Seasoned Greetings

When greeting guests in Tokyo

The custom is to bow down low

While in Tibet both old and young

Say hi by sticking out their tongue.

In France it’s chic to peck the cheek

And friends will clap in Mozambique

Though Greenlanders will sniff your face

Before they help you with your case.

Most Eskimos rub nose to nose

In India they touch your toes

And Zambians will squeeze the thumbs

Of visitors considered chums.

Through handshakes, winks and nods we say:

I’m pleased that you dropped by today!

And bless those friends who always know

The sign for when it’s time to go…

Soviet Reunion

I’ve not written for some time but I’m now posting again.

The thing is, I have friends in Ukraine whom I’ve known for a great many years. I visit them once, sometimes twice, annually so it’s been tough watching recent events in the news. I travelled there in October when the signs of war were increasingly ominous and I’ve not stopped worrying about them since.

I’m a teacher and during the recent Easter break I journeyed to Ukraine to see these same friends. This time, however, the trip wasn’t so straightforward as it required flying into a neighbouring country, taking trains, boarding buses then crossing the border on foot.

I didn’t go there as a mercenary. My sole mission was to deliver medicines and other necessities whilst checking on the wellbeing of my friends. Given the circumstances, most are holding up quite well but I’m sure there’s loads they’re not telling me.

That’s because they don’t want me to worry.

Can you imagine that?

After an unforgettable week followed by some tearful goodbyes, I made my way back across the border and flew home.

Back to teaching.

Back to writing.

Back to normal.

Lucky me.

Peace Nicked

“Have you been following events in The Ukraine?”

“John, we no longer call it that.”

“No longer call what what?”

“We no longer call it The Ukraine.”

“What are you talking about?”

“We just say Ukraine now; they’ve dropped the The,” Laverne gave me the lowdown.

“Who did?”

“The Ukrainians.”

“Don’t you mean Ukrainians?”

“That’s what I said.”

“No, you said The Ukrainians.”

“Oh, for God’s sake…”

“Why is it I’m only hearing about this now?”

“Try spending less time on TikTok.”

“I enjoy watching eco-tourists run for their lives.”

“Fair enough,” Laverne shrugged.

“So, when did they ditch the The?”

“I believe it was around the same time Kentucky Fried Chicken rebranded as KFC.”

“Do you think their KFCs serve Chicken Kiev?”

“We don’t say that either.”

“What? Chicken?”

“No, Kiev.”

“You’re kidding.”

“We now pronounce it Kyiv, like Steve.”

“Who the hell cares how he says it?”

“Who?”

“Steve Downey.”

“Please tell me you didn’t just say that.”

“And how would the Downeys know Ukrainian anyway? They’re a bunch of redheads.”  

“Sweetie, I want you to stop talking,” Laverne took my hand. “This is all the result of transliteration.”

“I thought their flag was pink, blue and white.”

“In the past we had a habit of anglicising names which proved tricky to pronounce and no one really questioned it. Now there’s a bit of a reset happening, that’s all.”

“My stress levels go through the roof every time I have to say anemone.”

“When did you last need to say anemone?”

“Two and a half hours ago.”

“I’m talking about foreign names.”

“Brunhilde.”

“Place names.”

“Melbourne.”

“More foreign than that.”

“Machu Picchu.”

“It’s Bombay becoming Mumbai and Calcutta becoming Kolkata, that sort of thing,” Laverne clarified.

“We weren’t that far off on those two,” I felt I ought to give credit where credit was due.

“My issue isn’t with the consonants so much, as the bloody diphthongs.”

“Your Vietnamese neighbours? What have they done now?”

“Stop it,” Laverne giggled. “Hey, did you know that Kanye’s changed his name as well? Apparently he now goes by Ye. My son told me.”

Ye?”

“Yup.”

“Maybe it’s short for Yeuch.”

“Or Yikes.”

“I still fail to see the significance.”

“Well, according to Ye himself, ye is the most common word in The Bible.”

“Blessed be the fruit.”

“Oh, there’s more… Ye then enlightened us further by explaining that ye can sometimes mean thee.”

“Which Ukrainians have dropped like a hot potato,” I reminded my friend.

“They dropped a The, not a thee.”

“Be that as it may, I think Ye will find that the most common word in The Bible is, in fact, the.”

“So we’ve circled back on ourselves,” Laverne groaned. “How do we bring this to an end?

“Here’s a crazy idea: add a The.”

The End

Model Behaviour

The Gods Must Be Crazy: Movie Classics

“I’m being sued by the Catholic Church again,” Laverne announced in the midst of reorganising her purse.
“I have no words for that.”
“How unlike you,” she mused.
“Hold on, I thought you were working on a piece about the East African Lion,” I suddenly remembered.
“Turns out all they do is sleep. My son can do that.”
“Have you ever been to Africa? I haven’t.”
“Yeah, with my sister for her fortieth. We went on safari in Malawi.”
“So is that where …“
“… my people come from?” Laverne zipped her purse and placed it on the chair next to her. “Couldn’t tell you; the furthest back I’ve been able to trace our roots is to The Shirelles.”
“Ha, ha. Very funny. I was actually going to ask if that’s where your sister went with the Peace Corps.”
“Oops, sorry,” she giggled. “No, that was Mozambique.”
“I’d like to ask you another question though: when you were there, did you feel any connection to it?”

“Funny you should ask that,” she became more pensive. “I expected to feel ‘African’ from the moment I arrived but the whole time we were there I felt like just another tourist. People are people wherever you go so we had that in common. Culturally, however, I struggled to make a connection and that bothered me. I think maybe we’ve been gone too long.”
“I felt the same when I met my Scottish relatives for the first time,” I concurred. “We shared the same name, same sense of humour and some even looked like me but culturally we were raised in two very different worlds.”
“Not even close!” Laverne screamed with laughter. “Honestly, are you kidding me with that? Your parents emigrated using their Air Miles!”

“But their journey to The New World was horrific. First, they ran out of headphones and then they gave my mum’s gluten-free meal to someone else,” I explained. “Anyway, cut me some slack – you’re my only ethnic friend.”
“Hey, I’m your only friend. I’ve got more in common with those lions than I do with you.”
“How so?”
“They don’t like to cook either.”
“And we have our connection!”
“Okay, but back to this business with the Church,” Laverne lowered her voice. “It’s over a certain someone I told you about at Christmas.”
“Is this the same someone with the thing?”
“Yup.”
“And are you telling me they’ve now found the thing?”
“Oh yeah, they found it alright,” she confirmed.
“Was it on him?”
“No, up him.”
“Whoa!” I leaned back in my chair. “And the monkey?”
“Still missing,” she arched an eyebrow.

I love secrets and Laverne knows plenty. A freelance journalist, she moved to the UK from Seattle over thirty years ago after meeting and marrying Elliot, a sound engineer at the BBC. The three of us first met at The Pu Pu Pot, our local Chinese restaurant, after she’d overheard my accent.
“I need some human conversation during our stay on this island! I need someone who doesn’t talk about Bobby Charlton in his sleep!” she blubbered into her chop suey.
“Who’s Robby Carlson?” I asked.
“Exactly!” she cried. “And do you know where I can score some Fruit Loops because the last people to eat porridge were the Vikings.”
That was twenty years ago.

Image result for beautiful spring china

Tonight we were out for our weekly meal at The Pu Pu Pot but without Elliot, who begged off to attend a Bolton Wanderers match.
“What’s the viral load of the Szechuan Chicken today?” Laverne asked.
“Slightly elevated I’m afraid, so I’d be happy to pee on it for you. We Chinese believe that urine possesses magical properties,” our waitress took her on.
“Is that like chlorinated chicken?” I asked.
“Well, if you’d prefer you can bring in a pet and we’ll cook that for you,” she smiled, sweetly.
“We’re gonna need a few more minutes,” Laverne smiled right back at her.
Just then, the kitchen doors swung open to reveal a tiny, sinewy man lifting the lid off a huge cauldron. As he did so, he stepped back to avoid the rush of steam.
“What’s that for?” I asked.
“We’ll be cooking shrimp in it once we take the shirts out,” our waitress stated matter-of-factly. “Would you excuse me for just one moment? I need to inform on my neighbours.”
“She’s good,” Laverne nodded her approval, as she watched the diminutive figure disappear behind the bar. “Is she still in med school?”
“Fourth year.”
“She’ll have them in stitches.”

At one point during the evening Laverne made a visit to the Ladies’. While she was gone, a young woman breezed into the restaurant and joined a waiting friend at a table nearby. Tall, elegant and stylishly attired, she quickly attracted the attention of other diners.
“I’m back,” Laverne announced, resuming her seat. “They have the nicest hand lotion here.”
“Uh huh,” I replied, looking past her at the young woman.
“What’s up with you?” she shot me a quizzical look.
“It’s what’s behind you.”
“What’s behind me?”
“A girl walked in while you were gone and she’s got to be a model. She’s absolutely stunning. Definitely a model.”
“On a scale of 1 to 10?” Laverne asked.
“Ten.”
“Hair?”
“Lustrous.”
“Make-up?”
“None.”
“Height?”
“NBA.”
“She’s got to have a flaw, everyone has a flaw.”
“If she does, I can’t see it.”
“Maybe it’s hidden,” she chewed on her bottom lip. “Slug feet?”
“Killer farts.”
“Fifty bucks says she uses disconnect as a noun.”
“Another fifty says she has plans to name her first daughter Chandelier.”
“Hmm… not even a split end?” Laverne wasn’t having it.
“Turn around and see for yourself if you don’t believe me.”
“Have I taught you nothing?” she reached for her purse. “Watch and learn, my friend… okay, which shoulder?”
“Left.”
She took out her compact and opened it, angling the mirror until she caught sight of her quarry over her left shoulder. At that same moment, the young woman put on her reading glasses and picked up a menu. Closing the compact with a snap, Laverne chuckled to herself, then leaned across the table and whispered, “Four-Eyes.”

Captain’s Log

Sir Francis Drake had what it takes

To sail around the world

And followed in Magellan’s wake

With England’s flag unfurled.

Along his route he plundered loot

Until the hold was packed

With millions from Brazilians

And the Spaniards he attacked.

On his return, the English yearned

To learn of far off places

Of queens and perils unforeseen

And men with painted faces.

Bess knighted Francis on his ship

While desperately hoping

He’d share his tips for crispy chips

And how to blow a smoke ring.

Soon after he was off again

And set sail heading west

But Fortune soon abandoned him

In this, his final quest.

Sir Francis survived cannon balls

And arrows tipped with poison

But in the end, when Nature called

It ravaged then destroyed him

For dysentery killed our man

Then almost caused a shipwreck

That’s why they sealed him in a can

And christened it the poop deck

Local Weirdough

“I’ve gone into hiding.”

“We’re in a Pizza Hut.”

“That’s what they want you to think,” Laverne lowered her voice. “Look around… what do you see?”

“Happy fat people.”

All of them?”

“All the ones eating pizza,” I was able to confirm.

“What about him on his own over at the salad bar? What’s his story?”

“That’s a woman.”

“Okay, whatever, but ask yourself this: what type of person comes to Pizza Hut to load up on celery?”

“Maybe she’s the nurse.”

“Restaurants don’t have nurses.”

“This one should.”

“John, what am I always telling you?”

“It’s only a phase?”

“That was your mother.”

“Never make eye contact while eating a banana?”

“That was your cellmate.”

“If someone’s crying don’t ask them if it’s because of their haircut?”

 “There are two types of people in this world: those who like pizza and -”

“- nurses?”

“Communists.”

“You’re why aliens don’t talk to us.”

“The Macarena is why aliens don’t talk to us,” Laverne sniffed. “Anyway, I need to talk to you about something else.”

“Shoot.”

“How can I get myself into The Bible?”

“Oh my God…”

“Is that what I should do? Should I pray?”

“That wasn’t praying.”

“Then you, my friend, have just blasphemed,” Laverne waved a menacing finger in my direction.

“Since when have you been religious?”

“Pam’s published an eBook.”

“And…”

“It’s a collection of poems which are just dreadful.”

“So…”

“I think one’s about me.”

“Because…”

“It tells the story of a beautiful Mesopotamian goddess.”

“You’re from Wisconsin.”

“Maybe it wasn’t always called that.”

“So, you’re thinking that if you’re a goddess you should be in the same book as God.”

“I should at least be on the cover with Him,” Laverne reasoned.

“Right, here comes the waitress so would you please come out from under the table?”

“Are you ready to order?” the young woman asked.

“Have all of these animals on the menu been freshly killed?” Laverne enquired, emerging to take her seat.

“Please excuse my friend, she’s Mesopotamian,” I interjected.

“Uh huh…” the waitress was going to need a lot more.

“She was just looking for somewhere to bury the leftovers.”

“You’re not really allowed to do that,” she advised us.

“Then I’ll just have the buffet special,” Laverne set down her menu.

“Anything to drink?”

“I’ve just topped up my gourd so that won’t be necessary, thank you.”

“I’ll have the Buffet Special and a Coke,” I jumped in again.

The waitress stared at her pad, unsure of what to write.

“Two Buffets Specials and one Coke.”

“Right,” she sighed with relief. “You confused me there for a minute.”

“I apologise,” Laverne continued, “it’s just that all of this takes me back.”

“All of what?” the waitress asked.

“These ancient murals. That one, for example, is it Babylonian?”

“That’s Cher at The Oscars.”

“So it’s not a mummy then?”

“I can check, if you’d like.”

“Would you?”

“I’ll be right back with your drink so please help yourself to the buffet,” the girl managed to get out, before backing into the table behind her on her way to the kitchen.

“Mesopotamia?” Laverne laughed.

“From a mud hut to Pizza Hut within the blink of an evil eye.”

“We’ve got her on the run, poor thing.”

“Excuse me, but did you find your earring?” a dashing maître d’ approached our table.

“How did you know that’s what I was looking for?” Laverne asked, delighted.

“It’s my job to notice everything. For example, I also noticed that you didn’t order a drink. May I get you one now?”

“A gin and tonic would be lovely,” came the order.

“When I return, I’ll help you look for your earring,” he promised, before waltzing off.

“Dark and swarthy with an accent. Good thing he wasn’t selling sand because you’d have ordered it as a starter.”

“You know us Valley Girls,” Laverne sighed, “we just can’t resist a man in cuneiform.”

Comet me, Bro!

The Physics of the Death Star. How to destroy an Alderaan-sized… | by Ethan  Siegel | Starts With A Bang! | Medium

“Trump’s building a Death Star,” Laverne announced whilst reloading. “Good for him.”
“For building a Death Star?”
“For keeping busy during lockdown.”
“Is it a family affair?”
“He’ll fly it and Melania’s going to serve the drinks.
“I imagine there’ll be a launch…”
“By invitation only in the Space Force Lounge at Mar-A-Lago Int’l Airport.”
“Tickets won’t be cheap.”
“You could just buy a hat.”
“There’s a Space Force hat?”
“And a ring.”
“How do you know all this?” I was amazed.
“Forewarned is forearmed,” Laverne replied coolly, smelling the air. “They’re coming for us, so you and me need a plan.”
“Two tickets?”
“One-way.”
“I just have one question.”
“Shoot.”
“Why are you firing anchovies into that tree with a catapult?”
“Because the squirrel currently residing in it ripped open our garbage bags during the night and left a putrid mess for me to clean up this morning.”
“And?”
“Two can play that game, my friend. Now get me Mar-a-Lago on the blower because he’s going to need a Rear Gunner.”

Emotional Baggage

Several years ago while travelling around Ukraine I entered the only shop in a remote village to buy a couple of cold drinks. Placing my purchases on the counter, the elderly shopkeeper tallied my bill on an abacus then pushed it toward me. Not entirely up to speed on ancient counting tools which predate our own numeral system, I played it safe and handed him the equivalent of $5 in Ukrainian money. This, apparently, posed a problem and he asked if I had anything smaller. I replied, regrettably, that I did not. Thinking on it, he disappeared into the back before returning with a duckling which he duly handed over as my change.

The problem with holiday brochures is that they rarely cover an abacus/duck scenario. The pictures in them are enticing but the language is, at best, euphemistic and at worst, a flat out lie. And while it’s true that every situation can’t be covered, a bit of a heads-up regarding waterfowl as legal tender would go a long way for novices like moi.

Image result for cute funny duck

Here then, is a list of terms from holiday brochures with their true meanings:

in-flight meal: UN ration with complimentary poppadom

in-flight entertainment: the sequel to the remake of the original, only this one’s set in the future where everyone can fly and stuff

short transfer to hotel: bring earplugs

car rental: how are you at changing a tire?

bus service: you may be seated next to a goat in labour

local delicacies: if we can catch it, we’ll cook it

chef’s special: cake with a fly on top

all-inclusive resort: venture off the property and odds are you’ll be kidnapped

in-house entertainment: an old man who takes out his artificial eye for the kids

cultural sensitivities: lose the Trump hat

conservative: lose the rainbow flag beach towel

stunning wildlife: pack an anti-venom kit

365 days of sunshine: no redheads

steeped in history: if they ask, tell them you’re Canadian

friendly locals: the waiter has just asked if he can marry your daughter

vibrant nightlife: gunfire

local amenities: you’re sharing a well with two other villages

stunning scenery: ignore the oil refinery

exotic spices: stick to ketchup

unspoiled wilderness: don’t go in unarmed

tranquil setting: abandoned due to an ebola outbreak

health clinic: the vet will see you now

museum exhibits: those artefacts our country forgot to cart off when we left sharpish 150 years ago