Friday, 25 May 2012
An ex-student went to the Philippines and hired a guide to take him up to the mountains where he could do some bird-watching, arranging to leave the following day. The next morning, the guide turned up at the appointed time with a few mates and a dog. My student protested but was told they’d come along for the fun of the trip, had brought their own food, and he was not being charged extra.
The group strolled along, chatting and laughing, so my student marched off ahead to try and get them to walk faster, worried that they might not reach the spot in time to put up the tents before sundown.
A few hours into the journey, my student, by now way ahead of the group, heard a loud bang. He turned round and saw the dog lying dead on the ground. As the area was known for guerrilla activities, the guide had brought along a hand grenade, which fell out of his rucksack at one point and was promptly gobbled up by the dog.
The Filipino group had barbecued dog for dinner that night.
Documentary-filming tends to take the following forms: (a) film in sync(hronisation), with picture and sound lined up; (b) take mute shots (picture only, no sound); (c) record sounds off-camera, to be used as background fillers (for mute shots).
On one of the film shoots for an episode in the Heart of the Dragon, the crew was filming in the home of a woman in Nanjing accused of burgling her neighbours’ flats. The TV had been left on while the filming was taking place, which included interviewing the woman and her husband (done in sync). Then the cameraman went off to do mute shots, while the sound recordist went off to do his off-camera recording.
Back in London, the film editor (who didn’t know any Chinese at all) managed to match the wrong sounds and images. Throughout the time the film crew was in the flat, two TV programmes were running: one was an American cowboy film, the other was a wildlife documentary about butterflies. The editor chose the image from the cowboy film because she thought it was so interesting that they should be showing spaghetti westerns on Chinese TV (this was 1983), but it was a mute shot, so she had to go and get some sounds for it. Unfortunately, she chose the off-camera recording from the caterpillar scene in the butterfly documentary. (And I was not consulted on this.) So, what went out on Channel Four was: a shot of the Chinese TV screen with a couple of American cowboys riding off into the horizon, and the sound track saying, “这些毛虫 zhè xiē máochóng / these hairy worms.” So the editor had inadvertently aired on public media what the Chinese think of Westerners??
(China / London, 1983)
Edwin Blanton’s FB post (“The fact that you can’t sell your daughter for three goats and a cow means we have already redefined marriage”) reminds me of something that happened to an ex-colleague from the film company in London.
Back in the 70s, Andy and his then-girlfriend went to Turkey on holiday. A local man approached him and offered one camel for his blonde girlfriend. Andy was furious and told him, in no uncertain terms, to go away.
The next day, the man approached Andy again and upped his offer to two camels. He’d misinterpreted Andy’s outrage as indignation at the initial offer of one camel being too low.
Monday, 14 May 2012
The village idiot, as he is commonly referred to behind his back, comes round to the farmhouse twice a day for coffee—morning and afternoon—and helps himself if no-one’s home, drinks his coffee in solitude and leaves. With someone around, he’ll try to conduct a conversation. I’ve heard the mistress of the house say, at regular intervals, monosyllables such as “Who?” and “Where?”, which are really just to keep the conversation going, since neither she nor anyone else, for that matter, understands most of his utterances, as they don’t make sense, I’m told.
Such has been his routine for nobody knows how long, perhaps as a welcome escape from his Cinderella existence at his brother’s up the road where neither the brother nor sister-in-law speaks to him. They don’t even leave him food when they go away, I heard. They claim state benefits for his condition but he’s somehow not considered too stupid to work in their kitchen garden as unpaid (and sometimes unfed) labour.
The seven-year-old grandson on our farm, who visits during school holidays, openly dodged him one day, when the village idiot went up to him to shake his hand in greeting, dismissing him with a loud “AU REVOIR, MONSIEUR!” I delivered a lecture afterwards, translated by his mother, about needing to be extra nice to people like that—even more so given that he’s in his mid-seventies—as they need as much love as they can get, if not more than most people, and this one has not been getting any, it seems. I asked the boy how he would feel if his grandfather (a year younger) were treated in that way by some other boy. The next day, the boy’s mother proudly announced that my admonition had taken effect, as he’d been polite to the village idiot on his morning visit.
To go with his coffee, I try and give the village idiot whatever titbits I have bought for the house, as it must be a rare commodity in his life.
Summer last year, he turned up around lunchtime when we had company, so we put another plate on the table and invited him to join the party. He thoroughly enjoyed himself, beaming from ear to ear, with all these people to sit, eat and talk with.
Village idiot he might be, he still has enough social manners to bring with him for his coffee visits a little present from his vegetable patch, often a freshly dug-up lettuce or, in the autumn, some apples (which are often not particularly edible). Occasionally it’s something incomprehensible like a plum tree cutting, which was what he brought last week.
The dogs on the farm have the routine practice of barking at cars and people not from the family, so one always knows whether it’s a visitor approaching the farmhouse or a family member. (I’m accepted as family, for they don’t bark at me.) For some reason, whichever generation the dogs might be (and I have outlived three generations of them since my first visit in 1996), although the village idiot has been coming every single day, rain or shine, twice a day, the dogs still bark at him every time, without fail. The daughter says maybe even the dogs sense that something’s not quite right about him.
On one of my visits a couple of years back, my attention was drawn to a photo opportunity with the mother going round the farm, trailed by Dino the scruffy dog (featured in a couple of my other blogs: Dino the dirty dog, Aptly-named dog) and the runaway hen (featured in The loner hen) behind him. I got my camera ready, the daughter whipped open the door, and there was the village idiot who happened to be passing by the kitchen door just as I pressed the shutter. As soon as he spotted the camera, he spread out his arms in a “ta-ra” Broadway-musical pose and a big grin. As if that instantaneous and instinctive response wasn’t remarkable enough, he then said, with one hand placed on his hip in a cocky fashion, “Now show that photo to your boyfriend!” With such a sense of humour and wit, I’m not so sure he's that much of an idiot after all.
PS: I’m told by a French student that there’s a village idiot in every place around France.
(France, May 2012)