Sunday 25 March 2012

Pews, Buttons and Balloons

On the odd occasion it has been said I use some really strange expressions. I suppose anything never heard elsewhere would qualify so I could see why they might be regarded as strange.

There are those I have picked up from others which, owing to my rapidly advancing years, might not have been heard by younger generations. One example being 'Pull up a pew' meaning 'take a seat' and one I'm sure I still hear others use but, or so I'm told, this is not the case. Another would be that meaning 'to go on ahead' with 'Lead on McDuff' surely a direct quote from Shakespeare's Macbeth. However if you consult Act 5, Scene 8 the three words are 'Lay on, Macduff', a completely different meaning urging the man in question to attack with yet greater fury.

There are also those which I would never claim to have invented but which I have never seen or heard anyone else use (apart from my daughter who has clearly picked it up from me). I have no idea when it was first used but it dates from the days of coin-operated telephones when it was necessary to put the money in before making the call. If the call was answered the caller pressed button A to pay for the call and be heard the other end, if there was no answer by pushing button B the coins were returned. For as long as I remember any mention of pushing a button - at pedestrian crossings, for example - has been said as 'Push button B' to which my daughter will respond '...and get your money back' despite the fact she has never encountered those old pay phones - indeed she would be unlikely to view those huge lumps of plated metal as buttons.

There is also 'What balloon?' an expression which I do know is unique and am fully aware of how it started. It is 1980 (or thereabouts) and I was gainfully employed in the offices of a light engineering company. The afternoon in question was rather slow and the occupants of those desks nearby were passing the time of day by arguing their case as to why they shouldn't be the one to be thrown out of the basket below this balloon in order to save the lives of the others. Basically a plea as to why others are more expendable. A number of equally implausible reasons had been offered - I particularly remember "I am a Birmingham City supporter and have therefore suffered enough" (no it wasn't me) - when we asked P for her offering. Perhaps we should have realised P had not been paying any attention to our gibberish when she asked us to explain further (not exactly what she said but it was the general meaning). So we explained again - all of us in a basket beneath a balloon, balloon is sinking, too heavy, throw one out, why shouldn't it be you, sort of thing - and the answer was a look of utter bewilderment and the classic response "What balloon?". Now I realise this is no longer particularly amusing (you had to be there) but having been there it was highly amusing. Since that time I have related the story on many, many occasions and so "What balloon?" has become the term used to describe a perplexed expression.

All this made me wonder where other expressions come from so I shall look at a few examples in thenext post. If there are any you would like to see explained drop me a line and I'll do my best to oblige - never could resist a challenge.

Sunday 18 March 2012

An appeal to the Brummies

With the finishing touches being put to my next ghostly offering, here is a taster of what will be the latest look at the ghosts and ghouls, spectres and spooks, unexplained and unearthly goings-on in Birmingham. With time running short before deadline day this is your opportunity to add your own experiences, be they personal or second (even third) hand. Full credit will be given or, if desired, you can remain anonymous. I look forward to hearing from you and can reached by email

The year is 1840 something and a minor officer of St Bartholomew's Church in Edgbaston is awoken late at night to hear the bells ringing. This was way beyond any hour when such should be heard and so he pulled on his coat, lit his lantern and headed off to investigate.
Entering the church, places of worship remained unlocked in those times, the feeble light from the lantern caught a figure lying at the foot of the stairs to the belfry. He recognised it as Thomas Jackson, a man of the parish known for his mood swings and whose sanity had been called into question on several occasions.
Closer inspection revealed his head was almost severed at the neck and the copious amounts of blood were still warm. In his hand Jackson was clutching a cut-throat razor, the blood still dripping from the blade. It took a great deal of coaxing to prise the blade from the fingers of the man, showing how he had sought to take his own life. By now others, also alerted by the toll of the bells, had arrived and together they carried the still bleeding Jackson to the nearby Plough and Harrow public house where he died soon afterwards.
On the darkest and most inclement of nights Tom Jackson is still to be seen walking around this area. Now wearing a scarf his awful neck wounds are hidden, however he can still be recognised by the blood-stained razor and wide eyed stare off into the darkness.

Sunday 11 March 2012

That's My Name, Don't Wear It Out

The idea of giving children rather unusual names is not new. Every generation wants to be different and rightly so. However I've never before noticed how often the mothers of these children constantly use the name they have given to their offspring. Recently I paid a visit to the dentist who I'm sure won't mind me saying is a Mr Harrison. In the waiting room was a young family who had named their (I assumed but couldn't really tell) boy 'Harrison'. A naturally inquisitive chap (allowed to roam and thrust hands into anything he desired) every sentence ended, not in a full stop but, in a comma followed by the child's name - almost as if it would be forgotten were it not included at least once in every line. Sitting in the dentist's chair I realised this annoying mantra was audible even here, Mr Harrison (that's the one who had qualified as a dentist) clearly distracted by the constant repetition of his name.

I don't recall my mother (or father) ever using my name ad nauseum and began to wonder if the parents of the following fellows had ever subjected them to such a barrage. Considering the names these individuals were landed with, I somehow doubt it.

Among those with the silliest names in history were (I assure you each and every one is authentic) the following:

Ostrich Pockinghorn
Bovril Simpson
Seraphim Hooker
Lettuce Bedlam
Alfred Ming Belcher
Anice Bottom
Seymour Bust
Annette Kirton
Kitty Litter
Min Speiss
Pleasant Titty
Mike Rotch
Fartamalus Purdger
Horace Jealous Pratt
One Too Many Gouldstone
Thomas Posthumous Hoby
Admiral of the Fleet Sir Cloudesley Shovell
Admiral Sir Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett-Ernle-Erle Drax, a man who has a street named after him but thankfully Plymouth chose to limit that name to Drax.