Joke

… And that’s how Bobby Womack ended up writing ‘Breezin’…

Now then, where was I?

I’ve written ‘Lancaster Cathedral’ down on this piece of paper, what’s that all about?

Ah yes, a joke.

Once upon a time my Dad went to a sunday service at Lancaster Cathedral as he often does, where they just happened to be renovating one of the doors. The congregation was swelled by group of Spanish tourists from San Sebastian (in the Northern Basque territory) One of the priests is an ex-pupil of my Dad’s and so they lingered a bit to chat, and generally chew the fat.

Watching people leave through the only available door, result of the works. The priest had noticed that the Spanish group had managed to clog the door as they filtered out, still taking photos.

As quick as a flash and dry as you like, he says “That’s what you get when you put all your Basques in one exit!”

© Andy Daly 2016

All photos from Lancaster Cathedral Blogspot

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BEANS MEANZ NO SANDWICHES

Ever walked up or climbed a mountain?

Say like Scafell Pike in the English Lake District. There is nothing better I imagine than using the protection of a suitable cairn or trig point, opening up the sandwich boxes and the thermos and having a relaxing bite to eat before heading back down to valley floor and the car home.

I imagine there’s nothing better anyway because I’ve never had the experience. Let me explain.

My Dad was a skilled and committed climber back in the day. He had trekked and climbed in Scotland, Wales, The Peak District as well as Norway and the Alps but he always came back to his beloved Lake District.

My Dad (On right)

My Dad (On right)

He knows every inch of it, and was so compelled to have his regular fix of it that when my brothers were small often on a Sunday he would wake me up at the crack of dawn and we would kit ourselves up, get in the car and go to The Lakes for a fell walk. Or a quick couple of routes if it was climbing weather. My Dad would make sure we always had the right gear: Sturdy boots, waterproofs , ropes, compass , map, whistle. We went prepared for anything. Except eating. He was so eager to get onto the fells that on the way out he would just grab anything that he thought might sustain us by way of provisions. Food was a very low priority. Besides my Dad was notorious for going the whole day with just 20 Embassy to fortify him.

I remember one occasion stopping for lunch on the summit of I forget where, for my Dad to open his rucksack and produce a tin of pilchards in tomato sauce! Pilchards! Ugh! We ate them out of the tin with our hands.

Pilchards!

Pilchards!

But the best example of this cavalier attitude to food was on Crinkle Crags. And thereby hangs a tale of survival and derring-do.

We’d headed for some snow, hopefully to try out some new skis. But instead found ourselves on the top of Crinkle Crags in white-out conditions. Snow being blown horizontally. You could barely see your hand in front of your face. It was so cold and windy, ice was crystalizing on the front of my jacket. We found a bit of protection in the lee of an outcrop of rock. My Dad had a primus stove and two eggs he planned to boil. Fat chance of that!  It was simply too windy to light the bloody thing.

Crinkle Crags

Crinkle Crags

‘Don’t worry’ says my Dad, pulling out a tin of beans. He went about opening the tin with a tiny ‘wiggle and cut’ opener and passed the can to me ‘At least they are already cooked’ So we shared the tin ‘drinking’ the beans while trying not to cut our lips on the shredded metal. Suitably ‘refreshed’, we considered our position. My Dad took the view – which I shared – that we were in danger of outstaying our welcome and that we ought to call it a day, even though we were only half way through the walk.

White out condtions on Crinkle Crags

White out condtions on Crinkle Crags

The trouble was the lack of visibility. We were on the traverse of the crags, but which gully to descend by? Get it wrong and it was goodnight Vienna. We consulted the map again and made our choice. I wasn’t scared in the least. I never was when I was out with my Dad.The snow was about knee deep in the gully. The most dangerous thing was avoiding lose rocks and boulders hidden by the snow. After about 20 minutes we broke through the cloud and saw we were spot on with our direction finding – exactly were we should have been – It was still snowing, but much less windy now we were off the tops. In fact we skied the final third of the descent. Not exactly Kitzbuhel but there you go. And home in time for tea and crumpets.

My Dad

My Dad

NB. Scafell is pronounced ‘scorefell.’

Andy Daly 2016

 

Small Beer, Smaller World

Our story starts and finishes in 1977.

For it was in that year that My Dad and I went for a drink to a pub called the Lowther Arms at Scilly Banks, near Whitehaven, Cumbria. Nothing unusual about that; especially in this part of the world, where every second pub seemed to be called the Lowther Arms, after the Lowther family, the Earls of Lonsdale.

No, what was unusual about this was it was the smallest pub I’d ever been in, and although only seventeen I’d been in a few. The Lowther Arms was basically a ‘two up, two down’ miner’s cottage very typical of this formerly industrialised area of the West Lakes. Small towns built to house the Iron industry’s workforce like Frizington, Arlecdon, Rowrah – (some of them no more than villages or hamlets really) often consist of a single row of terraced cottages, almost defiantly ‘staring out’ the bleak mountains of this less fashionable part of the Lake District.

Formerly the Lowther Arms (with the red door)

In our tiny public house the beer was served directly from the kitchen, where the pints were pulled and placed onto a rudimentary bar. There was a till. The bar also created a partition between the kitchen and the hall. The front room, to give you some idea of scale, was roughly the size of a front room and served as ‘Public Bar’. It was furnished with bench seats which ran round almost all of the wall space and a couple of tables each with two pairs of chairs. After that, there wasn’t space for much else – apart from the drinkers. And it was packed. Fifteen people. You can imagine the noise.

If you didn’t like the ale or gin and tonic then you were out of luck, because there wasn’t much else. Otherwise, your drinks were brought to you at your seats by the lovely, but painfully slow septuagenarian hostess. Parched and dry, you sat patiently, eagerly willing the aged barmaid, hip joints creaking and groaning, to make it in one piece; while your pint glasses slid drunkenly from one end of the tray to the other as she negotiated her way past sleeping dogs, coal scuttles, logs of wood and other drinkers.

It was a fascinating place, made all the more so by a couple of old ‘gadgies’ Bill and Ted, we got chatting to. Typically, my Dad initiated conversation so smoothly that I assumed he had met them before. He is a master at this. He hadn’t. Met them I mean. The two men, I guess in their mid 70’s, were local born and bred and had accents you could cut with a knife. I needed all my concentration to unpick and figure out what they were saying. Anyway, it turned out that the pair: Bill born in Arlecdon, six or so miles east as the crow flies, and Ted in Pica, about three and a half miles more or less north west, had met in the early ‘30s working at the Crowgarth mine in Cleator Moor, some four miles or so from the pub.

Arlecdon and beyond to Ennerdale

Amazing to think that such heavy industrialisation, was just a stone’s throw away from some of the most spectacular natural landscapes, hillwalking and climbing in the world. Take Ennerdale for example – less than ten miles away! My Dad began waxing lyrical about his beloved Lake District.

Ennerdale Water from above Pillar

He has walked, climbed and camped on every inch of it since he was a boy and knows The Lakes like the back of his hand

My Dad taking a break from waxing lyrical abot the Lakes

My Dad taking a break from waxing lyrical abot the Lakes

He doesn’t need to look at a map. He knows where he’s going. His passion is genuine. As a kid I would (as I would now) follow him to the ends of the earth and never once feel the need to look up to check we were going in the right direction.

Ted, rouses us from our reveries of cool, sweet-tasting mountain streams, hillsides thick with bracken, the colour of the heather, and the comforting smell of woodsmoke at day’s end.

‘Ahhh.. I dunno what all the fuss is about’ he says and in a comment which echoes in my ears still,  continued ‘People are always going on and on about Ennerdale. I dunno what all the fuss is about. I was born in Pica – lived all my life there. I’ve never even been to Ennerdale. Why should I? It’s only a bit of water and some hills.’

My eyes were beginning to glaze over.

Yes! But what water what hills!

Andy Daly

 

A Joke

… And that’s how Bobby Womack ended up writing “Breezin'”, but has never recorded it himself.

Now then, where was I’ve written ‘Lancaster Cathedral’ down on this piece of paper, what’s that all about?

  • Ah yes, a joke.

Once upon a time my Dad went to a sunday service at Lancaster Cathedral as he often does, where they just happened to be renovating one of the doors. The congregation was swelled by group of Spanish tourists from San Sebastian (in the Northern Basque territory) One of the priests is an ex-pupil of my Dad’s and so they lingered a bit to chat, and generally chew the fat.

Watching people leave through the only available door, result of the works. The priest had noticed that the Spanish group  had managed to clog the door as they filtered out, still taking photos.

As quick as a flash and dry as you like, he says “That’s what you get when you put all your Basques in one exit!”

© Andy Daly 2016

All photos from Lancaster Cathedral Blogspot

Dad to the rescue

My Dad is generally considered a safe pair of hands.

And rightly so.

After a lifetime spent in schools he has survived the slings and arrows of outrageous children (and one or two teachers) and remains to this day enthusiastic about Teaching. He enjoys being in the company of other people and is naturally inquisitive and quick-witted. He is fascinated by language and the links and connections that can be traced from one tongue to another. He will talk with anyone, especially if they speak a language other than English. He is brave and cool under pressure as demonstrated for instance as a younger man, in his climbing exploits and on the countless expeditions and treks he led or accompanied. As I have said before, I would have followed  him (and still would) to the ends of the earth without once feeling the need to look up and check whether he knew where we were going. However, once or twice, on occasions which hold legendary status in family annals, his ‘superhero cape of invincibility’ has got caught in the revolving door of human frailty.

He won’t thank me for this, but I’m going to share two examples with you.

Once upon a time we had a Vauxhall Viva. (Now there’s a sentence I never guessed I’d find myself writing)  Dreadful car. Looked a bit like a filing cabinet mounted onto a Wickes’ trolley. Me and my two brothers would sit in the back where, particularly on long car journeys we would pass the time by wrestling with each other. After which we would then wrestle with our own particular levels of travel sickness. A major cause of this, I was convinced were combustion fumes, which came up through the small exposed areas  between the gear lever and handbrake. Even with the windows open, this petro-chemical fug persisted  and was not eased by the clouds of tobacco smoke which billowed at regular intervals from the front of the car. My Dad was a heavy smoker (probably 40 a day) My Mum meanwhile, would have the odd one or two at the weekend, saint’s days, weddings, christenings etc.

 That’s it! That’s the bloody thing.

Vauxhall Viva 90 ‘De-luxe  Red’ (?) 1966

So we had this Vauxhall Viva. It began to cause us problems when one day it just stopped. On investigation, my Dad concluded it was  a fault with the fuel pump. Every now and then the vehicle would begin to lose revs, splutter then stop.

My dad had it sorted, all he needed to do whenever it happened, was remove the pipe from the carb feed, get his mush around it and suck the reluctant fuel from the pipe, initiating flow then re-attach: in much the same way as you might syphon off fuel from a vehicle (Oh yes, if any of my dad’s escapades resulted in useful skills/knowledge we were quick to assimilate. Nothing was ever lost. For instance this little gem of practical know-how proved exceptionally popular among my mates when we wanted to see if we could drive the JCB on a nearby building site and needed fuel to accomplish our goal)

While My Dad performed his mechanical wizardry, we would sit in the car, waiting with an uncomfortable mixture of  pity and eager anticipation of the “Yeeeuuck!” and spitting that followed and which signalled a mouthful of 4 star; but more importantly, that we would soon be on our way again.

We put up with this for about a month or so until one day my Dad decided, probably on the back of an outburst from my Mum, to do something about it.

My memory is clear, I can see the car parked on the driveway of our house, which incidentally had been inexplicably christened ‘El Genina’ by its previous owners.  After some exhaustive research recently I managed to find out that this mysterious name carved into the substantial chunk of wood that to this day, hangs on the right hand, front of the house means ‘The Genina’

Just on the left here

It was getting cold and light was fading. Why my Dad was attempting the repair so late in the day I don’t know. What I do know is that immediately he hit a stumbling block.

I am probably imagining this, but it seemed in our house, there were never any spare batteries for any of the implements, tools or toys which required them. Consequently when he went to the garage to grab a torch he found none of them working. However, as he turned to leave, his eyes happened on a box of candles, from which he took one, then a box of Swan Vesta matches from the drawer in the kitchen. He then went out into the quickly fading afternoon light.

I guess by five minutes later I was warming my chilled hands on fairly robust flames which were licking their way out of the engine recess of the Vauxhall Viva on the drive outside our house.

‘Quick phone the Fire Brigade!’

Shouted my Dad, presumably to my Mum, because that’s exactly what she did. In fact, I’ve a sneaking suspicion she began dialling as soon as she realised that he had taken a candle with him. In the meantime we had the fire under control, smothering it until finally it was extinguished. Quick thinking.

The candle, as you may have predicted, although undoubtedly in its element on a table with half a dozen place settings, or  to create a bit of atmosphere; on an altar with bread and wine, was not best suited to such close work of a mechanical nature. Or being in such a cramped space, where everything was liberally coated with petroleum, in air that hung heavy with fuel vapour.

Besides which, the bloody thing fell over before he had even started and went skittling down between the fuel pump and engine block.

‘What’s that? ….’ In the far distance, a siren.

‘Oh bloody hell it’s the Fire Brigade: Tell them it’s OK it’s all under control.’

Now I don’t know whether you are aware, but once the Fire Brigade log a call, they have to attend, regardless whether the emergency has been dealt with, and only when satisfied there is no further danger, can they return to the station. Sensible protocol, I have to admit. However, when you’ve got a fire tender, with the harsh noise of its diesel engine, (which they have left running, as they have the flashing blue lights:) its crew standing around on the pavement outside your house, and the whole neighbourhood out to watch the spectacle, you can’t help wishing they’d just disappear.

Much to our embarrassment, the whole  Son et lumière experience not only continues, but it gets worse.

‘Can we have a word Sir?’ a couple of the senior fire officers take my Dad to one side. My guess is it is not to confirm his entry in this year’s ‘Fire Safety’ awards.

‘Oh shite, here’s another one. We’ll never live this down’

A Fire Engine: In case you have forgotten what they look like

A second tender pulls up, the growling beast blocking the road now, causing even more disturbance. Its crew leap down. They huddle with the remainder of crew one, and talk conspiratorially, the occasional guffaw (I assume at my Dad’s expense) punctuating the evening air. Blue lights flicker, radio crackles. After what seems like days, in a flash, the firemen leap in, engines rev and they are gone. Leaving a street full of twitching curtains and diesel fumes in their wake.

To this day my Dad has never mentioned what it was the firemen said to him about his ‘candle capers’

And I’ve never asked.

‘Phew! That was close’ he said, finally after they had gone, looking uncannily like  Groucho Marx, an oily black smear across his
top lip, his eyebrows, black singed  and shapeless. All that was missing was the cigar …..

…. Christmas that same year, or it might have been the one before, or the one after; it doesn’t really matter. He had the cigar. It was definitely Christmas, because that was the only time he ever smoked cigars, and it was usually when my uncle and family came over to visit. He always brought cigars and thus, sets the backdrop to our second tale.

In which my Dad is smoking a cigar.

I love the smell of cigar smoke. To me it is Christmas.  I would watch intently as my uncle slowly and deliberately went through the ceremony of lighting up. (After first offering one to my Dad of course) To begin, he would prepare his ‘tools’: His cigar cutter – he favoured a guillotine type, with which he would remove the cap, which is the round piece of tobacco glued to the head to keep the wrapper together. The cap is added, during the hand-rolling process to keep it from unraveling and drying out. Matches – good quality; not paper matches or those on which the sulphur burned overlong.

Cigars are hygroscopic in nature. This means that they will, over time dry out when in a dry climate or absorb moisture in a humid one, and they continue to do so until their own moisture content matches that of the  ambient climate around them. A damp cigar will not burn properly. It will be difficult to draw on. The smoke may become too dense leaving the smoker with a sour taste and a rank aroma. Never mind his companions. A dry cigar, meanwhile, will burn too hot. the combustion temperature will be too high and the smoke hot and acrid  against the palate. Lost will be many of the subtle nuances of flavour; the smoke (and sometimes even the smoker) may become overly aggressive.  So they had to be right.  The cigar should not be too soft or squishy, it should only “give” a little. Neither should it be too dry or fragile. He would slowly roll the big Cuban between his thumb, index and forefingers, holding the cigar to his ear he would listen for the faint cracking sound which affirmed that it was in tip-top condition. Satisfied, he would then tap it and unwrap it … or was that the Terry’s Chocolate Orange? (I don’t know. I’m bloody making it up as I go along as usual.)

Anyway, whatever … It had a touch of class about it, back then in what was otherwise the cheap plastic/ K-Tel/ Watney’s Red Barrel/ Brentford Nylons mess known as ‘the early 1970s.’ The perfumed smoke spiralled and eddied around our front room and carried us off, away to exotic foreign climes. On return from which, us kids: me, my brothers and my cousins formed a disorderly queue to ‘have a drag’ which, of course was almost enough to make us throw up on the spot, but not before each of  us in turn had gone through a palette of sickly greens and greys. ‘Subtle nuances of flavour’? I thought – or would have done if I had known what it meant. ‘ That’s awful’. Which is why I to this day, love the smell of cigar smoke … as long as someone else is smoking them.

Slowly roll  between thumb, index and forefingers, listen for the faint cracking sound which affirms that it is in tip-top condition.

Then the Cretins descended upon us. The Cretins were a thoroughly disagreeable family from two doors down, who thought nothing about inviting themselves in and ransacking your house and spoiling whatever it was you were doing. Smart arse, whingeing, four-eyed, buck-toothed, no-neck little shit-cake bakers, they were all of them Gobshites, as we say in Old English. As I recall, there were three boys, possibly two of them twins. And a dopey sister. She was just as bad as the boys, only three weeks behind.

I remember being outside their house one time. The elder – Richard or maybe Nicholas was arguing with a younger brother over something minor and trivial, as the younger lad made to walk away, his sibling carefully and deliberately stuck out his foot to trip him over. Which he did, falling literally flat on his face. As he lifted his head up off the road (It was horrible really, but pure Tom and Jerry) and started that familiar deep inhalation which signalled an ear-curdling wail was on its way, I noticed to my horror that his two (new) front teeth were lying, snapped off like two pieces of chewing gum – fresh out of the pack on the tarmac before him

‘You bafftard’ he shouted after his vile brother, who was fast-disappearing  into the distance.

My cousins looked nonplussed as the Cretins took over. It seemed they wanted to play ‘Top Dog!’ A simple enough game, it was one they had invented themselves and entailed each in turn going through a list of their Christmas presents in order to decide ‘Who got the best stuff’ and whoever did – usually one of them – was winner or ‘Top Dog!’

Some five minutes later, Nicholas or maybe Richard was duly announced ‘Top Dog!’ by none other than himself. At their insistence we moved on to another version of the game in which ‘other significant possessions’ acquired during the course of the year were examined in the same way. This was one step too far for our relatives, who at this at this point bailed out.  Unfortunately, I for my part was not doing too well. My stuffed Jackdaw and birds’ egg collection had failed to ignite much interest. And while my signed photo of Barry Sheene was enough to raise a couple of eyebrows and reveal some buck teeth, it simply wasn’t in the same league as the sleek, formula 1 styled go cart, and Raleigh Chopper of the Cretins. However, the fishing tackle belonging to my brothers had a big impact. They demanded to see more.

In order to score the maximum visual effect, we decided to lay everything out in the front room so they might get a better view. This also meant that the handsome wicker fishing kreel (robust box or basket which serves to carry one’s gear, and once fishing, something sit upon.) could be emptied, fully inspected and admired.

Much in the style of a ‘table top’ jumble or car boot sale, all the items were presented on the carpet in their full glory. Reels, line, lead shot and ledgers, disgorger, bait tins, hooks, flies and spinners. Spinners! those ingenious devices of painted or enamelled metal or wood, designed so that when dragged through the water by the ‘reeling in’ action of the fisherman, they mimic the colouring, marking and most clever of all, the movement characteristics of small fish or water animals in order to catch a bigger fish.

Spinner. Looks great. We never caught anything with them.

‘Let us look’ screeched a Cretin and snatched the Spinner I happened to be holding, and which was tied to a line (and rod) ready to fish. ‘Wassis?’ He demanded, so I explained.

It was a close call, but in the end, there was no doubt: A Scalextric, Subbuteo (with floodlights) plus an Action Man with a German uniform. We had no chance. Richard or Nicholas was pronounced winner and immediately demanded his ‘prize’. What prize? There was a long pause, followed by that familiar deep inhalation which signalled an ear-curdling wail was on its way. ‘Oh your Prize …. Ahhhh, Now then ..’  I hesitated, then suddenly had a great idea. In keeping with smoking etiquette, my Dad and my Uncle had left long butts on their now-extinguished cigars. Of course  it is deemed to be bad form’ to smoke the cigar so that it burns close to its head. Each still had a good  four inches of  ‘smokeable’ tobacco’ . I glanced at the remnants in ash trays on the table. My brothers seemed to have cottoned on. It didn’t take long to convince the Cretins that with their ‘prize’  they had struck smoking gold. With a handful of matches, they were packed off home with their ‘prize’, via the back of next door’s garage, where, (as we hoped) they ‘sparked up’ the cigar butts. Now they may have been experienced cigarette smokers, but they were unprepared for the searing, burning of their throats and lungs, when as we had instructed them, they drew the cigar smoke in as deep as they could and held it. Whereupon each of  them in turn went through a palette of sickly greens and greys and threw up.

Of course you don’t, as a rule, inhale cigar smoke.

Later that afternoon, my Dad and my Uncle indulged themselves in a second cigar.

Once again the room became host to the spirals and eddies of thick tobacco smoke. But he post-meal quietude was suddenly shattered with a curse and a yelp of pain. My younger brother was hopping about, one foot in the air.  Oh bugger! The fishing tackle! One of the Cretins had left a ‘spinner’ on the carpet. It was the ‘business-end’ of one of these handsome objects consisting of three hooks, which was now tightly embedded in my brother’s foot and source of all the mayhem.

After lengthy attempts to remove it (unsuccessfully) and a lot of cursing by my brother (successfully, in as much as he selected appropriate words – some of which we didn’t even know he knew, and used them in an appropriate context) the only solution was a visit to Casualty concluded my Dad.

So my brother was bundled up in a blanket, injured foot hanging out and some 6 inches or so of fishing line (now cut from the rod you will be pleased to know) dangling from the offending hook and carried out to the car, nobly by my Dad, second cigar still clenched between his lips/teeth, much in the manner of an American comic-book war hero. Once alongside the car (yes, that’s the self-same Vauxhall Viva we all know and love.) my Dad, carefully stoops down to hand my lame sibling into the vehicle. However, as he does so, to add insult to injury – or more properly injury to injury – his cigar end is brought into sudden and painful contact with the forehead of my stricken brother, causing a handsome burn as it does so.

‘Not to worry …’ assures my Dad ‘… They can look at it while they do your foot’

Whereupon, he climbs in, shuts the door and starts the car. It fires up, he backs out of the driveway, and with a glance back at my brother to check his condition, my Dad puts his foot down: destination Hospital. At which the car loses revs, begins to splutter and stops …

© Andy Daly 2011

Pic Credits: Google Earth, freephoto.com, UKStudentlife.com, Tedcarter.co.uk

Up Pompey. Study casts new light on antiquities discovered in Portsmouth and Southsea.

No it doesn’t. The above is just a shameless ploy to entice more visits and so improve my Blog readership figures. Still, as you are here you may as well join us on a journey into antiquity in order to get an insight into what life was like in Roman times for the graffiti writer. Admittedly not the most attractive of activities, you may think, but hold! There is more to it than meets the eye (just) and graffiti is as much a part of the history of the Romans as the literature of Ovid, Horace, Virgil and Seneca.

Pompeii

Please note this post deals the issue of Roman and contemporary toilet humour and while every attempt has been made to clean it up (if you see what I mean) It may not be suitable for those of a nervous disposition.

My Dad was in his element over Easter. This well-known and respected Latin and Classics scholar (at least he is to us) was in his element because he had an audience, one hanging with rapt attention, on his every word as he waxed lyrical about his visit to Pompeii and Herculaneum and the treasures he saw there. The audience was made up of his 6 grandchildren, to whom I am reliably informed by our eldest and senior of the group:

‘He is a ledge, Man’*

And deservedly so. He is.

Initially uncertain, his audience (whose ages span from 10 to 19) has been caught out many times before by their wily grandparent who starts out in all seriousness, well-informed and erudite with just the right balance of playful  humour and authority to command attention, only for him to spring an unexpected punch line, pun or go off at a tangent  on some ‘Shaggy Dog’ story or tall tale. (It will probably come as no surprise that he was a schoolmaster back in the day, and a good one at that too.)

But it seems that today they are to be spared a trip down the garden path. There are no traces of any wicked grins playing round the corners of his mouth. His charges relax.

In fact, he is doing something he loves, which is to explain some facet of  the Classical world with reference to our own, or vice versa; and in so doing, put whatever the subject under investigation, into context for his listener. Today the subject is graffiti. I forget exactly what prompted it, but he is telling them about some of the graffiti in Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Pompeii. Vesuvius in the background

Part of the tableux of a life lived in 79CE and left to us, courtesy of the devastation caused by the eruption of Vesuvius, is a rich and vibrant collection of graffiti in all its forms. Bawdy toilet humour, messages, jokes, riddles, politcal comment.  At one end of the scale some of it is surprisingly literate – translations or adaptations of classics of Latin literature such as Virgil, Ovid and Seneca, tantilisingly suggestive of a plurality that is almost Post-Modern. But hey, let’s not get carried away here. What we are interested in is quite the other end of the scale, such as the messages left on the walls of latrines or down back alleys. As my Dad points out much of this graffiti is surprisingly familiar, despite it being close to two thousand years old. He gives some examples like that on a latrine wall which kindly informs us:

(Apologies for any errors and the rather free tanslations. All of which are the sole responsibilty of the author)

‘Secundus hic cacat’ (‘Secundus had a dump here’)

And

‘Apollinaris medicus Titi imp(eratoris) hic cacavit bene’ (‘Apollinaris, the doctor of the emperor Titus, succesfully parked his breakfast here.‘)

Meanwhile, he compares the contemporary notices helpfully posted by the groundsman at a nearby recreation ground. In the ramshackle toilets he reminds patrons in no uncertain terms about proper use of urinals (apparently some youngsters – and maybe a few oldsters – are still unclear about the distinctly different modes of operation of water closet and urinal and the type of use each are designed for.) Along with the warning signs down many of the back alleys round where he lives that are intended to remind the general public of their responsiblities re: bodily waste, be it human or animal (notwithstanding  any local by-laws) he draws parallels, first with the inscription on a water tower in Herculaneum:

‘Qui vult hic assidere admonetur ut sequar. Si uero eum admonendo, habebis poenam solvere…..’

(‘Anyone who wants to drop the kids off at the pool at this point is advised to move along. Penalty charges  are in operation.’)

                                                                                                                                         

Cacador cave malum

And found on a wall painting of Fortuna in  a corridor leading to latrine of IX.7.21/2.

‘Cacator cave malum, aut si contempseris, habeas Iovem iratum.’ (By Jove – perhaps in the style of Ken Dodd … –  By Jove, missus whoever it is who keeps crapping round here is going to make him (Jove) very angry)*

 ‘So,’ as my Dad concludes: ‘You see, things haven’t changed that much in the nineteen hundred  years since the volcano erupted and showered Pompeii with dust.’

Boom

At which point, it becomes clear that not all the group have been listening with quite the level of attention we had thought, as our eldest pipes up on hearing this:

‘A volcano? In Portsmouth? Where?’

It was quite some time later, that we were able to dry our eyes and look at each other without triggering a recurrence of fits of giggles. Priceless.

Now it is possible, dear Reader, especially if you are not  familiar with English placenames and their histories: true or otherwise, that you may be feeling cheated of a punchline, particularly after having negotiated such a sloppy piece of writing. My apologies. Let me explain:

You see,  our eldest had, it seems been only half – listening to his Grandad’s wise words, for he had mixed up the names Pompeii –  famous Roman town overlooking the Gulf of Naples, devastated by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE and Pompey – nickname for the English naval town of Portsmouth (where there is a noticeable absence of volcanos) and its football team. The moniker being result of one, the other or none of the following:

Pompey

Bombay was part of the wedding gift of Catherine of Braganza to Charles II.

Portuguese seaman saw a resemblance between the two ports and may have called Portsmouth “Bom Bhia” which to English ears sounds like Pompey.

Dame Agnes Weston was describing the murder of the Roman general Pompey at a lecture to a naval audience. A member of the audience exclaimed “Poor old Pompey!” and this phrase stuck.

A drunkard’s slurred pronunciation of Portsmouth Point.

Ships entering Portsmouth harbour make an entry in the ship’s log Pom. P. as a reference to Portsmouth Point. Navigational charts also use this abbreviation.

 Up Pompeii

La Pompee was a captured French ship moored in Portsmouth and used for accommodation. (Captured 1793 and broken up 1817). There is a Yorkshire term “pompey” for prison or house of correction. Which is useful to know as Yorkshire is some 270 miles away.

Volunteer firemen in the eighteenth century (known as pompiers) exercised on Southsea Common.

In 1781, some Portsmouth sailors climbed Pompey’s pillar near Alexandria and became known as the “Pompey boys”.

The pomp and ceremony connected with the Royal Navy at Portsmouth led to the adoption of the nickname, “Pompey”.

Take your pick.

‘Ledge’ or not, My Dad is left nonplussed, thunder stolen the result of  his grandson’s short attention span. Or was it? Part of me suspects  a ‘knowing ambush’ of his Grandad’s denouément  – if so his timing and delivery were faultlesss. I must ask him about that.

* Strictly speaking this – the bringing on of guest voices –  is considered very bad form in documents of a historical nature, but I just couldn’t resist it. Sorry.

*’Ledge’: Legend

Further Reading:

Beard Mary (2008) ‘Pompeii: The life of a Roman Town’ Profile Books Ltd.  

Mary Beard Blog: ‘A Don’s Life’

Harvey B K (2001) ‘Graffiti from Pompeii’ Pompeiana.org.

Origins of name Pompey based on information from Royal Navy Museum.

Special Guest: Ken Dodd

Pic credits: Virtual Tourist, destination360.com, en.wikipedia.org, Current Archaeology, http://www.bibbymaritime.com , Daily Mail.

© Andy Daly 2011

My Dad nicked in fuel scam

My Dad went to the petrol station yesterday.

When he got home, he found two ‘Bizzies’ (Local Constabulary) waiting to question him. It appears he was wanted for driving away from the Total garage in Torrishome, Morecambe loaded up with fuel to which he was not entitled – seeing as he hadn’t paid for it. I can´t see it somehow. It’s just not his kind of job. ? Anyway …

He’d bought some confectionary: presumably to ease his guilty conscience on the getaway. I can can almost imagine him throwing  Lemon and Barley boiled sweets into his mouth as he made  good his escape at a steady 30 mph up the A6 towards Morecambe (after the heist, he’d popped into Homebase for a few odds and ends)  laughing, mockingly at the dopey ‘Bizzies’ in hot pursuit. (I’ll just gloss over the fact that they were at his house before him. Ah! no, thinking about it – these were probably a completely new pair of ‘Bizzies’ freshly scrambled from Morecambe Central.)

‘Good morning sir’ said one of the officers.

‘Is this your car?’ The other asked with distain as he eyed my Dad’s Ford Ka: a villain’s motor, if ever there was one.

‘Hmmmm… The old ‘Good cop Bad cop’ routine eh?’ Thought my Dad. ‘They could do with watching a couple of episodes of  ‘The Sweeney’

Come on George ……

Now then, when ‘The Sweeney’ was at its height in the mid/late ’70s, my Dad was, amongst other things the ‘hard case’ deputy head  (any school worth its salt had one) in industrially-blighted, tough West Cumbria while these two jokers were still in nappies. He made such an impression that someone even went as  far as daubing  a slogan on the school sportshall wall in which my Dad´s ‘Strong-arm work’ was compared to that of actor/villain, James Cagney – something of which he was immensely proud. So dealing with Morecambe’s finest plod would I am sure have presented no problem.

‘Yes it is: a jolly good runner too. Very pleased with it. I have the log book and purchase receipt, if that would be helpful. Would you like the dealer’s details – I could put you in touch, if you want?’

‘Thank you sir, but that won’t be necessary … but as you mention receipts, do you have your receipt from the Total garage in Torrishome for a ‘puuurchaaase’ (he deliberately elongated the word and pronounced it ‘…chase…’) earlier today?’

‘Indeed I do, officer’

That’s it: just enough, not allowing anything which might constitute ridicule or condescension, be taken down and used as sarcasm against him and with enough confidence and bottle to suggest they might be dealing with someone who can ‘handle themselves’ (verbally, I mean: my Dad’s never been much of a bareknuckle fighter, and Tae Kwon Do at 60 proved a bridge too far.)

To be fair, he still had no idea what this was all about.

‘It seems’ (said Bad cop) there’s the small matter of a tankful of fuel ….’

The rest of the sentence was left hanging in the air.

My Dad still hadn’t cottoned on – why should he?

‘And ….’

Good cop: ‘Well it seems you didn’t pay for it’

‘I did!’ My Dad reaches into his pocket and pulls out his Thin Lizzy ‘Live and Dangerous’ tour wallet. Both cops raise an eyebrow. He hands them the receipt … for a quarter of Lemon and Barley sweets. Nothing more, nothing less. Ooer … Looks like Dad’s going down.

‘I told him!’  Dad protested ‘Pump three and a bag of sweets’

He had put in the required fuel and went to pay. As he entered he did indeed say ‘Pump three and a bag of sweets’ the CCT tape clearly picks it up. It turns out the dopey idiot in the shop has cloth ears; doesn´t hear my Dad say ‘Pump three’ and as far as he’s concerned then sees my Dad hotfooting it away at a fair old rate of knots – or at least as fast as the Ka will allow. Full of nicked fuel.

As if!

The whole mess sorted. My Dad offers Bill and Ben a tea.

‘No thanks Sir, we must be getting on’ ….

Then almost surreptitiously …

‘So did you see Lizzy then, Sir?’

‘Yes. Yes, I did. At the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, If I remember correctly’ (He does. 19th March 1976. Supported by Graham Parker and the Rumour)

‘Best live album ever,  ‘Live and Dangerous’

‘You know …’  Said Bad cop, again leaving his sentence floating in the air:

‘Mybrother reckons they never planned to release ‘Whiskey in the Jar as an ‘A’ side at all. It was recorded as a joke …’

‘And yet that’s the song that people instantly associate with them. Strange, isn’t it Sir?’

Good job they didn’t ask him about all the tiles in his shed!

© Andy Daly  2010