health conditions. But probably after they’ve decided that they don’t want to employ someone who isn’t wearing a polyester trouser suit.
There are people around me who keep encouraging me to get a job. As if it was that easy. As if that would be the only way to have some value in their eyes. Is it fair to judge me only by standards to which I can never attain?
They have fixed ideas about what I should do, these experts on who I am and what my talents are.
They want me to become a translator. Just like that. Because I’m so good at languages.
I’m not good at languages. I don’t have a good foundation, I could perhaps blame the education at school or maybe it was the lengthy absences, I don’t know. I don’t have the hearing to be what they call a translator because in fact that they are referring to interpretation. Interpretation usually happens over the phone. I loathe the phone. Interpretation is instant, someone says something and you have to render it in perfect English. (Usually that way round, but sometimes vice versa). I like to take my time with words, to savour and select the best and most meaningful candidate. I am a fan of the thesaurus. I don’t have an extensive vocabulary either. I would also need an appropriate certificate to be able to go anywhere near a job like that. The same as you need a degree to shelf books. And training doesn’t come cheap.
But it’s more than that. It’s more than just the ears and the phone. It’s just not the right job for me, it’s too pressured and I’ve said already how I like to work with words, with translation. And you know what? I just wouldn’t have the confidence. And you know what? The people who are pushing me to do this work are the people who have torn that confidence to shreds over the years.
They don’t know me. They like the idea of me being good at languages because it would be a good job and being employed is a good thing. It’s about me succeeding at their impressions and standards of what is important and of who I am. Some of these are the people who still ridicule me for having taken a giant bilingual dictionary on holiday when I was eighteen. Why did I take that dictionary? My parents chose to go on holiday a few weeks before my A-level exams. I had to revise and I was using the language daily at the time. Does the really make me such a weird person after all?
I can’t be who they want me to be. So they will continue to perceive me as a failure. It is a vicious circle, a dark pit.