Toilet Of The Week (5)


Our latest featured carsey is not one I am ever likely to visit – it is in Tasmania for a start and, secondly, it is the women’s block at Mersey Vale Lawn Cemetery in Devonport.

The reason it came to my attention this week is that prospective users of the convenience were inconvenienced by the discovery of an Australian Fur seal taking a nap on the throne. The seal had to be sedated before it could be removed to a nearby beach some 500 metres away – if only it had found the men’s block, there would have been no need.

Describing the discovery as “unusual” Council officials believe the seal reached the toilet by swimming up a creek – that would be up shit creek without a paddle, I guess.

Egg Of The Week


One of the joys of the English language is its easy assimilation of words and phrases from other languages and cultures. But apparently this magpie-like acquisitive streak, taking a bit here, a bit there, makes the language a bit complicated for some, which will never do. As the vogue seems to be to head towards the lowest common denominator at the fastest possible speed,, the Government’s website, has announced this week that it is dropping the use of handy abbreviations like eg, ie and etc.

Without any sense of irony and betraying an absence of recognition that the abbreviations are Latin in origin – the lingua franca which allowed nations to communicate with each other for centuries –  Persis Howe – an American it appears – explained the move, “Anyone who didn’t grow up speaking English may not be familiar with them. Even those with high literacy levels can be thrown if they are reading under stress or are in a hurry – like a lot of people are on the web”. Persuaded?  The wonderful homophones are surely next on the list.

It gets worse. Apparently eg can be read aloud as egg by screen reading software and ie isn’t always well understood. Another discernible trend these days is to make a stupid decision and then row back as you ponder the implications. The changes are going to be introduced gradually. Apparently there are over 4,000 uses of eg on government websites and we don’t want the poor darlings at the Government Digital Service to have to do too much work. Haven’t they heard of the useful global find and replace feature in Word?

These abbreviations have stood the test of time and the reason that they are so popular is that they eliminate the need to pad out the text with unnecessary phrases such as such as for example.

Enough of this nonsense – the campaign to restore the usage of eg and ie etc starts here.

What Is The Origin Of (93)?…


Shanks’ pony

This phrase is used to indicate that you are going to make the journey on foot. When I was a child, the shank of a lamb was a second-rate cut of meat, one for the poor or the last knockings from the carcass of a sheep. The wonders of modern gastronomic marketing have transformed it into a desirable and, needless to say, expensive treat.

Shank comes from the Old English word sceanca which referred to that part of the leg from the knee to the ankle. There was a verb  shank or to shank it, which meant to go on foot, using your legs to get you to your destination, according to An Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language, compiled by John Jamieson in 1808. The first association with a horse in printed form appeared in Allan Ramsay’s The Tea-Table Miscellany of 1724 in which the song, Scornfu’ Nansy, contains the couplet, “and ay until the Day he died/ He rade on good shanks Nagy”. As Ramsay stated that he was quoting an old song, clearly it dates well before his compilation and probably confirms its Scottish origin.

The phrase’s association with Scotland is reinforced by its appearance in Robert Fergusson’s  poem  of 1774, The Election, “he took to shanks-naig, but fient may care”. Even then it was a bit of a joke – I would like to travel by horse but the only mode of transportation I’ve got is my two legs. Variants appeared in Scotland, replacing nag with Galloway, a small, strong breed of horse associated with the region of Galloway, and noddy, a light, two-wheeled buggy used in Scotland and Ireland in the 18th century.

Like many things, some good, some bad, the phrase migrated to England. In William Carr’s The Dialect of Craven, published in 1828, he defines shanks-galloway as “to go on foot, on the shanks, or ten taas”.  Anne Elizabeth Baker’s Glossary of Northamptonshire of 1854 defines Shanks’ poney as “a low phrase, signifying travelling on foot, or, as it is sometimes said, on ten toes”. And the ever comprehensive Edward Peacock in his Glossary of words used in the wapenakes (an administrative division) of Manley and Cottingham , Lincolnshire of 1877 defines shanks-galloway, shanks-mare, shanks-pony and shanks-nag as, “a man is said to go on one of these animals who goes on foot”.

In America the variant most popularly in use there is Shanks’ mare and in France their equivalent phrase is aller sur la haquenee des cordeliers or, alternatively, sur la mule de cordeliers. The Cordeliers were Franciscan monks who were seen wandering around the countryside with their large walking sticks (la haquenee).

One potential explanation for the origin of our phrase can be easily put to rest. Shanks & Company, now part of Armitage Shanks, developed a horse-drawn lawn mower which had no seat and so the operative had to follow behind. Unfortunately the machine was not developed until the mid 19th century and the phrase can be established as having currency at least a century or so earlier.

Not content with shanks’ pony there are other phrases which mean having to go by foot. In Northamptonshire at the turn of the last century a writer reported the phrase “go in a shoe-cart” and other variants include “to borrow Mr Foot’s horse”, “to go by Walker’s bus” and “to go on or ride Bayard of ten toes”. One interesting variant s “to travel by marrow-bone stage” which is probably a reference to the first omnibus which was run from Marylebone.

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

L0031710 Ephemera Collection: QV: Advertising: 1850-1 Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Ephemera Collection. QV: Advertising: 1850-1920: 2. 'Tis the genuine. [Leaflet?] St. Louis: Antikamnia Co., Inc. [1890's?] Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

Frank A Ruf and the Antikamnia Chemical Company

If nothing else, many of us aspire to a pain-free existence and where there is pain, there is an opportunity for exponents of quackery to exploit. The Antikamnia Chemical Company – the name is a cod Greek word meaning opposed to pain – was founded in the late 1880s and registered in 1890 by a couple of drug store owners in St Louis, Missouri.

The little white tablets they produced were described in their adverts as “little short of an inspiration”. Their five grain Antikamnia and Codeine tablets contained “4.5 grams of Antikamnia and 0.5 of a gram of Sulphate Codeine” and “one or two tablets [should be taken] every two or three hours or as indications may require”. Users were given helpful instructions, “also advisable to administer with a little water, diluted whisky, wine or hot toddy”. And what was it supposed to cure? The advert, naturally, gave the answer, “this combination is particularly useful in La Grippe, Influenza and all Grippal Conditions, Pneumonia, Bronchitis, Deep Seated Coughs, Neuroses of the Larynx etc, etc”. It was also handy to be taken as a preventative before participating in sports or even going out shopping.

Although the medicine was never patented and wasn’t a prescription drug, the Company marketed it aggressively through direct mailing and promotional products to doctors in the hope that they would be persuaded to recommend it to their patients. In many ways they were the forerunners of junk mail marketeers. Their objective was to get their name known to as wide an audience as possible and it worked. When Ruf died in 1923, his estate was worth more than $2 million.

One of the most bizarre promotional products that went out in Antikamnia’s name was a series of limited edition calendars for the years 1897 through to 1901 produced by a St Louis chemist and part-time artist, Louis Crusius. They feature skeletons in a wide range of fantastic and comical poses and dressed, apart from a usually grinning skull, in everyday clothing. To pick just three at random, one featured a newsboy dressed in rags hawking newspapers, another a skeleton wearing a top hat with a clover leaf, green sash and smoking a pipe and a third with a beer stein and pipe. On the reverse of the calendar page was a description of the products available and the conditions which they were effective against. These calendars routinely fetch a good price on e-bay and in antique shops.

Unfortunately, though, the tablets which were based on a coal-tar derivative, Acetanilide, had a potentially lethal side-effect. They could cause cyanosis which because of a lack of oxygen could turn the taker’s extremities blue. There were reports of deaths as a result of taking Antikamnia as early as 1891 and the California State Journal of Medicine in 1907 described a woman who had taken the pills as “practically without pulse, cyanosed, with shallow breathing and a leaky skin”.

The passing of the Pure Food and Drug Act soon put an end to Ruf’s business. In 1910 US officials seized a container of Antikamnia and prosecuted its manufacturers for not stating that the drug was an acetanilid derivative, a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court. Shortly afterwards, the Company collapsed.

Leaving aside the dangerous and potentially lethal side-effects, Ruf may have been on to something. Half a century later Julius Axelrod discovered that what acetanilide produces when metabolised is paracetamol, something we pop with gay abandon today. So, Antikamnia may just have been effective as a pain-killer.

Books Do Furnish A Room


One of the greatest gifts my parents gave me was a love of books, reading and language. I remember being read to as a small child and then when I had mastered the art of reading, my nose was forever in a book. One of my all-time favourites was Kenneth Grahame’s wonderful Wind in the Willows which I still dip into from time to time and whose qualities I am forever ready to proclaim.

Some of my juvenile reading material was questionable in these so-called more enlightened days. The exploits of Captain W E John’s creation James Bigglesworth aka Biggles were a particular favourite as he and his small band of heroes took on the might of the Bosch battling against formidable odds to secure liberty and maintain the Empire. Politically incorrect as they were, they were rattling good stories.

My bibliophilia continued throughout my student days and into my working life and as a result I have amassed quite a collection of books which sprawl across book cases in two of our rooms as well as many more boxed up in the attic. I haven’t the heart to throw away a book, perhaps because as a classicist I appreciate how thin the thread of fate was that preserved some works of literature and despatched to oblivion many others when times and tastes changed. My adoption of the e-book has relieved me from having to thin my shelves to make way for the new acquisitions.

As Anthony Powell so rightly observed, there is nothing like a room with well stocked shelves. I find I cannot resist walking into a room and surveying the contents of a bookshelf, picking up the odd volume and skimming the pages as if being reacquainted with an old friend. A bookshelf shines a light into the person themselves.

So it was with some interest that I read the result of some research published in the ever popular Economic Journal and conducted by three economists, Giorgio Brunello, Guglielmo Weber and Christoph Weiss, from the University of Padua. They studied 6,000 men born in nine European countries during the period between 1920 and 1956 when school-leaving ages were raised. They found that a man’s lifetime earnings increased by 9% if they had an extra year’s education.

What was more interesting, to me at least, was when they subdivided the group between those who at the age of 10 lived in households with fewer than 10 books, with a shelf of books, a book-case load of around 100 books, two book cases or more than two book cases. The economists found that those who grew up in households with less than half a shelf of books, even with an extra year’s education, earned just 5% more compared with the 21% increase earned by those with access to a lot of books. They also discovered that those with access to more books not only were likely to have a white-collar job as their first source of employment but also were more likely to move to better paid jobs in the cities.

Why is an interesting question. The researchers posit the theories that access to books prompts children to read and that an abundance of books may point to advantageous socio-economic conditions. A home with books may encourage the development of the sort of cognitive and socio-economic skills necessary for economic success later in life.

It worked for me and for that, heartfelt thanks.

There Ain’t ‘Alf Some Clever Bastards – Part Fifty Seven


James Goodfellow (1937 – present)

There is a bewildering array of ways of paying for things these days but some of us still get an enormous amount of satisfaction in opening up our wallets and getting out some folding stuff to complete our transaction. And we don’t have to queue up at a bank to get our money. All we need to do is get out a debit or credit card, insert into one of those clever machines in a wall, punch in a few numbers, making sure, of course, that no one is lurking over our shoulder attempting to memorise our Personal Identification Number (PIN) and, hey presto, not only is our card returned but some money appears, often even the right amount in vaguely convenient denominations of notes.

So embedded into our daily life is the ATM that we barely ever give it a second thought, other than when it is out of service or chews up our card, or even consider who and how it might have been developed. This is where the latest inductee into our illustrious Hall of Fame, the Scotsman James Goodfellow, comes in.

In the mid-1960s Goodfellow was working for the Glasgow firm, Kelvin Hughes, on devising a system whereby customers could withdraw cash from banks after they had closed on Saturday lunchtimes. His solution, as described in the patent application, was a system incorporating a plastic card with holes punched in it, a card reader and a series of buttons mounted into the external wall of a bank. To access their cash, the customer would insert their personalised card into the card reader of the system and punch in their PIN number – Goodfellow invented this – via a series of 10 push buttons. In other words, other than the card with punched holes, pretty much what we know as an ATM.

After Goodfellow had prototyped and demonstrated successfully his machine, he patented it on 2nd May 1966 and it was installed in Westminster bank branches in 1967. But this was not the road to fame and fortune for Goodfellow. Part of the problem was that he had a rival, John Shepherd-Barron, who worked for De La Rue and who developed a cash dispensing machine using cheques impregnated with carbon-14 which upon matching the cheque against a pin paid out. This machine was installed at the Enfield branch of Barclays on 27th June 1967, the first publicly installed cash dispensing machine.

Shepherd-Barron was feted as the inventor of the automatic cash dispenser, something which stuck in Goodfellow’s craw, and with good reason. After all, he had filed his patent some 14 months earlier. But for some reason Goodfellow kept schtum until 2005. In 2006 he was awarded an OBE for inventing the PIN. Slowly he has begun to receive the recognition due to him. The ever popular website attributes to him the invention of the ATM as we know it, although the honour for inventing the concept goes to Luther George Simjian, and the Home Office now include him in the section of great British inventions in the booklet given to people aiming to secure a pot of gold aka British citizenship.

And what did he earn from his invention? A paltry $15, the standard patent signature fee being $1 a country and the patent was registered in 15 countries. Oh, and he was made redundant by Kelvin Hughes, refusing to move down south when the project was relocated.

For inventing the ATM and PIN and not receiving your just rewards, James Goodfellow, you are a worthy inductee into our Hall of Fame.


If you enjoyed this, why not try Fifty Clever Bastards by Martin Fone which is now available on Amazon in Kindle format and paperback. For details follow the link

A New Day Yesterday – Part Eighteen


I came across a review of this blog the other day on what I believe to be a respected blog directory called Blog Search Engine. I read it and the more I thought about it the more astonished I became at its patronising tone. It ran “the internet has indeed made amazing achievements when it comes to communication. With this technology, it is now possible for people including the senior citizens to share their thoughts and personal experiences through blogs and reach people around the world. An example is Window Through Time, a personal blog of a senior and retired male…

The implicit assumption is that the internet and bloggery are the domain of the young. We should be amazed that the older generations have discovered it and that they may have something they thing worth sharing with the wider world. It is incredible to think that those with silver streaks in their hair are able to manoeuvre their arthritic digits sufficiently to tap out a semi-literate message on to their key board. And there is just enough energy left in their failing grey cells to dredge up memories and to formulate thoughts. Aren’t old people amazing?

Two questions then – is internet usage a young person’s thing and when do people start being considered as old? The Office of National Statistics in the UK publishes a useful quarterly bulletin on internet usage. In their latest bulletin they claim that 98.8% of those aged between 16 and 44 had used the internet recently, 94.9% of those aged 45 to 54, 88.3% of those aged 55 to 64, 74.1% of those aged 65 to 74 and 38.7% of those aged 75 and over. So yes, empirically internet usage does seem to be a younger person’s pursuit.

But drilling down into the detail we find some interesting facts. The proportion of those aged 75 or over who have never used the internet has decreased from 76.1% in 2011 to 56.5% in 2016. Since 2011 the largest increase in recent internet usage has been in the older age groups – women aged 75 and over by 169%, women aged between 65 and 74 by 80.7% and men over 75 by 80.3%. Men are still more likely to use the internet in the 75 and over category but in the 65 to 74 age group there is little discernible difference in internet usage between men and women.

And then there is when are you considered to be old? Those of us who have reached our seventh decade we like to think that 60 is the new 40 but, sadly, that is not a view held by society at large if a study commissioned by the Department of Work and Pensions entitled Attitudes to age in Britain 2010/11 is to be believed. The headline findings are that the mean age that respondents to the survey thought people stopped being described as young was 41 – gratifyingly generous I would have thought but it may reflect the age profile of the respondents – but the mean age at which people were starting to be considered as old was a paltry 59. Perhaps we are deluding ourselves after all.

The conclusion to be drawn from all this is that silver surfers are rapidly catching up on the youngsters and claiming part of the internet for themselves. Internet usage is still relatively low amongst those at the elderly end of the age spectrum but that may just be down to the fact they can get away by virtue of their age with making politically incorrect statements that the rest of us have to resort to social media to make.

“OMG the silver surfers are coming after us”, the youngsters say. “LOL”, we say.