Saturday, 21 December 2013


Here be strange beestes
A Christmas whimsy

An elephant and a gorilla appeared in my Keynote Address to the recent World CE Congress. Then I spotted elephants in the quad.

Animals and other creatures crop up everywhere in everyday English speech and writing, so often that we barely notice them. We speak and write them without thinking. Indeed, could we think and communicate as we do in English without their help?

What a horde of words and phrases wait in the wings ready to help express the strange little world of Conductive Education? A few moments' consideration opens the door to a whole menagerie of living organisms with something telling to say, with precise nuances to convey.

You may find little problem in attributing the following to circumstances, situations, feelings, even individuals met in and around Conductive Education...

Birds of the air: early birds, angry birds, jail birds (none yet), dolly birds, game old birds, birds in hands, birds in bushes, fine feathers and false, birds of a feather, birds of passage, birds flown the coop, two killed with one stone, bird brains, sick as parrots , no jail birds (yet); stormy petrels, albatrosses around necks, wise old owls (occasional sightings), fly-by-nights, stool pigeons, proud as peacocks; cuckoos in nests, feathering nests, fouling nests – such fine-feathered friends, so easy to ruffle feathers...

...and lots of poultry: mother hens, hens' teeth (very rare), chickens and eggs, good eggs and bad eggs, over-egged, curates' eggs and golden eggs (do take better care of that goose!); counting chickens, spring chickens, headless chickens, rock chicks, chickens coming home to roost; cocks of the walk, cocks on dunghills, cocks ruling roosts, cock-a-hoop, Lord Thomond's cocks (all on the same side, I hope); ugly ducklings, old ducks, dead ducks, ducks in a line, ducks out of water, water off backs; sauces for geese; ostriches head-down in the sand; talking turkey, stuffed.

Watch out for the dogs: buying pups, mad dogs, top dogs, underdogs, lapdogs, old dogs (with new tricks), poodles, rich bitches, running dogs (with attendant lickspittles), running with foxes and hunting with hounds, dogs with two tails (and two other things too), dogs' breakfasts, dogs in mangers, dog-tired (so take a cat nap), dogged, dogs eating dogs, tails wagging dogs, howling at the moon, straining at slips, the dogs' bollocks, dog days, hang-dog – to feed all which Cantonese-speakers might mis-hear 'Indian-style dog-food' – and, if the intoxication of CE gives you a headache, beware hairs of dogs, for that way lies addiction....

...and the cats: fat cats, scaredy cats, cats on hot tin roofs, cats among pigeons, cat naps, cats' cradles, cats' pyjamas, cats' whiskers, cats that get the cream, catty; tiger mothers, fighting like tigers, toothless tigers, leopards changing spots, lions' shares, fed to the lions, lions led by donkeys.

Thanks so much for all those fish: haddock called Peto, red herrings, cold fish, slippery as eels, old trouts, fish out of water, fine kettles of fish, going belly up, stinking fish, fish that rot from the head, big fish in small ponds, shoals of shrimps and small fry and minnows, fishing in deep waters, spinning a line, cod neurology, decidedly fishy, swimming upstream, and against the tide, fishing in troubled waters, round and round in circles in Conductive Education's opaque little goldfish bowl, big fish in small pools, out of water, ones that got away, fishermen's tales, downright fishy, stitched up like kippers, pond life, whales of a time (yes, I do know!); closed as clams, tight as oysters, pearls of wisdom – and all those fish that will feed us for life once we have been taught how to catch them (allegedly).

In the woods: crying wolf, lone wolves, wolves in sheep's clothing, wolves continuously at doors,; bears in woods doing what they do there, bears with sore heads, bear traps, pseudonymous Bears' Claws... big beasts all.

CE has so many beasts of burden: workhorses and thoroughbreds, rarin' to go, four-footed friends, men's best ones, dark horses, horses for courses, horses before carts, horses designed by committees, horses led to water (but not drinking), wild horses (dragging nothing out), hobby horses, old war horses, flogging dead ones, horses fled (so bolt that door), riding two horses, hold your horses, Eeyores, Old Dobbins, horse-trading, horse sense and horse play, mares' nests, shanks'ponies (over-emphasised); camels through needle eyes, last straws on their backs, getting the hump; zebras changing stripes – and regular walk-on parts for horses to parade kings with no clothes.

Beasts of the field: lean kine and fat ones, milch cows, cash cows, cows in clover, fatted calves, sacred cows, holy cows, strong as oxen, cattle markets, the occasional bullshit and a drop or two of Bull's Blood; sheep to separate from goats, lambs to the slaughter, sacrificial lambs, shorn lambs (tempered), dead as mutton; acting the goat and getting the goat, giddy goats and scapegoats; doe-eyed; Gadarine swine, pigs in pokes, sick as pigs, pigs in whatever, pigs might fly, sows' ears, pearls before swine, and not a little hogwash.

Rodents: happy bunnies and sad ones, rabbits frozen in headlights; hare-brained, March hares, hares and tortoises; poor church mice, town mice and country mice: lemmings, eager beavers, bats in belfries and blood-suckers; dead rats to be smelled; weasel words; bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

Sacks full of aping monkeys: monkeys on the back, monkeys or organ-grinders, monkey business and monkeying around, and those three elusive monkeys who neither see, nor speak nor hear...

Everywhere insects: flies in ointment and flies in aspic/amber, flies on walls; fleas in ears and fleas on fleas, fleas in the quad (along with the elephants); ants in pants; spiders' parlours; bees' knees and bees in bonnets, honey traps, queen bees, caterpillars into butterflies; ear-wigging; hornets' nests

Reptiles: chameleons, snakes in grass, snake pits, snakes' bellies (low), forked-tongued; crocodile tears.

Ugh: whole cans, tins and bags of worms, worms in buds, book worms (not too many of those in CE!), leeches.

Infections: parasites, the CE bug, Millenniarist hopes that one day CE-fever may go viral again (like it did in 1986)

Evolution: dinosaurs and endangered species, evolutionary dead ends, ecological niches, dead as dodos, fossils – extinct

Fabulous beasts too: Sirens' songs to heed, chimeras to chase, flights of phoenixes, pushmi-pullyus, oozlum birds, airy fairies, old dragons, unexorcised ghosts, green-eyed monsters, little green men, unspeakable demons lurking just below the surface of CE's collective consciousness – and more angels than you could shake a stick at!

Some beastiary

Beastiaries were mediaeval book of stories, allegories cataloguing real and imagined animals with characteristics shedding light on aspects of the human condition. There's choice enough of creatures to contribute to this in the English language, creatures of the air, the land, the seas and the imagination. It's a verbal jungle out there, both inside Conductive Education and around it, a zoo, an arc, a circus, a farmyard, Animal Farm. An immense cacophony when they are brought together as here.

They are so easy to find, just free associate and out they tumble. Jot down quickly on till receipts before forgotten (a few were mislaid at this stage), purge the less relevant (and the too telling and the just plain vulgar to store in a scrap box), create the simplest of classifications – and voilà!

Those paraded here are just some of them, from just one European language. English overruns with animal allusions but is surely not unique in this respect. Common experience and cultural contact mean that many animal insights are experienced in common – though others must be wholly specific to single societies, their time and place. And perhaps a very few included here are, well, just personal.

All just a bit of whimsy, a Christmas self-indulgence, a change from Father Christmas and Dickens.

And within the tiny world of Conductive Education, looming over everything, stands the seemingly friendly but potentially lethal figure of Mickey Mouse himself, brandishing his five 'principles' and what comes with them, ready to be invited in and nurtured wherever people hear of Conductive Education, seemingly never to be got rid of... offering a dystopic, Wellsian vision of a future where Conductive Education has finally vanished from this Earth, with nothing but Mickey Mouse persisting in its name...

Watch out, he's right behind you. Oh yes, he is.

No animals were hurt in imagining this menagerie. I do hope that no feelings are hurt in its reading.

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