Saturday, June 5, 2010

On social responsibility

"Until the interest of an artist shifts from the personal sensation to a sense of communal service his work cannot grow."
William Soutar, in 'Diaries of A Dying Man'.


Last Tuesday I drove to Perth, a pleasant Tayside city. Perth has some good street sculptures, among them the rather 'browned-off' woman pictured here and the fascinating sculpture in the middle of town of two men supporting a ring, one blindfolded and apparently struggling to push the ring away while the other rests nonchalantly allowing the ring to support him. I interpreted the meaning of the sculpture as the ring being a metaphor for life being balanced between pain and pleasure, effort and leisure. For an excellent discussion about the sculpture, including a comment by the sculptor and information about William Souter whose 1941 poem, 'Nae day sae dark', was sculptor David Annand's inspiration for this work, go to:

McEwens department store, something of an architectural anachronism, has a well stocked outfitting department where I made some additions to my meagre wardrobe. This otherwise mundane event was made interesting by a sudden failure of the store's internet connection just as my debit card was being processed; the store is apparently dependent on an internet connection for both card processing and telephone connections! This was something for which the staff had had no training. I asked them to hold on to my would-be purchases for an hour or so while they solved their problem and I refreshed myself elsewhere with a cup of tea.
Around the corner from McEwens I found another of Perth's wonderful anachronisms; 'Goodfellow & Steven' is an excellent cake and pastry shop with teashop above, everything that 'Starbucks', 'Costas' and 'Cafe Nero' are not, I can personally recommend the excellent tea, Cream Croissants and Cream Danish Pastries' served at 'Goodfellow & Steven'!

Later, back at McEwens, the necessary internet connections had yet to be restored and the payment had to be made manually by means of a triplicate paper set and a once commonplace but now practically forgotten plastic and metal machine; yet another anachronism.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Choosing to use the expression 'cod's wallop' in an email I used an internet search engine to check its correct spelling and found the following essay in 'Wikipedia'.


Origin: The origin of the term codswallop is unclear. The most widely quoted story has it that of Hiram Codd, an English soft drinks maker during the 1870s, who developed a technique for bottling lemonade. This process involved the insertion of a glass marble as a stopper into the neck of the bottle. When the bottle was shaken the resulting pressure from the fizzy pop forced the marble against the neck to form a seal.

The device was called, not unreasonably, the Codd Bottle.

Wallop is a slang term for beer, and beer drinkers would certainly be disdainful of bottled soft drinks. This slang term dates from around the early to mid 20th century. Eric Partridge, in A Dictionary of Slang, claims it as serviceman's slang and dates it from the 1930s. An early example of it in print comes in J B Priestley's Three men in new suits, 1945:

"It's drink... Booze or wollop... Nine times out of ten... you wake up in the morning... with the usual hangover."

It's not difficult to see how a soft drink in a Codd Bottle could have come to be called codswallop.

There's no actual evidence for that derivation though. In fact, such neat plausibility without evidence is often the mark of the linguistic mythology known as folk etymology. Look no further than these popular fallacies for confirmation of that.

The earliest known citation of the phrase in print is the script of a 1959 episode of the UK TV series 'Hancock's Half Hour'. The writers Galton and Simpson don't claim to have coined the phrase, which they say was in public circulation when the show was broadcast.

'A load of codswallop' sounds old and the Hiram Codd story has a certain appeal. The problem with the tale, apart from the lack of any supporting evidence, is the entirely implausible notion that the phrase was in popular circulation since 1870 but somehow didn't manage to get into print until 1959. That lack of printed record is despite the fact that an appeal for early citations that was made on national TV in the UK in 2006 failed to uncover any citations earlier than 1959. Also, if Mr. Codd's drink were the derivation we would expect to find early examples of the name in the form Codd's Wallop - but there aren't any such examples. That, along with the fact that the term 'wallop' itself wasn't associated with its 'drink/beer' meaning until well after Codd's death, makes the 'Codd's Wallop' derivation highly improbable.

The most likely explanation is that it is a made up nonsense word that just sounds right for its meaning.

Cod is a little-used slang word meaning 'to hoax or take a rise out of', known since at least 1873. It was used in much the same way we now use the verb 'to kid', as here in a quotation from 1884:

"Tha'st only coddin me as tha allus does; tha'l none tay me to see th' fair."

That could be the origin of the cod in 'codswallop', but that's just plausible speculation, which brings us back full circle.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Mother X

At seven-thirty yesterday morning one of the team of people nursing my mother at St Margaret's Hospital phoned to say that her condition had deteriorated overnight and that they expected her soon to give up the ghost.  I was not surprised by this.  Since, over three weeks ago, the hospital first expressed their fears for mother's imminent demise her poorly condition appeared, until the middle of last week, to remain remarkably stable.  Through recent days however, the draining of colour from her face and her need of an oxygen mask have been clearly indicative of a sharp decline in her condition.
Yesterday was a very long day.  Soon after receiving the phone call, my sister and I and our respective partners, drove together to the hospital.   Mother was unconscious, and although her lungs were obviously congested she was breathing regularly into her oxygen mask.  The information her nursing team gave us suggested that we would not be staying long at her bedside but the morning passed slowly into afternoon with no noticeable change.  We had in the room a newspaper, the truly awful 'Sunday Post', which we were each grateful to read from cover to cover.  We read and re-read labels on bottles and jars, the essential trappings of  hospital rooms.  We talked about nothing.
  I was reminded of the passage in 'Wolf Solent' (Ch 24)  in which Wolf, a bored schoolmaster, passes time allowing an ink-stain on his schoolroom wall to feed into his mind imaginings of escape.  By early evening we were beginning to wonder quite what we should do, as far as we could see mother was again 'stable'.  The hospital made a 'family room' available to us, somewhere we could, if necessary, take it in turns to rest through the night.  But it was not to be necessary.  Quite suddenly mother's breathing quietened and slowed until it finally, almost exactly twelve hours since the morning phone call, it stopped.  Mother had lived over a month into her ninety-second year.  He life had been a good life.  For the better part of it she enjoyed comfortable abundance and good health; until last December she had never been admitted into a hospital as a patient.  Her life ended apparently painlessly and peacefully.
Requiescecat in pace.