Do oranges feel pain?

Technically, I started this blog with the intention of writing insightful mini-essays on art, culture and the odd bit of omphaloskepsis* to keep my loyal minions educated and entertained. That said, I don’t really feel like writing anything personal or profound at the moment, primarily because I don’t like to write things out until I’ve really processed them in my mind. There’s a lot of extraneous crap going on at the moment in Owl of Derision’s nest (owls have nests, right?), and I’d rather not inflict it upon you until I’ve dealt with all the emotional angst and can filter my thoughts through my normal medium of deadpan verbosity. So today, a treat for you all. Instead of an essay with Big Words, I present to you a List Of Things I Enjoy For Whatever Reason (LOTIEFWR). Like the ragged and malnourished inhabitants of a Victorian workhouse after being allowed a dollop of  jam on their gruel to celebrate the Royal Jubilee, you will undoubtedly regard this as a rare and exquisite experience, to be remembered every night as you lie, fitfully dreaming, on your plank-and-straw mattress in the draughty garret.

Hmm. I digress. Without further ado (apart from pausing to say ‘Without further ado’), my LOTIEFWR:

#1 Anthropomorphism

Why, I do not know. But I can’t help finding it hilarious and joyful whenever animals and/or inanimate objects are configured as somehow human. Seeing ‘faces’ in mundane items, and assigning names to possessions, for example, are essential aspects of the way in which I see the world. It’s pretty egotistical and childish in a way – extrapolating human experience onto things, in order to make them relatable and accessible. My bike is called Drusilla, and by naming it (her?), I feel as if it is more completely mine, and an extension of my personality, rather than a mere machine. Egotistical as it may be, anthropomorphism is also immense fun. A particular quirk of mine occurs whenever I eat a clementine orange. Before peeling and eating, I draw a face on the clementine in marker pen, and make the fruit sing ‘Oh my darlin’, oh my darlin’, oh my darrrrlin’ Clementine…’ Then I feel guilty for eating it, because I’ve given it a face, and therefore some semblance of a personality.

#2 Cups and mugs

I have an urge to collect different teacups and mugs, not only for display purposes, but also because it turns the act of drinking tea (my hot bevvy of choice) into a personal ritual. There’s something immensely comforting about a cup of tea – hardly a unique realisation, I know. It’s not just about the physical comfort of drinking something warm and sweet, but about nostalgia. When I drink tea alone, I’m nonetheless connected to everyone I’ve ever shared a cosy cuppa with. Tea is collective, and always has been, whether it be in Japan, or in the 18th century salon. It particularly reminds me of my own childhood, and the Saturday night family ‘event’ that was tea and cakes on a tray, in front of whatever dodgy prime-time TV show was on (normally Noel’s House Party, occasionally You Bet!). Owning a variety of cups and mugs makes drinking tea something I own, rather than something I just do. My comedy ‘Dancing Potato’ mug for everyday drinking; the mug with my name on it for when I feel silly, a dainty floral cup for ‘Sunday and best’, or a big chunky blue mug for the vast vat of tea required when times are bad.

#3 Dogs

The world is supposedly divided into ‘Dog People’, ‘Cat People’ and ‘Heartless Bastards’. Notwithstanding the fact that ‘dog/cat people’ makes it sound as if Earth is populated by bizarre pet-human hybrids, and that it is perfectly possible to enjoy the company of both cats and dogs (as I do), I would unashamedly plump for the mutts and hounds if it came to taking sides in a war between our furry friends. I also like assigning ‘types’ of dog to the people I know. I’m probably a miniature dachsund, though there’s a dash of grumpy terrier in there as well. Anyway. Dogs are the embodiment of sheer love and affection. Dogs will snuffle you in concern when you cry, jump up in greeting when you arrive, and paw you when they want to play. They are loyal friends in a world where people (and cats) are inconsistent. Dogs guide the blind, fetch the slippers and guard the house. They pine for dead or disappeared owners. Cats, on the other hand, are more concerned about their next meal. This is why I tend to be less trusting of self-described ‘cat people’, because their affinity with cats is often (not always) based upon shared personality traits – selfishness, single-mindedness and laziness. Although maybe I’m just a little jealous of their status as the sybarites of the animal world, in contrast to the Spartan outlook of most dogs.

#4 Etymology

ετυμολογíα. From the Greek étumon (‘true sense, meaning’) and lógos (‘reason’), etymology is the study of the meaning of words. But you knew that, and I was just being glib. Knowing what words mean is interesting, of course. And necessary. But knowing why they mean what they mean is even better. One of the joys of the English language is its sheer bastardy. It’s the bizarre offspring of the Germanic and the Latinate (via French), with a bit of Greek sprinkled in. Not to mention the words imported from Hindustani, Spanish, Swahili, etc etc. I never officially learned Latin at school, and my German is limited to ‘Achtung!’ and ’99 Luftballons’; nevertheless I have a rough idea of the roots of most words. Just one of the advantages of being a voracious reader as a child, which in turn was one of the advantages of having no friends. So, to pick a random example, a ‘werewolf’ is known as such from the old English ‘wer’, or man – therefore, a ‘man-wolf’. See also the Anglo-Saxon legal concept of ‘weregild’, or ‘man-money’, which was compensation payable to surviving family in the event of a murder. Thus, ‘werewolf’, and not ‘lycanthrope’, which would be the Greek transliteration. On the other hand, when someone picks up an STD – or as I call it, Yucky Sex-Flu – we say they have venereal disease, from the Latin name Venus, goddess of love and sex (and, presumably, chlamydia). We don’t derive the terminology from the Germanic/Norse equivalent, which would come out as something like ‘freyan disease’ or ‘frejan disease’ from the goddess Freyja. Those are somewhat random examples, but I just enjoy knowing where my language comes from, because it helps me to construct speech and text in a precise and meaningful way.

#5 Japan

This choice is a little difficult to justify, because I’m perfectly aware that my interest in Japan and japonísme is heavily filtered through an idealised Western perspective. I don’t speak a word of Japanese, have never travelled there (yet!), and have minimal contact with contemporary Japanese culture. But aspects of traditional Japanese society and aesthetics appeal to me. I’d like to think, at least, that I’m not investing in some crassly reductive stereotype of Japanese culture based around geisha, kimono and endless bowing. When I look at Hiroshige’s or Hokusai’s ukiyo-e (‘floating world’) prints, or read novels by Tanizaki and Sōseki, I’m attracted by the sense of melancholy beauty that hovers over the world they conjure up. Even in the most exuberant woodblock images of tea parties and bathhouses, or in the happy profusion of pink and white sakura blossoms that bursts every spring around Japan, there is a sense of transience. Apparently this concept has a particular place in Japanese culture – it’s known as wabi-sabi, and it prizes the imperfect, the austere, and above all the transient. It sounds depressing in theory but, to me at least, there’s something rather fascinating and elegant about the notion of stripping one’s physical and mental environment back to simplicity and authenticity.

That concludes this first instalment of my LOTIEFWR. I may favour the populace with another one at some point. It was fun to write, and to think about, and perhaps it might make you think about what you would include on your own list of haphazard pleasures?

*Omphaloskepsis: ‘navel-gazing’. From the Greek omphalos (‘navel’) and skepsis (‘act of examination’). I told you I like etymology.

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