Saturday, 8 November 2008


A number of local councils in Britain have banned their staff from using Latin words, because they say they might confuse people.


Phrases like "vice versa", "pro rata", and even "via" should not be used, they insist, in speech or in writing.  Latin is elitist and discriminatory, because some people might not understand it - particularly if English is not their first language.  Or so they say.  Bournemouth council's Plain Language Guide lists Latin under the heading "Things To Avoid".  Other local councils have banned "QED" and "ad hoc", while other typical Latin terms include "bona fide", "ad lib" and "quid pro quo".


There is a fitting precedent.  Sir Walter Scott, in Ivanhoe, has Gurth, a Saxon swineherd, talking to Wamba, a jester, on just the same subject.


“How call you those grunting brutes running about on their four legs?" demanded Wamba.


"Swine, fool, swine," said the swineherd; "every fool knows that."


"And swine is good Saxon," said the Jester, "but how call you the sow when she is flayed, and drawn, and quartered, and hung up by the heels, like a traitor?"


"Pork," answered the swineherd.


"I am very glad every fool knows that too," said Wamba, "and pork, I think, is good Norman-French; and so when the brute lives, and is in the charge of a Saxon slave, she goes by her Saxon name; but becomes a Norman, and is called pork, when she is carried to the castle hall to feast among the nobles.  What dost thou think of this, friend Gurth, ha?"


"It is but too true doctrine, friend Wamba, however it got into thy fool's pate."


Clearly the councils do not go far enough into their fools’ pates.  There are 200 Latin words in Old English: cheese, oil, pepper, wall, kettle, table, pillow and wine.  Pope, priest, shrine, crystal, verse, theatre, rose, lily, church, grammar and paper must also be banned from the councils' communications.


Why stop at LATIN?  Our native language is Pictish.  Alas, it has disappeared, but surely that is no reason for using the Celtic words which superseded it?


Let us get rid of their names for plants and trees.  We cannot stand rebuked.  That is Old French and means to cut down, as in trees.

We cannot “favour” some Latin words because that too is Old French and describes a chestnut horse.  To the Angles and Saxons and Jutes we owe woman (wyf+ man).  No give and take, that is Scandinavian; as is cast, them, their and they; skirt, sky, rig and egg.


What about those words our soldiers brought back from service in China and India?  Are there to be no more Chars and Wads?  Can we no longer describe these councils as ’Doolally?



The group noun for Teddy Bears is "A Hug".  My hug includes a haute couture bear given to me by a lady who was one of the great beauties of Europe as a "love" token.


Maria Sax-Ledger was 81 at the time.  She met her first sweetheart, an Englishman, when she was a 15-year-old schoolgirl in Zurich.  When she was 17 they got engaged and Maria came to England.  Unfortunately she took a dislike to her future mother-in-law and broke off the engagement.  She subsequently married a GP called Peter.


One day she looked out of the window of her home in a valley near Llanbedr, in Gwynedd, and saw an old man walking his dogs on her land.

When she went out to rebuke him she discovered it was her schoolboy love.  He told her: “I have just heard that I am dying and I have come to tell you that I have always loved you and to ask if you will hold my hand on my death bed.”  In the event, Maria was not at his death bed but she invited his widow to stay after his death.


“We got on very well.  She brought my engagement ring which she had found among his possessions and I have worn it every day since.“


Sax is a royal name.  The Royal Family were Saxe Coburgs.  Any relation?

“They were probably a junior branch.  My family lived in Switzerland before it became Switzerland so originally they must have been German.  We had seven castles though only one is still intact.”


I met one of her forefathers in a church in St Gallen.  He was Philip of Sax, a student at Christchurch, Oxford, in 1558 and one of Elizabeth I’s courtiers.  He was mummified long before we met in a Swiss church but is still able to get about.


“They have to take him to the dentist’s regularly for attention to his teeth.”


In her Welsh home her studio was castle-baronial though it started life as a ruined barn.  Maria painted landscapes under a beamed roof.  There was a minstrel gallery, a long antique dining table with silver candelabra at which Maria, a brilliant cook, held legendary lunch parties.  Huge sofas and chaises longues were scattered about.  In one corner was an antique Provencal bed in which her collection of teddy bears - minus the one she gave me - reclined on hand-painted Indian cushions.  The walls glowed with paintings, mostly her own.


“I like my paintings to be cheerful.  I would never dream of painting anything morbid.  I am never depressed.  I wake up in the morning determined to create something before I go to bed in the evening.”


They are much sought after.  They follow no school.  Childlike, the landscapes of dreams, in bold colour, vigorously drawn.  When she painted a sun you could feel the heat.


In return for the Teddy Bear, I opened her fourth exhibition at Plas Glyn y Weddw on the LLyn Peninsula.  When she had her first major exhibition in Wales, at the Mostyn Gallery in Llandudno, the staff were so impressed they produced a book of her work, lovingly written by her daughter Tanya Harrod.


From childhood onwards she painted every day, though she has never had a lesson since an art teacher warned her that any attempt to teach her would wreck her style.  Tanya recalled that her mother painted on every wall in their home in Surrey.  Once she even painted over the windows and, when cracks appeared in the plaster in one room, she turned them into a trellis of creepers.


“I painted all my life until my sight began to go.  A specialist told me I was blind in one eye and going blind in the other.  So I gave away all my paintings, paints, brushes, canvases.  When I came to Wales 16 years ago I had only three paintings.  I recovered my sight after a cataract operation but I had no thought of painting.”


In compensation, she took up serial shopping and designing her very original clothing.  She retained considerable style.  She polished her hand-made soft leather boots with Nivea face cream to give them a sheen and her hats defied description.


“One day John Henshaw, a friend of Tanya who ran an Arts Centre in Wiltshire, saw my paintings and offered to put on an exibition.  He wanted 40 paintings.  I thought, why not?  I began to paint furiously.  They all sold on the first day and I have not stopped painting since.  Can you believe, it took over sixty years to be recognised?”


The paints she used were made by her own family according a secret recipe.  Churchill used no other make.


“He was a great friend of my cousin Willie who stayed at Chartwell where you can see the huge mahogany paint box he gave to Churchill.  Churchill only ever gave three paintings away.  One he gave to my cousin.  During the war my uncle built up a remarkable art collection by bartering paints, canvases and brushes for paintings.”


There was one point she never failed to make.  Orson Welles got it wrong.  The Swiss never made cuckoo clocks.  It was the Germans he was thinking of.  And probably a Sax.





Bus stop to nowhere


The bus shelter was erected on a main road in the Pennine foothills in 2006 to serve passengers in the village of Diggle, on the outskirts of Oldham.  But in the same week as the work was finished, local bus routes were changed by transport chiefs and services were diverted on to another road.


Every night the solar-powered lights flicker on automatically to light up the shelter but, two years on, no passengers have ever used it.


Saddleworth councillor Ken Hulme said: "It's in excellent condition and comes fully equipped with lights that come on every night “

“Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive told me they have a policy of not closing any bus stops.  I couldn't believe that.  It's bureaucracy gone mad.  There is a bus stop in Delph at the side of a main road, well, it's a pole, and it's dangerous.  Lots of schoolchildren use it and have to stand in the road.  I don't see why we can't move this shelter and use it instead."


Michael Renshaw, of the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive, said there were no plans to move the bus stop, in case a new route is introduced in future which would run past it.  He said: "The lights are solar powered and they reduce anti-social behaviour so we keep them on."


Manchester Evening News


P.S.  Surprised that none of the 178 BBC staff covering the US election has drawn attention to the fact that it has followed exactly the plot of "West Wing", the TV series.


How many voters were influenced by the show in which a new Hispanic president is from an ethnic minority, not unlike Obama?


And why did no one question whether the Republicans wanted to win an election only to run a country deep in hock to China, where icons like Ford Motors and great investment banks are on the brink of failure?


I cannot think of any other reason for putting up an ancient candidate with a weak heart, which might pave the way for a female president who isn't sure if Africa is a continent.  Perhaps party planners watched "West Wing".