Seb was fourteen when he first heard the words “Grandidier’s vontsira”. Actually it was the only time he heard them … beyond his own repetitions that would follow. He was on the train and two passengers nearby had been talking. Seb was fourteen so he hadn’t cared in the slightest about their conversation, particularly since it seemed to involve academia, research studies and other similarly tedious topics. Their voices had created a bland carpet over the mechanics of rail travel and Seb was thinking about the inevitability of Wang Chung’s longevity in the music industry thanks to their ground-breaking new album, Mosaic. But the words had suddenly leapt out and stung him. And Seb was never really sure why. But they did. And so he began to feel that he needed to know what they meant.
The boring professorial types disembarked two stops before his but Seb would never have asked them what they were talking about even if they’d been sitting next to him until the end of his journey. Seb was fourteen and didn’t interact with people who had long forgotten that age. Unless it was an absolute emergency. And he certainly didn’t express an interest in anything. Enthusiasm was for losers. But, all through the evening and into the next day, “Grandidier’s vontsira” continued to bombard his thoughts with the persistence of Donkey Kong’s attack on the hapless Mario. So Seb knew there was nothing for it – he would have to find out what it was.
He had his theories:
An incurable condition of the pancreas
An experimental car that doubled as a submarine
Seb was fourteen so he had hoped that it was the latter but knew that was unlikely, considering the appearance of the two who had introduced him to the phrase.
At home, when his parents had gone for a walk after Sunday lunch, he looked in the ‘G’ volume of the encyclopaedia and then in the ‘V’. But there wasn’t any mention of ‘Grandidier’ or ‘vontsira’. Which meant that school was the next stop and Seb knew that that would be much harder.
The school library was not a place to be seen. By anyone. So he waited until Dunne and Rigworth were in detention and Boyd was stuck in the gym finishing the rope climb. And he made his brief but fruitless assault on the card catalogue, escaping before Mr Bledworth could see him and assume hijinks. Or worse, studious dedication.
At university a few years later, he scanned the microfiche – with some frustrating results. Alfred and Ernest Grandidier, two wealthy French brothers, had explored parts of the world expanding their interests in art and natural history. The university library held a volume referencing Ernest’s interest in Chinese ceramics. Seb was nineteen so he had no wish for such a book to be logged against his borrowing record when Martha McGovern worked part-time in the library and Seb was doing his best to work full-time on Martha McGovern. But he took the time to extract the book from the shelves across numerous visits to the stacks where he would scan the relevant pages for the elusive ‘vontsira’. To no avail.
Seb was thirty-nine when he first heard himself say the words aloud to another person. On the train to a conference in Eastbourne, he and George Mahout were passing the time with a half-hearted discussion of the ridiculous names inflicted on their children by so-called celebrities. George had suggested that the future might hold a Sparkling Pony Smith or a Cox’s Orange Pippin McGee so Seb had trumped him with Grandidier’s Vontsira Jones.
And from across the aisle a schoolboy had glanced over and then pressed the keys on his iPhone with rapid ease. Then he had nodded with the raised eyebrows of recognition as he’d read the results on the tiny screen.
Seb was thirty-nine so he didn’t care for fourteen year olds or the early adopting of technology by children. Or smugness.
But he knew that when he got to his hotel, he’d be googling “Grandidier’s vontsira”.