Katherine Gregor

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Katherine Gregor (a.k.a. Scribe Doll) is a literary translator and scribbler who has also been an EFL teacher, theatrical agent, press agent, theatre director, complementary medicine practitioner, and one or two other things. Perhaps that's why the literary characters she relates to most are Arlecchino, Truffaldino, Gianni Schicchi and Scapin, and feels empathy with crows, squirrels and cats. She lives in Norwich, Norfolk. (Photo courtesy of Rosie Goldsmith @GoldRosie )

Just a Bit of Fun at the Expense of One English Social Stereotype*


We went to London last week, and stayed in Fulham, where I lived for several very happy years.  For the information of non-Londoners, it's an area in the South-West of the capital, a twenty-minute Tube ride from the West End and Theatreland.  Part of Fulham covers a stretch of river between Hammersmith Bridge and Putney Bridge.  A truly idyllic mile frequented by crows, seagulls, ducks, cormorants and herons.  


When I first moved to Fulham, in 2000, I used to joke that the night bus 14 wasn't as threatening as other London night buses because the drunks on that line were intoxicated by champagne.  Another joke I heard from more than one person (or perhaps it wasn't a joke) was that the most frequent reason for admission at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital Accidents and Emergency was a cut to the hand caused by a large knife slipping while trying to remove the stone from an avocado.  There is a pub called The White Horse, but which the locals know as The Sloaney Pony.  That is a fair illustration of one of the social types that reside in that area.  Indeed, Fulham is filled with what, at the University of Durham, we called screaming, stonking 'Rahs.  Again, for the benefit of those who have never had contact with this sub-group of the English middle classes, 'Rahs are second and third-generation Sloanes.  In other words, the banknotes in their wallets are so new, you can still smell the ink a mile away.  'Rahs tend to speak with a plummy accent but not with the clarity of cut-glass English.  Their speech is sloppy, lazy, and their vowels half swallowed because, let's face it, oh, yeaaarrrh, it's just t'much effort like to pr'nounce th'm.  Male specimens of this social sub-group are sometimes called Sebastian, Crispin, Oliver, Tristan or Rupert.  They often wear stripy shirts and chinos or corduroys.  Lace-up shoes are mandatory.  Back in my youth, they were seen sporting V-neck cricket jumpers or stripy rugby shirts.  Nowadays, they prefer crew neck lambswool jumpers.  Their female counterparts, often Isabellas, Mirandas, Juliettes, Dorcases and Chloes, can be recognised by their trademark string of pearls no matter the outfit, or, these days, a piece of "ethnic" jewellery.  Still, whether they're wearing the green Barbour jacket of my generation or the more modern cropped tweed blazer or short mac, one characteristic remains unaltered: they still have longish blonde hair.


Last week, as H. and I were strolling through Bishops Park, there was a group of them standing outside an infants school, having dropped off their mini Ruperts and Mirandas in  Baby Gap and Cath Kidson outfits.  They stood there, chatting to carbon copies of themselves, jangling keys to people carriers and oversized Volvos.  "Look!" I said to H.  "I told you Fulham raises the national average for blondes by a large percentage."  He looked at them with an expression of disbelief.  There were six or seven of them, all of them blonde.


There were more of them in the coffee shop where we went to have breakfast.  The table next to ours was a veritable aviary, with screeching, high-pitched giggling, and shrill outbursts of excitement.  It was nearly ten o'clock, and I wondered – as I did while living in the area – why these women weren't somewhere else, engaged in money-earning employment.  Who pays for their leather designer handbags, their suede boots, their wide silver bangles, their smoothies and their pains au raisin? I guess some things don't change, whatever the efforts of the various feminist movements.


* Gentle, genuinely affectionate fun.  To quote Mr Bennet, "For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?"


Scribe Doll








Recent Comments
Stephen Evans
I am excessively diverted. But it is so strange!
Tuesday, 03 May 2016 15:00
Katherine Gregor
Tuesday, 03 May 2016 21:09
Rosy Cole
Very amusing! I can see that when David Attenborough finally retires, you could be up for his job :-)
Tuesday, 03 May 2016 17:37
557 Hits

Books: Challenges, Traumas and Pure Pleasure

I remember a stormy night when I was about eleven.  We were living in Nice.  I don't remember what prompted me.  I stood on a chair to reach the top shelf of my mother's bookcase where she kept – along with other never-read books – The Complete Works of Shakespeare.  I sat at the kitchen table, ploughing my way through Macbeth.  I couldn't understand any of the language, so I looked up almost every other word – without much success – in the Concise Oxford.  Electrified by the flashes of lightning and thunderclaps bursting outside, I was mesmerised by this hermetic text I could not fathom, convinced that within its lines were locked up great secrets I yearned to discover.


About a year later, my mother authorised the local library to allow me access to the adult section.  After my first visit there, I came back home with a book about Confucianism.  Only one sentence remains anchored in my memory: I spent my entire life trying to change myself but have still failed.  The only words I remember.  The only ones I understood, probably because the paramount importance of self-improvement was much advocated at meal times.  Still, when I finally returned the book to the library, I felt a deep sense of satisfaction, as though I'd been given the key to important knowledge.  Where this knowledge was stored, or what it concerned, I had no idea, but at least having the key to it was a good start.


That same winter, I got the mumps.  I was kept indoors, warm, and waited on for a month.  I was allowed more television than usual, and my mother brought me books from the library.  Owing to my illness, the self-improvement programme was put on hold, and she did look disapprovingly at my reading for the sheer pleasure of it.  I asked her to borrow Joseph Bédier's rendition of Tristan et Iseut and that was the first book I remember reading which filled me with magic, and infected me with a passion for Mediaeval literature, art and music.  And words.  Beautiful words.


When I was fifteen, we moved to Rome.  One day, I found my mother's copy of Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra lying on the coffee table.  She'd enthused about it over dinner, so I picked it up and began to read it.  I was bowled over by the histrionic wit of this man.  Shaken, turned inside out and zapped with new energy.  A God that danced.  It was as though my brain had just expanded so violently, it was about to break free from the constrictions of my skull.... even though I had no idea what Nietzsche actually meant.  I just felt that he was telling me that there was something out there that was so big and awesome, I wanted to access it too.


The summer after my sixteenth birthday was the summer I was traumatised by Dostoyevsky.  For some time now, there had been an awareness on the part of my mother and grandmother that my Russian was embarrassingly bad, given that it had been the first language I had learnt as a toddler.  Although my speaking was fluent, my spelling was atrocious and I read one syllable at a time, like a five-year-old.  What neither of them chose to be aware of was – for reasons pertaining to a twisted, dissatisfied teenage psyche I eventually grew out of – my deep dislike of the language. 


So, that summer, judging the French school three-month holiday period to be "too long for doing nothing", my grandmother decided to traumatise me with Crime and Punishment.  As she was also teaching me to knit, she saw the hot Roman afternoons as the perfect opportunity to combine manual and intellectual education.  So, while all sensible Roman residents would sink into a refreshing siesta, she and I would sit in the shady part of our balcony and take it in turns to read aloud and knit.  My knitting being as unenthusiastic as my Russian, when it was my turn to read, my grandmother would correct my pronunciation while undoing several rows of uneven loops.  Thinking about my schoolmates, who were probably bathing in the Sardinian sea or strolling in the Alto Adige mountains, I resented my lot, hated knitting, hated Dostoyevsky and (almost) hated my grandmother.  By the end of the summer, I was less familiar with the crime aspect of the novel than with the punishment.


For many years, I hardly ever read fiction, except when it was prescribed by school or university.  I found it hard to shake off the deeply-inculcated notion that you read in order to acquire information or improve yourself, and that novels, precisely because fictional in nature, were somewhat less valid forms of literature.  I envied people who said they loved to read, who described the pleasures of immersing themselves in a book.  I knew I was missing out on something but didn't know how to remedy the situation.  Once again, I felt there was a whole, wonderful world out there but, this time, it wasn't my intellectual inadequacy that prevented me from accessing it – it was something deep inside me, so intrinsically part of me that I didn't know how to root it out.



With Miss Garnet's Angel, my reading habits changed.  Reading suddenly became something I gave myself permission to do simply for the fun of it.


My favourite Saturday morning activity became browsing in charity shops.  The advantage of cheap, second-hand books was that it allowed me to take risks on novels and buy them on a whim.  As a result, I discovered many wonderful books.


Fifteen years on, I love reading.  I feel free to pick up whatever I feel I will enjoy, whether it's Booker Prize material or a thoroughly enjoyable crime novel.  I just swim among its words, let myself be carried away by the story, and form new acquaintances with the characters.


It's delectable.



Scribe Doll 


Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
Katia, this rang so many bells with me that it triggered ideas for a post in the not-too-distant future. Meantime, enough to say ... Read More
Sunday, 17 April 2016 14:13
Katherine Gregor
I've not read Nietzsche since my teens. I went through a phase, shortly after 'Zarathustra'. I particularly loved 'The Anti-Chri... Read More
Sunday, 17 April 2016 18:08
Rosy Cole
Exactly! I had a post sketched out my head for this week, Katia, but have had no opportunity to put it together and shall be tak... Read More
Thursday, 21 April 2016 14:29
597 Hits

London Night Sounds

The rumbling of the occasional car, speeding past our house.  A murky grey sound. 


Snippets of human voices.  A woman’s giggle.  A crimson sound.  


The arrhythmic clicking of stiletto heels on the pavement.  A copper sound.


The roar of the night bus.  A faint white sound.


The rustling of leaves, disturbed by the wind.  A golden sound.


The yelp of a fox.  A scarlet sound.


The shriek of a motorbike.  A black sound, like tar.


The rhythmic clang of the train, not too far.  A brass sound.


The high-pitched whirr of the light bulb in the angle-poise lamp on my desk.  A tinny sound.  


Sweet recorder sonatas by Telemann, wafting out of my CD player.  A dark honey sound.


The tick-tock of the second hand of the alarm clock by my bed.  Black and white sounds.


The click of the front door; one of my flatmates coming home after a wedding reception.  A candy-pink and sky-blue sound.


The thud of the front door; another flatmate returning after a night on the town.  A red sound.


The translucent harmony of moonlight, floating through the air.  A silver sound.


A cat meowing across the street.  An emerald-green sound.


A night wind, blowing through the streets.  A diamond-cut sound.


Stars, shining in the sky.  A myriad of colours, like the notes of a glockenspiel.



I cannot sleep.





Scribe Doll

Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
A lovely kaleidoscope of sound. I always think crossing the boundaries between senses in writing produces fresh energy and texture... Read More
Monday, 04 April 2016 11:04
Katherine Gregor
I wrote this in 2013 and totally forgot about it. So, yes, got sleep after that :–) Thank you for you kind comment.... Read More
Monday, 04 April 2016 11:32
Monika Schott
I'm sure l'll be seeing colours the next time l can't sleep! Lovely. Thank you.
Monday, 04 April 2016 11:16
714 Hits

Seven Quirks of British Restaurants


Is everything O.K.?

Have you noticed how waiters wait for the exact moment when you have your mouth full, before they ask you that? I often try and cheat them by staging my forkfuls when they're not around but, almost as though they're watching me from a distance, no sooner am I munching away, than they pounce.  "Is everything O.K.?" Naturally, all I can emit is an unintelligible groan, and a nod.  I wonder if their timing is purposefully strategic.  Perhaps they're trained to schedule their question precisely when you cannot speak.  Yes, I know, as my mother – or the Aunt Alicia in Colette's Gigi – would say, you could train yourself to chew and speak at the same time, elegantly.  But still...

It was a relief going to cafés and restaurants while living in Brussels.  There, nobody comes to intrude on your meal unless you specifically request their attention.  Only at the end, as you're settling the bill, does the waiter ask Ça a été? 



The cake on top of the napkin

I don't know if this is a strictly British practice, but I've not encountered it in Italy, the U.S., Germany, France, Greece or Spain.  You order cake, or a sandwich, and it arrives lying on the napkin, as though it needs to be comfortable on the cold, hard plate.  Surely, the point of the napkin is to be spread on your lap, and used for dabbing your lips and fingers – a point defeated from the start if, by the time you have slid it out from under the cake or sandwich, it's covered in chocolate, cream or dressing.


No. 3

The parmesan and black pepper rations

In too many establishments, once your meal is served, the waiter approaches and offers you black pepper.  Then s/he gives the oversized mill a couple of twists over your plate, and walks off.  I might want to add pepper halfway through my meal, but the option is not available.  Is black pepper so expensive, restaurants cannot afford to keep a small mill on the table, together with the salt shaker?

The same discourse applies to grated parmesan.  When your pasta is served, the waiter brings a bowl of parmesan, and sprinkles a spoonful on your dish.  If you say nothing, he sprinkles a second spoonful.  At that point, s/he marches off, unless you specifically request more.  If you do, s/he expresses shock, as though you're being unreasonably greedy.  Sometimes, I tell the waiter, "just leave it here, I'll help myself" and that creates a mini panic response...


No. 4

Salt mills

I know this is entirely a matter of personal preference but who actually enjoys crunching large salt crystals? What's wrong with a salt shaker that dispenses fine salt powder which blends in easily with the food? 


No. 5

Salt and pepper mills/shakers

"Katia, the table is off-balance," is what my grandmother would say if, while setting the table, I'd forgotten to put the salt shaker in the centre.  Time and time again, I go to restaurants and cafés where there is no salt on the table and I have to ask the waiter to bring it to me.  The other day, I asked why they didn't just keep salt and pepper on every table.  "People steal them," the waitress replied.

I was speechless.  Are we so poor a nation? Or so thieving?


No. 6

Iced water

Personally, I think automatically serving water with ice cubes in a country as cold as England is somewhat peculiar.  Still, at least thus far, this is a free country, so people are entitled to order iced water if they wish. But why do waiters insist on bringing me iced water after I've specifically ordered it "without ice"?


No. 7

Halloumi, Hollandaise, etc.

I doubt I'm breaking the Official Secrets Act by stating that traditional English food errs on the side of – how can I put it diplomatically? – well, let's say on the side of the bland, and is, originally, far from vegetarian-friendly.  We've come in leaps and bounds since my introduction to English cuisine, at the age of nineteen, when it was meat and two veg, no salt, and pudding consisted in drowning anything at all in custard.  Still, perhaps cafés and restaurants should expand their horizons a little further and, once they've discovered a new ingredient, not it serve exclusively over and over and over again.

Yes, halloumi cheese is lovely, and made a welcome change from mozzarella, after the latter had outstayed its welcome as the successor to cheddar.  Now, however, wherever you go, it's halloumi.  Halloumi burger, vegetable hash with halloumi, salad with halloumi.  Why don't we also try various varieties of goat's cheese, manchego, ossau iraty, fontina, asiago, blue Shropshire, to name but a few?

Another relatively recent feature in restaurant menus is hollandaise sauce.  A tangy addition to many eggs and asparagus dishes.  In small doses, though.  Sadly, British enthusiasm for this perceived bit of sophistication means that   eggs Florentine and eggs Benedict are served drowned in it, the way custard used to drown stodgy puddings.


Scribe Doll     


(This is a revised version of  a post first published on 24 July 2011)

Recent Comments
Barbara Froman
This really made me smile, Katia. All of it. But cake on a napkin! I'll be laughing about that all day! Thanks! ... Read More
Sunday, 06 March 2016 19:19
Katherine Gregor
I know, it's absurd! Thank you for commenting, Barbara.
Monday, 07 March 2016 15:52
Rosy Cole
I was thinking the other day...it's years since I remembered to put a salt and pepper mill on the table. You know when cooking for... Read More
Monday, 07 March 2016 18:59
495 Hits

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