All downhill from here …

Today I celebrate Dear Old Dad, deceased.

He had several oddities.

One was never to fail to acknowledge the solstices.

So, in his honour, here it comes (without the knowing puff on the pipe):

“See the nights are drawing in already.”

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Monkey business

… and so, from man’s inhumanity to man, I mused on the curious story of the Hartlepool monkey. If only to escape from the more immediate topics of recent days (as in the re-phrasing of the traditional Chinese curse, “Mrs May, you live in exciting times”).

Legend has it that, during the Napoleonic Wars, a French ship was caught in a storm and wrecked off the Tees estuary. A monkey, dressed in a mock military uniform, was washed ashore. The locals (allegedly “fishermen”, but as likely shore-watchers or — crudely — wreckers) had never seen a Frenchman, held an impromptu court, declared the monkey a French spy, and hanged the creature from a convenient ship’s mast.

In my more-athletic, less-gouty youth, when we played one of the Hartlepool rugby teams, we referred to them derisively as “monkey-hangers”. Like all the best insults, it was adopted by the insulted: H’Angus the Monkey (as right) became the mascot of the soccer team — and Stuart Drummond, the occupant of the money-costume, was elected as the town’s mayor in 2002. It was H’Angus/Drummond’s other intrusion into the public consciousness: he had twice been escorted from the pitch for simulating sex with a blow-up doll.

All this appears on wikipedia, but the legend of the Hartlepool monkey has too many loose-ends (no dark humour intended) to be left there.

Ned Corvan was a mid-19th century music-hall artist and impresario in the North-East. He produced a series of song-books before his early death from TB. One of his songs was The Fishermen Hung the Monkey, O!  This is adduced as the first public outing of the legend. There are doubts about Corvan’s claim to originality, though.

Nominal confusions

Corvan learned his trade as an entertainer with Billy Purvis’s Victoria Theatre. Purvis was born near Penicuik, just south of Edinburgh, and migrated to Newcastle — so the east coast of Scotland may be a significant connection. Then there is the earlier Blind Willie Purvis.

Life is too short to unscramble which, but one or other Purvis had a song from Aberdeenshire, which is a clear analogue of the The Fishermen Hung the Monkey, O! —

Eence a ship sailed round the coast
And a’ the men in her was lost,
Burrin’ a monkey up a post —
So the Boddamers hanged the monkey-O

Pauline Cordiner’s blog credibly claims the Hartlepool monkey story was transplanted from Boddam, near Peterhead. And makes the connections.

Powder-monkeys

All the attempts to “explain” the story I find questionable. One sinister “explanation” (and there’s more here than meets the eye) is that ship’s boys were the “powder-monkeys”, and it was one of them who was the victim. And, we may see, for good reason.

Even this far, we already have pegs on which to hang any number of hats, and any odd theory. Bella Bathurst (page 262 in my paperback copy) makes a calculation:

… it is not Cornwall or the Pentland Firth which has the dubious honour of the highest number of shipwrecks per mile of coast. It is Durham, a tiny county with a tiny sliver of coastline, with 43.8 losses per mile. Further south, Norfolk has 25.6 and Suffolk 25, both of which make south Cornwall’s twenty wrecks per mile seem almost modest.

A law with unintended consequences

Add in the basis of “salvage”.

What immediately follows is from Bella Bathurst, but I see remarkable, even uncanny coincidences with Donald G. Shomette’s Shipwrecks, Sea Raiders, and Maritime Disasters Along the Delmarva Coast (see especially page 125).

In 1236 Henry III of England decreed that an owner of wrecked goods could claim them, within three months of a wreck. However, the same rule added that, as long as any man or beast escaped alive, the ship was not truly a wreck. This was repeated by Edward I’s First Statute of Westminster. The intent of the law, presumably as proposed by ship-owners, was to prevent the seizure and destruction of vessels that could be re-floated. The paradoxical result was to create a motive for murder. As long as the odd survivor was around, wreckers could not claim their expected dues. That Bella Bathurst  book (page 11) has:

The ‘man or beast’ ruling persisted for many centuries in different forms, and it was not until 1771 that it was finally and explicitly repealed. Even then, its effects lingered on in the common lore of the land. In more remote parts of the country, nineteenth- and even early-twentieth-century  wreckers were supposedly drowning their victims according to the old rule.

A local link

I was very young, probably still at junior school, when I came across a tattered book about East Anglia and its curiosities. It included a bit of doggerel:

Cromer crabs,
Runton dabs.
Beeston babies, 
Sheringham ladies,
Weybourne witches, 
Salthouse ditches, 
and the Blakeney people
stand on the steeple,
and crack hazelnuts
with a five-farthing beetle. 
Blakeney bulldogs, 
Morston dodmen, 
Binham bulls,
Stiffkey trolls.
And Wells bite-fingers.

From east-to-west, that’s a recital of the North Norfolk coast.

Even in the earlier period, before those small harbours silted up, there were no havens for larger vessels between Lynn on the Wash and Yarmouth at the mouth of the Yare. And certainly none one might wish to tackle in a pounding nor’easter.

So, two explanations there:

  • a “beetle” is Old English bíetel, an implement for beating: the kind of thing still used for levelling paving stones. Or used as a weapon — as John Lydgate (a Suffolk man, from … err … Lidgate) noted in The Pylgremage of the Sowle:

Somme were brayned with betels and somme beten with staues.

  • If a ship-wrecked corpse needed rings removed, the people of Wells are here alleged to resort to amputation by mouth. As one native-born, I’d demonstrate.

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On the money day

Back in 344 BC, the Kalendae Iuniae, the Romans dedicated the temple of Juno Moneta on the Capitoline Hill. The site is now occupied by the neat (from the exterior)  basilica church of Santa Maria in Arceli.

She was Juno “the warner” because of the legend — or even a verifiable story, since it had happened just forty years earlier  — of the sacred geese giving the alert of the attack by the Gauls.

During the third century BC, Rome started issuing coins. The mint was set up in the temple of Juno Moneta. So, from that came the terms for “mint” and “money”.

 

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B(r)ought to book

There is a special joy in discovering a new (at least, new to me) novel sequence.

I will have fingered the piles in the local Waterstone’s serially, before taking the plunge. Sometimes it works (those “get second book half-price” offers help). Too often it doesn’t; and a couple of years later I might be, plucking at the shelf, having a second bite.

Then the bitterest gall of all is to find the paperback the tables, while at home lurks the tasted-but-unfinished hardback.

It was inevitable that, sooner or later, I would go for James Runcie’s Grantchester teccies. I’d caught a couple in their TV adaptations.

Finally I took the plunge, making sure I had the sequence in proper order.

So here I am, setting out with Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death. The next month, with luck, is going to be booked.

Stout, but not Cortez, here I am willing and wishing to be dazzled by this new planet swimming into my ken.

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Filed under Detective fiction, James Runcie, Literature, Quotations, reading

“Affordable and easy”?

Last weekend’s New York Times had a superbly self-contradicting travel article:

Luxury Trips for Less in Spain and Portugal

Despite that headline, the whole piece was about:

how to get maximum luxury for the lowest prices on a Spain or Portugal getaway

So far, so good. And some of the “tips” are valid — or self-evident, depending on your mood. For example:

Spain and Portugal have an abundance of small, family-run luxury hotels, which are often half the price of five-star chain properties… these locally owned properties, in some respects, could be more luxe than chains because their rooms tended to be comparatively more spacious and the service more personalized. If you mention during your stay, for example, that you are interested in the local architecture, don’t be surprised to find reading material about the area’s top architectural sites waiting for you in your room.

Well, stripe me pink and call me ham!

The one that really, really got me was this:

… AND THE TRAIN IN SPAIN The country’s reliable, clean, service-oriented high-speed train system, Alta Velocidad España, is an affordable and easy way to get around. A one-way ticket from Madrid to Málaga, in southern Spain, for example, costs as little as 50 euros.

I defer to nobody in my enthusiasm for travel by rail. And were I wanting to travel from Madrid to Malaga I’d certainly be tempted to do so by AVE. I would book ahead, on-line, and reckon on rather less than €50. Then, both at Seville and Malaga, the AVE arrival is a wee bit away from the centre. Still …

Bucket listing

My interest in this page-filler was, just a few weeks since, I ticked three items off my bucket list: Granada and the Alhambra, Cordoba and the Mesquita, Seville.

The joys of low-cost air travel meant we were in-and-out through Malaga. The commuter trains through Malaga Airport station go all the way in to Malaga-Centro Alameda: €1.80 — not AVE standards, but regular and efficient.

Now we could have made that Andalucian circuit by train, especially the bit from Seville back to Malaga. In fact we found that it was quicker, and cheaper to use the ALSA coach services. On top of which there would be no changes, and more frequent — at least hourly —  departures. Not to mention that the coach stations are, in at least two of those cities, more adjacent to the tourist centres.

Time and tide waits for the retired

The other dimension here is we didn’t racket around. We took a fortnight, which allowed several days in each city. That was just as well: the Alhambra for one allows only a ration of visits each day; and to do the whole site — the Nasrid palace, the palace of Charles V (no where near as spectacular, but worth the trip) and the Generalife — is going to take a full day.

Then, in Seville, you are not going to get into much of the cathedral, or climb the Giralda, on a Sunday …

And, doing it that way, meant it allowed us to rent an apartment in each location. It also gives access to a washing machine, so less baggage.

The bottom line is: luxury shouldn’t trump convenience.

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An evil soul producing holy witness…

… Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,
A goodly 🍎Apple rotten at the heart.
O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!

Enough Merchanting of Venice.

That’s here, because else I’d be blaspheming. I just need to work out a bit of spleen.

For some reason my super-duper Apple wi-fi keyboard had taken to doing strange things, when paired with the CPU. And then, for no reason, it decided not to pair at all.

Fair enough. It’s given good service over at least a couple of years. And it did take some thrashing. And even the odd bit of morning caffeine.

But here’s the really, really annoying bit: that keyboard works quite happily with the ancient iPad.

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“More honey for the same expenditure of material”

That’s Pappus of Alexandria, one of the last Greek mathematicians, commenting on why the hexagons of the honey-comb are so efficient. Just one of the infinite interpretations of bees in our language, literature and general culture.

There’s a lot of bees around at the moment, and I’ve just had to respond to a question about why they are so prevalent in the context of Manchester. And Manchester is currently on all our minds, and tongues.

I first saw Manchester — oh! — over sixty years ago. I was not impressed. I instantly made the mental association with Dickens’s Coketown:

It was a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it; but as matters stood, it was a town of unnatural red and black like the painted face of a savage.  It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever, and never got uncoiled.  It had a black canal in it, and a river that ran purple with ill-smelling dye, and vast piles of building full of windows where there was a rattling and a trembling all day long, and where the piston of the steam-engine worked monotonously up and down, like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness.  It contained several large streets all very like one another, and many small streets still more like one another, inhabited by people equally like one another, who all went in and out at the same hours, with the same sound upon the same pavements, to do the same work, and to whom every day was the same as yesterday and to-morrow, and every year the counterpart of the last and the next.

In retrospect, I’d qualify that: Manchester might once have been Coketown; but its great days were already passing. To be absolutely correct (and here comes the teacher of Eng. Lit.), Dickens probably had Preston in mind, where he had visited to give a reading in early 1854 (serialisation of Hard Times began in April), just after a cotton workers’ strike.

Today, Manchester still wears the masonry of the industrial centre it had been. Now it is buffing up, the air is breathable, new buildings are in-filling and are as uniformly and crassly modern as anywhere else. It does have, to its credit, a developing and efficient mass-transport system.

One enters Alfred Waterhouse‘s vast Town Hall, and walks on bees:

That same bee turns up world-wide in the punning trade-mark for Boddington‘s beer: now a gruesome fizzy, frothy concoction brewed way-out-of-town, but once a staple for the cotton workers. Both brewery and employment long gone.

Dickens’s “black canal” has been bourgeoisified: it is now couth and well-scrubbed-up. When I’m through Manchester (and its our closest international airport of substance), I would head for The Wharf. The full address is Slate Wharf, Castefield, thus linking the industrial pedigree to a somewhat-imaginative Roman castra. The Wharf will offer as many as a dozen decent brews, not fizzy, but real ale, and several of them local. There’ll be no cotton-workers in sight: today this milieu is all professional and media types. Manchester may not make as much in the way of physical goods, but it sure knows how to make money.

So the bees buzz everywhere.

They are on the coat-of-arms of Manchester University (as right). They are featured on the crest (as left) of  HMS Manchester. The first (well, actually the second, if we include the down-market supply ship of the Napoleonic wars) of that name had a short, but spectacular — even controversial — life in the Second World War. The name was sufficiently re-habilitated to be applied to a Type-42 destroyer which did its bit in the Falklands and the Gulf.

There is another connection.

The co-operative movement started in Rochdale, just down the road from central Manchester, in 1844. The symbolism of “co-operation” meant that bees were carved on the buildings of the Co-ops. And remain a symbol to this day.

I’d reckon Pappus would approve.

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