KISS MY ASS, AND SEE YOU LATER
I have already written about the recent acquisition of my Kythnos kitten Billy Bob, the one cruelly if explicably rejected by his mother, the statuesque and snow white Asproula. I omitted to say, that I subsequently acquired a second male kitten living wild on the streets, who, after some struggle, I christened ‘Cousin Rex’. That enigmatic and Dickensian name definitely suits him. I don’t know whose cousin he is, if any, but he has the air of being one of those dusty, unfathomable blood relatives, only grudgingly received at Christmas, Easter or any other festive time. Cousin Rex is lugubrious, meditative, distant, withdrawn, but also mutedly affectionate when it suits him, which is approximately once a month. Every time I see him opaquely brooding away, I feel like saying, Hell’s teeth, cheer up, little man, little bloke, little guy! You have between six and ten very tasty meals a day here, including tinned sardines and occasional cream, plus while we’re at it the pick of my comprehensive library of jazz, world music (your own great nation’s Greek rembetika included) and all my Baroque opera CDs, and you still bloody saunter around the place as if life is somehow a perplexing and inexpressible burden…
In Cousin Rex’s case he cannot blame his parents, or certainly not that sweet ginger-haired mother of his, who I call Maud, for his glaring emotional deficit. His probable father is certainly a five star Ne’er-do-Well, who Ione and I, in total harmony given his ungainly girth and width, have dubbed Fatty Arbuckle. F. Arbuckle has a penchant for picking uneven and undemocratic fights, and flagrantly stealing scraps from one-eyed cats and titchy kittens, and is clearly ever ready to surrender his life for one cubic speck or atom of stale kefalotyri cheese. But Cousin’s Rex’s mother is very evidently a feline saint. She, Saint Maud of the Cyclades, would for weeks lie in the middle of the road, while the port’s beeping traffic dithered round her, and with four kittens including C. Rex (not to be confused with the heraldic and psychotropic rock band, T Rex) all suckling away furiously at her nipples. Unbelievably, she also went fishing along the shoreline for sardines and gopas (like sardines but without that saline, proteiny pungence…and extremely delicious). When she caught a gopa, instead of instantly bolting it, as Dear Old Papa Arbuckle would have done without a blush, she carted it back to her offspring and let them greedily gnash away. While they gobbled and mewed their satisfaction, she licked and patted and petted them, and I saw Scandinavian yachties and Greeks alike, moved to the core at the dizzying sight. So much for that ignorant pejorative slur of ‘behaving like an animal’…
I began this excursus about cats, simply because when daughter Ione is busy down in the Cafe Paradisos with her laptop, and I have no one to confide in about anything urgent or topical, I find myself invariably talking to Billy Bob. I don’t talk to Cousin Rex of course as, a) he wouldn’t be paying the attention that Billy Bob always does, ears a-cock and eyes dilated in gaping wonder at my flushed eloquence, and b) he, C. Rex, unnerves me with his saturnine glower, which also half the time looks like that of a smileless desert anchorite and mystic.
Today I was talking diffusely to Billy Bob on the universally popular subject of…backsides, and he was definitely gripped. Truth to tell, I have been thinking about backsides quite a lot lately, partly in the standard and healthy erotic context of various callipygous Greek women glimpsed in the purview of the port where I live… but also in a very profound and teasingly taxing epistemological context. Believe you me, I am not joking about this at all, but I realise I need to offer the reader what they call the back-story and in this case, more aptly no doubt… the backside story.
My daughter Ione had the previous day posted a Facebook notice to the effect that she had been watching a great many movies starring her unbeatable Mexican heartthrob, Gael Garcia Bernal. Indeed it had got to the stage where, with her laptop, if Bernal was in the film only intermittently as in Inarritu’s excellent Babel, she would simply fast forward it until lover boy reappeared on screen, and she could drool and dream again for the next ten minutes. She added in her fb post that she had been ‘not unelevated’ by the magnetic sight in Bad Education of his ‘comely buttocks’. Within a few minutes she received a lengthy response from a woman friend of hers called Lizzie, a TEFL worker like herself toiling away in distant and inscrutable Luxembourg. However, far from co-drooling or counter-puking about Casanova Gael of Guadaljara, Luxembourg Lizzie was simply picking up on an anxious linguistic and semantic point.
‘I thought,’ she posted, and for all of Ione’s considerable fb readership to see, ‘that the proper word, meaning the correct standard usage in English is ‘buttock’ and that it is singular, Ione. That’s what I’ve been telling all my TEFL classes here in Clervaux, Luxembourg, and what they’ve all been chanting here and outside the class. So when you wrote about Gael Bernal’s ‘buttocks’, it made no sense to me, as if you were talking about his ‘noses’ or his ‘faces’ or his ‘stomachs’? It worries me, Ione, if I’ve got it wrong. What do others of your TEFL fb followers reckon about this?’
The first thing that occurred to me when my daughter showed me this singular (!) buttock post was, why in hell’s name are they chanting aloud about either ‘buttock’ or ‘buttocks’ in TEFL classes in Luxembourg? Even should that be in beautiful and innocently sensuous and atmospheric Clervaux (I visited the lovely town once with a Southbound Five Countries Coach Tour costing all of £20 all inclusive for a week back in pre-Cambrian 1967). My next reflection was one of truly vertiginous though innocent amazement. This woman of thirty, who was highly educated and very cultured according to Ione, had spent not less than three decades wrongly thinking that ‘buttock’ was a singular and as it were collective noun.
“Think about it, “I expatiated later to Billy Bob. “If you were an average Englishman or Englishwoman going about your business and deciding to sit down and have a glass of Liebfraumilch after a hard day’s slog. Would you say to yourself while bending towards the chair, Lo I am putting my buttocks on this upholstered IKEA object, or, Lo, I am putting my buttock on this upholstered proprietary brand object? Well if you were brainbox Lizzie of Luxembourg, you would opt for the latter and you would have been plumping for that colossal linguistic and anatomical howler for thirty bloody years, Cousin Rex.”
No harm in trying to do the impossible now and again, but sure enough C Rex couldn’t have cared less, and even hurtfully looked away from me. Meanwhile Billy Bob didn’t exactly look like he was about to say, fuck me stiff, boss!, but he certainly looked as if he would have liked to, after I had regaled him with Lizzie of Lux’s bizarre misapprehension. In any event I developed my comprehensive associative theme, as I gave him one or two paradigm cases of other amazing misconceptions. Famously there had been the baffling discussion I had once had, with a very intelligent freelance science correspondent for a major English Sunday newspaper. She had been on a week-long residential course I was teaching in Oxford, and we had been talking for some reason about fruits and vegetables. At one point, I happened to mention the exotic and delicious pomegranate, and she looked at me blank and uncomprehending. Never in her life, she confessed, and she was in her mid forties i.e. far older than Luxembourg Lizzie, had she heard of anything called the pomegranate or rodi as it is known in Greece, where it grows by the cartload, and in islands like Dodecanese Karpathos literally litters the ground. And she was a bloody science correspondent, I added to Billy Bob’s waxing stupefaction! And come to think of it, BB, I believe she mentioned that her first degree had been in bloody old Botany…xylem and phloem and schlerenchyma and parenchyma and rhizomes and cotyledons and all that delirious and yes you’re right Hellenic-derived paraphernalia.
But I can think of even crazier paradigm scenarios than that. By now, dear reader, I am addressing you direct, given that the infant Billy Bob had suddenly fallen asleep. Listen now, esteemed auditor, to a sobering tale of the state of human ignorance. My late mother-in-law who lived most of her life in council house West Cumbria, had a close woman friend who took a package tour one year to balmy Tunisia. It was one of those jaunts where they slap you in a luxury hotel far from any town or city, and with its own cordoned-off beach, and groaning full board, and doubtless cheerful Tunisian ventriloquists and acrobats thrown into the bargain, by way of piquant evening diversion. In short, you never needed to leave the bleeding resort hotel, which definitely suits certain monocultural, monoglot slackers, and of all social classes, high and low, be it noted. All of which might explain the following impasse between my mother-in-law’s pal, and a bouncy male neighbour who had just walked up from his own immaculately renovated council house. When this someone called Ted, rather better versed in certain obscure cosmopolitan niceties, asked her cheerfully, “So? How did you like Africa then, Ethel?” there was a considerable sense of pregnant anticlimax ensued.
Ethel knocked the ash off her Low Tar Benson and Hedges, and said to Ted, uncomprehending. “Eh?”
“Africa,” grinned Ted. “Come on and tell us now, my old dear. How did you like the experience?”
Ethel who didn’t like being called anyone’s old dear, turned pettish and retorted, “I’ve never been to shagging Africa! I wouldn’t go there for love or money.”
Ted started a little but tried again. “Really, my dear? But you’ve just come back from Tunisia, haven’t you?”
Ethel shrugged. “Yes I have. What of it? And stop calling me bloody ‘my dear’. ”
“Well Tunisia is in Africa. And if you prefer, I shall call you darling instead of dear.”
“No you bloody won’t! And no, it’s not in bloody Africa!”
“Mm. I don’t usually swear in the presence of a nice lady like yourself, but I have to tell you, Ethel, my ah, my er, friend, that it bloody well is! Now then, look, I can see you have a Reader’s Digest World Atlas over there on your shelves. In mint condition, I see, and perhaps never quite fully opened. Now. Yes. See there? Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia. See. That’s where, gospel truth, you’ve been on your recent holidays, friend Ethel, I have to tell you.”
Ethel was monumentally aghast, as if being accused of sexual perversion or petty larceny. “Shite, shite, shite! “she blurted unmusically. “God, if only I had known! I thought it was next to Spain. Honestly I did. I promise you all.”
But believe me, I can think of a third and final and even crazier paradigm than that. Let’s backtrack to spring 1977 when I was living with a young woman called Nina, a hospital nurse aged 24, me, dear reader, being a struggling and sometimes surly young author aged 26. Nina was very fair, beautiful, spirited, homely, but overwhelmingly transparent and naive. She was therefore capable of embarrassing me and making me cringe to the roots of my being, all of which meant in effect that our time together was soon to foreclose. For example, we had had a very fine camping holiday in the Inner Hebrides of Mull, Ione and Tiree, in that sweltering late summer of 1976. Thereafter Nina in any sort of company, Cumbrian International Marxists, arty-farty Gaullois-puffing types and yurt-dwelling hippies included, was wont to refer to The Hebrides as ‘The Hebs’. You should have seen me fighting my hellish blushes and even a little nascent fury with my far too breezy if bonny girlfriend. Worse still, although she was a nurse, and had seen very grisly things, and of course Death itself , she had a curious way of being both as foul-mouthed as me, and at times as all-purpose antiseptically prissy as a servant nanny born somewhere around 1895. Thus if she went and stubbed her toe, or dropped a spoon or tripped over a rug, she might one day like me say shite! or fuck!, but just as likely she would exclaim along the lines of an Enid Blyton Girl Guide Sixer.
“Oh, bottom! ” she would curse, and I blushed all the way to the moon on her behalf. Or alternatively and just as rocket-propellingly mortifying. “Oh, bum!”
I ask you. If she had said, Oh, arse! I would not have flushed or shuffled my fingers and effortfully restrained the soon to be vicious lash of my exasperated tongue. In any event, she and I in early 1977 were in the company of a man called Abel, who in two years’ time would be the best man at my wedding to Annie in Wythop Church near Bassenthwaite Lake. Abel was an extraordinary man, an artist aged 34, and a graduate of the Royal Academy in London. He had known personally Henry Moore and had also been an acquaintance of RB KItaj, who was a graduate of the RCA. He was also my brother’s brother-in-law, and otherwise it was unlikely we would ever have met. Once an art teacher in a public school, he had been unemployed for over a decade, and in his excessive free time he now painted very rarely and seemed indifferent to most things other than the poetry of William Blake and the music of Mozart. He was on medication for depression and perhaps this explains why his laughter when he collapsed as he regularly did into mirth, had an anomalous squeaking and whistling sound to it. Not so long ago he had been good-looking and fit, but now with his medication he was puffy and bloated and his eyes rather slanting, lined and perplexed.
Suddenly something extraordinary happened. Nina without so much as a warning cough or an apology went and farted! As with most established couples, she and I would often unembarrassedly trade flatulence and titter or guffaw if appropriate. Add to that, that Nina was a nurse, and a nurse who has not known public trumpeting from say patients rallying from anaesthetic, must be deaf from birth as well as a nurse. The point is that she would not have farted in front of Abel deliberately, it was just one of those deviant darling ones that had, as they say, ‘slipped out’.
Abel looked amazed, as if someone hiding behind the sofa had tried to shoot him dead. I looked at him and at blushing, giggling Nina, and burst into wild hilarity. Abel then relented and erupted into his own mad cachinnations. He slapped his thigh and whinnied and gasped, and was evidently struggling to articulate something very vital for our ears.
Nina said, “Whoops, so sorry. It slipped out! I don’t normally do anything like that I can assure you, Abel.”
Abel was crying with merriment and aching to tell us something urgent through his tears. After perhaps two minutes, eventually he managed to deliver us a startling and unprecedented statement.
He declared, “I’m 34 and that’s the first time I’ve ever heard a woman fart! And know what? I genuinely believed they never did! I didn’t know how they managed it in physiological terms, but I simply assumed they never ever broke wind. And as I say, for me it’s a first.”
You would have thought he was a louche and overweight vicar, talking about losing his dear old virginity at forty, or sampling cannabis, or swimming successfully without plastic wings.
“That’s quite impossible, “said Nina the ever sensible nurse. “I mean, Abel darling, you must have known it’s impossible for anyone of any gender never ever to do windies. They would be in a lot of ghastly intestinal pain if they couldn’t. Why they would have to do a pooh-pooh every time they…”
I said irritably. “ For God’s sake say shit, Nina! You’re not in the children’s ward now. And don’t say windies either, say fucking fart. Say shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, fart, fart, fart, fart ..!”
Then I turned to Abel and said that as he was of a huge family of ten siblings, including seven girls now in their fifties and forties, as well as their twenties, it was bloody weird he had never in his puff heard a single female fart! Did he have severe hearing not to say perplexing olfactory problems, as well as chronic depression? The debate continued until all three of us were seized with you might say the hysterics of crazy Rabelaisian scatology…and we all began to slap our thighs and cry like babies and clout our bellies and beg for the relief of painless sobriety in lieu of mad laughter.
Then the inevitable happened. Nina farted a second time, and of course no one could blame her given the gut-wrenching intensity of our incendiary and torrential glee…
“Oops, “she purred, and then guffawed, and then collapsed into renewed hysterics.
I sighed and turned to Abel and said, “Your second ever female fart, Picasso! You are 34 and in twenty minutes you have heard not just one but a second unheralded and feminine afflatus. Buy one get one free, son. Buy one now and Nina will give you another one free, as the promotions always tell you…”
All this brings up back to Lizzie of Clervaux who had spent thirty years thinking that her and everyone else’s backside, was not a pair of buttocks, but a single unit called a buttock. This strange fantasy of hers set my head reeling, and the epistemology of it all was exceedingly daunting. I was aching for a blackboard and a bit of chalk to put it squarely. Instead I got out paper and pencil and scribbled it all down in black and white.
GETTING INSIDE LIZZIE’S HEAD, OR PYGO-ARITHMETIC LAID BARE
According to Luxembourg Lizzie, 1 real backside = 1 Lizzian pseudo- buttock, and therefore 1 real and genuine buttock is, in her terms, not 1 buttock at all, but a Lizzian half-buttock!
Two Lizzian half buttocks therefore = 1 Lizzian backside, and 1 Lizzian backside, thank God for that, is the same as anyone’s quotidian designation of a backside.
But bizarrest of all, this cultured and well-read TEFL gal aged 30, thinks a backside and a buttock are the same thing, the same unitary entity! And horrifying to contemplate, she has half of the population of the venerable Duchy of Luxembourg thinking and spouting and even fucking chanting inside and outside the TEFL class the same atrocious heresy!
You can see the difficult analogical problem that Lizzie must have faced at some stage in her youthful cognitive development. She says to herself when say 16 or 17 and of an inquiring maidenly nature, at naturally enough thinking of the mystery of her budding adolescent body,
I have 2 ears, 2 lips, 2 eyes, 2 eyelashes and eyelids, 2 nostrils, 2 arms, 2 legs, 2 feet, 2 breasts, 2 thighs. I call them collectively, ‘a pair’ of ears, lips , eyes, feet, thighs etc.
However I have only 1 head, 1 nose, 1 mouth, 1 chin, 1 belly, 1 fanny, 1 backside,
I have though on examination a backside which is sometimes given the strange name of a buttock. This backside which is also called a bottom or a behind, is in addition called’ a buttock’, and you see this weird word in butcher’s shops, and in certain wrestling contexts where they talk for example of the cross-buttock hold. This buttock aka backside is anatomically split in two, but for some reason they never refer to the two separate halves. But if they did, I suppose they would be half-buttocks or semi-buttocks or demi-buttocks. Of course no one to my knowledge ever talks about a half-backside, so perhaps the problem is altogether superfluous and unworthy of discussion.
The philosophical and epistemological problem here is considerable, and this is regardless of Clervaux Lizzie’s cockeyed take on all things posterior and a posteriori. Which of the two, an epistemologist would enquire, has ontological supremacy, and which of the two truly speaks for the true nature of the entity-upon-which-one-sits, which now we realise with some trepidation is either a Unity of a Duality. Is it the single-entity King Backside as commonly understood (even by heretical TEFL brainbox Lizzie), or is it the separate bifurcated entities and twins, the Paired and Symmetrical Buttocks, which in effect stand for a highly hallucinatory existential Duality?
Imagine for a whimsical while, proposes an earnest philosopher, that you, a human being, were instead an ‘inanimate’ buttock suddenly magically given the gift of life. You realise very soon that of course you are one of a conjoined two, meaning you are half of a bifurcated, but as it were Unified Backside. Would you, you solo but twinned Buttock, wish to be seen as the ur-Fundament =Heuristic Foundation of all things? And thereby, and in the same breath, the true and venerable Monobuttock ur-Backside, and thus the original ontological substratum as it were? Or would you cede supremacy to the tyrannical and hoaried and complacent pants-filling monozygotic solo unit known as The Backside as Commonly Understood. This, with its two subjugated, dependent and less than dirt, auxiliaries, the laughable things with the laughable names, for they are known as the Buttock Twins aka Tweedledum and Tweedledee. These two circus clowns being more of a butcher’s or a wrestler’s comical terminology, a couple of lowly down at heel Shakespearean jesters known as the risible Buttock Boys from Way down West.
I can also discern an even simpler diagnosis. The problem of what is a singular and a plural in simple linguistic, not anatomical terms. For example, I once made a London woman friend laugh by talking about buying a pound of ‘okras’ that day in Hackney. She chuckled and told me both the singular and plural of okra was ‘okra’, just as it is with say the word fish. I ruminated a while then smiled back and said, what about the legitimate variant of ‘fishes’ as in ‘the fishes of the sea’? She sighed and said OK, clever dick, Mr Brains, but if you have to have your necessary plural because it makes you feel happier, then simply call them ‘ladies’ fingers’ for the plural and ‘lady’s finger’ for the singular.
But getting back to this oh so urgent conundrum of Unity and Duality, with all its resonant Indian philosophical associations as in Vedanta Advaita and Vishishta Vedanta Advaita. I think in effect I have solved the problem or let us say the Pain in the Backside Teaser, in one fell swoop. It is obvious is it not? You just go to Quantum Theory physics, where as everyone knows the physical characteristics of the phenomenon of Light, are seen to be explicable neither in terms of waves nor particles, but as Both.
Simple, I said brightly to morose Cousin Rex who was still awake while Billy Bob was as peaceful as a philosopher who has solved the hardest and the biggest problem of them all. The Quantum Theory, I said to C Rex, would allow that that-upon-which-one-sits is both a Single Backside and a Dual Backside. In its Single Mode, it is a Unified Backside as commonly understood, even by fretful TEFL expert, Luxembourg Lizzie. In Dual Mode however, it is as much Two Twins, a Double and Conjoined Entity, as it is a single Lone Child of Nature.
“It’s both, “I sighed victoriously to C Rex.”It’s both Cousin Rex, don’t you see? And isn’t that so inordinately liberating, and I trust you understand that we are talking about more than fucking backsides at this point?”
Exhausted by my taxing lucubrations, I suddenly fell asleep, as if I were only another infant and orphan like Billy Bob. But just as I nodded off, I could swear that all of a sudden Cousin Rex opened his mouth and yawned at me, with let us say a depthless yet indifferent expression. And, then would you believe, the little melancholy hermit anchorite, orphan son of selfless St Maud of the Cyclades, opened his whiskery mouth and uttered in a quiet but very human voice what appeared to be something on the lines of prophecy.
What he said he said first in Greek and then in an immediate English translation(I will render an accurate composite) was this: “You are just talking like a fool through your kollo (arse), vre (mate)…”
And with that, he curled up at the side of Billy Bob, and the pair of them slept the sleep of the fabled Gods.