Monthly Archives: August 2006

With apologies to John Hegley

Over the weekend
I broke my glasses.
I thought never mind,
on Tuesday or maybe Wednesday
I’ll go to the optician
and he can fix it.

So on Wednesday
the man took my glasses.
He peered at the broken bridge.
He looked at the bent frame.

He stared at the loose screw.
The pause was eight months pregnant.

I should have said,
“Look, I know you don’t want to know all this, but I was six years old, I was in a village two miles from home, and me and my mum and dad were at the summer fĂȘte. And there in front of my eyes was the most orange, most yellow, most exciting thing I’d ever seen. A dozen children jumped up and down on it, this giant day-glo cushion with walls and a blue punchbag sticking up in the middle. I gazed in awe. So my mum paid the man and on I went. I bounced. This was fun. I bounced some more. This was even more fun. I bounced some more again. And then I got adventurous. I wanted to hop over to the punchbag and hit it. So did another boy. So he hopped, and I hopped, and he hopped, and I hopped.

My memory fails. My mum says that our heads collided. But I think I slipped around the punchbag, but I think we both got up and started bouncing again, but I know I didn’t make eye contact with my parents, but I know I didn’t want to stop, but I had to. I had a warm bath and an early bed.

The next time I saw one I was eight. I held in for two minutes and then I asked my mum. She said no. And because my mum was fair, and because my mum let me do most things, and because my mum said no and meant it, that was that. I deflated myself.

But in my thirties, when a friend said, “I’m getting married,” I was very excited. And when she said “there’ll be a bouncy castle,” because that’s what they got called, I was very excited. A quarter of a century on I was worried it’d disappoint, but it didn’t. I jumped. Everyone else jumped. We got out of control. The walls sagged a bit, once. But no-one got hurt. And we had fun.

So every year at Greenbelt, when I saw the playground I started wondering. And every other year at Greenbelt I did nothing about it. But this year I steeled myself, went up to the man and said, “You wouldn’t let me on this would you?” He motioned with his hand. My heart bounced. “Everything in that half. Two pounds for fifteen minutes.” I had fun. But I learnt a lesson. I’ll pass it on. If you ever find yourself lying on top of a thin four-foot-high inflatable wall and you really need to get down, a belly flop is fine for your back but a belly flop is bad for your glasses. And I learnt another lesson. When you go back on the assault course, hide your glasses in your shoes. Don’t put them in your pocket. And I know this makes me sound like a six-year-old fool, and I know you think I’m a mid-life crisis come early, but really, I only want to know how much that’ll be to fix.”

I should have said all that.

But instead I said,
“Would you take cards
or should I go
to the cashpoint?”


Insert reference to Bill Murray film here

It’s probably churlish to the n-th degree to moan about the general standard of public Welsh on the very day Big Brother speaks nothing else. But far be it from me to pass up an opportunity to point and laugh at roadsigns.

So, the story: the Vale of Glamorgan council put up a road sign saying ‘Cyclists Dismount’ in English, but, bafflingly, the Welsh below it says ‘Cystitis Overturn’. Which, as Dave Barry might say, is a good name for a band.

Yes, this is funny, granted. Amusing enough to make it the most emailed story from the BBC News website at one point today. As to how the warning about bladder infection appeared on the road sign, one explanation is that ‘cyclist’ might have appeared next to ‘cystitis’ in an online dictionary. It must have been a very small dictionary.

We can laugh. And we do. But this is an isolated incident, surely? In normal circumstances, no-one without a grasp of the sense of a language would dare claim to be able to translate into it? If only. There is, you won’t be surprised to know, a Flickr pool solely dedicated to mad, bad Welsh found on public signs. Not private documents, not, for the most part, newspapers and magazines. Just in public.

It contains 146 photos.

Most of these, it’s true, can be explained by a signwriter not really paying attention. Many can be explained by an amateur translator not really paying attention (go to the World Music section in the Cardiff Virgin Megastore, and the Welsh sign will greet you with ‘Wordy Music’). Some of the blunders are of the Eats, Shoots and Leaves level of pedantry (which I support, in whatever language).

Some, though, are jawdropping to a cystitis-overturning level. Take, for instance, a simple, innocuous sign about raised manhole covers. Manhole? Well that’s easy to translate. Just take ‘man’ and ‘hole’, look them up in a Welsh dictionary, reverse the order because Welsh is that sort of language, and there you go. The trouble is that if you do that, your resulting sign contains an instruction to watch out for covers of the sort of holes that all men have, certainly, but that they’d probably be arrested for raising in public. Think that sign would never make it pass the proof reader? What proof reader?

There’s more, of course. Blasting in Progress becomes Workers Exploding. If you’re crossing the road, look right – or, if you speak Welsh, look left instead. There’s a severe drop onto the bus concourse – or, rather, a trenchant raindrop leads to this bus multitude.

The moral of the story? Translation is hard. Even if you’ve only got two words to translate, it’s not just a matter of having a bilingual dictionary, or even an online translation tool, and plugging a few words in and hoping you strike lucky. So, if you are a translator of whatever language, it seems you’ll be in clover for many, many years to come. Just make sure you don’t skimp on the proof-reading. And be careful around the manholes.

I don’t like your blog

I don’t like your blog because it’s 2006, two thousand and six for goodness’ sake, and we’ve moved on haven’t we? These days we’re all posting pictures of our shoes to Flickr, or sending videos of our friends burping to YouTube, or doing whatever the hell it is you’re supposed to do on MySpace, and no one’s interested in your free-text web ramblings any more. You might as well be writing with a quill, grandad. Blogging’s so five years ago. Get with the programme.

I don’t like your blog because it’s all about you. Remember that cartoon in Private Eye that had someone saying ‘I’m just going to update my blog’, and in the pull-back-and-reveal we see him typing ‘Me me me me me me me’ at his keyboard? That’s you, that is. Roll up, roll up, and look at the astounding Mr Arrogant, expecting everyone to hang on his every syllable. Please, give us all a break and be less self-centred for a change. Write about trees. Write about flowers. Write about the colour orange. Anything. Just don’t write about you for once.

I don’t like your blog because it’s never about you. It’s all about Things That Have Gone on in Some Universe, but whose, goodness knows. I don’t know the first thing about you, and I’m desperate, in a non-creepy-stalker-like-way of course, for you to show some humanity. Your computer’s got more soul than you put into your blog. Just start breathing a little. Write about your loves, your hates, your passions, what keeps you going from day to day. Just write about you for once. Go on, I’m listening.

I don’t like your blog because it’s always about your opinions. And you want to know my opinion? It’s that there’s a good reason why media commentators are paid so much, and to them, you can’t even hold a torch with a battery that ran out ten years ago. Reading your blog is like trawling through sludge. It’s like watching a film of Jeremy Clarkson in a tank of treacle, slowed down a hundred times. And don’t get me started on your comments section. It’s just a gathering of the clans, everyone bleating their approval of your back-of-an-envelope thought patterns, only stopping to bludgeon anyone who suggests the other side might have a point. Face it, your blog will never change anyone’s mind. You might as well write about the cheese sandwich you had for lunch. It’d be more illuminating.

I don’t like your blog because it’s never about your opinions. Are you really just a trampoline that the world bounces off? Aren’t you ever moved? Aren’t you ever angered? Tell me how you look at life, ’cause I’m dying to know. Tick the appropriate box, one to five, and don’t bother with the ‘Don’t know’ square. Write about the government. Write about the weather. Write about the fluffy clouds in the sky. Look, just write about that sandwich you had for lunch. Was it cheese?

I don’t like your blog because you blog too much. Every time I fire up my bloglist, you’re always there on the top, ooh look, aren’t you a good blogger, giving us the choicest morsels from your life, whether you’re at your desk or on the road. Please, for everyone’s sake, calm down. Remember, dear friend, that over-excitement hath a patron saint, and his name is Scrappy Doo. In the immortal words of Vic Reeves, you’re making me dizzy. Please let me sit down for a while. Unplug that keyboard. Delete that mobile blogging number from your phone. Take it easy. The world will still revolve on its axis. Trust me.

I don’t like your blog because you blog too little. An elephant takes about 22 months to give birth. That’s the time it’s taken you to write two blog entries. And that elephant’s going to be around for 70 years: I stopped thinking about your blog after 70 seconds. Please, just crawl out from your bunker once in a while. Twice a year would do. I’ve invested all this time in reading your blog, and now you’re taking advantage of my loyalty. So don’t try my patience. If you’re taking longer between blog entries than the Stone Roses took between albums, maybe it’s time you split too.

I don’t like your blog because you write too much. I’m just too busy to listen to your 832 words of non-spell-checked, poorly punctuated ramblings that you just have to get out of your head this minute now. If I wanted to listen to your stream of conciousness, I’d plug into your hypothalamus. This’ll stun you; you don’t need to write down everything that’s entered your head since your last visit to a keyboard. Edit it a bit. Cut it down. Is your sub-clause (no matter how well-crafted) really necessary?

I don’t like your blog because you write too little.

I don’t like your blog, because you’re all of the above, and so am I.