In which our intrepid hero fails to learn a new language.

I’ve lived in Sydney for about twelve years now, but for some reason, I’ve never been into Abbey’s Bookshop on York St. Perhaps it’s because they’ve always badged themselves as a "foreign-language" bookstore; amongst the dozen-or-so languages that I can read bits of, the only one I’ve been anywhere near fluent in (apart, of course, from English) is Bahasa Indonesia—and I’m as rusty as hell in that, probably unable to string a sentence together.

Nonetheless, my sister asked me some months ago to pick up a cassette for a friend of hers from Brisbane, and Abbey’s was the only place in Sydney that I could find it. Coincidentally, it was also the only place that I could find a translation of the collected works of the Greek poet Kavafis, which I wanted to buy my grandmother for Christmas. (I can give this away because I seriously doubt that she reads my blog.)

And so, I wandered into Abbey’s.

Little did I suspect what I would find there. I usually shop at Dymocks—because I’ve found it to have the best obscure non-fiction—or at Abbey’s sister shop, Galaxy—because it specialises in sci-fi—but I have to say I was blown out of the water by the sheer range of obscure crap. Incidentally, obscure crap is my bread and butter as a reader.

Ever since I was a child, I’ve wanted to learn Old Norse. Perhaps it’s an overdeveloped sense of connection to my Viking roots, or the fact that whilst everyone else was sneaking comic books into their "serious" reading time in primary school, I was doing the same with Norse sagas. Maybe it’s just the fact that it’s an old and nearly extinct language, literate, a bit more accessible than Sumerian and a bit less feh than Latin or Classical Greek.

But just try to to find a book on Old Norse in a bookstore.

Strangely enough, I did. As I browsed the shelves, looking vainly for Garrison Keillor’s Songs of the Cat for my sister’s friend, the black cover of a small book glared out at me from a crevice in the stacks. On its spine, in bold white letters, were emblazoned the magic words: AN INTRODUCTION TO OLD NORSE.

I stealthily drew it from its hiding-place, marveling at what I’d found. It was about an inch thick, and about the size of my hand. It contained, according to the back-cover copy, a selection of complete texts in the original Old Norse. I tried very hard not to drool on the pages. My eyes drifted down to the price tag, knowing that this book would be mine…

Ninety-five bucks! The deep-down Viking Dave roiled: Wåt ðie Fuckr?

The more rational Dave quickly asserted himself: That isn’t Old Norse for anything, you dick. And you’re not spending ninety-five dollars to learn how to swear properly at Vikings, either.

So I left with two books on mediaeval economics instead. After I read them, I’ll be well-versed in the tos-and-fros of trade in the Dark Ages, but I’ll still be a crippled linguist, compelled to utter Mock Norse like some twisted parody of the Muppets’ Swedish Chef:

Hrrr-de-drrr, Rrrmr Erlaff. Rrrm crrrm t’ brrrn-endi-pirra-gi drrr v’rrrage!

I need a pig-tailed wench and a large, strong ale like I’ve never needed them before.

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