Monday 23 June 2014

Received Ideas VII

Prince Albert

More quotes culled from my mini e-book, Clichés: A Dictionary of Received Ideas, a mini e-book available from Amazon for a mere £1.50.

LONDON’S KERBSTONES Are carved with coded messages: “There are Maltese crosses, dotted crosses, rectangular crosses and ones with arrows. When a fifth of London’s population was wiped out in the plague and fire just around the corner, the corpses were dumped in mass pits and unmarked graves. Families of the newly dead who had moved into the area and were quarantined may have tossed out a coin to street urchins offering to memorialise the dead. I think they were possibly carved by the poor and destitute to earn a crust.” (Art student Louise Drescher, West End Extra, 2009)

MARRIAGE Is just a bit of paper. Or is it the bedrock of society? “Not being married is OK for us, but we need to get married in public to support the institution of marriage, because marriage holds society together.” (The Times, 2 October 2010 – man quoting father-in-law) “For any feminist, surely, marriage is rooted in patriarchy, ownership and exploitation.” Tim Lott, Guardian, October 2012

MEDIEVAL ART Static and two-dimensional: “Medieval manuscripts belie the idea that “figurative art of that period was a static conservatism awaiting release by the Renaissance.” (Adrian Hamilton, The Independent, 21 November 2011)

MILK IN FIRST? “Milk used to be put in first to take the heat off the tea, because boiling tea in a cup was likely to crack it. Fine quality china was thin enough for the heat to conduct through and not crack the cup, so milk in last was showing off the quality of the china. Nowadays most cups and mugs can take boiling liquids, so the wealth/class issue has gone away.” Friend TD writes.

MOSCOW’S SEVEN SISTERS These pseudo-Gothic Stalin-era skyscrapers conceal many mysteries. “I’ve heard that because of the lack of metal girders their walls are tremendously thick at the bottom. I’ve heard that they go down into the ground as far as they go into the sky, that there are old explosive self-destruct charges left over in some of them, that there is a huge monument to Stalin stored in one of the cellars. I’ve heard that the super secret Metro 2 runs underneath them. And the ones that were never built – like the Palace of the Soviets, with a gigantic statue of Lenin so big and so high up top, that it needs shortened legs and torso to preserve the perspective.” (

ONLY FAILURES TAKE THE BUS Said Mrs Thatcher: “A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure.” (Attributed to Margaret Thatcher in Commons debates, 2003 and 2004. According to a letter to the Daily Telegraph by Alistair Cooke on 2 November 2006, this sentiment originated with Loelia Ponsonby, Duchess of Westminster, who said "Anybody seen in a bus over the age of 30 has been a failure in life". In a letter published the next day, also in the Daily Telegraph, Hugo Vickers claims Loelia Ponsonby admitted to him that she had borrowed it from Brian Howard. There is no solid evidence that Margaret Thatcher ever quoted this statement with approval, or indeed shared the sentiment. So says Wikipedia.)

OUR TIMES “Call it a time of transition, or decay.” Flaubert “Something is happening to Britain and the British. Or has happened. We are said to be passing through a transition, or a turning point, or even a transformation, nobody is quite sure which.” (Ferdinand Mount,, summer 2001)

OVER-SHARING There's too much of it about: “In this age of emotional incontinence/exhibitionism and hysterical hyperbole…” (Gareth McLean, Guardian blog January 2008) “Joining in with the hyped hysteria of public mourning is a temporary aberration.” (

POM What Australians call British immigrants – there are many explanations. “It actually originates from the hundred years war, when the French called the British "pommes" (as in pommes de terre) because they were always eating potatoes.” (Guardian Notes and Queries)

PROTESTERS “Dilettante indignationists” who are just after 15 minutes of fame, according to Libby Purves in The Times, April 2012.

QUEEN VICTORIA Friend WS writes: “A story I was told when I was a lad: In the 1890s, a party of ‘ordinary’ folk was being shown round one of the royal residences, I think Osborne. It’s said that a lad strayed from the group, and found his way into the Queen’s bedroom – which was not on the itinerary. In the bed the boy saw a life-sized wax model of Prince Albert. At this point, he was apprehended by the officials, and dragged off to an office, where they told him in the most blood-curdling terms exactly what would happen to him if he dared breathe a word about what he had seen. So he didn’t, until the Queen was long dead, and he was middle-aged.”

More here, and links to the rest.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely collection. I hate to be the kind of person who says this, but the English could hardly have been eating potatoes during the Hundred Years War could they? Not arrived from the potato fields of Idaho yet....