We’d spent five years dodging the wedding bullet. Now, though, after picking me up at the UK airport and bringing me to his rented house, dear Rodent was down on both knees and talking seriously about something.


Me: “It sounds—and looks—like you’re proposing marriage. Are you?”

Rodent: (Lots of words we don’t remember.)

Me: “But I thought we didn’t want to get married.”

Rodent: (More words we don’t remember.)

Me: “I had no idea you wanted to get married. Did you just think of it now or something?”

Rodent: “Oh no, I told my kids a couple months ago, and they were quite pleased.”

Me: “But you didn’t tell me! Why didn’t you tell me?!”

Rodent: “I guess I just forgot.”

Me: “Forgot?? You FORGOT to tell me?! How could you forget—“

Rodent: (Breaking in) “I wanted to ask you in person.”

Me: “Awww….”

Rodent: “But you haven’t answered the question.”

Me: (Swept away with joy and tears) “YES, OF COURSE!!”

 

After much discussion, we decided to get married in England before I had to return to the USA. I would need approval from the British government in order to marry in the UK—-unless we got married in an Anglican Church in England.

So we met with the vicar of the largest, oldest, most beautiful Anglican Church in town. Among other things, he told us we’d need to attend services once a month, so for the next few months we went to Evensong and very much enjoyed his sermons and the choir.

The vicar had also told us to go to our parish church and hear our banns read three weeks before the wedding.

Arriving at the parish church a few minutes early, we saw that no one had shown up yet. Since there seemed to be no church parking spaces, Rodent dropped me off at the door and went to find a parking place. I watched him drive off—and crash into the church’s brick wall—but he instantly rallied, backing up and driving off.

Minutes later he returned, but still no one had shown up. We waited for a half hour and then went to get groceries. Rodent happened to glance at the supermarket clock…..and saw that it was newly Daylight Savings time. We had turned up at the church an hour early! We rushed back and seated ourselves just in time, holding hands and smiling at each other as our banns were read.

Days later we moved into, and frantically readied, our newly-bought home for our children and grandchildren coming from L.A. and the East Midlands of England.

Meanwhile, I searched for proper wedding clothes since my usual garb is jeans, and Rodent found the suit he’d worn to his father’s funeral. I bought an antique wedding ring online which turned out to be too big, and Rodent found his father’s wedding ring which fit perfectly.

We were ready….and nervous….and it had begun to snow rather seriously. The entire family piled into two taxis, giddy that The Day had come. I was immensely relieved when we got to the church five minutes before the 2:30 ceremony.

The church was magnificent and silent, with large red and white bouquets on the altar.

The vicar smiled, greeted us, and said: “We didn’t think you were coming. The ceremony was to begin at 2.”

Horrified, I said: “OH, MY GOD!!!”

I glanced around, horrified again, and said: “OH NO, I JUST SAID ‘GOD’ IN CHURCH!!”

The vicar seemed amused but didn’t waste a second. He signalled to the organist to begin the processional, and gently started me walking down the aisle on my son’s arm.

We joined the waiting Rodent and his son at the altar and began singing a hymn, but for some reason there was a little red-shirted body between me and Rodent—-my grandson who’d decided to sing with us, after which he stepped back to take photographs. His blue-shirted twin brother had already begun to video the event.

As the ceremony continued, the vicar quietly said to Rodent and me that he’d picked up the wrong copy of the Bible, so he went to his office for the right one. The twins’ mother came up and asked where the vicar had gone, and I dug around in my pocket for our wedding rings, passing them along to Rodent to give to his son.

The vicar returned and read from the Song of Solomon. Then Rodent and I exchanged rings and said our vows. We were aware only of one another, as if no one else existed.

In closing, the vicar said he’d been told that happy couples laugh and read and talk together, and he felt that we were one such happy couple.

Thus the fallen-away Quaker and the lapsed Calvinist son of a Scottish minister were wed.



Vicar, Judy, Rodent









Signing wedding certificate






Rodent’s proposal for a scholarly paper had been accepted. 
 
For 4 months he’d been preparing his paper entitled “All’s Boman!” (“All’s Good!”) about cant language in London in 1724, which only 3 other people in the world would fully understand.  All 3 of them would be attending the lexicography conference at Oxford, carefully noting his research and discoveries about the language that criminals used to communicate with each other. 
 
I figured my role was as Adjunct Rodent—or, more precisely, Rodent Control, because he’s often unaware of other people, his mind preoccupied with research.  No one is more ruthless at research than dear Rodent.  No one.  He would cut his granny off his list of credible sources if he couldn’t corroborate her stories.
 
Before we left for Oxford, I began carefully calibrating my every word in order to advance dear Rodent’s aims, saying such things as “Perhaps the 4 pages explaining the difference between ‘hicked’ and ‘kicked’ could be shortened to a paragraph” and “It might be entertaining to include newspaper reports of Jack Sheppard’s arrest and hanging.”
 
As always, Rodent was way ahead of me, but he sweetly responded to every Rodent Control suggestion.
 
The week before the presentation, he had cut the paper down from 40 to 25 pages, but needed to lop off 5 more pages to meet the 20-minute time limit.
 
He sat at his desk with a kitchen timer and read his paper aloud, his sonorous voice describing 18th century cutpurses, pickpockets, whores and housebreakers.  After several read-throughs, he had chopped off the final 5 pages, and we were ready to go to Oxford.
 
Once in our Oxford hotel room, he again timed his speech.  A perfect 20 minutes.  We were completely satisfied with it. 
 
Because Rodent’s presentation was the last one of the conference, we got plenty of prior exposure to how the panels operated.  While the paper presenters analysed Ukrainian phonemes, definitions of slang, and OED historical citations, I sat and doodled, silently praying for an all-college electrical failure.
 
Thankfully, things picked up during Q/A sessions as attenders flamboyantly showed off their knowledge, often interrupting and arguing with the presenters. 
 
Finally, it was Friday.  We arrived in Room 7.  Two other panelists had also come early, as had the moderator, an expert at OED who collects examples of the earliest uses of words. 
 
In a few minutes, 50 attenders filled up the room.  They proved a lively group, throwing plenty of questions at pre-Rodent presenters. 
 
Then dear Rodent stood up and distributed 3 handouts.  He took his place behind the podium, placed his watch in front of him, and began reading his paper.
 
The last row was loudly mumbling as they reached for the handouts, but to keep to his allotted time Rodent neither stopped nor slowed his reading.  I turned around and gave the back row A Look as Rodent’s first paragraphs sailed by unheard.  At last things quieted.  In fact, the audience seemed unusually attentive, turning to their handouts at the appropriate times, their eyes on dear Rodent’s handsome face as they listened to his Scottish lilt. 
 
After 10 minutes, the moderator held up a big green poster to Rodent that said:  “YOU HAVE NO TIME LEFT.”  Rodent didn’t see it.  He then held up a bright red poster that said “STOP NOW”.  Rodent didn’t see it.  So he handed it to a woman seated directly in front of Rodent.  She leaned forward, and with both hands shoved it onto the podium.  He glanced at it, looked down at his papers, spoke two sentences, and stopped. 
 
The moderator stood, thanked Rodent, and asked if there were any questions.  Total silence in the room.  I prayed.  He repeated:  “Does anyone have a question?”  I waited for one of the 3 people in the world who knew what Rodent had been talking about to ask a question.  No hands went up, no one spoke. 
 
Desperate to spare Rodent embarrassment, I raised my hand and asked a simple question which he happily answered.  Then someone asked a brief question which Rodent gratefully answered, and the moderator pronounced the session over.
 
When most of the attenders had gone, the moderator began furiously typing on his laptop.  Rodent wandered over to see what he was doing, and they chatted a bit.  He came back, and I said, “So what was he doing?”
 
“Oh,” said Rodent, “he was checking up on the OED mistakes I had pointed out in my paper.”
 
That evening we went to the conference’s final celebratory dinner at St Anne’s College.  A fellow panel member waved at Rodent and sat next to him at the table, and they talked animatedly throughout most of the dinner.
 
Later, I asked who the man was. 

“He writes the Language column for the New York Times”, Rodent said.  “He’s buddies with the moderator, and said he had stopped his presentation early, too.”
 
Happy Rodent.  Happy me.  ALL’S BOMAN!

Eatiquette

By Judy Prince

Humor

When dear Rodent said, “I fancy a crumpet,” I realized for the first time that I had fallen in love with A Foreign Person.

How could I tell this darling brilliant man, this magnet of my heart, that he sounded like Mary Poppins?

Instead, I asked, “What’s a crumpet?” Thus ensued five minutes of UK/USA comparisons of biscuits, cookies, pancakes, flapjacks, bread, toast and crackers. I concluded: “OK, a crumpet is an English muffin.”

Then Rodent said, “I’m feeling peckish,” and I maidenly blushed—until I found out that “peckish” means hungry (something to do with chickens?).

Rodent not only talks funny about food, he eats funny, too. On our first date I didn’t notice how oddly he ate because after he’d taken several bites and stopped to talk, I said, “Are you going to finish your spaghetti?” and commandeered his plate.

Many meals later, though, I could see that Rodent handles his cutlery like a pro—-a really strange pro. Three times a day, he performs food surgery at the dining table, and I get to watch, fascinated.

Rodent’s a cutlery wizard. He never puts down his knife and fork, never shifts them from hand to hand. He slices sausages, broccoli and potatoes into tidy bits and knifely smooshes them onto his fork in layered packets. The more food groups on the plate, the more layered the packets.

“Does everybody in the UK eat like this?” I asked.

“I suppose so. What other way is there?”

Clearly, he hadn’t been watching me, bowl in hand, spooning up my meal like one big stew.

Which brings us to the Spoon Conspiracy and the Eyes Down Conspiracy.

There’s a kind of cutlery conspiracy going on in the UK, but like other grand old conspiracies, the perps’ progeny have forgotten why they’re conspiring. Actually, it’s more of a discrimination than a conspiracy. People in the UK have an unconscious hatred—or fear—of spoons. And, being UKers, they don’t talk about it (thus, the Eyes Down Conspiracy).

My first night out with dear Rodent’s grownup kids, we dined at a terrific Thai restaurant. It became evident that spoons were outcasts or outlaws in the hierarchy of eating implements. They were brought only with some of the “puds” (i.e., puddings, meaning desserts).

Before we ate, and seeing no spoon at my plate, I raised my hand to signal the server. Instantly, Rodent and his children cast their eyes down, not really focusing on anything in particular. They were apparently occupied with some thought or feeling.

The server, smiling, came quickly, and Rodent and his children looked up courteously. I asked the server for a spoon, at which everybody looked down again until she returned with one.

I said to the server, “This is a tablespoon. Could you please bring me a teaspoon—a smaller spoon?” All eyes went down again until she returned with a smaller spoon and took away the tablespoon.

“What’s up with this no-spoon thing?” I asked Rodent.

“We don’t need them—-except sometimes for puds.”

“But how do you scoop up food juices and gravies and such?”

“It just isn’t a problem,” he said.

When I pushed the topic further, he said, “Hmmmm…..I guess sometimes we use bits of bread to soak them up.” And that was that.

The meal had been fabulous, but I couldn’t finish mine, so I stuck my hand up for the server. All eyes cast down until she appeared. I said, “Could you please bring me a doggie bag?” All eyes down.

I had to explain to the confused server what a doggie bag was (apparently UK restaurants don’t do doggie bags), and several minutes later she brought a brown bag and a plastic bag. My loading the food into the brown bag caused considerable anguish for Rodent and his kids whose eyes had to be down for the entire uncomfortable procedure. With no eye contact going on, I found it impossible to talk until after I’d loaded the doggie bag.

The next time we had a night out with Rodent’s kids I considered taking a spoon, but refrained. This time we were at a huge, busy Chinese restaurant. It proved the best possible place for an extraordinary Eyes Down event.

Once fitted out with two spoons next to my chopsticks, I tucked into the chicken-cashew entrée—-and came up with a spoonful containing a little blue square ceramic tile.

“Good God! Look at this! I could’ve broken a tooth on it!” I passed my spoon to Rodent who inspected it with shock and horror and passed it along to his kids.

My hand shot up for the server. All eyes cast down. I felt betrayed. Wouldn’t any of the family come to my defense? Did I have to handle this all alone? Would any of them ever look up so I could see their expressions? Why wouldn’t anyone look at anyone? And why didn’t anybody talk?

The server appeared and I showed her the ceramic tile on my spoon. I had to repeat that it might have chipped my tooth or even caused me to choke to death. She excused herself and said she’d be right back.

She returned with the manager who solicitously listened to me and gave considerable thought to the situation. At last he pronounced: “We are so sorry for what happened. We don’t know how it happened, and it never has happened before. Of course, you’ll not be charged for your meal, and we will bring you another entrée of your choice.”

Everybody at the table was happy now. We talked about my “free” meal and how delicious their entrees were, and I was delighted with my replacement dish, an abundant helping of crispy duckling which I couldn’t finish.

I signaled for the server. Eyes Down.

She came (Eyes Up), and I said, “Could you bring me a doggie bag?”