Category Archives: Walter Scott

A strong whiff of smoked kipper

In the absence of further flesh-rending among the comrades, and it all being remarkably quiet among the May-bellines, silly-season attention turns to the political equivalent of Johnstone’s Paint Trophy

For UKIP are electing a new Führer


As might be expected, this is a spat between Arthur Daley wannabes and similar assorted also-rans.

To save the rest of us the bother, Ian Dunt at gives us a run down of the names in the frame. Stay awake at the back!

He is ambiguous about the One Who Is Blocked: since I’m one serially “blocked” by any Twittering Kipper, I know how it feels.

This is Stephen Woolfe MEP, who — it seems — is to the outgoing Leader as Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz was to his prototype.

Yet Woolfie has credibility issues

For a start he “forgot” his conviction for drunken driving, both when he stood as Police and Crime Commissioner and in his electoral campaign for the European Parliament. In the former of those cases the conviction would be an instant disqualifier — and the application/nomination process is adamant on the issue.

Tim Fenton, of zelo-street (“the Crewe end of the telescope”) is close enough to Woolfie’s stamping ground in Chester to peer under the stones, and argues that the claim to be a barrister is … err … not quite kosher:

… he has given the impression that he is a barrister, when he is not. Nor has he explained how he came to cease being a barrister. Indeed, the Sun’s take on him, claiming “The barrister wants the party to fill the space left by Jeremy Corbyn and his warring factions” is still live.
That story goes on “The 48-year-old barrister is favourite to take over from Nigel Farage in a leadership race which starts in earnest today”. But the Barristers’ Register of the Bar Standards Board cannot locate anyone called Steven Woolfe. The BBC has hinted at his no longer practising, telling “Steven qualified initially as a barrister but moved into financial services and is presently legal adviser to a company whose clients include hedge funds”.
And The Week describes him as “The former barrister hoping to lead Ukip”. Yet Woolfe has not yet moved to explain why this should be. Why did Woolfe cease to be a practising barrister? Did some event occur that caused the BSB to take action? Was it merely a personal choice? And why is he waiting for the questions to be asked before getting the information out there? There’s another one for the party’s vetting procedures.

What a tangled web we weave

There’s a running battle going at wikipedia about Woolfe’s entry: at least a dozen attempts at correction in just the last week, some a couple of dozen more over the last month.

When first we practise to…

Stop it right there, Sir Walter! We are in the presence of lawyers!

I took a look at Mr Woolfe’s Linked-In page, I detected a distinct odour of the Leadsoms. Consider:

  • LL.B., Aberystwyth, 1990.
  • Inns of Court Law School, 1991-2 (this would presumably be the “conversion course”). I might have expected to be told here in which of the Inns was Mr Woolfe “called to the Bar”.
  • “Barrister practising In London Chambers in commercial, criminal and common law”, 1992-6. That’s a pretty loose description. Usually a particular Chambers, especially were it one with prestige, would be named.
  • UBS, Equity Derivatives and Wealth Management Compliance Analyst, 1996-7.
  • Counsel, DLA Piper, 1999-2000.
  • Standard Bank, Deputy Head of Compliance, 2003-4.
    — those three latter posts all being no more than a year each. Why?
  • Aurelius Compliance Consultants, “Senior Compliance Consultant & Partner”, 2000-2007. There a further puzzle here: this firm was dissolved 20th September 2005, as on the same day was Marcus Woolfe Ltd, operating out of Flat 15A, Clapham Manor Street, SW4. A “Company Check” leads us to Mr Steven Marcus Woolfe.
  • Boyer Allan Investment Management LLP, 2006-2012. Should we detect a a further oddity here: according to Mr Woolfe’s claimed employment history, there’s an apparent — and impossible, in the light of the firm being dissolved — at least twelve month overlap between those two posts. Is this another of Mr Woolfe’s lapses of recollection?
  • MercuryJove Advisers (I tried to find it, but —search me!), General Counsel Consultant 2012-2014. Again we have two missing months between these last two appointments — “Gardening leave”?

In the days when I sat on appointment panels, there would have been enough meat on such bare bones to put an applicant though the mincer.

I kicked off with Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, which was sponsored by “a paint to be proud of“. Modern paints go far beyond simple whitewash,  but that seems to be adequate in this case.




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Filed under blogging, fiction, politics, UKIP, Walter Scott

4 books, garlanded with etymologies

We have to go back to Aristophanes for the original metaphor:

To be insulted by you is to be garlanded with lilies.

That one is all over the net, and freely adapted by journos and other low types. They never tell you the precise source, nor explain the ambiguity in Aristophanes. Meanwhile, watch the floral image.

Garlanded, as a verb, seems to have enjoyed a particular vogue in the early nineteenth-century, where I find two choice usages:

One in Walter Scott, The Heart of Midlothian:

They paused for a moment on the brow of a hill, to gaze on the unrivalled landscape which it presented. A huge sea of verdure, with crossing and intersecting promontories of massive and tufted groves, was tenanted by numberless flocks and herds, which seemed to wander unrestrained and unbounded through the rich pastures. The Thames, here turreted with villas, and there garlanded with forests, moved on slowly and placidly, like the mighty monarch of the scene, to whom all its other beauties were but accessories, and bore on its bosom an hundred barks and skiffs, whose white sails and gaily fluttering pennons gave life to the whole.

Another in Keats, The Eve of St Agnes, XXIV:

All garlanded with carven imageries
Of fruits, and flowers, and bunches of knot-grass,
And diamonded with panes of quaint device,
Innumerable of stains and splendid dyes,
As are the tiger-moth’s deep-damask’d wings;
And in the midst, ’mong thousand heraldries,
And twilight saints, and dim emblazonings,
A shielded scutcheon blush’d with blood of queens and kings.

Suddenly, in this morning’s Irish Times,

The oldest known surviving Irish manuscript will be among a number of works to be exhibited publicly for the first time in 2016, after Trinity College Dublin secured funding for a major conservation project…

Three other manuscripts will also benefit from the conservation work: the Book of Dimma, the Book of Mulling (or Moling), and the so-called Garland of Howth

The Garland of Howth is what remains of a 9th- or 10th-century book of the Gospels (the name “garland” is a corruption of the Irish “ceithre leabhair”) and is considered the work of multiple scribes, none of them first class.

To be honest, were I in possession of a 9th- or 10th-century book, my prime concern might not be whether the scribes were first class.

Now consider the OED’s etymology for garland:

Old French garlandegerlandegallande (also guarlander verb) = Provençal g(u)arlanda, Old Spanish guarlanda, Catalan garlanda, medieval Latin garlandagallanda. The word is also found with a different vowel in the first syllable, as French guirlande, Provençal guirlanda, Italian ghirlanda, Spanish guirnalda, Portuguese guirnalda; and no satisfactory origin has yet been suggested for it. In the 16th and 17th cents. the spellings ghir-gir-guirland are frequently used by English writers, in imitation of the French and Italian forms.

Note: no satisfactory origin has yet been suggested for it. In this context we certainly have one.

The text of The Garland of Howth is on-line, that you may practise your late Latin..

That’s not the end of the mild verbal excitement here.

Despite the general application of the decimal system, we still use a dodecimal one alongside (twelve inches in the foot, eggs in dozens …). Refer now to Martin J Ball and James Fife on The Celtic Languages, pages 118-9:

In Old Irish numbers were counted in tens between 20 and 100. The decades 20-100 and 1,000 are nouns and are followed by the genitive plural. This decimal system survived in the literary language into Modern Irish, but in the spoken language a vigesimal system prevails which uses either the native word fiche or the borrowed scór (< Eng. score) for 20, e.g. ceithre leabhair is trí fichid or trí scór is ceithre leabhair ’64 books’.

Don’t get confused there:  trí scór is ceithre leabhair translates as “three score and four”. Whereas ceithre leabhair are the four books of the Gospels.

Now, consider:

  • What is the crowning literary and dogmatic achievement of Christianity? Indeed, a foundation of all Western European moral teaching?

Did you arrive there at the Four Gospels?

  • Who reintroduced the Four Gospels to Western Europe, after the Fall of Rome?

Did you arrive there at the Irish monks who left their native land, never to return, to convert the heathen (as St Columba, St Ninian, St Martin of Tours)? Then, in a second exodus, to apply care and maintenance to the converted through monastic establishments?

If so, the ceithre leabhair might readily be localised into any of those early languages the OED etymology recites. And, starting with Patrick’s parable on the shamrock, those early Irish monks seem keen on teaching aids borrowed from nature. Perchance, just perchance, have we here some kind of “reverse metaphor” — the Gospels becoming the garland, and the garland metaphored back again?

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Filed under Irish Times, Literature, Oxford English Dictionary, reading, Trinity College Dublin, Walter Scott

I’ve Got a Ferridge Sticking up My Nose

Dylan Thomas and Julie Andrews both thought we should Begin at the Very Beginning. Except this particular whimsical notion has several epiphanies.

booksThe earliest is the story (no, I wasn’t there to assert it personally) that what did for “Hail Oswald” Mosley and his Black Shorts Shirts was the moment The Great Leader would raise his arm in a fascist salute and a schoolmasterly voice from the back of the hall would call: “Yes, Oswald, you may leave the room!”

The Fortunes of Nigel

[As I keep saying, Walter Scott is long-winded, but could spin a decent tale. That is not worth developing here as a full-blown aside. We’ll have one of those in a moment.]

Since abuse is not seeming to damage Teflon Nigel, let’s try similar mockery. Mrs Angry, she of the magnificent Broken Barnet site, reckons:

… it would be interesting to look at Farage’s own background.

He likes to spin the story behind his own unusual surname as being of Huguenot origin: sort of foreign, yes, a bit French but you know, way back, and Protestant. None of that foreign Papist nonsense. 

In fact a quick look on reveals that the Farage name, to be pronounced, we are told, Far-AGE, is more likely to be rather more boring Ferridge, from the home counties, generations back. 

Mrs Angry then shows that Mr Ferridge not only has a German secretary/helpmeet/back-of the fridge-cleaning wife, he had a German refugee great-grandmother, Bina Schrod.

Then, yesterday, we had John Rentoul’s General Election countdown (which provoked my earlier post).  Mr Rentoul is very anxious we understand:


Then compounds his apology by reusing the same image in a later tweet.

Mr Ferridge has a very polecatty snarl, there.

Which brought me to another recollection, and one at which I was present, by the marvel of radio: John Cleese and Graham Chapman’s The Ferret Song.

A Malcolmian aside

There is something of a small family spat going on here, as to which show this originated in. The dissent  is the source of the Ur-version. Was it:

  • I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again (BBC Home Service, 1964 and continuing), which is the one I’m sticking with, and why I say its “off the wireless”.
  • At Last the 1948 Show (ITV, 1967)

or even:

  • Monty Python

My final concession would be all three, but in that order.

Anyway, back to sanity, and:

Got it? If you have, you’ll never forget it.and one piece of decent classical music is ruined for ever.

So, all together, the massed Ferridge Chorale’s premiere performance, guaranteed to disrupt any UKIP event:

[Solo] I’ve got a Ferridge sticking up my nose …
[Chorus] He’s got a Ferridge sticking up his nose!
[Solo] How he got there I can’t tell,
But now he’s there he grates like hell …

[Vamp till irate Kipper thugs intervene.]


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Filed under BBC, Independent, John Rentoul, politics, UKIP, Walter Scott

More bull



The wonderful WWW will provide several mangled summaries of this incident. Here seems to be the fullest, contemporary account:

It finally happened — a bull got into a china shop today.

The bull — Royalist Dandy Victor of Twin Oaks Farm, Morristown, N.J. — was led through the shop by Fred Waring, orchestra leader. Both nearly died of fright.

It was on a bet. Waring lost a football wager to Paul Douglas, newsreel sports commentator. The pay-off was disappointing. From now on, “like a bull in a china shop” no longer denotes clumsiness with overtones of wreckage and havoc. It means acute timidity, plus resignation.

What happened? Just $1.17 worth of china was destroyed — by Douglas, not the bull. Douglas broke a plate and a teacup in the hope of arousing “Dandy” to anger and action. Dandy just blinked and turned his head away.

Dandy is a two-year-old, 1000-pound, beaver-hued Jersey owned by Peter H.B. Frelinghuysen, one of the country’s foremost cattle breeders.

The china shop was the ultra-exclusive one of William H. Plummer, Ltd., at 695 Fifth Avcenue. The owner Frederick J. Cuthbertson permitted the use of his place — not for the publicity, he said — but because “we’re making history”.

There were at least 100 witnesses, including Mrs. Waring, Mrs. Frelinghuysen, and former Gov. Harold H. Hoffman of New Jersey.

Waring wore a dinner jacket and opera hat. He chose conservative garb, he said, because he didn’t want to excite the bull. Douglas put on a red sash and a toreador’s jacket, red with gold braid. He wore a bull fighter’s hat.

“I got nothing to lose,” he said.

Dandy had on a fancy brown and orange blanket.

Dandy pushed his nose through the entrance of the shop at 10:05 a.m. Waring, shivering “from cold”, tugged at the leather strap attached to the halter. Dandy rolled his eyes and looked scared. So did Waring.

Dandy and Waring then manoeuvred up the aisle under a $3500 Pâte-sur-Pâte vase designed by Solon at the Minton factory in England. The photographers’ lights bothered Dandy and he tossed his massive head and horns. Waring said, “For Pete’s sake don’t switch your tail; I’m paying for this.”

Cuthbertson looked on pretty calmly for a man who had just estimated the value of the merchandise in Dandy’s path at “$50,000.”

Waring broke the plate, made faces and shouted insults but Dandy just edged away.

The three paused beside a $35 china bull. Dandy didn’t look at it. He gazed timorously at the photographers, wincing every time they shouted suggestions to Waring. The orchestra leader hung his hat on one of Dandy’s horns and the bull all but moaned.

Then the trio turned the corner and moved down the opposite aisle and out of the store, Dandy quickening his pace at the door as though glad it was all over.

Douglas said, “I’m satisfied.”

Waring, who had shouted “Goodby, dear” to his wife when the procession started, mopped his brow.

Outside an office girl on her way to work said to her companion: “Lookit the cop. Something must’ve happened.

Just history being made, that was all.

There’s just enough of the Runyon-esque there, for those fine citizens from Brooklyn — Harry the Horse, Spanish John and Little Isadore — to be lurking just out of focus.

An ox in a china shop?

Obviously no bull could be in a china shop before the eighteenth century gave us the full experience of retail therapy. So,  on Monday 4th September, 1769, we encounter Mr James Boswell in London’s Soho:

In one of the streets of Soho I met Mr. Sheridan, whom I had not seen for many years. I lie under many obligations to him, as he took a great concern about me when I was a very idle, impetuous young fellow, and had me often in his house in the kindest manner. So I was happy to meet with him, and promised to come and dine with him without ceremony, when I was not engaged. I then called on Mr. Thomas Davies, bookseller, whom I must always remember as the man who made me acquainted with Mr. Samuel Johnson. He is a very good kind of man himself, and has been long my acquaintance. He told me that Mr. Berenger, the Master of Horse, who it seems is mighty delicate and polite, said that Mr. Johnson was, in a genteel company, like an ox in a china-shop. He overturns everything.

The following morning, Boswell was up betimes, caught the “Oxford fly” at 7 a.m., breakfasted at Slough, dined at Henley, and got to Oxford about six. I put up at the Angel Inn. Which, it strikes me, is not bad for a horse-drawn trip along rough roads. Paddington (and Boswell would need to have crossed London to get even that far) to Oxford is today less than an hour by the best trains. But be warned:



Allow me to correct Mr Boswell. Richard Berenger was not the Master of Horse (i.e. Officer Commanding the Royal stables) in 1769: he was the “Gentleman of Horse”, the 2 i.c. — and, incidentally, the last before the post was abolished, on Berenger’s death, in 1782.

Walter Scott’s variation

The metaphor hadn’t stagnated when Walter Scott used a version in a footnote [Note V] to Chapter VII of The Fortunes of Nigel (published 1822):


It will perhaps be recognised by some of my countrymen, that the caustic Scottish knight, as described in the preceding chapter, borrowed some of his attributes from a most worthy and respectable baronet, who was to be met with in Edinburgh society about twenty-five or thirty years ago. It is not by any means to be inferred, that the living person resembled the imaginary one in the course of life ascribed to him, or in his personal attributes. But his fortune was little adequate to his rank and the antiquity of his family; and, to avenge himself of this disparity, the worthy baronet lost no opportunity of making the more avowed sons of fortune feel the edge of his satire. This he had the art of disguising under the personal infirmity of deafness, and usually introduced his most severe things by an affected mistake of what was said around him. For example, at a public meeting of a certain county, this worthy gentleman had chosen to display a laced coat, of such a pattern as had not been seen in society for the better part of a century. The young men who were present amused themselves with rallying him on his taste, when he suddenly singled out one of the party:—”Auld d’ye think my coat—auld-fashioned?—indeed it canna be new; but it was the wark of a braw tailor, and that was your grandfather, who was at the head of the trade in Edinburgh about the beginning of last century.” Upon another occasion, when this type of Sir Mungo Malagrowther happened to hear a nobleman, the high chief of one of those Border clans who were accused of paying very little attention in ancient times to the distinctions of Meum and Tuum, addressing a gentleman of the same name, as if conjecturing there should be some relationship between them, he volunteered to ascertain the nature of the connexion by saying, that the “chief’s ancestors had stolen the cows, and the other gentleman’s ancestors had killed them,”—fame ascribing the origin of the latter family to a butcher. It may be well imagined, that among a people that have been always punctilious about genealogy, such a person, who had a general acquaintance with all the flaws and specks in the shields of the proud, the pretending, and the nouveaux riches, must have had the same scope for amusement as a monkey in a china shop.

Which paragraph amply illustrates why the reading of Sir Walter Scott is less practised in modern times. It also shows he has a deft sharpness to his quill.

As Scott explains:

Sir Mungo Malagrowther, of Girnigo Castle, … claims a little more attention, as an original character of the time in which he flourished.

Having little or no property save his bare designation, Sir Mungo had been early attached to Court in the capacity of whipping-boy, as the office was then called, to King James the Sixth, and, with his Majesty, trained to all polite learning by his celebrated preceptor, George Buchanan. The office of whipping-boy doomed its unfortunate occupant to undergo all the corporeal punishment which the Lord’s Anointed, whose proper person was of course sacred, might chance to incur, in the course of travelling through his grammar and prosody. Under the stern rule, indeed, of George Buchanan, who did not approve of the vicarious mode of punishment, James bore the penance of his own faults, and Mungo Malagrowther enjoyed a sinecure.

112Ah! Such details are what make study rewarding.

I suspect that Sir Mungo Malagrowther, of Girnigo Castle, in borrowing some of his attributes from a most worthy and respectable baronet may have been borrowing from Sir William Stewart 11th Laird of Grandtully Castle (as left).

And a right devious … err … twister he seems to have been, at that:

Sir William is known in family tradition as ‘William the Ruthless’, and it is to his cupidity and lack of scruple that the Steuart-Fothringham family owed their prosperity. To his seat of Grandtully Castle – until recently in the ownership of Henry Steuart-Fothringham — he added the nearby Murthly Castle by devious means. It is said that he threatened to reveal – or, in family tradition, simply to pretend — that the owner Abercrombie of Murthly was sheltering Jesuits unless he agreed to sell Murthly Castle for an absurdly low price.

Perhaps a worthy ancestor for one of Runyon’s citizens.

Finally, the finished phrase

A few years after Scott’s monkey, we meet Captain Marryat’s simile towards the end of Chapter XV of Jacob Faithful [1834]. The Turnbull household (a significant name) anticipates social climbers of later novelists and generations:

As soon as Mr. Turnbull was dressed, we went down into the drawing-room, which was crowded with tables loaded with every variety of ornamental articles. “Now this is what my wife calls fashionable. One might as well be steering through an ice-floe as try to come to an anchor here without running foul of something. It’s hard-a-port or hard-a-starboard every minute ; and if your coat-tail gybes, away goes something, and whatever it is that smashes, Mrs. T. always swears it was the most valuable thing in the room. I’m like a bull in a china-shop. One comfort is, that I never come in here except when there’s company. Indeed, I’m not allowed, thank God. Sit on a chair, Jacob, one of those spider-like French things, for my wife won’t allow blacks, as she calls them, to come to an anchor upon her sky-blue silk sofas. How stupid to have furniture that one’s not to make use of! Give me comfort; but it appears that’s not to be bought for money.”

Or, just like Messers Waring and Douglas, we can put the presumption to the test:

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Filed under History, Literature, reading, Scotland, Walter Scott

A can-can over the billows with élan and espièglerie

pyratesI’ve just spent ten minutes with a Yorkshire builder, and his all-purpose “Well …” Trying to decode that extended monosyllable would tax any linguist. Similarly, was it not Judy Dench who reckoned the most difficult speech in all Shakespeare was Cleopatra’s “O!“?

Still, espièglerie had me well-and-truly bunkered.

The OED gives us:

 Frolicsomeness, roguishness.

And a citation (one of just two) from Walter Scott, which takes us to The Antiquary:

Miss Griselda Oldbuck’s … niece, the same whom Lovel had seen transiently during his first visit, was a pretty young woman, genteelly dressed according to the fashion of the day, with an air of espieglerie which became her very well, and which was perhaps derived from the caustic humour peculiar to her uncle’s family, though softened by transmission.

They don’t write sentences like that any more, which perhaps is just as well. Though we may need to correct that judgement with a later example.  Equally, we may suspect the OED doesn’t quite catch the full significance of the term (unless we read much into “roguishness”), or that this later usage adds dimensions which Scott was too prudish to explore.

And so to George MacDonald Fraser

My headline here is similarly Scottish in flavour.

The presence of builders in the house (and we are still a fortnight from kitchen-installation) disrupts the even-tenor of our reading-habit. Time for remedial treatment.

FlashmanMy usual correction for a reading block of this magnitude is to revisit an old friend. On this occasion it wasn’t Anthony Hope, but his close derivative, George MacDonald Fraser. No, not the magnificent Flashman saga (we get enough of that each PMQs). The even-lighter, frothier The Pyrates. Fraser must have been working on this around the time he was cobbling the screenplay for Octopussy (#13 of the James Band franchise).

The Pyrates

For brevity and convenience, let’s go with the wikipedia summary of The Pyrates:

The Pyrates is a comedic novel by George MacDonald Fraser, published in 1983. Fraser called it “a burlesque fantasy on every swashbuckler I ever read or saw.”

Written in arch, ironic style and containing a great deal of deliberate anachronism, it traces the adventures of a classic hero (Captain Benjamin Avery, RN, very loosely based on Henry Avery), multiple damsels in distress, and the six captains who lead the infamous Coast Brotherhood(Calico Jack Rackham, Black Bilbo, Firebeard, Happy Dan Pew, Akbar the Terrible and Sheba the She-Wolf). It also concerns the charismatic anti-hero, Colonel Thomas Blood (cashiered), a rakish dastard who is loosely modeled on the historical figure, Thomas Blood. All of the above face off against the malevolently hilarious Spanish viceroy of Cartagena, Don Lardo. The book’s 400 pages of continuous action travel from England to Madagascar to various Caribbean ports of call along the Spanish Main.

Were we to take this confection at all seriously (which would be a grotesque mistake), we might use it as the ultimate satire of every cliché of a plot device. The web-site tvtropes (oh, how I wish I had conceived that idea!) lists some ninety — count them! We don’t have to wait until September 19th (International Talk Like A Pirate Day) to catch the spirit — which is somewhere between Navy Rum and sarsaparilla.

Get the flavour

Here are the first four sentences of Book One, chapter one:

It began in the old and golden days of England, in a time when all the hedgerows were green and the roads dusty, when hawthorn and wild roses bloomed, when big-bellied landlords brewed rich October ale at a penny a pint for rakish high-booted cavaliers with jingling spurs and long rapiers, when squires ate roast beef and belched and damned the Dutch over their claret while their faithful hounds slumbered on the rushes by the hearth, when summers were long and warm and drowsy, with honeysuckle and hollyhocks by cottage walls, when winter nights were clear and sharp with frost-rimmed moons shining on the silent snow, and Claud Duval and Swift Nick Nevison lurked in the bosky thickets, teeth gleaming beneath their masks as they heard the rumble of coaches bearing paunchy well-lined nabobs and bright-eyed ladies with powdered hair who would gladly tread a measure by the wayside with the gallant tobyman, and bestow a kiss to save their husbands’ guineas; an England where good King Charles lounged amiably on his throne, and scandalised Mr Pepys (or was it Mr Evelyn?) by climbing walls to ogle Pretty Nell; where gallants roistered and diced away their fathers’ fortunes; where beaming yokels in spotless smocks made hay in the sunshine and ate bread and cheese and quaffed foaming tankards fit to do G. K. Chesterton’s heart good; where threadbare pedlars with sharp eyes and long noses shared their morning bacon with weary travellers in dew-pearled woods and discoursed endlessly of ‘Hudibras’ and the glories of nature; where burly earringed smugglers brought their stealthy sloops into midnight coves, and stowed their hard-run cargoes of Hollands and Brussels and fragrant Virginia in clammy caverns; where the poachers of Lincolnshire lifted hares and pheasants by the bushel and buffeted gamekeepers and jumped o’er everywhere …

An England, in short, where justices were stout and gouty, peasants bluff and sturdy and content (but ready to turn out for Monmouth at a moment’s notice), merchant-fathers close and anxious, daughters sweet and winsome, good wives rosy and capable with bunches of keys and receipts for plum cordials, Puritans smug and sour and sanctimonious, fine ladies beautiful and husky-voiced and slightly wanton, foreigners suave and devious and given to using musky perfume, serving wenches red-haired and roguish-eyed with forty-inch busts, gentleman-adventurers proud and lithe and austere and indistinguishable from Basil Rathbone, and younger sons all eager and clean-limbed and longing for those far horizons beyond which lay fame and fortune and love and high adventure.

That was England, then; long before interfering social historians and such carles had spoiled it by discovering that its sanitation was primitive and its social services non-existent, that London’s atmosphere was so poisonous as to be unbreathable by all but the strongest lungs, that King Charles’s courtiers probably didn’t change their underwear above once a fortnight, that the cities stank fit to wake the dead and the countryside was largely either wilderness or rural slum, that religious bigotry, dental decay, political corruption, fleas, cruelty, poverty, disease, injustice, public hangings, malnutrition, and bear-baiting were rife, and there was hardly an economist or environmentalist or town planner or sociologist or anything progressive worth a damn. (There wasn’t even a London School of Economics, which is remarkable when you consider that Locke and Hobbes were loose about the place).

captainblood1If explicating Paradise Lost — even the opening twenty-six lines, and just two sentences to barely-literate, Biblically-deprived, mono-multi-cultural sixth-formers is a chore, consider how to unravel the referential complexities of that little lot. GMF’s Influential Bibliography, appended to the text, is a good start to “background reading” – though a wet Sunday afternoon, with Errol Flynn on a tv film re-run, might not be a bad one.

Incidentally, the headline for this piece is from chapter five (which is where I rolled over and went to sleep last night). The three ships of the “nasties” (all cuddly teddy-bears, really) are closing in on Our Hero, and his side-kick, the Anti-Hero, and — of course — threatening the Eye Candy:

Secondly came that gaily-decked galleon of evil repute, the Grenouille Frénétique, or Frantic Frog, flagship of Happy Dan Pew, French filibuster, gallant, bon vivant and gourmet, who was given to dancing rigadoons and other foreign capers as his vessel sailed into action. Clouds of aftershave wafted about his ship, whose velvet sails were fringed with silk tassels in frightful taste, its crew of Continental sea-scum lining the rails crying “Remember Dien Bien Phu!” and “Vive le weekend!” as their graceful craft seemed to can-can over the billows with élan and espièglerie.

[In fact, Happy Dan Pew wasn’t French at all. His real name was Trevor O’Grady from St Helens, but he had been hit on the head by a board-duster while reading a pirate story during a French lesson, and his mind had become unhinged. From that moment he suffered from the delusion that he was a Breton buccaneer, but since he spoke no French beyond Collins’ Primer, his crew had a confusing time of it.]”

Beyond which, all I can say is …



Filed under films, Flashman, George MacDonald Fraser, Naval history, Walter Scott

One up-woman-ship

Doubtless the next few outings will reveal what Malcolm has been doin’ of late.

G-VROCBack to a fer-fer-freezing London, courtesy of G-VROC Mustang Sally (and she surely was bucking about in the early stages of the flight), one of the first little bizarreries lodged in Malcolm’s mind was that very word.


The OED definition is Bizarre quality — which is rather like saying ‘pinkness’ is the quality of being pink. It doesn’t really help. You either ‘get it’ or you don’t.

Rather like ConDem coalition government, which itself defines a particular bizarrerie.

Perhaps bizarrerie was intended to be the name of a retail shop, and therefore most likely to suit one specialising in female ‘intimate’ apparel. And so we have another bizarrerie: how can clothing be ‘intimate’?

Anyway, bizarrerie enjoyed a brief span as a borrowed (from French) English word in the first part of the Nineteenth Century. We find the ubiquitous Walter Scott employing it in his little spook-story, The Tapestried Chamber:

Upon a gentle eminence, nearly a mile to the southward of the town, were seen amongst many venerable oaks and tangled thickets the turrets of a castle, as old as the wars of York and Lancaster, but which seemed to have received important alterations during the age of Elizabeth and her successors. It had not been a place of great size; but whatever accommodation it formerly afforded, was, it must be supposed, still to be obtained within its walls; at least, such was the inference which General Browne drew from observing the smoke arise merrily from several of the ancient wreathed and carved chimney-stalks. The wall of the park ran alongside of the highway for two or three hundred yards, and, through the different points by which the eye found glimpses into the woodland scenery, it seemed to be well stocked. Other points of view opened in succession; now a full one, of the front of the old castle, and now a side glimpse at its particular towers; the former rich in all the bizarrerie of the Elizabethan school, while the simple and solid strength of other parts of the building seemed to show that they had been raised more for defence than ostentation.

A wee bit of Lit. Hist.

Another bizarrerie: the Gothic Novel was running into exhaustion by the start of the Nineteenth Century.

In its first incarnation it expired with Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer, of 1820. That’s why Jane Austen, in Northanger Abbey (1818) guys The Mysteries of Udolpho (from 1794) so mercilessly. And Thomas Love Peacock’s Nightmare Abbey, from the same year as Austen, is up to the same knavish tricks. Yet here we have Scott, in 1828, apparently counter-reacting against the reaction, and re-deploying some classic Gothic elements: the haunted room, a stereotypical villain, and a family curse. Scott’s regular publishers, James Ballantyne and Robert Cadell, were none too keen; and Scott had to divert his gothic tales to Frederic Mansel Reynold’s annual The Keepsake.

Scott, though, was the shrewd dude. He recognised that the clichés of the Gothic genre would sell and sell — all the way down to the present day. Which, in another way, is what Austen and Peacock were also about.

The particular instance

What brought the word bizarrerie into Malcolm’s mind this particular day, and in connection with the headline above, was discovering the story of Galla Placidia and Saint Germanus.

Galla Placidia was one of the pincesses of the later Western Roman Empire. daughter of Theodosius I. On New year’s Day, AD 417, she fulfilled the dynastic need imposed upon every princess: she was married off to Flavius Constantinus, the Emperor Honorius’ military hatchet-man and fixer-in-chief. By the end of that year, Galla Placidia was the mother of a doughtier, and a son was added within another year or so. Constantinus was named co-emperor, and the young son, Valentinian marked as Honorius’s heir.

After seven months as co-emperor, Constantinus died, and Honorius — never the most stable element around — took suspicions that Galla Placidia was plotting to do him down. Galla Placidia bunked off from Ravenna to the eastern court of Theodosius at Constantinople. Theodosius was severely frosty about Valentinian, nurturing ambitions to reunite the empire from Constantinople.

Galla Placidia was in a vexed political position, distrusted by both imperial court. Her solution was to revert to virginity (i.e. strict chastity and religious observance).

Time passes

By her later years (let’s jump over the vagaries of fifth-century Italy) Galla Placidia was back in Ravenna, being a professional mother of the church, founding churches and monasteries, providing an example to all and sundry.

In 446 Bishop Germanus of Auxerre came visiting, apparently to moderate the ‘official’ distaste (which fell little short of persecution) for the Bagaudae, who were grass-roots, and lower orders, fundamentalist christians and as-near-as-dammit national liberationists across Gaul and Iberia.

The Bagaudae had first emerged from the primeval forests between the Seine and the Loire towards the end of the Third Century, attacking the great landowners in their villas, and even over-running small, ill-defended towns. A further outbreak of civil disobedience, also termed the ‘Bagaudae’, happened in the first half of the Fifth Century, all the ay from Brittany to the Pyrenees. Roman generals Aetius and Litorius had to do a bit of aggressive ‘hearts and minds’ stuff, using the full might of the Roman army and their Visigoth mercenaries.

Germanus had acquired charisma as a populist preacher, ascetic, faith-healer, and miracle-worker. He turned up at Ravenna, in the depths of night, hoping to avoid fervid excesses. Galla Placidia was not to be cheated of her celebrations, though: she had ordered a full-on, all-night vigil. Galla Placidia 1, Germanus 0.

Germanus was welcomed with a vast silver platter, laden with all sorts of vegetarian delicacies (a gesture to the Bishop’s known diet). Galla Placidia 2, Germanus 0.

Germanus countered by giving away all the prepared food: Galla Placidia 2, Germanus 1. He followed up with another strike: he sold the silver platter, and distributed the proceeds to Ravenna’s poor.

Half-time: two-all.

Into the second half, Germanus went for an opportunist goal, sending Galla Placidia a gift of his own: a modest barley loaf on a simple wooden platter. One up to Germanus, particularly because the implicit message was how Galla Placidia insouciantly combined the regal ostentation of her imperial rank with shows of pious simplicity.

Our gal was up for that.

She had the barley loaf preserved, assuring all and sundry that it had miraculous healing powers. The wooden platter she had framed in gold, and made an object of veneration. A clear win for the lady and the home team, by any standard.

And that, friends and acquaintances, is Malcolm’s example of bizarrerie.


Filed under air travel., broken society, History, reading, Religious division, Walter Scott

Daily bread

Yesterday morning, Malcolm sat musing on the day ahead, munching toast and marmalade.

The bread wrapper caught his eye. It boasts:

“This loaf is made to the same recipe my father created 40 years ago. With 100% wholemeal flour, it’s not only full of goodness, it tastes great too.”

Jonathan Warburton. 

Isn’t tradition a wonderful thing!

Except forty years takes us back to the 1970s, to Wonderloaf and Mother’s Pride, hardly the acme of British bread-making.

When Malcolm mentioned just that to the Lady in his Life, she capped it with a thought of her own, all the way from a Portadown playground:

If you eat Jim Davison’s bread
It sticks to your belly like lead
So it’s not a bit of wonder
That you fart like thunder
When you eat Jim Davison’s bread.

That’s pushing tradition back even further. The Davison Brothers had a bakery on the corner of Obins Street and Park Road, and were delivering locally with horse-drawn vans down to the 1930s. By then the big Belfast bakers were muscling in with advertising and mass-production (and, just possibly, a bit of black propaganda through skipping games).

The present big name in Portadown baking is Irwin’s, which started as a small craft bakery behind the grocery shop in Woodhouse Street. It has now expanded and taken over the old William Clow Mill, with its products a regular feature in supermarkets across Britain.

What Malcolm cannot get through his local supermarket is a decent potato farl, by Irwin’s or anyone else. Such an item may not appear on a healthy English breakfast table. For, as Malcolm’s good-living, jogging, cycling son-in-law described an Ulster fry breakfast: death by cholesterol.


Time, once more, to educate the ignorant Saxons.

It’s a Scottish word, it seems, a survival of Old English: féorða dǽl, which as eny fule kno [© Nigel Molesworth] is a “fourth part”. Quartered logs provided Hamlet with his soliloquised image:

When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life …

At this stage in the post, you may well appreciate how the automatic spellcheck messes with Malcolm’s erudition.

Nookes, yards and mutchkins

Still, sticking with fardels, they were also a land measure.

Back around 1624, Charles I’s Attorney General, William Noye told us, in his Complete Lawyer (that such a wonder should exist!):

 Two Fardells of Land make a Nooke of Land, and two Nookes make halfe a Yard of Land.

Noye was a Cornishman, made good, and this fardel/farl usage seems to have persisted mainly in the remoter fastnesses of Britain, well beyond where the M25 girdles decent society, sophistication, and civilisation.

We might, in passing, acknowledge Robert Wodrow, in The history of the sufferings of the Church of Scotland, from the Restauration to the Revolution, reporting William Sutherland buying himself:

… a Farthel of Bread and a Mutckin of Ale.

Mutchkin? Another word that deserves revival: “a measure equal to an English pint” say some. The OED is magisterial:

A measure of capacity for liquids and for dry substances of a powdery or granular nature, such as salt, equal to a quarter of a Scottish pint or roughly three quarters of an imperial pint (0.43 litres); a vessel containing this amount. Occas.: an imperial pint, esp. as a measure for spirits.

More to the point, in days when beer most usually came in quarts, and a three-bottle-man was not unduly remarkable, the term implies “a small amount”.

Literary farls

The common farl makes a couple of appearances in the canon. Malcolm checks them off:

Here farmers gash, in ridin graith,
Gaed hoddin by their cotters;
There swankies young, in braw braid-claith,
Are springing owre the gutters.
The lasses, skelpin barefit, thrang,
In silks an’ scarlets glitter;
Wi’ sweet-milk cheese, in mony a whang,
An’ farls, bak’d wi’ butter,
Fu’ crump that day.

Don’t expect a full exegesis if that now: suffice it to say that Burns is in full-on irony mode. His sub-title was Hypocrisy-a-la-mode, and he contrasts the holy-day gathering, with its parade of eminent preachers, and folk out on a Bacchanalian, anything-goes, over-the-top, indulgent holiday outing. Somewhat closer to William Hogarth than Billy Graham. The vocabulary, and much of the imagery, precludes the ballad from a school-text book.

  • Walter Scott’s The Bride of Lammermoor and its contemporary popularity was the basis for Donizetti’s now-better known opera. It was one of two Scott novels published together in 1819 as the third instalment of Tales of My Landlord. This other episode is the story of a love triangle, set in Montrose’s campaign against the Covenanters and Civil War period, A Legend of Montrose. Sadly, Scott is out of fashion; but — should one wish — there, at the end of Chapter III we find our farl:

“Do so, Captain,” said Lord Menteith; “you will have the night to think of it, for we are now near the house, where I hope to ensure you a hospitable reception.”

“And that is what will be very welcome,” said the Captain, “for I have tasted no food since daybreak but a farl of oatcake, which I divided with my horse. So I have been fain to draw my sword-belt three bores tighter for very extenuation, lest hunger and heavy iron should make the gird slip.”

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Filed under Beer, Britain, culture, fiction, health, History, Law, Literature, Northern Ireland, Portadown, Quotations, reading, Scotland, Walter Scott