Monday, June 30, 2008

New Constellation?

Is this constellation visible from the Northern Hemisphere?
Click here to enlarge picture and see answer

Saturday, June 21, 2008

One last try...

The main disappointment in my collection of words and cultural facts since I started this research blog a few months ago, has been the almost complete lack of information on Northern Ireland.

Since it is unlikely that any information I receive after the end of this month will have a reasonable chance of making it into my book, due to publishing deadline constraints, I want to make what will almost surely be my last appeal for information on this "missing" part of the United Kingdom.

I have no blog contributors (to my knowledge at least) who are natives of Northern Ireland (although A. was born in Ireland before the the separation of the republic, but not in Northern Ireland) so, I hope to at least glean from the rest of you some memories of visits or residencies of the past. Obviously I am hoping for information from A. as well.

While I am sad I haven't been able to find bloggers who are native to Northern Ireland, and who still live there, I am happy that I have made a friend who does live there now, and who has become familiar with this delightful place. I am even more happy that this friend, Catherine, has agreed to do what she can to help me out with Northern Ireland, starting, I think, with a post on some of their special words (slang of course!) Obviously I also hope to entice her to make some other comments over the next few days, in addition to words alone, which talk about some of her experiences of living there. I know very well how precious Catherine's "free" time is, and so anything at all from her will be appreciated.

Getting the basic Google out of the way:

"Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and covers 14,139 km² (5,459 sq miles) in the northeast part of the island of Ireland. Northern Ireland forms about a sixth of the total area of the island of Ireland. It has a population of 1,685,000 (April 2001) which is c30% of the island's total population.

"The capital of Northern Ireland is Belfast.

"Northern Ireland was created by the Government of Ireland Act, 1920 and has had its own form of devolved government, The Northern Ireland Assembly."

Not much, but a start.

Last chance. Anyone?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Cajuns and Castles

The segue begins:

Earlier I posed a question in passing about what the largest (cargo tonnage) port in the USA was. The name of that port is the Port of South Louisiana, which also happens to be the largest port in the Western Hemisphere. So what? Lots of Cajuns work there. So what? Well....

"Cajuns" is a corruption of the word "Acadians", French speakers who migrated to Louisiana from, um, Acadia. Acadia is the old name for Nova Scotia (and parts of NB and PEI) provinces of Canada.

All together now: "SO WHAT??!!!!"

Good. You're catching on.

Acadia was renamed, after chasing out the Acadians, by immigrants who thought Nova Scotia would be a really good name for their new home. Can you guess where these new people came from? Wrong. Settlers of Nova Scotia came mostly from loyal British subjects fleeing the American Revolution.

But, up until that, it was a pretty darn good segue, no?


Our new topic is Scotland. (Not New Scotland.) Are you from Scotland, either originally or still? Are you from somewhere else, but live in Scotland now? Please tell your stories and share your perspectives. Recount memories if you are willing. Again, no Google or Wikipedia fact lists or histories, please. Personal stuff is what we will find interesting here.

Tell me about yourselves, please.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


This is a new post.

Well, Duh.

What I mean to say is that I want to try out a new KIND of post, a post written by you. In this post, I will broach a subject that I want to learn about, that Americans are generally pretty ignorant about (that part is pretty easy), and YOU, hopefully, will tell us about the subject. Not full lectures, mind you, but bits and pieces about the subject that you have stored in your mind. Then, I will, incredible writer that I am, work my magic of digesting and sorting this information into a larger (hopefully informative) article about the subject.

The first subject I want to learn more about, since I know practically nothing about it right now, is a large one. As will be the case with all these posts, the subject appears as the title of the post.

I REALLY hope you will use the comments to tell me what you know about the subject. I am not looking for a comprehensive lesson from one person. I can go to Wikipedia or Google if I want that. No. As usual, what I want from you are PERSONAL stories of life there, holidays there, experiences there.

By now you have suspected that it is really YOU who are writing my book, that my book is indeed impossible for an American to write in any event. All I can do - and I have mentioned this a hundred times - is sift through what you tell me and turn your information into a larger story, a story which will help Americans learn who you really are. And so I ask the same question I have asked you many times before:

Tell me about yourselves.

And, today, tell me about your living in, growing up in, working in, visits to, and memories of, a place its earliest settlers called Cymru.

No lists of almanac facts to start with, please. Those you can incorporate into your stories as you tell them. Memories only, for the time being if you please. Who will start?

[Note: So that I don't mislead you with the picture at the top of this post, the subject I want to know about is not the Green Bridge of Wales. K? It is "Wales." Thank you.]

Friday, June 13, 2008

Happy Juneteenth

Although not officially until June 19th, celebrations and remembrances will primarily be held this weekend.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A longing for the past

As the 1940s drew to a close, a new era of prosperity was dawning in America. The war was over and the returning servicemen had married their sweethearts and had begun to start families of their own.

Pictured above is a typical American family of the period, the Phil Jones family of Atumwa, Iowa. Housewife Liz is the daughter of a corn and dairy farmer, and Phil is the assistant band director at Atumwa high school. They have 1.7 children and are very typical of middle-class young American families of this time period.

Just as the picture was snapped, little Chuckie was in the process of trying to gouge out his baby sister's eyes, and he has just been jokingly told by his mother that if he is not good, he will grow up to marry Camilla the horse, a popular character in children's books of the period. Chuckie is shaking his head and repeating "uh-uh, uh-uh" over and over again. Little baby Annie is in the midst of filling her diaper.

Phil makes a typical wage of $65 per week, which is more than adequate for the little family living in an upstairs apartment over the bakery. Liz is an expert seamstress, and makes many of the children's clothing herself. She blushes as Phil praises her on her cooking, and tells how he enjoys her hamburgers.

If this typical American family follows the national averages, they will have no more children.

Cricket Fanpics

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Still obsessed with food

Not too long ago, I did a post on Canadian Bacon. I found out several things from the comments to that post. Mainly, Canadians don't know what the hell it is. Some Canadians thought Canadian Bacon exists only in the American imagination.

But, at the same time, the conversation turned to bacon in general. The concensus was that American bacon was worst of all, and British bacon was the best stuff on the planet. This from the British of course, most of whom have never tasted American bacon.

American bacon is very fatty and is an acquired taste for foreigners. It is smoked. Hickory smoked is the most common, followed by maple.

British bacon is much leaner, obviously cut from a different part of the pig. Canadian bacon (yes, there really is such a thing) is more like ham in my opinion - not really bacon at all. But that is what they call it.

At the top of this post is a picture of what British bacon looks like, for those of us who have never seen it. As you can readily see, it is much, much leaner than American bacon. I don't know if it is smoked or not. Probably is. Couldn't find that out before I got bored of  Googling this morning. I'm sure the Brits will tell us if it is, as long as we listen to their stories of how they once had American bacon and it was so bad-tasting they had to throw it away.

Just from looking at the picture on top, they may be right.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Cricket, part 2: Brian Johnston

Photo from Flickr user E Cashell

[Note: this is the second of a two-part post on cricket authored by my good friend A., currently summering in France. I have come to respect her knowledge of all things British, and this post on cricket is no exception. I suspect she will answer comments on these posts when she returns from her holiday this weekend.]

A discussion of cricket would be incomplete without the immortal words of Brian Johnston, one of the great cricket commentators. They need no further introduction.

"Now Fred Titmus is coming into bowl. He's got two square legs."

Glenn Turner was hurt by a fast ball to the box but eventually picked up his bat and returned to the wicket for the last ball of the over. "Turner looks a bit shaky and unsteady," Johnston announced, "but I think he's going to bat on - one ball left."

In one famous incident during a Test match at the Oval, Jonathan Agnew suggested that Ian Botham was out hit wicket because had failed to "get his leg over." Johnston carried on commentating (and giggling) for 30 seconds before dissolving into helpless laughter. You can hear here.

"There's Neil Harvey standing at leg slip with his legs wide apart, waiting for a tickle."

"The bowler's Holding, the batsman's Willey" allegedly occurred when Michael Holding of the West Indies was bowling to Peter Willey of England in a Test match at the Oval in 1976, but there is some dispute as to whether it really happened.

"Ray Illingworth has just relieved himself at the Pavilion End."

South African Peter Pollock, who sprained his ankle on his run-up: "He's obviously in great pain. It's especially bad luck as he is here on his honeymoon with his pretty young wife. Still, he'll probably be all right tomorrow if he sticks it up tonight."

"Welcome to Worcester where you have just missed seeing Barry Richards hitting one of the Basil D'Oliveira's balls clean out of the ground."

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Cricket, lovely cricket

[Guest post by A.A.A.]

The players: two teams of eleven men, made up of roughly equal numbers of specialist batsmen and bowlers with perhaps an all-rounder, plus a wicket keeper. Whereas only 4 or 5 players will bowl, all are expected to take their turn batting. The bowlers appear late in the batting order and rather tend to fancy themselves as batsmen.

Photo from flickr user kadj.

The field: a roughly oval field with a boundary often marked by a rope. In the centre is the pitch, a rectangular area 22 yards long with wickets at each end. The wickets consist of three uprights, the stumps, with two bails balanced across the top.

Photo from flickr user shimgray.

The game: consists of one innings per side for one day matches, or two innings per side for county or test (international) matches. The aim is to score runs. The fielding team has all eleven players on the field and the batting side has two batsmen, one at each wicket. The bowlers bowl six balls (called an over) from each end. The batsmen can score by running between the wickets, or by hitting the ball so that it reaches the boundary. If the ball touches the ground before it reaches the boundary the batsman scores four runs. If it clears the boundary it is six runs. An over without runs is a maiden over. The batsman can be out by being caught, by having the bails knocked off his wicket, or being hit leg before wicket.

Clear so far?

Diagram from Wikimedia.

The fielding positions: these names give rise to much hilarity and mirth. They aren’t fixed positions. Apart from the wicket keeper and bowler, you can take your choice from, and not limited to:
Silly mid-on
An almost infinite number of slips or a leg slip
Square leg
Backward short leg
Fine leg
Long leg
Third man
Extra cover

I could go on, but you get the picture.

If anyone has any questions, do leave them in the comments. I probably won't answer.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Prince Philip to attempt world jump record

[Wayharsh Exclusive]

Buckingham Palace spokesman Bernie Fartwell announced at a press conference today that the 87 year old Duke of Edinburgh will, on Thursday next, attempt to break the outdoor motorcycle bus-jumping record currently held by the late Evel Knievel.

There was no other elaboration from the palace except to imply that this was a life-long ambition of Prince Philip, and one of the things on his "life list" of things he wants to do before he dies. He has reportedly already checked off "riding in a horse-drawn carriage with the queen of England" and "owning the most military uniforms and medals for a guy who was only a lieutenant".

D Day

Another June 6th.

June 6, 1944. The Allied invasion of Europe at Normandy.

A lot of young British, Americans and Canadians were dying right about now, 64 years ago. Perhaps you might take 10 seconds to remember them.

The French were mostly speaking German back then. I'll bet there are ceremonies all over France right now, bands playing, children waving British and American flags. Honoring those dead foreigners who gave them back their homeland. On this day in history, when the lights started coming back on in Europe. When France started to become French again.



The exact time and date of the invasion was highly secret of course. But so much military equipment and so many soldiers obviously could not be effectively hidden. England was bursting at the seams with the materials of war, and with young men, both foreign and domestic, who were about to stop having birthdays. Then, in the darkness of the wee hours of the morning of June 6, 1944, the largest naval armada ever assembled in the history of the world began oozing into the English Channel, making it's way through the black choppy sea toward France. Toward Normandy. Toward cold, wet, beaches and sheer cliffs. Toward certain death.

Not until the invasion was already a historical fact several hours old, did the military give permission for a statement to be broadcast to the citizens of London. At 8:32 AM, the BBC was allowed to broadcast a simple terse statement, approved by the military command. Those 26 words were:

"Under command of General Eisenhower, Allied naval forces, supported by strong Allied air forces, began landing Allied armies this morning on the northern coast of France."

That's all. Nothing about teenagers being rolled around in open landing craft by the vicious Channel seas, puking with seasickness and abject terror as the last few minutes of their young lives ticked away. Nothing about jumping into the cold water and trying to make their way to the beach in the darkness, as the German guns flashed, and the machine gun bullets whined and twanged off metal, nothing about American teenagers wading through the floating bodies of their late friends, and then joining them in the water. Nothing about the unspeakable horror in their bellies as they crawled with no protection over the wet sand through the hail of the machine guns above them on the cliffs. Nothing about their hot blood running into the cool French sand until everything went black.

"Under command of General Eisenhower, Allied naval forces, supported by strong Allied air forces, began landing Allied armies this morning on the northern coast of France."

That's all.


The French were mostly speaking German back then. I'll bet there are ceremonies all over France right now, bands playing, children waving British and American flags. Honoring those dead foreigners who gave them back their homeland. On this day in history, when the lights started coming back on in Europe. When France started to become French again.


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Brits take their weird sports seriously

Some of you loyal fans of BritishSpeak remember my very first post. It was (sort of) about Association Football, but I called it Soccer. Remember? What fun we had that day. What a tolerant bunch you were.

I took your abuse and learned a little (damn little) about the game you mistakenly call "football", and then you told me about rugby and even mentioned gaelic football. Well, I guess you never really told me: Catherine threatened to tell me, but never did. Be that as it may, these are sports in name only in the U.S., played only as curiosities at a few Ivy League universities. (Rugby, not soccer. Soccer is very widespread in the U.S. now. At least among children.)

I never got round to talking about the game of cricket. Thank goodness. What an oddity! I put cricket right up there with La Crosse and curling. Filed under "Things best left unknown by Americans."

I have given it quite a bit of thought, and I think the reason soccer has never really caught on with Americans (at a professional level) is because of the odd rule that you can't use your hands to pick up the ball and smash it into your opponent's face. It is my theory that, if this mistake is ever corrected, then the sport will gain rapid stature across the pond. The whole point of American sport, after all, is almost always to find ways to maim your adversary. But I am here to talk about darts, and maiming so seldom happens in that game.

I enjoy Pub games. Darts. Snooker. Well, darts anyway. Snooker: not so much. You have to actually think in order to play snooker, and (for me at least) thinking sometimes doesn't come that naturally in a bar after 10 or 12 drinks. So.

But darts I can do. Stand me up and point me in the right direction. Drunk or no. I think this is because one practices throwing darts so many hundreds of times that it eventually becomes second nature, and you can thus do it fairly adequately even when more than a little drunk. In fact, faking being even drunker than you really are is about the only way I can think of to actually hustle at darts. At least in the U.S. You Brits have probably discovered other ways.

I'm ok at darts, even pretty drunk, just as long as I have someone who can subtract reliably and who won't lie to me about how many points I still need to go out. Not that you Brits would lie to a drunk American about a thing like that.

Monday, June 2, 2008

World's best fish & chips? Apparently debatable.

Excerpted from "The Amazing Toad":

Lincolnshire is the fish 'n' chip capital of the world. I once met a chap who said: "Yorkshire has all the best fish and chip shops". With total confidence that no court would convict me, I took half a step back, sprang forward and struck him hard with a clenched fist to his throat. "You sir", says I, "are a confounded liar". He said nothing in reply - the silent testimony of the guilty, I suppose.

Haddock and chips from the late Mrs. Longden's in Upton village certainly were the best, when the venerable old soul was still shovelling coal into her 1930's fryer. Her nephew carries on with the business, I'll let you know if they're still the world's no. 1 when I've reviewed them again. Grimsby has a plethora of very good fish 'n' chip shops. My favourite in Lincoln is the Elite on Tritton Road. Mr. Chips in Louth are good too. These places are the tops - Rick Stein ain't in it.

Whatever you do, don't eat fish 'n' chips in the sweating, groaning, hell-holes that pass for holiday resorts on Lincolnshire's East coast. They cater for the troglodyte masses of Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire, who think that what they're eating is "reet gud" on the simple premise that it isn't gruel. You eat fish 'n' chips from Skeggy for a week and you'll be dead within the year. Fact.

The worst fish and chips are to be found in the South - no arguments. Scotland comes a creditable second place in the worst-fish-n-chips-in-Britain league. Roll on independence and then with a leader called "Salmon", they might pass the "Closure of Poor Chippies Act" (2007).

Comments welcome (apart from outright lies).

Any arguments from you soft southies?


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