Thursday, July 16, 2009


Lingua Fatwa

It's been a while since I issued an edict about permissible language. That's not because I have become more tolerant, it is simply because I have been busy being enraged with other things.

Always uttered as if the nasty concept has gravitas. It doesn't. Describing the act of picking up the pieces after having unprotected sex and then a sprog, isn't something anyone other than your direct family needs to know about. Parenting has become an academic subject, the focal point of hundreds of awful "the guardian" articles, and the central theme of millions of hormonally charged, wittery mum-sites and blogs. And yet most people who talk about it, are shite at it and their children hate them.

"Stems From" As in "My interest in finance stems from a lifelong fascination with order". Is that right? Well guess what stems from trees? That's right, fruit. Fruity, fruity, fruit.

"Offensive." often used by people who make a meal out of "parenting", as breeding gives those of lower self-esteem a "good reason" to be royal pains in the arse to everyone around them. Generally deployed to describe fairly nondescript, mildy annoying, or just slightly rude things. Fun-spoiling. I've seen fascinating sweary exchanges interrupted by goggle eyed women, with dirty-faced brats: "Excuse-meeeeeeeee. Could you tone down your language pleaaase. I find it reeeeeeelly offensive". I swear people turn on moronic programmes like "Big Brother" and that one about moustaches made out of shit, just so they can complain about "how offensive" television is. How about if I slash your lips with a blunt razor blade and then smear them with a vinegar chapstick? What would that be? Would it be as offensive as a swearword, or a little bit more offensive. Fuck off, you wets.

"Little people". A woman asked me "Do you have any photographs of your little people". I couldn't for the life of me, work out what the fuck she was on about. I know "Little People" is a modern way to describe dwarves and midgets, but Snow White is a fairy tale, and I, although I am quite fascinated by dwarves and midgets, don't actually farm them. Or was she talking about leprechauns, in a bid to show cultural awareness? It turned out she wanted to look at a photograph of my children, the dirty bitch. By the time she had been forced to watch my bewildered face saying "Sorry, what exactly did you want to see a picture of? Little what? I don't think I have any photographs of short people. I mean, I might do - but I'd need to poke around in the attic first" I think she had gone off the idea.

Do add more examples in the comments.

If you want a beautifully syntaxed, cliche-free read, Philip Challinor has written yet another book about satanism. I expect it would read best in a secure ward, or an Al Qaeda training camp, but one thing is for sure - there won't be a comma out of place.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009


It grows shitly, thanks

I first started trying to grow vegetables in Morocco, when I had a full time gardener. One would think, that having a professional person, whose job was just to dig holes, put plants in them and then water them and stuff, would make growing produce an easy matter. Add to that the incredible, year-round sun of the North African climate, fecund soil and the fact that I had a massive well, right next to the vegetable patch -I should have been selling produce to Sainsburys.

Unfortunately my gardener was a jack the lad, capable only of conversing in nasal, reedy tones of Darija, a language he chose to ignore, when spoken by anyone other than a native. He was lazy as fuck, letting the lawn grow to jungle height and announcing that the mower "was broken" whenever he was asked to cut the grass. He thieved everything that could be thieved - if I wasn't standing guard over a fruit tree he would strip it of its produce, sell it, and when challenged would announce that it "had died". I once caught him selling the leaves off a climbing plant to a man on a passing donkey. Extraordinary entrepreneurship, from a bone idle idiot. I couldn't be arsed to sack him, as compared to a friend's maid, who stole all her employer's jewellery and then announced that she had been hypnotised in the street by a con artist to whom she had later delivered the spoils, some light fingered leaf and fruit pilfering seemed a pretty easy hit to take. At least I knew how much he was stealing from me - a new gardener -well it would take a few months to get accustomed to how much he actually was costing me in "perks".

I decided that to offset Saeed's thieving, I would try and save money on the housekeeping, by growing our own food. I got him to dig up a rarely-mown lawn, which he did with great fury, and my mother posted me seed packets of proper vegetables. I had swedes, brussel sprouts, cauliflowers, beetroots, leeks and savoy cabbages and I got my very competent housekeeper to explain to Saeed when, where and how to plant small amounts of each crop. As the seedlings grew, I visited them in the garden and noticed that they looked very alike. Saeed swore on his mother's life that he had both staggered the planting of each crop and stuck rigidly to the intructions he had been given. Since the weather was so excellent, it didn't take long for the plants to get from seed to table and after a few weeks I had fifty three perfect, white cauliflowers, a recipe for colitis. However, I was so determined that Saeed should not receive a single head of cauliflower as reward for his insolence/fuckwittery, that for the next few weeks the housekeeper toiled with farty salads, soups and tagines and when nobody was looking I howled with laughter to myself at the situation.

After his final warning, lack of Eid bonus and new instructions on the importance of variety in a vegetable bed, Saeed went ahead and planted out two entire packets of brussel sprout seeds. I was dubious about the amount of success we would have with them, given the too-warm climate, but I was keen to have sprouts for the Christmas meal and actually, having forty square feet of the fuckers wouldn't be the end of the world, as I knew a lot of Northern European people who wanted them for Christmas too. They grew fine, the sprouts themselves were a little smaller than I would have liked, and there was never going to be the frost that makes the difference in flavour that people go on about - but Brussel sprouts were hard to come by in the markets over there, so I was happy enough with the situation.

They were probably about three weeks off being ready, when the housekeeper came running to find me, dripping sweat and breathless: "Saeed is digging up the choux de Bruxelles!" She panted. I followed her to the vegetable field, where Saeed was leaning crossly on his spade, and got her to translate for me:

"Why are you digging up these plants? Leave them alone!".

"These cabbages are over. Look at them. They are all long and thin"

"They are not cabbages. They are a different plant, a European one. They are supposed to look like that"

"No plant looks like this. I am a gardener and I know what cabbages look like when they are finished. These cabbages are finished"

I bent the stem of a plant over and pointed to the small growths, clumped on the side of the thick, pale green stalk. "Look. Look at these. These are the cabbages. The rest of the plant is just like a tree and these small green growths are the fruit of the tree".

Saeed looked at me as if I had shat in his slipper: "If you want me to leave these dead cabbages in, then so be it. But don't blame me for your wasting this space. I work hard to grow these vegetables and you don't pick them in time, so they die".

He stole the rest of the seeds that my mother had sent and barely lifted a finger for the rest of his time with us. He did come in with a massive black eye one day, which pleased me, but apart from that his remaining career was utterly inert and uneventful.

When I moved to the UK, I decided I was going to manage things better than Saeed had done. I made my husband dig up a big weeded area in the back garden. I bought small vegetable plants, rather than risk seeds not germinating, and I watered and weeded and fiddled about. It was fucking boring and I could see how thieving and bartering with donkey riders could be a grand way to pass the time, instead of digging fucking holes and tying things to canes, but I had this thought, like I wanted to be good at something useful other than deep throating and I wanted something to help me to fit in with the locals and the English love to garden. But I fucking hate gardening. Everything grows but just so gaily, like it gets leaves on it, but no vegetables come out of the leaves. And all these fucking worms and beetles and things, crawl around and eat the plants, and there are bees stinging the whole time and great black birds with vicious beaks pecking and eating all the berries, and the earth is either parched dry or a swamp of rotting roots and the plants are so fucking ugly I could just shit. I was moaning about the hideousness of vegetable plants the other day and this English woman, do you know what she said to me? She said: "Did you know the runner bean was originally grown as a decorative plant?". Was it? Really? Did people not have eyes years ago? I don't see a "decorative plant" at all, I see a great big straggling old stalk with some tendrils and a few red flowers that turn into pointy green lumpy pods. I don't care if they have chelsea flower show over here, I hate gardening and plants and I hate vegetables until they have finished growing and I can eat them.

Thursday, July 09, 2009


Telephone Call To My Mother: Role Reversal

"Hello Ma! It's Noreen"

"Oh hello Noreen. I hope you aren't calling to tell me you have the swine flu. Your father and I will not be coming to visit if you do. Not with his chest"

"No, we don't have it yet. I'm actually ringing because I have some very sad news"

"Is it the drains again?"

"No Ma, it isn't the drains. Actually I was calling to tell you that X has died. Y's sister - do you remember? You gave her a cutting of one of your shrubs once"

"Oh I thought she had died long ago. Are you sure you haven't got the wrong end of the stick?"

"No, she died last week. It was peaceful, and the family at her side after a long and drawn out illness"

"She's been dying for years, that one. I'm sure I remember you talking about her dying when you were only eighteen and that was a very long time ago - half your life she's spent dying."

"Well she's dead now, so even tomorrow it will be less than half my life that she's spent on the way out."

"Don't be cheeky Noreen, it doesn't become you at your age. And maths was never your strength. Why are you telling me anyway. Are the family after donations for something? I bet it's some peculiar humanist charity, something about choices, one of those sorts of things. She was always keen on letting people know how "different" she was"

"Actually her funeral is going to be a little different. She's getting buried just in a hole with no tombstone, in unconsecrated ground"

"I'm surprised she is being buried at all. I would have had her down for the cremation" (I sense my mother crossing herself) "She was very green, and those green people go on, don't they about how "cremation is better for the environment". It is not better for it, look at the Indians. They cremate everyone and their country is no environmental role model whatsoever. I find it very tiresome when people have these wacky funerals. I mean, she wasn't a Catholic so I suppose it is different for her in some ways"

"Well, she'll be going to hell won't she. So it doesn't really matter about the hole and no tombstone thing. And there'll be plenty of cremation down there"

"Don't say things like that Noreen. That's a terrible thing to say about someone who has recently died. I thought you were fond of her?"

"No, not especially. I just thought you liked to hear about when people die"

"Why would I want to hear things like that at my time of life? I like to hear about positive things, like people buying new houses and getting pay rises and having children. I'm not interested in death - that's just around the corner for me anyway. Did I tell you I have been put on a stronger dose? The doctor was amazed at my test results - never seen anything like it one someone with a working pulse"

"Right well, I have to go now Ma. Great talking to you. Will I send your condolences?"

"You'll do no such thing. I'll write a letter and I have a lovely card that will be just ideal. I bought a whole load recently. Mrs X has started making her own sympathy card range using hand made lace. She held a sale a few weeks ago to raise money for a new limb.........."

I don't take the bait - Although I am actually desperate to know about the limb and to discover which amputee/mutant will be on the receiving end of it, or even to find out if Mrs X's lace cards are going to provide limbs for poor foreign children - but I can't, I have to go to work. Besides I know it will be a long story, one designed to show me that, although I may have advanced a little in the "who's died recently" competition, I still have a reasonable distance to go before accomplishing proper Irish Mammy crazy.


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