But what would be so awful, I asked each of my informants, about a brief friendly chat with a fellow commuter? This was clearly regarded as an exceptionally stupid question. Obviously, the problem with actually speaking to a fellow commuter was that if you did it once, you might be expected to do it again — and again, and again: having acknowledged the person’s existence, you could not go back to pretending that they did not exist, and you could end up having to exchange polite words with them every day. You would almost certainly have nothing in common, so these conversations would be highly awkward and embarrassing. Or else you would have to find ways of avoiding the person — standing at the other end of the platform, for example, or hiding behind the coffee kiosk, and deliberately choosing a different compartment on the train, which would be rude and equally embarrassing. The whole thing would become a nightmare; it didn’t bear thinking about.

–Kate Fox, Watching the English

Back to happier news

Language Log extols Edinburgh Uni’s results in the UK’s RAE

“But with these figures out, even these shy people will have to admit, if pressed, that if you want to study in the biggest language sciences community in the U.K., and the best one as judged by volume of work judged to be of world-leading quality, it looks like you should make plans to head for Edinburgh.”

As a graduate, all I can say is, heck yeah.

tying together two themes of my life lately

I’ve been to or known of a lot of weddings of people I know this year, including two in June (both lovely, and very different). Thus I was charmed to find my interest in transit combined with this recent swell in weddings in Annie’s post about a couple traveling to their own wedding on the Tube.
Favorite line: “We didn’t feel that we needed a stretch limo to get to their register office when we have got an Oyster card and the Tube.”

What a great idea! Weddings are often resource-intensive, so I love their concept of trying to make lighter mark. Three weeks ago Barbara also wrote about doing a “local food” catering for a wedding (vegetarian, too), for another person who is committed to “green” living. The food, of course, sounded absolutely lovely, but that goes without saying since it is Barbara.

Post about my trip to Toronto coming soon, I promise.

Scots-Texans of the past

This is too funny. I was looking at the area around Dallas on Google maps, and found that there is a city in Ellis County called Midlothian, which is also the name of the area around Edinburgh to the south and the historical government area in which Edinburgh is located (these days it’s a council area unto itself).

Although the Wikipedia page doesn’t mention it, Midlothian, TX is (not hugely surprisingly) named after Midlothian, Scotland. There are apparently four other Midlothians, one of which was definitely also named after the Scottish area. The others, it’s not clear.

Unusually for an X, he was also a Y

While re-reading The Right Attitude to Rain, I came across several quotations I thought about memorializing in my Facebook profile, including this one:

How many people in the United States believed that they had been abducted by aliens? It was a depressingly large number. And the aliens always gave them back! Perhaps they were abducting the wrong sort.

This is so emblematic of what I love about Alexander McCall Smith. He’s full of these funny little observations that are expressed in the compact, deadpan way that British people have of saying things. Perhaps they were abducting the wrong sort. It’s lovely.

In the end I decided that pickled onions were probably enough Alexander McCall Smith for one Facebook profile, but I did want to add a lovely little poem about Scotland that’s quoted closely following the above gem. When I searched for the poem, though, one of the results that came up was from an SNP (Scottish National Party) news release, about SNP MSPs wearing the white rose of Scotland to the opening of Parliament. I was concerned that maybe the poem has nationalist associations that I wasn’t aware of, but I couldn’t find anything else that suggested that it’s more than a longstanding image association made famous by nationalist poet.

To make sure I was spelling the poet’s (pen) name correctly, I looked him up in Wikipedia, and found this gem:

He was instrumental in creating a truly Scottish version of modernism and was a leading light in the Scottish Renaissance of the 20th century. Unusually for a first generation modernist, he was a communist. Unusually for a communist, he was a committed Scottish nationalist.

The parallel there sent me into gales of laughter, closely followed by coughing. There can’t have been that many Scottish communists, anyhow, I would think.

I also found this bit amusing:

MacDiarmid listed Anglophobia amongst his hobbies in his Who’s Who entry.

Not that Anglophobia is funny, per se, but having Anglophobia as a hobby in your Who’s Who entry strikes me as strangely hilarious.

For what it’s worth, I’m neither a Scottish nationalist nor an Anglophobe, but I do think it’s a beautiful little verse, expressive of the love I feel for Scotland.

The rose of all the world is not for me.
I want for my part
Only the little white rose of Scotland
That smells sharp and sweet — and breaks the heart.