Monday, 13 June 2011
“It’s a cigarette card. I just found it on the floor.” I started to put it in my pocket.
“Let’s have a look.” He took it from me, setting his beer down on Mr Orhy’s window ledge. “It looks old.”
“It’s from the fifties.”
He turned the card over and glanced at the text, then cupped his hand to his mouth and pinched his nose to imitate a nasal upper-class voice. “Mayday. Mayday. Mayday. Calling all rescue. This is HMS Pinafore. Come in, please. This is an emergency. Over.” Laughing at what he thought was a piece of brilliantly conceived satire, he handed the card back and took a swig from the can.
The use of mayday as a radio emergency call had not until then occurred to me, though I was familiar with it from its use in films and television programmes. “Why do they say ‘mayday’? What’s it got to do with May Day?” I asked.
“It’s not May Day, you berk, where little kids go dancing round the maypole. Mayday is the international distress signal. It means ‘in grave and imminent danger’. You’re supposed to say it three times. Mayday, mayday, mayday. It’s from the French m’aidez, meaning help me. Didn’t you know that? It’s always coming up in pub quizzes.”
“I don’t go in much for quizzes.”“That’s why you don’t know anything.”