My plant recognition program is quite determined not to collaborate with Facebook so I have no picture to show of common comfrey (also known as quaker comfrey), shining cranesbill, hawksbeard (sacred hawksbeard or holy hawksbeard), red campion (adder’s flower or devil’s flower), greater stitchwort (adder’s meat or star of Bethlehem), wall barley (wild barley) and garlic mustard (Jack-in-the-bush). The program is a delight; the identifications are perhaps not always right but it’s much more reliable than feverish flicking back and forth in a flower book squinting at leaf shapes. I’m amused by the names and alternative names, hawks with holy beards and adders here and there. And astonished that I have been familiar with wild barley since callow youth but never thought before to ask its name (better late than never). The program gives no source for the alternative names so it’s hard to know whether they are usages from other English-speaking countries or dialectal. A dialect dictionary of plant names would be fun and some time I will have a Shetland buttercup project.
I’m now back in the city or at least in Dorchester, the 20,000 befolked county town, watching my step after my Strasbourgian tumble. According to net findings, elderly people often fall because they shuffle and I am told by reliable sources that I do so (and, according to one source, have always done so). A shuffling foot that hits the ground obliquely, at an acute angle, will more likely stumble on a minor level change than a foot firmly planted at a right angle. Hence to avoid injury, I must change my gait and lift my feet properly. It feels weird as if I’m auditioning for a part as the man from the department of silly walks in a Monty Python film but perhaps I’ll get used to it. The alternative of dressing in protective gear like the Michelin man so that I can take the odd tumble in my stride (or not in my stride..) seems an even greater threat to whatever shreds of human dignity I have left.
This morning I used the word “palaver” for the first time in a long age (a propos the passport chaos in Sweden with long overnight queues for emergency passports). According to net sources, “palaver” comes from the Portuguese word “palavra”, which is given variously as sailor’s slang and a word used for talk between tribespeople and traders. The origin of the Portuguese word in turn is the late Latin “parabola” comparison (hence parable) and this is given as an example of metathesis, the transposition of phonemes (as in crud and curd). It is also related to the word “parole” in Latin languages. All very satisfactory. A taxi and a funny walk later, I was explaining the intricacies of my hearing aid to a man whose essential role on my life’s stage was to lease me a self-storage facility (we got there in the end after a quarter of an hour’s deaf bonding). A visit to the museum’s dumbdowned bookstall, added a bio of Valentine Ackland “A transgressive life” to my Dorset collection, and I found a guide to the National Trust’s Kingston Lacy in some charity bookshop belonging to the friends of some unremembered body part, ready for the day when I’m done with Dorset churches and start to look at country houses.
And tomorrow, I’m heading east, not all the way to Gatwick but to Selsey, on the Sussex coast, where I’ve never been before and where I’ll spend the night at a seaside hotel, which tells me that fresh English and continental desserts will compliment my meal (flattering words from a crème brulée, not bad!).
It’s fortunate that I will soon be on holiday as my laptop keyboard is giving way and letter after letter is failing to respond to my increasingly insistent tapping. Translating will become more and more like Scrabble when I have to construct meaningful words using just j, q and x, which is going to be a stretch. But in a day or so, I will unlock the golden chain and savour the rare delight of just being.