Rhyme and Reason: December 14, 2014

Once we were in the mighty Indus, we discovered we had a different problem. Timmy’s antics had made Bear forget to give exact directions. So while the eagles had taken us to the Indus, they had taken us to the middle of it. We needed to land on the right side, so we could head to the hills in the distance and find, on the other side, Balochistan. But how could we steer without oars? Our arms were not long enough. And Timmy rejected outright my suggesting that we hold him by the feet, dunk the rest of him in the water and use him as a pole.

‘I have a feeling,’ Bear seemed to be smiling, ‘that we will not have a problem finding out way to the right bank.’ And as he spoke, there was a gentle bump on the bottom of the trunk, and Timmy and I clutched each other as we rolled around, alarmed.

‘What was that?’ I wasn’t scared. I was just curious. There’s a difference, you know.

‘What do you think it was?’ Bear’s grin grew wider.

‘A shark?’ Timmy squealed in fright. ‘Was it a shark?’

‘Are there sharks in the Indus?’ Bear seemed to be really enjoying himself, and while I was quite sure there were no freshwater sharks (though the bull shark has been known to exist inland in deltas in India), I wished he would hurry up and tell us already so we could stop thinking of the worst possible possibilities.

‘I’ll give you a hint. What is blind, endangered and the cousin of the smartest creature in the world?’

Of course! The Indus – the blind, endangered creature – I was just about to say it out loud when Timmy squealed.

‘Ooh, ooh, I know this one, I know this one,’ my little brother started hopping up and down in excitement, with his hand raised.

‘Yes, Timmy?’ I sighed and placed an imaginary microphone at his mouth. Let him enjoy his one moment of truth. We had all learned enough about the Indus blind dolphins in school to cover a fair-sized wall in graffiti, and it would be an opportunity for him to redeem himself after the golden eagle/airhostess fiasco.

‘The creature that is at this moment bumping its nose against our trunk,’ Timmy leaned down to the imaginary microphone and put on his most important voice, ‘is Rehan from Class 2A in our school.’

I could only stare at him with my mouth open, but Bear scratched his head and then ventured to ask how he had come to that conclusion.

‘Because one time Rehan walked smack into a wall while reading a book, which means he’s blind, and then Mrs. Firdous got so angry she threatened to kill him, which means he’s endangered, and his cousin got thirty-four As in his O Levels, which means he’s the smartest creature in the world! See! I told you I knew it!’

And without further pause Timmy leaned over the side of the trunk and started yelling ‘Rehan! Oye! Rehan! Come up and play!’ while Bear helpfully pinned my arms to my sides so I couldn’t push my little brother over the side like I wanted to.

A rounded snout popped out of the water in response to Timmy’s cries, and a jet of water shot from its open mouth and splashed on Timmy’s face. He looked down at the bottlenose protrusion, drew back and looked at me, confused.

‘You know, Rehan seems taller in uniform.’

Shandana Minhas, Survival Tips for Lunatics

Rhyme and Reason: February 1, 2014

Which brings me to the bumping experiments. I spent several amusing afternoons in busy, crowded public places (train stations, tube stations, bus stations, shopping centres, street corners, etc.) accidentally-on-purpose bumping into people to see if they would say ‘sorry’. A number of my informants, both natives and visitors, had cited this ‘reflex apology’ as a particularly striking example of English courtesy, and I was fairly sure I had experienced it myself – but I felt obliged to do the proper scientific thing and actually test the theory in a field-experiment or two.

My bumping got off to a rather poor start. The first few bumps were technically successful, in that I managed to make them seem convincingly accidental, but I kept messing up the experiment by blurting out an apology before the other person had a chance to speak. As usual, this turned out to be a test of my own Englishness: I found that I could not bump into someone, however gently, without automatically saying ‘sorry’. After several of these false starts, I finally managed to control my knee-jerk apologies by biting my lip – firmly and rather painfully – as I did the bumps. Having perfected the technique, I tried to make my experiments as scientific as possible by bumping into a representative cross-section of the English population, in a representative sample of locations. Somewhat to my surprise, the English lived up to their reputation: about 80 per cent of my victims said ‘sorry’ when I lurched into them, even though the collisions were clearly my fault.

George Orwell said that the English are ‘inveterate gamblers, drink as much beer as their wages permit, are devoted to bawdy jokes and use probably the foulest language in the world’, but he nevertheless concluded, without contradiction, that ‘The gentleness of the English civilization is perhaps its most marked characteristic.’ As evidence of this, along with the good-temperedness of bus-conductors and unarmed policemen, he cited the fact that ‘In no country inhabited by white men is it easier to shove people off the pavement’. Quite so, and if your shove appears to be genuinely accidental, they might even apologize as they stumble into the gutter.

Kate Fox, Watching The English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour

Rhyme and Reason: January 16, 2014

“I must do it. My honor is at stake,” said Anne solemnly. “I shall walk that ridgepole, Diana, or perish in the attempt. If I am killed you are to have my pearl bead ring.”

Anne climbed the ladder amid breathless silence, gained the ridge pole, balanced herself uprightly on that precarious footing, and started to walk along it, dizzily conscious that she was uncomfortably high up in the world and that walking ridgepoles was not a thing in which your imagination helped you out much. Nevertheless, she managed to take several steps before the catastrophe came. Then she swayed, lost her balance, stumbled, staggered and fell, sliding down over the sun-baked roof and crashing off it through the tangle of Virginia creeper beneath – all before the dismayed circle below could give a simultaneous, terrified shriek.

If Anne had tumbled off the roof on the side up which she ascended Diana would probably have fallen heir to the pearl bead ring then and there. Fortunately she fell on the other side, where the roof extended down over the porch so nearly to the ground that a fall therefrom was a much less serious thing. Nevertheless, when Diana and the other girls had rushed frantically around the house they found Anne lying all white and limp among the wreck and ruin of the Virginia creeper.

“Anne, are you killed?” shrieked Diana, throwing herself on her knees beside her friend. “Oh, Anne, dear Anne, speak just one word to me and tell me if you’re killed.”

“No, Diana, I am not killed, but I think I am rendered unconscious.”

“Where?” sobbed Carrie Sloane. “Oh, where, Anne?”

Before Anne could answer Mrs. Barry appeared on the scene. At sight of her Anne tried to scramble to her feet, but sank back again with a sharp little cry of pain

“What’s the matter? Where have you hurt yourself?” demanded Mrs. Barry.

“My ankle,” gasped Anne. “Oh, Diana, please find your father and ask him to take me home. I know I can never walk there.”

Marilla was out in the orchard picking a panful of summer apples when she saw Mr. Barry coming over the log bridge and up the slope, with Mrs. Barry beside him and a whole procession of little girls trailing after him. In his arms he carried Anne whose head lay limply against his shoulder.

“Mr. Barry, what has happened to her?” she gasped, more white and shaken than the self-contained, sensible Marilla had been for many years.

Anne herself answered, lifting her head.

“Don’t be very frightened, Marilla. I was walking the ridgepole, and I fell off. I expect I have sprained my ankle. But, Marilla, I might have broken my neck. Let us look on the bright side of things.”

L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables