Becoming a girl

[B]ear with me on this one, but I fear I might be turning into a girl. And while I realise that I might possibly be reacting in a slightly hysterical manner about this, obviously this only confirms my suspicions that I might be right. Are you with me so far?

Coutts Elephant Right, so there I am, working away driving around London, and everywhere I look are little girls looking and touching these little two metre high elephants which mostly come in two poses, standing and sitting. And you know what I rather like these 258 individually artist-decorated fibreglass creatures that have appeared on London’s streets.

The Elephant Parade which is organised to raise money for the endangered Asian elephant has brightened up our streets these past six weeks. I presume most of the elephants are female as they are tuskless, only the male of the species has tusks, and with their cute decoration they are clearly designed to be attractive to little girls . . . and me.

Their appearance across London can be seen as a unifying spirit behind London’s sprawling diversity and at time drab greyness. These little creatures have started people organising mini safaris with tourists and Londoners alike trying to spot (and photo) as many as the little darlings as possible. We can’t call these elephant hunters’ twitchers so should the elephant groupies be named pachydermions?

A group of these little animals in Trafalgar Square are decorated as Indian Premier League cricketers, while in Berkeley Square a straight line of elephants stands on parade, as if from a scene from Disney’s Jungle Book.

Coutts Elephant 2 Still in touch with my feminine side my favourite is the pink diamante encrusted one on a revolving stand inside Coutts Bank on the Strand. If you didn’t manage to bag all of them they are being herded up and taken to Royal Hospital in Chelsea to be auctioned on 3rd July. You know I might make a bid for one so I can stroke it in the privacy of my own home. A pink diamond encrusted one should appeal to my feminine side, as least that one is a boy, it has tusks.

Patriot Games

Was it Samuel Johnson who was alleged by Boswell to have said “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”? He should have prefixed that quote with ‘phoney’ for I don’t know about you, but I’m getting very weary of seeing St. George’s flags being raised to support self-adoring, over-paid footballers, rather than for self-sacrificing, under-paid and under-resourced soldiers doing their very best not to cry over fallen comrades.

[I] have supported this country during many conflicts over these past 25 years; Falklands, Iraq, Afghanistan and wherever our boys (and girls) seek to fight fascism. But now all over London we see evidence of a phoney patriotism. And look how shallow all their football patriotism is, Marks & Spencer, that temple to middle class consumerism is like a football flea market, piled high with World Cup tat: flags, plates, kids’ games and yes, mugs, which rather sums up those who purchase this worthless junk. Walk across the road and the Nationwide Building Society is offering a higher rate of interest on some accounts if England wins this contest, couldn’t they have just paid better rates in the first place?

In America, that place which really likes to wear its heart of its sleeve, there are so many star-spangled banners flying on every lawn and shopping mall that all patriotic impact has been lost. They use Old Glory to support the troops; they use it to sell you a Chrysler. Many of these flags are imported anyway; the year after the 9/11 attack, the United States imported $7.9m of flags from China and some had 53 stars.

Is this mindless support for football heroes, a manifestation of a national nostalgia that constantly harks back to a simpler age, when we had decent men prepared to lay down their lives for a cause they believed in, or is it now just an excuse for the indolent males of England to eat twice their own body weight over these three weeks?

The flag we all should be flying is the Union Jack, for tomorrow is Armed Forces Day which quietly acknowledges the work our brave soldiers are doing, in conditions likely to test most of us. The organisation’s aims are to provide a much valued morale boost for the troops and their families especially at the present time.

Our footballers, some of which are as rotten and corrupt as our politicians, might like to support the real men and women of courage, who between them have kept England safe, and a country that you can dress up in a football shirt, with a red and white flag draped around your shoulders, if you choose to be a plonker.

Shades of Grey

After their defeat in the recent election, it would appear that Labour (or should that be New Labour?) is as out of touch with the electorate as ever. Labour’s next big test will be a few weeks before the London Olympics, when we go to the polls to decide what flavour of London Mayor we want, so Labour’s National Executive have voted to have a candidate installed before the end of the year.

[A]mong the possible contenders are Oona King who had the humiliation of being beaten at the ballot box by of all people George Galloway’s Respect Party; Alan Johnson, probably the most uncharismatic Home Secretary of recent time; and two other non-entities; David Lammy and Jon Cruddas are also rumoured to be interested in running for this high profile position.

What seems to evade Labour is that unlike the rest of England, London is at the dynamic heart of the country’s prosperity, and because of this the city attracts ambitious, educated young people who see London metaphorically to have its ‘pavements paved with gold’.

This dynamic is understood by New York, our direct competitor in the Western World, and New Yorkers like their mayors to be charismatic, brash and outspoken, reflecting New Yorkers’ style.

Until now Ken Livingstone has served two terms, and although you might not agree with his politics he ticks all those ‘Mayoral Boxes’ and clearly is a Londoner born and bred.

Boris is half way through his first term and has yet to commit to running for a second, but as a spokesman for London his image must, for foreign eyes, reflect their concept of a Londoner (it’s just his cycle schemes that are a bit balmy).

When we go to the polls, please don’t give us a band of wishy, washy shades of grey liberal pen pushers to choose from, we want a man (or woman) who will make foreign television viewers, sit up and listen to what they have to say about London.

Bathtime in London

[T]he next time you are washing your hands and complain because the water temperature isn’t just how you like it, or your hotel uses a cheap hand wash, think about how things used to be here in London in the 1500s:

① Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May and still smelled pretty good by June. However, they were starting to smell, so brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odour, hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.

② Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, the women were next followed by the children and last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying; Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

③ Houses had thatched roofs-thick straw-piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying; It’s raining cats and dogs.

④ There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house; this posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That’s how canopy beds came into existence.

⑤ The floor was composed of dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt, hence the saying; Dirt poor. The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entranceway. Hence the saying; a thresh hold.

⑥ In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme; Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old.

⑦ Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could, bring home the bacon. They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and chew the fat.

⑧ Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.

⑨ Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the upper crust.

⑩ Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a wake.

⑪ London is old and crowded and the inhabitants started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive. So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift.) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be, saved by the bell or was considered a . . . dead ringer.


© Gibson Square 2010

Queen Anne This year marks the tri-centenary of the © symbol – -legislation enacted during the reign of Queen Anne, the Queen that chair legs have been name after, itself rather curious for as when Queen Anne was crowned the tradition at that time of buckling on a new pair of spurs had to be abandoned for the future Queen’s legs were deemed too fat.

The copyright sign asserts the author’s intellectual rights over his work. Unfortunately the statute of Queen Anne outside the West Front of St Paul’s Cathedral was itself copied. Originally completed in 1712 depicting the Queen with an alluring figure, when in fact at the time of its creation, she was obese. The statue itself was reproduced because by the end of the 19th Century pigeon droppings, coal smog and vandalism had all but finished it off.

[T]he City approached the celebrated sculptor Richard Claude Belt and he duly promised to complete the work within a year. Belt although undoubtedly talented was a bit of a reprobate, he was constantly running up debts and getting into scrapes, and about the time of the Queen Anne commission found him in prison for fraud.

He had spent the money advanced for the commission already, but the City authorities had no intention of throwing that money away, and gained special permission to deliver stone and tools to Belt’s cell, with the result that we can confidently say that the St Paul’s statute of Queen Anne, albeit a rather slim line version, is the only public work of art completed by a convicted prisoner while he was actually in prison.

The British Statute of Anne 1710 is now seen as the origin of copyright law, although many of the legal principles governing intellectual property have evolved over centuries, and it was not until the 19th century that the term intellectual property began to be used, and now with digital technology fierce debate rages upon where intellectual property rights have been infringed when material is copied and shared with others or uploaded on the world wide web for others to read.

You may have noticed that CabbieBlog is only protected by a Creative Commons License allowing anybody to share the site’s content (with a few exceptions) with others as long as an attribution is made to the author. Many in the creative industry, it seems, get too exercised over the copyright of their work. No one could defend downloading industrial amounts of copyrighted data, but equally sharing this material actually promotes many artists’ work. In fact some authors have not only shared their work but produced free podcasts of entire books for the world to consume and share. One of the first authors to share their intellectual property was Scott Sigler who decided to start podcasting his novel Earthcore in March, 2005 as the world’s first podcast-only novel to build an audience for his work. Sigler considered it a “no brainer” to offer the book as a free audio download and attracted over 10,000 subscribers. His approach has paid off and is now regarded as one of the leading sci-fi authors of his generation.

So when you produce a piece of work, don’t go down the Queen Anne route, your image will only be reproduced in due course, but share your work, you could find that your generosity will reap dividends.

Image of Queen Anne’s statute used here can be found on wallyg at flickr, with further background information on the statue and British Statute of Anne 1710.