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?


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