PC 223 Chips and Shoulders

The idea to write this postcard was prompted by Jon dropping in for a coffee, in the garden obviously as this has been permitted since 8th March, after getting his vaccination a week ago. Vaccinations and the fleshy part of the shoulder go hand in hand ……. and he had had a shoulder injury some years ago that had been operated on and it still wasn’t as good as it should’ve been …..

 …… and I thought he might have had a chip on his shoulder …… angry that the surgeon couldn’t do a better job …… and then the association with the madcap world in which we live kicked in.

A researcher having a microchip implanted

Chips? Ah! Yes! Microchips that Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, has paid for everyone to have injected into themselves when they get their Covid vaccination. I really do wonder about the creativity of people. Who thought this idea up? If I extrapolate the current technology way into the future, it’s possible that we will be able to have a microchip in our wrist that will monitor our health and alert us to something amiss; that would be real progress. But I have had my first dose of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine and didn’t feel a thing; Niente! Zilch! Nada!

No chip! The idea that ‘Big Brother’ could implant a chip into my arm at the same time, as if I could be distracted in some way, beggars belief ….. without me knowing about it? And for what purpose? To monitor my habits and alert agencies to changes perhaps? For instance, I go to the loo most mornings about the same time, as I am sure most people do; it is a daily necessary deposit. What if I was late? Do I really want a text or worse still my Amazon Echo to remind me I should have gone 30 minutes before?

Every country has parts which are more beautiful or plainer than others, more mountainous or flatter, more industrial, richer or poorer; inhabited by snootier, more religious, less couth, people than in other areas. It’s just the way our societies develop. For example, I got to know littoral Denmark from sailing around it when stationed in Germany; see PC 106 Sailing in the Baltic. I was delighted to return to Denmark when I started working for Short Brothers, travelling particularly to Copenhagen or up to Hjørring, right up in the north of mainland Jutland. If you get to know a foreign country well, you gain some insight into how a nation thinks. Dining out in expensive Copenhagen restaurants I was amazed at the exorbitant costs of ‘fine wines’ at the top end of the cellar list. I asked my agent who on earth bought these; Jørgen Brøndum, a delightful sagacious chap who was great company, replied: “Well, only those uncultured and rural folk from Jutland who think it’s the right thing to do when they come to the capital! Trying to show they are not country bumpkins!”

In the UK, the Forrest of Dean to the west of Cheltenham is thought of in a similar vein, so an extreme case of ‘chip on the shoulder’ might become ‘The Forrest of Dean on both’!


Across the pond, that large expanse of ocean called The North Atlantic, crisps are called chips and chips are called fries and it’s from the USA that the saying ‘a chip on his shoulder’ is thought to have originated; so nothing to do with food! Back in the 1800s when a boy was spoiling for a fight, he would put a twig or small chip on his shoulder and challenge another boy to knock it off. It became synonymous with someone always wanting to pick a fight, not standing criticism, always arguing with everyone, often about some perceived sleight.

Despite my early military service I am not by nature an aggressive individual, preferring to seek common ground rather that accentuating what divides us. So whilst I am prepared to accept that the explanation from 1800s America is the correct one, the more romantic me likes this other English one.

Just under two hundred years before, carpenters (Note 1) working in the Royal Naval Dockyards in England had an allowance of ‘spare’ wood chips they could take home at the end of their shift, useful for cooking and heating. These offcuts were normally carried on their shoulders out through the gate. By 1756 this privilege was being abused, costing the taxpayer too much, so a warrant was issued, restricting the carrying of surplus wood to under the arm, so lessening the quantity that could be carried. One carpenter, a John Miller, refused to take his chips off his shoulder and his workmates crowded around him and carried him with them out through the dockyard gates. I am not sure what happened to John Miller when he turned up for work the next day! (Note 2)

There was no chip on Jon’s shoulder or in his arm and he had no issue with accepting the efficacy of the vaccine but some are still unsure. They anxiously point out that previous research and development took years and years to produce an effective vaccine against this and against that; ergo these can’t be safe or as a graduate-level educated friend claims: “it’s an untested, experimental vaccine which has not been approved by any regulatory medical body” I wonder how we differ? In reality, if enough people are involved in anything and enough money is thrown at it, in parallel and not in series, everything is possible. On the Continent there was a huge kerfuffle about blood clots in those who had had the Oxford Astra Zeneca vaccine …. until the statisticians pointed out that 40 cases in 17 million was not statistically significant, less in fact than being struck by lightning (Note 3)! Mind you if you don’t want the vaccine because you think it’s not safe, then that is your prerogative.

As an afterthought on the topic of chips, the American Henry Channon (1897 – 1958) came to England in 1920 to study at Christ College Oxford. At university he shared a bachelor house with a friend colloquially known as ‘Fish’; from then on Channon was forever known as Chips Channon. Although never reaching ministerial rank, he represented Southend for 23 years and will be remembered as a social diarist of the first half of the 20th century.

Richard 26th March 2021


PS You may remember the ubiquitous wood chip lining paper that was pasted on every house wall in the 1970 and 1980s?

PPS And while talking about chips, you may not have heard this joke? “Why are there no good potato chips in Wiltshire? Because they have no Devizes for Chippenham!” (It helps if you have a Wiltshire accent!) (….. no devices for chipping ‘em!)

Note 1 A carpenter is often referred to as a chippy.

Note 2 If I know anything about British humour, he was probably called Dusty – the surname first used for those who milled corn and who were always covered in flour ‘dust’.

Note 3 Thirty six hours after I wrote this paragraph, an El Salvadorian surfer, 22 year old Katherine Diaz, was struck by lightning and was killed. I love coincidences but this is so sad.

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