Independent travel

I liked this picture. It’s a clever illustration of something we usually take for granted – the space allowed for cars on our streets.

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It’s by an artist called Karl Jilg culled from this page on Business Insider.

I posted it on Facebook and a friend commented we’d reached this point because – these days – the relentless focus is on choice and individualism rather than the collective solutions offered by public transport. There’s truth in this, but I was reminded too that last night I had read:

‘Walking or riding on a tolerable horse are delights to me; but box’d up in a stinking coach, dependent on the hours and guidance of others, submitting to miserable associates and obliged to hear their nonsense, is great wretchedness!’

It’s from one of John Byng’s journals, describing his travels around Britain in the late eighteenth century. This was noted on Friday August 17th in 1787.

The wish for independent travel is (probably) as old as we are. Our problem today is that cars have opened the opportunity to us all.

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Independent travel

A pair of pale blue pants

For weeks now, due to some obscure malgorithm, I’ve been pursued by this advertisement:

I begin to feel haunted – just like that fellow in Dr Seuss’ Pale Green pants…

Well…
I was walking in the night
And I saw nothing scary.
For I have never been afraid
Of anything. Not very.
Then I was deep within the woods
When, suddenly, I spied them.
I saw a pair of pale green pants
With nobody inside them!
I wasn’t scared. But, yet, I stopped
What could those pants be there for?
What could a pair of pants at night
Be standing in the air for?
And then they moved? Those empty pants!
They kind of started jumping.
And then my heart, I must admit,
It kind of started thumping.
So I got out. I got out fast
As fast as I could go, sir.
I wasn’t scared. But pants like that
I did not care for. No, sir.

I’m looking for a Bickle Bush as I write…

You can see the whole book on YouTube here

A pair of pale blue pants

The devil’s nutting bag

One of my favourite bloggers A Clerk of Oxford tweeted that today – September 14 – was once called ‘Devil’s Nutting Day’.

The Devil has an affinity with nutting apparently.

Nutting on any Sunday was risky – you might meet Old Nick as a tall, gentlemanly figure kind enough to offer to pull down high branches for you. Otherwise it was today –  Holy Rood day – that was especially favoured. This, from a  letter John Clare sent to his friend William Hone:

Nutting

(quoted in The English Year by Steve Roud)

Once you start looking, there’s a lot of information about. Renne Reynolds on her blog (Obstinate Headstrong Girl) writes that:

The tradition of a Nutting Day dates back to 1560 Eton, when boys were given a half-holiday to gather nuts, creating the phrase “gone a-nutting.” Consequently, as one might suspect from a tradition associated with young boys, going “a-nutting” soon became a euphemism for sex and seduction, giving rise to its own saying, “a good year for nuts, a good year for babies.”

She quotes:

Grim

I suspect the link between nutting, bad behaviour and old Nick stretches much further back myself.

On another site (German this time, intended for people learning English, although an earnest student would be certainly be met with  incomprehension if he used the reference with the average Englisher) the story begins with :

The Devil’s Nightcap (there are several hills with this name) near Alcester, in Warwickshire…formed when the devil was out nutting on September 21st (known as the Devil’s Nutting Day) and met the Virgin Mary. He was so surprised and shocked that he dropped his bag of nuts, which became the hill.

There is an old Sussex saying ‘as black as the Devil’s nutting bag’, which is associated with the superstition that it is extremely unwise to gather nuts in autumn on a Sunday because that is when Old Nick is himself out nutting. Generally people do not go nutting on any Sunday in autumn because you might meet the devil gathering nuts.

It is mentioned in the play, John Endicott, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow –

ACT I: SCENE II –

“Nice angels!
Angels in broad-brimmed hats and russet cloaks,
The colour of the Devil’s nutting-bag. They came
Into the Meeting-house this afternoon
More in the shape of devils than of angels.
The women screamed and fainted; and the boys
Made such an uproar in the gallery
I could not keep them quiet.”

The devil’s nutting bag

A broadside against bureaucrats

My sister, a while ago, was telling me about the unreal demands her managers were making – insisting on ‘quality’ systems that only hindered an overworked and under resourced group of staff. 

I came across this today and thought it might be a small comfort to know the Duke of Wellington suffered similarly.

I think bureaucracy could join death and taxes as one of the few certainties of life: 

Portugal, 1812
Gentlemen,
Whilst marching from Portugal to a position which commands the approach to Madrid and the French forces, my officers have been diligently complying with your requests which have been sent by H.M. ship from London to Lisbon and thence by dispatch to our headquarters.

We have enumerated our saddles, bridles, tents and tent poles, and all manner of sundry items for which His Majesty’s Government holds me accountable. I have dispatched reports on the character, wit, and spleen of every officer. Each item and every farthing has been accounted for, with two regrettable exceptions for which I beg your indulgence.

Unfortunately the sum of one shilling and ninepence remains unaccounted for in one infantry battalion’s petty cash and there has been a hideous confusion as to the number of jars of raspberry jam issued to one cavalry regiment during a sandstorm in western Spain. This reprehensible carelessness may be related to the pressure of circumstance, since we are war with France, a fact which may come as a surprise to you gentlemen in Whitehall.

This brings me to my present purpose, which is to request elucidation of my instructions from His Majesty’s Government so that I may better understand why I am dragging an army over these barren plains. I construe that perforce it must be one of two alternative duties, as given below. I shall pursue either one with the best of my ability, but I cannot do both:

1 To train an army of uniformed British clerks in Spain for the benefit of the accountants and copy-boys in London

or, perchance,

2 To see to it that the forces of Napoleon are driven out of Spain.
Your most obedient servant,
Wellington

Thanks to Memex 1.1

A broadside against bureaucrats