Archive for October 4th, 2005

Four candles for Ronnie Barker

Farewell to the incomparable Ronnie Barker, who has died. Some tributes here.

He was my favourite comic actor, and a fantastic writer as well. I have always been fascinated with the linguistic ingenuity of his Two Ronnies sketches, a lot of which are based on situations where words get misheard or mispronounced.

It will take a long time to replace him. Yet we all know that foam wasn’t spilt in a tray.

Update: one of his mispropunciating monologues.

Speak English, Muchacho

If you have a pale complexion, people who work in tourism and travel in Spain will usually address you in English.

This is rather understandable; it would be very hard to run a restaurant or an airport efficiently if everyone who worked there was to invite every tourist to try out his phrasebook Spanish. Yet to the paleface who is fluent, this can be rather annoying. It’s a bit like going to hire a bicycle and getting automatically offered the one with stabilisers.

When I enter a shop in Spain, I often find that the shop assistant furrows his brow and fixes his eyes on my mouth before I say a word, preparing himself for the translation ahead.

This is fine, but when I address him in Spanish, (which seems to me the decent thing to do, seeing as I’m not in my own country) his expression changes slightly, as though it were lava and not words pouring forth from my mouth. This can be a bit off-putting, especially as the furrowed brow rarely relaxes. I am left wondering, then, if the words coming out of my mouth are actually making any sense at all.

All this induces a certain amount of misanthropy. The past couple of days I have tried a different approach to my interactions with people addressing me in English. If I need to respond, I do so in colloquial English using my thickest Northern accent. Then when they don’t understand, I translate myself into Spanish. I know, I’m horrid.

Notes On The Way Out

Weekend breaks aren’t generally my thing. When I travel, I don’t like my fellow passengers to think that I actually have something so vulgar as a job. Along with that, two flights in the space of 72 hours is two flights too many. But I can make an exception for Barcelona, especially when I’m given the flights for free.

But before I start on Barcelona, which deserves a few posts, a brief gripe about Dublin airport.

It is a strange irony that one of the security measures to protect travellers from Islamic terrorism is that travellers must now take off their shoes as they enter the airport shopping area. Richard Reid has a lot to answer for. One can only hope that no budding terrorist ever gets caught smuggling explosives onto a plane by storing them in his back passage.

Back in the golden age of flying, you could spend hours lolling about the duty free area, pondering the size of Toblerone you were going to buy.

With the security measures and volumes of passengers these days, you no longer have time to think about the size of your Toblerone. In fact, you might not even have time to buy one, if you have to go to an ATM, because that means standing in a queue for money, so that’s two queues – one for Toblerone and another for money, which means even less time to queue to get breakfast, which turns out to be a rubbery pseudo-croissant or one of those foul Cuisine De France pastry abominations.

(Note on Cuisine De France: surely a country that takes so much pride in its food, and is so accustomed to state intervention in matters of culture, could somehow put an end to this tawdry send-up of its culinary achievements? It managed it with Champagne. It ought to demand that the firm change its name to CDF, after KFC.)

Also, is it just me, or do Irish passengers at Dublin airport have a self-congratulatory air about themselves that you don’t see at other airports?

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October 2005
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