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visitors since May 12, 2002
August 11, 2002
Poppy Bingo

Poppy used to be my boss, which in itself was a major source of conflict. "You don't work for me," she'd say, "you work with me."

"OK," I'd say, "whatever you want, boss."

Poppy hated me saying that, and expressed her disapproval by throwing things. "You have every right to throw whatever you like," I'd say, "you're the boss." Eventually I went to work in a suit of armour.

The intriguing thing about her was her truly astonishing command of the English language. She's the kind of person who just decided one day to use words in a different way from everyone else. As a result she was a never-ending supply of unexpected phrases and sayings.

Consider this. Everyone in our office was at a lunch somewhere, so our building was locked up. I had to go back earlier than she did, so she lent me her key. But there was a complicated alarm routine, which necessitated me walking up an outside flight of stairs, unlocking a door there, going through it, and then going down another flight of stairs inside. Just as I was leaving, Poppy reminded me of this arrangement.

How many words do you think it would take to remind someone of all this information? Twenty? Fifty? More? Poppy did the whole thing in three words: "remember: up, down."

On another occasion I had some kind of problem with something I was doing. When I reported it she responded with "build a bridge." Ah, I thought. Er, I thought. Um, I thought, and realised that I wasn't getting very far.

"Build a bridge" gobsmacked me. It seemed to make no sense whatsoever. This left me with the feeling that I was missing something obvious. Perhaps she meant that I should emulate a famous bridge. I should approach my problem as if it was the Sydney Harbour Bridge, say, or the Brooklyn Bridge. This approach, quite clearly, didn't work. So I tried other approaches. These also didn't work. Reluctantly, I had to go back and ask her what she meant.

"Build a bridge," she said, "and get over it."

After a while of this kind of treatment, it became obvious that I needed to take action. So I started collecting Poppyisms. Whenever she said something particularly distinctive, I made a note of it. After ten minutes or so, I'd collected twenty-five Poppyisms. I drew up a five by five table and arranged them on it. I gave it a title - Poppy Bingo! - and printed out a few different versions and distributed them around the office.

The idea was that whoever got five Poppyisms in a row would yell "Poppy Bingo!" and win a small prize. Unfortunately, there was a lapse in security, and Poppy herself got a copy. She read it with a stunned expression, and then she did something totally out of character. She went completely silent.

This was an outrage of justice. Especially given that people had gathered around her, clutching copies of Poppy Bingo, and eyeing off a bowl of lollies.

Poppy stayed silent for a while, and when she spoke, it was different. She became more formal, more careful, more conscious of what she was saying. It soon became obvious that she had decided that no one would ever win Poppy Bingo. Over the course of the next hour or two, she did something remarkable. She voluntarily removed twenty-five phrases from her repertoire, and invented an entirely new set.

I have to admire anyone who can do that. Even if they do it out of spite. And even if they do it out of a determination to stop anyone from winning a bowlful of lollies.

     Posted by Sean Hegarty at 11:46 PM in the People category | Comments (0)
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