Names January 31, 2007Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
Darlings, I find the best thing to do when you’ve got work – or homework, if any students or children happen to be reading – to do to be submitted a few hours hence and you’ve made as much progress as has been made on expanding Berlin’s international airport, currently on a par for size with Berwick-upon-Tweed’s, is to do a bit of night-blogging to get the juices flowing. But what if your blogging juices aren’t even flowing? Why, you delve back into your memory, think of some vaguely engaging anecdote from your past, which, ideally, has happened to someone else, and think how to manipulate it for the sake of the blog.
So names it is.
As I sat pondering how to translate the swirl of German letters in front of me which, on first viewing, made no semantic sense whatsoever just a moment ago, I had a flashback to the time I was in hospital in Russia. (That occasion has, it goes without saying, already been blogged.) It was only the second time in my life when I really thought I might die and, d’you know, I didn’t really mind. The first time was when I was in a car hurtling, and with an unimpeded, crystal-clear view, towards a tree. I’m not sure my life flashed before me, which meant my very last thought on this planet, had I croaked, would have been, “Bugger, your life doesn’t even flash before you! Are none of the old wisdoms true?” Anyway, I didn’t die, obviously, as the driver had managed to reduce his speed a tad before colliding with the tree and I was the only one of the three passengers who got off scot-free (but for the trauma of realising that your life doesn’t flash before you). The driver had legal woes. The other passenger was injured, though, praise be, not seriously. But, for some reason, it wasn’t frightening, as I prepared to meet my fate.
The second time, in the Russian hospital, death would have almost been a welcome intervention, both because the ailment – something stomachy – was so unpleasant that death seemed cosy in comparison and being in hospital was just somehow unsurpassably grim. (Although being in hospital to have my tonsils out was actually heaven. School-dinners and room-service. And doctors and nurses being kind. I instantly understood the phenomenon – then wondered if it only applied to me – of folk falling in love with practitioners of the medical profession.) But again, I didn’t die. Though I did read, which is a lot more prosaic, but then – let’s be positive – far more nourishing and, ultimately, favourable than death.
A Russian writer I had wanted to read was Dovlatov. I hadn’t read a word and, deciding to exploit Russians’ (though chiefly the Russian’s) offers of kindness in my stricken state – Russians adore illness and the ill and will go to great lengths to assist a man, dying or not, when he’s not at his best – I asked the Russian if he could provide me with anything by him. Dutifully, he would turn up (not at the appointed hour. The Russian doesn’t do punctuality. Meaning it would be time for him to be thrown out a second after he arrived, though a nod and a wink to the staff normally got round that. He even stayed the night once) with food – a hyena would have turned his nose up at the hospital’s offerings – and whatever else was on the shopping list he’d been given by me (books) and the doctors (tablets).
So, one night, as I lay on my non-death-bed, in non-mortal agony, bemoaning my fate and my innards, I read Dovlatov. Luckily for me, someone with the attention span of a goldfish with an attitude problem, he wrote short stories. The first one I read – bugger. Can’t find anything with preliminary googling – was about an American spy who was sent to the Soviet Union to do whatever it is spies do. Drink and have lots of sex, I think. The spy was a nice guy, got a regular, manly job, convinced everyone he was Russian and worked his way up so well that he was eventually offered the chance of a life-changing promotion. He was given a choice. (Who said there was no freedom in the Soviet Union?) Amusingly, the choice was between Syktyvkar, the Russian’s home-town, and New York. “Syktyvkar,” the American answered in a flash.
Anyway, what the fuck was this all leading up to? Oh yes. The thing is, the American was called, if my memory of the near-death experience doesn’t deceive me, John Smith. (Or was that Pocahontas?) And I thought it would be awfully nice to be called John Smith. Not if I lived in Russia, and, indeed, our fictional John Smith was presumably renamed something along the lines of Ivan Kuznetsov for the duration of his sojourn in the Soviet Union (which ends with him walking into the Lubyanka and confessing all, and the KGBers not believing him). But, if I lived in England, I thought it would be a handy name. Deliciously anonymous. No marking you out from the crowd. No having to spell it. Now I know living in Germany means that, even if I were John Smith, I’d still be less unremarkable than a Jan Schmidt, but being called Engelbert Humperdink – that’s my real name, you see – is a pain wherever you are.
So if you could call me John Smith from now on, please…
Now there was a drunken occasion I was once at where the booze had raised spirits to such heights that some bright spark came up with an impromptu game. It wasn’t, “What would you ideally like to be called?” It was, “What would you most loathe being called?” My inner archives have failed to correctly record most of the answers given on that unfateful day, but a couple have stuck in my memory. One woman, a mega-Catholic – Anglo-Catholics are a queer bunch – said she’d least liked to be called Protestant. One gent, an Englishman who lives near Paris and gets through quite staggering amounts of tobacco, booze and life-saving operations, said Temperance was what didn’t do it for him.
So darlings, in a quite brazen attempt to get you to say a bloggerly hello, have you got any particularly favourite or least favourite nominal fantasies? All very good answers win a “very good” from me as a prize.