Thursday, 13 July 2017

Received Ideas (in Quotes) 5


‘You mean,’ went on Wimsey, ‘that women think in clichés... Formulae. “There’s nothing like a mother’s instinct.” “Dogs and children always know.” “Kind hearts are more than coronets.” “Suffering refines the character” – that sort of guff, despite all evidence to the contrary.’
(Lord Peter Wimsey in Have His Carcase, 1932)

An attempt was made to throw some light on [the name “foxglove”] by Dr Prior, an authority on the origin of popular names, in the 1866 book English Botany: Its Norwegian name, Revielde, foxbell, is the only foreign one that alludes to that animal… In France it is called Gants de Notre Dame; in Germany Fingerhut. It seems most probable that the name was, in the first place, foxes’ glew, or music, in reference to that favourite instrument of an earlier time, a ring of bells hung on an arched support… The “folks” of our ancestors were the “fairies”, and nothing was more likely than that the pretty coloured bells of the plants would be designated “Folksgloves”, afterwards “Foxglove”. (Quoted in A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup)

More than 20 Armada ships ran aground on the west coast of Ireland in 1588. I, with my olive skin and dark hair, am just one of the many so-called back Irish who are believed to be descendants of Spanish sailors. (Anna Murphy Times July 2017 The Spanish sailors wrecked on the Irish coast found themselves in a friendly country, and some stayed for a while. In England and Scotland they were prisoners of war. This site suggests earlier Spanish links.)

The use of any kind of powder to the face is foolish and injurious, and is sure to be rejected at a future time, as it makes the skin coarse. (Girls' Own advice‏ @GirlsOwn)

In rural Madagascar, men are prized for kabary: flowery, indirect speech that avoids putting others on spot, mode thought to be beyond women. (@Amanda_Vickery)

Magna Carta was a compromise born of necessity between the monarch and the barons. It did b****r all for the average working peasant. (@AndyGilder)

A trainee chef, instructed to make jam, egg and almond tarts, mistook his orders and mashed them all up together. (Letter to Times about Bakewell Pudding)

A cloth divided into squares was once used to help count revenues – "Exchequer" derives from an old French word for a chessboard. (@HaggardHawks)

A Redditor claims to have had a job spraying mud onto potatoes for sale in supermarkets. But the Waitrose potatoes were sprayed with peat... and he/she was known as “Factory Worker No. 84”.

When you're a kid, you eat an apple core and think an apple tree will grow inside you. And you swim after eating and think you’ll drown. (Angela Hartnett on Saturday Kitchen)

Joseph Connolly, the novelist, has warned about the pitfalls of book signings. At the launch of his latest, This Is 64, Connolly recalled one mortifying incident. After the first hundred punters he got so bored he stopped looking up as people came up for a scribble. “To whom am I inscribing it?” he asked one man, who identified himself as Ian. “Is that one ‘i’ or two?” There was a stony silence, until eventually Connolly looked up. “The guy only had one eye,” he said. (Times May 11 2017 Although there exist many thousand subjects for elegant conversation, there are persons who cannot meet a cripple without talking about feet. Chinese proverb)

And I was once told the story that military toilet paper ("Army Form Blank") was rough on one side and smooth on the other so the officers could use the smooth side and the enlisted men the other, but I've also heard that it was once rough on both sides until female personnel complained, so it was made smooth on both sides, to which the male personnel objected. So it was made rough on one side and smooth on the other. I suspect both stories are apocryphal. (MH)

Several phrases are said to relate to [the history of the Tyburn gallows], including “one for the road” (the last pint before the prisoner starts his journey) and “hangover”. Hanging days were raucous, boozy affairs so the day after you wouldn’t feel great! (Look Up London)

"From Hell, Hull and Halifax, may the Good Lord deliver us..." These words form part of the so-called Thieves' Litany, uttered in Mediaeval Yorkshire as a leave-taking "prayer" between two thieves as they parted. Hell was to be feared, course, as was Hull Gaol (in Yorkshire) with its evil reputation. Halifax - also in Yorkshire - was one of those towns granted the right to a gibbet, a particular savage form of early guillotine, and was notorious for its quick use against suspected villains. (FF)

In 1579, It was rumoured that Queen Margot of France had to use a spoon with a handle 2ft long to eat soup over her ruff. (@WhoresofYore)

Rumours have long persisted that the square of Lincoln’s Inn Fields was laid out by Inigo Jones to be exactly the size of the base of the Great Pyramid (debunked in 1878). (Fortean Times April 2017)

In the 1820s William Cobbett argued tea was a "corrosive & gnawing poison" that led women into prostitution and killed pigs. (Anna Mazzola @Anna_Mazz)

Daniel Dennett also apparently blames a nebulously defined "postmodernism" for some social ills, such as Donald J. Trump and people spending too much time on their computers. (Rationalwiki)

The modern child has many faults: a lack of initiative & a demand that all his leisure be planned. (M. Saville, 1950)

East Germany's Palast der Republik, in Berlin, was demolished in 2008. Some say its steel was recycled into the Burj Dubai. (Hugh Pearman)

Given that 85%  of communication is non-verbal, the impression you make is far less about what comes out of your mouth than how you look. (Professor Heather McGregor exec dean of Edinburgh Business School)

More here, and links to the rest.

More here, and links to the rest.

A is for Arsenic


A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie

Kathryn Harkup

Kathryn Harkup is a chemist and science communicator, lecturing on “the quirky side of science”.
A is for Arsenic covers the poisons used by Agatha Christie in her detective novels. She gives you the science, and also real-life cases. It’s a gripping read, but the Christie fan will notice a few slips.

In Sparkling Cyanide, George Barton dies from drinking poisoned champagne. A folded paper, like the kind then used for headache powders, is found under the table. It tests positive for cyanide. Or could the poison have been transported in a Cachet Faivre? Harkup confuses paper and cachet – medicinal cachets were rice paper cases, like Flying Saucers (full of innocuous sherbet).

Harkup repeats the fanciful Victorian explanation that foxgloves (containing poisonous digitalis) were originally “folks’ gloves”, or fairy gloves. (Fairies were sometimes known as the “good folk”.)

In her discussion of The Pale Horse (spoiler alert), she wonders why the conspirators don’t even ask the test victim’s name – but they’ve been told she’s Mrs Easterbrook, and she’s taken a flat under that alias. The fake Mrs Easterbrook mysteriously falls ill, but how? Then narrator Mark Easterbrook “sees the vicar’s wife treating her dog for ringworm”. It’s his cousin, Rhoda Despard, who is doctoring her dogs.

Digitalis poisoning may make a person view everything with a yellow cast, and see haloes around lights. A portrait of Van Gogh's doctor shows him surrounded by foxgloves. A hint that he prescribed digitalis to his famous patient? Does this explain the famous sunflowers and Starry Night, Harkup asks? She concludes it may just be a coincidence.

Christie’s short story The World’s End takes place in Corsica. Elderly, snobbish Mr Satterthwaite has been hauled off to the island by an aristocratic friend. She’s a Duchess, how could he refuse? Glittering with antique diamonds, the titled lady insists on roughing it. In their rather shabby (cheap!) hotel they meet a young painter, Naomi Carlton-Smith. She’s from a “good” family, so the Duchess is keen to make friends. Naomi shows some of her work.

"Good gracious, child, there was never a sky that color — or a sea either." 
"That's the way I see em," said Naomi...
"I've no patience with that sort of thing. Give me — " 
"A nice picture of a dog and a horse, by Edward Landseer." 
"And why not?" demanded the Duchess. "What's wrong with Landseer?" 
"Nothing," said Naomi. "He's all right. And you're all right." (The Mysterious Mr Quin)

Beware trying to explain away modern art as mere anomalies of vision. Dr Patrick Trevor-Roper did it better in The World through Blunted Sight.

More on Christie here.