The Forensics Never Lie

Old lady wearing glasses and a straw hat

Image: Pixabay

She’s the epitome of Granny, from the woollen hat like a distended tea cosy, to the shopping trolley – red and blue tartan with one squeaky wheel and clunking with tins of cat food. A bag of mint imperials was found stuffed in the front pocket.

The fluorescent light makes her hair glow like it’s been chiselled from Parma Violets and she’s slurping tea as if she aims to drink India dry. Somehow she’s persuaded one of the uniform boys to make her a proper cup – freshly boiled water, teabag bag and a dash of semi-skimmed – rather than serve her the rubbish from the machine. A couple of half eaten Bourbon Creams  lie on a gold rimmed plate and a paper doily, though where the hell they came from baffles me.

Her knuckles are swollen to the size of walnuts by arthritis, hand movements slow and deliberate, every one thought through to save effort and cause the least pain.

I look at her through the one way mirror, remembering my own Nan – the same smell of closed up rooms, similar tweedy coat with mismatched buttons. I wonder if this old dear has a pair of slippers at home with holes cut out the side to give the bunions room …?

Stop that.

I look to her fingertips, at the ink stains colouring the whorls, loops and arches.

The forensics never lie.

The Chief Inspector and I exchange a glance, a nod and I open the interview room door.

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The Daily Prompts’ word today was epitome and for some reason, this is what spewed out of me.

W4W : A piggsvin by any other name …

 

Hedgehog

Image: Pixabay

Today’s Wednesday Word Tangle is dedicated to that most endearing of bread and milk eating species*. An animal generally regarded as cute, an animal most of us would rather like wandering into our gardens, but which has an  in-built in armoury of tiny speers and carries enough fleas on its back to keep you itching from now until the turn of the next millenium – well, alright, maybe not, but they have a lot anyway.

HEDGEHOG

Small, spiky worm eaters, they are as much part of the British countryside as open fields, dry stone walls, hikers, nuclear power plants and casual racism.

The word comes from the Late Middle English heyghoge, so called because they live in hedgerows and have porcine snouts.

Erinaceous is the adjective you need if you’d like to say something resembles a hedgehog  and if you have a family of them move into your garden and set about your wormery, the collective noun for them is an array or rather more colourfully, a prickle.

Other English names for them are urchin, hedgepig and furze-pig but the Anglo-Saxons called them igil or il and in Bengali they are kata chua (spikey mouse), in Chinese, ci-wei (needle animal), in Norwegian, piggsvin and in Welsh, draenog.

Beatrix Potter’s hedgehog Mrs Tiggy-Winkle was based on an old Scottish washerwoman (Kitty MacDonald) she employed over several years, who was ‘a tiny body, brown as a berry, beady black eyes and much wrinkled according to Potter.

In the early 1970s, the Royal Ballet made a film based on the Beatrix Potter characters and Mrs Tiggy-Winkle was one of the stars whose story was put to music.

 

And here for no other reason than I saw it as a child and was impressed by how high the dancer could leap, is The Tale of Mr Jeremy Fisher.

 

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*If you find one snuffling in your back yard, under no circumstances feed a hedgehog bread and milk! If you’d like to know how to take care of them, pop along to the RSPCA’s website to find out.

Thank to Kat, the founder of W4W.

W4W: Stonehenge and why the Lannisters make rubbish neighbours

 

Stonehenge

Image: Pixabay

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

So said L.P Hartley in his novel The Go Between and you can see his point.

It’s hard for most of us to understand how people from the past thought and felt about anything. We’d like to believe there’s some common ground between us and our ancestors – surely they cherished their kids like we do, made idiots of themselves for love just as we do.

But think on this …

Imagine a family day out in the 18th century – instead of popping to Alton Towers or Disneyland to queue for three quarters of an hour to be thrown around in a small metal cart on tracks, parents might take the kids to watch a public execution in the morning, grab a handful of oysters from a vendor with poor personal hygiene for lunch, before paying a few old pence to visit Bedlam for an afternoon watching the lunatics beat their heads on the nearest wall.

Or you could be the Roman Emperor Nero and believe it to be perfectly acceptable to persecute a rival religion by capturing its practitioners, pouring pitch over their heads, setting fire to them and using them as night lights at social gatherings.

Yes, times have changed. We all might enjoy watching the Lannisters on TV murder and rape their way to the Iron Throne, but if they moved in next door, we’d be on the phone to the police complaining about the noise and writing strong letters to our local MP about the family’s taste in weapon based furniture.

I was pondering these mysteries of human society when we visited Stonehenge a couple of weeks ago. For you see, even after centuries of study, no one’s quite sure how or why it was built.

There’s much talk of the Summer Solstice – and the site is still open every year to pagans and hippies and those who love the shivery, dew dampened feeling in their underwear that you can only really experience if you’ve drunk a lot of cider and dozed through a long Wiltshire night, before gazing bleary eyed at some big rocks as the sun sneaks lazily over the heads of the local constabulary.

Apparently the Winter Solstice – that shortest day that heralds the slow return of the sun – was much more important to our ancestors, though I’ve noticed it attracts fewer Druids and New Agers and 21st century flower children these days than its warmer cousin does.

Yes, the stones probably had something to do with astronomy, but who built them and exactly why may remain a mystery forever. That’s the problem with Bronze Age Brits – too busy smelting shiny metal into magical swords and hefting stones across the Severn Estuary to bother with writing anything down – no administrative infrastructure, you see. 

In case you’re wondering, today’s Wednesday Word Tangle is

HENGE.

The word is classed as a back formation from Stonehenge, derived from the Middle English Stanenges or Stanheng – which basically meant ‘hanging stones’.

So is the place a burial site? A big Bronze Age hospital? An auditorium for musical performances? An early attempt at the Guinness Record for giant domino toppling?

We don’t know, because you see, we don’t share the same priorities as our forebears. And for this – especially when it comes to mental health, gender politics and relgion – we should be most grateful.

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With thanks to Kat, the lovely founder of W4W.

And, if you’re wondering what it’s like to see Stonehenge in the ‘flesh’ – surreal is the answer. Not quite as surreal as this, though …

W4W : What frog’s beards, troll women and p**s have in common

Raindrop

Image: Pixabay

Today my Wednesday Word Tangle word of the day is fashionably late.

Not that I find being late in any way fashionable or desirable – for me, being late for an appointment is akin to having root canal work done. It scratches at my brain like an angry kitten at a doorpost.

And I’ve never been fashionable anyway, not even years ago when I was young enough to be concerned about such things and you’re talking back in the days of huge hair, shoulder pads as wide as American football players’ protective gear and ra-ra skirts, which – for those of you too young to remember such aesthetic abominations – were not so much clothing as the frills collected from many windows worth of curtains all sewn together in one uncomfortable, unattractive and impractical cry for help.

Anyway, as this post is late and I had no idea what to do it on, I was sitting here, searching for inspiration when I cast my frantic eye towards the window  and what do I see but

RAIN.

Now, I know I’m being a typical Brit here, but I can’t help being amused and bemused by our weather. Until two weeks ago, we still had our radiators chugging out the heat and I was wearing my duvet socks and thermal vest (what did I say earlier about me being a fashion icon?) At the weekend, I was concerned the entire family would suffer heat stroke as we marched through the ethereal Wiltshire landscape of earthworks and burial hillocks on our way to Stonehenge (more in a future post). Today, my son was wringing out his underwear after cycling back from school.

The word Rain seems to be Middle English, derived from the Germanic, possibly from the Latin rigare (to moisten).

More interesting, though, are rainy sayings and euphemisms.

‘Peeing down’ or ‘peeing with rain’ is a eupehmistic version of the more earthy ‘p***ing down’.

Then there’s ‘Raining cats and dogs’, meaning to rain heavily – a wonderfully colourful idiom of cloudy derivation. My favourite origin story for this is that it could have meant downpours heavy enough to wash the corpses of dead pets from guttering, flushing them onto passers by as if they were dropping straight from the clouds. I like that idea – very Medieval.

My nan used to say it was ‘raining stair rods’, stair rods being the metal poles that pinned carpet to stairs before carpet fitters discovered whatever the hell it is they use now. Imagine rain that falls straight and heavy as metal poles around three feet long and you’ll undrstand what she meant.

Other countries have some fantastic rainy idioms too. How about –

“It’s raining old women with clubs.” (South Africa and Namibia).

“It’s raining pilot whales.” (Faroe Islands).

“It’s raining like Esther sucks.” (Finland).

“It’s raining troll women.” (Norway).

“It’s raining frogs’ beards.” (Portuguese speaking countries).

“Tractors are falling.” (Slovakia and the Czech Republic).

I know our Irish cousins – like the lovely Kat from Kittykat Bits and Bobs – would say it’s a “soft day”.

So, do you know any other rainy sayings to add to the list? The more outlandish the better.

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Respect due to my blogging pal, Kat, the mother of W4W.

Wednesday Word Tangle: Why being camp online is better than developing trench foot in Shropshire

Campfire

Image: Pixabay

For those of you wondering where I snuck off to for the month of April and why I was commenting less than usual, let me tell you – I was at camp.

Now, before you imagine me in my shorts, acoustic guitar in hand, giving a rousing rendition of ‘Ging Gang Goolie’ whilst adjusting my woggle before a roaring fire of Boy Scouts – stop. 

The closest I’ve ever come to physically camping was a night in March in a field somewhere near Ludlow. There was a tumbledown farmhouse looming like a Gothic ruin in the twilight, two of us squashed into a one man tent (I woke up several times with my face pressed up against the clammy tent wall) – and no ground sheet.

I spent the night fully dressed, freezing cold, trying to get comfortable whilst a builder’s yard’s worth of gravel tattooed my softest areas with bruises and gallons of chill Shropshire rain fell like a river around – and for some time through – the too thin membrane that protected this townie from the elements. 

Yes, the sunrise (once the deluge was over) and the cacophany of birdsong were amazing.

But they would have been more amazing viewed from the balcony of a B & B with an ensuite and tea and coffee making facilites rather than with wet feet, sleep deprivation and gnawing loathing and resentment for my then partner.

The kind of camping I have just returned from is the only kind for me. For you see, I was at CampNaNoWriMo, a scaled down version of NaNoWriMo, where writers can choose their own word limits and focus on scribbling as much as possible over the thirty days.

A bit of outdoorsy terminolgy and references to smores was the closest I came to going Bear Grylls on someone’s ass.

In honour of this, I have chosen

CAMP

for this week’s Wednesday Word Tangle.

Now, for those of us living in the UK, the word ‘camp’ has a couple of meanings. There is of course, ‘camping’ in the ‘to pitch an inadequate tent and get pee wet through in Shropshire’ sense.

There is also ‘camp’ in the effeminate, exagerratedly theatrical sense. I don’t think this is meant of as an insult in any way. Some of the UK’s most popular entertainers are described by others and themselves as camp – Graham Norton, Julian Clary, Alan Carr, Paul O’Grady  all use their theatricality as part of their act and we take them to our hearts as national treasures.

Maybe it stems from our Panto tradition, where ‘Dames’ such as Widow Twankey are always played by older men, but camp men are part of the culture here.

The derivation of ‘camp’ meaning theatrical seems unclear, but could stem from the cant language, Polari. This is slang – possibly dating as far back as the sixteenth century – a pic and mix of Romany, Italian, London slang, Yiddish, sailor and thief slang. Used largely among travellers and circus people, it was adopted by gay men – especially in the theatre – so they could talk and gossip amongst themselves and about each other without outsiders understanding them in the days when to be openly gay could see you sent to jail. Its use in the gay community dropped off after the legalisation of homosexuality in the late 1960s.

So during April I wrote 27,000 words of a new project and met some very lovely new writer friends – which is better than developing trench foot in Shropshire on every level.

And just for fun, have a go at Ging Ganging your Goolies along to this. Altogether now –

 

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With love and thanks, as always to blogging pal Kat, the founder of the W4W feast.

And thanks to my fellow Plot Bunnies for a great April. Happy scribbling.

 

Wednesday Word Tangle: A Shaggy cat story

Caterpillar on a leaf

Image: Pixabay

Oh, it’s that time of year again.

The sun has been kind to us (I’m writing this at the end of March, so if the weather has been a bitch for the whole of April, I do apologise) and I’ve already been out into my second home – the garden – a few times, pulling up the inexhaustible wild onions that smother everything that grows, shovelling the cat poo from the flower beds, raking the soil back in place where the little b******s have scratched to cover up their dirty leavings …

All of this can only mean a new season has begun and in my opinion it’s the best – Spring.

Of course, this means setting forth and waging war – cats are a major enemy around here (the joys of city living) matched only by slugs, over which my loathing knows no bounds.

I could write essays about their fecundity, their massive appetites, their need to devour every gorgeous green and leafy lovely I plant in the garden, whilst turning their slimy noses up at the onions, dandelions and bindwind. They are the epicures of the invertebrate world, it seems. 

They’re mucus coated little gits which I am willing to massacre (in an environmentally friendly manner) in their thousands and I don’t care who knows about my molloscular homicide either.

I have more of a dilemma over the furry wrigglers who are the subject of today’s W4W.

CATERPILLARS

I was musing over the word, wondering where on earth it sprung from when the Online Etymology Dictionary saved my blushes once more.

According to this worthy tome, the word comes by way of the Old English piller, meaning plunderer and the Old North French word caterpilose which literally means shaggy cat, making them plundering shaggy cats which, if you’ve ever attempted to grow brassicas without surrounding them in layers of fleecy protection, pretty much sums them up.

What they’re called in other languages is equally fascinating.

In France they’re called chenille, or little dog. A Swiss German name for them is the rather darker teufelskatzdevil’s cat. In Portugal they’re called lagarta, or lizard. And even in our own Kent they had the nickname hop-dog or hop-cat, probably not because they have a special breed of caterpillar that use pogo sticks as a form of locomotion, but because the county was known for its breweries and hop plantations and the caterpillars probably love the taste just as much as many humans do.

So next time you see a woolly bear, an inch worm or a saddleback, just remember how they’ve inspired people to creative word mongery.

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With many heartfelt thanks to Kat for starting W4W.

 

 

 

 

 

W4W: why your Nan can’t have a catchphrase

Laurel and Hardy

Image: Pixabay

 

Do you ever repeat yourself?

Maybe it’s that story about the time you met George Clooney scrabbling through packets of half-priced cereal at the supermarket – you went for the low sugar muesli while George was right at the Coco-pop-loops like a terrier down a rat hole.

Or when your cousin Maudie got married for the second time – to that funny lad with the lazy eye and the ginger sideburns that looked like big caterpillars he’d trained to lie on his cheeks – and some numpty gave your Uncle Fred a glass of champagne before the speeches and he stood up in front of a 150 people said how the bride should be done for fraud for wearing white.

Or maybe it’s just a phrase that you say over and over.

Worse things happen at sea.

or

It’s not me it’s you.

or the classic

Please leave me alone or I’ll call the police.

Funny thing is, it’s other people who notice us repeating ourselves. Ever had an elderly relative tell you the same story for the thousandth time? While you’re yawning with boredom, they’re launching into the anecdote about how Aunty Frankie got her glass eye  as if they’re telling you for the first time.

You’re inner tedi-ometer is so high, you’re reaching for cushions, spoons, Chihuahuas – anything to plug your ears – whilst the teller is happily relating their tale as if it’s the brightest, shiniest bauble in the Christmas box.

This is almost the exact opposite of how a

CATCHPHRASE

works.

A catchphrase is the repetition of a word or phrase (in fact sometimes, the more often they’re repeated, the more entertaining we find them) and seems to date from the 1830s – a phrase that ‘catches’ in the mind.

They might not be so common now on TV in the UK now, but at one time, comics, sitcom writers – even presenters – had catchphrases. We were awash with them.

Sometimes they were accidental, something a character said that the public picked up on and the writers subsequently used more and more in later scripts due to demand. But more often they were intentional, repeated over weeks and months until everyone was quoting them, from the kids skipping in the playground to the teachers hacking over their fags and tea in the staff room.

Why does something that’s so boring in the everyday bring a TV show to life and even help its popularity and longevity?

According to Psychology Today, a study into catchphrases from comedy films suggests quoting them is a short form of communication that amuses us. It cements friendships, reinforcing our relationships with other people – it’s no fun quoting a catchphrase to someone who doesn’t recognise it, after all.

So next time Granny says, ‘No offence, but …’ try and stop yourself from smothering her with one of her own crocheted cushions. Think of it as her catchphrase and laugh.

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Do you have a favourite catchphrase from TV or film? Is there something other people have noticed you say often and are now too embarrassed to ever say again?

Recognise these catchphrases? Answers below – and no peeking.

(1) I have a cunning plan.

(2) Nice to see you, to see you, nice.

(3) No one expects the Spanish Inquisition.

(4) I don’t believe it.

(5) D’oh.

(6) Here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into.

(7) The truth is out there.

(8) It’s goodnight from me and it’s goodnight from him.

(9) Goodnight, John Boy.

(10) Say what you see.

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With thanks as always to the lovely Kat for kicking off W4W.

Answers.

(1) Blackadder.

(2) Bruce Forsyth.

(3) Monty Python.

(4) One Foot In The Grave.

(5) Homer, The Simpsons.

(6) Laurel and Hardy.

(7) The X Files.

(8) The Two Ronnies.

(9) The Waltons.

(10) Catchphrase, of course!