Wednesday, 6 October 2021

Inspirational Quotes 103: Relationships

Looks don't matter, cultivate inner beauty and anyway women don't need to get married any more now they can have jobs. E
njoy the moment, don’t make plans, don’t compare yourself with others.

They concerned themselves, as people always do, with birth, education, love, marriage, money, property and death. (Stephen Fry on the Regency novels of Georgette Heyer, 2021)

A single man over 30 is a big red flag! Especially with no kids. (SP via FB)

She hadn't met a suitable partner in her 30s... unlike with romantic heartbreaks, there was no promise of eventual redemption. (Hadley Freeman on childless women, (Guardian Sept 2021)

A few days later a couple of our German friends sheepishly announced that they had just got married in secret. Only the two of them in a registry office, with no witnesses other than a city official and their three-year-old daughter. There had been no sudden epiphany of imperishable love; it was just that they’d worked out during lockdown that getting hitched would save them about €300 a month in taxes. (Oliver Moody, Times Aug 2021)

At the age of 37 felt he was staring down the barrel of a lonely bachelor life. (

Until the 1990s it was common for hormone treatment to be offered to girls to limit their adult height. It was felt that girls who were "too tall" would be unhappy and would never get married... One classic reason for families wanting their girls to reach a shorter adult height has been that parents were worried their daughter might never marry. But the US study also found that height made little difference. Even the tallest women were likely to be in a relationship. (, paraphrase)

The young woman’s burden is always wanting to be liked. (Carol Midgley)

There is no one there to converse with, to build with, to make memories with. There is no one there to listen when you need it the most. You feel abandoned and forgotten. (Birdstreamphotos on being single)

Musa Okwonga “was embarrassed at how his penurious life as a single writer nudging 40 compared with his fellow alumni, by then wealthy executives with houses and families.” (Guardian 2021)


Peg Bracken writes about a friend who couldn’t be bothered “setting” her hair all the time (as all women did in the 50s), and just let it grow. Bracken adds that she has grown a different personality to go with it.

I know a lady who – if she could dress the way she’d really like to – would wear nothing but gypsy clothes: full swinging satin skirts, bare legs, high heels, bracelets to her armpits, and a sleazy chiffon blouse. But she knows as well as you do how fast she’d get kicked out of the Parent-Teachers’ Association.
(Peg Bracken, I Hate to Housekeep)

At my school there were popular kids in every activity, the thing that made them all hang out with each other was wealth first, then attractiveness.

Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart. (Kahlil Gibran)

Now that I’m in good shape, people offer to carry my groceries to the car and hold doors open. (Rebel Wilson)

Men have only one criterion for judging partners on Tindr: how attractive the woman is. (Times 2021-02-10)

I know someone who once showed up for an interview dressed in orange and green. This type of behavior verges on self-sabotage. (Psychology Today)

In Barbara Amiel’s recent memoir (Dec 2020) she says she had a disastrous nose job when young. “I was an ugly girl. Nobody held the door for me, nobody asked me out.” Her nose was eventually rebuilt using bone from her hip.

Chris looked different from other kids. Would he be able to make friends? (Anne Reinking on her son, who has Marfan syndrome.)

Six out of ten jobseekers thought their looks would hold them back. (Times 2020-11-30)

More here, and links to the rest.

Thursday, 30 September 2021

Grammar: Hypallage/Transferred Epithet 2

In this Ancient Greek figure of speech, an adjective gets transferred to the wrong noun.

lonely road, hopeless dawn, sleepless night

a near catastrophe: nearly a catastrophe

shows the clear influence:
clearly shows the influence

through the bustling halls:
the halls are full of bustling people (Times Oct 2015)

sensitive toothpaste:
anti-sensitivity toothpaste

temperatures still simmered:
creatures simmered in high temperatures

ironing a quick shirt:
quickly ironing a shirt

fond idea: The holder is fond, not the idea.

sensitive subject: one that we’re sensitive about

in a sorry state

He smiled very charmingly into her competent spectacles. (Ngaio Marsh)

A deadly Rubicon
has been crossed. (@BrynleyHeaven The results of crossing the River Rubicon will be deadly, not the river itself.)

Millionaire filled doughnuts: Millionaire’s shortbread is shortbread with layers of chocolate and caramel – the doughnuts are caramel-filled.)

Surely your most burning legacy... (Justin Schlosberg, open letter to Jeremy Corbyn. A legacy of burning importance is meant.)

I have come to the reluctant view that the only way to resolve this is for the country to have the final say. (Tom Watson. He means he has reluctantly come to the view.)

bitingly bleak
marshland: It's swept by biting winds. (Times 2012)

The seasonable norm would be very grateful indeed: It would be welcome, and we'd be grateful. (BBC weathergirl)

This is the most divisive and bitter issue:
Badger culling will lead to bitter disputes. (BBC News)

The elusive search for King Arthur’s court:
the search for King Arthur’s elusive court

She was shrinkingly introduced to London society:
She, not her introduction, was a shrinking violet.

More here.

Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Brexit Cookbook 3

Recent research by Aldi shows many young people haven't heard of bangers and mash, toad in the hole, spotted dick, Scotch egg or black pudding. Why has no hipster opened a British café serving proper British delicacies like this, washed down by tea made from leaves in a metal teapot?

Bangers and Mash
Bake sausages (pork, beef, chicken or vegan) slowly in the oven in a roasting tin until the outsides are dry and charred. Boil peeled potatoes. When cooked, mash with milk and butter. Make a mound out of the mashed potatoes and poke the sausagers (bangers) in at intervals. Serve with tinned "marrowfat" peas a la Beryl the Peril.

Toad in the Hole
Bake sausages in a roasting tin in a hot oven for 15 mins.

For the batter:

5oz plain flour
2 eggs
1/3 pint semi-skimmed milk
1/2 tsp salt

Tip flour into bowl, stir in salt. Make a well in the centre and crack the eggs into it. Whisk together, slowly adding the milk.

Remove the tin from the oven and pour in the batter. Return to oven and cook for 30mins.

Spotted Dick
Boiled suet puddings made sense when you cooked in a cauldron over an open fire, but they lived on as steamed puddings until we saw sense. There may be a baked version.

10½ oz/2 cups plain flour
4½ oz shredded suet
1¾ oz dark brown sugar
a pinch of ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1 egg
1/2 pint milk
5½ oz currants, soaked in water

Combine flour, suet, sugar, cinnamon and baking powder in a large bowl and mix well.

Add egg and a little milk while constantly stirring. Keep adding milk until you can bring the mixture together with your hands into a stiff dough. Work in the currants.

Roll dough into a ball and press into a greased pudding basin. Steam in the oven for 4 hours. Serve with custard.

How to steam a pudding:
Once the pudding is in the basin, firmly tie a cloth over the top with string. Put the basin in a roasting tin filled shallowly with water and put the whole thing in the oven. Keep checking to make sure there's still water in the tin, and topping it up if necessary. (My mother used baco foil instead of a cloth.)

Scotch eggs are hard-boiled eggs covered in sausage-meat and breadcrumbs, and baked. Black pudding is - vegans look away - a sausage made of pig's blood and oats. It is inexplicably popular with foodies who like to combine it with mashed potatoes as "Black Lightning". Scotch eggs are dry but delicious and vegetarian versions are available.

White sauce
Take a piece of butter the size of a walnut and melt it in a saucepan. Sprinkle in some flour and stir till absorbed. Add a splash of milk (from a half-pint) and keep stirring - you may need a hand whisk to remove lumps. When smooth and thickened, add the next dollop of milk and repeat the procedure until you've used all the milk. Let it bubble for about 30 seconds then turn down the heat and simmer for 20 mins, stirring frequently. 

This bland substance can be poured over braised celery, braised endive, boiled beetroot, or cooked and diced leeks. You can add grated cheese at the end of the process and stir until melted.

Serve the above vegetable dishes with a slice of cold roast mutton and plain boiled potatoes on the side.

Wartime low-fat version: put the milk in the saucepan. Dissolve 2 tsp of cornflour in a half-cup of water and add. Heat to a simmer and stir until thickened. Add a teaspoon of parmesan if you like.

Fried-egg sandwich
Margarine a couple of slices of thin-sliced white bread. Fry an egg. Insert between the slices, with a spoonful of Branston pickle. Wash down with tea and a No. 6 (cigarette).

Proper cup of tea - learn how to make one here.

More here, and links to the rest.

Movie Clichés in Quotes 4

TV costume drama departments often get the period dress of the recent past slightly wrong. They pick up on certain things and ignore others. I've yet to see a drama set in the mid 1970s that captures the near-universal headscarf look worn by young women at the time (tied under the hair at the back, not under the chin like their grannies). I guess this was a street style that never made it into the V&A.
(Hugh Pearman)

Bombastic music deafens each emotional climax; women go to sleep with their glossy masks of makeup intact. (imdb)

The stolen uniform fits perfectly, rays are visible. (Bluenose Ex-Teacher)

I’m wondering when the 'wobbly headed Indian' left our TV screens. (@mrmatthewwest)

Leader (normally CIA functionary) tells group of nerds sat around PCs "Listen up people. I need everything on ____. Now!" Nerds get typing without any further discussion or assigning of roles. (@mrpaul2014)
You know that trope, where there's a tussle and the bad guy shoots himself with the gun he was going to shoot the good guy with? Is that even possible? (@daveherman)

Trivia about tonight's The Champions on @TalkingPicsTV: The Night People. Strays from the usual format into Hammer territory. They're all here: the doomed poacher, the white witch, the unfriendly landlord, the creepy butler, the dodgy uranium dealer. (@MarkTrevorOwen)

Proper old school thunder and lightning round here. I feel like we need to read out a will, or bring a monster to life... or something. (@Otto_English)

I am always puzzled by the apparent age of kids’ parents. Freddy is about fifteen. At his age my parents were 36, but his parents look ancient. Belinda Lee, who plays Molly, was 22 at the time, but her mother (Gretchen Franklin) has the appearance of an old age pensioner! Maybe its just their clothes? In American films of the era it's even worse. With grey-haired dowagers parenting 10 year-olds! (Imdb)

John Ford’s The Quiet Man set the standard for big screen paddywhackery (booze, fights, priests and chaste romance) with a template that has been replicated for decades... A soulless sophisticate from the big city, ideally New York, is brought over to Ireland and is instantly transformed by the sights of lush pastures, the liberating influence of the alcohol, and the magnetic allure of the people, who are strictly divided between gormless comedy also-ran imbeciles and simple, attractive (but still basically ignorant) romantic leads. (Kevin Maher, Times on Wild Mountain Thyme, May 2021)

I'd be interested to know whether there is a kind of formula for TV 'drama' that says 'If a woman is abused or killed in episode 1 we can guarantee a good audience and overseas sales ...' (@Dymvue)

The Crown: I know we're supposed to feel empathy with Thatcher when she's so awkward with the royal family - though are we really? - but I'm just pleased to see such a world historical monster suffer. And apparently her neoliberal reforms were driven by her personal insecurities? For me, the ultimate Crown moment was when Prince Phillip realized the astronauts who landed on the moon were nothing compared to him. Every episode has to have that moment where they bask in their superiority. I feel like the Brezhnev-era USSR could have produced a Lenin biopic with more subtlety than The Crown. (@adamkotkso )

Jane Wyman plays a widow who falls in love with Rock Hudson in front of a series of improbably Technicolor sunsets as her children disapprove. It’s over-the-top, lovely, and poignant. (Dear Prudie on All that Heaven Allows)

Another horror film observation: if you buy a house with a Mysterious Locked Room, get a locksmith in. (@volewriter)

Would love to see a gay film one day that isn't some combo of:
I came out to my parents and they disowned me.
We can't be together because I am/will be married to a woman.
1+ people dying of AIDS.

I try to avoid remakes, reboots, spin-offs, sequels, prequels and re-imaginings. You may guess that I don't watch many new shows! (Michael O’Brien)

What's confusing about The Mandalorian, and the Star Wars universe more generally, is that they're about a fascist Empire that has little to no surveillance tech. All they've got are 1970s CCTVs! And nobody is ever paying attention to them. (@Annaleen)

There is the obligatory night club sequence with the song 'Soho Mambo' (which is as bad as it sounds). (imdb on The Gelignite Gang)

Anytime they try to use a floor show to get a point across, it fails. (imdb)

...and then by bus to a throaty restless obsessed temptress 'thrush' slouched in mortal danger atop a white piano, singing the blues and chain-smoking, somewhere in the long, dark, wet and winding night between Chicago and 'the coast.' (James McCourt)

Wheeler-dealers in sheepskin coats meet in electric-fire-heated prefabs to discuss dirty business as the corpses of murdered associates fall into car crushers and men with crowbars chase each other across piles of rubble and batter each other to death on rickety iron stairwells. (Gareth E. Rees, Unofficial Britain)

I liked Elementary for a couple of seasons, but eventually it got too convoluted and tied with the personal lives of the main characters. (Bruce Richard Gillespie)

Watching one of those important British films where everyone lives lives of terse brutal unloveliness, what's for breakfast you c*nt, its f***ing cornflakes you b*****d. (@robpalkwriter)

When you’re watching a film for the wallpaper you know you’re in trouble. (Jennie Kermode, Eye for Film)

My favourite Morricone track was Sophisticated Woman in Expensive Headscarf Walks Across Deserted Piazza Scattering Pigeons at Dawn. (@rcscribbler)

Like when the mark goes back to the con man's office and finds an empty warehouse. (@WordMercenary)

An Art Garfunkel looking poet who walked around quoting poetry and staring into the air. (imdb on Perry Mason)

Ireland could become a fully communist country ruled by a council of seven drag queens and RTE will still have a pic of nuns voting. (@daithigor)

There is a whole set of films where some bad-ass has to escort some not-a-bad-ass somewhere, because some reason, whatever. It's sort of a sub-genre of the generic buddy movie, but more stabby and shooty. (@VictorianLondon)

Everyone has long profound looks at each other – they frequently cry on meeting, or seeing people shot or something. (Kenneth Williams on Dr Zhivago)

Why is it in films and TV programmes, they always get taking a blood pressure reading wrong? (@AwayFromTheKeys)

I struggle to think of anything that has gone beyond four seasons that isn’t either tired or transformed beyond recognition by the time it has reached its stuttering conclusion. (@Glitter_brawl)

I watched 4 SF blockbusters on this flight: Alien: Covenant, Terminator: Dark Fate, The Martian, Ad Astra... the 1st two have the same “I’m-you-you’re-me” robot fight, & the 2nd two have the “loner explores outer space to find his inner self” vibe... (@simon_sellars)

Bridgerton: the feminist stuff felt kind of shoehorned. (@igstoy)

The Little Women effect of cutting and pasting heavy issue-based speeches. (PM)

Rushed but also confused, taking chronological mayhem for “being modern and cool”. (FB commenter on Little Women)

A “fresh take” and a “modern twist” on a classic translates as “we make it quite clear that we in the present denigrate and distance ourselves from the characters’ old-fashioned attitudes, unless we can put modern attitudes into the mouths of characters who lived in a time of slavery, snobbery, racism and women’s oppression”. The Lord forbid we present the story as the author wrote it in 1850 or whenever. Or present 1850s feminism as it actually was. (Georgina Spelvin)

The worst thing about it is a lengthy dream sequence. These things never turn out well. (Amazon commenter on The Chase, 1946)

Obligatory in any new TV drama ...
flash forward at start of episode
gratuitous drone shot of woods/moors/fields/playground
end with ominous music slowly rising to a crescendo

They're evoking a persistent trope here: the battered, weary soldier for whom death is a relief. (@Delafina777)

There's a rule about comedy that the more the cast is laughing the less funny it is. (@Bloke_On_A_Bike)

The Armenian duduk. Documentary on ancient Egypt? Duduk. Slightly exotic drama set in modern Istanbul? Duduk. So annoying. (@katherineschof8)

I love in movies to show someone is poor they make them live in a normal apartment and take the bus. (@geekylonglegs)

Can anyone explain why Sanditon keeps using Copland's Hoe Down every couple of minutes?? A little Googling and I can't link it to anything but square dance or Irish tunes. They keep using it and it's driving me crazy. How on earth is it English society music? (@LindenG Jane Austen's boys and girls danced "country dances", or set dances, to tunes like those found in Playford's Dancing Master.)

On Peaky Blinders: Whole hours of my life have been wasted watching these people very slowly walking down streets, looking fantastic. In the background, always, somebody is welding. I never know why. (Times Sept 2019)

What was the semiology of braces in 70s TV? I mean wide, wacky braces over a plaid shirt, with jeans rather than hidden under a three-piece suit. Did it signal “gay”? (AB)

Modern film has come to rely more and more upon the frivolous car-chase, the flashy explosion. (imdb)

Wolf of Wall Street: supposedly satirising and condemning a toxic culture but seen by too many as a celebration and justification for that culture with the lead character being adopted as a mascot by the vile. (@ScanlanWithAnA)

Netflix’s series The Last Czars contains a lot of what we in Russia call klyukva (“cranberry”) – deeply stereotypical portraits of Russia, its people, and the circumstances they live in. Peasant life is depicted as a Disneyworld paradise; the capitals are graced with palaces drowning in gold and jewels; the bad Russians (mainly Bolsheviks), drink a lot – and so on... Important figures are oversimplified and cartoonish: ‘a good Romanov democratic adviser’, ‘a bad Romanov autocrat adviser’, ‘a ruthless revolutionary’. ( It’s a “sumptuous” series about the Romanovs, full of gratuitous sex scenes, where all the cast swear constantly.)

I would have enjoyed The Wire more had I been able to decipher the dialogue (the writer wanted the audience to “work at it”.)... However, incoherence is often intentional because it is “naturalistic”. (Carol Midgley, Times 2019. Directors, please get actors to face the camera, light them well, go in for a close-up and persuade them to move their faces when they talk.)

The threat of nuclear Armageddon has always had a slightly sterile, clinical feel to it. There will be chrome, and valves, and a megalomaniac, and perhaps some manner of monorail in an underground high-tech bunker, and then there will be a blinding flash of light and everything will be over.
(Hugo Rifkind, Times 2019)

I'm sorry to The Sister on ITV, but I just can't be faffed with another drama series where the time jumps around. (@nickw84)

Oh god same. Linear storytelling please - No huge flashbacks or origin story capsule episodes.

From Line of Duty bingo:
Wad of cash
Secret meeting in a dark tunnel or alley
A really long interview scene
Literally any acronym
“Document X is in your folder”
Peering over the mezzanine
Glaring through an office window

More here, and links to the rest.

Sunday, 26 September 2021

Grammar: Boo and Hooray

Sometimes we use the same word for two different meanings: one boo, one hooray.

buying: purchasing objects
buying (as in “no buying day”): media-fuelled shopping frenzy

feminist: campaigner for women’s rights
feminist: vicious man-hater

human: member of the species Homo sapiens
human: mature, civilised, eligible for rights

journalists: doorsteppers, reptiles, Guardian women opinion columnists, “churnalists” who copy out press releases

journalists: subeditors on Caravanning Monthly, reporters on the Brighton Evening Argus, the editor of Marine Seismology News (and many more)

relationship: We have sex and go out, but this isn’t a Relationship because it “isn’t going anywhere”. (I think this means “I’m not going to marry her”.)

Relationship: We have sex and go out, and this is a Relationship. (And this means: “We are officially an item and a couple, and I introduce you to my friends and family”.)

society: us – hooray!
society: them – boo!
the society: a society distant in time and space, an exotic society

You can’t exclude people from society: society is all of us. And if you don’t like living in a society that includes down-and-outs, do something about it. The “underprivileged” or “deprived” are now the “excluded”.

the media: newspapers, television, local newspapers, magazines, scientific journals, special-interest magazines, in-flight magazines

the media: those ghastly tabloids, the Guardian

unconscious: unthinking, habitual, on automatic pilot
unconscious: under a general anaesthetic
(Not pejorative, but it’s confusing to use the same word in two different senses.)

wonder: the sense of awe and humility that we should all feel when we look at the stars

wonder: the sense of curiosity we feel when we look at the stars, that leads us to become astronomers

(Scientists probably experience the second, but since it’s the same word we can pretend that they, too, look at the stars and feel stunned by their own insignificance.)

More about word usage, dysphemisms and euphemisms, inclusion and exclusion in my book Boo and Hooray.

More here, and links to the rest.

Thursday, 9 September 2021

Even More Corny Old Jokes

A lady of a certain age, all dolled up in furs, in the dock, replying to the judge: "Of course I'm not innocent. Are you?" (glardner)

And then you get 'what's the matter, don't you have a sense of humour?' To which the only answer is, I do, but you, Oscar bl**dy Wilde, do not and have to recycle jokes that were old in the Stone Age.

I know the modern world isn't perfect, but young people these days do need to be grateful that they aren't growing up in a society where people routinely tell extremely long convoluted jokes that eventually lead up to a desperately tortured pun. (@RSmythFreelance)

Don't pass on any of these: I know my real friends will share this heart-breaking story featuring a kid with cancer being bullied while rescuing an injured baby seal from a melting ice floe.

Notice: This printer is here temporarily.
Postit: In the greater scheme of things, aren’t we all?

Local news just informed us that ‘business is ticking over’ at a watch stall in the market. (@WhenIsBirths)

What did St Patrick say to the snakes when he was driving them out of Ireland?
“Are you all right in the back there?”

RIP Pythagoras, you're with the angles now.

Remember the ladies discussing what to do when your diamonds get dirty? Clean them with toothpaste or milk? Or just throw them away and get a new lot? 

I once sat on a beach in Corfu listening to an awful woman boast about her privileged life to the couple sitting near her. When she finally finished, she said to the couple, "What do YOU do?",  to which the wife replied, "We own this beach." (@sagasue)

Russian oligarchs In the Yeltsin years:
One says "I paid $3,000 for this tie."
"You fool, you could have paid $4,000" is the reply.

Queue in card shop this a.m. Heard assistant say to customer in front that it was his last day.
Me to assistant (when my turn): Did I hear you say it was your last day?
Him: Yes.
Me: On earth?
Him: No. I'm moving to Liverpool.
Me: Well that's more or less the same thing.

What did these fish die of?
A terminal eelness.
(Mitchel Mayes)

Why are there no horses on the Isle of Wight? They prefer Cowes to Ryde.

I’ve listened to sea shells that made more sense! (Dr Watson in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, 1939)

In the bookshop: We’ve moved a few things around. Travel is in the Fantasy section, Politics is in Sci-Fi, and Epidemiology is in Self-Help. Good luck. (Nov 2020)

On the door of the music shop: Gone Chopin. Bach in five minuets.

There’s been a break-in at the cement factory. Police are looking for hardened criminals.

A visitor to Japan was taken by his hosts to a concert of Japanese classical music. Afterwards, they asked him if he’d liked it. In desperation, he blurted: “To be honest, I found it melancholy and boring!” “So glad you appreciated it!” they replied.

A woman's definition of marriage: "Aisle, altar, hymn."

It's confusing. I thought I was a Leo but now it turns out I'm a Boomer. (DL, via FB)

Life is too short to waste trying to unscrew the inscrutable. (RM)

Metropolitan Liberal Elite is my favourite font.

Tony Blair (to old lady in care home): Do you know who I am?
OL: I'm afraid I don't, but if you ask matron, she'll tell you.

I just treated him with complete ignoral! (Old Punch joke)

Why didn’t the viper vipe her nose?
Because the adder adder ankerchief.

When British troops first landed in Basra some minister or other said that it is very like Southampton. "Southampton?", a squaddie replied. "No women, no beer, and they're shooting at you? More like Portsmouth!"

Hieroglyphs haven't been used since the year bird, bird, fish. (Via Twitter)

I've got an Eton-themed advent calendar, where all the doors are opened for me by my dad's contacts. (IG)

How many Brexiteers does it take to change a lightbulb?
Hundreds - one to promise a brighter future and the rest to screw it up.

Obsequious waiter in a posh dining establishment in Central London: "How was the quality of your meal, Sir?"
Diner: "Very Good"
OW: "How did you find the meat?"
D: "It was easy: I moved a slice of carrot - and there it was!"

What you get when you cross a lawyer with a mafioso - an offer you can’t understand.

He used every cliché from God is Love to Please Adjust Your Dress Before Leaving.

Why did the coal scuttle?
Because it saw the kitchen sink!

What’s the difference between a bison and a buffalo?
You can’t wash your hands in a buffalo.

Was that a wolf?
Only sometimes.

Calm yourself, dear. Even Hitler can’t be both dregs AND scum. (Punch)

Lord Birkenhead, when asked for the way to the bathroom by someone he didn't like, replied 'Along the corridor, first left. You'll see a door marked "Gentlemen" but don't let that deter you'.

This book contains the work of three Brazilian mystery writers.
Wow, that’s amazing! How many is a brazilian, again?
(Scott K. Ratner)

Punch started it:
The East End
Tough 1: Oo’s that, Bill?
Tough 2: A stranger.
Tough 1: 'Eave 'alf a brick at 'im.

PG Wodehouse said that Winchester was the kind of place where you couldn’t throw half a brick without hitting the niece of a canon.

"Bloody place. Can't throw half a brick without hitting a tourist."
"What? There's only one!"
"Yeah, I had to aim really carefully."

More here, and links to the rest.

Thursday, 2 September 2021

Brexit Cookbook 2

Nature's bounty – treat with care.

are plentiful throughout the summer. Don't spud them out of your lawn, eat them! Outer coarse leaves can be cooked like spinach (boil quickly with a little water and butter in a covered pan). New tender leaves can be eaten raw in salads - but they wilt quickly. You can even eat the flowers, deep-fried in batter. Don't eat too much – and don't eat the stalks! Medical warnings here.

Puffballs may appear on your lawn. When young, they can be sliced and fried in butter. But make sure they are puffballs and not young poisonous agarics.

Radish tops and turnip tops can be cooked like spinach.

Stuffed celery: Pound grated cheese and margarine until smooth. Insert into celery sticks. Chill. Cut the sticks in slices.

Boiled cabbage: It used to accompany every meal in the Good Old Days. All institutions smelled permanently of the stuff. American poet T.S. Eliot thought it the heart of English identity. It was vile. But lightly boiled cabbage can be eaten cold with salt, pepper, oil and vinegar as a salad. Or you can heat the cooked cabbage with margarine, vinegar and sugar until the sugar melts. Good luck finding proper margarine.

Potato pasty: Make pastry, roll out. Peel and cube a potato. Put the potato cubes on half the pastry, fold over and seal the edges. Bake in a moderate oven for an hour. For extra excitement, add a knob of butter or some chopped parsley to the potato. Or go wild and mix in some cooked spinach and grated Gruyère cheese.

Pigeon's eggs: You can bake a pigeon's egg in the hollow of an avocado. For a more Brexit version, use a tomato, or a cooked turnip or potato. A monastic dovecote the size of a house may not fit in your garden, but you can put up a small one on a pole, as in the Jan Steen painting above.

Sorrel: Use instead of wild rocket, but sparingly  – it's sour and peppery.

Lime leaves: Young lime or linden leaves can be added to salads. Wash them well - the trees tend to grow at the sides of busy roads.

More patriotic recipes here.

Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Brexit Cookbook

We don't need the EU! We don't need the rest of the world! We just need to bring back monastic farming: raise fish in fish ponds, rabbits in rabbit warrens (or back gardens), pigeons in dovecotes (for their eggs). Like the Anglo-Saxons, we can install eel and fish traps and fish weirs in rivers.

Let's eat the invasive American crayfish in our rivers, with a side order of Japanese knotweed (fry young tender shoots in butter).

Let's use native species, like chestnuts and seakale.


Use peeled chestnuts (make sure they're not imported), or forage your own. To peel, make a slit in the sides of the nuts, boil for 15 mins. While still warm, remove shells and skins.

lemon juice
salt and pepper
grated nutmeg

Fry the chopped onion in the butter, add stock, chestnuts and other ingredients and simmer. Mash the chestnuts with a potato masher. Add cream if liked.

Puréed chestnuts mixed with sugar, butter and dark chocolate make a pudding called Turinese. Top with whipped cream.


Sea kale, a relative of the cabbage with blueish leaves, grows on shingly beaches. Forage the leaves and boil until soft. Or take the root, plant it in your garden, and put a big flower pot over it to force it like rhubarb – the leaves will be paler, softer and sweeter.

White sauce
A piece of butter the size of a walnut, flour, milk.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat and add a tablespoon of flour. Mix until the flour swells, then add a cupful of milk. Mix again until smooth. Keep adding milk in small quantities, and stirring – you can remove lumps with a hand whisk. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and let cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper. Stir in grated cheese to make a cheese sauce.

Mrs Beeton would line a vegetable dish with buttered toast, put a layer of kale on top, then pour over the sauce.

Tuesday, 31 August 2021

Snobbery and Joanna Cannan 2


And Be a Villain, by Joanna Cannan

Joanna Cannan was a mystery writer of the 50s who also started the "pony book" genre that was continued by her daughters, the Pullein-Thompsons.

We accompany Dr Richard Hallow as he drives home after an unsatisfactory case near the gas works. He lives in a country town, Beetham, where areas are delineated by class. He ponders the family he has just left: “They’re different; they don’t feel things like we do.” He disparages “Parkside, with its impure vowels, its lounges, electric log fires, golfing Daddies, dressy Mummies”, but “stepping under the pergolas to the studded-oak front doors, he could be sure of wide halls, shallow stairs, clean beds, a bathroom a bit vulgar, perhaps, in its pinkness”.

We reach his house and realise that Dr Hallow is not as upmarket as he thinks he is. The garden has a wrought-iron gate and a shrubbery, and the house is called “Windyridge”. We meet his wife, Eve, who is young and pretty but conventionally dressed in an “oatmeal” skirt and “a costly geranium pink ‘twin set’ and her pearls”. Her sister is visiting because they want to have a family conference about what to do with Mother, recently widowed and almost penniless. Dr Hallow has provisionally booked her a place at the nearest old people’s home. Eve explains that she can’t accommodate Mother because she does a lot of entertaining and she needs to impress people. Her sister Primrose makes her feel rather small – she’s handsome rather than pretty and carries off a “bottle-green tweed suit with a red-and-white-spotted handkerchief“. She is single, but having a long affair with a married Labour MP.

Their mother, Mrs Langley, turns up, having missed Eve at the station. There are no signs that she is “impossible”, except that she wears a black coat and has “bird’s nest” hair – long, in an updo instead of short and permed. She is also a poet and an intellectual.

While they’re waiting for Richard and dithering about whether to start tea without him, an unexpected guest arrives: their cousin Jonathan who now lives abroad, having served a sentence for “gross indecency”. (He’s gay.) Mrs Langley (Laura) talks to him in another room while the sisters blame his “emotional” mother who “alternately petted and neglected him”. “‘You were always calling people babyish,’ said Eve. ‘Or feeble — that was a great word of yours.” Richard, if present, would call him “pathological”. Mrs Langley makes a lunch date with him for the next day.

They decide to go and look for Richard in his surgery – where they find him, slumped across the Q-R file drawer, quite dead. Inspector Ronald Price of Scotland Yard is called in. Price is the opposite of the quirky detective we are supposed to love – he doesn’t have a single redeeming feature. What's more he’s a socialist and thinks in clichés.

Mrs Langley meets Jonathan at a local hotel. “He was waiting for her in the meagre lounge, half-heartedly modernized with nesting chairs and formica-topped tables, but retaining its stained-glass windows and blue carpet, patterned with vegetable growths in beige.” Of course he is charming, they lunch on Irish stew and ice cream, and he asks her to come and live with him in his crumbling chateau in France. She delightedly agrees. When Price meets her, he thinks “daubs or weaves”.

And now we get some insight about Insp. Price. He’s read Nancy Mitford’s recent Noblesse Oblige. “To his surprise and mortification” he learns that “many, if not all, the refined expressions which in the course of years he had trained himself to use served only to proclaim his lack of breeding”.

“His wife, Valerie, wouldn’t read the book — she said it looked dry — and when, trying out this new vocabulary, he said ‘What?’ she said, ‘Don’t say ‘what’ to me,’ and when ... he referred to what he had always called ‘serviettes’ as napkins, she said he was disgusting and had put her off her food.”

Price also interviews Dr Hallows’ receptionist, Evadne, who weekends at a bungalow called “Catcott”. She has just been sacked after 15 years, to make room for “Miss Beetham”, the local beauty queen.

The cast come out with some received ideas. Eve shouldn’t “huddle” or “crouch” over the fire (despite just being bereaved). She discusses economy with Price, who’s impressed: “‘Small tins of soup are quite big enough for three people if you add a little milk or water.”

Now we meet June – “Miss Beetham”. Her boyfriend, journalist David, doesn’t want her to work for Dr Hallow, the well-known “ladies’ man”, and she gives him back his ring. It’s Sergeant Haddock who turns up to interview her, revealing himself to be even more affected and déclassé than Price himself.

“Dropping the high clear Roedean voice she affected and speaking naturally, she said, ‘Well, what did you want to know, Mr Haddock?’” Haddock interviews David, and asks: “‘I hope my intrusion has not put the Muse to flight?” David lives in a grubby House of Multiple Occupation, and Price remarks: “The housing problem is still with us in spite of Tory promises.”

Eve’s sons come home from boarding school, and Price watches them raking the lawn and larking about: “Typical behaviour, Price thought contemptuously, of privileged little snobs from public schools.” The boys are nice, and get on with their grandmother – Cannan can do children, unlike some of the Crime Queens.

Long-forgotten prejudices are revealed: the football pools and beauty contests are despised, breakfast cereal is “rubbishy”, and artificial fertiliser is feared – won’t it make the vegetables poisonous? “‘Causes all these stomach ulcers,’ said Laura with relish.”

Evadne App, the genteel receptionist, assumes she will work for the next doctor to take over the practice. She has given up her room in town, and Eve asks her to move in until she finds somewhere. She proceeds to drive them all mad. “Supposing I had to wash up with Miss App till death did us part?” ponders Eve. (The boys call her “the Mishap”.)

Inspector Price arrests a disgruntled patient, and retreats to London, and Laura goes off detecting on her own on a tip from the boys. She asks the way in a grocer’s where women are buying “Tastispred” and “Pop’n’Scrunch”. She comes home to a lunch of dried-up rissoles and writes some postcards to the boys. Eve tells her off for using the slang word “smashing”. “It’s these fearsome words like . . . well, like finalize and motivate that should be barred,” disagrees Primrose.

Laura unmasks the murderer, and we leave Inspector Price at home pondering the creation of a breakfast nook with a formica drop-leaf table. Primrose and June rather fade from the story – I’d like to know if the MP ever leaves his wife, or if June finds a new fiancée. Laura is content in the French chateau, and Eve gets a job as a matron in a boys’ school.

The puzzle may not be very complex, but the writing is sparkling and funny, and Cannan's books are a joy to anyone interested in the social history of the 50s.

More about Joanna Cannan here.

Thursday, 19 August 2021

Contradictions 9

We recommend living for others, but commend people for being “resilient” and standing on their own two feet.

We say that marriage is outmoded but get hitched anyway, says

Don’t think about what other people are thinking about you. Autistic people lack “theory of mind”.

Neurotypicals don’t want to think that anybody copies anybody, while spouting current phrases and correct jargon.

Michelangelo lived to be 88, which is good going in an age when everybody died aged 40.

Leave voters won by a small majority – “That’s democracy!” Women form over half the population of the UK – so surely anything we say goes?

If we dismiss novels of the 20s and 30s as “dated”, why are we so keen on historical fiction? Is it because we can rely on a current author to have the right attitudes?

If you can “will away” the pain of IUD insertion, periods and childbirth, why do they give anaesthesia for an appendectomy?

If a woman can be booted off TikTok for calling herself a “mother”, why are we celebrating Fathers’ Day?

Americans: What shall we do with all these parking lots in cities? Also Americans: We’re turning the old El track into a green walkway.

Taking the knee is mere “gesture politics”, but waving a flag somehow isn’t.

Gender is assigned by doctors at birth, but do come to our unborn baby’s gender reveal party and watch the ultrasound video. Though of course an unborn child is not human.

Brexit is a success! Plus, Brexit fallout is all THEIR fault.

In Church of England weddings, couples vow “till death do us part”, but the Church allows divorce. (In 2002 the General Synod allowed remarriage in church of divorced people whose former partners were still alive, in "exceptional circumstances".) In the early 19th century men vowed “With all my worldly goods I thee endow” when by law all a woman’s money and property became her husband’s on marriage, unless Victorian Dad had tied up her fortune in some kind of pre-nup.

A society where marriages are arranged produces beautiful poetry about free agents falling passionately in love with each other. (The Song of Songs)

Neurotypicals complain that the neurodiverse lack “executive function” while at the same time telling us to “live in the moment”.

Hippies proclaimed “love and peace” while being unfriendly on a personal level. (Someone who was there in Haight Ashbury in the late 60s reports that the ideals went out of the window when the kids moved on to hard drugs.)

Have you noticed the people who don’t want to help refugees because we “have our own poor” also don’t want to help our own poor? (@mhdksafa)

Hold on, these people objected to removing statues on the grounds that this would "airbrush history". But when it comes to stately homes they want to...airbrush history? (@StevePeers )

Here’s Jacob Rees-Mogg, saying there’s no point tackling climate change as we won’t see effects of doing so for 100+ years. And yet… The very same Jacob-Rees Mogg felt there was every need for Brexit despite saying benefits might not be felt for 50 years. (@MarinaPurkiss)

The left will simultaneously deplore child beauty pageants while cheering in favour of child drag queens. (@Jaimi_Shrive)

Schrödinger’s Scots is where it is simultaneously not a language (just a dialect of English) and yet so unintelligible to English speakers that they peevishly demand translations. (@MizLiot)

Schrödinger's Welsh would be that it's simultaneously a dead language and yet Welsh speakers are taking all of the jobs. (@SPTomos)

Yiddish is both a dead language and not a proper language because it hasn’t got a word for television. Unlike English...

Schrödinger's freelance job: hard enough that I can't do it myself, but easy enough that you can do it for me for free. (@arrantpedantry)

All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. A British Tory will defend self-determination in Europe and oppose it in India with no feeling of inconsistency. (George Orwell)

We hold all the cards.
The EU is bullying us.
The EU is falling apart.
Brexiters hold all three of the mutually exclusive views above, and pretend they're somehow compatible.
(Edwin Hayward @uk_domain_names)

Listening to a Tory MP on a podcast stating that the government shouldn't tell us what to do. I'm driving my recently MOT'd car in a restricted speed limit zone with a seat belt on and can't turn him off because it is illegal to hold my phone. (@thehistoryguy)

Book advice: You must hook the reader within the first five pages or they'll put it down!! The same people recommending their favorite TV show: You just have to get past episode six and then you'll start to like it. (@hapasareasian)

"We’re being censored by woke cancel culture! We’re afraid to say what we actually think!—also here is our new law forbidding mention of the following topics in public schools.” (@JuliusGoat)

If biological sex has no material significance on our lives (therefore needs no words, data collection or sex-specific facilities), why would anyone experience dysphoria or want to obscure their secondary sex characteristics?

More here, and links to the rest.

Friday, 13 August 2021

Snobbery and Joanna Cannan


Whodunnit? Must have been a rank outsider!

Joanna Cannan (1898–1961) was the author of the influential children's story A Pony for Jean. It gave rise to a whole genre - largely written by Cannan and her daughters, Josephine, Diana and Christine Pullein-Thompson. The family were intensely horsey and ran their own stables. (A Pony for Jean was unusual in its time for being convincingly narrated by the girl heroine. The series is also funny: the usual plot about a girl who teaches herself to ride on an unpromising mount and then wins all the prizes is surrounded by some sly social observation. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography says Cannan’s writing was “witty, satirical, even cynical”. I think they’re trying to say “critical”.)

Cannan also wrote detective stories. I was encouraged to read Murder Included by Clothes in Books who hinted that it was a guide to the English class system in the early 50s. And so it is.

The aristocratic d’Estray family have turned their country house into a hunting stables and private hotel (for “paying guests”) – on the urging of the latest Lady d’Estray, who is rather Bohemian and has been living in the South of France. (She has breakfast in her bedroom – imagine!) The police are called in when one of the guests (a horsey old lady who is also a d’Estray cousin) is found poisoned. The local fuzz request help from Scotland Yard, claiming that they can't be impartial as they are all either friends of Sir Charles d’Estray, or closely related to the staff.

They are sent Inspector Ronald Price, a solidly lower middle-class socialist who has the gall to live in Finchley and eat in a dining recess with folkweave curtains. His bathroom contains a mirror-fronted cupboard full of laxatives, and a cork-seated linen basket. His idea of a good meal is tinned soup, potato pie and trifle (stale cake and instant custard). He is also pompous, calling sleep “recuperative slumber”.

The whole book seethes with snobbery (and racism), mainly expressed by the cast – the contempt for Price and another character called Marvin seems to be entirely Cannan’s own.

Among the guests is a couple called Rose. Here’s the Chief Constable’s view: “Well, Mr Rose is a type that I daresay you’re familiar with, though it’s not common, thank the Lord, down here. A few years back his name was Rosengarten or Rosenberg.” (His wife, Sybella, calls the drawing room the “lounge” and her coat and skirt a “costume”. We’d now call it a suit. Sidney Rose’s hunting clothes are too new and too brightly coloured: chestnut tweed coat and socks; yellow tie, waistcoat and handkerchief. What’s more, his tie has a pattern of foxes’ masks and hunting whips, and his socks are cable-stitched.)

Inspector Price flinches when local cop Treadwell refers to the housemaid (who is also his aunt) as a “servant”. “Don’t they realise we’ve done away with masters and servants?” thinks Price. He winces again when the Chief Constable complains that he has to dine early to let the cook go home. “How well they were taking it, these doomed and done-for ladies and gentlemen – but dine early!”

Treadwell complains that the village was “pretty enough once, but spoiled by bungalows run up by retired Harborough tradesmen”. Price writes to his wife, Valerie, that he may have to remind everybody that “a few years have passed since we did away with the feudal system”.

Price ticks off the boot boy for saying “What?” rather than “Pardon?” but is put in his place – “Sir Charles won’t ’ave pardon in the ’ouse.” It’s “I beg your pardon” to the gentry and “What?” to equals.

Bunny (Lady d’Estray) is advised not to wear espadrilles in the presence of the police. Her conservative stepdaughter Patricia is wearing “trim Coolies”. (What can these be? Basketweave shoes?) “The more you wear sloppy shoes,” says Pat, “The more you have to.” (Espadrilles were a foreign import, and rather shocking.) Pat admits later that “'what corners I had were duly knocked off at St Olaf’s'. She smiled, evidently recalling humorous incidents connected with the loss of her individuality.” She is a perpetual prefect, and has yet to discard the “snubbing manner” acquired at school.

One of the guests, Flight-Lieutenant Marvin, is described as a “temporary gentleman” by other characters. He has been taken up by Miss Hudson (the first corpse), and is probably after her money. Lisa, Bunny’s daughter, says that he’s “of the people”, and uses words like “perspiration and serviette and excuse me”. Cannan introduces his mother, apparently just so that she can sneer at her. She wears more than one ring, a tight corset and a frilly white blouse. She enjoys walking round shops, also “bridge, matinees, an occasional dress show”.

Beatrice, the housemaid, explains how servants’ halls have become more democratic: “Of course, in the old days the under-servants weren’t allowed to speak at table until the upper servants ’ad withdrawn, but me and Mr Benson and Mrs Capes decided that, within reason, we in the ’all should adapt ourselves to the spirit of the times.” Yes, I’m afraid the servants all drop their aitches, which makes their dialogue quite difficult to read.

I guessed who the murderer was, and the solution is quite shocking.

All Is Discovered
There is not a single likeable person in this book, apart perhaps for the murdered woman, a "peasant type" who only ever wanted to work on a farm. It is all about class. Joanna Cannan uses her story to pour scorn on council house dwellers and farmers’ wives who want to climb up the social scale thanks to cheap wallpaper, manmade fibres, fridges and convenience foods. It is the early 60s.

The only halfway attractive character is Arthur, an elderly man who lives in a "cream and green" council house and grows his own vegetables. But even he has every dropped H notated.

His wife Edie has aspirations and a seersucker tablecloth. There are “sandwiches to cut and fill with a new recipe from Women’s Weekly Outlook – pineapple with a dab of mayonnaise – and then she must comb out her hair, at present set in curlers under a headscarf, and change into her Terylene skirt and Acrilan twin set.” The couple have just dined on “baked beans, tinned luncheon meat and processed cheese”.

Even worse is Sylvia Lumley, wife of a farmer. She “teeters” across the farmyard in stiletto heels. She owns a miniature poodle and a “baby” car, and wears a mohair stole, a black lacy nightdress and an apple-green corduroy housecoat. Not all at once.

She is not unfaithful, but likes to go on dates with men – usually her cousin Eddy – who take her out to dinner in a nearby town in posh restaurants like Antonio’s. She waits for her date sitting on the edge of a “couch” in a “niche”. The date is a frost – she is too “ingratiating and unsophisticated”. She chooses scampi followed by pressed duck, though “she would much have preferred vol-au-vent and chocolate mousse, and all the time she talked brightly, trying hard to please. She was unsuccessful and knew it.” She “had looked forward to a harvest of expensive entertainments in Sandbourne’s hotels, concert halls and theatre.”

When we see inside her house, we find that “the ‘lounge’ had recently been redecorated in one of Sylvia’s foolish attempts to follow a fleeting fashion with two wallpapers of cheap quality and unrelated design; roses rioted over the three-piece suite; the eye was further confused by patterned curtains, a patterned carpet, a rash of small brass objects...”

Cannan’s series tec is Detective-Superintendent Price – she loathes him. He wears “Strydeout” shoes that fall to bits in the rain. He has twin boys called Howard and Norman, and is married to Valerie, who has a “rat-like” face and is not interested in becoming more middle class. They holiday at Seaview, Ryde or the Pines Hotel, Budleigh Salterton. He uses words like “desirable”, refers to people as “that worthy”, and brags that he doesn’t read novels but “biography, travel, history and current affairs”. When he wants to let his hair down he takes off his tie, undoes the top button of his white shirt and spreads “its collar over that of his navy blue blazer”.

He has opinions like these: “I haven’t much sympathy with loneliness. I believe that it is almost invariably self-inflicted. Any man or woman of goodwill can find a niche in the community – only freaks and those who wilfully refuse to conform remain outside the human family.” And “This insidious ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude is spreading.”

The farmer’s daughters are “plain”, and behave like a parody of Cannan’s usual horsey girl heroines. They talk too much about their pets’ ailments, and rabbits with myxomatosis, and call things they approve of “jolly dee” (jolly decent).

About two-thirds through the book, Price drops out and we leave these scenes of provincial squalor. The murders are not local after all, but connected to rackets based in Soho – prostitution and what we’d now call people-trafficking. We meet a whole new set of characters who are repulsive but unreal. The case is taken over by one Frobisher, who seeks out a felon called Delano in a peeling Georgian boarding house. “He was in a passage carpeted with worn linoleum, smelling of gas, cabbage and old sins.” (They usually smelled of paraffin, incense and Alsatians, as well.)

Suddenly we’re in the world of 50s film noir as the story gallops to an end. Where is the witty and warm writer of A Pony for Jean?

Journalist Liz Jones met her daughters, the Pullein-Thompsons, who wrote many pony books between them: "The family never had any money; their parents believed that to worry about it was beneath them... ‘They had ideas above their station,’ says Josephine."

Tuesday, 10 August 2021

Literary Clichés 9: Stereotypes in Perry Mason

During lockdown, I've watched a lot of old Perry Mason episodes. Some stock characters are easy to spot: the bad blonde, the dark-haired beatnik, the dim-witted "Scottish" housekeeper.

There was one recurring character who puzzled me: the elderly “lady” who lives in the past. She's middle-aged, wears a hat and white gloves, and good jewellery. Her manner is fluttery, anxious, child-like, her expression frequently worried. She is ignorant of "business" and the modern world. Her “grandeur” depends entirely on her character, not money or aristocratic descent.

Bizarrely, middle-aged men find this attractive and everybody treats her like royalty. She’s a “grand lady”, a survival of a more gracious age, and must be protected.

There is an example of the type in the episode The Case of the Barefaced Witness, set in a small town. The complicated plot concerns possible embezzlement and blackmail. The elderly "Miss Sarah" plays a pivotal role. Played impressively by Josephine Hutchinson (pictured), she has an upright carriage, elegant clothes (and hats) and an ancient car. He hair is dressed in a Gibson girl updo.

Due to the plot, she has signed an alias to a vital document and is challenged in the witness box by Perry. She breaks down, crying real tears, and confesses that 25 years ago, when she was 35, she did live under another name. She has been "married", but the man left her, and her baby died. Was this such a terrible secret in 1961, when the episode was made?

Of course everything ends happily and she invites the cast to tea in her Victoriana-stuffed old house.

But remember many of the Mason stories were written in the 30s – subtract 25 years and that brings us to 1910, and she'd have been young in 1900. Then the Gibson girl hairdo would make sense, plus the waffle about the “gracious days of 50 years ago”, and the Victorian interiors.

But in 1961... minus 25 gets us to 1936, take away 10 and we’re in the roaring 20s which doesn’t fit at all! There’s a suggestion of “the gracious days before the war” – presumably the First World War, but maybe the Civil War is hinted at.

I have an old-fashioned "posh" accent and sometimes people make the oddest assumptions on the strength of it. I've been called "not quite with it" and a "confused English rose", even a "sweet old-fashioned thing". A friend apologised for talking about Stormzy and broke off to explain to me who he is. Is this the stereotype they were applying?

More movie clichés here.
And here, and links to the rest.
More literary clichés here, and links to the rest.

Monday, 9 August 2021

Outrageous Excuses and Silly Justifications 17


I sometimes look at Twitter but quickly get bored.
I only use Twitter for business.
Never felt the need to sign up.
Never used it – I’ve heard it’s toxic.
I do have a Twitter but I don't really bother with it.
Twitter will never validate me.

London mayoral hopeful Laurence Fox used the launch of his manifesto to defend his right to call people “paedophiles” on Twitter, citing free speech and claiming it is just a “meaningless and baseless” insult. (The New European)

Oriel College says it can’t afford to take down the Cecil Rhodes statue and anyway it would be too time-consuming.

We shouldn’t try too hard to find out the truth because if we had absolute knowledge we couldn’t be humble any more.

We needn’t pay any attention to anti-racists because they are all Marxists.

Winston Churchill thought that women wanting the vote were “akin to a man demanding the right to have a baby”. (Otto English, Fake History)

Evangelicals, if your responses to being confronted for spiritual abuse in the church are “Not all Christians” and “Your generalizations hurt my feelings”, you are one of the (many) reasons why we left. (@anna_apostate)

During discussion of custody law in Greek Parliament, member opines that men who abuse their wives/etc "could still be outstanding fathers". (Athena Andreadis)

Police Scotland later deleted a tweet calling on people to report For Women Scotland stickers. A source told The Scottish Sun it had been “poorly worded”. (Times 2021)

The tribunal accepted in that case that Mark Lewis, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, was on a course of strong medication at the time, had entered into a ‘dream-like state’ and could not remember what he had posted. (Law Society Gazette. Lewis had suffered a bombardment of anti-Semitic tweets, some wishing him dead.)

The Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1935 provided that the citizenship of children born outside the State could only be transmitted through the father. In 1935 De Valera believed that equal treatment in this area would lead to “confusion”. (Thomas Mohr)

A 27-year-old man has admitted sexually assaulting 12 females in Swansea's Singleton Park claiming it was a "political point" as he does not believe women should wear "enticing clothes" in public. (@EvansTheCrime)

It’s just misleading to call Jill Biden “doctor”, says former Army Ranger Tim Cotton. Fern Riddell was called “arrogant” and “immodest” for insisting on her title. Claiming the title is “vulgar” says

Police broke up a party in Basingstoke. Asked why they breached the distancing guidelines, the hosts explained: “We didn’t know there was a global pandemic. We never watch the news.” (Possibly apocryphal.)

The director of Wild Mountain Thyme suggests people around the world wouldn't understand realistic Irish accents.

2021-03-16, Man shoots eight people in Atlanta. The sheriff: "He was pretty much fed up and kind of at the end of his rope and yesterday was a really bad day for him."

A man standing for @scottishgreens threatens to go round punching people whose views he's decided he doesn't like. Then says it's a joke. Then says those people deserve it anyway. Doesn't really fill you with confidence about the party does it? (@volewriter)

The Equality Act undermines school discipline by empowering the stroppy teenager of colour. (@JonHolb, about a girl who was sent home for having an afro.) Barrister Jon Holbrook went on digging: “My tweet drew attention to a serious political issue namely the way that children of colour have been able to undermine school uniform policies by requiring them to be adapted to accommodate cultural difference. This issue connects to a wider debate that society needs to have about the equality laws that have enabled these claims to succeed on the basis that the law backs cultural difference at the expense of assimilation.” He added: “The attempt to cancel me, that is being led by the left on Twitter, shows how difficult it is to have a reasoned debate on issues connected with race. It is time for the country to also question the harmful impact that the Equality Act is having on free speech. There are many activists who want to silence those who criticise laws that encourage cultural difference. When people are silenced this is not good for democracy. (Guardian. He had previously been fired for anti-migrant rhetoric. He was sacked for refusing to delete the tweet.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Thursday, 5 August 2021

Outrageous Excuses 16: Why I Voted Conservative

People who vote Conservative always say they “voted for change”. When the Tories have been in power for – how long? The below were all spotted in the wild.


Of Jeremy Corbyn.
I don’t believe in the European super-state.
Labour massively over-borrowed during their time in office.
Labour spends money it doesn’t have.

I was disillusioned with Labour.
Corbyn would ruin the economy.
Anything else would be a wasted vote.
I was desperate. I didn’t want that communist ruining my country.

I have a nice house and nice things because I work hard for them and am an achiever.
My parents did.
The left have gone too far.
We need a sensible leader (Mrs May).
They’ve done a good job.
I thought we'd get a better deal for the arts.

“I wanted to get Brexit sorted, to get it over and done with. I've had enough of it.”
“I like how they treat the family as the foundation of society.”


I care about the economy.
I am a rational human being.
Social issues don't belong in government.
Social issues will take care of themselves.
I wanted less interference.
The Democrats changed, not me.
That's between me and myself.
I can’t stand the big tech aligned/"woke" left.
Because of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
Hillary is the Devil.

More here, and links to the rest.

Outrageous Excuses 14: Taking the Knee



It's an alien import. Taking the knee is being forced on people. The players ought to welcome the booing. (Ian Leslie, paraphrased by @t0nyyates)

The act of protesting this gesture isn’t racist, even if some do it for racist reasons. (@mrianleslie)

The biggest opposition is because fans see something being forced on them. (@DPJHodges)

Black people “find gestures of performative solidarity offensive” says @TBuczkowska.

Taking to your knee is a gesture of submission. It shows you have surrendered to your opponent and is NOT a good look for a team in a major sporting event. It puts you in the wrong frame of mind and gives an immediate advantage to your opponents. Very silly. (@Mal_DuBois)

It’s got the point now where taking the knee and the ongoing debate is outweighing the message and the game of football we all wanna see. Also you can’t force beliefs on people, wrong or right. People who oppose it aren’t gonna change cus you’re trying to guilt them into it. (@YoungAd_5)

Email to Victoria Derbyshire: You’re missing the whole point about what taking the knee is doing. It’s causing rage among the traditional supporters. (This charmer went on to call Derbyshire abusive names and hope she got cancer again.)

Many players and many fans want some sort of anti-racism statement at the start of games. Many fans do not back taking a knee. So we simply need a new anti-racist symbol that people can unite behind. Not one imported from the States, but one everyone can have ownership of. (@DPJHodges)

Taking the knee is a national embarrassment and makes me ashamed of all those cringing snivelers [sic] who subscribe to it. (@Maxymack1st)

Priti Patel is right. It is gesture politics. Taking the knee has achieved exactly what said it would. It has caused division, it is divisive and scary . Knee has put race relations back 20 years. (@reg_rover)

Taking the knee means England will “exit Euro 2021 early”, says “Prison Planet”. “Divides the fans, demoralises the players”, he adds.

Be interesting to see what England’s performance and results are like. Southgate could be heading for a fall. Taking the knee is just so wrong. (@reg_rover)

And so on and depressingly on.

For some reason @reg_rover thinks “knee” has an apostrophe behind it as if it was short for something.

More here, and links to the rest.

Sunday, 1 August 2021

Outrageous Excuses 13: Brexit

Supermarket shelves are empty because they didn’t bargain for people not going off on holiday due to Covid, because there’s a recruitment problem, and a training problem, and it costs up to £5,000 to get an HGV licence, and we shouldn’t be eating so much meat and plastic-wrapped food anyway! We’re not going to starve!

That's plenty compared with Cuba. At least there will be less waste as supermarkets have less to dump.

Shelves in the UK are bigger and better, so it looks empty. (@dodger372000)

Supermarkets say “Please bear with us: we’re experiencing high demand.”

The shortages are due to the hot weather. @teachertwit2

Blair’s university drive is real reason behind HGV drivers shortage, says Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen.

(All spotted in the wild.)

You have to vote out because that’s the only way things can change.

Let’s take our rights back.

I want to have a say in how our country is governed rather than living under a dictatorship.

We’ll get imperial measurements back. And pre-decimal money.

The EU is a white racist organisation.

The vast majority thought a vote for Brexit meant every single foreign person living and working in the UK would be evicted. In fact every person of colour or person born in this country of immigrants. (@Vanessa32217951)

I think if we are all honest even Farage himself will admit that fishing was at the back of the things people who voted to leave wanted. The main one was 100% freedom of movement to be stopped and the UK to have laws made not the European human rights bill. [@Fog80Willy. Because they think the “human rights bill” stops the UK deporting immigrants.]

I voted Leave because the Human Rights Bill has literally taken away our rights. The right to remove unwanted people from our country. The money this is costing taxpayers could be spent on hospitals etc. If we get rid of this Bill it will curb immigration. (@Gillyknowitall)

I've met a couple who's only reason for voting 'out' was "To get rid of all these foreigners". (@KittenBumble)

I know somebody who exports to the EU… He actually asked me yesterday if it was true that VAT would be abolished from 1/1/21 because he thought all VAT payments went to the EU. He is VAT registered. (@eggs_horse)

People can't tell you why they voted for Brexit beyond soundbites like "Elites" "Bureaucrats" "Sovereignty" "Project fear". (@Irritatedllama)

My 80+ MiL voted leave because "after two world wars, how could we trust the Germans?" (TWJ)
I wanted to stick it to the establishment. (@simonharris_mbd)

I voted leave because I didn't want to be in the European Union any more. At the time it seemed right but it was definitely the wrong decision but I stand by what I did and I would vote leave again given the chance. (@Ggorble)

I voted Leave because I also voted to leave the UK Union but I'll gladly rejoin the EU in an independent Scotland where I actually have a choice. (@boydy47)

I voted leave because of deeply held beliefs the EU was a dangerous institution. (@fedfakenews)

Because I don't agree with the EU. (@AndrewI81572127)

Because I never win anything. (@acidburn2k20)

Because I believe in small government. (@FortyVictoria)

I voted leave because I thought we would be more democratic. It's taken a while. Now time to sort the House of Lords.

None of us wanted this but we could not afford the benefit tourism and fraud on top of the ever increasing contribution to a corrupt system. My Polish friends demanded I voted leave because they didn't like the way their own family abused the system! (@Pikey_Wilf)

I voted Leave because it was the one and only chance we would ever get to vote on it. I do not want the UK to became part of a Federal European Superstate and that's where it's headed. If we had voted Remain then we would not get another chance. (@Bluestilton1990)

I'm reminded of the 'person' from the North East, who interviewed on the media said that he'd voted Brexit because 'you go to our local hospital, you wont't see a white face'. When asked how leaving Europe would affect immigration from Africa and Asia, he said he didn't know. (KL)

Because I could. (@RaySammy11)

More here, and links to the rest.

Outrageous Excuses 12: Woke


Refusing to pick wild flowers or take anything home from a beach.

Banning coloured toilet paper from the house because “the dye poisons fish”.

Raising your kids
to be gender neutral so that they can choose later

Avoiding correcting people for writing “free reign” because you’re a vegan and reins are made of leather.

As a vegan, you refuse to eat off bone china.

Avoiding chocolate cake because heavier people use more airline fuel when they fly.

Only eating foraged food, avoiding farming or even gardening.

Only letting your child watch black and white movies.

In my country we've been actively discouraged from using BCE/CE in papers, because we found that ethnic minorities, especially those who have their own dating system, find it more offensive not less. The CE part implies that the Western counting system supersedes theirs. (@Zammi)

Would never even think of doing audiobooks unless my vision made it mandatory. Feels to much like cheating, which is how many people without vision issues use them today. (DS)

A female friend found the idea of even quoting stats about male on female violence 'offensive', because it 'implied' there is a victim narrative being imposed upon women. (Via FB)

A comment on Facebook today from somebody who says he has never read a particular book because the paperback's cover showed someone smoking a cigarette. (MO)

A discussion on industrial farmers polluting rivers with chicken sh*t very quickly became “People should eat less meat because they’re obese and don’t take enough exercise and live on junk food and this is why they get ill.”

My little boy calls all objects ‘she’ – how can I bring him up to be aware of gender fluidity? (Letter to Dear Prudence at, paraphrase)

How can I stop my parrot deadnaming my trans sibling?

A woman gave her son’s girlfriend several Christmas presents, including a weighted blanket. The blanket was returned with a note explaining that she didn’t want to appropriate autistic culture. Now she’s posting on FB what a terrible woman her “MIL” is for doing such a thing.

More here, and links to the rest.

Thursday, 15 July 2021

Received Ideas: Kids Today

There was a deference of youth to age, and a prompt obedience of children to parents.
(The good old days of George IV remembered, 1881.)

In the 1550s, Buxton citizens complained about “youthful persons” who loved “to pipe, dance, hop and sing”.

“There is not a single modern schoolboy who can compose verses or write a decent letter,” moaned William Langland in the 14th century.

The world is passing through troublous times. The young of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behaviour and dress. (Peter the Hermit in the 13th century)

What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them? ( Plato in the 5th century BCE. There are many other examples.)

Kids grow up too fast these days. (Every year for the past 50.) Play computer games hour after hour. Don’t know milk comes from cows. Don’t know what Easter celebrates. Can’t think for themselves, blindly follow celebrities. Are soft, moody, troubled, rebellious, inarticulate and badly behaved. Listen to tuneless loud music, and wear ridiculous revealing clothes which they throw away as soon as the buttons fall off. This generation of young people is completely different from any other generation that has ever been – and far, far worse!

Kids can’t run free as we used to, thanks to artificial fears that are spread by the powers that be to keep us in chains. (Insert anecdote about how you travelled from London to Penzance by train on your own aged four etc etc.)

Kids today mumble, and use slang full of made-up words. Say “innit”! Their every third word is “like” and all their sentences go up at the end. (This last gripe is borrowed from the Americans, who complained about Valley Girl Speak – with its uptalking and constant use of “like” – about 25 years ago. Uptalking became briefly fashionable in the UK, but is no longer so prevalent.)

Kids today – or “entitled millennials” – demand safe spaces and stifle debate by “no-platforming” speakers. They should be forced to allow free speech, listen to differing opinions, and learn how to argue. University lecturers are all Marxists indoctrinating the young – how can we access seats of learning and spread Conservative propaganda if the students won’t co-operate?

Kids today are an entirely different species from adults. Nobody has ever said “no” to them.

All society’s problems would be solved if families sat down to eat together, and school-children wore uniforms and learned cursive handwriting.

Now you know What To Say about young people. Spouting this stuff will make you popular and get you shares and likes.

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday, 12 July 2021

Friday, 9 July 2021

Etymology: Word and Phrase Origins

Many websites recycle these stories. In general, we're skeptical about Bigfoot and UFOs, but swallow these tales whole. The rest of the alphabet follows, and the whole list can be found in my book What You Know That Ain't So.

AMEN CORNER, between St Nicholas's Cathedral and Milburn House in Newcastle, is so named because those in the church walked around the building while saying their prayers, and they got to “Amen” at this corner. (There’s an Amen Corner in London, near Amen Court and Paternoster Square.)

AMERICA Called after map-maker Amerigo Vespucci – or a Bristolian called John Ameryck.

APPLE PIE BEDS From à plis: in folds or folded. “From the apple turnover, or a corruption of nappe pliée, a folded sheet,” says Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. (I like apple turnover best.)

APPLE-PIE ORDER “Some suggest cap-à-pie” (head to foot), says Brewer. Or is it nappe pliée again: in this case “as neat as folded linen”? Brewer adds: “It has also been suggested that “Apple-pie order” may be a corruption of alpha, beta, meaning as orderly as the letters of the alphabet.” (All very unlikely.)

ARUNDEL The town in Sussex is called after the French for swallow: hirondelle. (There’s a River Arun nearby.)

AT SIXES AND SEVENS The Merchant Taylors’ Guild and the Skinners’ Guild in the City of London disagree about which body should take sixth place in processions, so they alternate. Or does it refer to the fact that six plus seven is unlucky 13?

AVOCADO PEARS Originally called Alligator Pears, a mis-hearing of aguacate (from Nahuatl “ahuakatl”: avocado or testicle).

BAGSY Just a lazy way of saying “Bags I!” to decide which part of the morning's shooting goes in which bag.

BAITED BREATH The cat eats cheese and then breathes down the mousehole – or else it’s really abated breath (as in “don’t hold your breath”). But hang on, isn’t that how horse whispering is done? Chew something sweet, then breathe up the horse’s nostrils?

BALONEY A slur on the University of Bologna. (More likely from Bologna sausage. Or perhaps the prudish Americans were avoiding ruder words beginning with B.)

BANK The first Lombards who set up as money changers in London had a bench built into their heavy money chests so that they could sit on their loot and guard it. “Banca” is the Italian for bench. (Couldn’t you just sit on a chest? Perhaps they were hybrid bench-chests – or tables. See next entry.)
BANKRUPT From the Italian “banca rotta”, or broken bench. In North Italy, money lenders operated in a large room, each with his own table. If one went “broke”, the table was literally broken, says And The Free Dictionary says a “banca” was a money-changer’s table, but a 15th century print shows bankers standing behind a counter, not at individual tables.

BATTEN DOWN THE HATCHES Close the wooden hatch covers in the ship’s deck, and lock them with battens through the staples, so that they’re watertight. (Probably true.)

BATTY, BATS From “bats in the belfry” – or from William Battie, who published A Treatise on Madness in 1958?

BE MY GUEST Coined by hoteliers in the 50s.

BEST FOOT FORWARD Derived from the way green wood furniture adapts to uneven floors.

BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE During a depression in mining in the US, a man had to choose between hacking at a rockface and unemployment. (“A rock” and “a hard place” are synonyms – it means “no choice”.)

BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA Between French generals Deville and Duplessis. The “devil” is a seam on a boat nearest the waterline. (Or “between Scylla and Charybdis” as the Ancient Greeks used to say, referring either to sea monsters or to rocky reefs and whirlpools in the Strait of Messina.)

BIKINI From Bikini Atoll, site of atom bomb tests in the 1940s. The swimsuits are as small as an atom. A bikini started off as a one-piece but the midriff was torn away by the blast. The joke at the time was that that the “bikini” split the “atom”, because it was introduced right after a tiny single-piece bathing suit called the Atome. ( Or was their impact like a nuclear explosion?

BLACKGUARD According to Merriam-Webster, the black guard were the lowest servants in a noble household, sooty from their kitchen jobs. When the household travelled, these domestics protected the pots and pans. The Free Dictionary says they were low menials or camp followers, and the Urban Dictionary suggests they were shoeshine boys. (Or perhaps it’s a word like laggard, haggard and sluggard – it’s pronounced blaggard. It’s more likely that it derived from the French word “blague”, a con or trick. The Free Dictionary also says that “ard” is a pejorative suffix.)

BLACKMAIL Rob Roy used to demand a tithe from every cattle herd that passed over Stirling bridge – the black bulls. Hence “black male”. (Surely the cows would be much more valuable?)

BLIMP A blimp is a barrage balloon, so-called from the sound they made when poked with a finger. Or were there two kinds: A-Rigid and B-Limp?

BLOODY From “By Our Lady”.

BLUE JOHN The name of this rare purplish fluorite from Derbyshire derives from the French bleu-jaune (blue-yellow). The semi-precious stone was used by French ormolu workers during the reign of Louis XVI.

BODGE, BOTCH From “job” backwards. (So why “bodge job”? Surely related to “bosh shot” and “boss shot”.)

BOG STANDARD Meccano originally came in two versions, Box-Standard and Box-Deluxe, which became bog standard.

BOLD AS BRASS From radical lawyer Brass Crosby. But brazen behaviour is bold and full of chutzpah – perhaps because brass is shiny.

BOW STREET Not from the place (Bow in London), but because the street is in the shape of a bow, says Richard Osman. (It’s very slightly bent.)

BOX OFFICE In Tudor times, theatre takings were collected in ceramic moneyboxes, which were then stored in boxes in a room that became known as the “box office”. Or were the ceramic moneyboxes the “boxes” meant? Anyway, you smashed them to get the money out.

BRAN NEW Porcelain used to be packed in unwanted bran, so a fresh bit of china was “bran-new”. Or is it “brand new”, like a young animal that’s just been branded?

BROWNIE POINTS A Pullman Car captain called Brown awarded merits and demerits to his crew. From “brown-nose”. From vouchers collected by paper boys, known as “greenies” and “brownies”. Surely the points were earned by trainee Girl Guides, called Brownies after the helpful elves of fairy stories? (Wikipedia gives all these explanations and more. NGram shows a sharp rise in popularity from 1960.)

BRUMMAGEM Fake, spurious, “from the counterfeit coins made in Birmingham in the 17th century”, says the Free Dictionary. (Birmingham produced quantities of jewellery which was sometimes cheap and flashy. The town is still known as “Brum”.)

BUMPH Unreadable paperwork. Short for “bum fodder” (toilet paper). (Convincing.)

BUTLER From “bottler”, or from the butts in the buttery. (Both have the same source in a word meaning a bottle or cask. Nothing to do with butter.)