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MUSINGS OF A MEANDERING MIND #29 (article first published : 2006-12-26)

I’ve been blessed to share an ongoing and very loving (and amusing) old-fashioned snail-mail type correspondence with a favourite uncle who resides opposite the Barons Court tube station in London these past several years - but was saddened during my annual Christmas Day phone call to him last night to detect in his voice (still sporting a delightful South African accent despite many decades spent in the UK) that his health has deteriorated a great deal of late, and I have a strong feeling that this stoic and stalwart fellow, at well over 80 years of age, and a diabetic to boot (as am I), may possibly have limited time left.

Thus I’ve spent a good portion of today’s public holiday (Day of Goodwill) going through the file in which I’ve kept the BEST of his many entertaining letters over the past five years or so, in which he’s always enclosed various interesting clippings from the London newspapers, including many amusing snippets and jokes, interspersed with his own inimitably sardonic and cynical tales of the woes of that nation, written with great journalistic flair (that particular talent being one of MANY fascinating career paths he’s followed in his eight decades and more during this lifetime.) I shall always treasure his epistle of 10 July 2004, where he wrote thus:

Striking up a correspondence with you has been one of the best things that has happened to me; something I value greatly and hope will endure as long as we both have topics and thoughts to divulge and share about the crazy terrestrial globe we have the good fortune of inhabiting (for a finite spell!) Well, I am immensely saddened that a severe back complaint coupled with diabetic complications has meant far fewer letters arriving in my postbox this year bearing that beloved, familiar typescript (he still uses an ancient manual machine which he taps on with two fingers – just like the announcers I worked with at the SABC for so many years), so my New Year’s resolution is to double my own efforts to keep writing to HIM.

Uncle Frank and I share a love of the English language and become highly incensed when it’s misused and/or abused. (I wrote to the local Durban newspapers – and a couple of magazines – when the Mynah buses were introduced as a quick-and-economic form of transport some years ago, complaining about the slogan written in HUGE lettering on the sides of these vehicles, exclaiming that it’s no wonder the current generation of children grow up unable to spell correctly, and objecting strongly to their play on the word cheap by informing the public it was CHEEPER by Mynah! When my letter was printed I forwarded it to Frank over there in London-Town, and back came this clipping of a piece he’d contributed to one of THEIR local rags…

THERE IS LITERALLY NO WAY I CAN STOMACH THIS … The Plain English Campaign’s list of irritating words and phrases made a few crucial omissions. Most particularly, the overuse of the phrase no way emerges unremarked upon, as does what it all boils down to (my father’s favourite) and janneau what I mean? (I don’t think I do, actually.) But worst of all, if one more person comes up to me and (over)uses the word literally in a very non-literal context (as in he was literally high as a kite I’ll murder them. Figuratively.

We also frequently comment on the shenanigans of the celebs, and after the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction incident, along came this snippet, a quote from the well-endowed Dolly Parton… “I would wipe out the first three rows if I tried something like that. We can’t turn THESE loose on ANYBODY.” (A comment on why she herself would never follow Janet’s example by baring a breast on stage.) That one had me chuckling over my breakfast banana and diabetic-style cuppa cocoa, I can tell you!

Learning that I was currently earning my daily living by acting as transcriber of several information/education type programmes for radio station SAfm’s website, along came this tale – all true – relating to medical transcriptions. And now I quote Uncle Frank verbatim…

“Some clever moron discovered that by sending the typing of company mail to be done more cheaply in India he could save a fortune. Now the spread of this brilliant scheme has caught on and widened considerably in the UK. Alas, the side-effects have turned into a shambles. Medical terms and phrases are being mutilated in Mumbai (Bombay) and elsewhere. And he goes on to cite examples such as a cute angina and a case of simonella.” That one REALLY had me gurgling over my grapefruit, I can tell you!

In another letter he responded to my raising the topic of reincarnation and also the supernatural with this little experience he’d recently had…

For the past couple of months I’ve been puzzled and somewhat aggravated by inert, inanimate objects seeming to take on a life of their own: magazines and catalogues sliding off tables, pens and apples and other objects rolling onto the floor for no seeming reason, magnifying glasses and vitamin containers toppling off side tables, letter-knives and bottle-openers slipping off shelves and so forth. I began to wonder if some mythical spirit was trying to tell me something! Then, one morning as I was brushing my teeth, the toothpaste tube sprang off the shelf, bounced on the wash-basin and landed at my feet. As I reached down, SUB-CON, in an instant, flashed two words into my consciousness: ISAAC NEWTON. The culprit was, of course, G-R-A-V-I-T-Y. How foolish I felt. Now, if anything misbehaves, I just give it a kick!

And here’s a lovely little joke of the type that entertains this adorably amusing man…

Three male walkers on the fells came to a swollen torrent that they had to cross. It seemed impossible, so they decided to pray. The first asked to be given the strength to get across. He was given super-human strength and, with great effort, managed to swim over to the other side. The second prayed for the right tools to get over. He was given a boat and, after much paddling, he also managed to cross the river. The third prayed for sufficient intelligence to be able to cross. And therefore God made him into a woman. She looked at the map, walked 100 yards up the river-bank, and crossed using the bridge.

During the current Bush-bashing era, I’ve recently received this one…

President Bush was seated comfortably on his yacht and treating the Pope to a pleasant day’s sailing when up sprang an unexpectedly strong wind and removed the religious leader’s headgear. Bush told His Eminence not to worry and proceeded to jump over the side of the craft, walk across the waves, retrieve the holy hat, walk back across the water, jump back into the boat, and replace said item on the Pope’s head. Headlines across America’s newspapers next morning: US PRESIDENT CANNOT EVEN SWIM! Ag, shame! Poor Dubbya!

This endearing relative’s mantra (which he’s reminded me of each and every time I’ve mentioned an irritation or health problem) goes thus: ALL WILL BE WELL. And so I hope it will indeed be when his time DOES arrive to leave this mortal coil. I shall forever remember him for this comment, I try never to let my optimism take a holiday: it may never return! We can ALL learn from that! God bless, dearest Uncle Frank: may your brave spirit endure forever! - Bev Pulé




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