Satirical verse: Supplication of a Pole in Brexit Britain

I have now started writing political satire (in verse) inspired by Brexit. To those reading this outside Britain, this country has voted (albeit narrowly) in favour of leaving the European Union. This has provoked much controversy and created deep divisions between the supporters and opponents of Britain’s membership of the Union. I believe that one of the reasons behind the vote to leave was the desire to curb immigration. Since I hail from Poland, and am thus one of those immigrants whom many (though, of course, not all) Brits seem to dislike, I am getting my own back by satirising Brexit in verse. Enjoy!

 

With this country set for Brexit,

Please don’t show me to the exit

‘Cos, some misdeeds* notwithstanding,

I could pass for quite upstanding

(Although not when in repose

After vodka overdose,

But I know that it is sinful

Having what they call a skinful):

I will not condone a fiddle

And sit roughly in the middle

On the scale from saints to sinners;

I eat carrots with my dinners,

Take crushed garlic, go for walkies,

Have foresworn soft-centre choccies,

And I’m also (fancy this!)

Upping my Omega 3s**.

I did pay my taxes – once***

And have grabbed at every chance

To perform a kindly deed

When I spied a soul in need;

Have you ever even tried

To become a helpful guide

To a dear old lady who

Looked confused and lost to you?

I’d be in there like a shot,

Never mind how hard she fought …

But there are (I’m shy, don’t clap)

More fine feathers in my cap:

I have never been a chancer,

Smuggler, banker, spy, pole dancer

(Although I’m a dancing Pole),

I have tended to my soul

And renounced the deadly sins****,

And I’ve used recycle bins,

Plus, I never did striptease …

Can I stay then? Pretty please!

 

* We shall not dwell on those, though

**The lovely natives routinely place the apostrophe before the ‘s’, where it’s redundant because ‘3s’ is a regular plural; we may be aliens, but we have studied English grammar – in depth

***Or twice

****Well, at least three of them

 

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Comic verse: Sales and philosophy

As notorious as our gales

Are the January sales,

Where you always – yes you do –

Find a bargain, if not two.

When an urge within you surge,

Your account you swiftly purge

(It’s now down to but a dime)

And have jolly, jolly time

Buying all that lovely stuff

Until husband says, “Enough!”

Then you wait, all tense and pale,

Till the February sale,

When you go, with joy and glee,

On another spending spree.

It’s now March – the sale is on,

Blimey, how the time has gone.

Then it’s April, May and June;

All those sales – oh, what a boon!

(Don’t you love the current trend

With the sales that never end?)

When your hubby grabs your purse,

You protest: “It could be worse:

If you think about it, honey,

I am saving lots of money!”

At which point, you hear a groan

And see hubby lying prone;

This prevents a likely scrape,

And you make your bold escape

With a ponder that goes thus:

Why can’t men be more like us?

Here’s to a stress-free Christmas!

It’s been a while, but I’m sure you’ve been so busy you’ve barely noticed. Anyway, I’m back but will be changing course: I’m working on a book of humorous verses, some of which will be posted here from time to time. This one, which comes with warm season’s greetings, is about my stress-free Christmas – hope yours is too.

 

She’s a secret that is murky:

She has never stuffed a turkey;

Christmas pudding and mince pies?

That’s the stuff she simply buys.

She looks forward with great glee

To a Christmas that’s stress-free,

Which, of this there is no doubt,

Means, quite frankly, eating out;

This is why she is so merry

(Though her hubby blames the sherry),

Knowing they will have a ball;

Merry Christmas, one and all!

 

93 – Mini-rant: Dead survivors?

Having been greatly distracted by two momentous events, Brexit and the American election, I’ve been very remiss with this blog. And, let’s face it, language misdemeanours, however diverting, pale into insignificance with what’s going on in the world. But having stumbled across this snippet, widely broadcast by the British media, I’m unable to resist a mini-rant. The revelation came courtesy of an eminent foreign correspondent, who commented on a catastrophic plane crash thus.

There is little hope of finding survivors alive.

Although overcome with an overwhelming sadness, I nevertheless wondered whether there might be some dead survivors – an obvious (to me, at least) interpretation of this tautological statement. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, tautology – saying the same thing twice in different words – is a stylistic fault which is quite common, but the venerable BBC and its reporters might be expected to be above such lapses. What the correspondent should have said is, of course, this.

 There is little hope of finding anybody alive.

Or this.

 There is little hope of finding any survivors.

92 – Frolic: The Trump revelation

“Holy moly!”

“Hmmm?” “How on earth did he manage to keep that quiet?”

“Who?”

“Trump.”

“Donald?”

“The very same.”

“Keep what quiet?”

“That he had transitioned.”

“No, he hasn’t – not yet.”

“But he must have.”

“And how exactly do you work this one out?”

“Well, that’s what it says here – in this week’s Sunday Times.”

“Don’t go believing everything you read in the press. Even if it’s The Sunday Times: the stuff they ha …”

“But he is a man!”

“Of course he is a man.”

“So he must have transitioned!”

“Look, he is only a Republican nominee for now: the presidential election isn’t until November, so …”

“No, no, no!”

“Yes, yes, yes: Americans will be electing their president on November 8th; it’s a Tuesday, I believe.”

“No, no, not that!”

“So what?”

“I had no idea he was born a girl, no idea at all – fancy that!”

“A girl? Of course he wasn’t born a girl; don’t be silly!”

“But that’s what Ivanka Trump said – his daughter.”

“What?”

As a young girl growing up, my father told me I could do anything that I set my mind to.

“Oh this! It’s just her grammar.”

“What do you mean?”

“Look, it’s a very common error.”

“It is?”

“Yep; I call this ‘marketing as’.”

Marketing as?”

“Yep, they are always coming up with stuff like: ‘As one of our best customers, we are pleased to offer you this exclusive deal’; I keep getting marketing literature strewn with such nonsense – so does everybody else.”

“O-o-o, so it was her.”

“Of course it was her; look; what she should have said is this.”

 

As a young girl growing up, I was told by my father I could do anything that I set my mind to.

 

“M-m-m, she would … I mean he would have been too young to father a child anyway.”

“Look, it’s just a misrelated phrase – just like a dangling participle.”

“A dangling participle – what’s that?”

“Another time.”

 

 

88 – Some little light relief with spelling (From my satirical book: Who’s Put Rat into Bureaucrat?)

This is also from my political – and linguistic – satire, Who’s Put Rat into Bureaucrat?

 

Chapter 14

ET

It had been a hectic time since our ill-fated team-building event, with all the SPs busily working on their priority deliverables. Having got over my concussion, I immersed myself in FART’s policies, procedures, standards, visions, priorities, tenets, agendas, regulations, principles, doctrines, prescriptions, proscriptions, instructions, rules, precepts, commands, conventions, codes, protocols, directives, decrees, orders, schedules, exclusions, guidelines, recommendations, suggestions and advice. Oh, and process maps and process flow charts, of course. Among all this spiritual nourishment were also the writings of my more established colleagues.

Imagine the extent of my discombobulation when I discovered that I couldn’t rely on my powers of comprehension as reliably as I had – undoubtedly naively – assumed I would. My perplexity desperately needed an outlet, but there was only Crystal around, for our Cluster was having another action-packed day: Greg was attending a meeting of the Current Government Thinking Committee, Morag was attending a meeting of the Shared Vision Committee, Duncan was attending a meeting of the Common Purpose Committee, Ant was attending a meeting of the Information Technology Advisory Forum, Violet was attending a meeting of the Inter-Divisional Liaison Group and Trace was attending a meeting of the House, Lift and Stairwell Committee.

By now, I had been through my own baptism of committee fire, having attended my very first meeting of the Big CORPSE. Before the meeting, Morag had e-mailed us the agenda accompanied by the following message: “Blackberries will be needed”.

“Won’t the hotel supply them? That’s what usually happens.”

“Too expensive, Ali.”

“You mean because they are out of season?”

“Uh? Rewind.”

“Well, blackberries usually ripen in September.”

By now, Crystal, who had been giggling fairly quietly, was laughing so hard she could barely draw breath for all the gasps. “She … ha, ha, ha … she means … our … ha, ha, ha … smartphones … ha, ha, ha.”

“O-o-o-o.”

“‘Course I’m meaning our smartphones – what else did you think I was meaning?”

“But that’s not how you spell BlackBerrys.”

“‘Course it is, Ali.”

“No, no: you use ‘y’ – not ‘i’. Cross my heart and hope to die.”

“Look, Ali, I know for a fact – for a fact – that you write ‘two ladies, three baddies, four ditties’, eksetera, eksetera, eksetera – with an ‘i’. The ET have told us that you have to change ‘y’ to ‘i’.”

“Absolutely, Morag, but proper nouns are an exception.”

“No offence, Ali, but all our words are proper, aren’t they, Greg?”

“Indeed they are, indeed they are. You might have some improper ones in Polish, Ali, but, in English, everything is proper.”

“No, no, no, proper nouns are names of people, places, organisations, gadgets, things like that – it’s a grammatical term.”

“Not your grammar again – go and get a life!”

“But Morag’s rule does not apply to names, Greg. For example, if you had more than one person called Kerry or Perry, you’d write Kerrys and Perrys – with a ‘y’ – not Kerries and Perries – with an ‘i’. Where you do have to use ‘i’ is with plural forms of common nouns.”

Greg and Morag exchanged their usual look, to which I have, by now, become quite accustomed, and Greg terminated the exchange with a stern, “Basically, we don’t do common, you know what I’m saying.”

87 – Grammar shot: Faulty Coordination (From my satirical book: Who’s Put Rat into Bureaucrat?)

Here comes another grammatical sketch from my political satire, Who’s Put Rat into Bureaucrat?

Chapter 10           SOD

“Ha, ha, ha, read this.”

“Which one, Crystal?”

“The last one.”

The e-mail, from Greg, went like this, “Trace phoned earlier today. Her granddad died and won’t be in the office today.”

We were both duly seized by an attack of giggles – slightly unseemly, given the circumstances. Seeing as Greg was in another meeting – possibly Information Technology Implementation Committee or the Marketing and Market Penetration Issues Focus Group – I spotted an opportunity for another little grammatical session with Violet.

“Violet, why don’t you sit next to me for a bit?”

The girl nodded, came over and parked herself in Greg’s chair.

“Have you seen Greg’s e-mail about Trace’s granddad? May he rest in peace.”

“I have; poor Trace.”

“Yes, it’s awfully sad. But have you noticed that Greg actually attempted to resurrect him?”

“He did?”

“He did: he should have written that she wouldn’t be in the office, of course. I call this type of error faulty coordination.”

“What’s coordination?”

“When we link words, phrases and clauses with the coordinating conjunctions and, or or but, for example: ‘We must and will persevere’, ‘Sink or swim’, ‘We are bloodied but unbowed’ – constructions like this.”

“So coordination is not hard?”

“Of course it isn’t – we use it all the time. But as soon as you put a label on it, people panic and think, ‘It’s grammar – I don’t do grammar’. But the point is that we ‘do’ grammar every time we say or write something.”

“Do we?”

“Absolutely. Because grammar is simply about how we arrange words in phrases, clauses and sentences.”

“Is that all?”

“That is all. But there are lots and lots of principles organising language, and we all need to be aware of them. Coordination is one example – it sounds innocuous but can be a minefield.”

“It can?”

“Well, take Greg’s e-mail for a start. Coordination does trip people up all over the place. And, when it goes wrong, it can be quite funny.”

“Do you remember any examples?”

“Lots; many are blunders made by educated adults. Take this: ‘She made friends at school, but never a boyfriend’ – what’s gone wrong there?”

“Hmm, she can’t have made a boyfriend – can she?”

“Of course not. So?”

“But never had a boyfriend?”

“Absolutely! Or this: ‘Thirty years ago, students received full grants and no tuition fees.’”

“Why would students receive tuition fees?”

“Spot on – so?”

“And didn’t have to pay tuition fees?”

“Absolutely. Sometimes, faulty coordination can be genuinely misleading. I’ve just found this in my local newspaper: ‘A wheelie bin was found to be on fire in a passageway and was quickly put out.’”

“The bin?”

“No, the fire. So?”

“And the fire was quickly put out?”

“Absolutely. And that funny notice in our kitchenette: ‘After the tea break, staff should empty the teapot and stand upside down on the draining board’ – it’s a classic. There’s lots of mangled coordination in FART’s bumf as well.”

“Really?”

“Absolutely; listen to this: ‘Students should identify, solve and apply solutions to problems’ – what’s wrong here?”

“You don’t solve solutions?”

“Absolutely. So?”

“Students should identify and solve problems?”

“Spot on. And this: ‘Students should gather, evaluate and present information in the form of a plan’ – what’s gone wrong here?”

“The plan is only about presenting information.”

“Exactly. So?”

“Students should gather and evaluate information and present it in the form of a plan?”

“Absolutely! But there is also pseudo-coordination.”

“Pseudo-coordination?”

“Yes, when people say ‘Try and do’ when they mean ‘Try to do’.”

“That’s what Morag always says,” whispered Violet.

“How about we try and do some work, girls,” said Morag, who had stopped tapping away and was peering at Violet and me over the top of her computer.

 

84 – Frolic: Fused Participles (FROM my book: Don’t Dangle the Investigators! Parodies and Participles)

I have decided that, before I can proceed with further books on grammar, I need to refine what I have already written. Having thus shortened Hilarity with Misrelated Participles, I have re-published it as Don’t Dangle the Investigators! Parodies and Participles. Below is a short extract from the book, in which my Polish granny and I go shopping and, most unexpectedly, find ourselves discussing fused participles.

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Granny and I left the gallery and headed for the mackerel. Unfortunately, our way was blocked by three highway-maintenance vehicles, a mechanical digger and a large sign proclaiming Men at Work.

“Those British men, they aren’t terribly modest, child, are they?”

“Why not, granny?”

“Well, our men just go to work and that’s it. But, here, they put up signs.”

“No, no, granny, it’s simply a warning.”

“Do you have to warn people that your men are at work? Is this a rare occurrence?”

“No, no: it’s only when they dig up the road.” Indeed, when we got closer to the sign we could see a large hole in the road, with exposed pipes jutting out from both sides. One highway-maintenance man was peering intently into the hole, another highway-maintenance man was shouting into his mobile phone, two highway-maintenance men, their backs to the hole, their arms akimbo, were ogling the passing females and wolf-whistling at the younger ones, yet another highway-maintenance man was leaning on a shovel and puffing on a fag, and the sixth highway-maintenance man was sitting in the cab of his vehicle reading a newspaper. Well, reading might be stretching it somewhat, for my sneaky peek revealed that the gazette was full of photographs of scantily clad lovelies and appeared to feature very little print, but, one way or the other, he seemed totally engrossed in it.

“Where are they?”

“Who, granny?”

“Those men at work.”

“Here.”

Where?”

“Here, here, these six here.”

“But they are not working.”

“Maybe they are on a break.”

“But it’s not long since lunchtime.”

“It’s probably an early-afternoon break, granny. I imagine they will then have a mid-afternoon break and a late-afternoon break. Unless, of course, they’ve gone home by then.”

“Do they need six men to dig one hole? When they have a digger.”

“A-a-a-a, they might not need six men, but at least they have created employment for six men.”

Having pondered this rationale for a while, granny followed me to the supermarket.

“Where the hell is everything?” Having purchased smoked mackerel at the fish counter, we made for the sauerkraut, but it wasn’t where it was supposed to be. “Blast, they’ve moved everything around again.” We walked up and down several aisles in pursuit of the elusive sauerkraut. “Here it is! We can make you some bigos now; it will remind you of Poland. They call it a hunter’s stew over here.” I grabbed the jar, and we made for the checkout.

“I hope you don’t mind my asking, but where did you find this sauerkraut?” enquired a deep manly voice behind me. I nearly tripped: he said my! I quickly turned round, and, for a brief moment, our gaze became locked. “Of course I don’t mind your asking,” I said with a broadest smile I could muster. “It’s down the next aisle – on the left. By the pickles.” He smiled, nodded his acknowledgement and kept looking at me. It was clear that, in that fleeting moment, there was created a bond of common understanding between us: he knew that I knew. And I knew that he knew that I knew. And he knew that I knew that he knew … anyway, I’m sure you get my drift. Then, granny tugged at my sleeve and hissed, “Stop staring at him like this; you are a married woman.” The spell was broken, the stranger turned away and proceeded in the direction of the pickles, and we made for the checkout.

“Why were you gawping at him?”

“I wasn’t gawping!”

“Yes, you were. You looked as if you’d seen a unicorn.”

“Did I really? Well, he did say my, granny.”

“What was he supposed to have said?”

“You see, many people would have said me: do you mind me asking. But he said my. And I said your – to let him know that I also knew.”

“Is it such a big deal, child?”

“Well, not if you are a well-rounded human being, granny, it isn’t. But you know that I’m mad about grammar, don’t you?”

“If you ask me, it’s the most superior form of madness, child.”

“Thank you, granny. People have been saying things like ‘I hate them misbehaving’, ‘she feared him leaving’ or ‘there is no chance of us winning’ for yonks, of course.”

“Of course, child.”

“A-a-a-a, but that’s just it, granny.”

“That’s just what?”

“Well, the participial constructions such as these make much more sense when their personal pronouns are in the genitive case.”

“What’s the genitive case?”

“A type of possessive.”

“As in their, his and our, child?”

“Absolutely, granny. After all, I’m not trying to say that I hate them, am I?”

“Well, you might be. If they’ve been beastly to you, for example.”

“No, no: I didn’t hate the perpetrators themselves – I hated their misdemeanour.”

“That’s more like you, child.”

“Thank you, granny. So you just say ‘I hate their misbehaving’, and you can rest assured that you won’t be scarring them psychologically for the rest of their natural.”

What?”

What what?”

“Natural what?”

“Life. By the same token, she did not fear him himself, did she?”

“You never know, child: he might have been violent. Or offered to help with the ironing.”

“No, no: she feared his leaving. Changing the case of the personal pronoun from objective to genitive – or possessive – transforms the participle from purely verbal into a hybrid.”

“A hybrid? You mean like a Labradoodle?”

“Great analogy, granny. A hybrid participle has some features of a verb and some of a noun. Hybrid participles are sometimes called gerunds. Whichever label you use, they denote the thing you hate – or the thing she feared.”

“Nimble things, these participles: metamorphosing from verbs into nouns just like that.”

“They certainly are, granny. By contrast, the purely verbal participles in constructions such as ‘them misbehaving’, ‘him leaving’ and ‘us winning’ have been dubbed ‘fused’.”

“By whom?”

“The Fowler brothers. Over a hundred years ago, they heaped condemnation on such usage.”

“Did it work?”

“No, granny; condemnation rarely does; you need far subtler tactics. Anyway, fused participles continue to be widely used. But the thing is that, these days, pretty much all of those who are clued up about grammar agree that, in similar contexts, the genitive case of personal pronouns is vastly preferable to their objective case. Actually, in formal communication the possessive has become the norm. It’s like a litmus test.”

“A litmus test?”

“Yep. You know instantly that people who say ‘I hope you don’t mind my asking’ know their onions – you just know.”

“Onions are every bit as good for the brain as the mackerel.”

“No, no, granny: it’s just a saying – I meant grammar.”

“Indeed, indeed: a well-nourished body will allow one’s mind to fire on all cylinders, and grammar certainly requires all of one’s cylinders to be in tip-top condition; you know what they say.”

“What do they say, granny?”

Mens sana in corpore sano.”

“Absolutely, granny, but even copious quantities of onions and mackerel won’t do the trick if grammar is off the menu.”

“How could grammar possibly be off the menu, child? It’s the structural basis of communication.”

“I know, granny, I know, but they had it off the menu here for decades – I’ve told you. It’s only now that they seem to be waking up to its importance.”

“Well, onions should certainly help there, child: they improve alertness.”

83 – A Different Frolic: Beyond the Misty Fells

I have been quite busy contributing to, as well as copy editing, typesetting and publishing, a book by Skiddaw Writers, of whom I am one. The book, entitled Beyond the Misty Fells, is a kaleidoscope of travels and personal journeys; it explores landscapes, adventures, discoveries – and language, the last bit reflecting my own contribution. The paperback is out now (link below); the e-book will be published next week. Below is quoted one of my humorous chapters.

http://www.lulu.com/shop/http://www.lulu.com/shop/skiddaw-writers/beyond-the-misty-fells/paperback/product-22321984.html

An alien’s English odyssey

“I’ll pay for the cruise if it’s the last thing I do!” declared my mother, an ardent Anglophile, rather effusively. The cold war was on, the iron curtain was down, communism was in full swing and the free world was out of reach to us Poles. But she was head over heels in passion with the English language and worshipped a small island hanging off the western edge of Europe and, somewhat confusingly, concealing its greatness behind the white cliffs of Dover. Seeing as we were firmly in the grip of communism’s tentacles and couldn’t wriggle free to travel to the West, my mother hatched a cunning plan: she would send me on a cruise taking in the English Channel so that I would at least be able to catch a glimpse of the famous cliffs, which, to her, symbolised Britain. Granted, I wouldn’t be allowed to disembark, but my simply feasting on the sight of the island so revered by her would, she decided, be enough.

Although I never did go on that cruise, I nevertheless studiously devoured English and its grammar and, like my mother, fell hopelessly in love with the language, which would become the great passion of my life that would eventually lead me to Britain – and to this book.

Getting to this juncture had been a long, circuitous and bumpy ride, though. The English textbooks of yore, which were a veritable font of knowledge about those faraway islands, depicted a baffling but oh-so-tantalising world inhabited by moustachioed gentlemen invariably called Mr Black or Mr Brown, who always wore bowler-hats and pinstripe suits and carried umbrellas. I remember wondering whether these umbrellas offered adequate protection against the cats and dogs which were apparently always raining down on them. The sugar-coated ladies in frilly pinnies were continually rustling up heavenly delights, and the beaming and well-scrubbed kiddies at their knee were, without exception, referred to as ‘merry and gay’. I couldn’t quite understand why, when I finally made it to Britain in the early Eighties, I’d get filthy looks off blithe young gentlemen, otherwise perfectly agreeable, whenever I complimented them on their exuberance with the entirely fitting – or so I thought – “My, you are so gay!”, but that’s by the by.

But even such wholesome-looking people as those depicted in my English textbooks would evidently get peeved from time to time, and I formed the impression that they would then let off steam by kicking either the bucket or themselves. Oh, and they’d also kick the habit. I wasn’t thus in the least surprised that their dialogue was peppered with the interjections “My foot!”, as foot injury must have been an inevitable consequence of such outbursts. If you discounted those who didn’t have a leg to stand on, that is. And, judging by how often they would spill the beans, they seemed to me rather clumsy. On the other hand, they’d get on their high horse without falling off, so I failed to reach a definite conclusion one way or the other.

I also wondered why they were so fond of expressing themselves cryptically: you see, while they would say “Come through”, they would never explain through what exactly. Or whenever they announced they had fallen over, they kept you guessing as to over what exactly they had fallen. And why did they never give you a straight answer to “How do you do?” Such a perfectly straightforward question, you would think, yet they never actually explained how they did. But that’s not all – far from it.

Apparently, everybody in Britain always talked about the weather. And they had some very interesting national dishes incorporating cool cucumbers, keen mustard and red herring. Why, when they had such delicacies, they’d also eat their hats seemed entirely unfathomable. Then again, they appeared to harbour a strange dislike of the old hat, so maybe that’s why. And, of course, they drove on the wrong side of the road, which – to them – was right, although it was actually left. Another unsolved mystery was why they would stuff their fish into kettles. Confronted by such eccentricities, I felt I had no option but to try to read between the lines. Imagine my relief when I realised that, despite their frequent references to pet hate, they didn’t really hate pets all that much – certainly not the top dog or mother hen. On the other hand, they did chase wild geese and seem strangely reluctant to be sold a pup. And I must admit that their practice of skinning the cat appeared to me thoroughly repugnant, but they made up for that somehow by organising parties for stags and hens.

Their eccentricity notwithstanding, most of them seemed kindly, polite (it was only their health that was rude) and beguiling, so I grew up with the notion of a genial, though decidedly quirky, people who spoke a difficult but fascinating language which was hard to write and even harder to pronounce and where every rule had umpteen exceptions. Little wonder that, to me, Britain was mysterious, intriguing and alluring; it was also tantalisingly out of reach.

But, finally, when your border guards happened to be on a fag break, I managed to sneak into this great country (that your border controls were lax even then is incontrovertible). Imagine my delight when, at long last, I was able to delve deeply into the British psyche. Take the writing on the wall, for example. Since the lovely natives always uttered this phrase in grave tones, I was able to deduce that, like me, they didn’t approve of graffiti. And when you heard that they were always getting a third degree, you couldn’t help but be awed by their putting such great store by higher education. Needless to say, I was deeply touched by their enthusiastic “You can say that again”, with which they were always letting me know that they simply couldn’t get enough of my exotic accent. Charming people! And very, very helpful when it came to giving directions: they were always telling you where to get off. And what amazing generosity: they would even lend you their ear!

Anyway, lady luck had undoubtedly smiled on me, allowing me to put down roots in this wonderful country and to indulge my all-consuming passion for English with utter abandon. After a spell as a teacher of English and broadcaster at the Polish Section of the BBC, I enjoyed many adrenaline-charged years running public examinations, developing different types of qualifications for both English and Scottish authorities, carrying out linguistic research, copy editing and penning articles and books on English grammar, punctuation and usage. The sketches which form my section of this book are representative of my frolicsome style, offering a glimpse into my weird inner world, where humour and grammar blend into a whimsical mix.

82 – A post with a difference: Shafted in the shaft

This is what happened to me on 17th July 2015. While the tone of this post is jocular, I can promise you that I wasn’t laughing when all this was happening.

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Aren’t they a marvellous invention, shopping trolleys? Mine, of sleek design and funky appearance, is rarely parted from me, and I wheel it around exuberantly. So it was to my stripy Rolser that I entrusted some books and other reading matter that day. The stuff was heavy, and I can’t be doing with attaché cases and the like. But one thing a loaded trolley doesn’t like is being dragged up the stairs, so there was only one thing for it – the lift, an invention nearly as marvellous as the trolley itself.

Even though I rarely take lifts, I summoned this one unhesitatingly, stepped in gingerly and pressed the up-button – somewhat nonchalantly. The machine creaked, shook and commenced its upward crawl. As we inched upwards, I marvelled at this ancient piece of engineering and wondered whether it would qualify for a listed status – grade C, maybe? As I was pondering if a lift could actually be listed as an object of special architectural or historic interest, the thing came to a gentle stop. I grabbed my trolley and moved towards the door – only to find that there was no door.

I stood there, startled: where the hell has it gone? I looked around, but all I could see were walls – on all four sides. Good grief! I looked up, and there it was, a sliver of light at the very bottom of the door. But it was way above my head; even on tiptoe, I couldn’t reach it. How? Why? What the …? I looked around my trap: the only thing I could do – apart from screaming, obviously – was to press the buttons. One was the down-button, one was the up-button, one was the panic button and one was the stop button. Well, I certainly didn’t need that one! I pressed the up-button with all the force I could muster – nothing. I frantically pressed the down-button – not a thing.

The next logical thing was to scream at the top of my lungs, at which point it occurred to me that the panic button could also come in handy. Granted, pressing it didn’t offer any practical solution, but both actions produced the desired effect: after a spell of my hollering from the depths of the lift shaft, reinforced with the alarm bell, a female chin appeared high up in the small window positioned at the top of the lift door. The owner of the chin, a female council clerk, for I was in the offices of our borough council, looked down into the lift shaft.

“Have you pressed the button?”

Have I pressed the button!?! Never in the history of button-pressing has there been a more concerted effort expended on pressing the damn thing.

“I have, I have, look!” I yelled and repeated the manoeuvre in a most demonstrative way I was capable of. The clerk nodded and disappeared from view. I could hear footsteps echoing in the free world and then some sort of commotion. Another chin materialised high up. I waved, rather pathetically. The possessor of the chin cheerily waved back and made a helpful enquiry.

“Have you pressed the button?”

Have I … ? “Yes, yes, look!” Reassured that I had, indeed, pressed the button in question, my interlocutor nodded and said, “We’ll get you somebody”.

“Maybe the fire brigade?”

The chin disappeared, and I could hear more noises; one female voice was pondering the practicalities of using a crowbar in similar situations, with others making contributions I couldn’t quite catch, although somebody did mention a ladder. Now was the time to appraise my predicament more coolly, if coolly could be applied to what was in effect an increasingly stuffy cage. I examined my trap again. How far was it to the bottom of the door – five/ six feet, perhaps? So, after they have smashed the door, they would have to lower a ladder to get me out. How many rungs would that be? Now, I have a confession to make: although I have scaled innumerable mountains, I’m no good with ladders and turn to jelly after the first few steps. But, somehow, I didn’t think I would be a reluctant ladder-climber on this particular occasion and began to feel slightly better.

“Are they coming?” I yelled.

A voice from above said, “Some council bloke is.”

“What council bloke?”

“From Workington.”

“From Workington? But it’s miles away – with the parking and that, it may take an hour!”

“No, no, they said 12 minutes.”

“But you can’t get from Workington to Keswick in 12 minutes!”

“No, no, they definitely said 12 minutes. Have you pressed the button?”

“Y-E-E-E-S!!!”

My exasperation with this line of questioning notwithstanding, I felt that, if they’d definitely said 12 minutes, further arguments would be futile. Besides, I wasn’t exactly in a strong bargaining position, although – with hindsight – I could have feigned a faint or something. But people of my moral rectitude don’t pull stunts like that. The only thing at this juncture was to relieve tension by cracking manic jokes, and I believe I started demanding that my rescuers be handsome and making other similarly inappropriate comments. Gallows humour, they call it – I can certainly see what they mean.

After more than half an hour, however, even this strategy began to show cracks.

“May I have the fire brigade, please!”

“He’s coming, he’s coming!”

“The fire brigade?”

“No, they are not allowed to call the fire brigade.”

“Who is not allowed?”

“The council.”

“Whyever not?”

The reply, if there was one, was drowned out by all the noises on the floor above, and my anxiety began to get the better of me.

“Please, please, get me the fire brigade!”

“Not long now, not long now. But we’ve found the manual!”

Now, lady pensioners, of whom I am one, are incontrovertibly a pillar of the community, but the image of them holding the manual with one hand and fiddling with lift electrics – or was it electronics – with the other somehow failed to offer me the reassurance I so desperately needed at that point. Were any of them (apart from the clerk, they were all lady pensioners) into electrics at all? I knew for a fact that one was into bird-watching and another into table-tennis, but I wondered about the others. Wait, wait, one said she was in the Women’s Institute! Didn’t somebody tell me once that the WI is supposed to have made great strides since the days of jam-making and was now into all sorts? But could they have possibly progressed so far? I mean, providing women with educational opportunities is one thing, but actually branching out into engineering …?

“Fire brigade!” I wailed in a voice I barely recognised.

“Won’t be long, won’t be long. But you know what?”

“What, WHAT?”

“Apparently, they serviced the lift last week.”

Heavens above, was our local government in such dire financial straits that they couldn’t stretch to half-decent lift maintenance? If so, we were surely all doomed, this refrain from a well-known British film racing through my mind. But the thought of my own impending doom was far more pressing.

“GET ME THE FIRE BRIGADE!”

“He’ll be here in a minute!!”

An hour into my imprisonment, I heard some loud banging and, for the first time, a male voice. A male voice! Now, I defy anybody who denies men their uses.

“It may be the fuse,” said the male voice.

“This fuse?” My lady pensioners were clearly on the ball.

I heard some more noises, and then, out of the blue, the light in the lift went out. What the …?

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I should have warned you,” said the male voice.

So he should have, but at least he was apologetic.

“I’ll let you know before I turn it off again.”

“Please do,” I squeaked. He did, but no amount of fiddling with the electrics – or was it electronics – could bring the lift back to life. There was further banging and shaking, there were further footsteps and confabulations, but I still wasn’t going anywhere.

It was now an hour and a half into my ordeal, and, to make matters even worse, I could no longer hear the male voice.

“CALL THE FIRE BRIGADE, PLEASE!!!”

“We are calling the fire brigade.”

Did I hear this right? It looked as if the lady pensioners had taken matters into their own hands – at long last! The fire brigade arrived within a few minutes. When it appeared high up in the little window, the first male chin, with a helmet above it, was a vision to relish. The boys set to work immediately. Amid much noise, the lift began shaking violently and then, millimetre by millimetre, making its slow descent to the floor below. Suddenly, a portion of a little widow appeared at the very bottom of the lift. I crouched and, instead of chins, I could now see foreheads, then eyes, then noses, then lips, then entire faces, for, in anticipation of my imminent release, the congregation had relocated to the lower floor. And then, I was free. Needless to say, the firefighters were the handsomest men I had ever set my eyes on!

PS

I have since written to the Chief Executive of our borough council, who has replied, assuring me that he ordered ‘a thorough investigation’ into the incident. To me, the key thing is to ensure that nobody is ever again left trapped for that length of time – over an hour and a half – because of some, totally inexplicable, rule preventing council staff from calling the fire brigade. On my release, I simply couldn’t believe my ears when the council clerk told me that her line manager had FORBIDDEN her from calling emergency services. She did phone the firm responsible for servicing the lift, but, despite the 12-minute reassurance, the lift engineer arrived only AFTER I was freed by the fire brigade. And, when he did turn up, he appeared completely unperturbed, dismissing my question as to the exact time of his arrival with a shrug and failing to show any concern at all. ‘Excellent customer experience’, which our borough council apparently prides itself on providing, it wasn’t – although it certainly was an experience! (By the way, show me ONE  ‘customer-facing’ – urgh – organisation which doesn’t pride itself on ‘providing an excellent customer experience’, and I will show you a three-legged Kakapo.)

PPS (added on July 22nd)

The said lift engineer, who breezed in blithely after the rescue operation had been concluded and seemed to exude I-don’t-give-a-fig indifference, had Express Elevators emblazoned on his sweatshirt. Express – you couldn’t make it up!

But council officials have been contrite and promised an investigation and a review of the relevant procedures; they have also sent me a nice bouquet of flowers. Given that I’m fine, we might just remain friends – as long as nobody else is put in a similar position.