Currently, I’m all at sea – quite literally sailing from Nuuk to our next port of call which is Narsarsuaq – on our cruise to Greenland. One way or another, on this trip I been very aware of words and how others interpret them. Take our wonderful servers in the buffet restaurant. I don’t think they understand the words ‘small’, ‘a little’ or ‘just one’. If your plate isn’t heaving by the time you leave the counter, they don’t seem to think they’ve done their job properly. Even if you resist the urge to go back to serving areas at breakfast, the ‘toast boy’ is at your elbow with offers of more hot toast.
I’ve just come back from another wonderful lecture by the talented comedy writer Jan Etherington (she of ‘Second Thoughts’, ‘Next of Kin’, ‘Faith in the Future’ fame, and whose ‘Conversations from a Long Marriage’ is currently airing on BBC Radio 4). Her dry wit had me giggling on the back row for the whole 45 minutes. Her talk was entitled ‘Romance Versus Passion,’ and looked at the differences between the romantic and the passionate hero. She asked the question ‘Why do we have romcoms but pashcoms don’t work? Is it because passion isn’t funny? Or is It?
It’s not just the meaning of words that has been on my mind this trip. As the Destination Speaker, each of the ports on this cruise has proved a linguistical challenge. Just how do you pronounce Narsarsuaq and Qaqortoq? (clue- q is pronounced hr right at the back of the throat like a Scottish loch at the beginning of a word but something between k and a d at the end!) Tomorrow we are sailing up the Tunulliarfik (double ll is a sort of s sound) going to see the Qoorq icefjord and the Sermitsiaq glacier. I had a very sore throat at the end of that lecture, I can tell you.
Only yesterday, when we were in Nuuk – Greenland’s capital city – I discovered I’d been pronouncing the last Innuit occupation by the Thule culture incorrectly. That one seemed easy enough and I hadn’t bothered to search the pronunciation sites on the internet (many of them are useless anyway). I should have called it the Tulee not Thule culture! Oh well, hopefully very few of my audience registered my mistake anyway. I do spend the last half hour before each of my talks practising, but I still get my tongue twisted on stage. My policy is, say it quickly enough and no one will notice.
Being a writer certainly has its perks. I began as a cruise lecturer giving writing workshops and speaking about writing, then I started giving talks on ancient history (which I still do) and then I was invited to do a port and destination course. Although it’s a great privilege, each lecture takes me at least 40 to 60hrs work – research, refining the script (just like a novel, each presentation must have a beginning, a middle and an end plus a logical progression) and finding suitable illustrations – but I confess I do enjoy the process almost as much as the cruise. I try to kid myself that each cruise gives me a great opportunity to do research for one of my travel novels, but in all honesty I do far more cruises than I have time to write the novels!
Just off to hear another lecture by a chap talking about some of the maritime history of this area!
It’s a hard life for some, but someone’s got to do it!