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The snow leopard and the journalist

snow-leopard2

Now listen. Once upon a time there was a snow leopard and he lived far away in the majestic beauty of the Himalayas with all their snowy peaks and rushing waters. He was a solitary soul. He ate by himself, slept by himself and walked by himself. He wasn’t what you’d call a party animal.

But, oh was he beautiful and mysterious. His coat was as thick as a shag pile rug and as soft as a cardigan. And his tail was like a plumy rope. And he padded through the secret places of his kingdom without a care.

Everybody wanted to know him. ‘What does he do?’ They asked. ‘We want to know all about him.’ Photographers camped in leaky hide-outs for months to get a single, clear shot, and TV documentary makers roamed the snowy peaks and whispered in awe about his beauty and strength. But they only caught useless glimpses of him, and they never saw him do anything.

And all the expensive executives in all the newspapers and TV channels wailed and rended their Vivienne Westwood tweed suits in despair. Because, after all, prime time footage of a snow leopard doing something would boost the ratings, like, well, significantly.

And there was at this time, a desperate struggling journalist, who thought to himself, ‘How hard can it be to get an interview with a snow leopard? Does he have a publicist? Or an agent? Or a security code on his front door? No. He does not even have a front door. I’ll show those documentary makers.’

And so the cunning man dressed up in a snow leopard suit and set off with his notebook and his pen and a teeny tiny tape recorder. And he travelled many, many miles and at last came to a still pool in the foothills of the Himalayas where the snow leopard was looking at his reflection, and twitching his plumy tail.

And the journalist sat down beside him and asked the snow leopard all sorts of questions about his favourite music and what he liked to eat for breakfast, and other such questions that showbiz reporters use to mock the majesty of kings.

And the snow leopard, who was a polite animal, answered them. And then he laid a weighty silken paw on the journalist’s back. ‘You have the loveliest fur,’ said the snow leopard.

‘Thanks,’ squeaked the journalist. Because, really, that paw was heavy.

‘And the plumiest tail. Plumier, even, than mine.’

‘Nice of you to say so.’

‘I’ve been a bit lonely, lately,’ said the snow leopard. ‘Marry me, and let us shimmer through the undergrowth together. I will show you how to tease a TV crew, and demoralise a documentary maker. And we will have such fun.’

‘Um,’ said the journalist. And he took off his fake, snow leopard head. ‘I have something to tell you.’

And the snow leopard looked at the journalist’s sweaty face (it had been very hot in the suit) and at his notebook and his biro and his teeny tiny tape recorder, and then he ate him.

Because that’s what snow leopards do.

 

Picture courtesy of http://pixabay.com/static/uploads/photo/2015/02/02/05/31/snow-leopard-620518_640.jpg via Creative Commons

Job interview? Just sing it and wing it

A bloke in charge of advertising

A bloke in charge of advertising

I have just been to the best job interview ever. Which is good, because I have had some real stinkers.

A job interview is not the kind of thing that makes you want to leap out of bed in the morning. It’s not like you’re going to be having lunch with George Clooney at the Savoy and, if you hit if off over the Poire Belle Helene, he’ll be asking you to write his next movie.

No. Job interviews, generally speaking, are a weekend spent with dentist in-laws, being examined on philosophy and arse-licking, condensed into an hour.

The weirdest job interview I’ve ever had? That would be the one in the advertising department of a local radio station. It didn’t go too badly. At first. I impressed the head of advertising with my choice of music for some processed cheese (Air on a Cheese String), but then he asked me, quite seriously, what famous actor I would choose to play him in a film. And what film it would be. What kind of question is that??? My mind, poor at the best of times in these situations, went completely blank. I stared at the guy, who was small, pinkly balding and perspiring freely,  and then, in a splurge of sycophancy, I mumbled, ‘Oh, that would have to be Samuel L Jackson, of course, because he’s the coolest man on the planet.’

A cool dude

A cool dude

‘And the film? he pressed, smirking slightly.

‘Er, oh…’ and then I blurted, ‘Babe the sheep pig, because he looks like you.’

Most crushing job interview? That would be one I had in the seventies, when no one had really yet got to grips with equality. It was for the job of junior reporter on a weekly paper, and it all went swimmingly until, at the end, the editor said, ‘Well, it’s a choice between you and a young man.  So, of course, I’m going to give him the job.’ Yes, he really said that. Mind you, he also said he’d call me back in six months, and he did. So, fair play. (ish)

Most time-consuming and ridiculous interview? That would be for a multi national bank. Not in the money department, you understand, but as editor of a staff newspaper. When I got notification of the interview, a friend said to me, ‘They’ll ask you what you like doing in your spare time.’

‘Oh, that’s easy,’ I replied. ‘Lying in bed and eating chocolates.’

‘Nooo!’ said friend. ‘You can’t say that.’

‘Why not? They’ll think I’m being friendly and humorous.’

‘Banks don’t have a sense of humour,’ counselled the friend. ‘Say, that whatever time you get home, you like to go out for a run. Otherwise they’ll think you’re sluggish and hopeless.’

‘Eh?’

And it came to pass that, during the interview, I was given several bizarre tests cunningly designed to reveal the inner me (including building the Forth Road Bridge out of plastic straws). Efficient people with clipboards watched my every move, and would ask at intervals, ‘How do you like to unwind after a day at work?’ (Oh, I have to go for a run. It’s absolutely my favourite thing). Or, ‘What’s your favourite pastime?’ (Running, of course, or possibly going to the gym. You can’t beat an hour or two on the treadmill – I mean, it did wonders for Oscar Wilde); or rank, in order of preference, your ideal method of relaxation: a, watching TV; b, lying in bed; c, eating chocolates; d, going for a five-mile run over muddy terrain in the dark (Yes, you guessed it.)

And, get this: I got offered the job. I didn’t take it though. It was too much like hard work.

Which brings me to my latest interview. This was for a job as an adult education tutor for my local county council. Zero hours contract, mind, and no cast iron guarantee of any work, but it was worth a go. So I jumped through most of the hoops online, and was called to interview last Tuesday at a former stately home in the depths of the lush spring countryside. They (whoever they were) started building the house about 900 years ago out of the glowing local stone, and the Victorians put an end to it with fancy bits of brick. It had gothic doorways, and crumbling turrets and lush untidy lawns with a stand of beehives at a safe distance. It was the kind of place that made you want to take a cup of tea out onto the terrace and conjure up a best selling romance, while the cook and butler got busy with the bacon and eggs. (Enough pointless description, ed).

Anyway, there I was with three other hopefuls, who teach music, drama and relaxation therapy. We all had to give a 15-minute lesson. The music teacher was first. She had all of us, including the county council types, up on our feet singing What shall we do with the drunken sailor and Oh, sinner man. She gave us tambourines and scrapy sticks and divided us up to so we could do part-singing. And it was truly joyful. (And mostly in tune.) Then it was the drama teacher, who emptied a bag full of masks on the table (I got the one labelled ‘confused’) and showed us how to mime. (Move over, Rowan Atkinson). My 15 minutes on how to write natural-sounding dialogue was a bit quiet after all that but, because I’d also had instruction on how to meditate from the other teacher, my nerves had flown away. I was having A Good Time. And guess what? I got the job! (And I’m hoping that the other three were taken on too, because they were really good.)

My classes are being time-tabled, and the leaflets are blowing out over the land. All I have to do now, is get some students. Music and mime, anybody?

Picture of Samuel L Jackson: commons.wikimedia.org

Picture of Babe the Sheep pig: simple.wikipedia.org

China, 4: Tea and toast

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Continuing my 1985 diary of my trip to China. Here, I get a taxi and have some chocolate biscuits.

Walking out of that door into the main departure area was like a blow in the face. Behind me, plush calm, in front, dusty heaving chaos. Everyone in thick padded coats and peaked hats and luggage piled everywhere. I had given up all hope of seeing Cheryl at the airport. My plane times had changed so much. I had difficulty in working out how long the trip had taken me, never mind how I was going to get to the languages institute where she and Elspeth were students.

I practically dropped the gin, when I saw her at the departure gate.

‘Where the bloody hell have you been?’ she said. (She’s from Yorkshire, so that’s quite a warm welcome, especially since she’d been waiting there, on and off, for three days.)

‘I’ve got gin,’ I replied, as we gave each other a hug.

She had got hold of a tame taxi driver who, when we got outside, had disappeared. After about 20 minutes he returned in a sky blue job similar to a 1950s Morris Oxford, which clanked up to the airport entrance. This covered the 15 miles to Beijing at a pace that would have put a funeral cortege to shame. Still, we were glad even of that when half way there it stopped dead. We were just considering the prospect of a bracing walk when the driver managed to start it again. ‘Thank God,’ said Cheryl with some feeling.

Peking was dark, foggy, cold and the buildings stretched on for miles. Finally we drew up at some gates that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a remake of the Hound of the Baskervilles. The taxi wasn’t going any further. This was the institute compound. Large grey blocks. Thick wadding curtains covered every doorway. Even the tree trunks were wrapped in wadding. The air smelt of cabbage, but it was clean and cold and crisp.

The guy who designed the institute had obviously had a lot of concrete and not much imagination; it was just a square box really, separated into small square rooms with a lavvy at the end of each floor. The place was home to students from all over the world. One Jamaican lad I met said to me, ‘Most other guys put up pictures of girls in their rooms. I’ve got a poster of Caribbean vegetables. It’s so beautiful. I just look at it every night and dream of home cooking.’ He looked at me hopefully. ‘You didn’t bring any mangos, did you?’

Cheryl and Elspeth’s room, though, was quite cosy with bits of material and rather kitsch posters of the great Chinese leaders stapled all over the walls.

‘Trouble is,’ said Elspeth, when I complimented them. ‘Everybody else thinks it’s cosy too; it gets quite crowded at times.’

I put my backpack down and presented the girls with my other, heavier bag. ‘There you go, courtesy of the food hall at Marks and Sparks.’ They zip it open and fall like starving vultures on the goodies that spill out. Marmite, chocolate, camembert, smoked cheese, apples, chocolate digestives and chocolate; I had just filled my trolley with everything I could think of that you might not get in China. And it was practically vaporised. A German guy and a bloke from Denmark bagged the Bavarian cheddar with little grunts of delight. The gin made a very satisfactory glugging sound when it was opened. And, get this, I had remembered tonic water, and a lemon. Brownie points galore for me. One of the lads tugged out a cardboard box. ‘What is this?’

‘Tea bags,’ I said.

‘You brought tea, to China?’ he said.

‘Tea bags,’ I replied. ‘You know, for a proper cup of tea. With milk.’

They began to laugh. ‘You English,’ said one. ‘What would you do without tea?’

‘Tea and toast and Marmite,’ said Elspeth, dreamily. ‘Bloody marvellous.’

Mr Muscle and the poisoned cake

knight

This is a story for Tara, who asked to hear about the adventures of Mr Muscle, and so now I will tell you the story of him and his high deeds. Far, far away and long ago Mr Muscle was famed for his bright soul and his clean mind. He rode a plumy white horse and ventured into the lands ruled by a Dirty Durty Knight. Everywhere he went he sang like a meadow pipit and all the maids would come out to sigh over his love spots, and all the thrusting young men would admire his gorget and his bevor and his cuirasse.

The maids loved him because he would go into their houses and, with one flash of his smile, all their pots would shine, and with one keen stare, the vegetables would cut themselves up and go into the pan, which meant the girls could spend much more time reading and singing and playing football with the young men.

But the young men weren’t so keen on this. Because the girls sometimes beat them at football, and laughed cruelly at the young men’s ineptness in the penalty box.

‘We must do something,’ said one young Man. ‘We must stop these girls from having so much time to practise their ball skills. They beat us 3-2 last week.’

‘It’s all the fault of that Mr Muscle,’ the other young men shouted. ‘He must leave this land, and take his gorget and his bevor and his cuirasse with him.’

But Mr Muscle wouldn’t go. ‘The girls all love me,’ he said. ‘And besides, they’re brilliant at football. Did you see that goal that Princess Mellicent scored last week? From the half-way line? It was on Match of the Day.’

And so the young men narrowed their eyes, and turned their backs on the shiny Muscle Man and his brilliant smile and his plumy horse, and went to see the Dirty Durty Knight, who was known far and wide for his black-hearted, dastard magic, and generally mysogynistic behaviour.

And the Dirty Durty Knight lolled on his stained chair, and picked his fingernails and listened to the woes of the thrusting young men.

‘Yes, I will help you,’ he said. ‘I hate Mr Muscle. I hate cleanliness, and I can’t stand that feller’s shiny teeth. I can reduce him to a pasty mess. But you won’t like it.’

‘Do it,’ said the men.

And so the Dirty Durty Knight tempted Mr Muscle to clean his scummy, cobwebbed castle, and Mr Muscle strode through every revolting room and sprang up and down every slimy step in his gorget and his bevor and his cuirasse, smiling and smiling until his cheeks hurt. And everything that he smiled at shone in return; even the Dirty Durty Knight’s fingernails. And at last, when the castle was glowing like a flushed pearl in the sunset, the Dirty Durty Knight asked an exhausted Mr Muscle to sit down to a dish of tea.

‘And there will be cake too,’ said the Dirty Durty Knight. ‘Which hasn’t got my thumbprints on it anymore, now that you’ve smiled at it.’

‘Oh rather,’ said Mr Muscle, ‘I love cake.’ And the poor, innocent, handsome lump downed his tea and ate his cake, which the Dirty Durty Knight had poisoned. And before Mr Muscle could say ‘Bang!’ he was gone, turned into goo, the whole shiny lot of him; sliding off his chair into a silent silver puddle on the floor.

‘That’ll teach you for smiling willy nilly in my house,’ snarled the Dirty Durty Knight, and he scooped the goo into a spray bottle, and flipped the lid to ‘off ’.

Loud was the wailing of the young girls at the news. And the rending of the garments and the heaping of the ashes upon their heads was terrible to behold. For now, instead of getting Mr Muscle’s favours for free, the young women found they had to pay £2.99 a pop (or £9.76 for the washroom cleaner, available on ebay).

And they had to go out to the corporate jungle to earn the money to afford his services; and the thrusting young men were left to play football by themselves and, on odd occasions, even to do a spot of cleaning.

The Dirty Durty Knight had been right. The young men didn’t like it at all. They missed the girls with their careless hair and their silky ball skills. But Mr Muscle was gone forever, along with his gorget and his bevor and his cuirasse.

And what happened to the plumy horse? The Dirty Durty Knight painted him black and rode miserably about the countryside, not wanting to go home. He had not managed to scoop up all of Mr Muscle, you see, and his dirty, durty, days were over. His castle and his fingernails were doomed to be forever clean, and there was nothing he could do about it.

 

Picture courtesy of  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knight_of_the_Swan via Creative Commons

It’s not what you think…

Carl_Larsson_Model_writing_postcards_1906

What ho chaps! What ho, what ho, what ho! I have a day off, and I ought to be bent dutifully over my Christmas card list. But no! A pox on it! I shall write them in the traditional manner late on Christmas Eve, so that my nearest and dearest have something to look forward to in the New Year.

I will write a post instead about what.

At the risk of sounding like Abbott and Costello, what is an interesting word.

You can say hello with it as in ‘Wotcha!’ which I have just discovered dates back hundreds of years According to the Urban Dictionary, ‘wotcha’ is a contraction of: ‘What chere/cheer be with you?’, which was a common greeting . Chere/cheer meant ‘face’ and thus referred to a person’s expression of their mood.

Person a: ‘hello!’

Person b: ‘wotcha!’

‘What’ is used a lot in greetings. What’s up? What ho? What news upon the Rialto? (The last comes from a Shakespearean inquiry about two for one cinema nights)

Then there’s the tired teenager’s method of dealing with parental rage:

Parent: I am not a taxi driver, this is not a hotel, that bedroom is a health hazard…

Teenager: Whatever*

(For Essex teenagers, this is contracted to whatevs.)

Then there is, What what? An archaic, upper class, expression used to prompt an agreement. As in, ‘Awfully chilly tonight, what what? Is it always like this at the North Pole?’

(What what is easily interchangeable with the expression, donchernow)

You can express dismay and amazement with the term, Do what? As in,

Person a: Your mother has run off with the gas man and Arsenal lost at home to Redditch United.

Person b: Do what?

What seems to have been in existence before 900. And its great granny and grandad was the Old English hwaet, and Old Norse hvat.

So there you go. Eh, what?

Image via Creative Commons, courtesy of http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a5/Carl_Larsson_Model_writing_postcards_1906.jpg

Hello, can’t stop.

stolen bride1

It’s amazing how writing a romantic novel interferes with blogging. I got into NaNoWriMo properly about three days before it finished and now the only thing I’ve got on my mind is what to do about the fact that my hero has completely ignored my plan and gone off piste. Ignored it, I tell you. The ungrateful bugger. You create these characters, give ’em charm and fabulous looks and this is how they thank you. Mind you, he has a point. I had made him a bit underhand about the heroine’s inheritance, and you can’t have a chap doing that. However much of maverick he is.

They can do everything else, though. They can kidnap a girl, impugn her honour, assume she means ‘yes’ when she says, ‘no’ (but only if he loves her really), and seemingly cheat on her left, right and centre (but only if, at the end, the girl he was seeing so much of turns out to be his long lost sister, or the impoverished widow of his best friend). But money? Only a cad would do a girl out of her inheritance. Odd, where all these unwritten rules come from.

I’ll just have to make him misunderstood, instead. Bloody romantic novels. Bloody writing. Does your head in.

Back soon….

tillypic

I am writing, I just have an invisible keyboard.

I love you! (part 2)

flower

Time passes and life stirs in the mud.

Her body lifts. An arm, a leg; they squelch back into place;

A bright eye bobs from a blackbird’s nest, sucked into its socket.

Blood raises like a curtain; and swerves back to the pump.

She flaps uncertainly.

And reaches for the sun once more.

‘I love you!’ she cries.

And every window opens as she goes by.

They stare at her from shops and homes and buses.

Past trees and granite soldiers,

And grimy paper swirling in the wind,

She loops and circles.

New love giving new life.

‘I love you! I love you! she cries once more.

And, as if by some unrealistic miracle, he springs out of nowhere, catches her and says, “I’m not entirely indifferent to you myself”.

 

I wrote this in response to the suggestions I had for I love you! which I posted on Saturday. The last line is by Peter Wells at Counting Ducks

 

Picture via Creative Commons, courtesy of  https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2357/2511306490_3173996d85_b.

I love you!

flying

I love you!

She shouted, as she jumped out of a window on the 44th floor.

I love you!

Tumbling and cartwheeling through the pale air;

Legs like knitting needles in angora clouds.

I love you!

Past crouching silent couples, sofa bound, watching telly in the gloom.

I love you!

Past business suits and pie charts

And spotty waiters serving canapes.

Past wedding couples pushing knives into a cake;

And red-nosed men standing sweating, drinking at a wake.

Past doctors giving bad news,

And smartly hopeful interviews.

I love you! I love you!

Swinging down, coat flying, buttons straining, panting, laughing, crying.

A toddler holds Lego in her hand and looks as love flies,

And ploughs into the ground, and dies.

xxx

Picture via Creative Commons, via:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/34/(2007_03)_Dama_-_Divulga%C3%A7%C3%A3o_(4)

Load of old bollocks

bollocks2

I never realised how many meanings the word ‘bollocks’ has, until I was in the middle of an email today with fellow blogger Naptime Thoughts, who was toying with the idea of dropping it into conversation in New Jersey.

She had seen it in one of my posts, where I got more comments about what it meant, than about the actual post (which can’t have been that brilliant, because I can’t now remember what it was about).

bollocks3

So here are the definitions I came up with:

Bollocks, firstly, means balls or testicles. Its first recorded use was in Anglo Saxon records in the year 1000, then meaning a small ball. The term was also used to describe an orchid.

bollocks 4

Professor James Kingsley, witness for the defence in a 1977 court case attempting to censor the Sex Pistols album Never Mind the Bollocks, said the word appears in the Bible, to describe small things of an appropriate shape. (You can read a short transcript here of the trial; it’s very funny. Counsel for the defence was John Mortimer, author of Rumpole of the Bailey).

Bollocks is usually used to denote rubbish; as in, ‘You’re talking bollocks.’ Or, ‘I’ve just bought a load of old bollocks from the car boot.’ (At the Sex Pistols trial Prof Kingsley said it was also used to mean clergymen, who are known to talk a good deal of rubbish.)

However the word can be used to show aversion, as in, ‘Bollocks to that, mate.’

Or frustration, as in, ‘Bollocks, I’ve missed the bus.’

It can also be used as a gerund (love that word), meaning a telling off, as in, ‘I got a severe bollocking for coming home late and setting fire to the curtains.’

And there is also the meaning ‘to mess up’ as in, ‘You really bollocksed that up, didn’t you?’

bollocks1

However, if something is really brilliant, you can refer to it as, ‘the dog’s bollocks’.

This last definition, according to British quiz programme QI, comes from the top of the range Meccano sets which used to be marketed as Box Deluxe. The lesser sets were sold as Box Standard which led, of course, to the term bog standard (meaning basic, unexceptional, or ordinary).

So there you go; my contribution of a load of old bollocks in an attempt to increase international understanding. Next week I shall be looking at arse.

 

Pictures courtesy of Creative Commons:

Sex pistols: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lwr/8523115727/

Hilary Mantel: http://meetville.com/quotes/tag/living/page10

Embroidery: http://www.flickr.com/photos/paperstringcloth/1442365471/

Street sign:

http://atom.smasher.org/chinese/?n=&l1=Today%27s+Special%3A&l2=Korean+Meatballs!&l3=%22They+really+are&l4=the+dogs+bollocks!%22

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