Friday, 31 July 2015

Word to the Wise

Neglected gems of the language for taking down the pub and introducing to your mates.


Toe-cock-ruh-see: Noun: rule by the poor, lower class; also, the poor as a class

From Greek: ptochos, poor or beggar, plus kratos, rule, strength, might

Related words: Ptochogony: the begetting or production of beggars (much the same as Conservative Fiscal Policy, then); Ptochology: the scientific study of pauperism, unemployment, etc. 

The ptochos part of ptochocracy means someone who crouches and cowers, usually in abject fear, which the Ancient Greeks then went on to use in reference to beggars – the paupers and deeply destitute – so quite what in the name of Olympus they were doing to their mendicants back in those days to reduce them to doing all that crouching and cowering makes the imagination fairly boggle. Not that we do much better in our modern society, mind you. Mendicant is more your Romanised version of the same thing, being from Latin, menda, a fault or defect, originally a physical one, meaning that their beggars were also crippled into the bargain, which is probably why they were beggars in the first place, the Romans not being especially noted for their caring qualities. Amend and emend are from the same root (basically ex-menda, to un-fault, as it were). 

The main problem with ptochocracy, however, as a form of government, is that would be nigh on an impossibility to achieve. Not that there would be any shortage of the desperately destitute to choose from in this great nation of ours, but simply from the fact that, the moment you took up your seat in the House, you’d instantly be burdened with an onerous salary of £67,060 per annum (set to rise to £74,000 imminently, meaning the salary has doubled since 1996, nice work if you can get it), with forty five days paid holiday and a “severance deal” that adds on a further £12,000 per year, the first £30,000 of which is tax-free; and then there’re all your expenses on top of that, of course, plus the chance to pocket a further £14,876, should they need you to sit on a Select Committee. What with all the free time and long holidays the job involves, those that weren’t entirely workshy loafers would also be expected to put in a shift or two sitting around in various boardrooms doing not much in particular for an hour or so a month – as a Special Advisor, something like that – until it finally gets round to lunchtime and, following a substantial nosebag (as part of the package), you’ll then be bunged more of the traditional brown envelopes to slip discreetly into the old breast pocket, before you and your post-prandial cigar weave unsteadily away to find somewhere to lie down and sleep it all off. And, what with all those vast amounts of cash sloshing about, where would your beggarly credentials be then? In much the same situation as those regents of Prague back in 1618, that’s where – right out the window. Worse still, if your principles then compelled you to stand down because you no longer qualified as a true member of a ptocochracy (and honour wouldn’t allow you to claim that you were Malcolm Rifkind and that you didn’t realise they were filming), Parliamentary regulations would then be obliged to impose on you the final salary pension scheme (paid for by the taxpayer at a rate four times higher than most companies final salary schemes), and you would never be able to return to your impoverished roots again. Instead, you would be reduced to an afterlife of after-dinner speaking and then to penning your memoirs, only to suffer the final and ultimate indignity of seeing them lying around in the bargain bins only a few months down the road. No, we fear that a ptochocracy is not really the government for us …

So, what other options might there be? The Classical Greek philosopher, Plato – he’s the one with the name that means “broad shouldered,” so they reckon, but it’s actually the Ancients’ way of calling him Fatso, though never to his face, seeing he was also something of a wrestler in his time, having grappled in the Isthmian games, winning for himself the rather bizarre prize of a wreath of celery – anyhow, this Aristocles, as he was actually called, thought that there were five different types of regime that we might turn to and, handily enough, he also listed them in order of preference, these being: Aristocracy; Timocracy; Oligarchy; Democracy; and Tyranny. Now, before anyone starts to get bees in their bonnet about how Plato was from a fabulously wealthy and aristocratic family, and that his own wallet was as prodigiously well-padded as he was, meaning he’d be bound to plump for aristocracy as a natural first choice, wouldn’t he, we also need to remember that he was Greek too, so he knew what the words actually meant. Talking of bees, legend has it that when Plato was a mere infant, a gang of just such hymenoptera landed on the young lad’s lips, which is how he ended up with his mellifluous style of discoursing on philosophy (mellifluous meaning “flowing with honey”, by the bye), though whoever thought that one up clearly never had to wade through any of his writings, did they? Hardly flowing with honey, now are they? It seems a lot more plausible that he would’ve simply woken up shrieking, “What’s with all these bees?”

Pick of the political pops for Plato, then, would be Aristocracy. Which seems an oddish sort of choice for a favoured form of government, given that the word instantly conjures up images of decrepit old duffers in tweeds and brogues languishing about on the sumptuous leather upholstery of old-fashioned and superannuated furnishings, gazing wistfully out through the leaded lights of vast mullioned windows and trying desperately to remember why they’d come in here in the first place, all the while referring to the magnificent pile of masonry they inhabit as “the hyse.” No – he’s thinking of the House of Lords, surely? (Mind you, to be fair to them, we thought that “snorting Charlie” meant a disgruntled Prince of Wales, until we discovered Lord Sewel). But let’s not for one minute be tempted to start knocking the aristocracy, because they do one heck of a lot for this country. Especially when it comes to owning it. It seems that thirty six thousand particularly fortunate individuals – just a fraction over a half of one percent of the population – own fifty percent – half – of the country’s rural land, or twenty million of all Britain’s sixty million acres of land, the vast majority of which is in the hands of just twelve thousand deserving swellpurses. Meanwhile, the Duke of Westminster has a property portfolio of some six billion pounds, though he’s actually “worth” (as they erroneously say) some twenty seven billion. Still only third wealthiest Briton, mind. Strange, isn’t it: how we’re only Britons when we’re involved in disasters abroad or when it comes to compiling lists like Who’s Got All the Cash, Then?   

In all fairness, we should mention that many of them have at least “done their bit.” For instance, every Earl of Derby between 1830 and 1948, and every Marquess of Salisbury in the twentieth century (bar one bad apple) sat as a member of the Cabinet, the last departing in 1997. Some have been notable sportsman too, by which we mean proper sport, the sort that involves your keeper or your valet handing you your freshly-reloaded Purdey so that you can blast a few more of those feathery perishers clean out of the skies. Take the Marquess of Ripon, for example, who employed much of his time between 1867 and 1923 in shooting half a million animals various to death, which is not something, we’re sure you’ll concede, that your average bricklayer or even a sprightly alderman can ever lay claim to. Tragically, however, such pursuits are not without their inherent risks, so it hasn’t all been one-way traffic and poor old Sir Edward Grey (as if being Foreign Secretary at the beginning of the First World War wasn’t enough on his shoulders) had one brother eaten by a lion and another killed by a wild buffalo while on safari in Africa. So that’s not so bad, then.

Getting back to the plot, the word aristocracy comes from the Greek, aristos, meaning best, though its original sense was “most fitting,” being a superlative form of ar, to fit or join, as in arm, so aristocracy was technically government or rule by the best. However, such a clever and beardy old thinker as Plato happened to be meant he was quickly able to twist this into “government by the best citizens,” which clearly meant, much as it still does today, “the best-born or most favoured and privileged” amongst us. Which is a pretty far cry from the original basic Greek, Arete, which stood for excellence of any kind, an Arete being a person of purpose and function, one best able to put their faculties – strength, bravery and wit – into use to produce real results, whereas being the possessor of an exceedingly fat wallet is hardly what you’d call a skill or an achievement. Even in Plato’s Republic, he manages to idealise a state in which there’s still a three-tier caste system with, at the top (gold souls), aristocratic philosophers (what, a bit like, say, Plato, you mean?) sitting around doing loads of thinking and coming up with the rules; then come the silver souls, who keep busy making sure that everyone toes the line; and then finally, down at the bottom, your bronze souls, the ones toeing the line and doing all the work. Basically, all he seems to’ve done there is have a quick glance round at what was going on anyway and thought, “that’ll do us, let’s bung that down as the best way to go about things and that’ll be that sorted.” Archetypal Conservatism, you might say. Though, interestingly enough, he does suggest that none of the ruling bods should actually be allowed to own anything, lest that somehow led to them creating policies tainted by personal interests …

Runner-up on the list of preferred political systems, as far as Plato was concerned, and very much your make-do-with in a tight situation option, comes Timocracy. This is something of a ticklish blighter to get to the bottom of, being both vague and complex at the same time, though we can say, without fear of contradiction, that this is not rule by a government formed entirely of people called Tim, though that would be no more absurd an idea as some of the other suggestions that are bandied about (such as government by the idle rich, for instance) and would be a darn sight better than a few that have actually seen the light of day. Nor is it “government by the timid,” which would only result in legislation such as the Prevention of Slightly Scary Things Act (the Ayes to the Right, the Nays to the Left, and the If That’s All Right With You’s still cowering behind the benches). In fact, in a Timocracy, the only qualification a member would ever need in order to get the old bot parked on the historic green leather would be to own a bit of land or some bricks-and-mortar, seeing it’s only property owners that are allowed to participate, so being a rabid old senile bigot permanently three sheets to the wind would by no means rule you out where this system is concerned, and may even provide you with an edge over your rivals at the hustings. Nor is there any requirement to have even the faintest whiff of aptitude or skill, other than the ability to get stuff (usually by inheriting it from your parents) and then hold onto it. Which is quite a lowering of the standards from aristocracy – government by the very best citizens – to allowing all kinds of vulgar sorts in like the nouveau riche and even second-hand car salesmen (or, god forbid, property managers and estate agents) and, before we knew where we were, Parliament would be reduced to a rabble of boorish louts doing nothing but jeer at the party opposite whilst waving sheaves of papers above their heads. None of us would ever want to see that kind of behaviour in the Palaces of the Mighty, now would we? No, that version of Timocracy is a definite non-starter.

Mind you, there’s always the other one, in which the leaders are selected based on the degree of honour they hold relative to other members of their society – that goes back to the root of the word, timé, honour, though the word itself is notoriously slippery when it comes to trying to nail it down, seeing it also implies value or worth, even price at a push, so Plato had no trouble at all in twisting this into meaning government by those with absolute ambitions for power and glory (of which Hitler might be a good example), whilst Aristotle (notice the aristo in his name, which means “best purpose”) plumped for the notion that political power should be dished out in direct ratio to how much of the folding stuff you happened to have. These are two of the most revered thinkers of any age, and yet they come up with balmpot ideas like that. It might be just as sensible to say that we should have a government formed only of whores – that’d be your Pornocracy, of course, porne being Greek for harlot – because they’d be sure to have a bob or two. Nay, nay and thrice nay. So can we have the next contender, please?

Halfway down Plato’s pile we come to Oligarchy. From the Greek, oligos, few. Meaning rule by a small elite, generally picked for having loads of cash or being from the right family. Which is pretty much the same thing again, if a little more choosy about those it lets join. Plutocracy is yet another one that’s the opposite of ptochocracy, this time from ploutos, wealth, and which, as you may have suspected, does have something to do with Pluto, the Greek god of extreme riches but also a Roman term for Hades. Hell. Which is precisely what oligarchs and plutocrats tend to hand out, once they get themselves into office. But, hold your horses there – or, rather, get some impoverished forelock-tugging peasant to do the actual holding of your horses (that you happen to possess through no sweat of your own brow) – isn’t what we’ve got at this very moment actually some form of plutocracy, seeing there are a staggering number of millionaires in the current Cabinet (Jeremy Hunt being one of the most fabulously loaded, possessor of over seventeen million, and yet no more use than a catflap in a wind tunnel, so you can hardly blame him for looking so unbearably supercilious and always smugger than a Cheesy Wotsit the whole time) and a good few others warming their well-plumped backsides on the government benches too (and, yes, plenty more in opposition as well, though, being an Opposition, they’re not actually a “form of government,” so don’t count herein), legend suggesting that some seventy eight percent of all MPs are millionaires masquerading as democrats. That’s about as close to plutocracy as you could get without actually calling a spade a digging implement employed in a gardening capacity …
We now start to scrape Plato’s barrel bottom for him – not a pleasant image at the best of times – as we get to Democracy. From demokratia, popular government (fat chance!), from demos, common people, though originally meaning district. So, government by district, then. Which still just about holds true. It would be reasonable to argue that we’ve given democracy a fair old innings and look where it’s got us: at the last election, the party that increased its vote by a miniscule 0.8% ends up sweeping into a majority (albeit a slender one, which partly compensates for all the gross lardbuckets they’ve got mouldering away on their benches), whilst the party that increased its vote by twice as much suffers a crushing defeat, and the one that came out of nowhere (think of them what you might) to poll four million votes gets a single miserable seat. Something has gone spectacularly wrong somewhere. And see what we’ve ended up with running the country: a posh bloke who’s never known what it’s like to go without (except for that time he left his daughter in the pub, that is), who looks like a fat hamster that’s got its entire winter store salted away in its cheek pouches, and a man who possesses all the sincerity of a plastic Monkhouse. With, for sidekick, another long streak of posh that should be hung up on the bird table for the sparrows to peck but is actually Chancellor and still the only man ever to be spontaneously booed by an entire Olympic stadium. Not to be outdone, our American cousins are now contemplating the prospect of making Donald Trump the most powerful person in the world …

Which brings us nicely to Kakistocracy. No prizes for guessing. Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like: government by the worst. Or by the stupid. Or by those least qualified to rule. Again, thought up by the good old Greeks, from kakos, bad or evil, though with more than a suggestion of the bowel movement about it that you so rightly suspected. It has been suggested that every government which has ever existed has been a prime example of a kakistocracy. Probably by the same bloke that said that Guy Fawkes was the only man to ever get into Parliament with the right idea …

[All views expressed herein are intended only as humour and belong solely to the author]


Beggars (“The Cripples”): Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Defenestration of Prague: Matthäus Merian the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Bees: Bksimonb at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons
Duke of Westminster in 1998: By Allan Warren (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons
Sir Edward Grey: Leslie Ward [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Plato & Aristotle: Raphael [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Outcast: Richard Redgrave [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Jeremy Hunt: By Culture, Media and Sport Office [OGL (], via Wikimedia Commons
Donald Trump: By Michael Vadon [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 24 July 2015

Giants of Academia & the Arts

… but, then again, nobody is perfect

Grace Horsley Darling (24 November 1815 – 20 October 1842)

Now, there will be some out there who, on seeing that name, will be sniffy enough to be questioning how, precisely, this lighthouse keeper’s daughter has any connection whatsoever with academia or the arts. For those sceptical few, let us point out straight away that her likeness was captured in paint by at least six known and nameable artists, including the Pre-Raphaelite, William Bell Scott, and once in marble; others were inspired to write poetry about her exploits, including Wordsworth and Swinburne, and more yet brought her into the dramatic arts, music and song. Cadbury’s even used her name and image on chocolate. Her contribution to the arts is, therefore, immense but, besides that, her heroics are also a matter of History and thus her place within these rolls is both deserved and assured, whilst her name (and so her adventure also) remain instantly recognisable to this day.

Grace Darling was born in the tiny village of Bamburgh, Northumberland (north of Newcastle and actually nearer to Berwick), the seventh of nine children – well, there was no television and there wasn’t a lot else to do on a lighthouse in those days. Her grandfather, Robert Darling, was also a keeper, who had been appointed to the Brownsman Island light in 1795 when his son, William (later Grace’s old man) was nine and, being the only boy amongst six older sisters, the lad was naturally expected to follow in his father’s footsteps. Which he did. By the time he was nineteen, he must’ve decided that having half a dozen older women about the place wasn’t quite enough because, on 1 July 1805, he married Thomasin Horsley, who was then thirty one. Thomasin was one of twins – she would produce two sets of her own – but, rather creepily, her own twin sister died at birth: she would have been called Grace.

Two months before our (perhaps fatefully named) Grace came into the world, Grandpa Darling went up to the Great Lighthouse in the Sky and William succeeded him as master of the Brownsman light. Brownsman is one of the largest of the many Farne Islands, some of the first inhabitants there being the early Christians (Lindisfarne is quite close) and, amongst them, a goodly smattering of saints looking to get away from the rat-race, including St Aidan, St Aethelwold, St Bartholomew and St Cuthbert. It is believed that Christianity originally entered these islands via that rugged coastline. Alas, however, so too did a marauding bunch of Vikings not long later, which probably explains why the last hermit, Thomas De Melsonby, died there as long ago as 1246. The island was the sort of place where you’d pretty much need to keep your vest on all year round, being a touch blowy, so much so that the trees gave it up as a lost cause and never grew there. Though there was enough coarse grass to graze a few sheep and goats, while rabbits were introduced (always a fatal mistake) to make a change from the mostly-fish diet. There was also a notable colony of seals (still there), along with thousands upon thousands of seabirds (two hundred and ninety species, complete with eggs, of course), including guillemots, eider duck, terns and puffins – so many of the critters that you’d’ve thought your average hermit wouldn’t’ve been able to hear himself meditate half the time. And, what with all that guano stacking up, the vegetable garden did pretty well also. Life on Brownsman, for those hardy enough, was all very cosy and self-sufficient but there was one tiny problem: the light was in the wrong place and so ships kept on sinking.

William, being a practical man, though perhaps not a very farsighted one as it turned out, got on to Trinity House to get something done, so they decided to build another light, a whacking great eighty three footer, in the right location, the trouble being that this happened to be on Longstone Rock, which pretty much describes the place, seeing it was a barren wilderness (a long stone rock) where nothing grew and no birds nested. In January 1826, when Grace was ten, she was taken there with her family, where she would spend the rest of her life, as she was the youngest daughter and the expectation would that she’d be the one to look after the aging parents in their dotage. Meanwhile, all the older Darling siblings thought this as good a time as any to leg it away sharpish like, by seeking their livelihoods elsewhere or getting married. These were Thomasin (dressmaker) – Grace’s favourite, who, forty years on would pen Grace Darling, Her True Story, to scotch the exaggerated stories – and Mary Ann (married but died at thirty five), twins (1808); Elizabeth Grace (1812), known as Betsy, who only made thirty two, though it’s rumoured that she sat for some of Grace’s portraits; Robert (1814), who would call his own daughter Elizabeth Grace; then our Grace (another Grace: Grace Horsley, the exact name of the mother’s dead twin); then twins George Alexander (lived to a ripe old eighty three) and William Brooks (also there that fateful night but arrived too late).

The family continued to look after Brownsman, which they used as a kind of pantry, popping across daily – a row of a mile over open sea – to pick up vegetables and tend to the livestock and, by her early teens, Grace was well used to making this journey on her own. She would also collect birds’ eggs (for eating and baking with) and the plentiful eider down, out of which her mother would make quilts. Formal schooling was out, it being impractical and she being a girl (that’s how it was back then), but her father taught her the rudiments of maths, history and geography, plus a thorough grounding in scripture and the Bible. Storybooks were out but, oddly enough, Rabbie Burns was very much in, though the Bard of Ayrshire was a champion of Scottish Folks Songs (he wrote Auld Lang Syne, as it goes), something the old man was highly keen on himself, being no mean turn on the fiddle and tin whistle and even penning his own airs, lively little jigs, by all accounts, that would keep the children on their toes when he made them dance to them. Grace herself was known to have a fine singing voice.

More importantly, William taught them all the practical skills that they would need for life in an island lighthouse, such as maintaining the lantern, mending fishing nets, recognising the various types of ships and watching for hazards, and all about the natural world that surrounded them, including birds, fish, seals and the pattern of the tides. Of course, back in those days, there was no Shipping Forecast or sitting down to the News to catch the Weather, so you had to predict it yourself, by watching the skies and the behaviour of the wildlife and the changing rhythms of the sea. But not by using seaweed. That old wives’ tale was, more than likely, nothing more than an old keeper’s tale, put about because they so much of the stuff lying around that there was no hope of ever clearing it away, unless they told the gullible tourists that, if they took some to hang up by their doors, they could tell the weather with it. When that one began to wear a bit thin, some grizzled old wily lightsman then hit on the idea of suggesting that seaweed was, in fact, edible, something that, even to this day, some people adhere to still, munching their way through platefuls of the ghastly stuff in the belief that it’s doing them a power of good. What a pile of kelp.
The very nature of the work meant that sea rescues were a regular item on the agenda for the lighthouse keeper, a duty that was pretty much part of the job description. Old man Darling went out on a goodly number of such escapades in his time, braving wild storms and crashing seas in order to save complete strangers. And yet nobody’s ever heard of him. Grace Darling, on the other hand, takes part in one and becomes a national, if not worldwide, celebrity. Doesn’t seem fair somehow. Still, William didn’t seem any too fussed about it and simply got on with doing what he had to (salvage bringing in a welcome extra bob or two) and was more than happy when his resourceful girl was on hand when it really mattered, as were all those who were plucked from the briny that fateful night. He would be fifty two at the time, incidentally, and she not yet twenty three.

Wednesday 5 September 1838. At Hull, the Steamship Forfarshire stood ready, loaded with passengers cargo, bound for Dundee, though the exact number of those on board was never known. She was actually a paddleboat and, it is said, that there were some concerns voiced about the engines and seaworthiness of this particular vessel, even before the off, so Captain John Humble thought he’d set their minds at rest by bringing his wife along for the trip, to show them there was nothing to worry about and give the old girl a bit of an adventure and a cheapish treat. Neither of them would be aware, however, that they only had one-way tickets.

Meanwhile, back at the Longstone Lighthouse, the only residents were William, old Mrs Darling and Grace. William Brooks, the only other of the siblings still living there, happened to be away fishing in Seahouses just then, though you’d’ve thought he got enough of that sort of thing at home. It was, as the phrase goes, a dark and stormy night. In the early hours of 7 September, the Forfarshire, whose dodgy engines had finally packed up, leaving her drifting helplessly under sail, had struck Big Harcar and broken in two, one half of which had sunk, taking all those within down with it. Grace, on watch at an upstairs window, spotted what had happened and immediately roused her father. Together, the two scoured for any signs of life but could see none, not until daylight came creeping in around seven, at which they at last saw survivors clinging to the rocks. The plucky Grace was at once all for rushing to the rescue but the old man, knowing the vicious rocks, the deadly tides and all too aware of just how bad the storm was, hesitated: he could not make it alone, which meant taking one of the women along and, as Thomasin was sixty four, that only left Grace. Who was already down at the lifeboat getting her ready to put out, what is known as a coble, a flat-bottomed, high-bowed open boat typical of the North East coast, designed especially for conditions prevalent on those waters and allowing launch and landings on their shallow sandy beaches, still with something of the old Norse influence about them.

Away they went. For as long as they could, they stuck to the shelter of the leeside, going the long way round, making it nearly a mile in distance – how all those trips across for potatoes and carrots were paying off now, with Grace doing her share of the hefty rowing, until, eventually and at long last, they had made it across to the stricken vessel. There they saw nine, perhaps ten, survivors, more than they had expected. More than one trip would be needed. Now came the ticklish part: Grace would need to keep the coble as steady as she could – on a surging swelling tempestuous sea – whilst her old man leapt ashore and began to organise affairs. No time for any sentimental rot about women and children first in this case (there was but one woman, a Mrs Dawson, clutching her two children, both of whom were dead) as William knew he would need to take some burly seafaring sorts along, to help with the rowing, both back to Longstone and on the return trip for the rest. Four men and Mrs Dawson were selected for the first trip but the bodies of her children would have to be left behind. Grace then remained at the light with her mother, tending to the survivors, whilst the (totally overlooked by History) heroic William took three of the men back to Harcar to pluck the remainder to safety. By nine, it was all over. At which point, the Seahouses lifeboat, with William Brooks aboard, turned up at Harcar, only to find there was nothing left to rescue but the bodies of the children and an old dead vicar. Then they found that it was too dangerous to head for home and had to make for Longstone too, where the weather deteriorated again and they all found themselves stuck for the next three days. Nine other survivors, who had got away in a lifeboat, were also picked up elsewhere that night.

All in a dawn’s work for your average lighthouse keeper and his family. But the word of it soon got out. And then came the aftermath. Back in those days, we liked our women to be decorative (where possible) and put them to use as wives and mothers or else for good old skivvying purposes (which is why there wasn’t much point in educating them in the first place), so a girl rowing out through a tempest to save souls in distress was a sensation. An uneasy Grace became the nation’s heroine. Public subscriptions and donations flooded in, totalling some seven hundred pounds, including fifty from Queen Victoria, then only nineteen herself. Gifts too, so much so that her unexpected wealth meant that the Duke of Northumberland had to be roped in to look after it all for her. Then there were the letters, asking for autographs, locks of her hair, strips of the dress she wore that night, or simply to kiss the paper on which they were written and then send it back. Oh, and a few proposals of marriage too. All of which she felt dutybound to answer. And then there were the portrait painters, the paparazzi of their day, with over a dozen of the blighters being dispatched to bring back her likeness. Following on from which came the rubberneckers, who would sail close enough to Longstone to catch a glimpse of her and then just stand there gawping, though others landed unannounced and made themselves at home. Even the Duke of Wellington got to hear about it and had to have it from the horse’s (well, William’s own) mouth, seeing that, up to then, he’d been Britain’s Number One pin-up following Waterloo, so his not insubstantial hooter must’ve been put right out of joint.

Now, if there are two subjects that artists liked at that time, they were shipwrecks and young maidens. Put the two together and you can’t go far wrong. Before very long, droves of painters were hotfooting it over there to get her down on canvas, the odd thing being that the Darlings got on rather well with their unexpected guests, though, after only a month, William had to set a limit on the number of sittings Grace would endure, a goodly number being needed for each portrait. Thanks to the weather, Henry Perlee Parker got stuck on the island for a week (he wouldn’t be expecting a storm, now would he?), during which he became firm friends with the family, shedding tears when he finally left, and he even named his own daughter after Grace, while Grace herself would later send a frock as a gift for her young namesake. Thomas Musgrave Joy, possibly the best-known of the brushmen, came too and he was weeks at it, asking William to describe where each person involved had been sitting in the coble, so he could record an accurate image. (“Very pleasant he was,” the family recorded). Unlike Thomas Brooks, who didn’t do his version until thirty years later and then he came up with one of Grace alone in the coble, waves crashing, her sleeves rolled up and with the windswept hair. This remains one of the iconic images. Which evens things out a touch: the old man gets more or less forgotten, whilst the heroine, being a woman, is remembered mainly for the fact that her hair was a bit untidy during the rescue. John Reay, when he came to do his picture of the adventure, ended up shipwrecked himself and had to be rescued, though William Brooks is said to have remarked about his effort that “it would be a difficult matter to have more striking likenesses.”

Then there was William Batty, something of your prototype marketing executive, in that he set the none-too-high standard for every other one of those charlatans to imitate, though he was actually the owner of a circus. In the November of that year, with the rescue still fresh in people’s minds, and what with his entrepreneurial spirit (which we seem to have sadly lost these days), he thought that there’d be a swift buck to be made by having the proceeds of one performance dedicated to Grace Darling, from which he sent her twenty pounds. And then expected her to turn up in person and thus provide him with a load of gratis publicity, to which she at first agreed. Batty then bunged her full reply in the Caledonian Mercury, possibly even with the words, Roll Up, Roll Up, appended somewhere to them. The ladies of Edinburgh, who just happened to be collecting funds for Grace themselves, were outraged and energetically dissuaded her from “exhibiting herself for the applause of the vulgar with Mr Batty’s well-trained quadrupeds.” (His horses, we suspect, though, with a rogue like that, you never can tell). Grace was horrified by the whole episode and broke down in tears, even feeling guilty for the wrong-feeling it was all causing. William wrote to Batty, telling him where he could stuff his offer, which was somewhere the sun don’t shine: Arbroath. Not that it mattered. Batty was worth a cool half million when he died.

After that there were the Women of Hull in 1841 or, to be more precise, a group of ladies representing the Port of Hull Society, who wanted Grace to turn up so they could raise cash for shipwrecked mariners (the Forfarshire had sailed from Hull, remember, a rather tenuous link they hoped to profit out of) but she turned ‘em down flat. So they wrote again. And again. Six times in all, the last hinting broadly that the Queen was coming so the least Grace could do was to show up too. She referred them to the Duke of Northumberland, just to get shot of them. But, once again, she was left feeling guilty and wretched. In the end, even the church wanted a slice of the Darling action, seeing as how she’d always insisted that it was God who had helped her to find the strength and courage to do what she did, so wasn’t it payback time now, young lady? She feared they would try to raise her into a religious icon but, like all the rest, it was secular self-profit that was their sole motivation. Though the thought did nothing to alleviate her suffering from this relentless publicity and, let’s never forget, she was the first celebrity of this kind, certainly the first woman. There was nobody to tell her how to cope.

By 1842, William Brooks Darling had been appointed assistant keeper to his father at Longstone. Having taken up the same hobby as the old man, he needed somewhere to house all his many offspring, so some cottages were ordered to be built. Meaning loads of workmen to build them. Plus Mary Ann, the widowed sister, had moved back with her daughter. All in all, you’d’ve got more space and privacy at Batty’s Circus. What with all this going on, not to mention the incessant attention paid to her every move, Grace needed a break to get away. A holiday, maybe. And where else for that but on a lighthouse? On the inappropriately named Coquet Island, where her brother was in charge of a new light. When she turned up at Seahouses to board the steamer, her appearance caused enough unseemly clamour and unwanted attention for her to have to hide below decks. Returning via Alnwick to visit cousins, she got a proper soaking in the rain and fell ill, a condition not helped by the confined and airless premises in the aptly-named Narrowgate. The Duchess of Northumberland then sprang into action, moving her to better accommodation, tending Grace herself and arranging for the attention of her own physician. However, the personal touch from so great an eminence only caused Grace more distress and anxiety, plus an endless stream of well-intentioned but entirely blockheaded visitors did nothing to aid recovery from what had now been diagnosed as tuberculosis. She was fading fast. So they moved her back to Bamburgh to be with her sister, Thomasin, but still the idiot well-wishers refused to leave her alone. By now, she was occupying a box bed, and such was the mental state she had been driven to that she kept the sliding door closed most of the time, just to keep them all out.

She knew the end was not far. She asked for her family; her mother made a highly rare excursion away from Longstone to be there. From her sickbed she distributed gifts and mementoes to them, never once being heard to complain. On the evening of Thursday 20 October 1842, Grace asked to be raised from her pillow. There she died in her father’s arms at 8.15pm. She was just twenty six. A young woman, hounded to death by our insatiable lust for celebrity. Maybe, had she known, she would have thought twice before getting into the coble that night. But we doubt it. She was, after all, a True Giant.


Grace Darling Chocolates: By Benjobanjo23 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons 
Grace Darling: By Thomas Musgrave Joy [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 
Brownsman Island: Andy F [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons Longstone Rock: Mick Knapton at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons 
Robert Burns: Alexander Nasmyth [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 
Kelp: By Bjørn Christian Tørrissen [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons 
William Darling: By Thomas Musgrave Joy [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 
SS Forfarshire 1835: See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 
Grace Darling Portrait with Signature: By Eva Hope - No image credit [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 
Duke of Wellington: Thomas Lawrence [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 
Rescue at the Forfarshire: By Thomas Musgrave Joy [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 
Batty’s Grand National 1851: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 
Duchess of Northumberland, 1839: By Thomas Overton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
 Grace Darling Monument: By Nicholas Jackson (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

New Book/DVD display on summer and summer holidays

Our latest book and DVD display is on the theme of summer and summer holidays, so come and grab some reading or viewing material and get in the mood for those lazy summer days.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Do you have a disability or dyslexia? Give us your views on the Library study space

Survey for students with a disability or dyslexia

We are currently thinking about the way we use the various spaces in the Library, and in particular whether there are things we could do to make better use of the space we’ve got to improve the study environment for students.

The Library Access Support team are  especially interested in how students with disabilities and dyslexia use the Library  (or don’t use it!) and what we might be able to do to make things better.

With that in mind, we’d be really grateful if you could spare a few minutes to answer the following questions and add your comments. Whether you’re a regular in the Assistive Technology Centre, an occasional visitor, or rarely use the Library at all, we’d really like to know what you think.

We can’t promise to implement every suggestion, but we will do our best to make sure they inform our future decisions.

The following link will take you to our short (5 question) Library Space Survey.

Many thanks for your help.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Today's the Day

Anniversaries & Events in Academia & Elsewhere

July 17

Not such a good day for many of the folk involved with today, but not a bad one at all as far as Charles VII of France was concerned. Firstly, in 1429, he finally managed to get the French crown on his head, though that had by no means been all plain sailing for this rather bizarre-looking chappie, seeing he was not only the fifth son of Charles VI – and thus miles away from any chance of warming the throne – but he was actually Charles III when it came to his own family, two of his elder brothers also being christened Charles, meaning that either Charles VI wasn’t especially gifted when it came to thinking up names for his boys (he was mad, don’t forget) or else Mrs Charles VI – that’d be notorious Isabeau of Bavaria – finally put her foot down and told him to come up with something else for their third lad, Louis. And for the fourth one, John. But then he fell back into his old ways again and we ended up with another Charles. All four elder siblings had a go at being Dauphin but, as luck would have it, they all died childless. Which seemed to leave the way clear for our man. Until, that is, his own parents decided he wasn’t actually Dauphin material because he wasn’t actually legitimate after all. And if anyone should know, it was his promiscuous mum. Things weren’t looking any too clever for Charles, not even when his old man finally pegged out in 1422 – Charles VI had gone from being Charles the Beloved to Charles the Mad, mainly on account of his belief that he was made of glass and that everyone was plotting to push him over so he’d shatter, he dashed around the palace corridors howling like a wolf so they had to brick up the doors to keep him in but, most bonkers of all, he’d named Henry VI (of England) as his heir when the English were the very blighters they’d been trying to knock the living daylights out of for the past eighty-odd years. That didn’t stop son Charles claiming the title Dauphin, the main problem being that he couldn’t actually get to Reims to get himself crowned because the whole place was crawling with English just then and they didn’t seem in any particular hurry to leave, not while they were doing so well at the old giving the French a darn good battering lark.
By 1429, things had taken a decidedly iffy turn, what with Orléans being under siege and the Duke of Bedford bearing down on them like an enraged rhinoceros, so Charles was getting a tad despondent about the situation. But then he suddenly got to hear about some teenage lass called Joan (well, Jeanne, actually), and it seems that visions and voices of angels had been telling her it was her job to sort the English out once and for all so that Charles could finally get to Reims and get cracking on his kinging. Rather than coming to the conclusion that she must be totally barking – who could be, in comparison to his old man? – Charles thought it was probably worth a whirl and, besides which, the only other option was to finish up on the sharp end of some lively English archery practice again, so they decided to give it a go. Mind you, he’d also been told that this girl had claimed she would recognise her Dauphin without ever seeing him before so, being a wily old dolphin (which is what Dauphin means –Guy IV, Count of Vienne, had one on his coat of arms and got nicknamed le Dauphin, then sold the name to the king on condition the heir was always called that) decided he’d pull a crafty one by lurking hidden amongst his courtiers to see if this Jeanne sort really could pick him out like she claimed. Of course, she went straight to him, no bother, though there has to be a sneaking suspicion that someone had tipped her off to make a beeline for the lugubrious-looking bald bloke with baggy eyes, thick lips and a whacking great bulbous hooter. After that, things really started to look up: Jeanne got the siege of Orléans lifted within the week (she could’ve done it in a day or so, only the French commanders thought that’d make them look about as much use as a glass king), and then pushed the English and their Burgundian henchmen far enough back for Charles to at last reach Reims and get the crown on his scalp this day in 1429. And so they all lived happily ever after. Except for the English and the Burgundians, that is, who were downright miffed about the whole episode. And Jeanne, of course, who they got hold of soon after and, being egregiously bad losers, had her burned as a heretic.

July 17 was another good day for our man come 1453 because he would then become known as Charles the Victorious following the Battle of Castillon, though, truth be told, it was more down to the blundering incompetence of John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury. As far as soldiering goes, the English had Talbot down as the best general they’d got. Which doesn’t say much for the rest of them, seeing he was rumoured to be about eighty (he was actually sixty sixish so must’ve lied about his age), though the main drawback with him as a fighting force was that he’d been taken hostage at Rouen in 1449 and had to promise never to wear armour against the French again in order to gain his freedom. Being a medieval nobleman of true chivalry (not to mention an utter twit), he kept his word. Having captured Bordeaux (and much of Western Gascony) in late 1452, he then waited until he had a nice day for it before setting off on July 16 for Castillion to give the good people there a similar taste of what-for English-style, only he must’ve been in far too much of an all-fire rush because he outstripped the majority of his troops and arrived with only a depleted force. Rather than waiting for the rest to catch up, and having heard that the French were making a run for it, Talbot decided on an immediate advance the next day. Unhappily, the dustcloud they’d spotted turned out to be just the camp followers making for a safe spot to watch the battle from and what they ran into was the full firepower of the French Army. Who, by then, had guns. Loads of ‘em, wheel to wheel, each shot taking six men out at a time. Wholly undeterred by being hopelessly outnumbered and smashed to pieces as soon as they came within range, Talbot continued to urge his men onward, possibly because, as a knight, his honour was at stake as he’d already given the order to attack but, more likely, being in a position of high management, he was entirely unable to bring himself to say, “Sorry, lads, I appear to have dropped an almighty clanger on this one, so let’s pack it in, shall we?” Such good old English pluck meant that, within the hour, not only was Talbot lying dead and the rest legging it out of there as fast as they could, but also that the whole Hundred Years War had been lost in a single morning. By lunchtime, all we had left was the Pale of Calais – which’d be the English daytrippers, one assumes …

We’ve all of us, no doubt, fired off an email in the heat of the moment and then, the very second it’s sent, rather wish we hadn’t. Well, it was much the same with Mary, Queen of Scots this day in 1585 only, in her case, it was a letter. Though she’d taken the trouble to encrypt it and to smuggle it out in a barrel of beer, so it wouldn’t end up in the wrong hands. Mind you, she never was the luckiest of women, even though she’d been quite a looker in her day – the “most beautiful woman in Europe.” First, she married Francis, Dauphin of France (she was nearly six foot and he was stunted and stuttered), so she ended up being Queen of France for about eighteen months (she’d been Queen of Scots since her father died when she was six days old) until Francis died of an ear infection, so she was forced to actually go to Scotland for once, where she ended up marrying a syphilitic drunkard, Lord Darnley, who wound up being blown up by Mary’s thuggish lover, Bothwell, who raped her then married her. Which caused such a stink that she was forced to abdicate and do a swift one out of there. Straight into the arms of Elizabeth I, who promptly locked her up for the next twenty years. It has been suggested that this was merely out of jealousy, just because Mary was taller, something of a stunner, had been Queen of both France and Scotland, and had commanded a court of over a thousand servants, but not a bit of it. It was Security, plain and simple. Well, she was a Catholic, next in line to the English throne and, worst of all, Scottish, so clearly one to keep a close eye on. Ginger Liz would claim that Mary was “under house arrest” (the two women never met), though it’s to be hoped she didn’t treat all her guests the same way. Some accounts maintain that her jailors (one of whom was another Earl of Shrewsbury) kept her so closely banged up that she spent all her time alone in bed with no social contact, in a cold damp room with barred windows that prevented the sun from reaching her, directly beneath which the “privies stench system” operated. By the time she penned that letter, she had lost her looks completely, become grossly obese, double chinned, chronically sick and was unable to walk unaided. Twenty years of that sort of treatment might make any of us mustard-keen to escape such a situation, whatever it took.
So, when Anthony Babington wrote to her on 7 July 1586 saying he might have a way out for her, she naturally leapt at the chance. Babington, of course, is a name only ever encountered in the phrase “Babington Plot,” whilst “Plot” always refers to some dismal historical almighty failure (when such things actually do get pulled off, they end up with names like “The Glorious Revolution”), so she should’ve known what might happen. Nonetheless, on 17 July, she whipped out her quill and dashed off a swift response to old Babbers, all in code, of course, but along the lines of, “Like your thinking, Tony but, look ye here, why don’t we assassinate the reigning monarch while we’re at it? That way, I not only get out of here but get to be queen too.” And, before you could say “Look out, Babington’s a seditious traitor,” away it went in the beer barrel. Alas, only as far as Elizabeth’s spymaster, Francis Walsingham, an especially nasty piece of work (a Rough in a Ruff) but said to have an incisively brilliant mind, who had it decoded in a jiffy. In fact, he’d been trying to stitch Mary up for pretty much the whole twenty years and it’d been him who’d come up with the message-in-a-barrel idea in the first place. After the Throckmorton Plot (no prizes for guessing how that one ended), Walsingham prevented Mary from sending or receiving communications of any kind. Until it finally dawned on him that if nobody could write to her, they couldn’t embroil her in traitorous schemes, could they? (Not quite so brilliant after all, it seems). So then he hatched this plan and roped in a likely brewer to do the dirtywork and, before many years had passed, he’d finally got her bang to rights. Not satisfied with that, he had the letter copied (so they’d still have the original as evidence) and then added an extra bit to Babington about, “how about telling the names of all the plotters, then?” And then had him arrested before he’d had a chance to spill the beans (not very brilliant at all, we’d’ve said), though they still managed to round ‘em all up and, on 20 September 1586, they were all hanged, drawn and quartered for being rotters. In the October, they tried Mary, who pleaded not guilty, amazingly enough, even though she had penned her willingness to take part in the royal slaying herself. She wasn’t permitted legal counsel or to call witnesses and, on top of that, her so-called friends let her down when they decided they’d rather shop her than spend any more time hanging about on the rack (known jovially as Kissing the Duke of Exeter’s Daughter) and thus she was condemned. On 8 February 1586, at Fotheringhay Castle (it’s only in this context that you’ll ever hear of Fotheringhay), she was beheaded. It took three blows. A lapdog then emerged from under her skirts.
Come 17 July 1850, some academia finally gets to creep into the day when astronomers Whipple and Bond became the first to take a photograph of a star. Which is pretty early, when you think about it, so it was obviously a daguerreotype, invented by a French bod magnificently called Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, who also initiated the “selfie,” by the look of it (it isn’t and he didn’t) and the subject was the star Vega, or Alpha Lyrae, in an exposure of some one hundred seconds. It’s only twenty five light years from Earth (you still wouldn’t want to bike it), though it’s only about a tenth the age of the Sun but over twice as massive. Both stars are said to be in their middle age, which is a tad worrying, though we should be OK. At one time, Vega was actually the Pole Star, around about 12,000 BC time and will be again, if we hang around long enough, though that won’t actually come about until the year 13727, so you should maybe be getting on with something else in the meantime.
The magazine Punch came into being this day in 1841 and they appropriated the term “cartoon” (then an artist’s template drawing for a painting) for their political sketches, which is how we end up with our modern sense of the word. They also coined a number of phrases, including the Curate’s Egg (first seen in 1895). But we’re going to leap straight on our good friends the Royals, who also got up to stuff today. By 1917, Britain and her allies had been pursuing a bloody conflict against the Central Powers, led by the German Empire under Kaiser Wilhelm II, when our king, George V (the Kaiser’s cousin), was suddenly struck by a thought (no, that’s not the end of the story) and decided that it wasn’t particularly British of him and his kin to carry on calling themselves by the name of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, or the Dukes of Teck or Württemberg, or the Prince of Battenberg or of Schleswig-Holstein, all of which had an uncomfortable whiff of German about them. What had rammed the whole idea into George’s mind in the first place was probably when H. G. Wells wrote about his, “alien and uninspiring court,” to which he riposted, “I may be uninspiring, but I'll be damned if I'm alien.” So George changed the family name this day in 1917, to Windsor (wonder where he might have been when he came up with that). Even Kaiser Bill couldn’t resist having a sardonic pop, remarking that he’d “look forward to the first production of the Merry Wives of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.” Don’t be downhearted, folks: we soon got our own back on that pompous perisher when our troops started referring to him as “Little Willie.”

George must’ve still been feeling a touch sensitive about his unBritishness a year later when another cousin of his put him in a rather ticklish position. That’d be Nikolai Romanov, of course, who’d himself got into a horrible spot of bother just then, not least for having the title Tsar Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias (though Russia formally ended the Tsardom in 1721 and he was said to be “a very little fellow on very ordinary legs”), which gives an idea of the sort of guy he was. To be strictly fair to him, he’s the type of bloke who would have to improve markedly to even achieve uselessness, seeing the whole Empire went to the dogs in his time. He also managed to end up with the nickname Nicholas the Bloody because of his pogroms and his executions of political opponents. He was the spitting image of George V too, which didn’t help when things got tricky. Early in 1917, an ungrateful peasantry began to notice that, while they were freezing and starving, their glorious leader and his cronies were living the Life of Reilly, despite the fact that it was them who were responsible for all the hunger and shortages in the first place. So they started chanting, “Down with the Tsar!” Who then did what any head of state would do in such a situation and turned the police on them, to shoot them down in the streets. Which didn’t really help his cause all that much and, before he knew where he was, he had a fullscale Revolution on his hands and was swiftly penning his abdication.

It’s times like this when you really need the family to rally round and, what with the underlings literally turning Bolshie, Nicky thought it might be an idea to slip quietly away somewhere where the winters (and the people) weren’t quite so bitter. Say England, for instance. Where cousin Georgie had palaces galore standing empty where he might doss down for a few months while he waited for the call from All the Russias to arrive, begging him to come back Tsarring again. So he gives George a quick bell, only to find that the royal cousin is none too keen on the idea at all. Don’t forget, George’d only just convinced the British public that he wasn’t an alien himself, so the last thing he needed just then was some foreign autocratic relation who happens to look exactly like him popping out of the woodwork and pulling the rug from under him. So he told him, “Most awfully sorry and all that, old boy, but no can do, don’t you know?” After all, what’s the worst that can happen? 

In April 1918, still hoping to be rescued, the Romanovs were taken to Ipatiev House, where they must have been intrigued to discover that it was referred to as “the House of Special Purpose.” Though they couldn’t’ve been expecting to be rudely awakened at two in the morning on 17 July and then asked if they wouldn’t mind popping down the basement for a minute where, as the ex-empress had to point out, there weren’t even any chairs for them to sit on. So some fellow by the name of Yurovsky sent for some and, once they were nicely settled and arranged in a rather formal grouping, he then told them to hold that pose and, whilst the whole family was gathered together, he was just going to take one or two quick shots. And then in marched the firing squad …  

Charles VII of France: Jean Fouquet [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Joan Of Arc: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Death of John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury: Charles-Philippe Larivière [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Mary, Queen of Scots: After François Clouet [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Francis Walsingham: Attributed to John de Critz the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre: By Jean-Baptiste Sabatier-Blot (1801-1881) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
“Good Riddance” (Punch cartoon showing George V sweeping away his German titles): Leonard Raven-Hill [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Nicholas II & George V: By Arthur William Debenham (1875–1944[1]) Cowes ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons