Friday, September 3, 2010

A weeping woman and the breaking of a rule

A common mistake I make when I'm writing a post, possibly because I type so fast, is the breaking of the so-called rule I before E, except after C - especially the word recieve. I learned to type using all my fingers in the days when Pitman's shorthand was in common use - shorthand being another skill I have but which today is totally and, to me, surprisingly redundant. 

Odd, ain't it, how what one learns as a child remains despite constant use of exceptions to the rule.  This by the way came out of the conversation the Celt and I had this morning when I mentioned how frequently I transposed i and e and he remarked that I before E, except after C is not a rule and rattled off a long list of words that are exceptions. He and I over the years have had many a conversation about language - conversations during which one of us would head for the OED, Fowler and Roget, and spend more delicious minutes immersed in the springs and meanders of the English language. Absolutely thrilling to both of us!

Nowadays one simply fires up the laptop, googles and reads what Wikipedia has to say - something that will no doubt happen today during our drive north towards the mountains of North Carolina, though the iPhone will be the tool of choice. 

I cannot take any credit for what is written below - my only contribution being the picture of Picasso's Weeping Woman which I thought mildly appropriate. I will say, though, that Roderick Cameron has emerged in my mind as a gentleman, nothing more, nothing less.

"Of course I am happy to tell you anything I can about my time chez Mr Cameron. The story of the Picasso plates is as follows:

"Rory had in his kitchen all sorts of things that perhaps some people might have kept in a cabinet rather than actually using, but I thought he was right to keep and use them. He had some very beautiful eighteenth-century coffee cups that were like little translucent shells - I once inadvertently knocked one of them on the floor and was practically in tears about it, but Mr Cameron just said I had broken fewer things than any of his other housekeepers, which was some consolation, but not a lot.

"He had a set of six Picasso plates - well, they were really shallow bowls, and he used them to serve puddings in. During the winter, when he was away, he had work done on the house, and the kitchen cupboards all had louvre doors, and for some reason, I'm not quite sure why, everything went mildewed, so I didn't know what to do about it (remember, I was a young person straight out of university) so I put them in the dishwasher!!!! Shall we just say this did not improve matters: the plates had a glazed bird in the centre, with a pale orange background that was almost a wash, and after the dishwasher treatment, they came out with the background all sort of faded. I can't find a picture of anything quite the same, this is the most similar - but Mr Cameron's just had a single bird in the centre, on an orange background.

"I did not feel nearly as bad at the time as I do in retrospect! Ah, for the ease of mind of youth. He did, however, have some beautiful china, and also some Provençal faience that he used for everyday. He was very particular about how the table was set - he had a whole cupboard of what we used to call "tricky eye" china - i.e. china bowls full of lemons and asparagus, or what have you, that he used as table centres."


  1. Great story. Great writing. Thanks!

  2. A wonderful story and, as always, beautifully told. A friend told me how he and his wife house sat for a professor one semester. He told the young couple to "make themselves at home." They particularly loved the crystal wine glasses with lips so thin they seemed to melt on the tongue. Wanting to take great care with them, they washed them by hand. Not wanting spots on them, they vigorously dried them...and the bowls separated from the stems. They thought, not a problem we'll replace them before he comes back. They found the glasses were antique Baccarat from a different stratosphere where their checkbook lived. Rule 1: never twist a stem when you dry the bowl of fine crystal. Rule 2: fess up, apologize with grace, pick friends who will forgive you. Happy trip. Stay away from Earl.

  3. As my father would lecture, verbatim: "I before E, except after C or when sounding like A as in Neighbor or Weigh, or when Neither Foreigner Seized Their Weird Height Leisurely."

    Have been riveted to your deeply-layered Roderick Cameron retrospective, many thanks.

  4. Oh Blue, you always make me laugh. Recipe is the one that always gets me. Wait, did I spell that correctly?!?!?! I always feel like I have forgotten a letter.

  5. Delightful post, Blue. Quite charming, indeed. One does remember one's ruination or breaking of fine and valuable things when one was once young. I recall as a youth once picking up a small statue that was sitting on a table in a house where I was visiting with my parents for the weekend and asking "Who's this A. Rodin?" and hearing my mother shriek to put it down for fear that I would drop it. Now I am sure the little statue would not have been harmed if I had dropped it, given it was made of bronze, but I do remember thinking "yikes, what have I done!" On another note, the "i before e" thing has always been a challenge for Reggie, too, but also so has the interchangeability of "s" and "z" in US vs. English spelling been a headache. Having gone to school at impressionable ages in both countries, I have never been able to master which is proper to use on this side of the pond. I realised, no, I mean realized, long ago it is but a futile exercize, no I mean exercise, for me to attempt to do so. Reggie

  6. Your use of the dictionary and other reference books at Chateau Blue reminds me of my father, who has a bookshelf devoted to them. He learned to use the computer about 8 years ago aged 77, and is quite proficient, but still prefers the sources to which I referred, rather than Google and Wikipedia.

    Regarding Rory Cameron's housekeeper, I can identify with some of the difficulties he faced, and nowadays I am much more tolerant of accidental breakages made by those that help than I was when I was younger; my other half is accident-prone, so I have become inured! I could fill a room with china, glass etc etc broken over the years.

  7. home before dark, thank you. I think we all have those moments of shame that come back with such force as to be almost as real as they were when they first occurred - I know I have. Forty years later I still can curl with embarrassment!

  8. Flo Ingram, thank you for your kind words about the posts about Roderick Cameron. I must say I can take very little credit for the text as it is in the main quotations from two correspondents - for which I am immensely grateful.

    Janet, thank you. In future, try receipt instead of recipe and you should have no trouble.

    Reggie, always a pleasure to hear from you. A Rodin? French, perhaps? If it were not for spell check I would appear totally illiterate when writing my posts for the differences between English and American spellings drive me crazy - jewelry as opposed to jewellery, etc. If you want an exercise in futility try kerb and curb.

  9. Columnist, thank you. I'm the accident-prone one in this household but I live with a very patient, forgiving man who is not too attached to objects. I feel sometimes I have just to look at a piece of crystal and it will shatter.

    I understand your father's preference though I must say I couldn't immediately point out where the thesaurus is on our bookshelves. the physical Fowler's Modern English Usage is far easier and safer to read in a bubble bath than is the laptop, I must say.

  10. I can forgive accidents but not putting Picasso plates in a dishwasher. That's a university education for you. That amusing little anecdote has made me unreasonably cross.

  11. Rose, haven't we all put Picasso plates in the dishwasher - or the equivalent?

  12. i remember those picasso plates. they were displayed on the outside of the house, attached to the walls with little metal brackets and had to be brought in and washed (by hand - he didn't have a dishwasher when i worked there!) before being used to serve icecream - the only use i remember them being put to.