Posts tagged ‘Johnson’

May 22, 2020

Year of the Plague in 2020 a far from average year – self-isolation diary Week 9

And here we are again. Week 9. Doesn’t seem too unlike week 8 although each week does have subtle and sometimes not so subtle variations mixed in. It struck me I don’t really say much or, indeed anything, about what I actually do through a week – and that’s not about to change. I’m not one of those let it all hang out types but here’s what I am prepared to tell you.

It won’t surprise you to know I’m still mouthing off at the politics of the Covid-19 pandemic. Machiavelli will be spinning in his grave at the sheer audacity of the lies being dished up daily by government which we are expected to take at face value. My main source of information about coronavirus is the Financial Times which has been unerringly informed and informative on the virus.

No 10 has been spinning like the proverbial top. Matt Hancock is as useless as he looks. No you haven’t ever reached 100,000 tests on any single day – my ref is the FT. And Boris Johnson is now in full Trumpian flow promising even more. It is quite, quite extraordinary that anyone retains any regard for Johnson. He is evidently a lazy, rather stupid man who hides behind other people – occasionally popping up for a photo opportunity such as hypocritically clapping NHS staff and carers and making ridiculous inflated promises.

starlings at nest

Another family birthday this week. Mainly virtual but virtual can be good fun. We’re fairly getting into this singing online lark. Presents were actual and delivered as promised by the Aberdeen shop entrusted to do so.

The starlings are still living dangerously, nesting under the eye of jackdaws and rumours of them having given up on the hole in the ash tree have been greatly exaggerated as they are indeed installed there. With the beech next door to them coming into leaf it will become more difficult to see what they’re up to very soon.

House martins' nest with remains of last years additional nest

The house martins have also being playing games with nest building. Came and seemed to go after a day or two. Then they came back again. We saw them mostly in the evenings for a start and surely they must have been constructing their classy nest under cover of darkness because suddenly it was up. Lots of activity now with them flying back and fore so suspect there are eggs there already or wee ones hatched out. I know why they build under eaves etc – as protection from rain. That probably sounds obvious but it’s a bit strange to build in the open given their nests are made out of regurgitated mud. Last year we had a lot of rain in late summer and the nest collapsed with young dropping to the ground. We tried to save them but couldn’t. The martins then quickly built a second nest, alongside with a late brood being produced. One little one was slow in flying and while the others were champing at the bit to fly away south it couldn’t leave the nest. Fairly sure it did eventually get away but it was late.

carob in greenhouse

Young plants doing well in the greenhouse and the plug gherkins arrived looking in great shape. Those runner beans are now going at a jog. This week we launched our inter-generational radish growing competition. Doesn’t have many rules so far, not even an end date which we’ll have to fix although there seems plenty time since there’s three days after sowing my five seeds there’s no sign of germination. Meant to mention in earlier blogs that our carob tree is looking tip top. It’s kept in the greenhouse, grown from a seed for a bonsai carob, bought by a friend in Aberdeen at least 15 years ago. The carob is also known as the locust tree or St John’s bread and in its natural Mediterranean habitat produces large edible seed pods. Among its uses is as a chocolate substitute. They can grow to up to 50 feet but doubt our little bonsai in a greenhouse in Aberdeenshire will get anywhere near that – or else we’re moving. And I doubt there will ever be a Lenathehyena chocolate. Which is a pity.

Lots of wandering around the garden, in between weeding. Still very dry. The burn is getting lower and lower. Our water supply is, to some extent, reflected by the amount of water flowing downhill. Will be one to watch.

Many of the rhododendrons are passed but several still to come. We have lots of rhododendrons as this is a great area for growing these acid-loving plants. Some are real beauts.

rhodie pic for blog

My marsh marigolds have come on a treat. Can’t tell you how I got them but they’ve taken to their habitat in the old sink. I’ve got a soft spot for marsh marigolds since I was a child in the Black Isle and they grew along the burn at Rosemarkie. Here we’ve grown different varieties on the burn bank but one by one they’ve been washed away downstream during spates.

Got another delivery of all sorts of goodies from a wholefood company in England. Our spare bedroom aka pantry aka food quarantine area smells like an eastern bazaar. We’ve almost finished eating the madjool dates we bought from them last time. There is nothing that can compare with a medjool date from Palestine. Big, fat, soft and bursting with flavour.

Our two hours evening screen watch has moved into suck it and see mode since we finished Breaking Bad. What’s that Walt White like!! We’ve finished Outlander. Good last episode after one or two weak ones. Had to give up on the latest Bosch as it’s far too ‘bitty’ and the fast, clipped accents of some actors are too difficult to make out.

Bedtime reading has moved from fiction to the tragic events of the Bavarian uprising in 1919. Dreamers by Volker Weidermann gives an account of the chaotic attempt to establish a worker’s state in Bavaria on the back of the Great War and its horrific impact on the lives of ordinary people. Dreamers because behind the movement and influential in it were writers and poets whose hearts were in the right place but they lacked the ruthless selfish drive of politicians for their movement to succeed. They had some ideas but no roadmap, as today’s parlance goes. Contrary to the impression always presented in the press and by politicians of most stripes it is the right who tend to be most violent and this was true in Bavaria in 1919 when the extreme right started to shoot anyone suspected of siding with the revolution. The intellectuals and workers who supported a people’s revolution and survived the bullets during the rightwing crackdown were hauled off to concentration camps when the right achieved what the left couldn’t in Bavaria following Hitler’s rise to power. He has a bit part in Dreamers though always denying he was anywhere near there. Wouldn’t recognise truth if it slapped him on the face. A true politician. They’re the real storytellers.

Stay safe.

May 7, 2020

Year of the Plague in 2020 a far from average year – self-isolation diary. Week 7

Week 7 has flown past. We’ve had jubilation from Matt Hancock, Westminster’s Health Minister, that 100,000 tests daily for Covid-19 have not only been achieved but surpassed by over 20,000 – never mind the detail that his numbers included test kits posted out, many without return labels making them meaningless, and examples of test centres with no test facilities. No doubt the posted out tests will be counted again when they come back in to be read. But why carp on detail when the press will present Mr Hancock of master of all he surveys. And it has been quietly forgotten that the number originally promised by Boris Johnson was 250,000 daily tests. Also being quietly parked is news that test numbers have fallen dramatically since the humungous effort to save face on one day at the end of April. Circuses.

Brexit shambles/ferry contracts to company with no ships/ easiest thing in the world to make commercial deals. Circus clowns.

Never mind the PM is back at work – as much as he ever is. Has anyone seen him – apart from that photograph of him strolling through a park with a cup of bought coffee in his chubby mit? Crisis? What crisis?

On the home front there is much germination happening in the greenhouse: chard, lettuce, radish, dill, nasturtiums, courgettes, basil, Scotch marigolds, runner and broad beans, tatties are sprouted. Did get a very few bags of compost but found little discs of peat? which was a thing many years ago but we didn’t use because they didn’t seem very good. Anyway, they’ve been brought back into service so we’ll see how that goes.

We’re a bit behind this year because we never intended growing any veg or extra herbs but with the weather being so warm and sunny plants will surely catch up. The begonia plugs have been potted up and are looking good.

We had two food deliveries this week. One muckle one on the Saturday and a smallish one on the Sunday. They went straight into quarantine, as per usual for the requisite three days, followed by the soap bath – for all except frozen and fridge foods which get the bath treatment immediately. Still not getting the eggs we order. Replacement of a box of tiny what look like pullets eggs arrived. Oh, and just for the sheer hell of it bought a vegan kate and sydney pie – in a tin!

Neighbour’s are getting restless. Visits from family, folk dropping off plants and even negotiations going on with some builder bloke. There are people who take this virus seriously and people who don’t.

Now carrying my mask on my walks, on my wrist so I can put it on when it’s needed. I live in a rural area and usually on my daily walk I don’t meet a soul but sometimes it’s non-stop pedestrian traffic. Had to put it on a few days ago when to my horror a young guy was walking towards me on the wrong side of the road – so I crossed with my mask on. We said our hellos but he had showed no sign of moving away. I also wore a mask when we went into our local filling station to buy the compost to grow our food this summer – first time into anything like a shop in 7 weeks. Another young guy came in after me, no mask and no social distancing but then the filling station had not taped off any area either. As I say some folk take it seriously.

Lots of lovely wildflowers and tree blossom to enrich every walk – primroses at the end of their blooming period, sadly, but wood anemones by the thousands still glowing white among the dappled shade. And the golden marsh marigolds are in full bloom in ditches and burns. What a fabulous sight.

The starlings across the road still can’t make up their minds over whether to nest in the tree hollow or not but the house martins are building in our gable end – three of them – not sure what that says about the home life of house martins. Great to watch them as they diligently create a masterpiece of engineering.

Must tell you about the curious case of two coos. Noticed one heifer struggling to remove a large piece of black plastic from her mouth and was obviously in some distress. Plastic is used to wrap silage for feeding the beasts. She was being watched by another cow who comes to her aid and pulls at the plastic with her mouth, freeing it and the two walked away as though nothing had happened. The co-operation of cows is a joy to behold.

Still reading MacDougall Hay’s Gillespie. Some great descriptive passages in this work – e.g. clouds described as ‘fantastically shaped islands asleep in that vast hyacinth sea’ and ‘the ambush of hope’ I’m going to purloin that. Brilliant.

Don’t have time to tell you about my friends just back from New Zealand who are horrified by the casual attitude of people here towards Coronavirus and furious at the UK government’s inaction. Maybe next time.

Stay safe.

July 5, 2019

Scotticisms in our Precious Union or Michael Gove and Sconglais

Perhaps Gordon Brown’s political career would have been more successful had he spent less time trying to reinvent himself as an Englishman. This unfortunate individual suffered from what is known as the Scottish cringe –a state of shame and denial over ties to their homeland and its native tongue.

If any Scots were in doubt before the union with England there was none after it just how much contempt was felt towards them by their new political partners. With the union signed and sealed following a couple of years of scheming by the monarchy and England’s government’s pussy-footing policies such as classifying Scots as aliens and preventing the nation trading with English colonies the gloves were off. Scotland had been emasculated and would no longer pose a threat as a potential backdoor to England’s enemy, France. But this was a union of two very different nations – separated among other things by a common language.

Scots spoke Scots (in a host of dialects) but political discourse with the new partners meant compromise. Let’s be clear – not compromise exactly as that involves give and take on both sides – the kind of compromise you get from an unequal partnership or union where one side dictates and the other complies. To a large degree Scots abandoned their language while the English didn’t. The union or as we now have to call it – the precious union expected those Scots in prominent positions to adopt English as the lingua franca (if you’ll pardon the expression) as the official language of the combined nations. Sometimes it was English with a Scottish frill – let’s call it Sconglais.

Even in areas of cultural life where Scotland was pre-eminent, specifically the Enlightenment, some of its greatest luminaries such as David Hume and James Beattie* sought to eradicate Scotticisms (Scottish words) from their works – possibly to appeal to a broader audience – not England but Continental Europe where the dynamism of the philosophical and medical Enlightenment movement was closest to Scotland’s. Refining the Scotch tongue was regarded as necessary for many an ambitious Scot whose natural way of communicating was regarded as an impediment to advancement.

I was conscious as a child how many Scots sounded clumsy when talking to an English person in English and always felt obliged to adapt their natural flow of speaking to accommodate the visitor, to help their understanding, never the other way round. Scots have long been taught to despise their own tongue and until more recent years were ‘corrected’ at home and school and encouraged to speak ‘proper’ English. It’s often said Scots speak two languages – one among themselves and another in mixed company.  Imagine being led to believe your own language is inferior to someone else’s?

While universities and polite society in the 18th century weaned themselves off broad Scots this didn’t happen among working people whose communications tended to be localised – so they had no need to interpret their words; everyone understood them.

With the union Scotland became North Britain. Was there ever a South Britain?  The language (s) spoken in North Britain were derided as barbaric, like their peoples. Highlanders with their indecipherable Gaelic were regarded with greatest suspicion and loathing. The people were described as savages.  Ironic it was then that the leisured classes included Highland Scotland in their Grand Tours, in search of experiences (tame savagery) and education (if not enlightenment.) During these pre-Victorian years the brutality of Culloden was a well within living memory, Scots were being cleared off their lands and Highland Scotland was in a sense a million miles away from cosy metropolitan life as lived in London or even Edinburgh.

The lexicographer, Dr Johnson, and his side-kick cum translator, James Boswell, ‘did’ the Highlands. He didn’t like it – couldn’t understand the people and through his dictionary he did his bit to regulate the English language which further relegated broad Scots never mind our rich dialect words and expressions to this country’s savage past.

There was no place for uncouth Scotticisms in the brave new world of the precious union of equals – no matter that broad Scots was more akin to the language of Chaucer than Johnson’s tarted up modernisms. For all that the impact of standardising English, and therefore Scots, was felt more in the homes of the upper and middle classes than among the working classes who could read English but continued to communicate in their own tongues.

Which brings me to Michael Gove. Gove is a hybrid; a Scot/Anglo whose mellifluous vocal acrobatics have resulted in an accent and form of speech that is part Aberdeen (miniscule) but mainly Estuary English – Sconglais. Despite his best efforts Gove absorbed Scots words as a child, yes indeed he was once a child, albeit one who had more in common with 30s-somethings than 13s-somethings. When he spoke of a ‘dunt towards the workplace’ in 2013 his use of the word ‘dunt’ – an everyday term here – created uproar among Britain’s narrow metropolitans. I doubt he picked the word deliberately for effect as Gordon Brown might have done but wouldn’t because that would have highlighted his Scottishness.  Gove was probably as taken aback as we were in Scotland over the reaction created among England’s press.

With radio, television, film and the internet languages across the world are being altered at a terrific speed. Here in Aberdeenshire the unique Doric is fast disappearing – I should say Dorics because there are as many variations as there are communities. The move towards English that began in Scotland with the professional classes continues. You can still hear Scots being spoken where working class folk get together and in farming areas, though not among today’s lairds and lairdesses – though once they spoke as everyone around them did – and would have been proficient in several other languages as well. 

Henry Dundas who more or less managed Scottish political affairs in the late 18th century – a guy on the make who delayed the abolition of slavery and confused public money with his own – that kind of person; I think the technical description is, a piece of shit. All beyond the point, he was Scottish and brought up speaking Scots and one day he asked the PM, Pitt, for the loan of a horse for ‘the length of Highgate.’ Now any Scot would understand that to mean a horse that could cover that sort of distance but the Englishman that was Pitt replied he didn’t have a horse quite so long. Och but those quaint Scots are a constant source of amusement.

It was to avoid such confusion that Johnson compiled his dictionary. Deliberately misconstruing someone’s meaning might have been the case with Pitt. It certainly was by the Provost of Edinburgh who when asked by the Duke of Newcastle following the Porteous Riots of 1736 what kind  of shot the town guard under Captain Porteous used in their muskets, replied -“Ou, juist sic as ane shute dukes and sic like fules wi.” (Oh, just such as ones that shoots dukes and such fools with.)

His comment was condemned as an insult in the House of Lords (which it was) but the provost’s neck was spared when the Duke of Argyle argued it was merely a funny remark that when translated into English meant ducks and water-fowl not Peers and Idiots. As if!

 Scotticisms will linger on for a long time yet but as sprinkles over the cream of the Scots tongue. There should be no shame felt in our unique and descriptive vocabulary and institutions such as Aberdeen’s Elphinstone Institute provide an important service to our language in celebrating it and collecting examples of our mither tongue.

I grew up knowing that a hog was a sheep and a pig was a coarse earthenware jar but a Scottish servant a couple of centuries ago caused consternation when she set out from her employer’s London home to find “a great broon pig to haud the butter in.”

No self-respecting Scottish butcher would have offered a leg of pork, only a gigot. Gigot is from the French for, well, gigot, and evocative of Scotland’s ancient close relationship with France. There are lots of similar examples – caraff/carafe; gooseberries/groseille; perticks/perdix (partridge); Ashet/assiette; fash – very familiar today through Outlander as in dinae fash yersel – from the French facher; gean/guigne (cherry); ule or yle/huile (oil); serviette/serviette (napkin); gysard/guiser; haggis/hachis; jalousie/jalouser (suspect).

If you were said to be silly in Scotland you weren’t a bit daft but physically under the weather. And it’s common to hear folk here observe that someone’s health is failing whereas this is apparently a term only known in relation to business in England.

Long gone are Scots names for illnesses such as the nirls (measles); blabs (nettle-rash); scaw (clap); kinkhost’ fever (whooping-cough);  branks (mumps); the worm (toothache.)

Imagine the consternation here to be told that political change on the Continent had been brought about by a cow – “a coo dee’t a” (coup d’etat.) Then again in Scotland all things are possible.

At the risk of establishing a cow theme let me remind you, if you need reminding, of the old Scottish proverb, “Do as the cow of Forfar did, tak a standing drink.” It came about because one day a Forfar woman left the beer she had just brewed to cool outside her cottage when up came a cow and drank it. She sued the cow’s owner for compensation but the bailies of Forfar acquitted him on grounds that when Highland folk took leave of one another their last drink would be taken standing up – a dochan doris (deoch-an-doruis) – deoch is a drink/an means of the in Gaelic/ doruis or dorais is the possessive case of dorus, a door so literally the last drink at the door. This last drink was never charged at an inn so it was argued in court that as the cow had stood while drinking the woman’s ale there should be no charge – in both senses.

As usual I have veered straight up a blind alley. Back to the language that divides Britain. The English poet, Charles Lamb, had no time for Scots whom he dismissed as having no humour – presumably it went straight over his head. Some of his prejudice was based on a meeting he had with a son of Rabbie Burns when he wished he’d seen the father instead of the son. A chorus of Scots voices returned, “That’s impossible, for he’s dead.” Lamb considered these Scots didn’t share his wit. And to be honest his droll remark doesn’t strike me as funny, which rather proves his point no doubt.

Perhaps less nowadays than in the past the Scottish sense of humour, a dry pawkish humour, is often misunderstood south of the border (don’t mention the border.) Scots tend to play down situations and are far less respectful of social position – the lack of interest in royal pageantry is a prime example.  

We’re a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns is woven into the psyche of Scots: the take-down is integral to our humour – I kent his faither. Here’s an example from way back. A conceited packman (trader) blawin (boasting) about the grand life of folk in York, London and other English places was asked where he came from.

“Oh, I’m from the Border.’

“Ach the Border, I thocht that. It’s aye the selvedge (seam) is the wakest bit o the wab (cloth)!”

Ah yes there are as many jokes in Scotland about the English as there are in England about the Scots. Here’s a couple of ancient funny stories:  

When an Englishman sneered that no man of taste would spend any time in a country like Scotland  a Scot replied, “Tastes differ; I’ll tak ye to a place no far frae Stirling whaur thirty thousand o yer countrymen ha’ been for five hunder years, and they’ve nae thocht o’ leavin’ yet.”

A Scotsman was making his way back home from an unsuccessful trip selling goods in England. Penniless he reached Carlisle when he saw a notice offering £50 for someone to act as hangman to dispatch a well-known local criminal. He applied and got the job but then a local man condemned him as a “mean beggarly Scot” for doing for money what no Englishman would. Undaunted the Scots trader grinned, “I’ll hang ye a’ at the price.”

Then there’s the story of the Englishman who bought a country estate in Scotland. Travelling abroad one time he tried to pass himself off as a Scot when he met up with a native born one. To prove his claim he went on about Scotland, haggis, whisky, Bannockburn, Queen Mary and even how writers Scott and Burns were superior to all English authors – and so on. Still he failed to convince. The Scot turned to him and said, “Weel, I’m jest thinkin’ my lad, ye’re nae Scotsman; but I’ll tell ye what ye are – ye’re jest an improved Englishman.”  

Time for a last one?

An English tourist enjoying a bit of angling in Scotland asked a local girl to catch a horse-fly for him to use on his hook. The girl stared at him, confused. “Have you never seen a horse-fly?” he demanded. “Na, sir,” she replied, “but ance I saw a coo jumper ower a cliff.” Now if he’d known a horse-fly is really a cleg she’d have obliged him.  

Of course in the union of equals, apologies, the precious union,  it was never England that changed; from its parliament to peely-wally Scots have been the ones to submit to pressure from the bigger partner. I’m sure you have several examples of your own.

*Dr Beattie of Aberdeen wrote: Scotticisms designed to Correct Improprieties of Speech and Writing