Friday 28 Oct 2016

A Way with Words
Sjef Frenken

Jack had obviously had another brainwave or two, as he dug into the pockets of his jacket for some scraps of paper, and put them on his tray, beside the leftovers of his lunch.

“I was looking at some book titles the other day,” he said, “and guess what I came up with?”

“No idea,” I said.

Jack said, “I thought ‘what if I made some spoonerisms out of the titles?’”

I said, “and what did you come up with?”

Jack said, “let’s try it this way: I’ll give you a description, and you tell me the book’s title if you can.”

I said I was willing to give it a try.

“Here goes,” said Jack, reading from his slips of paper: “This is the sad tale of a lady of the night trying to make a living around the time of the French Revolution. It was written by a nineteenth-century Englishman.”

I said, “I have no idea.”

Jack said, “Sale of Two Titties” -- Dickens’s epic.  Here’s another one: ‘A turbulent story of a poor French farmer who grows soya beans and ferments them, and winds up in a penal colony.’”

‘Stumped again,” I said.

“You as a vegetarian should have got that one,” said Jack, ‘Les Misorables’.”

“How about the story of an unsuccessful Irish painter who decides to become rich by painting counterfeits?”

I said, “I can’t stand the suspense,”

“Winnigan’s Fake,” exclaimed Jack triumphantly. “How about ‘a moral fable about a small-time gravel pit owner’?”

I said I was again at a loss for words.

“’ Tulliver’s Gravels’,” said Jack.

“Mmmmmm,” I said.

“How about a famous novel by John Steinbeck, about a sexual predator, set during the Depression?” said Jack.

I took more than a few seconds to run through the few Steinbeck titles I could remember – The Ped Rony, Of Mice and Men --   no that wouldn’t work.

Jack’s patience ran out: “’The Rapes of Grath’,” he said.

I said, “wait a minute, if it’s a spoonerism, it should be the Wrapes of Grath, with a double-you.”

Jack countered, “it would still sound the same. Right?”

I had to admit that he had me there.

“You could also do some variations on a theme, “said Jack. “For instance, take Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Travels with a Donkey’.

“OK, “I said, “what variations?

For instance a book about Tarzan: ‘Travels with a Monkey’, said Jack, “or a book about a black fellow travelling down the Mississippi on a raft with a white guy ‘Travels with a Honkey’.”

I said there was something in that, thinking of ‘The Catcher in the Rye, The Pitcher in the Rye, The Rye in the Pitcher …

Jack got up, “I’ve got to go.”

I said, “what are you off to?”

“I’ve got to get ready for a cocktail party this afternoon,” said Jack.

I said “I’ve always wondered about the derivation of that word. ‘Cocktail’ where does that come from? Cocktail party.”

“Well,” said Jack, “split the word ‘cocktail’ into its two constituent halves and the meaning becomes clear: a cocktail party is where the first half comes in pursuit of the second half. Or a socially acceptable way of facilitating the pursuit and conquest of the latter by the former.

I said, “so you’re off with a clear objective.”

“Yes,” said Jack, “trolling for women.”

I said “I sometimes wonder why you bother, you don’t keep them anyway.”

Jack said, “I’m strictly a catch-and-release guy!”

After Jack had left without taking away his tray, I noticed that there were a few scraps of paper he hadn’t opened yet. I took the liberty of straightening them out. These ones had to do, not with novels, but with songs. I will not keep you in suspense, dear Reader:

A song about a group of riot-bent British youngsters having a naturist lunch in the woods: ‘The Teddies Bare Picnic.’

An attempt by a dissatisfied customer to get his rented lover to show some enthusiasm: ‘Alive, alive Ho!’

Moonlight becomes you – a nice way of saying that you would look even better in the dark of night.

Days of Swine and Moses, a thriller about two rabbis with antithetical views about the origin of the proscription against eating the meat of pigs.

Who knows, there may have been more of these in Jack’s jacket. Should I ask him? If you say so.

Sjef Frenken is a renaissance man: thinker, writer, translator and composer of much music. A main interest, he has many, is setting to music the poetry, written for children, during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Nimble of mind, Sjef is a youthful retiree and a great-grandfather. Mostly he's a content man, which facilitates his relentless multi-media creativity.

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