Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Into the wild west

As I mentioned in a recent post, we have recently lost our Aunt Elaine to what turned out at post-mortem to be an advanced but undiagnosed cancer. I duly loaded Djangolina, myself and some sombre clothing into the new car for the drive to Cornwall for the funeral.

We agreed with various family members to meet up at the pub next to the church in Aunt Elaine's home village, way down into West Cornwall. We parked, and walked into a curiously empty pub.

"Good afternoon" I said to the diminutive lady behind the bar. "Are you serving lunch?"

Had the place not already been silent, it would have fallen so. She looked at me as if I had just asked the way to Castle Dracula.

"Ooh no m'dear, we bain't servin' vooood t'day. But you can get a pasty at the shop next door."

That sounded fair enough, so that's what we did. After eating through negligible proportions of two enormous pasties, we returned to the pub to get a drink and await the arrival of sundry Byards. As I took a couple of J2Os and turned from the bar, I heard the landlady inform one of the few regulars now arrayed around the bar in wellies and woollies "Thart do be the man what arsked fer vooooood!", followed by murmurs of disbelief and - presumably - suggestions that pitchforks be fetched and torches lit. We then retired to the loos to don mourning clothes.

When we emerged the atmosphere changed dramatically. "Are you here for Elaine?" one of the regulars asked. We assured him that we were. Thus - and I hold this entirely to Elaine's credit - we were suddenly welcome. Before long the pub was fairly full of awkward people in black, looking forlornly out of the window at the driving rain. We had been asked not to sit in the church but to walk behind with the family, which is undoubtedly an honour but on this occasion a rather wet one. The church was packed, a tribute to Elaine's sociability and wide circle of acquaintance.

We heard 'The Helston Furry Dance" (in the original town band version, not the twee popular arrangement - it makes quite diginifed funeral music in fact, in a manner not dissimilar to the opening of Purcell's Funeral Music for Queen Mary) and then The Song of the Western Men. Let nobody say it was not a "prarper job" of a funeral.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009


Have any of my readers noticed the uncanny similarity between Indonesian radical cleric Abu Bakar Ba'asyir and has-been paedophile glam-rocker Gary Glitter?



I wonder if they might be related?

Monday, 16 November 2009

A phone call I didn't really want to have to make

I don't feel like even trying to be funny today.

When I got home from work yesterday, my wife greeted me with the news that my aunt - the second wife of my dad's little brother, and a much loved stabilising presence in his life and the wider family - had died on Saturday night of a heart attack. My dad phoned up to tell us while I was at work, having got the call from his brother at half past midnight and spent the rest of the night sitting up unable to sleep, nursing his shock and dismay with an unspecified number of whiskies and soda.

We knew she was unwell, having recently had a hip replacement and not having recovered according to plan. But on Saturday night my uncle noticed she was looking a bit grey in the face and called an ambulance. She collapsed and was rushed to hospital, but was pronounced dead an hour or so later. None of us were expecting anything quite that dramatic.

I dread phoning or writing to people in these circumstances, never knowing quite what to say, but I plucked up the courage to call my uncle. I wish I could report that I found inspired words of solace, but I didn't. I think I started with "I heard the sad news. I really don't know what to say..." In the circumstances, that was probably as good as anything and certainly better than not calling at all. I told him how fond we were of her (especially Djangolina, who always got on splendidly with her - she was wonderful with children) and how if there was anything we could do etc etc - all the normal cliches. But what else can you say in these situations? I meant every word, however hackneyed the phrases I used. Anyway, the hard bit's done. I'm now waiting for a funeral date.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Boyo - Les cahiers de conversation, trois

At the sight of Mr Big Big Bossy Big Boss making an inspection tour of a nearby area, I slip away from my desk in pursuit of a cup of tea, fearing the impact on the organization should someone important make the mistake of asking me a question. Along the way I meet Boyo, who is similarly pursuing tea but without ready cash about his person, and is lurking with the intent of prising a cuppa out of some misguided but well-intentioned soul like me.

On our way back, he asks me what Djangolina is up to.
"She's off for a week on a school trip to a place on the Isle of Wight called 'Little Canada'," I respond, truthfully.

"I can imagine what they do there - eat donuts, play ice hockey, learn to discuss lesbianism. In French. 'I'm from Saskatchewan, eh?'..." He is getting into his stride by now.

At this point, we reach a door. Approaching from the other side is a strikingly attractive South Asian lady whom neither of us have seen before. I stand aside chivalrously to let her through. Boyo - his head twisted through 90 degrees to continue holding forth to me, fails to register her presence walks past her saying, in a high-pitched mock-Djangolina voice "Daddy - all the men here are called Mr MacKenzie!"

I smile wanly at the woman as she flees for her life, clearly having come to the snap decision that the place is a madhouse.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

A new love

I have recently gone through a life-changing experience. This has not been easy for a middle-aged, respectably married man; but there is a new object of passion in my life.

I saw her in the street, and was captivated by her beauty. Her body has the most seductive curves I have ever seen. I should have admired from afar and left it at that, but I searched out more about her on the internet, and my desire grew, and became a consuming passion; I fantasized about running my hands over her lovely body, to possess her, to be - I blush to say it - inside her.

I had to have her.

I summoned up the courage to tell my wife.

"I'm sorry, but I cannot live without her. I don't want our marriage to end over this; what I would like ideally is for her to come and live with us and us all to try and get on together. And I think Guthlac will love her..."

She looked me right in the eye, remaining calm and poised.

"If you insist, then yes she can come and live here. But on one condition."

I felt my heart pounding.

"And your condition is?"

"That you put me down on the insurance as a named driver."

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

"Daddy, what's your favourite action film?"

"I like the one about the young maverick palaeontologist who crashes his Micra into what turns out to be the mineralized remains of a basal male bovid."
"Is there such a film?"
"Yes Djangolina - it's called Nissan in Fossil Bull."

[Note to self - it was a mistake getting Djangolina her own Samurai sword. Must lay hands on a needle and thread...]

Monday, 26 October 2009

Boyo - Les cahiers de conversation, deux

Fellow bloggagers sometimes sigh "How wonderful it must be to have the chance, on an almost daily basis, to hear the beautifully crafted pearls of wisdom that drip from the lips of the great No Good Boyo rather than have to wait for days at a time for him to complete a posting."

For such pining addicts, I offer the following conversation I had with the man himself this morning. We were queuing up in the canteen, and Boyo - having mislaid his glasses - was sorting with unnecessary care through assorted foreign coins and buttons for something the Inca princess manning the till would accept in payment for a coffee and a muffin, while a queue of deadline-stressed journalists and radio presenters built up behind him like a writhing snake.

As he finally sorted out his debt and moved on, he opined "What's that island where they use 2-ton rocks as currency?"
"That's it. I reckon we should adopt that as currency - for a start, nobody would pick your pockets, and also which nation in the UK has the most rocks?"
"Wales, exactly. Wales consists largely of piles of rocks. You can't move in Wales without falling over huge, sprawling piles of slate, and anthracite, and - "

He paused for a moment while he struggled to think of another type of rock.

"Ignitheous twat-bollocks."
"I'm not sure that's a type of rock, Boyo."
"Look, basically you've got three kinds of rock: Igneous, which comes out of the middle of the earth in a molten state and then sets hard; sedimentary, which is loads of bits that settle in a layer and then go hard; and metamorphic, which start off sedimentary and then get cooked in to something else like dough turning into cake."

His brow furrowed while he attempted to synthesize this new and exciting information.

"Gyppo - you forgot the fourth sort."
"Which is?"
He nodded emphatically like Stan Laurel delivering a non-sequitur and wandered off to massage the coffee into his scalp and crumble the muffin down his trousers, as per normal.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Jeremy Kyle - the answer to global conflict

One of the guiltiest of my guilty pleasures is an unhealthy addiction to the Jeremy Kyle show. It's a sort of human version of those "Police, Camera, Unbelievably Thick Tosser in a Stolen Ford Escort" programmes that also rank among my guilty pleasures. I suppose the warm glow they occasion stems from a deep-seated smugness that however much one's wife complains about "getting too close to the kerb" when one is colliding with a lamppost or whingeing about 5 minutes spent filling in an innocent Sudoku while one's small children amuse themselves with knives, weedkiller sprays and pans of boiling water; there are others who are even worse at managing their daily lives.

Anyway, it struck me recently that if world leaders are serious about global peace and disarmament, they should appoint Jezzer secretary-general of the UN and have all peace conferences on daytime TV.

We can imagine what the result would look like:

JK: On Today's show - exes at war over nuclear weapons [Video clip of North Korea shouting at South: "Well you go runnin' off with America an' that, warram I s'pposed ter think? Eh?", and South shouting back "Tell them about the violence. You didn't mention that to the researchers, didja? You invaded me!"]

And a country that desperately wants to be father to it's ex's breakaway province [Video clip of JK intoning gravely - "Russia, Georgia: The DNA results show that the biological father of South Ossetia is -"]

That's all coming up later. But first, a family dispute that's dragged on for a long time, and threatened to involve the whole neighbourhood. Lots to unravel in this story. Now first up we have India. India has been arguing for years with sister Pakistan over a disputed cashmere. Please welcome India.
[India walks onstage and sits down nervously. If you can imagine such a thing.]
JK: Welcome to the show.
I: Good morning Jeremy.
JK: Now if we can go back a bit - you have been arguing about a lot of things even before this dispute we're here to talk about today.
I: Yes, even when Raj was alive we used to argue about religion a lot.
JK: Raj was your mother, yes?
I: Yes Jeremy.
JK: Please let's not get onto religion, but can you just tell us the sort of arguments you had?
I: Well Pakistan was always causing trouble, mistreating the cow, lookin' down like on anyone who thought diff'rently an' all. And after Raj passed on we decided to go our separate ways.
JK: Fair enough. So you wanted a clean break and to have nothing more to do with her.
I: Yes Jeremy - I could go my way and she could go hers and as far as I'm concerned, at the end o'the day, we're not related any more.
JK: But this current dispute is over a cashmere?
I: Yes - Raj had promised it to me as I'd always liked it, but at the funeral Pakistan made a scene and grabbed at it, tore it in half, and has kept her half saying she'll only sew it back together if I hand my half over to her.
JK: Which you're not prepared to do...
I: Which I'm certainly not prepared to do, Jeremy.
JK: OK, now take a breather. After the break, we'll talk to Pakistan and hear her side of the story. Don't go anywhere...

Monday, 19 October 2009

The Great Indonesian Novel - 4

Continuing the ongoing series with This Earth of Badly-Raised Twilight - Chapter 4 - June 1914

Ho Li Kow stroked the head of his beloved elder son, William of Orange Polder Windmill Rotterdam Pancake Li, and fed the boy a piece of Dutch chocolate. William loved being in his father's study, with its array of Dutch books and gramophone records. Here he could bask in the glories of the European culture that his father loved - reading the novels of Shakespeare and the poems of Jane Austen; and listening raptly to Wagner symphonies and Bach operas. Today he would be going off to the Dutch school to start learning Dutch. If only, he thought, his mother had not been a benighted native, he could really go somewhere. Holland, preferably.

As if on cue, his beautiful but cruelly mistreated and ignored native mother Raden Roro Royabot and irritating younger brother Hayamwuruk Gamelan Komodo-Dragon Hopeless-Dream-of-Independence Batik Li entered, soiling the Dutch carpet with their ugly, brown native feet. Royabot placed a small stone in the leather strap decorated with a Merlion and a picture of Sir Stamford Raffles, swung it round a couple of times and propelled the stone into her husband's forehead with a satisfying smack.


Royabot looked at the floor in dismay and confusion.

"I am sorry lord. I did not know the difference, lord. And in any case, that gag doesn't work in Javanese. Or even in English, unless the readers know at least a smattering of Singaporean history."

Ho Li Kow rubbed his sore head. "What do you want, anyway?"

Royabot overcame her nervousness and looked him straight in the eye.

"Do you remember how, in Chapter 2, you promised that after I had borne you two sons, I would be free to leave?"
"Nothing would make me happier."
"Then I ask you to free me."
"OK, bye then."

She hesitated, prepared as she had been for A Scene. She thought of shedding tears copiously, like chunks of freshly sliced lontong onto a banana leaf, to be covered with the satay of humilition and drenched in the peanut sauce of continuing poverty, but quite frankly she couldn't be arsed. She straightened up and walked out, taking Hayamwuruk Gamelan Komodo-Dragon Hopeless-Dream-of-Independence Batik Li with her.

"Wait a moment" her husband called after her. "Where will you go? What will you do?"

She turned back and looked at him. "I will go to the market and sell batik like a native woman. Which I am, of course, as you never let me forget. Not that I want to in the first place."

She paused.

"Where was I? Oh yes - batik in the market. And if that doesn't raise enough cash, I can offer sexual favours to visiting Filipino sailors. After marriage to you, nothing else can ever humiliate me more."

She walked proudly out, wishing inside that she had married Min, the simple village goat-carrier, and been poor but happy.


Far away in the village, Min - the simple village goat-carrier-turned-dokar-driver-turned-satay-seller who nursed within him a hopeless passion for Royabot - had finished serving satay for the night and was counting his takings. The business was doing well. Suddenly he heard a sharp sigh from his one remaining customer, sitting alone over his satay at a low table. Min walked over to him and asked, sympathetically "What's the matter sir?"

"It's hard to explain - you see, I am the vice-president of Goodyear Tyres (Southeast Asia) division and my marketing strategy is in a total mess. I would far prefer to be in a small business selling something simple like goat satay."

"Pak" said Min soothingly, "I am but a poor village goat-carrier-turned-dokar-driver-turned-satay-seller and know nothing about these things, but it strikes me that the main barrier to tire sales at this point is the non-viability of motor vehicles owing to poor infrastructure. If you could lobby the colonial government for a coordinated road-building programme, and go into some kind of loose associative partnership with the oil companies and vehicle importers to push for greater and more effective use of road transport using the internal combustion engine, the market would expand greatly and an existing network of franchisees fitting your firm's tires would be well-placed to take advantage."

"Wah, Min - you are so clever. We should swap places - you can be vice-president of Goodyear Tyres (Southeast Asia) division with responsibility for marketing and I will be the satay seller. For your cleverness, you deserve this."

Sunday, 18 October 2009

"Daddy, what's your favourite rom-com?"

"I like the one about the shy young geologist who impresses a beautiful American woman geologist by discovering successive layers of perfectly-preserved Llandovery, Wenlock, Ludlow and Pridoli limestone right next to a geo-thermal vent."
"Is there such a film?"
"Yes Djangolina - it's called Four Beddings and a Fumarole."

[Note to self - Remember not to do this over the dinner table when squirty-ketchup is within Djangolina's reach.]

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

"Daddy, what's your favourite family film?"

"I like the one about the man who goes to the West Indies to search for deposits of iron sulfides."
"Is there such a film?"
"Yes Djangolina - it's called Pyrites of the Caribbean."

[Note to self - Djangolina is getting increasingly strong and fearless, and thanks to misguided school sex education lessons, knows where one's nadgers are.]

Monday, 12 October 2009

A tale of two balls

Warning - this post is clean, but contains disturbing traces of snobbery

The more I learn of England, the more I am convinced I am an alien. Either that or everyone else is normal and I'm deeply eccentric. Or that I've had a bizarrely skewed upbringing. Or all three.

What am I on about?

Well, this weekend last Mrs Byard and I had a rare opportunity to go out and socialise, not once but twice. On Friday, we attended a charity ball at a converted stately home set in the rural magnificence of Berkshire (or was it Hampshire? Somewhere near the border, anyway); and on Sunday we turned up to an Indonesian community party in a village hall definitely in Berkshire, and indeed perilously close to Mrs Pouncer.

The charity ball was in part organised by some of Mrs Byard's new work colleagues (she's just started a new job), and she felt it would be a good opportunity to socialise with them and scare them by presenting me. The tickets were quite reasonably priced, and clearly stated that the dress code was black tie. Now one's formative experiences in ball-going were during one's Oxford years, during which - as a friend of mine put it "one learns three important life skills - how to tie one's own bow tie, how to punt, and one has forgotten the other one."

So out came the dinner suit, cummerbund, mirror-polished patent leather pumps, dress shirt, lapis-lazuli cufflinks and hand-tied blue paisley bow-tie to match (because black tie need not be black for a jolly social occasion. Mrs Byard looked radiant in a full-length gown the colour of which I can't quite describe but if pressed would call "grey with a hint of lilac" and a lilac-ish shawl of that flimsy transparent (but pretty) material the name of which I've forgotten. Mrs Pouncer would know. (It's a good job I'm not a celebrity columnist, isn't it? Can you imagine what a butt-clenchingly embarrasing mess I'd make of describing the frocks worn by A-listers on the red carpet?)

Anyway, we had got it about right. For our table. Mrs Byard's colleagues were indeed in decent evening dress, but with bow-ties in various jolly hues to match or compliment their partners' evening gowns. Our fellow guests on other tables, however, seemed to lack the poise and savoir-whatsit that a decent upbringing and/or education delivers. They were, one would guess, rat-faced estate agents and similar riff-raff who had no concept of "black tie" and for whom a grey polyester off-the-peg chain-store suit is the smartest thing they own. But they had read and acted on the words "black tie" by wearing straight, black ties; and consequently looked like rat-faced estate agents attending a funeral. They then descended on the bar to equip themselves with pints of lager in plastic "glasses" and blue vodka concoctions for their loud, over-made up accompanying slappers, after which they descended into looking like pissed rat-faced estate agents attending a funeral. There was also a live band playing ABBA covers after dinner, which effected a gender segregation of which a Saudi Imam would have approved, were it not for the fact that he wouldn't have approved of the pissed slappers threatening the dance-floor with imminent collpase and the rat-faced funereal estate-agents forming a lager-crazed scrum at the bar.

There are times when I horrify myself with my own opinions about the people around me. This was one of them. I stress that it was a worthwhile cause, that anyone willing to turn up and support a major cancer charity is worthy of praise rather than snobbish sarcasm and that Mrs Byard's colleagues are lovely people. But even so...

Anyway, event number 2 - a belated Lebaran (end of Ramadhan) party with the local Indonesian community at the village hall. Entrance price - none (but bring food...)Dress code - none (but batik is always appropriate). Alcohol - none. Band - us, playing gamelan. Games and face-painting for kids, silly party games for grown-ups thrown in for good measure. Money raised - £800 for the Sumatran earthquake appeal, so again a worthy charitable cause benefitted. A fantastic time was had by all. What I particularly like about Indonesian parties is that Indonesians are capable of having uproarious fun without needing a drink first. And they understand their own dress codes. And they don't dance like knob-ends.

Does even thinking such thoughts make me a bad person?

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Simon Jenkins. Twat.

No Good Boyo - a man who rightly relishes the opportunity to provoke unnecessary violence - earlier drew my attention to a highly annoying article in the Guardian, by the aforementioned Jenkins.

Jenkins writes in what he clearly thinks is a moving and evocative way of a part of Romania which is a strong contender for the title of "Europe's least developed region". Furthermore, it is on target to have a Roma majority before long; a prospect he described as "the most exciting and daunting cultural challenge in Europe" (public-school tosser weasel-speak for "I say, do you think these primitive pikeys will manage when the grown-ups are away?")

Jenkins scrupulously avoids the word "Roma" throughout, preferring the outdated and moderately offensive "Gypsy", presumably to conjure up an image of picturesque simple folk in gaily emroidered costumes playing their jolly music. He clearly has an eye for the boys too:
There is no water or sewerage and no tarmac roads. The village well and a few desultory horses and carts are attended by attractive Gypsy youths.

No water or sewerage and mainly horses for transport. Sounds just wonderful, doesn't it? But of course "simple picturesque people" like the Roma would only be spoilt if you let them share the benefits of modern society. And their 'attractive youths' might not be quite so available either. Far better to tailor aid to their modest needs:
A truly minimalist venture had a Gypsy in the village of Floresti asking for, and getting, a tiled roof over an appalling hovel shared with his wife, two horses and a mountain of manure.

We wouldn't want to remove the manure, now, would we? Old Florian has grown so fond of it, and it provides such a lovely photo opportunity and story to tell over a glass of wine back in Hampstead.

And here we touch on his true concern for the region, if not its people:
There is thus a race to save the most endangered pre-industrial landscape in Europe from poverty-stricken newcomers understandably eager for modernity. One day these villages will be as treasured as those of the Cotswolds, Provence or Umbria, but until then they must pass through the valley of the shadow of possible death.

Yes folks - tired of how overrun with braying middle-class English pillocks your favourite holiday area is? Then come to Romania and patronise some Gyppoes. They won't mind, you know, they're happy with an unmetalled road and a pile of horse-poo!

I am seriously minded to start a new charitable organisation, possibly with EU funding, to provide the Roma of Transylvania with the development they actually want. Top of the list would be a supply of AK-47s and some leaflets explaining to them how all rich English tourists in 4x4s are agents of Satan.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Monosyllablism - it's the Anglo-Saxon way...

Last night my wife and I had a chat. She said that one thing she likes about the tongue used in this land is that there are a lot of words with but the one sound in them. This was not like her own birth tongue, in which a lot of the words have three or four sounds in them. "This is true" I said. "A lot of the key words used here have but one sound in them - earth, sun, moon, man, child, birth, death and so on. In fact, I bet you I could write a whole post on my blog and not have to use one word which has more than one sound in it."

"Go on then" she said.

Please feel free to add a word or two or your own. But be sure to use just the words which have one sound each in them.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Lookalikes - 2

Have any other readers of this blog noticed the uncanny similarity of my boy Guthlac and celebrated monorchidous anti-Tziganist Austrian lance-corporal fuckwit and mainstay of the GCSE history syllabus Adolf Hitler?

Adolf Hitler


Saturday, 26 September 2009

Grammatical lunacy - a view from between the coconut palms

Regular readers of No Good Boyo's erudite blatherings will recently have been entertained and/or baffled by a mind-warpingly detailed discussion of the relative ease-of-use of Latvian and Polish. And lest there are any monoglot Brits out there saying to themselves "So, do all these foreign languages come draped with unnecessary and impossible-to-memorise grammatical fripperies?" I say unto them "No, indeed not."

Indonesian (or Malaysian as the Malaysians insist on call it. Or Malay as the Singaporeans insist on calling it... Or indeed Melayu as the Bruneians insist on calling it*) is a wonderfully intuitive tongue, which does away with articles, tenses, cases, and - largely - the verb 'to be'. So, for instance, to construct the statement "I am a teacher", one need simply say "Saya guru" - literally 'I teacher'. Whatever the head word is comes first and modifiers follow; so 'My teacher' would be "Guru saya". Neat, eh? (Unfortunately it also means word order is sometimes flexible and sometimes critically important - I once intended to ask someone the time and instead asked them how many watches they were wearing ["Jam berapa?" vs "Berapa jam?"])

This makes Indonesian in general a delightful language for grammarphobes (they say it takes 2 months to learn it passably; and the rest of your lifetime to learn to speak properly). However, when grammarphobic students get to lesson five or thereabouts and have to start forming transitive verbs, many of them start whimpering as it is discovered they are also morphology-phobes. Like all Austronesian languages (Tagalog, Malagasy and Maori to name but three), Indonesian is agglutinative, meaning that forming sentences may be easy but forming the words in them can sometimes be bafflingly hard.

This is partly because prefixes not only slot onto the start of roots, they cause the initial consonants to mutate into homorganic nasals (so 'p' and 'b' become 'm', 't' and 'd' become 'n', 'k' and 'g' become 'ng' and so forth). This means that untangling prefixes and their warping effects is a critical skill to acquire before you can even use a dictionary - you'll find 'pengecilan' (diminution), for instance, under 'k' for 'kecil' (small) - a letter under which the uninitiated would never think of searching since it doesn't appear anywhere in the word. On the plus side, learning a few comparatively simple roots and add-ons makes learning vocabulary comparatively easy.

There is also the excitingly randomising feature that while most words with multiple affixes (the catch-all term for prefixes and suffixes; and in some Austronesian languages infixes and simulfixes, which are even more fun) can be built up lego-like from their constituent parts, occasionally a word can acquire an unexpected meaning that can throw you off.

I once encountered an American who had attempted to translate the English word 'shyness/emabarrasment' from the root adjective (or stative verb, depending on which side of that particular grammatical controversy you place yourself) by taking the root word 'malu' ('shy, embarrased') and adding the ke-****-an simulfix, turning it into an abstract noun. Unfortunately, 'kemaluan' is a common euphemism for genitalia. What he meant was to say he was very diffident about doing something (making a speech, I believe it was). What landed in the ears of his Indonesian listeners' ears was "I have an ENORMOUS todger!" ["Kemaluan saya besar..."]

Someone else of my acquaintance, when on a language course in Bali, found the window of his boarding-house room stuck and wished to open it. Unfortunately, he had confused the word jendela (window) with celana (trousers). Add to which the curiosity by which the same verb - buka - is used both for 'to open' [a window, door, box etc]and 'to remove [an item of clothing]', and you have the ingredients for classic comic misunderstanding. He sought out the landlord's 17-year old daughter and asked what he thought was "Can you help open my window?" What came out, inevitably, was "Can you help me remove my trousers?"

When she recoiled in confusion and embarrassment, he effortlessly made the situation far worse by saying "Just come to my room - I'll push from the inside and you can pull from the outside!" It was at this point that he had an opportunity to reflect on what a graceful thing a Balinese girl's running action is when seen from behind to the accompaniment of melodious shrieking.

*The number of native speakers is consistently underestimated owing to the consistency with which the countries where it's spoken happily chat to each other perfectly well and then insist vehemently that their languages are mutually incomprehensible (see also Czech vs Slovak, Hindi vs Urdu, Serbian vs Croatian, Norwegian vs Swedish vs Danish...)

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

The Great Indonesian Novel - 3

Continuing the ongoing series with This Earth of Badly-Raised Twilight. Chapter 3 - March 1911

William of Orange Polder Windmill Rotterdam Pancake Li hit his little brother, Hayamwuruk Gamelan Komodo-Dragon Dream-of-Independence Batik Li, over the head with a Dutch toy train.

"I tell you b'fore, 'Ruk, native not allowed in First Class'!"

"But why, elder brother? Is the native less of a man than the arrogant European? Is his money somehow tainted by being offered in a brown-skinned hand? Do we not ourselves have the blood of native royalty running through our veins, and must needs feel ourselves at one with the benighted peasantry of our homeland? I may be only two years old, and you may be older and wiser than me from your education in a Dutch kindergarten, but this book sorely needs some rousing speeches in defence of our oppressed native folk, to give them hope that one day we may cast of the yoke of oppression."

William hit him with the train again, and went off, smirking, to find his father to have a Dutch storybook read to him. In Dutch.

Hayamwuruk shed tears of despair and frustration thick and fast now, like rice flour pouring into the bubur ayam pot - there to be soaked in the resentment of economic and political oppression, raised to boiling point by growing consciousness of his national destiny, garnished with the chicken shreds and onion flakes of dreams of independence and served up to an overweight British tourist at a breakfast buffet in a four-star hotel, only to be proclaimed "a bit bland" and left largely uneaten.

He toddled into the servants' quarters to find his beautiful but cruelly mistreated and ignored native mother, Raden Roro Royabot, who was making a meringue.

"Why are you only keeping those egg-whites, mother?"

"It's for you 'Ruk - remember how you made that speech earlier urging me to cast away the yolks of oppression?"

"That's yokes, mother."

His mother looked at the floor in dismay and confusion.

"I am sorry, son. I did not know, son. And in any case son, that gag doesn't work in Javanese, as you should know by now from your extensive reading of the works of Ronggowarsito."

She looked at his disappointed but sympathetic face and forced a smile. "But come, my darling boy - let us sit together and read endlessly impenetrable passages from the Babad Tanah Jawi together, telling of the glorious deeds of your ancestors before the Dutch ever arrived."

"Yes mother, I would like that very much."

Sometimes, she thought wistfully, her beloved younger son reminded her not of her evil, rapacious husband but of the only man who had ever moved her heart with kindness - Min, the simple village goat-carrier.


Far away in the village, Min - the simple village goat-carrier-turned-dokar-driver who nursed within him a hopeless passion for Royabot - had delivered his last passenger of the day when he heard sobbing from a satay stall at the side of the road. He left his horse eating grass at the roadside and went to investigate. The satay seller was sitting alone in tears.

"Wah - I am but a poor old man who is unable to sell any goat satay. Why will people not buy my delicious charcoal-grilled meaty skewers?"

"Pak" said Min soothingly, "I am but a poor village goat-carrier-turned-dokar-driver and know nothing about these things, but I know a little about goats and even from here I can see that you have cut the meat longitudinally along the grain of the latissimus dorsi, but then at 45 degrees downwards from the line of the spinal column along the gluteus maximus. In both cases, you have the main muscle fibres running along the length of the satay, making it difficult to chew. Were you to cut across the grain to start with - laterally away from the spine for the latissumus dorsi and then upwards at 45 degrees along the gluteus maximus - the grain of the muscle fibres would be cut into easy-to-chew mouthfuls and the satay would be more appetizing."

"Wah, Min - you are so clever. We should swap places - you can be the satay seller and I will drive the dokar. For your cleverness, you deserve this."

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

An opportunity sadly missed

Driving home the other day, I spotted fraudulent stage conjurer Mr Uri Geller wandering along looking like the tragically new-age pillock he undoubtedly is. (No, this wasn't someone who looked a bit like him, I do actually drive past his house on a daily basis. Like most rationalists, I love honest stage magicians like Penn and Teller, James Randi and Derren Brown - all of whom are far better than Geller has ever been - and have the deepest, most bilious contempt for exploitative fakes like Geller.)

Only after passing him did it strike me that I had just missed a glorious opportunity to run the smegger over, or perhaps shout hurtful abuse from my car window.

And then it occurred to me that the two beautiful things about running over Uri Geller would be:

1) You wouldn't hurt him, since he has miraculous healing powers, apparently. So you could do it on a daily basis and never feel guilty.

2) Think of the fun you could have with the police interview:
Inspector Knacker: Now then Gyppo, you say you didn't ram Mr Geller with your car.
Me: That's right, bor.
IK: But there is clearly a Uri Geller-shaped dent in your front bumper and bonnet.
Me: I didn't touch him - he did that from a distance with his mind-powers, just like he does with they spoons.
IK: Fair enough, You can go then...

Monday, 21 September 2009

Punfight at the OK Corral

It is a matter of public record that No Good Boyo and I are both - for better or worse (usually the latter) - gainfully employed in the same organisation.

It may have occurred to some readers to wonder what, exactly, we get up to.

Well for a start, I am in the habit of sharing particularly entertaining worky-nuggets with like-minded colleagues, of whom Boyo is one.

Today I came across the appealing Malaysian headline (while reading up on the latest moves in the ongoing Malaysia-Indonesia bitch-slapping festival):

Malaysia: Minister Says Government To Review Levy Charged on Indonesian Maids

I pasted this under a subject line musing that this was a piece of good news for Captain Scott "Scottie" Scott.

Boyo promptly responded with:
Somewhere in the Irrawaddy Delta: Burmese Minister Says Government to Construct Levies from Indonesian Maids

Not to be outdone, I parried with:
Somewhere in Israel: Levy overcharged for Indonesian maid

Boyo was not done yet:
Somewhere in England: Lord Levy Questioned in Indonesian-Maids-For-Honours Scandal

Scraping the barrel somewhat, I moved on to:
Somewhere in Hollywood: Indonesian maid removes Levis

Boyo then added a rather soiled cherry to the top with:
Somewhere in England: Lord Scott of Quetta Renounces Title in Honour-For-Indonesian-Maids Move

And there matters would have rested, but for the fact that a North Korean headline then caught my eye, which suggested a natural response:

In Pyongyang:
Korean Central News Agency: Floral Tribute Paid to Bust of Kim Jong Suk

In Reading:
Rrom Peripheral News Agency: Floral Tribute Paid to Bust of Barbara Windsor

Boyo always rises to a challenge (see "Red Hot Amsterdam Video Productions Ltd vs Boyo, Aberyswyth Assizes, 1992"):
In Wales: Government Grant Paid to Bust of Charlotte Church

Unwilling to let him have the last word, I returned with:
In LA: Hugh Grant Paid for Bust of Divine Brown

The bit firmly between his few remaining teeth, Boyo shot back:
In the past: Cary Grant paid to squire bust of Marilyn Monroe

At which I responded desperately with:
Shortly after: Arthur Miller paid to bust Marilyn Monroe's squire

It was enough. Boyo's final e-mail:

I win game, set, match and managerial reprimand!

Thursday, 17 September 2009


Have any other readers of this blog noticed the uncanny similarity of my boy Guthlac and Captain Yoshimoto of the Imperial Japanese Navy's air arm?

Capt Yoshimoto:


I wonder if they could be related. Should I hire a private detective?

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

The Great Indonesian Novel - 2

Continuing the ongoing series with This Earth of Badly-Raised Twilight. Chapter 2 - September 1906

Ho Li Kow put a Dutch record on his Dutch gramophone and took a sip of his Dutch beer.

How perfect life could have been had he but married a Dutch woman, he thought; but here he was - running his family's successful rice-lending business and already in the contention for the "Mr Exploitative Bastard" contest of the Dutch East Indies, to be sure - but married to a native woman.

As if on cue, his beautiful but cruelly mistreated and ignored native wife Raden Roro Royabot tottered painfully into the room.

"You sent for me, husband?" she asked, in the demure tones of one resigned to her terrible fate.

"No I didn't, but the plot exposition clearly demands your presence. And why are you tottering?"

"It is these clogs, lord. I cannot walk properly in them. Please stop making me dress like a Dutch woman."

"And you are bare-headed. I explicitly told you to wear a Dutch cap. And why haven't you borne me a child yet?"

Royabot looked at her clog-shod feet in dismay and confusion.

"I am sorry lord. I did not know the difference, lord. And in any case lord, that gag doesn't work in Javanese. And why would you want children who, after all, will be half-native and therefore disgust you?"

"It is necessary that we have two sons for the sake of contrast - an older evil one who will take after his father and be obsessed with European culture, and a younger, sensitive one who will side with you and through whose eyes we will see the events of the next few decades. And if we don't hurry up, he will be too young to attend the 1928 Youth Congress in Batavia, as Djakarta is currently called, where he would allow readers to see an epochal event in the history of the independence movement through the eyes of a sympathetic character. Now leave!"

As Royabot turned to leave, tears poured from her beautiful native eyes like chopped chilis into gado-gado sauce, to be ground by the pestel of loveless marriage into the stone mortar of European disregard for the feelings of native royalty, blended with the peanuts of political powerlessness and poured uncaringly over the steamed vegetables of cruelly oppressed indigenous cultures, before being tasted yet almost immediately discarded as being too spicy by an overweight British tourist in an overpriced cafe.

She thought longingly of the only man who had ever spoken kind words to her, Min, the simple village goat-carrier.


Far away in the village, Min - the simple village goat-carrier who nursed within him a hopeless passion for Royabot - had put down his last goat of the day when he heard the crash of a badly-driven horse-drawn dokar colliding with a carelessly placed house. He sprang up to help, but already the poor, wizzened old dokar driver was looking in despair at the damage.

"Wah - I am but a poor old man whose hunger and sickness are a crude metaphor for the plight of the peasantry labouring under an uncaring colonial government. And look at my horse - if either of us knew anything about bread, it would put us in mind of a toast-rack because I cannot afford food for it!"

"But Pak" said Min soothingly, "I am but a poor village goat-carrier and know nothing about these things, but surely horses eat grass, and if you were to let the horse graze on the grass growing freely at the side of the road, it would be healthier and stronger; then you could take more passengers in a day and have more money for food for yourself."

"Wah, Min - you are so clever. We should swap places - you can be the dokar driver and I will carry goats as much as I am able. For your cleverness, you deserve this."

Sunday, 13 September 2009

That Malaysia-Indonesia spat - a bluffer's guide

As Malaysia and Indonesia get into yet another diplomatic spat over cultural identity, many analysts across the region are asking the question "F***ing Malaysians -what are they like, eh?"

So in the ever-helpful spirit regular readers have come to know and roll their eyes at, Last Django is pleased to present an in-depth analysis of the issue:

Malaysia and Indonesia are two countries sharing a common language, and are thus destined to engage in endless low-level nastiness as a matter of course.

Malaysians see Indonesians as a bunch of chippy peasants incapable of organising a piss-up in a brewery. Indonesians regard Malaysians as a bunch of stuck-up bastards with no culture of their own. Malaysians frequently employ semi-literate Indonesian peasant girls as housemaids and a small minority mistreat them cruelly. The two countries are also in dispute over the Amabalat sea area and its underlying oilfield. Malaysia has previously claimed the Reog folk dance and the popular song "Rasa Sayang" as Malaysian (both are Indonesian in origin). Every time there is a dispute, EVERY bone of contention gets dragged up and hurled violently at the other side.

This time round, the Discovery Channnel (Asia) - which has no connection with the Malaysian government - put together a cut-n-paste ad for a series called "Enigmatic Malaysia" which featured a Balinese pendet dancer.


When interviewed in a corner of SOAS bar, Indonesia expert Dr Terry McCassey said "You have to remember them Malaysians is thieving gits, bor. National Flag? British East India Company ensign with an extra bit sewn on. National Anthem? Indonesian popular song with the words changed. Language? Indonesian as spoken by someone going over a cattle grid in a sled. Top entertainer Mr P. Ramlee? Indonesian, from Sumatra. Largest city? Declared 'F*** this for a game of skittles, we're declaring independence!' in 1965 and hasn't looked back since. Manages to annoy all its neighbours and exports terrorists. Tastiest birds? Chinese - look at that Michelle Yeoh, eh? Eh? And now they're claiming the Balinese pendet dance as Malaysian."

In response, Malaysian cultural attache Mr Muhammad "Muhammad" Muhammad struck Dr McCassey forcibly on the head with a carved Iban rice-mortar. Dr McCassey was heard to murmur "That's Indonesian too, bangsat!" before passing out in pool of Filipino beer.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

A once-in-a-lifetime experience!

When we announced to Djangolina that this year's holiday would be in Indonesia (again), we offered her by way of consolation the chance to propose one holiday visit or activity of her own choosing. She had been hinting for ages that she really wanted to swim with dolphins, so we were unsurprised to hear that as her choice. And so we duly booked a long weekend in Bali (the next island over from where we were going anyway) at a hotel and wildlife park which has its own dolphin pools and, indeed, offers swimming with dolphins as its main draw.

For some reason, swimming with dolphins is one of those things that keeps cropping up on various lists of "things to do before you die". It is, as they say, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. When you think about it, the phrase "a once-in-a-lifetime experience" implies something that you wouldn't want to do for a second time. And this is pretty much what swimming with dolphins is.

The hotel's brochure chooses its words carefully, always referring to "the dolphins playing with you". And within seconds of entering the pool, it became clear why. The dolphins do play with you. They use you as the ball. Furthermore, the two dolphins involved are young male rescue dolphins previously abused by a cruel circus owner (allegedly). An honest description would be "swimming with psychologically disturbed teenaged boy dolphins", but for PR reasons they keep these facts as part of the small print.

The nearest I can get to describing it in words is this: Imagine donning a lifejacket, climbing into a swimming-pool full of salt water and then being batted about with giant rubbery sausages the size of pillar-boxes. That's what swimming with dolphins is like. Glad I did it once, wouldn't want to go there again.

And that set me to thinking of a few things I've done once in my life which I wouldn't want to repeat ever:

1) Having bacillary dysentery
2) Having a full-blown unmedicated asthma attack
3) Spraining my finger
4) Waiting on Sheffield station for 4 hours
5) Being hit from behind while stationary by a Ford Sierra driven by a total plonker who failed to notice the red light because they were on a mobile phone at the time
6) Sitting an O-level German exam
7) Being trapped in a corner of a pub by an obsessive New-Age nutter who "recognised me" as a fellow Atlantean
8) Going down the 'Boa Constrictor' waterslide at Coral Reef pool the wrong way up
9) Falling off a cliff
10) Watching a really piss-poor B movie called "Drug Smugglers" on video at full volume on an Indonesian overnight bus

In the interests of starting another blogosphere meme, I hereby tag Boyo, Gadjo, Scarlet, Inkspot and Daphne to produce their own similar lists.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

The Great Indonesian Novel

For the few of you out there who haven't, at some point in your past, been compelled to read the Great Indonesian Novels of Abdoel Moeis, Mochtar Lubis and Pramoedya Anantar Toer, I now offer you the chance to read one single, compact Great Indonesian Novel as a series of easy to follow (or indeed easy to ignore) blog postings. This work - to be entitled "This Earth of Badly-Raised Twilight" - will encapsulate the entirety of modern Indonesian literature, and add some sorely needed gags.

Chapter 1 - May 1905
Ho Li Kow lit his Dutch pipe with a Dutch match, shook the match out, and blew out a cloud of Dutch tobacco smoke. He didn't want to be here at home; he would far rather have been back at the Dutch school, learning Dutch like a modern, civilised man should.

And now his parents were compelling him to marry a native woman. The shame of it! He had always dreamed of marrying one of the Dutch women whose pictures he'd seen in his Dutch magazines. His ideal wife would be one of them, not brown-skinned with splayed feet thrust into peasant sandals, no; she would wear proper European leather boots - also fishnet stockings, latex corset, fluffy handcuffs...

His reverie was interrupted rudely as his mother stormed into the room. He pulled himself together and placed his hat before his groin to conceal his thoughts.

"She is here, Number One Son. You will do the right thing by your family and marry her!"
"But mother - she is a native."
"She is minor royalty. Her family have fallen on hard times. By marrying her we will gain the privileges of royalty."
"And what privileges do native royalty have, mother?"
"Not having their houses burnt down every time there is a riot, idiot boy. Your father may be the second-biggest rice lender in the province, but people still hate us because we are Chinese. You will marry the girl, and you will like it."

Before he could answer, the bride that had been chosen for him walked demurely into the room and knelt before him, trembling slightly. Raden Roro Royabot was but 15 years old, and beautiful as only a native woman could be in this literary genre. In contrast to the pretentious Dutch furniture and European-style clothes of her prospective husband's rich Chinese family , she wore a simple kain panjang and kebaya, her hair arranged in a plain bun and a frangipane behind her ear.

Ho Li Kow looked her up and down dispassionately for what seemed like an age.
"Why do you have a cake behind your ear?"
"I beg your pardon, Lord?"
"You have a frangipane behind your ear. Shouldn't that be a frangipani?"

She lowered her beautiful, dark eyes to the floor in dismay and confusion.

"I am sorry Lord. I did not know the difference Lord. I have only had 10 minutes education, and that mostly at the hands of dyslexic Japanese biker nuns. And in case Lord, that joke doesn't work in Javanese."

"TEN MINUTES?" Li Kow's mother's screech startled them both. "SO SHE IS AN EDUCATED WOMAN! SHE WILL BRING NOTHING BUT TROUBLE!"

Tears began to well up in Royabot's eyes. She bit her lip, determined not to cry. She remembered what her father had told her: "As number 14 daughter, your role in the plot is to be sold to an uncaring husband to pay off our debts in a crude and obvious allegory of colonial economic exploitation. And above all don't cry - if you shed a tear in the rice-lender's house we will be liable for tear-tax which we cannot pay, and we'll have to offer another of your young brothers to Mr Piedovijl in the Provincial Administration in lieu. And we need all your brothers to hold up the roof because we can't afford walls!"

Li Kow put his hands on his hips, looked off to one side and laughed harshly in a way that suggested a cameo role for a superannuated Hong Kong action star in the film adaptation.

"Very well mother - the path of duty is clear. I will marry her, but then mistreat and ignore her in an ironic parallel to the Dutch colonial government's treatment of native people."

Royabot thought longingly of the only man who had ever been kind to her - Min, the simple village goat-carrier. Her tears fell thick and fast now, unheedingly, like chocolate sprinkles onto a kue bandung; only to be smothered in the condensed milk of Chinese pretention, hidden by the chopped nuts of economic necessity and finally folded into the pancake of historical oblivion and scoffed uncaringly by an overweight British tourist on the rain-soaked, night-time streets of Kota Baru. It was all so hideously unfair, just like Dutch rule...
[to be continued]

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Back from my little jaunt

Well, I'm back. Anything interesting happened while I was away?

We've been on the once-every-two-or-three-years trip to Indonesia to pay respects to Mrs Byard's extensive family. Young Guthlac met his relatives for the first time and is now going through attention withdrawal at only having his parents, big sister, neighbours, child-minder and grandparents cooing over him. Djangolina has acquired a Chinese name and had her ears pierced, and we got to do some apparently quite desirable holiday things, of which more anon in future blog postings. So much to blog, such rubbish internet connections...

The soundtrack to the holiday was Indonesian pop phenomenon Mbah Surip, the reggae-singing tramp. Sadly, after decades as a street busker - often living rough - Surip achieved belated stardom this year and then died suddenly at the age of 60.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Swine flu. Have I had it?

This may sound like an appallingly stupid question, but it's absolutely genuine. I have just had three days of lethargy, a sore throat, mild diarrhoea, a high temperature and feeling generally "bleeeeeeeeeeeeeugh", but having been advised by the NHS phone types not to see a doctor or indeed go out at all, I have no professional diagnosis.

It could have been "ordinary" flu (although I've never had flu in August before). Then again, it could have been swine flu - but can you recover from a deadly global pandemic disease within 72 hours? That strikes me as an unreasonably short time to get over something that is potentially so serious. Was I just panicking and had three days of psychosomatic man-flu because my work colleagues were going down with similar symptomns left, right and centre? Is there a different, less serious viral infection going unnoticed because swine flu is getting all the attention?

If I'm lucky, I've had swine flu, and will therefore now be immune for a relatively small amount of trouble and discomfort. If I'm unlucky, I'm still ill and they'll prevent me from flying tomorrow (I'm supposed to be off to Indonesia to be reunited with my family, who've been there for three weeks already).

On a lighter note - a neutron goes into a pub, and says to the barman "How much for a pint of bitter?" and the barman says "For you, no charge."

The late, great Jimmy Edwards always recommended wearing squeaky shoes for doing stand-up comedy, so that you don't have to walk offstage in absolute silence...

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

After the striking success of my last fossil-themed song...

... behold, a new and similarly pointless, obscure oeuvre. To be sung to the tune of Desmond Dekker's "Israelites":

Driftin' on de current through a cloud of phytoplankton
So that every mouth can be fed
Ooooooooh - oooooooooh
Me graptolites

[Long pause while singer waits for audience to look up graptolites in the vain hope of understanding wtf the song is about, after which the audience leaves hurriedly through a fire exit, taking their drinks with them]

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Flights we have enjoyed.

No Good Boyo - a veritable walking encyclopedia of Slavic eccentricity - has recently waxed suitably lyrical about the joys of small post-Soviet airlines. I have only flown on one such carrier - Air Azerbaijan - and they fly internationally so are relatively normal. The only refreshingly Soviet-esque part was the cabin service, which consisted of a scarily made-up ex-KGB torturer who made one pass through the cabin during the five-hour flight, to ask the monosyllabic question
"DRINK?" of each passenger.
"Just a water please", I asked her.
I wondered which gas was on offer for a moment until it dawned on me that she meant "Still or sparking?"

Anyway, my formative mad airline experiences - decades before this relatively tame incident - were at the hands of assorted Indonesian airlines, who have something of a chequered safety record and thus add a frisson of terminal excitement to the otherwise mundane business of air transport. It is said that travelling by plane is a million times safer than crossing the road. Indonesian air travel is a million times safer than crossing an Indonesian road, which still renders it akin to Russian roulette (or indeed Borneo roulette, which involves propositioning long-earlobed ladies from cannibal tribes for oral favours. Apparently.)

Where was I? Oh yes - Indonesian air travel in the golden days of Suharto; before the bombs started going off, when Muslim headscarves were a rarity eliciting pointing and laughing from the assembled peanut gallery and when Garuda Indonesia stewardesses would give you their private phone numbers and agree to meet you for a drink after landing. And Garuda was still an option, as at that point the EU hadn't banned all Indonesian carriers on safety grounds. Personally, when young I was prepared to accept the chance of a fiery death in return for a date with a stewardess. But alas, the past is a foreign country; and a foreign country's past is, er, something which as yet lacks a word.

Who remembers the DC10? There was a time in the mid-80s when the things seemed to be falling out of the sky on a weekly basis. I was therefore less than 100% happy to find that my 1985 flight from Jakarta to Hong Kong was on a DC10. I availed myself of a window seat and, as we taxied out, was moderately alarmed to see a piece fall off the wing. I seemed to be the only one even marginally bothered by this ("It happens all the time, and in any case everything is the Will of Allah..."), and the flight took off as scheduled.

Landing in Hong Kong before the new airport was built was an experience never forgotten. The runway was built out into Kowloon harbour at the foot of a mountain, meaning that approaching aircraft had to turn over the peak and make their approach down the mountain, between the skyscrapers. My memory may be playing tricks, but I could have sworn we could look into people's apartment windows level with the plane. If the plane overshot the runway, it would end up in the harbour. Modern air travel just seems to offer the remote peril without the excitement.

Bali's Ngurah Rai international airport has the runway built across a narrow isthmus, meaning that if you undershoot or overshoot you end up in the limpid azure water.

In the early 90s Emirates started connecting to the the Far East at quite reasonable prices; a fine option if you had no objection to changing in Dubai. On one occasion I had booked to fly Jakarta-Singapore-Dubai-London; but shortly after take-off from Jakarta we collided with a giant armour-plated toxic exploding vulture and mullered the tail. They didn't tell us this until we'd landed in Singapore; but they did break the bad news that we were going to be there until replacement parts were fitted, no matter what.

So for six hours we were confined in the plane on the ground at Changi. The flight was full of devout Muslims from East Java (which is Indonesian for 'Norfolk' or 'Alabama') going on minor pilgrimage. They had obviously never flown before - jostling on boarding to make sure they got a seat and didn't have to ride on top with the baggage, bringing their own lunch pails full of rice, praying in an alarming fashion when we took off or encountered turbulence and so on. They were getting agitated and the cabin crew were having difficulty explaining the problem, having only modern - rather than Koranic - Arabic and no Javanese (there is also the issue that as far as I know the Koran is somewhat light on mentions of aircraft bird strikes and repairs to avionics systems, but I could be wrong).

I was trying to explain the situation to a nice old bearded geezer sitting across the aisle from me, and a stewardess noticed. She bustled over to me. "Can you communicate with these people?" "Um, sort of" I replied. "Well could you come up to the front and announce over the PA system what's going on?"

The problem with studying the social use and ancient literature of a language is that your vocabulary of modern jets tends to be a bit poor. And being asked to move from "explaining things to the bloke next to you" to "making an official airline tannoy announcement" is a challenge at the best of times. As I switched on the microphone, my mind went blank. "Ladies and gentleman" I started in Javanese, followed by a long pause. "We've been run over by a giant evil bird."
There were encouraging murmurs of understanding from the peasantry, presumably accompanied my sotto voce mumblings of "Well they would 'ave that in that Singapore, wouldn't they? That's the sorter thing they 'ave."
"So we must wait while they mend our chariot."

To me surprise and relief, there are broad smiles of understanding, . The pilgrims duly sit down assuaged and the stewardess is touchingly grateful. Not grateful enough to give me her number, but extra-smiley nonetheless. My connection to London was screwed, obviously, but that's a relatively small price to pay for remaining alive, in my book.

But the most endearingly ramshackle flight I ever took was on a Mandala Airways Vickers Viscount from Padang to Jakarta. With propellers. I remembered having a model of one when I was a small kid, and somehow there was a lost world glamour to travelling on a vintage plane. Not long afterwards Mandala scrapped them all in favour of anonymous modern jets. Indonesian pilots have an understandable respect for thunderclouds, of which Java in particular has more than any other place on earth. Lacking the ceiling to go over them or the suicidal tendency to fly through them, the pilots would weave in and out of the cloud-stacks, banking at crazy angles to avoid being shaken to bits by the turbulence.

Padang is a 'walk straight out of waiting room across grass and climb steps' sort of airfield, of a kind I rather like (the only one more basic I've ever encountered was 'Mid Wales Airport' near Welshpool, where air traffic control consists of the canteen manageress popping her head outside to have a look around and then clearing you for landing via a walkie-talkie, but that's another story). Walking out, getting on a prop-plane, going for a roller-coaster ride through stormclouds. That's flying...

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Another of my foetid classmates...

Sproggis is not the only one of my schoolfellows I have been thinking of lately.

Yesterday I was reminded of a much nicer and utterly non-criminal chap whom we shall call Cyril Mazzard-Crusher (not his real name), with whom I went through school from the age of 4.

When we about - ooh, 13 or 14 - the whole class went on a coach trip. Two days before, two somewhat impressionable girls lacking a certain degree of rationality announced tearfully that they had both had identical dreams that the coach would crash into a wall and that Cyril would be killed. There was, I recall, a fair amount of belief in the irrational at my school - ouija boards, astrology, lucid dreaming and similar pap. The two girls in question and their friends begged Cyril not to board the bus, but stoically he did so. Nobody wanted to sit next to him for some curious reason.

And why was he particularly in my thoughts yesterday? Because he sent me a friend invitation on Facebook.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

One song in the style of another - 6

A brilliantly simple concept as usual from Mr Weird Al Yankovic - Bohemian Rhapsody redone as a polka:

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Sproggis - a further argument for nature vs nurture

I have in the past seen fit to blog on the subject of Margaret Mead, Samoa and the standard social science model; and how it held nurture to trump nature in the formation of character.

Looking back, I was predisposed to be sceptical because of a boy whom we shall call Sproggis (not his real name for reasons which will soon become apparent), who was with me through primary and comprehensive schools from the ages of 10-16.

Sproggis was from a street which we shall call Carlsberg Avenue (not its real name). Being from Carslberg Avenue carried an instant air of "bein' 'ard" around our parts. This was because our local council, for reasons best known to themselves, put all the council house rent defaulters into Carlsberg Avenue. This meant that over time the entire road filled with the kind of people who appear on the Jeremy Kyle show - dads absent, unknown or in prison; divorced mothers with kids by several different fathers, alcoholics, drug abusers, the long-term unemployed. It was a street down which nicely-brought up kids from up the hill (like me) Did Not Walk, for fear of being ambushed for fun and left tied to several different lampposts. At once.

Sproggis put the fear of God into the other inhabitants of Carlsberg Avenue from the age of seven. He was not large and imposing - most large imposing people I know are actually softies inside. Sproggis was a skinny, rat-faced ginger with scarily light blue eyes, which had no hint of human softness to them. Regarding his face was like staring into twin pools of smoking bleach, and was unadvisable at the best of times anyway for fear of getting a "What are YOU looking at?" beating.

By the age of 10, we all knew to treat him with circumspection. Sometimes he would be friendly, and you would enjoy those times like a brief interval of sunshine between thunderstorms. Inevitably, something would set him off; and senseless violence and the infliction of pain would follow.

Sproggis was not stupid - his intelligence frequently manifested itself in acts of devious larceny requiring considerable forethought and planning. The problem was that he was utterly without empathy. I still believe that he was - and is - a genuine psychopath. No morals, no remorse, no feelings for the pain inflicted on others. And recall that this was all apparent by the age of ten.

If you had come into our classroom in the third year of junior school (that's year 5 in new money) and said "Now then kids - which child in this class will be convicted of murder before their 25th birthday?" There would have been but the briefest of intervals before we all swivelled round and pointed our jam-smeared digits in Sproggis's direction.

A brief interval of hope appeared when he became quite a proficient break-dancer in his late teens; I remember reading in the local free paper that a judge had let him off a shoplifting charge because he was trying to turn his life around.

The judge's confidence was misplaced. Not long after he was arrested for burglary - carried out to feed what by then was a serious heroin habit. While in prison, he murdered his cellmate, and act that was covered for a day or so by the national press. I've always wondered how you could possibly come up with a plausible alibi, having been locked in a cell with one other person, who is then found brutally murdered the next morning. But then, this is psychopath territory - "he annoyed me so I killed him".

Bizarrely, he was released after serving 10 years or thereabouts. Still on heroin, he turned up at Carlsberg Avenue to call on his ex-girlfriend. His ex-girlfriend's mother answered the door, and refused to let him in. Upon which he beat her (the mother) so severely she ended up in hospital and will carry scars for the rest of her life.

As I write, he is back in prison.

Now the point of all this is not to impress you with what a hard school I went to (it wasn't that bad; Sproggis was a glaring exception to the general rule), but to point out that by the age of 10 we, his classmates, had already worked out what a professor of sociology would presumably deny - it was in his nature to be bad. Nurture didn't come into it.

Had they but taken our advice, he would have been preemptively locked up, saving at least one life and a whole lot of pain and anguish. Discuss.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Understanding international relations through British comedy. 1 - North Korea

Lou and Andy from 'Little Britain' explain Beijing-Pyongyang relations:

Lou (dressed as Hu Jintao): Now you've got a bit of money to spend from all that dog fur you sold to the Russians to make furry hats.
Andy (who does bear more than a passing resemblance to Kim Jong-il but with lanker hair: Yeah I know.
Lou: So what would you like to spend it on?
Andy: Nuclears.
Lou: Are you sure?
Andy: Yeah.
Lou: Why don't you spend it on economic development? You like economic development.
Andy: Yeah I know.
Lou: So what will you spend it on?
Andy: Nuclears.
Lou: But you always say that nuclear ambitions are the mark of the imperialist warmaniac bent on oppressing the world's progressive people and stifling the desire of all compatriots for peaceful reunification.
Andy: Yeah I know.
Lou: And besides, if you have nuclears again the IAEA inspectors will want to inspect them and will call for UN sanctions if you defy the ban, and that's a right kerfuffle.
Andy: Yeah I know.
Lou: And nobody will give you any food aid for your birthday.
Andy: Yeah I know.
Lou: And you like food aid.
Andy: Yeah I know.
Lou: You're absolutely sure you can do without food aid and will have the nuclears instead?
Andy: Yeah.
Lou: So what are you going to spend it on?
Andy: Nuclears.
Lou: Well if you say so.
Andy: [Leaps out of wheelchair while Lou's back is turned and starts enriching uranium]
Lou: So what do you want for your birthday?
Andy: Food aid.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

I was outside this hotel in Catalunya at 4 am when the police arrived...

This title is entirely true, yet curiously may need some background explanation:

We have an old friend called Henry, with whom we occasionally keep in touch. Henry recently e-mailed me to announce that he was getting married, and invited us to his wedding. We agreed to go to - as we thought - Spain for this happy event, so we said yes, booked a hotel room, tickets with RyanAir (air transport's equivalent of really bad beer - you hate it but you keep going back for more), packed black tie/ evening dress as per the dress code and so on.

On or shortly after arrival we were disabused of several things - we were not in Spain, we were in Catalunya*, a totally different country which has never had anything to do with Spain, good Lord no! Whatever gave you that impression? Also, Henry was marrying into a seriously wealthy aristocratic family who know how to throw a serious party, and are also full-on Catalan independence supporters (the bride wore a separatist flag at one point. Over her wedding dress, I hasten to add).

Young Guthlac, meanwhile, discovered a previously unsuspected taste for being picked up and cuddled by glamorously dressed Catalan ladies, and at his age (16 months) was easily able to achieve this end by holding his arms out, adopting a cute expression and saying "Ek?" to them.

At 3am we decided to leave, as Guthlac's dancing and flirting were starting to show signs of tiredness. I duly returned to our table, scooped up a dinner jacket that looked plausibly like mine and joined my family in a taxi back to the hotel. On arriving there, I removed the dinner jacket and suddenly realised that various items were missing from my pockets. And that the sleeves were too long. And that it was a different style from mine.

Although it is undoubtedly an advantage of male evening dress that it's all pretty much the same and therefore doesn't require a new outfit to be bought for each event you go to, and that you don't lose any time or suffer any stress working out what to wear, it does leave open the possibility that you pick up the wrong jacket, especially when stuffed with 26 courses of food (yes, twenty-six, 22 of which were tapas-style appetisers) and addled with a selection of outstandingly good wines.

I staggered downstairs and asked the charming and suitably unflappable lady on night duty at the reception desk if such a thing as a taxi was available at this time of night. It was, but I had to wait a while. I opted to go out into the fresh air, where the receptionist joined me for her smoke break and a chat.

At which point, as per the title of this post, a police car pulled up to find me hanging around at 4am outside a hotel with a lady other than my wife in what, strictly speaking, was a stolen jacket.

"This can mean one of two things" the receptionist remarked. "Trouble, or coffee."

The cops sauntered over in the "I have all the time in world" manner common to cops the world over. As in the collapsing Uzbek lamppost incident, one could instinctively understand the entire conversation which transpired:
"Good evening officer. I trust all is well."
"Oh yes, just doing our rounds to check..."
[Expectant pause]
"Would you like a coffee?"
"Ooh - it hadn't occurred to us that you might have some coffee again this morning as on every other morning for the past year, but now you come to mention it that would be very nice!"

*Previously known to me only from George Orwell's book about his experiences importing French cheese to Barcelona, as detailed in his book "A Fromage to Catalonia".

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

"Daddy - why are there no pop songs about fossils?"

A good and compelling question, I trust you'll agree, and one that Djangolina asked me the other day.

In an attempt to fill this void, I composed for her the following lyric, to be sing to the tune (if that's the word I'm looking for) of Miss Dynamite's eponymous theme-song:

When you're digging through the strata underneath your house
And you come across a fossil like a three-part woodlouse
Don't think it's a dead-end with no eyesight -
It had eyes made from rods of calcite
It's Miss Trilobite-ee-ee
She's found in rocks paleozoic - what a stoic!
It's Miss Trilobite-ee-ee
Don't ever think that she's demented - she's just segmented

When you're strolling along on a Dorset beach
And you're looking for a fossil that's within your reach
Just look around your feet, and there without fail
You'll see a fossil that looks somewhat like a snail
It's Miss Ammonite-ee-ee
She's found throughout the rocks Jurassic - zone-fossil classic
Miss Ammonite-ee-ee
A kind of Nautilus that's early - her shelll is curly

If you're digging through chalk you may just see the glint
Of a finger-shaped fossil like a lipstick made of flint
You may throw it aside, but just think what you did -
You've thrown out the arse of a squid
It's Miss Belemnite-ee-ee
She's found throughout the rocks cretaceous - she's silicaceous
It's Miss Belemnite-ee-ee
It's just her tail that turns quite stony - she wasn't bony.


Djangolina: OK Daddy, now I understand.
Me (proudly): About zone fossils?
Djangolina: No, about why nobody writes songs about them. That was rubbish.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Colonel of the month - March

Turning from the upright, Boy's-Own-Paper derring-do of the Campbells and Hayes-Newingtons for a while, we take time to explore the dark side of the colonial colonel this month, through the personage of the thrilling yet disturbing Richard Meinertzhagen.

I first encountered Meinertzhagen in an entertaining passage in Bill Bryson's excellent book 'A Short History of Nearly Everything', detailing the consternation at the Natural History Museum when they opened the crates of bird specimens left to them by Meinertzhagen and discovered the museum's own labels on most of the contents. This, Bryson notes "explained his habit of wearing a large overcoat even in warm weather".

I have also come across quotes from him in various accounts of the campaign in East Africa in WWI, throughout which he appears to have sat on a deckchair behind the lines smoking a pipe and criticising his superiors - a dream job for most of us, I suspect.

There is an outstanding Wikipedia biography, from which the following quotes come:

Colonel Richard Henry Meinertzhagen CBE DSO (March 3, 1878 - June 17, 1967) was a British soldier, intelligence officer, ornithologist and expert on bird lice. He was influential in life and had a legendary reputation for his exploits around the world. Studies on his work on birds and historic notes after his death however raised serious questions on his integrity and have made him a controversial character.

In East Africa in 1905, he crushed a major revolt by killing the Orkoiyot (spiritual leader) who led it. He collected some of the tribal artefacts after this revolt. Some of these artefacts, including a walking stick and baton belonging to the Nandi tribal leader Koitalel arap Samoei, were returned to Kenya in 2006.

His unpublished diaries hint at a successful rescue attempt of one of the Russian Grand Duchesses, possibly Tatiana

Tom Segev considers that Meinertzhagen was "at once a great antisemite and a great Zionist". He justifies this analysis by this excerpt from Meinertzhagen's Middle East Diary : "I am imbued with antisemitic feelings. It was indeed an accursed day that allowed Jews and not Christians to introduce to the world the principles of Zionism and that allowed Jewish brains and Jewish money to carry them out, almost unhelped by Christians save a handful of enthusiasts in England".

He was a prolific diarist and published four books based on his diaries, which make fascinating and often insightful reading. However, his Middle East Diary (1959) contains dozens of entries that are probably fictional, including those on T. E. Lawrence and on Hitler. Meinertzhagen's claimed to have mocked Hitler by giving a Heil Meinertzhagen salute in response to those given by the men around Hitler. He also claimed to have carried a loaded gun in his coat pocket at a meeting with Hitler and von Ribbentrop in July 1939 and was "seriously troubled" about not shooting when he had the chance, adding "If this war breaks out, as I feel sure it will, then I shall feel very much to blame for not killing these two." Lockman in his book shows that Meinertzhagen later falsified his entries on T. E. Lawrence. The original diaries kept in the Rhodes House Library contain differences in the paper used for certain entries as well as in the typewriter ribbon used, and there are oddities in the page numbering.

"Meinertzhagen knew no half measures. He was logical, an idealist of the deepest, and so possessed by his convictions that he was willing to harness evil to the chariot of good. He was a strategist, a geographer, and a silent laughing masterful man; who took as blithe a pleasure in deceiving his enemy (or his friend) by some unscrupulous jest, as in spattering the brains of a cornered mob of Germans one by one with his African knob-kerri. His instincts were abetted by an immensely powerful body and a savage brain..."
– T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, 1926

Note the equating of the beating to death of unarmed POWs with "an unscrupulous jest".

While in India he killed one of his personal assistants in a fit of rage and had the local police officer cover it up as a death due to plague...

Gavin Maxwell wrote about how his parents would scare him and other children to behave themselves when Meinertzhagen visited with "...remember...he has killed people with his bare hands..."

Meinertzhagen's second wife, the ornithologist Anne Constance Jackson, died in 1928 at age 40 in a remote Scottish village in an incident that was ruled a shooting accident. The official finding was that she accidentally shot herself in the head with a revolver during target practice alone with Richard.

That has to be the most magnificently colonelesque inquest verdict ever...

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

One song in the style of another - 5

It's so obvious when you think about it - Messiaen's magnificent Turangalila symphony played Hank Marvin-style on an electric guitar with a tremolo arm.

Embedding is unfortunately disabled on these videos, you'll have to follow the links. Sorry...

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

The Romance of the Stage

In a response to Mrs Pouncer's moving musings on stage curtains and ancestors, I commented that my own parents' relationship had blossomed when my father lit my mother in sundry productions; and Mrs P asked me to expand on the tale.

Bear in mind that I have the fragmentary evidence of my parents and my grandmother for this version, since for obvious reasons I wasn't there other than as a twinkle in someone's eye.

My parents had known each other in some degree at their mixed grammar school - of which my mother was head girl - and there may even have been some romantic attachment (my father on one occasion wistfully alluded to the long grass behind the tennis courts, upon which my mother silenced him with A Look That Could Kill). Anyway, they then went their separate ways - my father to do a degree in electrical engineering and then get hoiked off to do national service in the merchant navy, my mother to drama school (Rose Bruford's) in London and then to teacher training in English and Drama in Birmingham. She was strikingly good-looking, I may as well point out at this stage: dark and petite, in a sort of vaguely Audrey Hepburn-ish way.

Years went by; at length my father returned from the sea, but according to his version of the tale still carrying a torch for my mother, but having long lost contact with her.

And then one evening his mother was reading a local paper bearing a review of an amateur production of something or other in which she played the female lead (as she usually did). "Do you remember that Janet ------?" she said, reading out my mother's maiden name (which, along with my bank account number and sort code, I have no intention of publishing on the Internet). He did, and hope rose within him at the apparent revelation that she was not yet married.

Being also eligible for membership of that dramatic society (old pupils of the aforementioned mixed grammar school), he contacted them to enquire whether they needed a lighting man, casually dropping the fact that he was now an electrical engineering graduate. Unsurprisingly, they said yes - setting him up neatly for a studiedly nonchalant reunion with him leaning suavely over the lighting gantry.

I have difficulty reconciling the romantic hero of the tale with the father I know, love and frequently take cover from during incidents of DIY. My mental picture of him always involves him dropping bags of spanners on her head or similar, but clearly that can't have been the case. Imagining one's own parents as carefree young lovers is always difficult.

But anyway, something clearly blossomed because he asked her out, then asked her to meet his parents (on which evening his father - also an electical engineer - received an emergency callout from a local coalmine and insisted my father accompany him down the pit, leaving my mother and paternal grandmother awkwardly alone).

All being well, we shall be joining them next year to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Bangladesh - a marked improvement...

Having somewhat got over my frustration at being in a luxury hotel (oh happy frustration, some might well say), my Bangladeshi homies took me for a ride last night. It crossed my mind that after some of the less than generous things I had said about their fine country, they planned to batter me insensible with a coconut and leave me floating face-down in a jacuzzi; but in fact they wanted to show me some of the real Bangladesh. And a far nicer place it looks close-up than from behind a hotel compound wall.

It is quite uncannily reminiscent of the Indonesia of the 90s - incomes are rising, leading to more cars on the road without more roads necessarily being built; above street level there are mind-boggling tangles of wires carrying cable TV and broadband Internet access into the apartments of the rising middle classes, old houses are beng replaced at a rapid rate by new apartment blocks to squeeze more accomodation into the city. Occasional power brownouts are the result, above all, of so many people being able to afford fridges, AC units, TVs and computers. These are all signs of a country on its way somewhere; as is the laudable development of grameen banking - a Bangladeshi invention.

There are still some beggars about; many of them congregate around the hotels in the hope of tapping the sentimental guilt of suckers like me, of course - the equivalent of walking out of a posh London hotel to be accosted with the words "Big Issue?"; but also the streets are safer than you may imagine. I fussed about leaving my bag in the car when we arrived at a cafe and parked in the street. "Leave it there, it'll be quite safe" my colleague told me. So I did, and it was. That's not something I'd like to try in Reading. Complete strangers make eye contact, and smile, and greet you politely - again a marked improvement on Reading.

I am reminded, re-reading my last posting, of the 'Goodness Gracious Me' sketch in which Dave Lamb played a British reporter with a repertoire of cliches; standing with grim-faced concern talking about "the grinding poverty" and similar while happy Indians clustered around him, beaming broadly and saying "Mark Tully! Mark Tully!"

Furthermore, a story that has gathered much media comment is about an elderly woman abandoned by her successful, professional children to live on her own, which the papers are lamenting as an introduction of "Western values".

As the Bible should have said "Before removing a mote from another chap's eye, remove the plank from your own eye - then you'll have a plank handy to hit the blighter round the head with if he makes a fuss."

I would very much like to come back for longer, learn a modicum of emergency Bengali (perhaps from a colonial era language book, just for entertainment value. I could stride around in pith helmet and khaki shorts bellowing "Tell the men not to clean their rifles with sandpaper" or "Look here! I'm going to ask you six questions..." while Boyo stands by with dustpan, brush and valuers guide to Gypsy teeth). It would be nice to get out of Dhaka - to see Tagore's compound, or the world's longest unbroken beach at Cox's Bazaar. It would also be nice to stay somewhere more in touch with the country around it, to stop me being such a wuss about things.