Thursday, December 29, 2011

Boxing Day

Boxing Day has come and gone.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Battles of the Great War

The siege of Kut.

The Iraq War "ended" yesterday, they say. This is a story about another war in Iraq.

The siege of Kut occurred between 7 December 1915 and 29 April 1916. Nasty war things seem to have a habit of starting on December 7.

Historians will note that the battle of Gallipoli was still in progress at this time, a bit to the north. [Update: actually, the Allies were retreating from Gallipoli during December as well.]

The largest city in Syria is not Damascas; it is Aleppo. That's Italian for Alep, a different story.

In Iraq, retreating British Empire forces (mainly the Indian Army 6th Division under Major General Charles Townshend) stopped in Kut (south of Baghdad) instead of continuing on down the (Tigris) river to Basra. Basra is often where the British fight when they fight in Iraq. Why Townshend stopped at Kut, isn't quite clear. Something about a loop in the river made him think he could make a stand against the Turks.

Well, the Turks surrounded Kut and laid siege. Supplies from Basra were quite far away and not likely to be forthcoming anyway. So. What to do?

Townshend sent what cavalry he had out, so they could escape before the siege line was completely closed.

It wasn't long before General Townshend decided he would prefer to leave now, too, and asked his commander to send relief. However, Townshend's superior sees value in not doing that, liking the idea of having that many Turks tied up in a siege, so he tells Townshend that he should just hold on. History tells us that Townshend sent word to his commander that he wished he could do that, but he only had food and supplies enough to last one month. So, relief is sent.

Some say Townshend REALLY had enough food and supplies for four months (if he cut back on rations.) I was double-checking the dates on Wikipedia, and, at the end of the account, it says "It is not clear why Townshend reported he had only enough food for one month when he actually had food for more than four months..."

May I take a stab at answering this mystery? My theory is that Townshend decided he would rather live to see old age rather than be tortured to death over a lengthy period of time by the Turks.

Looking at pictures of the survivors of the siege, I would say Townshend was telling the truth about only having food to last one month.

Sadly, however, the relief effort was unsuccessful and the British Forces (including the relief forces) were forced to surrender.

They put up a courageous fight. They were starving by then.

The prisoners were marched to Aleppo.

Lawrence of Arabia was there, somewhere, they say.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Remembering, of course, but...

...but also being thankful that it is possible for things to change for the better.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Creeping Cockney Crud Contaminates Antipatter, Scottie. Beam me up.

"Cockney Creep Puts Paid to the Patter" claimed a not-so-recent headline of The Herald which, I'm guessing, is a conservative Glaschu-upon-Clyde newspaper. At first blush, I assumed some caddish Eastender had wandered far off his turf and had simply brought his creepiness with him, but no, it is rather that The Herald is simply not as fond of using hyphens between combined words as Americans are wont to do, and thus their intended meaning is very different indeed from their actual headline. [Note to Americans who have stumbled across this post, while the words might bear a small resemblance to English, it really isn't.]

When you realize that "Cockney Creep" was really intended as "Cockney-Creep" it will be more apparent that The Herald means to speak here of language adulterations and not rhyming rapists from the Southland. [Note #2 to stumble-upon Americans: "Puts Paid" is something you should just let go of and not try to understand. You will never have occasion to use the term, so no sense learning it.]

What this ado is all about is similar to the ado (adieu?) the French always seem to be making about not letting English (and ESPECIALLY Americanisms, alors) creep into the purity of the French language. Only in Glasgow, the attempt is to keep out OTHER English from THEIR patter, see? You might say (and someone once did) that this is much ado over nothing, but these 'wegians are dead-serious about preserving the purity and primacy of their particular personalized patter. So don't laugh.

At the heart of the problem, it seems, is an old TV sitcom called "The EastEnders" and similar, says The Herald, itself quoting scholarly in-depth linguistic studies done by some university or other, naturally at your taxpaying expense. It seems that by simply watching this foul television product, the impressionistic youth-upon-Clyde have taken to saying things like "Hullawrerr, China" instead of saying the accepted "Wotcher, mite?"

I guess you had to be there.

Well, they claim these are both English, and that one of them is wrong. They claim the creeping slime of the East End is fouling the pure Scots accent of young people living in Glasgow. They do.

Incidentally, have you ever experienced the pleasure of hearing them speak that which they are trying to protect? The pure patter, I mean. Not Scots. Not English. Something from Star Trek's Rigel 7, Scottie.

Friday, December 2, 2011

How Gilbert Died

How Gilbert Died

There's never a stone at the sleeper's head,
There's never a fence beside,
And the wandering stock on the grave may tread
Unnoticed and undenied,
But the smallest child on the Watershed
Can tell you how Gilbert died.

For he rode at dusk, with his comrade Dunn
To the hut at the Stockman's Ford,
In the waning light of the sinking sun
They peered with a fierce accord.
They were outlaws both -- and on each man's head
Was a thousand pounds reward.

They had taken toll of the country round,
And the troopers came behind
With a black that tracked like a human hound
In the scrub and the ranges blind:
He could run the trail where a white man's eye
No sign of a track could find.

He had hunted them out of the One Tree Hill
And over the Old Man Plain,
But they wheeled their tracks with a wild beast's skill,
And they made for the range again.
Then away to the hut where their grandsire dwelt,
They rode with a loosened rein.

And their grandsire gave them a greeting bold:
`Come in and rest in peace,
No safer place does the country hold --
With the night pursuit must cease,
And we'll drink success to the roving boys,
And to hell with the black police.'

But they went to death when they entered there,
In the hut at the Stockman's Ford,
For their grandsire's words were as false as fair --
They were doomed to the hangman's cord.
He had sold them both to the black police
For the sake of the big reward.

In the depth of night there are forms that glide
As stealthy as serpents creep,
And around the hut where the outlaws hide
They plant in the shadows deep,
And they wait till the first faint flush of dawn
Shall waken their prey from sleep.

But Gilbert wakes while the night is dark --
A restless sleeper, aye,
He has heard the sound of a sheep-dog's bark,
And his horse's warning neigh,
And he says to his mate, `There are hawks abroad,
And it's time that we went away.'

Their rifles stood at the stretcher head,
Their bridles lay to hand,
They wakened the old man out of his bed,
When they heard the sharp command:
`In the name of the Queen lay down your arms,
Now, Dunn and Gilbert, stand!'

Then Gilbert reached for his rifle true
That close at his hand he kept,
He pointed it straight at the voice and drew,
But never a flash outleapt,
For the water ran from the rifle breech --
It was drenched while the outlaws slept.

Then he dropped the piece with a bitter oath,
And he turned to his comrade Dunn:
`We are sold,' he said, `we are dead men both,
But there may be a chance for one;
I'll stop and I'll fight with the pistol here,
You take to your heels and run.'

So Dunn crept out on his hands and knees
In the dim, half-dawning light,
And he made his way to a patch of trees,
And vanished among the night,
And the trackers hunted his tracks all day,
But they never could trace his flight.

But Gilbert walked from the open door
In a confident style and rash;
He heard at his side the rifles roar,
And he heard the bullets crash.
But he laughed as he lifted his pistol-hand,
And he fired at the rifle flash.

Then out of the shadows the troopers aimed
At his voice and the pistol sound,
With the rifle flashes the darkness flamed,
He staggered and spun around,
And they riddled his body with rifle balls
As it lay on the blood-soaked ground.

There's never a stone at the sleeper's head,
There's never a fence beside,
And the wandering stock on the grave may tread
Unnoticed and undenied,
But the smallest child on the Watershed
Can tell you how Gilbert died.

—Banjo Paterson [the picture is Banjo]

Monday, November 28, 2011

Stone the Crows

Stone the Crows, Aussie Version

"Stone the Flamin crows" he cried, "The country's gone to hell,

the 'cobbers' are all 'cobras' now, a sorry tale to tell,

The Cuff'n'Collar boys have won, and sold the family farm,

the Orcs have overrun the Shire, and caused all kinds of harm.

Now its Porches for the city spivs, and no Fair Go for All,

the battlers do it very tough, their backs against the wall.

There are two kinds of aussies now, comfort and survival

where everyone was once a mate, now everyman's a rival

Money doesn't talk, it screams, and drowns all other voices

the people are seduced by greed, and see no other choices.

Nothing now is sacred, there are no dreams they cherish

yet proverbs clearly warns 'without vision, the people perish'

Some love a sunburnt country, this dry and wide brown land

but the True-Blue culture's fading, if we don't take a stand.

Some say that only Owners have the right to speech that's free,

I say a Fair Go is FOR ALL, and that means you and me!

- A Fair Dinkum True-Blue

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Talking the Talk: "Never encircle a prince on a hill"

Here are some "British" sayings. Idioms. Proverbs. Something.

[Note: at first I googled for "English" proverbs. Because that's what I wanted to post about. The results came back 90% American. I guess "English" is a language to google and not a country or a people. I had to google "British proverbs" to get google to give me some English proverbs. Note the clear racism here, Adullamite.]

Anyway, first I will give the idiom or saying and then I will tell you what I think it means. Finally, I may give you what it actually means. Or you may give me the correct answer in a comment.

[Note to visitors: you don't have to comment about this stuff; you can comment about frozen pumpkins if you want to. Or Moravia. That's it, tell us where Moravia is. Just thank you for coming.]

If I do decide to give the correct answers at the bottom of this post, I promise not to mention 1887 PM Robert Salisbury.

1. "Bob's your uncle."

This means your father has a brother named Robert.

2. "Keep your pecker up."

This is traditionally what the English say when they feed pigeons in the park.

3. "Big girl's blouse."

A comment made by old men on a park bench about passing lasses: "Oi mate, she has to wear a big girl's blouse, eh?" And then they both chortle.

4. "Burning the candle at both ends."

Needs more light than a candle gives off.

5. "His eyes are bigger than his belly."

The bloke has humongous eyes.

6. "Sleep tight."

Go to sleep drunk.

7. "Gordon Bennett."

Beats me.

8. "Stone the crows."

Beats me.

9. "Talk the hind legs off a donkey."

This probably means he talks a lot.

10. "Do you want a brew?"

This means, "Do you want a beer?"

11. "As queer a a nine bob note."

This means nothing.

12. "Popped his clogs."

Stunned his mullet? (It sounded Australian, but Australian for croak is cork it, no? Maybe "cark it.")

13. There was only 12 and I always need 13 for my lists, so I will put one down here that I already know: "Bugger this for a game of soldiers."

It means (roughly) to lure a group of manly military personnel into a gay bar.

[Final note: I've decided not to put the real meanings down here after all.]

Friday, November 4, 2011

Irish Curses

I'm in a foul mood today and don't want to be consoled; only dark thoughts for me today, if you please. Herewith some creative Irish curses to brighten your day.

May you be afflicted with the itch and have no nails to scratch with.

Lord, confound this surly sister, blight her brow with blotch and blister, cramp her larynx lung and liver, in her guts a galling give her.

May his pipe never smoke, may his teapot be broke, and to add to the joke may his kettle not boil may he lay in the bed 'till the moment he's dead may he always be fed on lob-scouse and fish oil, may he swell with the gout, may his grinders fall out, may he roar, bawl and shout, with the horrid toothache. May his temples wear horns, and all his toes corns... (this one goes on and on, but that's enough of it for now.)

May you have to stand a long time on weak legs.

Another stone on our grave, you miserable wretch.

May you suffer an unquenchable thirst. May warts and chapped hands always be with you.

Let the cat eat you and the devil eat the cat.

May you be dead before morning. May you not live tomorrow. May your friends have a fine day for your burying.

May the curse of Mary Malone and her nine blind illegitimate children chase you so far over the hills of damnation that the Lord himself can't find you with a telescope.

Perking up now.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Big Boom Theory

In 1868 Captain Alexander Moncrief of the Edinburgh Artillery invented the disappearing artillery gun carriage which was a great advance in naval artillery. In the photograph, the date of 21/4/68 is visible on part of the mechanism.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Highwayman's Lair

Hounslow is a London borough. Hounslow Heath is a public open space of about 200 acres. It is all that remains of the original 4000 acres or so that was once open land there.

I was reading that in the olden days, I'm guessing 1600's and 1700's, there was a place there known as Highwayman's Lair. This was, I think, probably not a motel or tourist attraction, but rather something quite different. More "Hole in the Wall Gang" -like, I'd reckon.

Back before the Great War, Heathrow was a ... row... of cottages located on the NW edge of the historic Highwayman's Lair of Hounslow Heath. Just to get your bearings, Highwayman's Lair was located approximately where terminal #3 is today. Or at least Heathrow was. From recent photographs, it appears they have torn down the row of cottages and heaved them handily into the hoary heath hereabouts. If there are residual panhandlers, they may be descendants of the original highwaymen. It could happen! Today I picture them living with their belongings stuffed in plastic bags hogging two rows of seats in the gate waiting areas. Or perhaps not. I don't see why not, though.

As a side note, in case you are tempted to go out there thinking you can catch a flight, this blog's official research scientist, A., whom I trust without question on all matters pertaining to, ummmm, blog research, has advised me that Heathrow has been converted from an airport into a madhouse. So, think "Amsterdam" unless you live in Kansas.

An extra bit of information - a reward for reading this post - that I just read not 10 minutes ago was that apparently Shakespeare named one of his plays after the original Heathrow. At least, the article I read called it a Hamlet. So I assumed. And now you know too.

Well, I don't know much about London, except that one doesn't need to wear a watch downtown, but I assume where Heathrow is now would have been quite far out from the city then. And if it was quite far out from the city THEN, by god it is probably quite far out from the city NOW. There must have been a main road there, though, so the highwaymen could ply their trade, and lucrative enough to have enough money left over to construct a lair. One assumes rather poorer airport security back in the 1600's.

Now, this is just an idle thought, but it seems to me that if there were so many of them that they had their own watering hole, lair, whatever, that this might have been a tip-off to police. This was pre-bobby era but surely they had SOMEthing back then. Or maybe you just had to bring your own guards. Probably the redcoats came out with their Brown Besses later on and maybe cleaned them out from time to time. The highwaymen, I mean, not the Besses. One pictures "nests" in the lair to clean out.

Arrrrr! "Why join the navy when you can be a pirate?" —Steve Jobs.

Which reminds me of one of my favorite Highwayman-Brown Bess-Ghostly Galleon poems, but don't worry, I have no intention of inflicting it upon you right now.

This started out to be a post about how Heathrow got it's name, but that got pretty evident rather early on, and as soon as I started reading about highwaymen, it was so much more interesting than airports that I followed up and found out that there were more lairs about. Like "Peak". Do you know of that? It's a good way for me to learn your geography, too - though little of it is likely to be retained.

Today they say the Peak District is very safe indeed. Right. All the tourist brochures say that. Now, again, I don't know as much of your geography as I should, but there is a dot on the map that looks to be to the north of London. Admittedly, so is Scotland - but I mean just a LITTLE north of London.

Have you ever heard of Baslow and Wigley? Me neither, but somewhere in between the two is a pub called The Highwayman. They say this is on the eastern end of the Peak District, but that is an embarrassment to me as well. I'm not sure what that is all about. Peak of what? How can a district be peaked? Ah, well. I'm counting on Expat Mum to tweak my peak knowledge, but this place may be after her time. I don't mean after her time as in dead, but rather after her time as in it may have been built after she left England. Fled England. Whatever. It won't be a total loss, even so, because she will come and read this post if there is a link in it to her blog. So there's that.

The brochure says there was a Peak Panic. I'm assuming levity. This was back even earlier than I thought, like 1500's and 1600's. So apparently highway robbery is hardly something new in England. My own levity bubbles to the surface here. Well. The mystique is shattered somewhat by them calling that scary road the A619, which, I'm almost sure, it wasn't called that in the 1500's. But it is a long and winding road (are you a Beatle's fan, dear reader?) and the brochure author says the road triggers (conjures up, I'm thinking he means) images of innocent travelers (only he called them travellers) being robbed and then butchered on the highway. And, being who I am, I immediately think that if you are going to butcher them later anyway, why not do it right at the very beginning and then just rob the unresisting bodies? So I'm guess he is telling a TALL one about the butcheries. This is not Scotland-in-famine we are talking about, after all.

Later he called them "innocent civilians" which doesn't make sense unless the brochure writer is a Major General or something. Perhaps he is.

"The roads linking Chesterfield with both Manchester and Derby represented veritable goldmines for the outlaws of yesteryear." Couldn't prove it by me; I am still struggling with Buzlow and Wiggerley... BUT then this ersatz (a SoubyWord) military brochure narrator bastid goes on to say:

"Difficult to believe now, but 300 years or so ago the Peak District resembled the wild west." [Sorry Toni. Definitely NOT after your time.]

Hey! Hey hey hey hey! Unless you are talking about the Pirates of Penzance, let's leave the "wild west" out of this! We've done nothing to deserve comparison to your pussy highwaymen! I was going to try to work in the word "besmirch" here, but the time for it came and went and here I am two sentences later and unable.

So where is this Derby Manchester place anyway? Do they have a football team? If so, is it called The Highwaymen?

Animal House; supermarket cucumber scene; with Otter and Mrs. Dean Wormer; Mrs. Dean Wormer: "Doubtful."

Well, then, maybe Manchester DOES have a soccer team today. If so, it is probably called the 'Coonians. The 'Coonites. The 'Coonsters. Or similar. Oh, Toto, I seem to have wandered off the highwayman highway again.

There is SO much information in the Peak Panic brochure that I could barely read it all. Could barely TRY to read it all. But there was a mention of highwayman punishment called Gibbeting and you KNOW how Max loves your odd-yet-fair punishments! So I am going off now to study this, hoping it was in addition to execution, which most of yours were.

I am tempted to talk about a gang of highwaymen headed by a guy named Pym who ruled them from a stone chair, but if I did I would have to talk about yet another town in the area called Braxton, and, frankly, the story sounded too much like a ripoff of Peter Pan combined with Lord of the Flies, and I am, sincerely and respectfully, your obedient servant, etc. etc. totally confused already. No, "Buxton," I mean. No help there, though.

I am starting to think that dot on the map is a heaphell more north of London that it looks though.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Prince Harry arrives in U.S. for helicopter training

Prince Harry, pictured above, top, is shown getting off an airplane in California Saturday. His brother, Prince William, is in front.

Disclaimer: This post was composed from information which was stolen from appeared in the British Newspaper called "Mail Online." I don't know if this is a reputable online newspaper or if it is one of those Rupert rags. I get your newspapers mixed up. So this piece may be a lie, I just want you to know that. That's disclaimer number one. Disclaimer number two is the date. The date on the front page of the issue I stole acquired this information from is "8th October 2011." However, in the past, this online newspaper has been known to rerun stories that are years and years older than the date they put on the page. So this post may be both a lie and an OLD lie. That's disclaimer number two. Those of you who "could care less"* about disclaimers can just read the below post and not bother reading what you just read above.

*("I could care less" was just for that snooty insulting guy in Adullamite's recent post.)

HRH Prince Harry of Wales arrived in California today [the Mail called it "America"] for helicopter training. Not sure why, exactly. The newspaper only said that he would be training in brutal conditions which duplicate what he will be experiencing in his second tour of duty in Afghanistan. This event (exposing himself in Afghanistan for a second time) is apparently coming up soon. And, judging by the Prince's appalling physical condition in the photograph above, it needs to happen soon before he is unable to walk. Apparently, like the U.S. Army, you folks no longer have fitness standards or age limits for your soldiers. A second tour in Afghanistan? Are you kidding me? Look, I don't want to get out of line here, but why doesn't someone just shoot the poor lad in the leg or something so he can collect that purple heart he needs for his RR (Royal Resume) and be done with it? Sorry, "CV." That way he can just retire and go back to being a regular royal playboy? Ok, maybe not in the leg. Maybe a finger or something. And while I am digressing, am I the only one who thinks both of these boys have aged horribly since the wedding? And I'm not even going to talk about William's hair. I mean fer chrissakes. Just take a look at that picture again. Am I right?

Well, am I wrong in thinking Mr. Wales was a tank driver or something before? I'm almost positive he wasn't flying helicopters before. That was William. Or was it fighter jets? No, that was Randy Andy in the Falklands. At any rate, Prince Harry is getting training for two months in California at a place called El Centro near the Mexican border (haha, like there's really a border there) according to the Mail Online. On Apache helicopters which the prince has proclaimed "awesome." I think it was Apaches. The Mail called them "choppers." Awesome choppers. Near the Mexican border. Newbie royal pilot. Right.

The Mail Online continues: "Crimson Eagle" [honest to god, that's what they are naming this thing] will take place in locations that replicate the brutal terrain of Afghanistan - over soaring mountains and vast desert with temperatures that reach well in excess of 110 degrees."

Oh, for crying out loud! Is that really how you Brits picture California? In November? Truly?

Incidentally, Prince Harry is a Captain now. Seems like only yesterday he was a second lieutenant or third subaltern or whatever your ranks are. I wonder if having a name like Wales gets one promoted on the fast track? If he shows up in Afghanistan in January leading a whole squadron of "awesome choppers" and is then a full colonel, I would start to be suspicious about favoritism. I don't know what William is. Lord Admiral-something by now, probably.

Wait! Wait wait wait wait. I didn't upload the full picture. Hang on a minute. Here 'tis:

There you go. That's better. So William isn't with him after all. Say, do you notice how that guy at the top in the yellow vest is checking out the RA (Royal Arse)? I guess you guys don't have a don't-ask-don't-tell policy any more either. Better not bend over to pick up the soap in the shower, Harry. Just sayin'. Where was I?

Oh, yes. The Mail Online goes on to say that Captain Wales will become one of an elite few to have expertise in the £46 million a pop 2-man helicopter, of which Britain (not the UK, mind you) is the proud owner of 67. Assuming Captain Wales passes the training course, says the Mail Online. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Right. Gosh, I wonder if he will pass the course?

Well, jeeze Louise, if you folks have 67 of them (what, you didn't have enough money to buy an even 75 of them from us? Even after what's his name sold your Navy?) that means you have, at a minimum, 134 pilots already trained (assuming you would want to have the capability of flying them all at one time) so that hardly makes Captain Wales all that elite. If I may say.

Then again, it isn't all that likely that all 67 of them will actually work at the same time if you bought the parts from us. So maybe he is in an elite field after all. Here is a picture of some "Awesome Apache Choppers" or at least the front ends of some:

And here is a picture of what I assume is Captain Wales' barracks mum:

Never let it be said that British newspapers run gratuitous sex pictures that have nothing to do with the story being told.

"It has long been known," the Mail Online continues breathlessly, "that the prince is keen to return to combat after his first deployment in 2007 (when he was young and fit?) was cut short after ten weeks, much to his disappointment, because of security fears.

"If he is deployed next year his main tasks will be to provide air cover for ground troops and to seek and destroy Taliban positions."

But that sounds about right, doesn't it? About £104 million per Taliban killed? Something like that? Money well invested. I am slowly learning the fine art of British sarcasm.

Unbelievable that the word "Taliban" sets off my spellchecker. How old IS my computer, anyway?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A dragon by any other name would... smell as sweet?

A dragon is a mythological beast, says the dictionary. I say dragons are real. There are many types of dragons. I won't speak of the different types here except to say they can be differentiated by color (red, green, blue, black, white) and by what they breathe out (fire, acid, lightning bolts, poisonous gas, frost.) Be wary if you meet up with a dragon and do not assume you can intimidate him by playing dead or acting crazy. That would be my advice.

A wyvern only has two legs. Two legs and a barbed tail. Since it has wings, bat-like wings, it really makes more sense that it would not have arms too. It has a barbed tail and a dragon's head. Or a head similar to a dragon's. I used to think that it is a Wyvern that appears on the Welsh flag until I became more attentive one time. No, your standard Welsh flag has a red dragon (Y Ddraig Goch) giving a friendly high-five. High-three, if you want to be more accurate.

Griffin, Griffen, Griffon:
More people than you might expect think these flying beasts are one and the same with just different vowels. It is a mistake to think this. A Griffin is primarily used in crossword puzzles, and the definition is always "fabulous animal." It has a lion's body and an eagle's head and wings.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Breaking on the Wheel, Preparations for Halloween

With Bonfire Night looming (beckoning?) in the not-too-distant future, the thoughts naturally turn lovingly to executions past, both botched and well-done. Although Guy Fawkes wasn't broken on the wheel, he is nonetheless an annual reminder of the more exciting public sport of yesteryear.

I promise not to abuse this occasion to once again showcase my BritishSpeak-gained odd vocabulary which every year (and only once each year, it seems) allows me to say words like recusant and undercroft. Woops.

Guy (Gui if you prefer) was only intended to be strangle-hanged, drawn and quartered, and head-piked, but, as you all know, cheated the spectators by swan-diving off the scaffold head first onto the cobblestones. History doesn't tell us if they had a backup act waiting in the wings or not. I certainly hope so. They DID go ahead and pike his now-misshapen (one assumes) head, but it just wasn't the same. When scheduled entertainment doesn't go off as planned, it casts a pall over the audience from which it is really hard for the promoters of the event to recover.

I will certainly do another post on Guy Gui come November 5 (I think that's the date) but I promise not to use those words again. It does warm me bonfire-roasted cockles to feel the warmth of your admiration, though.

No, breaking on the wheel was more exciting than simply lifting a bloke up on his toes by his neck and watching the odd facial contortions. My mind goes back in time and I imagine myself getting a peasant day off and working my way up to the front row, admonishing my neighbors to shut their damn gobs so I can hear the gurgling and wheezings emitting from the toe-lifted unfortunate on the stage. As it were.

But - Oh! - to attend a Wheel Breaking!

The offender (could be a heretic, I suppose) was placed on his or her back and bound to a sturdy wagon wheel in a Da Vinci Vitruvian Man-like pose (one imagines) and, while the probably unwashed madding crowd presses in and the popcorn and little wheel souvenir venders hawk their wares, the wheel of fortune is spun and the lucky contestant in the black hood begins to break the slowly passing bones with a large hammer or iron bar.

Later refinements had the unfortunate man or woman bound, perhaps nailed - who knows? - to one of those X-shaped (St. Andrews) crosses which was then laid upon the sturdy horizontal wheel. This had the effect (in case you haven't guessed the purpose) of raising the body up a few inches so as to get a cleaner break of the limbs. Hideous screams were encouraged.

At about this point in my reverie, my mind is always interrupted by someone on the BBC being interviewed and disparaging the barbarity of Texas' inhumane overdose executions. Then my mind fades back from the BBC to the screams of the revolving wheel method used not terribly long ago in England. Or maybe France. Being a simple American, no thoughts of hypocrisy enter my mind. Only the twisted features of the wheel-man flicker from Da Vinci's man to, say, Roman Polanski's.

They say after a while, the legs and arms would get mushy enough (I always have a mental image of the sign down the street from my house advertising "boneless chicken" for some reason) to "weave" or "braid" them through the wheel spokes, thus giving enough support so that the whole thing, wheel-cross-pulverized living thing, can be hoisted up onto a pole where it will be left for passers by to admire and birds to peck away at. The moaning continues for days.


Unless one gets a "favor" or "grace" from the church, for a small donation one assumes, in which case the hammer-wielder would strike the strikee in the chest or even head in a final blow which mercifully kills him/her. This was considered a charity and was not for just anyone who is wheeled. Incidentally, always on the lookout to make this blog as educational as possible when opportunities arise, I would share with you that this final blow was called the coup de grace (grace, get it?) and is where that phrase came from. This is true. This would have been in France, of course. In England, there were no anti-pecking endings that I could discover in my scholarly pursuit of truth.

Let me see. What else?

No, that's about all. Unless my friend Sobriquet (Soubriquet when in the UK) can add some variations from his vast store of .... ummmmm.... variations.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Breaking on the Wheel

Capital punishment in Great Britain. I don't know about Ireland, but Great Britain really had capital punishment figured out, let me tell you.

Did you know that at one time (in 1810) there were 222 crimes that carried the death penalty in England? One for stealing as little as 25 pence. Ouch. The early methods were very inventive indeed. None of the peaceful overdosing on drugs like Texas and Florida. Nosiree. Besides the Elizabethan favorites of roasting of one's entrails, and drawing and quartering, and the quite popular public strangulation hangings-draw and quarter-head on a pike combo, let me tell you of one of my personal favorites, Breaking on the Wheel.

Next time.

Thinkya verry much

Thank you all for your help and suggestions on the previous post. Some were mostly likely correct and the rest were entertaining, at least. I guess I am going to go with my initial instinct and say it means "to give up," which was pretty much what A. and Expat Mum said. I remember having to slap the mat when in pain in wrestling days. And I remember the ref slapping the mat when a wrestler was officially pinned (never me, though) and I remember in Judo in the military being told to clap your hands if you were choking or felt a joint being dislocated (often you weren't near the mat to slap it.) Usually I just made pitiful whimpering sounds instead of clapping my hands, as I recall. Especially during garotte training day.

None of this tells me for sure why a retired Australian building contractor would say he had to tap the mat and have someone else design his website. But close enough.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Aussie Speak?

Anyone out there familiar enough with Australian slang to know what "tap the mat" means? Something like "give up" in wrestling? Like you don't know something and need help? Is that it?

Crikey I hope it's not dirty. :(

Friday, September 16, 2011

Willard: 6 Degrees (or more) of Separation

Willard loved rats.

Willard collected rats, bred rats, cared for rats, trained rats. And, in the end, the rats cared for Willard. What a movie.

Another good movie (I am allowed to be subjective here) was Animal House.

Animal house featured a girl by the name of Mandy.

Mandy was also the nickname of another girl, Mandy Rice-Davies.

You don't remember Mandy Rice-Davies, but she was best friends with another girl named Christine Keeler.

You probably don't remember Christine Keeler, either. Mandy and Christine were a couple of whores opportunistic young ladies who became famous in 1963 for being associated with low-life men who associate with whores opportunistic young ladies, which is to say peers and politicians. Nothing new in that, of course.

John Profumo happened to be War Minister in 1963. Lord Astor was a lord in 1963. Both, it is said, sat backwards in chairs containing said Christine Keeler, friend of the other opportunistic young lady, the Randy Mice-Davies. But I think it was just Lord Astor's house that the chair sat in and he didn't himself sit in it, and only the War Minister fired off a salvo. After all he, Lord Astor, was a lord for gosh sakes. So he (El Lordo) only provided the thrusting trysting place for the politician. He wasn't actually in/on her/it. So the legend goes.

Well, it was a hell of a thing in 1963 and if you were alive back than and living in Great Britain, you probably clicked your tongue in amazement and shook your head in disgust and went out and bought all the supermarket tabloids.

John Profumo sat next to the queen during some tribute to PM Margaret Thatcher a long time ago. Some wag (probably a writer for the Guardian) wondered aloud/in writing which one Ol' John lusted after most. I'm guessing both. I don't know, though.

Here is a picture of John Profumo late in life (when he still was alive, I mean) sitting with a smirk on his face, obviously inwardly reminiscing about what a good year 1963 was. But then, his lapel tells us it was Remembrance day, so he was entitled.

Before he died, John totally lost control of his hair and generally the will to appear well-groomed in public.

Incidentally, during the scandal, PM Harold McMillian decided to retire due to ill health. (He was sick of being humiliated.)

Getting back to my theme (I have a theme to this post) of 6 degrees of separation, Randy Mandy, during the height of her notoriety, used to compare herself to Lady Emma Hamilton.

Emma, Lady Hamilton was, as you all know, and you know you do, was the mistress of Lord Nelson. Those of you who follow this blog long-term, know that I am a big fan of Nelson, due partially to the number of his names and titles, but primarily because I covet his hats. I am a hat and helmet kind of guy. Note the empty sleeve pinned to his chest.
Well, by gosh, Emma Hamilton had time on her hands (Lord Nelson was a sailor, you'll recall) and so she became the whore muse of the famous painter George Romney. Or maybe truly just a muse; I had better not jump to conclusions in the early 19th century besmirching department.
[Painting of the famous painter George Romney taking a dump]

As it happens, ANOTHER George Romney (what are the odds!) was the Governor of Michigan in 1963 (again that year!) He had been president of American Motors in Detroit (no such thing anymore. American Motors, I mean, not Detroit) and later ran for the Republican Presidential nomination but lost to Richard Nixon (or Barry Goldwater or whoever was running for Republican nominee that year,) dropped out and threw his support behind Nixon. As you do. Nixon rewarded ex-Governor Romney by giving him the lofty federal position of Assistant Secretary for African Affairs. I'm embarrassed to admit to you that I don't know how he fared in that fine position or if he lived or died. Assumed died somewhere along the line.

George and Lenore Romney, looking down over Detroit from their lofty perch in their mansion in Bloomfield Hills, had a son. His name was (still is) Willard Romney. One of his parents (don't know which, or, really, if) probably took pity on Willard and said, "Will you look at the size of those hands! Let's nickname him Mitt!" And so it came to pass. Or for some other reason.

Above referenced baby-grown-to-manhood Mitt Romney became the 70th Governor of Massachusetts. Why not Michigan? Well, it starts with an M so that's close enough. Again, this is just my own reasoning. Before becoming a famous politician (as the sons of famous politicians are wont to do) Mitt became a Mormon missionary. To the Philippines? No, to France. I have no information on how many conversions he was able to make, or even if he learned to speak French, but afterwards he went to college and graduated from BYU in Utah. A Mormon who goes to BYU? Unbelievable! Well, they do. Then he earned his Juris Doctor degree from Harvard and also a Masters of Business Administration from Harvard. You know, it is starting to dawn on me how he ended up in Massachusetts.

Of course, with an education like that, one MUST become a politician, right? So (as a Republican) he ran for Senator of Massachusetts against 100-year Democrat incumbent Ted Kennedy. (Guess whether he won or not.) Hmmmmmm. But Kennedy was dead by then, wasn't he? Guess not. So then he (Romney, not Kennedy) ran for governor of Massachusetts. Still a Republican, he apparently was able to act enough like a Democrat to fool the voters and win and became governor. Of course, that is only conjecture. Lower than conjecture: Relax Max conjecure. But how the hell else can a Republican win high office in Massachusetts? I ask you.

Now, Willard is on the prowl again, and will probably be Obama's opponent in the next Presidential election. He's the frontrunner now. (For the Republicans, I mean.) Who knows what the next year will bring. Maybe Mitt has a Mandy in his closet.

I knew you would be impressed with all this in-depth research just for a blog post.

Rats and politicians and all.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Word origins: Bobbies

London Metropolitan Police got their nickname "bobbie" after Robert Peel, who is credited with conceptualizing the idea of the modern police department structure. He was instrumental in setting up the force in the early 19th century, as well as reforming the police system in Ireland.

The Right Honorable Sir Robert Peel was a very important figure in the United Kingdom in the first half of the 19th century, and famous for many other things besides police organization as well.

Without looking up his official biography, who can tell

1. What county he was from? (Hint: not the one where the above statue is located.)
2. Some of the offices he held in his lifetime?
3. Some of his many accomplishments?
5. What the corn laws were?
6. Were Irish police also called bobbies?
7. His early political mentor?
8. (extra points for extreme trivia) He was first elected at age 21 as MP from the rotten borough of Cashel, Tipperary. What is a "rotten" borough? Do you know how many votes there were in that borough when Peel was elected?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Cannabalism in Scotland: the legend of Sawney Bean

The soccer team that once crashed on the mountaintop in South America. The American Donner Party. Dickens' Sweeny Todd.

The fine art of chowing down on one's fellows.

Well, it seems in 15th century Scotland, one Alexander Bean (or "Beane") was executed for "mass murder" when he and his 48-member clan took a fancy to human pancreas and the like, precursing Hannibal Lecter, and put the bite on over 1000 people. (Other clans, of course.)

His father, an educated INTP, I think, was a ditch digger and part-time hedge trimmer who tried to pass the family trade, shovel and all, down to his son, but Alexander (Called "Sawney" for some inexplicable reason fathomable only to Scots) would have no truck with honest labor; not with so many delectable upright rump roasts walking around, free for the frying. As it were.

Now, your normal everyday ne'er-do-well who has just turned down a steady hedge trimming gig would probably just look for some other line of work. But Sawney? Goes to his state of mind, your honor.

To this day, the hedges of Scotland are only sporadically and crookedly trimmed. I'm sure you've noticed, though probably you haven't made the connection between this and chewing one's fellow-traveler's fingernails and more. If you get my drift.

Incest? Those Scots had a a patent on it. Jesus. Well, there were only 48 people in the whole clan, so that DOES make one's eye wander to one's sister. Sawney, though, hooked up with an outsider - a vicious woman, they say - who shared his inclinations. And I'm not talking about ditch-digging inclinations.

Most young couples would be looking to build a modest home and start a family, but these two beauties found them a cave on the coast. The cave was fine enough as caves go, some 200 yards deep. Fine enough if you overlook the fact the entrance disappeared at high tide. They had to make allowances for that in their Daily Planners. The cave is still there today. Well, duh.

As you probably know, quirky Relax Max is the kind of little doggie who always reads between the lines, so I was wondering how the interior of that cave smelled (smelt to you) when one was trapped inside on a hot summer's day at high tide with a pile of human feet and viscera. Did I mention she was a vicious woman?

History tells us, if you are one of the 8 or 10 people in the world who believes Scots oral history, that the lovely couple's many children and grandchildren were "the products of incest and lawlessness." Even Relax Max can't quite conjure up how one has children by "lawlessness" (or doesn't want to even try to conjure it up) but the incest part is another duh.

"Lacking the gumption for honest labor, the clan thrived by laying careful ambushes at night to rob and murder individuals and small groups. The bodies were brought back to the cave where they were dismembered and cannibalized. "Leftovers" were pickled. Discarded body parts would wash up on nearby beaches." — Wikipedia

So we can deduce from this they didn't have regular trash pickup in those days.

Pardon me while I retch on my keyboard.

Ok, I'm back now.

You will note in the picture at the top of this post that the woman in the background is carrying legs into the cave. In case you missed the details.

You may be wondering why the neighbors didn't notice the parts on the beach or the stench in the air - at least Max wondered - but the Scots tend to mind their own business unless situations become intolerable.

The situation did become intolerable.

Not ones to bother with serious criminal investigations, the local townspeople first lynched several innocents. (History doesn't tell us whether these unfortunates were simply left hung out for the birds to peck, or whether the clan munched them. Max, of course, thinks of things like that.)

To make a long story short... well, I suppose it is already too late for that, but nevertheless... King James VI of Scotland finally got wind of the carnage and sent down 400 searchers and a bunch of bloodhounds. It didn't take the bloodhounds long to find the stinking cave the neighbors had missed, which, the narrative says, was "rife" with human remains. Rife. Holy Macaroni, how does one SLEEP in such a cave?

Relax Max is always reluctant to mention King James VI of Scotland, because there is an unwritten law (or maybe it IS written) that one must always obligatorily add "Later King James I of England" to the mix. I don't know why. It just has to be done, and I've done it.

The clan was captured and taken (in chains - Wikipedia states the obvious) to Jail in Edinburgh, then later transferred to Leith or Glasgow where they were executed without trial. Never one to complain, Relax Max nevertheless cannot help but wonder if you are going to execute people without trial (Even Florida and Texas give trials) then why not just off the crud right next to the cave and be done with it? Let the bloodhounds have a go at them? I suppose there would be more of an audience in Glasgow, though.

But a nice show it was, well worthy of any admission that may have been charged. May I describe it to you? Yes? Then I shall.

The men had their genitalia cut off, hands and feet cut off, and left to bleed to death. The women and children were given the pleasure of watching this, then they were burned to death. (James was Catholic, remember.)

Ayrshire is noted for its dark folklore, so none of this may be true. Let's hope.

Have you ever tasted "Vienna Sausages" - those little mushy weiner-like things in little cans at your grocer's, next to the deviled ham? Those are reportedly what pickled pancreas tastes like.

Just saying. Max likes to finish the job properly.

To Americans, smelt is just a little fish.

In accordance with the rules set forth by the Oxford Croquet Union and international dog of mystery, Relax Max, readers are reminded that any blog post over 1 year old may be republished in the event said Max can't be arsed with thinking up original stories that contain something British in them within a reasonable amount of time.

By the same stated above rules, certain commentors to the original post are immune to obligatory recomments to THIS post, although, frankly, Soubriquet's original comment was witty enough to make me read it almost halfway through. Something about finger food in Ayershire. Go read it.

DISCLAIMER: I know James VI & I was not Catholic. I know he wasn't around when this story says he possibly was in the 15th century. Blame Wikipedia and their sucky fact-checking.

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Stranger In My Own Land

Where have all the Scot folk gone

Where have awe the Scots folk gone?
hiv the white settlers moved them on?
It seems to me there's interference,
a subtle kind o` Highland Clearance.

Scotland's changing, as Scotland must,
like a phoenix rising fi the dust.
Are we too busy building other nations?
and forgetting all oor Scot's relations.

It's hard tae find the true Scottish Scots,
atween awe the English Argonauts.
In a shop when you mak a query,
they caw you luv instead o dearie.

The castle man said ahlo Guv, ah hid ma doot!
fur that castle wis built tae keep him oot.
How cin ye imagine the Scottish splendor?
wi that English accent over yonder.

The barman's in an awfy gitter.
he gies them heavy when they ask fur bitter.
Ind och fir heevens sake,
it's cawed a Loch , NO A Lake!

We gie a cuddle, no a hug.
that's no an ear, that's yur lug.
keep yur highbrowcooking tips.
Scotland's veg is deep fried chips.

Them up in Edinburgh shid get of their erse,
ind tak their car oot o reverse
Ah cin see it's awe startin,
soon wul hae an English Tartan.

It is time tae stop the procrastination,
ind build a truly Scottish Nation.
A new beginning, an Historic Dawn.
Where have all the Scots folk gone?

"Every man dies; not every man lives"—William Wallace, Braveheart

Monday, August 15, 2011

Some British sports stadia with corporate sponsor names

For some time now it has become the fashion to sell advertising on city-owned* property in order to generate some revenue for these services and facilities so that the area taxpayers don't have to foot the bill. This is especially true of sports arenas which cost millions and millions of pounds to construct, maintain, and operate. It is likely several cities would not be able to construct a fancy stadium on their own to rent to various sports franchises, so the big bucks from corporate sponsors are a godsend to these cities who also reap tax revenue from the money the fans spend at games and shopping. Be sure to salute the corporate sponsor of your favorite football or cricket or rugby major league team the next time you pass by the stadium or attend a game. It's your tax dollars that are being saved!

*Not all stadia are owned their cities or counties, of course, though it is almost always the case in the U.S. now.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Last Scots post for a while

Here is a website that contains many happy, sad, pathetic, and uplifting stories. The following story falls under the "pathetic" category. (I have read other versions of this story, but I like this version. It is too old to not be in the public domain.)

"Many years ago John Macduff and his young bride left Scotland on a sailing vessel for America, there to seek his fortune. After tarrying a few weeks in New York, they went West, where they were successful in accumulating a good competence. By and by his wife's health began to fail. The anxious husband said that he feared she was homesick.

" 'John,' she replied, 'I am wearying for my ain countrie, will ye no' tak' me to the sea, that I may see the ships sailing to the homeland once more?'"

"Her husband's heart was moved with compassion. In a few weeks he sold their Western home and took his wife East to a pleasant little cottage by the sea, whose further shores broke on the rocks that line the coast of Scotland. She would often sit and gaze wistfully at the ships sailing from the bay, one after another disappearing below the horizon on their way to her ain countrie. Although she uttered no complaint, it was evident that she was slowly pining away. John was afraid that she would die in a foreign land; and as an effort to save her he sold his New England home, and took her back across the ocean. She speedily recovered by the keen mountain air, the sight of purple heather, nodding bluebells, and hedge-rows white with fragrant hawthorn blossoms in bonnie Scotland, her own dear native land. To her it was home. And there is no sweeter word in any language than 'home.' "

Now that's pathetic, no? I can hardly see through the tears as I type this even now. Part of Max - the callous, cynical part of Max - wonders idly whether she might not have died in the foreign land even if she had been happy there, and whether perhaps ol' John might have foreseen that before he drug her off to America from her dear highland hame. But that is not germane.

Anyway, after reading this account (supposedly) a young woman wrote the words to a famous hymn entitled "My Ain Countrie." Here is the first verse (since you are already in a sad state from reading the above, and since I need to stick some more Scottish stuff in this post.)

"I am far frae my hame, an' I'm weary aften whiles,
For the lang'd-for hame-bringin', an' my Father's welcome smiles;
An' I'll ne'er be fu' content until my e'en do see
The gowden gates o' heaven, an' my ain countrie."

Please, don't stop reading here. This post will start getting interesting shortly, k?

The above pathetic story reminded me right away of Lizzie Borden. I'm sure she popped right into your mind too, as you sniffled and blew your nose repeatedly reading the above patheticness. You remember Lizzie: "I think there may have been an old ax down in the cellar if I'm not mistaken." That Lizzie.

Well, cutting to the chase, no pun intended or even noticed until now, Lizzie was acquitted of hacking up her pa and her step-mother and lived until she was sixty-something in the same town of Falls-something Massachusetts, living well on her pa's money and its subsequent investments. Actually the story of her life after the murders is quite interesting, and you can read it, if you want, right HERE on one of my favorite "inquiring minds need to know this stuff" websites, "FindADeath dot com." But the thing that interested me (enough to make me do this post, anyway) was the fact that one of the things on Lizzie's list of funeral requests to be done after she had shuffled off this mortal coil was to have the above song sung. (Inside a locked empty house, too!)

She had several other last requests on her list too (which you can read in its entirety at the above-linked findadeath site - I read for about a half hour there) but the fact that she wanted this song sung after she died (the first and last verses, anyway) got me to wondering if she was Scottish? I had never heard that before, and maybe she wasn't. Maybe she was just a heartless gold-digging murderess who liked to hear words sung which she couldn't understand the meaning of.

And yet...


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