Wednesday, 27 April 2011

A Non-Epithalamium for What's-His-Name and So-and-So

Sky News trumpets the following assemblage of clichés: ‘With Prince William and Kate Middleton's big day just around the corner, New York City, like the rest of America, has Royal Wedding fever.’ Meanwhile according to the Guardian ‘America resists royal wedding fever’ this week, as opposed to last, when ‘the build-up in the United States to the royal wedding on 29 April has been every bit as frenzied and frenetic as it has in Britain. The details of Kate's sartorial choices have dominated fashion blogs and daytime TV shows. The wedding ceremony will be covered live on American television.’

You may be adjusting the netting and feathers your best hat and laying in pukable quantities of guacamole, tortilla chips and Kestrel, but me, I couldn’t care less. I can’t even retain the lass’s name or remember which prince she’s getting spliced to from one day to the next, let alone rejoice in their union. My telly will remain schtumm throughout Friday.

Many an overseas student has assumed that because I am English, I must therefore be an ardent football fan and a fanatical royalist. I am neither. I know little about football and care even less. I accept that some distinction is to be drawn between Manchester Rovers and Everton Thistle, Huddersfield Wanderers and Arsenal Wednesday, but I don’t know what it is or why anyone thinks it matters. Same sort of thing with the Royals. For my family, they were all southern nobs whose lives did not noticeably impinge on ours and for whom we felt little but benign indifference. ‘I don’t wish em any harm,’ my mum would say, ‘but I wun’t crost street to see any of em.’

Once, at Cambridge, I was eligible by virtue of being an exhibitioner* to be presented to the Duke of Edinburgh when he visited the college. (I had to google him just then to remember exactly what he is the Duke of.) I did not accept the invite, but sat instead with a few others in my college room, all of us observing the big event with proletarian scorn, not so much for Phil himself but for the antics of those college members invited or watching from the sidelines. Cambridge maintained at the time a hierarchy of pointless privileges concerning which rooms in college you might enter, what length and colour of academic gown you were entitled to wear and which of the college lawns you could walk on with / without gown of specified length and hue. On the day of the Royal Visit, the Chosen were convened on the Fellows’ Lawn, the only occasion for some of them when their feet might know of lawful tread thereon. The Elect wore lounge suits and gowns of authorised length and shade. Trestle tables were set out, covered with dazzling white cloths and bearing silver trays of glasses and bottles. College servants in black jackets and bow ties stood at either end of each one. I imagine some of the younger ones quietly smouldering with contempt for their lounge-suited coevals, and others, older, longer in the service, smiling at the rightness of the occasion, where each one present - from bow tie to lounge suit to gown up to crown - knew his place in the chain of command. Phil perambulated, hands clasped behind back, except when extended to be shaken. The non-invited ones of the college crowded at the concrete edge of the lawn with cameras, jostling and snapping. ‘That’s me in 1978, look, you can just see His Royal Highness’s nose poking out from my left ear. The lad whose hand he’s shaking lived next door to me.’

God bless and save us. I can’t be doing with any pretence that we are other than creatures of flesh with holes at each end, and desires and needs associated with these holes. This is not to deny differences or intelligence or virtue, or to suggest that we should not refine our pleasures and cultivate our responses, but this expectation that one should feel privileged to be invited to meet a fellow primate who has done nothing whatever to merit one’s respect strikes me as insane. We could have nice boozy parties without gowns and lounge suits and ties - desperately uncomfortable on a summer afternoon – and without being encouraged to imagine that shaking hands with your co-mammal Phil Windsor meant you had really rather got somewhere in life, surely the message of the entire event. I dunno. Maybe they all had a good time and it’s just me that’s a miserable sod.

Anyway, as I said, I will not be watching, cheering or weeping over the hitching of what’s-his-name and what’s-her-face, and I expect they’ll be spitting up in due course like so many others. I’m grateful for the day off now that I know we will be making up the lost hours and that the wedding is not going to cost me a day’s pay.


*An exhibition was a prize awarded to candidates who reached a certain level in the now defunct Oxbridge entrance exam. It was, I think, forty quid a year for two years, to be spent on books, except I probably spent it on College Sherry and Abbott ale. My only academic achievement, modest as it was. (The exhibition, I mean.)

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

For Christ's Sake

On the Depravity of Inverts

It has long been recognised by men of character that the invert, embittered by his lack both of progeny and the wherewithal to create any, bears nothing save the keenest of jealousy and hatred towards the sexually whole for their enjoyment of those blesséd and inseparable estates of matrimony, parenthood and normalcy that he has perversely elected to deny himself. Homosexuals, though called to celibacy and repentance, yet revel in their perversion, professing pride in their want of maturity, manliness and moral fibre. In their books and films and blogs, they are much given to portraying heterosexuals and Christians as clods and numpties, their purpose to sow thereby seeds of self-doubt in the bosom of the righteous and turn them over to sin, collagen cream and bench-presses. We applaud the masculine vigour of those who expose the sodomites’ wiles. Pastor Steven L Anderson was interviewed by a self-confessed invert, one so lost to shame as to deny to a preacher that he raped children; whereupon Pastor Anderson, girt about with righteousness, termed the man liar to his face and expressed hope for the interviewer's imminent demise from brain cancer. Thank God for devout Men of Pastor Anderson’s stripe, unafraid to stand up for hatred and the inviolacy of their Christian man-parts!

Let Christian men beware: experience teaches that there is no depth to which the invert will not stoop. Earlier this month, the Pink News, a ‘gay’ male organ, published an article extolling a new Mobile Telephone Application archly named ‘Kroozr’, which it envisaged would render less toilsome the sodomites’ task of propagating their perversion:

'A new iPhone app is threatening to knock Grindr off its perch as the number one app for gay men. Kroozr claims to use smartphone technology to determine whether men in the user’s vicinity are gay and can even filter out undesirables, such as those wearing sandals with socks. According to creator Peter Kelly, the app takes the guesswork out of gaydar, cuts down on valuable ‘sussing out’ time and weeds out weirdos.

'All users need to do is turn on their smartphone and wait for Kroozr to assess nearby men with its inbuilt Kinsey Scale,’ Mr Kelly said. “Kroozr is the new future of gay dating that will turn every trip to M&S, every queue for the cashpoint, every Boris bike trip into a hot party full of your type of guy. Just fill in the details of your ideal man, turn on the app and go about your business. When you get within eyeshot of a hot guy, you can check him out on Kroozr.”

This invitation to carnal impropriety reached the desk of Mr. Stephen Green of Christian Voice. ('I came to faith in God through seeing the ducks on a pond in People’s Park, Grimsby.') Mr. Green is a man of righteousness, of late unjustly pilloried for allegedly disciplining his wife and children with a ‘witch’s broom’. (Dare one ask of those who object to this, what should he have used?) From Mr. Green, the sodomite encounters deservèd check:

You really couldn’t make it up … Everything about the depravity, the sadness, the lack of normality, even of humanity, the promiscuity driven by the pathology of homosexuality is distilled into this story.

But now the Uranians have revealed that they had indeed 'made it up', and that the article in Pink News was published on the 1st of April, when it is traditional for those rendered gullible by their self-righteousness to be entertainingly duped by people with a sense of humour – and it is a fact that no spectacle moves the inverts to mirth more than that of a member of God’s elect skidding on the embrowned KY jelly of their ‘wit’. Notwithstanding, Mr. Green arose, wiped off the skid-marks, adjusted his attire and maintained his dignity as best he could:

Although I was initially taken in by Pink News's April Fool, that is only because it made so much sense to anyone with a tiny bit of knowledge of the 'gay scene' and of recent technological advances.

Let us pray.


Tuesday, 12 April 2011

L'Ami de la Maison

I’m in Greece this week, my sixth visit since January 2010. People ask if I am considering coming back to live here permanently. A fair chunk of my adult life so far was spent here, after all, so it’s very familiar. There is much that is stressful about living in Athens: the pollution, the oppressive summer heat, the omnipresent racket, the petty-minded and obstructive bureaucracy. There is also much to compensate: people value humour, friendship and family above work, and although Greeks rarely have anything appreciative to say about their countrymen, if you are part of someone’s in-group, they’ll die for you. Nearly everyone I know here is generous, quick-witted and funny, but then of course I don’t mix with the mean, the dull and the literal in England either. In my job at least, I was free for fifteen years of the dreadful treadmill that goes:

Thank-god-it’s-Friday / Shit-is-it-Monday-already? / Ah-well-that’s-Monday-out-the-way...

Here, there are lots of feasts and celebrations throughout the year for which special food is prepared, and in our teacher training sessions the table is always covered with little boxes of savoury pastries and moreish biscuits that the course participants bring in to share. The Saudi ladies in my classes in England sometimes bring cardamom-scented coffee and dates to pass round on Fridays, and it seems to me highly desirable and civilising to have special days with special foods and little interludes to bring people together to relax and talk. Pity I’m not Jewish – what an event to look forward to every Friday. The British are such miseries in this regard. ‘A yaw the tutor? Aw’ve said to tutors a mil-yon tawms students en’t supposed to eat in classrooms and use the graduate kitchen. Thy kin always go to the cafeteria.’

Yeah, but that en’t the syme, izzit, rye-leigh? The point is what you bring to hand round, the space you create and the people you invite to share it for a while. Fuck the cafeteria.

Ok, so am I considering returning to Hellas for good? No, I’m not, not any more.

Last Saturday I was lugging my suitcase and laptop down onto the tube at Kings Cross and stopped at a ticket barrier to ask the young Afro-Caribbean attendant the best way to Paddington. The ticket barrier kept opening and shutting as I dithered, clamping onto my suitcase, jacket and bag like some moronic, hungry mutt. ‘Come frue, darling,’ the girl said, ‘an’ I’ll show you where to go.’ I was struck by her kindness, and the phrase ‘come frue, darling’ kept sounding in my head all morning like a sweet little peal of bells. People in England are so patient in comparison with the Greeks, I thought. A helpful official in Greece is as rare as piggy-bank poop. He is at work, he is there under sufferance, and you must never forget that. He might be paid to assist you, but I don’t suggest you remind him. A group of French tourists on the bus to Sounion discovered they had boarded the wrong vehicle and the conductor threw a fit, as if he had been personally affronted. A Greek lady remonstrated with him, but was hollered at to mind her own business. The French party alighted at the next stop, with exaggerated bows and waves and mock-cheery cries of ‘merci, monsieur!’ while the conductor huffed and pshawed at them. British, that sort of thing, they’d have set up a committee.

Late one Friday night in March I climbed into a taxi at the Fix metro station in Athens and told the driver to take me to Palio Faliro. The driver let rip with a furious tirade that at first I took to be directed at me. Had I got into his taxi when a colleague was in the queue ahead of him? (Do not do this.) Had I slammed the door too hard? (This is never appreciated.) The diatribe continue as we bombed down the dual carriageway to the coast, but I had failed the number one listening task, ‘identify the topic’ and I had no idea what the bloke was on about. At one point he turned to me with the appeal ‘etsi den einai?’ ‘isn’t that so?’ and I realised I had once again forgotten that in Greece, you persuade your interlocutor of the sincerity of your feelings by acting them out as you relate an anecdote. Some political event had pissed my driver off, and he was hoping to have me share his indignation. He dropped me off by the blessèd, cool, sighing night-time sea and his farewell was affable. As I wandered up the road to the friend’s where I stay, I felt gloomy. Twenty five years after I first came to Greece, I had not managed to decode A WORD of the taxi man’s verbal avalanche. At dinner, the young man of the house shrugged and said the bloke probably had a strong regional accent, don’t worry about it. This may well have been true, but I felt excluded even so. I decided I could take some comfort in the fact that what little I did say during the driver's diatribe did not give him pause to reflect that he was haranguing a foreigner - but then I had to acknowledge that the bugger wasn't listening anyway.

I tend to think of the Greeks as one huge, argumentative family. This may be a simplistic outsider's view, but it seems to me that people here treat everyone, known or stranger, with a mixture of familiarity and contempt that in Britain we reserve only for close relatives. I'm English and it has taken me a long time to accept the fact, because for years I thought English was what I absolutely did not want to be. That was only because I have a strong tendency to fall for the old psychological trick of the grass being greener elsewhere. I sometimes felt in my fifteen years in Greece rather as a nun might feel at a rugby club dinner, and regretted my reluctance to open up to people. Now after a visit, I am increasingly happy to return to the muted tones of England. I don't know my neighbours' names there, hardly ever see any of them anyway, and that's OK with me. I find this polite indifference perfectly amenable, and quite restful after ten cheek-by-jowl days in Athens. I'm not part of this, really, and will always be just an ami de maison who likes to visit.

Promenade at Palio Faliro

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

I Have Fretated A Plog Boast

It’s testing time again and I have before me a pile of reports written by Group C. I learned too late that the reports would be based on data provided by bar charts and pie diagrams – we had been practising evaluations of places and proposals up to the week before the announcement that these would not form any part of the test; bloody Jungle Telegraph again instead of hard information. So last week I crammed in some bar charts and graphs, and we spent the whole of last Friday cobbling together reports based on the damn things. Graphs, bar charts and the like are real weenie-shrinkers, if you ask me. Numbers and I do not get on, and I find their graphic representations about as interesting as bus timetables. Group C were (was?) pissed off and complained that they had had insufficient preparation for the test. In fact, they had twenty-four hours on reports of various kinds, and as university students, they ought to have been able to shift gears smoothly enough, but they are not Group C (of three) for no reason. I’ve been asked to mark generously…

Mabruka has a misspelled introduction and a misspelled conclusion separated by three inches of blank paper. Naturally, neither introduction nor conclusion relate to anything. Well, there’s nothing there to relate them to, obviously, so do I give her points for some kind of logic?

Karim has an introduction:

Sabjecat: International Students.

As requested I have fretated a report on facin for international student of the Academic English course.

An angelic kid called Mustafa, he of the Fayum portrait eyes and luscious lips, provides us with this indispensable snippet of information:

The most propontlon of nationalities is majortly is Saud, follweed by Chines big increase.

Actually, I do understand what these two are saying, mostly: ‘to fretate a report’ is the collocation ‘to prepare a report', half-remembered. What ‘facin’ is I do not know, and it isn’t what you think it is, either. Anyway, I can award points here for some, well, intelligible garbling. I am going to have to spend a bit of time puzzling over this contribution from Hamza, though:

In a. 1. there were a slightly decrease in some number of students such as pronunciation colur red, vocabulary conversation, academic writing about 2% not very slightly but conversation from 1 to 7 coulour red high increase and followed vocabulary and very slightly from 0 to 1 by colur red.

The ‘pai shart’, you may have gathered, is colour coded. It shows the numbers and nationalities of students following the university's 'Academic English Curse', in Hassan's words.

So there we are. This class is a sort of academic ‘excused boots’ group, meaning they are not expected to achieve output anywhere near output time and so may bumble along, flopping out this bott-rot indefinitely. I have them for another five weeks, after which I will probably have to admit defeat and request a transfer.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Smokers' Section


I drink a fair bit but I do not smoke. This is not because I object to smoking, merely that I have never derived any pleasure from the practice. I have tried. When at fifteen I gave the world my Mr Toad in A.A.Milne's 'Toad of Toad Hall', I was required to smoke a cigar, a big fat Havana job that my dad had nicked from his boss's office. (Which dates me - how many schools would allow a fifteen year old to smoke on stage these days? What-kind-of-message-would-that-be-sending- out, etc., etc.) I didn't get to light it until the dress rehearsal, mind, and I had been looking forward to this: it was fascinatingly phallic, and its woody, spicy aroma, unlit, was to me the essence of masculine privilege and contentment. I imagined that smoking it would be like filling the mouth with a caramel-coloured, scotch, sandal and vanilla scented cream. Phallus, cream , masculine contentment... I had high expectations.

Booze delights first the eye and then the nose, and imbibing alcohol creates the cerebrocortical equivalent of having one's balls fondled. Smoking, for me, was a big let-down. My first on-stage puff of vanilla cigar smoke was OK, but I did not realise that it would get stronger after it had been stubbed out, and in subsequent performances of 'Turd of Turd Hall' as we had inevitably dubbed the bloody piece, I had to ditch the thing as it induced coughing fits not sorting with Toad's dégagé air, but entirely to be expected from a fifteen year-old boy piddling about with a cigar for the first time.

So I don't smoke. I have tried since those teenage days, but without ever getting the point, which is a bloody good job when you consider how expensive it would be to smoke and drink at the rate I'd smoke and drink if I enjoyed both practices equally.

I'd like to ask smokers what the pleasure of smoking is. I do not question that there is one, but it is denied me. Can you set it out as I set out above the pleasure I get from drinking?


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