Old country revisited 6 – Going home

I was up after five in the morning. The last minutes spent in my flat of a dozen years were anything but nostalgic: my mind was focused on checking I haven’t forgotten anything. Ending his shift Rob then drove me to the Cobra, where we sat and talked for some time, and after the last symbolic shot of Smuggler we went on to the bus station – and parted.

Initially I was understandably slightly down, but after a piss-and-fag break at Telč I found out I was feeling all right again, eventually realizing I was on the road again. On the road back home. I wouldn’t exactly say I was enjoying the flights, I was more looking forward to having it over and done with, but at last I was in Glasgow airport, taxis being spare took the shuttle to Buchanan St station, decided to walk the final one and a half miles despite the weight of my luggage – and around midnight I was back at Firhill Court.

I had a more or less pleasant trip. I do mean to visit the old country every few years or so, if only to meet my friends from the college and Rob; they’ll always be among the most important people in my life. But except for that, to quote the end of the song after which this blog was named, I’ve left this ship forever / There’s no treasure to be found.



Old country revisited 5 – Closing time

Not too typical time for me, actually. It was Friday morning and I had just about everything done, even though I would only leave the following day. So there was plenty time for a coffee with Rob & Váňa at the Cobra, gathering (and sharing) news about last night, packing up the parcels and bringing them to the post office, a Birrell with Rob, Marjána and Peters at the Juvel, updating my LibraryThing account (which wasn’t even necessary), meeting Dave, who had unsurprisingly failed to attend his morning rehabilitating appointment, at the Cobra for a match in chess (I lost 0-3, playing rather pathetically – but then I hadn’t played the game since in the rehab), packing up everything else including the laptop – and going to sleep, somewhat reluctantly.

I didn’t really feel like sleeping. Quite possibly, I was only then coming down; knowing one has to get up early of course doesn’t help one fall asleep, quite the contrary; the realization that it might be a really long time until I met Rob again was eventually dawning on me in earnest, as was the knowledge that in a sense I had reached the point of no return at last… Anyway, all these combined meant I felt, well, empty. Neither sad or fearful nor elated or impatient – just void of emotions altogether.

But then Rob called, we agreed I’d meet him in the morning yet – and as he’d got a customer, had to hang up but said would call again soon, I naturally did fall asleep.

(First published on Blogger in April ’12.)


Old country revisited 3 – Tidying up

It seems that I did make some progress since the rehab. In my thirties, dealing with a single “bureaucratic” affair, or even buying something one doesn’t buy every week, usually exhausted me – mentally – too much to get involved in another such business that same day.

Now it only took Tuesday and Wednesday to cancel my Internet connection, close my account in one bank, change appropriate details in the other, get the information I needed from the jobcentre, health insurance company, social insurance agency and from the Revenue, even to have my hair cut and more – all this in a calm, leisurely way.

I also bought some of the tasty things you won’t see in a Scottish shop, like Margot, a “banana in chocolate” (although I’m finding out you can order these two at Amazon) and křupky (an onomatopoeic name, but don’t even try to find out how to pronounce it).

Despite which I found out my feelings were similar to those during the last few visits at the rehab. (Or, for that matter, in Brae, a few years after having left the college.) I was revisiting a place I had once known quite well and called, or almost called, a “home”; but I no longer belonged there. I was just a visitor. A welcome visitor perhaps, but no more than that.

Even “my” flat, in which I had been staying for a dozen years, felt more like a hotel room than the Glasgow one I had moved in last December.

(First published on Blogger in April ’12.)


Old country revisited 2 – Brae

(My own name for the city in which I went to college, based on the fact that the hostel I stayed in was in the middle of a reasonably steep brae.)

Spending a couple of hours with my sister over a lunch and a coffee was good. Ever since post-adolescence I was getting along with her all right, which can’t be said about her parents, and I suppose that the fact we were the only two in the family with interest in foreign languages played only a minor role. Even her children’s presence didn’t bother me, at least not nearly as much as such small kids (between six and ten) usually do.

It was good as well to have my rucksack again. Nonetheless, the fact that in the meantime somebody had stolen the bottle of malt whisky did piss me off. Not because of the money; it had been meant as a birthday gift for Rob. Moreover, the culprit added insult to injury by leaving the empty paper box inside the rucksack.

Rob himself was meanwhile unlucky too. He got into two road-accident-induced traffic jams before even getting from Budweis to the D1 motorway, and two more followed then. So after he had picked me up at the airport we returned by lesser roads. With the combined help of a petrol station assistant, a few phone calls to his father (a truck driver) and a GPS navigation device. Three or four hours later than initially expected. Still, we did have time for a couple more hours in his bar before going on to our respective flats.

(First published on Blogger in April ’12.)


Old country revisited 1 – New Jersey

(As two guys coming from the town I was born and brought up in called it. Funnily I only knew them in the National Service, some 180 miles away.)

It began in Glasgow, where upon arrival to the airport I was told my flight was one hour delayed. In Stansted I did have time for a very quick fag, but in Brae it was only me who arrived, not my rucksack. We filled in the form and I continued by train. At least I got a call from Rob when I was in SnO, which somewhat improved my mood.

The next day I spent with my parents, which is no longer as hard as it used to be; it also had a particular, rather good perk this time, and the Brae airport called the rucksack arrived. But it wasn’t before I was riding in the local train from NJ the following day that I realized I actually liked the country – as long as I knew I didn’t have to go on living there or even keep returning on a regular basis.

Some time later I sat in a bus – possibly the shortest replacement bus service I ever had to use (between two towns less than 3 miles distant from each other), but I felt I was finally beginning to enjoy the trip.

(First published on Blogger in April ’12.)



Several months ago, a Net friend of mine published a book and asked some of us to tell him about any typos and similar small mistakes we might notice there when reading it. In the end, I supplied him with rather a long list.

Which is not to say there were more than there usually are in a book like his – some four or five hundred pages. The point is that apparently I spotted, without focusing on it, more of them than all the other guys altogether. Obviously, this is one of the few things in which I am really good.

Why? As usual, a combination of several reasons I guess. Firstly, I’ve been a bookworm since childhood – in fact I more readily understand written than spoken word even in my first language. In my other languages, which I learned mostly from books, this is even more pronounced (sorry for the pun).

Secondly, English is not my first language. This is not a paradox – the better accustomed you are to a language, the easier it is to overlook a typo. I think that if the book was in my first language and contained the same number of typos, I would spot a smaller proportion of them.

Thirdly, I have some training. Very often in my life this or that friend approached me, asking me to check some official letter or something (occasionally even an SMS to a girlfriend) for typos for him. Given that a few of my friends were dyslexic/disgraphic, I surely had a lot to correct.

And fourthly, I’m a nitpicker. I try too hard to be precise. When somebody says or writes* verbal while obviously meaning oral, as far as I’m concerned it’s a distinct mistake. Not that I don’t make lots of these myself – but unlike most others, I keep correcting myself as soon as I realize I’ve made them.

So you won’t be surprised to learn that I’m the kind of person who re-reads his own e-mails twice before sending them – which, after all, is more typo-searching exercise.

* Come to think of it, this illustrates my point. Says or writes. I suppose that most people would only have used one of the two verbs in that sentence. I mean clause.


Hating one’s own name

A Web friend recently suggested that Keith Robertson, the name I more or less consistently use on the Internet, is rather untypical for a “Czech”. I explained the reason was precisely that I have never identified as one (although ages ago I identified as a Moravian).

My official forename is, however, so bloody Czecho-Moravian that as far as I know, it is neither used nor has a cognate in any other language, Slavic ones (even Slovak) included. Which uniqueness might be great if I felt any loyalty to the nation, but I don’t. It also features the voiced palatal plosive – a sound which exists neither in English, Scots or Gaelic.

Moreover, I spent the most formative years of my life in a community in which a forename was something you only used in more formal situations. Calling somebody by their nickname didn’t necessarily mean you were good friends; calling them by their forename meant you were mere acquaintances. (It could be a pet name: what mattered was that it differed from what was on your ID.)

My official surname is so bloody Czech that it features the /ou/ diphthong which does not occur even in any Moravian dialect. It also features the š lettter. In general I think that using diacritical marks to differentiate between a language’s sounds is a great idea; I don’t like having this particular letter in my official name. Partly because there’s still too much old software around which “can’t do it” (I’m sometimes told in red letters I must only use letters in the name field or, contrarily, asked to confirm my name contains a string of ampersands, hash signs and numbers); partly because it’s virtually unspellable in Britain’s languages.

Moreover, I come from a nuclear family which was so nuclear that I don’t even know the names of my cousins once removed, let alone more distant relatives. There was never any sense of belonging to some clan. And I’ve long ago ceased to perceive even this nuclear family as my nearest and dearest. Claiming that my surname makes me as emotional as my birth certificate number is no exaggeration.

I’m told in England you can sign a deed poll and in Scotland “merely informing others of the new name is enough for it to take legal effect” (Wikipedia). Must be nice. In this country you have to apply to your local registrar to authorize a name change, providing a “weighty reason”, like its resembling some taboo word. The law even specifies that a change to a pet name won’t be approved, and that in case of doubt about the correct written form the supplicant is obliged to hand in an expert’s testimony. So forget about a Jamie or all those Ciaráns you have in the Isles. Consequently, my chances of having my name changed from something Czech to something British equal zero.

Is it then any wonder I’m taking advantage of the possibility of bearing a name I can like on the Net and never use the official one there unless necessary?

(First published on Blogger sometime in October ’11.)


6th Reid Yaird repeat stay

The sixth and the last. And although it wasn’t smashing (as it had been at least twice before), it was definitely good.

It wasn’t smashing mostly because I was no longer really a part of it. Almost three and a half years after having ended the cure; more than three years after getting online; over a year after the Dunkeld Vow, I was mentally and emotionally elsewhere.

That is not to say I was indifferent, let alone bored. But I was more immersed in nostalgic reminiscences than in the current community’s issues. I kept a rather detailed journal as always, but more out of force of habit than commitment. I was even, for the first time, associating a great deal more with other repeaters than with those undergoing cure proper.

The fact that I happened on no former friend or acquaintance (except of course the staff) maybe played its part as well. Yet even today I would be interested in how the life stories of quite a few guys I had only met on a repeat stay continued. Not on this one though. There certainly were several I liked – but not as much as to still think about them for longer than a week after the stay.

As I was saying. It was definitely good – for what it was. My last five-day visit there.

(First published on Blogger on 7 Oct 11 or, more probably, later.)


Reunion: M.o.t.W. (update)

I have already mentioned him twice, so I may just as well finish my notes about the recent Tech reunion with an update.

Two years ago I wrote a special blog about him. Obviously, we did meet at the reunion, and it turned out that he hasn’t written me off. In fact, he said that several parts of that letter of mine reminded him a lot of his own experiences.

And the rapport was to a great deal still there.

Earlier this year I mentioned him again. I won’t back down on what I said then. He is no longer one of the four. But the rapport was there still and his having been downgraded in the gallery of my friends is due only to the rareness of our meetings since the Tech.

Boy, he even knew what I was talking about when I mentioned The View…

(First published on Blogger in September ’11 or later.)


Getting even older

How do you recognize you’re getting old? You’ll find many answers to that question in literature and folk wisdom. You’ll even find many good answers, so you can take your pick.

I’ll never forget the definition according to which you’re getting old when you no longer like new music. For I’ll never forget how we were discussing rap after it came to this country in 1990. We’re in our last Tech year in the Topas club, I’m explaining my theory that the first song made on the principles of rap was Give Peace a Chance, Falcon retorts that the principle of rap consists in pissing him off, and Ševča musingly adds that that’s how he knows his youth has gone – new styles irritate, rather than fascinate him.

And now we’re getting even older. How? What I’ve just described had happened back in ’90 or ’91. A month ago I overheard a local radio jock announce “Next day’s a RETRO day! From midnight to midnight we’re only broadcasting THE NINETIES!” I realized that in the eyes of today’s teenagers my generation is no longer old – it must be already ancient.

I told this second anecdote to a few of my old Tech mates ten days ago at our reunion as we were smoking outside the pub, and everybody had that “know exactly what you mean” look.

After all, the oldest offspring of some of us is already past the teenage stage, and we even have the first grandfather among us…

(First published on Blogger on 27 Sep ’11, give or take a day.)


The tale of the clever donkey

The donkey is usually portrayed in European folklore as stupid. So much so that in many languages the very word for it also means a stupid person: German Esel, French âne, Finnish aasi, Polish osioł, Slovak somár, Romanian măgar, Russian осёл

I don’t know whether this widespread notoriety is a result of the popularity of Aesop’s fables*. But according to Wiktionary, some of these words can also mean, like the Greek γάιδαρος, somebody who’s stubborn. This is probably the reason: donkeys allegedly have a much stronger sense of self-preservation than horses. Consequenly, they’re less willing to obey their human masters when feeling endangered, and of course, humans often mistakenly (or because it’s convenient to them) perceive obeisance as synonymous with intelligence.

Nothing can be further from the truth. So it’s refreshing to come across a folk tale in which the donkey is the smart one (even though his counterpart is the ox, the Czech word for which has the very same second meaning when applied to a person). You can find the story here (or, if you have no Gaelic, in a shortened version here).

* Apropos of Aesop: I have recently laid off the George Fyler Townsend translation without reading it to the end. To begin with it wasn’t all that bad: for example, I was glad to see that I wasn’t the first to come to the conclusion that “Those who suffer most cry out the least.” But the more I read on, the oftener a new fable felt like a news article in the silly season. As if something, however uninteresting, just had to be written.

(First published on Blogger, probably in August ’11 or later.)


Don’t underestimate orthography

One of my favourite blogs is Nìall Beag’s Lingua Frankly. Despite the fact that it sometimes painfully reminds me of some of the weirdnesses in my approach to languages.

The latest posts primarily deal with something else, but one of the presumptions they are based on is that speech is by far the main means of communication and writing is only here to represent it. So that it’s the way words are spoken that influences our perception.

I naturally accept that historically speech came first and that everybody encounters spoken word before written one. Nevertheless, for many years now I have been spending at least as much time by reading/writing as by listening/speaking. And I’m sure I think in orthography about as much as in phonology.

Apparently, Nìall always “hears” the words first and only then “sees” them. Thus in one of those blogs he typed “right” when meaning “write”, and even copypasted that passage into a later post. I don’t think I would do this kind of mistake. On the contrary, the other day I was listening to a guy who said “encapsulate” and for me it was just a meaningless string of some unrecognized sounds within the sentence – until, after a split second, my subconscious made my mind “see” the word written. Upon which it immediately made sense.

Another example is forenames. The extent to which I do or do not like a particular name is more related to how likeable it looks than to how likeable it sounds. For me, Teàrlaidh is about as nice as Tòmaidh but definitely preferable to Charlie, never mind that pronounced it’s much closer to the latter. Or that character from one fantasy book called Ringil. A nice name no matter whether I think about it as of /rɪŋgɪl/ or as of /rɪndʒɪl/. I would like neither Ringyll nor Rinjil half as much.

Perhaps this is one of the things that make me fairly good at spotting typos. And yes, I could give you real-life examples illustrating my point even in my first language.

I don’t mean to say that I’m never influenced by a word’s pronunciation more than by its transcription. Sometimes it’s the one that prevails, sometimes the other. And to a lesser extent this must work for many others too. Else why would they have begun pronouncing the “t” in “often”, the “l” in “falcon” and so on?


How I won the election for the SNP

If there isn’t the following Murphy’s Law, there should be: ‘The probability and/or degree of success of the competitor you support is inversely proportionate to the attentiveness with which you follow the competition’.

I have always claimed that if I lived in the UK, I would vote for the Lib Dems to Westminster and for the SNP to Holyrood. In last year’s elections, I was watching the results coming in from after one o’clock in the morning (BST), and we know what happened.

This time I couldn’t do that, working a night shift. When I finally got to my digs, the swing was there for all to see: SNP had 47 seats and all the other parties combined 30. As I watched the progress of the counts, SNP kept getting constituency MSPs, but regional lists’ results were watering my spirits down.

Fortunately, around 10 o’clock I was too sleepy to do anything meaningful while waiting and decided to go to bed. When I got up again six hours later, the Nats had already exactly the 65 seats meaning overall majority!

I’m expecting a letter of thanks from Mr Salmond any day now.

(First published on Blogger at the beginning on 6 May ’11 or later.)


Scottish election campaign

Forget Gordon Brown’s forgotten mike. So far, the current campaign is considerably funnier than the last year’s all-UK one.

For example, the Caledonian Mercury invited party leaders to explain in short videos why people should vote for them. Which opportunity was used by Iain Gray to give us the definitive proof that he is the perfect antithesis of the adjective ‘charismatic’. As if those of us who have ever seen him during First Minister’s Questions needed one.

A different method was used by the Scottish National Party. In a BBC spot they employed some incredibly overacting guys to remake that cultish Monty Python sketch ‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’ Why a Scottish separatist party promotes its cause with the help of an English sketch ridiculing separatism is beyond me. Unless they want to bring self-irony among extreme sports.

Not to lag behind, the Conservatives created a spot of their own, in which Annabel Goldie, with the help of Mr Cameron himself, managed a small PR masterpice. Anybody who has no knowledge of Scottish politics must needs conclude from those few minutes that it was the Tories who governed Scotland for the past four years.

And presumably they’re all still just warming up – there are four more weeks to go yet…

(First published on Blogger at the beginning of April ’11.)


En-wikt: story over

I’ve already written about my growing tiredness with editing in Wiktionary at some length last October on my website under the title My en-wikt story. Let me briefly finish the story here:

Recently I was only waiting for the next time when I see Embryomystic, of all people, to once again add the particle ‘to’ before the English translation at a Gaelic entry. This happened on 24 March. I then gradually unwatched all the items in my watchlist, making a few last edits (the very last improving the first page created by User:Thrissel ie me), and logged out. With over 14.5K edits in the mainspace as the 56th ‘most prolific’ Wiktionarian.

Funny, given I’m basically an idler. Anyway, I don’t mean to return. I enjoyed determined editing for a considerable time; now I enjoy the idea of determined not editing quite as much.

(First published on Blogger at the beginning of April ’11.)


The View No 3

Looking at my calendar in the morning I found out it’s twenty years today since I lost my virginity. As it turned out, I got a better ‘anniversary present’ than I could have given myself.

The third album of The View is to be released on 14th and by Amazon’s estimate I should obtain it by 17th. However, the band’s website had a post today directing to a page where it can already be heard – from today until the album is out. Needless to say, I postponed everything else.

First impression? As good as the first one. It’s all there again, including the cheeky contempt of keeping the whole song in the same mood and/or rhythm, and yet it’s not just more of the same. And of course, I heard there some of my other favourites, as if winking at me from behind the band – not just the obvious Beatles or Paul McCartney on his own but also eg The Traveling Wilburys and even Donovan and Mike Scott.

My first words when the album finished were ‘Oh Jesus fuckin Christ, they’ve done it again!’


Room to Roam

Funny nobody had this nick here yet.

Or at the other places – LT, WP, YT, LJ, Flickr, .co.uk &c.

Why have I created this account anyway? I have two blogs already…

To make sure nobody else uses ‘my’ nick here? In case I could no longer afford my own website one day? To try and start in a somewhat different style again? For better ease of watching certain other blogs? So that others notice me more easily? Cò aig a tha fios…

A combination of them all and more, chanainnsa.

This’ll dae for starters anyway. Time alone will tell what’ll it turn into.

(First post on Blogger, published some day at the beginning of March ’11.)