Category Archives: Humour

That’s Yer Actual Welsh

In which The Author has one foot in the past and one foot in the future

The strange unexplained phenomena related to the reappearance of Dodge This have continued apace this week.
I was in Aberdare Library earlier, up to my ears in a recent Welsh dictionary, New Hart’s Rules, and previously unexplored regions of HTML, when an old friend appeared.
To begin at the beginning …

On Tuesday night, I bravely/foolishly/insanely (delete as applicable) volunteered to create and manage a blog for our local Plaid Cymru branch. Everyone else in the group knows I’ve got a couple of blogs already, and that when it comes to Magic, I’m the go-to guy. I mentioned a few things we could do once it was online, and got the go-ahead.
I made a start yesterday by setting up a dedicated email account and registering a subdomain of WordPress. Next, I painstakingly copied out all the text from our 9 Step Plan (not to be confused with the 12 Step Plan), and was wondering what to do next. I knew we had to have the Welsh and English text, of course, but I didn’t know how to set up two parallel columns.
I spent some time browsing the themes, but didn’t find anything that would fit the bill. I went to the support forums, explained what I was trying to do, and asked if there was a template which I could adapt for our purposes.
I wasn’t especially surprised when the answer was ‘no’. The best alternative was to set up two subdomains – one for English and one for Welsh – and link them together on the main menu. That was about as far as I got yesterday, and I remarked upon the fact on Facebook.
My very good friend John J. (who knows vastly more about HTML than I ever will) saw my status and sent me a handy list of codes for the extended character set. I’ve dabbled in Unicode, of course, but I’ve never explored the extra bits of HTML. I was running short of time, so I just set up one draft page for the time being and left it to cook overnight.
This morning, I dived back in and had a look at the work in progress. Cerith Griffiths, our candidate for the Welsh Assembly elections in May, had sent me some photos overnight. They needed a bit of tweaking, but after a little while I was happy that they’d be suitable to put on the site as a header and a Gravatar. I made a nice little watermark, used GIMP to add it to the pictures, and then went back to the dashboard.
By midday I was deeply immersed in the HTML editor, stretching my fairly rudimentary grasp of web design to its absolute limits, and had at least three windows open in GIMP so that I could manipulate the photos. I was also monitoring my email account in Firefox, and trying to follow an almost-helpful online guide to laying out text online in another tab.
Pace Alice, who was famously asked to believe six impossible things before breakfast: I was deeply immersed in the HTML editor, stretching my fairly rudimentary grasp of web design to its absolute limits, and had at least three windows open in GIMP so that I could manipulate the photos. I was also monitoring my email account, and trying to follow an almost-helpful online guide to laying out text online.
People still ask me why I don’t use the computers in the library for this sort of thing.
I’m not a Welsh speaker, which made the whole job even harder than usual. It turns out that WordPress allows users to have the interface yng Nghymraeg, which sounded like the perfect idea for our users. Add a quick link between the subdomains, and Robert is your father’s brother.
It wasn’t that straightforward, of course.
While I was playing in the settings menu, I discovered that WordPress allows you to post in a couple of hundred different languages, with scripts and everything to make it a truly global affair.I selected Welsh as the language for the interface. The page updated, and I had a flashback to about 2006, when Microsoft announced a Welsh language add-on for Windows. I decided that it sounded like a worthwhile feature for Word, so I installed it without a second thought.
Have you ever tried to do a System Restore in a language you don’t understand?
I have.
It turned out that Microsoft’s add-on didn’t just enable the software to access Welsh characters and vocabulary – it turned the entire computer into a presenter on S4C.
Anyway, I was making decent progress, and was still up to my ears in code when a familiar shadow fell across my desk. Imagine my surprise when Rowland D., former Aberdare Leader editor, Plaid Cymru stalwart, and long-time drinking companion of mine rocked up out of nowhere.
I’d emailed Rowland about half an hour earlier, along with the other members of the local branch, to ask them for their bilingual contributions to the Home/Cartref pages. I had no idea that he was in town today, and looking for someone to raise an elbow with.
‘I was just thinking the very same thing!’
I saved my work and we legged it to Thereisnospoon.
Rowland headed back to Cardiff about two hours ago. In the intervening couple of hours we had a good chat about Plaid Cymru, the election in general, the election campaigns (ours in Cynon Valley, his in Cardiff South & Penarth), and – of course – gossip about the good old days of journalism.
I showed him the latest edition of Hart’s Rules, which (along with Fowler) made up the bible for journalists and editors back in the day. Rowland got out of print journalism in the late 1980s, just as the new technology was coming on stream. He never had to experience the joys of Unicode, HTML, XML, and all the other fun aspects which I’ve been coming to terms with over the past eighteen months or so.
But we did both come to journalism in an age when catchphrases and euphemisms (mainly, but not exclusively, drawn from Private Eye) were common currency. I didn’t pursue a career in the profession myself, of course, but I love to read accounts of heroic drinking and scandal in the great days of Fleet Street.
[A digression: When Rowland first came onto Facebook, I had the perfect profile picture for him. My very good friend and fellow proofreader Rob H. has been collecting Private Eye since before I met him. I knew he could provide me with the material I needed. Sure enough, a few days later he sent me this little gem, which used to head the Eye‘s ‘Street of Shame’ column in the late 1980s.
Rowland was highly amused by it, and used it as his profile picture for a while. It was only when a few of his old Celtic Press colleagues remarked on its appropriateness that he changed it back.]
Anyway, it would be a shame to let some of these old saws get rusty through disuse. I’m doing my best to keep them sharp and active, in the face of remarkable resistance.
I’ve lost track of the times I’ve used the phrase ‘I made my excuses and left’ in this very blog. The last time I said it out loud, I introduced it with the words, ‘As we used to say when I was writing for the Sunday People back in the 1950s …’ It fell on deaf ears. The girl I was talking to is probably in her early twenties. I doubt if she’s ever read a newspaper in her life, let alone one of Britain’s most notorious scandal sheets. Come to think of it, in another decade from now it’ll be possible to meet people who’ve never seen a printed copy of the Independent, never mind the News of the World.
[A digression: Tony A., the biggest piss-artist I know who’s still capable of moving under his own steam, asked me a few months ago whether you could buy the Sunday Pictorial. It was probably a good thing he asked me, really. Nobody else in the pub would have had a fucking clue what he was talking about.]
Another good phrase from the Private Eye days is ‘tired and emotional’. I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been tired and emotional on occasions. I thought it was pretty much synonymous with pissed, personally.
 Rowland told me that he’d described himself thus to a friend in Cardiff one night.
‘I’d never describe you as “emotional”,’ she replied.
See, totally lost on young people.
The first time I ever spoke to my friend Florence, another old comedy line came to mind. That evening, I put a status on Facebook saying that I’d been ‘discussing Ugandan affairs’ on the train to Cardiff. It went over most people’s heads. Florence was born in Uganda. Ross D. caught on, luckily; otherwise, it would be as unfunny as most of the stuff on BBC 4Extra’s ‘Comedy’ Club.
That’s why it’s good to collect comedy catchphrases, slogans, one-liners, throwaway gags, and other silly asides. You can chuck them into a conversation with people who think Little Britain is the funniest thing ever broadcast in the UK, and reduce them to hysterics.
I don’t know how many times Vicki F. and I raided the archives of The Goon Show, The News Huddlines, Monty Python and The Two Ronnies for material when we were first writing Dodge This. We wrote an entire episode in Spanish, with Polari and English subtitles, just to honour the wonderful comedy creations Julian and Sandy from Round the Horne. I’m pretty sure we ripped off some lines from Victor Borge, Vivian Stanshall, Rowan Atkinson, Douglas Adams, and a host of other great writers as well.
In 2009, I was in a Creative Writing workshop with some fellow English students. Apart from the lecturer, I was the oldest person in the room. We were looking at a poem by a young woman who’d grown up in the Middle East when her parents were working out there. She recounted a strange episode from her early teens. She’d sort-of overheard a conversation between her father and an Arab merchant who’d come to their village. She didn’t understand what was going on, but she heard the words ‘camel’, ‘car’, ‘yacht’, and so forth.
It was only when she was older that she realised that the guy was trying to buy her to be one of his wives.
We all sat back, fairly shocked by this. I decided that Barry Took and Marty Feldman, writing in 1966, would save the day.
‘Here’s a useful tip,’ I said to the class. ‘Never try bartering in camels. People have never got the right money, so you have to have your change in goats …’
When was the last time you heard anything that brilliant on the BBC, eh?

Bad Moon Rising

In which The Author feels something strange coming on

This afternoon, Aberdare Library closed early.
I can only assume that it was to allow their staff to attend a meeting of Rhondda Cynon Taf CBC, during which the financial cutbacks for the next financial year will be announced. Having lost over half the libraries in the county during the first wave of austerity measures, we’re wondering whether there’ll be anything left by Xmas. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again – at this rate I’ll have more books on my shelves than they have.
Anyway, when I was briefly online I sent Rhian a message to see whether she was free. She’s been reading Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant novels, and is long overdue to start on Foxglove Summer. I’d put it in my bag before leaving the house, as I had a strange feeling I’d bump into her if I’d left it at home.
We ended up going for a pint in Thereisnospoon. We passed the Lighthouse on the way through town, but there was no sign of life. (I found out afterwards that they’re having a new floor fitted, and the bar was open in the Steakhouse. Never mind.) I hadn’t told Rhian about my fishing expedition in Thereisnospoon last Friday, but as neither of us wanted food we figured we might as well call in for just the one.
Rhian finally got around to giving me my Xmas presents (one from her, one from Steff) while we were in the library. She’d bought me a mug with a Dalek sound effect. As my cousin Mary and her husband Les taught me in the summer of 1985, you can never have too many mugs. The more mugs one has in the kitchen, the less often one needs to wash up. Bloody ex-students!
Steff had bought me a book of crosswords with a literary theme. I tried not to laugh too hard when I saw it. I made the mistake of buying a book of crosswords with a literary them by Araucaria (the late Rev. John Graham) a few years ago. I think I’ve yet to finish a single one. These seemed (at first glance, anyway) to be a bit more accessible.
Rhian finished her pint and then had to run off. I chatted to Simon C. for a while, and went to do a bit of shopping. By the time I left B&M I was freezing. I dived into the Glosters for another pint and bought my weekly draw ticket for Llwydcoed AFC while I was in there. Twelve grand isn’t to be sniffed at, after all.
I didn’t feel like going home straight away, so I sauntered back to the Lighthouse and found the usual crowd upstairs. I bought a pint and sat down to look at the crosswords. That’s where the fun started.
Angela R. emailed me late last week, having found something amusing online about tumbleweed making a nuisance of itself in Australia. I’d heard the same story on Radio 4, and it had inspired me to revisit our long-running (and much missed) Wild West story Dodge This.
I think Vicki F. and I are the only people to have the full text version of the saga, which ran on Aberdare Online and our own forum before finally running out of steam about four years later. We’ve been trying to edit it into a definitive ‘Director’s Cut’ (you should hear what Vicki calls it!) so that we can distribute it around our friends. It’ll never be printed, or even made into an e-book, but it would be nice to finally produce a version free of (most) typos and continuity errors.
Angela had found something else online which reminded us of the good old days. I replied, saying that I was sorely tempted to try and kick-start Dodge This again. (I did try about a year ago, but nobody picked up the baton.) However, we hadn’t taken account of the calendar last time.
It’s a full moon – and that always spells fun in the weird and wacky parallel world of Dodge This, whether we like it or not. I should have seen the warning signs when Gema put a status on Facebook, wondering what to do today. Considering that nine times out of ten the answer is ‘Pub’, I was very surprised not to find her in the Steakhouse when I walked in. Maybe she’d been and gone. I didn’t ask.
I had a quick look at the crosswords. They’re a mixture of cryptic clues, themed clues, vaguely related clues, and some which can only be solved with the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, a decent edition of Shakespeare, and a comprehensive library of poetry to hand.
I’d already put a fairly dismissive status on Twitter about poetry, so I should have known better, really. I was in Aberdare Library about a fortnight ago when I had the misfortune to attend a poetry reading. I didn’t attend voluntarily – it’s just that the guest speaker was so loud, and the ‘meeting room’ is so poorly soundproofed, that nobody in the reference department really had a choice in the matter.
I remarked about the situation on Twitter, and the bots duly went to work on my status. Since then I’ve been deluged with suggestions of poets, small presses, and similar events all over the country. I updated my status with a sly dig at the beauty of artificial intelligence thus far, and got a few more ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ as a result. There must be a better way to filter people’s interests, surely.
Anyway, I worked my way through the first dozen puzzles or so, not actually completing any of them, but making decent enough headway for the time being. As I was filling in my answers I had a strange feeling that Angela and I had once again tapped into the rich vein of ‘mere coincidence’ that had underpinned Dodge This pretty much from the outset.
I went back to the start of the book and circled some of the answers in red, just to prove they were there. I know I’m probably guilty of confirmation bias, but even so, the juxtaposition of some of these words and phrases in such a short space of time is still fairly bizarre:
  • Off the rails (Season 10 of Dodge This was called ‘The Iron Horse’)
  • Lodge (the Freemasons played an important part in the early days)
  • Classroom (Vicki’s sister Julie wrote in her own character, extremely loosely based on her experiences as a teacher in London)
  • Narrator
  • Franklin (one of the Equalisers, who came and went throughout the story)
  • Intruder
  • Card-sharp (these two appeared in the same puzzle)
  • West
  • Polish (I wrote an episode based around the Polish settlers in the town)
  • Lawman
  • Tyler (one of our semi-regular characters)
  • Murder
  • Saloon
At this point I decided to put the book away.
I looked up and saw Karen at the bar. We haven’t spoken for ages, because we had a big falling-out a couple of years ago. Even before that happened, she was already the inspiration for the attractive, deluded and mentally unstable God-botherer Theresa of the Sierra Madhouse.
I made my excuses and left, and decided to return to Thereisnospoon to write this entry. On the way I saw a stunning moon riding high above the town. There hasn’t been a cloud in the sky all day, and suddenly all the pieces fell into place. In spite of the results of a meta-study a few years ago, my friends in the NHS and the police will vouch for the spike in arrests and hospital admissions that always accompanies a full moon. It was bloody obvious that we were due for a surreal day, in retrospect. (There was hardly a Cloud in Thereisnospoon either. This might work and it might not. I’ve typed it out in case, and will post it when I get online.)
The weirdness continued when I was at the bar. I’d only just ordered my drink when a random guy walked up to me.
‘You probably don’t remember me,’ he said. ‘I was in the library two or three years ago, and you helped me out on the computer.’
I had to take his word for it, because (let’s be honest) that description could have applied to half of Aberdare at some time or another.
‘Anyway,’ he continued, ‘I promised to buy you a pint – so here it is.’
He gave the barbint some money and wandered off again.
I’ve no idea who he is, or where he went when he left the bar. But I’ve got a pint in front of me which I didn’t have to pay for.