The Ale-Conner

Manchester Star Ale

A spot of conning anyone?

Recent delvings into the history of Market Drayton’s court leet (posts passim) have taught me of the duties of the officers of that ancient manorial court; and the more researching I’ve done, the more has come to light.

The duties of one officer in particular caught my attention: the ale-conner.

Further news of that officer’s duties at Drayton’s Dirty Fair comes from a surprising source – the 30th December 1911 edition of The Corrector. This was a newspaper that used to be published in the 19th and early 20th century in Sag Harbor on Long Island in New York State.

At the bottom of page 3, in E.J. Edwards’ New News of Yesterday column, the following piece entitled Tasting The Drinks appears:

An old custom has just been observed at Market Drayton, where the annual fair, called “the Dirty Fair,” has been opened by the Court Leet. A proclamation, it is reported, was read by the “Ale-Canner,” who warned “all rogues. vagabonds, cut-purses, and idle men immediately to depart from this fair.”

“Ale-Canner” has a jovial smack about it, but we are afraid it is a misprint for “Ale-Conner,” an ancient and honorable officer, both of manors and corporations, His duty was to taste the new brew of every “brewer and brewster, cook. and pie-baker.” and if it were unfit to drink the whole was confiscated and given to the poor.

It should be added that in the middle ages “unfit to drink” usually meant weak and watery. The chemist was not abroad in those benighted days, so there was no risk of arsenical by-products being present in the pottle-pot.

Besides testing beer and the measures in which it was sold, the ale-conner also ensured the goodness and wholesomeness of bread, plus the measures in which it too was sold.

If this report is to be believed, it was therefore the ale-conner’s duty to declare the Dirty Fair open in times gone by, in addition to his public health duties in the days before the various improvements in ensuring the health of the public brought about by our 19th century forebears.

Conner is an interesting noun as regards its origins. Nowadays we are all familiar with the noun con, which is short for confidence trick. However, thinking there is any connection between the two would be erroneous. There’s also a conning tower on a submarine, but its origins have more to do with conning in the sense of navigating a vessel.

To find the conner’s origins one has to go back to many hundreds of years. According to Merriam Webster, its origins are indeed in Middle English, as would befit an office established in a medieval court. In Middle English, the noun was cunnere, meaning an examiner or tempter, which was derived from the Middle English verb cunnian, to examine, which itself originates from the Old English verb cunnan, meaning to be able.

Finally, ale-conner was sometimes also rendered as aleconner or even ale-kenner.

LibreOffice 6.2 released

Yesterday The Document Foundation (TDF) announced the release of LibreOffice 6.2, a significant major release of the free and open source office suite which features a radical new approach to the user interface – based on the MUFFIN concept – and provides user experience options to meet all users’ preferences.

LibreOffice 6.2 banner

The NotebookBar is available in Tabbed, Grouped and Contextual versions. Each one has a different approach to the menu layout and complements the traditional Toolbars and Sidebar. The Tabbed variant aims to provide a familiar interface for users coming from suites such as MS Office and is supposed to be used primarily without the sidebar, while the Grouped one allows to access “first-level” functions with one click and “second-level” functions with a maximum of two clicks.

The design community has also made substantial changes and improvements to icon themes, in particular Elementary and Karasa Jaga.

LibreOffice 6.2 new and improved features

  • The help system offers faster filtering of index keywords, highlighting search terms as they are typed and displaying results based on the selected module.
  • Context menus have been tidied up, to be more consistent across the different components in the suite.
  • Change tracking performances have been dramatically improved, especially in large documents.
  • In Writer, it is now possible to copy spreadsheet data into tables instead of just inserting them as objects.
  • In Calc it is now possible to do multivariate regression analysis using the regression tool. In addition, many more statistical measures are now available in the analysis output and the new REGEX function has been added, to match text against a regular expression and optionally replace it.
  • In Impress and Draw the motion path of animations can now be modified by dragging its control points. In addition, a couple of text-related drawing styles have been added, as well as a Format Table submenu in Draw.
  • LibreOffice Online, the cloud-based version of the suite, includes many improvements too. On mobile devices, the user interface has been simplified, with better responsiveness and updates to the on-screen keyboard.

As with every major and minor release of LibreOffice, interoperability with proprietary file formats has also been improved for better compatibility with Office documents, including old versions which have been dropped by Microsoft. The focus has been on charts, animations and document security features. To assist with interoperability, LibreOffice 6.2 is built with document conversion libraries from the Document Liberation Project.

LibreOffice 6.2’s new features have been developed by a large community of contributors: 74% of commits are from developers employed by companies on the TDF’s the Advisory Board, such as Collabora, Red Hat and CIB and by other contributors such as the City of Munich. Individual volunteers account for 26% of commits.

In addition, there is a global community of individual volunteers taking care of quality assurance, software localization, user interface design and user experience, editing the help pages and documentation.

LibreOffice 6.1.5 for commercial deployments

The Document Foundation has also released LibreOffice 6.1.5, a more mature version which includes some months of back-ported fixes and is better suited for commercial deployments, where features are less important as individual productivity is the main objective.

Companies wishing to deploy LibreOffice are advised to seek assistance for such matters as software support, migrations and training from qualified professionals.

Download LibreOffice 6.2 or LibreOffice 6.1.5

LibreOffice 6.2 and LibreOffice 6.1.5 are now available for immediate download. Builds of the latest LibreOffice Online source code are also available, released as Docker images.

LibreOffice Online is fundamentally a server service and should be installed and configured by adding cloud storage and an SSL certificate. It might be considered an enabling technology for the cloud services offered by ISPs or the private cloud of enterprises and large organisations.

LibreOffice users, free software advocates and community members are encouraged to support The Document Foundation with a donation.

Memories of Market Drayton’s Court Leet

Following on from my post on the markets and fairs of Market Drayton (posts passim), my home town, the following comment was left on the site by Andrew Allen long after comments on the post itself were closed.

Andrew also grew up in Market Drayton somewhat later than myself and my siblings and his words are reproduced below.

I was born and brought up in MD and for some reason I just had a flashback of the Court Leet which I recall being re-enacted when I was a child in the late 1970s.

It was great to read your notes about the Court. We have a photo at home (my mother’s) of a load of gentlemen standing outside the Corbet in their finery, I guess around 1900… it has my grandfather in the shot… I now think that must have been the Court Leet.

Anyway, thanks for your notes.

Courts Leet were a very old institution. According to Wikipedia, “The court leet was a historical court baron (a manorial court) of England and Wales and Ireland that exercised the “view of frankpledge” and its attendant police jurisdiction“.

My original source for information of Market Drayton’s Court Leet – Peter Hampson Ditchfield’s 1896 book, Old English Customs Extant at the Present Time: an account of local observances – states the following:

At Market Drayton there are several fairs held by right of ancient charter. One great one, called the “Dirty Fair,” is held about six weeks before Christmas, and another is called the “Gorby Market,” at which farm-servants are hired. These are proclaimed according to ancient usage by the ringing of the church-bell, and the court-leet procession marches through the town, headed by the host of the “Corbet Arms”, representing the lord of the manor, dressed in red and black robes, and the rest of the court carrying silver-headed staves and pikes, one of which is mounted by a large elephant and castle. At the court several officers are appointed, such as the ale-conner, scavengers, and others. The old standard measures, made of beautiful bell-metal, are produced, and a shrew’s bridle, and then there is a dinner and a torchlight procession.

High Street Market Drayton with the Corbet Arms Hotel on the right

High Street Market Drayton with the Corbet Arms Hotel on the right. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Only two officers of the court are mentioned by Ditchfield – the ale-conner and scavengers. The ale-conner’s duties were to ensure the quality of ale and to check that true measures are used. The duties of scavengers were to ensure standards of hygiene within the lanes and privies and to try and prevent the spread of infectious disease.

The ceremony Andrew remembers seeing as a youngster in the late 70s was a one-off re-enactment in 1977 for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. The Shropshire Star sent a photographer to record the event. The paper’s record of the celebrations, including the court leet re-enactment is still available online. As regards photographs of the original court leet, the Shropshire Archives collection contains 3 photographs of the court leet, all dating from the first decade of the twentieth century. According to the National Archives, the Shropshire Archives also contain a printed menu from 1936 for the Market Drayton Tradesmen’s Association dinner held at the Corbet Arms Hotel after Drayton Manor Court Leet broadcast. So it seems the court leet may have survived in some form until the mid-1930s.

Many thanks to Andrew for getting in touch and sharing his memories.

If anyone has further knowledge of which other officers constituted the Court Leet, please use the comments below or the contact form.

Public Money? Public Code! The video

As part of its campaign to increase the use of free software in the public sector (posts passim), the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) has also produced a short video explaining the benefits for the public purse, citizens and the common weal.

Telegraph exclusive: Brits using ducks to negotiate Brexit

The right-wing Telegraph newspaper has enjoyed a long and close relationship with the Conservative Party. So close indeed that it is often referred to as the Torygraph.

This close relationship means that developments within the Tory Party are frequently reported first in the Telegraph.

It is therefore no surprise that the latest developments on the state of the UK’s Brexit negotiations popped into my Twitter feed this morning with the following Telegraph headline and abstract.

Image text reads Brexit latest news: Theresa May will meet Jeremy Corbyn today as she prepares to send a revamped negotiating teal back to Brussels.

Yes, that’s why the negotiations have been so disastrous. They’ve been handled by ducks, or more specifically a Eurasian teal, a male specimen of which is shown below.

Male Eurasian teal

A top international negotiator according to the Telegraph. Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

How a duck or ducks actually managed to deal with the question of the Irish backstop remains a mystery and is probably why the Tory right wing is so obsessed with it. And quite what a revamped negotiating teal is, one could indulge in conjecture. Was it taken to some backstreet ornithologist and given the plumage of, say, an Arctic skua, together with a bit of beak remodelling?

Please Torygraph, tell me it’s not a typo! 😀

A penny for your thoughts?

If there’s one thing that can be said about language, it’s that it’s dynamic. Blink for a second and you might miss the coining of a neologism or an old turn of phrase becoming obsolete.

The latter in particular can have amusing consequences, especially if re-used by someone possibly too young to appreciate the original connotations of the word or phrase.

One such most likely occurred today in a Bristol Post piece about free travel in the Bristol area on Unibus services.

The item’s second paragraph reads as follows:

Passengers will able to hop on the Unibus U2 service, from Monday February 18 until Friday, February 22 without spending a penny.

To someone of my age (rapidly approaching where I qualify for a pass for free bus travel. Ed.), the phrase has connotations other than obtaining buckshee travel.

As Collins Dictionary helpfully points out:

If someone says that they are going to spend a penny, they mean that they are going to go to the toilet. [British, old-fashioned, politeness]

old coin-operated public toilet lockThe origins of the phrase stretch back to the Victorian era and refer to the use of coin-operated locks on public toilets in the UK. Such locks were first used in a public toilet outside London’s Royal Exchange in the 1850s.

The phrase “to spend a penny” has now largely died out and been forgotten, except by those with greying hair, due to changes to public toilets themselves (many of which have been closed by austerity-hit local authorities. Ed.) and changes in the charges to use a toilet. Last time I looked while on my travels, the toilets at Manchester Victoria railway station cost an exorbitant 20p, i.e. 4 shillings or 48 times the original cost of one penny.

Northampton or Novosibirsk?

Via Twitter, the following image arrived in my timeline this morning. It’s a below the piece comment, ostensibly from someone called DAZ21, from the mobile version of the Daily Mail website.

Text of comment reads White British in London 45 percent, white British in Birmingham 50 percent..Our 2 largest cities don't belong to us anymore, we have been very tolerant and are probably the least racist country on Earth. But these ideologies we import are incompatible to our own... I give it 5 years before civil war breaks out.

As you can see, at the top of the comment DAZ21 would like us all to think he’s from the fair English county town of Northampton.

However, there are a couple of problems with locating dear ole DAZ21 there if one examines the text of the comment closely; and the vowels in particular.

Look first near the bottom of the comment. Is that a letter “a” with diaresis (ä), I see before me?

The letter “a” with diaresis is quite common in German (as in Käse – cheese. Ed.), but not in English.

However, there’s a real clincher in the text that shows DAZ21 is more likely to hail from Novosibirsk than Northampton: and once again it’s a vowel that gives the game away, namely the “i” with diaresis “ï“).

According to Wikipedia, “Yi (Ї ї; italics: Ї ї) is a letter appearing the Cyrillic script, as used by Russian, amongst other languages.

In English this is a very uncommon character and is used when ⟨i⟩ follows another vowel and indicates hiatus (diaeresis) in the pronunciation of such a word.

There have been questions about the reliability of the the Daily Mail for decades. Last year it was banned as a source by Wikipedia due to its “reputation for poor fact checking and sensationalism“.

One wonders how much further that reputation has slumped if its below the piece comments are now full of bots or actual Russians pretending to be Brits posting provocative and/or misleading content.

By the way, Novosibirsk is Russia’s third most populous city after Moscow and St Petersburg.

Guillemets (French quotation marks) on a Linux keyboard

My first experiences of computing took place before the widespread use of graphical user interfaces (GUIs).

Consequently, I use a lot of keyboard* shortcuts.

These can also be used to create individual characters and, if known, represent an alternative such as using a visual character map, such as KCharSelect, the character map on the KDE desktop environment on my Linux machines.

KCharselect with the left-hand guillemet selected

KCharselect with the left-hand guillemet selected

So what’s the keyboard shortcut alternative for French quotation marks?

On Linux, most special characters can be inserted into a text editor or office package using the AltGr key plus one or two other keystrokes. If you have the patience to learn them, they can save a lot of time.

For the left guillemet, AltGr+z produces «.

For the right guillemet, AltGr+x produces ».

As you can see, it’s a lot quicker than using a GUI-based alternative.

* = I’ve always used a standard EN-GB keyboard layout.

Public money, public code – new FSFE brochure

Let’s start with a trio of questions.

1. Why should governments develop free software*?
2. Where is free software already generating benefits in the public sector?
3. What are free software business models?

Answers to the above questions and practical guidelines are given in the new expert policy brochure published today by the Free Software Foundation Europe.

Entitled “Public Money Public Code – Modernising Public Infrastructure with Free Software“, the brochure aims to answer decision-takers’ questions about the benefits of using and developing free software for public sector organisations.

To help understand the important role that public sector procurement plays in this, the brochure presents an overview of EU free software projects and policies, uncovering legislation on software procurement.

The FSFE will use this brochure in the forthcoming European Parliament elections to inform potential MEPs how to speed up the distribution and development of free software in the public sector and putting appropriate legislation in place.

Download the brochure (PDF).

Front cover of FSFE brochure

The brochure evaluates the modernisation of public infrastructure by using free software from the perspectives of academia, law, business and government. Expert articles, reports and interviews help readers to understand the opportunities for free software in the public sector. Practical guidance is provided for decision-makers to move forward and start modernising public infrastructure with free software.

FSFE President Matthias Kirschner states: “Free software licences have proven to generate tremendous benefits for the public sector. This is not a trend that will pass, but rather a long-term development that is based on very positive experiences and strategic considerations resulting from serious vendor lock-in cases in the past. In a few years, free software licences could become the default setting for publicly-financed IT projects. The Free Software Foundation Europe watches these developments very carefully and we want to contribute our knowledge to support the public sector in this transition.”

Initial steps for making free software licenses the default in publicly-financed IT projects are outlined in the brochure. Other topics include competition and potential vendor lock-in, security, democracy, “smart cities” and other important contemporary topics. The language and examples used have been specifically chosen for readers interested in politics and public administrations.

The brochure features leading experts from various ICT areas. Amongst others, these include Francesca Bria, Chief of Technology and Digital Innovation Officer (CTIO) for the Barcelona City Council, Prof. Dr. Simon Schlauri, author of a detailed legal analysis on the benefits of free software for the Swiss canton of Bern, Cedric Thomas, CEO of OW2, Matthias Stürmer, head of the Research Center for Digital Sustainability at the University of Bern and Basanta Thapa from the Competence Center for Public IT (ÖFIT) within the Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communication Systems.

The brochure is available in both digital and printed formats, and is published under a CC BY-SA 4.0 licence and I’ll be sending a copy of the PDF to my MP for her information.

* = In this context the definition of free software is free as in freedom, not beer.

The value of understanding

It seems we live in a society that knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

On Monday Kent Online reported that Kent County Council is expecting to spend £1.5 million more than the central government funding it has received to support unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) who left the care system during the current local authority financial year.

The county has received a total of £6.9 million from the Home Office and Department for Education to help more than 900 young people who have entered the UK unaccompanied, but is looking at costs of £8.4 million.

According to council officers, part of the problem is apparently “a shortage of translators [sic] living in the area.”

However, one reason for the higher costs can be laid firmly at the government’s door. The government has decided to extend support for all care leavers up to the age of 25 years; it was previously 21.

Legal costs and the immigration application process are also factors that have resulted in higher costs.

Kent’s Director for children’s integrated services, Sarah Hammond, seems to understand the value of interpreters. She is reported as saying the following:

It’s absolutely critical both for the young people and social workers that there is no window of doubt what the young person is saying. For that reason, we have to use trained and certified interpreters.

The validity of the assessment work we do would fall away if we were not able to demonstrate we had the right quality and accreditation of a translation body – and that comes with significant costs.

The reality is the majority of interpreters are coming from outside of the county, so we are incurring travel costs as well as their professional fees.

The very words Kent Online quoted Sarah Hammond as saying shows that she at least recognises the value of understanding. Young refugee people leaving care might not always have had much opportunity to become fluent enough in English to deal with whole panoply of officialdom and bureaucracy one has to deal with once past the age of majority in the UK; and one way to ensure both parties achieve full comprehension is by using qualified linguists.

The consequences of using unqualified interpreters has been amply illustrated down the years by the Ministry of Justice’s disastrous outsourcing of police and court language services, which is still continuing, as shown by this example from the north east of England.

Ms Hammond’s comments are in marked contrast to the reaction of the sole councillor quoted, Conservative Rosalind Banks, who remarked: “I suspect if the translation costs were made known to the average resident of Kent, they might turn around and say I’m sure this could be done a lot cheaper“.

Cheaper, councillor? We linguists are skilled professionals, in case you hadn’t noticed.

Needless to say, the councillor’s ignorant, penny-pinching sentiments are reflected in the comments below the piece, the majority of which are xenophobic, if not bordering on the racist.

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