A for Alpha …

Lesson: How the children learned about the international Nato Phonetic Alphabet code words for alphabets of A for Alpha, B for Bravo ….

Last year, I was in the car with the two boys. William, the youngest son, was speaking to a staff member in Shanghai on his iphone, giving instructions in fluent Mandarin. Then I caught a word he spoke in English, SWIFT, Sierra Whiskey India Foxtrot Tango followed by some numbers. He was relaying instructions for some financial transactions. He was using the international call sign for the English alphabets.

Perhaps I would like to preen a feather or two here that he learnt the international alphabet call sign in London from his old dad when he was 9 years of age. This young lad here has a phenomenal memory.

Sojourn in London

I smiled inwardly as I reminisced those halcyon days in London. It was winter in the mid-90s and we were touring the United Kingdom, Her Excellency and me, eldest daughter and the two boys (then 12, 11 and 9 years of age). I had stayed in London before while doing my MBA, so I marked out those places where we would visit. Calvin, our second son, would be the tour leader to find our way around. A quickie lesson on the London Underground Map was all they needed to know, East-West & North-South bound, the next station, the end station and the switching stations and the Circle line. All these underground lines were color-coded as to learn the names of these lines would be quite a mouthful.

One morning at breakfast in the hotel, I decreed that we were going to China Town – Leicester Square and there was an Underground station on the Black Line. Calvin whipped out his Underground Map. The 3 kids pored over it. But nowhere was Leicester Square to be found as I pronounced the name the way an Englishman did.

So, I spelled it out for them.

Slowly my daughter recounted and wrote on a paper serviette, “L for London, E for Edinburg, I for India, C for country, E for elephant …” Then I stopped her. She knew of Edinburg because it was on our travel itinerary.

“Hey, you are mixing up the names of cities and animals and noun.” I remarked. So, I wrote out the name and told them that Leicester Square was pronounced as ‘Lester Square.’

“Now each of you will give me the name relating to an alphabet as you have done in school.” I threw them a bone.

“A for America” Marilyna said. “B for Boy” William said jumping ahead of Calvin. “C for China” added Calvin, “D for Donkey” Marilyna echoed, ‘E for Elephant,” the reticent William spoke again.

I was stupefied, now there were a mix of countries, people and animals for the English alphabets.

‘F for … for …” Calvin was stumbling. Maybe he did not know a name associated with a country or perhaps he was about to say the 4-letter word.

Marilyna jutted in. “F for Finland.” She pumped her fist in the air jubilantly.

Phew! that was a close call. 

Her Excellency was paying attention to the banter by now. If I guessed correctly of what Calvin was about to say, then I would have gotten a great admonition from her with a good earful.

No, made it two earful.

Her Excellency would make a meal out of me if Calvin would say what I thought was on his mind. She just did not like the idea that the kids were using some foul language, while I was laissez-faire. She had a habit of attributing all the sins and transgression of the son to the fault of the father.

My daughter just saved my ass for the day, so to speak.

Then, I had an idea and it was time for a lesson to be learnt.

I took up another paper serviette and scribbled out the 26 alphabets as such.

“This is the international call sign for alphabets. It is used by the navy, army, air force, hotels, airlines, government agencies, private sectors as well as all foreign voice to voice call so that all alphabets are standardized.” I placed the paper on the table.

“Tonight all of you are going to memorise it and you are going to memorise this for life. No A for America or Australia or B for Boy, now A is for Alpha, B is for Bravo, C is for Charlie and so on and so forth.” I sniggered. “Only when you are speaking to those who does not know the international call sign, then you are to switch to whatever names are convenient.”

So, for that day we had a good time at Leicester Square.

The morrow found us at our breakfast table again. I asked Calvin, what was in  store for us today.

“Today we are going to Kilo Echo Whiskey Gardens, which is on the Green Line, south bound.” He said, as he pulled his cap backwards.

I was caught off-guard for an instant. Then I realized that Calvin was just telling me that he had memorized the whole table of call signs.

In between mouthful of scrambled eggs, Her Excellency declared vehemently, “I am not going to any Whiskey Garden today!”

Immediately, there was pin-drop silence among us. I was refraining hard not to roll my eyeballs heavenwards.

Just the other night, I took them to a London pub before the off-office rush hour of 5:00 pm. So, we got ourselves seated as the pub had not been filled yet. I had the idea of regaling them kids some tall tales of my previous stay in London, some pub-crawling episodes, some cranky jokes that always accompanied a few pints of Foster beer and a way of showing off too. Pub hoping indeed, I was as poor as a church mouse as I was on a tight shoe string budget then. Anyway, it was always a good feeling to feel awesome in front of them kids, and I was hoping that the pub would play my favourite song of Mary Hopkins, “Those were the days.”

A big bosom waitress appeared in front of our table, with a somewhat unfriendly attitude. “Children are not allowed in pubs.” She said in a stern manner.

“But I will be the one drinking beer, the children will have a coke each.” I smiled coyly. I tried hard to avert my eyes from the cleavage on her ample bosom.

“This is the Law. Children are not allowed in this premises.” She emphasized.

Her Excellency was agitated by now. Before she could bare her fangs, I quickly bundled them up, apologized profusely to the big bosom waitress and left. Two women quarrelling were bad news. It was better to leave the party. What a pity! The bosom waitress had just rained on my parade, but a law was a law.

Ah, maybe Her Excellency was still smarting for being booted out unceremoniously.

“We are going to the KEW Gardens, mum.” Marilyna told her with a giggle.

On the train, I was seated with Calvin. He whispered to me, “You are a nincompoop, Dad!”

“Pardon me.” I looked at him. Calvin knew that I always let him speak up to me. And he learned fast from all the cockney and colloquy English words and some great phases I always used when speaking to them. I took immense pleasure to display my command of the flowery English language, including some vulgar swear words too.

“O’ Ye of little faith!” Calvin said. Now, this was too much This little fella was quoting me word for word. I was sure he didn’t read the Bible as yet.

“I was going to say F for Florida yesterday and not what you think of the 4-letter word.” He smiled impishly.

Praise the Lord for the small mercy in life. This was a clever son in deed and in words.

“Why Florida?” I asked.

“Please take us to Walt Disney Land in Florida next year. I heard from one of my friends that is A-great fun”. He looked at me with pleading and expectant eyes.

“Alright, let it be said and let it be done, son.” We slapped our palms, bumped our fists and the contract was signed, sealed and almost delivered.

Sure enough, the next year I took them to Walt Disney, but it was in Anaheim, near Los Angeles.



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