Oddities

Whitehall BS5 sends a message to Whitehall SW1

This blog has written before about the changing messages that appear on a garage wall at the apex of the junction of Russelltown Avenue, Cannon Street and Whitehall Road (posts passim).

The message has now changed again and reads as per the photo below.

Text in photograph reads Boris is a big bumbahole

According to Urban Dictionary, bumbahole is a synonym of arsehole in British English and asshole in American English.

One can safely assume that the Boris being referenced is none other than the superannuated Billy Bunter-like figure of one certain Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, who has been inexplicably promoted beyond his competence to the office of Prime Minister of the English Empire, a job he fulfils to his own satisfaction on a part time basis.

Among the less favourable characteristics of Bunter’s personality are gluttony, laziness, racism, deceit, sloth, self-importance and conceit, all of which have been extensively documented down the decades by others more eloquent than your ‘umble scribe (e.g. his former employer Max Hastings) as also being present in the part-time alleged prime minister’s character.

Boats grow legs

Since the widespread dismissal from newsrooms of sub-editors, the very people who would have spotted and corrected any inaccuracies and/or anomalies, many more hidden exclusives are being reported nowadays by our free and inaccurate press, provided one knows where to look and reads carefully.

Last week, the Shropshire Star had a hidden exclusive buried deeply in a piece on towpath repairs to the Shropshire Union Canal and local traders’ fear of loss of footfall in my home town of Market Drayton.

Shropshire Union canal in Market Drayton

Betton Mill on the Shropshire Union Canal in Market Drayton. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Canal & River Trust, which manages the waterway, is planning to close the towpath through Market Drayton for repairs lasting two months. This will also entail a loss of moorings during the works.

The fact that is has chosen do these works in the ten weeks from July 5 to September 10 hasn’t gone down too well with the director of one local boatyard, who is quoted as intimating that the closure would be a hammer blow to the summer trade, preventing visitors from mooring in the town and visiting shops and restaurants.

In a quotation in the report, she said the following:

It is basically the full length of the canal that goes through the town. Boats that would normally moor up and walk round the town, they won’t be able to do that.

Boats that would normally moor up and walk around town?

These two actions surely would be consecutive and not concurrent?

When did boats evolve the means of locomotion to be able to walk round the town?

Why have the national and international media not picked up the Star’s exclusive? After all, it is not every day that aquatic craft evolve enough to generate limbs.

If you have an answer to any of the above questions, please leave them in the comments below. 😀

How the forget-me-not got its name

Forget-me-nots (Myosotis) are a genus of flowering plants. The name Myosotis derives from the ancient Greek μυοσωτίς meaning mouse’s ear, which the leaves are said to resemble.

According to its English Wikipedia page, the colloquial English name of forget-me-not has been in use since the late 14th century and is a direct translation from the German Vergißmeinnicht.

Photo of forget-me-nots

Myosotis. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

However, it is to the French Wikipedia article on the foget-me-not that one needs to turn for the presumed origins of this commemorative colloquial plant name.

According to one legend, a knight was walking by a river with his lady. He bent over to pick her a flower, but toppled over due to his armour and fell into the water. While he was drowning, he tossed the flower towards her crying out “Forget me not!”

It goes without saying that the legend fails to explain why the hapless knight felt the need to don his armour for what was ostensibly a safe situation. No health and safety risk assessments or technical standards for PPE in those days!

Talking of risky situations, the forget-me-not has become a flower of remembrance in the Canadian provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador where it is used to commemorate those who were killed in the First World War.

Similarly in Germany the forget-me-not became a flower of remembrance for those who fell in conflict from WW1 onwards.

In other countries, the forget-me-not has assumed a different commemorative function, one dealing with those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, as happens in the Netherlands and New Zealand.

Modern oxymorons – latest

Brexit opportunities.

Of course, Britain’s departure from the EU is such a shining success, particularly in the light of the fact that, in the words of one Michael Gove, “we hold all the cards“.

No further comment is necessary.

Recruitment advertisement for a Director of the Cabinet Office's Brexit Opportunities Unit

Maesteg remembers Tryweryn despite council

In 1965 the village of Capel Celyn in the valley of the Afon Tryweryn valley in Gwynedd was flooded to create Llyn Celyn reservoir to supply water to the towns of Wirral peninsula and the city of Liverpool in England.

Needless to say, this act of colonial vandalism met with almost universal condemnation in Wales, represented a pivotal moment and event in Welsh nationalism and gave a huge boost to the Welsh devolution cause.

In addition, the drowning of the Tryweryn valley had a wide cultural impact.

In response to the impending flooding of the Tryweryn Valley, author Meic Stephens decided to paint “Cofiwch Tryweryn” (sic), Welsh for “Remember Tryweryn“, on a rock. Eventually he settled on the wall of a ruined cottage named Troed-y-Rhiw for his artwork. Because the original Cofiwch Tryweryn is grammatically incorrect, subsequent restorations of the wall have repainted the message correctly as Cofiwch Dryweryn, adding the consonant mutation.

Cofiwch Dryweryn mural after 2019 restoration

The original mural in Llanrhystud after 2019 restoration. Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The mural has since gone on to be reproduced on T-shirts, pitchside banners at Welsh international football fixtures and replicated at other sites in Wales.

Which brings us to Maesteg and Bridgend County Borough Council.

Today’s Wales Online reports that Maesteg resident Sian Thomas-Ford’s Cofiwch Dryweryn, painted in 2019, had incurred with displeasure of Bridgend County Borough Council, which, in that accommodating manner peculiar to all local authorities, had ordered the mural’s removal.

original Bridgend Cofiwch Dryweryn mural

Picture courtesy of Yes Maesteg

Since 2019 the Bridgend mural has undergone some changes. Firstly, the two dragons – one red and one white – of Welsh legend have disappeared, whilst the Welsh independence slogan “Yes Cymru” has been added.

Bridgend Council took the attitude that the mural was an advertisement and notified Ms Thomas-Ford last summer that she could be prosecuted if she did not paint over the mural. Furthermore, the council told Ms Thomas-Ford that their highways department found the mural is a “distraction to drivers”. The council’s planning fees for advertisements range from £120 to £460. Ms Thomas-Ford’s response to the council was defiance, stating she did not intend applying for planning permission because the mural is not an advertisement, but rather a celebration of Welsh history and a reminder of an event that should not be forgotten.

Ms Thomas-Ford told Wales Online that the mural had sparked lots of conversations locally about Welsh history and culture.

Some 3,000 people signed a petition in support of keeping the mural.

The council has now dropped its bureaucratically absurd position of regarding the mural as an advertisement. In a bit of municipal face-saving, a council spokesperson is quoted as saying:

From the council’s perspective, advertising consent is required to protect the householder, but we do not currently intend to take any further action. It remains open to the owner if they wish to regularise the matter.

Olive oil – a definition

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

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.

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