by Rosemary Lord
“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “to talk of many things: Of shoes and ships and sealing wax – and cabbages and kings…” So wrote Lewis Carroll.
And as I have been in Europe, travelling around with my siblings, my mind has been darting all over the place; seeing new and old places, marveling at new sights, meeting new people. A hundred new story ideas, new characters, new snippets of conversations and odd words have been buzzing around my head.
I was recently chatting with my family over coffee in a little taverna in southern Greece – as you do… “What’s the positive of disgruntled, disheveled and dismayed?” came up. We don’t say “She was gruntled – or “I looked sheveled…” After spilling lots of coffee with our bursts of laughter and giggles, we couldn’t solve that one, but went on to marvel at the intricacies and rather bizarre vocabulary of our amazing language.
Where do these words originate? Most of them we can trace to Latin, Old English or European origins – but there are others that leave us baffled as we delve back into history for a clue. There are so many delicious words for writers to paint a myriad of pictures with. Our language is so rich and colorful when used by good writers and orators.
Not just fiction and non-fiction writers, but poets and song-writers. When you think of the moods created by Henry Mancini’s Moon River lyrics, or Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, the cheery Oklahoma theme, or He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother and Paul McCartney’s poignant Eleanor Rigby – to Y.M.C.A. and Get Me To The Church on Time. All these present such different stories, different moods – using the same English language. Clever writers. Beautiful language.
I wonder how today’s kids, who rapidly text for seemingly hour after hour, will find the opportunity to explore the wonders of our language if their thumbs are trained to only to write “thx, OMG and LOL.” Thumbs may get a workout but what about their imaginations?
Speaking of imaginations: We went to see the stage version of the children’s classic The Railway Children, by A.E. Nesbitt. I’m clearly still a little kid and absolutely loved it. Such an imaginative way to portray the story of the children who watched the trains go by their house every day, and decided to enlist the help of one of the regular passengers they had spotted (a Rich Old Gentleman) to find out what happened to their father who had disappeared. It turns out their father had wrongly been jailed for embezzlement and the Rich Old Gentleman helps clear his name. The book had long ago been turned into a film starring Jenny Agutter. So the stage production had the challenge of dealing with a real train as the central character. The imaginative designers used a portion of the real, working railway tracks at London’s King’s Cross Station with a real steam engine waiting in the wings.
The story is set over one hundred years ago, and the show starts the minute you walk in from the box office into the old-fashioned station waiting room, instead of a theatre lobby. The theatre staff are all dressed in the railway uniforms of that period. We are ushered through the door onto the station platform. The seats are either side of the real railway tracks, audience facing each other. The cast, all dressed in their Edwardian costumes, wander onto the platform, luggage in hand and greet the audience as if we are all fellow travelers. “Are you travelling far today?” and so on. Then, slowly, the play begins. A small square stage area, with tables and chairs for a dining room scene, is pushed along the rails by costumed railway porters and stops in front of the audience as the actors take their places and begin the scene. The set is moved off at the end and another scene appears. Scenic changes are created with spectacular lighting effects and sleights of hand. The whole thing moves along very quickly and the huge climax at the end when the real engine chuffs into place, whistles blowing and people cheering is very moving for kids and adults alike. Words written over one hundred years ago mixed with 21st century technology, amazing designer talents and wonderful imagination all come together to create a happy, moving experience.
Of course I came back from my travels with more books in my suitcases. A nice habit I have noticed in England and Greece is the book-exchange. Charming little cafes have walls lined with used books and signs such as “Take one and leave one…” So people bring in the books they have read and swap them for another. Although writers may not benefit financially, it’s a great way to discover new authors. Then I head for Foyle’s bookstore in Charing Cross Road or the Owl Bookstore in Kentish Town to stock up on new authors. No wonder my luggage gets heavier and heavier. The English tea and custard powder I bring back doesn’t way much. But I am a happy girl, anticipating all the new books I have to read – and even more happy and inspired at the books I am about to write – about cabbages and kings and all sorts of things.