They used to be called merely, and possibly kindly, eccentric; but these days, people who display somewhat odd behaviour are apt to be labelled with some medical description, even by people who are not doctors.
However, the 'A' word came into even my mind when, on arrival at my mother's house for Christmas lunch, I found ten cellophane packs of patterned paper plates stacked up on the sideboard. Thanks to my late father's career as a sales representative with a catering supplies company, my mother has the world's largest collection of fine crockery. So what was with the paper plates?
I don't want anyone washing up on Christmas Day, she explained, which had a certain grim logic to it, but have you ever tried to cut roast pork on a paper plate?
Of course, I had wondered, when she returned from Turkey earlier this year with a badly gashed leg which had landed her in an Istanbul hospital for stitches. What happened? I had asked. Oh that, she had said dismissively, I fell off a fence. As if falling off a fence was a perfectly natural thing for an eighty-year-old to be doing. I still don't know why she was climbing fences in Turkey. I'm not sure I want to.
Christmas lunch was like holding a private feast in a transit lounge. People kept coming and going. At least the conversation was never dull. Every time you looked up from your glazed ham or roast pork or tofurkey (why don't they just eat vegetables?) you'd find a different person sitting next to you.
It was partly my brother's fault. He missed the Christmas Eve midday plane from Alice Springs, just by being his usual vague self; but managed to obtain the last three seats on the Christmas Day flight, arriving at ten to three. I drove to the airport after the main course to pick him up. He might have got lost. Maybe he's getting Alzheimer's as well. After his plane landed we were delayed because QANTAS managed to lose one of my brother's cases. (Q.A.N.T.A.S: How was your flight? Quite A Nasty Trip Actually, Sir!) Meanwhile, a niece had made an early exit from lunch because she was on a Christmas afternoon flight to London.
We arrived back in time for dessert, a buffet affair to which Tracy had contributed a lemon curd sponge with whipped cream and white chocolate and crowned with blueberries served in a crystal bowl the size of the Parkes radio dish. The sponge was light enough to balance the heaviness of the main fare and the lemon curd was tart enough to rejuvenate the taste buds and the cream and white chocolate was the icing on the cake, if a literal metaphor is allowable, which I doubt. Recipe soon. Other sweet-tooth highlights included shortbread, fine and crumbly and dusted with sugar. (I consider quality shortbread, i.e., shortbread made at home by an expert baker, usually Scottish, to be far superior to fruit cake as an after-dinner sweet. It also pairs much better with Scotch whisky.)
The day drew into evening. Christmas night is a good time for a game or a puzzle. Back home, I dug into a stack of old Spectators and sat back with a drink and found this article about the use of Old English-derived words in language. It mentions UK communications company Optimum which tells you, via its online analysis, how many Old English-derived words you use, compared to Greek or Latin ones. The more Old English, the clearer your writing:
By Optimum’s analysis, Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four takes 74.2 per cent of its words from Old English, only a nose ahead of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice at 74.1 per cent. The percentage for Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is 76.9, compared to 78.3 percent for Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and 78.4 per cent for a helping of T.S. Eliot’s poetry.
Mine varied widely but I did manage to hit 84.93% for the third paragraph in my previous post. How did you score?
Happy Christmas everyone.