Saturday, 23 June 2012

Euroswearing QF3 France vs Spain

But first . . .

Yesterday’s result, a 4-2 victory for Germany over Greece, was another correct call by my completely scientific swearing algorithm. That makes it two out of two. Let’s see how today’s quarter final goes . . .

3. France vs Spain

Let’s start with the basic match-up: the archetypal, most popular word in the two adjacent countries. In French, it’s putain! In Spanish, it’s hijo de puta! So French whore! And Spanish: son of a whore!

Verdict one: Putain has a demonstrably better rhythm to it. Partly it’s a matter of the masculine ending — ie stressed phoneme. Try it at home. Hit your thumb with a hammer while shouting putain! Now try it again while shouting hijo de puta! It’s a clear French victory.

Now let’s move on to oral sex. A top French phrase is parler sur le micro — speaking into a microphone. The Spanish counter with a butifara — a reference to sausage-eating.

Verdict two: It’s an earthy act so, surely, an earthy metaphor is preferable to one which depends on having a recording studio on hand. Spanish quotidianism triumphs, as ever, over French abstraction.

That’s one each. And so to the tie-breaker. As it’s one-one between the countries themselves, I’ll give it to the English to decide, via their insult view of the two nations.

First Spain. Dagos. Page 235 of Filthy English:

From the Spanish Christian name, Diego. The word dates back to 1700.

Now France. Frogs Page 237 of Filthy English:

Why frogs? The usual explanation is that it derives from a francophone taste for eating reptilian limbs. However, before it referred to the French it was a seventeenth-century English slur at the Dutch - who were then the major enemies and whose low-slung wetland of a country would genuinely have been very froggy. So it's also possible that when the French took their place as Britain's favourite enemy, the racial slur moved over with them.

Verdict three: The result is obvious isn’t it. Not only is the Spanish slur older but it’s always been theirs. The French slur is just a Dutch slur that English, lazily, slapped over on to the French.

So it’s Spain to overcome their northern neighbours. Come on, los coños. (Yes, it does translate as ‘cunts’. More on this topic — whether it’s the spics or the frogs that get through.)

Next Italy vs England, of course

Friday, 22 June 2012

Euroswears 2012, QF2

But first . . . yesterday’s game. My prediction, based on a scientific and rigorous analysis of national swears, was victory for Portugal. And so it was. That makes it one out of one. Let’s see how we do today.

2. Germany vs Greece

Greece first. Ancient then modern. Old Greeks, Athenians, in particular, pretty much invented the idea of the national slur. To them, everyone who wasn’t a Greek was a barbarian. Filthy English, page 237:

This was a judgement based on a Greek view of the sound of non-Greek languages - they sounded like baa-baa-baa. Mexicans are making the same judgement when they refer to Americans as gringos - it's Mexican Spanish for gibberish.

That was then, though. What about now? The central word to modern Greek swearing is malaka. It’s to Greek what fuck! is to English, putain! is to French and kurwa! is to Polish. Malaka is fit for all purposes. Translation? Well, fuck=sexual intercourse. Putain=whore. Kurwa=whore. Malaka=masturbator. Maybe there is no link between those words and the accompanying  national psyches. Or maybe there is.

Now for Germany. Its swearing really is big on shit. Scheisse! etc etc. Filthy English, page 125:

Anscheissen means to shit on, literally and figuratively. It also means to scold, to berate, to tell off, to bollock or even to report. Not just any old reporting, though, but a particularly kind of reporting, as in Er schiss mich bei der Polizei an - he reported me to the police. Bescheissen, which also translates as to shit on, means to cheat. Beschissen is shitty, fucked-up. A Klugscheisser is a smarty pants, not as clever as he talks.

How do the Germans match up against the Greeks in terms of masturbation? Well, one of their favourite terms is mathematical: fünf gegen einen (five against one).

Actually it also sounds like a German formation or game-plan, doesn’t it. And for that reason (plus the sheer variousness of Germanic shits), my scientific assessment is that Germany’s swearing superiority will lead their to Teutonic triumph tonight.

PS1 One of my correspondents pointed out that knowing a little about a nation’s swearing affords the TV viewer an opportunity to lip-read the players, officials and fans. I find it hard to imagine close attention to tonight’s contest won’t reveal at least one malaka! and a scheisse! or two.

PS2 A friend of mine asked me to let you know something. He writes for The Arts Desk, an online resource. It’s just been voted Best Specialist Journalism Site of 2012. But don’t let that put you off. Ha, ha. It actually is really good. Lots of reviews, mostly slightly longer than you’d get in a daily newspaper. Well-informed, too and light on sneering. The writing’s pretty good also. Anyway, it’s here.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Filthy Euros 2012, Quarter Finals

1. Czech vs Portugal

Brief introduction From now till the end of the Euros, I will be running my own parallel competition: if footballs were replaced with swears, who would win Euro 2012?

I will use the most careful and rigorous analytic techniques to weigh the rivals in each match and from this make a scientific prediction as to who will win*.

This does, of course, effectively pre-suppose some kind of correlation between national swearing and football prowess. Well, as the author of Filthy English, I do regularly find myself being asked by interviewers: so which country does the best swearing?

My answer is always the same: the final would be between England and Bosnia and England would shade it. As Bosnia aren’t in these finals, that leaves England with a clear run. In my gag world, anyway.

In the real — well, you know what I mean — we have today’s quarter final, a west vs east match-off. (Though I’m fairly sure, actually, that Czechs think of themselves as in the west. So don’t tell them what I’ve written.) So how do the two national swearing corpuses add up?

Czech first. This being a contest based on nationality, I offer in evidence a selection of national slurs. To Czechs, a Hungarian is a uher (pimple), an Italian is a makaróni and an Australian is a protino_cí (someone with legs which go opposite ways - it's a reference to that country being on the reverse side of the world).

Now Portugal. The national favourite swear is filho de puta — the direct equivalent of hijo de puta in Spanish. Son of a whore. I quote myself, page 139 of Filthy English.
It's used all the time but can be either very strong or almost friendly. In English, ‘you cunt’ is similar - context and tone are all. In 2007, Jose Mourinho, then manager of Chelsea, tried to explain why he'd informed an official that he was a son of a whore. He found himself tripped up by the way the phrase's strength varies according to context and intent. 'The word can be abusive if you perceive it to be abusive,' he said. 'I say it to myself. I say it to my players, that word which I don't want to repeat.' 

So who’s the winner there? Who will be the first team to make it through to the Euro Swear 2012 semis?

I reckon the Czech swears indicate a breadth and depth of talent, mostly focussed on elevating the self above the others. (Czech antipathies also focus on the Russians. So, having triumphed over them already by getting out of the group, it’s probable that their animus/anima has been diluted.) The Portuguese insult, while simple, shows a capacity for innovation and variation from a very narrow base.

Prediction: Portugal to go through to the next round.

* To put it another way, I’ll be giving national examples of swearing and cracking gags and generally winging it.

Tomorrow The second quarter final: Germany vs Greece
A place of memory and desire, part six

On being Irish. In my dreams, anyway . . .

As I was later friends with Phil Chevron and much of the rest of the Camden Town Irish music business murphia, I suppose I got to dream that dream in a refracted but real way. Which leads me back to the Radiators’ Sound City Beat. For the first time, substance has been placed in that part of my dreamworld. I now really do have a feel for what it might have been like for me if my family had stayed in Ireland and I’d grown up in Dublin rather than London and its satellite towns.

It’s now as if I actually got to see all the bands that Phil hymns in his sleevenotes. Oh, the Hootenannys, now they were grand. And the showbands, some of your men there were real players . . .*

As fictitious as all that is, it feels like a genuine sense of completion. Thanks Phil etc. If it weren’t for you, I’d have had to consider employing the services of Rekall Incorporated. You know, the ones who guarantee they will remember it for you wholesale.

Which still, though, leaves another genuine alternative past for me, constructed from a mix of historical truths and imagined possibilities. In this one, I grow up in Liverpool, see the Beatles play the Cavern, go to the same school as Lennon and McCartney. Really, honestly, I’m not joking. It could have happened. Easily. A little decision here, a little change of mind there and that could have been my teenage life.

Also, if things had turned out a little different, I could even have grown up in Bray and, instead of being flown in from London to see the Radiators, I would have already been there, twenty-four years old and enthused about this bunch of Dublin punks coming down for a Sunday afternoon seaside show. So maybe when I did see the Radiators that day, they were also creating for me a memory I could have had. Only I didn’t yet know that.

Memory and desire. Who would want to move beyond them? Why?

* Actually, I did get to see a showband play, at a marquee show in Monstarevin. If you never got to see a showband in a country marquee show, you missed something, believe. Another band played that night, too, for the younger people. Maybe it was the Horslips, maybe Thin Lizzy. I can’t be sure. But I am sure that, myself aside, they were the only ones there with shoulder-length hair. Such things mattered, of course.

Next My cursed contribution to the Euro championships. I pose and answer the question: if Euro 2012 was based not on football but swearing prowess, who would win? Later today, the first quarter final: Czech vs Portugal.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

A place of memory and desire, part five

Those further memories . . .

Last Saturday having been Bloomsday, I got to thinking about Dublin and me and how that might relate to the matter at hand, Sound City Beat, a new album by the Radiators from Space, a Dublin punk band.

(As I write this, I’m listening to another memory of Dublin, a live performance by Glen Hansard — who has just, of course, had his own fairytale of New York, winning Tonys for Once.)

Now, faced with forms requesting my religion and/or nationality, I do one of two things. If it’s in person, I have a teasing habit of putting myself down as a transgendering black woman and seeing how the official reacts. If they demur, I’ll say something like: well, inside, I’ve always felt like Aretha Franklin and isn’t this meant to be about self-description? Plus aren’t you looking to boost your minorities quota? Put me down in the loopy-loo column, too, if it’s any help.

If I am filling in the form at home, though, I tend to write something like: Jewish-ish* Catholic atheist north Londoner**. If I’m feeling frisky/facetious, I’ll add the old (but accurate) Nik Cohn line: and typical of the sort.

The fact is, though, I’m as much Irish by descent as anything else. Yet I didn’t actually visit the place till I was at university. I arrived in Dublin on the Liverpool night ferry with a head full of two versions of the city.

One was from my reading — Joyce, Beckett, Flann O’Brien etc etc. I didn’t expect to actually meet them but I did expect to encounter memory traces of them. So I was disappointed there.

The other Dublin in my head was my grandmother’s. She’d left there before the first world war — when the English were still in power. Though she’d been back since, she still saw the city through the eyes of a poverty-blighted young girl just up from the boglands. To her, Dublin was a city of lights. So I was disappointed there, too.

Still, I know that at some level I had a fantasy of what it would be like to have grown up Irish in Ireland. As a Dubliner in Dublin perhaps, rather than an East End overspiller in the Home Counties, with ties to north London Irishness. In dreams begin possibilities . . .

* By marriage and, therefore, parenthood.

** Serious moment. In all the discussion of Scottish independence and English identity, I think a big point is missed. There are no English in England. Rather there are a variety of sometimes overlapping regional/local identities. Yorkshireman/woman. Cornish. Scouse. Sarf Landahner. Etc etc. I think that’s why it’s so hard to pin down an English identity. It’s simply not there to pin. The Milibands are not just neighbours of mine. They come from a similar cultural and social and historical place/space. And that’s identity. Class comes into it, of course. But that’s another bucket of memories and desires.

Next (and last of this series) My other lives.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

A place of memory and desire, part four

First the memory bit . . .

(Recap for newcomers: I’m writing about Sound City Beat, a new album by the Radiators from Space, a Dublin punk band.)

I was one of the first people to write about the Radiators From Space. Certainly the first in England. They’d been signed to Chiswick records. I was a journalist on Sounds magazine. I was friends with Roger Armstrong and Ted Carroll of Chiswick records. They flew me out to Dublin so I would write about the Radiators.

Corrupt? Well, yes, in a way. But, no, not at all really. Music journalists — in those days, anyway — prided themselves on being able to take the hand that fed them and chew it right off, up to the elbow and beyond.

I wouldn’t have gone if I hadn’t thought it was worth going and the magazine wouldn’t have agreed to it if they didn’t think it was worth a shot.

So I saw the Radiators play at . . . well, I think it was in Bray but I can’t quite remember where in that seaside town. I do remember, though, that it was a Sunday afternoon gig and I’m fairly certain it was arranged entirely for my benefit.

Or rather for the benefit of someone who was representing a London music paper that could — and did — regularly transform the careers and lives of pop musicians. We didn’t create their talent but we did turn a light on them. Sometimes we were right. Sometimes we were wrong. Sometimes the public agreed with us. Sometimes they disagreed with us. Sometimes the public was wrong. Sometimes they were right.

I wrote enthusiastically about the Radiators. Economists put incentives at the heart of human motivation. So, however right I might think (and still do think) my judgment was, it would be wrong of me not to acknowledge that such positivity was also a logical response to incentives. Simply, if you enthused about a band, you had more chance of it being a big story in the paper, maybe even a cover story.

I meant what I wrote, though. They really were worth enthusing over. They were one of the first Irish punk/new wave bands. At this distance, I can’t remember for certain whether this was before or after I saw the Boomtown Rats play in, I think, the basement that became the Arts Theatre — drawn there by their quite wonderful PR BP Fallon*. The timings were close, though. And I’m sure I’ll be corrected by someone.

The Radiators made one lively punk album which didn’t really sell what they’d hoped. Probably, it was neither simplistic nor arty enough for the contemporary market. It wasn’t yet another Ramones-based thrash or suburban rant. Punk’s first rank aside, that is pretty much what was selling then.

So they did a poppier and smarter record with Bowie’s producer Tony Visconti but that didn’t work either. I remember being in the studio and feeling there was something wrong with it but I couldn’t say what. I just knew that it would be lucky to find much a wide audience. I couldn’t explain why — then or now. So I shut up. For once.

Then things fell apart. I don’t know how or exactly why. Though I’d become friends with Phil Chevron, we didn’t see each other much around this time. Most of the band, I think, drifted back to Ireland. He stayed around and, in time, took a place at the heart of the Pogues — and, by extension, in the hearts of Pogues fans.

* Former Led Zeppelin PR, semi-professional Irishmen (only semi because it was mostly instinctive rather than considered — mostly anyway), he later took to walking up behind you in a club, hooking an arm round your neck, causing you to gasp in surprise and sniff up the popper he’d just cracked under your nose. Now there’s charm for you. He’s not a big fella, either.

Next More memory. Some desire, too.

Monday, 18 June 2012

A place of memory and desire, part three

Surely, being beyond memory and desire is to cease being human. Dead, that is. To nick a line from — to nick a Bob Dylan encomium — def poet Andrew Marvell, it might well be a fine and private place but none, I think, do there embrace.

At the very least, the only route to that place beyond memory and desire is via memory and desire. Or, to put it another way, the only possible way to frame and explore what you might see or hear or smell in that place beyond memory and desire is through the prism of your memory and desire — if not necessarily in that order.

And so — obviously — to Sound City Beat by the Radiators From Space. It’s an album on Chiswick Records and, to declare an interest, I offered to part fund it. Or rather when they were looking for part-funders, I put my hand up, modestly. They didn’t call in the cash, though. They found another way to raise the money.

Some questions you might want to see answered . . .

Who are the Radiators From Space? An Irish punk-period pop band. They made a couple of albums then . . . well, you know how things go.

Should I know anything else about them? Guitarist and songwriter Philip Chevron was an important Pogue.

What’s so special about Sound City Beat? It’s a collection of their versions of tracks made by Irish groups in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Isn’t that rather dull sounding, academic even? I understand your worries, of course, but actually it’s wonderful. None of the tracks are recreations. They are all re-creations.

Er? Take the first track. It’s one of the best, of course. First tracks always are. They take the Movement’s Head For The Sun — no, I’d never heard of band or song, either — and they dip it in a pond of Ramonesness. So you have a 1970s punk group some 35 years on looking back at 1960s Dublin through the prism of mid-1970s Manhattan — and mid-1970s Dublin visions of that American dream.

A mix of memory and desire? Exactly.

Other examples? Rory Gallagher’s It’s Happened Before stripped of its progressive framing and recast as a beat group song. Thin Lizzy’s Dublin — which highlights Phil Lynott’s real, if modest, qualities as a poet — is given new poignancy with the words read by someone whose name I can’t recall for the moment . . . I left the CD in another part of the country so, in writing this, I’m relying on those two trusted tools, memory and desire. But sometimes, of course, particularly as you get older, they can’t help but let you down.

Any songs on the album that I might actually know?
Yes. Them’s Gloria. It’s not an original take on it or anything but, cut live, it does reflect something of the younger Radiators. There is also, their take on Ian Whitcomb & Bluesville’s You Turn Me On. Though it doesn’t mean much to English listeners, it was a big hit in the US — number eight in 1965, I’m informed. The Radiators refract it through their memories of Whitcomb’s true desires. Or, at least through their knowledge of Whitcomb’s true love, early 20th century music — I have a CD of his recreations of what the bands would have been playing on the Titanic. So they play Whitcomb’s US rocker hit on a ukulele — as an imaginative leap of how he might himself have first played it in his rooms at Trinity College, Dublin.

Again, doesn’t that sound somewhat academic?
Trust me, it isn’t. Like I said, it’s a wonderful record, not just in its imaginative re-imagining of a lost world of 1960s Dublin popsters but in its own right. Plus everything is so capably explained and explored in sleeve notes by Phil Chevron (qv) and Ted Carroll.

Aren’t they friends of yours? Er, yes. But don’t hold that against them. Or set that fact against my judgment of the record.

Is that, as Leiber & Stoller had it, all there is? No . . .

Next up The Radiators, my memories and my desires