Current Essays

Translavering On:2002-03-01 04:47:21

There is a lady who reads the news and snippets from the papers and the like really early in the morning (Texas time) for the BBC's World Service and who has what I like to think of as a Mid-Atlantic accent (not that I like to think of it much). You know the sort of sound---wet, windy and miles from anything useful, not to mention rather fishy when you get really down to it.

No, no, she seems such a nice lady and anyway that's being too cruel and though it isn't really untrue I'll take it back, it's just that she's the one who keeps annoying me most mornings by repeatedly calling the British newspaper The Times "The London Times" every time she does the papers and whilst I would never stoop to being pedantic, not in an hundred essays, I feel that she is obscuring a vital difference between our two countries by doing what amounts to a translation; obscuring the difference that over there is, when you think of it, a small, compact and centripetal country while over here we have a big sprawling and centrifugal one; that British papers are national (in fact often called the National Dailies), but with, I suppose, the exception of USToday American papers are essentially local even if distributed widely.

Anyway, a while ago the Beeb's Lady of the Ocean read something (taken, I would guess, from the letters column of that aforementioned paper The Times of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland together with her various dependencies and Oh forget it... OK the lady might have a point, . . . though I've lost mine for a mo...)
Oh yes . . . she read something about the return of the first Robin of Spring to England. Just like that "the first Robin of Spring"---returning to England!!---and, as far as I could see from my radio, she did it without blushing!

Real Robin Now in Britain the robin is a small sparrow-like bird that has a bright red breast and cheeks which, I think may be something to do with its mating season, not that I'm up on the sex lives of small sparrow-like things, but the important bit is that, far from being harbingers of Spring (which in Britain are Cuckoos and that Times letter was probably really about the first cuckoo of Spring), Robins are particularly prominent around Christmas time when winter visitors from Europe swell the native population.

False RobinOf course American Robins are, in keeping with our Atlantic theme, a totally different kettle of fish. They look so little like their namesakes that it makes one feel rather sorry for the poor pioneers who presumably accepted the one as a suitable substitute for the other. Boy they must have been homesick for Europe!

Of course these were the same people who, after pointing at some part of the landscape, are supposed to have cheerfully accepted native American names that translate as "We call that a river. A river" or "I think that's probably a mountain" or in extreme cases "It's your bloody finger, you twit!" Talk about linguistically challenged, poor buggers couldn't get anything right.

Well I'm off back outside with my binoculars and my anorak and my little notebook pathetically waiting, and waiting for the first cuckoo of spring to reach Texas.

Cheerio for now from
Richard Howland-Bolton

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