Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi

As a surprise evening out to celebrate our eleventh wedding anniversary (it was in June!) K had booked us tickets for dinner and the concert at Wyastone last night. Wyastone is a stately home and HQ to a classical music recording company in the very pretty Wye Valley five minutes drive from Monmouth. It’s a sort of less elitist Glyndebourne (although that may be uncharitable). In the summer there are various classical concerts, before which you may picnic next to the river or eat dinner in a pavilion outside the concert hall, then go on to the concert itself. During the interval you stand outstide sipping your G&T and enjoy the splendour of the warm summer evening and the lush scenery of the Wye Valley.

Last night’s concert was given by the BBC National Chorus of Wales. The highlight was a rollicking performance of Carmina Burana by Carl Orff. Based on the the poems of itinerant mediaeval German monks preoccupied with boozing and sex, it starts and finishes with an ode to the goddess Fortune who rules the world. I bet the surfer in the Old Spice ad from the seventies (which used this particlar bit) wasn’t aware of that as he negotiated that huge wave to its pounding strains. I had sung in this work when at St. Lawrence College Junior School when I was about 9 years old. Lucky I couldn’t understand the words, in mediaeval Latin and old low German and which include passages such as:

Mea mecum ludit
virginitas,
mea me detrudit
simplicitas.

Veni, domicella
cum gaudio
veni, veni, pulchra,
iam pereo.

My virginity
makes me frisky,
my simplicity
holds me back.
Come, my mistress,
with joy,
come, come, my pretty,
I am dying!

And no, I have not selected the rudest bit – there’s stronger stuff. No wonder our teachers were coy about the meaning of all that weird language we were singing so lustily.

Dialect prejudice?

In dramatic shorthand, a working class character in a film is often given the dialect and/or accent of English of someone from from the southwest of the country, or perhaps a Midlands or northern accent. For example, consider the dialect and accent of Sam Gamgee, the gardener and manservant to the upper-middle class (Standard English/Received Pronunciation-speaking) Frodo Baggins in the recent “The Lord of the Rings” films. The patronising implication is that the audience will associate the “provincial” accent with a less educated, working class character, lacking in “book” knowledge but making up for it in loyalty and determination. For those of you who know the Tolkien books on which the films were based, be honest: could you imagine Sam Gamgee speaking like Prince Charles?

The Received Pronunciation combined with spoken Standard English that the Prince of Wales speaks have become the dialect of Hollywood films’ baddies, a quick and easy-to-grasp code that tells the (largely American) popcorn munching masses that the one with that James Mason accent is the sinister bad guy. Our infatuation with American culture in the form of its two principle exports, film and television have conditioned much of the English speaking world to be prejudiced against this way of speaking.

Once, such a mode of speech could once have marked a person (rightly or wrongly) as educated and trustworthy, the principle being, I imagine, that it was more likely that the person concerned had been to a good school and university, where certain timeless values (Waterloo won on the playing fields of Eton bla bla bla) were instilled. Maybe there was little bit of truth in such an assumption in the era of the British Empire when public schools were the only source of an education good enough to equip a generation with the skills to run that empire. Now of course, a meritocratic democracy rightly prevails: your accent doesn’t (or shouldn’t) matter.

Really?

I unashamedly (try to) speak Standard English with an accent that, while not in the same league as that of the Queen’s, nevertheless approaches it. Why? Because I was brought up in several parts of the world. I never lived anywhere long enough to permanently adopt a dialect and accent specific to a particular region. The only traces that have remained are the pronunciation of “because” as “becuzz” from my childhood years in Cornwall and a tendency to use a Barbadian accent when I get excited. I therefore adopted a style of speech that my teachers, grammar books and the BBC advocated. It was, I naïvely thought, neutral in tone and after all, was promoted as being the gold standard of English.

The trouble with Standard English and RP is that they represent the speech of the so called “upper” class whose (in most cases unearned) privilege and wealth are rightly criticised by those outside that particular socio-economic group. Those of us who have adopted RP and Standard English but are not upper class are therefore doomed to experience a sort of prejudice. The prejudice that drives film makers to give Samwise Gamgee a Gloucestershire accent and dialect because it denotes him as servile is, on occasion, matched by a prejudice against those who use RP and Standard English. “If you speak RP and Standard English”, the thinking presumably goes, “you must think you are superior, whatever your social background or your values”. How unfair.

I’m tempted to get a T-shirt printed that declares my membership of the middle class, despite my dialect and accent.

The Society for a Quieter Barbados

I was recently sent a link to this site, which is the web presence of an organisation that campaigns for the abatement of noise pollution in Barbados. After initial prejudice about the slightly Pythonesque name of the society, it turns out to be a professionally produced affair with some interesting insights into the daily (and nightly) torments caused by barking dogs, traffic and bickering family members on that particular island nation.

You might think this was a gathering place for GOM’s (Grumpy Old Men) and indeed a fair few correspondents seem to be in that category, but there is a least one contribution from a sixteen year old who complains that he has had to do his studying for exams after midnight as that is the only time his family stops arguing with each other.

Having lived in Barbados, I can testify that there is plenty of unwanted noise about. This is not surprising in an extremely small and very densely populated country. Although our area wasn’t particularly badly affected by it, the most common noise pollution I came across was dogs barking. Dogs are very common in Barbados and many households will have several: they seem to be the most popular burglar deterrent. (Jehovah’s Witnesses will stop before your gate to ask if you have dogs before they ask you if you read the Bible.) In Barbados, most sleep with the window open to allow the breeze in. This, of course, allows the barking to penetrate and, if you are having one of those nights when your worries take on much bigger dimensions than they do in the day, you can end up raging all night at the selfishness of the dogs’ owners.

Our Sundays had, as background music, hymns and spirituals played (quite badly) by a saxophone-led band in a church held in a house across the pasture. It only seemed to stop once the cricket on the adjacent field started, confirming my suspicion that, next to one of a hundred brands of Christianity, the Barbadian’s other religion is cricket. I used to wonder if the congregation ever considered how “Christian” it was to inflict that noise on their neighbours for several hours on a Sunday without asking their consent.

I wish the Society for a Quieter Barbados every success.

The slings and arrows of outrageous adolescence

Monmouth town centre, Agincourt SquareImage via Wikipedia

I was walking through Monmouth town centre last Sunday when three boys aged around twelve, I estimated, approached me on bicycles. This wouldn’t have been unusual except that they were on the pavement and were going to have to swerve to avoid me. As they did so, in my most conciliatory tones, I said to them, “You should really be on the road, guys”. The eldest boy turned round to me and angrily yelled “F–k you, you f—ing t–t!”.

I clearly pressed a button there.

A few minutes later, I approached a group of girls, again, aged no more than thirteen, standing at the corner of Woolworths. The smallest, dressed like a prostitute, (high heels and a pointlessly small skirt) was smoking. As I passed within a couple of feet of her, she spat on the ground, narrowly missing my feet.

Now I’m not going to make the conventional complaint that kids were never like that when I was young, as I’m pretty sure every generation gets its share of uncouth youth. I would be curious, though to meet the parents of these kids to see if they know and more importantly care that their children are behaving in these ways and if they condone or encourage it by the examples they set.

This is all very topical, with Tony Blair announcing measures even as I write to tackle “yob culture“, but it seems to me no top down approach can have the desired effect. Change will need to come from communities (remember them?) and families (remember them too?!) not tolerating delinquency and promoting respect for everyone, not just grumpy 36 year old blokes.

Vocabulary

Here is a sample of little A.’s current vocabulary, with meanings:

Dood – Dog
Wwwwuff – The noise a dog makes
Weeeow – Miaow – the noise a cat makes
Jhesh – Yes
Nah! – No
Mm Mm – Pick me up/Help!
Hi – Here, you take it (of toys, etc when proffered)
Shlite – Light
Daddy – Daddy, but also her older sister (really)
Oh! – Reaction to paternal flatulence
Ba Ba – What a sheep says
Pop Pop – What a fish does with its mouth
Yaay! – I want more, accompanied by the “Makaton” sign language gesture for “more”
Babby – Variously, any face or reflection, most commonly the girl in the reflective metal dustbin who copies everything little A. does.
Dit Dit – I want to listen to music on your lap while sitting at the computer. (From a song about clocks that go “tick-tock”)

Good dining in Monmouthshire

Ate dinner at “The Bell” at Skenfrith with friends from London on Saturday to celebrate K.’s birthday. To call it a “gastropub” seems a little unfair as it has a standard of cooking that would not be out of place in the best of London’s restaurants. All the better then that it is a fifteen minute drive from Monmouth and set in beautiful countryside. The ambiance is classy but not stuffy or pretentious and this seventeenth century coaching inn is obviously run by people who know – and care about – high quality local food. There’s even a blackboard with the names of the local suppliers so you know who provided that venison/guinea foul/sea bass etc.

I had been wondering where the upmarket restaurants were in Monmouth. Seemingly none. Odd, when it’s obvious that there are plenty of upmarket people around with the money and tastes to support them.

Aliens could be here, say proper scientists

A paper by a team of American scientists published in the January 2005 edition of the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society proposes that the likelihood that the earth is being visited by extraterrestrial visitors is quite high. The paper, titled “Inflation-Theory Implications for Extraterrestrial Visitation” even goes as far as to suggest that UFO reports may provide evidence of such visits. The scientists pick up where “Fermi’s Paradox” left off. Named after Enrico Fermi, a physicist, the paradox takes the theory that the universe is so vast and diverse it must have produced advanced civilisations (capable of using worm holes for interstellar travel) on other planets and asks, “Well, where are they?”.

Read more here

It’s good to see serious scientists taking this subject a little more, er, seriously. This is too important to be left to well meaning amateurs with beards and anoraks. It should be noted that the leading scientific journals in the US and the UK refused to even submit the paper for review, let alone publish it.

Give it another twenty years and the aliens will be coming out of the closet: mark my words. You read it here first! And no, they’re not all cuddly like ET was 😉

Bridge

Found a nice picture of the thirteenth century Monnow Bridge here. It was taken in the summer and I can tell you that at the moment it looks distinctly grim in the bleak February sun. The site it’s on, incidentally, is that of a Geo, a sort of German counterpart to the American National Geographic magazine.

Ladybirds

I imagine that most of us don’t associate ladybirds with the middle of winter in these northern climes. However, perhaps someone can explain the following: One evening about a month ago I noticed a ladybird creeping up the wall next to the lamp on my bedside table. I thought it odd, as it was the middle of winter and besides, how did it get into the house when so few windows are opened?

Imagine my surprise when, earlier this week I saw a ladybird creeping around (the same one? I should have counted the spots – damn) in the same place. Is it a sign? If so what? Perhaps it is a sign that God/fate/providence/supreme being of your choice is fond of playing absurd jokes.

On the subject of cosmic jokes, I can’t help but squirm (in a mature and manly way – not a giggly girlish way) with anticipation at the release of the film version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Now that Stephen Fry is on board (as the voice of the Guide) it is getting even more interesting. Pencil in the release date of 30th June.

Vanity, family and sign language

Been looking for suitable episodes for inclusion in this blog, but on a “quality is better than quantity” principle”, I’m restraining myself from adding lots that is uninteresting or unamusing. Added to that, since starting work again, I haven’t had many opportunities when at home to muse, cogitate and generally allow myself to be creative. So no stories or rants for the moment.

An update on what the family is up to: K is pretty much a full time housewife now. Little A is keeping her busy. Little A herself has a cold but still manages to be charming. K is teaching her sign language to help her communication skills. She can now sign “more” by patting the palm of one hand against the clenched fist of her other hand, after doing which, she copies our praise by clapping , grinning and saying “yaay!”. I wonder if she will follow every new sign that she acquires with applause. Never mind – it’s very entertaining.

Big A has done the first of her AS level exams. All very strange to me. What happened to waiting until the June of the Upper Sixth?

I was at a lodge meeting last weekend. Passed off reasonably well – a second degree ceremony. Nice to have some work to do. A bit disappointed that I didn’t get “Heimat” on DVD for Christmas. Compensated by wearing a Bavarian shirt to work today.

Mum is completing the sale of her house in Chiswick next Friday and moving to a temporary rented place just around the corner. It’ll be nice to have all my immediate family in the same neighbourhood. It also means that my ties to London are now weaker. It will now be the four-times-a-year lodge meetings that will bring me back, although I don’t know if visiting central Staines qualifies as going to London, unless, of course I stay overnight with friends.

Got a new mobile phone, a Sony Ericsson K700i. Very nice – loads of memory (40mb), camera, radio etc. I can synch it with my contacts and diary on my PC, download music to it to listen to while stuck in dentists’ waiting rooms (and unwilling to read dog eared editions of old golfing magazines).

That’s your lot.

Food, mostly.

Massimo Pigliucci

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