I refound my copy of “A glossary of words used in the dialects of Cheshire”, a reprint of a later nineteenth century collection by Egerton Leigh (a former MP for Mid-Cheshire) with some fairly robust connections to Cheshire gentry. This work seems to be based on an earlier effort from the early nineteenth century by Roger Wilbraham. So with a record going back nearly 200 years I set out to see if I could spot any familiar ‘Manc’ words and perhaps some hint as to why Mancunians so often drop off basic determiners - especially ‘the’, occasionally mangle their prepositions (I think ‘to’ is the most usual one) and regularly use a single coverall adjective, ‘our’.
The dictionary also offered me some help with two words that I seem to always fail to get the meaning of in everyday Mancunian; owt and nowt…
- Nought, Nowt, Naught - Bad, worthless, wicked, “stark nought”, good for nothing; also unchaste, as explained by Bailey
- Owt - Anything. Nowt - Nothing. “Oi hanna seed owt on ‘im this three wick or moore.”
Well, that’s clear then.
What was a surprise was the presence of words that I recall using in the school yard in Australia.
- Unco, Uncow, or Unkert - Awkward, strange, un-common. Cockeram in this Dictionary, has “Uncoe, unknown, strange,” mere uncouth. In Scotland it is simply a superlative. “Unco glad,” very glad.
Once I was old enough to question the derivation I had just assumed that it was a shortened form of ‘uncoordinated’ - obviously it is a bit more complex than that.
The dictionary does also reveal how much life has changed in Cheshire over the last two hundered years,
- Win Egg - an egg without a shell. A soft egg. Very often occasioned by the impossibility of the hens getting at lime, which should always be given them in the shape of lime-water, old mortar, oyster shells, &c.
Now I would say “should always be given to them”… so the prepositions have been getting dropped for that long. But equally a much more detailed entry and quite a detailed ‘tweet’ regarding animal husbandry, especially for a dictionary.
There are so many cute terms that it is hard to believe they would have ever been used in everyday speech.
- Biggening - the recovery of a mother after childbirth
- Caperlash - abusive languages
- Dangwallet - for a spendthrift
- Leastways - anyhow
- Mafflement - concealment, underhand work
More worringly is what the natives got up to two hundred years ago…
- Old Hob - An old Cheshire custom, carrying about a horse’s head covered with a sheet to frighten people
So the Godfather has family in Cheshire?
- Stockport Coach or Chaise - A horse with two women riding sideways on it is so-called: a mode of travelling more common formerly than at present. Now absolutely defunct, 1875.
Of course, there are lots of new introductions. Shameless had started using ‘dibble’ for the police and I have heard it at Manchester City matches but despite being a seemingly “Manc” phrase it seems to come from the US “Top Cat” cartoon from the 1960s.
And after all of this I’m still no clearer why Mancunians drop their basic determiners.
Visiting Toys’r’us is always an adventure. If you overlook the extremes of over-compensatory parenting and the constant instructions to not touch anything (usually directed to the various children not me) there are some really eye-opening items. The key to enjoying Toys ‘r’ us is to not take any children (under the age of 35) and have your imaginary 6 year old nephew firmly in mind as an alibi just in case any of the staff decide to offer their service (they never do).
The first ‘toy’ off the block was the Elonex eTouch - which gives off the initial impression that it is an iPad clone. But there are two factors mitigating against this, price - the 10.1” version is £149 and the 7” form is sub-£100 and the fact that this is a toy store. A little bit of digging reveals that PC Pro pretty much hated it and CNET described it as a toy-shop tablet but were slightly less damning. CNET also makes the claim that the iPad is ultimately a high-priced toy, possibly so, but a well-made high-priced toy. The lesson is a classic one - you get what you pay for…
Much more entertaining is the relentless push for Lego to take over the world. The range of games are an interesting combination of Lego-ness with some interesting board game innovations (and the fact that the Shave-a-Sheep game reminds me of my favourite childhood Lego creation - mini-sheep). Even more interesting is the in-store point of sale material. Use of a video screen is pretty commonplace in many stores but the addition of a barcode scanner is clever. Scan one of the Lego games on display on the shelves and the video is now explaining, in just the right level of detail, the game you are currently holding in your hands. Engaging and tangible without quite allowing us to play with all the little bits and pieces.
(Image from Perpetualkid - appropriately)
But there are traces of Lego all over the shop. The Lego head lamp - a Lego man shaped torch that straps to your head for reading in bed - is commendable for its attempt to encourage reading. The Lego Wii Motion Plus controller - which allows Lego to be attached to the front and back of the controller. I am a little bit torn as to whether this is truly the most geeky controller or whether that crown is taken by the Doctor Who sonic screwdriver Wii controller.
The ToyStory Lego series is also a step in an interesting direction as the range includes Heath Robinson-type machines that combine the potential (but never realised) thrill of Mousetrap with the interchangable possibilities of Lego. Although, perhaps unsurprisingly, people have been getting on just fine creating Rube Goldberg/Heath Robinson machines with ‘standard’ Lego (Link).
At that point it was easy to get distracted by the animatronic wild animals - which cross the delight of demonic glowing eyed toy with very mechanical movements. To add to the horror the polar bears makes a noise that might be the sound of a polar bear but is bizarrely accompanied by the sounds of crickets. The meerkat made the sound none too distantly removed from the sounds of a man singing in a shower (badly) if the recording had been made from under the protective covering of a large bucket. Presumably the purpose of the toys is to scare children away from all animals thus ensuring within a generation the survival of these various species.
The other item that is really surprising is the diversity of Monopoly versions there are now. Beyond the bog standard there are all the regional variations, the circular board, the build-your-own board (with individual click together hexagonal pieces and the ability to customise the length of time of the gameplay) and a 3D versions with cityscape style pieces.
Then there is the obligatory ‘Pink’ aisle…
So what were people buying? From the small number of people in the store all that I could spot was a few purchases of various game card booster packs. And sitting on the train on the way home what was the one 5 year old (maybe a little bit older) on the train playing? Err… cards, Fish and Blackjack mainly - he seemed pretty happy too.
Packaging is tricky, an opportunity for sneaky camoflage - but I’ll get to that in a bit…
In my lazier moments (particularly on a Wednesday evening) I am often inclined to buy a pre-packaged salad. With salads being probably one of the easiest ‘cookery’ activities this probably counts as the pinnacle of convenience foods and the epitomy of laziness. After all, there is generally no cooking required and it is really just a case of throwing random raw ingredients together. Consider how many of the UK’s celebrity TV chefs ever ‘do’ salad. There is probably just too much of a chance that the viewer might actually be able to emulate the precisely choreographed efforts of the far too beknighted cooks. I feel even worse for buying the store products because salads produced at home also offer the widest opportunities for the inclusion of off-the-cuff scare-the-neighbours ingredients. Waldorf and Caesar salads can only touch the very surfaces of the weirdness possibilities.
Most people seem to cringe at anything beyond a bit of green leaf (lettuce or cabbage if you are going down the coleslaw path). But even this has gone to an very odd extreme with Asda labelling some of its lettuces as ‘mild’. There is definitely a very British need to put everthing on a sliding scale or league table to guide our decision in an inprecise monochromatic way but - come on - it is just a lettuce it can’t hurt you. What would constitute a ‘spicy’ lettuce? I would definitely buy it but only for the curiousity value of the label itself.
There are so many more interesting salad ingredients though. The meat opportunities of ‘Thai’ salads are well-trodden (and delicious) options. The possibility for fruit are equally vast. Pomegranates, rockmelons (or canteloupe if you like) and kiwifruit work quite well - and perhaps oddly particularly well with some chicken. More interestingly some stores sell dried juniper berries which make an interesting addition and helps makes a salad taste like gin (if that is an advantage?). Where to go from there? Artichoke hearts, sliced cabanosi? If the principle of a salad is to throw flavours together - anything?
So what is my problem with the packaging of supermarket salads? Two things. You go and buy a pot (because inevitably it is a pot) and open it. It is labelled something exciting like king prawn and spinach salad or beetroot and mexican bbq chicken (I think I just made that one up). At the top of your pot is the exciting ingredients that are hidden just underneath the very exciting label. But salads are, by definition, made of lots of ingredients including the ‘mild’ green stuff called lettuce. So the downside is how do you serve the salad out? Put it on a plate and it is upside down. Scoop it out and it is all ‘mixed up’ pretty much ruining the aesthetic appeal of any of the key ingredients. The final option is to eat it out of the plastic container - certainly no good for posh southern types and sensitive antipodeans who might like to combine their salad with other foodstuffs.
There seems to be a solutions to this pressing problem. The salad pot needs to open from the bottom - the fancy label sits nicely on the top and a ripcord neatly dumps the salad onto a plate - ‘like what adults eat off’ - keeping all the interesting bits firmly in view.
But the current state of salad supermarket packaging reveals another interesting issue. Opening the exciting pot of Tofu and Gammon salad (made that up too) reveals the key ingredients surrounded by some high class vegetables like smart little tomatoes and something purple. Upending the delights onto a plate (that adult eating platform) reveals some unspoken additional ingredients. Fair enough if this proved to be even more exciting - an exotically coloured seaweed or an exceedingly combustible form of bread - but too routinely it proves to be the ‘filler’ hidden beneath the healthy green stuff and exotic vegetables. Suddenly the really interesting salad has inevitably become a glutinous mass of rice or, if you are lucky, couscous (which at the end of the day is just a sort of posh - but cheap - form of wheat byproduct). These are ingredients that I generally think I would have bought - or perhaps even prepared - separately if I had wanted to consume these type of products (which usually I don’t). So my salad and what I am now faced with has become a writing mass of uninspiring carbohydrates.
I’m not sure why, but the supermarkets don’t get it. If I am a ‘salad eater’ - try saying that in Cyprus - I’m not really buying into the desire for lots of bulky food. I want interesting, tasty and healthy (at least marginally).
Tricky times - if all I’m worried about is the packaging of a salad I’m in a space where political upheaval in North Africa is just white noise to my own satisfaction!
I drove past The Scotch Piper in Lydiate today. I briefly noticed that the sign proclaimed it as the ‘oldest inn in Lancashire’. My immediate thought was, “I didn’t know that”. Subsequently two questions then sprang to mind, “why didn’t I know that?” and “why should I know that?”. Obviously the drive to Southport was fairly dull.
With something approaching a massive leap in my stream of consciousness and despite the momentary encounter with the inn their historical claim turned my thinking to the concept of curatorship. Where should I be able to find out about this? Wikipedia? Should I perhaps also be able to know the names of the oldest inns in other UK counties? Should I consider the pre-1974 traditional county boundaries or the new current arrangements? It is quite likely I am over thinking about an issue in the first place and concerning myself with what is a - ironically - only useful as a pub quiz answer.
Increasingly though, a lot of apps and Web2.0 services invite us to be a curator for an idea or concept. The danger is that this concept is being used somewhat uncritically and realistically as a buzzword. What worries me most regarding this current invitation to be a curator is the narrow usage of the term, focusing almost entirely on the practice of collecting for the user of the app (with the presumption that there will be an audience for the ultimate collection) and more significantly the invitation is too limited in the ‘things’ that are being curated - often ‘news’. Was ‘news’ ever really meant to be collected and curated by third parties (us)? What actually now defines ‘news’ for the majority of mass media outlets? Worryingly ‘news’ appears to encompass pressing issues such as Jordan’s current marital status both in reality and from her point of view. Arguably, ‘we’ get the news we deserve. But if this is true then why make it worse and curate it?
In contrast I am inclined to see the curatorship concept as a type of ‘big’ meta-theory for sustainable organisational practice and more dangerously an holistic view of organisations. Within an organisation the members (employers/workers) of that organisation are all engaged in facets of curatorship. There is an ongoing need for an organisation to maintain its existing objects of the organisation whether those objects are tangible or intangible. In the context of the museum this is the day-to-day maintenance of the publicly displayed materials - within this facet of curatorship there is no requirement to alter existing things or create new things. In fact, quite the opposite, the curator of the public display is expected to maintain a stasis that appeals to the expectations and tastes of the current generations of visitors. This is the latter aspect of curatorship that the current imperative to curate picks up on. Display everything you find. The museum is much more than this though. Most importantly it is what lurks behind the scenes - the archive. For most museums for every item on display there are a vast number of items in an archive - silently informing the public collection (and by extension the organisation) - the things on display that meet the current expectations of visitors. The archive could be dismissed simply as the place where the ‘ugly’ things are put but more importantly this is the reference point, the place for ‘retired’ things, the place for things that an organisation has removed in response to public demand, changing needs and changing tastes. The things are sometimes discarded but rarely because the museum can still learn from these retired things - most importantly it is the opportunity to return the ‘thing’ to public display if demand changes or more simply it provides a mechanism to learn from an organisation’s history. Too often organisations beyond the museum have this aspect of their organisation locked up in the heads of their oldest employees/workers/members. This is the bit that popular curatorship doesn’t necessarily manage.
From an organisation’s point of view there is a constant demand to innovate, to create new ‘things’ to bring to its audience both in response to expectations as well as to create new ‘markets’. The museum achieves this by accessioning new items from the outside world - new things are found that complement, extend and sometimes challenge the existing collection. Open innovation practices suggest you do this by - in effect - listening to others and inviting participation. Put most simply an organisation has to ‘get’ new ‘things’ and doing this is among the biggest challenges for most organisations (and that’s where occassionally looking back at an organisational archive could also have its benefits).
Accession, display and storage/archiving are three key functions of the museum. A fourth function - drawn from the model of the conventional library - is also useful: lending. What would happen if organisations understood their relationship to their audience (whether currently as clients, customers, consumers, buyers or whatever) as a lending relationship that itself requires ongoing management rather than simply a sale in which the relationship ends at the moment money is exchanged. Currently, even when an organisation does endeavour to maintain a relationship such as store loyalty cards or vouchers the purpose is largely one-sided and usually a cynical tactic to bring the customer back into the store to spend more money. Done correctly fostering the lending relationships of curatorship should itself encourage return custom because a genuine relationship has been established.
The curatorship view of an organisational is potentially not just about its ‘things’ - its products or services - but also its people and about how it functions. I am painting a simplistic view of the museum and its functions but importantly the focus of the museum as the embodiment of curatorship is focused on the ‘things’ it contains. There is an underlying system of simplicity, of processes and relationships. Obviously individual examples of museums have over time made this simple generalised example more complex with additional levels of processes and red tape. Of course the danger of advocating an organisational simplicity could also be seen as a call to encourage outsourcing (at least from one perspective) but alternatively I would argue if the function is not related to the curation of the organisation’s ‘things’ it might be time to question the organisational need for that function.
There might be something in this. Applying these thoughts to a tangible example such as a retailer, a charity or even an HE institution could prove informative. And what of The Scotch Piper? In this discussion where and how would its significance as the oldest inn in Lancashire figure? is it part of the archive, possibly? Is it one of the ‘things’ that it puts out on display for a specific public? Most definitely (after all, it was that simple message that prompted this post).
Just made it back from the deep South and the delights of the University of London’s Senate House - probably a separate post in itself. After the cheap 9.30am train south it was the 8.00pm back to the north and after 6 and a half hours talking and standing I was in need of some light therapy.
Luckily for me there was a GR8 Gear Knitting Machine waiting at home for me to play with… I’ve developed a whole new interest in knitting machines of late. Partly because I can’t knit and partly because there are very few machines that do something productive (arguably!) that are entirely human powered. Hand printing presses are pretty rare and screenprinting probably doesn’t count.
Knitting machines are also fascinating because they promise so much - look, I can knit me! - but then seem to come unstuck so rapidly. So once I had the wool threaded on properly it really was just a matter of time before something crunched and a stitch ‘sort of’ went the wrong way, got stuck and basically mucked up the whole lot. Oddly, trying to unpick the whole woolly abstract art project off the machine is almost as fun as the blind belief (at the beginning of the process) that the combined efforts of high precision machinery and human power might produce something useful.
The one (no comment) downside of knitting machines is that you can normally only produce tubes. Tubes are great for sleeves, leggings and maybe socks (if you have funny shaped feet) but a bit restrictive for other applications - except maybe cylinderical stufffed toys? The GR8 machine does have a very clever feature that allows you to knit flat panels - a whole new world of opportunities are now opened up to you (or I suppose you could just learn to knit).
The GR8 machines even reassures you that you can make useful things. The handbook promises scarves, shawls, bags, and, oh, leg warmers. And if flat panels and tubes weren’t enough there is also an explanation on how to make poms poms (even I know how to make them…). I’m thinking Doctor Who scarf of the Tom Baker era? Maybe a customised slip for my laptop?
Small problem to these grand plans. I need to get the machine to work without dropping stitches and just creating very elaborate knots.
My knitting efforts were complemented by a repeat of Time Team’s presentation about the archaeology and geography of Doggerland (steady on - this is Tony Robinson we are talking about not Stan Collymore). Which was an odd coincidence as I got my 23andMe DNA report back yesterday. The highlight in my maternal DNA was that my ultimate maternal ancestor had MtDNA that is now considered to have become defined (evolved?) in Doggerland. But that whole experience is yet another post.
White Man: Well, its just the barbecue area…
Aboriginal Soldier: (intrigued) Babakeuieria? Then we shall call this “Babakeuieria”.” —Babakeuieria (1986)
Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.
The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o’ need,
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.
His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An’ cut you up wi’ ready sleight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Then, horn for horn,
they stretch an’ strive:
Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve,
Are bent lyke drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
Is there that owre his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi’ perfect sconner,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view
On sic a dinner?
Poor devil! see him ower his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro’ bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!
But mark the Rustic, haggis fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll mak it whissle;
An’ legs an’ arms, an’ heads will sned,
Like taps o’ thrissle.
Ye Pow’rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o’ fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer,
Gie her a haggis!
All of the books I had ordered have now arrived from Amazon. Not a big deal for most of them as they were new and delivered from the warehouse. However, the one I was most looking forward to receiving was actually through one of the US-based secondhand dealers that use Amazon. The book was Henry Dreyfuss’s Symbol Sourcebook which I only realise now includes a foreword by Buckminster Fuller. (Of course as is often the way these days it is also partially viewable on Google Books).
The book is heavily inspired by the work of Otto and Marie Neurath and IsoType as well as the work of Charles Bliss’s semantography. The perhaps utopian idea that using well-designed symbol sets could create a universal form of written language. Even this well-thought work does realise the limitations of this project - an unambiguous symbol for the verbs ‘push’ or ‘pull’, for example, prove to be difficult. One of the other books in the bundle from Amazon also picks up this theme with a slightly less encompassing project - Pictograms, Icons & Signs by Abdullah and Hubner runs through a number of classic sets from European airports and transport systems. The influence of a small number of ‘good’ icon sets can now be seen worldwide.
One of the sets that is cited in both books are the symbols used for the Olympics and the evolution of the design through each games either due to copyright restrictions or through the need for contextualising (such as the boomerang motif from the Sydney games). This raises an interesting question about the extent and value of symbolic communications. Olympic sports are firstly all proper nouns and, secondly, all involve direct human exertion enabling the icon to focus on the human form in different meaningful poses. The variations between airport icon sets shows the problems that arise once the coherence of the theme is determined by a less defined association - transitting through a port. The age of the Dreyfuss book (originally 1972 and pb in 1984) also highlights the fluid nature of languages and changing technology (which of course are the most readily represented because they are nouns). So the traffic symbols contain silohuettes of suspiciously veteran cars, there are a number of icons for recording tapes and record players, the photography icons are quite focused on film including processing and winding it, the book also conveniently offers three separate icons for telegrams and one for the switchboard operator. There is also quite a range of agriculture and horticulture symbols but I noticed that the icon for a saw (presumably originally meaning the sawing of wood) is now used by Photoshop for its saw function.
This is a project that does not go away though. The Emoji Free app for the iPhone provides an icon keyboard that lets a range of symbols to be interspersed with conventional text. The primary purpose is for use in Japan it seems. Just like the Dreyfuss book the icon set offers some culturally specific and ‘contemporary’ symbols - so it is possible to use a hamburger, bullet train and various emoticons.
Is there a future to this project? Possibly but even a quick scan of the Universal Decimal Classification (UDC) concise edition (I know it is not the most normal item in a personal library) - a very nounful list of concepts - suggests that the project would be a very large one. As a systematic classification system the UDC also highlights the need for icons in the project to meaningfully reflect their relationship to meta-categories and to related and associated concepts. Ultimately this is how languages develop!
Fortunately there is disruptive influence in all of this. Pippo Lionni’s fonts take the most common symbols and icons found in symbol typefaces and reworks them in humourous, satrical and sometimes rude ways. This image above reminds me of a book I picked up in a charity shop in Ashton called simply Bullshit Bingo.
Perhaps a suitable touch of practical reality to offset this utopian project.