May 29, 2009

The Irish problem…with solution

Filed under: culture,politics — Kim @ 1:21 pm

The Irish problem.

Scene

A middle-aged Irishman is in a dark and dirty prison. He has been there for a very long time, has not shaved for weeks, and is thin from insufficient food. He has recently had an extremely painful ear infection which he thought would make him deaf, but was refused medical attention for weeks. He should not be there, he is in a prison simply because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He is innocent and is being held for belonging to a certain culture.

An Englishman is in the room with him – he looks at the Irishman with an imperious eye “What in the name of fuck are you talking about you ridiculous Irish aborigine?” He speaks in very precise and very mannered English English, “ It always amazes me that the race of apes from which you descended should ever have acquired the basic rudiments of language. Your diction is unfathomable. It is only matched by your audacity, you maggot-faced, pea-brained piece of pus.”

The Solution

The Englishman was John McCarthy and the Irishman he was ‘so cruelly taunting’ was Brian Keenan. They spent four years together as hostages in Lebanon. The invective against the Irish was taken verbatim from Keenan’s “An Evil Cradling”.

This is the Irishman’s account of how the Englishman helped him during a severe and prolonged bout of gastroentiritis.

Lying exhausted with an agonized embarrassment I watched my friend clean the mess off me without complaint. He was a very proper nurse, diligent in his work and tender in his passion, never once complaining of the filth he had to dip his hands into and never once complaining of being constantly wakened in the night by my retching and by my bowels exploding…The buffoon, the fool, the comic was a man of vast tenderness, a man of compassion.

His account of their friendship is hugely moving and they are two brave and wonderful men. Brian is very conscious and proud of his Irishness, John oozes and uses his Englishness. To me, they are examples of ideal human beings.

May 28, 2009

Two Tribes

Filed under: culture,east-west — Kim @ 12:44 pm

As is well known, the world is divided into two types of people: those who divide the world into two types of people, and those who don’t. For the purposes of this post, I am going to plump my arse firmly in the former camp and be lavish with my dichotomising divisions.

You have to have binaries if you want to have meaning. Without yin there can be no yang. Without evil there would be no meaningful good. Without contraries, there is no progression. Where is West without East? Where would North Korea be without the South?

And what is a nation without a foil? The Irish stand-up Tommy Tiernan once pondered aloud the question “What does it mean to be Irish?’ and quickly answered, “It means we’re not fucking English…that’s what it means!”

And what is a match without two teams? Last night saw Man U and Barcelona square off and sitting behind me and a few other English teachers were some French students. Gauche young men full of beer and Dutch courage, and good illustrations of the “football is vicarious war” thesis. Just before kick off the chant went up “Les anglais sont homosexuels!” and – many beers later – when Messi headed in the second goal, one of the well-oiled Gallic provocateurs could not resist getting all too literally in the face of an Englishman Man U supporter, taunting him with his loss. Red mist descended, the words “French cunt” were spat out and invitations to a pugilistic encounter were proffered. But it didn’t kick off.

The English and the French were enemies for centuries but I do not and cannot feel any tribal hatred for them. ’Twould be absurd. To my surprise though, I did feel that there was some hatred of “Les Anglais” in the air last night and not just dislike for a rich and successful football machine/team.

Oh well, the world can be divided into two types of people: Tribal and post-tribal. And I fear the former still massively outnumber the latter.

Alas, plus ça change…

May 23, 2009

Pung!

Filed under: China,language — Kim @ 5:45 pm

This was one of the recent entries sent into the Torygraph’s collection of “Jolly Amusing Foreigners’ English”.

pung!

And it is quite funny and fairly typical of English signs in China. But what it reminded me of is the great onomatopeia of the Chinese word “peng” (the pinyin for the Chinese sign is “xiao xin peng tou”) which is rendered here into English as “knock” and which sounds like “Pung!”…which is a pretty good word for the sound that rings inside your ears as you bang your head. Or resonant of the sound made if your head comes into contact with anything capable of resonance.

But actually, this one is nicer…

sully

May 10, 2009

Being a Tutor

Filed under: culture,language,teaching — Kim @ 3:46 pm

My new job title is “EAP Tutor” and because the term is used consistently throughout university documents, I am reminded of this honour on a daily basis. I have never been a “tutor” before and I quite like the quaintness of my new title. But also, for some reason I am unable to explain, I kind of prefer the American pronunciation [‘tu:tər], and will occasionally use it if asked what my job is.

In one lesson I asked my students to read out this little limerick in US then UK accents…

A tutor who tutored the flute
Tried to tutor two tooters to toot;
Said the two to the tutor
“Is it harder to toot or
To tutor two tooters to toot?”

which only works properly in an American accent.

But also, as with so many things these days, I only had an imperfect recall of this limerick and so was forced to google it. It came up in a document called “UNITED STATES ARMY SERGEANTS MAJOR ACADEMY. PROTOCOL AND ETIQUETTE HANDBOOK”. This turned out to be a most amusing document, crammed with incredibly detailed advice and couched in a ludicrously pompous style. To wit:

Practiced in certain messes, is the tradition of chiding or poking good natured fun at fellow members of the mess through limericks and ditties. This is a form of self-generated entertainment during the dinner hour, and serves to enhance camaraderie and unit/section esprit, while remembering the formality of the occasion. The procedure normally followed is for the member who wishes to propose a limerick, to first secure permission from Mr. Vice, then present his limerick. If the limerick’s humor is not readily apparent to all members and guests of the mess, a brief explanation, to all present (but not to divulge the humor in the wit.) so that they may share. A group or person, upon receiving a limerick, is bound by honor to refute the remark prior to the close of the dinner hour, lest all present believe the remark to be true…Remember, a limerick should be witty to all, elicit a response from the “victim”, be fun, in good taste, and not cause undue embarrassment.

A far cry from “Full Metal Jacket” then. I wonder if any US Sergeant has ever plowed thru this turgid tome and taken on the mindset invoked in its solemn tones.

Well, what better way to end than with a couple of my favourite ribald limericks that would surely prove suitable for a gathering of Civilian Tutors around the table of a hostelry of an evening? To woo:

From the depths of the crypt at St Giles
Came a scream that resounded for miles.
Said the vicar, ‘Good gracious!
Has Father Ignatius
Forgotten the bishop has piles?’

As the poets have mournfully sung,
Death takes the innocent young,
The rolling-in-money,
The screamingly-funny,
And those who are very well hung.

May 3, 2009

Trenchant Poem

Filed under: culture — Kim @ 4:47 pm

The ant in the trench
Was French.