Tuesday, October 23, 2007


If only I were a bit more ... or less

A recent post of Wendy’s (cursed with an okay memory) really struck a cord with me when she said that she‘d like to be a bit cleverer, or a bit less clever so she wouldn‘t care.

I so know what she means. I’d rather be cleverer obviously, but otherwise I’d like a self-defence mechanism - like deteriorating eye-sight, which puts a nice soft focus on wrinkles - that made me completely unaware that I wasn’t as clever as other people. Her post reminded me of something I started ages ago after reading Dorothy Parker and feeling depressed that I’d never write anything that good. So I started a limerick about this yearning to be cleverer, trying to incorporate the witty retort she sent to her editor who was chasing her for copy while she was on her honeymoon: Too fucking busy and vice versa. A week later, I was still staring vacantly at my pathetic two lines: Oh I wish I were Dorothy Parker/Though the differences couldn’t be starker…

I went to pottery classes once, but I didn’t want to make the stupid little mug with a finger and thumb patterned rim that the tutor recommended - if I couldn’t make a Grecian urn I wasn’t making anything, but I couldn’t, so I didn‘t.

I know someone who deals with his inadequacy by not only comparing himself with less intelligent, less clever people, but actually seeking out their company just to make himself look good. I tried that but I couldn’t find any. No, I compare myself with gifted people and consequently am doomed to a permanent feeling of inadequacy.

Here are a few more gems from Dorothy Parker’s repertoire that I wish I'd written , although it wasn‘t just her one-liners that I liked. She also wrote some very sad short stories:

on being challenged to use the word horticulture in a sentence:
You can drag a horticulture, but you can't make her think.

I'd rather have a bottle in front of me, than a frontal lobotomy.”

Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone

I dream of a rural life - raising cheques.

Salary is no object; I want only enough to keep body and soul apart.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Plus jamais

Uh oh, we’ve attracted the attention of the nutter in the group. We‘re trying to keep a low profile, but we’re doomed the minute we open our mouths in reply to the lone traveller opposite and she realises we’re English. She wants us to know that she hopes England will beat France in the world cup rugby semi-final the next day and whispers conspiratorially that she’ll tell us why later - when we’re alone. Sssh, we’re trying to blend in on our coach trip to Bordeaux, not incite French xenophobia.

I can see I’ve been deluding myself. I am easily fazed after all, as I had been the previous day by my loved one’s helpfulness. I was looking for reassurance that we were getting out at the right station because there were no signs anywhere, so as we step off the train I say anxiously "I've never seen that before; I've never seen a station that isn't signposted, have you ever seen that before?" “Oh yeah,” he says, raising his chilled-out state to correspond with my panicked one, “during the war, they took down all the station names so that if the Germans arrived, they wouldn't know where they were.” Hmm, right.

The coach makes a pit stop and, as threatened, we’re taken aside to learn why Sonja wants England to win. She has suffered at the hands of the French. She had Russian parents and their name condemned her to a childhood of abuse. I ask if that isn’t kids everywhere - exploiting a difference, but she’s having none of it, saying they called her a dirty Russian even after she left school. As far as she’s concerned the French are arrogant racists. Oh well done les Anglais. Now we're no longer Billy No-mates, but have been adopted by the outsider who’s come to bury, not to praise. Fat chance I’ve got of improving my awful French if no one speaks to me.

Back on the coach, she playfully punches my loved one’s arm at frequent intervals to announce an ever-increasing rugby score, until by the end of the journey she’s predicting a 40 - 0 win for us. My loved one begs me to change places with him, but it's every man for himself and I’m staying put.

Dinner is where it’s supposed to happen - nice people, good food and plenty of wine. I don’t believe it! It’s like being dropped into a Glaswegian pub just before turning out time. They’re all from Marseille and I can’t understand a word - well just one actually, which comes from the large lady opposite, who talks a lot about what she likes to mange, but she pronounces it like the disease dogs get. If only Sonja were on our table. She’s spent a lifetime proving she’s as good as anyone else, so she speaks posh and pronounces every word slowly and precisely. I resolve to ask questions, get in first, throw in a few ah bons and I’ll be home and dry and no one will know I haven’t the faintest idea what’s going on. I can see that the lady I address is thinking “what the …. language is that“, but her politeness allows only her eyebrows to express it. And what's with all this water? An ocean of wine on the doorstep and they’re drinking water.

I’m doing no better the next day when a woman thinks I’m suggesting her ducks are sick when I ask if they're mallards, or when we visit an underground 4th century church. While my loved one is engaged in taking photos, I adopt a stance designed to repel all boarders to protect me from passing conversationalists. It doesn’t work and, though I haven’t picked up exactly what, someone is asking me what I think of something and from his expression it seems to be about how amazing everything is. While my brain is scrabbling round for some vocabulary that might be appropriate to a 4th century underground church, my mouth has decided that I‘ll never live that long, opens of its own accord and says simply “yes”. If this continues I’ll be known as the woman who can’t say no.

But lunchtime brings a stroke of luck, when I sit next to the only other foreigner on the tour - an Israeli - whom I can actually understand. He comes to France for his holidays to escape the rockets at home but apparently they’re nothing compared to the salvos that Sonja fired at him on a previous trip so he’s been enjoying watching her pick on us this time.

We're on a tour of a wine factory and Sonja scents oppression and sets to work to sniff it out and find out how the workers are exploited. Like a hungry lion, she spots the slowest impala, isolates her victim from the rest of the herd, pounces on him and demands to know if he gets the minimum wage. But she‘s somewhat confounded when he tells her he’s well paid.

“Well?” says my loved one on the way home. “It’s been great” I tell him - "the people were lovely - generous about our rugby win and patient with our French and by the end of the tour we were beginning to get tuned in to the accent. But I’m still never doing it again”. “That’s what you said last time” he tells me. “So, you mean that after all that, it’s not my French, but my memory that needs improving”?

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