100 years of quarantine

Saturday, 12 June 2021

My eighth day in the UK and frustratingly I am still in quarantine. The testing firm’s interest in my fate seems to have cooled considerably after coffering my sixty pounds. I have still not heard from them although  they did at least provide me with an opportunity yesterday to think about the meaning of life for a peaceful half an hour as I listened to the reassuring English burr on their non-answer facility.

It’s frustrating but I am at least living in a pleasant flat in the grounds of a biggish house, with a substantial garden and  a view across the River Avon and the canal to the edges of Bath. And I have walked through the fine old village of Bathford on my permitted excursions to post my tests and admired the home of the inventor of a bagless vacuum cleaner as well as learning to recognise periwinkles.

I have loads of books to read, Albert Vigoleis Thelen’s Die Insel des zweitens Gesichts in German and English. My German is not good enough to enjoy reading just the German version but it works well for me to read a page in English and then read the same page in German.

I also have Jean Giono’s Le hussard sur le toit , only in French as my French reading ability is better than my German. And Swedish represented by Rudolf Värnlund’s Vandrare till Intet, published by Bokförlaget Röda Rummet in Uppsala.

And on the non-fiction side, I have three volumes of Pevsner, the two volumes for Gloucestershire, one for the Cotswolds and one for flatter parts of the county and the Forest of Dean, and the Dorset volume in case I get down there later. And then there’s my teach yourself Bengali and a tome on the German economy in my Kindle waiting for my attention, as well as a few sheaves of paper copies on political history and a book by David Harvey.

I am equipped to keep ennui at bay for a lifetime of quarantine.

To enhance my feeling of being in the West Country, I started my quarantine reading with Walter Raymond’s “Love and Quiet Life, Somerset Idylls”  (1901 I believe). Walter Raymond can be described as a South Somerset Thomas Hardy although he has not enjoyed the same renown (nor is his authorship up to the standard of Hardy’s). His memory has been kept alive by a few enthusiasts who have reproduced older editions (my copy has fine stamps from a public library in Boston, Mass). Reading Raymond made me think about the Somerset dialect. I learn from Wikipedia’s article on West Country dialects that the Somerset dialect, despite more recently being made the butt of jokes about the back of rural beyond, has fine origins in West Saxon, the variant of old English in which much literature was written, including apparently Beowulf. Fascinating to a language nerd like me are the references back to the Germanic languages so that the dialect’s “I be, thee bist, he/she be, we be, thee ‘rt and they be” are almost closer to Modern Saxon than to Standard English. The dialect’s use of gendered “he” or “she” when referring to inanimate objects also has a Germanic touch (“Put ‘ee over there”) as does the frequent use of the prefix “a” to denote the past participle (“If I’d know’d, I ooden never a-went”). It’s not the same usage as German but I think it has a Germanic feel to it.

I remember encountering some of these features when I moved to Somerset from Sussex in 1958, also the ghostly remnants of the second person singular, the use of a “th” sound when addressing another person (It was only later, of course, when I’d lost my linguistic virginity that I integrated these shreds of experience into a broader picture).

I’m now looking forward with some excitement to spending a few days in the Cotswolds, where there is much to see and do but I will write about that in another post.

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