Saturday, 19 January 2008

For F……….’s Sake

Words are important to a writer in precisely the way screws and nails are vital ingredients in the vocabulary of a carpenter. So it follows that I am distressed at efforts to make certain assemblies of innocent letters illegal.

We must not describe what, to many, is unnatural behaviour in brief and vivid words. Equerry is permissible; queer, which is little different, isn’t. Three letters permit its entry into polite society.

At times like this we must remember that we are ruled by an Establishment made for the pen of Dean Swift. With not a trace of humour, our extraordinary Home Secretary has put an end to terrorism. Now, she has ruled, we must call it Anti-Islamic Activity. You can sense the chill that must bring to the hearts of Mad Mullahs everywhere. But I suppose if you cannot govern a country, you can comfort yourself that you are a Canute of the waves of words.

Personally I am offended by obscenities in plays and on radio and TV. Irrational, I know. Copulation in its daily dress describes moments of deep love and heightened sensitivity. More than that, it provides vernacular architecture for people with limited vocabulary.

I had a friend who ascribed to the limited vocabulary of the young the breakdown of so many marriages. On the grounds that once a young swain has said, “Do you come here often?” the only other expression of devotion his vocabulary permits is, “Will you marry me?” A compliment rather than a commitment.

In the workplace, the news room or the barrack room the copulatory verb is probably used more often than “the”. I used to wonder why that was, until I realised what a portmanteau of a word it is. A chameleon, too. The addition of three letters, another verbal trinity, turns it into a noun or an adjective. It can express the extreme of surprise, delight, or revulsion. Preceding a command or any one of a thousand responses it acts like a flourish of trumpets.

I swear in order to add colour to a sentence. Yet I am offended by the use of bad language in newspapers or in the presence of women, even though my wife gave up football because of the foul language of the other lady players.

When I met her, the only swear word my convent-reared wife used was “Horrors” or in extreme cases “Multiple Horrors”. Why not make that assembly of letters illegal?

Wise old Montaigne wondered why when he sneezed people said, ”God Bless you” yet if he expelled air from another part of his body he was shunned. Why should words which describe procreation and pleasure be taboo? Yet massacre and genocide be on everyone’s lips?

Nothing about our government suggests that words are suppressed out of sensitivity. There is no benevolence in the 3,000 or more new laws which have appeared on the Statute Book under New Labour. But they do show in the clearest possible terms that we must do as we are told.
Our freedom, which for centuries defined us as British citizens, is no longer fit for purpose. Restrictions on gun ownership, imposed in the hysteria which followed Dunblane, had no effect on gun crime. Rather the opposite. The “dangerous dogs” laws, which sprang from hysteria following several savagings, have not affected dog behaviour. Hunting was never as popular as it became after the recent legislation.

At one level this restricton of freedom is irritating, but at another it is profoundly worrying. Like the legislation which prohibits smoking and driving on the grounds that if you smoke and drive there is a remote chance of your having an accident. You could, of course, ban the act of driving on the same premise. They are all instruments of control and encourage a mindset which accepts restriction of liberty.

Age has produced in me an increasing tendency to break wind. An American magazine bluntly advertised “Fartypants”, which contain an absorbent charcoal pad.
I hastened to order two pairs. Hearing of it, my friend Geoff Mather, former features editor of the Daily Express, sent this:

” I was told by friends from Mexico that there is a creature known as a garrapata which has an inlet and no outlet. It blows up, they said. Be that as it may, here is a curious explanation of the garrapata, translated from the Spanish:

‘The garrapatas often are in the high grass, where they hope in the end of a leaf to try to enlist to any animal or person that happens. A very common false idea is to think that the garrapata is able to jump off the plant to the guest, but the only method of transmission is the physical contact. The garrapata is ended up loosen of the animal when it fills, but this can take several days. In their mouth, the garrapatas have a structure that allows them to enlist firmly to the place of which they are absorbing blood. To throw off a garrapata to the force can often make that parts of the garrapata are given off and they remain in the mordedura, whole the apparatus buccal, which can produce infection. Between the methods to extract the garrapata without leaving within the skin the head or the mouth, they are for example anestesiar to the garrapata with a substance like the ether.’”

Another friend, John Julius Norwich, produces an anthology every Christmas and I thought this explanation might merit a place. Almost by return, the Earl produced the following gem:

“Though I myself am no mean farter
I'm glad I'm not a garrapata;
As for my apparatus buccal,
It seems a trifle near the knuckle -
And though my movements can't be purer,
I think I'll stick to the mordedura.”


In his delicious “Brief Lives”, John Aubrey recalls the unfortunate Earl of Oxford who was so nervous at being presented to the Tudor Queen Elizabeth that, as he performed his bow, he broke wind. Aubrey says the Earl was so embarrassed he immediately left court and exiled himself abroad.
Years later he returned and once more was presented to Her Majesty. “Ah ,Oxford,” she called out when he entered the Presence Chamber, “we have quite forgot the fart.”

Acker Bilk’s brother David told me of a time when he and his brother were playing in the band at a Hunt Ball. As they queued for supper, David broke wind. “Mr Bilk,” roared the Master, “are you aware that your brother has broken wind before my wife?” “Oh well,” said Acker, “I don’t suppose ‘e knew it were her turn.”

And I cannot resist the story of the young couple who were out riding one day when the man’s horse broke wind. He apologised profusely. “Please do not worry,” said the girl, “I thought it was the horse.”

And that, I am sure, concludes a case for the prosecution.


From Peterborough, Daily Telegraph:

“More humorous animal names have been sent to me. This time a tale of two cats called Castor and Pollux. They belonged to an astronomer who late at night, I am told, found himself unable to call the latter’s name in a deserted suburban street.

“My favourite of the last batch of cats’ names came from a lady in Norwich whose daughter had named her cat Ceremony. Whenever visitors arrived, she warned them not to stand on it.

“A reader in Surrey also tells me of a neighbour who bought a pair of Siamese kittens – one of which was excessively greedy and other addicted to long periods of sleep. They were christened Chew and Lie.”


P.S. Since I may well find myself in durance vile for this blog, why not try for a really good read, Mather’s blog:

1 comment:

Asha Stephen said...

I loved the anecdote of the riding couple. I nearly fell out of my chair laughing. It was hilarious!

I've ordered "Island Fling" and will follow up with "Magnificent Evan", when I'm done with that. Thanks for the recommendations. :-)