Write a dialogue between a cow and a cabbage, on the subject of vegetarianism
This time I really mean it: I am really truly going to tidy up my things. There are boxes and bags and random piles of things that have been slowly building up into geological strata over the last ten years, as I dashed around hither and thither like a headless chicken. But no more: the time has come to bring order to the chaos.
It’s a shame, then, that I keep coming across things that are far more interesting than tidying. Today’s pick is a wee book that must have been my grandmother’s, called ‘English papers for preparation or homework’. Published in 1931, it provides all the practice a young ‘un could need in identifying famous quotations, paraphrasing great works in a third of the length, and memorising at which school great English leaders were educated.
It also contains the following serious and thought-provoking exercises
* Write a dialogue between a cow and a cabbage, on the subject of vegetarianism
* Name six things besides cigars which should be kept in a dry place
* Write a short essay on the relative advantages of living a short gay life, and a long serious one
* Write a short essay on the uses of indiarubber
* Describe all that you could procure from an ideal penny-slot machine
* Suggest, and illustrate by a drawing, how a petrol-station might be in no way disfiguring to a picturesque country road
* Draw a picture in pencil or colours to illustrate the following incident from Plutarch’s “Life of Antony”…
* Suggest two wireless programmes, to be obtainable concurrently, so that a highbrow and a lowbrow listener can each be satisfied
From here on August 27th 2008
Scary, scary water
I have never really been able to swim. I do have a badge declaring my ability to thrash out one width of a very small pool without dying, and even feel some (misplaced) pride in this achievement. But I’ve never really enjoyed it or relaxed into it.
This was never much of an issue growing up. My only swimming options were the school pool, more chlorine than water, and the sludgy brown oh-so-cold sea of Barry beach, which we’d dare each other to wade into. It was when I went travelling and sat on the shore trying not to sulk as others ducked and dived and clowned around in warm, clear blue water… that was when it occurred to me that I might be missing out. When I tried to join in half-heartedly, to splash around in the shallows, I realised that this went beyond incompetence: being in the water scared me.
And so it was that I found myself on the bus home one evening last year, breathing deeply and holding back tears at the thought of the ordeal before me: my first swimming lesson in thirteen years. I still vividly remember what that meant in school: forty girls in one tiny pool, the non-swimmers herded down one end out of harm’s way and dreading the ‘race’ at the end of the lesson, invariably won by the team that didn’t end up with me. Terrified the whole time, I struggled against the water in rigid panic, and went nowhere.
I can see all this now because I’ve seen a little of how it should be. I’m still pretty far from being able to swim, but I can at least see that I am supposed to relax, to float and glide and above all to enjoy, not to kick and thrash and hyperventilate. There are rare moments where I get it, and achieve more by trying less. Who knows, perhaps I’ll discover my hidden, laid-back consciousness? Om…
Just being able to enjoy the water would do, mind.
From here on January 9th 2008.
An emergency eye-remover
There is a man in work who sits at the desk across from mine. He likes to talk to me. He tells me little stories about his life. These stories are both unbearably snivelling and staggeringly dull, and they make me want to dig my eyes out with a fork in the vain hope that it might, for one precious second, shut him up.
And believe me, he doesn’t stop at telling me them once. I know all about his life. About his thirty years spent scuttling around the corridors of power, jumping into the shadows at the first sign of responsibility. About his evenings spent bending the ears of bored barmaids the city over before going home to his mum. About how hard it is to be him, despite his best efforts to care for no one in life.
Turning away, typing busily or showing a total lack of interest improves matters not a jot: he just comes and hovers too close for me to feign ignorance. What’s worse, he has recently undertaken to give me advice on my life and career, presumably mistaking my slack-jawed incredulity for grateful awe.
I try my best to be nice, but I will crack one of these days. Some days have been touch and go. I keep a fork in my desk drawer.
Please, help me.
* All names have been thinly disguised to protect the non-identity of the culprits.
From here on December 4th 2007.