Parents Of The Week

We live in the era of boomerang kids. Never breathe a sigh of relief when your offspring leave the family home. As sure as eggs are eggs, they will be back. And the strange thing is that when they decide to move on again, they never seem to take with them everything they brought back.

Some parents take a laid-back attitude to the impedimenta left behind by their sprogs. Others, like this couple from Grand Haven in Michigan, prefer to take a more direct approach.

Their son moved back home after a divorce but after ten months he moved on, leaving a pile of his possessions behind. His parents sent them on to his new address in Indiana.

There was one problem, though. His stash of pornography, some twelve boxes of rare and titillating movies and magazines, some of which were believed to be rare and are now even rarer, and two boxes of sex toys was missing.

After a heated exchange of correspondence in which the son demanded to know the whereabouts of his collection valued at around $29,000, it emerged that the parents may have destroyed the porn for their son’s “own mental and emotional health”. The son went to the police and when the prosecutor in Ottawa County, Michigan, refused to press charges, he, somewhat ungratefully I feel, sued his parents for $87,000.

For this porno stash this Grand Haven failed to live up to its name.

There Ain’t ‘Alf Some Clever Bastards – Part Ninety Three

Charles Lindbergh (1902 – 1974)

By any stretch of the imagination Charles Lindbergh was a complex character.

He is best known for his solo, non-stop, trans-Atlantic flight in 1927 from Long Island to Paris in a single-engine plane called Spirit of America. Tragedy befell him in 1932 when his son, Charles Junior, was kidnapped and subsequently murdered in what was described by H L Mencken as “the biggest story since the Resurrection.

Returning from self-imposed exile in Europe in 1935 to the States in 1939 and until the Pearl Harbour attack took a prominent anti-interventionist stance, attracting a public rebuke from President Roosevelt and allegations of fascist sympathies. Once he engaged with the war effort he put his undoubted aviatic acumen to good use, flying over fifty combat missions during the war against Japan in the Pacific region. For the rest of his life he was dogged by allegations of being a eugenist and a philanderer.

But the reason why Lindbergh is nominated for our illustrious Hall of Fame is for his now little-remembered involvement in the development of heart surgery and, in particular, the perfusion pump.

Our story begins in 1930 when Lindbergh’s sister-in-law developed a heart condition which proved to be fatal. It set him wondering why it was not possible to repair defects in the body’s major organ surgically. He was introduced to the Nobel Prize winning surgeon, Alexis Carrell, who was working on methods to keep organs alive outside of the body. In fact, Carrell had developed a nutrient-rich fluid that did the trick but lacked the technological know-how to ensure that the organ was continuously exposed to oxygenated blood, a process known as perfusion.

This is where Lindbergh came in.

By May 1931 he had advanced sufficiently to publish in one of the shortest ever articles to appear in the journal, Science, details of a device which circulated fluid constantly through a closed system. It created little attention.

By 1935 Lindbergh had come up with a solution to Carrell’s problem, a glass pump, consisting of three chambers or, to use his own words, “an apparatus, which maintains, under controllable conditions, a pulsating circulation of sterile fluid through organs for a length of time limited only by the changes in the organs and in the perfusion fluid.

The use of glass was critical and Lindbergh used a form of pyrex, as other materials were found to cause blood clots and other complications. The heart was placed in a slanting tube and the carotid artery was connected to a second, small glass tube. Air pressure would force Carrell’s nutritious fluid from a lower chamber through the tube and artery to the heart, gravity then taking over and forcing it back down to the lower chamber. There were no moving parts.

There was one problem; the absence of a filter, an ersatz kidney, meant that the organ’s secretion mixed with the fluid from the perfusion pump, requiring it to be changed frequently. Nonetheless, the duo carried out a public demonstration of their pump on 5th April 1935, perfusing a cat’s thyroid gland which, after eighteen days, was still healthy and, more importantly, alive and replicating.

The public response to this breakthrough was phenomenal. It was described as “the fountain of old age” and some speculated that Lindbergh’s contribution would earn him more fame than his aeronautical achievements. They even graced the cover of Time magazine in July 1935. The press hysteria forced him to flee to Europe.

Over the next four years nearly a thousand trials of the pump were carried out and it never malfunctioned, although the absence of a filter continued to pose the threat of contamination. It was a star exhibit of the World Fair in New York in 1939.

But only around twenty of the pumps were ever produced. What went wrong?

It was tricky to use and attaching the artery to the glass tube was difficult. It was too easy to tear or damage the artery, making the organ to which it was attached unusable. By 1940 it was abandoned.

But it became the forerunner of surgical devices such as the heart-lung machine and gave surgeons a methodology to work on to stop the heart during an operation.

But Lindbergh is best known these days for other things.

If you enjoyed this, why not check out Fifty Clever Bastards by Martin Fone

Sporting Event Of The Week (22)

For those of us looking for an unusual feat of endurance, the West Yorkshire village of Gawthorpe was the place to be on Easter Monday, the venue of the 56th World Coal Carrying Championship.

Competitors are required to lug a bag of coal – 50kg for men, 25kg for women – along the 1,108 uphill course which runs from Owl Lane, outside the Royal Oak, to the maypole on the village green, where the sacks are deposited.

The record time was set by David Jones in 1991 and again in 1995, completing the course in 4 minutes and six seconds. The record for the women’s event, set by Catherine Foley, stands at 4 minutes 25 seconds. Perhaps appropriately, the event is sponsored by a local firm of funeral directors.

This year the conditions were against the competitors with temperatures soaring to 20 degrees centigrade, in contrast to last year when heavy snow threatened the event.

The origins of the event began, like many a good idea, in a pub, the Beehive, in 1963, when Reggie Sedgwick, a stalwart of the village’s Maypole Committee, issued a challenge to Lewis Hartley, who had had the temerity to cast aspersions on his fitness. Rather than it being just a personal duel and looking for something to fill a hole in the calendar on Easter Monday, the secretary, Fred Hirst, hit upon the idea of the race.

The rest is history and long may the race for the title of King of the Coil Humpers and the £750 cash prize continue.

Remorse Of The Week

Leaving the polling booth, I am often filled with voter’s remorse. The candidates are invariably a poor lot and it is always a bit of a toss up as to whom to vote for. Still, it soon passes as almost without exception whoever I vote for fails to win. I have done my democratic duty but am relieved of the responsibility of electing the chump who wins.

We have become a bit blasé about the right to vote, a hard-fought right which we abuse at our peril. In India, they take things more seriously as the astonishing case of Pawan Kumar from Uttar Pradesh shows.

Once the vote is cast, the voter’s finger is marked with indelible ink to prevent them voting again, in order to reduce election fraud. Pawan Kumar wanted to cast his vote for the Bahujan Samaj Party whose symbol is an elephant. But he got confused in the voting booth and mistakenly pressed the button bearing the symbol of the lotus, giving his vote instead to the ruling Hindu party, the Bharatiya Janata Party.

So mortified was poor Pawan Kumar at what he had done that he could not bear the sight of his marked finger. Taking to heart the wise words of the Roman Stoic philosopher, Seneca; “there is no person so severely punished, as those who subject themselves to the whip of their own remorse”, there was only one thing to do.

Naturally, he chopped his finger off.

The perils of democracy.

What Is The Origin Of (228)?…

First dibs

Watching children playing, they seem to be forever squabbling over who should have first go. Perhaps it is a vestige of an innate survival instinct. And there seems to be a special vocabulary that they use; “bags I go first” or “let me have first dibs.” It is the latter which will be the subject of this etymological enquiry.

The starting point is, not unsurprisingly, a game played by children, dibstones, abbreviated to dibs. By the time Thomas Hardy came to pen Jude the Obscure in 1895 it was being used as a reference to something trivial; “why when I and my poor man were married we thought no more o’t than a game of dibs.” Dibstones was probably a variant of the popular playground game, jacks, at least it was when I was a child, or knucklestones, involving a ball and ten metal or plastic jacks. The idea behind its modern incarnation is to pick up as many jacks before the ball bounces.

An early reference to the game is found in John Locke’s Some Thoughts Concerning Education, published in 1693; “I have seen little Girls exercise whole Hours together and take abundance of Pains to be expert at Dibstones as they call it.” But it is much older. There is a fragment from a play by the Athenian tragedian, Sophocles, attributing the origin of the game to Palamedes and the Romans certainly played a variant.

Perhaps having first dibs is getting the first turn at playing the game.

It might be but over time there was a significant change in the use of the word dibs. It became a synonym for money. The Song of George Barnwell, found in the Port Folio of June 6th 1807, contains the lines, “If you mean to come Bring your bellows (snuffome any more/ You must put more cash in your pocket./ Make Nunky surrender his dibbs.

Pierce Egan’s Real Life in London: or The rambles and Adventures of Bob Tallyho Esq, from 1821, is always a good source for examples of the argot of the common folk. In its pages we encounter a Mr Merrywell whose speech was peppered with so many bits of slang as to make it barely comprehensible to the modern reader and, perhaps, many contemporary ones too. “Bring your bellows (snuff), in good order, and don’t be afraid of your bread basket (stomach). The dibs are in tune (there’s money). A ball of fire (brandy), a dose of daffy (a patent medicine) or a blow out of black strap (gin mixed with molasses) will set the blue devils at defiance, give a spur to harmony, and set the spirits a jogging.” Sounds good to me.

In slang prigs were thieves, a bit of knowledge necessary to appreciate the next monetary example of dibs to be found in On the Prigging Lay from 1829 to be found in John Farmer’s Musa Pedestris. “Uncle, open the door of your crib/ If you’d share the swag, or have one dib.” The thieves are exhorting the poor uncle to open up and let them have his money.

The usage had changed again by the middle of the century. George Matsell defined dib as “a portion or share” in his Vocabulum; Or, The Rogue’s Lexicon, published in 1859. This is surely the modern meaning of the playground phrase and we can detect a development from the abbreviation for a game through a slang term for money to a share. It makes sense.

What it doesn’t explain is why the earliest citations of first dibs come from America. An early such usage is found in a pamphlet called Our Boys, published by the Wisconsin Home and Farm School Association in 1907; “each boy cries out/ as quick as he can,/ I got first dibs/ on the baking pan.” It was clearly in use in speech before then and could easily have migrated over with English-speaking migrants.

It’s The Way I Tell ‘Em (35)

As the world seems to be going to hell in a handcart, I thought I would try to cheer us all up.

  • “It all starts innocently, mixing chocolate and Rice Krispies, but before you know it you’re adding raisins and marshmallows – it’s a rocky road.” Olaf Falafel (2016)
  • “I was watching the London Marathon and saw one runner dressed as a chicken and another runner dressed as an egg. I thought: ‘This could be interesting.”Paddy Lennox (2009)
  • “The anti-ageing advert that I would like to see is a baby covered in cream saying, ‘Aah, I’ve used too much’” Andrew Bird  (2008)
  • “Whenever I see a man with a beard, moustache and glasses, I think, ‘There’s a man who has taken every precaution to avoid people doodling on photographs of him”Carey Marx  (2008)
  • “My granny was recently beaten to death by my grandad. Not as in, with a stick – he just died first”Alex Horne (2008)
  • “I think if you were hardcore anti-feminism, surely you wouldn’t call yourself ‘anti-feminism’ would you? You’d call yourself ‘Uncle Feminism’.” Jenny Collier (2016)
  • “My mate is called Liam, but we call him ‘Two Legs Liam’. The reason for that is because he only has one arm.” Andrew Ryan (2016)
  • “I heard a rumour that Cadbury is bringing out an oriental chocolate bar. Could be a Chinese Wispa.” Rob Auton (2013)
  • “I needed a password eight characters long so I picked Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.” Nick Helm (2011)
  • “Crash Investigations is my favourite TV show, I’ve seen every episode. Here’s a tip for the new viewers: if the show starts with the pilots being interviewed… it will be a boring episode.” Nick Cody (2015)
  • “I think the bravest thing I’ve ever done is misjudge how much shopping I want to buy and still not go back to get a basket.” Stuart Laws (2016)
  • “Drug use gets an unfair reputation considering all the beautiful things in life it has given us like rock ‘n’ roll and sporting achievement.” Jason John Whitehead (2016)
  • “I don’t have the Protestant work ethic, I have the Catholic work ethic; in that I don’t work but I do feel very guilty about that.” Rory O’Keeffe (2016)
  • “People who use selfie sticks really need to have a good, long look at themselves.” Abi Roberts (2016)
  • “Jokes about white sugar are rare. Jokes about brown sugar, Demerara.” Olaf Falafel (2016)
  • “I went to Waterstones and asked the woman for a book about turtles, she said ‘hardback?’ and I was like, ‘yeah and little heads” Mark Simmons (2015)
  • “Hey, if anyone knows how to fix some broken hinges, my door’s always open.” Paul F. Taylor (2016)
  • “If you don’t know what Morris dancing is, imagine eight guys from the KKK got lost, ended up at gay pride and just tried to style it out.” Fin Taylor (2016)
  • “Hedgehogs – why can’t they just share the hedge?” Dan Antolpolski (2009)
  • “Insomnia is awful. But on the plus side – only three more sleeps till Christmas.” Robert Garnham (2017)

Book Corner – April 2019 (4)

Miss Marjoribanks – Margaret Oliphant

This was a curious book and definitely one of two halves. Published in 1866 but serialised by Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine from February 1865, my edition helpfully had the break points for each instalment and I read each in one sitting to get a sense of how the original reader may have experienced what is Oliphant’s fifth of six stories set in the fictional town of Carlingford.

The eponymous heroine, Lucilla Marjoribanks, is the literary progenitor of E F Benson’s delicious Lucia and Sinclair Lewis’ Carol Kennicott, a busy-body who ties to organise the social life of her town to her own whims. It can be read, and probably is these days, as a proto-feminist tract, because this is all that a smart and talented woman can do in a patriarchal society.

But in the first two volumes of the book Oliphant is very much an ironic observer and sets her heroine up for ridicule. Although the third-party narrator of the tale is ostensibly narrating Lucilla’s history from the age of fifteen, when she is sent away to school, only returning three or so years later to make the sole object of her existence for the next ten years to make her dear papa’s life as comfortable as possible, whether he wants it or not, Oliphant’s tone is such that we are directed not to take her projects seriously and to view as the epitome of self-importance.

Lucilla’s principal mission is to transform her father’s Thursday night dinners into soirees to which the better sorts are invited for improving conversation and the opportunity to admire her distinctive voice. We are invited to laugh at the trivial feuds and misunderstandings which inevitably ensue and mock Lucilla’ small-minded provincialism which she believes to be the manifestation of the latest social theories. She has no sense of self-doubt or even an iota of sensitivity for the feelings of others.

Oliphant has created here one of the great comic characters of English Victorian literature. Her manipulation of Barbara Lake, her rival for the affections of Cavendish, the presumed MP-to-be for Carlingford, is skilfully played out but a considerable spanner is thrown into the works when an Archdeacon turns up, causing Cavendish to disappear post-haste. It is clear he has a shady background and much of the second volume is concerned with Lucilla’s attempts to, firstly, find out Cavendish’s secret, then to thwart Barbara’s romantic intentions and, finally, to resolve the situation in a way that would not bring opprobrium to her social gatherings.

There is, however, a very distinctive change of tone in the third volume. We return to Lucilla some years afterwards, her self-imposed ten years of looking after papa’s best interests have elapsed. We have a clever, talented woman with oodles of time on her hands. She can’t take a job that might be an outlet for her talents and organisational abilities, she doesn’t have a vote and cannot engage overtly in political activities. The feminist agenda moves from the background to the forefront.

But this does not stop the redoubtable Lucilla. She throws her energies behind Ashburton who has declared his intention to run for the now vacant position of member of parliament, not least to spike Cavendish’s ambitions. Her behind the scenes manoeuvring of the political sentiments of the menfolk who can vote bears fruit and inspires Ashburton to try and win her favours. The book ends with a surprising twist but you conclude that her chosen husband is one she can dominate and allow her to use her talents to organise the folk of Marchbank.

Oliphant was a prolific author who has fallen into neglect for too long. If you like Trollope, gentle humour, social insight and although it is a bit too wordy, then you should like this book.

Give it a try.