Skip to content

Posts from the ‘language’ Category

Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all

If you’ve taken even a cursory interest in my drivel over the past however long, you will know that I wander around a lot both actually and metaphorically.  A friend from my teeny tiny tot-rearing stage recently commented on FaceBook that she never knows where I am.  Tempted though I am to serenely claim that I am being mysterious and elusive, the truth is that I generally have no idea quite where I am, what I am doing nor where I am going.

Appearances are often deceptive and I know that I am a confusing condundrum.  I present as ultra-outgoing and sociable but the truth is, that although I find it quite easy to be the happy-go-lucky life and soul of the gathering, I am in fact rather the hermit and I certainly need time to recharge and that time is generally taken alone.

Enter my wanderings.  I walk muchly and often as a solitary bee (with the noble and frankly ego-centric exception of The Bean and of course, when available, a goodly dollop of husband) and I find my re-set button pressed gently and effectively when I do.

Friends, true friends, I have few and, in keeping with, I believe, many, Social Media has interfered with this natural equilibrium.   I partake less and less in the babbling noise, the king for a day, something to say because I am a self-invented expert-ness of it.  I will flatter myself that I was rather good at it but it is akin, I think to rather good at tooting cocaine … it falsely bolsters you up and erodes your olafactory receptors to the detriment of having a decent pair of nostrils with which to twitch and inhale sensitively your surroundings.  It has a place, of course it does (Social Media, not cocaine) but I think we really do need to be a little careful of this creeping addiction.  And the way in which it induces behaviours that we would not normally indulge in.  Think selfies and I will rest my case.  For the avoidance of doubt there are those of you here in this blogging place, where we actually give some thought to what we are spewing out, that I do consider friends even though we have never met.

I do have a few lifers.  I use the word wisely, for it surely must be some sort of sentence to be embraced wholeheartedly to my bosom and kept there.  One such is JimPig.  He came to me through a husband who was to prove diabolically damaging but The Pig stayed and I am glad he did.  When we met, I already had a daughter and he had a son.  I taught his son to skateboard.  This made them both happy.  My girlie was shy of 18 months old when we met and I made him her honorary Godfather.  He bought her a chocolate stegasaurus from Harrods which stood on her special things shelf for years until she took it to a ‘show and tell’ aged 6 and the teacher confiscated it because it was chocolate, stashed it in her cupboard from where it fell on the floor when the door was opened and smashed into irrepairable pieces.  The head teacher gave the 6 year old a ruler from Australia as a consolation.   It didn’t work.  My daughter is still stinging from the loss of her precious dinosaur – the scars will stay for her lifetime, doubtless.

JimPig is probably the greatest waste of academic talent I will ever meet.  I hope he is because any greater would be dreadfully sad.  Not that he is sad.  His grandfather died when he was a Trinity Dublin under graduate and left him a legacy which was just enough to live a simple life on.  A selfish life some would say.  He is a linguist.  He speaks eight languages fluently.  Not that he will ever admit he is fluent.  Linguists are like that.  He looks like ‘Where’s Wally’ (that’s Waldo if you are from the US side of the Atlantic and as I am reminded by the quite marvellous Mel (of France Says) in the comments and one whom I certainly consider a friend ‘Ou est Charlie’ in France).  Uncannily like him to the extent that when Wally was at the height of his sneaky powers sometime in the 1990s I walked into a large bookshop in Oxford and asked for the lifesize cardboard marketing Wally which they duly allowed me to bear delightedly away and stash in the boot of my Volvo three weeks later.  The Pig feigned delighted when I presented it to him as a gift.  I am sure it was feigned because I don’t think he either knew who Wally was or cared to find out.

It was the aforementioned daughter who christened him JimPig and no-one, least of all she, knows why.  She was two years old at the time which is forgiveable.  The rest of us were clearly not concentrating which may be less forgiveable.  On her eighteenth birthday she had an interview for a London college and I suggested that we have grown-up lunch at the place of her choosing and invite The beloved Pig.  She chose a very fashionable Italian restaurant for the flimsy and entirely defenceable-at-eighteen reason that it was known as a fertile celebrity hunting ground.  We were late.  There was a blizzard and we were tottering on foolish heels on frozen Mayfair pavements which I find iron hard and unforgiving at the best of times.  When we arrived there was a rather tatty bike chained to the railings outside.  We made eye-contact, nodded and mouthed ‘Pig’ in unison.   Inside we were relieved of our chic designer tweed coats in which instants before we had been proud to be seen  but which all of a sudden made us feel like hulking hicks from sticksville on account of the frankly frightening volume of furs that adorned the unfeasibly high-cheekboned, skinny thighed, sky-scraping legged Slavic ladies being lunched by slavering red-faced pinstripes quietly drooling across tables far too tightly squooshed into the odd interior of this modish canteen which included an incongrous porthole with views of raging seas behind it.  It had the effect of inducing a sort of hypnotic nausea which seemed rather inappropriate in an eatery.  In the midst of this, entirely oblivious to his contradictory appearance was The Pig.  Wearing worn to softly transparent chinos and battered converse high-tops and with his shiny anorak on the back of his stylish but clearly, from his air of sitting on a wasp, wholly uncomfortable chair and his wreck of a  rucksack stashed on another he was reading Herman Hesse in Italian.  Because he could and because it was an Italian restaurant.  The staff were clearly bewildered by this apparition.  Was he so rich that he simply didn’t need to care what others thought, or was he truly a tramp?  We sashayed over and joined him, landing proper smackers on his waiting cheeks – no air kisses shall pass on my shift absorbing but ignoring the collective startled intake of breath from the other, clearly far more sophisticated than we, diners.  As it turned out lunch was mediocre but the company was divine.  The Pig is hyper smart and raises you to levels of mental agility that are simultaneously stimulating and exhausting.  When the bill came I was rendered white at the gills appalled … I was paying and it was twice plus some what I had expected.  Of course I seamlessly effected nonchalence but kept the receipt and on checking at home discovered that each and every one of the small bottles of water we had drunk had cost £10. I counselled the daughter earnestly and urgently that in future it would be far better if she always insisted on the finest vintage champagne … I know for a fact from her friends and her husband that she took this sage advice earnestly to heart.

IMG_1157

PS:  The quote is from Herman Hesse’s 1920 work Wandering:’Home is neither here nor there.  Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.’   My picture is of Grenoble which is my home for the moment.  I have read Wandering only in English, The Pig has, quite naturally, read it in several languages.  It is only when I consider the cover now that I realise The Pig looks rather like Hesse.

The Pig, by the way, like my two brained husband has no Social Media accounts.  Interesting.  Perhaps.  Do we think?

PPS:  I couldn’t possibly write a piece in response to a challenge called ‘Wanderlust’ (the full library of noble entries here) without adding this moment from ‘A Fish Called Wanda’ … I quite simply couldn’t – enjoy.

Truly ‘t is a rare bird in the land

Those of you familiar with my nonsense will know that I refer to my spouse as The Husband with Two Brains or HB². But he has another moniker, one that arose when he wasn’t even in the same country as the protagonist, let alone the same room.

Some while ago, probably 6 months after I moved to France, I was taking coffee with Raymond (adopt French accent, for he is indeed a proud Frenchman). Raymond came into world of HB² quite by chance some 20 years ago. A knock on his office door, a frantic colleague needing help with someone he suspected to be a Frenchman who had appeared uninvited in the lab. Under gentle interrogation it transpired that Raymond had spent all his savings on a single air fare to New York in pursuit of an Astronomy Professor that he particularly admired. He being, at the time, a student and general helper at the Astronomy faculty in Nice. Picked up by the Police wandering aimlessly, he somehow persuaded them to put him on the Amtrak to Boston from where he found his way to Harvard and there the story brought him into my husband’s orbit. Struck by his tenacity, his extraordinary affinity with the night-sky, which is akin to the ancient astronomers who first mapped and tried to understand the world beyond our globe, and touched by his desire to learn, my husband took him in and found him work in his lab. Eighteen months later he returned to France to complete a degree having finally accepted that to be taken seriously in the world of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Cosmology and all the attendent highbrow orbits he fancied dabbling in, he must have a degree. Since that time, Raymond remains devoted to Two Brains and I would suggest with some reason.

Back to the café where I had enjoyed a coffee and a chat with the same Raymond and asked his advice. I was concerned about my husband at the time for reasons I now fail to remember – living lives separated by 3,000 miles nurtures anxiety, or at least that has been my experience. As we stood to say our au revoirs, Raymond clasped me by the shoulders and, as he faire les emphatic bises (the air-kiss-kiss we do in France but with supplementary vigour to impart fortitude), declared that my husband is really un cochon rouge – a red pig. I queried this with a smile intended to make me the fool and a gentle ‘quoi?’ and he repeated ‘il est un petit cochon rouge’ – so in fact not just any red pig , but a small red pig. My husband stands almost 6′ and though of light and lean frame is not one to ever be described as little, particularly in France where most men are of, let’s say more concise hauteur. Including Raymond. To be doubly belt and braces sure that I understood him Raymond then announced in English ‘he is a red pig, a small red pig’.

Later that evening on the phone to The Brains I asked him, having Googled colloquial, slang and vernacular French all afternoon in vain. I enquired in a roundabout Winnie the Pooh sort of casual way what calling someone un cochon rouge or indeed un petit cochon rouge might mean. The answer came back ‘red pig or little red pig’. So not helpful at all. Accordingly spurred by what had now become an obsessive need to understand, I made a full confession, including sharing my troubled mind over he who owns both brains and was subjected to a stunned and complete silence. The identical stunned silence it turned out that Raymond employed a few weeks later when asked what he had meant by calling The Brains a red pig. He claimed he had said ‘un petit cochon rose’ and meant that my husband is more sensitive than he lets on. Less macho, less girder-built. I can firmly report that he did NOT. No sir. Not. At. All. I heard him entirely distinctly and he called my husband a little RED pig. Of course it has stuck. It begged to and would have been dreadfully rude to ignore it.

Therefore, when staying in Boothbay Harbor, Maine as recommended by my blogging friend ‘The Weird Guy with a Dog’ whom I wholeheartedly urge you to check out, and confronted with this wingèd porcine outside a pretty store selling eccentric ironwork, I was minded to abduct it but made do with a photograph for now. I perfectly intend to own it when we have a house to put it on – after all who can resist such a wondrous hog, seemingly dancing in the air, gleeful cheeks a-puffing, perky ears a-flapping and that tail uplifted with such blithe abandon. Nothing at all like my husband but portraying perfectly the joie de vivre I suspect we all aspire to and with the added advantage of telling you which way the wind blows. It is a rapturous porker, a piggy I will dream of until I return to make it my very own. I was inclined to share this story by the Weekly Photo Challenge prompt this week ‘Rare’ – if it piques your interest, you can see a sensational selection of entries here.

DSCF7024

PS: The quote is Martin Luther, Priest, Scolar, questioner and reformer ‘A faithful and good servant is a real godsend; but truly ‘t is a rare bird in the land’. Raymond has been a good and faithful servant to The Brains these more than twenty years and as you will discover when I write more of him is surely one of the rarest of birds you will encounter in a lifetime. Actually Luther was uncommonly fond of his rare birds giving the accolade to wise princes and even more to upright ones. That would probably apply today though to politicians rather than princes, I would suggest.

Saving the trouble of thinking for oneself

Today I give you three quotes.  I’m supposed to give you one each day for three days but I am far to discursive to stay on task for three whole consecutive days so I have invented my own rules for this lovely challenge set me by three lovely people:

Life With Molly – written by a young woman to her future children with quite extraordinary maturity and insight

White House Red Door –  A true teacher who shows us how to nurture with her beautiful achievable food matched by her lovely words

Worlds Biggest Fridge Magnet – Can do Cam suggested me  months ago so I hang my head in shame whilst urging you to take a look at his blog

These are my quotes.  Randomly trawled from the murky depths of my cobwebby mind, they’ve all kept me company for decades  which might imply they are the right ones to share.

DSCF4304

“The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they are felt with the heart”

‘The Little Prince’ Antoine de Saint Exupery

DSCF4408

“Of all the words of mice and men the saddest are it might have been

‘Cats Cradle’ Kurt Vonnegurt

(I should note that Vonnegurt was paraphrasing a much earlier poem by Maud Muller which I read much later hence, perhaps,  my loyalty to his tenor.)

DSCF1656

“Take bread away from me, if you wish take air away, but do not take away from me your laughter”

‘Your Laughter’ Pablo Neruda

All of these quotes stand beautifully on their own and are bookmarks in my mind for the most important things in my life – my heart;  laughter of those I love and  of strangers; and to sieze the moment, to make it happen and if whatever it is doesn’t transpire to move on with no regret. I rather hope that they might pique your interest  sufficiently to want to explore three consummate writers and their work.

DSCF2338

And there is a bonus – the title is A A Milne who said “A quotation is a handy thing to have lying about, saving oneself the trouble of thinking for oneself – always a laborious business”  in his essay  ‘The Record Lie’ which I also highly recommend … it’s not ‘Winnie the Pooh’ though those that know me know that I have a particularly high regard for the Bear.

I now have the pleasant task of suggesting the following to take on this challenge.  As ever it’s a feel free to pass sort of challenge but I do love these bloggers and I do think they would do the challenge great justice.  Take a look at them and those that suggested me, they are all praiseworthy.

Poshbirdy in Quillan – Feisty and funny writing of the feast and famine of renovating a house in France

Not the Average Mama – certainly not average this is a wonderful blog written by a remarkable stepmother

Write on the Beach – a brilliant writer whose stories of England and France are truly compelling

Sounds like a whisper ….

When I was at school I learned French. In fact I began learning at the age of 8 in Mrs Noble’s class. Mrs Noble liked me, having despised my older brother (the loathing was mutual). Given that I generally hated my brother (also mutual and absolutely compulsory at the ages we were), I loved Mrs Noble, which might have been why she liked me. Life is like that. We tend to like those that love us. Unless they are insane stalkers.  But that really is another story.

DSCF7626

I adored the sounds of the words and I enjoyed learning. At secondary school I was, to be fair, generally mediocre at the grammar and indeed only actually began to make friends with conjugating after moving here in September last year. But I perfected my accent and frankly I was waiting for the call to star in the remake of 80s sitcom ‘Allo ‘Allo. I listened to Jane Birkin breathing her way through Je t’aime  and wanted to BE her.

Adulthood and a cheese business that took me back and forth to Paris to the gastronomic chaos that is Rungis Market.  Ad hoc travels to Provence, Normandy, The Auvergne in search of the perfect morceau to bear triumphantly back to Berkshire in the overstuffed boot of our car and present to our customers who would sigh in ecstasy and run home to devour their new best friend with gusto and self-congratulatory glee that they had found this ‘maaaarvlus little place’ which sold all things French-Cheese without their having to bother at all with la manche.

DSCF6762.JPG

During all this time, I listened French. I loved the sound. Compare the way that airport is said in English – two clipped syllables uttered in a reasoned monotone – with the same word in French. L’aeroport. The aer has the lightness of a soufflé and that for me is French. That for me defines what I adore about the language. Of course regionally and even more microscopically the way words are pronounced, the way sentences are constructed, varies. Standard French, the same as BBC English is not the standard at all. My radio station of choice when out in my car and indeed in my home, now that I have discovered the joys of listening on-line to the wireless, is RBA 104.4 Bort les Orgues. The main reason for my slavish devotion is the woman I know as ‘Over Enunciating Announcer Lady’. She is bliss. When she does her petits annonces I am captivated by her emphasis. ‘PerDU, un beagLE tricoloooooR a Bort les OrgUH’ or even more deliciously the moment when behind the wheel shortly before Christmas I heard her utter ‘Soob Millie Mettre aRAY ….. a Champs sur TarentaiNUH’ and realized it was a shout out for The Husband with Two Brains’ presentation on trous noirs and his observatory in Hawaii. Her fabulous iteration gilds my days and she has unwittingly helped my French from stuttering to fluttering over the last six months.

DSCF7595

That moment driving to Lyon in April when I realized the strange sensation I was experiencing was seeing Spring burst forth to greet me with its bumptious greens and yellows and pinks and whites and mauves in great swathes before my eyes is replicated in my sudden ability to assimilate and respond to a barrage of French with relative ease. But even in areas with harsher tones the words have elegance to me. Somehow Tortue sounds so much more evocative than Tortoise particularly if you can perfect that mysterious swallowed ‘r’ that the French absorb by osmosis in order to bewitch dull English girls like me later in life.

DSCF7428DSCF5728

I have lived in Italy and speak decent Italian, I learned Russian for six years at school but for me French is candied grace and refinement. If it were a scent it would be captured in a bottle made of a glass so fragile that you would think it was a bubble. Even in Cantal where we live. THAT Cantal recently described as le trou (the hole) by a friend in Grenoble … repeat after me. – Non, il est pas le trou! It isn’t. Fact. But that is not what we are talking about here and despite being innately discursive I am determined to stay en piste for this moment. No. Say Grenoble. Gren. Oble. Now say it with a French accent (it is after all French). Can you hear the chicly swallowed G? The way the ble whispers away at the end? That’s French. I speak it comme une vache espagnole but I hear it fluently. And it is music in my ears.

DSCF7440

PS: My title is taken from a song by the brilliant Tracy Chapman. She was Talkin’ Bout a Revolution – something else the French do rather well ….

It should be noted that this piece was originally written for a writing competition … it didn’t make the cut but I rather felt it worthy of a place here nonetheless …. you are free to agree or disagree or remain Swiss and neutral.  And the photographs of mountains?  For me learning the language is like walking in the mountains: sometimes the climbs seem endless and the struggle never ending, you feel you won’t ever reach the top, you feel the task impossible but when you turn the corner on the path and take stock of how far you have climbed and breath the air and survey that vista, the effort evaporates.  And  aside from that, I simply love them.