Thursday, 28 October 2010

Hallowe'en Disguised Procession

On Sunday 31st October I will be taking part in 'The Second Annual Disguised Hallowe'en Procession,' beginning from the top of Primrose Hill at 4.15 pm and ending at Cecil Sharp House. The procession will consist of a group of disguised and costumed artists, musicians and dancers led by Matthew Cowan, and will lead to the Hallowe'en Music Fair at Cecil Sharp House.

I will be processing as 'Dishclout, The Human Duster'. I will be wearing a garment made entirely of dusters, dish cloths and dirty rags. The garment is inspired by my collected pile of old cleaning cloths and by the cobbled together clothing of the people who dress in plastic bags, rags and remnants, the dirtiest people who take on the dirt and fall through the cracks.

I will soak up the dirt
Rub it off, wipe it down
I will carry the dust
Dish the must
Miss the dust
Dish the must

Please feel free to come and join the beginning of the procession, in costume if you feel inclined, at 4.15pm (it's the first sunset after the clocks go back).

The procession is free and open to the public. To gain access to the music fair at Cecil Sharp House, you will need a ticket, available via the following websites:

The Wheel: Hallowe'en Music Fair


Over a period of several days I heard and read various reports about an incident where a Member of the European Parliament, Nigel Farage, insulted the President of the European Council.  The reports converged on their facts, and did not generally go into great detail or analysis, merely reiterating the same basic points.  The reports detailed that Mr Farage was the former leader of the UK Independance Party, and the man he insulted, Herman Van Rompuy, was formerly the Belgian Prime Minister; his nationality being a fact which featured in the specific attacks Mr Farage made.  The incident occurred in the Chamber of the European Council on the occasion of the new, and first ever, Permanent President's inaugural appearance.   Mr Farage made a speech in the Chamber to the assembled European Council members during which he directly addressed the President and made a series of personal and political attacks upon him.   This event has been reported as 'an attention grabbing outburst'  and an attempt by Mr Farage to get thrown out of the European Parliament, thereby martyring himself and garnering press coverage to raise his profile before standing as an MP in the forthcoming UK general election.  Whether or not this is true is unclear, but it was reported that previously Mr Farage had made other outrageous comments in his speaches, which did attract extensive press coverage.  Snippets of the speach were replayed on the radio, internet and television, and transcribed in the newspapers.  The portion of his speach which particularly caught my attention was the opening tirade, which prefaced a slew of more general and perhaps predictable personal insults and criticisms around Mr Van Rompuy's alleged lack of identity or substance.  The insults began thus: 'I don't want to be rude, but really, you have the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low grade bank clerk.  And the question that I want to ask, the question that we're all going to ask, is, who are you?'  
    A BBC radio correspondent, Jonny Dymond, reported that at this point in the speach there was an audible pause as the numerous interpreters at the council attempted to translate the word 'damp dish rag' into the twenty or so official languages spoken there.  Being an unexpected and unorthodox word in that context, and one which did not necessarily have a direct equivalent in every language, this translation took some moments.  Having listened carefully, however, to that section of the speach, I cannot hear the phrase 'damp dish rag', nor the pause for translation; what I do hear is the words 'damp rag' and some muffled background noises of possible dissaproval and confusion.  I presume that the journalist deliberately creatively mis-reported the phrase and its reception in order to better facilitate his story.   The correspondent used the occurrence as a basis for a lighthearted and mildly humourous investigation of various translations of the phrase - into French, Spanish and Dutch, (taking the opportunity to insult the Dutch language along the way for its unpleasing sound.)  His translations, and their lack of complete fit to the English, revealed how the particular cleaning ritual and purpose of a cloth in a particular country frames the word for it - thus in Dutch the translation he offered, and the closest he could find, was for an all purpose cleaning cloth, which would encompass cleaning of the floors.  Of course in English no one would use the same cloth  - a dish cloth - for cleaning both dishes and floors.  And I presume nor would they in the Netherlands; so here is a problem with how to translate the word, or, of how dirt and cleaning is demarcated by language. 
    I looked up the translation of dish rag in German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, French, Swedish and Dutch; or rather of dish cloth as that was the less exaggerated version of the word, and was the one Mr Dymond seemed to be talking about - and I discovered there are variants of the translations within many languages.  These variations are consistent with the slippery idea of what a dish cloth is that the correspondent had highlighted; even in English the meaning of the phrase is open to shifts and misplacement.  Interpreting the phrase revealed concepts about the performance of various domestic tasks, how a cloth may be used, whether that equipment merits a name of its own, and which practices have the overtone or common usage of an insult.  When I had first listened to the correspondent's story a damp rag had meant a 'dish cloth' to me, but one which, by the subtle alteration of its name, had been made more sullied and limp for the purpose of an insult.  I had in mind an ordinary dish cloth, of the kind with which one would 'do the dishes', (somewhat anachonystically, as these days people tend to ‘do the washing up' and use a sponge or a brush of some kind - only the older generation use a dish cloth); I thought too that the word might also, mistakenly, refer to a tea towel for drying the dishes, with which a dish cloth could be confused.   I had been led by the story to interpret damp rag as damp dish rag.  Without this prompting I would have understood damp rag as literally a damp rag, and meaning something more along the lines of any cloth used for the purposes of cleaning the kitchen or bathroom, a cloth that is greyed and worn with use, possibly having been cut from a piece of old clothing in the first place, and which is used primarily for cleaning the floors, though also for any other eclectic household need, but not for the jobs that require a more hygienic finish, such as cleaning dishes or eating surfaces.  Such a cloth is likely to be found in a cupboard under the kitchen sink, and to be left there in a dampened state.  Plain damp rag, it seems to me, is a far more insulting insult to be levied at the President than damp dish rag, or dish cloth; it is a dirtier and more limpid cloth, used for ill-defined and fouler tasks.  The correspondent’s interpretation and flight of whimsy, constructing the rag as more of a genteel article for doing the washing up, at least in English, had perhaps lessened the impact of Nigel Farage’s attack.  Either way, damp, dirty, or less so, the correspondent’s interpretation of the rag had led to the meaning of Mr Farage's specific insult being filtered, skewed and altered.
    Lavette; torchon (French)
    Bayeta (Spanish)
    Keukenhannoek; vaatdoek; droogdoek; theedoek (Dutch)
    Geschirrtuch (German)
    Strofinaccio (Italian)
    Pano de prato (Portugeuse)
    Disktrasa (Swedish)
*NB. Dishclout: a derogatory name for servant girls in the eighteenth century.

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