Tuesday 17 September 2013

Let me park the yurt and I'll come right in.

Paul Sironen in action - who'd have thunk
it that he would be used in a
treatise on anarchy.
When I first moved out of my bucolic home town in the country to the cosmopolitan pulse of Sydney, it slowly began to dawn on me that there was a different life possible, and that Bathurst wasn't the centre of thought, as my parents had led me to believe.
This was first brought home to me by a piece of graffiti I saw on a bridge in Petersham in Sydney's inner west, in the heart of Balmain Rugby League Club territory. 
On the bridge some inner city radical had written, "The only thing we have to fear is institutionalised anarchy".
Under which some else had written, "And Sirro".
And truly Paul Sironen was the most frightening player in the league at that time.
With a playing weight of 17st (107kg) and standing 6'4" (a smidge under 2m) he was frightening to behold even when watching from the stands.
Whether he was more frightening than institutionalised anarchy I didn't know, then or now, but it was really the wittiness of the graffiti that got me.
Here in Sydney even writing on a bridge was a cut above anything I had heard or seen in Bathurst.
And just across the uni campus was another bit of snappy rejoinding.
A fundamentalist christian had written,  "god hates hommos" (he meant homos, of course, short for homosexuals), under which, possibly the same paint spraying wit from the Petersham bridge, had added, "but does he like tabouleh?" 
I think that's where my love of the english language and its fertile grounds for humour began.
So likewise I was impressed with this I read in Reader's Digest.
A sign in a campus eatery said "Shoes are required to eat in the cafeteria", under which some student had put, "socks can eat wherever they want".
And so to my recent trip to Possum Creek to mow Joanne's lawn, as I whipper-snipped down at the front end of her property I saw this sign indicating "Yurt Parking".
A standard wheel-less yurt.
It of course refers to where guests who are attending an activity in the yurt, yoga, meditation and hula are three of them, are to park and uses economy of words to fit on the sign, but more accurately it states that mobile yurts can be parked here.
Which then made me think, are there any mobile yurts?
In it's original form it was the first mobile home, a heavy felt tent used by horse people of the tundra, but then, somewhat to my surprise, I discovered that the sign put up by Joanne's landlady Ruth may have been more accurate than I thought.
A yurt on wheels. They could park it at Possum creek.
And so I'll end this section with the best piece of signage I ever saw, it was a headline in the Macleay Argus at Kempsey.
But first the almost mandatory digression.
Elvis Costello was so in love with the Mental as Anything song, "If you leave me, can I come too?", that he said he would have given anything to haven written that title.
And likewise, I was in the bowling club at Kempsey one day when I saw a clipping from the Argus pinned to the noticeboard.
It was a story about a dispute between the women members of the club and the local council about the positioning of their new bowling green.
The dispute was hotting up and the headline read, "Ladies in white see red in blue over green".
Like Elvis Costello, i would have considered my newspaper career a success if i had written anything as good as that.

I've worked in newspapers for a chunk of my working life, and in my time I've seen some good and appalling uses of English, and, I might add, everything I learned about correct written english, such as it is, came from my training as a journalist.
None of it came from HSC English, what a waste of bloody time that was.
For instance there is no point learning grammar.
Or at the very least, if you are going to teach grammar, you can't mark anyone wrong, for anything.
Let me explain.
English grammar rules are based on latin, and two of the better known ones, you can't end a sentence with a preposition and you can't split an infinitive, are only loose guidelines, not rules, in latin to make the sentence more elegant.
If someone said to you "I wasn't happy with his behaviour, but."
It's not elegant, but wrong it is not. (NB: I just ended that sentence with a preposition.)
In my mind English usage is only wrong if the listener cannot understand what you mean.
Here are a couple of examples.
If you say "I looked out of the window", some persnicketty English teacher would say that is incorrect usage, you are supposed to say, "I looked through the window".
Also, there was a game show a while back called the Weakest Link in which contestants would be eliminated one by one through a general knowledge quiz.
As each participant was eliminated the host would say "you are the weakest link", and off they would go.
But as some wit wrote in to Viz comic, when the game got down to the last two the host should say, "you are the weaker link".
Somehow when there are only two things, weaker becomes the term, not weakest.
Then there is this business of labelling terms to make it "easier"(!) to learn grammar.
Thus we learn nouns, verbs and adjectives.
However, due to the infinite flexibility of english words, even this quickly descends into the murk.
Take colours.
Green is an adjective, everyone knows that, thus, "The apple is green."
But once you take to the golf course, green becomes a noun, "my second shot landed on the green."
Then you can make it an verb, "I'm going to green up my garden before I put it on the market."

Adjective: "The ocean is blue."
Noun: "I got in a blue."
Verb: "I blued him till he couldn't stand up."

Adjective: "The night sky is black."
Noun: (racist) "He is a black."
Verb: "I'm going to black my boots."
And so it goes with the almost infinite malleability of english.

The lexical yoga champ is the word fuck.
in the sentence, "The fucking fucker's fucking fucked it." the F-word fills every category and then some.
And while I'm here.
There is a common story that the word 'Fuck' started as an acronym "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge", scrawled on police blotters when taking notes on a case.
It is completely untrue.
The F-word stems from the latin word 'futuo: to make love' and has been in use in english since the twelth century.
The first modern police force was founded in London in 1829 by John Peel, and thus post dates the word by a mere four hundred years.

As you can imagine English was not my favourite subject at school, like many boys and men, I liked the certainty of maths and science.
I still can't understand, though I have a few good guesses, why English is the only compulsory subject in the HSC.
My logic was: you have to go to school to learn maths, you have to go to school to learn Geography, Science, Commerce, Home Science, Woodwork, Metalwork and so on.
But what's the only thing you already know before you get to high school?
You may argue, what about the children of immigrants to this country, they have to go to high school to learn english, don't they?
Well, they do, but they attend English as a Second Language (ESOL) classes and learn far more useful things than we ever did in English.
Also, if English wasn't compulsory, then a lot, and I mean a lot, of people with arts degrees would be out of a job.
So for those of you still reading I will end with some sample HSC English questions and the answers I would have dearly, sorely, loved to have written.

A reading of Letters to Alice changes the modern responder’s understanding of Pride and Prejudice. Discuss with reference to both texts.

The dog ate both my copies of these texts, and really I don't care.

Explore how perceptions of belonging and not belonging can be influenced by connections to
In your response, refer to your prescribed text and at least ONE other related text of your own

See above answer re fate of my texts, and really I still don't care.

Explore how Great Expectations and ONE other related text of your own choosing represent conflicting perspectives in unique and evocative ways.

I am still trying to find a stomach pump for my dog and further more, I really, really don't care.

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