Tag Archives: Ian Dury

Record Of The Week (6)

“White face, black shirt/ White socks, black shoes/ Black hair, white strat/ Bled white, died black”, sang Ian Dury on Sweet Gene Vincent. Well, if you have black shoes, black trousers or skirt, a white shirt, waistcoat, and a black cape, make your way to Whitby Abbey on Thursday 26th May for 6.45pm.

To mark the 125th anniversary of the publication of Bram Stoker’s novel, English Heritage are launching a bid to break the Guinness World Record for the largest gathering of people dressed as vampires, currently standing at 1,039, set by an event organised by Ed Kuhlmann in Virginia in 2011.

Fangs on the upper teeth are compulsory, pallid skin helpful, and a menacing demeanour optional. Cloves of garlic and crosses are not welcome.

Sounds fun and it would be fitting if the record was broken at the place that inspired Bram Stoker.

What Is The Origin Of (164)?…


Here in Britain we use the word, as a noun, to signify, perhaps pejoratively, someone who is socially superior, one of our betters, perhaps a relic of the class system that bedevils our society. As ever, Ian Dury exemplifies its usage in Billericay Dickie, “Oh golly, oh gosh/ come and lie on the couch/ with a nice bit of posh/ from Burnham-on-Crouch.” But where does posh come from?

What is clear in my etymological researches is that there often contending theories to sift through before determining which is the likeliest. This is certainly the case with posh. Of all the suggested origins, some of which I will mention here, the most likely is that it comes from the streets of London via the Romanies. In Romani, their language, posh means a half and from around 1830 in the argot of thieves, posh meant a coin of small denomination, such as a halfpenny.  The thought that we might be on the right track is given additional credence by an entry in Slang and Its Analogues, volume five, edited by Farmer and Henley and published in 1902. There it defines posh as a term used by thieves for “money: generic, but specifically a half penny or other small coin.

Searches of the literature of the time unearth a mention in James Payn’s The Eavesdropper: An Unparalleled Experience of 1888; “They used such funny terms as brads and dibbs and mopusses and posh…at last it was borne in upon me that they were talking about money.” In 1892 Montagu Williams reported in his Down east and Up West a conversation with a street singer who revealed his modus operandi for parting listeners from their cash. “That sort of patter I was just speaking of is the thing to get the posh, they’ll tell you.” In a time when money sorted the haves from the have-nots, it is easy to imagine that the sense could be extended to those who were socially superior.

Then we have a contribution from one of my favourite books, The Diary of A Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith, also published in 1892, where one of the characters called Murray Posh is described as “quite a swell”. The success of The Diary may have kick-started the use of push in wider circles than the criminal and lower orders but it was not the word’s origin.

But the sense did quickly gravitate to one who was superior in their dress, another mark of someone’s superiority.  In 1914 in The British Army from Within, E Charles Vivian wrote, “the cavalryman, far more than the infantryman, makes a point of wearing posh clothing on every possible occasion – posh being a term used to designate superior clothing, or articles of attire other than those issued by and strictly conforming to the regulations.” This may well be the sense in which it is used in a typically unfunny tag line in an issue of Punch from September 1918 where an officer from the RAF says, “Oh, yes, Mater, we had a posh time of it down there.

An alternative theory is promoted by supporters of Walt Whitman who in his 1855 collection of poems, Leaves of Grass, who wrote, “cold dash of waves at the ferry-wharf,/ posh and ice in the river…half-frozen mud in the streets.”  But this is a completely different usage of the word and echoes the Yorkshire dialect word posh which means mud or slush. And where does it leave the oft-cited origin for posh, the acronym of Port Out, Starboard home, reflecting the preferred cabin arrangements for travelling to and from India by ship to avoid the worst of the sun? Well, P&O deny ever using it and the story dates only as far back as 1955.

As often is the way, the thieves have it.

Toilet Of The Week (10)

This week’s featured carsey is to be found in the tranquil surroundings of a municipal park in Uzuki in south-eastern Japan. It has a large loft space which has been home for Takashi Yamanouchi for the past three years. He was only flushed out of his gaff when an electrician called to make some repairs.

Takashi, rather like Ian Dury’s Old Man, was tidy in his digs, making himself at home with a gas stove and an electric heater. It is thought that he got in by climbing up on to one of the toilet stalls and squeezing through the maintenance hatch.

One curious feature of this story is that the authorities found around 500 plastic bottles filled with urine in Takashi’s living space. Didn’t he know where he was? Still, if you are caught short for accommodation in the area, you now know where to go.

Turning to the election, it is good to know that we have sorted out the status of beekeepers in the event that the Ukippers’ policy of banning the burqa in public is implemented. After all, if form is anything to go by, the Tories adopt their policies five years hence. Still, it gives an out for Moslem women. If the ban were ever enforced, they could wander around in a beekeeper’s hat and veil. Now that would be a sting in the tail!

There Are Jewels In The Crown Of England’s Glory – Part Eleven


Oi, oi, pin back your lugs for the next couplet of Ian Dury’s England’s Glory in our attempt to establish the quintessence of Englishness.

Somerset Maugham, Top of the Form with the Boy’s Brigade/ Mortimer Wheeler, Christine Keeler and the Board of Trade

Somerset Maugham (1874 – 1965) was reputed to have been the highest paid author in the 1930s and was, surprisingly to modern tastes, very popular in his time. Many of his works were adapted for the stage or the movies, enhancing his reputation and his wealth. His meisterwerk is generally considered to be his novel, Of Human Bondage, whose protagonist, Philip Carey, is based on Maugham himself, his embarrassment caused by his clubfoot echoing Maugham’s own struggles with a stutter and latent homosexuality.

Top of the Form was a popular radio quiz show which then transferred to TV running from 1948 to 1986. As its name suggests it was a quiz show featuring teams of schoolchildren, principally from grammar schools – a sort of junior University Challenge, really. As grammar schools fell out of favour, oiks from comprehensives started appearing on the quiz.  The show’s days were numbered when it became politically incorrect to suggest that some people were winners and many were losers and, indeed, to display publicly the ignorance of our younger generations. Still, it was part of my childhood.

The Boys Brigade was a bit like the Boy Scouts with religion thrown in. Founded in Glasgow in 1883 by Sir William Alexander Smith its aim was to combine drill activities with Christian values. Sounds fun! In my mind they were always dragooned in to provide a marching band for festivals and parades.

Mortimer Wheeler (1890 – 1976) was probably best known in the 1950s and 60s for raising the profile of archaeology through a succession of books and TV programmes. He was TV Personality of the Year in 1954, albeit for his appearances in the panel show, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral. Wheeler, though, was a marmite figure and many of his theories and interpretations have subsequently been discredited.  Nonetheless, Tony Robinson and the Time Team owe him a great debt and our fascination with and desire to preserve sites of archaeological interest are testament to his pioneering endeavours.

Christine Keeler (1942 – present) burst on to the national stage when her relationship with the then Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, became a cause celebre in 1963, causing the politician to resign and signalling the end of the MacMillan government. The iconic photograph of her unclothed astride a chair graced the wall of many a student’s room.

Finally, the Board of Trade was a government department responsible for the promotion of trade in Britain and the empire. Its remit extended in the mid 19th century to include responsibilities for patents and company and labour regulations. Established in 1621 by King James I to investigate the causes of the decline in trade it was merged with the Ministry of Technology in 1970 to become the Department for Trade and Industry.

A motley collection of characters and institutions that made up part of English life two or three decades back, to be sure.

There Are Jewels In The Crown Of England’s Glory – Part Six


Oi, oi, pin back your lugs for the next couplet of Ian Dury’s England’s Glory in our attempt to establish the quintessence of Englishness.

Winkles, Woodbines, Walnut Whips / Vera Lynn and Stafford Cripps”

In the days before ‘Elf and Safety regulations and EU legislation were rampant, a feature of a Friday or Saturday evening down the boozer was some geezer coming in dressed in a white coat carrying a basket full of shellfish, offering the punters the opportunity to mix a dose of salmonella with their hangover. A particular favourite was winkles – small and black, served with lashings of vinegar and a bit of pepper. They are a type of edible sea-snail and are normally picked off rocks by hand or caught in a drag net from a boat. Evidence from middens suggest that winkles were an important source of food for the Scots since as far back as 7,500 BCE. You can still find them on sale in specialist seaside shellfish emporia but, alas, as a drinkers’ alternative to the kebab they are no more.

Back in the days when nearly everyone smoked, Woodbines were a brand leader and were particularly popular with soldiers. They were known for their strength and the fact that they were unfiltered meant that regular consumers had the tell-tale nicotine stains on their fingers and a scab on their lips. To the novice smoker they were particularly difficult to smoke, the strong smoke often causing paroxysms of coughing. Not for nothing were they known in their heyday as gaspers. Inevitably, as health-consciousness emerged a filtered version was launched in 1948 but it was never the same and was discontinued in 1988.

As TOWT knows, the way to my heart is through a walnut whip. A whirl-shaped cone of milk chocolate with a whipped vanilla fondant filling and a half walnut on top, they were launched on the grateful world in 1910 by Duncan’s of Edinburgh. They are Nestle Rowntree’s oldest brand and around a million walnuts are used a week in their manufacture in Halifax. The manufacturers claim one is eaten every two seconds in the UK – I can believe it, they are delicious and, in days of yore, were a staple treat in the Christmas stocking.

Vera Lynn was known as the Forces’ Sweetheart and kept the home fires burning with her rendition of World War 2 favourites, We’ll Meet Again, The White Cliffs of Dover and There’ll Always Be An England. In 2009 she became the oldest living artist, at the grand old age of 92, to make it to no 1 in the British album chart and in 2000 was named the Briton who most exemplifies the spirit of the twentieth century.

Stafford Cripps was a Labour politician and chancellor of the exchequer between 1947 and 1950. Under his stewardship the economy started to recover from the pounding it took in wartime and it financed the National Health Service and welfare state that has made Britain the destination of choice for many.