It’s a tedious business swimming thirty lengths. The mind switches off in sulk. Sometimes it wanders… I have no idea why I began silently chanting an old children's rhyme.
Eeny meeny miny mo
Catch an Indian by the toe
Don’t ask me why, me neither, but I stopped. Was this permissible? I tried again.
Eeny meeny, miny mo
Catch a Chinaman by the toe.
Frenchie, perhaps. Too Brexity.
Tried again with ‘Welshman’ and stopped in sudden fear that Plaid Cymru Leader, Leanne Wood and Arfon Jones the ineffective police commissioner of North Wales might leap upon me. Like they leapt upon Ron Liddle. The Times Columnist had waded into the row over the renaming of the Severn Bridge in his usual provocative style:
“The Welsh, or some of them, are moaning that a motorway bridge linking their rain-sodden valley with the First World is to be renamed the Prince of Wales Bridge. In honour of the venal, grasping, deranged (if Tom Bower’s new biography is accurate) heir to the throne.
“That Plaid Cymru woman who is always on Question Time has been leading the protests. They would prefer it to be called something indecipherable with now real vowels, such as Ysgythysggymlngwchgwch Bryggy.
“Let them have their way. So long as it allows people to get out of the place pronto, should we worry about what it’s called?”
The North Welsh police reluctantly concluded that Liddle had broken no law —a nicety for the North Wales police and crime commissioner, Arfon Jones. Liddle’s column was not just ‘offensive and irresponsible’ but ‘morally repugnant and an absolute disgrace’ and should not be allowed. The Welsh Language Commissioner agrees, arguing that ‘offensive comments about Wales, the Welsh Language and its speakers are ‘totally unacceptable,’ and that something must be done to ‘stop these comments . . . Legislation is needed to . . . prevent language hate.’
It’s the curse of our time, words and thoughts cordoned off by cultural nods, nudges and winks. In Oscar Wilde’s day there was only one crime that ‘dared not speak its name’ Now they’re proliferating by the minute. Opaque curtains limiting thought.
I changed to backstroke and returned to the rhyme.
So, not a Welshman. ‘A Liddle’ then. ‘Catch a Liddle by the toe.’ But did I want to incur the great man’s wrath? Did I want to be the subject of his next column?
And then I had it, or thought I had. ‘Catch a fascist by the toe.’ Who could object to that? But then...didn’t that make them kind of vulnerable, endearing even in their helplessness?
Language is a slippery business. If we were to chant ‘Catch a baby by the toe,’ you again have something endearing, something quite cute. And this highlights the double-edged sword of the euphemism. We never abort babies. Such is an accepted fact, a shibboleth. We abort ‘foetuses’ and thus the ‘procedure’ becomes socially acceptable. And yet how come the chant ‘Catch a foetus by the toe’ sounds infinitely chilling?
On my 25th length, I finally had it sorted. ‘Catch a Kardashian by the toe’. No offence there, so long as their bottoms looked good.