Friday, January 16, 2009


Okay. Abby Road, not Abby Lane. London, not Liverpool. Got it. Thanks.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Some Britishfolk have really long names

Americans who are used to short pithy names as Anferny Jones, Ant'waan Xi or John Adams, are on occasion amazed (often for several seconds on end) at the incredible length of the epithets British parents sometimes bestow on her majesty's newborn subjects. Further investigation, at least of the cursory nature this subject demands, reveals that much of the name is frequently not name at all but various tit...tit...tituler...titular... titles that the (now adult) infant has received later in life.

Henry John Temple, Viscount Palmerston (1784-1865), twice Prime Minister, comes to mind as an example. (Actually he didn't "come to mind"; I was Googling a passage in my friend Lord Likely's recent post and the name just sort of "popped up" as it were.)

Thoughts of merely gleaning enough Google material to make a simple lewd comment on Likely's blog quickly faded as I became entranced (perhaps that is not the precise word to describe my feeling) at the description of the former Prime Minister that unfolded before my eyes:

"Henry John Temple, Viscount Palmerston, twice served as Prime Minister: 6 February 1855 to 19 February 1858 and 12 June 1859 to 18 October 1865. The eldest child of Henry Temple and Mary Mee in a family of two boys and three girls was born in Park Street Westminster on 20 October 1784."

First, can you even IMAGINE the insulting abuse his mother must have taken with a name like Mary Mee? What kind of sadistic creatures could Mr. and Mrs. Mee have been to look down at their newborn, lying peacefully in her pre-Victorian (some would say "Georgian") draped crib, and come to the conclusion: "Let's name her 'Mary', shall we?"

Well, "Mary" beats "Kick" or "Feed" or "Ignore" I suppose, though I myself might have chosen "Pity."

At any rate, one might rightfully assume that her supposed childhood taunting by the neighborhood [pre-Victorian] children is what led to her insistence that her own son be called "Henry John Temple" rather than, say, "Holy" or "Masonic" or some such.

Returning to the object of my post, now long neglected, I wanted to bring out some highlights of the esteemed Prime Minister's life if I could, please.

"It was well known (the Googled article continued) that Palmerston had affairs with Lady Jersey and Princess Dorothy de Lieven before he began his affair with Lady Cowper in 1810. Despite the affair with Emily (who the hell is Emily?), Palmerston made proposals of marriage to Lady Georgiana Fane, the younger sister of Lady Jersey: his suit was rejected on all three occasions."

Duh. Wonder why.

"On 1 April 1818 Palmerston was shot and wounded by Lieutenant Davis, an ex-officer who had a grievance over his pension. Palmerston financed Davis' defence out of his own pocket (because he enjoyed being shot?) and ensured that the man was well looked-after when he was sent to Bedlam. (Honest to God - I'm not making this up!) However, in 1822 Charles Smith was not so fortunate: he was caught poaching on Palmerston's estates and was executed. Palmerston refused to intervene on the grounds that it was not right to use private influence to affect the due process of law." (What a prince, eh? Would it be unseemly for us to jump to an assumption that His Lordship wanted a shot at Smith's wife? I am beginning to see why my friend Lord Likely chose the name Palmerston for his protagonist's ...ummmm.... prominence.)

The above doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of the amazing (even astonishing) adventures of Lord Palmerston, as I'm sure you more astute British historians will quickly attest. But I must leave him now before I become overly excited. Suffice to say, you would not have wanted him as a landlord during the Irish Famine.

I am not sure who the record-holder is in the UK for the longest name (omitting royals, of course) but I think my vote might go to Mr. Horatio Nelson. God... it doesn't seem right to even call him that, does it? Let us take a deep breath and try, without taking a second breath in the middle, to speak his full name:

"Vice Admiral, The Most Noble Lord Horatio Nelson, Viscount and Baron Nelson, of the Nile and of Burnham Thorpe in the County of Norfolk, Baron Nelson of the Nile and of Hilborough in the said County, Knight of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Vice Admiral of the White Squadron of the Fleet, Commander in Chief of his Majesty's Ships and Vessels in the Mediterranean, Duke of Bronte in Sicily, Knight Grand Cross of the Sicilian Order of St Ferdinand and of Merit, Member of the Ottoman Order of the Crescent, Knight Grand Commander of the Order of St. Joach...." ::Gasp:: Choke:: Sorry, couldn't get it all out.

Anyway, all his titles are inscribed on his coffin. Doubt if you'll ever get a chance to see it though.

If you are over 18 years of age, and staunch of stomach, you may want to visit the almost unbelievably vulgar chronicles of "The Astonishing Adventures of Lord Likely", a web-log consisting of the faithful transcriptions of the 19th century diaries of said Lord Likely, maintained, more or less, by my nameless young aforementioned British friend, who, though of obviously deranged mind and nature, remains nameless as a nod to his rather futile aspirations to become the future Prime Minister. Successor to his idol Lord Palmerston.

Unlikely. Pun intended.

Exclusive bonus post content for BritishSpeak "Stamina Club" readers appears below. Please do not look at it if you are not a clubmember. Thank you.
"Victory" needed no sails! This footage proves once and for all the REAL advantage the British had at the Nile and Trafalgar: Nuclear-powered "sailing" vessels! As soon as they were out of sight of land, the fake sails were taken down. The above is proof positive of this! Seeing is believing! Skeptics need even MORE proof? Note the speed of the "Victory" - No normal sailing vessel could possibly make 81 knots. Also note the rectangular "Nuclear Aura" that surrounds and follows the ship. Case closed!

(Next: Bedlam wasn't HALF as bad as you've heard.)

(Saturday: Why French is a foreign language.)


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Best song of all time?

Wow. That would be a challenge wouldn't it?

In the world of Rock and Roll, however, they have come up with the title to that special song. Probably some of you serious fans/music collectors know what it is.

After extensive interviewing and poll-taking, both of serious fans and of professionals in the business, the consensus finally emerged. It was published in an article in Mojo magazine in 2000. Care to guess, if you don't already know? (Obviously, no matter how expert the opinions, the answer is still subjective.)

Hint: the song was first recorded on 18 October, 1965. Since then, it has been recorded by a BUNCH of people.

Trivia. There is no bridge in the song, although the author annotated stanzas 2 and 4 as "M" (middle eight - another term for a bridge). But there is an instrumental "break", apparently a harpsichord. But here's the trivia: this break was written as a piano solo, not a harpsichord. But when it came time to record that portion of the song, the instrumentalist found that he couldn't play the fingering embellishments (grace notes) up to the written tempo of the song. What to do? The difficult portion - inspired by J.S. Bach, always difficult to play at speed - was recorded at half-speed and an octive lower. The result, when played back at real time, is precisely the right tempo called for in the song. Only the speed change surprisingly gave the piano a distinct harpsicord-sounding quality. It isn't a harpsichord, though.

The song that was acclaimed by songwriters, fans and musicians as the best R&R tune of all time? And the author? The lyrics appear in the picture below. Click to enlarge.

If you are not familiar with it, listen to it here.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Goodbye Grumpus

It is with sincere regret that we bid farewell to one of the blogosphere's brightest and most talented stars. The final post is up at "When Things Get Dark". Danielle is off to pursue other writing interests. I wish her well. She leaves behind a large void in my daily reading life.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

American humor: Benny Hill, only without the plot

Statutory warning required by the World Blogging Authority: "This post assumes that the reader is at least passingly familiar with American kitsch, camp culture, Depression-era movies,  early television comedians, and the Three Stooges. Be warned that this post also makes an oblique reference to a recent post in BritishSpeak's companion blog "Slap & Tickle", and that posts to that blog are ALWAYS offensive to some group or other. If you are unfamiliar with the former and don't follow the latter, please read this post thoroughly anyway. Although you won't understand as much as the more widely-read patrons of this blog , you will still contribute by increasing the average statistical time spent on this page by all viewers. In fact, the simple act of reading this entire notice, coupled with a long look at Elvira, above, has already countered the hit-and-run effects of over 31 Entrecard droppers. Every little bit helps. Thank you."

We have already covered British Humor somewhat. Witty, clever, cerebral, ironic, sarcastic, yada yada - designed to make you think, make you go "Ah! Yes! So it is! That's very clever! Yes, indeed! Jolly true, that! I say! Brilliant! Ha!" The thinking-man's humor. Lords of the pun and masters of the eyebrow-twitching double-entendre. Funny to Americans? Not so much. Let me list the names of the British standups who regularly appear on American prime-time TV: Ummmm.... there's... ummmm.... Right.

It's not that Americans don't like to think. Well, that too. But mostly they don't think one should HAVE to think about humor. To an American, more often than not, it is either clever and cerebral, or it is funny. Not always, but often.

Having reiterated that from previous posts, let's talk a bit about AMERICAN humor, why it isn't often clever or witty or seldom designed to make you think. And why American humor is, instead, FUNNY. If you don't "get" a British joke, you can have someone explain it to you until you DO get it, and then you can also say, "Ah! Oh! Yes! I see!" It's never to late to do that with British humor. American humor doesn't need to be explained, and, indeed, often evaporates under close scrutiny. You can't explain WHY you drop to your knees all watery-eyed, choking and red-faced, pounding the ground. You just DO.

Why is it funny when Curley Joe squirts the pompous mayor in the face with a seltzer bottle? Why is it funny when Milton Berle, not content with simply dressing up as an ugly woman, begins to walk on the sides of his ankles? Why is it funny when Buddy Hacket struts across the stage like a crazed drum major pretending to be a giraffe, screaming, "The highballs are on me!" Who knows? It just IS funny.

Those three examples are all dead now, just as dead as Benny Hill. Rest in peace. What other British comedians did I like besides Benny Hill? (although, in truth, I mainly just liked the half-naked girls on Benny Hill, and his shirts with matched-fabric neckties mostly turned me off to Benny himself.) Oddly, David Frost. I thought he was hilarious. Until someone once told me that he wasn't really a true comedian on purpose but was acting and talking like that NATURALLY. John Cleese? Sure. But again too clever, and you had to really pay attention and think about what he was saying. But I liked him pretty much anyway.

I am sitting here trying to dredge up examples of American "no-think" humor for you to roll your eyes and shrug your shoulders at. I was watching a rerun of "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" the other night on HBO, and it occurs to me there are several examples of American humor in that, although some of the scenes were admittedly too clever to qualify outright. Do you remember Big Dan Teague in that movie? He was the representation of Homer's cyclops (in the movie), played by John Goodman.

Do you remember the part where they are all sitting under that big tree after eating fried chicken from that restaurant, and Big Dan gets up and breaks a dead limb off the tree and starts whacking the other two with it? See... at that point you can just turn down the sound altogether and the scene would still be hilarious. Try it sometime when you have rented that movie. You often don't even NEED sound with American humor.

Perhaps that is the real difference - American humor is very often visual in nature. Seldom can you really turn down the sound with British humor. At least that comes to my mind as I think of the differences.

::Post is interrupted by the sound of a phone ringing. Imagine the ring tone as perhaps the intro to Buddy Holly's "That'll be the Day" or similar::



"This is Elvira."

"Yes, God."

"Max, you've gone on long enough. Tell them the post is over."

"Yes, Elvira. Goodbye."

The origin of Elvira:

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

New Year's disclaimer for all my blogs

A blog, I think, is a place where the blogger can stand up on his soapbox and give his opinion, right or wrong. The post doesn’t have to be true or false, right or wrong. It doesn’t have to solve any problems. A blog is only a pulpit. If the content is interesting, a crowd may gather.

And the “comments” section of a blog is the place where listeners get to give their feedback, their own opinions - cheers of agreement or rotten tomatoes of rebuttal.

It’s called “Free Speech” and it is one item on a very short list of things upon which both liberals and conservatives agree is a good thing to have.

I hope nothing on this blog serves to attack you PERSONALLY. I don’t care whether you are a liberal or a conservative or anything else in between. I don’t care about your education, rightness or wrongness or religious or political beliefs. And I don’t really give a damn what color your skin is.

In almost all cases, I am not trying to convert you: I am only putting forth my own opinions. I DO feel that the more information we have at our disposal, the more opinions we have for our consideration, the better and more informed will be our eventual choices that form and mold our personal value systems.

I hope you visit this blog as frequently as you can, and I hope you come prepared to comment. Those who come to clap and cheer and shout out their agreement are welcome, and so are the ones who think I live on another planet. I love to argue. But I am swayed most often by logic and truth and reality, so please bring a few facts along with the rotten tomatoes. Thank you.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

British humor: much too clever and witty for American brains. Don't even try.

We have said this many times before, but it bears repeating: Americans need to stay away from British humor. It will only confuse you and leave you still thirsty for actual humor. It has many of the characteristics of American humor except for the funny part.

From the
National Enquirer Guardian: "Woman gives birth on London Underground, considers naming the child accordingly. Thankfully the station was Kingsbury and not Elephant and Castle."

Dear fellow Americans: You should know that right now British readers are probably laughing their arses off. Don't yet know what an arse even is? Sorry - that was a different post and you will have to check the archives. Anyway, the British don't really ever actually laugh their arses off. They only snicker inwardly. Sometimes their lips twitch once or twice, but that's pretty much the limit.

Other questions?

How could a woman give birth "on" London if she is underground?
—S.B., Cleveland.

Is the funny part that London is underground? It isn't, right? I mean London isn't, right?
—Joe. L., Fargo

Why would anyone name a kid "Accordingly"? You're right, I don't get it.
—Julius T., Schenectady

I don't get the elephant in the castle part. It just doesn't make sense.
—Rudyard W., Bakersfield

If the Underground were in Boston instead of London, the station could be Roxbury instead of Kingsbury. But it still doesn't make it funny. Don't know, dude.
—Bob M., Boston

She gave birth in the London Underground? She should get her "tubes" tied! Har!
—Sheena P., Helena


And so it goes. Just when you start to think we have something in common, a British reporter will try to tell a joke. Sadly, this is also only the third day of the year.

Okay, so I made up the questions. It's not illegal. Like the "Guardian" doesn't make most of its stuff up. Right.

Friday, January 2, 2009

More British food. Sort of.

In the past we have talked extensively about Britain's fine gastronomical delights such as Yorkshire Pudding, Cornish Meat Pies, Fish and Chips, and so much more. ("So much more" mainly meaning mushy green peas.) Not quite extensively enough, however: today we marvel at something lovingly called "British Rail Food."

If you are an american reading this, you may jump (naturally) to the same conclusion I did at first. Rail food. Right. You make a box lunch and go sit on a railroad track and eat it. First one squashed by a train loses. A game, not food. Au contraire mon frere.

The British rail network was nationalized (or "nationalised", as the Brits like to hiss) between 1948 and 1994. Some of the sandwiches from that era are still under heating lamps waiting to be sold.

Not true, you say?

Then you would be wrong, for I can readily document the period of nationalization of Britain's railroads.

Oh. The food under the heating lamps, you mean. Yes, perhaps an exaggeration. But legend has it that the test for the sandwiches finally being thrown away was when their corners curled up more than 1 inch. That's a fact. No, wait. I said that was a legend. So NOT fact.

True, however, were the nasty comments and jibes this rather regimented "food" took from Britsh travelers during that period. Or "travellers" as the British like to say, in their uppity consonant-wasting way.

Uncovered at last is a 37-year-old document which listed some rules for the making and displaying of fine rail food during that era.

Issued in 1971 and authored by Director of Rail Catering, one Bill Currie, whose name would be especially apt today, himself now 37 years older than then, or perhaps actually dead and buried, as his food was and should have been, but here contributing only to this post's longest run-on sentence, gave several tips and instructions.

To make the sandwiches attractive (and probably to be able to tell what was inside) at least a third of the filling had to be placed in the center where the diagonal cut would be made and the contents seen by the, ahem, "consumer."  Translated from the American into your standard BritishSpeak, this would be written roughly as follows:

"The average consumer could expect to find ⅔ oz of meat in their sandwich, but if a frankfurter took your fancy you got a whole 1oz! Filling a bread roll with chicken and cress required even more precision, as catering staff were charged with the task of calculating one twelfth of a punnet. Tasty treats like cheese (¾ oz) and gherkin (¼ oz), luncheon meat (⅔ oz) and cress, and sardine (⅔ oz) and tomato (⅓ oz) were whipped up all over the network."

Now, that's precision! Holy Ronald McDonald!

Now, right about now, the three or four Americans reading this far down in the post are probably saying to themselves, "Wha' the feck is 'punnet'? Wha' the feck is a cress?" And rightly so, but not germane to this post, since the Brits already likely know what that stuff is, and probably eat it all the time. Unless a punnet is not edible. Perhaps it is a napkin. Though napkins were unlikely to be served with food back then. I assume. Since a napkin would have cost more than the actual amount of food one received.

And, to be absolutely fair, an American, whose usual evening fare consists of a two-day-old Earl Campbell hot link purchased from an Indian all-night convenience store and washed down with a raspberry slurpy, would hardly be in a position to judge fine cuisine as would your average on-rail British "consumer." One would think.

Former BR caterer Myra Tuddenham, from Newcastle, said the reputation for stale BR sandwiches probably dated back to when they were kept under glass domes on the counters in refreshment rooms until the corners indeed turned up:

"They probably were terrible, particularly when the tomato made the bread go soggy, but people still bought them by the thousand. They are all pre-packed now and standard is much higher these days - I think the food is fabulous now," said Myra.

"Myra retired in 1999 after 28 years on the railways but is still a regular East Coast Main Line traveller. Indeed despite their reputation, BR sandwiches were undoubtedly a big seller among the passengers. Records show that in 1993 Inter-City customers munched their way through no fewer than eight million packs!"

Relax Max reckons Myra's face still displays a rather pronounced tic when she utters the words "Standard is much higher these days - food is fabulous now!" Picture Myra's head jerking sideways and snapping a bit backwards as the word 'fabulous' comes gushing out, and her left eye tic-ing rapidly, uncontrollably, at the very memory of chomping down on one of those wretched 37-year-old pickles. Ah, yes. We all believe you, dear.

Unfortunately, none of our readers are old enough to remember the grand nationalized rail era.  Too bad. Your comments would  be marvelous. 


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