The real Sir William Wallace

Statue of William Wallace in Aberdeen, Scotland /

Statue of William Wallace in Aberdeen, Scotland /

Some years ago the anglophobe film star and director Gibson made a Hollywood-backed movie called Braveheart. This tasteful work of art purports to be the story of a Scot called Wallace who led his (kilted) warriors to victory against a dastardly English king and won a major battle at Stirling in the cause of independence for Scotland from domineering, untrustworthy England. The film is so full of historical errors as to make it extremely funny, and therefore worth watching on your video machine at least once a year.

The real William Wallace was born around 1270. His was a knightly family, not a collection of crofters. Still young, he began the impossible task of gathering the Picts and Scots together – not the clans, they came later. Most northern Scots spoke Gaelic and nothing else, except some relics of their Norse ancestry. All lowland Scots spoke what went for English in the 13th century, a heady mixture of French and Saxon tongues. One thing bound these fighters together, their joint hatred of the English, and of each other. William Wallace, who was born a knight, did indeed manage this tricky task, and the English were trounced at the battle of Stirling in 1297 when William was only twenty-seven. (more…)

Who was the dreaded Mosley?

The Mosleys in retirement /

The Mosleys in retirement /

I doubt if more than a handful of today’s teenagers have ever heard of Sir Oswald Mosley, or if they have, he is but a shadowy figure haunting the nineteen thirties. And yet he was brilliantly guyed in the television series Jeeves and Wooster in the 1990s; with another name of course, P.G. Wodehouse invented a comic horror who has several brushups with Bertie, Jeeves and Gussie Fink-Nottle (newts and all). Wodehouse calls him Sir Roderick Spode. He is played to perfection by John Turner. (more…)

By | 2015-03-21T16:15:10+00:00 March 21st, 2015|British History, English History, Humour, World History|0 Comments

Correct behaviour of gentlemen

/ illustration by 'Tea at the Ritz'

/ illustration by ‘Tea at the Ritz’

Four Europeans of different nationality sat down at a tea table with the great lady who was their host. As they sipped the Lapsang or the Earl Grey, according to taste, the lady moved her position in the chair slightly and emitted a positively Chaucerian diffusion of gas: PIU! All conversation halted. Then the Italian gentleman said, “Spirito Santo! Mea culpa! Arrividerci!” and left the table. A few minutes later the hostess moved her rear end again; PIU! The German gentleman wiped his mouth with his napkin and said, “Mein Gott! Das bombf mich ist!” and left the table. It is difficult to believe but only one minute later, in the middle of an apprehensive silence, the lady did it again . . . PIU . . . and the English gentleman muttered, “Oh pardon me! My lunch . . .too much! Ate too plentifully! Thank you and goodbye!” and he went.

The great lady and the Spanish gentleman were left by themselves at table. The Spaniard sipped his tea reflectively; the great lady tucked into her cucumber sandwiches with relish. Then she changed her sitting position leaning over to the left and . . .PIU! The remaining guest got up, said “¡Hago mío el pedo de la señora y me voy!”

By | 2015-02-22T17:34:06+00:00 February 22nd, 2015|Humour|0 Comments

The wit of two conductors

Sir Thomas Beecham /

Sir Thomas Beecham /

It is possible that many players in orchestras have heard very funny comments made to them during rehearsal, or even during the actual performance of an orchestral piece. But someone needed to be quick enough to scribble what was said, and this has not always happened. The following remarks were noted at the time, though critics simply attribute them to the speaker. (more…)

By | 2015-01-30T08:29:56+00:00 January 28th, 2015|British History, History, Humour|1 Comment

Who said it?

An auctioneer /

An auctioneer /

Our first slightly intellectual quiz for the year 2015 presents the published words of an eccentric and wit, male, and the only clue to his identity is that he is not English. The sayings resemble a dictionary, which, I note, is another clue:

Acquaintance – A person whom we know well enough to borrow from, but not well enough to lend to. (It is) a degree of friendship called slight when its object is poor or obscure, and intimate when he is rich or famous.

Applause – The echo of a platitude.

Auctioneer – The man who proclaims with a hammer that he has pìcked a pocket with his tongue.

Battle – A method of untying with the teeth a political knot that would not yield to the tongue.

Conservative – A statesman who is enamoured of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.

Future – That period of time in which our affairs prosper, our friends are true, and our happiness is assured.

History – An account, mostly false, of events, mostly unimportant, brought about by rulers, mostly knaves, or soldiers, mostly fools.

Patience – A minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue.

Peace – In international affairs, a period of cheating between two periods of fighting.

Prejudice – A vagrant opinion without visible means of support.

Saint – A dead sinner revised and edited.

Please give your answer as to who write these lines in the form of a Comment sent to

By | 2015-01-02T09:48:38+00:00 January 2nd, 2015|Humour, Philosophy|0 Comments

Lilibet – a purely American invention

Five of Carolly's inventions /

Five of Carolly’s inventions /

Intrigued by the title, ‘Lilibet’, I ordered a hard-bound first edition from my online bookshop Bibliophile (how lost I would be with it). I suppose it is a work of biography, in this case composed without the subject’s permission. The author is an American ‘PhD in Medieval History’ called Carolly Erickson. Her subject is the British Queen. (more…)

By | 2014-07-26T17:07:12+00:00 July 26th, 2014|English Language, Humour|0 Comments

Some notes on the 2000 Scarlet Pimpernel series

Some notes on the 2000 TV series ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’

I have in my possession a box set of this production, the material contained in four DVD discs. The series was adapted from the books by the Baroness Orczy by Richard Carpenter, and on the whole he has not done a bad job. Where the series fails, collapses in fact, is in the casting, with one exception – Ronan Vibert.  Richard E. Grant plays Percy Blakeney, a difficult task because Blakeney must be an effeminate fop, pandering to the Prince of Wales (future George IV) in some scenes – and a highly dangerous, athletic, intelligent kind of 18th century ‘Bourne’ in others, rescuing aristos from the clutches of the French revolutionaries. Leslie Howard managed this tolerably well in a film made in the Thirties. David Niven failed completely in 1950. Grant’s problem is simply one of class. Good actor that he is, he hasn’t the right sound, looks or disdain to play an aristocrat. There are plenty of other actors who possess these essential traits – Sam West and Toby Stephens come to mind. (more…)

Guess who said (or wrote) these things?

Give us your answers in the form of a Comment


“I must have a drink of breakfast.”

“Somebody left the cork out of my lunch!”

“She’s all done up like a well-kept grave.”

“I exercise extreme self control. I never drink anything stronger than gin before breakfast.”

“If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Then quit.”

“I never vote for anyone. I always vote against.”

A female neighbour rushed out to the new green lawn where our subject was engaged in shooting singing birds with an air rifle. She remonstrated. He replied, “I’ll go on shooting them till they shit green!”

Our subject said he hated all children and small animals. When questioned, he responded: “Anyone who hates small dogs and children can’t be all bad.”

And also: “A woman drove me to drink but I never had the courtesy to thank her.”


You can treat the last two quotations as a clue.

By | 2014-01-14T12:31:14+00:00 January 14th, 2014|English Language, Humour, Philosophy, US History|2 Comments

The ancient game of football

In the first twenty minutes or so of a foolish movie called First Knight, cinemagoers were treated to the Hollywood spectacle of a young and beautiful Lady of the Manor playing football with the burly hoi-polloi of her village. The scene was set in the twelfth century. It would not occur to the American writers and the director of this film that no 12th century castle-dweller would get within smelling distance of the peasantry, let alone play football with them.

The game itself, however, is another thing. I am not sure why the name ‘soccer’ was imposed on football, and I am sure I will be told – but a distinction had to be made when American Football, a variety of rugby, became popular in the United States. English-style football was replaced by soccer. (more…)

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