Never seen together in same room …

The TV says it’s ‘Nadhim Zahawi’ … 


… but all I see is …



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Abu el Banat ●

There’s always a laugh, a real out-loud snort, in any issue of Private Eye. One merely has to look and read long enough.

This time I had to go as far as page 38;

  • The title of this post is a cryptic reference to The West Wing (aren’t they all?) It’s the series 5, episode 9. This was the 9 December 2003 broadcast, in the run-up to Christmas, and so — by tradition, with a lighter touch. The title translates (it says here) as ‘Father of daughters’.
  • It helps to decode that, to realise I have been married for decades to a strong-minded lady from the County Armagh. And, together, we generated three equally strong-minded daughters of full-on dragon-slaying capacity.

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Senecan thoughts

Seneca was Hispanic, and a stoic: already, then, a contradiction of our prejudices. Since his writings (when he wasn’t writing plays) were generally in the form of letters, each is long enough to cover the essentials, but short enough to stay interesting. 

He sets out to define the ‘law of nature’, which amounts to how the world around us is subject to reason. Even the unexpecteds are part of that reason. 

Seneca places that ‘reason’ in the divine personality of Zeus — so the modern deist can still take Seneca as a reflecting a planned cosmos, while a non-believer (like me) can look to natural science.

His particular example of the unexpecteds involves earthquakes — which were planned in the reasoning of Zeus. Rather like Covid, then: pandemics come along every century or so, may not be predictable, but surely can be anticipated.  And viruses evolve, rapidly: which must come as a shock to the 4004BC/#DUP crowd, still coping with the intellectual problem of dinosaurs.

In these interminable days and weeks of ‘lock-down’ each day comes along as a natural division of … well, something. Or, as the commonplace version of Seneca goes: Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. The law of the dialectic, later first century A.D.

So yesterday began in this old city of Old York with an inch or so of snow. My first view of today was fog.

Today, after a hasty bit of calendaring investigation, turns out to be 3rd February. In the French revolutionary calendar that would be Pluviôse — or, as country lore (and my Mother) had it:

February fill-dyke, be it black or be it white,
But if it’s white, it’s the better to like.

And then, as yesterday, all that white turns to slush, and the result is this:

That’s the Viking Recorder, mentioned in previous posts, tracking and anticipating the levels of the River Ouse in the centre of York. It’s our local version of Zeus’s ‘reason’, or an obvious example of ‘natural law’ — precipitation on the hills to the west, sooner or with snow-melt later, comes down the watercourses and the ings go under.


Pause to interpret.

York is not Saxon. It’s Danish and Angle. It’s another country: they do the language differently here. The ‘gates’ are streets (geata); the bars are gates; and an ing is a meadow, particularly a low-lying water-plain. An ing is in Jane Eyre, chapter 9:

How different had this scene looked when I viewed it laid out beneath the iron sky of winter, stiffened in frost, shrouded with snow! — when mists as chill as death wandered to the impulse of east winds along those purple peaks, and rolled down ing and holm till they blended with the frozen fog of the beck! That beck itself was then a torrent, turbid and curbless: it tore asunder the wood, and sent a raving sound through the air, often thickened with wild rain or whirling sleet; and for the forest on its banks, that showed only ranks of skeletons.

OED: A common name in the north of England, and in some other parts, for a meadow; esp. one by the side of a river and more or less swampy or subject to inundation.

Origin: A borrowing from early Scandinavian. Etymons: Norse eng, enge. And it also says there:

Etymology: < Old Norse eng (feminine), enge, engi neuter (Danish eng, Swedish äng), meadow, meadow-land; from the same root as Old High German angar, Middle High German anger grass land, meadow-land. (Not recorded in Old English.)

OK: in this year of gracelessness, we have arrived at 3rd February. Now that Punxutawney Phil has lumbered out of Gobbler’s Knob (and you think we have funny place-names in the north of England?) and foreseen six more weeks of winter, is there anything uplifting here?

Well, Japan reckons it’s Setsuban: the last day of winter. In Switzerland it’s Holmstrom, which amounts to the same. And if you have a sore throat, get Covid tested, or resort to the patron saint of sore throats, St Blaize, whose holy day it is.

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We’re doomed! (again)

That American branch (daughter, husband, four offspring and two dogs) are about to cope with as much as a foot-and-a-half of real snow.

The youngest son, presumably spared from the Academy, will doubtless cope — provided the cable and internet do. When the last storm struck, all power went out for days. Which prompted his declaration of Armageddon (as in the title above).

I gather something has upset the ‘polar vortex’ (apart from that link, search me). Certainly here in ‘old’ York we seem to have more frosty days than I remember in recent years. We don’t like too much snow up on the dales or moors, because in due course it can all melt — and that means bits of York near the Ouse and the Foss get rather wet.

Even so, there is something about snow that gets to us. A blanket covers many a visual sin. Very quickly, though, one feels there’s too much of it.

Anyhoo, the point of this post is to acknowledge what I reckon to be a classic image. It’s one I’ve never seen before. It’s in the New York Times coverage:

Major Storm Slams the Northeast, With More Than a Foot of Snow Expected in Some Parts

It’s from 1913:

And now, I understand, the NY Times has been selling that picture for some time.

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A truth psephologically acknowledged

Saw this:

And then this:

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Badelyng by …

I learned one thing over the weekend: penguins collectively afloat are a ‘raft’, but ashore are a ‘waddle’. I’m a fan of penguins, so that makes sense.

That bit of serendipity reminded me of Conan Doyle’s attempts to be more than a writer of detective stories. While the Professor Challenger stories, especially the first, The Lost World, are as good as they get, let us not forget the two stories involving Sir Nigel Loring in the Hundred Years War. The prequel, Sir Nigel, is a picaresque romance, somewhere vaguely between Walter Scott and Cervantes (though nowhere near as convincing or engaging as either).

Here is young Sir Nigel being schooled by the aged Knight of Duplin (chapter XI):

“Ah, lad, you are a Solomon to some of them. Hark ye! only last week that jack-fool, the young Lord of Brocas, was here talking of having seen a covey of pheasants in the wood. One such speech would have been the ruin of a young Squire at the court. How would you have said it, Nigel?”​​

“Surely, fair sir, it should be a nye of pheasants.”​​

“Good, Nigel—a nye of pheasants, even as it is a gaggle of geese or a badling of ducks, a fall of woodcock or a wisp of snipe. But a covey of pheasants! What sort of talk is that? …”​

A badling of ducks … but only when they’re afoot. Or as the Boke of St Albans would have them, A badelyng of Dokis.

The Boke interests me for several reasons:

  • It was the first English attempt at colour printing (as right).
  • It is usually credited to a female author, Dame Juliana Berners (or Barns), of whom little seems definitely known, but quite a lot implied.
  • It mainly consists of three essays: one each on hawking, hunting (that one may be the contribution of Dame Juliana, and a rendering in English verse of an earlier French text) and heraldry. To that, in a later addition, was added a fourth, on angling. To me it seems a strange collation from a putative Benedictine prioress.
  • It has the look-and-feel of an ‘improve yourself’ text, which I speculate is designed for the up-and-coming ‘new men’ of the later fifteenth century. Perhaps this is ‘book two’, for those who have already acquired the skills of which knife to use, which way to pass the port, and why one shouldn’t wipe one’s snout on one’s sleeve.
  • There is an appendix of collective nouns, which seems to be the Ur-text for all subsequent time-wasters.

When I started in the teaching racket, the late Alan Durband was a reliable stand-by for the classroom. Either from him, or some other, I remember pages of formulaic and prescriptive (and, above all, time-filling) exercises. Some of which would be ‘Collective nouns’. I was, even in my green innocence, not fully convinced of the usefulness of such stuff — but, even today, one can resort to lists of such stuff. As here.

That prompts the sick-inducing thought that, some where, ESOL students are still being fed this rubbish.


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On the level

No. Haven’t gone all funny handshakes and bare legs (or is that ‘on the square’?).

It just that there are two current concerns chez Redfellow:

  • the first is finding time to relish the defenestration of outgoing President Trump and the restoration of proper order;
  • the second is flicking to and from the Viking Recorder.

One of those may need explanation.

The fine city of York occupies a sump. All water coming down from the hills beyond Harrogate and Ripon tends to find its way down the Ouse. From the other direction, towards the north, comes the Foss — variously marked on the map as a dyke, a ditch, a stream and even a full-blown river. The Foss enters the Ouse just down river from the Castle. And it has proved to be the real bugger.

So a barrier was constructed to control the Foss. In the last flooding of York, that proved inadequate, so more potent pumping gear had to be installed. As with all the hydraulics of this part of the world, chucking larger and larger quantities of water into the main streams merely aggravates the problems a bit further down. So sorting the flood problem here, means a couple of years later a new ‘project’ is needed there.

In 2015, when large parts of York went submarine, we tripped down to London. There’s a stretch of the line past Selby where both sides of the line were inundated. The train was running on a thin raised embankment, with water both ways. Impressive, but a trifle worrying.

Before 2015 there was the worst flooding in memory in 2000. The Ouse swelled to 5.5 metres above its normal levels, 540 properties were flooded, and damage was estimated at way over two million.

Chez Redfellow lies to the north of the A19 — which, give or take, is the route of the old Roman road from the Porta Principalis Dextra (we call it Bootham Bar) to Cataractonium (a.k.a. Catterick). And the Romans, in their civil engineering wisdom, seem to have followed a small ridge north-westwards out of the fortress. So there a discernible hump between us and the river.

Even so, the Viking Recorder (the rather unimpressive but magnificently-named official measuring station) is what matters in these parts —

As I write, the level is measuring 3.54m — but estimated to reach 4m or 4.5m tomorrow morning.

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A good day …

At my advanced age, surviving one more day is a small achievement.

Shifting a couple of hundredweight of smokeless briquettes (well, OK: 200 kg in foreign money) and a cubic metre of hardwood logs is something far more.

Even the Arthur-itis rose (or didn’t) to the occasion.

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A nice library

Quick flick through the morning tweets, and found one extolling the virtue of a library.

Tell me about it.

The accompanying image, for a moment, had me puzzling:

Hold on! I know that … err … Cambridge? Yes, Cambridge. Trinity, Cambridge? Yes, of course. The Wren Library. Took a moment, but realisation struck through.

Probably the second most evocative library in this archipelago.

The first? Ah, c’mon!


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Nollaig shona dhaoibh!

Look up, said the angel, be of good cheer, take heart; for — lo! — things could be worse.​

So we looked up, were of good cheer, took heart; and — lo! — things became far, far worse.​

Surely, MMXXI cannot be as horrendous as MMXX?

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