Category Archives: Uncategorized
I love the English language, but some words really irritate me. One in particular has been prominent lately; it’s been on every newsreader’s lips, constantly, driving me nuts. It’s not a word that bothers most people, judging by the amount of times you hear it. However, having written that sentence I suddenly realised that I never hear ordinary people use it. By that I mean that you don’t hear it when real people are talking to each other.
A little reflection and I realised why. It’s because it’s ‘official speak’. And that’s the clue. That’s why I hate it so much. (When I used the word ‘irritate’ I was lying. It doesn’t irritate me; it infuriates me.) I have to confess that I haven’t noticed it used in print, but it probably is. Newspapers are as guilty of ‘official speak’ as the rest of the media, but probably not so much.
So what is this word that drives me so crazy? It’s the word – or in my vocabulary the non-word – ‘wrongdoing’. Where did it come from? Who first started using it? What in the name of all that’s holy is wrong with saying ‘crime’ or ‘doing wrong’? I think I know. In order not to say ‘wrongdoing’ you have to use a few more words, which might throw out the carefully controlled TV and radio schedules by a few nano seconds and get the newsreaders colliding with the continuity announcers and bumping uncomfortably against the poor weather people, who, goodness knows, are squeezed enough.
What would I say instead of ‘wrongdoing’ – always assuming I was a newsreader? What I would say is ‘he claimed he was not guilty of any crime.’ ‘She says she has done nothing wrong.’ ‘He denies he has done anything wrong’. In fact, these phrases don’t actually use up any more words than saying ‘He says he was not guilty of any wrongdoing.’ In fact, in some instances, fewer words are used, so there’s no excuse. It’s simply lazy. One journalist says ‘wrongdoing’ and everyone else says ‘wrongdoing’. It’s all part of the parrot syndrome. Maybe I’m being be unfair to single out newsreaders and journalists since it’s the politicians who are the worst offenders. All the same, I don’t expect much of politicians but I do think we should be able to look to journalists to respect this great language of ours and stop behaving like sheep.
London Bridge is falling down,
Falling down, falling down,
London Bridge is falling down,
My fayre lady.
I wonder how many of the thousands of commuters who stream across London Bridge every day remember or even know the nursery rhyme? Of those who do, how many are aware that the words refer to real people and real events? And that there is an older version.
London Bridge is broken down,
Dance over my Lady Lee,
London Bridge is broken down,
With a gay ladye
There’s hardly a corner, an alleyway, a stone in London that isn’t steeped in history. London Bridge itself can be traced back to the first century, when the Romans built the original one out of wood and clay. This was replaced at various times using alternative materials, like those mentioned in the rhyme. Though I doubt it was ever built with silver and gold.
Both rhymes propose various ways to rebuild the bridge so it won’t fall down again. Starting with wood and clay that will be washed away, then bricks and mortar but ‘they will not stay’. Various other materials are mooted such as iron and steel, silver and gold and a watchman. Each suggestion is rejected in turn, as befits a rhyming game. To some extent the rhyme follows the actual fate of the bridge.
Over time the bridge was destroyed, rebuilt, destroyed again. At one stage it was attacked by the Vikings: this resulted in a stronger replacement, complete with drawbridge. In the 12th century the first stone bridge, designed by Peter de Colechurch, superseded the then current bridge. This took thirty-three years to build. Hardly surprising when you know that it featured twenty arches, each one sixty feet high and thirty feet wide. At various times during the fourteenth century it carried no less than 140 shops (some accounts put it at as many as 200). Hence the reference to silver and gold in the verse.
This bridge survived the Great Fire of London in 1666 though buildings with thatched roofs were banned in the metropolis from then on. Incidentally, it was another three hundred years before the ban was lifted to allow the building of the new Globe Theatre, in 1994. While the great fire it didn’t destroy the bridge, it weakened it. In consequence various changes were made in the ensuing years, such as strengthening the foundations, removing buildings and restricting traffic.
While the stone bridge lasted much longer than many others, it was eventually demolished in the 1820s and a new London Bridge was built on a site near the old one. This nineteenth century bridge was replaced in 1960s; it wasn’t destroyed but sold to the Americans, being dismantled stone by stone and rebuilt in Arizona, of all places.
So much for the physical bridge. But what of the people referred to in the rhyme? Who was the fayre or gay layde; who was Lady Lee? For the answers we have to go back to the story of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, his second wife. She is indeed the layde referred to. Lady Lee is Lady Margaret Lee, a close friend of Anne’s. She and Anne were childhood friends. When they grew up Margaret became Anne’s trusted lady in waiting and remained with her throughout the good times, even standing beside her on the scaffold.
Anne was hated by the common people who found her high and mighty. They also had a strong allegiance to Henry’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon. Open criticism of Anne was officially approved of after her death. This situation continued during the remainder of Henry’s reign and subsequently that of Mary. However, when Elizabeth I ascended to the throne things changed. Elizabeth was Anne Boleyn’s daughter – the criticism could no longer be open, so it went underground.
The rhyme is an allegory, that is to say it describes one thing by means of something else. Thus the words of the rhyme describe the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn. Lady Lee is mentioned to ensure that there will be no doubt that the ‘gay layde’ is Anne. Although the nursery rhyme associates the bridge with Anne’s death, she was in fact executed within the walls of the Tower of London. But London Bridge itself did indeed see plenty of gruesome sights. The severed heads of traitors, impaled on spikes and dipped in tar, were regularly displayed at its Southern Gatehouse.
It’s a while since I posted anything quirky or weird or unusual. So I think a little silliness is in order. I came across this video during the week and it appealed to my rather strange sense of humour. I do find it a bit worrying too, since it involves working animals. I hope the sheep didn’t feel humiliated and that they weren’t worried by the twinkly coats. Even more, I hope they weren’t frightened.
Someone posted a comment to the effect that the sheep should have been given a credit and I heartily agree. They did all the work. And there’s no way any of it could have happened without the splendid and intelligent sheep dogs. And they didn’t get a credit either. I love this video for it’s inventiveness and fun but I’m somewhat annoyed that the shepherds have grabbed all the credit and still a little concerned about the animals involved.
A couple of weeks ago, during a pleasant weekend in the country, my friends took me to one of those garden-centre-come-overpriced gift-shop-come-expensive-interior-design–come-a-bit-of-everything sort of places – I believe the correct name is shopping village. (Who thought that one up?) In this shopping so-called village there were two restaurants, both heaving. When we finally got to sit down in one we ordered a perfectly adequate meal of the baked-potato-with-toppings and soup-and-a-roll variety. Not a Michelin star in sight; that was fine. We weren’t expecting gourmet.
What wasn’t fine was the sheer effrontery of the place. When it was time to choose a pudding (I will not call it a dessert in this context) each of the three items on the menu stated - and I quote – ‘comes with custard, cream or ice cream’. I’m not sure what prompted me to check, apart from my suspicious nature or perhaps my passion for words and the English language. For whatever reason, I asked the waiter to confirm that these items came as part of the pudding.
‘Oh no,’ I was told. ‘They are extras.’
‘But it says ‘comes with,’ I protested. ‘That means they are part of the dish.’
‘Oh no,’ he repeated, ‘you have to pay extra.’
‘It says,’ I insisted ‘comes with custard, cream or ice cream.’
‘It does come with them, ‘ he answered, ‘but you have to pay for them.’
Arguing was pointless since he didn’t get the point. I gave up. I did, however, draw the offending text to the attention of the owner, assuming it was some sort of typo. He didn’t exactly apologise just acknowledged my comment and thanked me in a lukewarm sort of way. Which was somewhat cancelled out when he sauntered up to our table and said that I was the first person who had remarked on the wording in eight years. Any hopes of a goodwill gesture – ‘so sorry, have the custard/cream/ice cream on us’ was obviously out of the question.
Eight years! Jeez! He’d been getting away with that for eight years. At least. If this sounds a bit of an extreme reaction on my part, let me tell you there was more. The pudding selection consisted of three items on the menu. With prices. Plus a selection of cakes not on the menu but displayed in a case. With no prices. The bill wasn’t itemised. How did you know that your bill was accurate? You didn’t. Bad as that is from a trading standards perspective, the thing that bothers me just as much is the general ignorance about the use of English.
These days, while there are still many people who care passionately about the use of language, there are far more who don’t. Some from indifference. Even more through no fault of their own but rather as a result of failures in our system of education. So, why should any of them care anyway? What does it matter after all? It matters. Language is constantly evolving, which is a good thing. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. What I’m talking about here is clear communication. That’s what grammar is all about. Clarity. The placement of a comma affects the entire meaning of a sentence. Sloppy language can signal sloppy thinking. It could lose you a job or, in the case of my grammatically challenged restaurant owner, a visit from the trading standards officer.There are many great books on the subject. Just to cite a few examples there is the splendid Eats, Shoots and Leaves as well as Troublesome Words and my bible, English Today, by the redoubtable Ronald Ridout.
When travelling round London on the bus, I prefer to sit on the top deck but only if I can sit at the front. Not only do you get a great view of rooftops, but also, if you look carefully, the sight of hidden treasures – sculptures perched on the top of buildings, roof terraces and oddities like the lighthouse at Kings Cross. Of course you don’t have to be on the top deck of a bus to see all these glories. Many are down in the streets – if you know where to look. There are so many odd, weird, fascinating and beautiful things to see in London it’s impossible to fit them into one blog post. Today I’m going to concentrate on statues and sculptures and for these and for future posts on this topic I am indebted principally to the Shady Old Lady website.
So rich is London in these delights it’s hard to know where to start. Should it be the New-born Baby sculpture in the porch at St Martin in the Fields, the Giant Plug and Socket on the side of an electricity sub-station in Ganton Street, Soho or the Neil’s Yard Water Clock in Covent Garden where water rises, bells sound the hour and flowers appear to grow. You also need to avoid a drenching by the figure of a child who tips her water onto the unwary below.
None of these sculptures are difficult to find. Others require a little work. Not that they are exactly hidden but some are not obvious and for others you will have to travel away from the centre. In the first category, there’s the nose inside Admiralty Arch at the top of the Mall. Did you know it was there? I didn’t. Walk into the right hand arch, look up at the left side and you’ll see it. Apparently the horse guards touch it for luck as they ride through – being on horseback they can actually reach it. While in the locality, take a stroll to The Westminster City School in Palace Street and look up at the roof of the new building. There’s you’ll find the Dandelion Sculpture created by the pupils in 2010 out of re-used plastic fizzy drinks bottles. As it catches the wind it throws colour in every direction – beautiful and ethical!
Leaving the centre of London we’re going first to Wanstead, then on the Docklands Light Railway to Silvertown and finally to the Greenwich Peninsula. This may be the wrong way round but I haven’t looked it up on Journey Planner (though they do often give you some extremely weird and illogical routes.) In Wanstead you’ll find a plaque commemorating a stolen cherry pie, in Silvertown, on the wall of the Tate and Lyle factory a giant tin of Golden Syrup and on the Greenwich Peninsula Antony Gormley’s Cloud sculpture. Even taller than the Angel of the North it was commissioned for the opening of the Millennium Dome, now the O2.
On the way back from Greenwich visit the Traffic Light Tree at Canary Wharf. Impossible to have a favourite among so many wonderful oddities but I must confess that I find this installation really endearing. A weird term to apply to such an object perhaps, but that’s how I feel about it. Designed by Pierre Vivant it has 75 sets of traffic lights and is supposed to reflect the energy of the area. Energy is not the word I’d apply to Canary Wharf but I do love this statue – it’s quirky, mad and fun and as such it’s as far removed from the atmosphere of Canary Wharf as it’s possible to get.
And having written that last sentence I went to take another look at the web pages to select the best image. And what do I find. The Traffic Light Sculpture has been removed – to make way for road improvements. How sad, how typical. Canary Wharf is the poorer for it (there’s more than one way of being poor just as there are different ways of being rich.) If anyone knows what happened to the statue, please let me know.
As if the government weren’t making a sufficient hames of everything it touches, the BBC, NHS and various regulatory bodies have all got in on the act in recent weeks. As I explained in a post some time last year, to make a hames of something means to make a mess of it. The expression is derived from a particularly complicated harness used for plough horses. Everyone screws it up.
A cute hoor is another creative Irish expression. Cute means clever, and hoor means exactly what it says on the tin. A cute hoor is a rogue or a charlatan, someone who seems respectable and upright but who never misses a chance to rip you off. In Ireland it’s applied to everyone from cowboy builders, to bankers, politicians, tax evaders – the whole sorry bunch of them. Sound familiar? Stand up and take a bow Dennis McShane, Starbucks and many more too numerous, and possibly libellous, to name. In the Emerald Isle they tend to be lumped together as ‘the Cute Hoor Party.’
Somewhat to my consternation I can’t find a specific slang term for bank or bankers. The Irish seem content with the British rhyming slang, which I have to admit, works. So why change it? Though they have in a sense; at least there’s a derivative. In Ireland they call it an Allied Irish, after the well-known bank of that name.
I’m always surprised to find myself surprised at the goings on, not simply in parliament but in local government, corporations and governing bodies. Just when you think no one could make a bigger mess of things, they make a bigger mess of things. As far as I’m concerned they’re a bunch of amadáns, utter eejits. To use an expression that comes from Waterford, my own neck of the woods, I’ve seen better heads in a field of grass. I mean what are they up to? They don’t seem to have the sense they were born with. As much use as lighthouse on a bog, or a chocolate teapot. They won’t stop till the whole economy is banjaxed, even more than it is already. It’s enough to have you reach for the black stuff and drink yourself stocious.
* Image: www.notthesamestream.blogspot.com
We should have seen it coming. Back in the days of Driving School, Blind Date and Survivor there were plenty of prophets of doom declaring the end of the world, as we knew it. Trouble is on that occasion they were right. Sometimes it seems as if today’s TV is wall-to-wall reality shows. While I’m the first to plead for more drama, more documentaries, more everything that’s not cheap-to-make reality, I’m not among those who believe these programmes are all bad. Some really are the pits of course and others just plain sad. However, there are plenty of uplifting ones. Shows where people develop and learn something. And programmes that are just good honest entertainment.
Over the years the predictable, and popular, gardening, property, cookery, dating and talent shows have been joined by a raft of unlikely productions. There’s not a topic that isn’t covered – from Wife Swap to Extreme Makeover, where the subject is, of all things, cosmetic surgery. Nothing’s sacred, and there’s no accounting for taste. If Four Weddings has me reaching for the Prozac, while wondering why people would turn their wedding into a circus, there thousands even millions who enjoy watching this strange and rather depressing freak show. Conversely, while I will watch anything with an animal in it, plenty of folks believe that I’m the strange one. But there you go. If there’s a kitten stuck in a conduit pipe, the sad inhabitants of a puppy farm to be rescued or a poor mangy creature neglected in a field, that’s me hooked.
One great virtue animals have over humans is that, when they’re happy, they wag their tails or give grateful licks and maybe even whinny, trumpet, roar or even bark a bit. The one thing they don’t do is scream. And they don’t follow the herd, like sheep. Unless of course they are sheep, in which case it’s perfectly acceptable. Screaming is ruining the shows I once loved. I used to enjoy X-Factor but now I can barely watch it, and if I do switch it on I’m more than likely to switch it off pretty swiftly. It’s that or shout obscenities at the screen and startle the cat. The same goes for Britain’s Got Talent and Over the Rainbow and others too numerous to mention.
One of my guilty pleasures is American’s Next Top Model and its spin-offs in Australia, Britain and Canada. Set in the unreal and beautifully strange and inspiring world of fashion, this programme is among the worst offenders. It’s only my love of the fascinating transformations, the extreme make up and extraordinary garments that has kept me watching. In spite of the bitching and the egos and the nastiness. But it’s the screaming that will finally make me reach for the remote.
These girls – what are they like! They scream every time Tyra Banks appears. They scream whenever they see Jay Manuel, the creative director. They scream when they get their makeovers. They scream when they’re introduced to their photographer or find that they’ll be working with male models. They scream when they discover the location of their photo shoot and when they get the key to their apartment and again when they actually see the accommodation. I’m amazed they have any voice left to bitch with.
Now I don’t know who started all this screaming but it’s become an epidemic. You didn’t find Alan Titchmarsh or Tommy Walsh screaming in the good old days of Ground Force. They didn’t scream on Changing Rooms. In fact, until fairly recently, screaming seemed to be confined to the good old US of A, like death row and peanut butter with jelly. But what America does, we inevitably follow. Pop Idol, Fame Academy, X Factor, Britain’s got Talent and others too numerous, and annoying, to mention – all got in on the act.
The families wait backstage, and when the darling appears – I don’t need to say it, do I? The same goes for those highly manipulated and manufactured ‘visits home’ with everyone, from Mum and Dad to silly Sid from across the road and next door’s dog, assembled in the front room. All ready to scream at the sight of the singer, dancer, contortionist who’s made it through to the boot camp (where you can be sure there will be even more screaming.)
We’ve turned into a nation of hysterics. Mad as cheese and given to emotional outbursts. Our stalwart and ramrod forefathers would have deemed such behaviour unbefitting for an Englishman, though just what you’d expect from excitable ‘Johnny Foreigner’. Now I’m not against a bit of emotion. In my opinion the stiff upper lip is well past its sell by date – leaving who knows how many emotional cripples in its wake. But you can have too much of a good thing. The worst thing of all is that this frenzy of misplaced hysteria has become the norm – goodness, they’ll be doing it parliament next. Come to think of it, screaming might even be preferable to braying.
Some people have made vast fortunes playing with money. Others have let them do so – by turning a blind eye, either to maintain the status quo, line their pockets, keep their parliamentary seat or preserve the possibility of honours. Although relatively few in numbers, the damage these people have done has had brought countries to their knees. It has affected and is affecting thousands, millions of people.
The story I’m about to tell is just one among these millions. It may appear insignificant in the great scheme of things. But for one man and his old dog, their world has shattered. Their story is not unique. Similar scenes are being played out all over Europe.
Spain, like many other places, has been badly hit by the recession. People have lost their jobs, their houses. Families have been broken up. One of the consequences is that people are no longer able to keep their pets. So they bring them to the killing stations, abandon them, or in some few cases try to find them a place in rescue centres.
The organisation I’m involved with is called ACE – Animal Care Espana, in Southern Spain. The rescue centre itself is called El Refugio, founded by Fabienne Paques nearly fourteen years ago. Like all the others it’s full to bursting now, with ever more dogs arriving or being dumped at the gates daily.
He came to the gate in tears. A young man of about 35. He’d lost his job. As a result his marriage had broken up. His wife had thrown him out with just a backpack and his dog, his Joyma. He had no car. No family he could call on. He’d been trudging from refuge to refuge to ask them to take Joyma. He loved him too much to even think of bringing him to a killing station or to simply abandon him. All the centres were full, besides nobody was willing to take in an old dog.
El Refugio is full, over full. But Fabienne couldn’t turn him away. She couldn’t find the young man a home or a job, but she could take his dog. She’d make room. She would give him the only thing she could – the assurance that his Joyma would be well taken care of. It was distressing for everyone, so emotional. Heartbreaking. The dog was drooling in fear – clinging to his master. Don’t leave me.
The young man left, weeping. His Joyma is safe and will be found another loving home, but that’s of no interest to the old Cocker Spaniel. For he is grieving, pining for his best friend whom he lost today. As to the young man he too has lost his best friend. He’s lost everything. Tonight he’ll sleep on the street. Alone.
This is the human cost of the recession.
Just imagine the situation. You are getting older and are not in the best of health. You live alone with your beloved dog, your constant companion and friend since your husband died some years ago. Sometimes you think he’s the only thing that keeps you sane. But there’s one problem that’s destroying your peace of mind. That keeps you awake at night.
You’re finding it harder and harder to get about. The doctor is suggesting residential care but you can’t bear to be parted from your pet. And, you have to face it, even should you remain at home, what will happen when you die? Who will look after him? How will he cope? This is the agonising problem that faces many elderly people. Those who become terminally ill confront the same difficulty, have similar fears and worries.
This is where the Cinnamon Trust comes in. I came across it almost by chance when I was researching something else on the net. It’s the only specialist national charity with the sole aim of helping older people, and those who are terminally ill, to ensure that their pets are well looked after when they can no longer care for them. I’m amazed to discover that in the UK at least, it’s the only charity working quietly in this crucially important but almost invisible area.
The trust was founded nearly thirty years ago by Mrs Avril Jarvis, and named after her much-loved corgi – Cinnamon. It’s stated aim is ‘to respect and preserve the treasured relationship between owners and their pets.’ It works in partnership with owners, solving any difficulties that arise. Avril Jarvis says she has known many elderly people who have, quite literally, lost the will to live when their pets have died, but have been too worried about what might happen after their own deaths to acquire new animals.
With this in mind, the Trust enables owners to hand their pets over to the Trust before they die, or on their death, so that they have the comfort of knowing not only that their companion will be well cared for but also who will be doing the caring. Younger animals are fostered long-term with financial help from the charity or matched with distressed owners whose pets have died. Older ones live out their days comfortably in one of the trust’s two unique sanctuaries in Devon and Cornwall.
What makes these sanctuaries so special is that they replicate, as far as is possible, a proper home. Instead of kennels or cages there are sofas and armchairs, rugs and cushions. Even TVs. Everything these pets would have been used to. The Trust does more than provide sanctuary and match pets with new owners. An army of volunteers, the length and breadth of Britain, come to the rescue in all sorts of situations. From short term fostering when someone is in hospital to walking a dog for a housebound couple, to driving a pet to the vet or shopping for supplies.
If I ever win the lottery, there will be a shed load of money coming their way.
So went the lyrics to the hit of 1925, sung by Waring’s Pennsylvanians, the Six Jumping Jacks and even later by the likes of Chris Barber’s Jazz Band. In those days ice cream came in vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and other fruit based flavours. You might perhaps have found coffee flavour or caramel. But not Kentucky Fried Chicken, even though it was America.
How things change
Today you’ll find ice cream in every flavour under the sun. Doc Burnsteins Ice Cream Lab in Arroyo, California offers such tempting delights as Merlot raspberry truffle (made with real wine), rainbow sorbet and egg nogg, besides birthday cake and motor oil. Not mixed together – though even that wouldn’t’ surprise me. These are two separate flavours; the latter made from dark chocolate, Kaluha and fudge.
Hardly weird at all
We’ve become so used to strange and unusual foods that some have become almost normal. The flavours run the whole gamut from breakfast to dinner, or as they say in the States, from soup to nuts. Cornflake ice cream is quite delicious and does actually taste of cornflakes. Heston’s bacon and egg ice cream is positively old hat – nowadays you get bacon with everything including chocolate so having it pop up in an ice cream is no big deal. Sausage and mash, Brussels sprouts, spinach, salad – no I’m not making this up.
Familiar – but still pretty weird
In this category I class the flavours that seem to be having an identity crisis. Some of them are a bit of a cheat to tell the truth. Because they’re meant to be savoury accompaniments – like the garlic ice cream that’s served with steak. I’m not sure that the same excuse can be made for fish and, chips, pizza, haggis and Yorkshire pud flavours to say nothing of cheeseburger (with fries.) Ye Gods! Nor for Coronation chicken, octopus, smoked salmon, sardines with brandy and spaghetti with cheese. All are ices available in a variety of restaurants and emporiums – not just in far flung places without the law but in our own dear London town.
Not so much weird as really icky
Now we come to those that are not so much having an identity crisis as heading straight for the asylum. Fancy some breast milk ice cream? Selling as Baby Gaga, this offering, from London’s The Icecreamists, uses fresh donations from the public – oh yum! Of course you could always help things along a bit, in a roundabout sort of way, by sampling some Sex Pistol ice cream. Also known as ‘Viagra’ ice cream it’s electric green, contains stimulants such as ginkgo, arginine and guarana and comes with a shot of Absinthe. And you’re only allowed one a day. It figures.
Not yucky enough? A nice dish of spleen and artichoke, perhaps? Or whatabout Japanese Basashi, which replaces the more normal cookie or chocolate chunks with lumps of horsemeat. Enough to make you break out into a cold sweat? Not to worry – you can get that too. Well, it’s more the effect than the flavour since Jalapeno or ‘Cold Sweat’, from North Carolina, is made from some of the hottest peppers known to man. You’ll be required to sign a waiver because, and I quote “what is painful going in, might be painful upon exit.” Ouch! Puts those song lyrics in a completely different light, doesn’t it!