Our Mother Tongue (4)

Russia has Pushkin.

Germany has Brecht.

France has… I haven’t a clue…

England has Shakespeare.  Shakespeare invented lots of words, eg assassin, bump, even the word “elbow” (cf: German: “Elbogen”).

Take a look at these beauties!

And for a bonus, take a look at these Shakespearean insults, thou curmudgeonly apple-worm!

Have an inventive day, won’t you!




“Avid” (ahem) readers of this blog will know from previous articles that I have a few claims to fame.  I also have a link to notoriety, namely: my room-mate in my first year at university went on to murder his girlfriend.  The number 1 question I am asked is:

What was he like?

It is the aim of this article to offer you a insight into the character of a convicted murder.  I’ll start with a look at the stereotype of a murder, the reality, then I’ll move onto two key aspects of his personality.

The Stereotype

The stereotype of a murderer can be summed up thus:

Well, he was a bit of a loner.

That was never the case with John.  He was, to use his words from his press conferences, “…outgoing, a lover of life, with everything to live for…”  He was:

  • Very extrovert
  • Jovial
  • A charmer
  • A keen cricketer
  • A keen footballer
  • A keen drinker
  • A keen electric guitarist and rock musician
  • A bit of a “jock” (to use an American expression)
  • The “life and soul of the party”

Again, contrary to the stereotype, he had a wide circle of friends and a never-ending string of girlfriends.  (By heck, was I – as a slightly nerdy lad, a ginger Adrian Mole, from the council estates of Redcar – jealous of his success with women!)

The reality was, however, not so attractive.  John had two aspects of his personality lurking below the surface. Let’s be blunt about it.  They were not likeable aspects.

Aspect 1: Passive Aggression

Quite ironic, now I think about it.  The last article I shared was a humorous one on passive aggression.  The irony has not been lost on me.  In psychology, passive-aggressive behavior is characterized by a habitual pattern of passive resistance to expected work requirements, opposition, sullenness, stubbornness, and negative attitudes in response to requirements for normal performance levels expected of others.  In John passive aggression manifested itself in many ways.

  • Days before his birthday, in my presence, his friends went to his part of our room, took his prized poster of a scantily-clad model (reclining atop a sports car) off the wall, then repositioned the poster on the wall, with the back showing.  When I came back to our room that evening, I found that he was in bed, not even pretending to be asleep, and had placed a key in the door lock to prevent me from getting our room.  After nearly an hour of desperately knocking on the door, pleading with him, together together with neighbours, for him to open the door, ending with me being on the verge of tears and needing to sleep, he finally let me in.  The following day no more was said – from either side.  From my side – don’t provoke him any further.  From his side – he knew he had done wrong, but did not have the round objects to talk about it.
  • The stories of the laundry room key.  Each room was given a key to the hall laundry room.  The catch was, the resident had to sign for the key and had to pay a five pounds deposit, returnable on safe return of the key at the end of the year.  So far, so good.  One laundry key per room.  I signed for it.  I got it.  I paid the deposit on it.  So far, so good.  I used to keep the laundry room key on my desk.  John would take it when he needed to go to the laundry.  So far, so good. Then one day, I decided to place the key on my book shelf to keep the desk a bit tidy.  Seeing the key on my book shelf, John marched up to me, grabbed me with both hands by the front of my shirt and snarled, “You’re not having the monopoly on that.”  Rather than explain that I had paid the deposit and that he could still use the key, I took it on the chin (nearly literally).
  • And there’s more!  Days before the end of the year, I was looking to do a batch of laundry.  John had been to the laundry hours beforehand.  Now he was sitting by his desk, playing his guitar.  I asked him for the key.
    • I haven’t got it.

    • But you had it this morning when you went to the laundry.

    • I haven’t got it.

    • Well, could you just have a quick look, please?

John just carried on humming, strumming and singing to himself, clearly not interested, not a “team-player.” Not even the common courtesy of pausing even for a second. Doubtless I’ve slighted him earlier in the day, and this was his passive aggressive way of “punishing” me.  Kiss goodbye to five pounds deposit, I was by now thinking.  Then the following morning an announcement: He had found the laundry key. Followed by a profuse apology for the hassle last night.  Ha, you gotta be joking!  It had fallen into his bag of condoms.  (Yes, I’m such a lady’s man, I need a bag of them.)

Now, getting fret up about a laundry key might seem petty on my part.  Lke the chocolate bar you stole from the communal fridge, it’s “only a key,” but maybe you saw the bigger picture of the (passive) aggression when dealing with peers.  These are just a small sample of his actions, others relating to his attitude towards women.  Perhaps for a later article.

Aspect 2: The “Great ‘I am'”

John’s other character trait was the “great ‘I am'” attitude.  How to explain it?    Let’s have two examples.

  1. John came back in a foul mood one day, complaining to me, hardly able to contain his anger, that his then girlfriend was f***ing useless in bed, in the same way that you might complain that the babysitter had sneaked into your bedroom and sneakily looked through all your private diaries.  Hey, folks, I was still very much inexperienced with woman.  Any bed action with a woman would have made me happy!  How dare she not enjoy sex with him?  She should have realised he was a real ladykiller.
  2. Again at evening meal in the canteen, I greeted him with a cheery, “How are you doing?”  He “greeted” me with an arrogant jut of the chin in my direction and, “Whatcha rapping on about?”  How dare this f’ing ginger speak to me when I want to have my dinner?

Before university, he had, in fact, been a tutor at a cathedral school.  Just as an ex-military man has left the Army, he is still a soldier, maybe John still considered himself senior and superior to those around and under him.  “Do as you’re told.  I’m in charge here.”


It’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for.  Wrong.  It’s the life and soul of the party types you have to watch out for.  Great fun, as long as things are fun and you dance to their tune.  But cross them, and see what happens.

  • Don’t help out with a good-natured prank on him.
  • Don’t even think of having the monpoly on that key.
  • Don’t be a timid, inexperienced lover.
  • Don’t have the audicity to reject his obsessive, browbeating behaviour.

Have an insightful day, won’t you!

What’s Your Claim to Fame? Part 1

The celebrated British light-hearted entertainment magazine, Viz, used to have various sections in the letters page about celebrities.

  • Celebrity [expletive deleted] for anyone who had ever had a celebrity be rude to them
  • Stars in the Toilets (fairly self-explanatory)
  • Star Watch (readers write in about when they spotted a celebrity (or distance friend or relative of the celebrity) doing something mundane

So here are my contributions…

  1. In 1979 I stood five metres away from Margaret Thatcher.  I was nearly ten years old at the time.  She was reviewing Sovereign’s Parade at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.  It was pouring with rain.  (Well, it was England.  What do you expect?)
  2. in 1983 Tommy Boyd (one-time TV-am WACADAY presenter) gave me his autograph when I was on a TV news quiz show.
  3. In 1987 Bob Holness (the one and only) leapt at my, invaded my body space, and shook my hand.  Mind you, I had just won the fifth Gold Run on TV quiz, Blockbusters.  Context is everything.
  4. A few hours before that, I bumped into Tim Healey (Dennis off Auf Wiedersehen Pet) and shook his hand.  We ended up having a good chat about Redcar, where I was living at the time.  Ironically enough, 25 years later, I moved to Düsseldorf, where the series was set.
  5. Also in Nottingham, in 1989 comedian and broadcaster Mike Harding came up to me at a bus stop at Nottingham train station and asked me for directions to the theatre.  Not being a local, I was unable to help him.  Why he, on his wages, could not take a taxi, was beyond me.
  6. Darlington train station: Christmas time 1989 – I saw Lord Leon Brittan at Darlington station having a coffee in the waiting room.  I did not speak to him.  I was still thinking of an essay I had to write on Russian literature, as you do.
  7. Back to  Nottingham, this time in 1991, I gave an interview to Central TV news about a murder case (or if you’re a Taggart fan, a “moddah” case). Then twelve years later I gave another interview to ITV about the same case on a series called Real Crime.  I did get a few “haven’t I seen you before?” looks off people after the 2003 appearance.
  8. In 1994 I crossed the road just metres away from Clive Anderson of Whose Line Is It Anyway in Central London.  He was carrying a Rymans carrier bag, but did not come out with any witty remarks.
  9. Also in 1994, I was working as an interpreter at a business conference.  I translated the welcome message from the compere, Stuart Hall, of It’s a Knockout, not the sociologist.  Is that more a claim to notoriety?  He had just stepped into the gents’ toilets of the Natural History Museum as I was walking out.
  10. In 1998 I was five seats behind William Hague, then  MP for Richmond, on the evening flight from Heathrow to Teesside Airport.  He had a very shiny head.  Almost blindingly so.  As he walked past me on arrival, I greeted him with a cheery, “Good evening, Mr Hague.  How are you?”  He replied with a cheery, “Good evening,” but did not advise how he was.
  11. Train stations.  I love ’em.  At Paddington station I spotted Lord Douglas Hurd, former Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth affairs.  He was reading The Times.  I told him I’d been a member of the Conservative Party since I was 14 (cough cough), and asked he would sign a book I had.  “With great pleasure,” he replied with a voice just like his Spitting Image puppet.  Duly he took my ballpoint pen and signed my copy of Tokens of Trust, by the then Archbishop of Canterbury.
  12. In recent years I have visited the graves of:
    1. Former Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston (Sutton Courtney, Oxfordshire)
    2. George Orwell (same churchyard)
    3. Richard Whiteley of Countdown (East Witton, North Yorkshire)
  13. Oxford train station was also a great meeting place.  There in 2010, I met Judith Hann of Tomorrow’s World.  I told her how very much I had enjoyed the show in my younger years and we duly shook hands.
  14. In summer 2015 I met Peter Hitchens, the great polemicist, and told him I agreed with an article he had recently written about Putin’s Russia.  In reality, I didn’t agree with him, but I was in no mood for a discussion.

Over to you.  The more the obscure celeb connection, the better!  Eg,

“David Beckham’s cousin used to babysit for my boss’s kids.” 

“I once served Terry Wogan fish and chips twice, when he called into my Dad’s chippy.”

You get the idea.

Have a celebrity-packed day, won’t you!

Berlin – what a city!

Berlin – the must-see city in Germany.  At the start of the month, Schatz and I spent three nights in Berlin, staying near the Friedrichstrasse train station.  Such an amazing city.  Three nights is not enough.  Realistically you need seven nights.

This was my third visit to Berlin.  Previous visits were Christmas 1992, then June 2003.  The major thing I’d noticed was that Berlin was looking less and less DDR-ish on each visit.  Even getting souvenirs with the DDR logo on them was much harder this time.  Even the DDR-era buildings were much less visible, except on Karl-Marx-Allee, liebe Genossen.

Go and see Checkpoint Charlie!

Go and see the Wannsee!

Go and see the Brandenburg Gate!

Have a touristic day, won’t you!

My Pet Hates

I have a few pet hates.  One of them is, seeing people sitting on the train, feet (and therefore shoes) up on the seat opposite.  Another breach of “seatiquette” is people sitting on the train, tram, etc when it’s full, blocking the seat next to them with their bag or rucksack.  I always move to sit on that sit, just to see the tw*t tut and sigh and move their bag… even if I’m only getting off at the next station.

Another pet hate of mine is the person who cannot argue.  I like a good argument.  Think of the the Monty Python sketch.  Here is a good list of rules for arguing.


Have an argumentative day, won’t you!

Texting in the Wee Small Hours

Victor has always been a news and current affairs buff.  He’s also more of an early bird than a nightowl.  As he’s grown older, he’s become ever fonder of his undisturbed sleep.  Hence his bedtime routine consisting of:

  • Clean teeth
  • Empty bladder
  • Stick Radio 4 on for the late night news
  • Turn mobile phone off

His son, on the other hand, has always been a nightowl, with a bladder the size of a pea.  Hence at every nocturnal loo break, he’d text Victor with a snippet, eg:


  • Family in-jokes
  • Words to song Victor used to like singing
  • News headlines

etc etc…

At 05:00 one morning, son got up, went to loo, climbed back into bed and listened to the Radio Five news.

Big headline was that Kim Jong-il of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had died.

Time to send a text to Sunray.  He can read it on regaining consciousness.


Message sent.  Now to catch another hour or two of sleep.

Peep-peep.  Incoming text message.


Reply from son:

President of North Korea



Oh well, no pleasing some people, I guess.

Days later…  a constant stream of updates by text from Sunray to son, giving details of the deceased President’s funeral cortege and wailing crowds.  Suddenly he was interested, after all.

Have an interesting day, won’t you!