Thursday, 26 June 2008

The precocity of my offspring - 4

Yesterday my daughter started singing "Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, let it burn your body away, flatten the planet by it's enormous gravitational pull and destroy all life on earth!"

Well, her version is more accurate!

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

More music-hall recitations!

No Good Boyo graced the Armenia thread (see below) with the charming music-hall ditty "I slew the Black Armenian". In similar vein, Major Buffy Fortescue-Trouserbugle bids me quote his most famous work, in the style of J. Milton Hayes. With pleasure, major:

The Green Eye er the Little Yeller Dame de Nuit

There's an idle yeller Dayak ter the East er Tanjung Kot
With a British Army spade lodged in his head;
While a broken-molar'd maiden tends the grave er "Scottie" Scott -
And the silly blighter isn't even dead.

He was known as "Scottie" Scott because his name was Captain Scott,
And his Christian name was Scott as well ter boot,
But what made his dull life bearable out there in Tanjung Kot
Was the maiden fair ter whom he pressed his suit.

Her eye was green, her hair jet-black her cheongsam it was red,
And the name above her door was 'Fu Man Minh' ;
But though Scottie loved her dearly she'd grace any feller's bed
Fer a satayed goat and sev'ral pints er gin.

Her uncle was Scott's orderly, his name was Corporal Ngurk;
Though Dayak-born he'd risen through the ranks,
And though diligent by daylight ter avoid a stroke er work,
By night he had a love er boyish pranks.

Miss Minh went ter her uncle to request a favour great -
A potion strong it was her dearest wish;
But what Ngurk put in the potion she intended fer her mate
Was an extract from the deep-sea puffer-fish

Poor Scottie hadn't any sort er inklin' of a notion
Why young Fu Man Minh ran screaming from the room,
But then her potion from the ocean set his motions in commotion,
And his thunderbox exploded with a 'BOOM!'

His boots flew North, his hat flew East his Sam-Browne sped North-West
And the handle of his spade went swiftly South,
Where - though tryin' ter escape young Miss Fu's efforts were the best -
It struck the poor young gel right in the mouth.

I'll speak no ill of a lady lest I face m'comrades' censures
And the thing I hafter say may seem quite tacky,
But her adventures with entrenchers sadly robbed her of her dentures
And what's left was only fit fer chewin' baccy.

Old Ngurk did even worse because the blade er Scottie's spade
Flew true - although the edge was rather dull -
And though Ngurk was cacklin' foully at the work his prank had wrought,
He stopped laughin' when it landed in his skull!

When the CO heard about it (it was I, I must confess),
His voice rang forth like peals er summer thunder;
And respondin' ter his bellows men came pourin' from the Mess,
Carved a gravestone fine and placed young Scottie under.

There's an idle yeller Dayak ter the East er Tanjung Kot
With a British Army spade lodged in his head;
While a broken-molar'd maiden tends the grave er "Scottie" Scott -
And the silly blighter isn't even dead.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Anything to declare?

Gadjo Dilo has raised some interesting questions about ethnically specific foodstuffs re marmite (memorably described by Bill Bryson as 'an edible lubricant'). This set me thinking about some of those weird and wonderful edibles/smokables/unguents that only appeal to people of certain ethnicities or long residence in a particular country.

For example, my return trips to Blighty from the Malay Archipelago always involve packing large quantities of the following: cartons of clove-flavoured kretek cigarettes; kacang mete, which are garlic-roast cashews fit for deities; kopi luwak, which is coffee that has been passed through a civet (seriously); and ting-ting jahe, which are fiercely hot and very chewy ginger sweets. I now have regular 'customers' for all these. Tiger balm used to be a must but is now widely available in the UK.

Marmite, of course, is a major component of British diplomatic bags; and I have known Americans in Asia dedicate much time and effort to tracking down 'peanut butter and jelly'. Though quite why, I have no idea.

What's de rigeur for other countries?

Saturday, 21 June 2008

"The Little I Saw of Armenia"

Since I have returned safely from Yerevan, a few background notes might be in order for anyone planning a trip there:

Armenians are an ancient, charming and deeply cultured people whose mountainous homeland lies in a strategic location in the South Caucasus. Consequently, they have spent much of the past 2,000 years having the cr*p kicked out of them by their larger and more aggressive neighbours. But do they hold a grudge? Well, yes, actually. Few conversations pass without one's interlocutor checking that one accepts the Armenian Genocide of 1915 as a historic fact. Dropping the (true, in my case) fact that one's grandfather served at Gallipoli is a useful ice-breaker, surprisingly.
"You mean your grandfather killed Turks?"
"You are friend! Have brandy!"
Do not, under any circumstances, order Turkish delight.

The Armenian population consists of delightful, exquisitely groomed women and larcenous looking men who always manage to achieve 2-days' stubble. The men turn out on the whole to be super chaps once you've had a drink with them and clarified your position on the Armenian genocide, however. Men and women alike stay strikingly slim through a combination of a traditional diet, chain-smoking and inadequate public transport.

Armenia's economy consists of two main activities - making alcohol so strong it can strip paint, and generating nuclear power. In an earthquake zone. I said it was nice, not safe, OK?

Yerevan will be a beautiful city when they get round to finishing it. Until then, a combination of large areas of building site and strong mountain winds mean that walking through many of the streets gives a passable impression of what it's like to walk through a desert sandstorm. One slight surprise was the affection that people feel for the Soviet Union. Many of the older buildings still proudly display the hammer-and-sickle logo of Cap Scott 'Scottie' Scott's personal masseuse*, and I even saw the red banner flying at one location. One of my Armenian colleagues explained the background to this as being that after the genocide, the choice offered to the Armenian people was "Join glorious Bolshevik revolution and stay alive for foreseeable future" or "Have a Turkish pasha drink raki out of your skull." Your live skull.

Actually, one possible reason for the long-term oppression of the Armenians did appear - their habit of putting the pepper in a shaker with a single hole and the salt in one with multiple holes. one can imagine a Turkish governor, having just put pepper on his chips once too often, flipping out.

Armenians drink. In their favour, they produce excellent brandy, exquisite red wines (Areni is rather pleasant) and very passable beers (I recommend kalikia for drinking with food and kotayk for achieving rapid oblivion**). So when one goes out with Armenians, what do they order? Apricot vodka; which - as its name suggests - is made from apricots and industrial coolant. And they don't just drink, they toast. "Let us drink to our foreign guests" (glasses clink, vodka goes down in one, there is a collective gasp of pain from the foreign guests and a struggle to focus). "Let us refill our glasses and drink to world peace!" (same routine again). "To the beauty of women!" (etc etc - I trust you'll forgive me if I fail to remember some of the later toasts). Then you all start calling each other "X-jan" which either means "dear-X" or "gullible British berk" depending on what impression I made on them.

I am already angling to go back at the earliest opportunity...

* See Dr Linstead's "The Wounds of Capt Scott 'Scottie' Scott" (Delhi, 1947) Vol 38 - "Superficial-Metaphorical-Political (Treasonous)-Blonde ladies in uniform"
** Old Russia hands will be pleased to note that Baltika is also available, though the billboard adverts for it pose an interesting semiotic conundrum - they show a baltika bottle and a young Russian lady with her blouse partially unbuttoned. The message could be either a) "after twelve bottles of baltika, all women will appear like this!" or b) "after twelve bottles of baltika, you too will be incapable of doing up buttons like Svetlana here!"

Thursday, 12 June 2008

The precocity of my offspring - 3

Do other parents have conversations like this?

"Do you want me to read you the synopsis of Act II of Goetterdammerung, or a baby book?"
"Act II of Goetterdammerung, then a baby book, Daddy!"

This came out of the fact that when I picked her up from school the other day, Act III of Siegfried was on Radio 3 and took her fancy (the bit where Brunnhilde wakes up and starts going "Heil dir Sonne, heil dir Tag chiz chiz" like some demented soppy girl in a Molesworth story). Anyway, I went to the bookshelves and found dusty and long-untouched copies of Ernest Newman's 'Wagner Nights' and a Wagner biography which had a synopsis of the Ring cycle, and started reading an act a night as part of the bedtime story session.

And yes, The Ring makes a great kids' story. My mind started wandering (just call me Der Wanderer...) and imagining what Beatrix Potter, Enid Blyton or Dr Seuss would have made of the plotline. Doubtless my attempts at extracts will follow at some point.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Why all Western women are total rubbish...

Ooh - got your attention there!

I write in a rare state of suppressed fury and burning indignation, hence my willfully provocative massive overstatement of a title. In my defence, I have been provoked:

Last week in one of the papers there was an article by some Canadian bint complaining that all British men are rubbish. Today it's the Daily Telegraph saying all men are boring:

Now the Canadian woman I understand and almost sympathise with; she had evidently come to London having built a fictional London in her mind based on Jane Austen's books and Hugh Grant's films, expecting to be swept off her feet by some Darcy-esque man, only to discover that fictional characters are, well, fictional. But having said that, it's still her fault that she had unrealistic expectations. She probably was also labouring under the common misconception that the mere exoticism of her being Canadian was going to count as a big plus. Now while I like Canadians as a general rule, including some of my own relatives who live there, her hopes were probably a bit on the high side.

The Telegraph article is, however, a piece of blatant sexist fundamentalism. And I do realise it's meant as a provocative opinion piece to generate discussion, incidentally. This woman starts from the arguably true but trivial notion that men and women communicate differently, and instantly leaps to the conclusion that therefore men are wrong and inadequate for, umm, being men.

Why is it always us who are deemed to be wrong, automatically and without right of appeal?

Now personally, I have opted out of the whole morass of social crappiness that this woman describes by marrying an Asian woman. This means several things:
1) I can be appreciated for my few adequate qualities as a husband and father without an endless list of unmeetable demands being laid on me;
2) My social life revolves largely around Indonesian and Anglo-Indonesian families, who don't go for the 'boy-girl-boy-girl' seating plan interminable dinner party. Instead, we have large free-form buffets with tribes of kids charging around, and the women chatting in one room while the men chat in another. Try it some time - it's a far pleasanter experience than having to chat to a crashing bore that a well meaning hostess has plonked next to you. And yes, prattling women are as boring to us as we are to them.
3) I don't have to listen to some wretched Bridget Jones-ish British woman whingeing on me endlessly as a fixture of my home life.

There used to be a certain stigma attached to white men with Asian wives. Perhaps there still is and I've just given up noticing. Anyway, it used to be a commonly held belief that white men acquired "mail-order brides" (which, incidentally is not a true description in our case or any of the mixed couples we know, but there you have it...) because there was something wrong with the men concerned, rendering them incapable of having a functional relationship with a western woman. I am increasingly drawn to the conclusion that this is not the case; it's the general inadequacy and over-demandingness of western women that lead the men to 'opt out' of being continually told how crap they are by marrying a foreign woman who actually appreciates the good qualities of British men (and we do have some, after all).

Discuss. :oD