Burglar Of The Week

It is not a very nice feeling, discovering that your house has been broken into. Still if you do suffer this misfortune, just pray that the intruder is the same as the one who entered Nate Roman’s home in Marlborough, Massachusetts.

Arriving home from work, Nate immediately realised something was amiss. But instead of the usual scene of turmoil, ransacked drawers, overturned furniture, smashed objects and the like that normally greets a victim of a burglary, he was confronted with the sight of beds that had been made, carpets which had been swept, toilets that had been cleaned and the pièce de résistance, origami roses on the end of the toilet roll.

Somewhat baffled, Nate called the old bill who were equally perplexed, no other similar incidents having been reported in the area. The only thought they had was that the door may have been unlocked and a cleaning company had come into the wrong house and given it a spruce up. The alternative doesn’t bear thinking about, the robbers thought the house was such a mess that they gave it a spring clean rather relieving the owners of their possessions. How would that make you feel?

My theory is that it was a dove on its way back from Germany.


Bird Of The Week (2)

It may be the anarchic side of me coming out but I love it when the long arm of the law is frustrated by a freak of nature.

A motorist was caught on a speed camera in Viersen in Germany doing 54 km/ph in a 30 km/ph limit. Germany, it seems, is still able to afford to run its cameras unlike austerity Britain. Anyway, the driver should have earned themselves a €105 fine for their indiscretion but for one thing.

At the very moment the photo was taken a dove flew across the windscreen with wings outstretched, obscuring the face of the driver from the beady eye of the lens.

There but for the grace of God, you might say.

What Is The Origin Of (234)?…

A wild goose chase

I have been on many a metaphorical wild goose chase in my life but have never attempted to catch a goose, tame or otherwise, for real. I assume, like any sensible creature, it is reluctant to give up its liberty but why do we use this phrase to describe a futile exercise?

The starting point for our investigation is William Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet, written between 1592 and 1594 and first published in an unauthorised quarto in 1597, and in particular Act 2 scene 4. As a schoolboy I read the play in an unbowdlerised edition and well remember the scene for containing one of the Bard’s bawdiest jokes.

More germane to our enquiries, though, is the battle of wits between Mercutio and Romeo. Coming off second-best, Mercutio threatens to call upon Benvolio for assistance. Romeo responds by saying that he will declare himself the winner, “switch and spurs, switch and spurs; or I’ll cry a match.” The beaten Mercutio responds, “nay, if thy wits run the wild-goose chase, I have done, for thou hast more of the wild-goose in one of thy wits than, I am sure, I have in my whole five.

Whilst generally accepted as being the first usage of the phrase, does it really refer to chasing a wild goose? That it may refer to something else can be seen from the context in which the Bard uses it. Romeo opens the exchange with an equestrian term, switch and spur, which meant at full speed, the switch being a type of whip and, along with spurs attached to the rider’s boots, was used to goad the horse into moving more quickly. As Mercutio was in a battle of wits, it would be reasonable to assume that he would respond with a reference to the world of horses.

That this is the case is confirmed by a passage from Nicholas Breton’s poem of 1602, The Mother’s Blessing; “esteeme a horse, according to his pace/ but loose no wagers on a wilde goose chase.” Indeed, it was a type of horse race, described in some detail by Nicholas Cox in The Hunter: A Discourse of Horsemanship, published in 1685. Two or more horses set off side by side for the first “twelvescore yards”, at which point, they were then free to jockey for the lead. The horses behind were obliged to follow as closely the route taken by the leader and to stay within “a certain distance agreed by Articles” of the leader. When the leading horse had outpaced the others by more than the distance stipulated in Articles, it was declared the winner. As a result, the race’s length and duration was uncertain.

Helpfully, Cox gave a derivation of the race’s name; “the wildgoose chase received its Name from the manner of the flight which is made by Wildgeese, which is generally one after another.

In his Sporting Dictionary of 1803, William Taplin was astute enough to recognise that the term, wild-goose chase, had equestrian origins, he was a sportsman, after all, but, interestingly, he didn’t attribute its name to the flight of wild geese as Cox had. Instead, he saw it as a reference to the uncertainty, both of duration and distance of the event; “wild-goose chase – is neither more or less than a metaphorical allusion to the uncertainty of its termination. This originated in a kind of chase (more properly a match)…

But others were not as perceptive as Taplin. During the seventeenth century, the phrase was being used figuratively to describe erratic behaviour, particularly where one follows their own impulses. In the tragicomedy, The Spanish Gipsie, first performed in 1623 and written by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley, Diego tells Lewys, “I have had a fine fegary,/ the rarest, wild-goose chase,” fegary being a version of vagary. By the time that the great but eccentric lexicographer, Samuel Johnson, came to compile his Dictionary of the English Language in the mid-eighteenth century, it had lost its associations with horse racing and we were stuck geese; “a pursuit of something as unlikely to be caught as a wildgoose,” and have been ever since.

Going back to Shakespeare’s use of wild goose in Romeo and Juliet, it is possible to detect both senses in play, not surprisingly as Mercutio is trying to demonstrate the sharpness of his wits. The first almost certainly refers to the horse race but the second may relate to the characteristics of the wild goose. Whatever the case, the racing connotation was lost to the mists of time and we are left with the image of someone vainly trying to grasp a goose.

A Measure Of Things – Part Twelve

A hangover is nature’s way of telling you that you have overdone the electric sauce. Seasoned topers will have their own tried and tested antidote to a hangover, some more effective than others, but the sobering fact is that that feeling of being under par will remain with you for some hours once your blood alcohol concentration gets down to zero or as close to zero as its ever going to get. The American humourist, Robert Benchley, probably got it spot on when he opined that “the only cure for a real hangover is death.

When drinkers reconvene after a heavy session, the subject of the intensity of their respective hangovers will tend to crop up, once a refreshing drink or three has sufficiently lubricated the brain to allow the faculty of cogent speech to return. The problem is, though, that descriptions tend to be subjective and for anyone who is looking for objective metrics, they are too vague to be of any use. Would that there was a scale by which the intensity of hangovers could be measured and compared.

One of my favourite comic writers, P G Wodehouse, plied his mind to the subject in The Mating Season, published in 1949. He wrote “I am told by those who know that there are six varieties of hangover—the Broken Compass, the Sewing Machine, the Comet, the Atomic, the Cement Mixer and the Gremlin Boogie, and his manner suggested that he had got them all.”  We can understand where he is coming from but for the seeker of exactitude, they are too woolly to be of much use.

Where there is a gap in human knowledge, it is good to know that there are some wonderful men and women in white coats, scientists, working away to plug it. I rarely glance at the pages of Psychopharmacology, my loss I’m sure, but my attention was directed to a paper, published in September 2012, in which six academics, four from Utrecht University and the other two from the Universities of Ulster and Groningen, in which they proposed an Alcohol Hangover Severity Scale, or AHSS as we like to call it.

I don’t know about you but I often find academic papers to be a mélange of the blindingly obvious and the incomprehensible and this one is no different. The introduction opens with a sentence, complete with references (natch), of the most mind-numbing banality; “alcohol hangover is the most commonly reported consequence of heavy drinking.” But after what can only be described as an early stumble, the paper became quite interesting.

A group of 214 social drinkers, drawn from university workers and students from Utrecht University, were asked to complete an online survey the morning after a night of heavy drinking, I can’t imagine they had a shortage of volunteers, and a night of abstinence. There was no restriction on how much they consumed or where or what they did whilst drinking, for example dancing or smoking, but they were disqualified if they had taken recreational drugs. It was the Netherlands, after all.

The volunteers marked the severity of their hangover against a number of criteria using a ten-point scale and then marked those symptoms on the morning after night without a sip of the electric sauce. The mean results of the group were that they had 2.5 hangovers a month and that their latest hangover saw them consume 10.6 alcoholic beverages and had 6.4 hours of shut-eye. The results were then put through a series of analyses.

The upshot was that there were twelve factors that significantly predicted the severity of a hangover. For the record, they are, all painfully familiar, fatigue, clumsiness, dizziness, apathy, sweating, shivering, confusion, stomach pain, nausea, concentration problems, heart pounding and thirst. Interestingly, they found that a headache, the usual sign that you have a hangover, was not a factor in establishing the intensity of a hangover.

Their conclusion was that you could construct a scale, the AHSS, using these twelve criteria and a ten-point scoring system. Simply add up the scores you have allocated to each criterion and divide by twelve to give you your metric. Armed with this you can compare and contrast the intensity of your hangover with fellow topers.

I will give it a try, all in the name of science, you understand.

Book Corner – June 2019 (1)

Clayhanger – Arnold Bennett

Ah, Arnold Bennett. He’s an author who has long been out of fashion, principally because he has been considered by other literati such as Virginia Woolf as old-fashioned, someone who looks back rather than forward. Perhaps the real reason is that his books do not concentrate on the idle rich and the aristocracy but concern themselves with the grim reality of working class life in the late nineteenth century. And no one wants to read about that, do they?

Well, these days we do and Bennett has begun to be rehabilitated and recognised as the author he was. What I have read of his stuff I have read, I have enjoyed and I was sufficiently emboldened to try Clayhanger, published in 1910, and considered to be the first of his Clayhanger trilogy. Trilogies again. I seem to be bedevilled by them. And rather enjoyable it was too, showcasing Bennett’s powerful story-telling and descriptive qualities.

Although the story focuses on Edwin Clayhanger, I found the most powerful bits of the book concerned his father, Darius. First of all, the brutal upbringing that Darius had in a child, in the poor house and working in primitive conditions for a pittance. Ashamed of his upbringing and unwilling or unable to reveal his origins to his family, nonetheless his childhood experiences frame Darius’ single-minded focus to succeed in his chosen business, printing with a fancy steam press, to ensure that as a family they stay above the bread line and why he imposes his iron will on those around him. Darius’ tragedy, and Edwin’s for that matter, is that his reluctance to open up about his childhood alienates him from those he loves and Edwin never really understands him.

The other powerful section of the book is Darius’ physical and mental decline. He is forced to rely upon his family, who because they never really understood him, do their duty by him but little more. It is hard not to feel sorry for the Clayhanger patriarch.

Like all young men at the time, Edwin has ideas above his station and wants, for reasons little more than he likes drawing, to become an architect. Foolishly, perhaps, he tells his father whose ambitions for him are to learn and take over the family business. Edwin’s ambitions are thwarted and he is enslaved to the printing business with little money of his own and always in the shadows of his father.

He also falls in love, falling for the charms of a mysterious woman, Hilda Lessways, an occasional visitor to the Clayhangers’ neighbours, the Orgreaves. She is rather underdeveloped as a character in this book, perhaps we will learn more in the second book of the trilogy, Hilda Lessways, but on a rare jaunt out of the Potteries to Brighton, Edwin discovers that Hilda is already married. The sense of Edwin’s entrapment, both socially, at work and in love, is a key theme of this book.

There are lighter moments. I enjoyed the description of Darius’ overarching ambition leading him to buying a new printing press which sorely tested the strength and quality of the flooring in the print room. Edwin’s presence of mind saves the day, something that convinces his father that there is something there he can mould into his image. The lad may be good enough to take over from him in time.

This book, like all of Bennett’s I have read, is firmly set in the Potteries and in his fictional take of the Five Towns. As someone who has wandered around Burslem, there are features of his description of Bursley I recognise today.

It is a good read and a book that explores the diurnal existence, the hopes and pain, of those aspiring to better themselves. It is a book anchored in reality and I can understand why that got the other-worldly Bloomsbury set’s goat. And no bad thing for that!

Bender Of The Week (9)

This curious tale starts out like the opening to a rather cheesy joke – a duck walked into a McDonald’s restaurant in Chester. Unable to make its presence known or grab anything that passes for food, the duck waddled about for a while, feeling sorry for itself.

In walked Lee Gaudoin and Neil Edwards-Cecil who had had a few sherbets to celebrate the latter’s 40th birthday, anxious for a cheeseburger to soak up the alcohol. They spotted the duck, opened the door for it and allowed it to walk out to freedom.

But then an enormous row broke out between the two, culminating in the arrival of the police , the deployment of CS gas and an appearance at the local magistrate’s court before the beak, Magistrate Fiona Crane (you couldn’t make it up). The duo were arguing over the bird but quite why and what about is shrouded in mystery. Gaudoin told the magistrate “I don’t know how it escalated from there”.

The night out cost the pair £85 in court costs, although they received unconditional discharges. The moral of the story is when you have had a few, just think that the duck you see in the corner of the room is an apparition.  I do all the time.

The Streets Of London – Part Eighty Nine

Austin Friars, EC2

As you look northwards, the second tine of the fork that makes up the junction where Throgmorton Street and Old Broad Street meet is Austin Friars. It is a curiously shaped thoroughfare which works its way around the Dutch church northwards before joining London Wall via Austin Friars Passage.

There is no mystery in the origin of its name, taking it from the Augustinian monastery that stood nearby, albeit in abbreviated form. Given its position in the heart of London’s financial district what was a temple of God is now firmly in the hands of Mammon. The priory was built in 1253 by Humphrey de Bohun, England’s Constable, who had come into contact with the Augustinians on his way back from the Crusades. It incorporated the existing parish church of St Peter-le-Poer as a private chapel and then was further extended in 1354.

The Augustinian settlement never seemed terribly popular with the locals, perhaps because they seemed more reluctant to make outward displays of their vows of poverty than other orders and/or because they engaged in periodic bouts of land-grabbing. In 1321 the Augustinians were accused of building walls without permission in the parishes of Allhallows on the Wall and St Peter’s Broad Street. There were other land disputes in the first half of the fourteenth century. It may be that this animosity towards them prompted an attack on the priory during the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381. Thirteen Flemings were dragged by the mob from the priory’s sanctuary and beheaded.

The hospitality provided there may have not been up to much. The Dutch humanist, Erasmus, lodged there in 1513, complaining of the quality of the wine served there and departing without settling his bill. Conditions may have been more conducive for Miles Coverdale who worked on his translation of the Bible there in 1529. When a Lutheran preacher gave a sermon there in 1538, the writing was on the wall for the monastery and in November 1539 the prior, Thomas Hamond and his twelve friars, surrendered the establishment to the forces of the Reformation.

After its dissolution, most of the manor was bought by Richard Rich for £40 while Sir William Paulet bought part of the cloisters for £43. One of the notable residents in the area at the time was Thomas Cromwell and, until his downfall in 1540, it would have been one of, if not the principal, seats of political power in Tudor England. Once Cromwell had been detached from his head, the house was sold to the Worshipful Company of Drapers in 1543. The current Drapers’ Hall still stands on the site but is the third rebuild, the original building being destroyed in the Great Fire in 1666 and its replacement burning down in 1772.

The Dutch church occupies the site of the old friary church but is not the original building. Granted to the Dutch immigrant Protestant community in 1550 by Edward VI, even though “they do not conform with the rites and ceremonies used in our Kingdom,” it miraculously survived the Great Fire. However, it was destroyed by fire in 1862, was repaired and then severely damaged in a bombing raid in 1940. The current church was built between 1950 and 1956.

The church of St Peter-le-Poer also survived the Great Fire, albeit some ash landed on an open prayer book and obscured the text, falling into disrepair in the early eighteenth century. Rebuilt by Jesse Gibson between 1788 and 1792 but was demolished in 1908, when the parish merged with St Michael Cornhill. The font and pulpit, though, were rescued and taken to St Peter-le-Poer in Friern Barnet.

A fascinating area and one which shows that fire and regeneration are a constant feature of the streets of our great metropolis.