Thursday, January 27, 2011

Oh! Fair Lancashire! A mini tour guide

A trip to the north of England would not be complete without experiencing the beautiful countryside of Lancashire. The wild beauty of its heather-carpeted moors was the inspiration for Wuthering Heights and Jane Ayer; the Bronte sisters lived in Lancashire, of course, at Hayworth.

If time permits, you simply must take the steam journey along the wild coast of Lancashire, one of the most beautiful in the entire country, rolling past farms and fields, passing trains that have no names, the freight yards full of old black men, and the graveyards of the rusted automobiles. Here, you will also find the river Humber and the fifth-largest suspension bridge in the world. Up past the towering chalk cliffs of Flamborough Head lies the seaside town of Scarborough, so fair. Here, you may partake of the famous Lancashire fish and chips - bar none the finest fish and chips in all the world.

There are scores and scores of beautiful towns in Lancashire, both large and small. Two of my favorites being Giggleswick and Wigglesworth. Recommended lodging for your adventure is the Merrion Hotel in Leeds, Lancashire's largest city. Leeds is also home to the Lancashire A.F.C. football team, Leeds United.

No visit to the jewel of Northwestern England would be complete without touring the beautiful hills and river valleys of Lancashire Dales.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Gnashing and gnarling: Another post from my dictionary

These are the only words in the English language which start with "gn". You can copy this post and save it for reference if you want to.

gnomon (an old favorite of mine)
and, of course.... gnu.

Gns is the abbreviation for guineas. Bet you didn't know that. Me neither.

All the rest are simply variations of the above, abbreviations, or scientific terms that don't count. I consider Gnathostomulida and it's brethren to be scientific. Just so you know. Foreign words like gnocchi that have crept into the language don't count either. Old Norwegian words are acceptable, though.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Clocking in

Everybody knows Big Ben. Right?

Americans mostly think Big Ben is the clock tower pictured here. A lot of London folk think so too. No harm done.

Of course YOU know that Big Ben doesn't really refer to the tower or the clock, but rather to the largest of the 5 bells that are located in the belfry. I'm not writing this post to correct your thinking - so many people just call the clock tower Big Ben, it has become acceptable to do so. No, what I really want to do in this post is talk about the bell itself.

My infallible sources (I'm trying to stay away from Wikipedia this year) tell me that Big Ben is the third largest bell in the UK. I'm sure you can name the other two, so I won't insult you by telling you about those.

Yes I will.

The largest bell in the kingdom is Great Paul and the second largest is in Liverpool. Big Liv or something like that. No, wait. Great George.

Some of you are probably wondering who Big Ben is named after. Rightly so. That's a poser. For those of you who believe it was named after Queen "Ben" Victoria, sorry. But thank you for playing. There are so many prominent Benjamins from whom to choose. Many say it was named after Sir Benjamin Hall, who personally carried the 13-ton bell on his back up the 334 steps to the tower belfry. Could be. In fact, Sir Benjamin Hall's name is inscribed on the bell, so you would really have to be a dyed-in-the-wool skeptic to still doubt who it is named after. Before I learned about Benjamin Hall, I was going to guess Benjamin Disraeli, though I doubt even his own mother ever called HIM "Ben". And I immediately discarded Benjamin Franklin as a candidate.

The original Great Bell weighed over 16 tons, and was drawn from the foundry to the tower on a trolly drawn by 16 horses. This was not, I'm thinking, one of your average Tesco trollies. [Note to American readers: Tesco is a British grocery store chain, and the British don't use shopping carts.] Unfortunately, the first bell cracked while being tested and had to be recast. I'm not entirely sure where the missing 3 tons went. All I know is that Sir Ben was PISSED (as Charles Dickens noted afterward) that he had to carry the bell down and up again.

I'm sure, if you are burdened by the peculiar kind of "Rain Man" memory that Relax Max has, then you can't really read the words "16 Tons" without immediately thinking of Tennessee Ernie Ford's 1956 hit song of the same name. I'm sure. "Ya loaded sixteen tons, whaddaya get? - Another day older and deeper in debt. St. Peter dontcha call me cuz I CAN'T GO! I owe my soul to the company store. Doodoodoodoo dumdy dumdum."

But try to block that out of your mind for the time being.

Would you, dear American reader, like to visit the belfry of the Great Clock Tower of the Palace of Westminster when next you are in London, and check out the bells and clockworks close up? Sorry, no furriner tourists allowed. They'll take your money for the ground level tour stuff, though, and let you in the gift shop, but only actual card-carrying British citizens (including some Scots, I'm told) may tour the tower itself, and only then if they get a recommendation and okey-dokey from their PM. Make that MP. True. And guess whether or not the tower has a lift? Heh heh heh.

I really wanted to show you a picture of the Great Bell known as Big Ben, but the only pictures I could find were on Wikipedia, and, as I say, Wikipedia lies too much for me to use this year. Those could have been pictures of the Liberty Bell for all I know. So I have drawn you a picture of Big Ben, below, just to give you a working idea of what it looks like. By the way, just for scale, the actual bell is 2.2 meters tall. That is about half a rod, more or less.

[Illustration drawn by Relax Max. The original was drawn by 16 horses.]

One final note. The clock tower (and maybe the whole of the Westminster post-fire rebuild, for all I know - I have already spent too much time on this post and I'm not going to go back and look it up in my notes) was designed by Augustus Pugin. Augustus later went mad and spent time in Bedlam (perhaps screaming in terror about nightmarish neo-gothic architecture) and died at age 40. So sad. Died at Ramsgate, Kent. But I've already posted about Ramsgate. Some say he really died of syf-full-lus. But those people are probably spiteful Torries.


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