The Causative Have

It’s been years since I last taught in a language classroom. I don’t miss it, though I did enjoy it. I still hope my students learned as much about life and language through study as I did through teaching. This week, I have been reminded of a feature of the English language which often gave learners difficulties: the causative have. We have something done for us.

We started out in life having most things done for us. Ideally, we then weaned ourselves off this dependence to a stage when we could do most things for ourselves. That is, until a decline in acuity dictated an increase, once again, in dependence. Exceptions were the rule; if you were wealthy, for example, you could pay to have anything done for you at any time. However, this pre-dated built-in obsolescence.

Many consumer goods (and human relationships, but that’s another story) are now seen as automatically disposable. Bought in the moment, that supercheap dress from the high street will see you through a couple of summer parties before you throw it out, right after you change out last year’s smartphone. In real terms, we’ve never had it so cheap. Or have we?

Here, I must state that I am a pre-dated, unreconstructed causative have fan. Why? I was raised to take care of myself and to take pride in that. I was also raised to take care of my belongings. I own very little, but what I do have is useful and/ or attractive. With my eyesight failing, my to-have-done list is growing. I am lucky enough to be living in the same place as skilled people who can help out.

In Rhodes, in the south-eastern Aegean, it is still possible to find a (wo)man who can. I hope that their days are not numbered, but know that their numbers have dwindled over the past thirty years as the juggernaut of consumerism has rumbled through. So, what reminded me of the causative have? A dress and an earring.

I had a favourite pair of earrings and lost one in London a few years ago, I couldn’t bear to part with the remaining earring and so, eventually, found a silversmith who could make another one. The small workshop is run by a father and his two sons. They did such a great job, it’s impossible to tell which earring is the replacement and which one the original. Even better, I couldn’t have made it myself for the price (as my Gran would have said).

More recently, I bought a dress from a charity shop in London. Saw it, liked it, took it. It didn’t fit, well, it did, but not the way I wanted. Returning to Rhodes, I asked around for a tailor and was pointed in the direction of an unmarked house down a side alley in the medieval part of town. Inside, there sat a very small elderly man at a sewing machine in what appeared to be chaotic conditions. It was organized chaos. I told him what I wanted and he did exactly that. In fact, he did it so well that I couldn’t see the difference until I tried the dress on at home. Gran would have been very pleased with the cost, too.

So, I had an earring made and had a dress altered. That caused me to meet new people, learn more about my surroundings, mind my language, save money and smile.

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