Wednesday Word Tangle: how to use a dead calf to write an act of parliament

page of hand written text

Image: Pixabay


Today’s Wednesday Word Tangle is brought to you today by


According to the Online Entymology Dictionary a palimpsest is a parchment where the original text has been removed and subsequently used for new writing.

In these days of cheap, mass produced paper and rampant online brain spillage, it might seem a heretical act, to destroy original writing just to reuse the parchment.

But making parchment was a long winded and expensive process unvolving the slaughter and careful skinning of young animals (the finest vellum comes from unborn calfs), then there’s soaking in lime vats and scraping the hair off and stretching and more scraping and drying …

Eventually you’re left with a material so durable, it can last for centuries – much longer than paper. No wonder the UK government still records every new act of parliament* on vellum. It’s a real statement, isn’t it? It’s saying

We can’t write our new laws in stone, but here’s the next best thing. And we won’t need a bricklayer’s hod to carry them.

I find palimpsests enigmatic, mysterious phenomena. Being used to recording thoughts and images on paper (my brain being analogue and in many ways not used to the digital way of recording information) I found the idea of scraping away old text interesting.

Try scraping the average page of A4 and see how long it is until you’ve nothing more than smudged ticker tape.

And when you scrape the old text from vellum, is it like trying to rub out marks made with a scratchy pencil?

Are traces of the old writing left, ghostly remains behind the current text, a watcher in the shadows.

The answer is, of course, a resounding yes.

A few years ago a Byzantine prayer book was found to be a palimpsest made from several accumulated texts – including copies of lost works by Archimedes, Hyperides and Aristotle. From these flickering, ephemeral letters, scholars discovered that the Ancient Greek mathematician anticipated calculus – over two thousand years before it was developed in the 19th century.

So, what have we learned?

That making the anicent equivalent of paper is a messy, stinking process – that you have to be prepared to butcher animals in utero if you want the best quality writing material.

And that Archimedes was a very, very clever man.


Thanks to my blogging pal, Kat for starting W4W.

*This tradition was due to end – saving the country £80,000 pounds a year in the process – but it seems it has been saved for now.


Come on, have a big HYGGE



Image: Pixabay

They know a thing or two, the Danes.

They know how to make good TV for a start. Any of you out there who fancy a bit of intelligent, slightly offbeat European drama with a line of black in it as dark as a miner’s armpit, then Danish national broadcaster DR are your go-to guys.

The Bridge, The Killing, Borgen, 1864 – what they can’t do with a fairisle jumper, an unlit sewer, a strong female lead with intimacy issues and several gallons of Kensington Gore isn’t worth doing.

Okay, sometimes you want to shout

For god’s sake, just put the light on rather than stumbling towards the armed psychopath waiting in that pitch black abattoir

And the same actors turn up in different shows – one minute as a politician, the next as a drunk homeless guy – so there’s a constant, disjointed feeling of deja vu, but what can you expect from a country where the population is below 6 million? (London’s is a bit over 8.5 million, which gives you some perspective.)

I’m no linguist, but by the time you’ve watched several of these programmes – reading the subtitles while Nordic vowels flow into you like ink into blotting paper – you’ll become convinced you can speak the language like a native.

Then there’s Hans Christian Anderson, of course, he of Little Mermaid fame, the heroine who is perhaps the epitome of self mortification in the name of love. You can’t help but wonder if she might have had some influence on the Scandi-noir girls who come after (like Sara Lund and Saga Noren from the above shows), adept as they are at doing the right thing despite the personal cost.

There’s also: 

Lego, Danish pastries, the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”), conductor and comedy pianist Victor Borge, film director and obscurist misery-monger Lars von Trier (Dogville, Breaking the Waves) author Peter Hoeg (Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow) and poet Benny Andersen.

And Vikings.


I haven’t brought you to Wednesday Word Tangle – the fabled W4W – for any of this. I’ve brought you here for one, single Danish word –


Pronounced something like hooga, hygge isn’t just a word or a concept – it’s a national mindset.

Think of it.

You live in a small country, culturally impressive – and the happiest place to live in the world – but with no great power, influence or empire to swing around to impress the big hitters on the global stage.

What you do have is a lot of fish, ice, snow and some days in winter in which the sun only rises above the horizon for seven hours.

And this, friends is where hygge comes in. Because it means a sense of cosy intimacy. Think curling up somewhere warm – by an open fire, under a duvet – reading a good book, candles burning, your most cherished loved one by your side and eating something delicious.

It’s about relishing small things, normal things – making rituals out of preparing tea, lighting a candle as you drink your coffee in the morning.

Let’s take a leaf out of the Book of the Danes and accept HYGGE into our lives.


A little something for those of you who’d like to get hygge-ish with Viking Alexander Dreymon.


Thanks to Kat, founder of W4W.




Word Games: From Hangman to Low hanging pig fruit


Image: Pixabay



We like a word game in our house.

I don’t just mean Scrabble, though, of course we do have it in our stack of board games, sandwiched right between Cluedo and Battleships (though it’s not the flashy, whizzy Battleships that goes Wheeeeeeeeee-peeyoooooo! when you sink a destroyer, more’s the pity. That, Buckaroo! and Operation were true objects of desire during my childhood. Now it’s all Ipods and killing prostitutes in Grand Theft Auto – is it me, or has the innocence of childhood died?)

Maybe we’re a bit weird (MAYBE?) but we also incorporate word games into our daily lives.

I do like a game of Hangman, that weirdly macabre word guessing game. The tension becomes palpable as first the gallows is built, then the poor, condemned stick man is constructed,  one head, one limb at a time. Even if the word is guessed before the figure is complete – thus saving the inky man from strangulation – you’re left with an amputee swinging from a noose by his neck.

Sleep well, kiddiwinks!

Maybe we all just so missed seeing a good old hanging when they finally became indoor corporal punishments rather than outdoor, bring a picnic family fun, that we had to transfer the spectacle to paper – a tragic shadow of long drops past.

Anyhow, we don’t just indulge in Hangman, oh no.

We also play the Number Plate Game.

Maybe it started because my son was so obssessed by cars – when he was younger than three years old, he could recognise most popular car makes and models, not by their badges, but by the configuration of their lights. Yeah, I know. We thought about having him tested, but he seems pretty normal in every other way, so …

Anyhoo, to while away a walk along the traffic choked streets of this fair city, we take it in turns to use the three letters from a number (or licence) plate to make up a three word sentence – each word beginning with the letters in order.

For example, the letters ‘C B R’ could prompt the sentence –

‘Colour Big Rhinos,’

‘T P Q’ could be

‘Topiary Penguin – Quiet!’ etc.

Yes, Zs predictably become Zebras and Xs are usually Xray (with the occasionaly foray in to Xylophone territory, of course) but great nonsense is produced all round.

Our other favourite word game isn’t really a game – it’s more a case of looking for the obscure and peculiar.

This is called


To play this game you’ll need –

(1) a hideously ugly 1970s gas fire that (for some surreal reason lost in the mists of memory) stands on bricks as if it once had wheels long since nicked by a passing scally*.

(2) a bucket of magnetic letters such as you might use on your fridge to leave yourself notes about ordering more milk / buying laundry powder / getting a life.

Now all you need to do is listen for random phrases, shout ‘Fire!’ and spell out said phrase on the fire in magnetic letters. (If you don’t have an ugly gas fire to hand, I suppose you could always use a fridge, though then you’d have to change the name of the game to ‘Fridge!’ and that just wouldn’t be the same.)

The phrase can be anything that strikes a member of the family as daft or peculiar, spoken on TV or by a real life, breathing person.

At present we have

‘You am butt’

up there (no, I haven’t got a clue why). But in the past we’ve had

‘Two thirds dead’
‘Low hanging pig fruit’
‘The elephant of surprise’
‘Is this a big furry biscuit’ 

and that eternal favourite

‘Milky crud cloud’.

Feel free to play along with your kids.


*Scally : A North West English term for a disreputable person – usually a thief. e.g. ‘Look at that scally – bet he’s nicked that Steak Bake from Greggs.’

W4W: Come learn some Bristle, my Babber.



Clifton Suspension Bridge. Image: Pixabay


There’s an expression that claims the Brits and the Americans are ‘separated by a common language.’ But if this is true of nations, it’s still just about true of people living within the same country.

I’ve moved around a fair bit over the years. Born in Greater London, I did most of my growing up in Buxton, in the North West of England – with a brief sojourn in the East – before moving to the North East to do my floristry training, with work leading us to Bristol (South West), Buckinghamshire (South East), Manchester (a slightly different part of the North West), finally moving back to Bristol nearly 12 years ago.

As you can imagine, my accent is a pick and mix of bits and pieces. If asked, I can float between thickish North West (Ey oop duck) to cod South East (‘Allo Darlin’) with relative ease. I know that in the North, when we want to ask ‘isn’t it?’ we say ‘intit?’ whereas in the South East they say ‘innit?’ – a very important difference.

Even though TV and population movement are eroding regional accents and dialects, there are still strongholds – when I was growing up in Buxton we called chewing gum ‘chuddy’, trousers ‘keks’, an alleyway was a ‘ginnel’ and extremely was always ‘dead’ – as in

‘That Kevin Bacon was dead fit in Footloose.’

(‘Fit’ meaning ‘sexually attractive’ rather than good at physical exercise, though I guess Kev was both in that film.)

On moving to Bristol the differences were … noticeable. You see, we don’t live in the posh bit of Bristol (Clifton) where many of the residents are from outside of the city and those that are local went to private school, so sound like every other private school offspring in the UK – a sort of toned down version of the Queen.

We live in Bedminster (well, on Windmill Hill, if you want to be specific – and local people will thank me for my pedantry). Bedminster was once known for its tobacco factories, its tanneries, coalmines, paint and glue works – posh it was not.

The upper classes lived in Clifton (north of the River Avon) and many of the working folk lived south of the river, meaning that for the rich, commodities like coal, cigars and leather were only a short ferry trip away, but they didn’t have inconvenience of the pollution or noxious fumes from their production.

Despite incomers like myself, this area remains a knot of white working class locals and therefore, an enclave of authentic Bristle.

Now if you want to speak Bristle like a local, you have to remember a few things –

drop your Hs: stick an L on words that end with a vowel: emphasise your Rs: pronounce TH as FF: put an S at the end of some verbs (you wouldn’t say ‘they go’, you’d say ‘they goes’).

There’s also the almost European habit of ascribing inanimate objects a gender – although that gender is always male. I have a work colleague who will sell an underwatered plant to a customer, advising them,

” ‘E needs a drink when you get ‘im ‘ome.’

To help me acclimatise (and to help me to fictionalise Bristolian characters more convincingly), I bought the rather splendid

A Dictionary of Bristle by Harry Stoke and Vinny Green,

what seems to me to be the ultimate guide to understanding the language. The book follows the format of genuine phrase books, with a list of local words, a section of useful phrases and a quiz to test how Bristolian you are.

The book’s amusing and tongue in cheek – for instance, they list the word Cyclepaff not for a lane especially dedicated to bicycles, as I first thought, but as

‘A murderous nutter’ : eg ‘Stay away from ee, ee’s a cyclepaff.’

Just think about it  a second – it’ll come to you.

So for this week’s Wednesday Word Tangle, here are a selection of Bristol words, all taken from  A Dictionary of Bristle

Ar Muh : our (or my) Mum.

Babby / Babber : Baby / Friend.

Baity : Annoyed.

Beamer : Blushing, embarrassed.

Bemmie : Someone who lives in Bedminster.

Benny : Temper.

Biggun : Big one.

Bist : Are you (‘How are you?’ becomes ‘Ow Bist?’)

Bristle : Bristol.

Churz : Cheers (Thank you.)

Coopeyen Down : Bending over.

Daps : Trainers.

Dedder : Corpse.

Doggin Up : Look at threateningly.


Watch this instructional video for a guide to pronunciation.



With thanks to Kat, the founder of W4W.


Life’s most important lesson


Image: Pixabay


As a child, you never considered the end. The hours were too long, full of half-glimpsed butterflies and doll tea parties and Kia-ora at the cinema.

Even later, life bulged: student bars serving cheap Guinness, back-combed hair – soft bristles against your cheek.

Then the family tree began to change shape – a prune here, another there, until it looked different. A pollarded oak.

Soon each morning began the same: a battle to quell the notion that an unexplained lump, a tickle in the throat – a cough – could speed your  end.  No one lives forever – until now, surely. You will be the exception, the miracle that proves the rule.

Still, one golden dusk, He comes for you.

Slips a kind, bony hand in yours.

You fight but not for long – your body’s weak, tired out by a lifetime chasing butterflies.

Finally, you’ve learned life’s most important lesson.


With thanks to My Loving Wife at A Word Adventure for her Tuesday Use It In A Sentence.

Today’s word is QUELL.

Pop along to A Word Adventure for full rules and to join in.

What do Coleridge, Arabic water carriers and the American penal system have in common?


Image: Pixabay


Do you know? No? Well, come with me and let’s walk it through.

I began this post by looking up al words, intending to write a Wednesday Word Tangle about English words with Arabic roots. There are some crackers, too –

alembic, alcove, algebra, alcohol, alchemy, alkali, algorithm.

What a lovely list of interesting words – covering everything from chemistry (itself derived from alchemy), architecture, mathematics, distillation … Clever bunch, those ancient Arabic scholars. Then I stumbled across another word that I hadn’t realised was from Arabic at all and my mind got to drifting as if across a wide ocean …

… this word may derive from the Arabic al-qadus – a ‘machine for drawing water’

… which links to a British / American rock group, famous in the seventies for falling in love with each other, scrapping like Itchy and Scratchy, breaking up, writing heart-breaking songs about the whole affair, then making their now-ex sing them for years afterwards …

… which also links to an American prison situated in San Francisco Bay, now a tourist attraction, but once notorious for holding the most troublesome inmates, including Al Capone, George ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly and Robert Stroud – famous for his love of birds …

… which also links to an epic 19th century poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge about a seafarer who meets Death, loses his soul in a game of dice and is cursed to wander the earth, relating his tale of woe to all who will listen

Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.

… which also links to a brief sketch by Monty Python, with John Cleese in drag as a terrifyingly aggressive ice cream lady, selling the most unappetising of intermission snacks a cinema could possibly offer

Do you know what it is yet? Then allow me to explain …

Al-qadus relates to the word saqqa – the Arabic word for pelican. The word was jumbled with the Latin for white – albus – and somehow attributed to a totally different seabird – the


by English sailors.

The British / American rock band are Fleetwood Mac – they of Tusk, Chains and Go your Own Way fame. They also wrote an instrumental piece named after a sea bird with a giant wingspan …



The American prison is – of course – Alcatraz, named after the Spanish word for the pelicans that roosted there, derived from the Arabic al-ghattas (any pelicaniform diving bird), another possible root of ALBATROSS.

The poem is The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and the seaman in question shoots an ALBATROSS, thus cursing the rest of his crew to endure unpleasant deaths and himself to wearing an unweildy, seabird necklace …

And Monty Python? Watch this.



With thanks and love as always to Kat, founder of W4W.




Why ‘Romance’ can die screaming with a flaming cupid’s arrow to the heart


Image: Pixabay

Well, that’s it. Valentine’s Day is gone for another year and there will be many folk who have given a sigh of relief that the pressure to be ROMANTIC is off for another twelve months.

Everything red or heart-shaped will soon be on sale in the shops – two hearts for the price of one! – though I know from my own experience in retail, that they’ll still be a fair number of sales made today, mainly to naive young men looking exhausted and vaguely shell-shocked because they spent last night on the couch and the the whole of yesterday as the recipient of cutting stares and icy silences and didn’t realise until they popped out late in the day for a pint of milk and a Mars bar that it was Valentine’s Day, by which time all of the large retailers were closed and the only gift options at the corner shop were a box of mint Matchmakers and a packet of tampons – super-plus.

Hence the night on the couch.

These are the chaps who look grateful to spend a not-insubstantial amount of money on a dozen red roses – the ones who think said blooms will get them out of trouble. They’re wrong, of course, because any woman who won’t speak to her partner because he forgot Valentine’s Day is also the kind of woman who will never forget that he forgot – if you know what I mean.

Being romantic is hard work. Valentine’s is not like Christmas – then we all expect to watch the same films, see the same people, play the same games and eat the same food as we have every single year for decades and if we don’t then a tiny part of us is missing.

Where Christmas is about tradition, being romantic is about innovation. It’s about surprises and not the kind that will leave the surprisee with a morbid fear of spiders / mirrors / cupboards or custard and unable to sleep without a light on.

To be seen as a real Romantic by some idealistic young souls, you have to be able to come up with something akin to a weekend in Paris / Michelin star dinner for two / beds showered with scarlet rose petals/kittens/puppies for every Valentine’s, anniversary, birthday …  Think of the pressure involved, the planning, the cost, the logistical nightmare of shipping a kennel’s worth of puppies across town … The cleaning bills.

In our grandparents’ day, if men were good earners, saved getting blind drunk for weekends and didn’t blow all the housekeeping on dog racing or floozies, that was enough – if not for a happy marriage, then at least a long one.

I’m sure this is why so many couples break up these days. It’s not a failure of the relationship, just the sheer terror of having to think of something wonderful and original three times a year for forty years. Easier to end it before you run out of ideas.

I don’t think many people are naturally romantic – we’ve all just watched too many romcoms, read too much Barbara Cartland, have been coached into having too-high expectations of long term relationships.

If you want to be really romantic, put your wallet away.

Do the washing up more often. Actually listen when your partner moans about their day / fallen arches / growing paunch or greying hair. Give them a sneaky cuddle while they’re standing at the kitchen counter making pack-ups for the kids. Just be thoughtful.

And if that’s not enough for your partner? If they still want to have the full bells and whistles, to be the centre of attention, to made to feel like a fairy princess or prince … Maybe you should look for another partner.


Thanks to all who took part in the Love Nudge Competition. I’ve read every entry so far and was overwhelmed by the quality – and by your stamina, as a good handful of you contributed every day!

More reading and thinking has to be done yet, but I hope to publish a roll of honour and winner by the end of the week.

Thanks for making the week so special.




Love Nudge Competition final day. Sunday: Loathing


Image: Pixabay


Well, this is it – we face the final Love Curtain, err Love Nudge.

Our couple have gone from love’s young dream to hatred on a supernatural level. He’s working out who’s going to have custody of the Fridgemaster and the La – Z – Boys. She’s wondering how she can make her walking out look like his fault.

Today’s Love Nudge word is


So, for the final time, pop your poetry, prose, elegy, epitaphs and obituaries in the comments box.

Take one last look here for the rules and happy writing.


A huge thank you to all who have taken part in the competition. It’s been a joy to read your work and meet some amazing writers.

Now I need to ask your patience whilst I pick a winner.

As this post goes out, I’ll still be welded to a bench in a florist shop, wishing I could see anything other than red roses and self-conscious men. I’ll start reading tomorrow and announce the winner asap.

Thanks again and – if at all possible – do enjoy your Valentine’s Day.

Love Nudge Competition. Friday: Regret


Image: Pixabay


Day Five of the Love Nudge Competition, and things are going slowly downhill in what was once our little love idyll. 

Maybe the kids shouldn’t have come along so soon. Maybe he should have kept his drinkiing pals. Maybe she shouldn’t work so late, so hard, with a co-worker with such great cheekbones and cornflower blue eyes …

Today’s Love Nudge word is


Poetry, prose, elegy, book jacket blurb, whatever you fancy- pop it in the comments box.

Take a look here for the rules and happy writing.


With apologies, from now until some time late on Sunday, I’ll be up to my eyes in roses, cellophane and shifty looking men. No, I won’t be spending a few days of illicit passion in my own love dungeon – I’ll be working in a flower shop. The rest of my competition posts are already scheduled, but please don’t be offended if I don’t comment now until next week. I will be reading every single entry, so do keep them coming.

Love Nudge Competition. Thursday: Security


Image: Pixabay


Welcome to Thurday’s Love Nudge Competition, Day Four. So, still enthusiastic about this love affair, or wishing you’d stayed single?

We’ve moved on from passion and left jealousy far behind. We’re in our comfort zone now. We’re settling down, getting mortgages, picking out shower curtains … buying ovulation kits. Who needs a social life when you have an Ikea catalogue? What could possibly go wrong?

Today’s Love Nudge word is


Poetry, prose, elegy, elevator pitch, whatever you fancy- pop it in the comments box or leave a link to your post.

Take a look here for the rules and happy writing.