Lesson #214: JackĀ Spratt

This is the second attempt at this post. Cyberspace ate the last one. Anyway, as I was saying…

Speaking of Charles I being an epic wanker,* my maternal grandmother handed me a copy of a book this evening** about the fascinating and sometimes sordid history of nursery rhymes. Because liking this sort of weird stuff runs in my family.

Jack Spratt is most widely accepted among people who know and study these things to be about Charles I. The earliest recorded version of the nursery rhyme dates back to 1639 and reads: “Jack will eat no fat and Jill doth love no lean, Yet betwixt them both they lick the dishes clean.”

After Parliament refused finance for the war Charles I so desperately wanted with Spain (thus inciting the storming of the House of Commons, the retreating to the north to sulk and raise an army and then the civil war), our buddy Chuck was a little bit overdrawn in the expense column, meaning “he could eat no fat because there wasn’t any.” His lovely wife, Henrietta Marie, however, was known for her opulent taste, which meant “she couldn’t abide lean, or poor, times.” Charles’ solution? Implement a war tax (to pay for, um, the war) and assess other random taxes (to pay for Henrietta’s extravagance) by which the two “licked England clean one way or another.”***

*We were. The other day.

**I’m in the New York capital region for the evening on my way down to the Mid-Atlantic city where I did my undergraduate work to see some friends. And attend a funeral.

***All quoted text is from Chris Roberts’ Heavy Words, Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind the Rhyme, pages 175-176.

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Lesson #209: The Monarch in the House of Commons

Ever since Charles I’s issues with the perceived overabundance of power that parliament possessed (really, they just wouldn’t give him the money he wanted to fight the Spanish in the New World), leading him to storm the House of Commons with a few of his armed soldier buddies and try to arrest five people in 1642 and then launch a civil war in which he stormed off in a huff to the north and raised an army against parliament, which in turn led to his execution, the monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has not been allowed into the House of Commons.

It’s a classic example of how one guy throws a temper tantrum and ruins it for everyone else.

More information on that here, here and here.

Lesson #108: Terms of the Members of Parliament

A friend of mine came back to town on Tuesday and so we had a night of catching up tonight that involved a bunch of things, but, as things are wont to do, ended up at the pub to meet up with some of her other friends. The pub we went to had a pub quiz going on and since I was among a contingent of people who aren’t politics students and/or British, the question about a British MP’s length of term was hotly debated*

The answer is five. Ish. Legally, elections must be held no more than five years apart, but because the government can call an election whenever it so chooses, an MP’s term length may be under the five years. For example, the last election was in 2005 and before that, it was in 2001.**

*Of course, some of them did know that a seat in the House of Commons can’t be resigned. One can opt not to seek reelection if one has a paying post under the Crown (or some such terminology), a formality, I’m sure, but one cannot just decide that one no longer wishes to be an MP and just go home and hang out.

**If you can do math, you should have it figured out that there will be an election this year.

Lesson #104: Highwaymen

Autobiographical note: My mother taught me the definition of metaphor using the Alfred Noyes poem The Highwayman, the second line of which is, “the moon was a ghostly galleon cast upon cloudy seas.” I have no idea why that was what she used, but I rather suspect that’s the way she learned it.

Highwaymen were robbers who operated (mostly) on the British Isles* between the Elizabethan era and the early 19th century. Specifically, highwaymen rode on horseback; thieves on foot (or those who robbed pedestrians) were called footpads. Traditionally, men on horseback waited in wooded areas on the main roads leading out of London as this offered both a place to hide and a variety of marks to choose from. In England, the penalty for highway robbery was death by hanging. The last recorded incident of highway robbery occurred in 1831 and while the burgeoning railway business is given as a reason for the decline, the industry, such as it was, had been declining since the middle of the 18th century. It is more likely that the decline was a result of the expansion of the turnpike system with manned and gated toll roads, as well as the increasing use of banknotes rather than gold coinage as currency.**

Essentially, Robin Hood, whether he was real or is just legend, was a highwayman.

*There were also highwaymen in France and Hungary. And, although the term is specific, the action is not. In the American west, they were called road agents; in Australia, they were known as bushrangers.

**More reading here and here.

Lesson #4: Driving in Northern Ireland

There are big stickers in the front and rear windshields on some cars in Northern Ireland. They say either L or R. A college friend who was over for a visit in October asked me what they meant and I had no idea. I happened to see one today while I was waiting for the bus and asked the random stranger who was also waiting what they meant.

The L sticker is for a learner. A learner can apply for a permit as early as three months before his 17th birthday, but it will not be issued until the date of his 17th birthday. Learners must be accompanied by a driver over the age of 21 who has been fully licensed for 3 years and are not allowed to surpass speeds of 45 MPH.

The R sticker is for a restricted license. Once a learner turns 18 and passes his driving test, he is issued a restricted licence, which means he is banned from the motorways for a full year. In fact, he is not allowed to drive over 45 MPH.*

A quick tidbit: The Queen is the only person in the UK who is not required to hold a driver’s license in order to drive, nor are any vehicles personally owned by the Queen subject to numbered plate requirements.**

*All that information can be foundĀ here.

**This seems to be common knowledge as Googling that piece of information turns up a wealth of sites, but here’s a reliable source.