Untranslatable Expressions

Every language has untranslatable words and expressions.

Today’s untranslatable expression is:

“Back-seat driver”

I’m not sure if it’s a British expression.  (Americans, do you use the same expression?)

What does “back-seat driver” actually mean?   Let’s turn to www.urbandictionary.com.

1. A passenger in the back seat of the car who criticises the driver.

2. Anyone who offers unwanted advice.

Two definitions, the first of which is literal, the second is somewhat figurative, and the one that is more frequently used in British English.

I am sometimes asked what the role of church warden is like.  To ex-military people, I tend to explain thus:

It’s a bit like being RSM in a regiment.
To “civvies,” I tend to explain thus:
It’s a bit like being a shop steward.
One of the key tasks of church warden is to deal with the back-seat driver, who has an opinion and “expertise” on most things everything within church.

22:30 on Saturday evening: Beep-beep.  WhatsApp message from Back-Seat Driver (BSD).

“The church website is down for maintenance.  Why?”
My reply:
“Probably because our webmaster is doing some updates.”
Beep-beep.  BSD again:
“But why’s he doing maintenance work on a Saturday evening?”
My reply:
“Because he’s doing it in his spare time, and he’s doing it for free.”
Beep-beep.  It’s now 22:39.  BSD yet again:
“When’s the new-look church website going to be ready?”
Point to note: I am not a fiery redhead, but by now, I was on the verge of acting true to stereotype.  Instead, I remembered that useful phrase from my interrogator course all those years ago.  I decided to “ICATQ” him.
“I cannot answer that question.”
Beep-beep.  BSD yet yet yet again:
“Why not?  You said you were aiming to get the website up and running this month.”
(Ladies, when I use the word “aim,” I mean it in the same sense that men “aim” for the toilet bowl.  It’s very, very approximate.  You get the picture now, don’t you?)

My reply:

“I cannot answer that question.”
I think by 22:47, BSD had got the message.  Literally and figuratively.  Time for me to switch mobile phone off for the night. 

BSD has a habit of advising others on how it should be done better.  In fact, he gives more “on-the-spot guidance” than Kim Jong-un, President of North Korea.

kim
Some “on-the-spot guidance” from BSD…
  • We should use fresh milk instead of UHT milk  for post-service refreshments.
    • “Fine.  Then you go buy some…  What’s that you say?  You don’t have the time?”
  • We should brew decaffeinated coffee as well as caffeinated coffee.
    • Guess what… “Fine.  Then you go buy some…  What’s that you say?  You don’t have the time?”
  • We should provide lactose-free milk in case some visitors are allergic to ordinary milk.
    • “Fine.  Then you go buy some…  Oh, what’s that you say?  You don’t know where you can buy some?”
  • We should update the website to enable the church to do a live broadcast of the Sunday sermon.
    • “Good idea.  Hey, why don’t you do the business analysis, you write the requirements, you meet with the chaplain and the webmaster, you test it, and you launch that new functionality?  What’s that you say?  You don’t have the time or the technical expertise?  Oh, just fancy that.”
  • We should head down to the local train station and talk to people about Christianity.
    • “What a brilliant suggestion.  Many thanks for that.  Tell you what.  You design and print out a load of leaflets, you get yourself over there, you go up to people and speak to them in German… oh, you don’t speak German, eh?”

“We” in this context, in fact, means:

Anybody except for me.

The back-seat driver.  Please, please, please pray for those who have to deal with them…

Have a guidance-free day, won’t you!


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Blood sugar diet: day 29 of 56

Today’s statistics:

  • Starting weight: 122.4kg
  • One week ago: 120.7kg
  • Today: 118.8kg

That’s 3.6kg off in four weeks.  I am happy.

A few observations.

  1. Last week I spent a long weekend at Schatz’, celebrating her birthday.  Over two or three days I ate a big pack of crisps (paprika flavour, yum) as well as eating lots of pizza and drinking several cocktail.  A blip on Sunday evening: 121.4kg.  I delayed weekly weigh-in by one day till today.  I know from past experience that if I over-eat, it takes 48 hours to lose the excess weight.  Hey presto!  Today it was my lowest weight since I started the diet, and indeed my lowest weight for several years.
  2. While walking past a shop window yesterday evening, I noticed my belly had definitely shrunk.  Still big, but not kettle drum shape now.  Obviously still a long way to go.  But the longest journey consists of but single steps.

Everyone keeps telling me:

Keep it up!

Au contraire!  I say:

Keep it down!

Finally, by no means am I a communist.  Only my hair is red, but just once let me leave you with this thought.

zitat-vorwarts-immer-ruckwarts-nimmer-erich-honecker-220507

Have a comradely day, won’t you!

Blood sugar diet: day 22 of 56

What have I learnt so far?

  1. Don’t panic if you have a blip.  Stay focussed.  Start afresh.  One week’s weight gain or loss is, in any event, but a small step when you remember it took years to put the weight on.
  2. The 72-hour rule of thumb.  If I have had a blip, it takes about me about 3 days for the “blip weight” to pass out of my body.  (I won’t get too scatalogical here…)
  3. If you do have a blip one week, don’t starve yourself.  Just go back to what you were doing that was helping you to lose weight.  Last week I had a few too many Haribos and Balisto snacks, probably about 3000 calories worth, equalling about 0.5kg, which is what I put on last week.  This week so far I have had literally three, maybe four, Haribo pieces.
  4. If you are tempted to have sweet things, have an ice cream, rather than sweets.  A Magnum ice cream bar has “only” 259 calories and is more filling than a pack of wine gums.  The ice cream is also quite a nice dessert after a salad lunch.
  5. Do some exercise in the evening.  The last two evenings Düsseldorf has enjoyed glorious sunshine.  I have made the most of it.  I’ve already caught the sun after only 20 minutes at lunchtime today.  (Well, what do you expect from a redhead?)  Two 50-minute cycle rides to explore and recce new routes.  I’ve also found a new “salmonellaburger van”, where I can stop off for a coffee.  Another advantage of cycling is this: you can’t comfort-eat while you are cycling – especially if you don’t bring any money with you.  (“Lead us not into temptation.”)  The Union Flag cycling top still turns heads.

Finally, here is a pic of me in my favourite cycling top, back in 1998 in God’s Country, the Yorkshire Dales.  Dennis the Menace from The Beano comic.

Dennis

Have an un-menacing day, won’t you!

Blood sugar diet: day 10 of 56

Today was a checkpoint day.  Nothing to do with the diet per se.  On day 1 of the diet I had my quarterly blood sugar sample taken.  Today I came back to see my GP to get the results.

  • Last reading: 7.1 units.
  • Today’s reading: 7.8 units.

An increase of 0.7 units, or 10, something I had anticipated as over the past few months, I had been overeating and less active than previous.  I won’t bore you with the reason.  (I should ideally be at 6.5 units.)

However, my GP had been briefed by his “civilian” staff (the army-speak never leaves you) that I had started the Low Blood Sugar Diet.  So, instead of slapping my wrist, our man was most positive about the diet, my efforts and results.  (He complimented me on my Redhead Days t-shirt which I was wearing.  Normally he wears a top with a witty slogan in English, eg “Cool story, bro.”  Today he did not, but I did.)

I digress.

Next steps…

  • No need to see him at the four-week point in the diet, unless I was constantly going hypoglaecemic and had lost a lot of weight.
  • Carry on, and don’t worry about all carbs, but do avoid the bad carbs, eg white bread, rice etc.

Fifteen minutes later, I left his surgery, and we shook hands.

Next weigh-in is in two days time.  Watch this space.

Have a healthy day, won’t you!

Ladykiller

“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.”

Conclusion

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!

There but for the grace of God go I

(Vocab point for non-native speakers of English: “Es hätte auch mich erwischen können.”

It’s October 1989.  I arrive as a fresher in my room at Nottingham University, ready to start my degree in Russian Studies.

“What a big room,”  say to myself on entering, then a few seconds later, I find out why.  I’m sharing the room.  Room-mate: John, a New Zealander, studying Classics (Latin and Greek an’ all that.)  He seems a fairly reasonable bloke.  If I can share a room for nearly two decades with my own brother and survive, I’m sure I can share a room with John for a few months.

In the end we tolerated each other.  I was a little immature (which fresher isn’t?).  He was somewhat alpha-male.  I was a bit of a scruffy, unwashed student.  He was often the life and soul of any party, albeit occasionally passive aggressive.

Cut to April 1991.

An Oxford undergraduate goes missing during exam time.  More “Dog bites man” than “Man bites dog.”  Then it turns out the fingers is pointed at the boyfriend, my ex-roommate.

“Nah,” I think, “it’s just the ‘meejah’ (media) turning on the scruffy, long-haired student.  A fortnight later she’s still missing.  Ex-roommate gives press conference, begging her to come back.

His body language.

Her body.  Found under the floorboards of her student house.  He had killed her.

Cut to December 1991.  I am on my year abroad in Russia.  My fortnightly call to my mum.  She tells me ex-roommate had been convicted of murder.  A few days later I receive in the post newspaper clippings from the British newspapers.

I am still stunned.  You don’t meet someone, especially a fairly affable person, thinking, “Hmmm, potential murderer?”

Since his arrest and conviction I have given two TV interviews, shortly after his arrest, and then shortly before his release.  My assessment of him then was that he was fundamentally a decent, likeable guy, but something must have gone wrong in the months leading to the crime.

My assessment now after a quarter of a century of thinking is less generous.  Let’s leave it at that.

In the end I can only admire his victim’s parents, devout Christians, who forgave him and even said they’d like to visit him in prison.

In the end he “only” served 12 years.  (The average life sentence in England is 13-15 years.)

In my younger days I was a stereotypical fiery redhead.  The whole case made me think and made me calm down.  It made me re-assess people.  First impressions aren’t always right.

After his sentence, John returned back to New Zealand.  I hope he has been a decent member of society post-sentence.

Have a decent day, won’t you!

Kevin Barry gave his young life for the cause of… ?

Kevin Barry may not be a name that rings a bell to some readers of this blog.  Those to whom the name does mean anything will think of the Irish rebel song of the name.

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PE8rsDLHb98

To me, however, the name, Kevin Barry, means something, someone, different.

Flight Lieutenant Kevin Barry Main RAF.

His life brought short in March 2003 during Gulf War II. Not in brave combat, shown down by the enemy. But shot down in what is euphemistically called a “blue-on-blue” incident. An American Patriot missile accidentally shot him down.

Accidentally.

So that makes it ok, then?

So what’s Flight Lieutenant Kevin Barry Main got to do with me?

To quote Shakespeare:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts…

Over a decade and a half ago, the part I played was that of part-time soldier in the Territorial Army (now called the Army Reserve, equivalent to the US National Guard), reaching the dizzy heights of Lance-Corporal. As a result, I attended the Army’s interrogators course, learning about:

  • Eye access cues
  • The acronym ICATQ (“I cannot answer that question”)
  • The Big Six, namely:
    1. Name
    2. Rank
    3. Number
    4. Date of birth
    5. Blood group
    6. Religion
  • Nice cop, nasty cop
  • Etc

The interrogators course culminated in a real interrogation exercise somewhere in the South-West of England.  In mid-January.  Cold.  Brrr.  Not nice.  “Our” exercise dovetailed with an escape and evasion exercise for RAF air crews, more used to officers’ mess dinners, fine wines and good living.  Now it was catch your own food, keep running around and get captured, handcuffed, blindfolded and hooded and brought to the interrogation centre to be placed into stress positions to listen to “white noise,” which sounds like the crackle of a not tuned-in radio.

Don’t worry, ladies and gentlemen, for the interrogators will break the monotony of the stress positions and white noise.

Flight Lieutenant Main was one of my “clients.”  He had been sent to me and my senior interrogator for a “harsh” interrogation.  Rest assured, no RAF officers were harmed during this interrogation.  He’d been sent to us two because he’d made a big mistake at his previous interrogation, which in our “session,” he called an “interview,” another faux pas on his part.  The next thirty minutes were not much fun (for him).  He was screamed at, shouted at, told there was no excuse, told to pick up a toilet seat and place it on the back of his neck.

Now flush that toilet!

That was the polite invitation from my senior interrogator.

Flight Lieutenant Main duly did so – several times.

He then left suitably chastened, having learnt his lesson, namely not even to spell your name when asked to state your name.  Apart from the Big Six, the answer to every other question is ICATQ.

Fast forward from early 2000 to March 2003…

An office in Düsseldorf, Germany.  A pair of colleagues having a blazing row because the coffee machine is out of cappuccino.  Sorry, I didn’t realise I was working in a kindergarten.

I decide to click on the BBC news website to catch the latest headlines.  A story about an RAF pilot shot down in Gulf War II.

Kevin Main.

That can’t be him.  The same one that I…

Heart rate up…

I swallow hard.

I see his full name.

Kevin Barry Main.

I see his photo, smiling.  That’s probably in pride of place at his parents’ house.

My head is now pounding.

The infants colleagues are still arguing about the coffee machine.

I walk away.  I reach the desk of my ex-Royal Signals colleague, Martin.

Martin, I need to talk to someone.  Can we go to the newly-opened Starbucks?  I’ll treat you to a coffee.

We reach Starbucks.  They have cappuccino there.  Maybe I should tell the infants?  I tell Martin about my old part-time and about the blue-on-blue incident.

No tears, no melodrama.  No hugging.  It was all matter-of-fact.  I just need to let off steam and get away from the pettiness of the two colleagues.

Kevin Barry gave his young life for the cause of…  Well, you tell me, Mr Tony Bliar, you tell me.

Have a caffeine-filled day, won’t you!