windowthroughtime

A wry view of life for the world-weary

Monthly Archives: May 2013

Rural Rides (5)

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Claremont  Landscape Garden

Claremont is to be found just outside of Esher in Surrey and is run by the National Trust. The house which is adjacent to the gardens is still occupied, as a school, and is not open to the public ordinarily.

The garden boasts a lake as its central feature which is dominated and overlooked by a man-made amphitheatre with a camellia terrace on top and is fringed by rhododendrons which were just coming into bloom and trees. There are pieces of statuary dotted around the grounds – a boar, peacock and bear – and a charming thatched cottage, the obligatory grotto and island pavilion.

The garden owes its development to the energy and enthusiasm (and money) of Thomas, the Duke of Newcastle (1693 – 1768) who bought the house from Sir John Vanburgh in 1714. Retaining the services of Vanburgh as architect the Duke rebuilt the house, trebling it in size, and landscaped and planted the gardens. Work started on the gardens in 1715 and by 1727 it was already being described as “the noblest of any in Europe”. The kitchen garden, a massive 6 acres, was used to produce “the most delicious fruits of every kind”. The Duke made continual improvements and employed many of the best designers of the time, including Charles Bridgeman and William Kent.

Robert Clive of India bought the house after the Duke’s death in 1769 and employed Capability Brown to pull down the house and build a new one. Clive died in 1774 without having spent a night in his new house. After a number of changes of ownership the house was granted to the newly wedded couple, Princess Charlotte of Wales and Prince Leopold, in 1816. The camellia house which stood where the terrace is now was one of the first greenhouses in the country. Charlotte loved the place but died tragically young at the age of 21 and her mausoleum is sited in the gardens.

Queen Victoria was granted the estate by Parliament for her lifetime but by 1922 most of it was sold for housing development. In 1949 the surviving 49 acres of garden were given to the National Trust.

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What Is The Origin Of (21)?…

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Red herring

A red herring is something which is used to mislead someone or divert their attention from the real issue.

Salted herrings turn red during the smoking process but why have they been used to denote a campaign of deliberate deceit?

As usual, there are a couple of theories. The first is that it relates to the 17th century practice of laying down oily and smelly herrings to send packs of hunting dogs after them. Nicholas Cox in his Sportsman’s Dictionary of 1686 describes the ruse, “The trailing or dragging of a dead Cat, or Fox, (and in case of necessity a Red-Herring) three or four miles… and then laying the Dogs on the scent”. It is probable that, absent any organised hunting saboteur movement, this practice was used as a training device to improve the ability of the hounds to follow the requisite trail rather than to confuse or mislead them.

A more likely explanation can be found in the delightful tale of the English clergyman, John Mayne. Mayne died in 1672 and in his will left a large sum to assist in the rebuilding of St Paul’s cathedral and to assist the poor and indigent of his parishes in Cassington and Pyrton. He also left for his servant in a trunk something which he described as “Somewhat that would make him Drink after his Death”. Imagine the servant’s surprise and disappointment when the trunk was opened to reveal its contents – a batch of salted herring. A report of the incident in Jacob’s Poetical Register of 1719 calls the ruse a red herring so we can see that the association of the salted fish with deceit had been established by the eighteenth century. I suspect this is the real origin.

Whatever the origin, the phrase had become well established by the nineteenth century as a term for deceit and is regularly used in this context today.

Sowing Your Wild Oats

This phrase is used in the context of foolish conduct, often with the connotation of reckless sexual activity on the part of young (generally unmarried) men.

In England wild oats was a term ascribed to Avena fatua which looked like a cereal oat but was in fact a pernicious weed with no domestic value. Once established it was difficult to eradicate. It is easy to see how the phrase could be used to signify reckless behaviour – the youth was sowing seeds which gave rise to plants with no worth rather than a good crop of wheat. The phrase has a long history and was used by the Roman “comedian” Plautus as far back as  194 BCE in Act IV of his play Trinnumus, “Besides that, when elsewhere the harvest of wheat is most abundant, there it comes up less by one-fourth than what you have sowed. There, methinks, it were a proper place for men to sow their wild oats, where they would not spring up”. Probably, given that originality is one of the few virtues that Plautus cannot be accused of, it dates back far earlier than that.

Avena fatua was also used as a traditional herbal remedy to improve sex drive – the ancient equivalent of Viagra – although there is little evidence that it worked. However, the phrase wild oats in this context could be seen as denoting strong sexual impulses.

The phrase is rarely used in the singular and in the 16th and 17th centuries dissolute young men were known as wild oats.

So now we know!

When I Grow Up I Want To Be A (3)…

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Dog Whipper

The dog whipper was employed by many a church parish to remove dogs from the grounds of the church and, particularly, to prevent them from disrupting the services. In some parts of Europe it seems to have been common practice between the 16th and 19th centuries to employ them. This was presumably because stray dogs were a nuisance and/or household dogs followed their masters and mistresses to the church. It seems that the canine’s presence was tolerated at the services, provided they behaved themselves. (You would have thought that the commotion caused by the whipper chasing the offending hound from the premises would have been worse than the original disruption!).

The job description of a dog whipper was fairly simple – they were to remove offending canines from the premises and were supplied with either a whip (hence their name) or a pair of large wooden tongs. It was a salaried position – many parish account books show the stipend paid to the incumbent of this post. In Derbyshire the going rate for this position seems to have been 7d in 1604. Regrettably, accounts for 1716 show the stipend had not changed – so much for inflation proofing!

Some dog whippers were granted land by the grateful parishioners – it is thought that the small park in Birchington-on-Sea in Kent called Dog’s Acre was such a gift. Occasionally, the whipper would have a room in the church – there is a small room in Exeter cathedral known as the Dog Whipper’s Flat. Other relics of this quaint and charming post remain – a dog whipper’s whip survives in the parish church at Baslow in Derbyshire and his pew can be found at St Margaret’s church in Wrenbury in Cheshire. One was immortalised in a carving on a church column as you can see from the photo.

It seems that in some parishes the job description was extended to include the role of “Sluggard Wakeners” whose job it was to rouse those who were nodding off during the service. I would have thought this would have been great fun.

Unfortunately, the role fell into disuse during the 19th century, probably because dogs were discouraged from attending the services in the first place. One of the last recorded whippers was John Pickard who was appointed to Exeter Cathedral in 1856.

It seems to have been a fun job and it is a shame it is no longer an option.

 

The Meaning Of Life – Part Fifteen Of Forty Two

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The perfect cream scone

I must confess I am very partial to a Devon cream tea, the highlight of which, of course, is the cream scone. But there are so many dilemmas associated with this treat. How do you pronounce scone. Is it scone, as in own, or scone, as in on? My preference is for scone as in own. How much cream and how much jam should you put on the scone? Should you only use clotted cream? Should you put the jam on first and then the cream or the other way round? How do you stop them crumbling into pieces when you take the first mouthful?

Relax, dear reader, because help is at hand thanks to some research carries out by mathematician, Dr Eugenia Cheng, of the University of Sheffield. Her research broke the cream tea down into three key elements; scones, cream and jam. The key to a perfect scone is to follow the weight ratio of 2 : 1 : 1 – in other words, a 70 gram scone needs 35 grams of jam and 35 grams of cream. Cheng’s research, unsurprisingly as her research was sponsored by Rodda’s Cornish Clotted Cream, concludes that clotted cream is better than whipped cream. This is because of the excessive volume of whipped cream required to cover the same area as clotted cream.

The ideal thickness of the scone should be 2.8 centimetres to allow it to fit into the mouth easily and the jam should be put on first before the cream. Putting the cream on first causes the jam to run off the scone causing an unholy mess.

The key to successful construction of the perfect scone is to ensure that the cream is the same thickness as the scone, otherwise the cream will topple off, and you need to ensure that there is a rim of 5 millimetres between the scone and the jam and a further rim of 5 millimetres between the jam and the cream. Compliance with these instructions will ensure that you have the perfect scone which will neither collapse nor drip.

Frustratingly, Cheng does not address the question of how the word scone should be pronounced.

The pursuit of perfection is all well and good but some ne’ersayers opine that one of the joys of eating a cream scone is the mess you get into. I suppose it is, as is often the case, a question of paying your money and taking your choice.

But at least we now know!

 

Rural Rides (4)

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Winkworth Arboretum

TOWT and I had a trip out to Winkworth Arboretum which is situated just outside of Godalming in Surrey.  It is a hillside arboretum with over 1,000 different shrubs and trees and has been under the care of the National Trust for around 60 years.

The brains behind the arboretum were those belonging to Dr Wilfrid Fox (1875 – 1962) who, as well as being a practising dermatologist, was a keen horticulturist and, especially, dendrologist. He was instrumental in founding in 1928 the Roads Beautifying Association whose mission was to improve the streetscape by planting ornamental trees along pavements. He was awarded the Victoria Medal of Honour, the Royal Horticultural Society’s highest award, for his pioneering work in this field.

Until 1937 the land which is now occupied by the Arboretum was part of the Thorncombe estate owned by the Fisher-Rowe family. The estate then passed to the actress Beatrice Lillie who immediately put it up for sale in lots. Fox who lived at the neighbouring Winkworth Farm snapped up some of the land and set about creating his arboretum.

Unusually Fox was not precious about his creation and allowed the great unwashed to tramp around the arboretum from the outset. In 1952 he gave 62 acres, including the Upper Lake to the National Trust and a further 35 acres, including the Lower Lake, were acquired five years later. He chaired the Management Committee which was established to maintain and continue to develop the arboretum until his death in 1962.

The site is like an amphitheatre with the lake surrounded by tree-clad hills. There is a preponderance of specimens from the sorbus genus, including mountain ash and hornbeam. Some of the walks, particularly on Sorbus hill, can only be described as challenging but are well worth the effort for the stunning views they command.

Our visit was timed to enable us to enjoy the stunning glades full of bluebells and ferns and the Azalea steps which were a riot of colour, the yellows, reds and white dappled by the sunlight. We can’t wait to revisit in the autumn when the leaves on the trees are sure to be breath-taking.

All Things Must; Man Is The Only Creature That Wills (3)

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Continuing our occasional series about unusual bequests.

Some people like to think that they can leave a bit of themselves to posterity. Consider the case of Mark Gruenwald, the American comic writer and illustrator, best known for his long association with Marvel comics. Upon his death in 1996 his family were astonished to find in his will a bequest that his ashes be blended with ink nd that the mixture be used within the pages of a comic book. In 1997 4,000 copies of the Gruenwald ink and ashes comic were distributed, creating an immediate collector’s item.

Another person with a similar idea was Ed Headrick whose claim to fame was that he invented the Frisbee and the game of Disc Golf. When he died in August 2002 his body was cremated and his ashes were used to make a limited edition of memorial flying discs. The proceeds from the sales were used to fund a Frisbee and Disc Golf history and memorabilia museum.

Some people use provisions in their will to benefit society.

Robert Millar had a thing about double parking. When he died at the age of 64 in 1995 he left $5,000 to the traffic officer who wrote out the most tickets penalising motorists who double-parked.

When Finn, Onni Nurmi, who had made most of his money in the United States died in 1920 he bequeathed the dividends from 780 shares he held in a rubber boot company for the recreation of the people living in a Finnish nursing home. The company, Nokia, moved into electronics in the 1980s and became one of the leading mobile phone manufacturers in the world, making millionaires of the residents of the home in the process.

And some are just plain cranky.

T M Zink was a lawyer who had developed an intense hatred of women. This was not borne out of personal differences he had with them but from “the result of his experiences with women, observations of them and study of all literatures and philosophical works”. When he died in 1930 he left $100,000 in trust for 75 years to fund the Zink Womanless Library. He directed that notices saying “No Women Admitted” be posted over each door and that the library should not contain any book or work of art created by a woman. Unfortunately his plans came to naught. His daughter, to whom he had left the paltry sum of $5, contested the will successfully and so, ironically, all his loot came under the control of the fairer sex.

Art Imitates Life

A27 MAN ON MOTORISED DISABLED CHAIR

Recently on the gogglebox on Sunday evenings, admittedly on at a time when one’s critical faculties are at their lowest, there has been a programme called, “Off Their Rockers”. The premise of the programme is that it would be amusing to see old codgers perpetrate the sort of behaviour that you associate with modern yoof on the unsuspecting public. Such comedic value as this idea may have centres around flashing grannies, helpless old fogies seeking help in battling with modern technology, pensioners behaving like love-struck teens etc. Pretty thin stuff at the best of times.

The one character I did like was a nun on a mobility scooter who effs and blinds to get people to move out of the way and then turns round with a beatific smile and a God be with you when she drives off. Not a skit that can come up with too many variations around a rather modest theme and I suppose it catches my attention because I feel that a mobility scooter is the nearest I am ever going to get to achieving my dream of driving around an extensive lawn on a motorised lawn mower.

Although the premise of “Off Their Rockers” seems a bit far-fetched, it does appear now I’ve started to do a bit of research into the subject that there is a bit of a crime wave involving mobility scooters. There are 300,000 chairs in use in the UK and whilst they normally travel at a stately speed of 4 mph, they can do a top speed of 8 mph. Clearly, they offer the potential of a get-away vehicle.

A few days ago the Telegraph, the paper of choice of the elderly, reported that a 79-year-old woman, shopping in Tesco in Portsmouth, placed one of her bags on the floor to pick up some groceries. Unfortunately, one of the bags contained her purse with £90 in it. It was taken and police are reportedly looking for a man on a mobility scooter who was captured on CCTV allegedly committing the felony.

In May last year police in Dorset released CCTV footage of a woman mobility scooter driver allegedly knocking over a 63-year-old outside a butcher’s shop in what might be termed as a hit and run accident. In 2007 a pensioner gave the police in Middlesbrough the slip when they were pursuing him by turning sharply off the road at top speed.

Of course, using a mobility scooter at an age when your faculties are not at their sharpest can cause other dangers. Some time ago motorists on the A27 in Shoreham in West Sussex were astonished to see pensioner, Stanley Murphy, making his way down the centre of the slow lane of this trunk road on his mobility scooter. Apparently he had taken a wrong turning when he was out to get his newspaper.  Mercifully, he was rescued unharmed.

Don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to get my hands on one.

Et In Arcadia Ego

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I was minded of Virgil’s marvellously evocative phrase from his Eclogues as I sat musing over the shock findings of a survey conducted by the Tab, a student on-line newspaper. They conducted a survey of 5,126 students across 26 of our universities and have found that over 70% of them have dabbled in drugs. Shock horror!

The university that can claim to have the highest proliferation of stoned students is Leeds (85%), closely followed by Manchester (84%) and Liverpool, UCL and Newcastle (82%). My alma mater weighs in with a paltry 57%. Top degree course for potheads is Philosophy (87%) followed by History of Art (83%) and Art (82%) and Business/management (81%). Classics comes in at 67%.

I am surprised by how low the figures are. I would have thought that if you were sitting in a ghastly bedsit in some benighted northern city with the dawning realisation that you had saddled yourself with a lifetime of debt to have no realistic opportunity for gainful employment other than by stacking shelves in a supermarket because Daddy didn’t know someone in the City or was too mean to bid for an intern position in an auction, you would grasp at the first joint presented to you.

I am of a generation when it was de rigueur for a student to be off their face with drugs and to demonstrate. Of course, we did not have many of the distractions available to the modern-day student – TVs, computers, social media and the like – so it was natural to while away your time expanding your inner-consciousness whilst staring at the ceiling and listening to the sonic doodlings of some god-awful prog rock bands – O happy days!

Getting the stuff presented a rare opportunity to descend from the ivory tower and mix with the hoi polloi. The other option was to grow it – the long hot summer of 76 was particularly helpful, I recall.

I remember (vaguely) the elaborate ruses we devised to hide the smell of the stuff and the impedimenta of the serious smoker – pipes, bongs and the like. The cold Siberian winds blowing across the Fens were not conducive for having your windows wide open in mid-winter. Of course, the more you smoked, the less effective were your attempts at covering your tracks.

The perceived perils were heightened by the quaint Cambridge tradition of bedders, mature, poorly paid women who came in in the morning to do for their gentlemen, in the ITMA tradition of Mrs Mop. I am sure there was nothing they hadn’t seen before and they were the sole of discretion.

O tempora, o mores!

What Is The Origin Of (20)?…

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To peg out

This phrase is used as an alternative for dying and is thought to owe its origin to the use of a pegboard in games such as cribbage. The winner is the first person to peg out, that is to say their score equates to the last number on the peg board. The use of the phrase in the context of playing a game of cards was first recorded in Hardy & Ware’s The Modern Hoyle, first published in 1870, “He may with a very poor hand be just able to ‘show’ or peg out.” Cribbage is a game with a fairly old pedigree and was, according to the 17th century diarist John Aubrey, invented by Sir John Suckling.

The term “peg out’ was defined by the Marysville Tribune in October 1855 as “a slang phrase for die” and was first recorded in this context in J.M Field’s Job & his Children in America’s Lost Plays, of 1852 thus, “To think what a blessed mess of piety one’s got into, and ‘bleeged to keep it up until Daddy Day pegs out”.

Short shrift

This phrase means to make short work of or to give something little consideration.

A shrift was a penance imposed by a priest during a confession to provide absolution, particularly when the confessor was close to pegging out. Criminals who were sent to the gallows immediately after sentencing in the 17th century had little time other than to receive short shrift before meeting their maker.

Shakespeare (natch) was the first to use the phrase in printed form in his play, Richard III, of 1594 when Sir Richard Ratcliffe, a close confidant of the king, is given the words, “Dispatch, my lord; the duke would be at dinner:/Make a short shrift; he longs to see your head”.

It is not until 1814 that it next appears in print – in Sir Walter Scott’s “Lord of the Isles” – Short were his shrift in that debate. If Lorn encounter’d Bruce!

The fact that there is such a gap in its recorded use may suggest that the phrase was one of Shakepeare’s neologisms but its usage seems to have become firmly established in the 19th century. The Pennsylvanian newspaper, the Adams Sentinel, in August 1841, reports “The negroes were to be tried on Wednesday, and it was believed that a short shrift and a speedy doom would be awarded to the guilty.

So now we know!

There are only two emotions in a plane: boredom and terror.

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I was musing last night (it must be the medication I’m on) about my top five air travel nightmares.

Obviously number one is that the aircraft crashes. Doubtless at times like these you wish you had paid a bit more attention to the safety video played before take-off but in reality irrespective of how well prepared you are, your chances of survival are remote.

Second up is that the aircraft is hi-jacked. On occasion this could result in the plane going down too. Mercifully, the number of incidents of plane hijacking has reduced over the years, doubtless testimony to the increased levels of security prevalent at airports these days. A few years ago the authorities tried to reassure passengers that there would be security personnel on board flights posing as ordinary passengers. I suspect this was just an urban myth (although see four below) just like leaving your mobile on can disturb the plane’s sensitive equipment. I have left my phone on twice (inadvertently) on trans-Atlantic flights with no ill-effect to me, my fellow passengers or the plane.

Thirdly, is to be seated in close proximity to a bawling child – worryingly, for the first time in my life, I am with Jeremy Clarkson on this one.

Next up is to be the sandwich filling in a row of three seats between two morbidly obese passengers.

And finally, to get off the plane to find that you are not where you expected to be. You would assume that with the security systems in place and the rigmarole that flight crews go through in checking passenger lists this would be near impossible but it does happen. Take the experience of two American passengers, Sandy Valdiviseo and her husband Triet Veo. They were flying with Turkish Airlines from Los Angeles to Dakar in Senegal via Istanbul. I know, I can’t understand that routing – why would you go back on yourself even if you were saving a few bucks doing so? Anyway, they arrived at Istanbul and transferred to their connecting flight. Unfortunately, instead of going to Dakar (airport code DKR) their flight took them to Dhaka (airport code DAC) which is the capital of Bangladesh. It was only after they saw the route map showing their flight’s progress that they realised something was amiss. According to Valdivieso, they thought when an attendant said they were heading for Dhaka, that was how Dakar was pronounced in a Turkish accent. You would have thought that a cursory examination of the ethnic make-up of their fellow passengers might have put them on alert. Anyway, upon landing at Dhaka – very pleasant in December, I’m told – it took them twelve hours to convince the airline of the error that had been made (by the airline) in the booking. They were then put on a flight to West Africa, their luggage arriving some two days after them. Moral of the story – double check your bookings and make absolutely sure you are on the right flight!