Thursday, December 31, 2009

Why can't the English learn to speak?

But use proper English you're regarded as a freak.
Why can't the English,
Why can't the English learn to speak?
Frederick Loewe, "My Fair Lady"

Well he's hopeless, isn't he? Might as well ask the cat.
Basil Fawlty on Manuel in the "Fawlty Towers" episode, "Hotel Inspectors"

Circa (sûr'kə)
prep. Abbr. c. or ca
In approximately; about: born circa 1900.

[Latin circā, from circum, around (probably on the model of adverbs like intrā, within), from circus, circle; see circle.]
Circa Definition,

English People Shopping circa 1998
Watching BBC America's "The Hotel Inspector" is always good for a laugh.

The show is in the style of Gordon Ramsey's "Kitchen Nightmares". Ruth Watson is the Hotel Inspector and instead of restaurants, Ms Watson finds English B&B's and hotels that need sprucing up.

According to BBC America's blurb on the show, Ruth Watson is a "renowned hotelier and author".

Nice to know. Certainly she's not renowned for her use of the English language. Or for her taste in clothes if it comes to that.

What's funny about the show? Many things. But I'd like to start with the most annoying (as well as funny) to get it out of the way. Most annoying is Ms Watson's pronunciation of "circa" which she pronounces "kir-ka".

The first time I heard her say it I thought I'd misheard, or that she meant something other. But no - she is, it turns out, quite fond of saying that such or such a decor is "kir-ka 1970". Don't the producers know? Doesn't the BBC care?

English Pastoral circa 1998
I'm so glad that I live in America where English is pronounced correctly ...

I'm also amused by Ruth's fashion sense. Of course she doesn't HAVE to have fashion sense. It isn't compulsory. But when she's criticizing hotel proprietors for "that ghastly pink curtain kir-ka 1970" it WOULD be nice if she was wearing something other than a bright purple business jacket with fluorescent pink trim and shoulder pads, circa 1980.

But it's not just Ruth who amuses. There are THE PROPRIETORS. I have to give Ruth credit for finding some really wacky people. Take Mrs Sparkles of the Children's Hotel in Blackpool for instance. Ruth showed us Mrs Sparkles providing entertainment for her little guests with loopy behaviors such as covering her mouth with masking tape and rolling her eyes around, and having badly home-made hand puppets greet them on arrival. To liven things up, she'd jump out of clothes cabinets, or talk to one of the many life-sized mannequins that towered menacingly over the children's cots.

Dolls and stuffed animals are everywhere in Ruth's finds. From the Grand Hotel in Hastings where the proprietor - a retired civil servant - cluttered the breakfast room with dolls and stuffed animal souvenirs from his foreign postings, to the elegant Ms Sue Keeling's relatively upmarket Tasburgh House outside Bath with a teddy bear in every room.

London circa 1970
At Tasburgh House rooms are named after writers, and when Ruth was there, each room had a rather large teddy bear dressed as the writer in question, sitting on a chair or lounging on the bed.

I felt sorry for Tasburgh's owner, as twice Ruth suggested that if she keeps her writer teddy bears people might get the idea that she's a lunatic. What about Mrs Sparkles I almost yelled out. Illustrating perhaps that English eccentricity is contagious.

Think Fawlty Towers. Think Spike Milligan. Think Prince Charles.

There's something about living in England that makes otherwise normal people turn whacko.

Just look at our Germaine!

Or my friend Maggie (aka Madge). I phoned Maggie today to wish her all the best for 2010. Maggie is my Australian friend who moved to England after some years in America.

"I'm going to go to the Red Sea and lie in it and read a book," she told me, appropos of nothing. I went along with it, not wanting to embarrass her by saying that she was maybe meaning the Dead Sea.

Poor Maggie. I can imagine her sinking slowly as she lies there in the Red Sea, reading "The Bath Chronicle".

Kir-ka 2010.

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