Category Archives: Languages

That’s Noble, that is

‘Who on Earth is the Princess Sofia?’ I asked myself a week or two ago. Odd, as the Resident IT Consultant and I, prompted by a viewing of The Crown, had just a day or two earlier discussed how big the Swedish royal family is. And by that we meant how many of them actively go out cutting ribbons and the like. I guessed an answer, but exile doesn’t help with names of new royals.

I follow Kungahuset on Facebook – yes, really – so should be better at names. Anyway, I read that Prinsessan Sofia had opened a primary school. Or was it a secondary school? It was one she has attended as a child, now rebuilt or enlarged or improved. She’s the ‘ordinary’ girl who married Prins Carl Philip, son of the King. A few days later I learned it was her 35th birthday.

And then, after a few mutterings from Daughter on Tuesday night, I cyber stalked a bit more and discovered Sofia was the one who was escorted into the Nobel dinner that evening by none other than Didier Queloz, who you all know shared the Nobel Prize in Physics. Hence the mutterings all the way from Berlin.

Prins Carl Philip med Esther Duflo, Nobelpristagare i ekonomi, Prinsessan Madeleine med William G. Kaelin Jr, Nobelpristagare i fysiologi eller medicin och Prinsessan Sofia med Didier Queloz, Nobelpristagare i fysik. Foto: Pelle T Nilsson/SPA

His former PhD supervisor Michel Mayor was also in Stockholm, at the same dinner, since they shared the prize. He, in turn, got to share Crown Princess Victoria at dinner with the third, but first, Nobel laureate in physics, James Peebles.

Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz are Daughter’s former colleagues from Geneva, and they have – more or less – done research on the same kind of thing. The other two have a head start on her, so we’ll have to wait.

But what I really wanted to know was whether my Cousin GP was there, pouring the wine.

Letters from Tove

I’d like to think that even people who don’t know anything about Tove Jansson would enjoy reading her letters. As the publicist for the English translation of Letters from Tove said, one can enjoy dipping in, reading a bit here and a bit there. You sort of eavesdrop on Tove’s life, which looks to have been both long and full of events.

Tove Jansson, Letters from Tove

The translation by Sarah Death is so spot on, that if I didn’t know whose letters I was reading, I could easily believe they were from a young, arty English girl. At least, were it not for the people Tove writes about, and the recipients of the letters.

For the most part I don’t know who they are. Some are obvious, others might be names I vaguely have heard of, being Swedish. But many correspondents are just that, someone Tove knew and exchanged letters with. The Resident IT Consultant felt he didn’t know enough, but I suspect that’s because he believed that a Swedish speaker would automatically know all about Tove’s people.

Well, we don’t, and the book is more exciting for it. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that someone Tove’s age would have spent time in prewar Paris, mixing with other arty people. But somehow I’d not thought about this. And I know the grass is often greener, but I am always struck by how interesting life in the past seems.

And then there is the more normal life at home, which is surprisingly normal, even for non-arty me, so much younger than Tove. It’s as if there is something timeless and Nordic about certain aspects of how we live.

I think this will be interesting to read, whether or not you are a Moomin fan. And perfect to keep near you for dipping into. There are many years of numerous and long letters to discover.

(Starting today as Book of the week on BBC Radio 4.)

Adventing on

As I was egging Daughter on to tackle her double Advent task of reading two books every day, instead of merely opening chocolatey windows, it dawned on me that I wanted to do that too.

I gave her Cornelia Funke’s Hinter verzauberten Fenstern for her birthday, with the notion that it’d give a her some starter German reading practice, which she might succumb to because it’s the run-up to Christmas, and she likes that. Besides, there’s already the Jostein Gaarder she tends to read every year. At least when I/we/she haven’t lost the book… We now own several copies of The Christmas Mystery.

But what I really had a yearning for was neither of these two excellent Advent books. It was Rosamunde Pilcher’s Winter Solstice. I looked at the book I was reading. Then I got out the Pilcher, and it wasn’t long before I was lost in the sad beginnings of Winter Solstice.

What remains to be discovered is whether I will be able to slow down. Once the introductions have been made, you can read this novel more or less ‘in time’ with your own December. But not if you want to do it in one sitting. Well, maybe two, considering it’s nearly 700 pages.

I’ll let you know. (But I already feel better for having rebelled, and for being back in Rosamunde’s wintry Scotland.)

One two dreich

Scottish Book Trust have compiled a list of ‘iconic Scots words’ and I’m so glad they did. I’m still floundering when it comes to even the passive understanding of some of them, let alone being able to use them, accurately or not. Please let there never be a test on Scots to continue living here!

1. Beastie. Familiar and affectionate contraction of beast.
2. Besom. Also bissom, bizzem, bizzum. A term of contempt applied jocularly to a woman or young girl.
3. Braw. Also bra’, braa. Of things: fine, splendid, illustrious; also used ironically.
4. Bumfle. Also bumfill. An untidy bundle; a pucker, ruffle, in a garment.
5. Burn. A brook or stream, also known as the water used in brewing.
6. Clipe. Also clype, klipe, claip. To tell tales about, inform against someone.
7. Collie-buckie. Also coalie-back(ie), coalie buck(ie), collie-back(ie), cuddie-back. A piggy-back, a ride on one’s shoulders.
8. Dreich. Long-drawn-out, protracted, hence tedious, wearisome.
9. Dwam. A stupor, a trance; a day-dream, reverie.
10. Eeksie-peeksie. Also eeksy-peeksy. On an equality, much alike, six and half a dozen.
11. Fankle. Also fangle. To tangle, ravel, mix up.
12. Glaikit. Also gleckit, gleekit. Stupid, foolish; thoughtless, irresponsible, flighty, frivolous.
13. Gloamin. Evening twilight, dusk.
14. Guising. Also guisin. Mummer, masquerader, especially in modern times one of a party of children who go in disguise from door to door at various festivals.
15. Haver. Also haiver. To talk in a foolish or trivial manner, speak nonsense, to babble, gossip.
16. Ken. To know, be aware of, apprehend, learn.
17. Neeps. Turnip, often served with haggis and tatties.
18. Nyaff. Also nyaf. A small, conceited, impudent, chattering fellow.
19. Outwith. Also ootwith. Outside, out of, beyond.
20. Piece. A piece of bread and butter, jam, or the like, a snack, usually of bread, scone or oatcake, a sandwich.
21. Scunnered. Also scunnert. To make (one) bored, uninterested or antipathetic.
22. Shoogle. Also shoggle, schochle. To shake, joggle, to cause to totter or rock, to swing backwards and forwards.
23. Sitooterie. In a restaurant etc., an area where patrons can sit outside; a conservatory.
24. Sleekit. Insinuating, sly, cunning, specious, not altogether to be trusted.
25. Smirr. Also smir. A fine rain, drizzle, occas. also of sleet or snow.
26. Smoorikin. Also smooriken. To exchange kisses, to cuddle, ‘canoodle’
27. Stappit. Blocked, choked, stuffed.
28. Totie. Also totty, toatie. Small, diminutive, tiny.
29. Wabbit. Also wubbit, wappit. Exhausted, tired out, played out, feeble, without energy.
30. Wheest. Also whisht, weesht. To silence, to cause to be quiet, to hush, quieten.

For Book Week Scotland, later this month, you can vote for your favourite word. Sitooterie has a certain ring to it, I feel. But I’ll stop havering now.

Too young to translate?

I mean, you have to start somewhere, don’t you?

I was somewhat flabbergasted to discover that some publisher – unnamed – had withdrawn their book so that it wouldn’t be translated by someone new.

The Peirene Stevns Translation Prize 2019 has had to be postponed after the publisher of their intended book to be translated by those entering the competition, refused to agree. Not for beginners, apparently.

It’s a bit worrying, as older translators will be retiring or dying out, so younger ones do need to step into their shoes if you want books moving into other languages.

The prize is for unpublished translators. However, Peirene discovered that many people have translated things for free, just to get a foot in. This seems to be yet another case of unpaid work, because ‘you can.’

Just because you’re new doesn’t mean you are bad. Some new translators of fiction even get shortlisted for prestigious awards. In fact, I’d say that when you’re starting out, you possibly spend far longer on getting it right, because you feel you should, than you do later on, when everything’s become more routine.

Lobster Life

The Resident IT Consultant is standing in for me today. He threw himself at one of the Norwegian books from Norvik Press that turned up recently. Over to his Lobster review:

Lobster Life (Et hummerliv) by Erik Fosnes Hansen is the story of a year or so in the life of Sedd, a 13-year-old boy living with his grandparents who manage a Norwegian mountain hotel.

Erik Fosnes Hansen, Lobster Life

Sedd knows that, eventually, the hotel will be his to inherit. But he knows very little about his own origins. His mother, ‘taken by time’ when he was a toddler, is scarcely a memory. Of his father he knows nothing. Sedd is precocious, always with adults and possesses knowledge that goes far beyond that of the average 13-year-old. Nevertheless his youth means he is not a very reliable interpreter of the events that are going on around him.

All is not well in the hotel. It is the 1980s and Norwegians are abandoning hotels at home for package tours abroad. The bank manager, who has kept the hotel alive for years on extended credit, suddenly dies. Gradually clues to the hotel’s problems accumulate. But Sedd cannot see these for what they are. He has his own concerns. Who was his mother? Who was his father? Why is there a mysterious locked room in the hotel?

A new bank manager appears, and his daughter proceeds to pester Sedd in every way imaginable. There is a growing sense of doom. Things are not going to end well. And they don’t. Nevertheless this is a comic book. Sedd’s accounts of those he comes into contact with, and his adolescent perspective, provide a succession of amusing accounts.

I thoroughly recommend it.

(Translation by Janet Garton)

Buying a book for my sister

About to visit my eldest [half]-sister for the first time; and the second time we’d meet, I felt I needed to turn up bearing a gift. But what?

I ‘always’ give books. But I knew she’d left school early, so didn’t expect a children’s book in English to be any good. But after some more thinking I came up with Adèle Geras’s first adult novel – Facing the Light – which I knew had been translated into Swedish.

In the end I managed to source what appeared to be the last copy on earth of Ljus och skugga, from an online shop in Sweden. I had it sent to me in England. After that I contacted Adèle asking if she would sign it, and she very kindly invited me round to her house and we had a nice chat, mainly about wearing green, chocolate from Oxfam, and swimming in the sea, which caused a very cold May/June and no swimming in the sea. And she signed the book.

After which I carried the novel back to Sweden so I could hand it over.

Daughter and I had a lovely day with our new sister/aunt and it was gratifying to see how pleased she seemed to be given a personally signed book.

Adèle Geras, Ljus och skugga

We met a few more times after that, and I’m glad we did. Acquiring an older sister in one’s forties is perhaps slightly unusual, but why not? And we discovered we had a connection through School Friend, whose older brother was at school with my sister. Sweden really is a small world.

My sister died a few weeks ago. I’m grateful to have known her. And kind of pleased that they played Elvis at the funeral.