30 June 2013

The Northerner Clown and a New Pair of Pants

I had to go to Orchard Road yesterday. It is an area of Singapore that I usually try to avoid. Orchard Road is the main shopping and tourist district of Singapore and it is always very crowded. The locals and tourists tend to move very slowly along this thoroughfare and they create congestion by constantly stopping and taking photographs. On the very rare occasions that I go there I have to beat and thrash my way through the human traffic.

It drives me mad. 

This is Orchard Road:

I was compelled to go to Orchard Road to buy myself some new trousers and shirts. I need clothing that is thicker and warmer than the attire that I normally wear here in Singapore as I must soon go to London for work and even though it is Summer in England I am anticipating cool weather. Like the inhabitants of the country, English Summers are often bleak. Despite the fact that I will be amongst the English I quite like London. It is one of the great cities of the world and I am looking forward to escaping the humidity and depravity of Singapore for a couple of weeks.

The word "trousers" is quite a strange one. It sounds French but the origin of the word is very obscure and whilst I am sure that if I trolled the Internet I could find the etymology but I simply couldn't be bothered. Americans refer to trousers as 'pants'. This is probably an abbreviation of the word 'pantaloons'. Why the Americans have chosen to use the word 'pants' rather than 'trousers' is a mystery to me.

To me 'pants' is something that my dog does when he is hot and thirsty.

In Australia we often refer to trousers as 'dacks'. This term is most commonly used by the Australian bogan population. The word 'dacks' is being rejected by the spellcheck on my laptop. It is auto changing it to the word 'sacks'. It just did it again. Manual adjustments have had to be made.

One Australian bogan could well say to another bogan, "Geez mate that's a great pair of trackie dacks youse have got on"

"Trackie dacks' are tracksuit trousers - or tracksuit pants if you are an American. They are the preferred attire for our bogan population.

I have no idea why. 

The English may also refer to trousers as 'slacks'.  The people of Scotland refer to them as 'trews'.

After battling my way through the crowds of Orchard road and buying myself several pairs of trousers and shirts at the Takashimaya shopping complex I sat for a while to rest my weary body. I sat in one of the designated smoking areas in a small recluse just off Orchard road. I bought myself a green tea and was smoking a cigarette and having a quiet moment when a lunatic walked up to me and asked me for a light. I was not in the slightest bit surprised as I am a beacon for lunatics. 

You may well ask how I could tell that this person was a lunatic? He was dressed as a clown and had an inflatable rubber duck around his waist and he was wearing a multi-couloured wig on his head and was clutching a fistful of balloons. Only a lunatic would be attired in such a fashion. Here he is:

"Got a light mate?" the lunatic clown asked.

I recognized his accent instantly. The clown was a Northerner. 

A Northerner is someone from the north of England. They are the brunt of many a joke amongst their own kinfolk and have a distinct way of speaking. Whilst the vast majority of the English with whom I work in Singapore are lardy dardy toffee nose Londoners, I know quite a few Northerners here on the Island. I count several amongst my friends. Whilst they often appear dour and miserable they are deceptively nice people.

"Ay Oop" I responded as I handed the Northerner clown my cigarette lighter. "Ay Oop" is a traditional greeting amongst the Northerners. There is no direct translation but it could mean "Hello", "How Are you?" "Nice to meet you" or even "Goodbye". I enjoy both saying it and receiving it.

I say it loud and with gusto.

"Ay Oop me ole mukker" the Northern lunatic clown responded. It is traditional amongst the Northerners that when you receive an "Ay Oop" you must give one straight back. It is considered impolite not to do so. "Me ole mukker" loosely translates to "my friend". 

I understand and speak Northerner quite well. My good friend the Hammer has taught me much of this dialect. The Hammer is quite a character who lives here in Singapore. He is originally from Lancashire. I wrote a piece about him awhile back titled "Coloured Birds"

"A bit fooken 'ot" the Northerner commented.

"Yep" I replied.

"Aaa ye gooin' on?

"I am alright thanks. May I ask why you are dressed in such a ridiculous fashion?"

"Ahm doin sem promotion wook fer a pool cleanen coompany"

"I hope you are getting paid well. You look like a pillock"

A "pillock" is Northerner for an idiot or fool.

"Ah no ahm neht really gotten mooch wedge bit ets a bit of a larf and et pays few a couple a jars"

I best translate this whole sentence for non Northerner speakers. 

The Northern clown was saying, "No I am not really getting paid very much money but it is a bit of a laugh and the money I get will pay for a few beers." 

"Wedge" is Northerner for "money" and "Jars" is Northerner terminology for beer. The Northerners love beer. They drink it like water.

"I don't think it is a very good look mate. Do you think it's a good idea for a clown such as yourself to be seen smoking with children around?"

There were quite a few children hovering around the Northerner clown. They were keen I think to get some of the balloons that he was holding.

"When ah need a fooken tab ah need ah fooken tab" he responded. A "tab"' is Northerner for a cigarette.  

"I think you should go back to your job now my Northern friend" I said and I nodded towards the awaiting Singaporean children.

"Aye" he agreed and he butted out his cigarette.

"Would yez like a balloon?" he offered.

"Only if you would like me to set you on fire" I replied.

"Ay Oop" he responded and then he bounced off to the main street to hand out his balloons

"Ay Oop" I returned.

I have never liked clowns. They always scared me when I was a child and so did cornfields. I had recurring nightmares when I was young that involved a host of really creepy looking clowns emerging from a cornfield. They were coming to get me. I would awake from these dreams in the middle of the night screaming and calling for my mummy. 

29 June 2013

Vlad, the ice pick and a couple of trays of meat

It has been a hell of a week. The English for whom I work have made many demands on my time and as soon as I completed a task they gave me two more. It has been an uphill battle and at times it has felt like I have been pissing into a strong head wind.

The English for whom and with whom I work have told me that they don't really like being referred to as the English. I think that this is because there is a slight touch of contempt in the manner in which I say the word 'English'. Not much. Just a little. It annoys them too when I address them collectively as 'The English". For example when I arrive in the office each morning I say "Good Morning English". They take affront at this for some reason and hit back at me by calling me ridiculous things like Kangaroo boy or Skippy. They can call me anything they want. The fact remains that they are English and I am not. 

Enough said.

After my arduous week I went to meet some friends for a drink this evening. They were a multi national lot. There were English, Australians, Germans and a couple of Scots. Singapore is full of expatriates and we mingle together a lot.

I arrived earlier than the planned rendezvous time and was enjoying a tall glass of lemon, lime and bitters whilst awaiting the arrival of my friends. I had booked an outside table at a bar that is in the shadows of the Marina Bay Sands hotel and casino. The bar is called "South Coast". It is owned and operated by a group of Australian businessmen. It is beautifully situated and overlooks the splendor that is the Marina Bay.

Whilst I was sipping away at my lemon, lime and bitters drink a group of well dressed businessmen sat at the table next to me. Their table was a chair short and one of the guys asked if he could use one of the chairs at my table. I could tell from his accent that that he was Russian.

"Privyet. Da" I told him. 

This is Russian for 'Hello. Yes'.

I have quite a few Russian friends here in Singapore so I know a few of their words.

"You speak Russian?" he asked

"Nyet", I replied.

This is Russian for "No"

"Well a little bit" I said.

"Spaseeba", he said as he dragged the chair to his table.

This is Russian for 'Thank you"

"Pazalsta", I responded.

This is Russian for 'You're welcome"

"You do speak Russian" he said.


"Join us for a drink" he suggested.

"Sure" I said.

I pulled my chair over to their table and introductions were made. I referred to myself as Pyotr. This is the Russian equivalent of Peter and it is also my name. The Russian men's name were Vlad, Pavel, Oleg and Alexei. 

They all spoke very good English.

When I asked them if they lived here in Singapore or were just visiting they informed me that they were here on business. All of them work for a very big Russian Oil and Gas Company. The Russians ordered an extremely large bottle of vodka and immediately began throwing it down their throats, They drank shots of vodka like there was no tomorrow. I have drunk with the Russians many times before and their capacity for alcohol is enormous. I had one round with them to be polite but informed them that I am not much of a drinker. 

They seemed a little surprised by this.

"Oostralians dreenk beer yes?" Vlad asked me.

"Many do" I agreed.

We chatted quite amicably for a while and the Russians asked me lots of questions about life in Singapore. I explained as best as I could the lunacy of the place and they seemed genuinely interested. After a while my mates arrived and we joined our table up with the Russians. They were well into their second bottle of vodka at this stage. They had taken their suit jackets off and had rolled up their shirt sleeves. 

As is always the case in Singapore it was a warm and sticky evening.

I noticed and admired a vast array of tattoos on the arms of the Russian named Vlad. He was impressed that I was impressed and he stood up and unbuttoned then took off his shirt. He displayed his whole upper torso. It was covered equally in hair and ink and it was not a pretty sight.

"Put your shirt back on Vlad" I informed him.

"Nudity of any type is illegal in this country"

"Chto za huy" he spat.

This translates to "What the fuck".

I know this term as many of my Russian friends say it all the time. These friends are actually mostly Russian women. They are very funny and extremely tall fashion models and artists who live here in Singapore. Like the Russian men that I was with they are exceptionally big drinkers. I occasionally go to some of the functions that they attend and I find their arrogance and indolence vastly entertaining. 

It is hysterical in fact.

A couple of hours into the evening one of the Australian waitresses at the bar came over to our table with a book of raffle tickets. She said "Gidday fellas owzitgoin?". 

She was a bogan. 

She told us that her name was Sheila and Friday night was Meat Tray Raffle night. Sheila informed us that all tables at the bar were being given complementary raffle tickets. Twelve meat trays were to be given away that evening.

This caused great confusion and bewilderment at our table. The Russians and the Europeans that I was with were perplexed and I had to explain.

"Vot is dees meat ruffle?" the Russian named Pavel asked.

"It's a raffle Pav. Not a ruffle" I replied.

"In Australian pubs there are quite often raffles in pubs where the prize is a tray of meat"

"Your kidding?" Ernie the Scot said.

"I kid you not Ernie"

The raffling of tickets for prizes of meat trays has been around in Australian pubs for a very long time. I recall with great fondness going to pubs in the New South Wales township of Merimbula with my best mate Berty - when we were in our teens. This is a very long time ago now. Berty and I won quite a few meat trays in our day. Such trays generally consisted of a couple of pieces of T-bone or rib eye steak, some lamb chops and a dozen or so very fine sausages.

We would take the meat trays that we won back to Berty's parent house on the beach where his Dad Brian would cook them up on his barbecue. Bert's Mum Shirley would whip up one of her gourmet green leaf and potato salads and we would all hoe into a sumptuous dinner. Berty's younger sister Angela and his crazy older brother Shane would sometimes also be there. We would all sit on the outdoor deck with some icy cold beers as we got stuck into our steak and chops and sausages. We would then watch the sun go down over the Pacific ocean and chat away. 

Those were the days.

They really were.

"Ere youse are" said Sheila.

"Youse guys can ave two whole books of tickets wiv all the booze youse are drinking"

"Thanks love" I responded and took the book of tickets from her.

"When are youse gunna draw the winners".

I slip quite easily into the bogan language when I am amongst my kinfolk.

"Every alf an hour"


"Breeng us more vodka" Alexei demanded.

I tore off the tickets from the book that Sheila had given us and handed them out to the Russians and my European friends.

As the evening wore on the Russians and my mates got quite drunk. Conversations flowed as easily as the vodka that was being consumed. I quietly sipped away on my lemon, lime and bitters and began asking the Russians about the modern Soviet Union. The rapid change of this country from communism to capitalism is of great interest to me. There is enormous wealth now amongst many Russians and their growing presence in Asia is as rapid as it is startling. Russians have all but taken over several islands in Thailand. There are even Russian street signs in places like Phuket where the Russians have built their own hotels. They also run their own tour companies. There are two direct flights from Moscow to the Thai resort island of Phuket every day of the week.

I told Vlad that I had heard that the Russian mafia were amongst the nouveau rich that were spreading their wings in places like Singapore, Hong Kong and Thailand.

"Vot you think zat vee are creemenals?" he roared at me.

"Chill out Vlad" I replied nervously.

"I vas only asking"

As with my slipping into the bogan way of speaking I find that I tend to automatically replace my "w's" with "v's" when conversing with Russians. 

I don't know why.

"Of course ve are creemenals Pyotr" he roared again.

He slapped me on the back when he said this. Vlad is a large and powerful man and it bloody hurt.

"Vlad has keeled many peoples" the Russian named Oleg informed me.

"Keeled peoples?" I asked.

"Vith an ice peek" Oleg said.

I looked across at Vlad and saw that he was nodding his head in affirmation. He was also grinning manically.

"You have killed people with an ice pick Vlad?" I enquired.

"Many. I stabbed the Lokhis in ze eyes" he replied.

"Lokhis" is the Russian word for "Fuckers". I have heard this uttered many times before.

"Wow" was all that I could reply.

Two Danish backpackers happened to walk past our table at this time. Both were fairly young men and they were blonde haired and blue eyed. We knew that they were Danish because they both had the flag of Denmark sewn on the back packs that they were carrying.

"Deenish Lokhis" Vlad, Oleg and Alexie muttered almost in unison.

The Russians then gave us a fairly vitriolic account of how they disliked all Scandinavians. They ranted and raved in a combination of English and Russian and I couldn't really understand much of the grievances that they were expressing against the people of Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden. 

They were well into their fourth bottle of vodka at this stage.

I told Vlad that I didn't really know too many Scandinavians but I had been to a barbecue with a group of Swedish people late last year and they all seemed very keen to take off their clothes. I ate their meatballs and left quickly before they got naked. I also told him that I did not like IKEA furniture and I though that the IKEA flatpack and Allen keys were abominations. I informed Vlad too that the only Danish person I knew was my slightly deranged neighbor named Jens with whom I have had a series of ongoing disputes. 

I told Vlad that I considered Jens to be an enemy of mine.

Vlad told me with great enthusiasm that he would be pleased to come over to my apartment complex if I wanted him to.

"I vil stab dis Deenish peeg in zee eye vith my ice peek for you Pyotr" he informed me.

Even though he was quite drunk I got the impression that he was deadly serious and it alarmed me.

I started to tell Vlad that such an action wouldn't be at all necessary and was quite relieved when the Australian bogan waitress named Sheila strutted up to our table with a large meat tray balanced across each of her arms.

"Good on youse guys" she announced.

"Youse have won two meat trays"

"You little fuckin ripper" I said in perfect bogan. Then I stood up and received them from Sheila.

The Russians looked delighted as I handed one each to Vlad and to Alexei.

I then told them that I had to leave. I did. I wanted to get home and write all of this down.

We shook hands, swapped business cards and promised to stay in touch. Vlad gave me a monstrous bear hug that crushed all of the air out of me as I departed.

"Do Svidaniya" I declared as I walked away.

This is Russian for "Goodbye".

I will certainly stay in contact with Vlad. Having a Russian killer as a friend who is handy with an ice pick may prove very useful at some time in the future.

I am not sure what Vlad and Alexei will do with their meat trays. 

I suspect that they may take them back to their hotel rooms and eat the meat raw.

Vlad may well tenderize his first with some savage blows of an ice pick.