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Friday March 28th  2014  Tim Candler

 

     Nor is sitting next to any School Master at any time something a tribesman can ever look back upon with any sense of comfort. It was kind of like sitting next to a girl, or a high court judge, or someone dressed up like Chairman Mao.  And while it was possible that Chaka might have had some initial and vague ideas as to why he was sitting next to a French Master, they quickly passed from Chaka's mind when he found that he was indeed actually sitting next to a French Master, at the very front of a Bedford SB, which had forty possible other infinitely more suitable places to sit. He became lost in the shame of retying a shoelace, his act of deception, his betrayal of  tribal principles for personal gain, and whole set of other embarrassments that invariably result in speechlessness. And at the same time, it was uncomfortable for the most junior School Master, who might have had a long tale to tell a Headmaster about an incident that may have occurred in the Bo-Peep railway tunnel. But once seated beside the French Master, Chaka found himself obliged to cast about for a remark or two. Not so much to reduce tension that might have existed between himself and the French Master, but rather to further all attempts the French Master might have been making toward an objective interpretation of the Bo-Peep tunnel incident. You might not know it, but School Masters are not a class which a tribesman can punch in the nose in an attempt to elicit enlightenment. Indeed School Masters tended to be a huffy lot, easily offended which could well lead to their further discouragement, and I guess eventually lead them to diatribes about the value of total war against Non-English Speaking People as the only real solution to the dilemma of something like the word "SPURS" on the Butcher's Lane railway bridge. And it is true that in one of his more frail moments a tribesman might have happened upon a radio broadcast discussing a remark by General De Gaulle. A General who might have become a French Emperor had not the English Speaking Peoples continued to insist that European lands liberated from the jackboot, pursue a from of government that required permitting even the property-less an opportunity to vote for their rulers. Which could be awkward sometimes, especially for those parts of the English Speaking World who failed to maintain adequate funding for "Intelligence Gathering Agencies." With the result that more often than not a great deal of sneakiness had to found to over throw democratically elected leaders of Spanish Speaking Peoples, or Portuguese Speaking Peoples, or pretty much any language group you can think of who wanted to do things like "Nationalize The Oil Field," or take a two week holiday on the shores of the Black Sea. More recently of course amongst the current incarnation of the "Rum Business" class of English Speaking People there's a move to do away with all that sort universal franchise nonsense wherever it might be found, and just limit the vote to maybe people who can say things like "corporations are people, my friend," without smiling.

    Anyway, it was De Gaulle's opinion in early 1960 something, that one solution to the ever present possibility of thermonuclear war and the end of language altogether was to be found in the word, "Une Détent" between the English Speaking Peoples and the Soviet Union. It's a  French word that has a sort of positive sound, suggesting that people might actually talk to each other, relax a little, unwind, work out a few differences and maybe even try to find out what the truth might be should ever anything like the incident in Bo-Peep railway tunnel arise between Great Powers, before deciding to altogether to away with life on earth. A ludicrous French idea of course, and rightly dismissed by the wise men engaged in discussing De Gaulle's radical theories on the BBC radio. But an English speaking person who was also a French Master, might have studied the French language with sufficient diligence to realize that possibly the solution to communicating with Foreigners wasn't just to utter a couple of English words very loudly or draw a line in the sand. And too, the French Master may have developed an understanding of the word détent that might have had some sympathy toward the idea of "détent." As well, the French Master smelled somewhat of aftershave lotion, which was a sure sign amongst the English Speaking Peoples that one of their number might have gone native while sitting in a café, or while wearing a bathing costume around something like the Black Sea, or while watching someone called Hilaire perform a soubresaut. Aftershave lotion, for the English Speaking people in early 1960, was something just a step this side of wearing sandals without socks. And it was something a tribesman of good standing found worrisome. All the same, Chaka had a keen eye for nuance, and had noticed the French Master's troubled reaction to The Headmaster's speech addressing  the word "SPURS" on the Butcher's Lane Bridge, and he'd also made a mental note of the French Master's reaction to the titular head's more insular contribution of, hanging being to good for anyone who wrote  "SPURS" on any kind of brickwork. And it was these observations in conjunction with the French Master's aftershave, that suggested to Chaka that maybe he could put the word "détent" into some kind of line with other words and come away with a victory for common sense and decency. Otherwise, the odds where against Chaka Zulu surviving the day without being subjected to some form of punishment that had nothing to do with sitting in a class room for an hour staring at a page full of words, or writing out "I will not spit in the fishpond" five hundred times.  Nor is it in any way easy to put  "détent" into a line of words that might make any kind of natural, or matter of fact, or ordinary kind of sense. "Détent" didn't lend itself to anything that might sound as though the hero of both Charring Cross and Ore Railway Station, was doing anything more than attempting to curry favor in the ranks of the paid professionals. Then, during a pause in transit so that a bunch of cows might cross from one field to another, and after much deliberation,  "Détent Mon Sewer," was the best Chaka could come up with.  The French Master beamed forth his response, and prattled on a bit in a thoroughly incomprehensible, but happy manner.  And, as I might have mentioned, the beginning of that winter season was rife with errors from Chaka Zulu.   

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