More hip (hop) than I realised?

I have never thought of myself as being particularly hip, rather more square if anything (though as the famous 80s newscaster Huey Lewis taught us, these attributes are not necessarily mutually exclusive).  However, a few recent events have made me wonder if I am inadvertently becoming slightly hip.

A few weeks back, in that London, a chap who if not actually gay certainly took sufficient care in his dress and appearance not to embarrass himself in such company (I fear I may be veering into stereotype territory here) complimented me on my shoes.  Before I describe this praise-worthy footwear, I should perhaps mention that I have an aversion to dark coloured footwear on my feet – I’m fine with it on the feet of others, just not my own.  I do not own a pair of black shoes but an impractically large proportion of my shoes are (mostly) white.  For formal occasions, I rely on tan shoes – the lighter the better.  Anyway, the shoes in question are suede brogues in a shade of duck-egg blue (for suitable duck) which I rather like (especially as I acquired then on the cheap), but are rather impractical in our climate – particularly as experienced at the end of 2013 and beginning of 2014.  This is not an issue that I recall Mr Presley mentioning – though I am just as keen as he to keep people from stepping on them.  Once again, let down by popular music…

Only this week, a very attractive young lady approached me with a recording device to elicit my opinions on the subject of rap music.  Sadly, my knowledge is this field is rather limited – I believe a quiet ocean (or, if you prefer, a silent C) is involved – and I felt unable to decide whether “classic” or some newer genre of rap meet with a greater degree of my approbation.  Still, it was kind of her to ask an old codger.

It was also this week that an Italian asked me whether I had lived in Italy.  Apparently, my pronunciation of Italian patisserie was so good that I could be mistaken for a native.  Obviously, the ability to obtain cake in other languages is a key (and very cool) life skill – but in this case, it did massively oversell my facility with the Italian language (which is almost non-existent,  I can read a little especially if related to power stations and that’s about it).  Lest you are starting to think that I am naturally gifted with languages, I can assure that this is not the case.  My Italian pronunciation comes courtesy of Messers George Frideric Handel and Nicola Vaccai coupled with the hard work of my singing teacher to undo the effects of my Latin schooling so that I can better render bass arias for an (as yet non-existent) audience.

I’m not that hip though.  I regularly pass what I presume to be nightclub which offers a night named something like “Angels and Demons” (or “Heaven and Hell”, or “Vicars and Tarts” or something in that Manichean vein).  Among the many delights on offer on these nights are “angle grinders”.  I presume these are there to offer noise and sparks, but I like to think that their inclusion shows a resurgent interest in engineering among today’s youth.  I like to imagine future nights will offer lathes spinning some discs or perhaps a DJ spot from a Makino MC65 CNC milling machine.  I fear this may mark me out as terminally un-hip – though, Hitchhikers fans need not worry about my backside falling off.

Actually, the angle grinder gave me an idea.  When folk prove particularly resistant to absorbing new data using traditional methods, my previous strategy was to write out the information long-hand on a baseball bat and beat it into them (it’s never failed yet!).  We seem to be saddled with a particularly obtuse political elite at the moment, I do wonder if constructive use of an angle grinder could make them more acute?  Yes, after all that, it was all leading to a cheap trigonometry pun.

The tyranny of English

I talk, of course, of the language and not the breakfast.  I should also make clear that I love English for the ridiculous quantity of words it contains and the truly vast amount of content those far more (and far less) talented than I have created using those words.  Perhaps, most of all, I love it for the scope it gives for word-games and humour – though readers of this blog will have to take this last assertion on trust.

However, as an English speaker in the home of English, the language, its tones and cadences can come to dominate one’s aural landscape.  I do treasure an accent (and have acquired small bits of ones not my own) and, as I may have mentioned before, I’m a sucker for almost any accent from Scotland.

I don’t watch Borgen – I watched the first episode at which point everything was going swimmingly, and I couldn’t bear to see it all, inevitably, fall apart.  As a result, I had been missing any dose of Danish – or other Scandinavian tongue – until I visited Foyles over the weekend.  Foyles does seem to be magnet for those of Viking heritage and I spent a pleasant few minutes eavesdropping on conversations I couldn’t understand (lacking subtitles) but just enjoying the sound of it all.  I feel I want to join in, but fortunately have so far resisted the urge.  In a similar vein, I can usually resist the urge to listen in to conversations held in English, but hang on any word of an overhead conversation held in Spanish.

A few weeks ago I watched several French films in a relatively short span of days.  Across Heartbreaker, Populaire and In the House I fell in love with the sound of French – a language I understand a little (just enough to criticise the accuracy, and clear US-centricity, of the subtitles).  In the House, as well as being a splendid film, has the most beautiful French speaking in it – I feel it would be my first choice as a pronunciation guide if I were ever to dust off my all-too-rusty French.

Montalbano, and especially Young Montalbano, made me want to speak Italian – or better Sicilian.  I don’t speak much Italian, but can sing some thanks to Nicola Vaccai and his Metodo Practico (where I am currently tackling the mordant: please insert your own joke about dyeing/dying here).  Young Montalbano has, like Endeavour, managed that most unlikely of things: a prequel that is the equal, if not superior, of the original.  It is also a joy to see so many ancient, character actors in one show – why is this so uncommon in the UK, where both witnesses and suspects are so relatively young?

Sadly, my own language skills have declined over time.  Google Translate is very handy for a chap (or chapess) in a hurry, but means I no longer put the effort in to understand websites in the original language.  I also rarely have the chance to practise my spoken language skills as so many business meetings are conducted in English – even if it is the mother tongue of only one (or, occasionally none) of the participants but just the only one shared by all.  Even if everyone else shares the same language, meetings are often held in English so that they can practise – and I lose out as the minority wanting to speak in the local tongue.

Maybe it’s time to learn Mandarin – the tyranny of the future? – if nothing else, there should be plenty of speakers available.  However, I fear to do it justice I should have started more than 40 years ago when my brain was more plastic than it is today.  Perhaps I should just accept my linguistic limitations, and enjoy the odd foreign language movie or series when I can – supplemented with a little surreptitious eavesdropping…