Tuesday, December 22, 2009

pitch and soot


On Sunday morning a group of mysterious lights hovered out on the road. They were, I supposed, the sun coming off a 4-square window, though now I think more likely a tail-light or an Xmas dec. Later I went downstairs and put a foot onto the path and nearly fell on my threshold. It must have rained and then re-frozen, everywhere was a sheet of glass.

We drove gingerly to Bath, revelled in shops and cafes until we were forced to leave (if you don't happen to drink, this curfew is effectively 17:00 on Sundays), crunched up the hill and set off for Little Chef and as we drove the snow finally started to fall. It's been in the east for a week, but not here. We discussed our chances of getting into work the next day. Then Laura astonished me with an expression I'd never heard anyone use before. She said: It looks like the snow's pitching....

Snow is the only kind of weather that so tangibly comes to stay. Perhaps that's why very young children regard snow (as they regard animals) as one of the few truly amazing things about being alive.

Snow comes for a stay, welcomed by some but not all, yet drifts away, is a nomad, a funfair. So "pitch" is a perfect word (Paulton, home of the muses). And, since spoken language can sometimes be as over-determined as dream-language, "pitch" also evokes the idea of snow sticking on a steep roof. Eventually, and cascading from it.

*

Lazing in Spain with nothing more pressing to do than be vacantly content, we've wiled away many a break between other diversions thinking up pairs of four-letter words and challenging each other to work from one to the other by changing the letters, e.g. GRID to LOCK: GRID GRIP TRIP TRAP CRAP CROP CHOP SHOP SHOT SOOT COOT LOOT LOOK LOCK. Or sometimes we do five-letter words, but four is better because it's more likely to be possible. Indeed, I have long cherished a Grand Unification Theory (unfortunately, disproven for all but sentimental purposes) that you can get from every four-letter word to every other four-letter word, so long as you can have an unlimited number of goes.

If you ever play this game you'll soon come to appreciate the vital tactical importance of -OO- as a way of switching vowel-positions. There is a great central concourse that I like to call the Soot Highway, in honour of the single most useful word in English.

As with the motorway network, plotting a route from PRIM to RUCK actually comes down to plotting how to get from PRIM to the Soot Highway, and then off it again at the other end. Grand unification theory ultimately fails because there are some stubborn fourth-world isolatoes that refuse to link up with the Soot Highway (ORAL-OPAL, for example). But gradually these too have been compelled to join the civilized world, and with a little latitude on allowable words (Oram? Opan? Opel?) we continue to throw down timber-roads across swamps. Odd how the patterns of aggressive globalization lie embedded in my hazed reverie.

And now, scraping ice from a path, I extirpate a nest of scoundrels all over again, just as when I scythed nettles in the summer. I'm always King Billy, never Vich Iain Vohr. But maybe that's because the only chores I'm good at are the destructive ones.

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