It’s in the bag…

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When did things go so badly wrong?

It’s like one day the world made sense, then in the blink of an eye the kilter has been messed with and the results are catastrophic. I fear some evil force is at work, and we may not have much time left to us. Oh woe is me!

*tears clothes in dramatic fashion*

Ok…ok, I think I’ve got myself under control now. Phew…that was a close one. I almost embarrassed myself with an uncontrolled emotional outburst. We wouldn’t want that to happen.

So what is it that has stolen my gruntle? Well, it’s very simple. Bags. Shopping bags and the content therein to be precise.

In the now long distant days before the current madness took hold life was simple. You’d visit your local shopkeeper, exchange pleasantries, possibly ask the splendid chap about his family or holiday plans, then he would place your purchases into bags, being careful to spread the load across multiple pouches and in equal quantities. You bid him good-day, and went about your business with cheer in your heart and a sense of balance in your load.

Idyllic isn’t it?

But now these exchanges are nothing but the stuff of legend, tales you tell your children when you want them to grow up as potentially well adjusted individuals who might pursue a career in retail.

For the past few months I’ve experienced a chilling and suspicious shift in reality. One that means there has been a change in the Matrix, a black cat of non-woven fabric if you will.

People have been packing my bags incorrectly.

I know…this is serious.

At first I thought it was a case of someone new to the trade, who had not yet been schooled in the ways of equilibrium. They served me with smiles and polite conversation, but all the while they filled my carrier higher and higher until no more could be contained. Alarm flashed in my eyes, searching in vain for a managerial figure to intervene, but then my Englishness kicked in and I thanked the person, dragged my cadavre-like purchases across the floor of the supermarket and made a respectful but encumbered exit.

Then it happened again, and again, and lo did the pattern continue.

My reasoning deduced that with the financial climate being difficult the shops in question had instructed their representatives to reduce costs by using less bags. Or that environmentalists had finally convinced the captains of industry to understand their terrible impact of the future of our beloved planet. But neither of these scenarios held water.

The reason I know this?

After each incident of uni-bagging, the friendly retailer would then ask the dark and mysterious question that threw my world into a swirling maelstrom of confusion.

‘Would you like me to double bag it?’

Double bag? But…why?

What kind of cruel game is being played here?

If you’d had used two bags and placed weight appropriate items in each then the need for this curious offer would be null and void. I would also be able to walk home without adopting a deep lean into my gait!

First it was one shop, now it seems the disease is manifesting wherever I seek to arrange the purchase of goods.

What sorcery is this?

At night I have lain awake pondering the significance of the plague that now ravages this once great land. Finally I think I have my answer.

Pod people.

That’s right, Pod People. Like the ones in Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. Of course back when I first saw the movies (the 50s and 70s versions – I fail to recognise the 80s and 2000s travesties as canon) the idea seemed fantastical and incredulous. Now, I’m not so sure.

It also makes so much sense. We are a consumer based society, whose reliance on these establishments for food and necessary items lends them a significant strategical postion. If you control our nourishment, then soon hearts and minds will follow.

It’s so elegant…so evil.

Take heed dear reader. The pod people are upon us and they have assumed command of the food chains. What lays ahead, I cannot say, but if you hope to survive then you’ll join me in sharpening your hunting knife, or fishing bow (I’m new to this), and heading out into the wilds to begin the return to foraging and preparing our own meals. That, or at least stocking up on tinned food in massive quantities and having the supermarkets deliver them to your home.

But don’t let them inside or soon you may be smiling and incorrectly distributing goods…you have been warned.

How do you plan to survive under our new plant based overlords? Or are you organising a resistance, possibly named after a fierce furry animal? Let me know in the comments below, but be careful not to give away your location. Pod people could be watching.

Being Sent To The Tower

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For the best part of forty years I have dwelled on the banks of the river Thames. This fluid artery meanders it’s way through the centre of our ancient city and, in its long life, has served as both a venue of trade and an inspiration to artists. Spanning the waters are those other notable London landmarks, her bridges. Although London Bridge is probably the most famous, due to the song and an over-enthusiastic shopper from the colonies, Tower Bridge to me is the true representative of our capital. Beautiful, classic in design, and hiding beneath its masonry petticoats a secret triumph of Victorian engineering.

One of my most enduring memories is standing on her cantilevered walkways as the sky was ablaze with fireworks celebrating the century since her birth.

It’s somewhat surprising then that last weekend was the first time I’d ever been inside the mighty construction. My family and I paid a reasonable fee to walk through her engine-room, learn the interesting history surrounding her creators, and finally amble along the upper section of the towers which afford a unique view of London.

The simple pilgrimage drew me closer to the bridge which has been for so long a welcome sight that meant I was close to home. It also left me wondering why I’d left it so long?

I think living with so much richness around us can sometimes mean we just stop seeing the possibilities that exist and miss the things that are there for the enjoying.

A few more walks may be in order…

A letter from the colonies…

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Summer’s lease hath proved once more all too short a date, and with her warm embrace but a memory we return to the ebb and flow of life.

In the coming weeks we will explore much in the way of British culture, from riots to crumpets, and many points in between.

But to start the new season I am proud to present to you a guest blog by one of our dear friends Ms Philippa Ballantine. As our kiwi correspondent she shares with us her recent challenge of writing a novel set in Victorian London while she was sat in New Zealand and her co-author Tee Morris was stationed in the US.

I hope you enjoy her musings, and please feel free to ask any questions that it provokes by placing them in the comments.

So, without further ado…please be upstanding for Ms Ballantine.

Dunking ourselves into Victorian London (like the preverbal biscuit).

By Philippa Ballantine

When you’re a writer delving into another city, country or world is always a bit of a risk. People know the places—right down to the smells and sounds—that you are using. However it also gives you a wonderful basis for story that can inspire and spice up your story in many ways.

In London’s case it is distinctly tea-flavoured.

When writing Phoenix Rising; a Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences novel, my co-author and I were working in the steampunk genre. (Tee has written this page describing what exactly that might be.) Since steampunk is the past that never happened, that does give us as author a little wriggle room. Writer’s do love wriggle room.

A very recent steampunk video describes the genre as ‘it’s not bound by period, but it is informed by it.’ Huzzah! So we were off and running on the novel, set in London. Neither of actually live in London. Tee is a born and bred Virginian, and I am from Wellington, New Zealand.

So we weren’t locals, and that meant we had to rely on experience and research.

First of all Tee and I have both spent time in London. Tee lived there for four months and I have visited several times. Honestly, there is nothing to compare with the first hand experience of going to a place. So we had impressions and memories and photos to go on. (My memories of a night watching football, eating fish and chips with mushy peas at a pub, have yet to prove useful).

The look of the Thames, might have changed since Victorian times (the lack of caustic fog and pollution being just two things missing) but you get some idea of the rivers appearance, how it snakes through the city. In the sequel to Phoenix Rising, called Of Cogs and Corsets, I spent a great deal of time in the Natural History Museum, and the beauty and typical English majesty of the building made quite the impression. That was why when it came time for a certain villain to break into building to steal something, I knew it was within this particular museum.

So, having been there gives you an advantage, but since this in Victorian London, and neither of us are in possession of a time-machine (as yet), we had to do a certain amount of research. Personally, as a librarian I love digging around in books. There are many online resources that you can use, plenty of encyclopaedias of Victorian London, but one of the best resources for getting the feel of a place and time are images. There are even some early film footage of London available on youtube. Also there are many fantastic books that cover, not only the lives of the aristocracy, but also lives of the poor struggling souls on the street.

But what do you do if you haven’t been there, or have been unable to find the answer in your available resources? Why, turn to your social media buddies! As authors and podcasters Tee and I are lucky enough to have a lovely—and helpful—group of listeners and readers.

If you need Victorian swear words, information on armaments, or how a steam engine really work, these are the people you turn to. Honestly, it’s amazing the variety of talents that are out there. That is something the Victorians never had—though they had more corsets and cups of tea.

But my final refuge of research on being English is my Nana—the most proper lady I ever met. When ever I have a moment of thinking about how a lady in London at that time would have acted I always see her face.

And there is always a cup of tea in her hand…

Philippa (Pip) Ballantine is the co-author with Tee Morris of Phoenix Rising: a Ministry of Peculiar Occurrence novel out now from Harper Voyager. It contains airships, archives and large amounts of derry-doing. Find out more at ministryofpeculiaroccurrences.com

The Turn of the Tide

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The school holidays have begun, with the children spewn forth from their academic prisons and handed back to their families while the teachers head for a sunny oasis unencumbered by the noise and fury that is youth. Across Britain we scrabble around to find things to stop our progeny from getting bored and eating each other, finally it’s decided that a trip to the beach is the answer. What could possibly go wrong?

For many years now the British seaside has been portrayed as a refuge for city dwellers, replete with golden sands, nectar flavoured candy-floss, and a merry sense of communal affection between the holidaymakers. A quick trip to one will soon have you realise that the sands are often stones, the candy-floss comes with a full complement of wasps to guard it, and your countrymen would much rather you left them alone rather than encourage them to join in an impromptu sing-song about cockles and muscles. The kids of course will tear across the shrapnel and happily build sandcastles, albeit without sand…possibly making the results actual castles, then cavort in the sea seemingly impervious to the ice floating around in its thunderous waves.

This leaves the weary parents to try in vein to make a comfortable sitting position upon the shale armed only with a towel that appeared much bigger at home. Once you’ve settled among the crags you can attempt the herculean task of trying to read while keeping an eye on the children, your valuables, and that strange looking fellow slumped in his deck chair wearing sunglasses. Either he’s a descendant of a spider and able to sit perfectly still for hours on end, asleep, dead, or plotting your grisly demise. Only time will tell.

After you’ve completed a couple of chapters of your opus, removed any stray mountains from your bottom, and maintained a safe distance from Shelob Man, it’s time for lunch. You notice the family of seasoned travellers next to you have brought their own food, a hamper filled with the finest french breads, parma hams, vegetables that seem fit to burst with healthiness, and even a nice bottle of wine. They seem godlike in their splendour and appear to have a small patch of sand beneath them, with extra warm sunbeams glancing off their silver coolbox which contains a perfectly chilled strawberry pavlova. You search your bags for similar delights but only discover a bag of Hula Hoops and a Werther’s Original sporting rather too much pocket fluff to make it edible.

So, like Captain Oates, you venture from this place of relative safety in order that others may eat, traversing the rockface in search of fish ‘n’ chips. Following the enticing scent of vinegar and cooking fat you finally track down the purveyor of Britain’s finest delicacy and hungrily order Cod ‘n’ Chips four times (not because the chap is deaf but because you want four portions). Condiments are applied, papers wrapped, you pick yourself up off the floor after being told the price, then grumble all the way back to the quarry where your expectant family await the fruits of your hunting and gathering.

Then, unwrapping the bounty and sitting back on the smoothest stone you can find, the white flesh of fish gently burning your fingers, you smile and realise that life’s not too bad after all.  Maybe we’ll come again next year….

Send Her Victorious

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A little while back we did a roundup of the greatest living Englishmen of a fictional persuasion. So it only seems right and proper that we should now proudly bestow upon your eyes a collection of the most notable womenfolk. Many were called and few were chosen, but those who remain are a marvel to behold.

5) Miss Marple

Agatha Christie’s master detective might not get many hearts pounding at the sight of her tweed twin-set and wispy hair, but she’ll certainly get the pulses racing of those that she accuses of murdering the countess in the drawing room with a banana. For over 30 cases Jane Marple was able to find the villain that eluded the police thanks to her wit, wiles, and knitting expertise. Or could she possibly have been inventing elaborate lies to frame innocent people while she continued her secret life of St Mary Mead’s first serial killer. A formidable woman, whatever the case.

Detective or Killer?

4) Margo Leadbetter

When the TV series The Good Life was in its prime at the end of the seventies Felicity Kendall’s character Barbara was the one generally thought of as sexy, intelligent, and most admirable of the female stars on the show. Now though we see that the long-suffering Margo Leadbetter, who lived next door to Tom & Barbara and had to deal with the pain of her once respectable neighbours turning their garden into a farm replete with chickens, goats, and constantly escaping pigs, was in fact remarkably resilient. Her class obsessions were probably more accurate than the insanely optimistic Goods, and her brave attempts to keep the sartorial standards of Surbiton up where they belonged was a testament of breeding and stiff-upper-lip determination. In the end she also achieved a quiet allure that even held Tom in its spell at times.

Margo - a woman of the people

3) Lara Croft

If there’s something that represents the age-old nature of the English then it’s rampaging through foreign countries stealing their priceless treasures and bringing them home to Blighty. One figure has done more to promote this than any other in modern culture, all while hiding the fact deftly behind inappropriate adventuring attire and a physics defying chest. Lady Croft has become an icon the world over for derring-do, beauty, and pushing large blocks around. She’s also about to reappear in a new guise, showing that a real lady can reinvent her style but keep her class.

Lock up the silver, here comes Croft!

2) Eliza Doolittle

Pygmalion may well have been a treatise on the class struggles of the early 1900s, but it could easily have been dry and preachy without the immediately loveable Eliza Doolittle taking centre stage. Her journey from cockney sparrow to fine lady is not without its battles, but in the process Eliza steals the pompous Professor Higgins’ heart and shows that class itself is not a matter of wealth or position but one of the heart. Plus hearing Audrey Hepburn shouting for her horse to ‘move your bloomin’ arse!’ is always a winner.

She's got it, by jove I think she's got it!

1) Emma Peel

To head up a list of this sort then you have to have a perfect balance of brains, beauty, and brawn. There were others who came close but truly there was only ever going to be one woman who could claim the title of Greatest Living, Fictional, Englishwoman and that was Mrs Peel. Her reliance on intelligent solutions to world-threatening problems, allied with the ability to karate chop her way through a swath of henchmen, and all while wearing a leather catsuit is the stuff of legend. Bravo Mrs Peel, the nation is in your debt…

The Greatest of Them All

So, what do you think? Any glaring omissions?  Let me know who you think should have made the list and those that you think shouldn’t be here at all….

 

Biscuit Etiquette – Part 5 : An Inconvenient Truth…

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For many reasons this has been a difficult post to write. You see I’ve recently suffered a loss. A month ago I received the bad news that I was in fact a bit fat. This of course came as a complete surprise to me as I’ve always thought of myself as eloquently portly, but no. While dressing one morning I caught sight of my visage in the mirror and did a classic comedy double-take to see what rotund interloper was standing behind me, alas I was alone. Just me and my engorged belly. This will not do, I decided, and promptly sprang (or more accurately rolled) into action. Desperate times call for drastic measures and this has seen the implementation of a harsh diet that has stripped flesh from my bones and biscuits from my fingers. The pain has been of a magnitude probably never known to man before, but slowly the tide is turning and land is once more in sight.

I’m sure you’ve heard it said that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and this has proven very much to be the case. At times I swear I can hear the merry laughter of Happy Faces as I pass by the kitchen, or find myself dragged ever closer to the rocks of destruction by the siren song of an open packet of Oreos teasing me with the delights that lay so close. And here in the midst of my sufferings I have discovered something shocking. I warn you dear, sweet reader that what I have to say may affect the rest of your lives. It could leave you hopeless, with crushed hearts that may never learn to love again. So tread warily if you wish to follow me into the darkened halls of unwelcome truths. Alright, here it is, brace yourselves……biscuits are not our friends.

There! I said it. Please, stop the screaming at the back, you knew it really…deep down inside.

Yes, we’ve been duped. How could packaging that seems to burst forth with promises of joy and life in all its fullness be such a perjurious house of lies? Truly there have been times in my life that I counted Digestives and Bourbons among my most trusted confidants, only now to see that they were nothing but alluring mistresses with allegiances solely to the sugar fields. Even the Jammy Dodger, that innocent and most jocular of confection, with its cheeky smile and bejewelled centre was no more than a harlot and me its willing cuckold. Yes, cry it from the rooftops, let your barbaric yawp hail this treason so it dare not prosper, but do it in vain…for our end is at hand.

Who am I fooling? What full blooded man could resist the entreatments of a Ginger Nut? Or stay resolute when a Jaffa Cake flaunts its smashing orangey bit in his face? Let the truth be told and the heavens fall, the biscuits have us in their grasp and I for one welcome our new overlords with a whetted palette and fevered hunger. Such delectation and tasty doom awaits me and yet I fall knowingly into it’s arms, teacup in hand. Oblivion take me, I am done!

Guess that buggers up the diet then….

The War of the Words.

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The British have, of course, made quite staggering contributions to the worlds of culture, fashion, art, music, literature, and celebrating the glory of nearly winning at something. But in one area we must admit our shame – languages, or rather the local dialects that permeate British society.

 

You see we may look like a heroic nation of brave souls all joined together in a common goal for the betterment of mankind, but scratch the surface and you will find a strange diaspora of confusing words, bizarre accents, and (in what must be regarded as our darkest heart) chirpy cockney barrow boys who use rhyming language to impress the tourists. To paraphrase Churchill we are one nation divided by uncommon tongues.

 

Take Geordie for instance. This arcane dialect spoken by residents of Newcastle is a wonder to behold. Often taking the guise of one long word with occasional emphasis thrown in, the Geordie tongue has baffled Southerners for decades. We marvel at the enthusiasm with which its barer delivers it, often accompanied by wide eyed stares and wild gesticulations. Sociologists have studied the language in the field but have yet to discover any patterns or discernible words, leading them to think that maybe the natives use pheromones as a cipher to the coded noises, thus preventing outsiders from understanding. Maybe we’ll never know the truth, so until then we’ll keep smiling and nodding as they talk while desperately trying work out our escape route.

 

The Geordie people are not alone in their mystery, Manchunia remains an elusive and depressing sounding dialect, Liverpoolian is notable for it’s harsh and nonsensical tones, while exponents of Birmingavin are just funny. One language that has somehow managed to escape it’s locale and even travel as far as the distant shores of America is the Cockney Rhyming Slang, or Bollocks for short. In years gone by grubby faced dwellers of South London could be heard replacing simple words like Wife with the more complex Trouble and Strife, and Suit with Whistle and Flute. Eventually government forces were brought in to put an end to the proliferation of the tongue as productivity has dropped to shocking levels due to the fact that any sentence that was spoken in the language would take about twenty minutes to finish due the barrage of extra words introduced. This drove the language underground, or more accurately into the ale houses that covered South London like a rash.

 

Then disaster struck. Dick Van Dyke.

 

With the release in 1964 of Mary Poppins the world was exposed to the idea of a cheeky, lovable chimney sweep who could jump into pictures and leap around on the top of buildings with reckless abandon – all while speaking in the strangest of accents and the unmistakable undertones of rhyming slang. The Bollocks were out of the bag, so to speak. Soon Hollywood was awash with young children using the language, as seen in films like Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and the world warmed to the inventive use of substitutionary wordage. All seemed lost. But by God’s mighty hand salvation was to appear in the form of Paul Hogan. When the Cockney menace looked set to take a firm and potentially devastating grip on the world’s hearts, out of the wildness arrived Crocodille Dundee and Australianism rode behind. Soon the Van Dyke alikes were replaced with people saying ‘Nah, that’s a knife’ and declaring that they would soon ‘put another shrimp on the barbie’.

 

Cockney faded from memory and eventually passed into legend….the lands were safe once more.

 

In the years since the ‘nearly apocalypse’ some attempts have been made by diehard practitioners to raise the banner of Cockney, but thankfully the world is now a wiser place. These ‘Cheadles’ return from whence they came muttering about Barnets, Butchers and China Plates, but their impact is soon overcome. Let us stand strong though, and make sure we teach our children to remain vigilant, for the threat may be lessened but it still remains. We need only make one mistake, like allowing Guy Ritchie to make films or Jason Statham to speak in them, and once again our existence could be blighted with gurning blokes in braces singing about how much rabbit his old girl has.

 

The darkness stirs and makes its plans. So take care, for if you should find yourself in the dark depths of South London when the moon is full and Eastenders has finished, if you listen carefully you’ll still hear on the wind many of the natives talking pure Bollocks. You’ve been warned.


A Peculiar People

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Here at the True Brit Blog we pride ourselves on bringing you the best in social commentary, cultural enlightenment, and the Arts. Plus the occasional biscuit or two. So it with great pleasure that we herald the arrival of a new novel penned by two friends of ours from the colonies. The thing that makes it particularly interesting, and relevant to this blog, is the fact that they have set it in England (a fictitious England, but good old Blighty non-the-less).

 

Madam is that a pistol in your stockings or are you just pleased to see me?

The book in question is ‘Phoenix Rising’, set in the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, a government department charged with the investigation of mysterious events and strange goings-on. Within the sacred walls of the ministry’s archives we find Wellington Books, a Victorian gent with a penchant for information and inventions – less a James Bond, but rather a proto-Q. Into his life explodes, quite literally, Eliza D Braun, a field agent for the ministry hailing from New Zealand and bringing with her a collection of exotic weapons and little patience for asking questions. Their relationship remains as combustible as her entrance but they soon find themselves teamed up to fight against the dark forces of the Pheonix Society. This pursuit takes them through High Street Carriage Chases, Robot Infested Mansions, and even the occasional Fatal Opera, all for Queen and Country.

Phoenix Rising is many things, but first and foremost it’s a lot of fun. Eliza and Wellington play their parts wonderfully well as the sexy, deadly secret agent, alongside the stiff-necked Brit with a little more going on under his perturbed surface than first appears. The real strength of the duo is the deft banter that fills the pages as each tries to work out the other while holding their own cards close to their, in Eliza’s case ample, chests. Comparisons can be drawn between the Avengers, Castle, and Warehouse 13 for the partnership of brains and battle but Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine have worked hard to give their creations a life of their own with enough depth and charm to warrant the further titles that are planned in the series. Add to this a believable Victorian London setting (complete with the obligatory street-urchins of unquestionable loyalty and dubious hygiene), a fine selection of secondary characters, and enough action sequences to keep even Michael Bay happy, the result is an exciting, funny, and highly enjoyable novel that will last long in the memory. A romp with some pomp, we Brits love that.

So in honour of this marvellous achievement we are proud to bestow upon Mr Morris and Lady Ballantine the Order of the Brit Blog (OBB) which acknowledges their outstanding efforts in the service of fictional Britain. God bless them, and all that sail in them.

To receive your own copy of this exemplary example of storytelling simply go to Amazon or order it from your local bookshop. For more information please visit – www.ministryofpeculiaroccurrences.com/

 

It’s a cultural thing

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I was speaking to a friend yesterday who hails from the sandy shores of South America. While discussing various adventures he brought up the point that whenever people had had difficulties or differences with him (which would be rare as he is a standup fellow) that they would often discount the nature of the issue by simply claiming it was ‘cultural differences’ that were at the heart. This got me thinking at how the British can often blind themselves to the idea of manners, emotions, or alternative ideas by boxing them up in the safe realms of ‘well, he’s from Spain, of course he’ll think like that’.

Sadly it can imbue us with a sense of superiority as we take pity on our poor friends from foreign climes who are at the mercy of their national identities, whereas we Brits are of course above all that. In essence we’re normal. It’s a strange thing that each nation is stereotyped into very definite behavioral quirks, when of course the individuals who exist there will display quite different qualities. For example the British maintain that Germans are unemotional and lack a sense of humour. But having spent a bit of time in Deutschland my experience was of a warm, friendly people who knew how to prepare good food. The men were giants, the women unquestionably some of the most beautiful I’d ever seen, and the beer was really quite wonderful. One day I hope to return and maybe stay a little longer.

The French of course are meant to be unwashed, arrogant, and rude. Not entirely sure were this comes from, but the Anglo/French divide goes back centuries to a time when we quite regularly attacked each other with ships, soldiers, and the occasional vicious quip about smelling of garlic. In fact the French have been a constant figure of fun to bad British comedians, public speakers looking for a cheap laugh, and the team at Top Gear. The thing pointed out most is that for a small, quite insignificant nation they demand a seat at the table in world affairs and refuse to speak any language other than their own. Hmmmm, sounds a bit familiar.

Others to suffer similar fates are the Dutch (argumentative), Americans (self absorbed), Spanish (bullfighters and flamenco dancers), Nigerians (loud), Australians (drunks), Irish (stupid drunks), Argentinians (cheats), Italians (sex mad cheats), and Belgians (do they even exist?). Which is a pretty sizable pile of judgment and xenophobia, and of course it’s only the tip of the iceberg. But on careful reflection, having weighed up the pros and cons and conducting exhaustive research I’ve come to a conclusion. It’s all a load of bollocks.

I’ve met people who conform quite closely to all of the above and some who conform to none. In the end people will do the most extraordinary things and can constantly surprise you – this is what makes life interesting. Plus the fact that the world has changed so much since these archaic ideas where put in place. London, the place I call home, is made up of so many different nationalities that it would be churlish to try and enforce a behavioral model that fitted all Londoners. The interaction between these cultures is doing exactly what it should be, that is creating a new culture, a diverse people who can shrug off the national proclivities and go back to the the idea of individuals defining themselves rather than conforming to historical society mores. I for one welcome this new being.

Viva la difference! As our Gallic neighbours say. Let’s talk to each other as people, not ambassadors for long diminished ideas of nationality. Maybe then we might understand each other a little better…

An Englishman Abroad – Part 2

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An expedition to the ‘Souk’ (or ‘shabby marketplace’ as I think the translation goes) brings into sharp conflict two other staunch qualities of the English psyche – fair play and bargain hunting. Moroccan culture demands that a shopping trip to the Souk involve the age old tradition of haggling. To those unfamiliar with the principle it involves a shopkeeper helping a customer to choose an item then ferociously arguing with him over how much it should cost to buy. Invariably the keeper will start the bidding very high,

‘this pack of matches is very good quality, not fake, and it cost only two million pounds.’
‘…..er, that’s a bit steep. How about 50 pence?’
‘are you joking? Fifty pence? Do you not understand? These matches make fire! They will make you invincible!’
‘ok….how about seventy pence?’
‘seventy pence? You would have my children starve?’

These conversations can involve a variety of outrageous claims about the price these things sell for in other countries (including rather suspect ideas of how much they cost in your own), how the workmanship is top quality, and that the items are most definitely not cheap knock-offs from Chinese sweat shops, no, not at all. The dilemma comes in when you know that the guy is tying to get the best deal for himself and that you, a westerner, are obviously far wealthier than he. You applaud his courageous entrepreneur attitude, and feel obliged to support him in his endeavour, but then the idea arises that you could probably get a better deal if you pushed him harder. Thus begins an inner conflict that threatens to tear your mind in two. Each sob story he offers only provokes more determination to beat him down another 100 Dirham. Finally the conflict is over and you leave the stage carrying a bag filled with Converse and Nike shoes of dubious origin. The shopkeeper acts like you’ve sold one of his children into slavery, but you know that somehow he’s still managed to sell you the goods for about ten times the price he paid for them.

As I leave the Souk, trying hard to avoid the various Cobras that line the marketplace dancing for their charmers, I feel part of the history of the traveller. I have stood toe to toe with the merchants and not faltered, magnificently controlled my desire to scream and run from the wild snakes, and emerged withe new shoes. Today we shall count as a victory.

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