Stunt Of The Week


The inexorable and lamentable decline of the Archers to a level that even Eastenders viewers would blanche at means that there is little to encourage me to tune the cat’s whiskers these days.

Perhaps what we need is the sort of innovative programming that Danish commercial radio station Radio 24syv can boast. Take Monday, for instance. In an attempt to stimulate a live discussion of animal welfare the host of a morning show beat a baby rabbit, named Allan, to death with a bicycle pump on air (pun intended). The station posted clips on its Facebook page (natch), the first of which shows Asgher Juhl, the perpetrator of this strange stunt, petting the poor creature and the second showing Juhl and his accomplice, Kristoffer Eriksen, standing in eager anticipation as Allan’s body parts cooked on a stove.

In a (feeble) attempt to explain the stunt, the editor-in-chief claimed that Danes voraciously ate meat without stopping to consider the sort of life the animals lived or how they died.

Of course, the Danes have previous in this sort of thing. Copenhagen zoo hit the news last year when it shot Marius the giraffe and subsequently four lions that were surplus to requirements. The Danes even have a word for the killing of rabbits, kaninslagtning.

Would have been better on TV, though.

What Is The Origin Of (68)?….


Spitting image

This phrase is used to indicate that someone (or thing) bears an uncanny resemblance to someone (or something) else.

It is uncanny how many times TOWT gets mistaken for someone else, often in the most unlikely of situations, including once for someone whom the observer had thought was dead! She must have a whole army of dopplegangers. Even I was once mistaken for Jeremy Irons whilst wandering through the streets of Copenhagen. But where does this slightly unsavoury phrase come from?

As usual, there is no definitive explanation but the most likely centres around the concept that someone is so similar that they could have been spat out of their mouth. This allusion was certainly doing the rounds by the late 17th century. George Farquhar’s comedy of 1689, Love and a bottle, contains the line, “Poor child! he’s as like his own dadda as if he were spit out of his mouth”.

Whilst it is dangerous to seek confirmation from other languages – after all, the concept may have been imported from English – nonetheless the French have the expression, “C’est le portrait craché de son père” (he’s the spitting portrait of his father) and the Norwegians “som snytt ut av nesen paa” (as blown out of the nose of).

So we may hazard that spit means closeness or similarity, a usage confirmed in The Newgate Calendar of 1824-26, “A daughter…the very spit of the old captain” and in several other sources during that century, often in the form dead spit. Possibly, though, the recognition of the original meaning of spit was on the wane and so to reinforce the concept “and image” was added. Certainly by 1895 in E.Castle’s Lieutenant of Searthey we find, “She’s like the poor lady that’s dead and gone, the spit an’ image she is” and it is just a small step to elide the two concepts into a spitting image, something that certainly had happened, at least in representations of the common vernacular at the start of the twentieth century.

An alternative phrase used to convey the same concept is dead ringer. The derivation of this phrase is more straightforward and has nothing to do with campanology. A ringer is a horse which was switched for another of a similar appearance in order to hoodwink the bookmakers – most of the horses that I bet on seem to have been the subject of such a switch.

The term was part of the vocabulary of the North American horse-racing community in the 19th century and is helpfully defined for us by the Manitoba Free Press of 1882, “A horse that is taken through the country and trotted under a false name and pedigree is called a ‘ringer.‘”

In English the adjective “dead” is rather a portmanteau one and is used in many different contexts with many different meanings and connotations. Of course, the meaning most commonly ascribed to it is being no longer alive, no more, deceased and so on. But it also has the meaning of exactly or precisely when used, for example, in conjunction with centre meaning precisely in the middle. Its usage in association with a ringer serves to emphasis the exactitude of the match.

Dead ringer is the spitting image of spitting image and as someone who is inclined to resist Americanisms when there is a good alternative it is the latter I will stick with.

So now we know!

Quacks Pretend To Cure Other Men’s Disorders But Rarely Find A Cure For Their Own – Part Twenty One

youngs dilators

Frank E Young

Haemorrhoids are a common complaint and at least in more refined circles have a certain social stigma attached to them. They are uncomfortable and drive the sufferer to such a level of distraction that they will try anything to soothe the pain. Naturally, they proved a fertile ground for practitioners of the art of quackery as Frank E Young of Chicago, the latest to come under our microscope, amply demonstrates.

Young came up with the perfect cure for those unfortunate enough to be afflicted by piles or, indeed, by constipation – the anal dilator. The theory was that well-trained muscles in the nether region would be able to deal with even the most solid of solids passing through your body. Badged as Dr Young’s Self-Retaining Rectal Dilators they came in four sizes – the largest was 4 inches long and an inch in diameter – in a handy box and retailed for $2.50. Initially, they were made of rubber but later versions were made of Bakelite. Some modifications were made to the original design, principally flattening the flange at the bottom of the dilator so that they could stand up on their own, unaided.

Young patented his device in 1892 but it was not until the first decade of the twentieth century that it was marketed widely to a grateful pile-suffering community. A trait of the successful quack is the shameless promotion of the alleged benefits of their cure and Young was no exception. According to newspaper adverts “they may be used by any intelligent person” – quite what he supposed an unintelligent person might do with them we will never know – and “their use accomplishes for the invalid what nature does daily for the healthy individual”. The claims grew even bolder – their usage would cure even the worst cases and were guaranteed to cure and to cure permanently. Who could resist?

But that was not all. Diligent use of the dilator would also promote refreshing sleep and improve acne, urticaria and anaemia. The adverts gushed reassuringly, “you need have no fear of using them too much”. Having purchased your dilator, you needed to warm it in warm water and then lubricate it with Piloment, a helpful aid that Frank developed. Failing that, Vaseline would do. Getting into a squatting position you would insert it into the rectum as far as the flange or rim, hold it in place and then sit or lie down with it in situ for up to 30 minutes for the best results, but ten minutes would suffice. Patients would start with the smallest of the four dilators and over time build up to the largest.

The original attempts to curtail the activities of quacks by legislation in the States focused on ingredients and so Young’s dilators stayed under the radar until the Federal Food, Drugs and Cosmetics Act of 1938 extended its scope to the sale of medical devices. In 1940 a shipment of dilators and the accompanying lubricant, Piloment, was seized in New York and the manufacturers were sued on the basis of misbranding. The court accepted the argument that whilst the occasional use of a dilator may have some beneficial effects – and, indeed, some medical practitioners still hold that it is helpful for certain conditions – “it would be dangerous to health when used with the frequency and duration prescribed, recommended or suggested in the ..labelling”. The consignment was destroyed.

They are still available, albeit without the grandiose claims as to their efficacy, and are, doubtless, put to other uses!

Spice ‘n’ Water – Part Nine


Preparing to meet our maker

So, we had a very pleasant hour’s stay in Champakulam and slowly made our way back to our rice boat. We noticed the sky was getting grey and jokingly remarked that we wouldn’t be surprised if we had a spot of rain.

No sooner had we set off from our mooring than the sky turned an ominous black and the first spots of rain were felt. Within ten minutes we were experiencing a torrential downpour, huge raindrops crashing down. A fierce wind got up.

Now although the rice boat was well-appointed internally it was little more than a bamboo structure and the crew soon realised that there was a very real danger of the top blowing off or at least being damaged. So they navigated the boat – by this time the once placid backwaters had turned somewhat choppy – to the river bank for what would be an impromptu mooring place. This was no mean feat to achieve as the weight of the boat combined with the fierce winds and the strong current made it almost impossible to manoeuvre. Nonetheless, they achieved it, albeit in the process our three jolly matelots resembled rats of the drowned variety.


Tarpaulins were put up to give added protection and a modicum of waterproofing and there we sat, to ride out the storm. We had a very nice view of a paddy field, interesting in its way but becoming tiresome after half an hour. What piqued our interest, though, was the realisation that we were slap bang in the middle of the most spectacular and frightening electrical storm I have ever experienced.

The sky by this time was a threatening shade of black, a perfect backdrop for a stunning light show. All around us the sky lit up dissected by flickering tongues of brilliant light and then accompanied almost immediately by a soundtrack of enormous rolls of thunder. At the height of the storm one of the bolts landed about a hundred yards from us and we could hear the sizzle as it hit the waters of the paddy field.

Although I know very little about the laws of physics, one thing I do know is that water is a very efficient conductor of electricity and there we were stuck in the middle of nowhere in a flimsy boat on water. My sense of foreboding was heightened when one of the lightning bolts appeared in the exact shape of the initial of my forename. Was my number up?

The next problem was that with dusk rapidly approaching the boat couldn’t stay where it was as it had no navigational lights and would have to move before it got too dark to see. So we bade farewell to our singed paddy field and moved down river to another impromptu mooring site along with several other boats. Mooring was a very difficult exercise as the water was choppy and the boats not the most responsive. We kept banging into the sides of the neighbouring boats and the crew had to be augmented by other chaps who dashed in and out wielding large bamboo poles which they used rather like punting poles to arrest the movement of the boat.


At last harmony was restored and we were secure for the night. The thunder and lightning rumbled on for around 5 hours but by that time, fortified by our gin and a few beers, we were ready for bed. I for one retired thankful I had survived an experience that in retrospect we will smile at. After all, who wants to see another boring sunset?

Astonishingly, after all the drama the crew still found time to cook us a scrumptious meal just 30 minutes behind schedule – wonder what kept them?!

The Streets Of London – Part Twenty


The Minories, EC3N

Today the Minories is a fairly mundane street running north to south with Tower Hill at its southern end and Aldgate at the north. I cross the street every day to go to work and I have often wondered where its rather unusual name came from.

On the site where roughly the Royal Mint stood was the house of the Grace of the Blessed Mary, founded in 1293 by Edmund earl of Lancaster for the nuns of the order of St Clare. It was also known as the Abbey of the Minoresses, the name given to nuns of that order, and the current street name is a bastardisation of that. Incidentally, there is a St Clare Street which runs off the modern Minories.

As you would anticipate the first half of the sixteenth century proved troublesome for the community of nuns. In 1515 an infectious disease ravaged the nunnery sending twenty-seven of the sisters to meet their maker rather more quickly than they had anticipated. If this wasn’t bad enough, a serious fire broke out destroying the building. Although the community raised enough funds to rebuild, including a pledge of money from Cardinal Wolsey, the abbey was swept up in Henry VIII’s reformations in 1539.


In 1563, following the dissolution of the abbey, the site was bought by Elizabeth I and sometime thereafter the abbey was demolished. A small church was erected on the site of the chapel (and, perhaps, encompassing, parts of the original) and was known as the Church of the Holy Trinity, Minories. It was rebuilt in 1706 where it stood until 1940 when it was bombed and destroyed. During its history the church had gained some notoriety as a favoured location for clandestine marriages.

Other buildings on the site were converted into storehouses – at least one was used to store munitions – and living accommodation, especially favoured, it seems, by royal musicians.

Administratively, the areas status has been somewhat peculiar. Indeed, up until 1539 it was a papal peculiar, a term given to a religious establishment which was outside of the jurisdiction of the bishop in whose diocese it was situated. In 1686 it became part of the Liberties of the Tower of London which meant that it was outside of the control of the City of London, a status it enjoyed until the Liberty was abolished in 1894. Whether the area fell into the City or the adjacent borough of Tower Hamlets has been a moot point, a matter decided (at least for the time being) in 1994 when the Minories was placed fair and square in the City.

The Minories was also the name of a railway station, opened in 1840, as part of the London and Blackwall Railway – a 3.5 mile cable railway which was operational for passengers until 1926 and for the transport of goods until 1968, when the decline of the London docks saw its demise. Much of the infrastructure of the railway was reused when the Docklands Light Railway was developed, the old Minories station being renamed as Tower Gateway.

Of course, the area was flourishing from Roman times as was evidenced in September 2013 when a well preserved statue of an eagle, considered to be the finest example of Romano-British sculpture found to date, was unearthed on a building site on the street.

Clearly there is more to the street than its current day rather banal look would suggest.