Wednesday, December 01, 2004

On Orthographic Precocity

About 30 years ago, when people used humour to condone endemic racism, there was a joke about a teacher asking kids to spell 'cat', 'dog', mat' and so on. She then turns to a West Indian boy and asks him to spell 'chrysanthemum'.
I was reminded of this by the nightly 'Hard Spell' programme on BBC1, one of the more enjoyable of the worthy programmes being wheeled out in the run up to licence renewal.
It's heartening that the finalists have included Asians, West Indians and Chinese. Last night there was even a French boy who, amazingly, was asked to spell 'suave'. Coincidence? Or had he been using his Gallic charm to put a producer under his spell?
There also seem to be far more boys than girls, smashing another stereotype that boys under-perform at school, particularly in the early years. But one stereotype that remains intact is the British stiff upper lip. I'd guess the producers were hoping for some of the hysterics that characterise the original American version of these spelling competitions. But so far there have been few tears from either the children or their parents.
Sadly, by the time you reach middle age even good spellers like myself start reaching for the dictionary more and more. Yesterday I tried to busk it with 'logorrhea' and got it wrong the first time. When I was five I could have spelt it forwards and backwards faster than you could say 'precocious little bastard'. OK, I exaggerate slightly, but not very much. When I was a small child my mother heard me talking in my sleep and saying: "It's entirely a pecuniary matter." This scared me because I'd never heard the word 'pecuniary' and had no idea what it meant. I feared I had been possessed by the spirit of a dead provincial solicitor and would be condemned to a dull life of conveyancing and reading out wills to weeping relatives. Happily this wasn't so. Not that my life has been a wild bacchanalian phantasmagoria of debauchery and dissipation, but I've had my moments.
And I got through that last sentence without recourse to the Concise Oxford.
Too old to boogie, maybe. But you wouldn't want to be up against this sonafabitch in a spelling contest.


That devoted supporter of Mrs Thatcher and former queen of primetime TV, Cilla Black, has a new television show this month.
It's on Living TV.
Enough to make you believe in karma.


An ICM poll of 16 year olds for Guardian Weekend found that 5% described themselves as gay/lesbian/bisexual. But 51% said they had friends who were gay/lesbian/bisexual. I'm no great shakes at statistics but I find those two statements hard to reconcile, particularly as a high proportion of the gay/lesbian/bisexual 16 year olds are probably still keeping quiet about it.
Maybe it's down to this nonsense that it's cool to have a gay best friend, particularly for women. Or simply that all polls are highly unreliable.


Linking seamlessly to the previous nugget, the Government has produced new guidelines for religious education. These encourage the teaching of tolerance of people of different race, religion and gender. But not sexual orientation. This is the same Government that claims to be serious about tackling homophobic bullying in schools. It was depressing to hear Stephen Twigg (on The Learning Curve, Radio 4) trying to defend this and saying that sexual orientation was covered by gender. As a gay man, Stephen Twigg knows perfectly well that sexuality has nothing to do with gender. If I could be arsed I'd write and tell him he should be ashamed of himself. Why are so many gay men in politics such creeps? Because they're politicians I suppose, not because they're gay.

Carlo was getting ready for his Blackpool trip. Lupin Towers was vibrating to the strains of Abba, something he always plays when he's in a good mood.
He appeared wearing one of his Michael Jackson T shirts but I tactfully explained that, in the present sad circumstances, it might not be advisable to wear a shirt with Michael Jackson's face on it to a children's theme park. So he reluctantly changed it for one I had made for his birthday which shows the British and Phillipine flags conjoined, their poles placed together as a symbol of the friendship between our two countries.
When Lee arrived we were expected to spend several minutes admiring his new boots. "Doc Martens?" I said with faux expertise.
"Fucking Rockports, mate", he replied. I'm not your fucking mate, you little scrote, I thought but stayed silent, not wishing to start their special day on a sour note.
I wondered which poor child he'd mugged to get them but then immediately felt ashamed of myself.
Lee said he'd borrowed a 'motor' from a friend. Carlo said 'Blinding!' and with that they were gone.
I hope Carlo isn't too tired. Because of his day off he had to stay up until 3 am doing the washing and ironing. I suppose he can always sleep in the car.
After the intermission: How I first met Carlo


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