If we take George Mikes’s title literally and add to it the fact that each of us is a rather solitary figure in this world, then each of us is an alien. Either an Englishman in New York, or a Russian in Manchester, we depend on ourselves and always get back to ourselves as a point of reference.
Then another George comes to mind – that’s Orwell with his “some animals more equal than other animals”. By extension, some aliens are more equal than other aliens, provided they constitute the majority – of population, religion, sexual orientation etc.
At this carrefour originates a seeming necessity to be less alien than other aliens, and this necessity sometimes can yield unexpected results.
It was probably in 2010 that I went into a Tesco Express, one of many in Manchester city centre. The girl who was working at the till belonged to the Afro-Caribbean community and was absolutely lovely – except a typically Caribbean accent. She was trying to give me change and asked for a two pence coin. I was distracted so I didn’t hear her at first. She repeated, and I genuinely couldn’t understand. Again she said it, this time I made it out and gave the coin. She laughed:
– You’re foreign, that’s why you don’t understand my accent.
– No, – I replied, – I’m British.
I didn’t mean to be nasty, and I wasn’t really offended. After all, I was foreign in Manchester once. I suppose the whole conversation was a matter of fact, at least as far as I was concerned. It was strange and funny yet that we – both actually foreign in one way or another – engaged in guessing the “degree” of alienness, one of us ultimately losing.
Now, on my recent visit to Edinburgh I went into one of many souvenir shops . An owner with a recognisable European accent was selling ladies’ kilts to a group of Italian donne interpreted by an 11-year-old girl. “I can tell you, ladies”, he was confidently telling them in a high voice, “almost all souvenir shops here are taken by the Indians, there are only 5 or 6 authentic shops”. His was evidently one of the authentic shops.
I was attended to next. I think for the best of his business I shall omit the reference to the exact country of his origin. The point, however, is that he was as much alien to Scotland as the Indians (or Pakistani). And yet – be it due to skin colour or merely parroting what he might hear in pubs and from other vendors – he considers himself superior to people who at any rate have been associated with the UK for longer than his country of origin.
The stories are quite similar, as you can see. People assume superiority over their neighbour by assuming that the neighbour is alien. Greeks did the same when they called the rest of the world barbarians. They couldn’t understand that rather imperfect language, but it was the barbarians’ fault anyway. And as if the realisation of one’s solitary existence and loneliness in this world was not enough, there comes, sooner or later, the understanding that there are aliens who are more equal.
Tomorrow Russia and a few like-minded countries celebrate the International Women’s Day. I wrote a post on this earlier. Some countries, like the UK, celebrate Mother’s Day, hence there will be a Mothering Sunday.
For me, these will be days off work that I want to spend exactly as days-off.
In the third week of February I went to the UK and this time I finally crossed the border with Scotland and wandered around Edinburg. I very briefly, for a couple of seconds, contemplated visiting Glasgow, but then I remembered visiting the UK for the first time. I never visited London then, which is the capital city. I reckoned visiting Glasgow instead of Edinburgh would be like entering the same river twice, and since you cannot enter the same river twice, I bought a ticket to Edinburgh.
I was also contracted to do some translation work, one project having been completed the day I flew out to Manchester, another that I’m involved in as a collaborator is nearly finished.
There are more work projects, all in the Translation field so far, plus I’ve surprised myself by going back to teaching. Granted I teach World History, in which I specialised, it is probably no wonder. However, I still did not expect myself to do this, and yet… I have never said “never”, so I suppose I could do as I choose.
The best thing, as I feel it, is that certain days and weeks are already booked for months ahead. Only those who know the feeling will understand how grand it is to be able to look into a diary to see that you have things to do three weeks from now.
I have also nearly missed the worldwide craze Harlem Shake videos caused this February. It seems like everybody participated, from Amazon and Google to the Egyptian opposition. And yet I found two videos which you might not have seen yet. Harlem Shake reached the English National Ballet (!) and a group of Russian guys who like an occasional ice-water dip. The eponymous holiday was celebrated in January, but this was quite an Epiphany! I’m afraid you’ll have to watch it on YouTube.
And while the Russian TV has to keen a close watch on the age restrictions for programmes, when it comes to Harlem Shake, everyone is doing it, including a popular TV host and actor Ivan Urgant:
(I thus declare that Los Cuadernos de Julia has participated in the Harlem Shake global tour).
|Putting My Feet Up in
Via Fossa, Manchester
One of my childhood memories about books is connected both to knitting and to Scotland. In one book there was this illustration: a man in kilt and long socks was sitting by the chimney, knitting. I learnt to knit, as you know, while tartan has become one of the favourite materials. Pretty similar to my adored streetlights, tartan has made it into my poems on a couple of occasions already.
I cannot say that I own many clothes made of this fabric. In fact, the only one is the skirt I am wearing in the photo on the top left, and it is obviously not the “proper” tartan. But I do like men in kilts, so when I saw this post about tartan, men in kilts, and Highland sports, I knew I had to mention it. As a matter of fact, one of my close friends and a member of extended family belongs to the Elliott clan. Their tartan is shown on the right. Personally, I like their mottos: Soyez Sage (Be Wise), the old one, and the current Fortiter et Recte (Boldly and Rightly, or With Strength and Right).
There are some good resources on the web, particularly House of Tartan that helps you weave your own tartan. You can try your hand at creating a tartan over at Victoria and Albert Museum’s website. The interactive service is dedicated to the Vivienne Westwood exhibition there in 2004; and in 2008 Westwood incorporated tartan in her collection once again. The photo of the checkered bag and purse was taken during my trip to York in September 2008.
|Vivienne Westwood boutique
in York, 2008
The closest I have yet got to Scotland was in 2004 when I visited Shap Wells Hotel. It is technically in Shap, near Perth in Cumbria, but in fact it is ideally located to explore not only the Lake District, but also North Pennines, Yorkshire Dales, and the Scottish Borders.
I’ve not written any New Year resolutions here, and in fact I won’t be doing it this year, as I have decided I was going to inform you of the results of my intentions, rather than intentions themselves. But one of the resolutions is to finally visit Scotland. And I am being drawn all the more there as I view Tour Scotland Photographs each day in my Blogger dashboard.
Lastly, I have been experimenting with making tartan-like knitting patterns. I did not make a real effort to handknit a proper multicolour tartan, but this is where I got so far (see below). This is the pattern of one of the sweaters I made for myself, and I wear it with the same degree of pride as the Scottish people – their kilts.
And here are “tartan” results from Google Images. Are you a Scot? Do you have a tartan to wear?