Lemon Hart: a real rum story

Toby Ash, The Dabbler’s Most South-Westerly Tip of England Correspondent, discovers the local origins of an iconic drinks brand whilst walking the back streets of Penzance.

A few months ago, as I walked through the maze of back alleys in east Penzance, I stumbled across a locked wooden gate, behind which I could make out a small but well-maintained graveyard. I later discovered it was an almost perfectly preserved Jewish cemetery, the final resting place for members of a small but influential community that thrived in the town in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The history of the Jews of Cornwall is a fascinating one, and is meticulously recorded in the scholarly The Lost Jews of Cornwall. The first Jews are thought to have arrived in Penzance at the start of the eighteenth century having travelled to Britain from the Rhineland. They came when shipping, tin mining and fishing were all flourishing and Penzance was the banking centre of Cornwall.

One of the first arrivals was Abraham Hart who set himself up as a goldsmith in the town in about 1720. By the time of his death in 1784, his commercial interests had expanded into shipping and specifically the import of Jamaican rum into the country. Abraham is believed to have taken himself off to the West Indies in the 1750s to set up his rum importing business.

On his death the family firm passed to his son Lazarus. Unfortunately he didn’t have much luck in business. He lost a large sum of money as co-owner of the brigantine Nancy & Betsy which was due to sail to Jamaica, but foundered off Lundy in 1793 before it could make the journey. He also had a long and bruising battle with the Customs House in Penzance which (incorrectly) accused him of avoiding duties on imported goods. He was so sick of all the setbacks that he actually put the business up for sale at one point, although he must have had second thoughts as it continued to trade until his death in 1803.

That was to be a doubly traumatic year for Lazarus’ only son Lemon.  A few days before the death of his father, his pregnant wife Letitia perished in a fire at their home. Her nightdress was set ablaze by a candle, a calamity that was still written about in lurid detail in the local newspaper more than fifty years later. So, at the age of 35, Lemon Hart not only had to manage the family business, but he also had four children under the age of 10 to look after.

But the tragedy did not seem to hold him back. On the contrary Continue reading

Tattoo too far

What will our grandchildren think of this weird custom?

Earlier this week the directors of the Bayreuth Festival got into a kerfuffle with the Russian bass-baritone Yevgeny Nikitin when a German TV show revealed that he has a swastika tattoo on one of his man-boobs. This was a problem because Nikitin had been invited to perform the lead in “The Flying Dutchman,” an opera by Richard Wagner, the music world’s most famous anti-Semite, whose work was much beloved by Adolph Hitler, another noted anti-Semite. It was a Nazi supernova!

I first saw the story on Euronews, where I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. Nazis tattoos are bad, but Nikitin seemed to have had his done during his youth, a time when we are all prone to making stupid decisions. Furthermore, I didn’t take to the self-righteous spokesman for the festival, who was complaining that Nikitin hadn’t been “honest.”

Honest about what? That as a teenager he had been a moron? What else should he have admitted to? Should all performers at Bayreuth confess to embarrassing body art, or perhaps submit lists of the books they have read since attaining literacy? There were already lots of pictures of Nikitin in public circulation, his fleshy body exposed, liberally sprinkled with ginger hair and bad ink. He had performed all over the world, sometimes with tattoos on display, and had never once been caught saluting himself in the mirror and barking “Seig heil!”

Then I discovered that Nikitin didn’t even have the swastika on his moob anymore; it had been covered up with a rubbish coat of arms. The outrage was plainly nonsense, though Nikitin’s claim that he had picked the symbol out of a book of runes, oblivious to its internationally recognized significance, was a bit of a stretch.

Anyway, this got me thinking about other unfortunate tattoos. A few weeks back I read that Latin American immigrants to the United States can run into problems if their skin is liberally adorned with gang symbols, which inexplicably acts as a red flag to consular officials. The Wall Street Journal told the tale of Hector Villalobos, a wonderful husband and father of three, who also happened to have many, many gang tattoos, though he was adamant that he had no criminal affiliations. “He likes tattoos, just like many Americans like tattoos,” said his wife.

The tone of the article was naïve; the writer appeared to accept at face value the implausible argument that Mexican gang tattoos are very often just harmless body art. But this can be a tricky issue – what does a consular officer do when confronted with a guy with no serious criminal record, but whose body advertizes his illicit associations? A good rule of thumb would be to study the other tattoos. For instance, if he has one “Smile Now Cry Later” – a pair of theatrical masks illustrating the gangster’s life – and then a koi fish, an image of his mother, and a naked lady on a motorbike, OK, he’s probably not a gangster. But if he only has gang tattoos, it’s probably best to err on the side of caution.

Then of course there are tattoos that are unfortunate simply because they’re rubbish. When Princess Diana died, my local newspaper carried the tale of a man who had had her face engraved on his calf as a tribute. Now back then Dunfermline, my hometown, was not the kind of place to have a fancy tattoo studio. Our most celebrated practitioner of body art was a gentleman known as “Jaggy Jim,” who specialized in anchors, the word “MUM” and the occasional spider’s web. The Diana was thus, unsurprisingly, not very good. It had her big nose and vacant gaze, but the resemblance just wasn’t there. Also, the guy’s calf was very hairy, so the People’s Princess was bristly as a hog.

I’ve never seriously considered getting a tattoo, because I can’t think of an image that wouldn’t bore me two days later, though I was once mildly tempted to get a photorealistic cup of tea done on my upper left bicep. I am also baffled by the craze that erupted in the 1990s, whereby young females en masse started getting meaningless squiggles permanently emblazoned at the bases of their spines.

Maybe some women get them done because they think they’re sexy, though as often as not I think it’s a means by which an arts graduate signifies her rebellious status as she prepares for a life teaching high school or otherwise working for the state. The strangest such tattoo I ever saw was on an Australian woman shaped like Kolobok, the talking bun of Russian folklore. It was not a squiggle but some kind of aboriginal, tribal figure – though as she leaned over to pick up her pint and the waistline of her jeans plunged downward, it looked like an alien coming up for air.

Fifty years from now, when these women are wizened old crones, their rest-home carers will smile at the faded squiggles on wrinkled flesh as they change these ex-vixens and onetime student radicals in and out of adult diapers. They’ll think it was just some weird custom of the late 20th and early 21st centuries – like the phenomenon of opera-loving Germans punishing a foreigner for the guilt they feel over the things their grandparents did.

A version of this post previously appeared at RIA Novosti.
Daniel Kalder is an author and journalist. Visit him online at www.danielkalder.com.

Rose of Alabamy – A Mountaineer’s Tale

Malty recalls an eventful night in the Scottish Highlands…

The single track road running through Glen Torridon boasts some of the most majestic scenery in Britain, on its northern side and stretching the entire length of the glen are Beinn Eighe, home to numerous eagles, and Liathach the grey one, not so grey now, the quartzite cap lying in pieces around its feet. Both, while not as committing as their alpine counterparts, sport some magnificent climbing. The north side of Beinn Eighe has Coire Mhic Fearchair and the triple buttresses. Liathach has Corrie na Caime which has, when infrequently in condition, some fine ice climbing. Its ridge is no mean undertaking as many an intrepid fell-walker, ambition outweighing experience, has discovered. A number of them ending the day’s outing in Raigmore’s mortuary (comfort would have been found in the fact that the mortuary temperature is normally five degrees higher than that of the ridge). The glen’s western extreme ends at Beinn Alligin, the jewelled peak – from its flanks can be enjoyed some breathtaking views of the Western Isles.

Mid January, quite dry, the westerlies had ensured the usual lack of snow, returning from an evening visiting friends and enjoying the decadence of a West Highland pub we had noticed some Land Rover lights ahead (easily spotted: set close together like a lawyer’s eyes). Except these were different, one above the other. What! how much have we had, not that much surely? “It’s in the ditch, on its side” said my son. So there it was at midnight, lying at the bottom of a highland ditch, all pale blue and sad, steam issuing forth from the radiator, the local registration number giving a clue, another west coast tippler gone awry. Not knowing what to expect we ascended the stricken motor and attempted to open the door up-over, no mean feat on a dark cold moonless night. The subtle aroma that greeted us completed the story, a west coast tippling fisherman, lying at the bottom against the passenger door, the back of the Land Rover a jumbled mass of fishing stuff, the odd sou’wester, nets, buoys, lines, boxes and, judging by the smell, last week’s mackerel.

After some imaginative use of the driver’s feet, let’s call him Angus, we extracted him socks-first from the wreck. “Arghdinnawurrahpalmahmahmahahmallreet,” he said in between the puke and froth, as we sat him against the still warm sump. Then the penny dropped… “Er, dad, you going to let him in the back of the car?”…blank stare, worried frown, decision time. We gave him half an hour to complete the emptying process, washed him off with ditch water and bunged him in the back, on top of three 50 metre lengths up nine millimetre rope, six ice screws and several brace of crampons. He promptly fell asleep. “Must be the Continue reading

Dabbler Diary – Ceremony

Tuesday, 10am. Clacket Lane motorway services, on the anti-clockwise M25. I purchased from the Costa coffee shop my ‘small’ (i.e. least gigantic) americano-with-milk and settled at the unoccupied table amidst other unoccupied tables that was at the optimum equidistant point from the few occupied tables. Thus the exciting life of the travelling businessperson. I was about to peruse the latest Dabbler comments on my handheld mobile device when from behind me boomed a voice belonging unmistakeably to veteran Radio 2 disc jockey Steve Wright. Unmistakeable not just in timbre and pitch, but in tone and volume. He was sitting at a miniature table with his phone declaiming instructions about airline tickets in precisely the same manner that he might announce one of his ‘factoids’. A few minutes later his aged parents joined him. “Goooooood morning good morning good morning! And how’s mother today?” he actually said, as if he was interviewing Will Young. I was not eavesdropping, you understand: his voice was so loud it filled not just the Costa area but also the Macdonalds zone and the Hot Food Co platz, possibly even stretching as far as the Krispy Kreme locus.

I don’t think it was even that Steve Wright wanted to be noticed. More frightening than that: I suspect that he cannot ever stop being Steve Wright. God knows where he gets the energy to be himself all the time, I don’t know about you but I save being myself strictly for special occasions.

***

I see that tax avoidance is the new smoking (smoking being the new drink-driving, and drink-driving being the new paedophilia). David Gauke has morally condemned those who pay tradesmen cash-in-hand in return for knocking a bit off the bill. I don’t think Gauke went as far as ‘repugnant’, but the tactic is clear: HMRC is failing to collect taxes with laws so it’s hoping that guilt will do the trick instead. Dodgy territory, this. In my first diary I observed that moral outrage was an effective weapon in cases like the Jimmy Carr one, where the motivation is naked greed and the scheme is frankly taking the piss. But I’m not sure it’s wise for the authorities to open up a general debate about tax and morality, or we might have to ask awkward questions about the ethics of the tax system itself. Most can agree that an income tax makes some sort of ethical sense – we all pay a bit we can afford into the pot for shared services and a safety net (admittedly this would be more philosophically compelling if there were a flat rate for all – of which, fat chance). But other taxes take a lot more defending. VAT is applied to different things more or less arbitrarily (see pasty tax, caravan tax etc) . What is the moral justification for ‘national insurance’ contributions that are really just a tax on jobs, go into the general state spending pot and are not saved for the ‘insurance’ for which they were created? And inheritance tax – long known as the ‘voluntary tax’ because the rich can afford to give away enough in their lifetime to avoid it, and only the middle-class homeowners get stung, on money on which they have already paid tax – seems to me to be unequivocally immoral. Possibly even morally repugnant.

***

Watching Team GB’s efforts on the (men’s) football field, it was clear what they were missing: David Beckham. Not picking him as the captain was a gross failure to understand the nature of the occasion. Coach Stuart Pearce’s argument – that Beckham is no longer one of the 18 best players in Britain – is a non-starter since the structure of the Olympic football tournament specifically legislates against picking the best players (only three can be over 23 years old), and then there were the self-imposed handicaps: no senior England players, no Scottish or Northern Irish players. Olympic football is not real football and Team GB is not a real team. Most importantly, the crowds are not real football crowds. They don’t sing offensive songs or shout for a tribe: they bring the kids along and munch the proverbial prawn sandwiches (this, incidentally, is what all professional matches will be like when, post-Terry/Ferdinand-gate, the Guardianistas finally get their way and ban swearing and all working-class people from entering football stadia). David Beckham became an unreal footballer years ago – he would have delighted the unreal crowds and, Beckham being Beckham, would almost certainly have been Team GB’s best player.

***

On the subject of Olympic football, did the makers of BBC comedy Twenty Twelve come up with anything as brilliant as putting the South Korean flag next to pictures of North Korean athletes? On Day One, too. Whatever Olympian cock-ups await us will have to go some way to topping that. Well done, well done indeed.

***

I concur with the general consensus that Danny Boyle’s Olympic Opening Ceremony was (1) barking mad, (2) politically leftie and (3) a triumph. I genuinely LOL-ed heartily at the Rowan Atkinson/Vangelis skit, and also at the unintentionally funny bits such as the salute to Shami Chakrabati’s integrity. The idea that the NHS is the envy of the world is always good for a chortle too. The only bit I didn’t like was the skydiving Queen, which took irreverence too far into stupidity. But it was masterly of Boyle to create something spectacular and grand yet devoid of pomposity, and which worked well on the telly. Good to see the fine Arctic Monkeys featuring too – surely anyone else would have gone for Coldplay. Though doubtless we’ll see them at the Closing one.

Doubtless too the Olympics will feature heavily in the Diary in the next few weeks, at times possibly in snarky tones, but you may rest assured there’ll be no whining about the fact of the Games. The old curmudgeon who rails against the crass commercialisation of Christmas or the absurd cost of the elaborate wedding day may often be entertaining for a while and is invariably quite correct, but if he’s still at it while the kiddies are opening their stockings or during the reception disco knees-up, then he quite properly goes into the box marked ‘Crashing Bore’ and is pelted with rotten tomatoes until dawn. Go Becky!

Dabbler Diary is brought to you by Glengoyne single malt whisky – the Dabbler’s choice.

We are the Mods

In honour of Mod cyclist Bradley Wiggins, we go back to the sixties…

Our lugubrious new bicycling hero Bradley Wiggins (above, with Paul Weller and designer Paul Smith) is an interesting character for a number of reasons, not least his self-identification as a Mod, with the haircut to prove it. The essence of Modness is ‘staying clean under pressure’ – and no other expression of working-class male anti-establishment attitude has looked remotely as dapper.

From the RAF roundel to the scooters, everything about 1960s Mod is still cool, except possibly the amphetamines. The music ain’t bad either. Let’s begin with the band for whom this very Lazy Sunday Afternoon feature is named (Gaw’s tribute was the first episode in a series that, primarily thanks to Mahlerman’s masterful guidance, has weaved effortlessly through brows high and low). The Small Faces’ sound is archetypical 1960s Mod in the sense that it’s British rhythm ‘n’ blues overlaid with a huge black soul voice belonging to a skinny little white man – in this case Steve Marriott.

Ray Davies might not have had a vocal talent to match the likes of Marriott, or Stevie Winwood or Roger Daltry, but he sure could write a song. Before the more subtle pop masterpieces like Waterloo Sunset and Lola,  the early Kinks knew how to rock out. All Day and All of the Night was the follow-up single to their breakthrough hit You Really Got Me, and reached number 2 in the UK and number 7 in the US. Like the previous hit it is built on a big riff and a guitar solo rumoured, as these things so often are amongst bearded ageing roadie types, to have been played by Jimmy Page. In fact Dave Davies played it, accidentally ramping up the riff by playing it through an amp with a hole in it.

What separates the pop immortals from the long-forgotten? To my mind it’s pretty simple: you’ve got to have the Continue reading

Toying with time

When I typed ‘retro games’ into my browser I was a little surprised at the result. The sites featured were the sort selling ‘retro video games and classic retro gaming’. Atari, Commodore, Ninetendo, Sega, Sinclair and Playstation were not exactly the names I’d anticipated. So I typed in ‘retro toys’ and saw a couple of sites selling the latest versions, or re-designs, of toys from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Okay, now I was getting warmer, but not quite on the boil – for it seems that the likes of  Fuzzy-Felt, Thunderbirds puppets and even Postman Pat have now become ‘vintage memorabilia’, ‘ephemera’ and ‘collectibles’ …and lumped in alongside antiques from Victorian times.

Have games really changed that dramatically over the past few decades? What would happen if today’s children were asked to keep themselves amused with the toys of yesteryear? Would they quickly learn how to knock up some bad egg gas with their Merit chemistry set, before moving on to more explosive experiments – or would health and safety be called upon to intervene?

Are there any similarities between the new world of virtual games and interaction with machines, and the previous age of making and creating things – and communicating with fellow children? And why have so many games simply disappeared? Are the toys I played with as a child now deemed to be inferior? The Magic Robot was a source of constant wonder: How did it always get the answers right? Then there were silly games like Twister, which parents would borrow for parties – I suppose the modern equivalent is the Wii Fit? Apparently, the Spiro-matic is what inspired Damien Hirst and David Bowie to create similar large scale spin paintings.


I notice that some games, like Kerplunk, Spirograph and Buckaroo are still around. Are these survivors the good games? The ones that worked?  Or have they been altered beyond recognition, like Mouse Trap, which according to Wikepedia “In 2006…was re-released in the United Kingdom with a completely new design in which there are three mousetraps, and in which the board and plastic components are completely different. The most obvious change is the addition of a model toilet at the top of the tallest part of the game. Another key difference is that all of the mousetrap is set up in advance of the game.”


I know young children still enjoy building things with Lego, playing with toy cars, dolls and farmyard animal sets. But older children, who are largely responsible for choosing their own toys, invariably seem to opt for screen based games. Personally, I find it sad when mothers hand mobile ‘phones over to their children to play with, or when kids are left twiddling their thumbs on brightly coloured baby-style computer sets. Though I really enjoyed my Etch-a-Sketch until the screen got cracked and horrid (probably highly toxic) silver sludge spewed out all over my hands. Apparently, this curiously clunky device is still popular to this day… Really?

Susan is currently away. This post originally appeared in February 2011.

Dabbler Diary – Fortuna’s rock

Last weekend I was back in the Cotswold village I’ve recently given up calling home (I’m now resigned to being a Londoner – it’s bringing little Londoners into the world that does it). I was impressed once again with how much booze the residents manage to put away. I asked around a bit and the local consensus is that all the villages of the area are the same. It’s probably safe to assume it’s also true of villages around the country. It seems we urbanites live on islands washed by a sea of bucolic booze.

What can account for the discrepancy? It has to be a combination of leisure and income. We city folk often have income but just as often lack the leisure.

Anyhow it seemed an interesting insight to me. Thinkers from at least Maynard Keynes onwards have speculated on the arrival and nature of what they called the ‘leisure society’. Head to the country and you’ll see what it’s all about. Most people, if given a sufficiency of money and left to their own devices, choose to live a life of pleasantly befuddled dissipation.

I can’t say I’m surprised. I’ve always credited the writer of this song with an acute insight into human aspirations:

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains
You never change your socks
And the little streams of alcohol
Come trickling down the rocks
The brakemen have to tip their hats
And the railway bulls are blind
There’s a lake of stew
And of whiskey too
You can paddle all around it
In a big canoe
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

***

Last time we were down there, a couple of weeks ago, it was supposed to be shearing time. Already much later than usual because of the wet, it was rained off again. Prepare for disappointing third quarter GDP figures.

Instead we drenched and sprayed the new lambs to ward off infestations of worms and maggots, respectively (the picturesque elements of farming are comfortably offset by occasions like this). The organization of this activity gave my eldest son (primary year one/two) some material for his weekly ‘My Wonderful Weekend’ essay. This particular recollection caught my wife’s eye when dropping him off: “My Taid said to me Tom you silly bugger get out of the bloody way”. I trust the school will exhibit its characteristic multicultural sensitivity: ‘bloody’ and ‘bugger’ are, of course, no more than pieces of emphatic punctuation to decent Welsh countryfolk.

 ***

Of course, we’re now in the grip of Olympics fever, the recent bout of cycling fever having burnt itself out. We’ve got tickets for the hockey, at the bizarre time for a sporting event of 8.30 on a Monday morning. I have no idea how we’re going to get there – it’s supposed to take a couple of hours just to get on to the Tube – but I’m determined to enjoy it. Or at least really try to enjoy it.

***

The ups and downs of the last few years – the various crashes we’ve experienced: financial, economic, political, journalistic – have at least reminded us that no-one really knows what’s going on. Politicians, central bankers, financiers, journalists, economists, media moguls, social scientists, expert compilers of reports featured on the Today programme – chancers all. The world isn’t rational, and it’s not fair. The ancients had it right, more so than the chimerical Peston-Robinsons:

Philosophers say that Fortuna is insane and blind and stupid,
and they teach that she stands on a rolling, spherical rock:
they affirm that, wherever chance pushes that rock, Fortuna falls in that direction.
They repeat that she is blind for this reason: that she does not see where she’s heading;
they say she’s insane, because she is cruel, flaky and unstable; stupid, because she can’t distinguish between the worthy and the unworthy.

I’m pretty sure we’re going to be rolled around by Fortuna’s capricious rock for a while yet. It will, though, be fun trying to spot the thinkers who will be seen to have made sense of our early twenty-first century. Can you pick out from the melee of opinion a budding John Maynard Keynes? Or perhaps a Friedrich Hayek, if that’s more to your taste? No, me neither.

Dabbler Diary is brought to you by Glengoyne single malt whisky – the Dabbler’s choice.

Fifty Shades Of Bruce

Nige noted the other day that E L James, in That Book, signals a character’s grasp of High Culture by inserting into the text mini-lectures to demonstrate his erudition. This seems to me a splendid narrative technique. If only a novelist of the calibre of Steve Bruce were to deploy it . . .

Terry Barnes was in his bedroom. You could tell it was the bedroom, he reflected, because the main item of furniture in it was the bed. There was a woman on the bed, tied up. She was his girlfriend.

“What’s that book you’re reading?” she asked.

Tony Barnes was standing in the bedroom by the IKEA bookshelves. He had just taken from the shelf a thick leather-bound book which he was leafing through.

“It’s one of my collection of leather-bound copies of Rothman’s Football Yearbook,” he said.

“Oooh!” gasped his girlfriend, straining at her silken bonds.

“You have much to learn, my dear,” said Terry Baines. Carrying the leather-bound book, he walked across the bedroom carpet and sat on the bed.

“Will you teach me?” gasped his girlfriend, straining at her silken bonds.

“I will,” he said, “Consider for example Nobby Stiles, born 18 May 1942, full name Norbert Peter Stiles MBE. He was born in Collyhurst, Manchester. Stiles played for England for five years, winning 28 caps and scoring 1 goal. He played every minute of England’s victorious 1966 FIFA World Cup campaign. His best performance in an England shirt was probably the semi-final of that tournament against Portugal, where he was given the job of marking the prolific Eusébio. His tough performance resulted in Eusébio being practically nullified for the entire game. Stiles also played very well in the final, which England won 4–2 against West Germany. His post match celebration has become one of the most famous images in English sport history. The sight of Stiles dancing on the Wembley pitch, holding the World Cup trophy in one hand and his false teeth in the other, has lived for decades.”

“Oooh!” gasped his girlfriend, straining at her silken bonds.

“Or consider Hamilton Academicals,” said Tony Baines, “Hamilton Academical F.C. were formed in late 1874 by the Rector and pupils of the local school, thus the unusual name, but they are known universally as The Accies. The club became members of the SFA soon after and began competing in the Scottish Cup and Qualifying Cup and in the early years most games were friendlies or localised cup ties. Membership of the Scottish Football League came in November 1897 when Renton, one of the major clubs in the early days, were forced to resign and Accies were invited to take over their fixtures. Although Accies went on to win the Second Division championship in 1904 they were not promoted to the First Division automatically as promotion was still by invitation at that time. However, they did make the step up shortly afterwards.”

“Oooh!” gasped his girlfriend, straining at her silken bonds.

Tommy Barnes closed the leather-bound book and placed it on the bed in the bedroom where his girlfriend was lying tied up.

“I have a complete set of Rothman’s Football Yearbooks, bound in leather,” he said, “That is the kind of man you are dealing with.”

The atmosphere in the bedroom was so tense you could have cut it with a butter-knife. Tommy Baines had several butter-knives in his cutlery drawer, but the drawer was in his kitchen, downstairs.

Sporting Life

Slang loves sport, but Mr Slang does not. As he prepares to flee the Olympic-blighted capital, Jonathon fires a parting shot…

‘The Country Squire New Mounted’

The Country Squire to London came,
And left behind his dogs and game;
Yet finer sport he has in view,
And hunts the hare and coney too.

T. Rowlandson Pretty Little Games With Pictures of good old English Sports and Pastimes. (pub. J.C. Hotten 1845)

If, at a loss for better occupation, you google the phrase ‘I hate the Olympics’ you will be rewarded by some 15.6 million hits. (Whether or not this figure changes with a selection of alternative pronouns I cannot say, nor whether a substitution of ‘disdain’, ‘despise’ or ‘abominate’ nor even ‘this in the that of’ works more fruitfully, nor indeed whether replacing the O-word by ‘Games’ has any effect). This would be reassuring if only on the grounds of a proof that one is not alone, but Mr Slang does not seek the cheap and delusory comforts of companionship. Mr Slang stands solitary alongside his convictions (but would stress that the one for possession of cannabis in 1973 gained a conditional discharge. The then fashionable ‘John Lennon defence’, i.e. if you convict me I shall not be able to pursue my career in America – being efficacious, even if the mulcted ‘costs’ outweighed in sum any possible fine). Nonetheless,  it is good to see that it is not a matter simply that ‘Londoners are whining ingrates who never cease complaining about everything’ - a rare lapse in The Dabbler’s otherwise estimable diaries – but one of vast, wide-ranging and gratifyingly wide-proclaimed taste. Ton, as Egan would have had it.

Egan of course loved sport, though not of the synchronised swimming variety. His was of the anapostrophised group: huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’, though his favourite was of course boxin’ which he called millin’. Do not fear, I am not rehashing Joe Liebling’s literary deity. Merely approaching a topic that slang also loves and indeed celebrates: sport.

Rowlandson’s Country Squire – what a feast of double-entendres that quadruplet is to be sure (for the text of all the Pretty Little Games see here) – understood that if you sought out sport in London, you could abandon the usual necessities – though rods and guns doubtless came in handy, and of course riding was the occupation of choice. Slang loves sport, as noted, but neither muddied oaf nor flannelled fool need apply. The word ball in particular has many meanings, as do other items of equipment, and of course the rhyming department nods its nut to various heroes, but the best-loved sport is that pursued by Tom Jones rather than by Squire Western.

The equation, some might suggest euphemism is well in hand by the 16th century. The first use of sport = sex is as a noun and comes in 1512; the verb follows, at least as yet recorded, in 1533. Those who contemporaneously chased after such exercise were ‘fydlaris, rutouris, huremasteris, & sportouris’. Personnified, as a playboy, a man-about-town, it arrives in mid-19th century with the weaker version, typically a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ sport following in the 1890s and presumably influenced by the rash of Continue reading

The History of Classical Music – 4. The Baroque Period

Thanks to our friends at Naxos Audiobooks, The Dabbler is serialising Richard Fawkes’ award-winning The History of Classical Music, read by Robert Powell…

This fourth episode looks at the Baroque period, Monteverdi and the invention of opera….

This serialisation is an abridged version of the full audiobook, which you can buy from Naxos Audiobooks here. The full edition contains over 150 musical excerpts to illustrate the narrative.