Sporting Event Of The Week (21)

Shrove Tuesday is a day favoured by tossers but in the Derbyshire town of Ashbourne, they have a different way of celebrating the day before Lent. The Royal Shrovetide Football Match, the royal tag was earned when the future Edward VIII started the game in 1928, involves two teams, the Up’ards and the Down’ards, names based on which side of the Henmore Brook they hail from.

Although proceedings kick off on Shrove Tuesday when the ball is “turned up” from a plinth at Shaw Croft. Play often continues until Ash Wednesday, as it did this year. The object of the exercise is for the Up’ards to try and work their way towards Sturston Mill while the Down’ards’ goal is at Clifton Mill, three miles away.

Because of the numbers of players involved, there is little in the way of finesse or any opportunity to display dazzling footwork. It resembles a mass brawl and the ball makes little progress for hours on end. If a goal is scored before 5.30pm, another ball is released and play restarts in the town centre. A goal scored afterwards and before the 10.00pm curfew, ends play for the day.

Unsurprisingly, play finished goalless on the Tuesday but on Ash Wednesday a breakthrough was made, just before the 10pm scheduled finish, when Richard Smith raced through and tapped the ball three times on the stone plinths at Clifton Mill to secure a famous victory for the Down’ards.

The origins of the game have been lost in the mists of time, the records of the Royal Shrovetide Committee were destroyed in a fire in the 1890s, but the first match is thought to have taken place in around 1667. Legend has it that the original ball was the head of an unfortunate who had just been executed.

Sounds fun!


What Is The Origin Of (222)?…

Penny wise and pound foolish

How do you manage your personal affairs? Are you someone who can be described as penny wise and pound foolish? This phrase is used to describe someone who is extremely careful with smaller, inconsequential sums but prone to make extravagant purchases. The benefits gained from being thrifty are largely blown away.

The first recorded instance of this phrase dates to the 17th century and Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy, published in 1621 and then subsequently expanded posthumously in 1651. Burton suffered from chronic depression and wrote his book, which is a treasury of quotations from Latin, Greek, French and Spanish authors, as a form of therapy for his condition. He imagined himself as a modern-day Democritus, who laughed at the follies of mankind. His thesis was that Democritus would find more than enough in contemporary life to keep a permanent smile on his face.

One trait Burton described thus; “rob Peter, and pay Paul; scrape unjust sums with one hand, purchase great manors by corruption, fraud, and cozenage, and liberally to distribute to the poor with the other, give a remnant to pious uses, etc.; penny wise, pound foolish”.

The phrase was used by Joseph Addison in the Spectator in 1712 as a metaphor for the perils of marriage; “I think a woman who will give up herself to a man in marriage, where there is the least room for such an apprehension, and trust her person to one whom she will not rely on for the common necessities of life, may very properly be accused (in the phrase of a homely proverb) of being “penny wise and pound foolish.”  By Addison’s time it had attained the status of a proverb and may well have done by the time that Burton had put pen to paper. After all, it is a pertinent description of a common form of economic management.

There are, of course, two sides to every coin and others are quick to exhort us to take care of the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves. By this we are encouraged to concentrate on saving small amounts of money because in aggregate they will amount to a tidy sum. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the earliest examples of the use of this homily are to be found in the letters of exasperated parents to their offspring, encouraging them to tone down their spending habits. What is interesting is that they attribute the phrase to different sources.

First up is Lord Chesterfield who sent his son, Philip Dormer Stanhope, copious letters full of sage advice on how to conduct his life. In a letter dated 6th November 1747, he wrote, “I knew, once, a very covetous, sordid fellow, who used frequently to say, take care of the pence; for the pounds will take care of themselves.” In a letter dated 5th February 1750, he was back on the same theme; “Old Mr Lowndes, the famous Secretary of the Treasury, in the reigns of King William, Queen Anne and King George the First, used to say, take care of the pence, and the pounds will take care of themselves.” It is tempting, and probably correct, to think of Mr Lowndes and the covetous, sordid fellow as being one and the same.

However, Edward Synge, when writing to his daughter, Alicia, on 12th October 1750, attributed the saying to a different source. “A saying of Old Judge Daly’s is in every one’s Mouth. Take care of the pence, the pounds will take care of themselves.

Who the originator was is anybody’s guess. It is likely to have been a popular idiom appropriated by Lowndes and Judge Day rather than being their one invention. For those in charge of corporate budgets, the phrase was reformulated by Andrew Carnegie to “watch the costs and the profits will take care of themselves.

Of course, this sage advice is provided to you gratis!

You’re Having A Laugh – Part Twenty Two

Denis Vrain-Lucas (1818 – 1882)

If you are trained and working as a law clerk and frustrated in your ambitions to be a librarian for want of a degree and a knowledge of Latin, you need a bit of excitement in your life, or at least Frenchman, Denis Vrain-Lucas, thought so. And he came up with quite a wheeze which was astonishing in how successful and long-running it was. But, then, as is often the way with hoaxes, if you find a mug who wants to believe that something is what it purports to be, then they will.

After a period of experimenting with inks and papers, Vrain-Lucas began forging letters and documents from French authors. He became proficient and soon found that they gained ready acceptance as being the real deal. Then came the fateful meeting with one of the leading French astronomers and geometricians at the time, Michel Chasles. Sources are inconclusive as to when this meeting took place, some dating to as early as 1854 while others place it in either 1861 or 1862. What is clear is that Chasles had a passion for collecting old manuscripts, manna from heaven for Vrain-Lucas.

To hook Chasles in, the forger sold him some letters purporting to be from the likes of Rabelais, Racine and Moliere. Of course, the obvious question was: how had a humble clerk like Vrain-Denis come into possession of such rare documents?

Vrain-Lucas claimed he was acting as a middle man for a descendent of the earl of Boisjourden who had amassed a vast collection of valuable documents. During the French revolution, the Earl had tried to secrete his collection out of France and take them to the safety of America but the ship sank and the trunk was salvaged and returned to France. Because the rest of the family did not know that the documents were being offered for sale, it was necessary for Chasles to keep shtum. The greedy Chasles willingly agreed.

His mark well and truly hooked, Vrain-Lucas set about forging documents on an industrial scale, up to 30 a day. He cut out pages from old books, used some of the old inks he had developed and to add verisimilitude to the story of the shipwreck stained the papers with sea water and smoked them over the flame of a candle. For the contents of the letters he copied information relevant to the interests of the supposed correspondent from an encyclopaedia, topping and tailing them to give the impression that they were truly letters.

Initially, Vrain-Lucas was rather circumspect as to whose letters he was putting in the hands of the ever eager Chasles, restricting himself to correspondence from Frenchmen who had recently died. But then he got more ambitious, producing documents from the likes of Shakespeare, Newton, Archimedes, Alexander the Great, Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Pontius Pilate and many more.

For Chasles, Vrain-Lucas was the gift that kept on giving.

He never paused to wonder why all these documents were in French when the supposed correspondents’ native language was English, Latin, Greek or Hebrew. He also never wondered why the letters were always unfailingly flattering about France nor how people who lived in different eras could have possibly written to each other. Chasles was just delighted to augment his burgeoning collection of supposedly priceless epistles.

As well as being incredibly credulous, Chasles was vain and patriotic. What led to the unravelling of this astonishing was fraud was a collection of letters from Blaise Pascal in which he appeared to have formulated the law of gravity ahead of Isaac Newton. For Chasles this was too exciting a piece of information to keep locked away in a dusty drawer. In 1867 he approached the French Academy of Science with this astonishing revelation.

They reviewed the letters and immediately noted that the handwriting was somewhat different from that in letters definitely written by Pascal. Chasles maintained their authenticity but eventually revealed that he had bought them from Vrain-Lucas. This put the spotlight on the forger who, in an attempt to play down many of the obvious discrepancies in the letters, produced many more.

But it was to no avail. Vrain-Lucas was arrested for fraud in 1869 and sentenced to two years in chokey. It is estimated that Chasles paid him around 150,000 francs for the worthless documents. It is even claimed that when he was arrested, Vrain-Lucas had in his possession what would have been the crowning glory of Chasles’ collection, the text of the Sermon of the Mount, written by Jesus himself.

En francais, bien sur!

If you enjoyed this, why not try Fifty Scams and Hoaxes by Martin Fone

Book Corner – March 2019 (2)

The Great Fortune – Olivia Manning

This is the first of what became Manning’s Balkan Trilogy and was published in 1960. I have not read Manning before and so was unsure what to expect, save that greater critics than I rate the series.

In truth, I found it an undemanding read, ideal for perusing whilst lying on a sun lounger, and when I came to think about it after finishing it, it seemed to me to be much ado about nothing. There is little in the way of action or, indeed plot, which is a tad surprising, given the book’s premise.

We are in Bucharest in 1939 at the time when Britain declares war on Germany. Rumania is ostensibly neutral but even during this first part of the trilogy the vultures are circling the carcass. The principal characters are two Brits, Guy and Harriet Pringle. Guy has lived in Bucharest for a while and has a teaching post at the University. He returns bringing his new bride, Harriet, whom he has married after a whirlwind romance.

There is little in the way of back story so we really don’t know much about the nature of their romance or why Harriet was persuaded to live in a country far away from Blighty with a man she barely knew. What we should know, though, is that the book is semi-autobiographical, Manning arriving in Bucharest as a newly-wed just as war was declared.

The Pringle’s world is principally that of British ex-pats, fellow academics, bureaucrats and members of the press. Their interaction with Rumanians is marginal and Manning’s portrayal of the locals is not flattering. They are loafers, beggars or domestic menials. The ex-pats’ diurnal routine is work, drinks in the English Bar at one of the city’s hotels, gossiping and conducting their own petty feuds. There are some interlopers, none more so than the inveterate sponge Prince Yakimov, who provides a comedic element to the tale.

What does come through in this book is Manning’s astute sense of time and place. It is an atmospheric novel. It would be easy for her to ramp up the tension and drama of a group of beleaguered Brits in a foreign and potentially inimical country but her approach is one that emphasises the mundanity of their life. The war is a mild irritant that barely gets in the way of the lead characters’ lives but you sense through her narrative that it is the reality of their situation is creeping ever nearer.

It is a cliché that the Brits holed up in a corner show a certain stiffness about the upper lip. Guy with an astonishing insouciance for the situation decides to produce a play, Troilus and Cressida, as that is what would be expected of the Brits in such circs. The second half of the book is dominated by the play, Harriet finding herself excluded from proceedings and left to her own devices and to ponder the state of her relationship with Guy. The timing of the play which deals with the fall of Troy coincides with the German invasion of France, the capture of Paris and Britain’s bleakest moments.

There is a temptation to compare the book with Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time but this should be resisted. The same characters crop in different circumstances but Manning’s book lacks the satirical bite of Powell.

It was an entertaining enough read and I found enough in it to entice me to read the second part, The Spoilt City, more of which anon.

The Streets Of London – Part Eighty Five

Whitefriars Street, EC4

A good starting point for investigating some of London’s history is the street name itself. Take Whitefriars Street which is to be found at the eastern end of Fleet Street and runs southwards towards the Thames, intersecting Tudor Street, before it becomes Carmelite Street. If you think there is a monastic feel about the nomenclature of the thoroughfares in this area, you would not be wrong.

The river Fleet ran above ground until it was forced to take a subterranean route in 1766. On either side of its banks, close to the Thames, sat two large monasteries, nestling cheek by cowl, you might say. On the eastern bank of the Fleet was the monastery of the Dominican order, the Blackfriars, whilst on the western side the Carmelites had their gaff. Because they wore distinctive white mantels over their brown habits on formal occasions, they were known as the White Friars.

The White Friars built a small chapel on the site in around 1253 and then a century later constructed a larger establishment. Eventually this was expanded to occupy land which was bounded by Fleet Street and the Thames to the north and south with what are today Whitefriars Street and Temple Lane marking its eastern and western perimeters respectively. It was described as having “broad gardens, where the white friars might stroll, and with shady nooks where they might con their missals.” As well they might.

In 1538 the Friary was dissolved by Henry VIII and a large part of the land was parcelled off to the Royal Physician who had treated Ann Boleyn for sweating sickness, Sir William Butts. When he died in 1547, the area quickly fell into disrepair, the steeple of the church was toppled and it became known for cheap accommodation and its motley collection of ne’er do wells, attracted to the place by its legal designation as a Liberty and so outside the control of the City of London. It even gained a nickname, Alsatia, defined at the time as “everlastingly the seat of war and the refuge of the disaffected.

In 1608, the old hall in the Friary was converted into a theatre, the Whitefriars Theatre, lasting for five years before it closed. The Salisbury Court Theatre opened its doors in 1629 before taking an enforced rest from 1649 until the restoration of Charles II. Samuel Pepys was a theatre-goer, commenting in diary on 1st March 1661, “To White-fryars and saw the Bondsman acted; an excellent play.” One of the first public concerts was staged at his house in Whitefriars by violinist John Banister in 1672. Admission was a pricey one shilling.

From some time in the 17th century the area was the home of a company called Whitefriars Glass which came into its own in the 19th century because of the demand for stained glass fuelled by the Gothic revival. Later known as James Powell and Sons it later diversified into domestic and decorative glassware and specialist industrial glassware.

There was also a gas works in the area in the 19th century and inevitably its proximity to Fleet Street meant that the newspaper industry made its mark on the street, from the 1890s Associated Newspapers and the London Evening News having offices and printing works on Whitefriars and Carmelite Streets.

If you are looking for any vestige of the original Friary, you will have to search hard. In 1896 the owner of 4, Britton Court, just off Whitefriars, was having his property valued and, in the process, a Gothic vaulted ceiling was discovered, part of the Prior’s house. The News of the World bought the premises in the 1920s and the owners had the crypt restored and allowed people to see it by prior permission. In the 1980s when the building was to be redeveloped, it was decided that what remained of the Friary was in an inconvenient place and so it was surrounded in steel and moved to a place which would have been the friars’ latrine, much more convenient! With a bit of detective work you can still see it.

And finally, on the intersection of Whitefriars and Fleet Street on the right-hand side as you look towards the Thames, you will see a blue plaque informing you that this was the site of the London offices of the Anti-Corn Law League between 1844 and 1846, one of the first manifestations of a political pressure group with a popular base. The Corn Laws were finally abolished in 1846, job done.

A fascinating area.

Sporting Event Of The Week (20)

In the days leading up to Shrove Tuesday, the little Italian town of Ivrea, near Turin, is the place to be if an event performed with zest appeals to you.

Yes, it’s the annual Battle of the Oranges. The townsfolk pelt a team wearing protective clothing with oranges. It’s a tradition that has been going on since the 12th century and is supposed to represent the uprising of the locals after a miller’s daughter called Violetta cut off the head of an evil lord who had attempted to rape her on the eve of her wedding. She cut off his head and presented it to the townsfolk who showed their gratitude by storming the castle and razing it to the ground. The oranges represent the lord’s head.

Over a million oranges are used during the event, all imported from Sicily and all would have been discarded.

Sounds fun.

Bra Of The Week

Every now and again I like to dip into the Canadian Journal of Anaesthesia. Despite its jaw-droppingly dull title this monthly organ is always good for an unusual tale or two, especially when they rake over old cases.

Take this one from the March 2019 edition. In 2017 a woman from British Columbia was shot at close range with a shotgun. Once she got to hospital, she was examined and although her chest and abdomen were peppered with gunshot, none of the wounds were considered to be life-threatening.

To the medics surprise, though, her condition deteriorated rapidly and she soon found herself on the operating table. Once the surgeon had cut into her body, a metal wire, sharply curved and the length of half her chest, suddenly sprang out from her chest cavity. The medical team was at a loss as to what it was and, a sign of the times, for sure, thinking that it might be a detonator, called the police.

A policeman duly turned up and though he thought the wire didn’t look like any detonator he had ever seen, he thought to be on the safe side, the operating theatre should be evacuated.

It was at this point that a nurse entered the theatre, took one look at the wire and exclaimed, “Hey, that’s an underwire.” On further examination, the medics confirmed that the underwire from the woman’s bra was missing.

The force of the bullet, it would appear, propelled the underwire into her body, slicing part of the left lobe of her liver off, lacerating her diaphragm and nicking her aorta, requiring her to have a partial liver resection and a near total gastrectomy to stem the bleeding. After two weeks in intensive care, the woman made a complete recovery.

I bet she has changed her bra style, though.