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From the Telegraph’s obituaries:

Annie Penrose, who has died aged 100, gave her childhood nickname – “Little Spitfire” – to the world’s most celebrated fighter aircraft.

Her father, Sir Robert McLean, played a crucial role in the development of the Spitfire as chairman of Vickers (Aviation) in the 1930s, working closely with the gifted design engineer RJ Mitchell. When it came to giving the new single-seater fighter a name, McLean suggested Spitfire, the affectionate term he used for his spirited elder daughter.

Initially the Air Ministry had reservations about the name, as did Mitchell, who argued for calling the new aircraft the Shrew; but in the end McLean prevailed.

According to Morgan and Shacklady’s definitive book Spitfire – The History: “The Air Ministry agreed to adopt the name chosen by Sir Robert McLean. Sir Robert had demanded that the name of the company’s new fighter should suggest something venomous, and because of the sibilant it had to begin with the letter ‘S’. His choice was Spitfire.”

To quote Johnny Carson, I did not know that.  Pretty neat, tho’.

Read the rest of the obit, too, for a glimpse back into the last days of the Empire.

‘Course, if I had been in Sir Robert’s position, the world’s most celebrated fighter aircraft would be nicknamed the “Stiffneck”.  But that’s a different story.

"The Thin Red Line" by Robert Gibb

Greetings, my fellow port-swillers!

Today happens to be the Feast of St. Crispin, which means it’s also the anniversary of both the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 and of the “Charge of the Light Brigade” at Balaclava in 1854.

Well, Henry V had Shakespeare and Lucan and his Light Horse had Tennyson, but not much is said about another event that took place at Balaclava on the same day as the Charge, that of the rout of a Russian cavalry charge by the 93rd Highlanders under Sir Colin Campbell.   The expression “Thin Red Line” is a condensation of the description of Campbell’s position by a Times correspondent on the scene, who reported that he saw nothing between the Russian Horse and British HQ except a “thin red streak tipped with a line of steel.”   Most friends of the decanter who are interested in this sort of thing probably already know that George Macdonald Fraser gives an excellent description of both Campbell’s action and the Charge in Flashman at the Charge, Flashy managing to get himself involved in both fights.

And of course, the expression “the thin red line” has made it into the popular lexicon as an expression of British courage and coolness under fire.  One place it turns up is in Kipling’s “Tommy Atkins”, so in honor of the 93rd, let’s Kipple a bit:

I went into a public-‘ouse to get a pint o’ beer,
The publican ‘e up an’ sez, “We serve no red-coats here.”
The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I:
O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”;
But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but ‘adn’t none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-‘alls,
But when it comes to fightin’, Lord! they’ll shove me in the stalls!
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, wait outside”;
But it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide,
The troopship’s on the tide, my boys, the troopship’s on the tide,
O it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide.

Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap;
An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.
Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul?”
But it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll.

We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;
While it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, fall be’ind”,
But it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind,
There’s trouble in the wind, my boys, there’s trouble in the wind,
O it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind.

You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:
We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot;
An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool — you bet that Tommy sees!

From the Beeb comes a rayther odd protest story:

Shakespeare’s name is being removed from signs in Warwickshire in a campaign against a new film which questions whether he wrote his plays.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is taping over nine road signs for the day to coincide with the premiere of Anonymous at the London Film Festival.

It criticised the film as an attempt to “rewrite English culture and history”.

A memorial in William Shakespeare’s home town of Stratford-upon-Avon is being covered with a sheet.

The sign on The Shakespeare pub in Welford, where the Bard is said to have enjoyed his last drink, is one of 10 pub signs that are being covered.

The trust said it wanted to highlight the potential impact of the film’s “conspiracy theory” that William Shakespeare was the “barely literate frontman for the Earl of Oxford”.

Anonymous stars Rafe Spall as the Bard, Rhys Ifans as the Earl of Oxford, Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Elizabeth I, and asks “Was Shakespeare a fraud?”

It reignites the age-old debate over the authorship of Shakespeare’s work, taking the view that it was Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, and not William Shakespeare who was in fact the true author of the famous plays.

Dr Paul Edmondson, head of knowledge and research at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, said: “This film flies in the face of a mass of historical fact, but there is a risk that people who have never questioned the authorship of Shakespeare’s works could be hoodwinked.

“Shakespeare is at the core of England’s cultural and historical DNA, and he is certainly our most famous export.

“Today’s activity barely scratches the surface, but we hope it will remind people of the enormous legacy we owe to William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon.”

I call the story odd because this kind of thing is usually done by stupid hippies griping about the Patriot Act or the French sinking the Rainbow Warrior or some such, not by defenders of orthodoxy.

If it’s of any comfort to Dr. Edmondson and his friends, however, I just recently read or heard that Anonymous, which is based on an old and extremely implausible suspicion, has laid something of an egg with preview audiences. Indeed, on the basis of this, I believe the producers decided on a last minute switch from a general theatrical release to a much narrower initial distribution on the hope of trying to generate some positive buzz before loosing it on the larger publick.

Of course, I sympathize with the traditionalists in this matter (big surprise, I know), even if I think their campaign tactics a bit silly.  I suppose that some might argue Anonymous is a Good Thing, insofar as it will encourage people to go out and seek The Truth about Shakespeare, but I doubt this will be the case.  And any road, if the trailer is anything to go by, the film’s really just a modern bodice-ripper gilded with a thin fool’s gold veneer of historickal “controversy” to cover its prurient appeal, a la The Tudors.  Shakespeare is probably already long lost to the sort of people who might enjoy a film of this sort.

Mr. FLG didn’t think much of my noodling t’other day on whether Vikings count as pirates (I still think they do), but I believe he’ll like this story:

Treasure hunters claim they have discovered two ships from Sir Francis Drake’s fleet off the coast of Panama and believe his coffin could lie on the seabed nearby.

His burial at sea in full armour and in a lead casket was designed to ensure that no one – but especially the Spanish – would find his body.

Now, more than 400 years after Sir Francis Drake’s death in the Caribbean, the great seafarer’s watery grave may be close to being discovered.

A team of treasure hunters led by an American former basketball team owner claims to have discovered two ships from Drake’s fleet lying on the seabed off the coast of Panama. The 195-ton Elizabeth and 50-ton Delight were scuttled shortly after the naval hero’s death from dysentery, aged about 55, in 1596. It is thought that Drake’s final resting place may be nearby.

Pat Croce, a former president of the Philadelphia 76ers and self-professed “pirate aficionado”, embarked on a search for the ships after researching a book on the latter part of Drake’s career, as a privateer plundering Spanish ships in the New World.

Mr Croce, 56, described the discovery as “pretty wild”, saying that after several days of searching in murky waters, the team suddenly got lucky.

“It’s been truly miraculous,” Mr Croce told The Daily Telegraph. “You set yourself impossible goals in life but to find these two ships has been amazing.

“We are 98 per cent sure of their veracity. The charred wood, the lead on board, the English pottery from that period. And we’re confident no crew in its right mind would have deliberately sailed there.

Mr Croce said that based on multiple records from the time, including the journal of Thomas Maynard, a member of Drake’s entourage who sailed on the Defiance, the coffin was believed to be one league – or just over three miles – away from the wrecks.

Mr Croce described Drake as his “favourite pirate of all time”. “Here’s a fellow in the 16th century who sailed around the world and single-handedly wreaked havoc in the New World when navigation was still primitive,” he said.

“Even Queen Elizabeth described him as her pirate. The British members of our crew have been very excited.”

I’ve heard of Croce before, and if one changed the description from “pirate aficionado” to “pirate lunatic” it would be closer to the mark.  Indeed (and Mr. FLG can thank me at Christmas if Mrs. FLG is paying the least attention), he seems to have come out with a new book encapsulating this very trait: The Pirate Handbook: A Rogue’s Guide to Pillage, Plunder, Chaos & Conquest.

Share and enjoy, me hearties.


**Spot the quote.


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October 2011