Last night’s astonishing (and, from my perspective, welcome) trouncing of the international statesmanship pretensions of Cameron bring to mind the travails of Lord North. Described as having the air of a blind trumpeter by Horace Walpole, Lord North was the eldest son of the Earl of Guilford and sat in the Commons as his father was still alive. At the age of 38 he became Prime Minister (in 1770) but was unfortunate enough on his watch to inherit the rebellion of the American colonies aka (in some quarters) the War of Independence.
Despite winning a general election in 1781 he was always thought to be one military disaster from losing the support of Parliament. News of the defeat at Yorktown on 25th November 1781 and the surrender of Cornwallis prompted the retort, “Oh God, it’s all over!” from North. The opposition, marshalled by Charles James Fox, demanded that heads should roll, especially those of Lord Sackville, Secretary of State for America, and the Earl of Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty. North tried to end the war by proposing a Conciliation plan, promising that Britain would “eliminate all disagreeable acts” if the Colonies ended the war. This was rejected by the rebels who by now were determined upon independence and opposed by the opposition. From February until mid-March 1782 the North administration survived six major votes – at each vote the number of absentees and defections from North’s own party increased.
By 22nd March 1782 North knew the game was up as he had lost the support of the Commons and his own party. In front of a packed chamber that day he rose to address the assembled MPs who were anticipating another fierce and lengthy debate only to wrong-foot them by announcing that he had resigned. MPs who had let their carriages go and had to stand in the pouring rain waiting for transportation – no tubes in those days – saw the erstwhile PM march to his waiting carriage commenting, “Sometimes it is good to be in on the secret”.
North was the first PM to be ousted by a vote of no confidence and the last PM until last night to have his foreign policy overturned by the will of Parliament.
Will Bullingdon man do the decent thing by following Lord North’s example?
It’s that time of the year when the awards for the best jokes at the Edinburgh Fringe are announced. For your delectation I reproduce them with attributions.
The top 10 were:
- Rob Auton – “I heard a rumour that Cadbury is bringing out an oriental chocolate bar. Could be a Chinese Wispa.”
- Alex Horne – “I used to work in a shoe-recycling shop. It was sole-destroying.”
- Alfie Moore – “I’m in a same-sex marriage… the sex is always the same.”
- Tim Vine – “My friend told me he was going to a fancy dress party as an Italian island. I said to him ‘Don’t be Sicily’.”
- Gary Delaney – “I can give you the cause of anaphylactic shock in a nutshell.”
- Phil Wang – “The Pope is a lot like Doctor Who. He never dies, just keeps being replaced by white men.”
- Marcus Brigstocke – “You know you are fat when you hug a child and it gets lost.”
- Liam Williams – “The universe implodes. No matter.”
- Bobby Mair – “I was adopted at birth and have never met my mum. That makes it very difficult to enjoy any lapdance.”
- Chris Coltrane – “The good thing about lending someone your time machine is that you basically get it back immediately.”
Knock Into A Cocked Hat
This phrase conveys the sense of beating someone severely and, generally, with some ease.
A cocked hat was a form of headwear that was popular towards the end of the 18th century – it was also known as a bicorne. It was a fairly distinctive piece of headwear with the front and rear halves turned up and pinned together. The shorter front brim was known as the cock and the longer rear brim was known as the fan because of its semi-circular fan shape. Later the hat developed into more of a triangular shape with its two ends becoming more pointed and was usually worn with a cockade at the front. The bicorne was widely worn as part of the dress uniform of European and American army and naval officers around the 1790s and is most commonly associated with Napoleon Bonaparte. It was also the hat of choice of civic officials such as town criers.
In England the popular Toby jugs portrayed figurines of characters wearing a cocked hat. The Toby that the jug took its name from was Toby Philpott – not a real person but named after the fill pot jugs that were used to replenish tankards prior to the invention of the beer pump. Many toby jugs seen today are shown holding the fill pot.
The origins of this quaint phrase are lost in the mists of time. One theory is that it relates to a version of the game of skittles called Ninepins. If the skittles were struck in such a way that there were just three standing in a triangular shape, then the final and decisive throw would knock the remaining skittles down. The pins’ triangular formation would be reminiscent of the shape of the popular headwear.
The more likely explanation was that the phrase to knock someone into a cocked hat reflected the fact that the recipient of the beating had their appearance dramatically altered. One of the features of the bicorne was that it could be folded flat – conveniently, this enabled the military man to tuck it under his arm when not worn. This style of cocked hat was known as a chapeau-bras or chapeau-de-bras. So it is reasonable to surmise that the ability to alter the shape of the hat was synonymous with the alteration of the physiognomy of the recipient of a sound beating.
The phrase itself seems to be American in origin, despite its association with Toby jugs and English town criers. The first example to be found in print is in James Kirke Paulding’s novel, The Banks of the Ohio or Westward Ho! Of 1833, “I told Tom – I’d knock him into a cocked-hat, if he said another word”. The phrase appears in an a New York state newspaper, the Rural Repository, in 1837 and its use here conveys the sense of unusual savagery in the attack, “‘Blood and vengeance!’ exclaimed Boniface, ‘get out of my house, you varmints, or I will knock you into a cocked hat, and gormandize you!”
Although cocked hats have long fallen out of favour – time for a revival anyone? – their legacy lives on in this still popular phrase.
So now we know!
It was only a question of time. The problem with employing humans is that they want paying and, even in these days of zero-hour culture, they have some expectations as to terms and conditions. Even when they present themselves for work, they need time away from their post to go to the toilet and have lunch and the occasional cup of coffee. They suffer from mood swings and cannot be relied upon to present a friendly disposition at all times. Humans can generally only do one thing at a time and even when presented with a detailed script cannot be trusted not to go off-piste.
So much easier then to replace them with an automaton. And that is just what the London Borough of Brent – that erstwhile bastion of all things loony left and spiritual home of our Ken – Livingstone, I presume – have done. They have just unveiled Shanice, a hologram, who will operate as a virtual receptionist at their new £90 million Town Hall. Visitors to the Council will no longer have to fight for the attention of a human receptionist busily engaged in filing her nails or sorting out her social life on Facebook. Shanice, who has cost the Council £12,000, will appear to the visitor to be sitting behind a desk but will actually be projected on to a screen. Helpfully, she will be trained to answer a limited number of questions, including telling the denizens of the Borough where to go – no change there, then – although only to those parts of the buildings which deal with such matters as the registration of births and deaths, applications for marriage licences or citizenship.
So is Shanice the face of the brave new world? It certainly is an innovative approach but serious questions remain as to the efficacy of the solution. Brent, famed for the diversity of its population, has to provide advice and guidance on its array of services in a number of languages. What happens if someone presents themselves at reception and finds that Shanice cannot respond to their query in their first language? What happens if Shanice is asked a question which falls outside of her script? Will she be able to repeat herself for those who are hard of hearing? Will she be able to respond in signed language? What happens when there is a power cut or if/when the bugs in the software strike?
Inevitably, Shanice will have to be chaperoned and so, instead of representing a saving, like as not the employment of the holographic receptionist will be a cost – a cost that a council embroiled with its residents over closing such services as libraries can ill-afford to bear.
Still, there’s no such thing as bad publicity!
A couple of years ago the news of the forthcoming arrival of our first grandchild (our very own BoJ) prompted TOWT to rediscover her passion for knitting. She burst into frenetic activity and garment after garment came off her one-woman conveyor belt. She is still at it and uses any pretext as a reason for knitting, purling and casting on and off.
And she is not alone. Knitting, it seems, is undergoing a revival in fortunes. If Google searching is any indication of popularity, on-line searches for knitting-related items has steadily increased year-on-year since 2004 and rose by 150% in 2011. Part of the growth in popularity has been the enthusiastic adoption of the art by the under 35s. It is an ancient skill – one of the earliest examples of knitting was a pair of cotton socks found in Egypt at the end of the first millennium CE and the first knitting guild was established in Paris in 1527. Adherents swear to its health benefits. The repetitive and rhythmic actions that are associated with knitting, they say, create a relaxation response in the body which can decrease blood pressure, heart rate and help prevent illness and generate a feeling of calmness and well-being. I’m not sure this is always the case given the occasional expletive that comes from the general direction of TOWT when she has dropped a stitch or misread the pattern! The challenge of reading and interpreting the patterns make the grey cells more resilient and reduce the chance of the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
However, some people in authority are not embracing the return to popularity of knitting. Take the fate of the Knit ‘n’ Natter group who have met in the library at Cramlington in Northumberland weekly for the past three years and knitted thousands of items for premature babies. Surely a harmless and charitable enterprise you would think. Trouble came when a new library was built and the group have been told that there is no room in the library to accommodate their circle of 30 or so knitters. No specific reason has to be given for this egregious example of hard-hearted officialdom but there have been suggestions that knitting needles have been viewed as being dangerous instruments – I can testify to the sharp pain inflicted by one if I get too close to the whirling dervish that is TOWT in full steam – and have provoked the wrath of the ‘Elf and Safety brigade. Others suggest that the natter aspect of the group’s name was counter to the studied atmosphere of calm and quiet that the new library is trying to create.
Either way, it is another item to be added to the ever-growing list entitled The World Is Going Mad.