Sunday 25 December 2011


In the spirit of the season I'm offering a free copy of any one of my books to he or she who gives me the best reason (in my opinion) why they should be the recipient of the book of their choice. The offer remains open until the next post, probably at the start of 2012.

Choose from:
Derbyshire Place Names
Dorset Place Names
Gloucestershire Place Names
Hampshire Place Names
Haunted Worcestershire
Leicestershire and Rutland Place Names
Ley Lines Across the Midlands
Nottinghamshire Place Names
Oxfordshire Place Names
Paranormal Cotswolds
Paranormal Staffordshire
The Salt Routes
Shropshire Place Names
Somerset Place Names
South Devon Place Names
South Staffordshire Street Names

Sunday 18 December 2011

An Advent Calendar of the Written Word (18th to 24th)

The final week featuring a note for each day of advent. No chocolates or pictures in this calendar but perhaps something of interest to the wordsmith.

18th - it seems many studies have been conducted into spelling errors. While it impossible to believe any examination can have taken a large enough sample in order to make the study particularly accurate, it seems the 18th most common wrongly spelled word is ASSOCIATION. Amazingly it was not the 's' or the 'c' which proved the stumbling blocks, the most common wrong spelling was "assocation".

19th - it probably won't come as a surprise to discover there are no 19-letter English words beginning with J, K, V, X, Y, or Z. However the most exhaustive of searches also drew a blank for 19-letter words beginning with W.

20th - to list the most common languages we can only use those spoken as a first language. Mandarin comes first, followed by Spanish and English. Twentieth on this list is either Korean or Tamil, both had 66 million speakers at the last respective census but those were taken some years apart.

21st - the 21st novel written by Terry Pratchett was Jingo, one of his Discworld series.

22nd - based on the list of best-selling magazines in the UK during the first half of 2011, 22nd on the list (with 413,311 copies) is Hello! magazine.

23rd - as it's Christmas a look at the all-time best-selling books for children reveals the paperback at number 23 is Judy Blume's Superfudge; while the classic The Tale of Benjamin Bunny by Beatrix Potter is ranked 23rd.

24th - in the Old Testament the 24th word is 'the'; the New Testament 'and'; in the Quran 'is', the Torah 'upon', and in the Book of Mormon 'many'.

Sunday 11 December 2011

An Advent Calendar of the Written Word (11th to 17th)

The second of three weeks featuring a note for each day of advent. No chocolates or pictures in this calendar but perhaps something of interest to the wordsmith.

11th - the 11th December is the anniversary of the birth (1918) of the Russian writer, Nobel winner and Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who died in 2008.

12th - has to be Twelfth Night for this was my one and only appearance as a thespian (although to be accurate there were two performances) when I had the role of Malvolio forced upon me by a teacher. Should 'Happy' Richmond still be around to recall those (for me) endless weeks of torture, my loathing for you is undiminished.

13th - the 13th this month fell on a Tuesday, yet had it fallen on a Friday all manner of woes and ill fortune may have been blamed on something which can only happen a maximum of three times each year in the Gregorian calendar. However spare a thought for Spanish-speaking countries where Friday the 13th passes unnoticed as it is Tuesday the 13th, or Martres trece, which is feared. Incidentally, statistics show these unlucky 13ths (be they Fridays or Tuesdays) are likely to see a significant drop in accidents.

14th - the 14th letter in the alphabet is 'n', the sixth most common letter used in the English language but as a consonant second only to 't'. The development of the letter 'n' seems to have been from the adaptation of the Egyptian snake heiroglyph by Semitic people, their word for a snake beginning with the 'n' sound.

15th - the 15th best-selling daily newspaper in the world, with an average daily circulation of some 2,204,000 is Japan's Sankei Shimbun. However it ranks only 7th among Japan's dailies, indeed the five best-sellers in the world are all Japanese. Incidentally 15th on the United Kingdom list is the Manchester Evening News.

16th - Barbara Cartland has the longest entry in Who's Who, mostly a list of her books, the 16th of which appeared in 1937, a contemporary romance novel entitled But Never Free (aka The Adventurer). Incidentally at the time of her death there were some 160 unpublished works

17th - the 17th book of the Bible is Esther. As an English name Esther became popular in the 17th century, when it was the 17th most common name given to a baby girl.

Sunday 4 December 2011

An Advent Calendar of the Written Word (1st to 10th)

Over the next three weeks a note for each day of advent. No chocolates or pictures in this calendar but perhaps a snippet of interest to the wordsmith, writer or reader.

1st - the most valuable first edition is the Gutenberg Bible, currently valued at over £30 million but you probably haven't got one of the 21 copies thought to exist. My oldest first edition is a book by Thornton W. Burgess entitled Little Joe Otter. The copy I was given as a child disappeared and I was delighted to receive a 1925 edition for Christmas a few years ago.

2nd - few will be unaware the Bible is the best selling book of all time and outsells the second best seller six or seven times over. Yet few will know that next on the list is Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong, most often referred to as his 'little red book'.

3rd - the third most commonly used letter in English writings is 'a', accounting for 8.167% of the total.

4th - the fourth longest English novel ever published is Poor Fellow My Country, a tale set in Australia and written by Xavier Herbert. It is said to contain 850,000 words.

5th - the fifth best-selling fiction author ever has amassed some 600 million copies of an impressive 800 books, and including 3,400 translations. Most of those books appeared under her own name and, although she did sometimes use the pseudonym Mary Pollock, very few can have missed Enid Blyton's work as a child or later as a parent.

6th - the complete works of Shakespeare did not see the light of day until seven years after his death and the publication of his plays certainly does not reflect the order in which they were first performed. As the latter is a better indication of the chronology his 6th play can be said to be Titus Andronicus, first performed in 1593 and appearing in print the following year.

7th - the Guardian newspaper poll to find the Seven Wonders of the Literary World placed Homer's The Odyssey at number seven - Don Quixote topped the list.

8th - in June 2011 John Locke became the 8th person to sell a million copies of an ebook and the first to self-publish and reach this milestone

9th - once it was considered a worthwhile achievement to read the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica - Richard Byrd taking a copy to the South Pole to help the time pass during his five-months stay - none other than literary giant George Bernard Shaw himself said he had read the 9th edition, although he admitted to skipping the scientific articles (a rather significant chunk to leave out).

10th - I suppose one of the golden rules when editing is to remove 'that' as superfluous. Thus it is interesting to note it is the tenth most commonly used English word and therefore should certainly appear in 'that' dialogue.

Sunday 27 November 2011

More of a Comment Than a Review

I don't read enough fiction. Not by choice, I simply don't have the time. If I could travel more by public transport I would certainly get much more read, however most of the places I need to visit do not have the service. Hence virtually all the reading I do is in bed, invariably resulting in 15 to 20 mins of reading before the eyes close - I hasten to add this has nothing to do with the reading material!

Having said all that I have just finished reading the last of a series of seven by sci-fi author Kevin J Anderson. Entitled the The Saga of Seven Suns, at some six to seven hundred pages per book it has taken me almost two years to complete the series - I'm not quite that slow, having read in others between.

I understand science fiction is not everyone's favourite genre, thus I shall only say the basic storyline and the new ideas introduced by the author are entertaining enough. However the pace of the story is impaired by the length of the chapters, a maximum of five pages each is simply not enough to develop a story nor does it do the characters any favours. On the subject of characters, whilst I appreciate there must be a good few to choose from when looking at an entire spiral arm of a galaxy, there are far too many. Not particularly good for me as I find it very difficult to remember names!

Hence the thousand or so chapters over the seven books serve only to make the story fragmented and difficult to follow. I concede these problems may have been less evident had I read the seven volumes over a much shorter period, although perhaps if Mr Anderson had written longer chapters it would have kept me reading for more than 15 minutes, which in turn would lead to fewer books and potentially more sales for many must have given up on this saga well before the end.

Sunday 20 November 2011

20th November

Not a date which would ever be considered of earth-shattering importance. Yet in its own way marks the anniversaries of three events which could be considered landmarks of the written word.

Just 191 years have passed since that day in 1820 when the Essex, a whaling ship out of Nantucket, Massachusetts, was in the Pacific Ocean about 2,000 miles off the west coast of South America. Nothing unusual about such in the early nineteenth century, that was until the Essex was attacked by a sperm whale with an estimated mass of some eighty tons. The vessel sank with just eight survivors, one of whom was first mate Owen Chase. Following the publication of his record of the events in 1821, under the snappy title Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex, Herman Melville had he germ of an idea which would become one of the first great American novels - Moby Dick. The success of this novel from its publication in 1851 when the literate were in a very small minority (and no radio, television, or cinema to bring the narrative to a wider audience) makes it a landmark piece of literature.

Winding forward 127 years and a young Princess Elizabeth (she was just 21) married Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten at Westminster Abbey in London. Within six years she was crowned Queen Elizabeth as the nation sat glued to their new television sets, purchased specially for the purpose of watching the pomp and ceremony live and in glorious black and white. Since that time the media has grown to the state-of-the-art broadcasting we take for granted today. Almost sixty years on the throne and surely no other living individual can have been written about, filmed, taped, broadcast, snapped (or waved at) over this time.

Finally another 38 years on and on this day in 1985 Microsoft Windows 1.0 is released. This brought the computer to the masses which, with the internet readily available within a few years, enabled billions to add their words to the mix, irrespective of ability, education, interest, or common sense. It could be argued this tremendous input serves only to dilute that worthy of reading, which would have stood alone in the days of Herman Melville. However from the opposite point of view, does it naturally bring the quality to the surface, highlighting the well-written word in a vast ocean of dross?

Monday 14 November 2011

More on Nursery Rhyme Origins

I no longer use my scanner, not since it started making more noise than the printer. Hence when I do need to scan a document I pop along to the local library, it's free and bookable online several days in advance. I couldn't use my usual library as building work is still going on so I opted for another nearby. Shortly after my arrival I noted a significant number of pre-school children and soon discovered my booking had coincided with Tots Tuesday. Concentration proved difficult for the next 30 minutes as staff and parents tried to entertain said tots with a selection of rhymes - while scanner-man struggled to avoid clicking/scanning/typing to the rhythm of such lyrical masterpieces as "Dingle-Dangle Scarecrow".

I was reminded of my blog some weeks ago, when I looked at the origins of nursery rhymes. Having seen how the most common explanations are even more far-fetched than the rhymes themselves, I expanded my search.

As I Was Going to St Ives - which I had always considered a riddle is apparently also considered a nursery rhyme. The modern form first appeared in 1825, although there is an earlier English version from one hundred years before where the man the narrator met has nine wives (and nine, sacks, cats, kits rather than today's seven of each). Any dispute as to whether this refers to St Ives in Cornwall or that in Cambridgeshire is made pointless by the existence of earlier versions of this problem from a number of cultures, the oldest being the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus where it is designated problem 79. Note this writing has been dated to around 1650 BC, making the problem at least twice as old as any place in the country known as St Ives.

Baa, Baa, Black Sheep dates from 1761, a variation on a French melody. Incidentally the original tune is that now used for Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. The modern controversies suggesting the rhyme has racist elements seem to have come about when the press jumped on the story when looking for column fillers, in turn fuelling reaction, and probably also leading to supposed origins in the slave trade. In truth the origins are unknown but may have connections to the wool tax imposed in 1275 - splitting the three bags three ways is said to represent the king, the church and the local community. Although, yet again, the split does not stand up to examination for although the 6 shillings and 8 pence deducted by the crown does equate to exactly one-third of one pound sterling, it equates to nearer one-twentieth of the actual value.

Bobby Shafto, he of the silver bells on his knee, hailed from Hollybrook, County Wicklow in Ireland and who died in 1737. This ditty would almost certainly have become lost had it not been adopted by the supporters of Robert Shato, MP for County Durahm in the lattre half of the eighteenth century. It is claimed later verses were added when, having been promised to Bridget Belasyse of Brancepeth Castle in County Durham, Shafto went and married Yorkshire lass Anne Duncombe. Bridget is said to have died two weeks after she heard of the wedding.

Bye Baby Bunting was possibly written as a rhyme for infants for in the eighteenth century bunting was used as a term of endearment and meant 'plump'.

Cock a Doodle Doo is certainly old and was already well-known when, in 1606, the first two lines were used in a pamphlet crowing about murder. Perhaps this represents taunting of the chicken (or cockerel in this case) as few fail to find themselves food at one stage.

Diddle Diddle Dumpling My Son John was inspired by the street cry of hot dumpling sellers. The earliest known publication date being 1797.

Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe was first published in the late nineteenth century, however the evidence is strong to suggest this is a centuries old counting song. There is a record of a shepherd's counting song beginning "Ina, mina, tehra, methera", which would be connected to Old English, and a Cornish version of "Eena, mia, mona, mite" which could easily pre-date the Roman occupation of Britain.

Frog Went A-Courting first appeared in print in 1548, which rules out any chance of it being the story of Francois, Duke of Anjou (the frog) wooing Queen Elizabeth I of England (the mouse). As the earliest publication was in Scotland it may refer to Mary Stuart.

Georgie Porgie didn't appear in print until the nineteenth century but is almost certainly much older. Just how old is unknown, meaning it is difficult to tell who this is about - among those most often cited are George Villies, 1st Duke of Buckingham; Charles II; and George I.

Boys and Girls Come Out to Play was first published in the early eighteenth century. Referring to the times when children were expected to work throughout hours of daylight, time for play being in the evening. It is worthwhile noting how the 'Girls and boys of today is as often found as 'Boys and girls' historically.

Goosey Goosey Gander has been said to come from anti-Catholic propaganda which came about through Henry VIII's break from Rome. No evidence has been found to suggest the rhyme existed prior to the eighteenth century and, aside from the mention of prayer, there is little to connect it to any religious theme.

Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush has no real meaning, simply a game played by children from the middle of the nineteenth century. There is good reason to believe the original lyric stated a bramble bush for mulberries do not grow on bushes.

Hey Diddle Diddle must have more explanations offered than any other rhyme, although none seem to have any evidence to support a single given origin. There is nothing to suggest it was known to the Ancient Greeks; nor does it seem consistent with worship of the Egyptian deity Hathor; the moon and constellations may fit best with the imagery, if not the narrative; the flight of the Israelites from Egypt seems nonsensical; the bedroom exploits of Lady Katherine Grey seem, at best, far fetched; Catherine, wife of Peter the Great of Russia is equally hard to see; and with so many on offer we should expect to find Catholicism in the mix.

Hickory Dickory Dock is also seen as Hickety Dickety Dock and Dickery Dickery Dock. It is thought to have originally been a counting rhyme, perhaps similar to that employed by Westmorland shepherds in the nineteenth century where a rhyme which began Yan Tan Tethera (one two three) went on to hevera (eight) devera (nine) and dick (ten).

I Had a Little Nut Tree does not appear in print until 1789, although this is no reason to believe it is not much older. Indeed if this is of some age the idea it commemorates the visit of Juana of Castile to England at the court of Henry VII is quite possible.

Jack Sprat, he who ate no fat, has been in use since at least the sixteenth century to describe a man of small stature and probably encouraged children to eat what was on offer.

Ladybird Ladybird would have originated through the long-held belief to kill a ladybird was unlucky. Perhaps chanting this rhyme would encourage them to fly away without resorting to stronger and more permanent action. I refer, of course, to the ladybirds and not those who inflicted the Dingle-Dangle Scarecrow upon me at Tots Tuesday.

Sunday 6 November 2011

The Battlefields Trail

Trying out and reviewing walks for various publications and societies this year means I have covered almost seven hundred miles since the spring. Of course I prefer a circular route for walking back along the same path, albeit offering a different viewpoint, is a little tedious - as I found when having to return to the car when researching Ley Lines Across the Midlands and later The Salt Routes. Yet discovering the leaflet advertising the Battlefields Trail I was instantly attracted.

Here three of the most significant battles on English soil were linked by a twenty-mile route through the south Midlands. Each site is clearly marked and information boards provide details of the combatants and how events unfolded. The trail starts in Chipping Warden and the route is stated clearly in the dowloadable leaflet known as the Battlefields Trail, hence here we just touch upon the history.

On July 26th 1469 the Wars of the Roses moved to Edgecote Moor. Here Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick led the Lancastrians against a Yorkist army.

A quarter of a century earlier at Cropredy Bridge another engagement took place in the small village of Cropredy Bridge. This place features as a point on one of the routes in my book Ley Lines Across the Midlands.
Just to the northwest of the delightful River Cherwell, Cropredy Bridge was named as an ancient river crossing, a ford across the shallowest part of the river. Indeed this point is also where two leys cross, the other known as the Waterstone ley. Despite the name of the village, as far as we can tell the first bridge was not constructed here until 1312.
The most famous moment in the history of Cropredy Bridge happened on 29th June 1644. The Parliamentarians were under the command of Sir William Waller, whose other claim to fame is as the man who proposed the formation of the New Model Army where professional soldiers fought under trained officers. Prior to this the troops were composed of any able fighting men, led by aristocrats whose only qualification to lead a war was through their bloodline. Opposing Waller were the Royalist forces, under the command of King Charles himself.
Here reports are conflicting. Some speak of a fierce battle, while others maintain it was only a minor skirmish. However both agree that the Royalists were victorious and marked a milestone in English history for this was the final battle won on home soil under the command of the reigning monarch. These differing accounts come about because they were written by different sides. The ferocity of the battle is exaggerated by the Parliamentarians, defeated they wished to tell of how bravely they fought. However their opponents describe a virtual walk over where hardly a shot was fired in anger.
So which is correct? The answer is found in the addendum to the Royalist record. It speaks of their disappointment at how their victory realised so very little, for their prisoners were not the cream of the fighting force and the captured equipment well-nigh worthless.

The earliest of the three barttles was fought at Edgehill on 23rd October 1642, indeed it was the first serious confrontation of the Civil War. The encounter is well covered by the Battlefields Trust leaflet. Again this battle features in the pages of one of my books, this time Paranormal Cotswolds where the story is told as follows:
At the northern edge of Cotswolds is Kineton and a famous moment in time. On the 23rd of October in the year of 1642, one of the greatest battles in English history was fought here, the first major engagement of the English Civil War.
Had there been a decisive victory for either side the conflict further bloodshed may have been avoided and thereafter resolved over the negotiating table. That the battle of almost 30,000 men resulted in 500 dead and 1,500 wounded from each side of the equally matched forces probably accounts for it seemingly continuing long after the mortal combatants had left the arena.
Early in 1643 a report was published by a London printer, sharing the tale of Christmas 1642 in Kineton. A group of shepherds, journeymen and a number of locals were abroad walking the lanes in the first hour after midnight, the first hour of the last Sunday in Advent. Suddenly they were aware of the sound of distant drums, the groans of dying men and the sounds of battle. They watched transfixed as the battle was renacted against the backdrop of the dark winter skies overhead. not daring to move should they be mistakenly be attacked amidst the carnage all around them.
For three hours they watched the slaughter until they considered it over and safe to move. They ran to Kineton's JP and minister, Mr Wood and Mr Marshall respectively, and told them of the horrors they had just witnessed. The skeptical well-educated gents returned to the scene 24 hours later and stood open-mouthed as they witnessed the battle re-enacted once more.
Rumours spread and reached the ears of the king himself, who had been present at the battle. He sent six men, a colonel, two captains and three men of high birth to investigate and, when Saturday night came around once more, the battle was again witnessed in the skies. They watched as men they had fought with, died once more slain by a sword in the hands of an opponent.
Twice more the ghostly battle has been reported. In the first days of 1643, and again around the early Victorian era when a group of newspaper reporters were on hand. Since that time only sounds of the battle have been heard, although there have been reports of Charles I's nephew and right-hand man at the battle, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, being seen astride his white charger directing the Royalist Army.

The leaflet states this can be travelled in three stages, although the twenty miles is manageable by experienced walkers in a single day (assuming the weather is kind and there are sufficient hours of daylight).

Sunday 30 October 2011

My new book: Paranormal Staffordshire

With Hallowe'en celebrations in full swing I thought it the perfect time to look at my latest book, Paranormal Staffordshire, released last week. One story comes from Ipstones, an incident reported almost a century ago during the dark days of the First World War.

The Hermitage
While thousands of individuals faced each other across the trenches of Europe, a reporter for a Matlock newspaper crossed the county boundary and brought his notebook to the Staffordshire Moorlands.
By this time the place was the property of a Colonel Beech under the tenancy of Bennett Fallowes. Together they had run this place for some twelve or thirteen years, yet the reporter was showing interest in the previous owner who seemed reluctant to leave his old home. The resident Fallowes family had admitted to becoming hardened to their ghostly guest and hardly troubled them.
During his lifetime the earlier owner of the place earned a reputation over a sizable area. A miserly little man, whose permanently bent back made him seem even smaller, despite never being seen without his trademark top hat. Disliked by all who knew him, he was reputed to have amassed a small fortune with his miserly ways. The Fallowes family, who had never met him as he had died before they arrived, were sure he was still there. They often felt the draught as they passed him on the stairs, accompanied by the sound of rustling, yet nothing could be seen.
One day Edward Wheeldon, Mrs Fallowes brother, brought his wife to stay for a few days. They lasted just one night, a night when they were unable to sleep for the sound of someone running up and down the stairs all night. They tried to call out to the rest of the family in another part of the house, but were unable to make themselves heard. When daylight broke next morning and Mr Wheeldon managed to rise from his bed he saw how his hair was standing straight up and neither he nor his wife ever stayed another night at the farm.
A servant girl here, another relative of the Fallowes family, would often hear ghostly screams from beneath her bedroom window. A form of serenading which she could certainly do without. Richard Fallowes, a cousin of the man of the house, stayed one night when he not only heard the American organ playing in the sitting room but could recognise the tune, yet nobody was downstairs at the time.
A bed in an unoccupied room was heard to be sat on, yet nobody was there nor could they have exited without being seen. A pile of planks created a tremendous noise as they were heard to come clattering down one evening, however armed with lanterns the family discovered not a single plank was out of place. Yet none of the incidents were as worrying as that experienced by Jane Fallowes, who felt the unmistakable touch of a human hand against her face.
Their visitor had become a regular at the farm. However they had noticed he seems to like specific times in the calendar, appearing at Good Friday, Easter, Whitsuntide, Christmas, and the summer and winter solstice.
The large black dog, said to have glowing red eyes and equal in size to a donkey and which may or may not be related to the other phenomenon, has been seen in the road around here. One man kicked out at the fiercesome beast, only to see his foot pass straight through the animal which seemed not to notice.

Published by Amberley Books Paranormal Staffordshire is my fourth book on this subject. Copies are available by contacting the author.

Sunday 23 October 2011

Alfred Watkins, Ley Lines and Me

In 1921 Alfred Watkins published a theory. In truth others had had the same idea before but Mr Watkins was the first to put his thoughts into print. Thus the world was introduced to ley lines.
So what is a ley line? There is some disagreement as to exactly what ley lines are, yet all agree they are lines and what is more they are straight lines. Mr Watkins was the first person to give these alignments a name. The word is taken from the Saxon leah meaning 'a woodland clearing' and appearing at the end of innumerable place names, such as Hanley, Hinckley, Dudley and Rugeley. However the accepted pronunciation for the line is now as in 'lay'. Many cultures have shown an interest in straight lines, the most famous and enduring being the Nazca lines of the high plateau in Peru.
A more recent theory suggests these lines mark the paths of an earth force, intersecting points of two leys are said to release a special psychic or magical energy. This energy is not only said to be beneficial but a vital source of positive energies. There are also those who maintain they are able to trace leys using dowsing rods. I have seen this happen more than once, with different people holding the rods, yet have never managed to get any movement at all from the dowsing rods myself.
Any credence I could give to the more supernatural explanation evaporates with the claim that leys can be traced by dowsing, this time using a plumb line, over a map. In order to accept that this is possible, we would also have to assume that the tool (either the plumb line or the plumb bob) can read. Otherwise how would the tool recognise that it was a map - complete with contours, names and features - rather than a piece of paper with a few random letters, and straight and curved lines scribbled on it (or even an old cigarette packet)?
Other properties attributed to leys include the power to heal, a magnet for ghosts and anything supernatural, geomancy, the explanation for the existence and creation of crop circles, and signals to UFOs. There is even an account of an alignment being found on Mars, leading to (or from, depending upon which version you read) the phenomena which has become known as the Face of Mars. Apparently this is the only proof required to show that leys are common to every planet in the galaxy. My only acceptance of leys is the same as the man who named them, Alfred Watkins.
Watkins proposed that the straight lines were ancient trackways, laid down by those who settled in the British Isles when it was largely forested. As the ley was created a number of markers were created to enable the traveller to follow the track even though he was out of direct line of sight of both his point of departure and his objective. It is these tracks that my book Ley Lines Across the Midlands examined.
Obviously the first time anyone travelled from point A to point B there was no marked path to follow. Therefore someone had to find a way of marking the shortest route and also making sure there was no error otherwise all that was being created was a road to nowhere. The method used to ensure a straight and true path was simplicity itself and the same basic system is still used by surveyors today.
Few tools are required to produce a perfectly straight line over unlimited distances. Three wooden staves are all it takes. Whilst both his point of origin and his target were in sight he would secure his first stake in the ground at a point where it stood on a direct line between the two. The second stake would be placed further along this same line thus creating two certain points of reference. His third stake would be aligned at a point as far away from the first two as it was possible to see and maintain the accuracy. Now the first stake can be removed and aligned at the front, thus effectively becoming the fourth stake. Alfred Watkins referred to these surveyors as dodmen, citing the gait of the elderly being referred to as 'doddering' and the Welsh dodi meaning to place or to lay.
Some have pointed to the staves or stakes being carried by the chalk figure of the Long Man of Wilmington in Sussex, suggesting the figure may have been created to acknowledge the invaluable contribution these men made. This 69 metres (227 feet) long figure carries two long poles or staves. Like the other human figure of the Giant at Cerne Abbas, these are considered ancient. However no record of either figure has ever been found dating from before the 17th century. Considering the planning and the huge effort which would have gone into the construction, it seems unlikely that either would have avoided any mention for well over two thousand years.
The only thing left was to create markers. These would have stood out from everything in view like the proverbial sore thumb. Each marker had to be within sight of the previous one as there was no path underfoot to follow. Markers were originally simply a pile of stones, or a burned tree, or a purpose-built ford. Later some of these sites took on more significance and became tumuli, cairns, pagan places of worship and sometimes even new settlements.
Obviously not all of the permanent markers were contemporary. Indeed, those who doubt the existence of leys point out these great differences in age as evidence that the ley could not have been marked out using the marks cited, for originally many of them could not have existed. This cannot be disputed, however perhaps the way to look at it is that the modern evidence was erected on the track already in existence. Even today any construction work grows alongside an existing road, so it is a safe assumption that this has always been the case. Besides there would be no point in creating a sacred place which was quite literally off the beaten track for nobody would ever be able to find it.
The Romans, famous for their straight roads, would undoubtedly have taken advantage of the trackways already in existence. They used the same method to mark out their own roads which, although they were not significantly wider, were vastly superior underfoot. Furthermore, no markers were required here for the road itself was evidence enough. Today these former markers can still sometimes be seen in the names of the settlements, indeed such is often the only clue we have.
It should be noted that skeptics have discounted the idea of ley lines as fanciful archaeology. Quite rightly they point to the comparatively large number of settlements in Europe and, seeing these as dots on a map, conclude that there is no deliberate alignment. The fact that there are so many dots means it is inevitable that some will fall in a straight line. Alfred Watkin himself pointed this out in his book The Old Straight Track.
My book accepts that ley lines do exist and takes the reader along a number of these ancient routes across the counties of the Midlands. While the different leys have similar markers in a general sense, each has its own individual story to tell and is a different piece of the whole incomplete puzzle. Incomplete because the several leys can be traced across distances much greater than just central England. Not only will we discover something of the places and the markers, but will look at the possible reasons and uses for the trackway, and the people who have followed these same paths.
Although they lie outside the area covered by Ley Lines Across the Midlands, the stone circles of Avebury and Stonehenge in Wiltshire are well-known as focal points for a number of trackways and importantly can be dated. These two religious sites are over five thousand years old. Clearly they were built on trackways existing beforehand, hence the leys themselves are older and likely very much older. Since the original markers have long since disappeared it is difficult to know exactly when any particular track was created. Indeed it is virtually impossible to say just how old any of the leys are.
Therefore we must guess as to the age of these tracks and for this we need clues. The only ones we have are the people, and when they first settled into permanent homes rather than leading the life of hunter gatherers. The only other really relevant factor are the forests, which severely hampered the vision of those people of the British Isles and created the need for marked trackways. This all happened closer to ten thousand years ago.
Whether any of the routes covered in my Ley Lines Across the Midlands are among the original tracks of ten thousand years ago is unknown and never will be known. However it is safe to assume they date from at least the pre-Roman era of two thousand years ago and are likely to be twice that age.

Published by The History Press Ley Lines Across the Midlands was the first of my books on ancient routes and trackways.

Sunday 16 October 2011

A Writer's A-Z of Sex

Last week's look at slang terms for drink and drunks meant I had to thumb through my Penguin Dictionary of Historical Slang in order to fill in the gaps. In doing so I noticed one subject appeared again and again, often many times on each page. Whilst I could have guessed the most common reference was to sex, even I was amazed by the quantity (but certainly not the quality) of the terms.

At first I intended to look at female references in one post with male to follow. However in this politically correct world half of the terms would have offended somebody and the other half likely everybody. Hence I opted for the following, written from the etymological viewpoint and not just for a cheap laugh (well mostly).

A is for ankle sprain, derived from the French avoir mal aux genous, it describes successful seduction.

B is for brim meaning to copulate and once the correct terminology in describing the mounting of the sow by the boar.

C is for cleave, used to mean 'to be wanton'.

D is for dark cully, a man who visits his mistress only under cover of darkness.

E is for ewe-mutton which is defined as 'an amateur prostitute', (an oxymoron if ever I heard one).

F is for firkytoodle, a delightful word originating in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries and which is probably best defined here as foreplay.

G is for gay which, in the late nineteenth century, was actually used to describe heterosexual activity.

H is for hoddypeak, another word for a cuckold

I is for itch-buttocks, not what it seems but used from the sixteenth century for what is sometimes referred to as 'the missionary position'.

J is for Judische-compliment, a strange early nineteenth expression for it describes a well-endowed man with no money.

K is for keep-down-the-census, which is easy enough to understand when we know if refers to pleasuring oneself.

L is for leather-stretching, the act of intercourse.

M is for machine, a reference to the male organ and derived from the French machin, or 'thing'.

N is for Nebuchadnezzar, a late nineteenth century reference to the male organ and related to "take Nebuchadnezzar out to grass", a rather wordy alternative to the three-letter word 'sex'.

O is for orchestra, thyming slang 'orchestra stalls' being 'testicles'.

P is for pestle, the male organ (no prizes for guessing what a 'mortar' was)

Q is for quicumque, a very young woman of questionable morals.

R is for rigsby, another young woman of questionable morals.

S is for scolopendra, yet another woman of questionable morals and apparently named for the sting in the tail of a centipede.

T is for table-end, describing a couple whose desires are so great they are unable to wait until they have 'climbed the stairs'.

U is for under-petticoating, quite simply is soliciting but applied to either sex.

V is for vrow-case, a brothel and probably derived from the Dutch vrouw 'a woman'.

W is for whipperginnie, a woman of ill repute

X, Y and Z had me beaten

Sunday 9 October 2011

A Round of Drinks

Being partial to a drink now and again, I overhear some unusual slang terms when ordering at the bar. This is particularly true when travelling around the British Isles, closer to home they are more familiar and mostly ignored. Words such as bevy, tipple, wallop, grog, etc., are known to all and require no explanation.

However it was when I picked up my Dictionary of Historical Slang I discovered just how many slang terms there are in the English language for the demon drink, for those who enjoy same, and everything related to it.

A is for ANOTHER ACROBAT meaning 'another drink'. Tumbler being another word for an acrobat and also a glass.

B is for BLACK POT meaning 'a toper' (one who enjoys his drink a little too much). A black pot was a beer mug in the days when bottles and tankards were made of leather and sealed with tar.

C is for CANTEEN MEDAL, describing a military man who wore a beer stain on his tunic. A persistent drunkard (today we would say 'alcoholic') was similarly described as a Canteen Wallah.

D is for DEADY meaning 'gin' and thought to have originated from a proprietary name of a distiller.

E is for ELBOW-CROOKER, a nineteenth century term for a heavy drinker and for obvious reasons.

F is for both FELLOW-COMMONER an 'empty bottle' and FIDDLER'S BITCH one who is 'very drunk'. While we know what they mean, where the come from is a mystery.

G is for GASP meaning to 'drink a dram of spirits', presumably from its possible effect.

H is for HEAVY BROWN, describing porter. The first beer aged at the brewery and despatched to the inns ready to drink, it was a kind of stout.

I is for INDENTURED, meaning 'to stagger under the influence of drink'.

J is for JACK SURPASS, rhyming slang for 'a glass (of liquor)'.

K is for KILL-PRIEST, a slang term for port wine.

L is for LUSHING-KEN, a very run down and dirty public house.

M is for MOPPY, another word for 'intoxicated'.

N is for NANCY DAWSON, a naval term for the rum ration.

O is for O-BE-JOYFUL, a public house.

P is for PAINT, to drink something very strong.

Q is for QUANTUM, a late nineteenth century term for an ale.

R is for RUSH-LIGHT, any strong liquor, from the late eighteenth century.

S is for SCREECH, a nineteenth century word for potent whisky.

T is for TAPE, a general term for strong liquor but most often referring to gin.

U is for UNPAVED, to be aggressive under the influence of drink.

V is for VARNISH, a late nineteenth century term used specifically for bad champagne.

W is for WET QUAKER, a man who on the surface is most pious but in secret is a heavy drinker.

X is for .... well I couldn't find one, so I thought I'd make one up. If xenophobia is the irrational fear of foreigners and oenophobia is a fear of wines, then could XENOENOPHOBIA be the irrational fear of foreign wines?

Y is for YADNAB, which should really be ydnarb because it is supposed to be brandy backwards.

Z is for .... again I couldn't find one so I've cheated and gone for ZIBIB, a colourless drink distilled from raisins.


Sunday 2 October 2011

Etymologies of the Capital Cities of the US states. Part II

Following on from last week here are the remaining twenty-five states with the names of their capital cities defined.

Missouri - Jefferson City is named after the 3rd President of the USA, Thomas Jefferson.

Montana - Helena is a name transferred from Helena, Minnesota and brought here by a gold prospector on his arrival in 1864.

Nebraska - Lincoln remembers the 16th president of the USA, Abraham Lincoln remains one of the best known holders of the office.

Nevada - Carson City took the name of the famous frontiersman Christopher 'Kit' Carson.

New Hampshire - Concord was named such by those who settled here from Concord in Massachusetts. Previously it had been known as Pennycook, from Native American Algonquian word meaning 'descent'.

New Jersey - Trenton was named after the man who laid out the present town in the early eighteenth century, William Trent.

New Mexico - Santa Fe was founded by Spanish missionaries, the name is Spanish meaning 'holy faith'. English speakers will be glad they no longer have to address the envelope by the original name of Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asis - 'royal city of the holy faith of St Francis of Assisi'.

New York - Albany was named from the future King James II who also held the title Duke of Albany.

North Carolina - Raleigh was named in 1792 to honour Sir Walter Raleigh who strived to colonise the area he knew as Virgina.

North Dakota - Bismarck was the name of the German chancellor in the late nineteenth century, Otton von Bismarck having financed the building of the railway.

Ohio - Columbus holds no surprises in being named after Christopher Columbus, although he never saw Ohio nor did he ever learn of this honour for died three centuries before the place was named.

Oklahoma - Oklahoma City was transferred from the name of the state, itself of Native American Choctaw origin where okla homa described this as the '(territory of) the red people'.

Oregon - Salem was transferred from that in Massachussets, made famous by the infamous witch trials. Indeed these events make the meaning of the place name rather ironic as it comes from the Hebrew for 'peace'.

Pennsylvania - Harrisburg shares an origin with the state in that both are named after English Quakers. William Penn gave his name to the state and John Harris to the city with the addition of the German burg or 'town'.

Rhode Island - Providence was named by the Englishman Roger Williams in 1636, apparently acknowledging the sanctuary afforded from the hostile Native Americans by 'God's merciful providence'.

South Carolina - Columbia shares the origin of Columbus, Ohio in being named after Christopher Columbus.

South Dakota - Pierre was influenced by, but not named after, fur trader Pierre Choteau. The original name was Mahto, the Sioux word for 'bear' and mispronounced by the French.

Tennessee - Nashville adds the French ville or 'town' to the surname of the American general Francis Nash, hero of the War of Independence.

Texas - Austin takes a surname, that of the man who did much to colonise Texas, Stephen F. Austin.

Utah - Salt Lake City was named after the Great Salt Lake in 1868.

Vermont - Montpelier has French origins, as does Vermont, and was transferred from Montpellier in southern France. The French version is derived from the Latin name of Mons pestellarius or 'the woad mountain' and a clear indication this blue dye was an important product hereabouts.

Virginia - Richmond is another transferred name, this time from the town of Richmond in Surrey.

Washington - Olympia was first named Smithfield but later took the name of the nearby Olympic Mountains, the tallest of which eighteenth century Englishman John Meares had likened to Mount Olympus in Greece.

West Virginia - Charleston is really self-explanatory, all that remains is dicover who 'Charles' was. It transpires he never saw the place named after him, it was a tribute by the city's founder George Clendenin to his father.

Wisconsin - Madison is another named after a former US president, this being the 4th holder of that office, James Madison.

Wyoming - Cheyenne is a city named after the earlier Native American residents, the name of the tribe meaning 'red talkers'. Interestingly it was originally proposed as the name of the state only to be rejected as it was mistakenly believed to mean 'snakes' and deemed inappropriate. One wonders why any name thought to be unsuitable for a state would be quite acceptable for the city and state capital.

Sunday 25 September 2011

Etymologies of the Capital Cities of the US states. Part I

Some months ago I reproduced snippets from an old article looking at the etymologies of the names of the US states. I made a note to examine the capital cities of those same states in the future and examine the origins of those place names. Here are the results and, as there are fifty, I have split the piece into two.

Alabama - Montgomery was named to honour the American hero of the War of Independence General Richard Montgomery

Alaska - Juneau was fittingly named in 1881 one year after Joseph Juneau arrived, one of the first to arrive seeking gold.

Arizona - Phoenix has no connection with the Phoenicians even though the inhabitants are known as such. Neither is there any record of the place ever being rebuilt following a fire, which would lend itself to being named after the fabled bird said to rise from its own ashes. Hence the reason is unclear, although one source does suggest it was built on the remains of a Native American site but this may well be creative etymology.

Arkansas - Little Rock was named by French explorer Bernard de la Harpe in 1722 as La Petite Roche, French for 'the little rock' which stands on the banks of the River Arkansas.

California - Sacramento took the name of the River Sacramento, itself the Spanish for 'sacrament'. Clearly of religious significance although the beginnings are a mystery, the city was previously known as Fort Sutter after John Sutter, who established a trading post here.

Colorado - Denver was named after former governor General James W. Denver, previously it was known as Auraria, the Latin for 'golden'.

Connecticut - Hartford was named Newtown when settled by the English in the seventeenth century, but renamed Hartford twenty years later. It was named after the English town of Hertford (meaning 'the ford frequented by harts or stags') but spelled differently although probably not deliberately!

Delaware - Dover was established in Kent County by the English, hence the famous English port had its name transferred here. The derivation of the English version, although hardly relevant here, is from the Celtic river name Dour, itself from dubras and meaning simply 'waters'.

Florida - Tallahassee is a Native American, specifically Muskogean, word meaning 'old town'.

Georgia - Atlanta was the terminus of the Western and Atlantic Railroad, and named because of this and not the Atlantic Ocean directly.

Hawaii - Honolulu is from the Hawaiian hono 'harbour' and lulu 'calm', hence sheltered area in the Pacific Ocean.

Idaho - Boise is named from the river on which it stands and, unsurprisingly, is from the French where riviere boisee speaks of 'the wooded river'.

Illinois - Springfield is a common name in the USA, hence the reason it was chosen for the home of Homer Simpson and his family. Normally self-explanatory, in this example it was transferred from its namesake in Massachusetts, itself coming from that from Essex in England.

Indiana - Indianapolis is clearly named from the state, itself named by French settlers for the large number of Native Americans who were here when they arrived in 1702. It would not have survived had it not been for the name being taken by the Indiana Company who developed the land here in the eighteenth century. The addition is Greek polis meaning simply 'town'.

Iowa - Des Moines has a lot in common with Boise for not only is it clearly French but is also derived from the river. Here the riviere des moines describes 'the river of the monks', which may refer to Trappist monks who settled these lands but more likely is a corruption of the Native American tribe the Moingouena, which was abbreviated to Moings in the plural.

Kansas - Topeka is a capital city named from the Sioux word meaning literally 'potato good place', and telling us the wild tuber known in English as the potato could be found.

Kentucky - Frankfort is not an erroneous spelling of the German city of Frankfurt telling of 'the ford of the Franks'. However the meaning is very similar in 'Frank's ford', the man in question being Stephen Frank, a pioneer who was among the settlers killed by Native Americans at the ford on the Kentucky River while making salt.

Louisiana - Baton Rouge is literally French for 'the red stick', which has seen a number of stories told regarding its origins. That most often related concerns a red pole supposedly hammered into the ground to show where the French territory ended and the Native American land began. However it is more likely to be a bad French translation of a native chief's name.

Maine - Augusta does not share an origin with Augusta, Georgia which was named after England's Princess Augusta, the daughter-in-law of King George II. This was Augusta Dearborn, daughter of Henry Dearborn the American statesman, physician and veteran of both the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

Maryland - Annapolis was named after the English Queen Anne, although she was Princess Anne when the place was named. The suffix is Greek polis or 'town'.

Massachussetts - Boston is a transferred name from Boston in Lincolnshire, the place where many of the Puritan settlers had begun their journey.

Michigan - Lansing is another transferred name, this time from Lansing in the state of New York where many of the original settlers had begun their overland journey. New York's Lansing was named after John Lansing, a politician and legal man.

Minnesota - Saint Paul was named after the dedication of the church founded by the French priest Lucien Galtier.

Mississippi - Jackson was named to honour Andrew Jackson, the 7th President of the USA.

Sunday 18 September 2011

Origins of Street Names

An almost endless subject and one which is a particular favourite of mine. Toponomy, the study of place names, will give the ancient history of the place and its location. However studying street names will enable us to see something of the people, hence each town and city pays tribute to those who have contributed to its development. Soon after the Industrial Revolution this will have been the entrepreneurs and investors who built the factories and the houses for those who worked there, quite rightly putting their own names (and those of their family) on the road sign at the end of the street. In later years the councillors and mayors were similarly honoured. Thus many names are unique to the town and its people but there are also a selection of street names which are found in most sizable towns and cities and it is those we shall be examining.

High Street - although it often does rise above the surrounding area this is only because there was a natural tendency to settle on drier ground and thus avoiding seasonal flooding. Yet the name speaks of 'high' in the sense of 'important'.

Back Street and Fore Street refer to the 'rear entrance' and the 'front door' of the town respectively. Not that there is such a thing, in reality it refers to the less common route and the most common entrance point. Ironically there ar many more examples of Back Street than Fore Street.

Broad Street should always be seen as bening named comparatively. In days when streets were not built to take traffic those that were laid out to allow the flow of carts and waggons would have been noticeably broader than the alleys where the upper floors overhang, appearing almost to touch.

Albion Street - no surprise to find this in towns all over the land, it is the poetic name for Britain and held to be a reference to the white cliffs of the southeast coastline.

Pinfold Street - named after the area set aside to hold stray livestock until their owners collected them and paid the required fine. The monies went to the upkeep of the community and paid the wages of the pinner, he responsible for the pinfold and whose job title became a surname.

Conduit Street - is always an indication of a water channel, maybe covered over. However more often this would have been a sewer, not a supply of fresh water.

Friday Street - has two possible meanings. Either this refers to poverty, Friday being the least popular day of the week in medieval Europe, or it describes the place where fish was sold, this being the only meat permitted to be served by the pious on Fridays.

Cheapside - is derived from the Old English word ceap meaning 'a deal' and used to point to this being a market place.

Rotten Row - clearly a derogatory name but the exact sense is disputed, indeed it seems likely to have a number of uses depending upon the location.

Salters Street - an ancient route, probably one of the earliest into the place, and that taken by those who brought that precious commodity of salt. Even the most efficient of settlements would rarely have a reliable supply of salt locally, hence they were reliant on the salt routes. Not that salt was used as a seasoning as today, it was far too precious. Salt provided a way to preserve meat before the refrigerator and also used in the production of cheese.

The Butts - a name which I try to avoid discussing when giving talks on the subject of place names, for it often disappoints the enthusiastic amateur historians present. I am well aware the audience hope to hear this refers to archery butts, that which supports the target during practise. Less romantic is the image of the game of butts, once popular in the north of the land it was similar to tip-cat (a variety of rules exist but is basically a little stick being whacked with a bigger stick as far as possible). What they really do not like to hear is the most common origin, where the butts referred to that unploughed strip around the edge of the field which remained unploughed for this was where the plough team turned.

Should you have a local road, street or lane you would like to know the meaning of drop me a line and I will try my best to offer a solution.

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Paranormal Staffordshire

Latest publication appearing in October 2011. Just in time for Hallowe'en, Paranormal Staffordshire contains a mix of stories old and new.

Sunday 11 September 2011

The Ashby Canal

My latest longer distance walk saw me stretching my legs along the Ashby Canal. At 31 miles in length it was open by 1804 and connected the mining community of Moira in Leicstershire with the Coventry Canal at Bedworth in Warwickshire. While it was quite easy to walk the navigable 22 miles remaining inside two days (one day is also achievable), as I did not walk this on consecutive days and the practicalities involved in looping back to my starting point (in order to pick up the car) this was stretched over three days.

The abandoned section of this canal was closed in three stages, 1944, 1957 and 1966. Ironically the subsidence from the coal and limestone mines the route was built to serve was its own downfall. There is a restoration project in full swing, although it will never be possible to reopen the original route for much has been filled in and some now developed. A mile around Moira was restored between 1999 and 2005 and, while it is hoped that all but the last mile will eventually be reopened, today the route ends just north of the Snarestone tunnel.

While the canal is generally travelled from south to north, at least initially, I walked in the opposite direction. Normally I find walking along the tow path to be surprisingly tiring, unexpected because they are obviously very flat away except for the occasional lock or bridge. However that they are flat means you are using the same muscles all the time, unlike when crossing undulating fields or steeper inclines. Yet with the Ashby Canal the tow path, and indeed the canal itself, are not (yet) as well maintained as those more popular routes. As result the tow paths have many holes and are quite rutted owing to a lack of hardcore and the many cyclists which pass along here. Thus the problem is not that it is lvel but the very real problem of turning an ankle, so beware!

Finding the end of current the canal, north of Snarestone Tunnel, in the car is not easy so I resorted to parking at Snarestone and walking as far as I could before turning round and retracing my footsteps south and beyond. Along the route to Shackerstone the canal winds along the contour line, wih the former railway line still visible in the landscape to the right from time to time. Indeed there are a number of circular walks posted on boards on the tow path, parts of which utilise the old trackbed.

Reaching Shackerstone at the Turnover Bridge, take the time to visit the Battlefield Line Museum at the station or take advantage of the station cafeteria should these be open on the day. Incidentally the Turnover Bridge will not be named anywhere but the OS map, yet it cannot be mistaken for it will be where the tow path switches over to the opposite side of the canal. Returning to the canal retrace your walk along the tow path back to Town Bridge, passing underneath and ascending to the road. Turn left, away from the town, cross another bridge over the trackbed clearly visible below and tirn immediately left along a single-track and very straight road. Just after a lefthand bend the Ivanhoe Way is signed off to the left. Crossing a series of fields and stiles brings us back to the road at Snarestone where, turning left, takes us back to the Globe Inn which is adjacent to the Snarestone Tunnel and the start of the first leg.

The second leg was easier to organise, walked at the weekend with a little help from the Battlefield Line. Parking at Shackerstone I bought a single and travelled along this heritage line to Shenton. The Battlefield Line began as the Shackerstone Railway Society in 1969 but, by the following year, had relocated to Shackerstone for the facilities were better for housing the steam engines. First operational in the 1970s by 1992 the one and a half mile extension to Shenton was opened when the first engine pulled the inaugural service. This 0-6-0 tank engine was appropriately named Richard III, appropriate as this stop links to Bosworth Field and the famous engagement which ended the Wars of the Roses and the crown passed from Richard III to Henry VII in 1485. Bosworth Field Visitor Centre and Ambion Hill, now generally acknowledged as the true location of the important events, are just a short walk away. However my route was along the canal, a short journey which continued along the former track bed to cross the canal and then head north back to my starting point.

The third and final leg took me back to Shenton. This was the longest of the three legs and required a little juggling with public transport. Parking at Hinckley I caught a bus to Market Bosworth and then walked to Shenton. Before joining the canal by climbing up to the Shenton Viaduct, I took the short detour to see King Richard's Stone, a reminder this was where Richard III was said to have died following defeat at Bosworth.

This leg winds along passing near Stoke Golding where, at bridge number 25, Ashby Boats have a good selection of narrowboats for hire which, as there are no locks on the Ashby Canal, makes for a leisurely journey. Also at bridge 25 we can find 'the Ghost Railway', so-called as it is a stretch of track bed where the sleepers and rails have been removed but is remarkably well preserved considering it is not in use.

A rather close and warmish day slowed my pace a little and, as I paused frequently to gather blackberries (amassing over two pounds by the end), it took a little longer than I had planned to reach the junction with the Coventry Canal at Bedworth. From here I found the railway station and, changing at Nuneaton, took the train back to my starting point at Hinckley having walked a total of more than sixteen miles.

Saturday 3 September 2011

Etymology of Ancient Currencies

Last month I looked at the etymologies of contemporary currencies and those recently superceded by the introduction of the euro. However there are many which have come and gone in history and they must also have an origin.

Lydia was a region in what is now western Turkey. They used the stater, a coin used in many parts of Greece. Made from electrum and silver, its name translates quite literally as 'weight'.

The ancient Persians used the gold coin known as the daric. The daric was introduced by Darius the Great of Persia during his reign of 522BC to 486BC. The figure depicted with a bow and arrow is either a great warrior or a king, their identity is unclear. What is clear is, despite the seemingly obvious naming of the daric from Darius, in reality it comes from a Persian word for 'gold'.

Ancient Greeks had the drachma. This term is ultimately from the ancient Greek verb drassomai meaning 'to grasp' and evolved to mean 'fistful'.

The Roman Empire used a number of coins. One is known to modern numismatists as the antoninianus, several documents refer to coins named after one Antoninus, although they have no notion as to the coin's appearance, nor do they know what name was given to the coin they now know by this name. The same is true of the follis, the etymology and the actual name is unknown. The argenteus was a silver coin with a name which meant 'silver' in Latin, similarly the aureus was a gold coin whose name meant 'golden'. The denarius is derived from the Latin deni or 'containing ten' as it was equal to ten asses, these being bronze (later copper) coins, and related to the Greek assarion and understood as 'a part thereof'. Latin dupondius describes itself as a 'two pounder'. The follis took its name from the word meaning 'bag' and usually of leather, suggesting the original value of same was an amount contained within said bag. A sesterius was equal to two and half asses, the name means 'two and a half'. The gold solidus is not difficult to see as meaning 'solid'. A talent began as a unit of mass, the name meaning 'balance, scale', which readily transferred to a coin of a certain weight.

Ancient Israeli coins begin with the gerah, derived from Aramaic word which translates as 'money'. We also find the prutah, which spoke of itself as being 'a coin of lesser value'. The best known coin is probably the shekel, equivalent to an Akkadian and/or Sumerian unit of weight first recorded over four thousand years ago. Lastly is the zuz, a word meaning 'to move' and suggesting a redistribution of wealth.

Brazilians once valued their cruzeiros, the name describing the constellation of the Southern Cross.

Peru had the inti, named after the Incan sun god Inti.

In China the tael was a unit of weight before it became a monetary value, this being a Portguese adaptation of a Malay word meaning 'weight'.

Ukranians once dealt in karbovanets, a word of doubtful etymology which has been said to describe the way these smaller value denominations were carved around the rim of a metal rouble or of a rod on which such coinage was recorded.

Montenegro saw the introduction of the perun in 1851. This was named after Perun, a supreme god of Slavic mythology.

Ecuador used to deal in the sucre until 2000. This monetary value was named after Antonia Jose de Sucre, the Venezueland independence leader and close friend of Simon Bolivar.

In Guinea between 1971 and 1985 banks issued various denominations of syli. The 10 denomation note featured Patrice Lumumba on the obverse, the reverse depicted a group of people carrying bananas; 25 saw a man smoking a pipe on one side, and a man with cows on the back; 50 and a bearded man is shown, turn it over to find a large dam and reservoir; while the 100 denomination note had Ahmed Sekou Toure on the front, and a steam shovel with two trucks on the reverse. Oddly none of these notes feature the 'elephant', which is what syli translates as.

Back to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and the Democratic Republic of Congo had the Katanga Cross. Made from copper it was named from the Katanga region where much copper was mined. However it is not the name but the extraordinary form this coinage took. As the name tells us this was not a coin as we would recognise it, this was an X-shaped ingot. Furthermore the size of these things was little short of astoonishing for coinage, although produced in various sizes, these were typically 20cms across and weighed a pocket-bursting kilogram each. Tossing these must be a nightmare!

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.

Sunday 17 July 2011

Rhymes, Damned Rhymes and Nursery Rhymes

Anyone who has read any of my books on the origins of place names will know I like to include pub name definitions. On the face of it the Duke of York is an unremarkable pub name and yet it very soon became apparent his life story had little in common with the rhyme.

The Duke of York is the title held by the second son of the reigning monarch. Created in 1385, the gentleman in question was Frederick Augustus, son of George III. Being a leading Georgian he could doubtless be referred to as 'Grand' but he was by no means 'Old' as the rhyme suggests. This refers to the English action in Flanders at the end of the eighteenth century. At the time the man leading the English forces was just 31 years of age, by no means old. All the marching up and down hill is also quite fictional, for there are no hills in this part of the world. Finally we hear of his 10,000 men, when Frederick Augustus was in charge of at least three times that number.

I wondered how many other rhymes were based on false information. I started on fairly safe ground for everyone knows Ring a Ring a Roses is about the plague, but found no suggestion of such is seen before 1951, the symptoms would never be recognised as those of someone with the plague, and the falling down seems to have been more of a curtsey or bow. Few facts in those lines either.

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary is given as referring to either Mary I (Bloody Mary) or Mary, Queen of Scots, with supposed confirmation in the shape of the 'silver bells and cockleshells' said to be representative of Catholicism. Yet again there is a problem with the dates. Both Marys are sixteenth century figures while the rhyme is unknown before the eighteenth.

Cock Robin has no connection with any birds - certainly not a robin nor a sparrow. Some point to this being the pagan god Balder in Norse mythology. Others suggest William Rufus, the second Norman king of England who was named for his red hair and was indeed killed by an arrow in the New Forest. It was inevitable a connection would be made to Robin Hood, however with little evidence to show the outlaw existed this seems as unlikely as the fall of the government of Robert Walpole, the only evidence that Robin is a diminutive of Robert. Again, with the exception of Walpole, these explanations are far too early to be taken seriously.

Doctor Foster refers to Edward I? Unlikely when the rhyme is unrecorded before 1844, Edward I died in 1307. Goosey Goosey Gander is a comment on Henry VIII's break from Rome? Not really as some 250 years separate the beginnings of the Church of England and the first appearance in print. How about Humpty Dumpty being acannon used in the English Civil War? No, this story can be dated to 1956.

Jack and Jill are Louis VXI of France and Marie Antoinette. Yes? No, this verse predates the French Revolution. Rock-a-Bye Baby has been said to represent many things include the Egyptian god Horus and childcare the Native American way! London Bridge is Falling Down reminds us of children buried under the foundations? Maybe this is the gruesome truth, yet the rhyme is common to any cultures and periods. Little Boy Blue being based on Cardinal Thomas Wolsey is, at best, speculative. Little Jack Horner has been linked to Thomas Horner who made significant financial gains through the Dissolution of the Monasteries, however the story and rhyme certainly predate this period of English history.

It comes as no surprise to find many generations have misled their progeny. Whilst we may be blissfully unaware of the falsehoods in rhyme, none can deny the annual deception of the tale of the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy or Father Christmas.

Sunday 10 July 2011

I Can't Whistle

Never could whistle. Not to attract attention, not to accompany the hit of the day, nor to ensure Mary was aware I appreciated her latest choice in miniskirt. I don't think I've missed much because of this minor failure and certainly don't regret being missed by Mary, who probably ended up with a brood equally devoid of a personality.

Listening to an old radio drama recently I realised how the approaching whistle of an unidentifiable tune dated the production. Once the cheery (or irritating depending on one's viewpoint) whistle announced the imminent arrival of a tradesman - milkman, baker, postman, etc., as much as the clink of the milkbottle, whine of the electric delivery van, flick of the letterbox, or the sound of the front gate. The remainder of the broadcast was missed, interrupted as my thoughts wandered and I mused on whatever happened to the whistle.

No user of the ubiquitous ipod ever reveals their musical choice to the rest of the bus queue through pursed lips. Not that I recommend anyone do so, nor would anyone who can recall the release of the 'Walkman', which Sony failed to warn would render the user incapable of carrying even the most monotonous melody while decreasing the perception of their own volume.

And it's not only Homo sapiens whistle which has disappeared. The train whistle evokes a image of an engine belching smoke and steam which no two-tone hoot from the modern diesel or electric locomotive ever could. Watch PC George Dixon in the film The Blue Lamp, he and his colleagues alert one another with use of the police whistle - one long blast of which carried as much meaning as the veritable oratory now required over the two-way radio. The local bobby has returned to the bicycle in the twenty-first century so why not the whistle? Referees manage to communicate a surprising amount of information via the Acme branded whistle - yes it really is called the Acme. Two versions were produced by the Birmingham company Joseph Hudson, a higher pitch preferred by referees from the south and somewhat lower for those from up north.

And what about the dog whistle? Never hear of that in twenty-first century. But then humans never could.

Sunday 3 July 2011

The Lapal Canal

No I hadn't heard of it either, not until a recent walk took me south of Halesowen. The final leg saw me cross back across the busy A456 and follow the public footpath towards Leasowes Park. The Leasowes was landscaped in the middle of the eighteenth century by William Shenstone when most gardens were laid out in formal regular lines and shapes. Shenstone's clever work highlighted the surrounding countryside by affording excellent views.

Within a quarter of a mile this forms the tow path of the Lapal Canal, although it is another quarter of a mile before more than a drop of water is seen. There is no doubting the cutting still exists, the unbroken swathe of the broad leaves of water iris also shows it does not dry out. Built some two hundred years ago it connected Halesowen to the extensive network centred on Birmingham and required the construction of a sixty feet high earth embankment, at the time the highest in the world, which today affords excellent views over the pool as the walker will soon see.

Mucklows Hill was an obstacle to the canal builders and, in the true spirit of the time, they tunnelled right through it to emerge at Selly Oak. This was a distance of over two miles, making it the fourth longest canal tunnel in the land. Protests at this proposed tunnel were quite amazing for the time when an impressive thirteen thousand individuals wrote opposing it. Disused and in need of repair the tunnel collapsed in 1917 and in 1960 an accident caused the waters to burst through the banks and flood factories below Mucklows Hill. Today it is still closed and, while there are moves to reopen the canal and take advantage of the major growth leisure industry in the country, the tunnel seems destined to remain closed forever with plans to take the canal up to the level of Woodgate Valley.

Sunday 26 June 2011

Fan Mail

Couple of weeks ago I received a rather badly written letter penned in a most disagreeable tone. It was from someone who had 'come across' one of my books on the origins of place names and the content, as far as I could tell, disagreed with every name I defined in their home town. It came as no surprise to find they were a member of the local history group and, again as expected, suggested I amend the 'errors' in line with the history society's publication.

I have not bothered to respond to this letter and will not be doing so. I am quite used to these local history society 'experts'. Firstly all historians will admit to being by nature a sceptical lot. Local historians are vehemently defensive of anything on their patch, which they will always consider to be a little special and different from elsewhere - and quite naturally so. However this does not make them always right (or indeed always wrong) but does make them very reluctant to listen to anyone outside of their immediate circle.

When I first started speaking at local history group meetings, the obvious audience for my books, I was somewhat taken aback by the attitude of the odd individual, who seemed intent on disagreeing with everything I said as I 'had no local knowledge' (ie. I wasn't born or living within spitting distance of either the parish church, village pub or, more importantly, their house).

Furthermore the way I conduct my talks on the origins of place names is very informal. An initial twenty minutes or so on the languages involved, the records consulted, the common elements, a few oddities and the odd anecdote is followed by a Q&A session. I do this to ensure the audience get the answers to the names they are thinking of, while it also serves to remind me of the research and writing of that specific county's book. With fifteen published and as many in various stages of production I cannot possibly be expected to recall every name off the top of my head. However this does mean I am putting my head in an invisible noose and there was always one individual waiting to trip me up - irrespective of whether the local definition was right or wrong! That was until I added a couple of lines as I threw it open to questions from the floor.

Today I drop in how I know when someone is asking a question simply in the hope of tripping me up - it happened in the past and I got wise and took lessons in reading body language. (No, of course I haven't!) Perhaps the smart alecs have simply not attended more recent events, however I tend to think the threat of being found out is sufficient to make them think twice.

I shall not be responding to this letter for it is not worth taking the time nor trouble to do so. The individual clearly did not pay attention to what was said in the book in the first place and there is no point in repeating it in a letter for them to ignore me a second time - especially when I know it will not change their opinion in the slightest. Much as I will never convince a single Salopian that their county town should be pronounced Shrow- and not Shrew- (see blog post of 22nd November 2009).