Friday, 26 December 2014

He came down to Earth from Heaven...

Monday, 22 December 2014

Season's Greetings


This is Stella Splendens in Monte from the Llibre Vermell de Montserrat. Not specifically a Christmas song, but sounds as if it ought to be.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Bona Tidings of Dowry Joy

This is a post from a couple of years ago, one that was pretty much ignored, so I'm dishing it up again. I think it's a pity we've lost Polari, and this is my small effort to revive interest it. Besides, I can't think of anything else to bloody write. 

I read last week about a new Gay Bible. They obviously don't realise it's already been done, and better. Varda, I bring you bona tidings of dowry joy.

Herd-homies varda'd flocks by night,
All seated on the ground,
The angel of the Dutchess trolled,
And Gloria sparkled round.

Bencoves and heartfaces, for the quarter Sunday in Advent, our text is from the first chapter of the Gospel of Matilda, verses 18 to 25, from yer actual Polari Bible - mince over there in a bit and have a varda. Meanwhile, let us put aside for a bijou mo the swiftly-trolling fakements of this world (the gildy clobber, the prezzies, the bevvy and the bona manjarries to come) and get us sat for a serious cackle. We varda here that Gloria Her Absolute Very Self Herself swep' into the world, becoming carnish like other homies, only better: never cottaged, never had the trade round, never took it up the chocolate starfish or even had a J. Arthur so far as we know from the Bona Glossy. She jarried with the landladies and tax-collectresses, and trolled all over, healing the nanti varda and the nanti wallop, and casting out the wicked fairies. Then - and here is the Fantabulosa Gossip - she snuffed it for all the  kertervers* of homie-kind, however manky, and on the third journo, rose from the stiff. Well, after all that, natch, She’s absolutely in bits, bless Her - three to be exact: The Auntie, The Homie Charver and The Fantabulosa Fairy. We’re getting ahead of ourselves here, cos all this is part of the Holy Cackle Fart story, but this way you get a through picture and can see it all makes perfect sense.   

(*Rom 6:23 - 'For the parkering ninty of kertever is death' - but not necessarily!) 

The Gossip of Matilda

18 Now the birth of Josie Crystal was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Josephine, before they trolled together, she was found up the duff of the Fantabulosa Fairy. 
19 Then Josephine her homie affair, being a just homie, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. 
20 But while she thought on these fakements, varda, the fairy of the Duchess appeared unto her in a dream, cackling, Josephine, thou homie chavvie of Davina, fear not to lell unto thee Mary thy palone affair: for that which is conceived in her is of the Fantabulosa Fairy. 
21 And she shall bring forth a homie chavvie, and thou shalt screech his name Josie: for she shall save his homies and palones from their kertervers. 

22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was cackled of the Duchess by the prophet, cackling, 
23 varda, a nanti charver shall be up the duff, and shall bring forth a homie chavvie, and they shall screech his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, Gloria with us. 
24 Then Josephine being raised from letty did as the fairy of the Duchess had bidden her, and lelled unto her his palone affair: 
25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn homie chavvie: and she screeched his name Josie. 

OK, now let's remember the prezzies, the bevvy and bona manjarries (the mustard-infused artichoke hearts in Riesling, the traditional hot-smoked organic Cornish Pasties, the limited-edition kimchee Pringles) and how much the Homie Chavvy, Sparkle of the World, sets you back every bloody December.

You might like to troll over here and have a varda, an all. 


Friday, 12 December 2014

Cambridge and Stuff

That’s it for December. No more teaching now until January, and even then, not much. These last three months have been very thin, and a baffling directive from Human Resources made us fear that times ahead might be even thinner. Part-time hourly paid lecturers, we were told, would henceforth be limited to 550 hours per academic year. In a department that runs a specified number of modules per year this might be workable, but at the Little CHEF (Centre for Hammering English into Foreigners) there is no such predictability: famine alternates with feast, and an unexpected glut of students in a normally quiet time could use up many of the hours of the most experienced teachers, leaving the busier times of year to rookies. 

‘You know that 550 hours thing?’ the Centre Director asked me yesterday. ’It’s bollocks.’ (We are teachers of English, hence the elevated discourse.) So we are not limited to 550 hours after all, but who knows? We might even get fewer than that if there are no bloody students. 


We said goodbye last week to our small group of Brazilians, one of the nicest groups I have ever taught. They were interested in everything and very knowledgeable, especially about art and architecture. I did some Shakespeare with them and a session on theories of intercultural communication, which was a great improvement on the usual trudge through some upper-intermediate EFL coursebook. While we were preparing to listen to a lecture about introversion and extroversion, I found that one of them had studied the Briggs-Myers type indicator assessment, and was able to share her knowledge with the group. (Luana studies animation and told me that the types are used in creating characters for cartoons and video games.) I have a presentation about Cambridge that I trot out to groups that are about to take a trip. I chuck in a short diversion about Henry VIII and his string of wives, and bugger me if they didn’t actually know already about Big Harry’s headaches over Catherine of Aragon, Ann Boleyn and the Pope. All this is unprecedented. When we got to Cambridge, their delighted reactions to King’s Chapel, Trinity Great Court, the Wren Library and Kettle’s Yard made me feel as chuffed as if I had built them all myself.  

‘It’s not like a university,’ Carlos said, surveying Trinity Great Court in the winter sunshine. Now to me, Cambridge is the very essence of University, and the piles of concrete shoe-boxes most students attend worldwide are what seem unreal. I don’t think I realised until that moment how privileged I was. Am.

I could happily live at Kettle’s Yard. It’s an art gallery and house that was the home of art collectors Jim and Helen Ede. Its feel is much more house than gallery, and when I used to drag Italian teenagers there in the early eighties, it often left them severely underwhelmed. ‘Ma è una casa, they’d shrug, their habitual mode being offended and slightly incredulous shrugging. So it’s always nice to take appreciative adults there, and our Brazilians were certainly impressed. One of the elderly attendants (is that what you call them?) explained to us the visual connections between a Miró painting, the shadows on the wall beneath it and a lemon on a pewter dish sitting on an adjacent table. I'd need to hear it all again to get it, but well, you live and learn.

Joan Miró 'Tic Tic' (1927)
Lemon on a pewter dish. It is a reference to the yellow blob in the bottom right corner
 of the Miró - maybe a reference to Matisse? or maybe not.

I could sit here for at least quarter of an hour.

The Edes obviously never had cats.
 A memory of Cambridge, possibly distorted.

A colleague in Cambridge invited me to lunch one icy Sunday circa 1988. Kat always had something about her of the bohemian intellectual and I had none of that air and felt a bit… what?... ordinary in her presence. If I had people to dinner, I did all the cooking in advance and made sure guests would never see a dirty pan or used utensil. Kat was at the sink in her pinny peeling spuds when I arrived, and this struck me as almost daring. Now it seems most peculiar that I should have seen my preference for stage managing a meal as a sign of my social and intellectual inadequacy, but then I did, and there you are.  Kat’s daughter was intimidatingly patrician in manner, with a confident demeanour and impeccable RP diction. Her son was drop-dead gorgeous, a year under-age and straight anyway, so forget it. At lunch there was from the family gleeful and malicious calumniating of Kat’s divorced husband, whom the children called by his first name, and so that I could join in, more such trashing of our boss, who was certifiably nuts.  

After lunch, Kat decided she would introduce me to Lady Arabella Whotsitte-Thynge at her commune. (No, that wasn’t her real name.) So we drove to Grange Road and parked outside a large Victorian house hidden behind a tall hedge. The door bore the legend:


Inside, the house was dilapidated and patinated with age. I needed a pee and Kat showed me the nearest bathroom, the bath piebald with the worn enamel.  We went into a drawing room, a penumbral realm where six or seven men and women of considerable seniority were seated in a collection of decrepit armchairs and deck chairs on either side of a tree trunk that protruded some twelve feet into the room from the fireplace, where it was slowly being consumed. Most of these people lived here, aged bohemians, sharing whatever they had. A tall woman in a boiler suit rose, gave the tree trunk a hefty shove and after the sparks ascended and died, greeted us.  This was Lady Arabella Whotsitte-Thynge. She was a veteran of pretty much every 20th century conflict in which there had been a right-wing faction to fight against. As a younger woman, as soon as she heard of bother somewhere, she’d pack a boiler suit and get out there. I was introduced to Sandor, a former ballet dancer from Hungary, whom Kat called ‘the oldest gay in Cambridge’. An old Chinese woman had brought with her a girl from the People’s Republic who must have been planning to study at the university. In those days, people from the PRC were usually easy to distinguish from students from Taiwan. The Taiwanese would be glammed up to the hilt while the PRCs were mostly like this young woman: tortoiseshell hair slides, white lace-trimmed blouse, sage-green woolen cardy and tartan skirt, like a British school-girl from the fifties. The older woman refused to speak to her in Chinese, forcing her to use what little English she had. Of what did they discourse, these venerable artists and intellectuals? Sandor told us how best to prepare a mug of Nescafe. Apparently you must add the hot water gradually, stirring all the while. 'You schould not drrrrown zer koffee.'

‘Won’t you have some food?’ Lady Arabella asked me sadly. There was a hostess trolley in which sat grey beef, boiled potatoes and boiled runner beans, the source of the school dinner smell that hung in the room below the aroma of burning wood. I was glad I had eaten and could refuse, but this was an ungrateful reaction to such open-handedness. The sign on the door was an open invitation to anyone who managed to find the house, and any stranger who accepted it would be fed. It's true that the homeless and hungry would be unlikely to stumble into this green suburb of hedge-hidden mansions, but even so.

Probably not Lady Arabella's place, but close.
There’s no point to this anecdote, no issue. It just came back to me last month on our day in Cambridge, somehow all of a piece with its mixture of dilapidation and grandeur, the soggy fallen leaves and cold, misty dusk. And the idea of old age in a commune appeals to me, so long as we don’t have piebald baths and boiled veg for Sunday lunch.     

Approaching King's Bridge. This is how you learn to love freezing fog.


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