Daisy Chicklit Gets her Guy: Chapter 1 (of 4)

Romantic dinner table

[I wrote this story for my sister back in the early noughties, as a spoof on the romantic chicklit that flourished at that time. There are many, many in-jokes here, including quite a few lines taken from the script of that incomparable chick flick, Clueless.]

I knew it! It was going to be the most romantic moment of my life.

The waiter had just lit the candle and melted into the shadows. Celine Dion began to coo softly from above. Gary put down his knife and fork, still chewing, looked me deep into the eyes and cleared his throat. I squealed inside and clicked my Manolo Blahniks together two times. Tilda had bought her bridesmaid’s dress with my credit card this morning. She still owed me two hundred quid from last night.

“Daisy,” said Gary mid-chew, “As it’s Valentine’s Day” – he coughed – “and stuff, I wonder if you’d do me the very great honour…”

He looked askance at the waiter who slid forward from nowhere. I shut my eyes and waited in breathless bliss.

“…of letting me have the rest of ya potatoes,” continued Gary, “This place is like a bloody concentration camp. Eh, mate, how about bringing us another plate of chips?”

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1001 Words: Niagara Flaws

Niagara Falls

Little Micky is singing a muffled Jingle Bells through her scarf as we finally pull off the highway in Niagara Falls, Ontario (pop: 78,000) after three hours of inky darkness. Then she changes the lyrics to Dunkin’ Donuts. Micky is adorably cute.

“Thanks to God, we make it in good time,” says Mr Chang from the front, blessing himself quickly.

“Michaela,” says his wife, snaking rosary beads through her twice-gloved fingers, “Why you not sing something nice about the baby Jesus?”

“Mom! Look! McDonald’s!” says young Tom, pressing his face to the cold glass.

“Niagara not far, ah?” says Mr Chang, turning to me and my boyfriend. “We blessed to live so close.”

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[For the Oxford Words Blog:] Loving Latin

Puno dancers

Have you ever wondered just how far your language GCSE will get you in the wild? I set out to road-test my dusty Spanish qualification last year by travelling through Chile, Peru, and Bolivia, sometimes alone and sometimes with fellow English speakers, with a short stop-off as a classroom assistant in darkest Peru.

My (lack of) knowledge of Spanish soon became más claro on the tarmac at Madrid, when I shuffled down the transatlantic plane and asked the man sitting in my row whether this was indeed seat J21.

Jota veintiuno,” he repeated, clearly and slowly.

íSí – jota veintiuno!” I said back to him joyfully.

No, no – jjjjjjjjjjjjjota,” he repeated with an elaborate flourish of a hand gesture. “Con jjjjj. Jjjjjjjota veintiuno.

Jjjjjjjota veintiuno,” I said carefully, and his face lit up in delight. At this point I realized that I was holding up an entire Airbus A340 due to my impromptu Spanish lesson, but this didn’t seem to matter to the hundreds of passengers waiting in line behind me, who just smiled con mucha paciencia (with patience being an essential quality, I found, for life in Latin America).

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Short fiction: Martha’s Hands

Girl playing piano

I am delivered at 10.26 on the morning of Thursday 19th April, inside a box, in one hundred and forty-seven separate pieces.

“Oh, for crying out loud,” says a voice, as I am being slowly slotted together. “What have you got me one of these for?”

I tune into this voice. It’s silvery and singsong, with the first few cracks of age.

“Mum! Everyone’s got one these days,” says a second person on my left, sharper and brisker. “This is going to be perfect for you with your arthritis.”

“Rachel, I do wish you two wouldn’t waste your money on these gadgets,” says the older woman, with a sigh.

“Wait till you see what she can do!” barks a rougher voice. “This is the top-of-the-range model with advanced motor skills. Look, Amelia – look at these hands!”

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Microfiction: I dropped the dictionary

Ring on dictionary

“You’re amazing,” he says, and I laugh, and kiss him back.

“This isn’t love,” he adds.

It isn’t?

“What is it, then?” I ask.

He shrugs.

So I reach out for the dictionary, but drop it – and all the words spill out, scattering like soundless marbles. I pluck one spinning by: naive. It blinks at me. I snatch another: foolish. He unfurls a sleek deceitful, and grabs another: lying. And another, wildly: cheat.

“It isn’t true!” he says, wide-eyed, and then one floats between us like a feather.

Eybdoog is not a word,” he says.

“Goodbye,” I say.

© Joanna Rubery 2017

Poetry: Waiting

Alarm clock

The minute you walk out the door,

I check my phone. My heart is raw,

Your second kiss still on my skin.

The clock is ticking. Every single

minute gained I’ve more to lose:

Your eyes, your smile, the way you use

Your lips. But now the only face

I see is on the wall in place

Of you, with sharper, crueller hands

That tickle time and trickle sands.

No messages. You haven’t rung.

It’s been too long. My heart is hung

On tenterhooks, and I renew,

Refresh, reload, and wait for you.

Obsessing whether you will text

Will only leave me feeling vexed,

but I know I’ll be clinging on

Until I see that “Inbox (1)”.

© Joanna Rubery 2017


[For the Oxford Words blog:] Is Polish the most difficult European language to learn?

Krakow perspective

How ethical is it to start working in a country where you don’t speak the local language?

Before I started teaching English in Poland, this question didn’t trouble me in the slightest. When I taught in Sardinia, I spoke enough Italian to get by; and nobody in Cambodia expected foreign teachers to speak any Khmer at all. But Polish is inna para kaloszy (a different pair of shoes) for me as a British English speaker. On the one hand, it almost sounds vaguely familiar (Polish is now the second most widely-spoken language in England) and at first glance, looks deceptively approachable (unlike Russian, Polish is written in the Latin alphabet). On the other hand, its sibilant shushes shimmer past my ears without me being able to understand a single word. And when it comes to speaking, even common everyday words look like a collection of leftover Scrabble tiles: where do I start with wszystko (all), jeszcze (yet), or even cześć (hi)?

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[For the Oxford Words blog:] Why learn Italian?

Cala Gonone


Sighing with relief, I looked around the rows of old-fashioned single desks, wondering who the unfortunate Marjorie was. Our fierce and flame-haired Italian professoressa was picking on lone students to perform grammatical acrobatics. It was eight o’clock on a dark December morning and my Introduzione all’italiano module was not going well.

Marjorie!” – poor girl – “dico a te! The third person plural imperfect subjunctive of redimere, now! In a complete sentence!”

That’s when I realized that everyone, including the professoressa, was looking straight at…me. I was (apparently) “Marjorie”. At that moment, impaled on the imperfect, I did indeed ask myself why I had chosen to learn Italian on my year abroad (as well as realizing that introduzione might not translate culturally quite as expected). And yet there were dozens of us in that optional class, tackling the trapassato remoto. Italian remains the fifth most widely-taught language in the world. So why are we all in love with la bella lingua? To find out, I asked some friends who have all studied Italian at some point to tell me why they chose this language in particular.

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