Thursday, August 31, 2006

Lowlands 2006 - pt4 Sunday

As with last year, the local economy based on beer allowed for a little bit of entrepreneurship by the temporary subjects. Glasses and trays collected could be redeemed in local currency. That is two trays or ten glasses could be redeemed for one beer. It means that many people supplement their festival funds by going round picking up discarded glasses. It meant also that others supplement their festival enjoyment by tying string to glasses and pulling it away the instant someone went to grab for it. I saw this last year, but this time at least one person bought a fishing rod for this express purpose.

Due to the lack of sun on this Sunday morning, we were not forced out of bed ridiculously early by the tent doing an oven imitation. This did start to happen, but a touch later than usual which allowed us to lose less sleep than we would have. Throughout the morning, clouds were forming and stories were reaching us of flooding in Amsterdam with the storm heading this way. I am not sure how these stories travel, but it seemed to go round the campsite. In the end there were a few downpours, some of which were quite violent, but it was much better than the stories of Amsterdam submerged in water would have lead us to expect.

And on the third day, there was rain.

The rain meant venues were often much more crowded than they normally would have been, especially earlier on. The clouds were quite fast moving and after each downpour, there was often a patch of sun, which gave most bands a point where they could claim to have brought the sun out. Although the sun only really emerged properly ironically during The Twilight Singers, adding more evidence to the fact that Greg Dulli is God. Should you require any more, that is.

ﺃForward Russia! are another batch of Siouxie-esque art punkers at full speed. What is it about Siouxie and the Banshees? Are they back in? Are they back in on fast forward? ﺃForward Russia! are all about numbers. Their song titles are simply numerical. However they don’t play them sequentially, as can be seen from the track listing of their first album:
1. Thirteen
2. Twelve
3. Fifteen
4. Nine
5. Nineteen
6. Seventeen
7. Eighteen
8. Sixteen
9. Seven
10. Fifteen
11. Eleven
(I assume they realise Fifteen is there twice, but I would understand it if nobody realised.)
I am aware this is the sort of thing I would do as a joke, but I am entrutherating. Ask Amazon if you don’t believe me. Not only this, but at least one song involved two members of the band counting, I don’t know the name of this song, and even if someone told me I’d forget because I have a terrible memory for numbers.
Because of the vocalist’s screaming style and the uniform all-out attack approach to the songs, and of course because of their titles, the songs all tend to blend into one. I suspect this is a deliberate nod towards Stalinist communism where all songs are created equal and those that stand out are removed from the band’s repertoire. I expect somewhere there’s a band called ﺃSiberia! who play all of these memorable, dissident songs. After all, what happened to Eight and Ten? Only later I realised the perfect heckle for the band is something like, "I am not a number — I am a free song!" But they’d probably just laugh at me.
But it sure was highly entertaining to watch them enthuse and it was certainly a very energizing way to start the day.

ﺃForward Russia! blur into the white of the lights, aptly enough.

Because we were taking it easier today, there was a lot more of hanging around the same tent rather than traversing the whole ground several times a day and killing our legs just for a few minutes of another band. This is how we came to hang around for Broken Social Scene. These Canadians are another 70s soft rock band with art rock tinges. They have two drummers and had up to 10 people on the stage at one point. I don’t recall any of their songs, but did recall that their idea of audience participation involved throwing things for the audience to catch. When a kiwi splattered into the back of the tent, a few water bottles were thrown until one was caught which apparently meant the sun would emerge soon.

Broken Social Scene keep it all together.

We popped out for a bit to catch The New Generation Big Band (actually we popped out to see Pete Philly and Perquisite, but they seemed to have not showed up). NGBB play genial jazz soul with some relaxed rapping that would have worked amazingly well on sunny day, which unfortunately it wasn’t at the time. And for a ‘big band’ seemed to actually have fewer members than Broken Social Scene.

The Kooks (which they seemed to pronounce ‘Kinks,’ not that they sounded anything like them, or perhaps they said ‘Keeks’) filled their tent aided and abetted by a rather hard downpour of rain. Actually they more than filled their tent and despite the terrible weather, a veritable throng thrung outside the tent to catch an earful of them. The Kooks play fresh, energetic rock. Sometimes they were somewhat Free-like and occasionally had a touch of the old Clash. Enjoyable even from just outside the tent with the whole of the rain from the tent dropping onto the top of your hat, down your raincoat and onto your trousers.

For those of you who don’t know, here is brief history of rock: In the 1950s rock and roll gelled from elements of blues, folk and whatever else was lying around; it ruled the world for a bit; transformed into rock which fragmented into so many different forms from AOR to death metal; a few notable groups emerged such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Extreme Noise Terror some of which did very well; in 1986 The Afghan Whigs formed and rock history ended.

Okay, this isn’t completely true because rock history has since been torn in two when the band went their separate ways. Lead singer Greg Dulli went on to form The Twilight Singers and to continue writing songs about the murky side of love and dark days of despair.

Starting out with some of the more rocklich numbers from the new album, the set soon proved to be one of the most polished of the festival. Mr Dulli loves to squeeze in other people’s lyrics when he’s singing his own song. For example, this time he slipped in a snatch of Shine On You Crazy Diamond as an introduction to one number.
A lot of people in the tent were clearly fans from the Afghan Whigs days, but there were also a few there to catch a glimpse of the great Mark Lanegan who came on for the middle section of the gig, sang a few songs of his own, and of other people such as Marvin Gaye. He was in great, gruff voice and his presence was statuesque. When he left, with as little fuss as he’d made walking on, I wondered, can it continue now? But it did. Greg’s soulful, jaded yet hopeful, voice is what the band is about. The gig built up until Greg slipped in his final homage in the last number, by slipping in a good chunk of another band’s song. The song, If I Were Going by The Afghan Whigs. It actually brought a lump to my throat. Best set of the whole festival, but then I’m somewhat biased.

The Twilight Singers with Mark Lanegan save the world. Greg Dulli’s head must be white in all pictures for contractual reasons.

The moment when Greg Dulli was beamed down from outer space to perform for us. (Do tell me if I take this fan shit too far.)

After the highs of The Twilight Singers, we hung around for Morningwood. Morningwood are a light-hearted student band who are a cross between 1980s heavy metal and new wave. They are a huge amount of fun. To themselves. I’m sure they went down a bomb at their own university ball. We wondered off to eat.

Even my mum has heard of The Arctic Monkeys. They get a lot of press with their age, their distrusting attitude to fame and they’re sardonic Northern humour. A serious percentage of the campers turned up to see everyone’s favourite school band.
I saw them last year and thought although they played well, and have some top tunes, they were a little blasé and failed to live up to the hype - which is exactly what they keep saying, but nobody believes them. It was going to be interesting to see them in a huge tent. The audience was pretty frenziedly for the Minkeys from the start. In fact I realised where these extra 5,000 Brits were from - they were part of the Minkeys’ loyal following which thinks nothing of travelling anywhere in the world to see them. Even if they do play exactly the same every time. The Minkers don’t go in for too much messing with their songs. Whereas older bands might try out a new arrangement or something of an old classic, the Munksters don’t have old classics as they’re 17 and only wrote the songs a couple of years ago. I only really noticed one song where they seemed to veer from the album version and extend a little.
But with the rambunctious support already there to cheer them on, the band could have just phoned it in and still gone down well. I’m not sure they didn’t.

In juggling the need to eat and rest and the need to experience every musical offering there is, there are always going to be casualties. It soon emerged that to eat AND see Muse was not going to work. Something had to give. Muse I am sure are a great band live - a kind of nu-metal Queen - but they are not a plate of noodles when you’re hungry. Plus having escaped the mud around the Alpha tent, wading all the way back through didn’t seem appealing. I assumed Muse would forgive my absence. I seem to have forgiven their absence from my CD collection.

Whilst eating, we caught a little of Belle and Sebastian. Lots of people whose musical taste I respect have been into Scotland’s Belle and Sebastian, yet I have completely failed to be taken by them. I think I find the coating for their thoughtful pop songs just a wee bit too sugary. Plus they have a stupid name. So not knowing hardly any of their songs, for me the gig was like being at another family’s wedding. Pleasant - it was nice to see people having fun - but it was hard to get involved. No doubt serious B&S fans enjoyed it and swayed themselves into a frenzy.

There was another time to strut our so-called stuff on the silent disco floor before the groups divided into those demanding bed and those demanding the party continue for more hours than a single night could possibly hold. Following the second camp, but knowing soon we’d be with the first, we went to Bravo tent. Here they played hard-edged, gilt-leaved, hand-pumping trance. You know the kind of music that goes thump thump thump thump thump thump thump thump thump only broken by the occasional Weeerp. Actually now I think about it, sometimes it veered towards hard-chair techno-bap, which goes thump thump thump thump thoomp thump thump thump thoomp only broken by the occasional Wooerp.

The music was hypnotic; the images on the many screens hypnotic; in fact even though I’d only had a few beers all day, I was feeling mesmerised. The place had the feel of a cult, with welcoming, smiley people as you entered and everyone facing front towards the priest behind the twin-decked pulpit. Preaching the word word word word word word word word word word word.
Actually, with everyone dancing facing forward in an energetic way - often similarly to the person next to them - it looked like an attempt at mass hypnosis through aerobics.

One girl near us was going through a range of emotions. Presumably aided by some emotion-enhancing substance. Ordinarily she was quite friendly, but when someone tried to collect glasses or trays from the floor, she went mental and destroyed them. I am not sure what her beef was with the practice, but I suspect she considered it unsuitable behaviour in a church. Or mass aerobics tent.

We soaked up some of the at at at at at at at at at atmosphere and then wondered slowly back to the tent with some tea brewed by hippies.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Lowlands 2006 - pt3 Saturday

Today I realised that these 5,000 extra people who came to Lowlands were all British. There are sooo many Brits here compared to last year, and you can’t walk a few yards without hearing a British accent. It’s getting to be like Amsterdam.

The day got started with Emo pioneers Hawthorne Heights, a band who pretty much created the template for Emo, which is Goth’s teenage daughter who “didn’t ask to be born!” Successful Emo bands only usually have one album as after that they have girlfriends and have moved out of their parents’ home. The band gave a good performance to a moderate group of waking campers.

During the hunt for food we caught a few snippets of Psapp’s pleasant, jazzy soft pop but unfortunately settled within earshot the Bad Karaoke area, where people deliberately sing badly to bad pop songs. It was torture and I really felt for the poor souls who have to work underneath who had to listen to it all hours of the day.

After eating it was time to catch some of industrial pioneers Ministry, commendably performing their originally sequenced hits with a live band; and very faithful reproductions they made. It feels odd to describe the heavy wall of sound that is Ministry as nostalgic, but it was. There was a time I was quite into this sort of thing and I still maintain there are few better songs to throw yourself around the room to than Jesus Built My Hotrod. The Third-Reich style banners and the microphone stand resembling an ornate metal pulpit gave the effect of a cult preacher, ministering down to the “Lowlands motherfuckers.” For those of you who don’t know, the word according to Al Jourgensen, is that the world is diseased, corrupt place and we are all going to die at the hands of those in power. However, if your hotrod happens to have been built by Jesus, you might have a little bit of fun before you go.

Cool wandering saxophone man.

We were a little late for Be Your Own Pet, which meant we only saw a couple of songs. BYOP’s sets, like their songs, are very short and highly energetic. They make me think of Siouxie and the Banshees with the speed set to 11 (instead of 4). They seem to do the thing BIS wanted to do, but BIS failed miserably.

We then wobbled around the silent disco for a few minutes before the next appointment: The Raconteurs. With an impressive lineage, it is no surprise much is talked of The Raconteurs. They play stripped-down 1970s rock with Deep Purple and even The Who moments.

Dirty Pretty Things were next. They play what I imagine Pub Rock (as in the precursor to punk) to have sounded like, but I was far too young to go into pubs at the time. We then wondered down to catch some of The Streets, which to some is urban poetry and others off-key, mis-scanning rapping. They were finishing up their set with an audience participation bit and most bands sound arrogant when they’re doing that, so I am unable to say if the band are actually as arrogant as they’re supposed to be.

The next big appointment was with one Iggy Pop, grandfather of punk and crazy old man of the pop world. Iggy gives his all at gigs, rolling on the floor and throwing himself about the way 60-year-olds shouldn’t be able to. Iggy still can fling himself around like a 20 year old and although the performance was spirited, the songs tended to blend into each other. There really wasn’t much variety in the way they were performed. So much so, most people didn’t notice he did “I Wanna Be Your Dog” twice. Woof woof.

Prize-winning photo of Iggy Pop performing one of his many blurry hits.

After listening for a short while to crazed folk punksters Gogol Bordello from a distance, I took my leaden legs home to bed, forgoing the slapstick extroversion of the silent disco.

Tentscape at Night.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Lowlands 2006 - pt2 Friday

Lowlands is a strange world where the local currency is based on the price of a beer. Like venues such as the Heineken Music Hall (in Amsterdam) you cannot pay with cash or PIN, you need to pay for tokens (with cash or PIN) and then use this to buy things. This of course is a scam and often touted as to prevent theft, although it’s not clear how. The plastic chips are generally easier to loose than cash - in particular notes and thus not spend or redeem. Plus as it’s a foreign currency; you have that same holiday thing where the money doesn’t seem completely real so to some degree you don’t think as much about the cost of things.

This year through inflation of 5% in the country of Lowlands, or perhaps due to a strengthening of the Euro against the Lowlands Token, one token now costs 2.10 Euros. One beer as ever costs one token, and everything else is calculated as a multiple or multiple and a half of this. It seems that drinking is what determines the local economy, and actually this is not far from the truth.

Lowlands is the perfect place to familiarise yourself with the backs of people’s heads.

On arrival at the entrance to the main area, there was of course the obligatory queuing, but it was relatively quick moving. If you compare the above with last year’s picture, you’ll see they went to the expense to rearrange some of the pictures.

Lowlands seems to like to open with a bang and this year one of the first bands was Wolfmother. Take Led Zepplin and Black Sabbath, feed them a few tinnies and you’ll get Wolfmother, Australia’s homage to 70s hard rock. I sent one of my cub reporters there and she spent the rest of the festival shouting “Wolfmother!” at every opportunity, even to other bands.

We caught a few minutes of Mews, I mean Mew, who are a bit like Muse with a chunk of Keane thrown in, before heading over to catch some Matisyahu. Matisyahu is Hasid (rock) reggae. It was well done to an enthusiastic crowd although I was very disappointed he never said “Jarweh” or something like that the entire time I was watching. Others in the Hasid Reggae genre are: Shabbat Ranks, Job Marley and, er, Israel Vibration. Golan Heights are not actually part of this scene; they were sequestered by the genre.

Matisyahu! gezondheid!

After that, we hung around to catch a bit of Razorlight who are The Boomtown Rats with Strokes moments. Although I seem to be the only one who thinks they sound like The Boomtown Rats.

A lowlands cloud. (If you squint very hard, you can make out The Boomtown Rats.)

The Dead Specials, I mean 60s, were enjoyable with their take on ska. Always nice to be reminded of The Specials, The Clash and all that.

The Dead 60s, Live in 06.

After this, there was some more wandering. On the way, we passed:
- Blue Grass Boogiemen who do exactly as it says on the label. Are they from Alabama? Arkansas? You ask. No Utrecht! So I guess it should be pronounced bogiemen.
- Opgezwolle, Dutch Hiphop (or nederhop) pioneers. Seems that everyone copies them pretty faithfully.

The Veils were next. They invoke a simplified Cure and have that penchant for slow ballads that Coldplay and Keane have rejuvenated, Although they are a few degrees jollier.

Bloc Party were a treat. It has taken me a while to warm to them, but with time and then with this confident performance, I am now quite enamoured. It’s fair to say they are aware of the Wedding Present, but aren’t we all.

Bloc Party partly blocked by perpendicular pole.

The next band we literally strolled by were Gorefest. This is a great name: You know what you are getting. No one goes to see Gorefest wondering if they’re going to be like the Carpenters. Unless you are thinking of the kind of carpenters who work with human flesh rather than wood.
Our wandering then took us to the tent currently occupied by DJ Shadow. DJ Shadow outputs a cacophony. A diverse yet well matched cacophony with things such as sped-up samples of Arctic Monkeys, sped-up samples of scratches and sped up samples of people singing. I guess we caught the up-tempo part of the set.

And then there was Placebo. I saw Placebo many years ago, when they were on their way up. I went to see one of the support acts, Strangelove, who had a fair gig, but everyone had to admit Placebo rocked the joint. Now they have even more great songs to fill a show with. The weather was still pleasant and so we could watch the majority of the show from the banks on the side of the Alpha tent, which was a great way to end the gig portion of the day.

This shot of Placebo live is actually up for a rock journalism photography award and is one of two shots shortlisted to be the next cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

Me and Catherine.

After the bands have packed up and gone home or to sleep in their diamond-encrusted caravans, most of the venues start punmping out music to various themes. The one that took our fancy was entitled “Never Mind the British.” The night touched on punk, new-wave, Brit-pop, Merseybeat and glam rock as well as many others. The evening bubbled along, veering from genre to genre; occasionally hitting dodgy ground but at least bearable until You’ll Never Walk Alone came on and many of us decided to go home. I can understand now why the song is called You’ll Never Walk Alone, because everyone leaves at the same time.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Lowlands 2006 - pt1 Thursday

Once again it’s that time of year when some of us get the urge to leave this refinement behind us and live like pigs for a weekend. It’s festival time. This year was my third time at Lowlands and last-year’s group of fresh-faced newbies is expanded by even more newbies and a few oldbies who we didn’t know last year.

As ever, arrival at Lowlands is discouraged as much as possible. The logistics of getting 55,000 people into a few fields with all their cars/tents/bikes/caravans/rucksacks produces every year horrendous blockages that last for hours and hours. Getting people into Lowlands is like flushing stones down the toilet. Sure it’s easy to throw a handful down and flush them away, but you try pouring a few buckets in. You soon end up with a flooded bathroom and an angry mother. Not to mention hours of endless flushing hoping to unblock the system. This year was unusual in that it sold out. Normally it doesn’t quite. In fact 5000 more tickets were sold than last year. That’s another 5 whole buckets of stones.

After last year’s Joycean epic of a wait before the gate, there was a definite inclination to go by car this year and several groups did. Our car arrived early to sit for a few hours in the queue of other cars that arrived early. However, waiting in the afternoon in or around a car on a nice day beats hands-down standing in the dark in a huge throng of people. Humour was kept to a good level. Most of us in the dispersed convoy had been in the terrible wait of ’06 and no complaints were permitted from either the newbies or those who had come late last year and not experienced the Ulyssean queuing.

Eventually, having blocked the road for a few hours, there was movement and the cars crawled and lurched forward and after another few hours we were in the car park.

Of course Lowlands wouldn’t be Lowlands without this queuing. It’s the initiation ceremony that brings you closer to everyone. It’s like Glastonbury without the mud. After a queue to be processed - a thousand times quicker than last time, but still not quick - there was the long trudge to the far camping area where we had arranged to meet and assemble our camp.

It was so nice to arrive on a sunny afternoon with hours of light with which to pitch your tent, rather than arriving tired, pissed off and hungry in the dark as happened last year.

Arriving early also made you realise that we were only borrowing this home for the weekend. Our arrival caused the mass exodus of the field’s usual inhabitants. Several
Fleeing toads were helped to the fence and many perplexed insects had to be shown that the tent was not their domain. One lucky girl (Lidwien) was even blessed with a visit from a field mouse. It rushed into her tent to escape the construction, but soon fled to avoid the screaming. It made the safety of Dave’s tent and was not seen again.

This year, given the larger group it was decided that the centrepiece of our encampment would be a gazebo. And thanks to Blokker, The Netherlands’ fledgling Walmart, a 17 Euro gazebo was procured by Dave, the group’s chief purchaser. It proved a winning buy and kept many an early morning gathering dry as we waited for coffee to be brewed.

Sleeping is always tough the first night. Especially for those of us who haven’t camped for a year - since the last Lowlands in fact; for those whose back and shoulders have been aggravated by rucksacks filled with tents, food and rain gear; for those who try to sleep before the rest of the field stops partying and passing round the “Lowlands Wave¹.” But eventually sleep rested it’s leaden balloon on us all and we all managed a few hours downtime before the sun started heating the tents up.

¹ = Where one part of the field cheers and this cheer is passed around the fields in the manner of a vocal Mexican Wave.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Call 911

A story reproduced here recently from the Washington Post claims that 70% of Americans know the year that the attacks of 9/11 took place. That is remarkably few considering it was only 5 years ago and it seems to be the event the US is now defining itself by. Of this 30% it was not clear how many didn't know the date 9/11 occured. As we in Europe all well know, 9/11 occured on the 9th of November.

Monday, August 14, 2006

It’s not Holland

Some people get a little upset when you refer to The Netherlands as Holland. You can understand this. Holland is actually only a small part of the Netherlands - the over-populated bit that contains Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam. It's a bit like calling France Normandy or Germany Bavaria.

It's rarely the Dutch who get upset, actually; it's more likely to be pedantic foreigners. These people ignore two things:
1) The Dutch themselves often use Holland to mean their country as well because they are practical people and in many other countries that's what people think the country is called. Check out the back of the Dutch national football team's shirts. It says “Holland.” If the Dutch were going to get annoyed about any international reference to them, it is more likely to be to the word Dutch, which owes its origins to those of the word Deutsch.
2) The Dutch too are guilty of this sort of thing. They often refer to "Engeland" when they mean The United Kingdom. This is just the kind of thing which annoys the Welsh and Scots, so I am now wondering if those who complain the most about this are Welsh or Scottish. I will do a survey and put the results back up here.

And another thing. Why is it called The United Kingdom when they all seem to hate each other? I guess "United" means a group of things that are forced together yet don't really get on all that well. Like the "United" in The Former USSR and in United States. Hmmm.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Vier Fietsen – the Fear of Feet.

I have currently 4 bikes. This may seem a little excessive, but it can easily happen in a city where bikes are a more essential, every-day item than an umbrella. Let me explain.

First of all, there is my old bike. This was a reconditioned, second-hand bike (as most of mine tend to be) that I bought from a shady guy in an otherwise not too disreputable shop. Bits of the bike started failing a few months later culminating in the pedal-brake becoming permanently engaged less than a year later. As it’s now generally a bit tatty, it’s not worth getting it fixed and I will salvage what is useful and give the rest to a nearer bike shop.

Bike number 2 is the replacement for this. It’s a superior bike and bigger so better for my legs and back. It is known colloquially as my Amsterdam bike. This is because bike number 4 is my Leiden bike. Obtained to allow me to shun Leiden’s infrequent bus service on those days when it is not doing the famous Dutch pissing-with-rain thing. Bike number 4 is even bigger and better than bike 2.

Before bike 4 was purchased, obviously there came bike number 3. This was originally bought from a girl at work who was leaving to be the Leiden bike. Unfortunately three things made it unsuitable and it has remained in my flat ever since: 1) its complete lack of mud-guards; 2) the fact it is a 15-gear mountain bike in a country where there are no mountains; 3) it looks brand new and expensive and so will survive on the streets precisely a matter of seconds.

So if anyone wants a mountain bike... suitable for someone who lives out of the city, who has a garage to store it in and who lives near a mountain or at least a hill. Buy now and I’ll throw in a free rusty frame, formerly known as bike number 1.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Out of the Book Closet

The Newspaper today reported two things entirely separately without making any reference to their being linked.

1) Saturday was the Gay Parade along Amsterdam's Prinzengracht. This as avid readers will know is one of Amsterdam's most colourful spectacles - a huge carnival-like procession of brightly-decorated boats manned and wimminned by some of the most eager-to-dance crews to ever sail the seven canals. The headline concerned itself with the fact that there were about 100,000 less spectators than last year.

2) Sunday was the annual book market in Deventer, possibly the biggest one in Europe or even the world, but certainly in the Netherlands. This year there was a record number of visitors, 130,000 to be approximate.

To my mind, it seems that 100,000 people decided not to go and watch the amphibian fun and frolics of the Amsterdam gay community, but instead went to look at a lot of dusty old books. Is this an indication that the world is becoming less sexually-orientated

and more bookish? Should next year’s Gay Parade be called off and replaced by a Lesbian and Gay Book Faire? In ten years will sex be replaced by a “Golly good read”?

We’ll just have to wait and see. I’m reading what seems to be the world’s second longest book, which I guess would be tantamount to tantric sex. However, next year I will still go to the Gay Parade and not Holland’s biggest Book Market, but it sounds like I might be on my own. But then, I'll still have Ulysses to finish.

The Original Hollywood Ending of Gladiator OR "I'm Spartacus!" "Me too, that's awesome!"

The UN Piece-keeping Force

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Burning Britches

For those of you who didn’t know, my girlfriend is American, which is a constant reminder of how our two countries are divided by a common language.

I knew about the usage of different words to mean the same thing: pavement vs sidewark; bumper/mudguard vs fender; potato vs double extra mega-fries. I was also prepared for the odd pronunciations: we say tomato they say tamaida; we say lieutenant (pronounced leftenant, of course), they say lootenant; we say aluminium, they say aloooooominum.

What I hadn’t expected was the use of the same word to mean different things. In particular suspender! This was highlighted when one evening Catherine mentioned a girl that had been wearing red suspenders and I was confused and surprised that as a white-blooded man, I had not noticed a girl wearing bright red suspenders. Until I remembered that suspenders are what Americans call braces, as in the things that hold up your trousers (or pants as they insist on calling them), rather than the thing that holds stockings up.

It gives a whole new connotation to the common joke, when told by an American:

“Why do firemen wear red suspenders?”

I can only assume because all that wolf-whistling at girls from the fire station window is just a cover.

PS: for those of you who don’t know the joke and can’t guess it from the information I’ve given above, here is the fully internationalised / internationalized version:

Q: Why do firemen wear red braces / suspenders?
A: To keep their trousers / pants up.

Next week: why Britons should avoid phrases such as “I’m desperate for a fag?”