I’ve hit the wall with this wretched blistering weather. Go back to Equador/Brazil/Kenya/Somalia/[seven more equatorial countries] where you belong! Our beautiful breeze died, yea verily, even here on top of the hill, and I therefore had to turn the Aga off* whimper but I still feel like an old floor mop.** I cancelled going to the abbey Saturday because driving was not happening *** and cancelled lunch with a friend Sunday because I couldn’t promise to pick her up at the train.
What day is it again? What am I cancelling today? Tomorrow?
It’s not really the heat however. It’s an overdose of kanji.
Years ago, when I was struggling with my half dozen incorrect words of Japanese for SHADOWS, I bailed almost immediately about the Japanese alphabet(s). I was already going to fail with romanji—Japanese words written in our alphabet—no reason to make it any worse, since SHADOWS was only going to be printed in the English alphabet. But even then—and I probably blogged about it at the time—this felt more like a failure of nerve than a practical decision. Well, it was a failure of nerve—as well as a practical decision—but I don’t actually blame myself for it. There are people out there who do things like teach themselves fluent, accurate Japanese all by themselves from books and CDs and the internet, including learning all the squiggles involved in reading and writing it, but I’m not one of them. When I couldn’t find a teacher, that was that.
I’m not going to do that this time. BECAUSE I HAVE A TEACHER. If I’m going down again, which I probably still am, I’m going to go down in truly spectacular flames. I will light up the sky! The astronomers will say, good heavens, what ever is that? And someone with their eye to a telescope will say, oh, it’s just some elderly fruit loop westerner exploding on contact with too much kanji.
My new teacher, whom we will call Sophia, had told me by email that we could start with a book that she would bring. When it was laid out in front of me I thought it looked a bit familiar, especially the ‘useful phrases’ page which contains the immortal words Chotto matte kudasai which means ‘wait just a moment, please’ which is more or less the story of my life%, except that ‘just a moment’ is optimistic. I didn’t remember anything useful, staring at my new Japanese textbook, either from six or from fifty-six years ago, but it was nice just being there, in some kind of Japanese space, and it was glorious to hear someone speaking it—someone who wasn’t me, that is, someone who could. Sophia.
I went home with my head slightly spinning%%, climbed on the back of the sitting-room sofa and started tearing through the top shelves where I had bundled my inadequate-because-I’m-not-up-to-the-job books on Japanese, after SHADOWS. And yes, there was a copy of the same book I’d been looking at that afternoon.%%% So I got it down and started poring over it in the standard Robin-in-the-clutches-of-a-new-craze manner and . . . well, it has some of the squiggles.& It’s not just nice phrases in romanji. Although it only makes a polite bow in the direction of the kanji—which are the really scary Chinese characters—it does immediately present you with a chart of the hiragana and katakana syllabaries and the text that accompanies this is the first occasion in the last fortnight that some clueless brute with a brain resembling a computer and hard drive containing 1,000,000,000 megagigabytes tells me carelessly oh, you just learn a few squiggles&& a day. The English alphabet has 26 letters, right? And most of us laboured and floundered just a trifle to learn even these back in first grade? There are something over 200—nearer 250, I think, although I admit just counting them is confusing—of these frelling squiggles in the basic syllabaries, which are really only dabbling in written Japanese, and are wholly subservient to THE KANJI.
I’m trying to learn the first few rows of hiragana. That’s trying. I’m working on the second ten, although the first ten is still what you might call wobbly. TEN. OUT OF TWO HUNDRED AND (MAYBE) FIFTY.
But after the first few days of staring hopelessly at the chart I realised that I never was going to learn it that way, whatever motor-brained clueless brutes tried to tell me, I was going to need to write the squiggles down, over and over and over and OVER AND OVER AND OVER. Which meant I need to know how, as in, you know, stroke order, and how you get those dratted little dollops on the ends of certain lines ARRRRRRGH. Sophia has now emailed me a lovely sheaf of practise pages which I can print out over and over and OVER AND OVER AND OVER . . . sigh. But that’s this week. Last week I reapplied to the shelf over the sofa. And there to my considerable amazement is a book from fifty-six years ago—why I hung onto this when I apparently unloaded useful things like dictionaries: I have a couple of these, but they’re from six years ago—entitled READING AND WRITING JAPANESE. And it has the syllabaries in the back with a stroke order-and-direction chart. Yaay.
But the rest of this not-terribly-large, demure-looking book is the first eight hundred and eighty—and you’re going to have to get up to NEARLY THREE THOUSAND KANJI CHARACTERS YOU KNOW&&&—of the frelling kanji, page after blinding page of them, in neat little boxes with definitions and instructions for writing them and examples of their use in combining forms. I took the book in with me for my second lesson this week to check that nothing too dramatic has changed in the syllabaries since 1959, which is its copyright date, and Sophia said, no, that’s fine, you can certainly use this . . . in fact this book is very like the one I started with.$ And she sounded positively wistful as she turned it over in her hands, leafed through a few of the kanji pages, and said, I used to just read it. . . .
I looked at her as if one of us was from some other galaxy. And came home feeling even older and stupider than ever.$$ But you know . . . after frying my small mushy brain on the first two/four rows of hiragana, I decided to read the introduction to the rest of the book and just glance at some of the kanji. I want to kind of get used to the idea, you know? See: spectacular flames. And while at least these bozos—you can find more of them on line—who are freely assuming that you’ve sucked up the entire syllabaries in a week or two—do admit that the entirety of kanji is a bit daunting—which is a bit like saying oh hey that tsunami is going to get us a bit wet—they seem to think there are ways to make learning it at least possible. One of the ways is to learn where the squiggles came from—they started life as pictures, you know? And a lot of them tell stories. And I’m a sucker for a story.
It’s still hopeless, you know. Spectacular flames. But I’ve been reading my flipping kanji book. And I do kind of see what Sophia is talking about . . .
* * *
* Which is a saga in itself. She’s my dish-drainer, for example—I have a dish-drainer, but have I mentioned in the last twenty minutes or so that this is a VERY SMALL KITCHEN? So I have a very small dish-drainer. Anything bigger than a side plate goes on the Aga, and certainly all the pots and pans do. So I’m all, Why isn’t anything getting dry?^ Socks that got soaked because one of my watering cans is an old plastic one that I think furthermore was sat on by a hellterror or a panther^^ and its top is so cracked and bits-broken-off that it waters me as much as it waters the plants—socks do not get dry in time for the next adventure in wetness, hung over the Aga rail.^^^ I CAN’T KEEP MY TEA HOT. I DON’T CARE ABOUT THE WEATHER, I WANT MY TEA HOT. I do not have an immediately available, already turned on oven. In fact, I don’t have an oven at all, since the Lodge oven is not to be thought of unless you want to roast a gorilla. You don’t want to roast a gorilla, although you might be tempted to roast a poacher, of gorillas or elephant ivory or rhinoceros horns or tiger pelts, or what-have-you, but even to support global justice I don’t want to do it in this weather.
Therefore today’s EXCITEMENT, in my limp and gasping way, has been finding and ordering a little electric plug-in oven to keep my little one-burner plug-in hob company in these dark times. The problem is that the freller cost about half what my potential hot bin would cost, which puts the hot bin off for the moment, barring storks flying down my chimney carrying bouncing fat rolls of money. And yes, in response to some commenter who already has one, I’m aware that I need to put my future bin somewhere I can—ahem!—unload the compost, and my garden doesn’t exactly specialise in clear flat spaces, so delaying that particular gnarly decision is no hardship.
^ I don’t believe in, you know, tea towels, except for decorative value. Mottisfont roses. Keep calm and drink tea. The Big Apple. One Prosecco, two Prosecco, three Prosecco, floor. The last from a previous life, sigh, but it’s a very nice lavender tea towel and I’m certainly not going to give up using it. Decoratively.+
+ And, you know, letting things air-dry is much more hygienic. Unless you want to devote your life to doing laundry. And washing your hands before you hang it up.#
# Long-time readers, somewhat over acquainted with my domestic arrangements, will know that I have an air dryer. It hangs from the bathroom ceiling, and you hoick it up and down like a flag. And it doesn’t work as well with the Aga off either, because the Aga heat shoots upstairs and embraces the wet laundry hanging from the airer rails. Meteorological heat is just a thug. It doesn’t dry things nearly as well, it’s too busy twirling its moustaches and oppressing you.
^^ These are, of course, very similar creatures, in terms of likely damage on impact with mild-mannered domestic implements.
^^^ Yes. Socks. I hate the feeling of muddy feet in sandals so I put shoes on when I water, when it’s too hot for wellies, and the very idea of wellies in this weather risks dangerous prostration.
** And look rather like one too. I was scrabbling dry rose petals out of my hair-facsimile the other night after a watering exploit, encountered resistance and thought, frelling frelling, when’s the last time I brushed my hair?, and realised I wasn’t pulling out knots, these were curls. Trying to learn new hair at my age is very challenging.
*** To Chaos’ great disgust. If I can’t do something about the weather I could at least put him in Wolfgang and drive us out of town into some countryside where the quality of the heat is superior.
% It must appear in SHADOWS somewhere, but I don’t remember. Maggie is another disorganised non-maths person but I think she’s probably more together than I am. Most people are.
%% But that could be the frelling weather
%%% Sophia apparently believes in the softly, softly approach and emailed me politely that if I wanted to do some homework, the details of the book we were using were blah blah blah. I’m giggling slightly helplessly and thinking, what kind of students are you used to, ma’am? The kind that can LEARN ANYTHING in an hour a week? That would not be me.
& Speaking of old crazes—and the probably forlorn hope that Japanese might be the last new one, if I want to get anywhere with ANY of the rather too many I am already engaged with—I have found myself standing up, staring into the middle distance and somewhat frantically knitting a row of some current dead-easy plain knitting project when the squiggles start rising off the page and gibbering at me.
&& For some reason these overbearing gits never seem to employ the extremely useful term ‘squiggle’.
&&& And that’s still only the beginning, since EVERY FRELLING CHARACTER has at least TWO READINGS. And . . . and I may be getting this wrong because I’m still in the early dumb you’ve-got-to-be-kidding phase and am balking at taking in the full horror . . . but depending on the reading, which you somehow have to recognise by context?!, I have no idea, your disastrously complex rune has a different pronunciation, and it will furthermore have a different pronunciation—I think—as a single word/syllable than it has as a combination—also, I think, dependent on the original reading. WHAT?!??!? ::wild weeping and throwing of self on ground and rolling around in agonies of despair:: What was I saying about spectacular flames?
$ No she’s not Japanese. I can’t decide if it’s a good thing that she knows about having to learn it from a basis of some other language or a bad thing because she must therefore have the computer brain with the hard drive and in a few months will despise me. I hope she’s already taught a lot of old people with saggy brains.
$$ BUT THAT MAY BE THE WEATHER