I’ve now been learning Hindi for a whole year on Duolingo!
Thing is, though, although I have several hundred words that I can read, write (sometimes), understanding and speak in Hindi, I have no confidence that I can use them conversationally. I just haven’t had that kind of practice.
I know quite a few people whose family are originally from India, but most of them are several generations away from those roots and so only know a few words of Hindi (or Gujarati or Malayalam). I’m all for integration, but losing the ability to speak in more than one language isn’t something I’d opt for.
Never mind, though – maybe in a few more years I will know enough Hindi to teach it back to them. I hope so. Wouldn’t that be fine!
This was going to be an episode for a podcast I set up for a Green Group (you know, one with members that are into ecologically friendly living) but one of the member told me, in no uncertain terms that she didn’t like the way that I do podcast episodes. So, long and short of it is that I took all my episodes so far (two of them) off the podcast and replaced them with some other stuff that some other member of the Green Group had sent to me. Ironic really, because one of the episodes I took down still has the most listens off all time even though it’s not even been there for the past several weeks. Not that I’m bitter and twisted about it you understand. I’m just saying. Anyway, this is what I would have recorded next. It would have been an episode where someone interviews me. And I’d be posing as a thing that green people are interested in not destroying; you know, like the sky or a tree or the ocean or the climate or the weather or something like that. Let’s say that I chose to be a tree. It’d go something like this:
Interviewer: So, Mister .. ah .. Tree …
Me (as a tree): Call me Sisal.
Interviewer: Okay, Cecil. This …
Me (as a tree): Nah, not Cecil. It’s Sisal. As in, the tree. Not the person. I’m not a person, remember?
Interviewer: Okay. Sorry. Erm – so, Mr .. um. sorry .. Sisal. Did I get that right?
Me (as a tree): You did.
Interviewer: Good. So, Sisal, this is an interview designed to discover your preferences when it comes to how you like people to treat you. As a tree. Like, if you were a tree .. em .. sorry .. you’re a tree, Sisal and I’d like to ask you .. stuff.
Me (as a tree): First time doing an interview?
Interviewer: Ah, no, I did a whole bunch of them before. At college. But those were with humans, y’know?
Me (as a tree): So this is your first one with a tree.
Me (as a tree): Okay, so let me give you a tip that I think’ll help you out here.
Me (as a tree): Okay. Here we go: just be yourself.
Interviewer: That’s it?
Me (as a tree): Yup. That’s it.
Interviewer: Kinda ironic don’t you think?
Me (as a tree): Why’s that now?
Interviewer: Well, you .. erm .. that is, you’re pretending to be a tree.
Me (as a tree): Pretending? No, man; I am a tree.
Interviewer: Ah, look, I know that for this interview and all that I’ve got to interview you as if you were a tree, but, truth be known, you’re not even green.
Me (as a tree): I am so. I recycle everything!
Interviewer: Like, how?
Me (as a tree): I put them in the correct container and I put them our for the the council to collect.
Interviewer: And what kind of a tree do you think does that every single week?
Me (as a tree): It’s bi-weekly.
Interviewer: Whatever. My point is that trees don’t do that. They usually just stand in the garden and, you know, like, wave their branches about in the breeze and rustle their green leaves. You don’t have any of those things.
Me (as a tree): Well that’s not my fault is it. I’m doing this without a budget! Like, no money at all. You don’t get much for no money, you know!
Interviewer: Pssh, not my department.
Me (as a tree): Yeah, sure, granted, but that’s why.
Interviewer: Why what?
Me (as a tree): Why I’m not green in the sense that you mean when you tell me I’m not green.
Interviewer: Okay, tell you what, let’s just do the best we can, okay.
Me (as a tree): Ahem. Okay. Go for it. But let’s pretend a bit better than you have been doing that I’m a tree. Okay?
Me (as a tree): So …
Interviewer: Oh, yeah. So, as a tree, what do you want people to do differently?
Me (as a tree): Good question. I want them to stop doing stuff that hurts the soil. Not bothered about the air. They can pump as much carbon into it as they want. Hell, I eat that stuff up for dinner.
Interviewer: Midnight snack.
Me (as a tree): What?
Interviewer: You would eat it for midnight snacks. In the daytime you eat oxygen, remember?
Me (as a tree): Oh, yeah. Nice catch.
Interviewer: Thanks. So, that’s all we have time for now. Sisal wants you to stop doing things that hurt the soil, right?
Me (as a tree): Yup
Interviewer: Cool. Well, that’s it then. Thanks, Sisal.
Me (as a tree): It’s cool. Have a good one.
Interviewer: You too
Me (as a tree): Dick,
Me (as a tree): Oh, is that your name? I kinda meant ..
Interviewer: I know what you meant. We’re done here.
This is a series of 26 articles about various things that interest me. Many of them contain solid advice based on my experience, some are more fanciful and others are told in story form. My favourite, if you’re interested, is C, but they’re all worth a read.
Oh, and if you want to listen to my voice reading them, then head on over to the podcast Sklugoo Speaks, where Sklugoo, a small, green meditating frog, uses my voice as a channel for his wisdom. And yeah, I know that you think that frogs can’t do that.
I don’t like writing about people unless they’re made-up or I have a problem with them.
If the people I set out to write about are just ordinary people that I know and all that they’ve done are ordinary things then I get bored even before I start to write. I like to read about interesting people doing interesting things and so if the people in my story aren’t like that then I don’t even want to start.
Reality gets in the way of imagination and so, while it’s possible to make fictional people do anything that I want them to, the same thing isn’t possible with real people. For instance, let’s say that I knew someone called Joe (I didn’t) who threw water on the girls to make them giggle and squeal, then I’d be thinking, as I was writing, about why (fictional) Joe wanted to do that. I’d be giving him a background, a thought-process and an end-game (where he wanted to end up vis-a-vis the girls). If, on the other hand, I was writing about a real Joe, then I wouldn’t be able to do any of the above. For a start, I wouldn’t be able to tell what (real) Joe was thinking and, for a finish, the real events of the scene would intrude into my idea of what I wanted the (fictional) Joe to do. And it’s even worse if (real) Joe didn’t do anything interesting at all.
Fictional people can be anything I want them to be and so, when you think about it, it’s natural that I’d want to write about them. Even when I’m writing about real people doing interesting things I still don’t have the freedom to move away from the script of reality. I mean, sure, I can vary the way that I tell the (real) story – that’s, after all, what Creative Non-fiction is all about – but I can’t alter the facts of the matter. If I did – it just wouldn’t be true anymore. It’d just be fiction.
Okay, okay – I hear you. You have a couple of questions in your mind. First up comes: what’s the point, closely followed by: what’s this got to do with how to journey well? Okay, confession time: the answers your questions can be derived from: I was going to tell you a true story about a train journey, but it was boring. My story might well have illustrated how to journey well, but you would have been asleep by the end of it. The only interesting thing in the story was a mouse in a shoe. So, yeah – I’m not going to do that to you.
But, hey – at least you’ve learnt a little about me and the way that I think about stories and people, right? So it can’t be all that bad!
Still, let me leave you with a few parting words of wisdom about journeying well: make sure you’re wearing comfortable clothes and, before you set off, get yourself a decent haircut. Both these things will help you immensely; believe me.
It’s one thing to have a good day, or even a good week, but it’s quite another thing to have a good life. To do that, we have to learn to get our happiness and then keep a tight hold on it throughout the inevitable challenges that come our way.
Imagine you have a really nice bike. It can be a mountain bike or one with tassels on the handlebars and a really useful wicker basket attached to the front or it can even be one with a motor that goes vroom-vroom when you twist the grip. Whichever way around – imagine that bike and the pleasure you get from riding it around your neighbourhood. Now imagine that someone nicks it. One day, you go to the place where you’ve stored it and it’s gone. Not so happy now, are we?
The Buddhists call it (the thing that makes you unhappy when you lose stuff) attachment. They say that when you get attached to stuff then you’re basically setting yourself up for a fall. They also say that if you have a more easy going attitude towards ownership then you don’t get so sad when it’s taken away from you.
It’s not just bikes that can get taken away – it’s everything. There’s not a single thing you have now that it isn’t possible to lose. Just think about that. Basically, that means that we have a huge potential to be unhappy.
Don’t worry, though – there’s a solution. No, it doesn’t involve giving everything away (although, actually, that’s not such a bad idea). The solution is better than that because you still get to keep your bike. Cool, huh! All it involves is a simple change of attitude towards stuff. And – bonus – it involves being happy!
So here it is – the secret to keeping well is: * d r u m r o l l * be happy.
What? You need more detail? Well, alright. Try this: be happy with what you have.
The way it works is this: if you have feet then be happy, if you have wheels then be happy, if you have a motor then be happy, if you have a rocket then be happy, if you have the Starship Enterprise then be happy, if you have the universe then be happy and if you’ve got to the end of this article, then be happy.
Annabella’s in hospital. She was feeling very sorry for herself but she’s a bit better now, thank you very much. She had an operation that hadn’t hurt at the time, but was now making her head hurt like buggery. It’s terrible that things like that happen to people, but what can you do? Sends her good wishes? Ha – the only thing that’s going to help poor Annabella right now is a morphine drip and complete bed rest.
She fell down and hit her head on something very sharp, you see. By fell down I mean that she fell down the front of a building from second floor balcony. And by hit her head, I mean that the railing went into her cheek and out of her posterior fontenelle and on the way through it shoved aside some very important soft stuff. But look on the bright side, it didn’t rip her head right off her neck, and she doesn’t seem any worse off from the experience. Apart from having a nagging headache that even the morphine can’t touch. Oh, and she also feels like crying most of the time.
Pulling her off the railing would have been a tad dangerous, what with it going through her brain and all of that, so they didn’t do that. The medics shot her full of happy juice, strapped her to a cunningly slanted board that kept her stable while the firemen sawed off the piece of railing that had impaled her skull. They did a really good job of it actually.
Then, at the hospital, came the tricky bit. The best brain surgeon in the hospital – a nice old gentleman call Mr Walsh – came in on his day off and got the railing out. At the most prosaic level it involved pulling the thumb out of the pie without too much of the plum-filling coming out too. On a more eloquent level, it was a, rather delicate, fifteen hour operation that involved periods where Annabella had to be fully awake and chatting to the surgeon as they were sliding the metal shaft carefully out to make sure that the mechanics of it didn’t destroy more brain tissue than it already had.
Then there came the recovery. Annabella’s cool with it all actually. She’d always believed in insurance and so had got herself a really good health care policy that paid for the best treatment and rehabilitation money could buy. Plus, I sent her a super-nice card that said ‘Get Well Soon’ on the front in a pretty nice font. The flowers (on the card) were really nice too. Cost me a couple of quid that card did so I hope she appreciated it.
I hope she gets well soon. I’m missing her cooking. Beans on toast is fine but it loses its xxx after a while. Similarly jacket potatoes, no matter how much butter you put on them.
Right, got to go now, there’s a really good documentary on BBC Two that starts … now actua
Daphne doesn’t dance. She never danced when she was little, nor as a teenager, a young woman, an older woman and she’ll never dance now that she’s full of rheumatics. There’s a certain style to Daphne, but it’s nothing to do with the way that she moves, it’s more about how she holds herself still when all else rushes around her. Or so it seems to her. She thinks of herself as the sun. Or the Queen of Sheba. Or, on her darker days, a little old lady sat on a chair in a care home.
It’s not a particularly comfy chair, but it suits Daphne’s nature. She’s never been a particularly comfortable person. Not within herself, nor to be around. The other residents of the care home tolerate her more than they like her. She’s a bit sharp with them at times. And the rest of the time, she’s ‘bloody rude’, as Ethyl declared one rainy evening when she and Daphne disagreed over whether they should watch Love Boat (Ethyl’s choice) or a boring documentary about some dusty hell-hole or other (not Daphne’s description).
One day, Daphne died. And she went to heaven. When she got to the pearly gates, St. Peter said ‘there’ll be dancing tonight, you up for it?’
Of course, Daphne knew it was a trick question. Quick as a flash she said ‘yes, of course, St Peter. I’d love to go to a dance tonight.’ She knew that if St. Peter invited you to go to a dance before he let you into heaven then you blooming well better put a good face on it and agree. In fact, she’d decided to say yes to anything anyone asked her to do in heaven on the principle that there are lots of good people there and so they wouldn’t steer her wrong.
In fact, it wasn’t a trick question at all. St. Peter was, in all earnest, trying to drum up support for a new initiative he’d launched called How to Dance Well. He’d reasoned that, rather than leave it to the amateurs down on earth to tell people how to get down and get with it, he’d give them the skinny himself, being, as he was, rather a hipster. He’d found that the best way to pass the centuries along was to try new things. You see, like Daphne, he’d never been one to shake his groove thang either.
So, to cut a long story in half, he let Daphne into heaven, assigned an angel to show her where she’d been bunked and then went to his own digs to get himself ready; which is to say that he kitted himself out in something very similar to the outfit he’d once seen John Travolta wear in a film called Saturday Night Fever.
Cometh the night and they were all there standing around the dance floor. Girls on one side and boys on the other, as was once customary on earth and is now expected in heaven by them as what thought they knew what god and all his angels expected of them.
God, typically, wasn’t there. But that’s old news. I’ll tell you about it some other time.
St. Peter was the first to make his move. He’d already had a word with the DJ to get him to play music suitable for the kind of lively tripping of the light fantastic he expected, and he wasn’t disappointed when the strains of something funky began to flow from the speakers. St. Peter jigged forward, the side to side movement of his hips synched nicely to the throbbing beat and fingers pointing first one way then another. He was the very epitome of a dancing queen.
As soon as he reached the very centre of the floor, he came to a stop and did something no-one, least of all Daphne, who was watching from the side of the dance floor in her best glad rags, expected. He sat down on the floor.
‘This,’ he boomed out, his voice raised effortlessly over the music, ‘is how to dance.’
Well, you could have heard a pin drop if the disco beat hadn’t still been pounding out of the speakers.
Luckily, the DJ was a fast thinker and he killed the track immediately. No-one dropped a pin, but Daphne’s jaw did go rather slack until one of the angels standing beside her reached out a finger and pushed her teeth together with an audible clack.
St. Peter was not one to repeat himself, but, for the benefit of those at the back, he did so anyway. ‘This is how to dance when dancing is, as it should be, an expression of your inner being. At heart, we are peace. At our core, we are silence. We express the joy we feel, when we are living our truth, as love. Love, not of movement and sound, but of profound stillness.’ His eyes then turned to Daphne, whose lower jaw instantly began to sag again. ‘Daphne, you have been an shining example of how to dance well. I’m proud of what you’ve achieved in your time on earth. Of course, we’ll have to give you some guidance on how to avoid being rude to people who want to watch the other channel, but we have a seminar every Thursday at eight that’ll cover that off nicely.’
On hearing that, Daphne beamed, the music started up again and they all had a good boogie along to an ABBA medley that seemed to go on all night, and yeah verily a good time was had by all.
Beverly wouldn’t have been nowhere near tempted to head for the butterfly if she’d known what was going to happen. If she’d had any idea, she would have stayed indoors where it was safe rather than slowly opening the patio door so that she could run barefoot towards the shrubbery at the bottom left of the garden. She wouldn’t have waved to the bumblebees as she passed them, smelled the flowers that she trailed her hand through in passing, and wouldn’t have come to the fence on which the most beautiful, butterfly was trembling, and over which the man was watching her.
She didn’t see him at first, intent as she was on the butterfly, but as soon as she did, she knew that he was a stranger and she remembered the words her mother had drilled into her: stranger danger!
‘Hiya, what’s your name? Mine’s Chris,’ said the stranger as soon as he’d seen that she’d noticed him.
‘Ag, no.’ Beverly’s eyes had become panic-wide and the word danger was blaring so loud inside her mind that it left no room for anything other than monosyllables to make it to her mouth.
The man could see whites all around her blue irises. A pretty effect, he mentally noted, but she’s a fawn about to run. Slow her down. Gain her trust. Say something funny. He smiled and opened his mouth to speak but before he could do so, he heard a voice behind him.
‘Chris, what’re you doing up there? Come in the house and help me move these boxes upstairs.’
‘Hey, sweetie. He pushed himself away from the fence and, still holding on with both hands, turned. ‘I’m just meeting our neighbours; come say hi.’
The woman smiled and walked towards the fence with an expectant look on her face. She knew, from experience, that moving into a new neighbourhood was tough and so they both tried to get to know the people in the houses around them as quick as possible.
Chris let of the fence with one hand and held it out to his wife, who took it and jumped lightly up to join him on the bench he was stood on. They both then peered over the fence that let on to the neighbour’s garden.
But, in the few seconds that had elapsed, the woman in the cornflower-blue dress was gone and the only things they could see moving were a butterfly heading for the azaleas and the curtain behind the closed patio door swaying as if a breeze were playing across it inside their neighbour’s house.
Behind that curtain, sat Beverly, head down, rigid with fright. Her play date with the butterfly was over. She squeezed her eyes shut, but not in time to stop a single tear from escaping and plopping onto her cornflower-blue dress.