G Says...

Our blog now boasts well over 40,000 seperate followers. Back when I still churned out novels that number of sales would have been regarded as a bit below par, but writing a novel is a vastly more time consuming business. Writing a blog piece should take an hour, two at most. I have yet to fully understand why this supposed simple task takes me several weeks.

I sit down and write the actual text more or less ’off the cuff,’ but it’s the interim stage between deciding what to write and actually doing it that takes the time. surely, laziness can’t be a factor.

Can it?

Back in 2010 Health minister Simon once described Speaker John Bercow as ''a stupid, sanctimonious dwarf''. Pretty tame, really, unless you’re a dwarf in which case it’s very insulting. Mister Bercow, unlikely to become Lord Bercow after leaving office in contrast to just about every other Speaker in recent times, dominates the news bulletins lately.

I’m not a great fan, to say the least, even though Marigold says he is her guilty crush. She likes his loud, hectoring voice and garish ties.

Hmm!

Anyway, I met a man recently who could have been Mister Bercow’s body double. The resemblance was not just confined to physical appearance. Short of stature, big on opinions, he was holding forth at great length on a variety of subjects about which he knew very little. It was a social gathering, at a friend’s house, so my retaliatory options were limited.

‘Odious little cockalorum,’ I muttered to Marigold, secretly relishing the opportunity to use one of my all time favourite words in the appropriate context. The ‘cock’ aspect, perhaps a little disappointingly, is linked to a brash, crowing rooster rather than the more vulgar yet even more appropriate attribution, but the addition of ‘alorum,’ being a version of the Latin genitive plural ending ‘orum,’ allows the word cockalorum to mean the cock of all cocks. In essence the word describes a little man with an exaggerated idea of his own importance.

Or Bercow for short then.

In every respect.

The one boring me rigid at that recent ‘gathering’ of friends and neighbours obligated to attend so as not to offend the hosts didn’t even have a flamboyant tie on. A suit jacket, denim shirt and jeans: a mode of dress that only Jeremy Clarkson imagines still looks good, actually.

I felt well dressed, smart and even a tad trendy in comparison. This is pretty rare.

‘Bercow’ had cornered me, although I’d never even clapped eyes on him before, giving off the air of a man who had by some serendipitous means located his soul mate and was seemingly bent on setting a new world record for speaking without drawing breath. There wasn’t a subject about which he didn’t have an opinion. A very strong opinion.

Ignorance of the subject was no barrier. I just finished a book, Archipelago, by Saif Rahman, and at one point a character says, ‘Never procrastinate, never ultradecrepidate’.

Ultradecrepidate?

I looked it up.

I’m glad I did as the word means, ‘to criticise beyond the sphere of one’s knowledge.’

In an ancient Roman story, a cobbler criticised the sandals in a painting by the painter Apelles, and then complained about further parts of the work, to which Apelles is said to have replied, "Ne sutor ultra crepidam", which roughly translates as ‘The cobbler must not go beyond the sandal’. As true today as it was then, stick to what you know when indulging in criticism.

Yes, my Bercow impersonating unwanted companion, you’re an ultracrepidate alright.

He was now informing me he hadn’t had the benefit of my education, but was ‘street smart.’ In my experience, street smart is an alternative form of ‘imaginary smart,’ but I was on a three line whip as regards best behaviour so I let it go.

Marigold was way over the other side of the room, but we managed a mutual eye roll. She was trying to reassure a woman we’ve only met twice before that the seventeen successive bad experiences, really, really bad experiences, the woman suffered on ‘dates’ arranged on a dating site were just bad luck.

Maybe she should try somewhere else as desperate.com* doesn’t seem to be finding her the man of her dreams.

*Not necessarily the real site name.

Marigold is awash with prescience and was seemingly making a good fist of predicting future happiness for the concerned woman.

‘Don’t get me wrong,’ the woman said as they parted, ‘I’m not asking for the Earth. I just want someone with a nice house, a decent car, no kids, who is good at DIY and likes lots of holidays.’

As Marigold made her escape the woman added – I heard this from across the room – ‘oh, and I want lots of sex, but no dressing up or filthy stuff.’

Even John Bercow couldn’t compete with that.

I managed to get to Marigold and we made our way to the kitchen where the promised ‘nibbles’ were laid out. I’ve seen less impressive buffets in five star hotel. If this is what our hosts class as nibbles I want an invite to Sunday lunch!

‘All home made,’ a bright young woman told us, standing next to an overflowing Brabantia bin stuffed with the outer wrappings of Marks and Spencer pies and cakes.

‘Help yourself to stuff.’

We crammed some ‘stuff’ onto plates, real plates, not plastic or cardboard, and tried to find a safe haven to munch in peace. We’re not great mixers, not antisocial as such, but ‘parties for grown ups’ can be purgatory. Getting a cross section of people under one roof for whatever reason is a risky enterprise, but there appear to be certain unwritten rules governing the clientele.

There are the quiet ones, badgered into attending, the party animals who want to get hammered on drink they didn’t have to shell out on, the opinionated ones relishing the chance to drone on all night to strangers too polite to walk away and the select band of guests who fall into the ‘weird’ category.

So far tonight, we’ve only met the weirdos.

They gravitate to us.

Marigold is naturally gregarious, yet abhors evenings like this. I am even less tolerant, yet cursed with a modicum of manners so tend to suffer in silence the attention of people I would otherwise avoid at all costs.

‘You must be Marigold,’ a faintly scary woman wearing a lilac trouser suit says. Her make up makes her look like a manikin in Debenhams window. The lips are black, the soaring eyebrows were presumably drawn on with a child’s crayons and her eyelashes were miniature wind turbines. If chaos theory has any validity, every time they flutter a hotel roof blows off in Taiwan.

Marigold confessed to being Marigold, looking a tad disconcerted at the woman’s intense scrutiny. Only four words, but containing hints of disbelief, adoration, scorn, active dislike and others yet to be determined.

‘I imagined you would have been more, oh what’s the word?’ The manikin woman says, screwing up her bizarre features into even greater contortions.

I think of appropriate descriptive words to fill the gap, but decide against voicing any of them.

‘Exotic, is that the one I mean.’ She asks, eventually.

Marigold looks at her, then at me. How would we know?

‘Yes, exotic. Not that you look ordinary, just not how I imagined from reading your blog.’

‘Ah!’ The blog is packed with photos of Marigold, so quite how this strange creature imagined her to look escapes us both.

‘All that travelling, so much gadding about, why do you do it all and how do you find the time?’

‘Well,’ says Marigold, ‘of course we don’t do anything else. We don’t work apart from a bit of modelling for Chanel.’

‘And we manage to fit our travelling around our ambassadorial duties for Poundland,’ I add.

In adversity we move swiftly to flippancy.

‘Goodness, I never knew. Well, good for you, I say’ says the manikin.

Worse than we thought, dim and gullible, a difficult combination.

We’re about to make our excuses, an imminent Skype call from our good friend Kim Jong-un perhaps, when the manikin asks a sensible question.

‘Where had the biggest instant effect on you, which country?’

Hmm, interesting.

We’ve been to over 100 countries now and seen many places that had an instant impact. Some of our favourite places are not too dissimilar from England, some of their citizens even speak English, but others are an instant shock to the senses.

Morocco, for instance, a country we have visited many times, even lived there for a while. We both adore the bustle of the Imperial cities, the sheer relentlessness of the sights, sounds and smells of Fez or Marrakesh, but Cairo, for example, teeming with be-robed figures and exotic aromas as it is, never had the same appeal.

Istanbul, that ancient juxtaposition of Europe and Asia was fascinating. We drove through great swathes of Turkey, but crossing the Bosporus, by car over the spectacular bridge or by boat, we did both, was incredible.

The ultimate divided city; the Western side all bustling traffic, minarets and domes affording scant preparation for the much more simple and yet equally awe inspiring portal to the vastness of Asia.

We will never forget the Blue Mosque and so many other magnificent landmarks, but it was that sharply delineated contrast between East and West that stuck in our memory.

Oh, and the traffic!

I have driven through Rome, London, Paris, Fez, Marrakesh, deep into the Sahara, up precipitous mountain tracks and many less well known but even more daunting expeditions into the unknown, risking imminent collision at every turn of the wheel, but Istanbul was at a whole new level.

Driving tests? Rules of the road? Don’t be ridiculous!

Marigold was ready with an answer before me.

Not unusual.

‘Ukraine,’ she said.

Of course.

We drove through the entire country a few years ago. We’d already traversed Romania, not a great deal to see in most of rural Romania, ie most of Romania, the road system is best described as ‘challenging’ but the people were incredibly welcoming. Moldova was a further step back in time still and then we were in Ukraine.

First impressions, this is a very big country. I’d intended to drive to Sebastopol, but there’s a great deal of not very much between Moldova and Sebastopol. Don’t imagine we found the absence of landmarks boring; far from it. It was like going back in time to when life was simpler, self sufficient farms, animals grazing peacefully, scarcely no evidence of modern life. I’m not against progress, far from it, but the absence of pylons, factories and tower block housing was very soothing.

We got to Sebastopol in the end, but I knew Marigold was thinking about Yalta when she singled out Ukraine from the myriad places we have visited.

Yalta was wonderful. Statues of long dead Communist leaders everywhere, a bustling street scene where the young women were mostly six footers, slim and haughty and the older women, at least a foot shorter and weighed three times as much as their younger versions. The weight gain with advancing years I could readily understand, but not the reduction in height.

Very odd.

Yalta is President Putin’s holiday venue of choice. He swims in the Black Sea so his fabled toughness is obviously not an act. I waded in to mid thigh level and decided I didn’t actually ‘need’ to go for a swim that day.

A bit nippy!

After much wandering around, looking at the wares on offer in the many kiosks, there are very few supermarkets in Ukraine, admiring the longevity of elderly and much battered Lada taxis, and trying to spot the head honcho of Russia, we were exhausted.

Marigold spied a bench with two middle aged and obviously prosperous ladies already in residence and decided we needed to sit down and try to listen to their conversation.

A very short lived plan.

Marigold produced a flask containing lukewarm coffee, a drink made about seven hours previously. The flask had been a free gift from a German supermarket and was intended to resemble a bottle of German beer. As a beer bottle the resemblance was reasonably accurate, as a vacuum flask it was rather less successful. But, hey, it didn’t leak and the coffee was still, just about drinkable so not bad for a free promotion gift.

 

As we were taking our ease, sipping what was once coffee and taking in the sights, we were approached by a uniformed man wearing an enormous peaked cap and an unpleasant expression.

Confession time, I don’t speak or understand Ukrainian very well. That may be a slight exaggeration, but ‘not at all’ reflects badly on my renowned facility with all foreign languages(!)

If I tell you ‘Good morning’ is ‘Dobroho ranku’ in Ukrainian, you may understand my difficulty. If you were to write Good morning’ you would write it as Доброго ранку! Not many linguistic clues there.

Whatever the officious man, who turned out to be a policeman, was saying, it certainly wasn’t ‘good morning.’ I tried to explain my inability to understand as he was in danger of a burst blood vessel or two by this stage.

As I stood up he shouted something very loudly and gave every impression of wanting to machine gun everyone in the vicinity. One of the ‘matrons’ began shouting and we soon drew a sizeable crowd. Handcuffs were now being brandished and I thought it advisable to sit down again.

For reasons that I have yet to fully comprehend, Marigold has a tendency to laugh at the most inappropriate times and this was one of the least appropriate imaginable.

The policeman by now was on the verge of apoplexy. He took the coffee container from Marigold and poured the contents on the ground before stalking off to shout at someone else.

‘This is forbidden,’ one of the onlookers said, pointing at the wretched flask.

‘Coffee is forbidden here?’

‘Alcohol.’

‘Ah!’

‘Why were you laughing?’ I asked which set Marigold off all over again.

‘That cap, every time he shouted it wobbled up and down,’ she replied. Fair enough. Whoever designed the headgear for Ukrainian policemen had obviously never considered the complete absence of dignity inflicted on the wearer.

We eventually found out that Ukrainian law frowns on public consumption of alcohol. Smoking too. We found this rather surprising after traversing the whole country where booze consumption appeared compulsory and even toddlers chain-smoked.

Draconian measures are being taken in Yalta as Putin was due to visit, possibly today, and a zero tolerance approach to such antisocial behaviour was in effect.

We still bellow ‘this is forbidden’ to each other, the more trivial the presumed offence the louder the admonition.

We never met Putin, but the policeman in the ridiculous cap was much more fun.

As we left our host and hostess to walk home from the ‘party’ we exchanged views on our fellow guests.

Mostly unfavourable.

‘We’re crap at parties, aren’t we?’ Said Marigold.

Indeed we are.

‘Did you like anything about tonight?’

I thought about this. Not really was the honest answer, but most of the evening had been monopolised by strange people.

‘The food was good,’ Marigold offered. Yes, it was, and I’d even enjoyed the background music, soft jazz, very soothing, up until the point someone decided we all needed to stop chatting and should instead dance to loud music on a thick shag pile carpet that made any sudden movement a torn ligament in waiting.

I showed Marigold a photo I’d taken on my phone while visiting what our hostess called ‘the facilities.’

No, not that sort of photo!

I am incapable of visiting any building containing books without looking at the titles. This often involves contorting my head at an unnatural angle to read the spines of books, but the ‘facilities’ featured a number of books deemed suitable for browsing whilst otherwise engaged.

I noted ‘Driving over Lemons,’ ‘Bleak House’ and ‘Scouting for Boys’, a fairly eclectic mix, but it was the weightiest tome that took my attention: ‘Psychopathia Sexualis’ the legendary treatise by Richard von Krafft-Ebing.

Browsing? Well, why not?

If the choice is only Bleak House, Kraft-Ebing gets my vote.

I opened the book at random, laughed aloud for the first time in an hour and took a photo of the couple of sentences opening the book had revealed.

Here it is:

‘One subtype of olfactophilia is eproctophilia. This is a paraphilia in which people are sexually aroused by flatulence.’

Come on, Charles Dickens never wrote anything like that.

The Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Yalta

Putin’s favourite restaurant

Airbnb of the year, Ukraine