28 December, 2009


Has Kathy Clugston been cloned?

Has anybody else noticed the seemingly continuous presence of the excellent Kathy Clugston on the airwaves this Crimbo? She seems to have been doing news and continuity on the steam wireless 20 hours a day for the past week, popping down the road to the Aldwych at close for a quick burst on the World Service before returning to BH to open up again at 05:20.

The other morning she even stepped in in the wee small hours to read the Ships when her colleague's voice was in danger of failing.

Does this superwoman dwell permanently in the studio, kept awake by infusions of coffee and speed, or has she been cloned?

I think we should be told.

22 December, 2009


The serendipity of the web

One thing leads to another.

I was checking on-line to see what times the Sainsbury's branch down in the Occupied Territories will be open next Monday (which being a bank holiday in lieu of Boxing Day), when, with no particular purpose in mind and very much in the spirit of the sorely-missed John Ebdon, I idly followed the Toys and Games link. Among the products on offer are a number of Hello Kitty-themed items. My curiosity piqued by this famously saccharine Japanese brand, I visited the corresponding Wikipedia page, which in turn linked to this gem on Wikinews.
"Thai police to wear 'Hello Kitty' armbands as punishment"
Cor! Wouldn't you just love to see that applied in the Met? The 'ooman rights lawyers would have a field day.

Isn't the web wonderful? Oh, and if you have been, thanks for listening.


A white Christmas

There's something both ironic and shaming about standing on the platform of a London suburban railway station staring at the useless destination indicator ("... all services subject to disruption, blah, blah, blah ...") speculating with a lot of thoroughly incredulous Africans about when or whether the next train will arrive. This after the two or three centimetres of snow that had fallen earlier in the evening had already melted.

19 December, 2009


Voices of the Multiculture

One of the many alleged benefits of London's vibrant hyperdiversity is the vast number of languages in daily use in the capital. This is not always the unalloyed delight it is made out to be. Languages differ widely and seemingly arbitrarily in the way they make use of the available phonetic resources. This can lead to confusion, annoyance and at worst conflict when the conventions of the speaker's language have a different significance in the language of the hearer, intended or accidental.

It is in the realm of prosody and at the shifting boundary between prosody and grammar that this is most striking. To a British ear, the Australian practice of using a rising pitch at the end of a declarative sentence is both confusing and irritating. It turns every sentence into a question, as if the speaker is constantly challenging or ridiculing everything you say. This lends a certain retaliatory satisfaction to that rather nasty old joke,
— Why do Australians always go up at the end of a sentence?
— To compensate for the fact that their ancestors went down at the beginning of one.
I increasingly hear the European Finno-Ugric languages (Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian) in my travels around London. These languages are characterized by enormously long words with the stress uniformly on the first syllable, followed by an inordinately long tail of syllables all pronounced at an even pitch and stress level. To a British ear it sounds mechanical, like a speak-your-weight machine attempting to read the shipping forecast.

Being in a railway carriage with a family of Hungarians is like being trapped in a room with half-a-dozen impressionists all rehearsing their Steve "Interesting" Davis impressions. The experience is a peculiar mix of the soporific and the infuriating. I recall sitting in a railway carriage opposite a Finnish or Estonian woman who was making an interminable mobile phone call in a loud and penetrating voice. After a while not just the monotonous stress and pitch patterns but even the carefully differentiated vowel lengths and the scrupulously geminated consonants were getting to me so that by the time we reached London Bridge I was ready to strangle her.

Chinese is another language at odds with the English ear. Pitch in Chinese is mostly lexical, not prosodic. A syllable pronounced with a rising tone represents a totally different word to that same syllable pronounced with a falling or dipping intonation. Perhaps the difference between 'horse' and 'chamber pot', for example. The language is also largely (but not totally) monosyllabic, which affects sentence rhythm and stress. The overall effect is totally alien to the English-speaking ear. Walking through London's traditional Chinatown in Soho, I passed a three-generation Chinese family who were undoubtedly just chatting as they made their way to the shops. As my English-attuned brain tried, involuntarily, to process it, their conversation sounded like a blazing row that was about to erupt into violence.

But what prompts me to post on this occasion is an experience on the train yesterday, where a young man of North East Asian appearance was making a prolonged mobile phone call in a loud and high-pitched voice. He looked Burmese or Thai rather than Han and the language he spoke, though clearly grammatically tonal and monosyllabic, did not appear to be Chinese. But what a language! Nasal, tonal in a curiously aggressive way and interspersed with consonants that seemed to be gulped rather than spoken. It grated. And interestingly, not just with nasty old racist xenophobic thug Edwin, either. For once, there was a majority of White people in the carriage, most of whom appeared visibly irritated by this man's voice. One male passenger seemed to be on the point of going over and thumping him when, fortuitously and thankfully, the phone call came to an end.

Do I have a point to make? Perhaps that hyperdiversity is more socially and culturally expensive than people fondly imagine. Living in a city of 400 languages, or whatever the figure actually works out at, is stressful and simply tiring in unexpected ways. Something else to add on that famous "benefits of immigration" balance sheet, mayhap?

16 December, 2009


Deep culture

A filler package on the Today programme this morning ruminated on the apparently emerging status of Chris Rea's Driving home for Christmas as a recognized carol. A somewhat bemused Rea along with Rev Ian Bradley as expert witness were lined up to talk to Sarah Montague.

Asked about the history of carols, Rev Ian tells us that carols, which seemingly originated in Roman pagan worship,
... were adopted by the Church quite late actually, as late as the fifteenth century
Appreciative chuckle from Rea in the background.

Deep culture.

12 December, 2009


The world may not be your oyster

This is going to be fun. The Diamond Geezer describes a less well known side-effect of the extension of Oyster Pay As You Go to London suburban train services operated by National Rail.

It doesn't affect me, seeing as wot I am lucky enough to be on Oyster Pay Never (gloat, gloat!), but I pity the poor old REOs and the gateline staff who have to deal with aggrieved honest punters who fall foul of this cock-up inadvertently. Dealing with deliberate fare-dodging scrotes is one thing. They will lie vehemently with a creativity that might surely be put to better and more honest use, but in the end they know perfectly well they are banged to rights and will co-operate. But the ordinary passenger of honest intent who has broken the rules through simple misunderstanding, particularly where he feels that he has been unfairly and deceitfully "entrapped", now there is a truly dangerous beast.

I shall watch with interest.

09 December, 2009


I know what I like...

... and I don't have to justify it to you.

Listening to a tedious Midweek on the steam wireless, where Libby Purves and Jacqui Dankworth are telling each other that people are "afraid of [modern] jazz". As if this were some kind of deficiency, a regrettable if predictable failure of the uncultchered plebs that might respond to counselling and re-education.

Perhaps they just don't, you know, like it.


You've been spending too long on the web when...

...you read the title of a Pickled Politics post,
SIOE condemned by rabbis
SIOE consumed by rabbits
Are rabbits kosher, I wonder? Or indeed halal?

07 December, 2009



Well, somebody's going to call it that, aren't they? In fact I'm suprised Sunny hasn't already claimed the neologistic laurels; he seems to be inordinately fond of the -gate construction. (Though he's not having much success in punting his mildly suggestive "Liddle Rod" sobriquet for the Chubby Irritant, is he?)

Anyway, as Liddle calls down upon his head the Massed Ire of the Righteous for making the unremarkable observation, admittedly in a somewhat ham-fisted way, that the face of violent crime in London is disproportionately Black, I would like to lay before the jury this interesting comment to Mr Liddle's follow-up post at the Speccie,
Retiring Copper December 7th, 2009 9:34am

I recall a poster (not on view to the public) inside the report writing room of our police station, showing the 40 most wanted for street robberies. 33 of the faces were black males. One black female. 5 asian males and one white male.

If this were to have been made public we'd have been branded 'racist', so nobody said a word.

That was in 2005. I've no reason to believe the situation is any different now.

Anecdotal it may be, but you can stuff that one right up your official statistics.

03 December, 2009


Tales from the Multiculture

You can tell you're (a) getting old, (b) looking even more down-at-heel than usual and in clear need of a haircut and (c) thoroughly immersed in the throbbing diverse and vibrant Multiculture when you are minding your own business on a Soho street as an Indian Big Issue vendor approaches. Instead of inviting you to buy one of his infernal magazines, he wishes you well, addresses you kindly and respectfully as baba, and pats you reassuringly on the arm before moving on.

Well brung up young West Indians addressing you as Uncle, people offering you their seat on the bus, on which you are travelling free of charge with your Freedom Pass. This Third Age stuff is not without its compensations.

02 December, 2009


The amateur drinking season

Last Friday I foolishly ventured into London. Having concluded my metropolitan business towards late afternoon, I entered into an hostelry in search of refreshment. Whereupon I was forcefully reminded that this is the Season of the Amateur Drinker.

Christmas brings many things, some of them welcome, some of them less so. Among the latter is the institution of the office Christmas drink.

Largeish, leaderless groups of people who either do not know each other or are taking part in an unfamiliar activity will usually behave like a flock of sheep which has just contrived to elude the ken of the shepherd and his dog and now suddenly realize they have no idea what to do with their new-found freedom. Add to this the once-a-year drinkers dithering over adventurous orders for small measures of drinks that were last on sale in 1973, and you have a recipe for choss and confusion not dissimilar to the Blackwall and Rotherhithe tunnels and the Woolwich Ferry all closing at the same time.

Roll on the close season, when only us hardened professionals venture out for a convivial bevvy.

Bah Humbug!

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