Six of the Best

Find below my favourite posts on this blog. Ranked in Alphabetical order rather than preference.

1. Anglicisation Anxiety

Image via Tom Häkkinen
Des croissants, confiture et jus d'orange.
Recently in a discussion with a friend, I got into an argument as to the correct pronunciation
of “prima facie”. Having tentatively dipped my toe in the Italian language, I assumed that a Latin expression would follow Italian pronunciation, hence: “pri-ma fah-chi”. But no, apparently everyone says “preemer face-ee” as in the word “face”. Wikipedia’s IPA spelling suggested the unhappy compromise of “prima fay-shee”. I decided in the end, that however the phrase is properly pronounced in Latin, it’s best to go with the common pronunciation. But this question frequently vexes me, how much should one anglicise foreign loan words when using them in everyday sentences?

Image via Tom Häkkinen
The town of Langeais

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Leaf-fall outside the Château de Chenonceau
In October, before returning to Australia, Esther and I went on one last continental excursion from the UK. To a part of France we’d never seen before but wanted to visit. The Loire Valley - a region of vineyards, chateaux and an incredible river.

We stayed in a small boutique hotel in the town of Saumur. It’s a fantastic region, quintessentially French, and Autumn was a perfect time to visit as well. Approaching France, as always, from a literary-historic background, what first attracted me to the Anjou region was the knowledge that this was the homeland of the Angevin Kings of England. Henry II, King Richard the Lionheart and John Lackland. This period in history was singularly important in English history, coming as it did, so shortly after the Norman Invasion and which saw the signing of the Magna Carta.

3. Drunken John

Image via Tom Häkkinen

My first encounter with the town's "Drunken John" was on the first night when we moved into our flat on the Close. He was hanging around outside on the corner of old Icknield Way near the railway bridge. Apparently he'd lost his cat - or his dog, or something. Foolishly we stopped and listened to his garbled story. The dog never existed; he forgot about his dog-ploy in ten seconds. Esther apparently "looks beautiful", although too bad for John, because as he stated himself she "belongs" to me (quote unquote). He was wearing jeans I think, and a crusty old jacket under which he clutched onto a clear plastic bottle without any label - just water he claimed. And on top he wore an equally crusty old hat with a creased and broken peak which he repeatedly took off and put back on.

He introduced himself as "John", but apparently he's a well-known personality because a passer-by who was witness to the difficulty we had trying to politely tell John to go away informed us that the kids call him "Drunken John". As it happened she was a parent to one of my pupils at school so it was a happy coincidence bumping into her and having a ready-made conversation starter - even if the conversation starter cost us twenty minutes in the freezing cold with a crazy man of dubious personal hygiene.

4. “Facts”, “deeds” and that which has been “done”.

The Old English epic poem Beowulf is written i...Image via Wikipedia
Old English Epic Poem Beowulf

I’m a great fan of Melvyn Bragg’s “The Adventure of English”, but there is one part in his series when he is waxing lyrical about the uniqueness of English and it’s large vocabulary and extensive loan-words and I can’t help thinking that he’s making a virtue out of a necessity (or at least a virtue out of an indifferent fact). Because, really, is the English language’s much-vaunted big vocabulary actually as good as all that? I know it’s good in a social setting when you want to show off your … you know show off your... not lexicalness... logicalness? no.... Oh what’s that word?! Loquaciousness! Loquaciousness that’s it!

But how are you to impress upon your fellow human any sense your incredible wit and verbal acuity when you’re umm-ing and ah-ing? Everyone else gets impatient for you to “just spit it out” as you try to remember that really apt word; so eventually you just settle for a less appropriate but still workable word. And that’s the big problem with English: there are just too many words and I (for one) can never remember the one that I really want to use!

5. Life in Finland

Image via Tom Häkkinen
Rowboat waiting to be used.

Happily, I am now in Finland. I am staying at my uncle’s house in the country, in central Finland, not far from a small and mostly concrete town called Jyväskylä and quite far from the decidedly more exciting cities of Helsinki and Tampere. But these things don’t really matter because it’s the countryside, the lake and the woods that I’m really here for.

I rise in the morning, generally around 9 because I since the end of the school term I’ve had a voracious appetite for sleep (about 10 hours a night!). I have a typical Finnish breakfast, porridge, cold meats, bread and coffee. Back home in Letchworth my morning shower routine was forever plagued by the twin scourges of English plumbing hard water and piddly water pressure, if only I had the luxury of a shower head now. Although the water is soft enough here in Finland, due to this summer being so particularly warm the well in this old house is running low, so I’ve been encouraged to use the sauna and a bucket of water from the lake to wash myself in every morning. Nevertheless, the smell of old pine and birch leaves is still a pleasant start to the morning.

Image via Tom Häkkinen
Picking Gooseberries
It’s great here. Various family members warned me before I came that there’s not much to do here in this old house, but I bought a pay-as-you-go mobile broadband “dongle” from the Finnish telco “Elisa”, so I have the internet, I can keep writing my blog and in reality it’s like a little piece of paradise here.

6. Lost in Translation - a snippet of conversation

A snippet of some cross-cultural exchange with my Year Elevens:

"Sir, can I please go to the water fountain?"
"What? Where do you want to go?"
"The water fountain - to get a drink."
Image via Tom Häkkinen
This is what I think when someone says "water fountain".
"Oh you mean the bubbler? Yeah sure."
"Wait, what did you call it? The bubbly?"
"No. Bubbly - pfff. Bubbler."
"Yes, bubbler, how could we have possibly thought it was called a bubbly?"
"Yeah? The bubbler - isn't that what it's called? Water fountain sounds like you've got - well, it sounds like your trying to be posh or something anyway."
"So in Australia a water fountain is called a bubbly?"
"Yes, I thought everyone called it a bubbler - water fountain sounds like... well you know, really stuck up or poncey - anyway, to answer your question, yes you may go to the water fountain."