Bits and bobs and paraphernalia

The other day I was thinking of bits and bobs. meaning objects of different kinds. It’s a homely expression, which makes me think of my late mother. It has a 1950s feel about it and I associate it with listening to the Light Programme on the radio, stamps of George VI and the coming dynamic times of the New Elizabethans (that was the story in 1953…), the WVS doling out bottles of orange juice with blue bottle caps and aged electric trains from before the war trundling from Brighton to West Worthing.

Curious about its etymology, my secure world crumbles. Wikipedia has the explanation that I find most convincing although unfortunately without a source. “It originated from carpenters’ tool kits containing parts for a drill, with bits used for making holes while bobs are routing or screwdriving drill attachments”. The word “routing” catches my attention. It takes a while to find the meaning, the net being swamped by a tsunami of computer routers, but this router is a power tool with a shaped cutter.

I learn that a drill isn’t designed for the sideways forces associated with routing, using a drill as a router may damage its gears, whether it’s a drill press or a handheld tool. Additionally, drill press chucks are often fitted onto tapered posts, and applying excessive sideways force can cause a chuck to come loose.

According to Chris Deziel on “A drill chuck doesn’t hold the bit as tightly as a router collet, and a router bit is more likely to slip in a handheld drill or drill press. Apart from the fact that this makes the tool unreliable and potentially dangerous, it can also damage the bit by creating a series of grooves on the bit’s shaft. After use in a drill a bit may not fit in a router again, or, if it does, it may suddenly break while you’re using it — imagine a sharpened carbide blade that’s spinning 500 times per second becoming airborne”.

I would prefer not to think of sharpened carbide blades becoming airborne while spinning at 500 times per second. But now bits and bobs will for the rest of my life not just remind me of my secure childhood on the Sussex coast but it will have associations with a world full of metallic threats and unknown terms, router collet and drill chuck, a world not made for me, more or less a drill virgin. Knowledge has its price; not quite as dramatic as Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden but a step in that direction.

“odds and ends” is anyway a bit more friendly originating from the 1500s and originally referring to bits left over from bolts of cloth. I’ve seen the Middle English term “bolt” before but it’s not part of my active vocabulary. But I can at least integrate it without collateral verbal damage and am sure it will pass my lips before drill press chuck gets there.

To be really on the safe side, perhaps I should go upmarket and stick to paraphernalia. Not quite the same but not so far away in its sense of miscellaneous articles per se. It comes from the Greek, and here means “apart from a dowry”, originally in the sense of the bride’s small personal possessions, which were not part of the dowry. Later broadened to the present meanings.

It’s a gap in my education that my grammar school didn’t offer Greek. It’s too big a project to learn classical Greek when I’ve attained the Parisian age of 75 but I would really love to go to a good course that picked out the aspects of the language that are important for understanding the origins of English. But there again I would love rather a lot of things and when it comes to language, I am irredeemably promiscuous, becoming infatuated at the flip of a cognate.

Post-covid planning

A few years ago I visited Tyneham on the Dorset coast, whose inhabitants were forced to move during the second world war as the area was wanted for military purposes. The promise to return was never kept and the army is still there. For years there was a campaign to make them release the village but as the still living villagers had become settled elsewhere and awareness grew that there were no caravan sites or much other development in Tyneham so that the army had, like a Hindu deity, preserved as well as destroyed, the campaign lost its passion. It had, however, encouraged more careful care of the old church and school and to allow well shepherded seasonal visitors limited access.

The children’s work from the 1940s at the old school, their detailed observations of the natural surroundings, birds and flowers struck me. They might be regarded as poorly educated with a restricted view of the world but that says as much about us, why we see what we see, as it does about them.

Here in Uppsala, the snow has mainly melted and green is replacing grey. Perhaps there will be more snow but winter has passed its peak. It’s getting lighter and the pace is quickening from the stoic trudge of the worst months. I’m looking forward to resuming my explorations of my natural environment, trying to understand, to penetrate and not dismiss what I see after a cursive glance.

A lot remains of the cultural Uppland but I want to understand the physical environment too, its geology, the landscape and the considerable traces of glaciation, its waterways. High on my list is a visit to Viksta stentorg, the remains of a beach where the sea is now far away. A beach where you could sit and dream without risking being struck in the head by a ball.

With friends and family in several European countries, I may not spend that much time in Sweden but I shall think about my priorities for my Uppland project as well as my other projects. And try to use the weeks that remain until vaccination makes it possible to travel to work on my first post-Covid plan, to decide what I want to read during the coming six months and where I can get hold of this literature on various topics that interest me, what libraries I might use, what I should download to my Kindle, what I should take with me.

In search of the Dane Law

Living in Sweden has been made me much more attentive to the signs of Scandinavia in the UK.

There are the place names where we have any number ending in “thorpe” and “by” (Swedish  torp) in Eastern England, the old Dane Law. And around the coast, in the Wirral peninsula and the islands off Scotland, where we find “Bostad” in Lewis in the outer Hebrides. And in Orkney and the Shetlands, names of Scandinavian origin are everywhere. Orkney and Shetland did not become Scottish until 1472 and the last speaker of Norn, the Scandinavian language of the islands, Walter Sutherland, died around 1850 (and presumably there was knowledge of Norn in fragmentary form after that).

Norn lives on in the Shetland dialect where, for example, “grice” means pig (gris in Swedish), “gulsa” is jaundice (gulsot in Swedish), “keek” to peek (kika in Swedish). A fluent reader of Danish or Norwegian would find many more cognates.

Further south, large areas of Eastern England, the Dane Law,  were subject to Danish law with substantial Danish colonisation in the century or so before the Norman Conquest.

Scandinavian names abound in the Domesday Book for, for example, Lincolnshire, William the Conqueror’s inventory of the loot from about 1080, Here we find landowners called Halfdan, Knutr, Sveinn, Thorulf and Esbjorn among others.

It strikes me as odd though that I have not been able to find many written traces of the Dane Law, despite a considerable number of Scandinavians having settled and lived there. The Anglo-Saxons were, by contrast, far better documented. There are gaps where the sources are thin, especially in the early period but none the less we have access to a large corpus of texts of various kinds, literature, wills, religious texts etc., in Early English and in Latin. But the Danelaw is more obscure.

I was excited to receive Cyril Hart’s “The Dane Law” (1992) from a Danish second-hand bookshop.

It looks fascinating and I shall enjoy reading it but I couldn’t find many links in the bibliography to material written during the period in Latin, Danish or English, which actually originated from the Dane Law. And not much literature in Danish at any period, while there is a lot on the Anglo-Saxons. I hope a careful reading will soften or at least explain this judgment.

History is often produced for a reason. It took a long time after the Norman conquest before a new concept of Englishness emerged which combined the history of the Anglo-Saxons and the Normans.

I should like to know more about the history of the re-emergence of the Anglo-Saxons. I presume that historians did much work on this during the rise of the UK as an imperial power, especially perhaps in the Victorian period (glorification of King Alfred, his scholarship, navy, battles against the Viking invader, burnt cakes etc).  We still only count our kings and queens from the Norman conquest – the early Edwards don’t count, even though Edward the Confessor has had a good press.


The Danes have not been pressed into service to the same extent. They are presented as vikings, storming ashore killing monks and removing their treasures. But there is much less focus on the later period when the Danes came to stay with many named settlements. We are told about the money for peace impositions by the vikings and successful resistance and pushback by King Alfred in Wessex (the plucky underdog is a recurrent theme in British history with less emphasis on the vicious overdog…). We are told about Canute (Knut) telling the sea to behave and encouraged to agree that that was rather foolish.  The extensive Danish settlement in the Dane Law, the import of administrative words such as “soke” (socken) and “wapentake” (admittedly of martial origin but later an administrative word), and other legal words makes me feel that Vikings rushing up the beaches and silly Canute are far from the whole story of the Scandinavians in England.

I suppose this is because we haven’t needed the Scandinavians in the construction of our national myth. And our insufficient skills in the Scandinavian languages don’t help. Widespread knowledge of French and German helps us understand Anglo-Saxon and Norman history.

I’ve read some material on the Scandinavian influence on the English language (I can’t remember the title but it may have been from researchers at the University of Oslo).

Swedish researchers from Lund and Uppsala were very active in the twentieth century in working on the origin of English place names and the foremost studies of the place names of Dorset for example, are Swedes. I’d like to know more about these researchers.

As we have at least access to a good selection of Scandinavian personal and place names, it would be interesting to look at the principles that governed selection of place names – the proportion of place names based on geographical features (Dalby), those named after gods and goddesses in the Asa religion. How do these vary over time and can we learn anything about gaps (for example, a cursory look at the material it seems that Thor is often used while Oden/Woden, (becoming perhaps, for example, Wednesbury) is less frequent). Distinguishing names of  Scandinavian origin from Anglo-Saxon is difficult – the Anglo-Saxons were pagan for a rather longer time than the settled Vikings. But comparing Christian Anglo-Saxon place naming with what happened in the Dane Law also seems interesting (what was Christianity like in the Danish areas – if they were Christian, we might expect names of places after saints important in the Nordic world etc.).


It would be great to find a book on the various aspects of the Scandinavian influence on England – political, legal, administrative, religious, cultural, language-wise etc.

Zeals where the willows grew

Despite having lived in Sweden for over 40 years, I still find new links between the English and Swedish languages from time to time. These have often come about through Old English (Anglo-Saxon), the language of England before the Norman Conquest. Both Old English and Old Nordic had common Germanic roots and the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons would have been able to understand one another after a fashion (and misunderstand one another as may be evidenced by the tortured tangle of “shall” and “will” in English, which lead a much calmer life in Swedish as two neatly separated verbs).

I’ve recently acquired “The Place Names of Wiltshire” by Gower, Mower and Stenton, I caught sight of the derivation of the name of the small village of Zeals on the county’s western border with Dorset (and with Somerset not far away). I’ve always thought it a strange name, giving incorrect associations to the word “zeal” meaning enthusiasm from the Greek zelos. This Zeals, however, has a different etymology and comes from the Old English “sealh” (sealas in the plural) meaning a type of willow tree, We have “sälg” in Swedish with the modern English equivalent “sallow”, used for a low, shrubby willow tree, I must check to see whether there are still any willows around in Zeals next time I’m there. The western English dialect has made its presence felt in the spelling of the village’s name, leading the s sound to be pronounced and written as a z.

The philologist and antiquarian William Barnes and his wife Julia ran a school in nearby Mere, a slighter larger community. He had a grasp of a great number of European languages as well as Sanskrit and Hebrew and I believe even Hindi. I’ve no record of him learning Old English but I suppose he must have known it. The Barnes ran a school in Mere from 1823-35 before moving to Dorchester, where Barnes later knew Hardy. Barnes became enthusiastic later in life on stripping the English language of words of French origin and replacing them with alternatives based on Old English so that, for example, Social Science as a school subject might be renamed “Folk Lore” in William Barnes’ English.

It pleases me to think of this serious community of educated and self educated in Dorchester in mid Victorian times. Hardy, Barnes and the Moules, well versed in the Bible and Classical Rome and Greece, with some of them having a command of Hebrew and great knowledge of the local Dorset dialect and the history and culture of the area. It’s a much more pleasing thought than Hardy’s death in 1928 when he wished to be buried in Stinsford churchyard where his family had lived. But he was regarded as too much of a national treasure to escape Westminster Abbey, After a few shillies and shallies, a nightmare compromise was achieved whereby Hardy’s heart was removed to be buried in Stinsford while the rest remained in Westminster Abbey. I think this was and remains a horrible ghoulish solution – perpetuating the split in Hardy’s life between Dorset and London high society, where the Hardys were drawn to hob nob with the rich and fashionable during the season.

 It’s probably apocryphal but there is a real Hardyian twist to this story as a cat is supposed to have interfered with the container in which Hardy’s heart was being transported to Dorset.

I think the solution would have horrified Hardy too but he would have been amused by the cat.

Best efforts and reasonable efforts, a rhetorical flourish?

The EC and Astrazeneca are disputing about the meaning of the term “best efforts” in the vaccine supply contract.  This has a special resonance for me as I’ve recently read  Kenneth Adam’s “A manual of style contract drafting”  where he advises against the use of the term “best efforts”: I agree with his description of it as a rhetorical flourish. It tells one contract party that the other party wants them to believe it will do its best but is otherwise ambiguous.

The problem of the term “best efforts”, which, unlike reasonable efforts, is also used in ordinary speech as well as contracts, is that it is unclear how far a contracting party has to go to perform the contractual undertaking. It has sometimes been regarded as a synonym for reasonable efforts but often as a term on a continuum where best is something more than just reasonable. In other words, your best effort might involve you in having to undertake unreasonable actions. If, for example, raw material to produce the contract product is only obtainable at exorbitant prices, then reasonable efforts might release you from your contractual obligation but best efforts perhaps require that you acquire the raw material despite it being economically extremely disadvantageous to do so. This would make the term unworkable in contracts; according to Adams, US courts have overwhelmingly rejected that best efforts represents a more onerous standard than reasonable efforts.

The use of reasonable efforts excludes some of the uncertainty of “best efforts” but, of course, the court still has to decide what reasonable efforts consist of  (commercially reasonable?).  If the EU wanted to say (as they claim now) that the term meant that Astrazeneca was released from performance of the contract provisions if the vaccine had not been approved, then it might have been better to state this carve out explicitly and leave efforts out of the picture altogether. If it goes so far, a court will have to decide whether “best efforts” extends so far as forcing Astrazeneca to break other contracts.

The problems with the term best efforts are not new. It’s interesting that the EU. with access to any amount of legal expertise should lay itself open to a tussle on the meaning of this term (and also what Astrazeneca had in mind by use of the term).

Swedish exceptionalism and progress with dew

Sweden’s divergent approach to dealing with the pandemic has attracted a lot of international attention. But I’ve seen nothing written about the Swedish form of government, which differs from arrangements elsewhere in Europe (I’m not sure about Finland). Government agencies in Sweden have much more autonomy and even power than those in, for example, the UK, where a government minister can and will intervene in the day-to-day work of agencies subordinate to the ministry.

In Sweden, such intervention would be unconstitutional (see Chapter 12, Article 2 of the Swedish constitutional document Regeringsform). Ministries in Sweden, with few exceptions, have a small number of employees and are predominantly policy-making bodies, while the government agencies perform the everyday work in their sphere.

Thus in the UK a government minister might resign (at least in the old days…) if there was some spectacular inadequacy in an agency subordinate to hisher ministry. This wouldn’t happen in Sweden – the Director-General of the agency might go but not the minister.

The government can influence the agencies by its power of appointment and dismissal of the senior figures in the agency, the Director-General and his assistant. It also sets the budget for the agencies. And can engage them in dialogue if it considers that the agency is straying from the adopted policies but it in principle doesn’t intervene in the day-to-day work of the agency (or has to be rather discreet if it intends to do so…).


I suppose the ideological justification of this would be the division of powers where the legislative and the executive are separated. However, it’s also interesting from the point of view of the influence of the electorate over the government in universal suffrage (shielding activities of government from popular influence).

International commentators have remarked on the apparent hands-off conduct of the Swedish government in the pandemic, where the Public Health Agency has been in the forefront of attention. This may have suited the politicians (trust the experts) but it’s not just a political wheeze but part of the Swedish way of doing things.

I haven’t seen much, if anything written about this in more popular sources but there is an interesting article by Lars Jonung “Sweden’s Constitution Decides its Covid-19 exceptionalism” (June 2020). published by the Department of Economics at Lund University (Working Paper 2020:11).

Apart from dabbling with the Swedish constitution, I have been fine trimming my organisation of time, with a regular (4-5 hours) session of commercial work or work on one of my projects, the afternoon spent on working with languages and exercise, and the evening on lighter reading. My plan is to repeat this structure every day (inspired by Trollope of all people…). My aim is to counter my tendency to drift away from commonly accepted notions of time (uphold the Circadian rhythm); and to use time more efficiently.

Among my new word acquisitions for the week are “ligature” and “endogamous”. I  knew the binding and connect meaning of ligature but didn´t know that it was the formal word for “joined letters” such as the “ae” written together in Danish or conjoined letters in Bengali.

And “endogamous” as the practice of marrying within a specific social group (endo (within) + gamous to do with marriage). Rather obvious just that I hadn’t reflected on it before.

And I made a small step towards improving my disastrously low knowledge of things natural and scientific. If the answer sheet to an exam paper for entry into the Uttar Pradesh civil service is correct,  dew does not form on cloudy nights (as heat leaving the earth is radiated back by the cloud). I haven’t thought much about dew before and it´s nice to be able to think about that when wandering around early in the morning after a cloudy night…

Homonyms and Euphrosyne

I’ve known the meaning of synonym at least since I was in the early years of secondary school. And somewhere along life’s passage, I’ve picked up antonym.

But I’ve been foggy about homonym until the other day when I checked it.

It started well. Homonym is a word that is said or spelt the same as another word but has a different meaning, for example write and right.

And the sub-categories homograph and homophone, easily identifiable as “same spelling” and “same sound”, “Minute” (time) and “minute” (record of a meeting) are therefore homographs while “new and “knew” are homophones.

Easy, peasy but then what about “heteronym” and “heterograph”. I learn that a heteronym is a homograph with a different pronunciation.  Looking back at my definitions, I see that a homograph is a word that is spelt the same but not necessarily pronounced the same. Some homographs then are heteronyms and some not.

And words that sound the same as other words, but are spelt differently and have different meanings are heterographs. At this point, my head begins to spin. What was supposed to be a quick two minute check of the meaning of a word is taking on alarming dimensions and eating up my morning work session.

I abandon the search but as it’s irritating to allow the weeds of unknowledge to flourish in a corner of my brain, I can’t resist going back for more.

Then I learn that a heterograph may also be referred to as a homophonic heterograph.

The categories interpenetrate but I’m shaky on the heteros. I also make the acquaintance of polysemy – words with the same pronunciation and spelling but with different meanings, such as mouth (rivers and facial orifice). And capitonym, a word that changes its meaning when capitalised such as Polish and polish. And that a language can be more or less heteronymic, for example, English, which is littered with heteronyms.

Having muddled through for many years accompanied just by synonyms and antonyms, I decide to let the matter rest.

I’ve also been attracted by a nineteenth century lady with the first name Euphrosyne. To start with I thought it must be biblical but the “euph” should have made me suspect a Greek origin, which proved to be the case. The name originates from Euphosyne, one of the Charities (Graces in Roman times). According to Wiki (quoting Jennifer Larsson (2007), Ancient Greek Cults), she was the goddess of good cheer, joy and mirth (merriment).

According to Hesiod, Euphrosyne had two sisters Thalia (the joyous one associated with abundance) and Aglaea (goddess of beauty, splendour and adornment), together the Charities. They are usually depicted dancing together and I have seen them often in Botticelli’s well-known painting Primavera without realising who they were.

The Greek poet Pindar states that these goddesses were created to fill the world with pleasant moments and good will. Usually the Charites attended the goddess of beauty Aphrodite.

A heavy responsibility to go through life with the name of “merriment” but perhaps more fun than being called Chastity even if harder work than Faith or Charity. These names called after personal attributes amuse me and I fantasise about people called Melancholy or Tepid (or even Schaden, the black sheep of the Freud(e) family, published under poetic licence….).

Wiki also tells us that there is an asteroid named after Euphrosyne and much more curiously a family of marine worms (I wonder why – was this the act of some researcher with impaired hearing looking for a name for a merry worm?), I’ve mislaid the source now but one of the distinctive features of this family of worms is the relative length of the notochaetal prongs. My grasp of marine worm terminology is a bit shaky and, for once, I am happy to let it be.

Keeping warm and cooling down in Malmesbury and Uppsala

After a struggle with my conscience, I have invested in a source of direct heating as my flat is so cold at night that it interferes with my sleep. It’s probably environmentally logical to turn the central heating down then as many people like to sleep in a cool bedroom. But for a 75-year-old with somewhat wonky circulation, it’s not a great solution.

I get up at the crack of dawn, or at least 07.30 (perhaps the chasm of dawn…) to collect my acquisition from the local postal point, relieved to find that it’s a neat rather small package and not the elephantine encumbrance of my worst fears. I can get it back on my shopping trolley and don’t have to risk playing Russian roulette with Covid on the bus.

Having extracted it from its casing, I immediately take to it when I discover that the manufacturing company has its UK headquarters in Malmesbury in north Wiltshire. A fine little town around the historic Malmesbury Abbey, where, according to Wikipedia, there is a Daniel’s well named after a monk called Daniel of Winchester, who “is said to have submerged himself in cold water every day for decades to quell fiery passions”. The article also refers to the historian William of Malmesbury (1095-1143), who described how another monk, Eilmer, flew a primitive hang glider from a tower for 180 metres before landing and breaking both legs. It’s not clear from Wiki what his motivations were but presumably not to quell the passions.

After this diversion, I get to grips with the accompanying 70-page Book of Babel, telling me in a slew of languages all the horrible things that can happen to me if I mistreat my heater. It’s not too bad – after a deep breath, I feel calm enough to discover a few words of English tucked away in the manual and even manage to clip the apparatus on to its stand without either breaking it or having this problem dominating my life for a couple of weeks.

I will test run it tonight. It is sufficiently sophisticated that it has a timer (if I can get my head around this in the accompanying Book of Babel), the plan being to run it for an hour or two until I’m properly asleep and then let it shut down.

Gunnar Leche and Trollope

08.30 on a Sunday morning and, to my surprise, it’s getting light as I try to get to our local Post Office/Shop before Corona does. My cautious purge of my wallet, taking only my ID and one credit card, is a step too far as nothing sinister emerges from the shadows on my kilometre walk.

The post office is almost empty and yesterday’s aerosol virus will now be reclining on the floor like Chatterton although, unlike Chatterton, shrouded in colourful paper offering discounts on broccoli.

My packet contains a book on Gunnar Leche, Uppsala’s city architect from 1920 to 1954. Collecting it is against my principles for self-isolation according to which any contact with the outside world should be strictly necessary. But it’s too frustrating if every consoling project of the mind is blocked until after covid so I allow myself an exemption on grounds of mental hygiene, masked and with disinfected hands nowhere near my face (and avoiding using plosives when talking with dogs).

Gunnar Leche was responsible for a large number of buildings in Uppsala, especially in (what are now) the inner suburbs of Fålhagen, Kvarngärdet and Luthagen. His production extends from the last days of the National Romantic period through the classicism of the 1920s to functionalist architecture, although, according to Carl-Erik Bergold (‘Gunnar Leche – en stadens och folkets arkitekt’ in Uppsalas arkitekter och arkitekturens Uppsala, 2002), ‘Leche blev aldrig renlårig’ (literally “never became orthodox” in the sense I take it of clearly and exclusively adopting a particular architectural style).

It was perhaps this lack of orthodoxy that led to the criticisms made of two of his later projects Tuna Backe and Sala Backe. He is, however, now appreciated in architectural writings on Uppsala. I would like to know more about this but this will have to wait until covid has abated and I can spend time at the local history and newspaper library.

My explorations of my new home environment have been subdued with the onset of winter.  I find it most rewarding if I can read and explore in the real world at the same time, one without the other not feeling satisfactory. Probably the best use of time is to identify what interests me and what access I need to pursue these interests, to avoid becoming a jumble of unsorted poorly sourced anecdotes.

Otherwise, as far as the life of the mind is concerned, I have now read the six novels of the Barchester Chronicles. I’m pleased to have done so although my planned relaxation reading before sleeping has at times spread beyond its allotted slot and taken up time during the day. After six novels, I am weary of the woman meets man, spark of liking, the course of true love never runs smooth, problems eventually overcome, marriage and the happy ever after. Trollope, however, is much more than this, a greater writer than just a purveyor of romantic tales. I’m wondering whether Trollope wasn’t also tired of the commercial requirements for a happy romantic ending as he rebels in the Last Chronicle of Barset and Lily Dale remains single. Trollope rose another notch in my respect for avoiding a tired, stereotyped ending although I was already impressed by the range of well-drawn characters struggling with many life situations unrelated to romance. The swirl of ideologies also fascinates me, mid-nineteenth century conservatism and liberalism (whig) against the background of the fractured British ruling class, which still casts a long shadow over the UK. I don’t think I would have enjoyed going on a long train journey with Trollope, however (probably not with Hardy either in fact, although I would have found it easier to talk to Hardy, preferring chatting about the Dorset dialect to small talk about hunting).

Trollope was an unplanned diversion but I don’t regret it and I have become more adept at using my Kindle (for five of the six novels)!

This and that

Sunday, 22 November

I’ve regarded Anthony Trollope as a lightweight Victorian author, the favourite literary tipple of various establishment figures of dubious repute. But I’m about to start the fourth of his six-volume Barchester chronicles and have changed my mind about him. He is a perceptive observer of social relationships, especially the aristocracy with its belief in breeding and blood and their attitudes to the nouveau riche, regarded as not quite gentlefolk but whose competence and money make an impression.

His focus, as might be expected from his background, is sharpest on the lower echelons of the landowning class, the nouveau riche and the rising professionals, stigmatised by their need to earn a living. Dukes appear in his prose but are not centre stage nor  is there much focus on the “common folk”. They flit in and out, carrying things for their employers, at times serving much the same function in the narrative as Shakespeare’s comic relief scenes. It would be interesting to note systematically how these characters are handled and compare it say with Thomas Hardy’s treatment of the “lower orders” and perhaps other Victorian authors. The word “trope” is clamouring for my attention here but I haven’t integrated it in my active vocabulary yet.

I have Richard Mullen’s biography of Trollope on my bookshelf, picked up I believe in some charity bookshop and inscribed to Mama on her 86th birthday.  It would be great if incoming books were accompanied by a provenance, to tell us about their history, the hands through which they have passed and the effect that they have had. It would be fun to concentrate the books with suspected interesting histories on one shelf of my library!

My reading of Trollope has resonated with me as I’ve recently read Philip Augar’s The Death of Gentlemanly Capitalism. He describes the effects of the Big Bang on the City of London and how the traditional British merchant banks have disappeared, either taken over by US or European institutions and no longer identifiable as corporate entities, or collapsed like Barings. The opening of the City of London to foreign competition and changing the rules so that brokers could also become principals and not just agents, meant that size became much more important. The US banks with their deep resources of capital made their presence felt, outcompeting the British institutions in their ability to bear losses and risk and pay inflated salaries to attract the best folk. But Augur also points to the effect of social/class relationships in the UK as the title of his book “The Death of Gentlemanly Capitalism” might indicate. The Big Bang opened up the City of London so that it was no longer the preserve of the public school educated upper middle classes. He refers to the far superior training and work ethic of the incoming American institutions.

The brokers and jobbers of  the pre-Big Bang City of London worked as agents for the principals who owned the assets. While well funded for their then purpose, they did not have control of such deep pools of capital as their US competitors. And as they were not owners,  they were not either so well schooled in the assessment of risk, especially not with regard to sometimes complicated new risk management products. The big commercial banks, NatWest and Barclays etc. could have gone some way towards filling that gap. There was potential for at least one or a few UK-owned investment banks. Some big European banks managed that – including the Deutsche Bank, Dresdner Bank and Swiss UBS. They became established and could compete despite coming from outside without initial access to traditional knowledge and networks. The British-owned banks didn´t. Most of them scaled down their involvement with various degrees of burnt fingers.

Augur points to the importance of cultural factors in the inability of traditional City institutions to make an alliance with the commercial banks; the reluctance of the commercial banks to interfere with the independence of the brokers and jobbers they had recruited, tending to shy away when confronted by the confident upper middle class/public school ethos of the broking firms they had taken over, a confidence that was often misplaced as these broking firms had fatal gaps in their competence.

The firms owned by commercial banks which had taken over broking and jobbing firms and their staff are described as uneasy places, the different components from different traditions quite simply did not get on and it played a role in their demise.

I had this in mind when reading Trollope; the long-term effect of there not being a clear bourgeois revolution in Britain as there had been in France after 1789. How the landowning aristocracy endured, unwillingly obliged to open its ranks to those distinguished by achievement and money rather than blood and breeding. But none the less still having a huge effect on the cultural values and competence of the UK establishment, which continues to this day, the aristocracy as the Achilles heel of the British bourgeoisie, its negative effects masked for long by the power of the British Empire but much less so now.

Back from these sublime heights to me, I have been pleased that I could read two of the three Trollope novels on my Kindle. I find it works very well for reading novels, which is useful as beds are poorly designed as far as having a good surface to make notes and storage of works of reference (I’m working on this problem…..).

There were some new words in Trollope.  The usual collection of words for horse-drawn conveyances. I have got as far as knowing that a barouche is a considerably larger and heavier construction than a fly. And legal words relating to land ownership; I now know that “jointure” is (was perhaps?) an estate settled on a wife for the period that she survives a husband. But my favourite new word, which I regrettably failed to note the source of, is “sesquipedalian”.  This is a word with a pedigree originating from the Latin “sesquipedalis” meaning a foot and a half, according to the Concise Oxford Dictionary.

It now means polysyllabic, long (characterised by long words), long-winded  For me, it was love at first sight, almost as much a coup de foudre as serendipitous and I eager await the first opportunity to use it (not altogether easy in these conditions of isolation as muttering “this is a bit sesquipedalian” when talking to oneself feels a bit cumbersome).

I am making a catalogue for my library, putting it in better order and weeding out duplicates for sending to my country house or to another good home. Shelf marks would be a step too far but when I’ve finished my catalogue, I shall number my shelves and perhaps attempt to master how to make a database so that I can see immediately from any location what I have here on particular topics.

I’d like to go through the collections of Carolina Rediviva and the other libraries in Uppsala to make a note of what they have on some specific subjects dear to my heart but that’s a later project (hopefully).

I am keeping my head well down until covid’s second wave has abated, avoiding contact with other people as much as I can. The other day, shunning the bus, I walked into the city to take my influenza jab. I’ve instructed Santa to use my company box address and not my home address for any parcels, as the company post office is a peaceful place compared with the seething mass of humanity clustered around the post office counter at my local shop. I keep thinking of the mediaeval knight in Bergman’s film The Seventh Seal, playing chess with the grim reaper……

And I’m preparing for Christmas at a record early date so that a motorbike from Amazon has already driven up the track to my relatives’ house in India long before Advent.

I’m looking forward to the New Year, to closing accounts on 2020, which has been a difficult hand to play. I always enjoy the feeling of being at the beginning of something rather than the end and my spirits rise after the festive season. But if Covid abates in the New Year as we all hope, the usual pleasure of the approaching spring will probably feel overpowering. I would like to be in Dorset then to travel through the round hills west of Dorchester, seeing the ancient landscape open up around me as I travel west on the A35. Then perhaps to walk up to the top of Golden Cap, the highest cliff on the South Coast and sit there early in the morning to feel that life has returned (not on a Sunday as the buses don’t run then….).