Posts tagged dialect

Priti good new stencil art

A new piece of stencil art has turned up on recent days on a wall at the junction of Russelltown Avenue and Whitehall Road in east Bristol on the building with the ever-changing messages (posts passim).

Merely as a matter of coincidence, it depicts one of those residents of Whitehall, SW1, namely one Priti Patel, an Estuary English elocution expert inexplicably elevated to the position of Home Secretary by part-time alleged Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, after she had previously been forced to resign in 2017 as International Development Minister for breaking the ministerial code by having secret meetings with Israeli officials while serving under Theresa May.

stencil art of Priti Patel holding hammer with the word vandals and the Conservative Party oak tree logo beneath

Since her return to high public office, the permanently smirking Patel has been accused of bullying her staff, resulting in the resignation of Home Office boss Sir Philip Putnam.

I can’t help speculating if the hammer in Patel’s hand was one of the reasons for Sir Philip’s departure.

At the foot of the stencil art the Tory Party oak tree logo and the word Vandals appear.

I have lived most of my life under Tory governments and for the majority of that time, particularly with effect from the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979, the Conservatives have not conserved anything. Indeed they’ve destroyed important ones like manufacturing industry (which used to provide millions of skilled, well-paid jobs. Ed.) and the trade union movement, whilst flogging state assets to their rich friends and supporters.

Given the party’s record of destruction, perhaps the claw hammer in Patel’s hand should have been replaced by a sledge hammer instead. 😀

Bristol on the buses

Buses are Bristol’s major mode of public transport and as your ‘umble scribe is now in possession of a geriatric’s bus pass, he might actually get around to exploring their possibilities.

One linguistic peculiarity of using the city’s buses which must be perplexing to outsiders and visitors is the use of the term drive to denote the person in charge of the vehicle. This normally takes the form of the grateful form of address “Cheers Drive” as passengers get off at their intended stops.

This phrase was last year used to name a new street in the BS5 postcode area, as reported at the time by BBC News.

Bus destination board sign reads: Sorry me babbers. I'm not in serviceIt now seems that the buses themselves have also taken to addressing potential passengers in dialect, as per this photo courtesy of the WeLoveKeynsham Twitter account.

Of course, it’s not always been a smooth ride on the city’s buses.

Back in 1963, there was a boycott of the city’s buses led by youth worker Paul Stephenson and others over the Bristol Omnibus Company’s shameful and discriminatory refusal to employ black or Asian people.

Furthermore, the reliability of quality of services has been a perennial problem and formed the subject of Fred Wedlock’s song, Bristol Buses.

Cheers drive!

The vision thing

The vision thing” is a comment made by George H. W. Bush ahead of the 1988 United States presidential election when urged to spend some time thinking about his plans for his prospective presidency.

The embracing of vision – with or without the thing – is widespread in public life in Britain at both local and national levels. Every party leader is expected to have one; and any plans for the wholesale remodelling of large areas of our town and cities are expected incorporate vision too.

An investigation into the prevalence of vision in the organs of the British state reveals just how ingrained use of the term is. A quick Google search for items containing “vision” on websites within the .gov.uk domain is revealing.

Screenshot of Google search revealing 2.3m uses of vision on central and local government websites

No, your eyes do not deceive you – 2.3 million instances of use.

Looking more locally, a recent search (mid-April) of the Bristol City Council website for the term returns a total of over 4,200 hits. It has probably risen since last month (and with all that evident ocular deployment, one would have thought that the inhabitants of the Counts Louse – which some refer to as City Hall – would realise there’s a major cleanliness problem with the city’s streets. Ed.).

Screenshot of Google search of Bristol City Council website for use of vision

With all that vision in use in the country, opticians and their colleagues must be raking in the money. 😀

Helmut Schmidt

Sie hatten Recht, Herr Bundeskanzler!

Or is it necessarily opticians and associated practitioners that should be profiting from this phenomenon? There is some scepticism about the benefits of visions.

George H.W. Bush was mentioned at the start of this post. One of his contemporaries was the former West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt.

Schmidt was very dismissive of visions and is on record as stating the following:

Wer Visionen hat, soll zum Arzt gehen.

This translates into English as:

Anyone who has visions should go to the doctor.

Will those working for the British state be visiting their GPs en masse soon?

I doubt it.

Finally, when someone summoned up the courage to ask Schmidt what his big vision was, he is reputed to have referred them to Bush! 😀

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. 😀

A Scots terminology question

One Twitter account I follow is Miss PunnyMany for her insights into Scots English. She’s just asked a very important question of manners and terminology in this tweet, as shown below.

Tweet reads Is hen rude?

Well, is “hen” rude?

Let us see.

An accurate definition would be a good place to start.

A general glossary of Scots vocabulary posted on Stirling University’s website provides the following definition:

hen: vocative term for a woman (e.g. ‘It’s aw richt, hen’), or a general term of endearment for anyone.

Note the phrase “general term of endearment“. That’s a big clue, indicating that its use is confined to close friends and acquaintances.

This view is largely borne out by the tone of the responses to Miss PunnyMany’s tweet.

Furthermore, a few respondents rightly point out that, like “pal” south of the Border, “hen” may be used in a pejorative or threatening manner to people outside one’s immediate social circle.

Mhairi Black MP

You don’t talk shite, hen!

An example of this can be found in a place a fair way from Scotland, namely the chamber of the House of Commons in Westminster.

Back in March 2017, SNP Member of Parliament Mhairi Black gave rise to comment in the media and on social media when appearing to mouth the words “You talk shite, hen” to a response by Tory minister Caroline Nokes, then the Under Secretary of State in the Department for Work and Pensions.

Ms Black had just made an impassioned speech that criticised a Government proposal to withdraw housing benefits for 18-21-year-olds. Her silent, but lip-read comment denoting her clear displeasure came during Ms Nokes’ reply which naturally defended the government’s cruel proposal.

So there you have it, use “hen” sensibly and restrict it to family, close friends and acquaintances, you shouldn’t go too wrong.

Planning for clichés

The inspiration to write this post was what an old friend referred to on social media as the Town Planners’ Little Book of Tired Clichés.

We were discussing a press report on long-term plans for Bristol Temple Meads, the city’s main railway station and its environs.

The report itself was written up from a press release issued by the literary geniuses employed in the Bristol City Council Newsroom down the Counts Louse (which some people now call City Hall. Ed.).

Bristol Temple Meads railway station

Bristol Temple Meads. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Whilst avoiding clichés has long been a given as advice for good creative writing, the various actors quoted in the Temple Meads piece seem to relish in their use.

Thus the surrounding area “will be rejuvenated with housing, shops and hospitality outlets creating a new area of the city where people can live, shop, visit and socialise”.

Note the exemplary use of rejuvenated.

In addition, how a new area of the city can be created by covering an existing but derelict city area in architecturally contrived arrangements of building materials is beyond me. If you have any clues, dear reader, please enlighten me via the comments.

Then there’s that essential element for anything involving urban planning – the vision thing. This is ably provided in this case in a quotation by Network Rail’s spokesperson: “We are delighted to be working with our partners on this significant regeneration project and Bristol Temple Meads station is at the heart of this vision.”

Helmut Schmidt, who served as the West German chancellor from 1974 to 1982, had a thing to say about visions: “Wer Visionen hat, sollte zum Arzt gehen“. In English: People who have visions should go to the doctor. Genau! Sie haben Recht, Herr Schmidt.

Needless to the whole glossary of hackneyed phraseology seems to have been upended into the phraseology mixing bowl to create something not only unappetising, but indigestible: ambitious; innovative; rejuvenate/rejuvenation; regeneration; gateway; transformation/transformative; integrate; blueprint; showcase.

And on the clichés go, marching tediously across and down the page.

There are nevertheless a couple of absolute gems in the piece to compensate for all this guff.

Firstly,there’s the timescale for the plans. We are are informed that “work is not expected to start for another decade with the expected completion not until 2041 at the earliest“. Thus all that hot air is being expended on something whose actual implementation is two decades in the future; if not more.

A well-known adage springs to mind: pigs might fly.

Secondly, there’s the promise of an integrated transport hub. Basically this means creating a major public transport interchange (as seen in sensible city’s where the local bus/tram serve the railway station). To my knowledge, there’s been talk of a transport hub/interchange at Temple Meads for at least 3 decades already, so for it actually to become a reality within 5 decades would entail the city’s infrastructure planning process moving at more than their usual slower than tectonic plates speed.

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.

Markets and fairs

In Britain many of the markets and fairs that survive today have their origins in the Middle Ages, when having successful markets and fairs could mean the difference between prosperity or oblivion to a settlement.

Where I grew up in north Shropshire, so successful was the market that the parish of Drayton in Hales – also known as Drayton Magna or just Drayton – tacked market onto front the name of the settlement and it’s been Market Drayton ever since.

The origins of Drayton’s market are indeed medieval and date back more than seven centuries.

In 1245 King Henry III (1 October 1207-16 November 1272) granted a charter to the monks of Combermere Abbey in Cheshire for a weekly Wednesday market in Drayton. That market is still held and draws visitors from a wide radius, not just from nearby rural villages, but encompassing urban conurbations such as The Potteries, a good 15-20 miles away. In recent years, the historic Wednesday street market has been supplemented by a Saturday market.

Over the centuries the original market changed of course. In 1824 the Buttercross was built, reportedly on the site of a vanished much older cross, in Cheshire Street as shelter for the farmers’ wives selling their dairy produce. When it wasn’t market day, the Buttercross was somewhere dry to leave the bike on trips into town.

the Buttercross

The Buttercross

During my childhood the general market was held in the middle of town in Cheshire Street and High Street, whilst the accompanying livestock market took place on a site off Maer Lane. I can remember helping to drive cattle to market through the streets.

The livestock market itself has not been immune to change. The site that I remember was sold off by its owners, local estate agents and auctioneers Barbers, who replaced it with new facilities out on the A53 bypass, rather further away from the town’s pubs, which used to open very early in the morning on market day.

Market day in Drayton High Street

The aftermath of market day in Drayton High Street

In addition to the weekly market, there were also various fairs, one of the last of which was known as Drayton Dirty Fair. This was a livestock market which specialised in ponies and horses and was held in October each year.

An introduction to these fairs is given by Peter Hampson Ditchfield’s 1896 book, Old English Customs Extant at the Present Time: an account of local observances.

He writes:

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.

Let’s start with the Dirty Fair.

This was one of the last fairs of the year being held in October and its name originates not from the cleanliness of the attendees (which included a large number of gypsies and travelling folk. Ed.), but from the increased likelihood it being held in foul, i.e. dirty, weather.

When my siblings and I were children, our mother warned not to go near the Dirty Fair when it was on, which made it all the more attractive to we kids, of course. 🙂

To get an idea of the Drayton Dirty Fair in the early 20th century, I’m indebted to The Mercury (Hobart, Tasmania), whose morning edition for Thursday, 9th January 1902 states:

Quaint customs die hard. The ancient ceremony of proclaiming October or “dirty” fair, which dates from the thirteenth century, was recently observed at Market Drayton (Eng.). In the early morning the Court Leet of the Manor of Drayton Magna, consisting of the bailiff, aletester, constables, scavengers, searchers and sealers, chaplain, and town crier, paraded the streets warning all rogues, vagabonds, and culpenses, as well as all idle or disorderly persons to depart, or remain at their peril. There was no visible exodus.

The above account is supplemented by the mid-20th century memories of a Mrs Dorothy “Dot” Robinson, who recalls:

Every 24th October there was the “Dirty Fair” at Market Drayton when the gypsies from near and far gathered to sell their ponies. The ponies were put into fields around Betton Wood. They were almost wild but the children would climb on them and ride them. There were lots of caravans parked along the road especially near Mucklestone Rectory. They would collect tin cans from Daisy Lake, and make pegs. During the “Dirty Fair” there was a lot of drinking and fighting in the town so the children were not allowed there.

As far as can be ascertained, the last Dirty Fair was held some time in the early to mid-1970s. The Shropshire County Archives contain 3 photographs from the Drayton Dirty Fair; the last one is dated 1973.

When it comes to finding out more about the Gorby Market, the rural hiring fair held in Drayton and described by Mr Ditchfield, your correspondent has drawn a more or less complete blank. No etymological origins or other information has come to light despite weeks of searching.

The only other facts unearthed on the Gorby Markets were that two other Shropshire towns held them, i.e. Wellington and Craven Arms. The Craven Arms market mutated over time from a rural hiring fair to a more social event and died out some time in the 1920s.

However, there may have been many more hiring fairs than Gorby Markets. In his 1994 book, Shropshire’s Wonderful Markets, George Evans writes that hiring fairs, mop fairs and Gorby Markets were a common occurrence in most Shropshire market towns whose object was to hire out a man or a woman’s labour for a year, despite their various forms.

Besides the Dirty Fair and Gorby Market, Drayton boasted yet another annual event – the Damson Fair. In times gone by Market Drayton was reputedly famed for its Damson Fairs when the textile makers from the north of England would buy the damsons to make dye for their cloth. Damsons were used in the British dye and cloth manufacturing industries in the 18th and 19th centuries with large-scale planting occurring in every major damson-growing area, including Shropshire. In addition to northern cloth mills, damsons were also used as a dyestuff in the carpet and leather goods trades. This fair probably declined in the late 19th/early 20th century with the development of synthetic dyes.

If any reader can contribute to the gaps in my knowledge of Drayton’s Dirty Fair, Gorby Markets or Damson Fair, please feel free to comment below.

Tidy Barton Hill

Bristol Clean Streets logoYesterday, along with Kurt James, Bristol City Council’s co-ordinator for the Bristol Clean Streets campaign, and local resident Eric Green, I joined a group of volunteers from Tawfiq Mosque in Barton Hill (usually rendered as “Bart Nil” in the local vernacular. Ed.😉 ) for a community litter pick.

Starting at 10.30 in the morning, we split into 6 groups and tackled six different parts of the area for the next 2 hours, picking up litter and noting any larger, fly-tipped items for reporting later.

While picking, we did get passers-by thanking us for our efforts, but ultimately I’m sure all those taking part would prefer it if our fellow citizens didn’t mess the area up in the first place. 😀

It was a successful event and I was most encouraged by the cheerful enthusiasm and commitment of those involved. The photo below shows just some of the stuff we collected.

litter pickers and litter picked

Some of the litter picked up assembled at the Urban Park collection point.

Your correspondent understands the mosque plans to make this a regular event. If so, I’ll try and get along again to assist.

In the meantime, if you spot a problem on a Bristol street, be it an abandoned vehicle, litter, fly-tipping, a blocked drain or anything else, please report it to the council for attention.

“Th” sound to disappear from English in coming decades?

The “th” sound, which had its own letter – thorn (Þ, þ) in Old and Middle English – could disappear from spoken British English, today’s Daily Telegraph reports.

By 2066, linguists are predicting that the “th” sound will vanish completely in london because there are so many foreigners who struggle to pronounce interdental consonants – the term for a sound created by pushing the tongue against the upper teeth.

In the wider South East of England Estuary English – a hybrid of Cockney and received pronunciation (RP)– is already being replaced by Multicultural London English (MLE), which is heavily influenced by Caribbean, West African and Asian Communities.

The Telegraph is reporting on the release of the Sounds of The Future report produced by Dr. Dominic Watt and Dr. Brendan Gunn from the University of York.

Other predictions from the authors include:

  • Sound softening – hardly anyone says ‘syoot’ for ‘suit’ any more and this trend will continue with the sharp corners knocked off words;
  • Yod dropping – words like ‘cute’ or ‘beauty’ will become ‘coot’ and ‘booty’;
  • Consonant smushing – ‘w’ and ‘r’ are already similar for many southern English speakers, but the letters could completely collapse into one sound, whilst Words with ‘ch’ and ‘j’ could also become indistinguishable;
  • Glottal stop – the slight linguistic trip which turns ‘butter’ into ‘bu’er’ in dialects like Cockney could become more widespread around the country.

Commenting on the same report, the Newcastle Chronicle leads with the headline “The Geordie accent is on the way out say language experts“, remarking that language experts say that by 2066 the distinctive Geordie accent will sound like a southern one.

The Sound of 2016 report was commissioned by bankers HSBC, to mark the “voice biometric” technology which the bank is rolling out to 15 million customers, so perhaps it’s worth mentioning here the usual disclaimer about not trusting information from someone trying to sell you something. 😀

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