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Off topic: The Little Translator throws his hat in the ring with Obama and McCain
Thread poster: Mervyn Henderson

Mervyn Henderson  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:22
Spanish to English
+ ...
Nov 4, 2008

The Little Translator claws his way back:

The Little Translator goes for the Big Lie:

The Little Translator meets the Mob:

The Little Translator runs into Brookesduddy:

The Little Translator runs into Brookesduddy (II):

The Little Translator turns Little Detective:

The Little Translator in the dying hours of 2007:

The Little Translator and the Basque sex kittens:

The Little Translator turns Little Detective (I½):

The Little Translator and the reluctant Sergeant:

The Little Translator goes for a ride in a car:

The Little Translator addresses the Queen of England:

The Little Translator relates the Barcelona Connection:

The Little Translator makes a right royal faux pas:

I explained our delicate situation to the Sergeant as we walked to a dive just off Plaza de la Virgen Blanca. We walked past one of the new modern sculptures at the head of one of the main drags in the city. It’s a, well, it’s just a massive bronze oval ring affair, just a big hole in the middle of the street, really. I can’t remember its official title, but I hesitate to tell you what the locals call it. Suffice it to say that Garmendia jumped up on to the base around it and began thrusting his pelvis into it, not unlike his lewd description of Quasimodo in the previous episode.

“Hey, Traductorcito”, he shouted. “Big enough for a bilbaíno, don’t you think?”

I should add at this point for those of you not in the know that the men (and women) of Bilbao are noted for their toughness. They say a bilbaíno was found in the wreckage of the Twin Towers, half-conscious, told the paramedics he was fine, only a few scratches, whereupon he fainted away again. Turned out his legs were broken in a dozen places each, plus both arms, pelvis, nearly all his ribs, and deep chest lacerations.

“So which of the towers were you in”, they asked him when he came round, “North or South?”

“Towers?” he said to them, “Towers? What IS all this stuff about towers? Since I woke up all I hear is people talking about the towers, the towers, the towers. The last thing I remember is keeling over after a bloke stabbed me when I tried to stop him and his mates from hijacking our plane. Is anyone going to tell me what happened?”

Garmendia jumped down from the sculpture.

“Don’t worry”, he said earnestly. “It’s no big deal. Just ring her back and explain.”

I knew I had had much less to drink than him when I heard that one.

“Ring her back? How?”

“Her number’s recorded on your mobile, isn’t it? Give it here.”

The mobile-grabbing policeman with an annoying habit of grabbing my mobile grabbed my mobile.

“No luck. It’s unknown”. He gave it back.

“That’s hardly surprising, is it, Sergeant? We’re talking about the Queen of England here, and Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Australia and dominions various, what’s left of them. Perhaps I should try Directory Enquiries? I can just hear myself: Yes Miss, I’m looking for a London number …. yes, Buckingham Palace Road … what number? Er, you’ll probably find it’s number One … and it’s an E. Windsor, yes … or it might possibly be listed under a Mr. P. of Greece and Denmark … “

I scowled at Garmendia. “It’s ex-directory, don’t you understand? Why do you think Michael Fagan had to climb over the wall for a bedside chat with her? Because he couldn’t get hold of her on the phone, that’s why. And I don’t understand why you’re so cool about it. After all, I only insulted her by mistake. You threatened her with physical violence. They can still hang you in the cold grey dawn for that, you know”.

The Sergeant was unmoved. “But as you say, I’m a piece of non-existence lurking in someone’s imagination, a prowling nonentity, a mere face in the crowd, an ephemeral spectre haunting the nothingness of some fourth dimension. Besides, with me they’ve nothing to go on. It’s your photo that’s on this site”, he countered. “Through the good and generous offices of Heinrich Pesch, because you might be a good translator, but you couldn’t get the size of it reduced yourself.”

“Means nothing”, I told him airily. “Loads of people have site photos that aren’t actually theirs. At least one has a photo of a well-known actor, for example. Others have flags, nodding dogs, winking penguins, dancing trolls and so on. So nobody can be sure that’s me.”

The Sergeant looked me up and down.

“You can say what you like”, he shrugged, “but that photo’s you for sure.”

Just then the phone rang.

“It’s her, it’s her”, said the Sergeant. “Now’s your chance.”

I sighed. “No, Garmendia, this is actually a tiresome customer ringing me at dead of night to tell me that Dr. Q. Finklestein, an authority on the social mores of low-caste women in some place that’s not even mapped, will be landing in Washington tomorrow at noon for a conference, and that he simply must have his speech for the press, which you can bet your bottom dollar will be chock-a-block with hyperbole, alliteration, oxymoron, clever plays on words, intellectual witticisms and in-jokes comprehensible to perhaps four or five people on the planet, plus a raging foaming torrent of the most obscure references to names, places and concepts neither of us or anyone else has ever heard of or cares about, translated into thee good Eeengleesh on a moment’s notice. And at a good price, too.”

“In other words, the customer has a big urgent problem which he wants to become MY big urgent problem, but not at a big urgent price, at a rather small measly one. So then I tell him the egg story. Do you know the egg story, Sergeant? No? Well, I’ll tell you. Once upon a time, you see, there was a man who was fond of eggs. Not that he had an obsession with them or anything, or kept a huge clandestine collection of them in the attic with numbers on, and gave them all names, or anything. He just liked eggs. He was an egg consumer, an occasional egg user. He lived a little bit out of town, and one day he was walking to work and saw a sign, “Farmhouse eggs for sale”, so in he went and bought some eggs.

They were damn good eggs, all right, and they tasted like God in heaven lovingly poached on lightly buttered toast with just a pinch of salt and black pepper, perhaps with a few dashes of Tabasco for a good raunchy ranchero egg start to the day, or fried, or beaten up into a quick omelette, or even boiled, eggs being so versatile, and every so often he would buy eggs from the farmer. Not all the time, but just sometimes. He got to know the farmer quite well after a while, and he would buy eggs at the farmhouse, or sometimes the farmer would be in town and ring him, and come to his house with the eggs, and all in all they had a good egg relationship.

Although after a while he noticed something rather odd, and it was that whenever the farmer took the trouble to come to his house, the eggs were ever so slightly cheaper, whereas when he arrived at the farmhouse they were a little more expensive. He couldn’t understand this, because if the farmer travelled to his house, one would expect them to be more expensive, not less so, and if he went to the farm, they really should be cheaper since he had gone there and saved the farmer a journey. So he decided to ask the farmer. The farmer said, “That’s simple. When you come to my farm, you need eggs. When I go to your house, I need money.”

“Why are you telling me all this?”, my customer will ask, mystified, and I’ll say “what I’m telling you is that today you need some rather special eggs, and that I don’t need the money. Have a nice day.”

So saying, I pushed the answer button.

“Piss off”, I said into the phone. “I’m not interested.”

“Sorry?” said a surprised voice. “Isn’t that Restaurante Bermeano?”

“Er, no”, I said, “wrong number, I’m afraid.”

Garmendia guffawed. “You’re losing control of this story and no mistake”.

“Just a minor slip-up”, I retorted. “I have complete control. I can put anything I like into it.”

“Oh yeah? I bet you can’t”, he said. “You’re losing your grip, LT. I bet you can’t even end this episode the way you want. I’ll bet you fifty euros.”

Of all the … This peeler was beginning to get on my nerves, and no mistake. I snorted. “Of course I can. I can end it any way I like. In fact, just to show you I can, I’ll end it the way YOU like. Pick a phrase, any phrase at all, go on.”

Garmendia thought a little, and swayed a little too. “OK, then, how about you end it with the words “ … a kid crouched full of sadness lets his boat go drifting out into the evening sun”?

“Anything you like. Fifty euros it is”, I snapped. “Just you wait until the end.” I wasn’t too sure how I was going to work the damn thing into the story, but I’ve done stranger things up to now. “Anyway”, I told myself, “I can always just put the damned thing in for no apparent reason. The fifty euros are mine. Poor Garmendia, he’s such a sap. It’ll be a doddle, a walkover, easy as pie, wee buns, like taking candy from a baby”.

It was about time to get back to business, I thought.

“We’ve got to figure out a strategy for when we get to Asmatutakoizena, Garmendia”, I told him as we walked into the dive, full of twenty-somethings with ripped jeans, those thin-striped jerseys which are all the rage around here, and carefully dishevelled hair and carefully wrinkled jeans, all laughing uproariously. The smoke hung thick under the lights of the bar. Very thick, in fact. And a little too brown for normal smoke, maybe.

Garmendia looked at me rather bleary-eyed as he ordered two Patxarans from the dreadlocked bartender.

“I’d rather figure out a strategy for my mother-in-law first, you know. If you can help me with her, I can help you with this story and we can both help each other for the common good with the Asmatutakoizena Killer. As for the story, I suggest the old trick of an outlandish impossible title again. Gets the punters reading, see.”

“Good idea”, I said, “I’ll do that. So, are things so bad with your mother-in-law?”

Garmendia lowered his voice a little, looking all around before he spoke again.

“God forgive me”, he slurred, “but sometimes I’m tempted to find her alone and push her down the stairs, end it all and take the dosh, get the lads round to collect the stiff and take it off to the lab. I know there wouldn’t be any nonsense from the bod doing the PM, either, since I happen to know he has a rent-boy past.”

“Let’s not get carried away, Sergeant. Remember what kind of mission we’re on here. What you have to do is control yourself, and try and concentrate on getting her on your side. It’s all child psychology and hairdressers, you know. Yes, I said hairdressers. What you have to do, Sergeant, is actually very simple. Just choose your moment and stare at her, if you can bring yourself to stare at her, for a second or two, as if puzzled, and then say: “Have you been to the hairdresser’s?” – She’ll say “No, why?” – and you say, “Oh I just thought you had, because your hair looks kind of very, er, kind of bouncy, big and alive, if you know what I mean.” Badly-chosen vocabulary, as men do. Or you can say: “Have you … well, I don’t like to make so bold as to … but … have you lost weight at all, er, lately?” – “No, why do you ask?” - I thought you looked a bit, well, lighter, that’s all.”

“But the hair thing is the better bet, Sergeant. Since she knows you hate her, she’s suspicious, but she imagines you of all people would hardly tell her this kind of thing. She might not do it in front of you, but she will go straight to the nearest mirror to check it out. Vanity, vanity, all is vanity, and certainly an old woman’s vanity doesn’t allow her to discard such comments, particularly if they are from an unlikely source, so they cheer her up and she thinks as she preens herself in the mirror, “If this bozo, who doesn’t have any reason to say so, thinks I look good without having gone to the hairdresser’s, just think how I would look if I really did go.”

“And so, Sergeant”, I said, “the trap closes. Any suspicions she may have had collapse quicker than a Belgian government, and she high-tails it to the hairdresser, who does the rest for you. Because, whereas you or I just walk into a male hairdresser’s and say “short back and sides, please, Fred, and maybe a little something for the weekend”, and then tut-tut and tsk-tsk inanely about the referee’s eyesight during the match yesterday, perhaps glance briefly at our reflection in the mirror three or four times throughout the whole process, and are out again within a quarter of an hour, just crossing the threshold of the hairdresser’s is the start of a massive ego trip for all women across the entire gamut of attractiveness, the first phase in a process entailing hundreds of hopeful stares into a mirror over a proportionately short period of time.”

“And across the whole range of ages. Let’s not forget we’re talking here about genuine specialists in old trouts. The older the customers are, and especially the more attractive they once were, the larger the quantities of psychological love-me lather that have to be expertly frothed up and laid on thicker than tarmac on an airport runway. Hairdressers are really psychologists to make women who don’t feel and look so good any more feel and look much better, and so there’s no such thing as going over the top. They make up for the physical impossibility of rectifying the inevitable incipient decrepitness and decay caused by the passage of time with an endless flurry of sycophantic squawking, clucking and cooing, and no woman at a hairdresser’s can get enough of that sort of thing. They lap it up like a cat at a huge bowl of cream. Especially if the hairdresser is another woman - after a certain age a woman finds herself in constant competition and comparison with every other woman on the planet. Yes, I mean all of them … no no Garmendia, don’t shake your head like that, even daughters and mothers. Especially daughters and mothers, in fact. Doesn’t get any easier because it’s family, you know. Worse, in fact, because family know better than anyone else about all those embarrassing cracks and blemishes and hidden flaws and loose fixtures and creaky, leaky pipes under the fading paintwork and fissured plaster. Thus the idea of another female sucking up to them is even more attractive, and better still if it’s a large gaggle of them. Have you ever listened in at a women’s hairdresser’s? …

“HELLO, it’s just WONDERFUL to see you again, Marjorie. WHAT a beautiful dress/bag/skirt/coat”, they say as the hapless prey creeps in for her personal ego massage. “That Catherine Zeta-Jones had one just like yours in a film I saw last night. So where have you been HIDING, Marjorie my love? Only a WEEK since the last session? Really? – that’s funny, seems like more, we’ve all MISSED you, haven’t we girls? I was just saying to Doris yesterday what a LAUGH we always have with Marjorie, wasn’t I Doris? Big-hearted Marjorie, I call her, don’t I Doris, yes I do. Yes, the usual blue rinse, is it, dear? Of COURSE. Just sit down over there, my darling, make yourself comfortable, yes, take that BIG COMFY one over there, oh yes, it RECLINES too, I had you SPECIALLY in mind when I bought it - Marjorie would LOVE that chair, I said, didn’t I Doris, yes I did. Doris will take your coat, yes of COURSE, have a nice little read at Cosmopolitan or Vogue until one of the girls can get back to you. OOOH, don’t you smell GOOD! – now don’t tell me, let me guess … it’s that NEW one by Yves Saint Laurent, isn’t it, God rest his soul? No? I could have SWORN it was. Just LOOK at Marjorie’s gloss lipstick, girls. It’s just so HER, isn’t it? Gawd knows what you need US for to give you beauty treatment, Marjorie, it’s US that need YOU, naaaaaaaaarrrrrrrr!!!!!!”

Encouraged by Garmendia’s absorption, I continued: “Female hairdressers know that what their customers want is a no-nonsense, industrial-sized shot of me-me-me-look-at-me medicine in the arm, or in the hair, rather. This is a place where the adulation is on tap, flowing like sick at closing time outside the Bricklayer’s Arms after the Boddington’s Yard of Ale contest on a Friday night. Adulation at a price, mind. Understand that’s why it costs so much, because what they’re paying for is two hours of complete devotion to their appearance by a bevy of competing females but, although you’ll hear a woman, and mothers-in-law in particular, complaining about many, many things in this life, shrilly denouncing this, that and the other morning, noon and night, over and over and over again as you stare into the middle distance, mentally on your knees with head bowed, a beaten man begging your God to show you He exists, to manifest Himself with a miracle to take away your pain, some fortuitous instance of force majeure you can’t possibly be blamed, penalised or incarcerated for - anything, for Christ’s sake, anything, a runaway horse, a bolt of lightning, a solitary rogue tile falling on her from a dodgy roof, a rusty bolt snapping in two on the safety barrier at the edge of a cliff-path high above the sea pounding the rocks down below, a tragic dénouement to a shoot-out with the cops following an armed robbery with hostages at the NatWest, or whatever, you will never ever hear the slightest trace of a complaint about the price of a hair-do.”

I was breathing rather hard. Garmendia looked at me.

“OK”, he said. “I’ll try it.”

I was getting nervous, though, for I had 50 euros riding on the end of this mess, remember. And I hadn’t continued the Barcelona Connection at Café Strasbourg either, but hey, I thought, sure I can do that next time. Just as I was resigning myself to sticking Garmendia’s crappy phrase in any old how at the end for no particular reason and triumphantly collecting my winnings, I became aware of The Pogues’ racing, ripping, rollicking “Drunken Boat” being played in the bar, for it was that kind of bar. The lyrics brought a smile to my lips, and especially the chorus:

Now the only deck
I want to walk
Is the stalks of corn
Beneath my feet
And the only sea
I want to sail
Is a darkened pond
In the scented dusk
Where a kid crouched
Full of sadness
Lets his boat go drifting
Out into the evening sun.

“Look Sergeant”, I said, “seen the ending? Let this be a lesson to you. Stick to policing and don’t mess with translators and writers.”

There was a twinkle in Garmendia’s eye as he let out a small self-assured belch.

“Not so fast”, he said. “if you take a look a few lines below, this episode actually ends with the words “a crisp 50-euro note”. With three dots after it.”

I looked. He was right and I was crushed. “Little Translator”, I told myself, “you are nowhere, man. Beaten in a dual of wills by a man who isn’t even there. You’ve got to be smarter next time.”

So I sighed and handed him a crisp 50-euro note.

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Katherine Mérignac  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:22
French to English
Fantastic... as usual! Nov 4, 2008

Quel talent !

Yep, another fantastic chapter for some welcome relief - thank you!


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Victor Dewsbery  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:22
German to English
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Wow ... Nov 4, 2008

... what a breathtaking read!

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Juliana Starkman  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:22
Spanish to English
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I don't know which part was best- Nov 4, 2008

the description of poached eggs, which made me suddenly desperate to make some, or the Pogues. Lovely as always.

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Marina Soldati  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:22
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
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Great! Nov 4, 2008

Simply great!
Thanks so much for the good time.

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Alexandra Scott  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:22
Italian to English
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Masterful as usual Nov 4, 2008

Wow Mervyn, that world you create is practically four-dimensional!

I feel as though I have lived in Bilbao all my life...

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Marie-Hélène Hayles  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:22
Italian to English
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Mervyn, you're a star Nov 5, 2008

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French Foodie  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:22
French to English
+ ...
Wonderful!!! Nov 6, 2008

And nice to see your face, too

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Mervyn Henderson  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:22
Spanish to English
+ ...
Eggs Nov 7, 2008

A little postdata ...

I had been swamped by work from Q. Finkelstein, among others, and hadn't had time to have a post-posting look over the finished product, as I usually do at some point, and I was doing that with a coffee in the Lepanto this morning, a rather upmarket gaff in central Bilbao. I was re-reading the bit about the eggs when - and I swear this is true - a man came in with three trays of eggs, deposited them on the counter of the bar, and said "Here you are, and [jokingly] there's an extra charge for travel costs". I looked up, and was about to say to him: "Shouldn't they actually be cheaper, since you need the money?", but decided not to risk a punch in the face.

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The Little Translator throws his hat in the ring with Obama and McCain

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