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Vipassana meditation: keep calm and carry gum

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The concept of Noble Silence is fundamental to Vipassana meditation. You don’t talk to anyone for the duration of your stay; you don’t make eye contact; you refrain from singing show tunes in the shower.

By extension, no-one talks or makes eye contact with you. I’ve been to parties in Edinburgh like this, so have no objections in principle.

But this time was different. After being told about the facilities, and reminded we couldn’t leave the site for the next four days, Noble Silence descended. That was in the kitchen block at 7.50pm on Thursday, 10 minutes before the first sitting.

At 7.53pm, in my dorm, I realised I’d left my toothbrush at home. I realised this with my hand, inside my backpack, groping frantically. I had the paste but not the brush.

I rummaged through the bag again. And again. Socks. Panties. But no brush. I drew the curtain across my cubicle and considered suicide. Then I bit my clenched fist, shook it at the gods and mouthed the word Scheiße several times.

My mute dorm-buddies made haste arranging their sleeping bags, toiletries, crack pipes … and there was I, Mr No Brush, twisting in the wind of Woori Yallock.

I sat on the slats of my rudimentary bed, looked at the bare plywood walls, feeling like a prisoner of war …

In the meditation hall, I crossed my legs, wrapped a woolly blanket round my shoulders, back and legs.

Sadly, we didn’t get to see Goenka on VHS, but I was happy to hear him on cassette after three and a half years.

He was the same old Goenka: equanimous as anything, enlightened as bits.

Learn to master your mind, one debilitating leg cramp at a time.

It takes a while to get into it, of course. You breathe in, breathe out, think about your toothbrush, your teeth, your frigging toothbrush …

I would survive the night, but would I make it to Sunday evening? My poor gnashers: I wouldn’t have blamed them if they jumped ship.

I tried controlling my faculties, reminding myself it’s all impermanent, annica, annica … that sensations arise, pass away …

It was Baltic outside the meditation hall – a full moon, clear sky. In the sleeping quarters, the warm smell of my dorm-buddies’ bodies was repulsive and weirdly welcoming.

I thought of the men in Stalag Luft III and other containment camps … my brothers.

In the bathroom unit, I claimed one of four sinks, then sooked a fat blob of Colgate from the tube and tried to swill with it.

This required considerable oral oomph. It was tart; my eyes streamed a beauty.

Passingly satisfied with the fluoride coating, I used my index and middle fingers as a brush.

It was rubbish.

The prisoners at the other sinks brushed as if they’re lives depended on it. One guy in particular thrashed his molars, working up a lather, purging the surface of his tongue.

I watched this in my peripheral vision, while pretending not to, which meant my fellow PoW’s could probably see me too. But as I gagged, I knew we were all gagged: I couldn’t ask for help and they couldn’t slag me off.

Someone banged a gong at 4am on Friday for the first meditation of the day.

It started well. I got some good Anapana in, some decent chill.

We had to focus exclusively on the breath lapping against our philtrums; but in time my gob started mouthing off in my mind’s eye.

Quit your chitter chatter.

I once asked my dentist, post scraping, how long it would take for new plaque to form.

“Hahahahahahahah,” he said, darting a glance at his female assistant, who in retrospect he was probably banging.

“Oh Paul,” he said. “Hahahaha. It’s started already.”

I replayed this scene against the back of my eyelids a few times. It was 18 hours since my last brush, 54 or so to the next one.

My philtrum twitched.

Day one’s objective was simply still the mind. Have you ever stilled the mind? It’s not simple.

You think you’re getting there, but no – off it goes, for a minute, an hour, a month …

As the cranium quietens, you start seeing how these distractions and reactions form. For me, one went something like this:

I felt my shoulders loosening …

… saw a thread getting caught on clothing, drawing the fabric together in tight, little waves …

… thought this was a good analogy for my relaxing shoulders …

… recalled how satisfying it is when you pull the fabric and it straightens out …

 … wondered how I’d put that feeling into words …

… convinced myself this thread-catching happens only in nylon …

… pondered the production and use of synthetic polymers …

… got a sudden mental image of my gran’s navy nylon trousers …

… remembered she had passed away …

… started crying.

It’s true what Moses said: the brain’s a mental organ.

By Friday evening my mouth was a festering moth. I could use a sock to clean my teeth, I thought, a T-shirt but, no …

Escape was an option, however remote. Had I not seen, just that morning, two burly laundry men picking up adult-sized bags of linen and throwing them with abandon into a laundry truck? No, I hadn’t.

Ultimately, you’re responsible for your own liberation.

There was plenty of plywood to shore up a tunnel. I could shake earth from my pajama bottoms before the next sitting.

After my last Vipassana course, I was told someone had tried escaping in the dead of night and was “persuaded” to stay – i.e. caught in the carpark and beaten to a meditative pulp by the volunteer management.

How many others have simply disappeared, “become enlightened”, “transcended”?

Naturally, I’d given the site a pretty good recce in my spare time.

A few acres, fenced in; trees around the perimeter; fields stretching to the horizon across the Yarra Valley. If they sent the rottweilers after me I’d be dead in no time.

Under cover of darkness, I kicked some stones about, edged closer to the site carpark.

There were no guntowers as such, but structures either side of the gate: one was disguised as a prefabricated hut, the other as a moss-laden caravan. If I could make it to the car, anything was possible.

I knew there was a Coles supermarket about three miles east, full of brushes – a hair brush would do, a broom, a lint remover.

When the pre-dawn gong went on Saturday, I squeezed more Colgate into my moosh.

Meditation halls the world over are dark and cold at this time of day, which makes it hard to see people sitting there. You knee them in the head as you pass, and can’t even apologise.

You have to get to your cushion, get your blanket on, your hoodie up, yawn, crack your knuckles, scratch your nuts.

My brain was still engaged with Goenka’s free-ranging discourse from the night before.

Goenka: Observe your sensations …

Brain: Gum disease, swollen tongue …

Goenka: Let go of attachments …

Brain: A brush, a brush, a brush …

Goenka: Focus on your breath …

Brain: Erm …

Goenka: Be happy …

Brain: I can’t …

Each time my tongue tapped furry enamel my desire to escape intensified. At several points my mutinous mind wandered out to the tea tree forest on the site’s western perimeter.

I’d sneaked into it the day before, and cut a path through the trees until seeing signs warning me not to go any further.

I’d stood there for an hour and a half singing Leonard Cohen songs.

The signs were alluding to the fact there was, just a few steps away, a sheer drop to near-certain death down a treacherous gully.

But if I survived I could be up to the supermarket and back in an hour, provided my ankles weren’t broken, the gashes in my bonce not too severe.

Was that Lili Marlene gleaming by the barrack gate?

I’m doing it, I thought, still sitting, knees blow-torch burning – I’m escaping.

No, yes, no, yes, no …

The clunk of the penny dropping, that I’d given the course manager my wallet and phone for “safe keeping”, wasn’t pleasant. It knocked the wind from my sails.

Even if I survived the fall, fought off rabid wallabies and made it into Coles in blood-stained pajama bottoms with bad hair and feral mouth, what was I going to do? Ask them to give me a toothbrush for free? Steal one?

You really miss sugar after a while.

I denied myself honey in my ginger tea for the third night in a row on Saturday … Mr McCavity said no in no uncertain terms.

This bugged me. This bugged me a lot. The drink was the only sustenance permitted between 11.30am and 8.30am the next morning.

That did it. I cracked.

I left the kitchen block and bumbled cautiously though the darkness, arms outstretched. I crossed some rough terrain en route to the course manager’s accomodation.

I climbed some steps. Faint light escaped through a gap in his curtains.

When he opened the door we made eye contact, and I laid the whole thing out straight/ slightly sheepishly:

“A problem … I’ve got a big problem … My teeth … haven’t brushed them … my gums hurt … I need a brush …”

The course manager nodded and bowed slightly. “We sell brushes here on site,” he said. “If you come with me, I’ll get you one.”

Part 2 of 2. Read part one, Vipassana meditation: before you go, here.

Written by Paul Dalgarno

July 22, 2011 at 9:03 am

Vipassana meditation: before you go

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I’m driving to a place called Woori Yallock in two hours to sit still, or slightly fidgety, for three whole days.

I call it “sitting still” because saying “going to meditate” unsettles me.

I fear it comes across as showing poor judgement or new-ageyness, both of which could be dangerous.

Article 26 in the Journalistic Code of Ethics, right below phone hacking, and lying about phone hacking, expressly forbids: “hippydom, white-boy dreadlocks, and using ‘vibe’ to describe atmosphere.”

Telling people you’re going to meditate feels a bit like telling them you’re a veggie … which I am … oh shit, it’s not looking good.

But hey!

I know what Vipassana meditation involves because I did a ten-day course in 2008.

It’s demanding.

You can’t speak to anyone, look at anyone, touch anyone, write anything, read anything, listen to music, play with your phone, receive messages, yank your chain or kill anything. (The last one’s a particular strain).

You eat what the course volunteers cook you, nothing else – which is bearable for me because I’m a veggie.

You get woken with a gong at 4.30am and do ten hour-long sessions a day.

You sit on square cushions with poor yield, close your eyes and feel searing pain in all your joints.

You learn things about boredom you’d never have imagined, but mainly that it’s incredibly boring.

On the plus side:

There’s no special breathing.

No demand for the lotus position.

No guru, unless you count SN Goenka, who delivers infrequent pep talks by rolling VHS.

No lighting of candles.

No chanting.

No totems.

No leap of faith.

What goes through the mind during the sittings? What doesn’t go through the mind? Lot’s of stuff goes through, then returns for more, the majority of it utter bollocks.

Last time I noticed the White Album playing on repeat in the outskirts of my head: I tuned in for the Lennon tracks but Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da grated pretty badly after, ooh, five seconds. As for Piggies … I still can’t go there.

Of course, the album was remastered in 2009 so I’ll be listening this time for any small changes – less static, more hand claps, burps …

By day three, your monkey has nothing left to hide.

So why am I going?

I need to take stock.

I’m 35.
I live in a living room.
I’ve emigrated.
I’ve lost a much-loved gran.
I’ve gained a son.
I’ve seen another son growing into a little man.
I’ve started a new job.
I’ve got lost driving/ on foot/ on trains/ in conversation many hundreds of times.

Insights? Yes, yes, fine. But I was already sold with the promise of sitting in a room, in silence, doing nothing for three days.

Part 1 of 2. For part 2, click here.

Related

Radiohead, Seventh Seal, Klingon Death Cry

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Getting somewhere slowly

Written by Paul Dalgarno

July 14, 2011 at 6:04 am

Scottish Ps, Australian Ts

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People have been calling me Plosive Paul lately, largely cos I be poppin ps perpetually.

My bilabial occlusives, I’m told, are particularly aspirated. In phonetic script they look like this: /pʰ/ – which means air shoots from my gob at top speed with words such as pup or pip, as if I’m trying to spit out a piece of peppery poppadom or crepe … it’s crap.

Since being prepped on it I can’t help noticing – I’m looking to wrap it up, to stop; I’ve even considered getting an op.

While the escaping pop isn’t quite enough to knock propped-up postcards from mantlepieces, I’ve thought about procuring a Popper Stopper, those circular, black things on the front of microphones – with the help of a bendy coat hanger, I could wear one like a harmonica holder, like Bob Dylan, except I’d look like a proper prick.

And it wouldn’t be practical – I’d be caught on the hop, given these stops with rapid pops crop up pretty frequently.


It’s got on top of me, not least because I usually lop off the ends of words. I deal with my ts in the Aberdeen way, the guiding principle being: let them drop, or use a glottal stop.

So I don’t have a computer but a compu–er; I’m not a commuter but a commu–er; I don’t think something’s shit, but shi–; this t-culling happens a lo–: it’s jus– par– of being Sco––ish.

In the past, I didn’t feel the leas– bi– self-conscious rabi––ing on abou– my penchan– for Pulp’s grea–es– hi–s. Now I just think: tha– sounds crap, ya plosive pap.

I rue my missing ts because – in a cruel twist of fate – some Australians rock ts that would fear you. They rattle brittly from the end of words but also at the start and middle. As with my ps, these plosive ts are airy – /tʰ/ – with killer aspiration.

I’ve tried to ignore it, sweep it under the carpet. Of course, I take it – what choice do I have? – but it makes me uptight. It’s tantamount to a clout in the snout – or worse.

In layman’s terms the /tʰ/ sounds like “tih”, so listening to the news on earphones can feel somewhat-ih like a baseball bat-ih being whacked-ih off your nut-ih; it-ih’s almost-ih like being knocked-ih out-ih, mate-ih – what-ih’s it-ih all about-ih?


It might be a posho thing, because you only hear it in some places, but it puts the t squarely in WTF?

From an evolutionary point of view, Scotland and Australia are better off at opposite ends of the planet: running such volatile ps and ts together could change things from plosive to explosive in no time: one minute you’re giving it Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers; the next it’s: kaboom, ya Tupperware poop-face twat.

Even on a good day you’d keel over – it’s way too much air for a single person to expel, your pulmonary pipework would collapse.

Or perhaps not.

Maybe I could practise, pioneer, if a pal or mate put me up to it …

I’ll shut up.

P

Written by Paul Dalgarno

July 13, 2011 at 7:23 am

Blogging’s best kept secret: when you look at me, I look at you

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So you’ve learnt some top SEO tips, whacked the words Britney Spears and sex into every second headline, gained your first million subscribers and hyperlinked loads of cool stuff. People are falling over themselves to visit your site, right?

Well … WordPress, as I’ve written about before (click here), gives you the search terms people use en route to reading you. When I see “Innocent in Australia” or my name I sigh with relief and then say: “Go on, son, well done, mate, she’ll be right, we can do this! We can!”

But I see many other terms, too. Every fifth or sixth term these days is Stanford Who’s Who thanks to the post: Oprah Winfrey and the Stanford Who’s Who (click here).

I receive comments and messages from people – usually tales of woe. They find me because, when they type in “Standford Who’s Who”, I’m right up there, in third spot.

Go on, son! Go on!

But the biggest revelation is this: the search terms people use, and subsequently find you by, don’t relate to your headlines.

If you load your headlines with top search terms – Google is typed in 618 million times a month; Lady Gaga averages 25 million; Oprah gets 5 million – you’re facing extreme competition: unless your piece gains immediate momentum it will be swept to page 199 on Google, the end of the internet.

Far better to use terms people are looking for, but not in huge numbers. On average, 3,600 people a month search for Stanford Who’s Who and, when they do, I pounce on them.

Cracking the Shits is even less popular. Only 14o people search for this expression each month, but when they do, I’m waiting.

=

Well, done, mate, she'll be right.

Blogs are a two-way process. What I write gives insight into me; and the search terms people use to find me give insight into them.

The terms below – all from the last quarter – have stuck in my mind, and not always for good reasons. For the sake of illustration, I’ve divided them into character types, and present them complete with original spelling and syntax.

Many, as you would imagine, deal with sex – depraved, disturbing sex. I actually worry some of these sick bastards have become subscribers (although, if you have, woo-hoo!).

If you get the boak easily, skip the next few lines: they’re gross.

 Sexy beasts/ beasts

* teen boys giving milk to other by his cock

* dad shits in boys mouth

* visible g-string above jeans edge youtube

* middle age nudewomen and younge rmen horse leg

* melbourne house party orgy when please

* spanking with pan

* massive piss flaps

Medico-curious

* sick people snot

* snot and sneeze in your face you

* why do they call snot crows

* ahh right on my coccyx

* drop dead in australia

V-J Day curious

All of these relate to the picture, reproduced below, by Alfred Eisenstaedt. Though merely mentioned in passing in a post about the SNP victory in Scottish elections (click here), it’s been a nice little traffic driver – certainly more than the SNP has been (ungrateful bastards).

The "broken-back" move is a clear winner.

That said, no-one has actually searched for “Alfred Eisenstaedt’s Times Square photo”, but rather things like:

* man woman snogging after war lovely

* kiss nurse wars over

* kissing nurse stops war

Scotland curious

* bawbag

* gaun yersel

* your a bawbag chimp

* deck him

* why im proud to be from scotland

Australia curious

* is life in australia like neighbours

* is better australia or scotland

* bogan as

Seeking instruction

* how to break into holden nova

* how to get out of going to your dad’s

Sartorial

* where can you buy rastafarian hat in sydney

* cat flap british haircut

* rasta hats melbourne

* grey fitted blazer adelaide

Miscellaneous

* getting married at 8pm

* saltwater combover

* middle age man melbourne

* psychiatrists christmas card

* maroon bedroom ideas for kids

There’s one I rate above all others, though. I like to imagine the person who wrote it on their back in a driveway, a monkey wrench in one hand, a can of oil in the other. Though sweating and dirty, this person feels pretty pumped.

He or she stands up from the driveway and walks into the house, stepping out of the filthy overalls. Those biceps look pretty good in the mirror, don’t they?

Now, what shall I type into Google? I know:

* working on my car feeling manly

Go champ!

Thanks for reading.

Part 5 of 5

Click here for part 1

Click here for part 2

Click here for part 3

Click here for part 4

Written by Paul Dalgarno

July 8, 2011 at 10:13 am

Smoking in Australia: why Bach is the new black

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These days I wake up in darkness, fumble my way down a Fallopian-tube corridor, hair sticking up; I bumble into the office room, collapse into chair and whack “bach g string” into the YouTube search box.

I hit the arrow and sit back, just for a second, to let the music wash over me … Then Son-One shouts “dad daddy daaad”, and Son-Two … oooohhhh, yawn; and so the day begins, spilling over with pathos, bathos and whoever the third Musketeer was …

I’m not normally a man for Baroque classics, but I do like Bach’s Air on the G String. These past few early mornings, at least. It’s the blackness, the rain pelting against the windows (what do you think this is, Melbourne? Fricking Aberdeen?). I need something to soothe.

The G string, I’ve found, goes well with muesli and is incredibly family-friendly (Johann Sebastian Bach had 20 kids, incidentally, although 10 died in early infancy).

I find myself whistling it in the street when no-one’s around – the melody, the harmony, the droopy, descending bassline …

For purely auditory reasons, those old Hamlet cigar TV ads from UK have been on my mind, too; particularly the one with Gregor Fisher as the Baldy Man.

He goes into a photo booth, pastes his comb-over into position and poses mock-seductively for the camera; impatient, he leans forwards twice, missing the flash – kaboom – and getting increasingly riled. The third time, his seat collapses at exactly the wrong moment. PMSL, did you say? Next thing, he’s spitting a thick plume of smoke upwards to the strains of Bach.


The message is simple: sadness, frustration and carbon monoxide are all facts of life, but happiness is a cigar called Hamlet.

You have to wonder why Japan Tobacco called these cigars Hamlet. Was it to piggyback on the supposed greatness of will.i.am Shakespeare, or so that orange-fingernailed men in smoke-filled bookies could reflect upon the Danish prince?

And, if so, which aspect of his story? Procrastination (of the sort one employs when chewing a cigar and placing bets) will ultimately end in a premature, thoroughly avoidable, death, thanks to poison being introduced to one’s system; for good measure, your mum will ingest it, too, and your dad … well, he’ll get it in the ear. Happiness is an obscure poison called hebenon.

Jacques Loussier’s jazzy version of Bach’s G string was maybe just there to lift the mood.

Or could it be, as Freud joked to a student, that “sometimes a cigar is just a (mild) cigar”?

The UK’s ban on tobacco advertising in 1991 put paid to the Hamlet series, although it coughed its way through cinemas until 1999. That seems inconceivable now – such is the power of absence …

Ditto:

Smoking in pubs.

Smoking on buses.

Smoking in hospitals.

Smoking at the opera.

These high-culture associations still persist in Australia, where a pack of so-so smokes costs upwards of $18 (£12) – you have to be proper posh to maintain the habit. And a real art lover: the packs come with pictures to die for.

A close-up photo of advanced-stage mouth cancer, with blistered lips and pustulating sores, is one of my favourites; it’s a toss up between that and the socks-off, smile-for-the-camera gangrenous foot – who knew gangrene had such a rich colour palette? It’s quite extraordinary; those little black piggies hang on all the way to market …

Because the accompanying brand design gets in the way of these images, plans are now well in motion for plain cigarette packaging; the artworks, on a luscious backdrop of olive green and “poo brown”, will be far more connoisseur-friendly.

The brand name will still be there, but in a utilitarian sans-serif font. In time, smokes will be known only by their artwork, which (for copyright issues?) is hidden from sight in stores behind little black cat flaps. Can I have Brown Lung? Dying Girl? Clogged Puss Artery? Prized-open Eye?

The big wigs at Big Tobacco are less than chuffed, wheezing, sorry wheeling, out their big guns, smoking hot, to stamp out this move before it gets going. You’d think they’d struggle to find a consistent argument … And yet, there they go, emphysemasising the same point time and again, hacking up the same black gobs, spitting in the face of reason … Angry, did you say? They’re phlegming furious …

Plain packaging will, undercough, sorry, cut, the ability of responsible baccy merchants to price their wares fairly; in turn, we’ll see a deluge of “chop-chop” (illegal tobacco) in Australia, and, you know, cough, erm … oh yeah, young people will buy the fakes instead and … cough, cough, it’s just, cough, excuse me, it’s, oh … Oncolo … gee, wheeze, I mean whiz …

And this on the back of stupid TV ads that show people sneezing blood into handkerchiefs, crying snot. It’s a different way of doing glamour (a bit light on the humour for my liking) but, hey.

Not everyone supports the fact these ads are government-funded; they reckon they should keep their bloody noses out. When did repeatedly inhaling a potent cocktail of heavy, toxic metals ever hurt anyone? Sure, hydrogen cyanide was used in the Nazi gas chambers but FFS, hippies, war is war …

Actually, the nanny-state argument, especially coming from big smokey babies, is quite compelling: leave us to clean up our own chemo-induced mess; there’s nothing wrong with selling incontrovertibly carcinogenic products right next to the Chupa Chups; stop telling us what to do; where’s your Aussie belief in the fair glow?

Simon Chapman, of Sydney University, wants to introduce a license to smoke, limiting people to 20/40/60 cigarettes a day and charging incremental fees for the pleasure. Smokers would also have to pass a test “not dissimilar to a driving test” (fag, mouth, manoeuvre; three-point-burn; emergency stubb).

It’s a wild idea, but not without its disciples. As with the wheels-version, there would be a theory component to the license, which chain-smokers are referring to as “a Soviet‑style re‑education campaign”.

You can just imagine the poor darlings, shovelling snow in Siberia, their comrades falling over, their purple chilblained feet squeezed into roughly-hewn clogs.

Our smoker looks wistfully at his comrades Malborokov/cough and Peter Jacksonkov/cough, chained together like frozen lungs, before clambering frenziedly over a snow-rotting mound of bodies, resolved to escape or die trying.

And then sun breaks through the cloud.

Our gulag-hound falls to his knees and pulls a pin-striped prison cigar from his pea coat. The striking of a match on his emaciated ribcage coincides with the langorous bassline of Bach, the opening strains of the G string.

For the briefest moment, happiness seizes his soul.

Scotland’s first day as a better nation (gaun yersel)

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I’ve always been sceptical of people who take pride in their country. Not in the cleanliness of its streets, say, or its flora; that, in itself, isn’t always suspicious.

I mean pride in a notion that’s political and, by definition, subjective.

Having said this, I feel proud of Scotland today: I’m proud of the vessel and all who sail in her.

I’ve been following the #sp11 hashtag on Twitter to almost no avail for much of the last day.

A quirk of living at the far end of Earth is that your social network suffers terribly. The nine-hour time-difference means I spend my days checking and posting on Facebook and Twitter while the lion’s share of people I care most about are tucked up in their beds.

Occasionally, at midday Oz-time, 3am UK-time, I’ll see a little flurry of activity, an old friend getting radge or loved-up on their iPhone. Fine. But that alone can’t sustain you. The rest of the time the UK stream is empty.

Today, walking home from the train station, studying my phone, I was already thinking about Scotland – because of the election, but also because I’d been watching Kirstie and Phil doing a TV show from Loch Fyne yesterday night.

It’s getting cold here now, and dark, and I’m pining more than I thought I would for the light-nights-a-go-go feeling of home.

I was reflecting on the lime-green grass you get in Scotland, versus the dull-green variety here, when I saw the #sp11 Twitter hashtag returning to life. Great, I thought, great.

Suddenly, there was @MalcFlemming giving it: “#FF for @NicolaSturgeon”; there was @RosieMKane giving it: “SNP wins Britain’s got Talent, X Factor and Post Code Challenge”; there was @JimMurphyTalks (oh please, let it be the real Jim Murphy) giving it: “FFS, have held ma boaby better than we’re holdin’ seats :(”.

There were some strong new-morning vibes, and Alasdair Gray-inspired riffing, of which these are just a handful: @STVRoss Garner: “Is that the sun coming up?”; @weesimon: “Off to work in the very first day of a better nation”; and @macdonke: “What a morning, what a country. Everything changes”.

Get a grip. Only joking.

It’s not morning here, but night time and rainy. I’m listening to Radio Scotland’s Election Special on my laptop. At the time of writing the numbers are:

SNP: 55 (estimated 68)

Labour: 26 (worst result since 1921)

Tories: 9  (cough)

Lib Dem: 3 (including Orkney and Shetland)

The worst bit’s not being part of it – all that wild, end-of-the-war snogging on Sauchiehall Street that will define (and this evening create) a generation: sailors kissing nurses, bunting on the streets …

The SNP winning Shettleston? As Jim Murphy would have it: FFS.

You just have to be proud, pull yer pudding at the other side of the planet, enjoy.

I am dag, but am I bogan?

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I seem to have drifted into a space where I’m a dag. In some ways this is nice.

Who hasn’t grown up at the opposite end of the world watching twice-daily episodes of Neighbours and not wished they lived in a world where people could say: “you’re such a dag, Mike,” even though you’re name’s not Mike. The point is: you could have been Mike. We all could have been Mike.

But be careful what you crave.

I recently turned round a computer screen to show a woman something I thought was quite funny (a man dressed as a gnome, sitting in a car, pulling a gangsta pose, since you ask).

It was one of those situations where you have to hold on to your titters; where you know, as soon as the other person’s face starts contorting, you’re going to piss yourself.

Then, amid all the frenzied chortling, she said: “You’re such a dag.”

She slapped her knees as she said it. I slapped mine. If we were Swiss we might have slapped our hands together, then our knees and started yodelling. But from that point, for me, things changed.

Something that had never bothered me in all the years of Neighbours-watching snaked up through my body, wrapped itself round my brain and started squeezing; its tongue a forked question: what’s a dag? WTF is a dag?

It struck me that I should ask the woman. And so I did.

“It just means you’re really daggy,” she said, still laughing. “It’s nothing to worry about – I’m a dag too.”

This was comforting, but only to a degree.

I decided to quiz people discreetly. It was like the first time you heard someone on Home and Away calling someone a spunk and had to check they hadn’t actually meant “spunk”, that “spunky” didn’t, by extension, mean covered in jizz. You knew it didn’t – how obscene would that be? – but you needed to be sure.

I had a word in the ear of someone who used to live in the UK and is fluent in Australian and British.

“It’s just like ‘naff’,” he said.

“Oh, right,” I said. “Ha, ha …” Naff?

That’s the problem with questions – people sometimes give you answers.

A man dressed as a gnome, sitting in a car, giving a gangsta pose: naff. Was I naff for reshowing it? Transmitting this man’s japery? Stupid man. Naff bastard gnome.

But could “naff” really be the meaning? The Urban Dictionary’s fine, but you can’t always trust it, so I looked up “dag” in the Oxford Concise Australian Dictionary: “a lock of wool clotted with dung …” Hmn, that’ll be right … Now, what’s this?

Yes: “colloq. An eccentric or noteworthy person; a character (‘he’s a bit of a dag’ ).” Yes, I’d settle for eccentric and noteworthy – but I don’t think that’s what a dag is.

I kind of thought it meant “dafty” or “spoon” – something like that. You’re such a spoon? Yeah, I could live with that. You’re a dafty-pants? Yup, that’s ok.

But could the dictionary have it so terribly wrong? Why not?

I looked up “bogan” and it said: “a gormless person” (versus the Urban Dictionary’s definition: “a hideously repugnant and unintelligent … beast”).

Both seem wrong although, oddly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bogan.

My wife assures me they don’t exist in the numbers they used to; they are the lesser-spotted bogan.

I’ll point to someone – mullet, skin-tight jeans, Sherrin footy balls tattooed on their eyelids – and whisper: “Is that a bogan?”, to which my wife will reply: “no”.

The temptation is to transplant “neds”, so that ned-like people would become bogans.

You don’t see many neds here – sadly, in my opinion – and maybe that’s why you don’t see many bogans.

It’s also used as an adjective. Someone’s choice of clothes can be bogan, as can their hair. If they’re wearing sawn-off shorts, for example, their heaving chest on display, their skin green with rage, they’d be … erm … Hulk bogan …

Apologies: that’s such a daggy thing to say.

You can be daggy and a bogan, incidentally; but I’m not sure a bogan can be spunky, except in the eyes of another bogan, particularly is he/she says something daggy.

I won’t know for sure until I see one.

This brings to mind the old adage: if you can’t spot the bogan at a party, the bogan is you, especially if you’re drinking James Boag’s.

How does this make me feel? Not awesome. Not awesome at all.

Written by Paul Dalgarno

April 27, 2011 at 9:17 am

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