HISTORICAL SLANG #4

To speak like a …

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In a …

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To speak like a mouse in a cheese: To speak faintly or indistinctly. Late 16th – 20th century. 

This is ridiculous because no self respecting mouse is going to waste it’s time speaking at all while in a cheese. Would you? It is going to be gorging its little chops off. The only conversation will be with itself and it will go something like this: ‘I’m in a cheese! I’m in a cheese!’ It will save speaking for later and then its conversation will be absolutely scintillating because cheese fueled.

CULTURAL HIGHLIGHTS

One of the things keeping me sane during lock down was the watching of CALL MY AGENT on a loop. Have you watched it? It’s fantastic! If you haven’t, go and watch it immediately. It’s on Netflix and once you’ve done that we can have a discussion about which agent you’d want to represent you. Personally, I favour far left. He’s the only sane one there is and he’s good at nipping at ankles.

Is Call My Agent!: Season 3 (2018) on Netflix Spain?

Another thing I saw was COUP 53. This is a film about the coup which took place in Iran in 1953 in which MI6 and the CIA ousted Iran’s democratic PM Mossadegh and replaced him with the Shah. Ten years in the making, it’s excellent and informed me of something I knew next to nothing about. You can find out more about it and how to watch it here.

I am currently reading SWAN SONG by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott. It’s about what happened when writer Truman Capote published a story in Esquire magazine which spilled the beans on a whole load of his closest female friends. Capote is a writer I love and he’s a fascinating personality, so if you like his writing this will probably interest you. The Esquire story, La Cote Basque 1965, can be found in Answered Prayers. One of the enjoyable tit-bits from the book is that Jackie Kennedy and then Onassis produced a number of drag queens one of which was named Jackie Uh-oh.

Love Capote, love this.

Finally, I listened to some Katherine Mansfield short stories on BBC Radio 4 a while ago. They were excellent. I’ve not read her before but these really got me hooked. You’ll find them here on BBC Sounds.

What are you reading? What are you watching? What do you recommend?Spill the beans below.

HISTORICAL SLANG#3

Before lock down I did a few blogs on historical slang, so here we go again. This one is mid 17th century to mid 19th century.

To put a ….

beige and black hat near swimming pool

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Upon a …

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To put a swimming pool on a chicken? No, fool. To put a hat upon a hen: To attempt the impossible. I have to say this hen looks full of mischief and definitely not hatable or should that be hattable?

Since we’re on the subject have you ever tried returning a phone to Vodaphone? I had the misfortune to buy a Nokia 2.3 from them and it had the interesting foible of being fine when it came to calls to and from and fine when it came to texts out but would it receive a text? Oh, no it wouldn’t. The only text it received during a 72 hour period was regrettably the first time I entered a Vodaphone shop saying it wouldn’t receive them. So when I went back the following day, I had to throw a full raging fit, when I was told I had to speak to science and tech. ‘No, I said, I won’t. I have spoken to your virtual assistant the whole of yesterday afternoon.’ Then I went the full Italian, (no disrespect meant to Italians only admiration), I threw my hands in the air and pretty much shrieked, ‘I’m not moving until you sort this out for me. There’s something the matter with it. Give me another phone.’

At that point another Vodaphone employee looked across and said ‘What phone?’ and I said ‘Nokia 2.3,’ and he said ‘I had a man in here with that problem yesterday.’ And had he managed to sort it out? No, he hadn’t but there was something on their forum about it.So then I knew they could not fob me off with science and tech. So at this point the hat was almost on the hen’s head. It then took about two hours to get everything resolved because Tobi, the virtual assistant had done something he shouldn’t and the system wouldn’t refund me, until it did.

When it was all over the man who had been dealing with me looked at his boss and said he wanted a day working from home which made me feel slightly guilty even though none of it was my fault but he definitely had the look of a man who had been trying to put a hat on a hen, as did I, and as did the very long queue of people who were waiting outside the shop and giving me the evil eye as I left.

How about you? Have you been attempting the impossible recently? Tell me all about it.

HELLO, AGAIN.

I’ve been away from the blog for a while (ahem, five months) and thought I’d dip my toe back in with some book recommendations etc. Those of you who read a certain newspaper will recognise the questions. Also I want to see if I can get to grips with the new wordpress editor which is, let’s be honest, highly unlikely. So off we go with some questions I am asking myself and my apologies if <code;’*&^%$£”> happens.

Q.The book I am currently reading:

The Ashes of London: The first book in the brilliant historical crime mystery series from the No. 1 Sunday Times bestselling author (James Marwood & Cat Lovett, Book 1) by [Andrew Taylor]

 

Andrew Taylor’s THE ASHES OF LONDON. Historical fiction about the fire of London. He’s very readable. This starts when the fire has already been raging for a few days which is interesting. I was expecting a more disaster movie framework but it works well and I’m enjoying it.

Q. The book that changed your life.

Bit of a grandiose question. Probably ORANGES ARE NOT THE ONLY FRUIT by Jeanette Winterson. Daring, funny, original – and she was so young when she wrote it.

Q. The book I wish I’d written.

 

Little: A Times and Sunday Times Book of the Year

LITTLE by Edward Carey, writer and illustrator. It’s about Madame Tussaud but so much more than that. It’s brilliant – a story of magnificent, triumphant, survival which given what we are all living through seems timely. Since Covid-19 struck, Edward has been doing a drawing a day on twitter. Well, worth checking out. @EdwardCarey70. His next book is THE SWALLOWED MAN out in November.

The Swallowed Man by [Edward Carey]

Q. A book you’ve read recently that you think is underrated.

Ash before Oak

ASH BEFORE OAK by Jeremy Cooper is described as fiction. Part nature diary and part chronicle of mental health crisis. Beautiful writing about the natural world. I loved it.

Q. Book I’m ashamed not to have read.

Well, probably everything by George Eliot.

Q. What book do you give as a gift?

LITTLE recently but to be honest I tend to ask people what they want.

Q. The last book that made you laugh?

A Rising Man: Sam Wyndham Book 1

Abir Mukherjee’s A RISING MAN. Historical crime set in 1920s India. I can’t recommend this series highly enough. This is the first in a series, the fourth, DEATH IN THE EAST, has recently paperbacked. Abir does everything effortlessly – character, dialogue, plot. He’s the real deal. Read him and enjoy.

Q. What’s your earliest reading memory?

9781840246131: Janet and John: Here we Go (Janet and John Books)

 

That would be Janet and John. There was also the Ladybird Book of Trees and Sam Pig by Alison Uttley.

Q. So what happened with the blogging?

Oh, you know, life … but I’m glad to be back. And could someone tell me how to caption photos now? And could someone tell wordpress to stop telling me I can’t edit my own b****y blog, thanks.

 

HISTORICAL SLANG: BADGER-LEGGED

BADGER-LEGGED: To have one leg shorter than the other. Colloquial from about 1700. Coming from the erroneous belief that a badger has legs of unequal length. So here is a picture of a badger showing a bit of leg.

Badger, Animal, Forest, Mammal

In other news the washing machine is banjaxed. You know you are doomed when the repair man says he’s never heard a machine make that kind of noise before. It was like a deranged metallic cricket. The replacing of a circuit board was mentioned but it’s 15 years old. Then he broke open the door and I got my laundry out. I hope they don’t shut down London before next Thursday, when the new one is due, because if they do I’ll be washing my pants in the sink for the next 3 months.

An attempt at normality was foiled by the absence of croissants in the Co-Op. I knew I was doomed when I saw a substantial woman coming out of the shop cramming a croissant in her mouth. Incidentally, I know the feeling both the substantial part and the cramming part, although I usually wait to get home before eating them. All gone and not a can of sardines to be seen.

On the badger front I have started following a twitter account called Mr Lumpy and Friends. It consists of films of badgers eating things and also an excellent one of a baby badger having its ears scratched. Very soothing. I highly recommend it, especially for those moments when you return home and tell your partner you haven’t got the croissants.

http://www.twitter.com/LumpyandFriends

JIGSAW PUZZLES AND WRITING

For those of you who might be doing some jigsaws. A re-post of one I did earlier. I used to do jigsaw puzzles with my mother when I was a child and recently due to a need to sort through some family papers I discovered them again. My mother had some very specific criteria for the puzzles she would do. They should be of works of art and they should have interesting shaped pieces. Not for her the kitsch of the country cottage or any lurid flowers or cute puppies. And she had absolutely no interest in swathes of sky. Waddington Fine Art Puzzles fitted this criteria perfectly. And so over the years she bought a lot of them, some of which I kept. This one below is by Johannes Vermeer and is called A Young Woman seated at a Virginal (1670-72) and it’s in room 16 of The National Gallery in London.

jigsaw2

The main thing I remember about doing them was the companionable silence broken periodically by a murmur of satisfaction as an elusive piece was slotted into  place.

Recently, I’ve been feeling anxious and my concentration has not been good and finding the puzzles gave me a craving to do them again, so I have been interspersing my writing with a bit of jigsaw-ing. I’ve been finding it soothing and according to Wentworth Wooden Puzzles there’s a reason for this.

“An activity that can help us experience some of the many benefits of mindfulness is focusing on completing jigsaw puzzles. In a similar fashion to popular adult colouring books, jigsaw puzzles allow the brain to relax while keeping the hands busy. They provide a calming distraction from hours spent staring at screens, whether that’s a computer, TV or even a phone. An easy way to channel the imagination, a jigsaw puzzle gives you a creative outlet whilst keeping your mind focused. This activity allows us to achieve a state of creative meditation as well as leveraging the left (logical) and right (creative) sides of the brain.

Some studies, such as the MacArthur Study, have even concluded that people who solve jigsaw puzzles in addition to other activities that provide a mental workout, can actually lead to longer life expectancy, better quality of life and reduced chances of developing certain types of mental illnesses (e.g. memory loss, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease) by up to a third.

Because of their calming qualities, completing a hard or challenging jigsaw puzzle can have serious effects on your mood. We all know the satisfaction of finally finding where that last piece goes, but this actually encourages the production of dopamine, the chemical in your brain which helps keep us happy and healthy. These mood enhancing effects help to lower our heart rate and blood pressure, allowing us to release stress and tension. These benefits make jigsaws extra beneficial for those who suffer from stress or anxiety.

Completing a jigsaw puzzle can even put our brains into the same meditative state that we experience while dreaming!  So why not take some time out away from work and your phone to complete a jigsaw and see how it can help focus your brain and relax.”

My novels have always come in fits and starts. Rarely have I seen how they fit together until very close to the end. I do not plot them all out. I do not know what will happen. This creates anxiety which I recognize as  part of my creative process but sometimes it can feel like a curse. A jigsaw however can be physically completed; I can create a whole picture.

I’m approaching the end of this one now and what I’m left with are the dull brown pieces. There’s an expression bird watchers use to describe the multitude of birds which are barely distinguishable from each other: LBJs or little brown jobs. Doing this puzzle, I completed the blue of the dress first and then the orange of the string instrument on the left. The colours stand out and are easy to separate. The LBJs may not be flashy and colourful but without them the picture is not complete. They hold the fancier bits together. As I’ve got older I have grown to appreciate more the non-flashy bits of writing, the craft that finishes a paragraph well or sets the scene vividly but with economy. These bits can be hard to write but they make the whole story run smoothly. Anyone can write a fight scene or a funeral.

Towards the end, progress stalls because putting all those brown bits together is more difficult. And that definitely corresponds to my writing experience. The first 30,000 words can feel easy, fun and filled with hope. And they take probably half the time of the last 30,000. Why do I always forget that?

jigsaw4

Doing a jigsaw puzzle of a famous painting has another advantage. It puts you up close and personal with it in an intriguing way. You have literally pieced it together, so you know it intimately. I remember the shock and delight of seeing Winter Scene by A.B. Avercamp for the first time. It was much smaller than I expected but there was the turquoise jewel like roof of the main house, there were the birds sitting on the branches I had struggled to put together and there was the red shirt of the boy on the left. I was stunned. I was taken back to being a child, sprawled out on the floor next to my mother, filling in the pieces.

So, if anyone’s got a nice Waddington Fine Art Jigsaw Puzzle of between 500-1000 pieces – no sky, no pets, no cute cottages, no rushing trains – you might just have yourself a buyer. And if you’re interested in the very beautiful wooden puzzles produced by Wentworth Wooden Puzzles take a look at the link below. I’m very tempted by The Art of Painting and who is it by? Oh, that man Vermeer of course!

And if anyone ever sneers and asks you what the point of doing a jigsaw puzzle is, tell them you’re leveraging the left and right hand side of your brain. That should stun them into silence long enough for you to fill in at least a couple of  LBJs.

https://www.wentworthpuzzles.com/

HISTORICAL SLANG: HOG IN A SQUALL

 

white and gray bird on the bag of brown and black pig swimming on the beach during daytime

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Hog in a squall: to be beside oneself, out of one’s senses (-1887, nautical colloquial). Obviously the above pig is not in a squall but this morning I was. I had adapted to the joys of the cherry picker, beep, beeping past the window (it’s like a bad case of tinnitus) and the loud arguments of the two men using it and the apocalyptic drilling next door and the social distancing and all the rest of it and even the fact that the washing machine had picked the perfect moment to breakdown. But this morning there was a power cut. Yes, that’s right no electricity so the shops could not open and if it wasn’t bad enough round here with people panic buying, the power cut doubled that. And then the guys next door said that they would have to cut the water off at some point and I thought, Oh, fine no electricity, no water, no washing machine. How lovely is that? So yes, Hog in a squall, that was me. And then the power came back on and I felt a whole lot better. I’m trying to write my fiction but unfortunately it’s a plague scene. Can I just say in my defense, it was a plague scene before COVID-19 hit, a historical plague scene. Oxford 1644 in the middle of the English Civil War. They had typhus, something called campus morbidus and plague. But it feels immoral to be writing it and anyway who is going to want to read about plague once this is over? Time to think again.

HISTORICAL SLANG: HODDY-DODDY

A squat person. Generally in the 17-18th century in the form of a rude rhyme:  Hoddy-Doddy, All arse and no body. Apparently it was applied to the Rump Parliament in 1648 and no doubt it will probably apply to me when this is all over given the amount of 85% chocolate I seem to be consuming.

And in other news I have never felt less socially isolated. Yesterday a cherry picker arrived outside the block I live in to look at the gutters. Did it look at the gutters? No it did not. Did it beep a great deal while trying to, a foot from the window I was working in? Yes it did. At the same time they are doing up the flat next door and they are making the kind of noises that make you feel they will come bursting through the walls with a big drill in their hands. And then someone came and cleaned the carpets in the communal part of the block. Social isolation? Oh and then the washing machine broke. It was obviously waiting for the perfect moment and it chose yesterday. Still no cackling farts in the Co-Op [see previous post].

HISTORICAL SLANG: CACKLING FART

Today’s word is: CACKLING FART – An egg, late 17th-18th century. A cackler is a fowl so it should really be CACKLER’S FART but it isn’t. Incidentally a CACKLER was also a blabber (18th-20th century). A CACKLING-COVE was an actor and a CACKLE-MERCHANT was a dramatic author (1860). A CACKLE-CHUCKER was a prompter in the theatre. Hence CUT THE CACKLE! to shut up. Which I am not going to do because although I am not a dramatic author, I am a historical fiction writer in London which is in shut down because of COVID-19, so expect more cackling for your entertainment tomorrow. After all what is a gal to do when she has time on her hands but read her Dictionary of Historical Slang from cover to cover and visit her local Co-Op and discover that there is not a cackling fart to be had for love nor money.

BOOK REVIEW: The Story of #LittleWomen by @AnneBoydRioux

This is a fantastic book. Perfect to read if you’ve been to see the recent film and want to find out more about the author and her famous work. The full title (a bit cumbersome for a blog post title!) is Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and why it still matters. Anne Boyd Rioux, a professor in English at the University of New Orleans, is a great writer, informative and entertaining and with an enjoyably light touch. The book is packed with fascinating details about Louisa May Alcott and her famous book.

Here are some to amuse you:

  • Readers as varied as Hillary Rodham Clinton, Patti Smith, Simone de Beauvoir, Gloria Steinem, JK Rowling and Caitlin Moran have all been inspired by it.
  • In My Brilliant Friend  by Elena Ferrante, Lila and Lenú meet every day for months to read chapters of Little Women together.
  • Ironically given the readership of her book, Alcott wrote in her diary that she, “never liked girls or knew many except my sisters.”
  • Her first title for the book was My Pathetic Family, a name she used for her own family!
  • Her father, Bronson, was, depending on your point of view – a philosopher with his head in the air, a religious fanatic or a manic depressive. He seems to have felt under no obligation to financially support his wife and four children. He was friends with Thoreau, Hawthorne and Emerson. On the plus side he was a transcendentalist who thought that genius was innate in each child, male or female. On her 14th birthday he gave Louisa a journal into which he had copied her own original poetry, showing he took her writing seriously. He built her a desk. He told her: “You have the genius to write a book that would reach the wider circle of readers.”
  • Bronson did not go away and fight in the American Civil War. Louisa was the one who went away to nurse wounded soldiers in Washington. It was she who came down with typhoid fever, which was treated with mercury, which badly affected her health and contributed towards her death.
  • Marriage? She did not marry and she did not want  Jo to marry but was pressurized by her publisher: “They insist on having people married off in a wholesale way which much afflicts me.”
  • She wrote the book when she was 35. It was published in 1868 and sold 2000 copies in 2 weeks.
  • By the mid 1870s the book had been translated into Russian, Swedish, Danish, Greek and Japanese. The Dutch title was Under Mother’s Wings, the French title, The Four Daughters of Dr Marsch [sic]. The father was turned into a doctor for the French version because being a catholic country it was thought that his profession as a pseudo-minister would not go down well. The Japanese title was A Story of Young Grass – young grass representing adolescence.
  • She did not like being famous: “This sight seeing fiend is a new torment to us.”
  • She died in 1888 of a stroke, two days after her father. They both shared the same birthday, November 29th.
  • The first sound film to be made of the book was directed by George Cukor in 1933 and had Katherine Hepburn playing Jo. When the film opened it broke box office records. 3000 people turned up at the theatre with 1000 gathered outside. 30 mounted policemen were called to manage the crowd. It was nominated for three Academy Awards and won for Best Adapted Screenplay.
  • The book has been turned into a play, radio plays, films, TV series, a musical and opera [1998 Mark Adamo] and it’s been translated into a huge number of different languages.

Finally, a question to entice you to the book:

1.What connects actors William Shatner [of Star Trek fame] and Gabriel Byrne [The Usual Suspects/ In Treatment] in the context of Little Women.

Read the book to find out!

Here are the links:

 

Twitter: http://twitter.com/AnneBoydRioux

Website: http://www.anneboydrioux.com