Category Archives: Tara’s Curiosity Shop

Tara’s selection of articles on language and other curiosities and oddities

Norah Newbury Inge and the 2011 Census

Completing the census form last night (I know that’s early – naughty, naughty) left me slightly disappointed with what was asked, having spent some months now looking at census documents from 1841-1911. For example, in all the censuses of the 19th century, the middle names of all the people in the household were often recorded. This can be extremely helpful to the genealogist searching for, for example, John Kingsford Inge (Inge is a surprisingly common name in Kent and Surrey). Nor was the specific place of birth recorded – again, a very useful way of checking that you have the right person. Even if the subject of your enquiry had moved halfway across the country between 1851 and 1861, you could be fairly sure ’twas he or she from the place of birth, e.g. Ickham, Kent. Now all you are required to supply is ‘England’. Good luck to our great-grandchildren when they try to track us down in a century’s time.

Thanks to cautious (ha!) use of the hints option on Ancestry, the family tree has now grown to over 2000 people. Dan regularly tells me off for researching people who are only related to me by marriage, but, if youhave ever done any research into your family tree, you’ll concur that it can become an obsession until the tree has so many twigs you can’t remember how some of them grew.

Thanks to this obsession, however, I discovered a fascinating lady called Norah Newbury Inge (my third cousin, five-times removed), the daughter of a school headmaster from Wimbledon. Born in 1900, Norah comes into view for the first time after the 1911 census  in 1936, when she returned to Britain from on the P&O ship ‘Strathnaver’. She had been working as a school teacher in Colombo, Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon).

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Felt Gadget Cases

Front of a felt gadget case I've just finished
Back of the same showing the belt clip and user's initials

We’ve just received a batch of new wireless controllers for the whiteboards at work. Desperate not to lose the bits, I made myself a case to keep it hooked on a belt loop. Above is the second attempt, made for a colleage. Quite pleased with it – it’s a bit more sophisticated looking and all the flaps and the belt clip are more secure.

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An ode to making things

Cake is all very well and pleasant and tasty, but making a cake every week is dangerous to the waistline! When I was 14 – and don’t ask me how I came to this foolish decision and why anyone went along with it – I decided as managing director of our Young Enterprise company that we would focus on knotted friendship bracelets as our main product. Naturally, as I was the only one who bothered to learn how to make them properly and each took about three hours, we made no money at all. Nonetheless, I enjoyed making them and the skill came back quickly and easily. Far more easily than re-learning how to ride a bike, actually.

My original idea was to make Dan a bookmark for Christmas, which I did, but I’ve also ended up with a pile of nine bracelets in different patterns and colours and two embroidered, hand-stitched cases for different electronic devices. There’s something deeply satisfying about tying knots and making a line of neat stitches, much like building a wall or completing a jigsaw puzzle.

The bracelets so far...

Creating a pattern of knots compared to free-form sewing is like writing a poem with a formal structure compared to being allowed to

write words wherever on the page. There are rules – a certain number of knots fits and forms the pattern. If you get the number of knots wrong or you take the threads in the wrong direction, then it doesn’t look right. It’s more demanding and less forgiving, thus, more satisfying. You know when you’ve finished and you know you haven’t cheated.

Colour choice is also fun. I discovered that red, orange, yellow, brown and purple look amazing together. Shades of one colour are subtle and sophisticated. Orange is really hard to match up most of the time. Gold is glitzy and goes nicely with light and dark blue, but the metallic thread is harder to knot tightly and thus you need more of it. For some reason, brown thread always seems slightly stiffer and more tightly spun.

Making bracelets has become a habit and I miss it when I don’t do it. My hands feel wrong. Thought about selling them on Etsy (or what seems to be the local equivalent, Folksy), but I’ve only managed to make nine in a month! Maybe need to build up stock first.

If you want to have a go, I suggest you visit this wonderful site: http://hbernb4.atspace.com/

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Genealogy gone mad

Having responded to a comment on our post about the Fat Aubergine, I’ve realised we haven’t written anything for a while. So sorry, dears.

Fact is, when not engaged in the enlightenment of ignorant teenagers, over the past two weeks (or is it three?) I’ve been hooked on researching the family tree. This all stemmed from my bright idea to put a small (note, SMALL) family tree in the back of the wedding album so that our future offspring will know how all the people in the pictures are related to them. Then I registered at www.ancestry.co.uk, but rather than using their tree-building programme, shoved all the data into a free programme I downloaded from www.myheritage.com.

Ancestry’s pretty thorough (on the medium price plan option) – you can access census records from 1841 to 1901 (not 1911, yet, though); birth, marriage and death index records; and, in some cases (particularly in London) marriage and baptism records in more detail. The military records from WWI are also interesting, particularly for physical descriptions of one’s ancestor. Rather more personal than census records. My most successful investigations have been into the branches of my family who lived in London. Being able to see fathers’ names on marriage records makes jumping back to the 19th century very much easier. If you can’t bridge the gap between the elderly living and the 19th century, going back is quite hard. For example, my mother-in-law doesn’t know very much about her grandparents, and so we’ve hit a brick wall, because I can’t push back into the richer census records. Similarly, but for a different reason, my great-grandfather is very hard to pin down. The perils of having a name like Edward Browne in London!

However, we’ve had wide-ranging success in getting back to great-great-great-great-great grandfathers in several branches. It turns out that I have impeccable working-class credentials, except in a couple of cases, where we go back to Kentish farmers (not sure how big an estate of 350 acres is!). So many migrated from Kent or Berkshire or Somerset to the Big Smoke to work as tailors, painters and bargemen. I’m very pleased to find that a great-great-uncle was an early motor bus driver in Brentford in 1918, just as my grandfather and great-grandfather were. Two branches owned pubs: one in Kent and one in Brentford. Fascinating, but such superficial knowledge of so many people (645 and counting!).

Of course, the Irish lot are a dead end at the moment. I don’t imagine the records in Galway would be in a particularly good state, but we’ll have to see.

So, I’m pleased with Ancestry in that it’s possible very easily to trace back six or seven generations (unless you’re beset by misspelling of names, which can be a real problem). However, I think what I need to do now is to try to build up a more detailed knowledge of the more recent generations – 645 names is wonderful, but doesn’t really mean very much.

I’ll keep you posted.

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Because we need regular checkpoints for reflection…

Yesterday afternoon, Dan had one of his internet global news channel things on to watch the fireworks in other parts of the world and we noted that the Chinese display was pretty pathetic. Of course, why should they be particularly impressive? It’s not their new year, is it? The Chinese NY this year is actually on Valentine’s Day. Do the Chinese make new year’s resolutions? Whenever one celebrates the dawning of the new year, however, one is expected to reflect on the year (or decade) just gone and plan for self-improvement. We like to feel chivvied into collective self-evaluation by a date. If you work in education, it would make more sense to use 1st September, rather than 1st January.

Education these days is all about getting children to evaluate their own progress and to set themselves targets. They must know what their minimum target grades are according to the assessment data and what they should be doing to achieve them all the time, not just once a year. Checking this is part of the school inspection process. Continuous reflection is considered an essential part of making children effective learners.

So, what use are annual targets? When writing your little list of resolutions, do you decide what the success criteria are going to be? Do you focus on what’s achievable based on your abilities and the limits of the possible? Do you have someone comment on them and suggest others? Probably not, because we’d feel like we were being examined. Vagueness and idealism are much less stressful.

So, I shall resolve in 2010 to get married, cook lots of lovely things and see friends more often. Which, ironically, are quite specific and achievable.

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The Roman Credit Crunch AD 33

Translation by the Internet Classics Archive:

Meanwhile, a powerful host of accusers fell with sudden fury on the class which systematically increased its wealth by usury in defiance of a law passed by Caesar the Dictator defining the terms of lending money and of holding estates in Italy, a law long obsolete because the public good is sacrificed to private interest. The curse of usury was indeed of old standing in Rome and a most frequent cause of sedition and discord, and it was therefore repressed even in the early days of a less corrupt morality. First, the Twelve Tables prohibited any one from exacting more than 10 per cent, when, previously, the rate had depended on the caprice of the wealthy. Subsequently, by a bill brought in by the tribunes, interest was reduced to half that amount, and finally compound interest was wholly forbidden. A check too was put by several enactments of the people on evasions which, though continually put down, still, through strange artifices, reappeared. On this occasion, however, Gracchus, the praetor, to whose jurisdiction the inquiry had fallen, felt himself compelled by the number of persons endangered to refer the matter to the Senate. In their dismay the senators, not one of whom was free from similar guilt, threw themselves on the emperor’s indulgence. He yielded, and a year and six months were granted, within which every one was to settle his private accounts conformably to the requirements of the law.

Hence followed a scarcity of money, a great shock being given to all credit, the current coin too, in consequence of the conviction of so many persons and the sale of their property, being locked up in the imperial treasury or the public exchequer. To meet this, the Senate had directed that every creditor should have two-thirds his capital secured on estates in Italy. Creditors however were suing for payment in full, and it was not respectable for persons when sued to break faith. So, at first, there were clamorous meetings and importunate entreaties; then noisy applications to the praetor’s court. And the very device intended as a remedy, the sale and purchase of estates, proved the contrary, as the usurers had hoarded up all their money for buying land. The facilities for selling were followed by a fall of prices, and the deeper a man was in debt, the more reluctantly did he part with his property, and many were utterly ruined. The destruction of private wealth precipitated the fall of rank and reputation, till at last the emperor interposed his aid by distributing throughout the banks a hundred million sesterces, and allowing freedom to borrow without interest for three years, provided the borrower gave security to the State in land to double the amount. Credit was thus restored, and gradually private lenders were found. The purchase too of estates was not carried out according to the letter of the Senate’s decree, rigour at the outset, as usual with such matters, becoming negligence in the end.

Tacitus, Annals VI

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Britons and sun: slightly sad?

It’s arguably the first day of spring (although some might take the stance that the onset of BST later thisstupidsummer month better signals the change of seasons). Digging and planting of the vegetable patch can begin. It was even fittingly mild and sunny today, in defiance of the weather forecast.

What I find hilarious is that, at the meerest hint of sun, the British go slightly insane as they rush to take advantage of the miracle of warmth. Had we gone to Green park, no doubt there would have been a few people in the deckchairs in hats and overcoats eating strawberries.

It wasn’t particularly warm last summer, as some of you may recall. On the days that were, the hordes took to the parks in skimpy outfits to frolic with frisbies and partake of picnics and Pimm’s. Fair enough, in August.

We went shopping today and found that, despite it only being 10 degrees or so, the outdoor tables of all the cafes in Harrow were full and there was something of a continental atmosphere. Has nobody heard of global warming? It’s not like we won’t get actual, proper sun sometime later this year. Why sit out in the cold for the sake of making it seem like spring or summer? You’re sitting out there in winter coats, people!

I just think it’s a little silly. We sat inside.

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The apostrophe cretins strike back

Following on from  my post about the seemingly insoluble problem of people simply not bothering with apostrophes in signs and place names, Birmingham City Council has officially decided no longer to include apostrophes in any street signs. See here for further details.

They claim it’s consistent. Well, surely it would still have been consistent to put the apostrophes in properly? Such an opportunity missed for educating the masses of Birmingham.

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Bibliohooliganism: A volte-face?

When I was about 8, I voraciously devoured every Enid Blyton school story I could get my hands on. Literally. The covers were gnawed off almost obsessively. Folds were made that marked the boundaries of which bit would be torn off that day.  By the time I was 11, I looked back on this habit with loathing and gave out mini codes of conduct with every paperback I lent, so that they would return to me pristine and unsullied by the grubby hands of my excessively carefree friends. My brother is still regularly made to suffer for sitting on The Complete Sherlock Holmes (a Christmas present) and bending the cover irreparably. I would never, ever, ever have dreamed of actually writing in any of my books.

However, I’ve found more recently that the increasingly poor editing of (specifically, but I doubt exclusively) certain ancient history books has led to me read with a pen (yes, my children, a PEN) to hand in order to correct errors. You might be marvelling at my unbounded hubris, but let me show you what I mean (errors coloured green):

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