A wry view of life for the world-weary

Category Archives: History

Everything Is Possible For An Eccentric, Especially When He Is English – Part Nineteen

Henry de la Poer Beresford, 3rd Marquess of Waterford (1811 – 1859)

We have come across our Henry before when we were examining the origins of the phrase, paint the town red, but his exploits are worth examining in more detail. To many they seem just the product of what extreme wealth and no gainful employment can do but if we measure eccentricity as behaviour out of kilter with the mores of the time, then the mad marquess, as he was known, is right up there.

Henry was actually the second son of the Second Marquess of Waterford but inherited the title upon his father’s death in 1826, because his elder brother had shuffled off this mortal coil in 1824. The title and the money that went with the grand estate in Ireland seems to havre gone to his head and during the late 1830s he was frequently in the news. His particular penchant was to drink heavily, brawl, vandalise property and strike peculiar wagers – a bit of an erstwhile Oliver Reed character.

At that time there was little in the way of an established police force and significant properties or thoroughfares were guarded by night watchmen. These poor individuals were seen as fair game by Henry and nothing rounded off a good evening on the electric sauce than beating one (or more) of them up. An even more sinister character trait was his love of a sick joke. On one occasion he wrote to the London and Greenwich Railway Company, offering them the princely sum of £10,000 if they would stage a train crash that he could watch. The thrill for him would be to observe the distress of the victims. Although train safety was parlous at the best of times in those days, thankfully the Company politely refused his offer.

Henry would do anything for a laugh. On one famous occasion, he bought several large casks of gin and stationed himself in London’s Haymarket, offering free mugs of the hooch to anyone who cared to take them. He seemed to see it as a bit of a social experiment, keen to see what would happen when the grateful public indulged in his largesse to excess. Well, what happened was that a riot broke and Henry had to be carted off for his own safety.

Beresford was a reckless horse rider and was brought up before the beak for riding at high-speed through a crowded street, without any concern for any of the poor pedestrians who may have been in the way. Arriving at the court on horseback, Henry demanded that his nag be cross-examined. After all, he argued, only the horse knew exactly how fast he was going. Whether it was the strength of his forensic arguments or his nobility that caused the case to be dismissed, we will never know. Mind you, he could have done with a fast horse when he rode in the 1840 Grand National. His horse, the Sea, was all washed out and finished last of the four to finish, half a mile behind the winner.

Such was Henry’s notoriety for practical jokes, or rather hooliganism, that the finger of suspicion was pointed at him as the perpetrator of what were termed the Spring Heeled Jack incidents. The Reverend E C Brewer, no less, attested in 1880 that he “used to amuse himself by springing on travellers unawares, to frighten them, and from time to time others have followed his silly example” These incidents occurred between 1837 and 1904, so Henry couldn’t have been the sole perpetrator but perhaps the Reverend was on to something.

The first incident occurred in Clapham Common  – Henry was in London at the time – when Mary Stevens was assaulted by a figure that leapt out of the dark and the following day another girl was attacked, the perpetrator effecting its escape by scaling a nine foot wall.

Whether Henry was involved is unclear but as well as painting the town red, he was tarred with the same brush, it would seem.


What Is The Origin Of (176)?…


When you look at your veins poking through your skin, they appear blue and you might be forgiven, if you had no anatomical knowledge, in thinking that the blood coursing through them is blue. As soon as you puncture a vein, though, the blood that spurts or trickles out is red. Does this mean that as soon as the blood comes into contact with the outside, it changes colour from blue to red because of some sort of chemical reaction?

Sorry to disappoint you but the answer is no.

It is all down to the interaction between light and subcutaneous fat. The fat which forms a barrier between your skin and what is inside – we all have it – only allows blue light to penetrate to the veins and back. Other colours, such as red, cannot make it back to your eyeballs and so the only hue you can associate with your veins is blue. Deoxygenated blood, which is what veins principally push around the body, is a darker red than oxygenated and so as a result of the way light permeates our skin will seem darker. If you look at different veins around your body you will see that they are not uniform in colour – this is because the diameter and thickness of the walls allow more or less of the blue light to reach your line of vision.

The reason for this rather discursive explanation in what is meant to be an etymological discussion is to nail on the head the idea that members of the royal family and the aristocracy have blue blood. Now that any Mike, Kate or Meghan – a distinctly unroyal trio, if you ever saw one – can marry into the royal family, it would be hard to defend seriously the proposition that our so-called betters have blood of a different colour coursing through their veins. When royals and aristocrats studiously intermarried within their own charmed circle, it might have been possible to hoodwink the masses into thinking so but the odd execution of a royal – to be encouraged in my view – would have scotched that theory.

So why do we call royals blue-blooded?

Blame the Spanish and subcutaneous fat. The proud boast of some of the oldest and proudest families in Castile was that their stock was pure, having resisted the temptation to intermarry with Moors, Jews and the like. The consequence was that their skin colouration was lighter than the other indigenous population and their veins seemed darker. This phenomenon gave rise to the term sangre azul or blue blood.

By the 19th century the term established itself in the English language. Save for making a direct translation of it, we did little else. Maria Edgeworth testified to its origin in her 1834 novel, Helen; “from Spain, of high rank and birth, of the sangre azul, the blue blood.” By the time Anthony Trollope came to write The Duke’s Children in 1880, it was a familiar sobriquet for the oldest and most aristocratic families to be used without the aid of a gloss; “It is a point of conscience among the – perhaps not ten thousand, but say one thousand of bluest blood – that everyone should know who everybody is…It is a knowledge which the possession of the blue blood itself produces.

It takes one to know one, it seems.

Some People Are So Poor All They Have Is Money – Part Four

Illegal aliens

It’s always dangerous to draw too many generalised conclusions from odd snatches of conversation but I couldn’t help thinking that there is a rising sense of nationalism in India. In particular, in southern India there was overt antipathy towards their fairer skinned brethren of Indian-Aryan ancestry, characterised as invaders from Afghanistan, and criticism was directed at the hitherto sainted Mahatma Gandhi for vacillating on the Moslem question. With Moslem birth rates far outstripping those of other religious communities there is a heightening of tensions that have always lurked beneath the surface. It would be a shame if they erupted into violence but it was hardly coincidental that religious tensions had erupted again in nearby Sri Lanka at the time of our visit.

Foreigners have been part of the landscape on the sub-continent for centuries and it was appropriate that our tour began at the coastal city of Chennai (Madras in old money) which was the site of the first manifestation of permanent British presence in the area. The East India Company bought a strip of coastal land called Chennirayarpattinam and proceeded to build a fort there, to better protect the harbour and their trading activities. Completed on 23rd April 1644 it was christened Fort St George and over time was developed into an impressive fortification with thick walls some 20 feet high.

Notwithstanding its ramparts and large garrison, it fell into French hands between 1746 and 1749, eventually being restored to the Brits following the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. Today it is the administrative headquarters of the Tamil Nadu state government and is the garrison to some Indian troops. There is a museum which houses relics from the British occupation – worth a visit, although the curatorship is distinctly 1950s – and the church, St Mary’s, is the oldest Anglican one in India. Built between 1678 and 1680 it was where the nabobest of nabobs, Robert Clive, was married and its graveyard contains the oldest British tombstones on the sub-continent.

Despite the maps of the British Empire I pored over when I was a schoolboy, India wasn’t entirely red. Pondicherry was and is still distinctly French. The French East India Company established their headquarters there in 1674 and the area was fought over incessantly over the next two centuries by those implacable enemies, the French and British. When the British finally took control over all of India in the late 1850s, they rather magnanimously allowed the French to remain there and, oddly, even beyond Indian independence the area around Pondicherry was under French control. It was not until 1st November 1954 that it was incorporated into the Indian state.

Pondicherry has a very distinctive European feel with a broad promenade along the shoreline which boasted a pier until it collapsed in 1953 – this may have presaged the departure of the French – and a series of four broad boulevards running parallel in what is known as White Town. Even the local police sport jaunty red caps a la gendarmerie. The cathedral is a mini version of the Notre Dame and as the congregation dispersed we were mobbed by groups requesting us to pose for photos with them. We never did find out why!

Less welcoming to the Brits was Tipu Sultan, who along with his dad, Hyder Ali, did not quite see the benefits of being absorbed into the domains controlled by the East India Company. In all, the Brits fought four wars between 1767 and 1799 against these two, before finally winning a decisive victory at the Siege of Srirangapatna, during the course of which Tipu was killed. We saw the spot where he died. Tipu’s major military innovation was the use of rocket-propelled artillery, the like of which the Brits had not encountered before. However, sheer weight of numbers and Tipu’s folly of pissing off his wife, who then sided against him, and of relying on the French saw the Brits ultimately prevail.

Our Crime Against Criminals Lies In The Fact That We Treat Them Like Rascals – Part Four

The Gardner Museum Heist, 1990

If you go to the Gardner Museum in Boston, you will find thirteen picture frames hanging on the wall, devoid of contents. They do not form part of a post-modernist art collection but hang there both as a reminder of an audacious robbery which deprived the museum of their prize exhibits worth around $500 million but also as a beacon of hope that someday, somehow the pictures will be recovered.

They haven’t so far.

The key to a successful robbery is perfect planning a keeping it simple. Too many moving parts in the plan merely increase the chances of something going wrong. And the Garner Museum heist was simplicity personified.

As a city with a large Irish community, St Patrick’s Day in Boston is one of the highlights of the year. March 17th 1990 was no exception and there were celebrations, some rather noisy and drunken, around the city and one in close proximity to the Museum. At 1.24 am on the 18th someone dressed in a police uniform rang on the museum’s bell. When a security guard – there were only two on the site at the time – opened the door, the policeman and his colleague said that they were responding to a report of a disturbance at the Museum and requested that they be let in.

The security guard, Richard Abath, wasn’t sure whether his orders to prohibit anyone from entering extended to include the police and so, on his own initiative, let the officers in. One of the officers looked him up and down and said that Abath looked familiar and that there was a warrant out for his arrest. Ordering Abath away from the security desk where the only security button was, the policeman handcuffed him. It was only then that Abath realised anything was amiss – the police officer was wearing a false moustache.

The second security appeared on the scene minutes later but was quickly handcuffed. When he enquired why the police had arrested him, he was told that they were not policemen but robbers about to steal from the gallery. The guards were taken to the basement and handcuffed to pipes and bound.

Although the museum had motion detectors and local alarm systems, the bogus policemen went about their unlawful duty, removing some of the gallery’s most prized exhibits, including Rembrandt’s only seascape, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Vermeer’s The Concert, five Vermeer drawings and an eagle finial which lay on top of a Napoleonic flag. They were unable to unscrew the flag from the wall and the mess that they left suggested that they had been unsuccessful in attempting to make off with other works of art.

In all, the robbery took around eighty minutes to accomplish and the thieves had enough time to make two trips to their car, a red Daytona, with their haul. They then went back to the basement to tell the guards that they would be hearing from them again in about a year. The guards never did hear from them and were not rescued, nor was the robbery detected, until 8.15 in the morning when other staff arrived.

Despite the fact that the thieves’ movements around the gallery could be tracked on the motion detection system, the police had no images to give them a clue as to the perpetrators. The FBI believe that it was the work of a criminal organisation based in New England, that the artwork was offered for sale in Philadelphia and that they have a good idea of the identities of the duo, both now dead. But there was not enough to press charges.

It seems those frames will be empty for quite a while.

What Is The Origin Of (175)?…


One of the joys of looking at the origins of words and phrases we use today is to see how they have changed in meaning over the centuries. A perfect example of this phenomenon is the glorious reduplicated phrase, hoity-toity, which we use rather pejoratively to describe someone putting on airs and graces, who is pretentiously self-important, haughty or pompous. I had always assumed that it was a bit of nonsense, the toity serving to enforce the sense through rhyme of the opening part of the phrase, hoity.

I was right to think that the point of interest in the phrase was hoity but wrong in thinking that it was just a nonsense word. There was a verb hoit, now long fallen out of fashion, I’m afraid, which meant to “indulge in riotous and noisy mirth.” It is thought that the verb was linked in some way to the noun hoyden which was used to denote a noisy or energetic girl or an ignorant or clownish chap, both owing their genesis to the Middle Dutch word, heiden, meaning a yokel and from which we also derived our word heathen.

This sense of frivolity and Bacchanalian revelry is amply illustrated in its first appearance in print in Sir Robert L’Estrange’s translation of The visions of Don Francisco de Quevedo Villegas, published in 1668 and a blockbuster if there ever was one. In it he wrote “the Widows I observ’d..Chanting and Jigging to every Tune they heard, and all upon the Hoyty-Toyty, like mad Wenches of Fifteen.” It is interesting to note that hoity was already hitched up with toity. L’Estrange used the phrase to describe women of a certain age acting as youngsters but it also could be used to describe a certain type of young girl, as this rather unflattering and sexist example from The History of Emily Montague, written by Frances Brooke and published in 1769, shows; “By the way, Jack, there is generally a certain hoity-toity inelegance of form and manner at seventeen, which in my opinion is not balanc’d by freshness of complexion, the only advantage girls have to boast of.

The handy New Dictionary of the terms ancient and modern of the canting crew, compiled by the modestly anonymous B.E, who described himself as a Gent, around the beginning of the 18th century, reveals that there were at least variants. He defines Hightetity as a Ramp or Rude Girl, prompting suggestions that hoity may have been pronounced at the time in the same way as we do height today. In 1785 Francis Grose, in his A classical dictionary of the vulgar tongue, squared the circle by pulling all the strands together with his definition; “Heighty toity, a hoyden or romping girl.

But almost contemporaneous with Grose’s definition was an altogether different usage as illustrated by this quotation form John O’Keefe’s comic opera in three parts, Fontainebleau, from 1784; “My mother..was a fine lady, all upon the hoity-toities, and so, good for nothing.” Here we are not dealing with a rumbustious wench but rather with a woman who is rather haughty. Quite how this abrupt about-turn in meaning came about is not quite clear. It may have been that the original meaning of hoity-toity was the preserve of the lower orders and that the pronunciation of hoity as heighty led to a misunderstanding which caused it to be associated with haughtiness. We will never know but it is the latter meaning of the phrase that won out and is used to this day.

Some People Are So Poor All They Have Is Money – Part Three

Trains and boats and planes

You can see why the British administration chose to summer in the beautiful hill station that is Udhagamandalam aka Ooty, which nestles on a plateau high up in the Nilgiri hills at an elevation of 2,200 metres. The scenery is breath-taking and the air cool, providing a welcome change to the stifling heat of the lowlands.

The problem was how to get up there and for most of the British occupation it was a laborious exercise involving bullock carts, horses and the odd elephant. By 1873 a railway line had been opened that took passengers as far as Mettupalayam, some 330 metres above sea level, but there was still a hell of a hill to climb and a tortuous journey of 46 kilometres to make. It was not until 1908 that the railway finally reached Ooty and quite an engineering feat it was to get there.

The track is just a metre wide and has 250 bridges and some 208 curves, the sharpest of which is 17.5 degrees and 90% of them have a curvature of 10 degrees or more. Oh, and there is a small matter of 16 tunnels. The line deploys a rack system between Kallar and Coonoor, two bars of teeth jutting above the running rails, to give the train the extra purchase needed to negotiate the steep inclines and sharp bends – the only railway in India to use such a system.

The original engines were steam locomotives but these days they have been replaced by steam-powered diesel engines. There are plans to reintroduce steam engines but just before our visit the trials were abandoned because the engines ran out of puff.

Being a bit of a railway buff I couldn’t resist the opportunity to take the downhill journey. It is not a journey to be done in a hurry – it takes 3.5 hours to get to Mettupalayam, the upward journey taking an hour longer. The stately progress is punctuated by prolonged stops at some of the stations for the train to be refilled with water and the passengers hop out to take photos, buy refreshments from the platform vendors and avoid the attentions of the voracious monkeys on the look-out for food.

There were three carriages on our train and we were at the very rear. Each carriage was sectioned off into little compartments and so there was no opportunity to move up and down the train. The air conditioning consisted of open windows. We shared our compartment with a couple of Indian families, who graciously accommodated our wish to get a panoramic view of the spectacular scenery afforded by the train as it wheezed and clung precariously to the cliff edge. The finest views were between Coonoor and Mettupalayam  and if you wanted to truncate your journey, that is the section to do.

We had a great time and it was certainly a highlight of our tour.

You can’t go to Kerala and not get on a boat. Despite the gothic horror show that was our previous trip along the Alleppey backwaters, we signed up for a two day trip which, mercifully, passed without incident. The décor of our boat resembled the interior of a Parisian brothel but the crew were cheery, friendly and helpful and stuffed us full with the most delicious Keralan delicacies.

We also had a trip down the Poovar backwaters – these are mangrove lined and very different from the ones further north. The wildlife was spectacular and it was well worth doing.

Our hotel in Bangalore was opposite a bus station and we were fascinated from 9pm onwards by the river of night sleeper buses that set off taking their passengers to all points on the Indian compass.

And as for planes, well, it may be an age thing but I am increasingly finding airports a bit of a trial. I hate rushing and a tight transfer of an hour at Mumbai gave me the collywobbles, my anxiety heightened by a twenty minute delay at Trivandrum. The Jet Airways staff did a good job in whisking us through security and immigration. Before we had time to draw our breath, we looked up at the departure board to find that the London flight had been delayed by a couple of hours. There was nothing for it but to retire to the bar to recover our composure.

The joys of travelling!

Coincidences Are Spiritual Puns – Part Three

Wilmer McLean (1814 – 1882)

If you are looking for someone who was in the wrong place at the wrong time twice, then Wilmer McLean, a wholesale grocer and plantation owner from Virginia, would feature high up on your list.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, McLean was too old to enlist for the Confederate army but soon found himself engulfed in the early skirmishes of the conflict.

The problem was the location of his plantation which was situated near Manassas junction.  More crucially, a small stream called Bull Run meandered through his land and this is where the first major battle between Union and Confederate troops took place, in July 1861.

Not only was his house commandeered by the Confederate General, P G T Beauregard, for use as his headquarters but it was struck by a Union shell during the Battle of Blackburn’s Ford which, as well as tearing into the fireplace, ruined the General’s dinner. Three days later on 18th July, during the First Battle of Bull Run McLean’s barn was used as a makeshift hospital to treat wounded Confederate soldiers and as an impromptu prison to hold captured Union soldiers.

If that was not enough, the Second Battle of Bull Run in August 1862 caused more damage to his plantation. As McLean commented later, “these armies tore my place on Bull Run all to pieces, and kept running over it backward and forward till no man could live there.

Sensibly, McLean decided to move to pastures new and in the autumn of 1863 moved to the quiet hamlet of Appomattox Court House, some 120 miles to the south-west, on the other side of Virginia. If he thought he had escaped the ravages of the Civil War, he was sadly mistaken.

On 9th April 1802 a Confederate Colonel, Charles Marshall, rode into Appomattox Court House and upon encountering McLean, asked him if he could suggest somewhere to host a meeting between Union and Confederate commanders. As McLean’s first suggestion, a run-down, vacant house, didn’t pass muster, he was forced to offer up his own well-furnished abode. And so it was that on that very afternoon that General Lee offered the Union’s surrender to General Grant in McLean’s front room. By astonishing coincidence, McLean’s two properties had served as bookends to the American Civil War.

But McLean’s travails were not over. Union officers went on the rampage, carrying out the chairs and tables used by Grant and Lee, a stone inkstand, brass candlesticks and even his seven-year old daughter’s rag doll. His cane-bottomed chairs were torn apart, strips of upholstery were cut from his sofas and as recompense the soldiers threw some loose change on the floor. The crestfallen McLean observed, “And now, just look around you! Not a fence-rail is left on the place, the last guns trampled down all my crops, and Lee surrenders to Grant in my house.

A year later McLean put the house, by now referred to the as the Surrender House, up for sale but there were no takers. He gave up on the house which was eventually sold at public auction in 1869 and he moved back to the Manassas area. He was one of the few Virginians given a position in the post-bellum administration, working for the Internal Revenue Service, and voted for his temporary house guest, Grant, in the 1872 election. But as John Cleese might have said, don’t mention the war.

The Streets Of London – Part Seventy Two

Millbank, SW1P

Millbank runs from the end of Abingdon Street by the Black Rod Garden along the north side of the Thames to the junction with Vauxhall Bridge Road. Today it is a road lined with impressive buildings overlooking the River Thames, including the Tate Britain gallery, the Chelsea College of Art and design and government offices. It is all rather pleasant and up-market but it wasn’t always so.

The street takes its name from a watermill which was situated near what is known as College Green and owned by Westminster Abbey – it is referred to in John Norden’s map of London, dating from 1593. However, it seems to have been the only redeeming feature in an area that was described as a place of plague pits and a “low, marshy locality” suitable only for having a pop at the snipe which frequented the “bogs and quagmires.

By the mid 17th century the area was known as Tothill Fields, or Tuttle Fields as Pepys called it, and following Cromwell’s crushing victory at the Battle of Worcester in September 1651, it was used as a holding area for 4,000 Royalist prisoners before their enforced migration to the West Indies to serve on the sugar plantations. The area was so insanitary that around 1,200 prisoners died before they could be shipped off. During the Great Plague of 1665-66 it served as a communal burial ground for the victims. Pepys noted in his Diaries, “I was much troubled this day to hear at Westminster how the officers do bury the dead in open Tuttle Fields, pretending want of room elsewhere.

The mill was demolished by Sir Robert Grosvenor around 1736 to make way for a grand house, which was itself demolished in 1809 to make way for the world’s first modern prison, reconnecting the area with incarceration. The design was unusual, with its walls forming an irregular octagon, enclosing seven acres of land. There was a stagnant moat running around the walls, the vestiges of which can be seen in the ditch running between Cureton Street and John Islip Street. Within the walls there were six buildings running off like spokes from the central hub which was the Governor’s house. The idea was that the design made it easier for the warders to keep an eye on what was going on but the labyrinthine corridors meant that they often got lost! And the marshy conditions caused considerable engineering difficulties which racked up the costs.

The prison opened for business on 26th June 1816, its first batch of prisoners being women, later joined by the first group of men in January 1817. Its primary purpose was to serve as a staging post for those prisoners who were to be transported to Australia – one origin of Pom is that it is an acronym of Prisoner of Millbank. Along the riverside you can still see some of the capstans to which the prison vessels were moored. Transportation officially ended in 1868 but by then Millbank had been superseded by the latest in prison design that was Pentonville, opened in 1842.

Dickens, in David Copperfield, described the exterior of the prison as “a melancholy waste … A sluggish ditch deposited its mud at the prison walls” while Henry James, in his novel, the Princess Casamassima, published in 1886, went one better by describing the interior as having “high black walls whose inner face was more dreadful than the other’, ‘grey, stony courts’, ‘steep unlighted staircases’ and ‘circular shafts of cells.” The inmates, he wrote, were “dreadful figures, scarcely female.

The prison closed in 1890, demolished two years later. Tate Britain was built on the site in 1897, across the road from the Royal Army Medical School where the first typhoid inoculation was developed, reinforcing the area’s link with disease, and some of the bricks from the prison were used between 1897 and 1902 to build social housing for over 4,000 residents on the Millbank estate. The angularity of the modern streets in the area are a testament to the old prison and the rather splendid Morpeth Arms is worth a visit, built originally for the prison warders and underneath which run a warren of tunnels used to ferry prisoners from the river to the prison and back. It is even said to be haunted.

A fascinating area.

What Is The Origin Of (174)?…


Don’t worry, I haven’t signed the pledge but I was musing over teetotal, the description for complete abstinence from alcohol the other day, and realised I hadn’t a clue where it came from. So, with a glass of vino by my side, I decided to find out.

The standard textbook answer, and a tombstone testifies to the story, is that it was the brainchild of one Richard Turner, an illiterate fish hawker. In 1832, half-cut he attended a local temperance meeting in the Lancashire town of Preston, as you do. He was so impressed with what he heard, he signed up and, indeed, was one of the founding Seven Men of Preston who advocated total abstinence, not just foregoing spirits. In a tub-thumping speech he delivered to a meeting in September 1833, Turner is reported to have said, “nothing but the tee-total would do.”  Whether he had a stutter, as some of his opponents claimed, or whether in his fervour he added a t at the beginning of the word as an intensifier is unclear but the word caught on in temperance circles. The Preston Temperance Advertiser attributed the neologism to Turner and when he died in 1846, his tombstone recorded his gift to the English language.

Charming as this story is, I can’t help there is a touch of H L Mencken and the bathtub about it. My problem is that there was an adverb, tee-totally, in popular usage before Turner got on his steady hind legs. The first example to support this argument is to be found in the Chester Chronicle of 7th September 1810. There we find the correspondent reporting; “Mr Plane said, he differed tee-totally from the attorney in his last assertion.” The Irish newspaper, the Waterford Chronicle, reported on 23rd February 1828; “They should put one into Parliament that would put down the Corporation tee totally..”  The Dublin Evening Post of 27th November 1832 reports verbatim a speech in which the orator said, “therefore it is that I pronounce it to be tee totally impossible to procure an honest man in the Corporation.

That it was used in colloquial Irish speech is evidenced in this verbatim description of a dust-up, reported by the Limerick Evening Post of 30th November 1832; “in which I received this black eye, and had the skirts reefed tee totally off the cover-me-decently..”  And we come across the word as an adjective rather than an adverb in the 17th September 1832 edition of Saunder’s News-Letter, a Dublin periodical; “I know every bird that comes to the coast, and this is a tee-total stranger.” Just four years later, tee-totally made an appearance in the Nova Scotian writer, Thomas Chandler Haliburton’s The Clockmaker, where he wrote; “I hope I may be tee-totally ruinated, if I’d take eight hundred dollars from him.

So what are we to make of all this? Many of the examples cited predate Turner’s supposed usage and suggest that teetotal and teetotally were part of colloquial speech, particularly amongst the Irish, around that time. Teetotally means completely and utterly and was used in a range of contexts without any specific or even vague reference to alcohol. Turner may have been the first to use the word in the context of the temperance movement and the added emphasis given to the word by the intensifier tee would have perhaps suited his rhetorical style but it is clear that he didn’t invent it. Perhaps more relevant is the fact that it was used in the proceedings of the Irish Trades’ Political Union in late 1832 of which northern working men, whether literate or not, would have been aware.

Sorry to pour a bucket of cold stout over a charming story.

Some People Are So Poor All They Have Is Money – Part Two

A temple in the clouds

It is easy to get templed out on an extensive tour around the south of India.

As a confirmed agnostic I find Hinduism no more appealing than any other religion on offer, although its chaotic brand of polytheism – there is a god to suit every situation – and the lack of a formal timetable for religious observance does make it seem more of a way of life than a strict religion. On the other hand, it is socially conservative and too much power invested in the hands of priests can never be a good thing. And the prospect of doing without beef is too much to contemplate.

But from an architectural standpoint, I did find that I got a very good sense of the development of what is known as the Dravidian style of architecture, the temples being dramatically different in design and appearance from others to be found in other parts of the sub-continent. Indeed, the southern Indians claim to have a different ancestry – more directly from Africa – from their fairer skinned Indo-Aryan brothers up north, whom one dismissively referred to as Afghan invaders.

The starting point chronologically, if not on our itinerary, was the breath-taking Mahabalipuram on the Coromandel coast, about 60 km south of Chennai. Here are to be found the Pallava cave temples which are reputed to be amongst the oldest surviving specimens of Dravidian architecture. Essentially, they consist of mandapas or verandahs with rows of pillars bearing lions at their foot, the symbol of the Pallavan dynasty. The walls have carved depictions of scenes from Hindu mythology, the standout items for me was the Krishna Mandapa with the eponymous god holding up a hill to protect his people from the torrential rains and the astonishing Descent of the Ganges. There is evidence that some of the carvings were decorated.

Further along are the five structures that make up the Pancha Rathas, each meticulously carved out of a single enormous slab of granite, built around the second half of the 7th century CE. Each structure takes the form of a chariot – ratha – and it is mindboggling to think of the time and effort that went on to create these structures from an enormous rock. Slightly unfortunately, the untimely death of Narasimhavarman the First meant that these structures were never consecrated. Be that as it may there is nothing quite like them anywhere else in India.

Standing precariously by the shoreline is the slightly later Shore Temple, built in the early 8th century CE from blocks of granite, hauled from a nearby quarry. A pyramid structure that stands some 60 feet high it faces east and the sun’s early morning rays shine directly on to the Shiva Linga, the shrine to the main deity.

The biggest temple we visited was the Meenakshi temple that occupied the centre of old Madurai. It had five gateways and enormous Vimana or pyramidic structures, decorated with thousands of stucco carvings, each gaudily painted. The interior was almost like a cathedral and reminded me of the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, with its separate shrines. It came with its own temple elephant who in return for a note which it took up in its trunk would pat you on your head.

The Kapaleeshwar Temple in Chennai was another favourite, built, supposedly, on the site of an original Pallavan temple dating from the seventh century CE, but the present manifestation was started in the 16th century. It had two enormous gopura, gatehouses, the larger of which stands 40 metres high and was built as recently as 1906.

And here I saw a guy wearing a tee-shirt which provided the strap line to this series. You only get profundity like this in India!