Isabella Beeton...
 ...and her famous book
In this blogposting…
* A Fable From France
* In Memory of Mrs Beeton
* La vie en France: Noël - Part Two
* New Year’s Eve
And on to the end of the year...

In blogposting 325 I set you the frankly pointless challenge of translating into English a kindly fable of the sort which French children used to learn affectionately by heart.  It was called Le corbeau et le renard - 'The Crow and the Fox'.

I can imagine the endless hours of dictionary-searching and memory-mining you wasted on it.

Maître Corbeau, sur un arbre perché,
Tenait en son bec un fromage.
Maître Renard, par l'odeur alléché,
Lui tint à peu près ce langage:
‘Hé! bonjour, Monsieur du Corbeau.
Que vous êtes joli! que vous me semblez beau!
Sans mentir, si votre ramage
Se rapporte à votre plumage,
Vous êtes le Phénix des hôtes de ces bois.’
A ces mots le Corbeau ne se sent pas de joie;
Et pour montrer sa belle voix,
Il ouvre un large bec, laisse tomber sa proie.
Le Renard s'en saisit, et dit: ‘Mon bon Monsieur,
Apprenez que tout flatteur
Vit aux dépens de celui qui l'écoute:
Cette leçon vaut bien un fromage, sans doute.’
Le Corbeau, honteux et confus,
Jura, mais un peu tard, qu'on ne l'y prendrait plus.

And now here’s the translation….

Master Crow perched on a tree,
Was holding a cheese in his beak.
Master Fox attracted by the smell
Said something like this:
‘Well, Hello Mister Crow!
How beautiful you are! how nice you seem to me!
Really, if your voice
Is like your plumage,
You are the phoenix of all the inhabitants of these woods.’
At these words, the Crow is overjoyed.
And in order to show off his beautiful voice,
He opens his beak wide, lets his prey fall.
The Fox grabs it, and says: ‘My good man,
Learn that every flatterer
Lives at the expense of the one who listens to him.
This lesson, without doubt, is well worth a cheese.’
The Crow, ashamed and embarrassed,
Swore, but a little late, that he would not be taken again.

If you did make a stab at translating it, and got anywhere near what you see above - well done, you. 

Bearing in mind the moral of the fable, though, I’m not going to flatter you any more.

I’ve had a lovely Christmas email from Lynne; it’s worth quoting in full.

This year, I got one of the best Christmas gifts I’ve ever received.  But it’s good for all the wrong reasons!  It’s Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management - and Ian, you’d be amazed at some of the recipes.

So, on New Year’s Day, I think we’ll be sitting down to Hessian Soup, followed by Cod’s Head and Shoulders with Pickled Nasturtiums.  We’ll finish off with Canary Pudding.

Although, on second thoughts, if I can’t face plucking all those canaries, we may have to make do with Collared Pig’s Face and Boiled Salad….’

What in the name of all that’s sacred is ‘Boiled Salad’ (let alone all the other stuff)?

Lynne - you’ve made me feel queasy.  Thanks!

This is how connecting flights are meant to work.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you book a journey from Newcastle to - say - Lyon.  And let’s assume that the journey involves a change of aeroplane at Amsterdam.

In an ideal world, your flight from Newcastle would leave on time and would land in Amsterdam on time, too.  Your second flight - the one from Amsterdam to Lyon - would be due to leave in an hour or two’s time, thus giving you plenty of breathing space to relax, have a cup of coffee, pass through security and get to the departure gate with plenty of time to spare.

The world is not, however, ideal.

I was, in fact, nervous about my journey from the outset.  The schedule allowed only 40 minutes in Amsterdam between landing from Newcastle and taking off for Lyon.  40 minutes may seem like a long time but it’s not - specially when you have to make your way through an airport as big and as busy as Schiphol is.

Big airports are a pain in the neck (or some less genteel part of the anatomy).  Enormous, impersonal sheds the size of twenty football stadiums with ludicrously overpriced snack-bars and shops full of duty-free offers that would bankrupt the Sultan of Brunei in seconds.

Thousands of anxious people rushing hither and - naturally - thither, dragging their suitcases, sweethearts and howling offspring behind them or pushing them ahead on trolleys that never fail to hit a dozen ankles in a dozen yards.  And why does the addition of a toddler automatically seem to prompt the need for at least three extra suitcases?  What on Earth do the little darlings need except a few knock-out drops and a tub of Cow and Gate?

Small airports, on the other hand, are airily accommodating.  Like grandparents, they are always glad to see you.  They have space, clarity and convenience on their side (although the coffee is just as costly).

Unfortunately, Schiphol is one of the big boys.  It’s almost as big as the city it serves.  As elsewhere, your heart sinks when you realise that your departure gate is a mile away (seriously) along endless, featureless walkways with only out-of-order ‘travolators’ offering you any assistance.

I knew all this before I even left home.  I knew that, in order to stand a fighting chance of catching my second flight, my first would have to land on time.

It didn’t.

It left Newcastle ten minutes late and, when it reached airspace over the land of tulip bulbs and windmills, it had to circle overhead and await its turn in a queue of aircraft waiting to land on one of the busiest travel days of the year.

It landed 20 minutes late.

I staggered off the plane, pushing sweet, inoffensive old couples and earphoned students brusquely out of my way.  I clambered up and down escalators, scrambled through security, limped along travolators.  But it was all to no avail.  Departure gate C15 for Lyon just seemed to get further and further away.

The 'Sitting Men' sculpture in Schiphol airport; this is how I felt when I got to Gate C15

I did reach C15, though - panting and sweating in the Christmas pudding woolly hat Hildie had given me.  The KLM rep at the gate looked at me very oddly, as if she’d never seen a breathless, anxious, tired, sweating, overweight, ageing Englishman in a Christmas pudding woolly hat before. 

She told me my flight to Lyon had left - and from gate C6 (which I had passed ages ago).

‘But the Departure Boards say C15’ I protested.

‘Yes I know’ she replied, helpfully and in perfect English.

So there I was.  An Englishman stranded overnight in a strange land.  Well, the Netherlands.
The striking 'Meeting Point' sculpture in the airport

The KLM rep - tall, slender and deeply blonde - finally decided to take action on my behalf when I sank to my haunches and started to cry.  She graciously accompanied me to a help-desk where - suddenly - things didn’t seem so bad.  There to help me were two suspiciously handsome young men in well-fitting KLM uniforms begging to offer me any assistance they could.

I forewent the obvious response and instead simply asked them what I should do now.  In these situations, I always find it helps to lay your pathetic helplessness on with a trowel so that’s what I did and it worked.

Within ten minutes, they’d booked me on the first flight to Lyon the following morning.  And they’d also booked me into a rather plush hotel near the airport so that I wouldn’t have to be moved on all night by Schiphol’s security guards, who are armed to the teeth with machine-guns and cutlasses.

And all this was at KLM’s expense, as well it should be.  The hotel, the courtesy bus, my evening meal, my breakfast.  Everyone smiled benignly and sympathetically.  They even gave me a ‘happiness questionnaire’ to fill in; it takes real gall (or brass neck or even Dutch courage) to do that when you may just have ruined someone’s Christmas holiday.

I gave them 10 out of 10, if only for their brazened impittence (as my Nana used to say).
The hotel was one of those luxurious, conference-style places at the airport’s edge - the Van Der Valke.  My room was superb and - seasoned as they are - KLM had even given me an overnight bag of essentials, including - amongst the toothpaste, shaving foam, shower gel and deodorant - a clean T-shirt and a pair of socks.
I took a shower - it was one of those amazing ones that almost power-washes you off your feet - and went down to dinner, where I recognised several people from the airport’s help-desk queue.  We’d all missed our flight connexions and decided to drown our Christmas sorrows by dining together and telling jokes in as many languages as we could.

For my part, I told the joke which - on this very blog - has been hailed as the funniest joke ever; the one about the two hunters.

Nobody laughed.  Nobody at all.  I didn’t even laugh myself.

Naturally - and like any full-blooded Englishman - I therefore refused to laugh at any of their jokes.  I remained utterly po-faced as the middle-aged Spanish couple told a joke about two fishermen in a storm, the French computer-programmer regaled us with a tale about Sarkozy (surprise, surprise) and the Croatian mountaineer limped through what seemed to be a quite disgusting story about a goat and a nun.

As I lay in my plush, kingsize bed that night, I actually felt really sorry for most of my fellow-diners.  The Spanish couple had no guaranteed flight the next day, the Fenchman would have to fly to Bordeaux and not Toulouse and the Croatian man had been offered a substitute flight to Milan - not helpful when you’re trying to get to Dubrovnik.  They might as well have offered him a flight to Edinburgh or Istanbul.

I hope they all made it.  I hope the Polish lady was smothered with Christmas kisses when she finally got to Krakow.  I hope that Mael was able to spend Christmas gazing into his much-missed girlfriend’s eyes in Toulouse.  I hope that Steve and Deborah spent Christmas Day on the beach in Nice - a long-held dream.  And I hope that the Croatian mountain-man found a way of getting home from Milan, let alone from Amsterdam.

Yes - I hope they all made it.

...don’t forget the impromptu coffee meeting in Grainger Market this upcoming Saturday, New Year’s Eve, at 1100.  The cafe’s at the southern end of the market, where the flower stalls are.

Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com

1 comment:

Nev said...

Seen the reference to Grainger Market on Saturday...will try...