I was packing up books yesterday and I came across an edition of Beowulf which I’d bought for Thing last Christmas. It’s very hard to find presents for someone whose only hobbies are drinking coffee and listening to the radio and who already has more coffee-grinders, cafetieres and radios than any human being has a right to. So what to get? I ask.
Oh, don’t bother, he grumbles. Don’t get me anything.
But I want to! What shall I get you?
OK then a book. If you must, he whines ungraciously. Thanks darling…. But what book? Aha! I thought when I came across Seamus Heaney’s translation of the Anglo-Saxon classic, Beowulf. This’ll do. And so I bore it home in triumph and proceeded to wrap it. But wait! First it must be inscribed. ‘To my darling Thing on the occasion of Christmas 2015’?
No! No, that won’t do at all. So what I wrote was this:
‘What mysserable gyt was that
who nolde that his wyf
ne bochte hym no thynge for Christemasse?’
Which, translated roughly, means:
What miserable git was that who didn’t want his wife to buy him anything for Christmas?
But, since I know my Anglo-Saxon is basically a collection of half-remembered syllables; and since I also know that Thing can’t stop himself correcting other people’s linguistic mistakes, I also added:
‘If you would your fortunes waxen
don’t correct my Anglo-Saxon.’
You know the phrase, ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’? Well, I also think you don’t know what you’ve got till you start to pack it up. It’s only then that those long-lost tomes you spent hours looking for when you had time to read them, agree to manifest themselves so that they can be put in a box and left, only to disappear once more as soon as they are unpacked again. But life goes on and since I can’t stop myself from buying books and since the lovely glossy chunky Oxford Companion to English Literature (1999, ed Margaret Drabble) practically jumped off the shelf and into my arms and since it was only £5: reader, I bought it. And it is wonderful. It not only has sections on writers and books but on characters from books too. Harry Potter isn’t in there yet because the series wasn’t finished, but I’m sure it will be in future editions, if it isn’t already. And in addition to all that it has sections on literary theory. I read one yesterday which usefully reminded me of how much I hate post-modernism…
Talking of Harry Potter, that brings me to a strange phenomenon. On last night’s Mastermind, the only woman (again!) answering questions on the musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein, gave in answer to two questions the names Vernon Dursley and Petunia Dursley. Now, I know that Rowling has used some classical names for characters: Argus (Filch) is Odysseus’s guard dog, for example; and Minerva (McGonagall) is the Roman goddess of wisdom – so I wondered if she’d taken the names of the Dursleys from characters in musicals.
But no – when I looked them up, I found only Harry Potter’s aunt and uncle. Which made me wonder, why had she mentioned them? And the best answer I’ve found is that instead of passing (in case the number of passes became an issue) she had a couple of names in readiness and used them instead.
Is that wrong? Is it frowned upon?
I don’t know. I’m not even sure it’s a good tactic as it has a time implication – but anyway, she won the round, though it was more for her outstanding general knowledge than the specialist subject. 29 points…
I was also surprised to discover that there have been as many female winners of Mastermind as male and that the first three winners were women. So why aren’t there more women contenders?
I think we should be told.