Month: April 2013


Language generalists will most likely know that English has a Germanic foundation, even if students struggle to see the likeness as they plough through German relative clauses tables.

On the surface the two languages are distinct but here’s an example of subtle similarities in vocab. Cruising thefreedictionary reveals this:

nigh (naɪ)

adv., adj. nigh•er, nigh•est,
prep., v. adv.

1. near in space, time, or relation.
2. nearly; almost (often fol. by on or onto).


3. near; approaching.
4. short or direct.
5. (of an animal or vehicle) being on the left side.


6. near.

v.i., v.t.

7. Archaic. approach.
[before 900; Middle English nigh(e)neye, Old English nēah, nēh, c. Old Frisian nēi, nī, Old Saxon, Old High German nāh (German nahe), Old Norse nā-, Gothic nehwa
A rich history indeed – 1,200 years ago, people in Saxony, Belgium and England were saying Nah, Nei and Neah to our Nigh. Wonder what the inside word was down near the stables?

Mister, Mister

If you’re a bloke and I call you Mister, call yourself lucky. Mr means I respect you or admire you either for your seniority, your talent, or your wisdom (or all three if you’re so blessed). Mr Arnison, former Headmaster, came to our wedding but still I’d dive into a vat of bubbling tar before calling him “Barry”.

A request that I call someone by [FirstName] is processed by my external communications department. Once you’ve shared a few work shifts, come to mine for a cuppa, or, better still, washed my car, then I’ll call you [FirstName].

It might seem overly old-fashioned but the Mr adds a crashpad of comfort to interactions.

Like the polite German “Sie”, the use of Mr / Sir / Ma’am / Mrs is a custom that’s hard lost.

How else do you refer to teachers or seniors you barely know?

Tarifa to Tangier

Ticket to Tangier

Ticket to Tangier

Elevator music for boats is playing on the Tarifa to Tangier ferry. I didn’t know this genre existed until now and if it were playing on my last watery trip from Devonport to Melbourne then I don’t recall.

I’m over-warm in my thermals but less to carry means I’m content to perspire away. I take in a distant, hazy vision of Tangier and ache for the 3-D version.

Aboard the ferry this pulled-together crew: Dean from Vancouver, Robbie from Scotland, Andy and I in front of them, Chris and Grant just behind us, Chompy and Caly next to Stabby.

Robbie borrows my pen to fill in paperwork for the customs officers and within minutes the pen is missing. Travel pens. Now that I’m home there are 42 in my desk drawer but while travelling, all pens disappear into a quantum warp field.

Waves send us rocking and lurching about as I surf down the aisle toward the ferry toilet, obeying the internal nanna-logue that implores: ‘Go! You never know when you’ll next get the chance’.

Back to my seat, I fondle the leather of my freshly-polished boots and twiddle my laces, a tactile meditation.

Dean, handsome rugged type and worldly too, hands me this address with a been-there-before nod: CHECAUEN. Hotel Salema. Hotel Rif. At the foot of the mountains, southeast of Ceuta and Tetuan.

By 6pm I am with the crew on a train bound for Fez. With a maroon and gold kaftan-thing and with a carpet reminiscent of Peter Hack’s house in Brisbane but without that pen.

Caricature-culture looms large

Berber rug from Tangier Kasbah

Berber rug from Tangier Kasbah

Try visiting Morocco and Not coming home with a carpet.

Surely everybody, fresh into Tangier, has heard voices sing-spruiking: “I am Mohammed – I will buy you for Five Thousand camels”. Or: “I will take you to the most special, the finest place in all of Maroc. Other tourists don’t even know this place exists.”

Ali, our railway greeter, takes us to a carpet shop, followed by another carpet shop. Our Grant pipes up: “Have you ever seen the Fast Forward skit on TV?”

“SalEm. SalEm. SalEm.”(*) We inhale, then sip, and inhale once again, the peppermint aroma, putting down our herb-filled tea glasses as this rich cabaret begins. Listen, they announce, this is the history of carpets, and they talk in time to the showing.

Energetic forearms wave gigantic carpets. Woven mats and rugs unfurl and colours weave in the air, dust drifts down through muted sunlight, settling on more rugs.

I lap up the simplistic designs including stripes; Grant prefers the precise and detailed mats, ones made of silk with birds, flowers, intricate patterns. His choices belie a higher intelligence, a higher-end taste in art.

The ring masters continue: “The colour in this one is made with real saffron, please, and over here, if you will, please, you will see a real Berber, a Picasso of Berbers, if you please.

“As you like (x3). That is to say (x 3). Do you understand? (x 3). They’ve received Mrs Lambert’s memo about delivering messages in threes for greatest impact.

“Close your eyes,” one continues, “imagine it in your home”. “Send it home, just like a flying carpet.” “I don’t usually show this one, but because you are So nice, especially for you, here it is…”

The final sales pitch? How carpet was Perfect for natural sports. Carpets don’t squeak or move around, unlike a Bed, they wink.

I don’t get it, but, I’m SOLD.

* Salem/As-Salaamu Alaykum