Curiosities of my Colombo neighbourhood 12



This post is about collocations, for which the Cambridge Dictionary gives the following definition: “a word or phrase that is often used with another word or phrase, in a way that sounds correct to people who have spoken the language all their lives, but might not be expected from the meaning.”  Collocations can involve verbs and nouns, as in ‘do your homework’; or adjectives and nouns, as in ‘heated argument’, or verbs and adverbs, as in ‘rain heavily’.


If, like me, you’ve spent part of your working life teaching the English language to non-native speakers of it, you’ll appreciate the difficulty students often have getting their heads around collocations in English.  I seem to have spent hours explaining to people that you don’t ‘write your homework’ but ‘do’ it; that calling an angry exchange a ‘hot argument’ just doesn’t sound right; and that you can’t describe extreme precipitation as ‘raining painfully’.  Note that with all these mistakes, I fully understood the meaning the speaker was trying to convey.  (The last mistake cropped up when I was working in a school in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where, yes, it seemed to rain painfully every day.)


The problem is, we simply don’t put those particular words together to express those particular things.  It may well be that the reasons for certain collocations being right and other collocations being wrong are psychological, on the part of the listener, as much as they are linguistic, on the part of the language itself.  Also, it didn’t surprise me when I heard a language researcher claim one time that collocations are the biggest causes of mistakes in speaking and writing by high-level learners of English.


In literature, of course, the way in which a writer uses collocations can contribute greatly to his or her style.  Shunting together words that don’t normally collocate can add an inventive flourish to the prose.  However, if the results can be embarrassing if a writer overdoes it and the attempted collocation falls flat.  I still haven’t forgotten a sentence in an Anthony Burgess novel where a character ‘tramples’ a page with his ‘signature’ – ouch!  And I’ve read a review of Martin Amis’ 2012 novel Lionel Asbo – State of England, in which Amis is taken to task for the clumsiness of his writing – much of which is down to him trying to collocate words that have no business being collocated: for example, ‘Dawn sizzled…’, ‘unfallen eyes’ and ‘a heavy silence began to fuse and climb…’


Anyway, this is a prelude to saying that I recently noticed a mural painted on a wall outside a school on Colombo’s Duplication Road that makes heavy use of English collocations.  It pairs off various English verbs and adverbs so that the school-pupils receive a list of instructions about how to behave properly.  Some of the collocated verbs and adverbs work for me and some don’t.  I wonder if this is because the creator of the mural had mistaken ideas about what words collocate appropriately in English or if he or she simply stuck them together without knowing at all.  Or is it because these collocations have become acceptable in Sri Lankan English while it’s evolved apart from ‘standard’ English (whatever that is) over the years?  Or are they the result of literal translations from the local languages, Sinhala and Tamil?


By the way, I’m not trying to take a pop at Sri Lankan English here for being incorrect.  The dialect of English where I come from originally, Northern Ireland, has often been dismissed as being ungrammatical or uneducated or just plain incomprehensible, but I would absolutely defend people’s right to speak English that way.  And it contains some collocations of its own that would probably earn an arrest-warrant from the Standard-English Grammar Police: “It’s fierce hot,” “She’s a big age,” “The weather’s powerful today,” and so on.



So let’s see.  Which of the mural’s collocations work?  ‘Dress smartly’?  Obviously.  ‘Save regularly’?  Yes.  ‘Eat sensibly’?  I suppose so.  ‘Act fearlessly’?  Well, that’s a bit dramatic and it would be exhausting to act fearlessly all the time, but I guess it’s acceptable.  ‘Sleep sufficiently’?  Hmmm…  ‘Plan orderly’?  No, sorry.


Some of these collocations sound downright odd, yet I can think of certain people to whom they would make perfect sense.  ‘Spend intelligently’ – did you hear that, Mr. Johnny Depp, the man who last year was reputed to be blowing two million dollars a month on wine, staff, security, a private jet and 14 residences?  ‘Think truthfully’, meanwhile, would be excellent advice for Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Liam Fox, David Davis and the other members of Britain’s Brexiting Conservative government, who are currently possessed by self-delusion on an epic scale about Britain’s prospects after it leaves the European Union.


And ‘walk humbly’?  Well, I’m not quite sure how you would physically do that.  But I would advise this man to at least give it a try.


© Disney Enterprises Inc

© Stefan Rousseau / From the Times

From CBN News


Mid-January news round-up


Here at Blood and Porridge I like to think I have my finger on the pulse, offering opinions on the big news stories the moment they happen.  Alas, I’ve been up to my eyes in work this last fortnight and haven’t been able to post much.  And meanwhile, during the same fortnight, the big news stories have come thick and fast.


To make amends, here’s a quick round-up of those recent news items as Blood and Porridge sees them.


Knobhead of 2017 found already

Only two-and-a-half weeks ago I named Nigel Farage as the biggest knobhead of 2016.  The reason why Farage won that title despite stiff opposition from US president-elect Donald Trump was because: “Trump is the equivalent of the loud malevolent playground bully who blighted your childhood.  But there was always one kid who was more detestably obnoxious than that – the slimy little sneak who grovelled before and sucked up to the bully, hoping to attain a smidgeon of his aura of cruel power.  And since it became clear that Trump was going to be the most powerful man on the planet, Farage has been doing a good impersonation of the slimy little sneak, scurrying across the Atlantic to do some major sucking up to the gruesome orange-skinned tycoon.”


Well, if that’s the criteria for making yourself the most loathsome and pustulent human being of the year, it looks like we already have a winner for 2017.


© The Daily Mirror


Michael Gove recently scuttled over to Trump Tower in New York to sychophantically interview Trump on behalf of the Times newspaper.  The resulting article was shocking even before Gove started the interview.  Describing the ascent in the Trump Tower’s infamous gold-plated lift, he wrote, “It was as though the Great Glass Elevator from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory had been restyled by Donatella Versace, then staffed by the casting director for Gone with the Wind.”  Gove felt moved to insert that Gone with the Wind reference because the lift had an “African-American attendant kitted out in frock coat and white cotton gloves.”  I wonder if the Trump organisation had forced him to pick the cotton that his gloves were made of.


Is Trump a Russian plant?

Speaking of Donald Trump, there’s been a kerfuffle lately about an intelligence dossier accusing Trump of being a puppet of Russian president Vladimir Putin.  The dossier alleges that those pesky Russkies spent more than five years cultivating Trump as a US presidential candidate with the intention of getting him into the White House and letting him wreak havoc on the Western world.  It also warns that they have “potentially compromising personal and financial information about him”, including saucy stuff involving prostitutes and what’s euphemistically known as ‘golden showers’.  Cue a million jokes on Twitter about Trump being the next Pee-OTUS and about him talking pish.  Oh, and ‘urine for a shock’ when he becomes president.




Just before Trump’s lawyers get in touch with Blood and Porridge, I should say the dossier’s claims are so far unverified and their accuracy has been questioned in many quarters, not just by Trump’s supporters.  And the Orange One himself has strenuously denounced them as ‘fake news’ and ‘phony stuff’.


Still, this malarkey calls to mind certain works of fiction and celluloid – for example, Richard Conlon’s conspiracy thriller The Manchurian Candidate (1959), filmed in 1962 and 2004, about the Chinese and Russians using a brainwashed Korean War veteran to carry out a political assassination in the USA; and Robert Harris’s The Ghost (2007), filmed three years later by Roman Polanski, in which a very Tony Blair-esque former British prime minister turns out to have been a CIA plant.


My favourite entry in this sub-genre, though, is the Don Siegel-directed movie Telefon (1977), based on a 1975 novel by William Wager, in which mad Russian scientist Donald Pleasance tries to start World War III by activating a network of brainwashed sleeper-agents across the USA.  These agents develop a glazed look and lumber off and attack American military installations as soon as Pleasance gives them a ‘trigger’, which is the recital of certain lines of verse by Robert Frost: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep / But I have promises to keep / And miles to go before I sleep…




Not that I think Trump would become glazed-eyed and trudge off zombie-like to attack a military installation if you recited Robert Frost at him.  Somehow, I doubt if poetry has much effect on him.  In fact, he probably he thinks Robert Frost was the guy who interviewed Nixon.


May rejects Europe, except for Bulgaria

January 17th saw British prime minister Theresa May give a historic speech about the nature of Britain’s ‘Brexit’ from the European Union at Lancaster House.  Guess what?  It’s going to be hard!


If there was one thing ghastlier than Ms May’s pronouncements – she even warned that if the EU didn’t accommodate Britain’s demands, she would “change the basis of Britain’s economic model”, i.e. slash taxes to lure businesses away from the EU even though this would leave next-to-no-money to pay for Britain’s public services – it was the head-to-toe blue tartan outfit she wore that day.


© The Daily Telegraph


It makes me wonder if someone somewhere is making a movie of the old British TV children’s series The Wombles and May fancies her chances of landing the role of the Wombles’ venerable patriarch, Great Uncle Bulgaria.


From Wombles Wiki


Trump’s inauguration still short of talent

Back to Donald Trump.  His presidential inauguration ceremony in Washington DC on January 20th has been beset by problems.  At least 50 Democrat lawmakers have announced they’ll be staying away.  The demand for hotel rooms has been low compared to previous inaugurations, with some Washington DC hotels reporting they’re only half-full.  And scalpers are struggling to offload tickets for the event.


On top of all that, there’s been a noticeable reluctance among the musical community to perform at the thing.  Everyone from Elton John to Celine Dion, Kiss and even Vince Neil of Motley Crüe have turned down invitations to sing / play and the names booked for the inauguration concerts aren’t exactly household ones, at least not in the Blood and Porridge household: Jackie Evancho, Three Doors Down, The Piano Guys, Toby Keith, Lee Greenwood, DJ Ravidrums and the Frontmen of Country.


Apparently, a group called the B Street Band, who do covers of songs by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, were on the line-up but recently cancelled.  They cited as their reason the ‘respect and gratitude we have for Bruce,’ who coincidentally hates Trump’s guts.  Maybe there’s another Springsteen tribute band that could be recruited?  The C Street Band?  The D Street Band?


But if Trump’s people are still hunting for a performer to enliven those inauguration day concerts, I could direct them to one famous artiste whom I’m sure would be only too happy to step in at the last minute.


He’s someone whose stomping, glitzy anthems capture both the brassy boldness that Donald Trump no doubt believes is one of his winning qualities and the shiny opulence of the Trump empire, gold-plated lifts and all.  Someone who was a legend in his time, but who’s been off the radar for a little while and would surely welcome the new exposure that playing the inauguration would bring.


Yes, I give you…




He’s behind you!




For the record, I think Alex Salmond – Scotland’s portly and garrulous First Minister and leader of the independence-seeking Scottish National Party – should apologise for a comment he made in a recent interview for GQ Magazine.  During the interview he said he ‘admired’ certain aspects of Vladimir Putin’s presidency, though he qualified that by saying that many of the Russian leader’s policies he didn’t agree with.


I have no doubt that Putin has qualities that all politicians are envious of – for one thing, his ability as a tactician, which seemingly has the West dancing on a string over the current crisis in Ukraine – but ‘admire’ was hardly an appropriate verb to employ.  Certainly not for a creature like the ruthless, shark-eyed Putin who, even before you consider his impact on other countries, has made life miserable within Russian borders for ethnic minorities, homosexuals, dissidents and so on.


Salmond, I believe, should say sorry and explain that – not for the first time, incidentally – his mouth had got a little way ahead of his brain.  That he’d expressed himself inappropriately: inappropriately to the point of causing offence.


If he apologised at some length and with some sincerity, he could also highlight the difference in political cultures between Holyrood, in Edinburgh, and Westminster, in London.  At Westminster the other week, David Cameron’s culture secretary Maria Miller gave an apology for irregularities in her expenses that was so perfunctory and cynical that it provoked an outcry and led to her losing her job.  Salmond would also show a circumspect and self-critical side of his nature that might actually boost his standing.  There’s been a lot of talk lately about how his macho, take-no-prisoners style of politics is off-putting to female voters.


He could even take the opportunity to condemn any leader who invades, or threatens to invade, another country for strategic, economic or ideological gain.  No doubt this would have the Labour Members of the Scottish Parliament squirming in their seats, considering how 11 years ago their past leader, one Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, did just that in cahoots with George W. Bush and as a result, according to the Lancet, had by July 2006 contributed to the deaths of 655,000 Iraqis.


However, Salmond hasn’t apologised and probably won’t apologise.  This disappoints me but hardly surprises me.   For a start, apologies are not his style.  Also, many of the criticisms levelled at Salmond have come from the UK’s political establishment – the other day, for example, Lord Paddy Ashdown, who once led the Liberal Democrat party, lambasted him for siding with the ‘big and powerful’ rather than with the ‘threatened and oppressed’ – and Salmond no doubt believes that these criticisms are laced with hypocrisy.  After all, at different times in the past, the UK political establishment have tried to court Putin when it suited them.


Indeed, Britain and other Western powers have to shoulder much of the blame for what is happening now with Russia and Ukraine.  Back in the early 1990s – which was Ashdown’s political heyday – the G7 and the IMF didn’t attempt to shape a post-communist Russia with a genuine system of social democracy.   Instead, they happily encouraged Boris Yeltsin (a man who in 1993 used troops to attack his own parliament) to lift price controls, impose free-trade policies, slash welfare spending and do a fast-track privatisation of the country’s thousands of state companies.  This left Russia with what Naomi Klein described in her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine as ‘casino capitalism’, a system autocratic in political character but a free-for-all economically.  Thanks to this, Klein noted, a quarter of Russians were living in ‘desperate’ poverty by the mid-1990s.  At the same time it created the culture of super-rich oligarchs and paved the way for Vladimir Putin.  The G7 and IMF, to use Ashdown’s words, sided with the ‘big and powerful’ rather than with the ‘threatened and oppressed’.  For all that Western governments complain about Putin today, they shouldn’t forget the inconvenient truth that they helped to create him.  He’s their own Frankenstein’s monster.


Also, I suspect Salmond doesn’t want to set a precedent.  By apologising for the Putin comment, he’d then be under pressure to apologise for some utterance or other every week between now and the Scottish independence referendum in September.  He has few friends in the mainstream Scottish and British media and he knows journalists are scrutinising his every word in the hope of finding ammunition to use against him and against the independence cause, of which he’s supposedly the figurehead.


Indeed, the Scotsman has tried to stir front-page controversy with another remark Salmond made during the same interview, concerning Scotland’s tricky cultural and psychological relationship with alcohol — he used the expression ‘a nation of drunks’.  Funnily enough, a claim made a while back by Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont that Scots are ‘not genetically programmed’ to make political decisions caused no outcry at all in the press.  (Both Salmond’s and Lamont’s words have, I’m sure, been quoted out of context.  But in the interests of balance…)


What irritates me is not that the mainstream media is determined to play the man, Salmond, rather than play the ball, the Yes campaign for the upcoming independence referendum.  It doesn’t surprise me that the media is desperate to discredit a personality rather than engage with an argument and defeat it with superior arguments.  Playing the man, not the ball, is what politicians and political journalists do, unfortunately.


However, the hysterical right-wing middle-class tabloids that populate Scotland’s newspaper racks, such as the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and the Scotsman, have become so obsessed with Salmond that they haven’t realised the ball isn’t even at his feet.  Salmond isn’t the Yes campaign.  The Scottish National Party isn’t the Yes campaign either – it’s just one component of it.


The chairman of the Yes campaign is Dennis Canavan, who as a distinguished old-school Labour politician was once MP for Falkirk.  After years of service, Canavan was forced out of the Labour Party because the Tony Blair clique running the party at the time found him too much off-message.  (His replacement as Labour MP for Falkirk was the thuggish Eric Joyce, whose violent, drunken shenanigans in the Houses of Parliament led to public disgrace.  It also triggered a murky chain of events involving the trade union Unite that led to an industrial stand-off at the nearby Grangemouth Oil Refinery and almost caused the refinery’s closure.)  Canavan is practically ignored while the media strives to portray the independence cause as being all about Salmond, Salmond, Salmond.  I have to say that one of the biggest culprits is the London-centric BBC, whose political correspondents seem to be genuinely ignorant of Canavan’s existence and genuinely believe that Salmond heads the Yes campaign.


(c) The Herald 


In addition, the Yes campaign also includes the Scottish Green Party and various socialist groupings, plus independence-supporting factions from the Scottish Labour Party and Liberal Democrat Party.  There are even right-wingers like the historian Michael Fry who believe that the only way for the Scottish Conservative Party to crawl back from its current position, which is at death’s door, and renew itself is to sever its ties with London and promote itself as a new party within an independent Scotland.  Also under the Yes banner are non-political groups like Business for Scotland and the cultural movement the National Collective, plus a lot of people who see themselves as having no political affiliations at all.  Again, though, the mainstream media would have you believe that these many groups and individuals are but tiny particles making up the dark political miasma that is Alex Salmond.


Finally, the identification of all things independence-related with Salmond is annoying on a further level.  It assumes that people in Scotland are incapable of reasoning and making decisions for themselves.  (Which, actually, was what Johann Lamont seemed to say in her ‘not genetically programmed’ comment.)  Forget individual thought – the part of the population that’s countenancing voting for independence, pushing towards 40% according to recent opinion polls, has been seduced by that great evil mastermind, Alex Salmond.  Apparently, everything had been hunky-dory since the Union of the English and Scottish parliaments in 1707, before he oozed along and started brainwashing people with his separatist cant.


The Scottish and British media love a good pantomime villain and for them Salmond fits the role.  Conveniently, it also allows them not to focus on the fact that a great many people see reasonable, logical and principled reasons for voting Yes in September.  But then, that’s what most mainstream media coverage of the referendum debate has been so far – a pantomime.


Having said all that, I don’t think it would do Alex Salmond any harm if for once he could squeeze the word ‘sorry’ out of his gob.


PS.  Two days after writing this post, I got a chance to read the GQ interview that had caused all the kerfuffle.  It’s available at  It was the interviewer, not Salmond, who used the verb ‘admire’ in relation to Putin.  (Q: “Admire him?”  A: “Certain aspects.”)  That interviewer, by the way, was Alastair Campbell, Director of Communications and Strategy to Tony Blair and supposedly the inspiration for the foul-mouthed Malcolm Tucker in the satirical TV show The Thick of It.  Evidence again of the old saying, “He who sups with the devil should have a long spoon.”


Punk versus Putin


In Britain, we do things differently – differently from Russia when it comes to punk music, at least.  35 years ago, when a punk band called the Sex Pistols assailed one of our beloved national institutions by releasing a nasty, sneering song called God save the Queen during Silver Jubilee week, we merely tutted a bit, declined to play the song on Top of the Pops, pretended that the number-one slot that week had gone to Rod Stewart and not to the Pistols, and rolled our eyes with Schadenfreude when Johnny Rotten got duffed up by outraged and patriotic teddy boys.  Thereafter, we clutched the punk movement to our bosoms and turned it into yet another British tourist-pulling gimmick.  Witness the presence of pogo-ing punk rockers at Danny Boyle’s 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony.  Why, online, I even saw a photograph of a statue, somewhere in London, of one of those silly Olympics mascots – Wensleydale or Mandelson or whatever they were called – togged out as a Mohican-headed punk.  Elsewhere in London, there were statues of them dressed up as beefeaters and pearly kings.


Which has not been the response of the Russian authorities, increasingly deferential to the will and whims of President Vladimir Putin, when faced with Pussy Riot.  Back in February, the gimp-masked feminist punk band gave an unscheduled performance on the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, as a protest against the Russian Orthodox Church’s stance towards Putin – the relationship between church and state in modern-day Russia is becoming as gruesomely cosy as it was in Franco’s Spain.  This resulted, last week, in three members of Pussy Riot being sentenced to two years’ imprisonment as punishment for ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred’.   Since then, two more members of the group are believed to have fled the country.


During the past week, I saw one of Putin’s lackeys interviewed on the BBC’s Newsnight programme and he said that Pussy Riot had incurred such punishment because the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, which was demolished by Stalin in 1931, rebuilt during the 1990s and re-consecrated in 2000, is seen by Russians as a symbol of the repudiation of communism and the repudiation of the brutal Stalin years in particular (  In other words, Pussy Riot’s brief (it lasted less than a minute before church security officials chucked them out) and cheeky performance there was an attack on Russians’ hard-won religious and political freedom.  If you can call it that nowadays.


So let’s get this straight.  Pussy Riot rocked the boat by performing in a building that is a symbol of freedom from a dictator, who was notorious for punishing people who rocked the boat in his regime by sending them to the gulag, and they have now been punished for rocking the boat by being sent to the gulag.  You know it makes sense.


In the West, musicians wanting to sing, perform and dress in a manner that defies convention and offends prevailing tastes, and fans wanting to emulate them, have had it relatively easy.  Even back in the 1970s, when you cut through the hype and hysteria, all that the new British punk bands were really up against were Mary Whitehouse, a few excitable tabloid editors and a few flatulent old Conservative MPs.  Prime Minister Jim Callaghan might have been a bit of a knob, but he wasn’t going to send anyone to the British equivalent of the gulag for composing songs with some sweary words in them and dyeing their hair a colour that departed from the normal human spectrum of black, blonde, brown and ginger.


Compare that with the treatment meted out to punks during the same era in East Germany, on the other side of the Iron Curtain.  The DDR Musueum in modern Berlin, which I visited during a trip to the city last autumn, has a display chronicling the trials and tribulations of those East German punks.  According to a 2009 article in the Daily Beast, they “experienced arbitrary detainment, brutal police beatings, and invasive searches of apartments and other spaces where they congregated. The police also began to recruit informants—often by extreme coercion. Finally, before the end of 1981, the ‘punk problem’ was eventually passed over to the dreaded Stasi, taken up by the division charged with fighting political opposition.”  (


And still it goes on.  In Aceh province in Indonesia in 2011, 64 fans were arrested at a punk concert and imprisoned in a police training school, where they had their heads shaved and were forced to undergo ten days of ‘re-education’.  (   It’s not just punks who get it, either.   A recent article on the BBC online news magazine detailed how goth kids in Tashkent, capital city of Uzbekistan, have been persecuted after getting the blame for vandalism at a local Christian cemetery.  Uzbekistan is a Muslim country, which leads me to reluctantly suspect that the real vandals of that Christian cemetery might have had a religious motive – well, the Salafists have been doing it in Libya recently.  (


And of course, there’s the sad story of the Iraqi heavy metal band Acrassicauda, which was told in the documentary movie Heavy Metal in Baghdad.  (  They eventually had to flee Iraq, to Turkey, after getting death-threats from insurgents and religious extremists who accused them of devil-worship.


In Tunis, where I work at the moment, I occasionally see on the streets kids who are ‘gothed-up’ or wearing heavy metal T-shirts.  I wonder how long it will be before Tunisia’s new, self-appointed morality police, our local Salafists, get tired of hassling TV stations for broadcasting ‘blasphemous’ films and hassling galleries for exhibiting ‘blasphemous’ paintings, and start hassling them.


Finally, returning to Pussy Riot, I can’t help but wonder how many of the old punk musicians in 1970s Britain — who, as I’ve said, had things relatively easy — would’ve had the nerve to pull a stunt like that pulled in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour this February, with spending God-knows-how-many years in a Russian prison as a possible outcome.  I can’t imagine Johnny Rotten doing it.  I can’t even imagine the Clash, politically motivated though they were, doing it.  In fact, the only one of those 1970s British punks I can visualise can-canning alongside Pussy Riot on that Russian Orthodox altar is Sid Vicious, who was always willing to try anything that’d get up people’s noses with little thought about the consequences.  Sadly, that’s not because Sid, who once swaggered through a Jewish area of Paris wearing a swastika T-shirt, was a political rebel.  It’s because he was too thick to understand the principles of cause and effect.


Anyway, here’s footage of those gimp-faced ladies doing their stuff in the cathedral six months ago:  Enjoy, Mr Putin.