Sunday, 26 February 2012

Warning - contains the word 'arse'

I've always been interested in words. So much so that, a few years ago, whenever I encountered a new word, I enquired as to its meaning, which I then carefully wrote down in a note book next to the word itself. I carried on doing this for some considerable time, and eventually told a friend what I had done. This friend pointed out that what I had created was a dictionary, and said it'd already been done.

Language is a fascinating thing; I love the way my own language has developed over the centuries, from Anglo Saxon, through Norman French additions to Middle and then modern English. It is the language of Beowulf and Chaucer; of Shakespeare and Betjeman; and of your humble blognator. I'm afraid I do have a bit of a thing about using language properly, albeit I accept that it is constantly evolving. And it does amuse me when people mess things up. Take proverbs, for example. Last week on the radio, I heard the presenter describe something as 'a pain in the proverbial'. I assume she wanted to say 'a pain in the backside' or, more vulgarly, 'a pain in the arse'. Now, this confused me. During the course of my life I've encountered a good many proverbs. 'A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush' and 'an apple a day keeps the doctor away', to name but two. But I have racked my brains to recall any proverb that contains the word 'arse'. 'A friend in need is a pain in the arse'? No. 'Too many cooks spoil the arse'? No in italics. Perhaps what the presenter should really have said was 'a pain in the metaphorical arse,' where the arse symbolically represents the object or person that is causing the problem. Equally, she could have indicated that the given something was 'Figuratively speaking, a pain in the arse.'

Metaphors and similes are figures of speech that seem to cause more than a few problems. There is a tendancy to confuse the two. But I can explain the difference very clearly, here and now, with a couple of examples. 'You are a pain in the arse' (metaphor); 'You're like a pain in the arse' (simile). How hard is that? However, my own view is that it is only proper to describe something as 'a pain in the arse' when it is, in a literal sense, a pain in the arse. But it is, perhaps, unfair of me to restrict my fellow human beings to the use of the phrase only when gripped by chronic piles, or some terible fistula. So I am not going to place upon them any such restriction. Instead, being of a generous disposition, I shall explain the difference between the literal and the figurative. It pains me to hear someone say 'I literally laughed my arse off,' when such a feat is, of course, impossible. When I hear it I always have the urge to say, 'but I see you've had it stitched back on again.' If they must use this particular part of the anatomy to indicate the effect upon them of a witty remark, then do not use 'literally', which literally means 'word for word'. Instead, it would be more proper to say, 'I laughed so much that it felt like my arse would fall off'. Or maybe even, 'Were it possible for my arse to detatch itself from the rest of my body in response to the paroxysms of laughter that this particular incident generated, I feel almost certain that it would have done so.'

So there you have it. Just be careful that you don't confuse any of my arse-related ramblings with Seigneurie d'Arse, which I'm told is a nice little wine from the Fitou region.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Pieless in Lewes

Every now and again it's good to get out and do something. So on Saturday Mrs H and I decided to go for a wander round Lewes, the county town, and have lunch in one of the many eateries that are dotted along the high street.

I like Lewes, but there's something about the place that I can't quite put my finger on. The late Keith Waterhouse said that Brighton 'looks like a town that is helping the police with its enquiries.' But Lewes, on the other hand, looks like a town that is best mates with the Chief Constable, and tells you that you'd do well to remember it, as you both try to nab the last parking space behind Waitrose. Most of its inhabitants look quite well heeled and have that air of self-assurance that I've never been able to carry off. Even the down and outs are posh. A ruddy-faced street drinker strummed a guitar as he sweetly sang 'you killed ma wee brother ya bastard' or something very like it to passers-by; in any lesser town the same words would have been screamed out in the middle of the night outside a block of flats, and without the benefit of a classical twelve string. But I digress.

Mrs H and I negotiated the doors of our chosen eatery and were greeted by a shaven-headed whirling dervish, masquerading as a waiter, who handed us a couple of menus and promised to seat us soon. Initially, the menus could not be read as our glasses had steamed up. But we needn't have worried. The 'soon' turned out to be a few minutes as the dervish multitasked his way round the restaurant, clearing tables, laying tables, collecting monies and delivering meals. But eventually we were deposited at a table for two in the middle of the restaurant and left to our own devices to study the menu now that the fog had cleared from our spectacles.Eventually Mrs H settled upon a little smoked cod and haddock dish with chunky chips, whilst I decided to tackle the steak and kidney pie. Off went the dervish to fulfil the order, which gave us the leisure to examine our fellow diners. Behind us was a husband and wife with two children; one a girl around three years old, and her little brother, probably no more than nine months old. They had clearly been waiting some time for their food, as the girl was in the process of demolishing two slices of bread, which she laboriously buttered with a knife that was almost as big as herself. And, after every mouthful of bread, the child wept copious tears for no readily apparent reason. Her little brother, in contrast, was rather quiet and solemn, dressed as he was like a mini country gentleman, with a tiny tattersall shirt and a grey waistcoat. I expected to see a gold dummy on a watch chain tucked into his waistcoat pocket, but disappointingly this was absent.

After waiting for more than half an hour for our food, I enquired of the dervish as to its whereabouts. Off he sped, and returned five minutes later with the news that my pie had been dropped on the kitchen floor just prior to its delivery to our table. This piece of information I found very hard to believe, for the following reason. I noticed that someone in the kitchen would ring a tiny bell when food was ready to be collected. One of the junior dervishes would then dash into the kitchen, emerging with said food. And, whilst I had heard many tiny tinkles during the preceding few minutes, I had not heard the tumultous crash of a steak and kidney pie, encased in a ceramic pie dish, hitting the kitchen floor. I suspected that they had simply forgotten us and our order, and had concocted the dropped pie story to cover their tracks. Deciding not to cause a fuss, I let it pass, and settled down to my dish of complimentary olives to await pie number two.

A few minutes later, a young female under-dervish arrived.

'I'm really sorry, ladies,' she said. 'I mean, sir and lady,' she added, having noticed that I was, in fact, a man.

'It's the hair, isn't it?' I said.

She blanked this rejoinder. 'I'm really sorry, but it was me who dropped your pie.' I gave her a half smile in an effort to show that I felt her discomfort. They had obviously drawn straws in the kitchen, and this young lady, having picked the short one, had been selected to confirm the story concocted by the senior dervish.

'Your food will be here in a couple of minutes.'

Our food arrived in a couple of minutes and, I have to say, it was well worth the wait. But what was even better than the food was the middle aged, middle class couple on the next table, who were clearly having a blazing row about where they were going to spend their next holiday. However, it was conducted in a very quiet and civilised manner, like two people who barely knew each other politely conversing about the weather. She wanted to go to Aspen in Colorado. He wanted to go to Europe. What have you got against Aspen, she asked. The length of the journey, he said. You didn't think Bermuda was too far away when you wanted to go there, did you, she asked. Well, then we'll go to Aspen, he said. I really want to go to Aspen. What's the snow like at this time of year, he asked. I have no idea, she said...

We paid the bill and departed before things turned really nasty and they started dipping their fingers in the carafe and flicking water over each other.

Incidentally, I can thoroughly recommend the restaurant to you. Sorry, did I not tell you what it was called? Oh dear...