The first tale I am about to tell is completely true. In fact if there was a Notary Public handy, I would dash off to them poste haste, sworn statement in hand, begging to be Notaried in Public. The reason I emphasize the veracity of the following tale is because occasionally, just occasionally, I, like all writers, paraphrase conversations I have been involved in. This, you understand, is not lying, or even being economical with the truth, in fact writers have a term for this editing process(AKA 'making things up') which is "finding your voice". In the following reported conversation, my voice, at least other than a in the sense of being a verbatim report of an exchange I was party to, is absent.
I was renting a car because the call for Mazzer has again been raised. This time a trade show in Harrogate needs desperate attention, so tomorrow, at parent o'clock (which is sometime around dawn as far as I am concerned) I am off to that quaint historic centre, urgently to screw bits of wood together. Actually, the last phrase in the proceeding sentence is an example of me finding "my voice" - the deliberately wrong juxtaposition of nouns, 'do' words and 'describing' words is a fine example of the Nickson voice, stolen completely (called 'homage' in Creative Writing classes) from at least three well known comic authors. Anyway, I digress, so back to my tale. At the vehicle rental facility, I was explaining to the salesman that I was, despite my accent, not at all Liverpudlian, or of the 'Scouse' persuasion, but in fact, a Canadian, Strong and Free, immune to cold, someone who laughed in the face of beavers and definitely knew his muskrats from his ski-poles (see http://ywna.blogspot.com/2008/02/happy-valentines-day.html). This self-identification towards Canada, usually occurs when I dont like someone and want to confuse them. It works very well, in the light of my own brogue. In this case, the salesman had raised the old ire by declaring happily that he was "Glad I was not Polish" - apparently driving ability is genetic and he was much happier renting to a Scouse Canadian he had never met before than a Polish person he had equally never met before. The verbatim part of the tale, now follows:
Salesman; "Oh ! Canada, Eh? I was there last year ...Your full address please, Sir?.... yeah, Texas, it was.....and the company name?....?
Saleman : "Company name???"
Me; " Company name? It's 'Mazzer O'Reilly's Bespoke Scenic Carpentry And WoodSmith Emporium'. Do you mean Alberta? People say its a bit like Texas?"
Salesman : "Thankyou. Well no, Texas, it was, so I suppose that technically its not Canada, but .....would you like the additional insurance, Sir?....you know what I mean...?"
Me: "Er, no.....and er, no.....what was Texas like?
Salesman; "Thankyou.... didnt really like it, it was like a foreign country...and sign here please...thankyou....everyone was Spanish"
Me - after a short pause : "Well, you know, technically, it is a foreign country....But, er, did you go to the Alamo when in Texas?"
Salesman: "Oh, yeah, that bit was brilliant. Still, though, there were loads of Mexican there as well."
The English often laugh at the lack of general knowledge demonstrated by Americans, and to an extent the Canadians are even worse - look up Rick Mercer's 'Talking to Americans' on You Tube. It is quite funny, but I do wonder how many English people visit the USA in the sure knowledge that it was created in the 1950's by Walt Disney, just after John Wayne had subdued the Wild West. I got in the car and drove away without extending our ignorant conversation further. At that point, I thought I had experienced one of the biggest assholes I have met for a long time, but a scant twelve hours later, I was proven utterly wrong.
"And what do you do?" I asked the gentleman sitting opposite me in the Raj Pavilion, HUll's finest Indian restaurant. The occasion is that Lina, a former grad student at Hull has returned for the weekend, and Nel's department have organised a meal in honour of the occasion. We have not been out for months and it's a great chance to meet up with a great crew of about fifteen people from all round the world. The only drawback of academia is the inevitability that you stop seeing these people when they move on. Reunions are fun, and there's always a culturally, genderally mixed group. Meeting new people at these events is usually great. My opposite conversationalist is new - brought to the evening by one of the group as a kindness because he, and his partner, are in town for the weekend on a course at Hull University.
"I run a karting business. Multi-million pound business."
"Oh, really? ". He looks youthful.
"And where is this business?" I enquired.
"About an hour and a half south of here, by car. About an hour by Porsche."
There was an expectant gap, that I think I was supposed to fill, but instead my attention was drawn by the Red Haired Boffin's conversation with someone, who frankly we can now define as The World's Biggest Asshole's partner.
"Yes, they're Canadian Barn Cats. Two of them...." RHB was in full flow but TWBA's partner interrupted her breathlessly:
"And are you going to breed them??"
TWBA's partner was deflated to discover that the moniker Canadian Barn Cat is an ironic pretense, a silly joke, and that we were'nt going to be making big bucks by breeding our scraggy moggies. TWBA looked me ;
"Why would you bother spending good money bringing those cats back here, when they arent worth anything?"
At this moment, I have to confess, a steely glint entered the eye of yours truly. There are some lines drawn, which once crossed can never be re-crossed. Unfortunately, TWBA noticed not my increasingly hardened attitude, and the equally frosty reception he was generating from the rest of the table, and continued
"And I dont understand why anyone would bother giving up a life in Canada, or anywhere else for that matter, for a shithole like Hull, just to teach in a University. I mean, surely you could have had a business making loads of money rather than come to a dump like this. I'm not trying to be offensive, mind, I just look round my five hundred acres and it's heaven. True, the local village may be full of Muppets but we're running a multi-million pound business. I've got fifty four employees. You know what I mean?"
More pearls of wisdom followed, despite the fact that by now everyone at the table was tying their shoelaces, making calls on their mobile phones or just going the washroom to try and avoid engaging TWBA in conversation. At one point. he latched onto a conversation I was having with someone else, whereby te coincidence that we'd both lived in Leicester some time ago, but possibly concurrently, was mentioned. TWBA was quick to jump in:
"You would'n t recognise Leicester now. It's awful - Spot the White man."
The announcement, made shortly after, that TWBA was leaving "in the Porshe" was greeted by one of the most obvious displays of falsified disappointment that I have ever witnessed from a group of assembled boffins. Even neuroscientists at a Learning Styles conference could not generate a level of hostility that TWBA managed. As we drove home in our rented car - "the Ford Micro" - it emerged that RHB, at the other side of the table had been treated to a similar display by TWBA's partner.
Next day I drive to Harrogate and am re-united with Witto, who as Project Manager is a Prince among men. He's giving me lots of work at the moment and it is a joy to work wih him. Nel spends the day with the cats, putting up bunting for next weekend's Ella Street Festival (of which more later). Somehow, despite there being not one Porshce in our street, or onsite where I am, we manage to have a great day.