Sunday, 28 August 2011

Never Walk Alone?

It probably comes as no suprise to learn I have been walking many a mile of late. I've roamed canal tow paths, fields, footpaths, lanes, woods, lakes, former railway lines and even skirted working quarries. Most of the time I've followed recommended routes, circular walks which have taken me well over 500 miles in the last six months.

For much of the time I find myself completely alone and I am able to enjoy the peace and quiet, seeing only an occasional dog walker, cyclist or fisherman. However, being recommended routes, there are also times when the walk attracts groups. Walking in a group is rather different for either there is an increasing distance between first and last, in which case there is no actual 'group' but a 'string', or everyone keeps the pace of the slowest of their number.

Personally I cannot see the attraction of walking in a pack. Aside from having to wait for the slowest, they lose any chance of enjoying peace and quiet, the freedom, the opportunity to throw off daily routines and pressures, and the chance to think. If the pack is walking in the opposite direction you become aware of them from afar for their chattering can be heard from quite some distance. However if the pack is treading the same route, I endeavour to put as much distance between us as humanly possible, for I do not want any intrusion upon my solitude.

I concede there are those for whom solitude is sadly not safe. However if the idea is simply to wander and enjoy a sandwich, flask of tea, and a natter, wouldn't it be more sensible to walk around the local park or even the shopping centre?

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Never Judge a Book

I recently sent off a synopsis for a book idea to a publisher I had not dealt with before. Said publisher specialised in the both the area concerned and the subject was also appropriate. It seemed my research had been spot on when the response at first seemed positive, they liked the idea, my CV was admired, but then came the final paragraph.

It seems this individual had checked with Amazon to see I had not exaggerated any of the statements. It was then they noticed the only reviews of any of my books had just one star and would therefore not be interested in pursuing the idea further. I was not overly disappointed by such a comment, this simply showed I was lucky not to have to deal with someone with such weird ideas, but I was dumbfounded that a professional with a proven record could be so naive.

As stated in my blog post A Matter of Opinion two reviews can be poles apart. The review they read was on where only one star was awarded. However another buyer across the Atlantic purchased their copy at where a very different five star review followed. It is a shame the two sites cannot be combined to show an average. Incidentally I later found another one star review of my books from the same buyer and it struck me as odd that a man who had clearly disliked his first purchase should ever consider buying another by the same author. I later discovered the reason, which was not entirely in the spirit of the idea.

Hence to base a decision not to publish seems a little odd. Incidentally, within a few days of receiving the email I discovered two new reviews on Amazon of another two of my books, this person being quite pleased with his purchases and resulting in four star reviews.

Perhaps this publisher should take note of some reviews of books which went on to sell quite a few copies!

Friday, 19 August 2011

The Etymology of World Currencies

Having looked at the etymologies of former European currencies recently, I spent most of the next day wondering about the origins of others worldwide. This is what I uncovered.

The dollar of course shares an origin with the Slovenian tolar, as discussed last time. From the former European silver coin the thaler, an abbreviation of Joachimsthaler and telling us it was first minted in Bohemia. Here thal means 'valley' and thaler 'thing or person from the valley'.

Somoans use the tala, a literal translation of 'dollar'.

Several countries use the Russian ruble, the word thought to be derived from the verb rubit meaning 'to chop'. Earlier a ruble was that chopped from an ingot of gold or silver of a certain weight.

I have always found the Albanian lek to be a most curious name so it came as quite a disappointment to find it was named for the first face to appear on the coin, that of Alexander the Great.

Algerians are paid in dinar, clearly derived from the old Roman denarius, itself from Latin deni 'containing ten'. Bahrain and Iraq also use the dinar. The denar of Macedonia shares this origin despite the different spelling.

Since independence in 1977, Angolans have used the kwanza which also happens to be the name of the major river in the country.

Argentina has the peso, clearly derived from Spanish peseta and from a Catalan word peceta meaning 'small piece'.

The Armenian dram literally translates into English as 'money', although there are suggestions this is related to the Greek drachma 'fistful'.

Azerbaijanis hope to have pockets full of manats. Manat is borrowed from moneta meaning 'coin'.

The taka is the currency in Bangladesh, taka being the Bengali word for 'money'.

The rupee, used in India and nearby nations, is from a Sanskrit word meaning either 'silver' or 'made from silver'.

The Kalahari Desert is known for its lack of rain, this arid region occupies large stretches of Botswana. Clearly rain is precious and the currency is thus called the pula, the Setswana word for 'rain'.

Brazilians have the real which means both 'royal' and 'real' in Portuguese, the coinage meaning originally the former.

Until they adopt the euro in 2013 or 2014, Bulgarians have the lev which was an early Bulgariuan word for 'lion'. Similarly the Moldovan leu also means 'lion', the same coin is used in Romania.

The People's Republic of China use a system of currency called the renminbi, literally 'the people's currency'. The basic unit is the yuan meaning 'round object' and is known colloquially as the kuai meaning 'lump'.

The Japanese yen has an identical meaning of a 'round object'.

Similarly the Korean won also speaks of itself as a 'round object'.

In Vietnam the dong is from dong tien, a direct translation meaning 'money'.

Croatians count their kuna, the name meaning 'marten' as the pelts of pine martens were the basic monetary unit in medieval times.

It was on his fourth voyage to the Americas when Christopher Columbus found what is now Costa Rica. The native Spanish name for Christopher Columbus is Cristobal Colon, which is why their unit of currency is the colon.

In the Czech Republic the koruna is one of several currencies derived from 'crown'. The Danish krone is another.

Eritrea named the nafka after the town of Nafka, the base of operations during the Eritrean War of Independence against Ethiopia.

The Ethiopian birr has the literal meaning of 'silver', prior to their introduction they had used thalers (also the origin of the dollar) and blocks of salt called 'amole tchew'.

The lari is used in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, lari being an old word denoting 'hoard, property'.

Ghanains once used cowry shells as currency, they now use coins called cedi which was also the Akan word for 'cowry shell'.

Across the Atlantic in Guatemala a very similar story is found for the quetzal, for in the Mayan culture the tail feathers of the Resplendent Quetzal were used as currency.

In Honduras and the lempira is the basic unit of currency, the name dating from the sixteenth century ruler of the indigeous Lenca culture, Cacique Lempira.

The Hungarian forint was named after Florence in Italy, where the original gold coins were minted.

Kyrgyzstan uses the som, literally meaning 'pure' and implies it was originally made from 'pure gold'.

South Africans use the rand, which takes its name from Witwatersrand, the name of the ridge of land on which Johannesburg is built. The place name describes 'the white waters ridge'.

Macau use the pataca, a name borrowed from the Portuguese reference to the Mexican dollar as the Pataca Mexicana.

Madagascar uses the ariary meaning 'silver dollar', which is divided into five iraimbilanja, a name meaning 'one iron weight'. This is one of only two currencies in the world which does not employ a decimal system.

Malawi has the kwacha, which happens to be the word for 'dawn' in both the Nyanja and Bemba languages.

In Malaysia they use the ringgit, a Malay word meaning 'jagged' for the term was originally used to describe the serated edges of the silver Spanish dollars seen here from the sixteenth century.

The evolution of the rufiyaa, the currency of the Maldives, is something of a mystery, however there can be no doubt it is from Hindi and ultimately Sanskrit words for 'silver'.

In Papua New Guinea the locals used a pearl shell as a token when trading until the introduction of the kina. This was derived from the Kuanua of the Tolai region, which was where these pearl shells were obtained.

In Poland the zloty means 'golden'.

Tajikistan use the somoni, named after the man known as the Father of the Tajik Nation, Ismail Samani whose name is also spelled Ismoil Somoni.

Tonga has the pa'anga, also the name of a vine which produces large pods with reddish-brown seeds which can be up to five centimetres in diameter.

Ukraine uses the hryvnia, which comes from the former word for the currency grivna used in the eleventh century.itself from a Slav word meaning 'mane' and probably suggesting something valuable worn around the neck.

Monday, 15 August 2011

The Euro

The euro was hardly the most imaginative name for the single European currency, although with numerous languages to take into consideration it was inevitable ever since the concept was first suggested. Despite the obvious name for the currency, it is believed the official suggestion was made in a letter to the then President of the Euopean Commission, Jacques Santer, in August 1995. That letter was written by one Germain Pirlot, a Belgian teacher of French and history.

To date the euro has replaced the national currencies of no less than twenty countries since its official debut on January 1st 1999. I was soon researching the origins of the names of those early currencies, some of which had been in existence for centuries.

The franc was common to Belgium, France, Luxembourg, and Monaco. This can be traced back to the earliest gold coins and the legend Francorum Rex 'king of the Franks'.

Similarly the lira was legal tender in Italy, the Vatican, San Marino and Malta. This word is derived from liura and ultimately from Latin libra or 'pound'. This also led to the British pound and the Irish pound or punt, and the pound of Cyprus, the latter two also replaced by the euro.

In Estonia they used the kroon, the Slovaks the koruna. Both have identical origins in meaning 'crown', for this is the image on the money. The same origin is shared by the Swedish krona, the Icelandic krona, the Danish krone, and the Danish krone.

The Portuguese escudo derives its name from the Latin scutum or 'shield'.

In Spain the peseta came from a Catalan word peceta, which is not hard to see as a 'small piece'.

The German Mark is easily seen as sharing an origin with the Finnish markka. Here an Old English or Saxon word marc is related to the Proto-German marko and all refer to 'precious metal'. To some degree the Dutch guilder has a similar meaning, the Middle Dutch adjective gulden is the basis for guilder and means 'golden'.

The Slovenian tolar comes from the former European silver coin the thaler, an abbreviation of Joachimsthaler and telling us it was first minted in Bohemia. Here thal means 'valley' and thaler 'thing or person from the valley'. This has also given us the monetary term 'dollar'.

In Greece the drachma has been used, on and off, since ancient times. The term is ultimately from the ancient Green verb drassomai meaning 'to grasp' and evolved to mean 'fistful'.

Austrians had the schilling, introduced as recently as 1924 to replace the corona. For those who remember pounds, shillings and pence it is obvious this is related to the British shilling, a monetary value which had existed since Saxon times. Indeed it is from this ancient Germanic tongue from which the term is derived. To the Saxons a scilling was an accounting term deemed to be equal to the value of a sheep anywhere in England outside of Kent, where the scilling was the value of a cow.

Being old enough to remember when European countries had their own coinage it must be said the introduction of the euro has taken away the delight of seeing fellow Brits struggling with the mental conversion to sterling when abroad. Not to mention watching them closely scrutinise every note and coin to discover its value. Priceless!

Thursday, 4 August 2011

The Capital Punishment Debate

With all this talk of the death penalty and should we / shouldn't we, I was reminded the apparent abolition in the 1960s didn't include a number of things including fire-bombing a naval dockyard (until 1971) and treason not until as recently as 1998. This set me thinking, not about any moral implications but just what might carry the death penalty. Of course everyone will have their own pet hates but, just in case you read this (and particularly if you find yourself a neighbour of mine), perhaps you might want to think about the following personal annoyances.

1. Chewing with the mouth open

2. Failing to queue properly.

3. Labelling children with dumb names.

4. Being Jeremy Kyle.

5. Allowing the pet cat to roam free.

6. Contacting me to "compare fuel prices".

7. Not addressing me as 'Mr.......' when appropriate to do so.

8. Any association with a Chinese Lantern.

9. Barking when there's nothing to bark at.

10. Using an umbrella on days when it is far too windy.

11. Saying "And I thought oooooooooo!" (unless you're a friend of Thomas the Tank Engine).

12. Topiary (this includes taking a perfectly good tree-shaped conifer and hacking at it until it resembles a large green bollard).

13. Saying "fart" on Blue Peter.

14. Use of "proactive", it isn't a word but a yoghurt.

15. Manufacturers of tea sets for kids (who then subject parents to a diet of dusty water and grey pastry dough)

16. Socks and sandals

17. Asking me "security questions" when they made the call.

18. Marketing the iron and/or ironing board.

19. Overuse of the word 'basically'.

20. Not owning at least one of my books.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Observations Along the Tow Path

On a recent walk along the canal tow path saw two very different things which I would never wish to see again. Firstly the sight of a mallard drake in clear discomfort drew my attention. I soon spotted the length of fishing line coming from its bill. With the shot clearly visible on the line it was not hard to see how the hook was stuck in its throat. I find it appalling to find that final length of tackle regularly discarded on the bank or tow path. Undoubtedly many, many more hooks and attached line are tossed into the water where they cannot be seen by the eyes of the public, nor by waterfowl browsing along the bottom.

The second event took place further along the same stretch. Narrowboats are limited to a 4mph limit, effectively a little more so as to allow for a headwind. However one particular individual was travelling closer to twice that and creating a wash which would only serve to erode the banks on a stretch of canal currently part of a massive and costly restoration project. Indeed his speed was such the prow of his boat was noticeably lifting. When challenged by anglers to slow and show some respect for other users he responded with a torrent of foul-mouthed abuse and "only having a bit of fun". Although this sounds very much a childish reaction, I would estimate he was probably well into his fifties and possibly older.

In the case of the poor duck I did call the RSPCA and leave details as to where I had seen it. However, to state the obvious, these birds can fly and although the RSPCA would attend quickly, as they pointed out, the chances of spotting the bird (let alone catching and treating it) were slim.

The ignormaus on the boat was a different matter. While he was yelling abuse at the anglers, I not only recorded something of the exchange but also zoomed in on the registration number on his boat. These details have been passed on to British Waterways.

All canal users are allowed to take advantage of these facilities virtually for free. Boaters are licensed to use the 2,200 miles of canal, currently fees for a standard seventy feet narrowboat are around £900. Anglers also require a license, this is rather less at £25 for coarse fishing. Cyclists, once banned from the tow path, legally require a permit before they can use these flat and thus cyclist-friendly arteries through both town and country. The permit is available online and can be printed off and signed at no cost whatsoever, although I wonder how many cyclists have such and carry it with them. The permit is not required in London or Scotland.

Some years ago our canals were little more than dumping grounds. Places where unwanted dogs and cats were drowned and parents forbade their children from going for fear of meeting the same unfortunate end. Today they are prime development sites in towns and cities, and increasingly busy with those seeking the peace and quiet afforded by more rural stretches. What began as James Brindley's eighteenth century solution to moving heavy cargo around the country, is a multi-million pound leisure industry in the twenty-first century.

Having walked all 39 miles of the Coventry Canal in recent weeks, I know those stretches away from the natural bottlenecks around the locks can leave one feeling very isolated. While it is impossible to police the entire network, it is becoming increasingly obvious some presence is required to protect the canal, the wildlife and canal users from the obnoxious minority.