Monthly Archives: March 2020

Emergency football

The (indefinite) suspension of professional sport doesn’t greatly trouble me. I can count the number of top-level football games attended on one hand — fewer than international rugby games at Lansdowne Road.

Still, an anecdote …

Dear Old Dad was a bit of a player. He was a decent footballer and a more-than-competent medium-fast bowler. When he came down from Sheffield in the late 1930s, he joined the Metropolitan Police and became a regular in their squad.

When league football was suspended in the 1939-40 season all kinds of ad-hoc alternatives were invented. Most of the professional sportsmen were now ‘in service’, so their teams were stuffed with talent.

Hence Metropolitan Police versus the Army. The Army were effectively the all-powerful pre-War Arsenal side.

The coppers turned up at ‘a famous North London stadium’ (the other one was used as a PoW camp, which seems appropriate). Kitted up, the Fuzz were ready to play — the Army were still lacking a couple of star players. The Fuzz were feeling quite cocky about their prospects.

Dear Old Dad told the story on his death-bed.

“At the last moment, [Gunner] Denis Compton showed up. Borrowed a pair of boots.”

“What was the score?”

“Oh, let’s not talk about that!”

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1724 and all that

A brief (I hope) addition to that over-long explication of the Flying Dutchman.

I am told the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie records in Amsterdam, together with the Rijksarchief at the Hague are exhaustive.

On 27 September 1723, the Fortuijn, newly-built by the chamber of Amsterdam, set out to sea from Texel, in company with ‘s Graveland and Hogenes. On 2 January 1724, the three vessels put into Cape Town. It must have been a good trip: only four deaths out of total crews of around 700 were reported. At the Cape two other Dutch ships, the Anna Maria and the Doornik, which had left separately, rendezvoused and so comprised a small fleet.

On 18 January 1724, re-victualled, the Anna Maria, the Doornik, the Hogenes and the Fortuijn left the Cape. Apparently they separated on the continued voyage to Batavia. The smaller ship, the Anna Maria, was faster, and arrived at Batavia on 1 April 1724: the Doornik and the Hogenes hoved in on 17 and 21 April respectively. The ‘s Graveland had left the Cape on 3 February, to put into Batavia on 27 April. The Fortuijn was never seen again, and reported missing in the Uitloopboekjes.

Neither the the Doornik nor the Hogenes made any report of difficulties. Not so the later-arriving ‘s Graveland. The log of that ship recorded sighting the floating remnants of a Dutch ship at latitude 13 degrees, 20 seconds south — which is south of the Cocos-Keeling Islands (longitude was still a bit of an issue at that time). That report prompted a search-vessel, the Windhond,  to be despatched out of Batavia. Which opens another line of enquiry, and a remaining puzzle.

Did the Windhond investigate the Cocos Islands (in Dutch the Kokus Eilanden) or Christmas Island (Monij)? When the Windhond returned to Batavia, the captain’s report refers to ‘steep hillsides’, which might seen to be more appropriate to Christmas Island than Cocos-Keeling. Furthermore, the Dutch National Archive (reference has a listing of VOC ships lost or laid up between 1603 and 1778. It includes:

That decodes/translates as frigate [fregat] Fortuijn, built 1722 at A(msterdam), 145 feet in length, crew 225 ‘coppen’ or heads, sailed from Texel on 27 September 1724, its captain was Westrik, and vermist op zijn úijtreijs optrent het Eijlant Monij (lost outbound around Christmas Island).

It appears that, between 1694 (the loss of Ridderschap van Holland) and the Fortuijn in 1724, no other VOC ships went missing on the outward passage.

If there is a bottom line here, it has two aspects:

  • Despite all that English schoolboy stuff about Captain Cook ‘discovering’ Australia — who knew it was lost? — the Dutch had a good idea of its western coast long before. They just keep quiet about the whole locality, for good reasons of commercial security.
  • In Captain Westrik, we have another candidate for ‘Captain Vanderdecken’.


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The long and the short of it

Spent too long today fiddling with matters maritime (and can’t promise I’ve finished).

But there’s this, which keeps obtruding into my conscience:

‘detrimental to my election success’

I heard yesterday that my son-in-law, a hospital doctor in New Jersey, confirmed another Corona-virus case.

On balance, Herr Drumpf, your election success doesn’t and shouldn’t feature.

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Tales of two captains (part ye second)

At last we are back on track.

Eight-years-old. I confuse my captains

At eight-years-old I overwrote what little I knew about the Flying Dutchman with the Flying Enterprise. What was unforgivable was how that disconnect persisted, so that I might happily utter one name for the other. ‘Captain Carlsen’ somehow integrated with ‘Captain Vanderdecken’.

Recognising later that Van der Decken is simplycaptain of the deck’ should not excuse me. Then, somehow, somewhere along the way I was blown away by Wagner:

No: you don’t have to hang around for the full eleven minutes of the Overture (scroll to the end of this post and settle down for the full two hours). Just get the flavour, thinking Erich Wolfgang Korngold doing the stuff for Errol Flynn.

Now I recognise what follows is going to be very heavy on quotation: that’s because it is my archaeology, my mental lumber, of a fantasy.

A germ in Chaucer

One need not engage too long in literature to come across the caitiff, outcast, a lost soul, doomed to wander the world for eternity. A bad fate in the classical world was something like that of Odysseus. Ovid extensively bewailed his exile to Tomis (which we know as Constanta, on Romania’s Black Sea coast). Even worse was to lie unburied, as Antigone‘s brother, Polynices.

It’s there in Chaucer’s Parlement of Fowles:

… brekers of the lawe, soth to seyne,
And likerous folk, after that they ben dede,
Shul whirle aboute th’ erthe alwey in peyne,
Tyl many a world be passed, out of drede,
And than, foryeven al hir wikked dede,
Than shul they come into that blysful place,

The Flying Dutchman‘s original?

The one ‘given’ in the Flying Dutchman is nationality. Except he might not have been.

Barend Fockesz was not a Hollander: he was a Frisian. In 1678 Fockesz took his Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie ship to Batavia in record time: he either had some innovation (one suggestion is metal spars rather than wooden) or demonic aid. ‘Crack’ captains tend to drive their crews hard, which does improve their reputation among seamen.

The Flying Dutchman makes it into print

John MacDonald, emphatically of Inverness-shire, tells he was orphaned by the 1745 Jacobite Rising. He took to the sea, and his memoirs, Travels in Various Parts of Europe, Asia and Africa, appeared in 1790 — though we lack provenance for the author and his adventures.


Here he is, as captain’s servant, aboard the Hampshire (it did exist), inbound from India:

We had a good passage for England, till we came between the latitude of the south part of Madagascar and the Cape of Good Hope. There we had tempestuous weather for three weeks, with a foul wind, so that the Captain furled the sails and lashed up the helm, and let the ship drive where she would.

Captain Taylor and his officers were in great rouble of mind. We got so near the Cape, with a lee shore, that we could see the table land, and the Lyon’s Rump, and had the wind continued, we should have dashed against the rocks; but it pleased God the wind changed, and carried us further on the sea. We had very bad weather going round the Cape of Good Hope, insomuch that the whole ship’s company expected every day to be lost. Sometimes the officers on watch were knocked down on deck by a sea coming overboard, and the men were washed overboard, and never seen again. […]

The weather was so stormy, that the sailors said they saw the flying Dutchman. The common story is this, that this Dutchman came to the Cape is distress of weather, and wanted to get into harbour, but could not get a pilot to conduct her, and was lost; and that ever since, in very bad weather, her vision appears. The sailors fancy that if you would hail her, she would answer like another vessel.

What we can take from that, for sure, is the pre-existence of the myth, and a location.

A parallel

The first playhouse in Australia opened at Sydney on 16 January 1796, with a prologue, spoken by the celebrated Mr. Barrington, but most likely written by Henry Carter:

From distant climes, o’er wide-spread seas we come,
Though not with much éclat or beat of drum,
True patriots all; for be it understood,
We left our country for our country’s good …

Most often, though, Barrington gets the credit. He included it in his History of New South Wales (1802) — though even that authorship is suspect. Barrington (whose origins were the County Kildare) was transported for pick-pocketing. Barrington’s Voyage to Botany Bay is available one the Net. Chapter 6 includes this:

I had often heard of the superstition of sailors respecting apparitions, but had never given much credit to the report: it seems that some years since a Dutch man of war was lost off the Cape, and every soul on board perished; her consort weathered the gale, and arrived soon after at the Cape. Having refitted, and returning to Europe, they were assailed by a violent tempest nearly in the same latitute. In the night watch some of the people saw, or imagined they saw, a vessel standing for them under a press of sail, as though she would run them down: one in particular affirmed it was the ship that had foundered in the former gale, and that it must certainly be her, or the apparition of her; but on its clearing up, the object, a dark thick cloud, disappeared. Nothing could do away the idea of this phœnomenon on the minds of the sailors; and, on their relating the circumstances when they arrived in port, the story spread like wild-fire, and the supposed phantom was called the Flying Dutchman. From the Dutch the English seamen got the infatuation, and there are very few Indiamen, but what has some one one board, who pretends to have seen the apparition.

About two in the morning I was awaked by a violent shake by the shoulder, when starting up in my hammock, I saw the boatswain, with evident signs of terror and dismay in his countenance, standing by me. “For God’s sake, messmate,” said he, “hand us the key of the case, for by the Lord I’m damnably scarified: for, d’ye see, as I was just looking over the weather bow, what should I see but the Flying Dutchman coming right down upon us, with every thing set — I know ’twas she — I cou’d see all her lower-deck ports up, and the lights fore and aft, as if cleared for action. Now as how, d’ye see, I am sure no mortal ship could bear her low-deck ports up and not founder in this here weather: Why, the sea runs mountains high. It must certainly be the ghost of that there Dutchman, that foundered in this latitude, and which, I have heard say, always appears in this here quarter, in hard gales of wind.”

That had London publication in 1795. Some critics suggest Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner (published 1797) owes Barrington. By the start of the nineteenth century the Flying Dutchman had become a staple of literature.

A sighting in the far north!

George Moore knocked out On Passing Deadman’s Island, in the Gulf of St Lawrence, Late in the evening, September 1804:

See you, beneath yon cloud so dark,
Fast gliding along, a gloomy bark!
Her sails are full, though the wind is still,
And there blows not a breath her sails to fill!

Oh! what doth that vessel of darkness bear?
The silent calm of the grave is there,
Save now and again a death-bell rung,
And the flap of the sails with night-fog hung!

There liveth a wreck on the dismal shore
Of cold and pitiless Labrador;
Where, under the moon, upon mounts of frost,
Full many a mariner’s bones are tost!

Yon shadowy bark hath been to that wreck
And the dim blue fire, that lights her deck,
Doth play upon as pale and livid a crew,
As ever yet drank the church-yard dew!

To deadman’s Isle, in the eye of the blast,
To Deadman’s Isle she speeds her fast;
By skeleton shapes her sails are furl’d
And the hand that steers is not of this world!

Oh! hurry thee on — oh! hurry thee on
Thou terrible bark! ere the night be gone,
Nor let morning look on so foul a sight
As would blanch forever her rosy light!

I give that in full, doubting it chilled the marrow of the most susceptible maids, because:

  • as far as I can see, nobody else has perpetuated it in e-text;
  • third-rate writing can be damnably irritating when it penetrates the synapses;
  • it amply proves why Moore was of his time, but his reputation was not bright forever.

Walter Scott

Inevitably Scott gets in on the action, and when his career was forced to change direction. Around 1810 his reputation came from churning out imitation Border ballads. In 1813 he manufactured a Teesdale legend in Rokeby. The poem flopped, the bills for Abbotsford were mounting, and Scott turned to prose and romantic novels.

In Canto II Scott reflects on:

… seamen love to hear and tell
Of portent, prodigy and spell […]
Or of that phantom ship, whose form
Shoots like a meteor through the storm,
When the dark scud comes driving hard,
And lowered is every topsail yard,
And canvass, wove in earthly looms.
No more to brave the storm presumes!
Then, ‘mid the war of sea nd sky,
Top and top-gallant hoisted high,
Full-spread and crowded every sail,
The Dæmon frigate braves the gale;
And well the doomed spectators know
The harbinger of wreck and woe!

The full Goth

Coleridge and Moore are following the trend established by Horace Walpole. Spine-tingling shockers have sold well ever since.

In 1839 Captain Frederick Marryat cobbled together the whole Flying Dutchman story, with his own additions. One of Marryat’s sources would have been John Howison in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine for May 1821 — the first to feature Captain Hendrick Van der Decken.

In Marryat’s story, Philip Vanderdecken is returning from Batavia. He is the son of a VOL captain who had gone missing, but whose cursed ghost returns to haunt his widow. He hears the story of Captain William Vanderdecken from his dying morther:

“It was his third voyage to India, Philip, and it was to have been, if it had so pleased God, his last, for he had purchased that good ship with only part of his earnings, and one more voyage would have made his fortune. O! how often did we talk over what we would do upon his return, and how these plans for the future consoled me at the idea of his absence, for I loved him dearly, Philip, — he was always good and kind to me; and after he had sailed, how I hoped for his return! […]

A violent gust of wind roared round the house, and alarmed me still more. I had a painful, horrible foreboding; when, of a sudden, the windows and window-shutters were all blown in, the light was extinguished, and I was left in utter darkness. I screamed with fright; but at last I recovered myself, and was proceeding towards the window that I might reclose it, when whom should I behold, slowly entering at the casement, but — your father, — Philip! — Yes, Philip, — it was your father!”

William Vanderdecken is cursed because:

‘For nine weeks did I try to force my passage against the elements round the stormy Cape, but without success; and I swore terribly. For nine weeks more did I carry sail against the adverse winds and currents, and yet could gain no ground; and then I blasphemed, — ay, terribly blasphemed. Yet still I persevered. The crew, worn out with long fatigue, would have had me return to the Table Bay; but I refused; nay, more, I became a murderer, — unintentionally, it is true, but still a murderer. The pilot opposed me, and persuaded the men to bind me, and in the excess of my fury, when he took me by the collar, I struck at him; he reeled; and, with the sudden lurch of the vessel, he fell overboard, and sank. Even this fearful death did not restrain me; and I swore by the fragment of the Holy Cross, preserved in that relic now hanging round your neck, that I would gain my point in defiance of storm and seas, of lightning, of heaven, or of hell, even if I should beat about until the Day of Judgment.

‘My oath was registered in thunder, and in streams of sulphurous fire. The hurricane burst upon the ship, the canvas flew away in ribbons; mountains of seas swept over us, and in the centre of a deep o’erhanging cloud, which shrouded all in utter darkness, were written in letters of livid flame, these words — UNTIL THE DAY OF JUDGMENT.’

The ghost presents the widow with a letter. After the usual argy-bargy, Philip finds his mission is to deliver the fragment of the Holy Cross to the deck of the ghost ship.  So the theme of Maryatt’s story is established.

Years pass: off St Helena the younger Vanderdecken encounters the survivors of a sunken ship:

“… we saw the Fiend or Devil’s Ship, as they call her, but three days before.”

“What! the Flying Dutchman, as they name her?” asked Philip.

“Yes; that, I believe, is the name they give her,” replied the captain. “I have often heard of her; but it never was my fate to fall in with her before, and I hope it never will be again; for I am a ruined man, and must begin the world afresh.” […]

“It was very strange; the night was fine, and the heavens clear; we were under top-gallant sails, for I do not carry on during the night, or else we might have put the royals on her; she would have carried them with the breeze. I had turned in, when about two o’clock in the morning the mate called me to come on deck. I demanded what was the matter, and he replied he could hardly tell, but that the men were much frightened, and that there was a Ghost Ship, as the sailors termed it, in sight.

And so on. And so forth. Overheated stuff, indeed — and Maryatt found public and critical taste had changed. His Phantom Ship was no great success.


All that was needed was the full operatic excess.

How that came about is typical of this confused narrative.

Heinrich Heine did a satirical skit, Aus den Memoiren des Herrn von Schnabelewopski, on his character attending a performance of the story — one of several attempts to make the tale into a theatrical piece.

In 1843 Richard Wagner’s full-throated piece hit the stage in Dresden — and both the composer and Der fliegende Holländer were made for all time.

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Tales of two captains (part ye first)

This starts with personal psychiatry. I reckon I first became interested in this, by a confusion, as a stripling, in Wells-next-the-Sea. Wells knew of the dangers of life at sea — and was daily reminded by that memorial at the top of the Beach Road.

A process of retrospection (helped by Google, admittedly) means I can date the moment off awareness to the overlap of 1951-1952. Then, my sources of ‘news’ were my parents’ Daily Express and a Cossor valve radio tuned to the BBC Light Programme on 1500 metres medium-wave.

All such events need a hero.

Captain (Henrik) Kurt Carlsen.

His ship was the SS Flying Enterprise, a war-time build as SS Cape Kumukak (don’t sweat it: it’s named for a lighthouse in at the eastern end of Hawaii). Post-war, she was sold to a New York export-import company. 417 feet  in length, 6,750 tons in burthen, this tub trolled along at a maximum of 14 knots.

On Christmas Day Captain Carlsen and his vessel ran into a major storm, way off Cape Clear and south-west County Cork. Let me assure all passers-by (having witnessed such an event from — ominously named — Schull), such can be impressive.

A Malcolmian aside

I still remember the English public-school housemaster, on holiday, complaining of the ‘bloody fool’ who had kept flashing a torch, all night, at his bedroom window. The ‘fool’ was the Fastnet Rock lighthouse (as above), some eight or more miles out to sea.

Allow me to say, to those who deny my North Norfolk origins: I recall the Great Storm and floods of 32 January 1953. They were incomparable with a real Atlantic Force 10 thundering up Roaring Water Bay, with the spume on your face, a mile inland.

The story continues

Those war-time ships were built for an emergency, not for longevity. The cargo shifted, and the ship was listing at 45 degrees. After some jiggery-pokery Captain Carlsen eventually transferred his crew and (believe it or not) passengers to a convenient American transport. There’s another small mystery: why not to the British vessel which had been first to offer? But brave Captain Carlsen stayed aboard.

Soon after an American destroyer, the USS John W Weeks, arrived, took over escort duty. A tug, the Turmoil,  out of Falmouth, hoved along, guided by the destroyer’s searchlights. The Turmoil just happened to be the only capable, ocean-going tug within many hundred miles capable of the job (and there’s good post here).

Captain Carlsen stayed with his dying ship. A mate from the Turmoil transferred (he was Kenneth Dancy), and the tow began. The BBC news broadcasts had regular updates, even as the ship’s list increased. Eventually, on 2 January 1952, after 250 miles of the tow, and just 40 or so miles off Falmouth, the Flying Enterprise gave up the struggle, Captain Carlsen and Dancy bailed out, and the ship sank.

By this time in the narration, conspiracy theorists (not excluding myself) are getting the prickles.

Was there a mystery?

Well, there may be some suggestions in the circumstances. Captain Carlsen refused to transfer his crew and passengers to the first responder. The tow didn’t take the Flying Enterprise in to the nearest port: Cork. There were three US naval vessels, first the transport USS General A. W. Greely, then the destroyers USS John W Weeks, relieved by USS Willard Keith standing off for several days. It’s almost as if someone was taking an interest.

If so, it derives from the cargo. The declared burden was a large amount of pig-iron. Please assure me the United States had a need for imported pig-iron.

The alternative, conspiracist version is zirconium, required for the construction of the first US nuclear submarine. All fantasy, of course … except — well, let me go to wikipedia here:

… information regarding the cargo is still (in the year 2002) regarded as confidential and details are not available from the CIA, FIA, Coast Guard and/or US Navy. On the other hand, there appears to have been no secret that the US Atomic Energy Commission was acquiring zirconium, so it is not clear why any of these organizations should actually have information related to the Flying Enterprise

I’m enjoying this, but time for a tea-break.

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On furlough

I am intrigued by a recent phenomenon.

Some of the more literate journalists seem to have taken the hump against ‘lock-down’ to describe what circumstances and now edict impose upon us. Understandably so: ‘lockdown’ [sic] is an alien term which arrived from California where it referred to locking prisoners in cells, rather than allowing mayhem to take over the gaol. The OED first cites it from the Fresno Bee in December 1973. As a compound verb, to lock down, citations come from the same period, and again apply to incarceration:

Those squeamish scribblers seem prefer furlough. I am not wholly convinced (see a long way, below),

The wit and wisdom of a TCD man

Pressed, I would not have had a clue where the term furlough originated. At best I might point to the opening scene of Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer. Captain Plume and Sergeant Kite are doing their shady business in Shrewsbury:

Kite: … your honour knows that I am married already.

Plume: To how many?

Kite: I can’t tell readily—I have set them down here upon the back of the muster-roll. [Draws it out.] Let me see—Imprimis, Mrs. Shely Snikereyes; she sells potatoes upon Ormond key, in Dublin—Peggy Guzzle, the brandy woman at the Horse Guards, at Whitehall—Dolly Waggon, the carrier’s daughter, at Hull—Mademoiselle Van Bottomflat, at the Buss—then Jenny Oakum, the ship-carpenter’s widow, at Portsmouth; but I don’t reckon upon her, for she was married at the same time to two lieutenants of marines, and a man of war’s boatswain.

Plume: A full company—you have named five—come, make them half a dozen—Kite, is the child a boy, or a girl?

Kite: A chopping boy.

Plume: Then set the mother down in your list, and the boy in mine; enter him a grenadier, by the name of Francis Kite, absent upon furlow — I’ll allow you a man’s pay for his subsistence; and now, go comfort the wench in the straw.

Kite: I shall, sir.

Apart from regurgitating one of the oldest jokes against the incontinent military (one that Kipling himself did not contemn), I doubt that would raise a snigger for a modern audience.

The OED anatomises furlough

I full recognise Kenneth Grahame’s truism:

The clever men at Oxford
Know all that there is to be knowed.
But they none of them know one half
As much As intelligent Mr Toad!

Sure enough, while Farquhar gets his citation, the OED finds an earlier one in Ben Jonson’s Staple of News (1631). And, unsurprisingly — not having studied the entire opus of Mr Jonson — this comes as news to me. We’re in the last Act, and the business over a Will is winding down:

Picklock: Sir, I had somewhat will keep you still Lord
Of all the Estate, (if I be honest) as
I hope I shall. My tender scrupulous Breast
Will not permit me see the Heir defrauded,
And like an Alien thrust out of the Blood.
The Laws forbid that I should give consent
To such a civil Slaughter of a Son.
Peni-Boy junior: Where is the Deed? Hast thou it with thee?
Picklock: No,
It is a thing of greater consequence,
Than to be born about in a Black Box,
Like a Low-Country Vorloffe or Welsh Brief.
It is at Lickfingers, under Lock and Key.

Which needs explication

Vorloffe is Jonson’s rendering of the Low German (i.e. Dutch) verlof. The OED invites us to compare High German verlaub.

Jonson, lest we forget, had volunteered for [Sir] Francis Vere’s army in the Low Countries, and specifically was at the Siege of Knodsenburg. That gives us a precise provenance for the transmission of the word. Oh, and if anyone is puzzling over Jonson’s Welsh Brief, it is one of those very-English xenophobic oxymorons: Lawyers, and being Welsh doubly so, are allegedly prolix. Another slur that persists to the modern age.

According to the OED‘s recital of sources, we do not get the accepted English spelling of furlough until an 1804 dispatch by the (later) Duke of Wellington — who, at that date was merely Major-General Wellesley.

Unmilitary deployment

None of that quite catches the spirit of furlough as it is currently being used.

Sometime in the earlier part of the nineteenth century it had escaped to mean little more than ‘let or leave’. For that we can go to Walter Scott’s Woodstock, or The Cavalier. Alice Lee is having a stand-up row with her aged father:

“But on with thy bountiful uncle — what will he do? — will he give us the remains of his worshipful and economical housekeeping, the fragments of a thrice-sacked capon twice a-week, and a plentiful fast on the other five days? — Will he give us beds beside his half-starved nags, and put them under a short allowance of straw, that his sister’s husband—that I should have called my deceased angel by such a name! — and his sister’s daughter, may not sleep on the stones? Or will he send us a noble each, with a warning to make it last, for he had never known the ready-penny so hard to come by? Or what else will your uncle Everard do for us? Get us a furlough to beg? Why, I can do that without him.”

“You misconstrue him much,” answered Alice, with more spirit than she had hitherto displayed; “and would you but question your own heart, you would acknowledge—I speak with reverence—that your tongue utters what your better judgment would disown. My uncle Everard is neither a miser nor a hypocrite—neither so fond of the goods of this world that he would not supply our distresses amply, nor so wedded to fanatical opinions as to exclude charity for other sects beside his own.”

It’s worth reading on a bit from that snippet: the old man gets heated about the fissiparous religious denominations and hostilities of the Civil War era:

“Ay, ay, the Church of England is a sect with him, I doubt not, and perhaps with thee too, Alice,” said the knight. “What is a Muggletonian, or a Ranter, or a Brownist, but a sectary? and thy phrase places them all, with Jack Presbyter himself, on the same footing with our learned prelates and religious clergy! … “

Scott may be a bit ahead of himself there. Woodstock is sub-titled A Tale of the Year Sixteen Hundred and Fifty-one. Sir Henry Lee must have been very au-fait with current events to have come across the Muggletonians at that moment. Or developments spread quickly from Puritan London to rural Woodstock.

A Malcolmian aside: Muggletonians

No: not Harry Potter.

These were one of the weirder sprigs of Puritanism. Two cousins, John Reeve and Lodowicke Muggleton (which link will explain all in great depth), both London  tailors, shared visions, and became convinced they had featured in Revelation 11.3:

And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.

About all we now need to know about the Muggletonians is they derived beliefs from the aery fantasies of St John the Divine, that they had a running feud with most other outlying sects, but especially the Quakers, that they believed the sun rotated around the Earth, and anyone who crossed them was ritually cursed. Oh, and somehow the sect survived into the back-end of the twentieth century (so Scott, for that passing mention, got his curse).

Still not there

I’d argue that none of these usages quite meets the present need: we have a semi-enforced, semi-voluntary cession of all ordinary business.  We count our supply of toilet rolls, read the papers on line, and stay at home. It’ll be like this, or worse, for some time to come.

So I turned to John Algeo’s Fifty Years among the New Words. That on-line index doesn’t do full justice to the print issue before me:

v[erb] t[ransitive] ‘To give (a soldier) leave of absence (1781)’

but then adds:

Tuscaloosa (Ala) News, 20 July [1960] ‘Approximately 40,000 workers in related industries, chiefly coal and transportation, have been furloughed’.

Not: not the fully gist there.

A final suggestion

To cut to the chase, I reckon there is a simple term to use: curfew, and barely extends it recent usage.

We all know the original meaning here was the order to ‘cover fires’ at night. That made perfect sense in the time when medieval towns were mainly of wood, and fire a constant risk. Curfew was ordered by the ringing of bells. Later, it was simply clocks that gave the order. Or, as the OED has it:

Hence, the practice of ringing a bell at a fixed hour in the evening, usually eight or nine o’clock, continued after the original purpose was obsolete, and often used as a signal in connection with various municipal or communal regulations; the practice of ringing the evening bell still survives in many towns. In extended use: a restriction imposed upon the movements of the inhabitants of an area for a specified period.



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Circular motions


In one dimension, it started with a tweet from @garius:

Some of us are convinced the London underground network is a sentient and malevolent beast:

  • You’re in a hurry: the next train is ten minutes late, and rushes through your station empty.
  • Monday morning is prime day for suicides. Expect announcement: ‘Person under a train at Mornington Crescent’. Followed by general outburst on platform: ‘Selfish bastard!’.
  • Overground, it’s raining cats-and-dogs, blowing Force 7. The arrivals board blanks out.
  • Desperate for a loo? Any loo along the line will be shuttered.

That tweet set me musing:

Allow me to amplify

Notice my hesitation over the New York Metro. My internal witter was between NYC and the MTA. The MTA is now the MBTA — and that, too, is part of the story (because one reason for the 1949 fare increase was to pay off the accumulated debt of the predecessor BTA). Bostonians, doubtless pissed by sequential renaming, refer to the ‘T’.

In retrospect, of course I should have been thinking Boston — since in one of these junk boxes I’ll have kept my Charliecard. That name survives in honour of one of the greatest political campaign songs:

That’s the homogenised, ‘Folk Revival’ version served up by the Kingston Trio in 1959.

Ten years earlier Walter A. O’Brien, Jr. had been running for Mayor of Boston on the Massachusetts Progressive Party ticket. The Progressives had been the support for Henry Wallace’s run at the Presidency, and were effectively slimed by the whole Red Scare. The Massachusetts Progressives were one of the few surviving units. Wallace’s lefty support was enhanced by the folkies who had grown through Roosevelt’s New Deal and the Federal Project Number One of the Works Progress Administration. Wallace had folklorist Alan Lomax as the campaign’s music director. Song is a concomitant of all protest movements, particularly so when campaign funds don’t properly grease the wheels.

O’Brien’s campaign involved Butch Hawes and his wife, Bess Lomax (sister of afore-mentioned Alan, daughter of John Lomax of the Library of Congress Music Division) who had been connected to the Almanack Singers. With Jackie Steiner, whose obituary in the New York Times recited the story:

Jacqueline Steiner, who died on Jan. 25 [2019] at 94, was the lyricist who conjured up poor Charlie early in her singing and songwriting career. She and the song’s co-writer, Bess Lomax Hawes, dashed it off for a Boston mayoral candidate in 1949. They expected it to fade after the election along with their candidate, who received only 1 percent of the vote.

But 10 years later, the folk music group the Kingston Trio picked it up. With a slightly new spin, the trio gave it a second life, and their “At Large” album, with the song, “M.T.A.” (also known as “Charlie on the M.T.A.”), as the opening track, hit No. 1 on the charts.

“M.T.A.” received an astonishing third life in 2004, when Boston officials did away with subway tokens and issued an automated fare card. They called it the CharlieCard, which is still its name. At the ceremony showing it off, Gov. Mitt Romney heartily joined the Kingston Trio and belted out the song.

The original version written by Ms. Steiner and Ms. Hawes and based on the tunes of two old folk songs, had a political edge. They wrote it for a progressive candidate named Walter A. O’Brien, who opposed the latest fare increase. Subway riders would pay a dime to get onto a train, but if they transferred to an aboveground streetcar, they had to pay an extra nickel to exit. (The system was so complex that the M.T.A. issued a 15-page booklet with instructions for both riders and subway operators; the agency ended the system after only a few months.)

If you followed that, especially the final sentence, you are probably too bright for this blog.



You may, however, have noticed that the Kingston Trio rendered:

Vote for George O’Brien!
Get poor Charlie off the MTA.

That’s not an accident. Walter O’Brien was one of eighty-five black-listed in the mid-1950s as “present or former Communists or followers of the Communist party line” by the Massachusetts Commission on Communism (indissolubly linked to Senator Joe McCarthy). After that, Walter O’Brien and his wife were hounded out of Massachusetts.

Another worker on the 1949 O’Brien campaign was a certain Richard “Specs” Simmons who was earning his crust as a waiter at New York’s Purple Onion nightclub. Simmons passed the song to Will Holt, who recorded it for a 1957 album. That version of The MTA did well enough to be repeatedly broadcast — and Life magazine was on the point of sending an interviewer and photographer to Boston.

Suddenly, thought, interest in Holt and his songs died. Albums were withdrawn from stores. What had happened was a circular had gone round the radio stations and agencies denouncing the song as red propaganda. The record company tried to putty over the incident by editing out the Walter O’Brien name.

From Holt the song passed to the Kingston Trio, and was issued on a single on 29 June 1959. It was swiftly in the Billboard charts, where it remained for two years.

That’s the story of the song, but not my dim memory

What I should have pursued is the Boston link for my half-remembered Möbius twist SF memory.

That would have led me to any one of the Science Fiction collections which have included A.J. Deutsch‘s 1950 story, A Subway Named Moebius. I might even have searched the attic for those Faber anthologies from Edmund Crispin, and found:

In a complex and ingenious pattern, the subway had spread out from a focus at Park Street. A shunt connected the Lechmere line with the Ashmont for trains southbound, and with the Forest Hills line for those northbound. Harvard and Brookline had been linked with a tunnel that passed through Kenmore Under, and during rush hours every other train was switched through the Kenmore Branch back to Egleston. The Kenmore Branch joined the Maverick Tunnel near Fields Corner. It climbed a hundred feet in two blocks to connect Copley Over with Scollay Square; then it dipped down again to join the Cambridge line at Boylston. The Boylston shuttle had finally tied together the seven principal lines on four different levels. It went into service, you remember, on March 3rd. After that, a train could travel from any one station to any other station in the whole system.

There were two hundred twenty-seven trains running the subways every weekday, and they carried about a million and a half passengers. The Cambridge-Dorchester train that disappeared on March 4th was Number 86. Nobody missed it at first. During the evening rush, the traffic was a little heavier than usual on that line. But a crowd is a crowd. The ad posters at the Forest Hills yards looked for 86 about 7:30, but neither of them mentioned its absence until three days later. The controller at the Milk Street Cross-Over called the Harvard checker for an extra train after the hockey game that night, and the Harvard checker relayed the call to the yards. The dispatcher there sent out 87, which had been put to bed at ten o’clock, as usual. He didn’t notice that 86 was missing.It was near the peak of the rush the next morning that Jack O’Brien, at the Park Street Control, called Warren Sweeney at the Forest Hills yards and told him to put another train on the Cambridge run.

Jack O’Brien? Boston is awash with O’Brians and O’Briens, but is Deutsch circling back to Walter?

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