Oddities

Olive oil – a definition

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If you have ever wondered about the derivation of olive oil, here is the ultimate definition courtesy of my Twitter feed.

Text reads Olive oil composed of refined olive oils and virgin olive oils. Oil comprising exclusively olive oils taht have undergone refining and oils obtained directly from olives.

No further comment is required.

.

May blossom

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We’re now in May and one reliable natural occurrence of the time of year is the flowering of common hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), which is also known as the oneseed hawthorn, or single-seeded hawthorn.

Other common names include may, mayblossom, maythorn, quickthorn, whitethorn, motherdie, and haw.

The Woodland Trust have produced a short video depicting one year in the life of the hawthorn.

The specimen below can be found in the Easton section of the Bristol & Railway Path near the Brixton Road access point.

Hawthorn tree on Railway Path in Easton

Hawthorn is amongst the first trees to start budding in the spring (the above specimen first put out leaves in late January. Ed.) and is also a fast-growing plant. This may explain the alternative name of quickthorn.

As it forms a dense, thorny mass of branches, it is often used for hedging, particularly where livestock has to be contained.

Besides its agricultural value as hedging, common hawthorn can support more than 300 insects. It is a food plant for caterpillars of numerous moths. Its flowers are eaten by dormice and provide nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinating insects. The haws (berries) are rich in antioxidants and are eaten by migrating birds, such as redwings, fieldfares and thrushes, as well as small mammals.

Furthermore, the dense, thorny foliage makes fantastic nesting shelter for many bird species of bird.

Green Man ceiling boss, Rochester Cathedral

Folklore and symbolism

Hawthorn is a pagan symbol of fertility and has associations with May Day stretching back beyond written history. It was the forerunner of the Maypole and its leaves and flowers provided the source of May Day garlands as well as appearing in the wreath of the Green Man.

In medieval times hawthorn was never brought indoors as it was generally believed that bringing its blossom indoors would result in illness and even death. In those times it was also commonly believed that hawthorn blossom smelled like the plague. In more recent times scientists have discovered the chemical trimethylamine (which smells like ammonia or rotting flesh. Ed.) in hawthorn blossom is also one of the first chemicals formed in rotting animal fish, hence the tree’s traditional linking with illness and death.

In spite of the beliefs and symbolism outlined above, the young hawthorn leaves, flower buds and young flowers are all edible. The leaves are often described as having the flavour of bread and cheese. They can be added to green salads and grated root salads. The developing flower buds are particularly good. The haws can be eaten raw (beware a stomach upset. Ed.), but are most commonly used to make jellies and wines.

A final personal note

In my own life, the blossoming of the hawthorn always reminds me that spring is giving way to early summer.

In particular, it reminds of when I was 8 years old and my mother took my 2 younger siblings and me by train all the way from Stafford to Harling Road in Norfolk – the nearest station to my grandmother’s home. The journey took the best part of a day (showing how difficult it was to travel cross-country in England, even in pre-Beeching times. Ed.). The fields on either side of the railway lines on which we travelled were thick with hawthorn blossoming pink and white.

Whenever I see hawthorn in bloom these days, I’m immediately reminded of that one train journey, even though it’s now almost 6 decades in the past.

Update: After writing this post, I asked both my siblings if they remembered that journey and if so, what they recalled. My sister replied that she recollected the journey as being interminable and her chief memory was all the trackside telegraph poles, whilst my brother – the youngest of us – responded with a question as to whether that was the railway trip during which he was sick. He obviously had other matters than lineside shrubbery on his mind. 😀

Abroad thoughts from home

One fascinating aspect of the country’s foolhardy departure from the European Union is the fate of Britons in the 27 member states of the European Union; and more particularly how they are depicted here now that the “free and independent coastal state” of Brexitannia has “taken back control“.

Keen observers of the British media will note all foreigners seeking to come to the English Empire (which some refer to as the United Kingdom. Ed.) to settle are referred to as “migrants“. When used by the right-wing press or politicians, “migrants” has a clear pejorative tone to the effect that these people are not as good as us.

However, in line with British exceptionalism as Brits seeking to or having taken up residence abroad are termed “expats” by the fourth estate, as per this typical specimen from yesterday’s Daily Brexit, which some still call Daily Express.

Headline reads Brexit BACKLASH: British expats could abandon Canary Islands for Greece and Cyprus

Expats? Emigrés? Immigrants?

 

Of course, what the Daily Brexit forgets is that even in Greece and Cyprus, holders of those nice, new and allegedly blue British passports will still be classed as third country citizens by the Greek and Cypriot authorities; and if they try staying there for longer than the maximum period without applying for a residence permit, they’ll be regarded as illegal immigrants, just as they are now finding out on the Costa del Sol.

Expat” is of course a truncation of the term “expatriate“, with the shorter form’s first recorded use in the first half of the 1960s.

When people move for work, settlement or other reasons, the language used about them is always full of meaning. In earlier, less judgemental times those who left British shores to settle abroad might have been referred to as “émigrés” or “emigrants“, whilst those coming here for permanent settlement were “immigrants“, which had more than its fair share of negative connotations in times past.

Nowadays all those negative connotations are to a certain effect by “migrant“, which, unlike “immigrant” or “emigrant” is not specific about the person’s direction of travel.

Nevertheless, I can see the exceptionalism continuing and am not expecting the Daily Brexit to refer to Brits resident abroad as “British immigrants” at any time soon. 😉

PS: Apologies to Robert Browning for this post’s title.

Amazon customer couldn’t post review in Welsh of Welsh book

Cover of Llad Duw novel by Dewi PrysorAmazon was forced to apologise and blamed a “technical error” for a customer being unable to post a review in Welsh of a novel written in Welsh, Wales Online reports.

Cathryn Sherrington of Cardiff had submitted a Welsh Language review which she then translated to English of the book Lladd Duw, by Dewi Prysor.

The book is described by its publisher as a “hefty, ambitious novel set in London and an imaginery [sic] seaside town. It deals with the destruction of civilisation from the standpoint of the working class. An intense, dark novel but with the usual humour from Dewi Prysor.

Cathryn’s review reads as follows:

Gwych Brilliant. I haven’t read a Welsh book for years – sometimes the formality of written Welsh puts me off – this is brilliant though.
Hawdd i ddarllen, stori gyffroes, cymeriadau diddorol. Wedi joio fo gymaint dwi’n mynd i ddarllen mwy o lyfrau Cymraeg.”

In English the review’s second sentence reads: “Easy to read, exciting story, interesting characters. Have enjoyed it so much I’m going to read more Welsh language books“.

However, Amazon which employs 1,000 people in Swansea, emailed Cathryn implying her review might have broken its guidelines.

There then followed a social media and email exchange between Cathryn and Amazon at the end of which the latter relented, stating: “This was due to a technical error for which we apologise. It has now been resolved.”

Around the block history lesson

Walls made of stone blocks are not unknown in Bristol. Since medieval times the local grey Pennant sandstone has been a common building material, as in the wall shown below, which is situated in All Hallows Road in the Easton area.

Slag block in stone wall, All Hallows Road, Easton

Please note the second block down in the centre of the photograph; the purply-black one that isn’t Pennant sandstone.

It’s a by-product of a formerly common industry in Bristol and the surrounding area that only ceased in the 1920s – copper and brass smelting. Brass goods in particular were mass-produced locally and traded extensively, especially as part of the triangular trade during when Bristol grew rich on slavery.

Indeed it’s a block of slag left over from the smelting process. When brass working was a major industry in the Bristol area, the slag was often poured into block-shaped moulds and used as a building material when cooled and hardened.

Stone walls were frequently capped with a decorative slag coping stones, as can be seen below on one of the walls of Saint Peter & St Paul Greek Orthodox Church in Lower Ashley Road. Otherwise the blocks were just used like ordinary stone blocks in masonry as above. In some instances, the blocks have been used as vertical decorative features in masonry.

Greek Orthodox Curch wall with slag copings

The finest example of the use of slag as a building material within the Bristol area is Brislington’s Grade I listed Black Castle pub (originally a folly. Ed.), where slag has been used extensively.

Black Castle, Brislington

Black Castle, Brislington, Bristol. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

So if you see any slag blocks in a wall in Bristol, you can be sure it usually dates to the 18th or 19th century, more usually the latter, when Bristol underwent a massive expansion.

Moreover, these blocks are apparently referred to as “Bristol Blacks.

There’s a link between Bristol’s brass industry and my home county of Shropshire in the shape of Abraham Darby I.

In 1702 local Quakers, including Abraham Darby, established the Baptist Mills brass works of the Bristol Brass Company not far from the site of today’s Greek Orthodox Church on the site of an old grist (i.e. flour) mill on the now culverted River Frome. The site was chosen because of:

  1. water-power from the Frome;
  2. both charcoal and coal were available locally;
  3. Baptist Mills was close to Bristol and its port;
  4. there was room for expansion (the site eventually covered 13 acres. Ed.).

In 1708-9 Darby leaves the Baptist Mills works and Bristol, moving to Coalbrookdale in Shropshire’s Ironbridge Gorge, the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. In Coalbrookdale, Darby together with two business partners bought an unused iron furnace and forges. Here Darby eventually establishes a joint works – running copper, brass, iron and steel works side by side.

Below is the site of Darby’s furnace in Coalbrookdale today.

Darby's blast furnace in Coalbrookdale

Darby’s blast furnace in Coalbrookdale. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

By contrast, here is what occupies the site of the brass works in Baptist Mills – junction 3 of the M32.

M32 roundabout

The site of the Bristol Brass Company’s Baptist Mills works. Image courtesy of OpenStreetMap.

Footways, footpaths and pavements

How many of us pay that much attention to road signs when out and about on our daily business on foot as pedestrians?

I mean really pay attention, not just to the instruction being given or the advice being offered by the road sign itself, but the actual words used.

Take the two examples below, both taken during this past week on the streets of Bristol. Both are on a part of the highway used by pedestrians and generally referred to by the general public as the pavement (on which more anon. Ed.). But which – if any – is the correct term? Are footways and footpaths the same?

Composite image showing 'Diverted Footway' and 'Footpath Closed' road signs

Left, Newfoundland Road = correct. Right, Lansdown Road, Easton = incorrect.

To answer the second question first, no; they are not the same.

If there’s one thing many decades of being a linguist has taught me, it is that terminology is important – the correct word used in the right context.

One generally has be a legislator, highway engineer or transport campaigner to know the difference between a footway and a footpath.

Fortunately, it is clearly defined in legislation, in this case the Highways Act 1980, which provides the following definitions:

“footpath” means a highway over which the public have a right of way on foot only, not being a footway;
“footway” means a way comprised in a highway which also comprises a carriageway, being a way over which the public have a right of way on foot only.

In addition, Cheshire East Council provides the following information on its webpage entitled “What Are Public Rights of Way?

You should be careful to distinguish between ‘public footpaths’ and ‘footways’. Pavements beside public roads are not public footpaths – it is better to refer to them as footways or simply pavements.
Footways are not recorded on the Definitive Map as Public Rights of Way. A footway is really a part of the main highway which has been set apart for pedestrians.

Nevertheless, a caveat needs to be added to the clause where Cheshire East Council advises that “it is better to refer to them as footways or simply pavements“.

The caveat is that there’s a world of difference between what “pavement” denotes to ordinary mortals and professionals such as civil and highway engineers: for the former it’s the footway; for the latter more specialised use, Britannica gives the following definition:

Pavement, in civil engineering, durable surfacing of a road, airstrip, or similar area. The primary function of a pavement is to transmit loads to the sub-base and underlying soil.

Who would have thought two words on two such simple temporary road signs deployed for road works could be such a terminological minefield? 😉

Welsh Not still alive and well

In the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, Welsh children who used their native tongue in schools were subject to a particular form of punishment and humiliation – the Welsh Not.

The Welsh Not (also Welsh Knot, Welsh Note, Welsh Stick, Welsh Lead or Cwstom) was an item used in Welsh schools in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries to stigmatise and punish children using the Welsh language, according to Wikipedia.

Welsh NotTypically “The Not” was a piece of wood, a ruler or a stick, often inscribed with “WN“. On any schoolday, it was given to be worn round the neck to the first pupil to be heard speaking Welsh. When another child was heard using Welsh, “The Not” was passed to the new offender: and on it went. Pupils were encouraged to inform on their classmates. The pupil in possession of “The Not” at the end of the lesson, school day or week – depending on the school – received additional punishment besides the initial shaming and humiliation.

In recent times the Welsh Not seems to have transformed from being a physical object to a mental one, but one that is nevertheless still used to stigmatise speakers of one of the country’s oldest languages – one that was already old when Old English (which some call Anglo-Saxon. Ed.) first became established as England’s common tongue.

The persistence of stigmatisation is just one matter covered in a Metro opinion piece by Lowri Llewelyn entitled Why the Welsh language deserves respect not ridicule.

Looking specifically at stigmatisation, Lowri, who learned Welsh as a child and grew up in a bilingual household, writes:

I can’t count how many times English folk have jeered about my ‘dead language’.

At least it wasn’t referred to as “gibberish“, Lowri!

To reinforce her point, she continues:

Fuelled by anti-Welsh sentiment from England, the Welsh even came to oppress and disrespect themselves.
She then goes on to point out how, as a teenager she would only speak English to friends and be dismissive of her native culture, before going on to point out how she has since changed her attitude and welcomes efforts to increase the presence of Welsh.

Lowri concludes by pointing out some of the encouraging signs of a renewed interest in Welsh.

For instance, in recent times Welsh has become the fastest growing language in the UK on the Duolingo language learning platform. One explanation might be a renewed interest in the cultures and history of the nations that make up Great Britain, given the severe restrictions on foreign travel imposed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Insert word of choice

For many years the garage sitting at the apex of the junction of Russelltown Avenue, Cannon Street and Whitehall Road in BS5 has featured a changing sequence of slogans painted by Stan Jones, who lives in the house to which the garage belongs.

It was 2017 when I first noticed it and, at that time, it focussed on the madness of Brexit.

Garage wall featuring Exit Brexit slogan

Exit Brexit

In 2019 its message was still focussed on Brexit but had been repainted to featur the wording “Buck Foris” (fine use of a Spoonerism there. Ed.) and “Fromage not Farage“, so I think it’s fair to say Stan is not impressed with the right-leaning part of what passes for Britain’s political class.

In 2019 Stan’s efforts accidentally suffered the attentions of Bristol City Council’s fight against graffit. There was, however, a happy outcome as Stan received an apology and some paint from the corporation, as the Bristol Post reported at the time.

Below is Stan’s latest contribution, which really needs no further comment from me.

Text on building reads What the [insert word of choice] is happening?

Stan’s latest (shame about the tags)

 

The new benchmark – as long as you’re white

On a rare excursion into town, I happened to notice that Castlemead, the city’s tallest office block, is currently undergoing a refurbishment and is surrounded by site hoardings which have the usual aspirational developer’s blurb splashed across it, as can be seen below.

General view of shuttering surrounding Castlemead site
General view of the Castlemead site on Lower Castle Street

Besides being the new benchmark, the refurbisher’s website describes Castlemead as follows:

Castlemead is a city landmark office building and offers high quality refurbished open plan accommodation from 3,450 – 11,128 sq ft and the UK’s First Platinum Plus 100 Cyclingscore Accredited facilities.

With 360 panoramic views over Bristol’s cityscape and Castlepark [sic] and with the Cabot Circus regional shopping, dining and leisure destination on your doorstep, why locate your business anywhere else?

Nevertheless, a quick glance at the images chosen to illustrate this landmark office building’s quality reveals one glaringly obvious fact.

This quality is only available to white people. All the figures shown are invariably Caucasian. There’s not a BAME face to be seen anywhere either on the site’s hoardings or in the CGIs used on the dedicated website.

Happy office drones at Castlemead 1

Spot the BAME face 1

Happy office drones at Castlemead 2

Spot the BAME face 2

According to the city council’s website, 16% of the city’s population of 463,400 persons belongs to a black or minority ethnic group. That’s over 74,000 people.

When will developers realise and start to portray a more accurate picture of our city in their very expensive fantasy doodlings?

After all, this is not the first time the absence of non-white faces from new Bristol property developments has been pointed out. It is a phenomenon that was first highlighted back in 2009 by a fellow local blogger.

One would have expected the city’s major property moguls to have learned something by now and made a start on accurately portraying all the kinds of people in the city who will ultimately be occupying their benchmark and landmark buildings.

Sadly, nothing appears to have changed.

Welsh traffic news

After Wales’ 21-13 decisive victory in yesterday’s Six Nations rugby fixture in Cardiff, Traffig Cymru, the Welsh Government’s traffic information service, couldn’t resist having a bit of fun on Twitter at the expense of the England squad and English rugby fans.

Tweet reads Our control room have received a report of a broken down chariot heading away from Cardiff on the #M4 and traffic officers have been despatched to find it #findthechariot

Swing low…

I wonder if the chariot had been rescued by a band of angels before Mr Plod had a chance to find it… 😀

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