Sunday 31 December 2017

Happy New Year?

At the time of writing the year of 2017 has but a few hours left to go. As with 2016 the news has been pretty dire, social media is positively overflowing with doom and gloom, and yet I remain the eternal optimist. Always cheerful I always manage to find the happier side of life.

But at this time of year we have had a real change in the media, be it national or social. Everyone has been happy, wearing jumpers, drinking, eating and singing songs. Christmas specials of all our (supposedly) favourite programmes, and the obligatory gush of puerile festive cinema, including the dreaded Disney.

Hence if the world can be miserable all year round whilst I couldn't give a rodent's posterior, as humanity grins inanely at itself I'll drop into full Victor Meldrew Mode and offer this news item from my home town of Tamworth from 153 years ago today.

It is December 1864 and a normal working day for the coal miners of Tamworth. At the Glascote Colliery a former police officer had been working hard when a piece of coal fell 450 feet and landed on top of him. He died later that day from the resulting injuries.

Sunday 24 December 2017

Raising a Glass

At this time of the year many will enjoy a drink. Even I have been known to take the top off a bottle around this time. Some will enjoy a glass of wine, others their spirit of choice but, should I be tempted, will open a bottle of real ale.

Quite mind-boggling just how many different brews are available these days. Many having the most extraordinary names. Indeed, this intrigued me so much that this year saw me offering talks (with thanks to the many brewers who contributed) on this very subject, a taster of which follows.

But first an introduction to the basic terminology and the etymology. The question came from thinking about ale, so let's begin with that.

Ale - has hardly changed since Proto-Indo-European alu-t and seen in Proto-Germanic aluth and Old English eali. All these early forms mean 'ale' and thus the brew and the word have equally great longevity - indeed there is one school of thought which theorises how it was the brewing of beer which initially made mankind pause as hunter-gatherers and may well have been the initial stage of permanent settlements. This is the beer before bread theory.

Beer - a Germanic word, it is derived from the same root as Latin bibere 'to drink' and in turn from Proto-Indo-European poi 'to drink'.

Mild - not heard too often these days, the term once referred to the less sharp brew when compared to bitter (hence the name). The word comes from Proto-Indo-European meldh 'soft'.

Bitter - shares an origin with 'bite' - we still describe a flavour or taste as having 'bite' - and began as Proto-Indo-European bheid 'to split'.

Lager - began as the German Lagerbier meaning 'beer brewed for keeping' and with the first element of Lager referring to the 'storehouse' and coming from the Proto-Indo-European legh 'to lie down'.

Pilsner - instantly we think 'German' but we would only be half right. The original term was Pilsner Urquell where the second word means 'primary source' and that would have been the town known as Pilsen in Germany but as Plzen in Czech, where the Old Czech plz gave the place its name meaning 'damp, moist'.

Barrel - came to English from Old French baril 'barrel, cask, vat' and can also be seen in Italian barile and Spanish barril but the trail ends there and the origins unknown.

Tap - originally referred to the spigot or plug which would have been the simplest tap, the term is Germanic and has changed little in thousands of years.

Bottle - originally made of leather sealed with tar, it is derived from the Latin buttis meaning 'a cask' and is undoubtedly borrowed from the Greek.

Glass - even as far back as Proto-Germanic this was found as glass, the word comes from Proto-Indo-European ghel 'to shine'.

Wine - no surprise to find it comes from Latin vinum, in turn from Proto-Indo-European woin-o, both with the same meaning.

Spirit - not used to mean strong alcoholic drink until 1670, the word is derived from Proto-Indo-European speis 'to blow'.

Brandy - came to English from the Middle Dutch brandewijn 'burnt wine'.

Whisky - began as 'whiskey' and from Old Irish uisce 'water' and Proto-Indo-European ud-skio from the root wed 'wet'.

Rum - of uncertain origins but certainly known as rumbullion in 1651 and rombostion in 1652 - this may be from the adjective rum from the Romany rom 'male'.

Vodka - is the Russian for 'little water' and from Proto-Indo-European woda and the same root as 'whisky' of wed 'wet'.

Gin - a shortened form of Old French geneva itself referring to the juniper plant, which is the basis for the drink. The origin of 'juniper' is unknown, almost certainly a non-Indo-European language.

But we began with the subject of ales and some of the unusual names, so here are a few examples courtesy of the breweries themselves.
BR> Bowland Breweries: Buster IPA – named after the owner’s dog

Coniston Brewery: Asrai – is a mythical fairy that lives in the copper mines above Coniston. She is so beautiful that as soon as anyone sees her they want to capture her but as soon as she is touched she disappears and turns into a pool of water.

St Austell Brewery: Tribute – the flagship ale also has an interesting story. When head brewer Roger Ryman joined from MacLays in Scotland in 1998, he had an idea for a beer that he swore he would never brew until he was a head brewer – they were lucky enough to benefit from his decision. In 1999, Roger used the idea to create a special brew to celebrate the total solar eclipse that took place that August of 1999. He named the drink Daylight Robbery to mark the event. So popular was this brew that he rebrewed it the following year as a summer special. The, in 2001, to mark St Austell’s 150th anniversary he relaunched the beer to pay tribute to all those people who had contributed across the years to make the company so successful. He named it Tribute and the rest, is history.

Chiltern Brewery: Bodgers Barley Wine – celebrates the ancient trade based locally in High Wycombe for making wooden chair legs.

Two Fingers Brewing: The name of the brewery is an oath, one making great beer for a great cause as all profits go to Prostate Cancer UK. The name is also a good old British two-fingered salute to prostate cancer, and also a nod to the cancer exam which (thankfully) is performed with just one finger, not two.

Allendale Brewery: Tar Barl – based on the New Year celebrations in the village.

Bowman Ales: At the brewery they thought it would be nice to follow a bowman and/or archery theme and thought about using ‘Swift One’ not only an archery thing but also popping down to the local for a swift one. The brewery is in the Meon Valley and this is named after the River Meon, a British river name meaning ‘swift one’ – if only they’d known!

Marstons: Hobgoblin – originally brewed as a one-off for local’s wedding. Two firkins were brewed but only one drunk so they gifted the other to a student bar in Oxford. When he collected the empty someone had drawn a picture on the side and, when it was later put into full-time production, was named Hobgoblin from the chalk figure someone had drawn on the side.

Brixton Brewery: Windrush Stout – after MV Empire Windrush, the ship that brought the first wave of West Indian immigrants to this area of South London in 1948.

Ascot Ales: Posh Pooch – named after a local woman walking a dog, the creature seen wearing a diamond-studded collar.

Ringwood: Boondoggle – is a local term meaning ‘to go on a jolly’.

Jennings: Snecklifter – to lift the latch, and sneak out of the pub.

Theakstons: Old Peculier – named after the Ecclesiastical status of Masham, a distinction granted in medieval times.

Lizard Ales: An Gof – the Cornish expression for a smith and named after a blacksmith from St Keverne who led the Cornish revolt and march to London in 1647 and came to an unpleasant end.

And if you've not had enough, you can always have a look back at at earlier post and an A to Z of drinking terminologies.

Sunday 17 December 2017

Odd Parental Concern

February 1864. Man walks into Stafford police station, his attire showing him to work in engineering. Most worried as he found a letter with a summons addressed to his son. He simply did not understand what was being demanded. The clerk found it highly amusing as it read “Orders the person to appear on the 14th to answer the charge of stealing the heart of Amelia Smart. It was addressed to one J. Lovewell, who was to appear at the Court of Hymen, of which the father had never heard. “Of course not!” replied the clerk, “It’s a valentine!”.

Sunday 10 December 2017

The A to Z of Sex (again)

A few years ago I looked at slang for sex and thought it was about time we delved again in the seedier side of the English language and look at some of the other terms coined thoughout history to describe the sexual act and things related to same. Enjoy! (And when I say "enjoy" I mean this and not that, if you see what I mean.)

A is for ALMANACH, a late 19th and early 20th century term for what the dictionary refers to as 'the female pudend' (and for balance).....

B is for BALD-HEADED HERMIT, the male member.

C is for CHAFER, the act of copulation.

D is for DEMIREP, a woman whose chastity is called into question, and a term first seen in print in Fielding's Tom Jones published in 1749.

E is for EARLY DOORS which, while soccer pundits might use it to mean 'early on', originated as rhyming slang for 'whores'. Hence we'll all titter when hearing Joe Manager speaking of how "The lads did good early doors".

F is for FIRE-PLUG, a young man with veneral disease.

G is for GETTER, a male with great capacity for fertilization.

H is for HANDFUL OF SPRATS, best way to describe this is 'groping'.

I is for IMPALE used to mean to possess (as in being with) a woman.

J is for JIGGLE, the sexual act.

K is for KEEPING-CULLY, a man who thinks he is keeping a mistress in a home for his own personal use, when in fact he's keeping her for anyone she chooses to be with.

L is for LAP-CLAP, conception.

M is for MEDICINE, the sex act (as in take one's medicine).

N is for NUTMEGS, testicles.

O is for OLD ADAM or the male member.

P is for PARSLEY-BED, again the dictionary refers to this as 'the female pudend'.

Q is for QUEER ROOST, maybe 'living over the brush', 'living in sin', co-habiting?

R is for RAMBLER, a woman of ill repute.

S is for SEALS, testicles again.

T is for THRUM, the sexual act.

U is for UPPER WORKS, the female breast.

V is for VIRGINS BUS, the last bus from Piccadilly Corner which, contrary to the name, was largely populated by prostitutes.

W is for WAP, the sexual act.

X, Y and Z had me beaten once again!

Sunday 3 December 2017

No Cure for a Headache

So everyone has opened advent calendars, at least thought about Christmas shopping, cards, presents or decorations, and a general feeling of joy begins to grow. Well let's put a stop to all that and turn thoughts back to 1900 and 2nd February.

Councillor George Green, meat contractor of Boston House, Walsall Road, Lichfield. His body was found at 7am on Thursday, the top of his head completely blown away, body lying on his carbine, and the bullet stuck in a window frame behind him. He was still wearing his dressing gown (reported the local press).

Aged 39 he left a widow and five children. He had given weekly gifts of meat to the families of reservists sent to the front. He had large outlets at Lichfield and London and shops at most towns in the Midlands. He was quartermaster of the Lichfield Troop of the Staffordshire Yeomanry, popular with comrades and citizens alike. In November elected to represent the south ward of Lichfield. Two years previously he and Mrs Green had been out driving a trap when the horse took fright and both were seriously injured when the trap crashed into the window of the George Hotel. He never fully recovered from his injuries and had been unwell for a time prior to his death. His rejection on medical grounds must have disappointed him when he volunteered for duty in South Africa.

Inquest the following week reported how he rose at 6:48am, telling his wife he was due to meet Mr Johnson to discuss accounts and bring her a cup of tea. She never saw him alive again. Top of his head removed from the bridge of his nose. Both halves of his brain lying on the floor. Accident had seen him suffer a fractured skull. He suffered from indigestion, fatigue and would constantly overwork to the point of exhaustion. Rejected as he had a weak heart and could not tolerate heat. He is buried at Christ Church, Lichfield.

The relief of Ladysmith came the same day as the inquest.