Sunday, November 26, 2006


When I was in Darjeeling eight years ago, I stayed with a woman of 60 years or so who went by the name of Mrs Ongel. She had a penchant for poker and Padmasambhava, with dark eyes that curled up at the edges when she was concentrating on winning a game, and that danced with laughter when she played with her young granddaughter, Tara.

One evening, as my boyfriend and I wound our way through the narrow streets of Darjeeling back to Mrs Ongel's, we came across a strange woman with jet black dishevelled hair and a rather crazed look in her eye who was sweeping the cobbled street with a fervour I had never before seen devoted to such a job.

The next morning at Mrs Ongel's, as she shuffled her cards and offered us tea, we mentioned the woman, commenting on how unusual it was to see a woman doing such a traditionally male job, (it seemed rare for that to happen in Nepal at that time), and so late into the evening. Mrs Ongel just smiled and said "Ah, that is Pogli. That is not how she makes her living, that is just what she does, you know, for the sake of it. Because she is, well, pogli."

I mulled this over.

"Pogli?" I re-iterated.

"Yes," smiled Mrs Ongel, "We call her Pogli because that is what she is, you know, p..o..g..l..i..". As she mouthed the word slowly, she started making hand gestures, pointing her forefinger at the side of her head and circling it rapidly. In the end, we got it: Pogli was someone who, in Mrs Ongel's mind was off the rails, a bit crazy, 'got a screw loose'. Her hands flapped in the air.

I never forgot this, nor did I forget my time at Mrs Ongel's, with her gambling ways and her serious devotion to Tantric practice. For the rest of the trip, and upon my return to England, indeed for all the subsequent time since then, the word pogli, or poglie, as I sometimes spell it (for I have no real idea of how it is spelt or even if Mrs Ongel's explanation of the term or indeed my interpretation of her description was correct), has become a significant word in my own personal dictionary, a mainstay of my communication, somehow filtering into my language and descriptions.

And so I have, for my own purposes, adapted this word to describe a state of being that I have never before had words for, and desperately wanted a term to describe: that is, something or somebody: it could be a moment, a behaviour or an action, it could be a way of thinking, it could be a place, or even an object, that is inherently, indefatigably, eccentric, odd, unusual, silly, strange or not able to fit into conventional society or experience. And, to put my slant on it further, that, in its eccentricity, is undeniably charming, endearing and life-affirming. To me, that is pogli. And so I have incorporated and re-framed this word, frankly, because I see and experience so much in this world and life that is frankly, pogli beyond belief, and that otherwise,I have no language for.

In fact, in my own purloining of this word, I would not only put the black haired obsessive compulsive street sweeper of Darjeeling into this bracket, but also Mrs Ongel (her name can be translated as Mrs Angel for heaven's sake), and no doubt myself at the time, working my way, as I was, through some of the holiest places on the planet, attempting to track down the elusive Dzogchen master Chatral Sangye Dorje, sitting in caves waiting for an emanation of Guru Rinpoche to appear, attempting to practise shooting my consciousness out through the top of my head with about 500 other Tibetan monks and lay people on retreat, throwing up on a regular basis and reading too much William Blake. In fact, I would go as far as to say, that, though all countries undoubtedly have their aspects of pogliness, if pogli is a throne at which the powers of the strange and wonderful and occasionally bananas sit, India must surely be its queen.

So there we have it, the power of the pogli.

So I explain this so as to be able to say to you: yesterday was a pogli day. I first realised it was going to be pogli when I woke up in the morning and remembered my dream. In it, I was living alone in a tumble down version of my old family home, the only other memorable item in my house being an old and bent metal framed pair of spectacles which belonged to Karl Marx. They hung inconspicously and somewhat sadly on my lounge wall. And somewhere, in a distant room, the ghostly image of Marx's grandson floated above the carpet, himself now sixty, with a large belly and paunchy face, having convulsions, as he sweated and and struggled to breathe on a white table. Outside the house, reporters gathered, and I discovered through reading a newspaper that years ago my father had bought a Faberge egg which was now worth 30 million pounds, and it was still somewhere in the house. But I couldn't be bothered to look for it.

So when I drove up the Upper Lewes Road, that morning, and spotted not just one, but four identical pairs of black converse boots suspended mid air from their laces from the middle of the telephone wire, 50 foot above the road, I was starting to feel that the power of the pogli might be with me that day.

We then stopped off at Sainsbury's, for my companion to buy a box of Celyon tea and several packets of hobnob biscuits (the ones with vanilla and chocolate cream in the centre), to which he seems to be firmly addicted (he keeps them in a rather impressive biscuit barrel, and when I noticed he had attached with sellotape a paper sign on the lid asking: what is it you really want?, I asked him if this worked as a deterrent, he replied, " No, I just realised that what I really wanted was biscuits"). Approaching the supermarket, I then noticed that the Welcome sign on the side of the building had been altered by somebody, and now read: hell: we bury ewe.

This significantly cheered me up, as it was, early on a Saturday morning, and I still felt like I should be tucked up in bed dreaming, whether it was of Marx's spectacles or not. I then sat in the car and listened, whilst my companion searched for hobnobs, to a radio programme about the National Lying Festival, held in Cumbria, in which men and women compete for the title of the best fibber in the land. Apparently it all began out of the tales that locals would regale visitors to their region with, and, who, usually upper class, with a naive and patronising view of the 'backward' yokels, would believe every ridiculous story spun them. And so, to poke more fun at their guests, the locals' tales got more and more silly and improbable, as the visitors would shift uncomfortably in their pub seats over an ale, trying to work out, puzzled looks on their faces, who the real stupid one sitting at the table was.

We then drove through the rain to my companion's house to take it in turns to stand for the rest of the day on a wobbly plank that we slid into one large ladder and one small ladder at each end, twenty foot in the air, in an attempt to paint his stairwell three different shades of cream, whilst he took regular flights towards the kitchen to make another cup of tea, and towards the living room to grab his banjo and, break, spontaneously and wonderfully into exhuberant twangs and twiddles of fine banjo music.

Upon returning to my flat on the evening, I was visited by the Bob, and, well, frankly, that requires no explanation as to how or why that might have been somewhat pogli, given that Bob just is pogliness personified, at least in moments that come with delightful frequency (he recently invented a blog called the that bloke's bike's back brake block's broke blog).

I mean, really, the whole world is pogli, we all know that: it just pretends it isn't. And this is a world I want to live in, a world where people hang shoes from telephone wires, and hold Lying Competitions and play the banjo when they are supposed to be doing up their house. Where there is room for women who sweep the streets for its own sake, and, though they might get a little teased for it, are accepted as part of society, and regarded with affection. Where people devote serious time and energy to cataloguing the minutiae of birdsong, and a girl with wonky specs writes for far longer than her arms are happy with, about stuff and nonsense, lost in memories of India and Nepal, and fleeting angels, lost gurus, and tumbledown buildings where men in smocks blow horns making ridiculous sounds, and mantras of devotion are chanted over and over and over again to the spirit of some ragged and beautiful, absurd truth.


Anonymous said...

Ah yes. The power of the pogli. Funny, in my mind I've always spelled it Poggly. Whichever way, I enjoyed hearing about your day. And it's true - it's those poggly moments which lift the heart and twitch up the corners of lips and crinkle up eyes and make one remember why one bothers to get up in the morning. xx

Anonymous said...

I think it's cos so many other great words are spelled in that sort of way: wobbly, snuggly, tiddly, wiggly... I rest my case.

laurel said...

oh yeah, I definitely need a day like that...I'll be sure to keep my eyes wide open for's been awhile, I'm due :) Glad you had one !!

clare said...

Jo: POGGLY poglie poggle poglie poglee poglea poguli..all wonderful in my book.

Bob sent me this fantastic link:

hi laurel: I hope your transit to Australia goes well, what a massive move! Good luck with it all. :}

Yes, I'll post a link to my songs as soon as I have them up on my MySpace.

Anonymous said...

Wow. That is indeed a most poggly tale if ever I heard one. I really like the bit where "The wolf came making a hoo-hoo sound." Although all the fantastically bizarre almost-english sentences are also stupendously poggly in the extreme. Well done Bob.

laurel said...

Thanks clare! still in visa hell right now...paperwork..hoping by spring...trying to pack and discard and coordinate....gimme pogli :)
I'll keep an eye for the songs...