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Was Humpty Dumpty an egg or an egghead?

Summary: And there it is, permission granted against the will. Out comes this bizarre tale ...

By Francis Matthew, Editor at Large,Thinker Kevin MartinSpecioal to Gulf News

Manuel, who is from Portugal - not Barcelona, a la Fawlty Towers - is a casual acquaintance. If I was a betting man, I'd wager that all his acquaintances fall under the category: Casual. A non-partial adjudicator might reckon it is due to his verbosity, for which he has a roaring penchant.

If one was looking for an example to show words tumbling from the lips, I'd say look no further than Manuel. Especially when he's in full flow. That is, when one of his casual companions has inadvertently walked into a trap and asked him a question. In fact, asking him a question is about the most dangerous route to take.

What's the time, Manuel? That's all he needs - and there ends your part of the conversation - while he takes you on a journey recounting how he inherited his great granddad's pocket watch which, would you believe it, is still in pristine working order. The magnificent heirloom is plucked from the depths of an inside pocket and you get shown the date of manufacture, the maker's initials carved into the case at the back, and the inscription engraved on the watch rim, in Portuguese calligraphy, which translates as 'For my dear son Roberto'.

And that's just the warm up lap. Then follows a history through the generations tracing the path the pocket watch has travelled. In the process you get a peek into the saints and villains who lurked in the family tree before taking their hallowed or despicable departures.

This time, when he runs into me I feel a little foolish for I recognise that I am trapped in the Indian shop and there is only one way in and one way out and Manuel - like a gunslinger in the Westerns of old, is stationed right in the middle of the swing doors daring me to charge my way through. It's on the tip of my tongue to ask him what he's doing in an Indian shop, but it is he that fires the first salvo: "Want to know what I've been doing lately?"

Bizarre tale

There are only two responses to that and one of them is going to sound downright impolite. Now I don't really like downright impolite, so I - recognising that this is his entree - ask in turn, "What have you been up to?"

And there it is, permission granted against the will. Out comes this bizarre tale.

"I'm swotting up on the law," he tells me, for starters.

The law? He must see the look of perplexity on my features, so he offers as explanation: "I'm suing a school. Jeremy's school. They're calling him an egghead. Imagine that!"

I can and do imagine it. Jeremy, only seven, is an immensely clever kid, sharp as a pin with a mind like a sponge.

"I'd have gifted away my lunch every day to be called an egghead in school and you know how precious a schoolboy's lunch is to him. Thing is, nobody did."

I inform Manuel, who stares at me disbelievingly.

"You'd let someone insult you like that?" he asks.

I'm not sure how to reply. At the back of my mind is this vague feeling that he doesn't really know who or what an egghead is.

"His teacher drew two eggs with Humpty Dumpty faces and wrote 'Jeremy is a double egghead'."

"Did he get all his work wrong?" I ask, using the negative route.

"No, he got everything right. Twenty out of twenty. And she calls him 'egghead'."

Nearly an hour later, he sees the complimentary slant to the term. It takes that long because he branched off to inform me of his familial history of baldness and how young Jeremy oughtn't to be mocked so early in life blah blah and blah.

There's a saying attributed to Adlai Stevenson, governor of Illinois in the 1950s: "Via ovicapitum dura est" ... which in English translates as: "The way of the egghead is hard."

Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.

Abdul Kareem - Francis Matthew - Ramzy Baroud - Natalie Nougayrede

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:Jun 15, 2016
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