Friday, November 29, 2013

The Gladiators - French Post Card

Ragnhild and Astrid

So ... we're given to a multitude of names .... but this was extreme

Franz Salvator Maria Joseph Ferdinand Karl Leopold Anton von Padua Johann Baptist Januarius Aloys Gonzaga Rainer Benedikt Bernhard von Habsburg-Loarraine and his daughters ...

From a Postcard

Saturday, November 23, 2013


Hofkirche - About 1890

Bad bad bad ... And not so bad.

            I’ve been sick again. And peeved over it. There’s nothing like being sick to make a pixie cranky. And then there’s the “other” stuff. Our house needs a major repair. We’re trying to raise money for that short of taking out a loan. We may have that issue resolved by next week. In the mean time, I’ve been depressed over the whole thing. Also, an uncle that we all despise (I can’t of anyone in the family who likes him. Even his own children won’t talk to him, except for one daughter.) had his lawyer send us a letter asserting a claim on our house. To do this he has to dispute Grandmother’s will. It was probated over ten years ago. This is just an annoyance. The will is explicit and, says our lawyer, not only can’t he break it, but the time in which to try has expired. So our lawyer wrote a really strongly worded reply. We never heard back. I hate being sick. I hate stupid stuff from relatives more.

            I’ve had my share of the odd dreams that come with my illness. I can’t explain any of them, and I’m not sure there is an explanation beyond what goes on in my damaged brain. Many of them are short scenes made up of ordinary life but more brilliant in colors than real life is. Most of them are bits of traffic – cars, trucks, people on bikes. None of them are threatening, but they are startling.

            There are two plusses to being sick. Three really. I am pampered and babied by my husband and children. That’s always nice.

And when I spend most of my day vegetating in my chair, I usually need that kind of attention. I haven’t missed any work, but on my “second job” I have staff who know exactly what to do if I show up sick. They take lots of strain off.

My imagination becomes more vivid. Notice I said vivid and not more detailed. When I am sick I can see the stories I tell myself, my children or anyone else in exact visual detail. I have a host of little kids’ stories I’ve never written down; many of them come from periods like this. … And then there are the Warrior Princess, shape-shifting dragon, goat-boy stories I tell my husband. He is highly entertained. I’ve only shared one of those with someone else. I think their computer screen is still fogged up.
On Guard

            I feel like the Warrior Princess on my bad days, attached to my sword, on guard against an un-seeable bad. I can feel it creeping up. I can feel its hot breath. And I fight it with all my soul. I hate being sick. Did I mention that? My emotions are raw from trying to keep them in check. When I get this sick I can feel my good judgment slip. I sleep with my sword. It’s like having a second husband. Knobby Knees and Vigilance.

Sleeping with The Sword

            I have a vigilant family. They know when to look me in the eye and say, “Mom, you’re not being reasonable right now.” I always listen. Learning to listen to family feed back was hard. I seem reasonable when every one does not – at least to me.

Knobby Knee's view of Life.

            There is also the interesting effect on umm umm flirting. I don’t know why, but the snuggles, hugs, kissy-licking things are nicer when I’m sick. No need to be graphic here, I suppose. But it’s a fact of life for me anyway.

            Given these circumstances and my aunt’s health problems, we’ve done well putting the last chapter together. It might be done in first draft in three or four weeks. Then we can get the “print it and get it out show” on the road.

Married to the Sword.
This is a pg blog. So that's all you get of this picture ....

Monday, November 11, 2013

O. Reader Returns - Or the Ride of the Newly Welsh

Language learning

A long, long time ago, I spent five years at secondary school learning how to successfully fail every French language exam that came my way. It was customary in those days in schools to concentrate on French. Two wars had forced two natural opponents to be civil to each other, and France was, after all, the nearest "foreign" country. My mother was absolutely determined that I should learn French. I don’t know why to this day. She could never speak it, and attempts to question her on this omission tended to get her mad. She even insisted on paying a retired French teacher to come to the house for extra coaching – and we weren’t all that well off at the time. I still failed. I ended up with the schoolboy’s ability to recite the occasional French irregular verb, which did not exactly lend itself to scintillating conversation. Few French people are keen to hear their irregular verbs recited – and recited badly – by young Englishmen.

So that was that. Life moved on. A dabble at Swahili came to naught, as did a dabble at Spanish – for reasons I cannot for the life of me remember now.

But then I started courting a girl who was living and working in Spain. So I tried Spanish again, and this time made some headway. I could visit Spain and communicate a little better than the average Englishman, who appears to feel that as long as you speak VERY SLOWLY AND LOUDLY the world will understand them.

Time moved on again, but I was quite amazed later how much Spanish I knew. When trying to learn other languages – which I’ll come to in a minute – invariably the Spanish would come to mind. Not a lot of help in the circumstances, it was as if the part of my brain that dealt with languages was sort of full... (That’s a very polite way of putting it).

Next on the list was Urdu. (If you include Hindi with it, which is the same basic language when spoken but with a different script since the partition of India and Pakistan – it is the fourth most widely spoken language on the planet). The work I did (and do) involves talking to people about belief, and there was a large Pakistani community in a neighbouring city, most of them nominally Moslem in belief. For several years, we had a very enjoyable time amongst them – a very friendly and hospitable people who make a really mean curry, even if my conversation tended to be of the mix and match variety. Mrs O took to it, wrote a book teaching others how to read the script, and all was well – until 9/11. That changed things drastically. Many westerners suddenly became fearful of everyone linked to Islam. While that didn’t apply to us, more to the point, many in the Asian community were subjected to prejudice and a blanket condemnation and went to ground. They were now fearful and kept their distance, which made our work far more difficult.

So time moved on again. The work amongst the Asian community still continues, but is done by those who were former missionaries in Pakistan – brought home when westerners were being targeted. They can get better results than we ever could, and so we moved on.

So the latest is Welsh. I am struggled to learn Welsh. And it is the Spanish that keeps popping back into my mind – especially at awkward conversational moments in class.

Why on earth learn Welsh? Everybody in Wales can speak English can’t they? Well, it is true they can – but I’m going to take you on a brief scriptural journey now. (Now don’t worry – those who think Oh Horror – Occasional is going to preach a sermon – really, I’m not – but feel free to skip the next paragraph if you wish.)

There is an account in the book of Acts where people came to a city for a festival, and suddenly heard others speaking in their native languages. When visitors heard those languages, they were impressed big time, and listened. But, you could argue, what was the point? – People then could get by in the common Greek – the lingua franca of that part of the world. They hadn’t reached that city by using a Berlitz phrase book or waving their hands wildly about like tourists – they could communicate anyway. But it was their native language – what they call in Wales the language learned at the hearth – that touched them. The sort of language someone might use when shouting at their children! The natural, deep down language, reserved for such intimate occasions.

So a native language reaches people. That is being proved in Wales by organising numerous meetings in the Welsh language, which is getting people in who would have said no on principle if approached in English.

So here I am – an elderly Englishman, with a head full of English and an annoying amount of Spanish – trying to get my head and tongue around a language that is totally foreign to my speech patterns. (There is the old joke, and if I’m repeating myself – well tough – I’m repeating myself – Doctor speaking to Worried Man – "don’t worry Mr Evans, you’re not dyslexic – you’re Welsh...") I can understand Welsh road signs, and what means "entrance" and "exit" – but this is mega. And my head hurts. As always Mrs O is taking to it. I am a mixture of pleased for her, and cheesed off that she finds it so much easier than I do.

We sing Welsh folk songs. This is quite good actually. Not necessarily our singing – but the songs. And we have been watching a crime series that was filmed simultaneously in Welsh and English. We are being good, watching the Welsh one with English subtitles. I now know that the Welsh word for "forensics" is – er – forensics... For some reason though, they always choose to swear in English...

Of course, one could always go on about the weirdness of the English language, as those learning it will attest. In what other language do you have noses that run and feet that smell? How come that "fat chance" and "slim chance" mean the same thing? And as for American English... Don’t get me started...! I think it was George Bernard Shaw who said that Britain and America are two countries divided by a single language.

Although I guess that may be why most who attempt to read my posts claim they can’t understand them...

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Life in the slow lane

We’ve prolonged our stay at my aunt’s house. But I must be home by tomorrow evening. I have classes to teach, and I’ve neglected my own affairs. We’ll probably go back in two weeks at least for the weekend. 

The doctor says she’s doing remarkably well. It doesn’t look that good to me, but our perspectives are different. She’s still weak-voiced, confused and tires easily. She tried to make us coffee. The grounds went in the basket. She filled the pot with water. Forgetting to pour the water into the reservoir, she sat the pot on the burner and pushed the button. This is fairly typical.

Someone from their church fed us all the first two days home from the hospital. There was a promise of a third night, but it never materialized. One of their pastors who doubles as a extermination technician came by in his uniform and brought aunty a CD of their recent regional convention. She can’t focus on it for long. She watches it in spurts.

The doctor said she could try “light duty” at work in two weeks. That seems so impractical right now. She can’t drive for at least four months, maybe longer.

Uncle B is caught between her wanting to do what she usually does and telling her she can’t. He usually lets her try, stepping in when things go awry.

So much for that. Goat-Boy brought Kat and Annie up with him. They’ve been very helpful. One of my distant cousins (Second Cousin, I think. Or First cousin twice removed or some such thing.) drove up from Bend, Oregon. She brought her twelve year old boy. He’s a gorgeous lad and will make the girls swoon. Annie and Kat, who had never met him, think he’s swell stuff. They’re already emailing and texting. He is a really nice boy.

I started my new YA (young adult, for the uninitiated) novel. I trashed everything I wrote. Wrong tone. Boring. I’ll start again.

I’ve been working on the last chapter of volume one of Separate Identity during quiet moments. We do get those. Right now the house is empty except for me and Aunty. She’s in bed. I’m at uncle B’s computer writing this. When I’ve got it posted I’ll add some paragraphs to a section on a man named Hugh Brown Rice. Almost everything written about him is wrong in some way.

I’m worried about a boy in one of my creative writing classes. I can’t tell you the details because they may be identifying. But after classes on Wednesday next, I’ll drop into the counselors’ office and discuss his situation.

I would like to finish Separate Identity by the end of this month or at least by mid-December. That may mean shifting content to volume two, but it’s important that we publish before someone else who’s trying to take credit for our research.                                           

My artist-illustrator friend sent me a rather rude but funny sympathy card. I can’t post the illustration here. Prolly everyone would faint. But it was funny.