It comes to all of us, without exception, our departure from this world. Where we go, if anywhere, has been a constant in our philosophical merry-go-round discussions.
I appreciate it may be a factor of age, reading the published obituaries of individuals deemed worthy of comment, but three recently caught my eye. The first, George Reynolds, who heeded the advice of a priest after he emerged from his fourth prison sentence: “You’re clearly not very good at crime; why not try something legitimate?” Reynolds went on to make £260 million – a real mixture of businessman and rogue.
Then there was Doreen Lofthouse. Not sure whether it spans the generations but you may recognise the trade-name Fisherman’s Friend? Developed for fisherman from Fleetwood, Lancashire to sustain them and relieve their bronchial congestion in the cold North Atlantic, it was initially a liquid medicine, containing liquorice, menthol, eucalyptus oil and capsicum. From its origins in 1865 it was modified into a starch-enclosed lozenge and by 1971 into the aniseed one we recognise today. Believe it or not, some 5 billion lozenges are now produced annually and exported in various versions all over the world.
Doreen, who married into the family, changed the company from a small local operation to a global business; she died at the end of last month aged 91. Interestingly her obituary in The Times erroneously titled her as ‘OBE MBE’. When you are elevated from one rank in the ‘British Empire’ award, you drop the lower one; she should have been simply OBE! Just for accuracy you understand.
Then we have the celebration of the life of the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, who died aged 99. Anybody who has reached their 90s must be judged to have had a full and rewarding life; his was no exception. One of the lovely comments I read was from the Countess of Wessex, wife of Edward; “He passed away gently, as if someone took him by the hand.” Departed for sure!
Numerous stories have been published here in the newspapers about his unique and waspish sense of humour. One concerned some tabloid photographs of the Duchess of York having her toes sucked while she lay naked by some swimming pool in the south of France. “Beyond the pale!” the Duke commented, using a phrase popular amongst his generation. (Note 1) Reminded me of how this lovely phrase, meaning unacceptable behaviour, came into the English lexicon. The word ‘pale’ comes from the Latin ‘palus’ meaning a stake or fence. The historians of you will know that England ruled over much of the island of Ireland, although by the late C15th that area had been much reduced; what was left was contained by a ditch from Dalkey just south of Dublin to Dundalk to its north. The ditch had in theory a fence, and obviously anywhere beyond the fence was an area of lawlessness and danger – ‘beyond the pale’.
Gives colour to one’s language, to know the origins of these things. Nigel Rees’ ‘Phrases & Sayings’ is a great reference and what you can’t do if you simply Google it is read what phrases it’s sandwiched between. In this case ‘Beyond The Fringe’, a term first used at the Edinburgh Festival in 1960, and ‘BFN’. Jimmy Young had a hugely successful BBC Radio 1morning show and his sign-off was BFN – ‘bye for now’. Maybe it’s used in modern abbreviated text speak – but I know not!
Word associations and links can create fun challenges and often on the commercial radio station Classic FM the compere asks the listener to establish a link between pieces of music or composers. The other day I drove up to see my daughter, a rather unique event these days and the first since Christmas; I listened to the radio. The guest presenter was John Humphrys who hosted the television series Mastermind for 18 years and therefore anxious to measure his listeners’ knowledge. He played John Caponegro’s Shoe Symphony and was looking for associations. I immediately thought of Choux (pastry) and later research found a Baker’s Symphony by a Kuba Piecze.
Do you understand this: “to plus to is fore?” Or this: “Te kwality of merci is not stained. It drops as te gentle reign from heven on the place beneef. Its twice ……..” Not shore weather ither make cens? Maybe this is better:
“The quality of mercy is not strained; it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest; it blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”
Departure from a good standard of spelling and grammar has been on the lips of many pedants here, after the University of Hull announced that “they were committed to removing barriers to learning, increasing social mobility and providing opportunities to students from all backgrounds.” …. meaning if your work is badly spelt but understandable, that’ll do.
Writing in the Times, Giles Coran’s headline screamed: “Don’t stop at spelling, let’s refresh jography too”. (And this is not the science of slow running). Fortunately that newspaper’s leader of 12th April was written with clarity. “The claim that requiring good English could be seen as ‘homogenous north European, white, male, elite’ (as Hull had suggested!) is seen as a idiotic travesty of everything a university stands for …… and a massive disservice to those it misguidedly believes such piffle is meant to help.”
Such an appropriate if old-fashioned word, PIFFLE!
Richard St George’s Day 2021
PS My last PC concerned the truth. One comment from Meryl, “Not only very interesting but highly philosophical! You have identified that the biggest threat to modern civilised society is the absence of absolute truth. Whereas for many this used to be God, it has now become a case of ‘what I believe is the truth for me.’ What do you think?” deserved a reply: “I think we see our perspective of our experience as the truth but acknowledge that others may see it differently and the reality may be something different again.” And Meryl again: “Truth is a concept that is increasingly stretched from reality.”
PPS Twitter exploded last Sunday with comments about a text read in a BBC Crime drama called ‘Line of Duty’. The word ‘indefinitely’ was spelt ‘indefinately’.
Note 1 There was another use of this phrase this week as we watched a Netflix series, Occupied. Another of those coincidences!