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!




Happy World Book Day!

So to deal with the issue of listlessness, here is my favourite books list on World Book Day 2016.

  • 1984, by George Orwell.  The only book I’ve read cover to cover four times.
  • One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Solzhenitsyn.  I’ve read that book three times.
  • Gulag Archipelago, again by Solzhenitsyn.  It took me about three years to read it, mainly on the loo in my flat in Bracknell, but well worth reading.
  • Anything in the Dummies series of books.  (Well, almost anything.)
  • The Bumper Book of Government Waste, by Lee Rotherham.  Very entertaining and informative.
  • The Penguin Russian Course, by JJL Fennell.  It was *the* must-have book till the mid-90’s.
  • The Berlin Wall, by Frederick Taylor.  I bought that at Newcastle Airport while awaiting my flight to Düsseldorf.  Three hours later, I was still reading the book at the passport control queue on arrival in Germany.

Have a literary day, won’t you!

Literary Retail Therapy

Today’s retail therapy involved a trip to Oxford city centre to visit Waterstones and Blackwells bookshops. Bliss. I lovvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvve the smell of napalm books in the morning!

Today’s purchases:

  • The Nose, by Nikolai Gogol’ (translated into English)
    • Penguin classic – bargain at 80p
    • Once I’ve finished with it, I’ll probably give my copy to Düsseldorf International English Library, just like I did with my copy of The Bible for Dummies and Look Who’s Back.  Share the joy.
  • The Writer’s Block, full of ideas for creative writing types.  It’s given me ideas for blog articles.  Watch this space.  Not a bad price at £7.99.
  • Masterclass: Writing Comedy, which, even if I don’t ever become the English Henning Wehn, should prove an interesting read and might even help me with writing blog articles, business analysis documents, postcards home, Facebook posts, etc.   £12.99.  I wasn’t laughing at the price, I can tell you.

Have a bookworming day, won’t you!

Taking up a new/old hobby

So, Reading. A city/town in England, not just something you do with a book. A stroll round the town one Saturday. I see the Oxfam bookshop.  I love my books and my bargains, having in my time bought a copy of Gulag Archipelago, Cancer Ward and some other Russian/Soviet paperbacks… oh, and a biography of Frankie Howerd.  Titter ye not…

Then I saw a packet of stamps for sale, intended for stamp collectors, philatelists.  I decided on impulse to buy the packet.  It was only three pounds, anyway.  Next thing is to buy a book for keeping the stamps in.  They only cost about €2 from Amazon.

All this stamp collecting took me me back to when I was 12 years old and popped into a philately shop in Dorchester, Dorset, and bought my first set of stamps, including a Nauru stamp, which then cost a pound, about a week’s pocket money in those days.  I got a fair old collection after about three years.  Where did my stamp books go?  I’ve no idea.

Then I think of the South Georgia first day covers and British Antarctic Territory stamps that I ordered as a wedding present for an ex-colleague two years ago.

All that exotica, without evening having to leave my flat.

Have an exotic day, won’t you!

Will someone ever forge my diaries?

Fame.  Or notoriety.  Will I ever achieve either?

Probably not.  I’ll probably only ever be a legend in my own bathtime.  (I have been on TV three times, but that’s another story.  Andy Warhol and his Fifteen Minutes of Fame.)

Whenever I think of diaries, I play the word association game and think of:

  • Samuel Pepys (“And so to bed.”  He also wrote on Friday 9 October 1663, “I could neither have a natural stool nor break wind…”)
  • Adrian Mole (“Swedish leather exports.”)
  • Anne Frank (I visited her house in Amsterdam.  Well worth a visit.)
  • The forged Hitler diaries.

Now, this is all terribly, absolutely, typical British toilet humour, but whenever I think of the Hitler diaries, I recall Alexei Sayle on TV, saying in a stage German accent:

Ze teplets I heff bin taking for heartburn have been givink me sahch terrible flatulence.

(“The tablets I have been taking for heartburn have been giving me such terrible flatulence.”)

It’s been a quiet evening on the TV, so I decided to google the original German text.


“Die ständigen Anstrengungen der letzten Wochen verursachen mir Blähungen, und Eva sagt, ich habe Mundgeruch.”

A slight variant, probably adapted for TV.





Have a flatulence-free day, won’t you!

A short review of A Short History of the Tractor in Ukrainian

So, pretty much the quickest I’ve ever read a novel.  From cover to cover in just over a week, mostly down the English Library in Düsseldorf Altstadt, but also:

  • On the 701 heading into the city centre
  • Starbucks and platform 14 at the Hauptbahnhof
  • The S6 to Essen

So, my thoughts are thus.

An excellent book, and very original story.  I “got” the book, because I remember the “passport-hunter” ex-Soviet and post-Soviet women from my year abroad in Voronezh 1991-1992.  I also know a reasonable amount of East European history.  What I loved were:

  • Laughing out loud during the first two chapters and the ridiculous situation
  • Having damp eyes as the dark humour just became dark, no humour
  • The realism of the materialist passport-hunter
  • The question of who is the baddie, who is the goodie?  It became less clear-cut as I read each chapter
    • Passport-hunter just wanted a decent life for herself and her son
    • Father was desperate for someone to keep him warm in bed, bring him a cup of tea in the winter of his life.  Why should his two daughters get his inheritance?
  • The courtroom dramas… “under duress”
  • The happy ending.  Not quite, “They all lived happily ever after,” but on the whole a pretty win-win situation.

I am sorely tempted to read more by this author.

Never mind the ice bucket challenge

I’m so relieved that the silly season (the weeks in the summer when there’s no substantial news to report) gimmick, the Ice Bucket Challenge, seems to have died a death.  If I want to give to charity, I’ll do it in an understated way, eg donating when I get a poppy for Remembrance Day.

Anyway, as a bookworm I prefer the Nice Book Challenge.  What are the top ten books that have marked your life?  Here are mine below.

1. A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, by Marina Lewycka (lots of reasons, but mainly reminds me of my year abroad, and a good mix of bathos and dark humour).

2. Look Who’s Back, by Timur Vermes (a book that made me laugh out loud on the train to Hannover this June, excellent German satire about Hitler coming back to Berlin, ground-breaking and taboo-breaking book).

3. 1984, by George Orwell. Probably the only novel I’ve ever read twice. Gripping from start to finish, and very gritty. Plenty of dark, no humour.

4. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon. Again, more dark than humour. Probably the first fiction book I BOUGHT and could not put down. I even went to bed late to read just one more chapter and then another. A really original book, giving me an insight into Asperger syndrome, so much so, that I even bought a few books by Lorna Wing and Tony Atwood.

5. Gulag Archipelago, by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. Gripping start. Bit stodgy in the middle, but gripping end. Quite a long book.

6. Pikovaya dama (Queen of Spades), by Alexandr Pushkin. It didn’t change my life per se, but I loved the book and other A-level texts, that it made me want to study Russian at university, and the rest is history…

7. Job-Hunting and Career Change for Dummies All-in-One. This is THE bible for job-hunters. It helped me boost my CV immensely, and I’ve recommended it to lots of friends.

8. The Art of War, by Sun Tzu. Really fascinating book on leadership and organisational skills. One of the books where other people have read it, too, leading to some very animated conversations.

9, Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps: How We’re Different and What to Do, by Barbara and Allan Pease. It’s probably not changed my life, but it’s given me a better insight into the psychology of the genders, and it’s been a great “ah, so that’s why my husband/boyfriend/wife/girlfriend does that” book.

10. Business Analysis, by Don Yeates, et al. In as much as it’s marked my life, it was a good book for career reasons and enabled me to move onwards and upwards in job and lifestyle.