My new business enterprise

If my Daoist ritual joke-book (example here) inexplicably fails to soar into the charts (other reviews here), hastening rather than subsidizing my retirement, I have a cunning backup plan—inspired by both Myles and Hašek’s The animal world.

At the entrance to the escalators on the London tube, one often finds a sign that may bemuse travellers, particularly hapless tourists:

Dogs must be carried on this escalator.

This has already been unpacked by generations of drôle pedants before me. The grammar of the sign is nicely explained here:

  1. All dogs should have a chance to go on this wonderful escalator ride
  2. This escalator is for dog-holders only
  3. You can’t carry your pet on the other escalators
  4. When riding with a pet, carry it.

None other than Terry Eagleton drew attention to this in his Literary theory: an introduction, along with classics like

Refuse to be put in this basket.

(YAY! No pigeonholing for me!) See also here.

So here’s my solution (©Stephen Jones 2017), a boon both to passengers and to my own modest bank-balance:

I am designing two booths, one at both ends of the escalator, where you can hire a dog of your choice (selection of breeds available to suit all moods) for the brief duration of the ride, in either direction, returning it as soon as you step off. At off-peak hours I can maintain a skeleton dog-team [fine use of hyphenEd.], with an elaborate Heath-Robinson-esque system of pulleys to whisk an animal speedily to whichever end the needy traveller awaits..

The cost of feeding and training the dogs will be slight compared to the handsome profits to be made from stranded passengers, and should keep me in Bombay Sapphire for years.

This week’s dinner party

Guests for my fantasy dinner party this week (Friday to Monday):

Jaroslav Hašek, Stella Gibbons, Flann O’Brien, Harpo Marx, Keith Richards, Viv Albertine, Zoe Williams, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Caitlin Moran, Diane Morgan [far-fetched stage name of Philomena Cunk—Ed.], and Bridget Christie.

Dress optional. 1859 for 1900. That gives them 41 years.

It might be churlish of me to worry that Hašek and Myles might not shine in a large mixed group. But hey, it’s a fantasy.

The definitive transliteration

I just can’t resist constructing a headline to incorporate some of my favourite Chinese transliterations:

帅克耍耍圣桑的兔子不拉屎
Shuaike shuashua Shengsangde tuzibulashi

or

Conquering General plays with the Rabbits-don’t-shit of Sage Mulberry.

Or, if you insist,

Švejk plays with the toothbrush of Saint-Saëns.

What kind of language do you call that, ask the Plain People of Ireland. Beat that, China Daily.

Svejk

Among several references to the toothbrush in The good soldier Švejk, try this:

Then she took out of the hamper three bottles of wine for the convalescent and two boxes of cigarettes. She set out everything elegantly on the empty bed next to Švejk’s, where she also put a beautifully bound book, Stories from the life of our Monarch, which had been written by the present meritorious chief editor of our official Czechoslovak Republic who doted on old Franz. Packets of chocolate with the same inscription, “Gott strafe England,” and again with pictures of the Austrian and German emperors, found their way to the bed. On the chocolate they were no longer clasping hands; each was acting on his own and turning his back to the other. There was a beautiful toothbrush with two rows of bristles and the inscription “Viribus unitis,” so that anyone who cleaned his teeth should remember Austria.

The latest research, however, suggests that Saint-Saëns (1835–1921) once carelessly left his toothbrush behind at his hotel while on tour in Prague—he was indeed a keen traveller, but his biographies are curiously silent about this incident. Later the Good Soldier came across it by chance while rummaging in a junk shop, and proceeded to toy with it.

Still, we cannot dismiss the possibility that the toothbrush may be employed here in its popular Slovakian metaphorical sense. In a comment suggestive of Molvania, Roberts (From Good King Wenceslas to the Good Soldier Švejk: A Dictionary of Czech Popular Culture) notes:

Slovácko is best-known for its traditional culture: distinctive national costumes are still occasionally worn, folk traditions like The Ride of the Kings [a major theme of Kundera’s The joke—SJ] still celebrated yearly. The largely rural residents of Slovácko are known as well for their love of slivovice, which they refer to as their morning toothbrush.

So have I been barking up the wrong tree? In this case, one wonders further: just what kind of liqueur was Saint-Saëns’ so-called “toothbrush”? In our headline, perhaps we may now interpret the verb shuashua “fooling around with” as referring to a tasting session—given Švejk’s Bacchic propensities, surely an epic event, at which Flann O’Brien would have been more than welcome.

Another Czech mate

Further to my Czech mentor Paul Kratochvil:

Along with Flann O’Brien, high on the guest list for my fantasy dinner-party would be Jaroslav Hašek— “humorist, satirist, journalist, anarchist, hoaxer, truant, rebel, vagabond, play-actor, practical joker, bohemian (and Bohemian), alcoholic, traitor to the Czech legion, Bolshevik, and bigamist”.

Hašek’s The Good Soldier Švejk has long been popular in China. Cecil Parrott, its English translator, also wrote a biography of Hašek’s “bottle-strewn life”, The bad Bohemian. Former British Ambassador in Prague, Parrott effortlessly avoids betraying any sympathy with Hašek’s reprobate behaviour. In the introduction to his translation (Penguin 1974, p.x) Parrott explains:

His next escapade was to found a new political party called The Party of Moderate and Peaceful Progress within the Limits of the Law […] publicly debunking the monarchy, its institutions and its social and political system. Of course it was only another hoax, designed partly to satisfy Hašek’s innate thirst for exhibitionism and partly to bolster the finances of the pub where the election meetings were held.

Among his many japes, his short-lived editorship of the journal The Animal World was curtailed after he published articles about imaginary animals.

Dangerous herds of wild Scottish collies have recently become the terror of the population in Patagonia

Thoroughbred werewolves for sale

Newly discovered fossil of an antediluvian flea

And his hobbies combined:

Everyone who votes for us will receive as a gift a small pocket aquarium.

Gratifyingly, The Good Soldier Švejk clearly appeals to Chinese sensibilities; it was translated,

and the 1956–1957 Czech films were dubbed into Chinese:

The Chinese version of Švejk’s name (Shuaike 帅克) is perfect. It drives me to a little fantasy.

Though popular in many languages, I suspect there’s something about Švejk that appeals in particular to Chinese people—an antidote to compulsory patriotism? The Chinese translator dutifully portrays it as a tirade against imperialism, but it surely spoke to The Common Man (Flann O’Brien’sThe Plain People of Ireland”) oppressed by the destructive irrationalities of a newer system…

***

À propos, Milan Kundera’s 1967 novel The joke is a brilliant treatment of the indignities to which traditional music and culture were subjected under Communism, with clear echoes of China and its “Golden Age” myth (my book pp.343, 371–2). See

  • Michael Beckerman, “Kundera’s musical joke and ‘folk’ music in Czechoslovakia, 1948–?”, in Mark Slobin (ed.), Retuning culture: musical changes in central and eastern Europe, pp.37–53.

… This is why Tereza, when she met the chairman of the collective farm at the spa, conjured up an image of the countryside (a countryside she had never lived in or known) that she found enchanting. It was her way of looking back, back to Paradise.
[…]
The state supported folk music and festivals in an attempt to show, quite simply, that in this “people’s paradise” the folk, at least, were alive and well.

Even in cases where local cultures have not been remoulded by the state, scholars may unwittingly impose their own agendas…