...On one side of my family they're all Picts. And back in Pictland, they were in the tithe extraction business. I'll try to explain the tithe extraction process for you. They used to relieve passing travellers of their heavy burdens, free of charge, in return for safe conduct out of the neighbourhood. It was a public service. Of course, the people from whom they were protecting these travellers and the people performing the tithe extraction process itself... were actually the same individuals, but that sort of detail never disturbed my ancestors in the least.
Naturally, on our side of the family we don't use the 'b' word. Well, it so happened that some of their clients were in the same line of business as my ancestors, only they were in the government. And they thought it would be nice if my ancestors took a nice vacation. Especially since the Picts were very confused people, and whenever there was a war they always seemed to end up fighting for the wrong side. I can't imagine how that happened. Clearly they were people in need of a rest.
So they were told that they'd just had a wonderful idea, that straight out of their own heads they wanted to abandon their ancestral lands and go to Ireland, and since it was their own idea of course they went. There was only one problem with this arrangement. I'm sure you know that the Picts have little metal plates in their heads, and every time you say 'Rome' the little metal plates go off like tiny alarm clocks. Now the little metal plates go off because the Picts fought the Romans, and the Picts fought the Romans because the Romans were trying to take their land. There's a fine irony here, though I can't quite place my finger on it, but who could have known what sort of trouble would come out of all this?
I did visit Ireland once, because I wanted to kiss the Blarney Stone. And it was so amazing. A whole lot of people I hardly knew started screaming and yelling in strangled voices, "Don't let her through! Don't let her through!" and they started forming a HUMAN WALL in front of the thing so I couldn't get at it. My husband fell to his knees. "For the love of God," he cried, throwing himself to the ground, "Don't let her kiss the stone! Don't let her kiss the stone!"
People are so unreasonable. There was a reception at Blarney, and I told the mayor what a privilege it was, for him to be standing here welcoming me and all, and he was quite ungracious about it. I wrote a few articles for the local newspaper, and I must say I do believe I waxed eloquent about "the unearthly beauty of Shelagh McKenna", and "one of the great minds of this century". It brought a tear to my eye, if you must know. And as I was telling the editor when he fired me, there really was no conflict of interests at the time, because I believed everything that I was writing. I am rather wonderful, don't you think? Bless my soul, I wonder how I do it. The editor wanted me to write about other people. Fancy paying that much attention to something that isn't me….
I am English, Welsh and Scottish all at the same time. Imagine the suffering. I was wondering whether being English, Welsh and Scottish at the same time I could apply for triple compensation, but they never got back to me at the Palace. I explained to somebody on the English side of the family that the Scots are just a bunch of sensitive fellows with tattoos looking for a bit of peace and quiet. I actually chose a rather bad moment, at a time when he was yelling, "Madam, call off your Celts!" because he had a whole bunch of Scots on top of him. It was during our picnic on that field with the white lines. I got into a tizzy and said, "I can't call them off, I don't know how they work!" But he said I had to do something, so I told the Scots I was one of the little people in disguise, and they all ran away.
I thought that as a gesture of good will, so to speak, I would buy the poor things some underwear, having heard that Scotsmen –well, I wouldn't want to be less than sensitive, but it's a matter of kindness and generosity to those less fortunate than myself– well, they're not well supplied where that sort of item is concerned. Not that I would know from personal experience. So while they were running around the field I took myself shopping, and came back with lots of little bundles.
Well, they kept on running around out of terror, but that was just as well because I thought I'd better call their wives. To assure the poor things that I did not have an intimate relationship with their husbands, and that I was doing this out of pity. So I went into their clubhouse, and I found everybody's telephone number. And I thought that I added just the right touch of reproach when I said something about how sad it was for one's wardrobe to be in such an advanced state of dilapidation, and for an entire nation to be so stingy, and so on and so forth. And I pointed out the subtlety of this comment, in case they had missed it.
Most of the wives were quite appreciative, but one of them was quite snarky. "Who is this?" she asked. "Well, I'm very sorry to bother you, I'm sure," I told her. "I didn't mean to be threatening". Which I thought was rather clever. Well, she said that no, she didn't think it was particularly clever, and then she hung up on me, and I was sorry because she's a living organism, after all. So I called her back, and I TRIED to say something kind about people who had trouble keeping their clothes on, and she hung up again because she couldn't handle the situation emotionally.
There was an Irishman visiting the other day, and he was rather taken by me. And I told him that through the mists of time, like a distant memory long forgotten, the realization would come... that he was married. And then he told me he hadn't meant it that way, so I'm not talking to him ever again. But I do try to bring up my children to have an affinity for all things Scottish, and we have haggis on Burns night every January. The problem with this is the fact that my husband can't bear haggis –in fact, he won't allow it at his end of the table. In recent years I've given up serving it altogether. I still address it, though, and because I like these things to be real, I address a frozen haggis. It's been the same one for five years now. I take it out of the freezer, and I put it back when I'm finished. I'm terribly afraid that it might thaw.
I don't relate well to other ethnic groups. When I went to Paris all these people started murmuring 'formidable, formidable', and they said it in French, which was SO unkind. And when I lived in New York, the first black person I met wouldn't even shake my hand. He just stroked my palm. And he kept saying "You're a bad bitch, you're a bad bitch", so obviously I hadn't made a good impression at all.
I do try, you know. I told a Jewish neighbour of mine that northern Europe is full of Japhethites, and since I read the Bible and it said Japheth could live in the tent of Shem, I thought that perhaps I and a small number of relatives, a few hundred or so, could move into his apartment. And I said I was sure we could make room for him too, and that we could find someone to do the windows and he could pay the rent.
Well, I went walking down the street asking people whether they were descended from Canaan and would they like to do my windows, and peculiarly enough, everybody I asked said no, they weren't and they wouldn't, but there was one very nice man who said I led a charmed life. And then my Jewish neighbour told me that I could have his children's pup tent that had a hole in it, so the whole thing didn't go well at all.
We live in Canada, and there are wonderful forests there, and some of them have straight rows of trees. Really! My husband told me that this phenomenon was the product of flocks of birds flying overhead, and that the seeds they had digested passed through their little bodies and ended up in the earth in formation. I was very impressed by this piece of information and passed it on to some of his friends, and they seem to have thought it was very sad, because they bent over double and howled from sheer grief....
graphic derived from Brian Froud, courtesy of
the Society for the Antidisestablishment of Fairy Pressing
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