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Stupid boy! Another pair of lookalikes

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It’s no secret that Gavin Williamson MP, the current Secretary of State for Defence, is nicknamed Private Pike, after Frank Pike, the fictional Home Guard private and junior bank clerk in the BBC television comedy Dad’s Army, who was frequently referred to by platoon commander Captain Mainwaring as “stupid boy“.

Composite of Private Pike and Gavin Williamson

Young Gavin, who is the Member of Parliament for South Staffordshire, had a real stupid boy moment last week.

On Monday, in a gung-ho speech to the Royal United Services Institute, Williamson confirmed that the first of Britain’s next-generation aircraft carriers, the Queen Elizabeth, will tour the Pacific as part of its maiden voyage and that the vessel likely to tour the South China Sea at a time of growing tensions regarding China’s territorial ambitions.

Needless to say this has not gone down well in Beijing, resulting in a planned trade visit by Chancellor Philip Hammond being cancelled.

Even former Chancellor George Osborne has commented, also alluding to Williamson as a stupid boy, but using rather more words, as iNews reports:

You have got the defence secretary engaging in gunboat diplomacy of a quite old-fashioned kind at the same time as the chancellor of the exchequer and the foreign secretary are going around saying they want a close economic partnership with China.

The Ale-Conner

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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.

Memories of Market Drayton’s Court Leet

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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.

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.

An unfortunate juxtaposition

The placing of articles and/or photographs next to each other in newspapers (and on newspaper websites too. Ed.) sometimes has unfortunate consequences and connotations.

This is from the Murdoch-owned Times.

I’ll say no more.

Theresa May pictured next to headline stating Russian sex workers are world's best says Putin

Currywurst reaches 70

Although I graduated over 4 decades ago, I still look back with fondness on the days of my modern languages degree.

One of the absolute requirements for the award of the degree was a compulsory period of residence in countries where the languages being studied were used.

In my instance this involved 5 months’ residency in both Perpignan (France) and Saarbrücken (Germany).

While in Germany, I became acquainted with what would now be called German street food, including the currywurst.

Currywurst

Currywurst typically consists of a bratwurst cut into slices and seasoned with curry ketchup, a sauce based on spiced ketchup or tomato paste, itself topped with curry powder, or a ready-made ketchup seasoned with curry and other spices.

It’s often served with chips.

The currywurst reaches the grand of age of 70 this year.

Here’s its history in brief.

Herta Heuwer had been running a snack stall in Berlin’s Charlottenburg district since summer 1949. There wasn’t much happening on 4th September, so she had time to experiment. She mixed freshly chopped paprika, paprika powder, tomato purée and spices together. The she poured the whole lot over a fried, chopped sausage. The currywurst had been invented.

Herta Heuwer subsequently gave her business the address of “The world’s 1st currywurst cookshop” and had the word trade mark “Chillup” (a contraction of chilli and ketchup) registered for her sauce.

You can’t eat a proper original currywurst any more, because Herta Heuwer took the recipe to the grave with her in 1999. In 2003 a memorial plaque was put up at the former site of her snack bar. According to the German Currywurst Museum in Berlin over 800 million currywurst are consumed every year in Germany.

To mark this culinary anniversary the Berlin State Mint has issued a commemorative coin.

Currywurst coin front

This commemorative coin is the sixth of a series of anniversary issues which the city mint started in 2004 and is limited to a production run of 2,500.

West Oxfordshire – first sighting of Brexit unicorn?

Former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron will go down as one of the UK’s worst peacetime Prime Ministers.

In a bid to solve a decades-old breach in his party caused by xenophobes, racists and Europhobes, he organised an “in-out referendum” on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union.

Once the referendum came up with the wrong result, Cameron immediately ran away and left others to clear up the mes he left behind, a process at which his successor Theresa May and her ministers have failed spectacularly and serially, highlighting the shallowness of the Tory Party talent pool.

My brother and his family have the misfortune to live in “Call Me Dave” Cameron’s former constituency of Witney.

Even though his Witney constituency voted to remain in the EU in the MP’s disastrous referendum, there might just be changes afoot.

A unicorn, a supposedly mythical beast, with which supporters of remaining in the EU mock the extravagant and totally unreal promises made by the Leave campaign, has appeared in one of Witney’s main shopping streets, as photographed yesterday by your ‘umble scribe.

a papier maché unicorn spotted in Witney Oxon

An odd stance. What’s the beast trying to do?

The reason for the unicorn’s unusual stance is unknown.

Terminology still a mystery to Auntie

The BBC has long boasted of the quality of its English.

However, its reputation fort linguistic excellence has started to look very tarnished in recent years. One particular area of concern is the BBC’s failure to use the correct terminology when referring to those who work with languages (posts passim).

Since I first wrote about this seven years ago, very little seems to have changed, as shown today by a news story posted today by a reporter with BBC Newcastle concerning the quality of language services provided to the police and courts by ITL North East Ltd. of Gateshead.

It starts off on the wrong foot, with the headline proclaiming: “Translators were ‘not qualified’ for police interview work“.

Translators don’t do interview work, said my mind, unless they’re working from transcripts!

The first paragraph, however, manages to get the terminology correct:

Unqualified police interpreters have cost the public thousands of pounds by causing court delays and in one instance the collapse of a case, the BBC has learned*.

The error in the headline in repeated further down the piece, as follows:

In addition to Northumbria Police, it provided translators for interviews with the Durham and Cleveland forces.

As regards the quality of the interpreters provided the piece details several cases where unqualified interpreters had caused trials to collapse and unnecessary expenditure to be incurred. For instance, one so-called interpreter couldn’t explain the police caution in full to a suspect.

In another instance, an “interpreter” who had just been in the country for 3 months before being recruited. She freely admitted not being able to understand everything a police officer said in an interview with a suspect.

Since the evidence of poor quality work came to light, Northumbria Police requested a full audit of the qualifications held by all interpreters registered with ITL North East Ltd.

The BBC should follow Northumbria Police’s example and audit the liguistic abilities of their reporters.

For those reporters who still don’t understand the difference between translators and interprwters, I would refer them once again to my handy illustrated guide from 2013 (posts passim).

* = As regards the phrase “the BBC has learnt…”, it has been pointed on social media out that this story was first broken the satirical magazine Private Eye over a year ago. Do keep up Auntie!

A fool and his money

Q: Pictured below are 2 men: Winston Churchill, who some would argue was the greatest UK Prime Minister ever; and Piers Morgan, a man of no discernible talent apart from sycophancy to those on the extreme right wing of politics. What links them?

Winston Churchill and Piers Moron composite image

A: A cigar butt.

One of Churchill’s discarded cigar butts, to be precise.

Earlier this week, Piers Morgan bought said cigar butt at auction, as reported by the Shropshire Star.

Piers (affectionately renamed Piers Moron by Private Eye. Ed.) was so pleased with his purchase, he also tweeted about it.

Tweet reads: I feel so patriotic today that I just bought Sir Winston Churchill’s half-smoked wartime cigar at an auction.

Auctioneers Travanion & Dean of Whitchurch in Shropshire had been expecting the half-smoked historical artefact to sell for about £1,000.

Piers paid £2,600 for it.

Needless to say, the final bill would have been rather more than that once the auctioneers’ commission had been added.

He may have considered his action patriotic, but Piers’ action reminded your ‘umble scribe of an old adage, i.e. a fool and his money are soon parted.

That bit of folksy wisdom in turn set me researching its origins.

The King James version of the Bible published in 1604 has something similar to this saying in Proverbs 21:20, which states:

There is treasure to be desired and oil in the dwelling of the wise; but a foolish man spendeth it up.

However, for a rendition slightly closer to the wording in question, one has to look at 1573’s Five Hundreth Pointes of Good Husbandrie by Thomas Tusser, reproduced below:

A foole & his money,
be soone at debate:
which after with sorow,
repents him to late.

The form of words commonly used in the present proverb were first just over a decade after Tusser. In 1587 Dr. John Bridges writes the sentence below in Defence of the Government of the Church of England:

If they pay a penie or two pence more for the reddinesse of them..let them looke to that, a foole and his money is soone parted.

What about the pictures?

Read the screenshot below and do so carefully.

headline reads: £250 reward offered after giant Ironbridge duck is thrown in river - with pictures

After reading the actual story, I found no mention of pictures being thrown into the River Severn in Ironbridge by vandals.

Did it actually happen? Or did the dread ambiguity that plagues so much modern journalism strike again?

When I was learning/being taught to write so many decades ago, we were always advised to steer clear of anything that could be misconstrued.

That concept is now obviously regarded as old-fashioned and no longer worthwhile by those who write today’s media (sometimes with the digital equivalent of a crayon. Ed. 😉 )

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