Category Archives: Perception

Tut like you mean it

A Liverpudlian soccer player currently on loan to a club in Marseille had the sporting and linguistic communities chattering this week when he coated his native scouse accent in a faux French one at a press conference. Some laughed, and it was kind of funny, but others cried foul, claiming it bad form to publicly send up his host nation. The scientific line is that he probably couldn’t help himself, because it is in our DNA to adapt to our surroundings – and that includes taking on the nuances of inflection indigenous to wherever we happen to be. I happen to be in Berlin. And while I haven’t quite reached the point where I exchange my Ich’s for the local Icke’s, I could if pressed.

The one bit of Berlin vernacular I can’t ever see myself adopting, however, is the beloved tut. It is used with abandon in this city, largely in queues, as a means of making everyone within earshot know that dissatisfaction is in the room with them. I find it unsettling to stand with my back to a tutter. And generally cursed with the kind of politeness that prevents me from turning around to look at the offender, I find myself wondering whether he or she is disgruntled enough to start shoving and shouting, or worse.

My imagination reached new levels the other day, when I was found myself in front of a hardcore tutter at a doctor’s reception desk. As I stood just a few centimetres away from him, listening to the sound of his tongue click madly against the roof of his mouth, I tried to imagine what he might look like. I saw him as a wiry man in a cape (don’t know why), with eyes that shifted in time with his feet. When he began to add ehhh’s into the mix of impatience he was breathing down my neck, I decided to take action. I turned around.

What I saw was a cape less man clutching a very bloody finger, his face contorted in pain. I told him he could go in front of me, move up in the queue, but for whatever reason he declined. So we stayed as we were: me in front of him, he tutting like he meant it. Only now I was questioning my grasp of Berlinerisch, and wondering which  of us was the impatient one.

“Tut, tut, child! … Everything’s got a moral, if only you can find it” (Lewis Carroll).

Category: Berlin, Perception | Tags: , ,

David Miller and facebook

A school friend I have not seen for an eternity mailed me this morning to ask if I would consider joining facebook as a means of remaining in touch with her and the other two members of our once upon a time gang. A few minutes after reading the mail, I caught a snippet of a certain ‘David Miller’ sounding learned about something or other in a radio interview.

Perhaps because the email was so fresh in my mind, the very mention of the name David Miller instantly transported me to the last of five rows of scored and scorched desks in a high school science lab. From there, I could easily recall the back of another David Miller’s head, and as his neatly cropped haircut came back to me, I wondered if it had ever belonged to the man holding forth on my radio; whether the teenage boy I once knew could have acquired enough experience and knowledge in his specialist field to be speaking about it publicly?

If I were on facebook, I would probably know, or at least readily be able to find out the answer to my own question. But I am not, and I like it that way. Although I wish both David Miller and his career every health and happiness, I would prefer to recall the image of the boy in a school tie, than to dress him in a suit and imagine him speaking booming into a microphone at Broadcasting house.

My version of his life is unrealistically, unfairly even, lost in time, but in so being, it allows me to remember someone I knew rather than try to know someone I probably never will. And that allows space for my imagination to roam free. Plenty of space, I realised, when a couple of hours deeper into the day, I realised that the boy with the tie and the cropped locks was actually a Mellor not a Miller, and it is quite possible that we didn’t have biology classes together, but English, where I first remember wanting to explore thoughts like these.

Dappy, happy or…

More years ago than seem real, I was spending the evening with friends in a Soho pub, when one of them said I was being “dappy”. Another told said friend that he’d be closer to the mark if he were to replace the “d” with an “h”. In terms of the letters themselves, there’s not much in it. Just a spin and a stroke. By the same token, the two states are no more than one degree apart.

I saw someone today who reminded me of that fine line. A man – late sixties – wearing big round glasses, headphones, and a bright red sweatshirt was part- running, part-dancing his way through the park, arms flailing and eyes smiling as he went. I watched people watch him with expressions suggestive of blandly imperceptive thoughts. They may, of course, have got the man’s measure, and he may have been utterly dappy, doolally even. But then again, they may have been way off.

From the outside: A man of advancing years, sporting the type of specs and headphones the cool kids wear, and running a strange jog-dance through the trees, waving his arms around as if he were trying to take off.

From the inside: Music flooding into his ears through the headphones his grandson left on his kitchen table. Bach. A chorus of angelic voices that, heard in the fresh cold of the park air, render him weightless, unwilling to bridle his joy, and unable to keep his body from expressing what he feels. He knows his glasses are out-of-date (and doesn’t know that in fact they are not), but he loves them because they were chosen for him very many years ago by the love of his life, the woman who is waiting for him to return home, to wash, change, and take her out to lunch on what happens to be their 49th wedding anniversary.

Dappy, happy, doolally or married for almost five decades… we see what we want to.