Thursday, 18 October 2012

The Discreet Charm of the Aral Sea

Jonathan Harker wrote in his diverting journal that crossing the Danube gave him the impression he was "leaving the West and entering the East... among the traditions of Turkish rule". As the night train clatters across the frozen sleepers of Ukraine towards Russia, I survey my coupé companions and conclude that live Muscovites travel slow, much like the languorous decline of the Ottoman.

My current husband, No Good Boyo, thinks I should write more about my journey. In retaliation, I shall write about him and the belching branch-line locomotive that is his life.

Boyo's last attempt to persuade a woman to write about trains was directed loosely at a Welsh termagant who shortly thereafter left her husband for another woman. Such is the Allure of Boyo that he can dissuade women not only from further engagement with himself but also with the entire male genus.

Boyo was piqued by her tale of being offered a "beeg feesh" by a Russian naval rating on the Trans-Siberian Express. If they had enjoyed the double delight of being born a woman in the Soviet Union, Boyo and his interlocutrix would have recognised this as a simple proffering of an oversized and undersalted Caspian Perch, not some invitation to tug at his tangy root.

Expecting an anecdote of Celtic length and ambiguity, Boyo set off to relieve himself aforehand. Now, I should add that he was hosting this light supper in a tea garden deep inside Tashkent, the concrete capital of Uzbekistan - itself the East Germany of Central Asia. Uzbek café society has all the sophistication of Welsh café society, and similar comfort facilities, so Boyo stalked off to expel an evening's worth of arak into the nearest patch of twilight shrubbery.

Like Buñuel's eternally frustrated diners, Boyo stumbled into and over one obstacle after another - first a lady walking her dog (not a euphemism, he continues to assure me), then a literal outing of the Tashkent Exhibitionists Society.

As a group of monobrowed lovelies from the Uzbek State Academy of Demure Yet Saucy Librarians approached, Boyo decided on his failure-hallowed technique of understudied nonchalance. He noticed an apparently pointless parapet - Uzbekistan, like most out-takes from the great Soviet blockbuster, is littered with random ramps - glanced over at the reassuring loam on the other side, and strolled alongside it for a few yards before gracefully vaulting into a 15-foot-deep underground car park entrance.

Like the Piedmontese, Boyo is rarely drunk but does work hard at keeping himself "topped up". This ensures that his muscles are as relaxed as his self-awareness, and so he bounced gently from limb to limb rather than shattering on a slab of pebbledash. Seeing an opportunity both to harvest the librarians' sympathy and display his pahlavan resilience, Boyo sprung from the pit and gave them a cheery wave. They naturally fled amid a sea of squeals, thereby attracting the inevitable police patrol. The Jumaboys in Blue caught up with Boyo just as he was at last relieving himself against a tree.

Protests that he had maintained propriety by not first loosening his trousers impressed them less than the long-term loan of his wallet and signed, well-laminated photograph of Jenny Agutter.

A gaggle of Russian border guards puzzle over a ballpoint pen. I peer out into the darkness, and seem to hear in the turbid eddies of the River Shmonchka the gentle squelch of Boyo returning to that distant dinner table so many years ago. I settle back in my furs to sleep.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

The Return of Countess Geschwitz

I would apologise for my long absence if I were a different person. Instead suffice to say that, by goading ex-President Yushchenko into testifying against former Prime Minister Tymoshenko at the latter's show trial in Kiev, I have almost completed the task of turning Ukrainian politics into an Expressionist performance of the missing portion of Gogol's "Dead Souls".

I returned to Britain with our daughter Arianrhod this week to see how Boyo and young Bendigeidfran have been coping. My house is, of course, ruined. Which is why I sold it quietly to a Montenegrin gentleman prior to my departure last year. Boyo has, however, been quite busy.

After unglueing the laptop - never was a computer more aptly named - I casually accessed Boyo's files (password "ImmerAngela") - and found two screenplays.

As for the first - "Alien vs Predator vs Dalek" - I think the executive summary says it all: "The Aliens and Predators take out the Daleks, dress in their Dalek suits and duke it out for an hour like mad-bastard dodgems before an atomic bomb or something. NB to self - Sarah Hadland, catsuit."

The second is altogether more ambitious. "The Lion Tamer" posits a Britain in which "some liberals" have freed all the circus animals "elephants, horses, clowns, sea-lions, real lions natch" into the wild because of a campaign by Blue Peter.

It also means that various animal wranglers are now out of work and thirsting for revenge on bien-pensant Britain. The police fight pitched battles with ringmasters, Cossack cavalry and large-footed buffoons on tiny bicycles, amid scenes of seals rampaging through fishmongers, but one man stands alone above the fray - the Lion Tamer.

This alloy of Conan and Camus is clearly modelled on Boyo himself, if Boyo were a slab of marbled beefcake who lets his single-tail do the talking. He wanders the land, righting wrongs by applying his beast-baiting skills to the underclass and irrigating shireswomen with his brackish seed.

It gradually clots into the sort of pepper-spray overdose of sixth-form symbolism and cartwheeling limbs that passes for plot in male dystopias, although this one has a happy ending in which the hero saves our Home Secretary, Theresa May, from being mauled by a lion through, er, taming it.

He then rides the Home Secretary sideways, on the swiftly-flayed hide of the lion.

Cue credits over the fortunate Privy Councillor's flushed yet ashen features as a voice-over explains that Mrs May becomes prime minister, exiles the wild animals to Scotland, and appoints the Lion Tamer head of a "special forces force" made up of battle-hardened circus performers.

Who will no doubt feature in "Lion Tamer II: Mark of the Beast". There was little to show in the file thus headed, except the phrase "Louise Mensch, cyber MP".

Boyo's other major achievement was to teach Bendigeidfran to shout at the television.

"Воспитание происходит всегда, даже тогда, когда вас нет дома."

Friday, 12 November 2010

Le bon Dieu est dans le détail

An explanation: I've spent the last few months helping the new Yanukovych Administration ruin Ukraine as a special advisor working on the Plekhanovite principle of The Worse, The Better ("чем хуже, тем лучше").

Having reached the "Worse" stage ahead of schedule, I was happy to retire to the other end of Europe and confidently let the Dialectic lead the happy Cossack collective onwards towards the "Better".

My return was not unclouded, as any wife can imagine. Boyo told me that he had taken up the ways of Gandhi in my absence, and I was naturally disappointed to discover he meant Mahatma not Indira.

Still, I reasoned, he would be saving me a fortune on vodka and laundry bills, and might even have managed to spin a half-decent pashmina for my collection.

Instead, I found Boyo doubled up in a corner of the kitchen, his jowls green and his palms furred. By his side lay a crumpled and curiously-modified photograph of Bundeskanzlerin Merkel.

I picked up a chipped piece of china, and quickly tried to drop it again.

"Oh Boyo," I sighed, "It was a cup of his own water that Gandhi drank every day!"

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Green et idéal

Boyo is a lurching emporium of Welsh culture in all its gassy degeneracy. His conversation is a stream of Welshisms - the turgid verbal redundancy, pli selon pli, that I summarised earlier as "clanging tautology".

Boyo is also a delightful source of Mondegreen, such as his subconscious upgrading of the loathsome "Mull of Kintyre" into "Bollocking Time".

A recent conversation of his with another Welsh-speaker yielded a serendipitous conjunction of the two phenomena. They were discussing the lyrics of Welsh Wales's sole contribution to the punk genre, namely "Rhedeg i Paris" ("Running to Paris") by the group Anhrefn.

Boyo cited this song as evidence of the sheer literacy of Welsh popular music, in particular the line "wedi achub Boudu o foddi dan dwr" - "having saved Boudu from drowing".

I was impressed. Few punk singers refer to Renoir's "Boudu sauvé des eaux". Until his compatriot, in a treasonable display of accuracy and honesty, pointed out that the line is "cofio am bentrefi wedi boddi dan dwr" - "remembering drowned villages" - a constant lament of Welsh poetry ever since the English discovered that water is useful for washing and turned various Snowdonian valleys into reservoirs in the mid-1960s.

An amusing mishearing, and an apt puncturing of Boyo's bathetic bumptiousness, but there was better to come. I asked why "remembering drowned villages" takes so long to say in Welsh. The literal translation, it emerges, is "remembering villages that have been drowned under water".

Not just drowned, but drowned "under water". I don't like to imagine what else the Welsh are liable to drown in, but suspect that one day I'll find out.

Monday, 19 April 2010

De Bella et Gallo

Boyo has rediscovered his enthusiasm for Dr Who, a curious British televisual confection that seeks to graft 1950s science-fiction plots onto pantomime with the uncertain archness that passes for humour in much of BBC output.

Ever eager to find just causes in law, I watched the last episode to ascertain the source of this uncharacteristic spousal animation.

Was it the latest "companion"? Hardly. Ms Karen Gillan is an improvement on the previous auburn slattern to grace the Doctor's arm, but neither comes close to Boyo's type. Like the gentleman in this poignant documentary film, my partner still keens for Billie Piper with mournful and never-ending remembrance:

Was it the switch in writers from Russell T Davies to Steven Moffat? Boyo admires the latter's masterpiece, Coupling, and its sympathetic portrayal of a priapic Welsh simpleton in particular. He is, however, unlikely to applaud the ouster of compatriot Davies for a Scotch such as Moffat.

Was it the latest actor to play the heroic physician? Matt Smith rates an irritation factor of four, as opposed to the eight scored by his predecessor David Tennant, and dresses much like Boyo himself. But that cannot be enough, otherwise my prime subject would be glued to "Last of the Summer Wine".

Then I heard it. At 27'52" in the iPlayer version of "Victory of the Daleks", came this:

"This is the end for you. The final end."

The declamatory style. The repetition. And, of course, the clanging tautology - all the signs of the Welshism, as discussed earlier on this site.

Spring is in the air, but all I can taste is slate on the breeze.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

From the Sleep of Reason

Boyo works from home on Fridays in an effort to educate our son Bendigeidfran in his preferred version of the Welsh language, one even meaner of vowel than most.

I ensure that the popular application of "working from home" is not available to Boyo by engaging the parental controls on his laptop and hiding the Calpol.

Boyo instead surpasses himself in both irrelevance and depravity by teaching young 'Fran his bolt-on tongue by simultaneously translating Universal horror films. You've not really experienced the full poignancy of Inspector Krogh's childhood encounter with The Monster in "Son of Frankenstein" until you've heard it in Welsh, apparently.

The inadequate English original is here at 07:06, if you care to compare:

Watching these films anew led me to a useful insight. The appeal of the Universal monsters to infants and adult males alike stems from their childishness. For they are babies:

  • Dracula sleeps all day and suckles all night.
  • The Frankenstein Monster raises its arms piteously to the unfamiliar light and stumbles about in ill-fitting clothes. This would in addition explain its appeal to the Welsh.
  • The Wolfman is permanently teething.

We now see in context the popularity among grown men of the Predator film and its successors, as eloquently set out by The Daily Mash here on the basis of my initial thesis.

The Predator is what every young man aspires to be. His life is one long paint-balling weekend, with the added stimuli of invisibility (permitting the observation of female xenomorphs in the shower), rolling in mud with human skulls, and the binding of all loose ends by an atom bomb.

But now we're onto the secondary-school curriculum.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Actiones sunt suppositorum

In this festive season, it seems appropriate to ask what is mortification.

Some see it as a shriving of the body that frees the soul.

Others believe it is a natural consequence of approaching godliness.

These people know nothing. Mortification is standing at your door before a gathering of carol singers. They have just asked your pre-school daughter what Yuletide tune she would like to hear, and received the lisping response "Jesus Entering From the Rear".

Theodicy cannot encompass your feelings when she then launches into the chorus.