Sunday, 20 December 2009

Language – Part 2

© John Sawyer – December 2009

“They delivered the windows to the building site next door today, Dad. They couldn’t have been heavy, just one bloke on his own.”


“Did I already tell you? … No I didn’t… Anyway he gets nearly all of them off and then drops one and breaks the glass. I only heard it through the wall, but he then proceeded to shout FU.., err you know, over and over, in at least fifteen or twenty different ways. He was pretty pissed off. I wouldn’t believe you could say it in so many ways.”

“Geeze, Sue, tell me about it. That reminds me of the day I was walking past the place at the end of our lane. You know the two storey concrete joint with the roller doors? Anyway I suddenly notice the roller door starts to bulge out. The bloke had jumped in his SUV to go to work and somehow, he’d let it roll slowly backwards into the doors. After a very brief pause the bloke lets out a long, loud, extended play Fu…” Jack looks at his eight year old grandson next to him and thinks better of it. “… err the F-word.” Sue looks into the rear view mirror and raises her eyes.

“Anyway, that night, in the car, we’re driving somewhere with the twins in the back and I tell Wendy the story and I say the word, you know outright. No euphemisms, just innocently as you would. Anyway, next thing I know, the two kids are chanting the word and not just chanting. Playing with it, exploring all the ways that it can be said, clapping their hands in time. Drawing it out, clipping it, testing how it would sound with different letters emphasised.”

“What do you do in that situation? Wendy sits there simultaneously smirking and glaring, trying not to laugh outright while I sit there, looking straight ahead and feeling embarrassed. How do you say to a kid? Don’t use the word I just used. It would be hypocritical wouldn’t it? Eventually I said: We’ve had enough of that now. Who wants to play I spy? I’ll go first… I spy with my little eye something the colour of …”

Sue and Jack laugh briefly and Nick pipes up: “Did Jan and me say fuck over and over, Grandpa?”

“Yes you did, Nick and don’t …” Jack stops mid-sentence. What can you do?

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Familiar Language

© John Sawyer – November 2009
Cuba Street Mall, Wellington NZ

U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is drifting out of J. J. Murphy & Co. – Irish Pub – well that seems fair enough.

There’s a chalkboard sign on the wall: Breakfast until 12pm - $5: fried egg, hash browns, sausages, tomato, toast. ADD BACON $2 EXTRA. That’s bloody cheap. You’d probably feel obliged to add a pint of Mr Murphy’s Irish Stout to go with it. It’d still be cheaper than muesli and dried fruit at the trendy joint up on the corner and stout for breakfast is the sort of degenerate thing you might do on holidays.

They reckon Wellington has more eating establishments per head of population than New York, but you know about they and what they reckon.

A bloke in a quilted, light blue nylon parka and florescent orange and yellow tracksuit pants is limping along between me and the pub. Is his limp a disability or are his shoes the problem? If his shoes were a house, they’d be condemned, particularly the left one where the toes are poking through the front and the sole and heel are basically detached from the uppers.

He suddenly veers towards the vacant seat next to me: “I think I’ll sut here awhile.” Oh oh, I prepare to be begged at. “Hullo, my name is Jummy” and he thrusts his right hand at me. I’m afraid to say that I look first before I shake. One thumb, three fingers; the little finger missing. I shake hands, avoiding the rather grubby handkerchief wrapped around so that it covers his palm.

“Gidday, I’m Jack.”

Jimmy reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a cigarette packet with two cigarettes left: “Do you want a cugarette, Jeck?”

That’s an unexpected turn up for the books: “Err, no thanks Jimmy. I managed to give up a few years ago.”

The Pogues and “Dirty old Town” are now meandering out of the pub. We listen for a very few moments and watch the other non-shoppers.

“What do you do for a luving, Jeck?"

“Err, well I work with computers and things…”

Jimmy now starts to babble, not just a few words that highlight the regional pronunciation of vowels. He speaks in tongues: “gloxen bendule flox…”; talks gobbledygook: “qsuerty xibwert foswer…”. Is Jimmy talking to me in what he assumes to be some programming language or is he having a go at me about the techno-ese he’s heard computer nerds talking while they eat their lunchtime sandwiches on the seats dotted around the Mall?

Before I can question him, Wendy arrives back and hands me two armloads of shopping bags. She smiles benevolently while she prepares to drag me off to the next retail outlet.

“Arr, goodbye Jimmy. Good to meet you.”

“Nuce to meet you, Jeck.”

Thursday, 22 October 2009


© John Sawyer – October 2009

Glenferrie railway station. The next train, stopping all stations to the city, is due at 2:42pm. I find a seat between two women and watch the departure time tick its way down to NOW – 11 minutes to go. I wonder if it’ll be on time. Students from Swinburne University are congregating on the platform and generating excited noise while they talk about the latest adventures of their friends and classmates. The woman on my left is sending text messages with one hand while she casually pats her baby’s blond head with the other. The baby divides her time between attempting to destroy an old brown paper bag and staring at me disdainfully around the side of her pram.

The woman on my right continues her conversation via mobile phone: “I don’t know how it works really. This friends thing…” She pauses briefly. “Yes I know how to make someone your friend, but I don’t really understand the other stuff.” Even briefer silence while her mobile associate attempts to get a word in. “No, the stuff about special friends or relationships. When I looked this morning, Roger’s page was just showing him as my friend… No! No nothing else, just friend… Oh, I live in hope, I do, but you can only take it a day at a time.” I wonder how sporting truisms have managed to penetrate everyday language.

My attempts to get a smile from the baby are punished by a harsher, more contemptuous frown. I try to disengage from the Facebook friendship diatribe on my right but the words penetrate my defences: “You see when I looked last night, Roger was showing that he was in a relationship and when I went to Melanie’s page, she was showing that she was in a relationship… No, it doesn’t say who… Yes, they both showed me as a fiend…”

Maybe this isn’t Facebook, maybe it’s some sort of dating site she’s talking about: “… Yes, I know… Well as I said, this morning he’s no longer in a relationship… Well, I don’t know about Melanie… No, I’ve been blocked from Melanie’s page. A bit strange really…What? Do you think…? Well I can’t be held responsible, can I …? Hmm, maybe you’re right. Maybe I shouldn’t have rooted Roger; I didn’t know it would affect my list of friends like that … That’s between us, surely… Oh, I know…”

The conversation continues until the train comes, but I can’t take it all in. Maybe I’m getting too old. My mind boggles at the idea of having to deal with the added complications of conducting an affair in an era of instant access to the most private of information. I do get the baby to twist her cupid’s bow into a big toothless smile before we all rush to find a seat on the train.

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