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Archive for the 'Things I Have Learned' Category
Reviewing The Elements Of Eloquence by Mark Forsythe in The Spectator, Christopher Howse notes:
The shiniest piece of information I picked up is that, in English, adjectives go in this order:
Opinion – size – age – shape – colour – origin – material – purpose – noun. So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac.
This knowledge is implicitly mastered by all native speakers; to see it made explicit is an enjoyable revelation, like learning to carry a tray on the flat of your hand.
In the reign of William III, there resided at Ipswich a family which, from the number of peculiarities belonging to it, was distinguished by the name of ‘the Odd Family’. Every event remarkably good or bad happened to this family on an odd day of the month, and every member had something odd in his or her person, manner, or behaviour. The very letters in their Christian names always happened to be an odd number; the husband’s name was Peter, and the wife’s name Raboh: they had seven children, all boys, viz, Solomon, Roger, James, Matthew, Jonas, David, and Ezekiel. The husband had but one leg, his wife but one arm. Solomon was born blind of one eye, and Roger lost his sight by accident. James had his left ear bit off by a boy in a quarrel, and Matthew was born with only three fingers on his right hand. Jonas had a stump foot and David was hump-backed. All these, except the latter, were remarkably short, while Ezekiel was six foot one inch high at the age of nineteen The stump-footed Jonas and the hump-backed David got wives of fortune, but no girls in the borough would listen to the addresses of their brothers. The husband’s hair was as black as jet, and the wife’s remarkably white; yet every one of the children’s hair was red. The husband was killed by accidentally falling into a deep pit in the year 1701; and his wife, refusing all kinds of sustenance, died five days after him, and they were buried in one grave. In 1703, Ezekiel enlisted as a grenadier; and although he was afterwards wounded in twenty-three places, he recovered. Roger, James, Matthew, Jonas, and David, it appears by the church registers, died in different places and were buried on the same day, in 1713; and Solomon and Ezekiel were drowned together in crossing the Thames in the year 1723. Such a collection of odd circumstances never occurred before in one family.
John Timbs, English Eccentrics And Eccentricities, Volume II (1866)
Dr John Watson’s chronicle of the career of Sherlock Holmes is far from exhaustive. In the course of his narratives, he makes passing mention of a number of cases of which no further details are forthcoming, to wit, Von Bischoff of Frankfurt, Mason of Bradford, the notorious Muller, Lefevre and Leturier of Montpellier, Samson of New Orleans, Van Jansen of Utrecht, the Ratcliff Highway murders, Dolsky of Odessa, the wills in Riga in 1857 and St Louis in 1871, Mrs Cecil Forrester’s domestic complication, the woman who poisoned three children for their insurance money, similar cases in India and Senegambia, the Bishopsgate jewels, the Trepoff murder, the Atkinson brothers at Trincomalee, the mission for the Dutch royal family, the Darlington substitution scandal, the business at Arnsworth castle, the Dundas separation case, that intricate matter in Marseilles, the disappearance of Mr Etheredge, the similar cases in Andover and The Hague, the adventure of the Paradol Chamber, the Amateur Mendicant Society, the loss of the barque Sophie Anderson, the Grice Patersons on Uffa, the Camberwell poisoning, the Tankerville Club scandal, two murders, the throwing of vitriol, suicide and a number of robberies associated with the Blue Carbuncle, Mrs Farintosh and the opal tiara, the madness of Colonel Warburton, the Grosvenor Square furniture van, the King of Scandinavia and similar cases in Aberdeen and Munich, the affair of the bogus laundry, the Tarleton murders, Vamberry the wine merchant, the old Russian woman, the singular affair of the aluminium crutch, the club-footed Ricoletti and his abominable wife, Baron Maupertuis and the Netherland-Sumatra Company, the Worthingdon bank robbery, Adams and the Manor House, the tired captain, the French Government case in Nîmes and Narbonne, the Scandinavian royal family, the Vatican cameos, Wilson of the district messenger office, the Grodno blackmail and others, Little Russia, the Anderson murders in North Carolina, the Colonel Upwood card scandal at the Nonpareil Club, Madame Montpensier’s murder charge against her daughter, the Molesey Mystery, Morgan the poisoner, Merridew of abominable memory, Matthews who knocked out Holmes’s left canine in the waiting room at Charing Cross, the murder of Mrs Stewart in Lauder, the papers of ex-President Murillo, the Dutch steamship Friesland, Bert Stevens the murderer, the persecution of tobacco millionaire John Vincent Harden, Archie Stamford the forger, the Ferrers documents, the Abergavenny murder, the death of Cardinal Tosca, Wilson the canary trainer, the dreadful business of the Abernetty family, the Conk-Singleton forgery, Crosby the banker and the red leech, the contents of the Addleton barrow, the Smith-Mortimer succession case, Huret the Boulevard Assassin, Arthur H Staunton the forger and Henry Staunton, the Randall burglars of Lewisham, the Margate woman, Colonel Carruthers, Brooks, Woodhouse, Fairdale Hobbs, the Long Island cave mystery, Abrahams in mortal terror, Rotherhithe, old Baron Dowson, the disappearances of James Phillimore and of the cutter Alicia, the madness of Isadora Persano, the ship Matilda Briggs and the giant rat of Sumatra, the forger Victor Lynch, Vittoria the circus belle, Vanderbilt and the Yeggman, Vigor the Hammersmith Wonder, Sir George Lewis and the Hammerford Will, Wainwright, the Duke of Greyminster and Abbey School, the Sultan of Turkey’s commission, two Coptic patriarchs, the St Pancras picture-frame maker, and a coiner, not to forget the case of the politician, the lighthouse and the trained cormorant.
The following is a comparative estimate of the dimensions of the Head of the inhabitants in several counties of England.
The male Head in England, at maturity, averages from 6 and a half to 7 and five-eighths inches in diameter; the medium and most general size being 7 inches. The female head is smaller, varying from 6 and three-eighths to 7 or 7 and a half inches, the medium male size. Fixing the medium of the English head at 7 inches, there can be no difficulty in distinguishing the portions of society above from those below that measurement.
London – The majority of the higher classes are above the medium, while among the lower it is very rare to find a large head.
Spitalfields Weavers have extremely small heads, 6 and a half, 6 and five-eighths, 6 and three-quarter inches being the prevailing admeasurements.
Coventry – Almost exclusively peopled by weavers; the same facts are peculiarly observed.
Hertfordshire, Essex, Suffolk, and Norfolk contain a larger proportion of small heads than any part of the empire; Essex and Hertfordshire particularly. 7 inches in diameter is here, as in Spitalfields and Coventry, quite unusual. 6 and five-eighths or 6 and a half are more general; and 6 and three-eighths, the usual size for a boy of six years of age, is frequently to be met with here in the full maturity of manhood.
Kent, Surrey, and Sussex – An increase of size of the usual average is observed; and the inland counties, in general, are nearly upon the same scale.
Devonshire and Cornwall – The heads of full sizes.
Herefordshire – Superior to the London average.
Lancashire, Yorkshire, Cumberland, and Northumberland have more large heads, in proportion, than any part of the country.
Scotland – The full-sized head is known to be possessed by the inhabitants; their measurement ranging between 7 and three-quarters and 7 and seven-eighths even to 8 inches. This extreme size, however, is rare.
John Timbs, Things Not Generally Known (1860)
I thought it would be useful, this Sunday, to provide you lot with a comprehensive list of the names given to the different markings of Shetland sheep. Please note that an individual sheep can have more than one type of marking.
Delving in the archives, for reasons related to Project Thrilling, I came upon this postage from 2008 which, my memory being the puny thing it is, I had completely forgotten. Well worth rereading.
1. A raven called Dot-son-paa created the world.
2. Startled blackbirds emit piercing cries because they think they are about to be attacked by demons.
3. Each legion of the Roman Army had a Pullarius, whose job it was to look after the cage of sacred chickens they carried with them.
4. If a dove flies over a coal mine, disaster is likely to follow.
5. The souls of unbaptised children take the form of nightjars.
6. Cuckoos in Herefordshire buy horses at a country fair, and sell them at another.
7. Beowulf was reincarnated as a woodpecker.
8. Every single corncrake in Siberia got there by riding on the back of a crane.
9. If you want to provoke someone to commit suicide, send them a picture of an owl.
10. A splinter of wood from a coffin will keep sparrows at bay.
11. If you drink boiled magpie broth you will go mad.
12. If a woman befriends a stork, it will bring her jewellery.
13. In an apotheosis, an eagle is hidden behind a blazing waxen image of a dead emperor, and released when it has melted away.
14. Epileptics can transfer their illness to a chicken by carrying it three times around a well and then spending the night with it asleep under a church altar.
15. It is a good idea to place a wooden diver atop a tall post at the corner of a grave.
16. Robins can speak Latin.
17. Jesus turned a woman into a lapwing after she baked him a cake.
18. On every beach there is a magic stone that cures blindness, but only swallows know how to find it.
19. One way to find gold is to carry with you a stone vomited up by a crane.
20. If you hear a cuckoo before eating your breakfast, ill fortune will follow, possibly to include a loss of feeling in your arms and legs.
21. Nightingales used to be one-eyed, but borrowed the eye from a blindworm and never returned it.
22. Ireland has been called “the swan abounding land”.
23. Pelicans are the most pious of birds.
24. To avoid being bitten by a rabid dog, tuck the heart and right foot of an owl under your left armpit.
25. Cranes migrate south for the sole purpose of launching savage attacks on miniature people, about seven inches high, who they gobble up.
26. You can protect your house from lightning strikes by keeping a blackbird in your living room
27. Crossbills watch over children who fall asleep in direct moonlight and may therefore otherwise come to harm.
28. If bird eggs are incubated by frogs, the birds that hatch from them, irrespective of the parent birds, will be stonechats.
29. Migrating quails are terrified of the sea, and shut their eyes when crossing it, thus often colliding with ships.
30. Nail a dead owl to your barn to protect against storms.
31. The earth was created from mud collected by white-billed divers.
32. If you eat roasted swallow, you are likely to be attacked by dragons.
33. A crossbill tried, but failed, to wrench the nails from Christ’s cross during the crucifixion.
34. You can kill gnats and flies with a handful of soil taken from where you are standing when you hear a cuckoo call.
35. If you are lucky enough to find a stone known as an alectorius in the gizzard of a chicken, you will become invisible.
36. The Virgin Mary decided to marry Joseph after she saw a dove land on his head.
37. Three Roman emperors died after owls perched on the roofs of their villas.
38. If you dissolve the eyes of a quail in water, then mix with oil and rub it onto a burning rag, you will take on the appearance of a devil on fire.
39. Eagles can look at the sun without blinking.
40. The god Asmodi appears in the form of a goose and envelops Frisian peasants in darkness while they engage in sex orgies.
41. Cuckoos turn into birds of prey around June or July.
42. Widowed doves only drink from muddy puddles after dark.
43. Barnacle geese are hatched from shells attached to waterlogged timbers tossed along the sea, and are at first like gum.
44. You will be admired by everyone you meet if you keep in your pocket the eyes of a hoopoe.
45. It is advisable to be sitting down when you see a swallow.
46. If you hear a lapwing call, you should throw a bowl of water into the air.
47. Kingfishers live on riverbanks because they are searching for Noah’s Ark.
48. Magpies have a drop of human blood on their tongues.
49. When putting on a play, avoid having any peacock feathers on stage, or disaster will strike.
50. Nightjars attack cattle with their beaks and give them a disease known as puckeridge.
51. You will not get a proper night’s sleep if you have the heart and eyes of a nightingale in your bed.
52. Pelicans are known to set fire to themselves by flapping their wings excessively near bonfires.
53. You can forecast wind direction by hanging a dead kingfisher upside down from a length of thread, and watching which way its breast faces.
54. The liver of a hoopoe, pounded to a pulp and mixed with crocus, is a surefire cure for lung disease.
55. The god Odin had two pet ravens called Hugin and Munin, who spent all day flying around the world, returning at night to perch on his shoulder and tell him what they had seen and heard.
56. If you are holding a robin when it dies, your hand will never stop shaking.
57. On Sundays, rooks sit quietly on branches and do not carry sticks in their beaks.
58. To encourage rainfall, it is a good idea to get some swallows and throw them into a pond.
59. Sometimes you should pretend that a wren is a beast of enormous size, and drag a dead one into town on a wagon drawn by four oxen.
60. There are some trees which fall into the sea and become birds.
My source for much of this information is Flights Of Fancy : Birds In Myth, Legend & Superstition by Peter Tate. Highly recommended.
We are mistaken if we think that there is, in ultimate reality, any such thing as a cow.
Arthur Machen, The London Adventure or The Art Of Wandering (1924)
There are certain parts of Clapton from which it is possible, on sunny days, to see the pleasant hills of Beulah, though topographical experts might possibly assure you that it was only Epping Forest. But men of science are always wrong.
Arthur Machen, The London Adventure or The Art Of Wandering (1924)
Weeks after posting a link to my first set of Brief Lives over at The Dabbler, a comment arrives. Rahul tells us that he (she?) is “using one of the best refrigerators in India”. Apparently it is fitted with the “latest sensation technology”. It is not clear if this is related to L’Oreal’s light-reflecting booster technology, but I am sure it must be so.
The refrigerator alluded to in my postage was the one in Michael Tippett’s kitchen which he called “Bernard Levin”. I cannot help wondering if that model, too, had the most up to date sensation technology of its era. Again, I would like to think that was the case.
I do not know what Tippett’s fellow composer Peter Maxwell Davies calls his refrigerator, but no doubt it, too, is a state of the art model, crammed with electrocuted swans.
I was delighted, the other day, to become reacquainted with my collection of the Puffin Post magazine, which I had not clapped eyes on since the last century. Launched in 1967 by Puffin Books editrix Kaye Webb (ex-wife, incidentally, of Ronald Searle), Puffin Post was a quarterly magazine for bookish tinies. My collection comprises the fourth and final issue of Volume One, and Volumes Two to Four complete, thus thirteen issues in total. I have been taking my time in browsing through them, savouring the memories they summon.
It occurred to me to transcribe certain choice items for the edification, instruction, and amusement of you lot, and I thought I had found the perfect item to start with when, in that very first issue, I came upon a story entitled The Potato With BIG Ideas. We take our potatoes seriously at Hooting Yard, as you know. Alas, the tale – by Alf Proysen, author of Little Old Mrs Pepperpot – turned out to be rather humdrum. It is certainly not a patch on the potato-based yarn drawn to my attention by Salim Fadhley, A Potato That Wasn’t A Christian. One cannot help thinking that the authors of potato stories for children have a very weak grasp of the nature of actual potatoes. I would bet there is not a potato on the planet which (a) has ideas of any kind, or (b) is a confessor of any of the major religious faiths. And remember, I have studied potatoes intensely, so I should know.
Anyway, back to the Puffin Post. In Volume 2, No. 2, I did find what I was looking for, an absolutely rip-roaring story by Janet Aichison (age 5 and a half) entitled The Pirate’s Tale. It bears comparison with some of Bertolt Brecht’s early piratical short stories. Here it is:
Once upon a time there were some bad pirates. They sailed to a mountain. They dug in the mountain and found gold and silver. The mountain was a volcano.
They saw a bit of volcano then they ran back to their ship and they sailed away to their mountain and hid the gold and silver in their cave and guarded the treasure. A dwarf stole the gold and silver. The pirates woke up and killed the dwarf. The pirates got the gold and silver and the dwarf’s gold and silver.
The king dwarf sent an army to fight the pirates and to hurt the pirates. Who knows which side won the battle? The pirates! The pirates caught the king dwarf and they killed him and they threw him into the sea. A whale threw him up again and the pirates threw him down again. A shark came along and ate him up. The pirates laughed to see the dwarf being eaten up by the shark.
One day the pirates found a crab. It pinched a pirate. The pirates screamed to see the crab. The pirates ran away to the ship and sailed to the mountain and got the guns and killed the crab and the pirates laughed.
One day the pirates found a rat and killed it. The pirates had a cat and the cat ate the rat and the cat died. The pirates looked sad. A pirate found a house and opened the door and went in. It was dusty. He tidied it and dusted it. The pirate found a mouse and gave the mouse a piece of cheese. The cheese was magic.
The pirate said “Oh dear. The cheese is magic. I shouldn’t have given the mouse the cheese.” The mouse died.
One day the pirates found a forest. The forest was bewitched. The pirates went in the forest. The pirates turned into frogs and leapt about all over the place and croaked, trying to talk.
One day the pirates found some children. The pirates kept the children for their wives to cook for them. The wives cook nice things for the pirates. The pirates liked the food and ate it all up. The pirates liked the fish best. They caught the fish themselves from the sea.
One day the pirates weren’t very well. The pirates had mumps. They were very ill. One day the pirates got better and sailed away to the mountain and saw a shark and killed it and the pirates’ new cat said, “meow meow”. The pirates said, “Be quiet, new cat.”
One day the pirates found a ship. The ship had some gold and silver. The pirates stole the gold and silver. The gold and silver is magic.
The pirates died. The cat died.
A work of some genius, I think. In the unlikely event that the now middle-aged Janet Aichison chances to read this, I hope she will leave a comment.
I was overcome with a sudden panic; to have come so far only to have to turn around and go back, unable to keep up with the local dialect, a distinct and lilting mixture of my own native tongue and a leprechaun’s mystical chatter.
Thus my nephew Vinnie Byrne, a native of Pining And Pothorst Land, currently making a grand tour of Old Europe. Wisely, he has decided to write a blog about his travels, and very good it is too. I urge you lot to go and read it.
Cows : read and learn, read and learn.
The longer a cow has been lying down, the more likely that cow will soon stand up, and once a cow stands up, you cannot easily predict how soon that cow will lie down again.
In the unlikely event that you require any further information on this important matter, go here.
I am indebted to Rob Howard for drawing to my attention the inscription which the Assyrian king Ashur-nasir-pal II (884 – 859 BC) had carved, repeatedly, all over his palace. As Mr Howard says, it reminds us, in its verbosity and boastfulness, of Prince Fulgencio, of whom you will have read here from time to time.
The so-called Standard Inscription was carved across the centre of every wall panel in the North-West Palace, forming a decorative band around each room. Occasionally, on narrow panels, part of the text was omitted. Otherwise there was no significant variation and the catalogue of royal titles, claims and achievements was simply repeated over and over again.
Palace of Ashur-nasir-pal, priest of Ashur, favourite of Enlil and Ninurta, beloved of Anu and Dagan, the weapon of the great gods, the mighty king, king of the world, king of Assyria; son of Tukulti-Ninurta, the great king, the mighty king, king of the world, king of Assyria, the son of Adad-nirari, the great king, the mighty king, king of Assyria; the valiant man, who acts with the support of Ashur, his lord, and has no equal among the princes of the four quarters of the world; the wonderful shepherd who is not afraid of battle; the great flood which none can oppose; the king who makes those who are not subject to him submissive; who has subjugated all mankind; the mighty warrior who treads on the neck of his enemies, tramples down all foes, and shatters the forces of the proud; the king who acts with the support of the great gods, and whose hand has conquered all lands, who has subjugated all the mountains and received their tribute, taking hostages and establishing his power over all countries.
When Ashur, the lord who called me by my name and has made my kingdom great, entrusted his merciless weapon to my lordly arms, I overthrew the widespread troops of the land of Lullume in battle. With the assistance of Shamash and Adad, the gods who help me, I thundered like Adad the destroyer over the troops of the Nairi lands, Habhi, Shubaru, and Nirib. I am the king who has brought into submission at his feet the lands from beyond the Tigris to Mount Lebanon and the Great Sea, the whole of the land of Laqe, the land of Suhi as far as Rapiqu, and whose hand has conquered from the source of the river Subnat to the land of Urartu.
The area from the mountain passes of Kirruri to the land of Gilzanu, from beyond the Lower Zab to the city of Til-Bari which is north of the land of Zaban, from the city of Til-sha-abtani to Til-sha-Zabdani, Hirimu and Harutu, fortresses of the land of Karduniash, I have restored to the borders of my land. From the mountain passes of Babite to the land of Hashmar I have counted the inhabitants as peoples of my land. Over the lands which I have subjugated I have appointed my governors, and they do obeisance.
I am Ashurnasirpal, the celebrated prince, who reveres the great gods, the fierce dragon, conqueror of the cities and mountains to their furthest extent, king of rulers who has tamed the stiff-necked peoples, who is crowned with splendour, who is not afraid of battle, the merciless champion who shakes resistance, the glorious king, the shepherd, the protection of the whole world, the king, the word of whose mouth destroys mountains and seas, who by his lordly attack has forced fierce and merciless kings from the rising to the setting sun to acknowledge one rule.
The former city of Kalhu, which Shalmaneser king of Assyria, a prince who preceded me, had built, that city had fallen into ruins and lay deserted. That city I built anew. I took the peoples whom my hand had conquered from the lands which I had subjugated, from the land of Suhi, from the whole of the land of Laqe, from the city of Sirqu on the other side of the Euphrates, from the furthest extent of the land of Zamua, from Bit-Adini and the land of Hatte, and from Lubarna, king of the land of Patina, and made them settle there.
I removed the ancient mound and dug down to the water level. I sank the foundations one hundred and twenty brick courses deep. A palace with halls of cedar, cypress, juniper, box-wood, meskannu-wood, terebinth and tamarisk, I founded as my royal residence for my lordly pleasure forever.
Creatures of the mountains and seas I fashioned in white limestone and alabaster, and set them up at its gates. I adorned it, and made it glorious, and set ornamental knobs of bronze all around it. I fixed doors of cedar, cypress, juniper and meskannu-wood in its gates. I took in great quantities, and placed there, silver, gold, tin, bronze and iron, booty taken by my hands from the lands which I had conquered.