A portal to another world

I’m allergic to queues. Apart from the post office, there are few places I’d wait patiently in line for anything. With the post office, I’m conditioned. I think of it as time out – meditative time where I can move temporarily to a parallel universe. And anyway, with the ticketing system in Budapest, it’s not really a queue as such in that there’s no orderly line, just a room of anxious faces watching the numbers tick over. I will also queue for the loo – but then, too, I have other things on my mind.

Going through Kings Cross station in London the other day, I saw a tell-tale snaking line of people all queuing for nothing- all I could see ahead of them was a blank wall. No toilet, no post office, no ticket desk of any sort. I couldn’t leave it alone. Curiosity got the better of me and as I moved closer I was blinded by flashes as the crowds whooped and cheered and clicked away. A celebrity, I thought. But what were the masses queing for?

HP3HP1HP2I edged my way to the front of the rope and saw it. Platform 9 3/4. Of course – I was in Harry Potter country. The line of hopefuls turned out to be young’uns queing to get their photo taking pushing Harry’s trolley through the wall. The extra-long Hogwarts’ scarf was held up by the attendant and then let fly as the poser lept in the air.  Next door is the shop – the Harry Potter Shop – where you can buy anything from potions to lotions, from wands to broomsticks. In short, just about anything JK Rowling and her marketing machine have dreamed to be saleable.

I wasn’t a great fan of Harry Potter and had little desire to read him. I’m quite snobbily averse to anything that is so unversally raved about. But when I heard Stephen Fry read the books, I was hooked. Magic. Books written to be read aloud. And while I’d never queue for my photo to be taken, I’ve made a mental note to myself to go back to KC one night, late at night, or very early in the morning when I can have the platform to myself.

Years ago I remember reading about a photography/book project that pictured a city in the dead of night/morning, that hour or so when those who come in late are home and those who go out early have yet to leave. .

Walking through empty streets in the half-light of night/day is something I quite like to do. That strange suspension of reality, of time, of space, that’s my version of Platform 9 3/4, my portal to another world.

Dum spiro, spero

Way back when I, at the tender age of 12, was choosing subjects that would decide what I was going to be when I grew up, I could have opted to take Latin. Instead I went for French. There are few things I regret in life, but if I had to dredge the memory bank for just one, that would be it. I should have taken Latin.

A good friend of mine, the inimitable BA, who lives down by the Balaton, is fond of quoting in Latin. I particularly like his prayer before drinking:

Ex humore merum cui fecit diva potestas
Christe, refecturis humilibus benedic

Christ, for whom divine power made wine from water,
bless the humble ones about to turn some back

I have a love/hate relationship with the language – I hate the fact that I feel so stupid when I don’t understand what’s being said and yet I love when I discover the meaning. His latest contribution to my ever-expanding Latin vocabulary was dum spiro, spero – where there’s life, there’s hope.

latinI’ve been flitting around the idea of learning the language, but then remind myself that  I might be better served learning Hungarian. Yet there is a host of free resources available online and I could learn from the comfort of my own flat, at a time I chose. Learning Hungarian would be of more use, though, and my brain power is limited.

[I was surprised to see that a couple of the Harry Potter books have been translated into Latin, as has Rebilius Crusoe (Robinson Crusoe). Who’d have thought it? ]

latin2But there are dangers in taking up Latin – especially for someone who has been known to make the occasional (ahem) incorrect assumption. Apparently, in Latin, one word can have many meanings, which gives rise to many idiomatic phrases. Translating individual words from Hungarian usually adds up to a semi-coherent message in English (not the other way around, though). But not so in Latin. The dangers of making false assumptions about a word’s meaning, or, worse still, seeing it as a single word and not part of a phrase, can wreak all sorts of havoc. Take the phrase hominem e medio tollere – to kill a person. My painstaking effort to translate resulted in ‘to remove a man from the middle’.

I’m tempted to replace my usual greeting of ‘What’s up?’ to ‘quid agis?’ Sounds classier, no? And what about these for conversational accessories?

  • docendo disco, scribendo cogito (I learn by teaching, think by writing)
  • in omnia paratus (ready for anything)
  • memento vivere (remember to live)
  • de gustibus non est disputandum (in matters of taste, there can be no disputes)

Mind you, Latin does have a certain pretentiousness about it, which lends itself beautifully to those (meí?) wanting to sound more intelligent than they actually are. Cue the phenomenon of dog Latin – dropping any vowels from the end of an English word and adding  -us, -icus, or -ium. Remember The Vicar of Dibley, and the Horton family motto Veni, vidi, brutus spearium gloriosus, which is Dog Latin for (in David Horton’s words) ‘I came, I saw, I tore the thick bastard limb from limb.’

The Art of Manliness has a great blog post on Latin, if you’re interested in reading more.


Balls and broomsticks

When I think of Cambridge, I think of earnest young brains who are preparing themselves to lead the world in their various fields and fancies. I think of high-tech, bespectacled minds whose brain power is the stuff movies are made about. I think of rowers, racquetballers, and rugby players: fit, muscly types who have broken the three-minute mile a hundred times over. The last thing I think about is Harry Potter.

Enjoying the unseasonable warmth of a 22-degree October Saturday in Cambridge a few weeks back, I was still fixating on my visit to Harvard and bemused by the fact that Cambridge is not in Boston – it is a separate city on the other side of the Charles River. With our bank-side view of the Head of the Charles Regatta, we were wandering up towards the starting line to see just how many boats were in the water when we came across a large group of 20-somethings engaged in what looked vaguely like it could be a team sport.

IMG_5701 (800x600)About half a dozen teams were taking part, judging by the different jerseys, and they all seemed to be taking their sport very seriously indeed. There were three hoops, one large one, offset by a smaller one on either side. There were a number balls that looked a little heavier than your average soccer ball. And everyone on the pitch had a stick between their legs – like, well, like a broomstick, without the brushy part.

IMG_5695 (800x600)Yep – they were playing quidditch. Does JK Rowling realise what she’s done? Her fictional sport has been lifted from the pages of her Harry Potter books and brought to life. More than 300 mixed-gender teams in over 20 countries around the world play this Contact sport – and that’s Contact with a capital C. They had a world championship earlier this year, in Canada, with seven countries competing. The USA took the gold; Australia, the silver, and Canada, the bronze. Mexico, Belgium, the UK, and France have to wait till next time to feature.

And it has rules!

A unique mix of elements from rugby, dodgeball, and tag, teams of seven  play with brooms between their legs at all times. Each team can have a maximum of four players who identify with the same gender, excluding the seeker. Note the word ‘gender’. This is important. It is not necessarily the same as ‘sex’.

Three chasers score goals worth 10 points each with a volleyball called the quaffle. They advance the ball down the field by running with it, passing it to teammates, or kicking it. Each team has a keeper who defends the goal hoops. Two beaters use dodgeballs called bludgers to disrupt the flow of the game by “knocking out” other players. Any player hit by a bludger is out of play until they touch their own goals. Each team also has a seeker who tries to catch the snitch. The snitch is a ball attached to the waistband of the snitch runner, a neutral athlete in a yellow uniform who uses any means to avoid capture. The snitch is worth 30 points and its capture ends the game. If the score is tied after the snitch catch, the game proceeds into overtime.

One hundred metres up the river, my jaw was still hanging open as I wondered, not for the first time, at the rather sheltered life I lead. Every day, it would seem, unearths something even weirder than what went before it. Quidditch anyone?