Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Insults a la carte

I see via Murderati that there is a "Shakespearean Insult Kit" comprising words the Bard employed. I rather enjoy Bardic vitriol. I once rehearsed in King Lear as Goneril and was joyously enabled to scream "milk-liver'd man!" at my husband on stage.

As a theatre director Ngaio Marsh must have taught many young actors to handle Will's bad language. She has fun with some of her playwright characters in various novels, particularly Dr Rutherford who scorns someone by pronouncing, "Get you gone, you dwarf - you minimus of hindr'ing knot-grass made, you bead, you acorn."

Myself, I'd be tempted to add the good old Midlands word "orts" that has been out of use now for three generations. Shakespeare used it in the phrase "abjects, orts and imitations" - things thrown aside as of no use, waste, or bad copies. The phrase has been misinterpreted as "objects, arts and imitations" but I know the word "orts" existed because my grandad used to say when you left food on your plate, "eat it up, I don't want your orts." It would combine well with some of our Cumbrian insults, I think. "Thou's nobbut an ort. Waste of a good skin."

Mind you in Cumbria we have a great many placenames and hill names that could be used as insults. Zoe Sharp suggested "Eeh, you great wet sleddle." To that I'd like to add, "E's nobbut a Subberthwaite," and "Thou's a Great Cockup."

More on names another time. I have to go now, I'm feeling a bit Witherslack.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Paint Your Wagon

M M Bennetts sent me a query from her historical blog, about the colours of horsedrawn carriages, and as usual I’ve been deeply distracted from my paid work by the question.

Colours of carriages certainly varied a lot. The heavy timbers of farm wagons tended to be brightly painted in primary colours, reds, blues and yellows with contrasting scrolls and other decoration, like those on gipsy caravans and vardoes.

Romeo Coates, a wealthy and presumably very showy actor, drove a pair of grey horses to a curricle whose body was shaped like a nautilus shell and made of polished copper. It carried the motto “While I Live I’ll Crow.” Not exactly subtle, then.

On the other hand, like the hero of a Georgette Heyer novel who is distinguished by the unobtrusively perfect cut of his clothes, a gentleman’s Mail Phaeton had bodywork that was masculine and plain. It might be dark green, chocolate brown, maroon, navy blue or black. The “carriage,” which we would now call the undercarriage or chassis and included the springs, axles, and perch, was generally black.

Often the only bright colour would be the shafts (for a single horse) or the pole (for pair or team), and the wheels. These would be of one colour contrasting or toning with the body, such as yellow against rifle green or dark olive green, white against deep blue or red against black. A smaller touch of colour would be the coat of arms or crest at the top of the door panel, if the owner was entitled to bear arms. Gentlemen’s carriages were normally not lined with stripes of colour on their wheels and shafts in the same way as light private carriages. Such decoration was felt to be rather feminine.

Private coaches, however, could sport surprising colour combinations of body and wheels. In 1838 when the Richmond Driving Club was founded by Lord Chesterfield, the equipages of members were described by Lord William Lennox. Presumably the first colour mentioned is the largest area, on the body, and the second the wheels: “Earl of Chesterfield, blue and red coach; Marquis of Waterford, brown and red coach… Earl of Waldegrave, blue and red open barouche… Earl of Sefton, dark coloured barouche… Earl of Rosslyn, dark coloured coach… Count Batthyany, dark blue and white coach … Lord Alford, dark brown and red coach… Lord Alfred Paget, yellow and blue coach… Lord Macdonald, dark brown and red coach… Hon. Horace Pitt, blue and red coach… Sir E Smythe, Bart, dark green coach… Mr A W Hervey Aston, dark blue and white coach… Mr T Bernard, dark brown coach… Colonel Copeland, yellow barouche…”

Moving to commercial vehicles, the post chaises available from posting inns were also frequently painted yellow, hence their nickname of “Yellow Bounders”. Omnibuses were painted with the colours of their company so that passengers knew at a glance which line owned an approaching ’bus, although towards the end of the 19th century they typically had yellow wheels, which must have made it a lot easier for the company to buy spares!

A stage coach route needed four coaches, which tended to be painted in a recognisable uniform, a mixture of sober and bright colours according to the company’s preference. It might be extremely standardised, like Edward Sherman’s yellow and black, or the colours might reflect the route rather than the ownership. The Emerald, which left London at 3 in the afternoon, was painted green and black, and on its modern counterpart the green is extremely bright. The Duke of Beaufort’s book “Driving” describes the Regulator coach as “a dark coach with red wheels” and “the York House chocolate with yellow wheels.” The coach usually carried its bright colour on the lower panels, door and wheels. The Red Rover coach, despite its name, was mostly black with a scarlet undercarriage and panels, and scarlet wheels. The lettering showing destinations was often done in gold paint.

Many paintings of 19th century coaches, for example by Herring, show Mail coaches. These were painted black, with a maroon door and lower panel, and “Post Office red” running gear and wheels. Destinations, and the stars of the four Orders of Knighthood on the quarter panels, and the sovereign’s monogram on the front boot, were painted in gold.

All this means that my own two wheeler, black with red wheels and shafts, is in good company. It needs to be drawn by a quality bay horse with no white markings. Well, Ruby’s the right colour.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Two hearty cheers

Well, two hearty cheers for EDF Energy who have finally agreed to register our solar panels for Feed In Tariff from the date of installation, way back in March. Letters and emails up to now have had small response other than excuses about a backlog of applications. However, a phone call to the Complaints department this morning produced the goods as email attachments within 20 minutes. So why couldn't they.... you know the rest!

Friday, August 10, 2012


I've used this word a lot over the past two weeks. Not in the "standing to applaud the operatic diva" way, but mentally, while I've been watching TV as the various members of Team GB (as we must call them) did their utmost to win Olympic medals.

Yesterday I watched Valegro and Charlotte Dujardin's beautiful, soft, rhythmic, forward Kur. Today when I came to drive my Fell mare Ruby, the haymaking tractors were whizzing to and fro, and I had a sudden urge to avoid the roads. A really good excuse to work in the field instead. Most of the summer (hollow laugh) it's been too wet to use it for schooling, but it was sound enough today, and Ruby does enjoy being out there on the grass. Her purpose is to reclaim it, she tells me, from Those Damned Sheep.

So we worked quietly away, with me asking her to remember to use her stiff hind leg and slow down, instead of hurtling round every right handed corner like a motorbike, with her head pointing left. Lots of little exercises, bends, circles and walk pirouettes - all interspersed with what she enjoys best, just storming along the side of the wood in extended trot!

When she got things right I told her, "Good girl," because, not being Italian, she doesn't understand, "Bravo."

In the middle of it I felt a little tickle in the brain that said, "Hang on, 'bravo' has another meaning as well, doesn't it?"

So, after the schooling, I came indoors and looked it up in the Oxford English Dictionary, which I often have open in my browser. As you do.

What do you mean, you don't? Doesn't every writer in England know that access to the full OED is free if you've got a library card? And doesn't every historical novelist use its Historical Thesaurus to check what phrases and words were available to characters in their chosen period?

While the Dictionary describes the interjection as a shout of praise, "Well done!" the Historical Thesaurus also defines a noun "bravo" thus: "A daring villain, a hired soldier or assassin; ‘a man who murders for hire’ (Johnson); a reckless desperado." The dates of recorded usage stretch from 1597 to 1876.

OED quotes Ben Jonson using "bravo" in "The Silent Woman," so I hunted down the full text of "The Silent Woman." And browsing through that I found another interesting snippet:

Epicene: And have you those excellent Receits, Madam, to keep
your selves from bearing of Children?

Haughty: O yes, Morose: How should we maintain our
Youth and Beauty else? Many Births of a Woman
make her Old...

Contraception being described on stage as "excellent" back in 1616? Wow!

I think I may have a new novel brewing. It has a title. And a hero and heroine.

Well, it's a start.