Sunday 26 August 2012

‘Good heavens, what has happened to this meat?’

When I was teaching English in Egypt in the 1970s there were taxi-drivers who spoke a perfectly preserved 1940s/1950s English – which they’d learned as batmen to officers in the British army, before Nasser arrived and kicked out the British. Above is a scan from ‘Conversations’ section of Colloquial Persian by L. P. Elwell-Sutton, first published in 1941 (‘… there is a growing realisation among careful students of foreign affairs that the new Iran is a portent of some significance in the Middle East of today. In part this is due to its strategic importance, in part to its importance as an oil producer …’) and picked up in a second-hand bookshop. Below are bits of some of the Conversations (‘intended to improve the student’s command of vocabulary and colloquial expressions’).

(At the end of his preface, by the way, L. P. Elwell-Sutton thanks his wife, ‘who patiently undertook many of the more arduous duties involved’. When I worked at Faber only a few years ago, it was not at all uncommon for male authors to thank their wives for doing the indexing, the filing, the permissions letters, etc.)

‘What is the matter with this house-boy? Why is he shouting?’
‘He is fighting with the cook; I don’t know what is the matter.’
‘Then tell him to come and do his work; there is a lot of dust on this table.’
‘Would you like anything, sir?’
‘Yes, bring me a glass of beer.’

At work
‘How many workmen are here?’
‘Only twenty-five have come; those other three have not arrived in time.’
‘All right, put these pipes on the lorry.’
‘What are you doing? Do you need eight men for one pipe?’
‘Driver, take this lorry to the top of the hill. Ten men go with it.’
‘What are you doing?’
‘What is wrong? I have done nothing.’
‘You are right, but here you must work or go.’
‘Look out! Get out of the way! That pipe is falling!’

‘I want to go to Isfahan: how can it be done?’
‘Do you want to go by taxi or by charabanc?’
‘What is the hire of a taxi?’
‘A taxi is going this afternoon in which there is room.’
‘The hire of one seat is 75 rials.’
‘But I cannot start today.’
‘Then, if you want a whole taxi to yourself, the hire will be 300 rials.’
‘Isn’t there a charabanc tomorrow?’
‘Yes, there is a charabanc; the cost of one seat is only 20 rials. But it is not comfortable.’

In camp
‘Sir, this stove was in the lorry and has got broken. What shall we do for supper?’
‘Sir, however much we have searched, we have not found the spades.’
‘The sky is very cloudy; I think it will rain directly.’
‘Then go and pitch the tents quickly. Why are you standing there?’
‘Sir, we don’t know where our kit has gone; perhaps we left it in the town.’
‘Sir, I am feeling very ill; please give me a little medicine.’
‘Now all of you go to sleep, and be ready for work at seven in the morning.’
‘Supper is ready, sir.’
‘Thank goodness. Good heavens, what has happened to this meat?’


Z said...

'Thank goodness' is marvellous, as a completely irrelevant precursor to the meat query. Brilliant, every one.

Nell Nelson said...

I feel for that pipe. . .

By the way, it has been SO hard to prove I am not a robot by entering the characters I think I see below, that I suspect I am, after all, a robot.

charles said...

Nell - the falling pipe? And the lost spades? And the broken stove? And the dust, the dust - things are always going wrong for this man, it's his fate. Joyce Carey's Mister Johnson, anyone? Lovely book. The robot/no-robot thing is as bizarre and daft as anything here; expect a Martin Amis riff on this, in the way he plays with brand names for cars, if he hasn't already.

Z - good to meet you, virtually. Yorkshire? Nice blogs.