The English Pedant – Why is it so hard to say thank you?

Something most of us are taught as children is to say please and thank you. It’s a matter on which there can be no discussion, certainly  in the UK, and those of us brought up with it find it hard to understand why others don’t do it.

Even Americans, most of whom would consider themselves polite, will say to a bartender, “Gimme a Scotch,” while we wouldn’t dream of it. We’re the customer, so we’re in charge and if we want a Scotch, the guy would have to have a very good reason not to give it to us. And yet we will dress the request up with ingratiating words. “Could I have  Scotch please,” or “I’d like a Scotch, please.” Say “Gimme” in that way to a British bartender and you’re asking for trouble.

We can’t even say “I want,” because that is supposed to be rude. We have to say “I’d like”. In the UK there is a saying: I want doesn’t get. It’s hard to explain this to speakers of another language, for whom saying “I want…” is a simple statement of fact.

Some language students are grateful for this advice, while others are slightly offended that you should think so badly of them. But it has to be done.

It is even harder to convince them that when they decline an offer, they have to thank the offerer for thinking of it. Thus when someone asks, “Would you like a cup of tea?” they should say “No thank you.” To just say no is plain rude in our book, but not in theirs, and some will go along with it for a while, but stop doing it at some point. I have even been told, “You know I mean it politely, so do I have to do it every time? To you?”

Well I’m sorry (excessive British politeness there), but yes, you do.

At some point in the last 20 years, as formality has been steadily eroded, saying thank you has been left isolated, like a rock left exposed by the retreating tide. And it has made certain people uncomfortable, feeing like a sap for behaving in such an obsequious way.

This is particularly prevalent among 20-something British men, naturally programmed to show themselves as tough and not yet ready to accept that toughness is sometimes best expressed by humility.

These people can’t say “Thank you” for anything – not for ordinary things, anyway. They might summon the decency in the event of being saved from drowning, but in normal circumstances, no. And yet the voice of their mother is in their head. Be polite.

So what comes out is “Cheers”. This is the British greeting uttered when we are given an alcoholic drink. We raise the glass and say “Cheers”.

So the young man who can’t bring himself to use the proper words can say “Cheers’ without losing face, without showing weakness in front of his peers.

“Cheers for that,” he will say.

Don’t mention it, mate. Thank you for having the guts to say even that.

Confessions of an expat – Homesick

Homesickness can be a serious problem for some people. Longing for familiar surroundings, sights and sounds can make them restless and unable to settle anywhere other than where they come from.
Miss this? It’s nice, but you can arrange it almost anywhere

This is less of a problem for the expat whose career is what takes him or her to a different place than for what is termed the “trailing spouse”, the partner who goes along because it’s either that or effectively not have a significant other at all. The spouse doesn’t have new challenges to keep him or her busy and that can lead to having too much time to think, with the thoughts being negative ones.

I’ve never suffered from this affliction. Coming from an island with a population of 60,000 (nowadays, but considerably less in the past), one might be expected to miss home more than someone from a big city, but for me that just isn’t true.

My first venture away from Guernsey was to college in Portsmouth. Geographically that’s not far, but it is across the water and it is a city rather than an island. But for a student aged 19, it also represented freedom. There was more to do, more to see. There were rock bands playing on South Parade Pier; big names who would never go to Guernsey because it didn’t make economic sense.

I got lonely at first, because it took a while to make friends, and that’s not a nice feeling, but is not to be confused with homesickness. I grabbed the first people who would talk to me and made a little group with them, but being with the wrong people, with whom you feel no bond, is worse than nothing at all. I had to let them go and gradually find some kindred spirits.

From my new base on the south coast there was also the possibility of exploring the rest of Great Britain. Many of my friends were at colleges and universities from Bristol and London to Birmingham and Glasgow. In those rather safer (or certainly more innocent) times, it was a common practice to save on travel expenses by hitch-hiking: standing on the outskirts with a bored but optimistic thumb dangling in the hope that some kind soul would take me at least part of the way to my destination. It meant long days out in the elements with no guarantee of reaching shelter before nightfall, but youth doesn’t worry about that so much. You will get there in the end.

And along the way you meet people whom you otherwise wouldn’t. You see towns you didn’t intend to visit and learn about human nature.

I was once given a meal and a settee for the night in a small town in the west country by a couple who thought I was absent without leave from the nearby Army base.

In this day and age you can’t recommend young people  putting themselves at the mercy of strangers, but many of us did it regularly and came to no harm.

So that was a bit of travelling , going around the UK when I should have been studying.

beach port soif
Miss this? Sure, but there are beaches in places other than Guernsey

Later came trips around Europe, again by thumb, with pea-brained ideas about working in Gibraltar because it was British, only to be turned away at the border because we had no money. “But that’s the whole point,” we argued with the official. “We’re here to work and earn some money.”  These people, these stupid grownups with their blinkered ideas and inflexible attitudes. Hadn’t they ever heard that line from The Beatles’ Abbey Road album: “But oh that magic feeling, nowhere to go.” It made perfect sense to me at the time.

And the night I slept in a graveyard in a small French town, I wasn’t pining for my bedroom back home. Quite the contrary. I was the one living the life of Riley, while the rest were stuck back there with their homes and jobs. I saw nothing positive in that.

Later in life, with a career and a marriage behind me I was once more back on the road, this time with a wife from South America, so we had two homelands to consider. Fortunately she thinks as I do about where is the right place to be. Home is where we are, both of us. It helps if that is somewhere enjoyable, safe and where you can have a good lifestyle. It is hard to be homesick when you’re lying on a Caribbean beach with a decent place to live and (just about) enough money in your pocket.

We bounced around the Caribbean region and ended up in Suriname. And before the economic crisis hit the country, that was okay. No beaches, but many of the other Caribbean characteristics. Heat, humidity, mango trees, banana trees…

There’s been a lot going on in the UK recently, with Brexit and changes in leadership and even a heatwave, but the pang of homesickness that hit me last week had nothing to do with those things.

I was sitting on the balcony (which sounds more glamorous than it is) and it was a hot as hell as usual. And it wasn’t the butterflies that were doing their fluttering art installation. It wasn’t the sudden realization that bananas grow upwards, not curving down as we usually see them. It wasn’t the BBC news I was reading on my phone.

See? They curl upwards as they grow

But there was a cricket match going on in Manchester, England vs Pakistan. And reading about it was fine – I’m a cricket fan and was a pretty decent player when I was young. But I read about it all the time and it’s enjoyable but no more than that. But then I came to the part that said “Listen online abroad”. With most British broadcasts, legal restrictions mean you can’t tune in, and the satellite TV reception in this house makes it impossible.

I clicked on the three magic words and suddenly they were talking to me from the Second Test Match at Old Trafford. England were doing fine – batting well and making piles of runs. And I wanted to be there. As a kid I used to take a radio to the beach and listen to the test match between swims, so maybe it’s that. Whatever it was, I wanted to be listening to it in the UK. Not necessarily at the ground, but listening to it or watching it on TV on home soil.

Miss this? Absolutely. It’s England’s current star batsman, Joe Root, and I’ve never really watched him play.

Bloody homesick. At my age. Yes, maybe age has something to do with it. I wanted to get back there and follow it while Joe Root is at his peak, and before test matches cease to exist – which is a sad possibility in the not-too-distant future.

The feeling passed, but I’m about to stop writing and go and do it again.

Ref! On Allardyce and a grim future

The candid thoughts of former Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.


Hey,Baz, there’s a bloke asking for you up by the bar. I don’t know, he’s from the FA, I think, wants to offer you a job. No, the Allardyce thing was all an elaborate joke and it’s you they want for England manager.

Well, I mean come on, Sam Allardyce? How desperate has this country become? Never mind him being at unfashionable clubs – Brian Clough and Peter Taylor were at Derby and Notts Forest, but they actually won things. They transformed clubs and won the league and the European Cup. All Big Sam’s done is make Bolton and Blackburn unpleasant places to go on the dreaded, legendary “wet Wednesday in November”.

Dreaded because you were going to be assaulted, Dave, that’s right. He can talk all he likes about the great football his teams played, but how come nobody else thinks so? If he’d turned Bolton into Barcelona I think we might have noticed.

And at West Ham the fans couldn’t wait to get rid of him because the team didn’t play “the West Ham way”, which might be a myth going back to the 1960s, but you can see their point. Allardyce got back into his element at Sunderland, because they were in a relegation dogfight, and that’s what his teams are good at: scrapping.

No, no, Dave, I agree, we shouldn’t bury him before he’s lived in the England job. But what points do you want to make in his defence? His name?

Yes, I agree, it’s unfortunate that he sounds like a character in Last of the Summer Wine, a dyed-in-the-wool northerner with ferrets down his trousers. It makes him sound like an unsubtle dinosaur. They used to say the opposite about Tim Henman, like he’d have been a more powerful and successful player if his name was Tom Bulman, just because it sounds meatier. So yes, if Allardyce had been called Simon Alan Dyson, we might have given him a bit of credit.

And if he’s looked less like a thug and more like a thinker, but he can’t help that either. I don’t disagree with you, mate.

Cheers, Gary, what’s the guest ale this week? Big Sam? Seriously? I’ll have a pint of that, mate. In a reinforced glass, just in case.

So what we’re saying is that Sam Allardyce needs a makeover. I’m sure the FA’s PR department is working on that. Lose some weight, get rid of the coaliminer’s haircut and make him look more like Philip Seymour Hoffman. There is a resemblance, you know.

But no, we’ll see. But it’s a bit embarrassing, isn’t it, when the press are asking people like Jose Mourinho what he thinks and Mourinho’s going, “Yes, Good appointment.” He must have laughed himself silly when he heard the news.

Seriously, gentlemen, we shall see, but from here it looks ludicrous, doesn’t it? If the English candidates were Allardyce and Steve Bruce – who’s a very nice guy, by the way – then we’re in trouble. I just hope the way the situation has been laid bare will show the club owners the folly of appointing foreign managers. Except the owners are all foreign too, Dave, exactly.

So maybe we need to fast forward to 50 years’ time, when the bubble has burst and football in England is a part-time game and the Shetland Islands are world champions because of their zero-tax laws and untold riches.

And our grandchildren will be sitting here – Baz’s won’t, because they’ll be in prison – talking about the good old days when England used to occasionally qualify for a tournament before getting knocked out by Andorra.


Terrible secrets of the songwriters

Believing in God is so unfashionable that sometimes it is hard to discover if someone does or doesn’t, because they cover it up. In the 1960s, pop stars would go to great lengths to conceal the fact that they were married or even that they had a serious girlfriend – or if they were gay.

Declaring that you are a Christian, then, is a bit like “coming out”.

But let’s face it, putting the word God in a song title is a bit of a giveaway if it is done in a positive way. So when I happened to think of the old Coldplay song God Put a Smile On Your Face I had to dig quite deep into lyricist Chris Martin’s biographical details to reach the reference to his religious beliefs. And what it amounted to is that he believed in “a” God, but he wasn’t sure if it was the Christian one or not. “I don’t know if it’s Allah or Jesus or Mohammed or Zeus. But I’d go for Zeus,” he said, in a frankly PR-orientated attempt to stay cool and not alienate anyone.

Okay, Chris, your secret is safe with us. At least you’re looking in the right general direction.

And then there’s Russ Ballard, a songwriter still best known for his time with Argent in the late 60s/early 70s, and who wrote God Gave Rock’n’Roll To You. The trouble with checking him out is that firstly there is an American religious person of the same name, and secondly the musician Russ Ballard isn’t all that famous in his own right, so there is less written about him. But it’s a fact: God did give rock’n’roll to us. He also gave us reggae and country music. And rap, so there’s something for everyone.

Anyway, this is great song and was even covered by Kiss, if that gives it credibility in your book. I like the Argent version:

Bloke in the Kitchen. Chilled cucumber soup


Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

There is a question that has not troubled many of the world’s intellectuals but which I am going to address here: what is soup?  Dictionary definitions tell us that a soup is a liquid food made by boiling meat and/or vegetables, and of course that is usually the case.

But why do we have to involve heat in this?  At the risk of putting a curse on the hot summer the UK has been experiencing, the last thing you need when the weather is like that is something to warm you up, which is one of soup’s traditional roles. Why shouldn’t we make soup without heat?

It’s like saying that making a salad is not cooking; we associate cooking with heat that changes the natural state of something. But to prepare a combination of vegetables and olives, peppers and so on is to make a meal, and that is the object of the exercise.

Chilled soups are called chilled rather than cold because chilled sounds more appetizing than cold. We looked at a quick and easy tomato-based gazpacho a few weeks ago, and today it is the turn of that other salad staple, the cucumber.

To describe this recipe as simple is like saying Marilyn Monroe was quite attractive or The Beatles were fairly good. This recipe is a piece of cake. As long as you have the right ingredients and an electric blender, you can do it.

One great thing about soup is that it feels like it’s doing you good, and it probably is. When using raw ingredients as we are here, it’s doubly good. Vitamins, minerals, hydration: it’s like an injection of liquid good health.

Cucumber soup


Cucumber (half a large one per person)

Yellow pepper

Spring onion

Stock cube (vegetable or chicken)

Lemon juice


Peel your cucumber(s) and scrape the seeds out. If there is plenty of juice with the seeds, see if you can strain that out to use. Chop the cucumber into two-inch pieces and put it in the blender. Crumble the stock cube in. It is important to use a dry cube. If it’s a sticky one, you’ll have to dissolve it in hot water first and cool it, which is okay but takes time. The powdered stuff called boullion is a good option.

Add as much water as you need, bearing in mind that a lot of it needs more cucumber and stock. A few ice cubes would be good too.

Blitz it until the cucumber is liquid.

Chop a yellow pepper into small cubes. Chop the green part of the spring onion into small pieces. Slice some more cucumber thinly for decoration.

If you have time, chill this in the fridge for a while so it’s really cold.

Pour the soup into big bowls and float the cucumber slices. Sprinkle the pepper and spring onions on top.

Serve with nice crusty bread, French or otherwise, and butter.

The peppers are like croutons, something crunchy in the liquid, and the spring onions add a touch of bite to the flavor.

Add some freshly ground black pepper, but no salt, because there will be enough in the stock.


If you can only get red peppers, that’s fine, but green ones might be a little bitter. If no spring onions, chives would be good. If you have some radishes, you could cube them and they will add a bit more peppery crunch.

This is not the only cucumber soup. You could use melon, prepared like the cucumber, but then you’re in sweet, fruity territory, so don’t use the spring onion. Maybe use cubed apple instead of the peppers.


The wisdom of pop songs – Sing a song of Britain

The human condition explained in three-minute bursts


Songs about British towns

In spite of having an international reputation for arrogance, the British are a very self-effacing lot. We routinely make fun of our own limitations: the food is no good, the weather is awful, the football teams haven’t won a major tournament since England had Sir Walter Raleigh in goal.

Perhaps the only thing we will claim in our favour is that when it comes to pop music we wrote the book. From the Beatles to Ed Sheeran and Adele, we are the champions.

And yet even in that there is one perceived weakness: our place names don’t work in songs. While Americans love to sing about their home town, be it New York or Baton Rouge, the British can’t do it with the same aplomb.

But I beg to differ. And here, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I present documentary, recorded evidence.

Starting at the biggest, the capital has been celebrated in song many times. From ELO’s Last Train to London to Blur’s London Loves, from the Kinks’ Waterloo Sunset to Ian Dury’s Billericay Dickie and Plaistow Patricia, not forgetting Morrissey’s Dagenham Dave, our metropolitan placenames are scattered through our music like double decker buses in a blizzard.

It is tempting to think of Joni Mitchell’s Chelsea Morning as being written during an early trip to civilization, but unfortunately there is an area of that name in New York, and she lived there at the time. Similarly, any reference to the Chelsea Hotel  means the famous one in New York, where, among other things, Arthur C Clarke wrote 2001: A space odyssey, Sid Vicious stabbed his girlfriend Nancy Spungeon to death and Leonard Cohen reputedly received oral favours from Janis Joplin. How do we know that? Because he wrote about it in a song called Chelsea Hotel.

But it’s not just London. South coast, anyone? The Beatles’ Ballad of John and Yoko starts with “Standing on the docks at Southampton.”

The New Vaudeville Band’s Winchester Cathedral might not be rock’s finest hour, but it was a typically witty celebration of Britishness.

Liverpool? Home of the Beatles, and they celebrated places within it, such as Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields.

Then there’s Kimberley Rew’s brilliant contribution to The Bangles’  repertoire, Going Down to Liverpool.

Gerry and the Pacemakers, Liverpool lads that they were, sang about the local river in Ferry Cross the Mersey.

Blackburn? John Lennon in A Day in the Life: four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire.

And Blackburn’s big neighbor, Manchester, home of the Hollies, Stone Roses and the Smiths: the latter acknowledged the dark side of the city  in Morrissey’s song about the Moors Murders, Dig a Shallow Grave. “Oh Manchester, so much to answer for…”

Up to Scotland, and in addition to such patriotic fervor as The Proclaimers’ Sunshine on Leith, no less a force than Abba gave it a mention in Supertrouper, their song about the loneliness of touring.

I was sick and tired of everything
When I called you last night from Glasgow

Paul McCartney had happier memories of the city in Helen Wheels.

Glasgow town never brought me down
When I was heading out on the road

As for Newcastle, where the population is as regionally self-aware as any in the country, although the town itself doesn’t seem to lend itself to lyrical status, proud Geordie Jimmy Nail sang about the Tyne in Big River, while Lindisfarne had used the city and even its accent to their advantage in Fog On The Tyne.

Also in that part of the world, The Shadows had a song in the early 60s called Stars Fell on Stockton, which probably sounds more glamorous to those who have never been there than to a Teessider.

Paul McCartney ticks off another couple of towns in Old Siam Sir

She waited round in Walthamstow
Skated round in Scarborough

And talking of the Yorkshire coastal resort, Simon and Garfunkel did a tremendous job on the old folk song Scarborough Fair.

Yorkshire singer-songwriter Michael Chapman’s postcards of Scarborough wasn’t just a song but an album title.

The most famous northern resort of them all has been referred to several times, from Jethro Tull’s Going up the ‘Pool to Graham Nash’s mention of his birth and early childhood in Military Madness:

In an upstairs room in Blackpool
By the side of the Northern Sea
The army had my father
And my mother was having me

Back down south, Athlete sang fondly about Dungeness, a town more famous for its power station than anything else, while Blur’s Damon Albarn sang about throwing yourself off a national landmark in Clover Over Dover. And in Tracy Jacks he had the hero getting on “the first train to Walton”, which could be several places but is probably Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex.

And finally, my own beautiful little lump in the English Channel, Guernsey, might not be an obvious contender here, but check out Steely Dan’s Showbiz Kids (first line after the intro):

After closing time
At the Guernsey Fair
I detect the El Supremo
In the room at the top of the stair

Probably a Stateside Guernsey, but still… Jersey is constantly being name checked when what people really mean is New Jersey, old stomping ground of, among others, Bruce Springsteen.

The list must go on and one, but you get my point, I’m sure. Engerland swings like a pendulum do, as an American once observed.






Kaycee’s Klasic Films – Airplane!

Siobhan Kennedy-Clarke’s classic film reviews
Our fictitious reviewer Siobhan (KayCee) didn't have much of an education but she's passionate about films

airplane 3

Why have I never written about this before it’s the funniest film in the history of the world and of course it is impossible to say why. All I know is that it is so full of funny bits that I reckon they must of wrote it several times what I mean by that is they wrote the first draft (strange thing to call it but that’s what you call the first version of a script) and it was good but they went through it again sticking more jokes in then again and put more visual laughs in gags they call them a gag can be a line or a facial expression or something going on in the background it’s just something that amuses you.

There’s a bit when you’re in the cockpit with the pilot and there’s a guy outside on the nose of the plane checking the oil like your boyfriend does with your car and when he tries to close the bonnet he can’t so he gets it down a bit and then sort of jump-sits on it and falls off. That’s what you would call slapstick I think its kind of the oldest form of humour the sort of thing that Charlie Chaplin did and people thought he was hilarious but I don’t.

Right at the start there’s two recorded airport announcements having an argument about whether you can stop in the red zone or the white zone.

Oops forgot to tell you what it’s about well there’s this American ex-air force pilot who had a bad experience in one of their wars Korean or Vietnam or something and he’s afraid to fly now but he’s in love with a stewardess and manages to get on the flight she’s working on. He’s Ted and she’s Elaine.

So he buys a ticket at the desk in the airport and they say “Smoking or non smoking?” and he goes “Smoking” so they give him a ticket with smoke coming out of it. That’s one sort of gag sort of taking things litelerately  there’s quite a bit of that actually.

Anyways he gets on the flight and everything’s okay until dinnertime when the fish option is poisoned and people start throwing up and sweating and farting and stuff that’s kind of slapstick too I suppose. And the captain had fish so soon he’s incapable and Elaine takes the intercom or whatever and asks if there’s anyone who can fly a plane.

airlane 1

Ted has been sitting there  depressing people with his sad story an old lady already hung herself listening to him and a Japanese soldier has committed hari kari and an Indian guy just poured petrol over himself and lit a match so he’s relieved when Ted goes up to the cockpit and he blows the match out but he explodes anyway. See some people might think this all sounds stupid and maybe it does but when you watch it its just hilarious. So Ted is flying the plane, but it’s very different from what he’s used to so someone on the ground is going to talk him through landing it.

There’s too many gags to tell you all of them in fact there’s so many that I don’t think you get the best out of the film till you’ve seen it about five times cos you keep noticing new things I’m on about number 25 now so I think I’ve noticed all the gags but their still funny. For instance there’s another stewardess whose very good looking and when everyone’s scared and thinks theier going to die they start opening their hearts to people and she says she’s 27 and she’s not married. Now that’s not funny but some other woman says what’s bothering her and ends with “But at least I’ve got a husband” and the stewardess bursts into tears does it sound cruel that I think that’s funny? Sometimes it seems like your not allowed to laugh at anything because its all ways at someone else’s expence. Well I’m not married was once briefly never again it don’t make you more of a woman or a person but that’s not the point.

It also dosen’t matter what happens in the end because its not an adventure film it’s a comedy I don’t care anyway but I never do care what happens in the end its not about the destination it’s the journey as someone once said actually I might of just made that up.

Here’s a few bits for you.


The English Pedant – Lady Mondegreen and Jimi Hendrix


That is a word we don’t hear every day. It means a phrase that has been misheard and misinterpreted and it was first described in an article by the American writer Sylvia Wright in 1954, based on an ancient Scottish ballad, The Bonnie Earl of Moray, in which it is written:

They have slain the Earl of Moray
And laid him on the green

Like many such old ditties, this is a tale of intrigue and skulduggery among the nobility; in this case it is about the murder of the Earl of Moray by his rival the Earl of Huntly.

Lady Mondegreen enters the story as a mishearing, but fits in nicely and just makes us wonder who she was and what her relationship with the Earl was.

Unlike the mythical lady, the mondegreen has relatives. Malapropisms, for instance, are inadvertent uses of words which sound very similar, such as when gets specific, but tells you this “pacifically”.

In a gratifying justification of the right of 21st century people to be included in such erudite studies, the mishearing of lyrics in a song is called soramimi. Originally this Japanese word was applied to words wrongly translated from another language, which is easily done, with our imperfect language skills, grabbing at something we think we recognize.

But when it is English speakers getting the wrong end of the stick from another English speaker speaking (or singing) English, our only excuse is that pop and rock singers don’t always enunciate as we would like.

One example that perplexed me as a teenager finding my feet in the minefield of the adult world was when Jimi Hendrix, on his second single, Purple Haze, seemed to sing, “’Scuse me while I kiss this guy”. It was the sky he was kissing, in fact.

Many years later, the British soul singer Paul Young, lamented:

Every time you go away
You take a piece of meat with you

Or so it seemed, anyway. If he really had sung meat instead of me, we still wouldn’t have heard the t. Sometimes we have to use our intuition.

As a telecoms engineer once told me, we often can’t hear the s on the end of a word, but our knowledge of the language fills in the blanks for us.

That is why language teachers sometimes have to stress things in an unnatural way and then explain to students that you don’t, in fact, make a sound like a punctured tyre and you can’t really hear it but you have to imagine it’s there.

It’s not just English speakers, though. Spanish speakers have this habit of not pronouncing the end of a word. They will talk about the interne rather than the internet, because we know what they mean, so why go to all the trouble of putting the t on the end?

The recorded announcements on the Caracas Metro in Spanish-speaking Venezuela used to sound as if they were deliberately trying to fool me when, as I listened intently for where to get off, they would take all the consonants out of Parque Carabobo, so what you got was ar-eh arao-o. You get it in the end, but it doesn’t make life easy.

Back at the song lyrics, there are websites devoted to this stuff, but not all of them know where to draw the line. I personally doubt that anyone really thought Jefferson Starship sang “We built this city on sausage rolls” or that Bob Dylan informed us “The ants are my friends, they’re blowing in the wind.”

You could amuse a nine-year-old with that, but come on…

I am, though, perfectly willing to accept there were medical students who thought they heard “The girl with colitis goes by” (rather than kaleidoscope eyes) during Lucy in The Sky with Diamonds. It’s largely a matter of what we’re expecting to hear.

If you’ve got a good one, please leave a comment.

Confessions of an expat – the land of no signposts

It seemed like a simple enough task. There was something held up in Customs at the Johan Adolf Pengel (that’s pronounced something like pen-hell) airport in Suriname, and I had to go and get it. What could be easier than driving to the airport?

Well I’ll tell you what would be easier: driving to an airport with the benefit of signs, that’s what. Call me an old traditionalist. Call me unadventurous. But I’d been here less than six months and been to the airport twice, including the early-hours, pitch-dark arrival which can’t really be counted. We are not homing pigeons. We are not animals that can find their way home through some sixth sense. We are human beings, equipped only with maps, and in the second decade of the 21st century, maps on mobile phones.

aiport 2
Grass grass grass grass trees supermarket, grass grass grass – airport! That little gateway back there.

We’re not doing it by the stars, or by scenting traces of aviation fuel on the breeze. We’re not native trackers, with our ears to the ground to detect the vibrations of landing jetliners. We’re jumping into our cars, heading in the right general direction and relying on road signs, simple pieces of painted metal or wood mounted on poles on the side of the road, pointing to the places named on them.

If it’s a question of expense, I’ll pay for it myself: one sign just on the edge of Paramaribo, pointing towards the JFK highway, saying ‘Airport’.

But no. We’re left to our own devices. Extensive consultation of the phone map shows that you follow the traffic past Nieuw Haven to the junction with Lachmonstraat, then over some sort of bridge, left at a junction and look for the roundabout. Take the last exit and that’s it.

But what if you don’t take the left turn you’re supposed to? What if you’re geographically challenged? I went looking for Nieuw Haven once and found myself an hour later looking at the cathedral – the opposite direction. How long can a man survive in extreme heat, in a hostile environment, with just a small bottle of water and half a tank of petrol?

The airport is at the village of Zanderij, in an area known colloquially as the middle of nowhere. It was originally a Pan-Am stop, and legend has it that in the 1930s, when flying was a kind of sport for the wealthy,  a male-female pair of pilots made an emergency landing at Nieuw Haven because they couldn’t find Zanderij. The US Air Force developed the property during the Second World War, and nowadays it is rarely glimpsed in daylight, because the vast majority of flights arrive and depart extremely early in the morning or late at night, so that their connections at bigger airports are at reasonably civilized times.

The good news today for the driver leaving Paramaribo is that (and this is not very scientific)  if you head out on the main drag and straight through the intersection where you see Roopram, a Surinamese fast food place, on the right, you very quickly find the small bridge, a modest little thing not to be confused with the towering landmark that is the Jules Wijdenbosch (which you passed five minutes earlier). Keep going for a few minutes. They’ve thrown in a small airport along the way, just to plant seeds of doubt in your mind, but I only noticed that on the way back.

Make a left turn, find the roundabout, take the last exit. Signs at the roundabout? Nope.

But yes, it feels like a substantial road out of town, so we may be in business. Now, in preparation for the return trip, assuming I’m not heading into the heart of darkness, never to see civilization again, I start deliberately noticing things. A Chinese supermarket (there are literally hundreds of them In Paramaribo), a mosque with a police station sign right outside, a stretch where there is a little side-road alongside, separated by concrete lumps you could easily drive over.

And then – whoops of celebration – a sort of roadside bus garage, as featured on the map, which I must have subconsciously registered during the planning sessions.

Now, according to what I did consciously see on the map, the highway should split at some point and I have to be on the fork that goes left.

It’s getting quieter. Fewer cars. Huge lorries going too slowly. No shops, no petrol stations. No fork in the highway. No road signs. Is this even the correct highway? I’m going to be stopped soon by a peasant with one tooth in his mouth. I’ll be kidnapped, whacked over the head, barbecued and eaten by his cackling family.

Just one sign, that’s all I want. One ‘Don’t panic, stranger,  you’re almost there’. But no, there’s nothing.

And then… what’s this? Such-and-such a hotel wishes you a good flight. Other signs saying similar things. Call off the barbecue, old villager, I’m going to make it.

Can’t find the way into the airport, of course, because there isn’t a sign saying This is The Airport. And when I do, the place is almost deserted. Never mind. The natives are friendly, even the Customs people. Sign this, pay that (ah, we are still in the civilized world). Then back on the road.

The middle-of-nowhere section. The bus garage. The Muslim police station. Thirty-five Chinese supermarkets. The roundabout. I’ve been to Pengel and back and lived to tell the tale.

A dog-eat-dog  junction, the little bridge. Lachmonstraat.

Paramaribo, I take it all back. You’re a beacon of sophistication in a cruel world. Who’d have thought I would be so pleased to see you?




Ref! On pre-season and America

The candid thoughts of former Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.


Evening lads,

Yes, I suppose it is a bit of a rarity, this, with no serious football going on. You can’t really say there’s none, though, because the pre-season friendlies are happening already.  Makes me feel a bit sad, as it happens, because it means the summer is almost over. And yes, it’s the first year for many years that I haven’t been starting a new season myself, because even these meaningless games have to be officiated.

Yes, I have been doing a bit of training, as it happens. Old habits die hard. Jody and I have been running to the park, round it a few times and home for some exercises and a massage. Do me a favour, Baz, be your age, mate. She’s a qualified masseuse. Yes, that is how it’s pronounced. Masserz. I know the yanks say m’soose, but that’s  a funny thing about them, they don’t know how to pronounce foreign words.

That’s probably why they don’t leave their country very often, apart from John Kerry, of course. Kerry, Baz, not John Terry. Kerry is the Secretary of State, mate. The Secretary of State for what? Nothing, mate. That’s the job title. Often wondered about that myself. Sort of Foreign Minister. And he’s always abroad. Anywhere anything major’s happening, he’s there, just reminding us that there are Americans other than cops and black people shooting each other.

I know, it’s surprising they haven’t become a major force in football, but long may it remain so. If they dropped all their silly games and just played sahker they’d be getting in the way, wouldn’t they?

So don’t give them too much encouragement, I say. It’s bad enough with our top sides going there to play each other pre-season and our old codgers spending their twilight years with LA Galaxy.

They’ve produced a few good goalkeepers, haven’t they? Kasey Keller, Tim Howard, Brad Friedel, Brad Guzan. It’s a refreshing display of humility, I reckon, sending people to the Premier League to play in a low-profile position. You’d think they’d all want to be strikers, wouldn’t you? Chewing gum and smoking marijuana in the dugout.

There’s one at Chelsea now, Matt Miazga. Young centre back. Hasn’t had a first team game yet, I don’t think, but he’s learning his trade I suppose.

Cheers, Gary, bottle of Budweiser please, since we’re on a transatlantic theme.

Remember when Beckham first went over there. Some of them didn’t like it at all. He breezes in and takes over and the captain was well put out. Landon Donovan. Sounds like a made-up name, doesn’t it? Got his PR company to come up with something swashbuckling because he’s really Reginald Smith.

Then Beckham turns up with his pop star wife and the girls are all over him and he beats them at their own game. So to speak. Our game is football.

Clint Dempsey, that’s another one, Dave. Real name Jolyon Schnitzengruber, but that doesn’t sound so good on the front pages. You’re never going to pull Britney Spears with a name like that.

Anyway, they can call themselves what they like, and even the teams have fancy names. The San Jose Earthquakes, the Galaxy, Red Bulls, all that sort of caper. Showbusiness. Maybe that is the secret of their lack of success. If they had clubs called Accrington Stanley and Brighton and Hove Albion, you might take them seriously.

Not at all, Baz, no anti-American bias here. Just saying, mate. As I said, long may it remain so.