Southerly by David Haywood

And Now... Letters from Our Readers

Anyone who has ever been the dictator of a small country will be familiar with the exhilaration which comes from having absolute power.

In particular, it must be a terrific thrill to enact whim-based legislation. Former FPP cabinet minister (and Dominion Post columnist) Michael Bassett is reputed to have restructured the daylight-savings calendar simply on the basis of his preferred bedtime. If I were the Minister of Internal Affairs I would pass a law requiring the devious Dr Bassett to strip naked, put an apple in his mouth, and lie in the middle of a platter at the parliamentary Christmas lunch. I'd just be interested to see if anyone would notice. Isn't it wonderful how we all have different whims?

Alas, I shall probably never run the country, or have the opportunity to put this sort of sensible policy into practice -- but I have experienced the next best thing. My career as a university lecturer was short-lived but action-packed. The Head of Department appointed me with the (possibly unwise) words: "You have complete control". Mussolini can have felt no less entranced when Victor Emmanuel III granted him rule over Italy.

As I discovered, complete control will turn even the most boring administrative chore into a delight. One of my first tasks was to arrange the tutorials for the course. My predecessor did this by splitting the students into alphabetical groups according to their surnames -- an approach that struck me as completely crazy. I implemented an entirely new system which arranged students into different themes.

One tutorial group (including the tutor) was composed entirely of people called Andrew. Another contained only Matthews, Marks, Lukes, and Johns. A third group consisted solely of students with names like Moon Unit and Kimp Jangle. This led to the fascinating revelation that people with funny names find humour in other people's funny names. The tutor for this group -- a pleasant fellow called Creon -- visited my office after his first class. "You know," he said, "the strangest thing happened when I called the roll in my tutorial this morning..."

My pièce de résistance was a sociological experiment in which I put the five highest-GPA women into a tutorial group with the five lowest-GPA blokes. Could love triumph over the barrier of differing academic ability? Not really -- as it turned out. Four out of five of the low-GPA blokes never turned up. However the remaining chap attended every single tutorial, and eventually passed with flying colours. He took the trouble to shake my hand after the final lecture, and enthusiastically told me that it was the best university course he'd ever done. "Especially the tutorials," he added.

This is the kind of comment that swells the heart of any dictator -- knowing that his or her efforts to make the trains run on time have been truly appreciated. In a similar vein, I am always delighted to receive feedback from Southerly readers. Last week I announced the new English Writing Competition, and there has been a veritable tidal wave of responses. Although, admittedly, none of them are in strict compliance with the rules of the competition.

Despite this shortcoming, all three entries border on genius. Take this example from Morris in Vienna:

Danke to das Englisch lernen mit den Browns, mein Englisch ist fucken good geworden in just einen kleinen Zeit. Schit, sage ich zu meinself -- es ist nicht nur akademik, ich kann talken mit dem Slob in der Strasse. "Ow's yer Vater, y'alt cobber bastard?" ich say, alt chap. Herr Brown ist ein Kolourvoller Bloke und ein properer Englischer Tschentelmann. Tschermans are nicht Tschentelmann, wir buyen das Bier von vending Maschinen bei der Autobahn, nicht von quaint Seeseit Cafes unter der Menu heading "Englisher Traditioneller Supper." Es macht me want Englisch zu be, und therefore habe ich meine teeth since 10 Months nicht gekleaned. Now kenne ich der Reason, Alles the same tastes fuer den Englischmann. Well, ich had better geh collect mein Frau von den front Garten, wo sie has been fuer drei days. Sie ist nicht well. Herr Brown understands Frauen very good -- Er insperiert mich home zu kommen und shout "Geschlectsrollendifferenzierung, Du alte Bat!" und "Dreikugelwirbelwannenbrennraum!". Sincerely, Morris von der Vogelweide.

Morris's entry is unquestionably a linguistic masterpiece. It made me wonder if he might be a descendent of the famous medieval Austrian poet Walter von der Vogelweide. Although perhaps I could suggest a couple of slight corrections to his English prose, as follows:

Thanks to 'Learning English with the Browns' my English has become extremely good in just a short time. Goodness, I say to myself -- it's not just academic, but I can also talk to the average man in the street. "How's your father, my good friend, old chap?" I say. Mr. Brown is a colourful bloke and a proper English gentleman. Germans are not gentleman. We buy beer from vending machines by the motorway, not from quaint seaside cafés under the menu heading "Traditional English Supper". It makes me want to be English, and therefore I haven't cleaned my teeth for 10 months. Now I know the reason that everything tastes the same to Englishmen. Well, I had better go and collect my wife from the front garden, where she has been for three days. She has not been healthy [ever since her poisoning]. Mr. Brown understand women very well. He inspires me to come home and shout "Gender role differentiation, you old bat!" and "Triple hemispheric combustion chamber!"*. Sincerely, Morris von der Vogelweide.

Morris includes a helpful postscript giving the delivery address for his prize. However I note that for all his assertions about "we" Germans -- Morris is, in fact, Austrian. Could this be a bit of gentle Austria vs. Germany humour?

An authentic German sends in the next entry. Michael from Pfraundorf, Bavaria writes:

I have lived in a more-or-less English-speaking country (New Zealand) for seven years without knowing a word of the language. So I was completely isolated from society prior to reading 'Learning English with the Browns'. In just a few quick minutes your English programme has transformed my life! Now I am completely fluent, and have even been asked to serve on a jury!

My improved English skills have meant that I can now understand New Zealand television for the first time. In fact, when I phoned to complain about the quality they offered me a job as a newsreader. Yes, that's just how good my English has become!

I'm really looking forward to becoming a local media celebrity. In the meantime I have already read Struwwelpeter. May I have some form of alcohol as my prize instead? Servus, Michael.

Michael's moving account of the struggle to overcome his language demons really brought a lump to my throat. But his story is small fry compared to that of Carl from Sydney, who confides:

Before reading 'Learning English with the Browns' I had never found success with ladies. Sometimes I wondered if I would die a virgin.

But now I have found success with literally thousands of attractive women -- and am getting paid big $$$. My new boss has even complimented me on my weight, and constantly tells me I have an intellectual forehead.

'Learning English with the Browns' has a positive influence on my life in so many ways. I no longer fantasize about having plastic surgery, and I'm feeling so confident in myself. My over-eating problems have disappeared as well as my chronic 'sweats'. I even think some of my hair is beginning to grow back.

I heartily recommend this English language programme to anyone who wants to earn $$$ or have meet with attractive ladies. Thank you Southerly for changing my life! Will posting the prize to Sydney be a problem?

Jesus wept! I hardly know who is more deserving of a prize -- Carl or the thousands of attractive ladies who have had to endure his hairless sweating body. But after careful consideration I am doubtful that I can award him a prize, or any of the other entries so far. Despite their genuine brilliance they simply don't conform to the rules. And I must have conformity! There shall be no exceptions!

Just a quick reminder about the competition details:

  • Write your own final chapter to Learning English with the Browns and submit it here.
  • Entries should be around 150 words in length.
  • Entries should be submitted by Wednesday, 20 December 2006.
  • The winning entry (and selected finalists) will be published on Public Address on Friday, 22nd December 2006.
  • First prize is this magnificent book (delivered anywhere in the world).

Don't force me to give the prize to Carl -- a man who has already been amply rewarded by attractive ladies and big $$$. Submit your own literary masterpiece now.

*There is a slight possibility that I have translated this word incorrectly.