Þam beancoddum – the bean pods…

I’ve mentioned before that I go to a group where we discuss Anglo-Saxon… we aren’t trying to learn it, we don’t have a teacher, and to be honest, I think it’s a bit beyond us! We do have most interesting meetings, though, and we always overrun our time together!

We met yesterday and talked about many things, and then our leader shared this short story; here is the first part, which I’m sure you are familiar with in modern English!

He cwæð: Soðlice sum monn hæfde twegen suna.
Þa cwæð se gingra to his fæder, “Fæder, sele me mine dæl minre æhte þe me to gebyreþ.” Þa dælde he him his æhta.
Ða æfter feawum dagum eall his þing gegaderode se gingra sunu ond ferde wræclice on feorlen rice ond forspilde þær his æhta, libbende on his gælsan.
Ða he hie hæfde ealle amierrede, þa wearð micel hungor on þam rice and he wearð wædla.
Þa ferde he and folgode anum burhsittendum men þæs rices; ða sende he hine to his tune þæt he heolde his swin.
Ða gewilnode he his wambe gefyllan of þam beancoddum þe ða swin æton, and him mon ne sealde.
Þa beþohte he hine ond cwæð, “Eala, hu fela hyrlinga on mines fæder huse hlaf genohne habbað, ond ic her on hunger forweorðe!”

…and here is a version you may be familiar with:

He said, “There was a man who had two sons.
The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.
After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.
So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.
He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!

I can’t find a recording of this to share, but here is the Lord’s Prayer:

Double elephant and pinched post

I’m fascinated by names, all sort of names, and so is my character, Thomas Radwinter in my genealogical mysteries.

In my latest novel, Thomas remarks, “What is a madcap I wonder… A fool’s cap maybe… Like a jester’s headgear the thing with bells on and is that anything to do with the old way of measuring paper, foolscap and I deviate to find other old paper sizes, octavo quarto, and would you believe it duchess, duke and Albert!

I only had him look up a few examples of paper size, but later I went back and found out some of the sizes we used before it all became uniformly A – A1 – A5 – how dull.

I’ve missed out some, but just compare ‘A’ to:

  • Emperor
  • Quad demy
  • Antiquarian
  • Grand eagle
  • Double elephant
  • Atlas
  • Colombier
  • Double demy
  • Imperial
  • Double large post
  • Elephant
  • Princess
  • Cartridge
  • Royal
  • Double post
  • Super royal
  • Broadsheet
  • Demy
  • Crown
  • Pinched post
  • Foolscap
  • Brief
  • Pott

If you look just on Wikipedia, not on a site which is to do with paper, there is a huge index on size:

International paper sizes

  • A series
  • B series
  • C series

Overview: ISO paper sizes

  • German extensions
  • Swedish extensions
  • Japanese B-series variant

North American paper sizes

  • Loose sizes
  • Common loose sizes
  • Usage and adoption
  • Variant loose sizes
  • Standardized American paper sizes
  • Architectural sizes
  • Other sizes
  • Notebook sizes
  • Office sizes
  • Photography sizes
  • Postage sizes
  • Grain

… Maybe you’re not so interested… I was… and Thomas was! Here is a link to my ebooks about Thomas, and my other books too:



The word ‘weird’ is very old, but it is also very current, people say it all the time, in all sorts of different contexts from meaning unusual, to odd, to crazy, to spooky, to sinister and creepy and even perverted… It’s also a word I have to keep checking I have spelt correctly – I just can’t keep it in mind that it defies the ‘i before e’ rule!

It originally meant to control fate as in Fate/the Fates, and has its origins in the same root as Old Norse, Old Saxon and Old High German. It may have originated from a word meaning to turn or bend – I guess like bending someone’s will, or turning their mind. By the time Shakespeare was writing it also meant supernatural – as we all know from the weird sisters in Macbeth. Weird people were supposed to look different, their magical mystical powers showing through marking them as… well, weird!

Thinking about the ‘i before e’ rule… here are a few more exceptions…

  • beige
  • feign
  • foreign
  • forfeit
  • height
  • neighbour
  • vein
  • weight

Back to weird… Although I know it’s a very old word, I thought its common use these days was just a modern thing. I have been editing my next Radwinter book, Earthquake, and came across this:

“The only thing Cynthia said of any use was about a couple of the other girls; she couldn’t remember their names, but one she remembered her mother saying, was a funny little thing who had a weird side… The actual word wasn’t weird it was something someone would have said fifty or so years ago…”

Just last night, I was reading an Agatha Christie novel, published in 1936, and came across this:

The third photograph was a very old one, now faded and yellow. It represented a young man and woman in somewhat old-fashioned clothes standing arm in arm. The man had a flower in his buttonhole and there was an air of bygone festivity about the whole pose.
“Probably a wedding picture,” said Poirot. “Regard, Hastings, did I not tell you that she had been a beautiful woman.”
He was right. Disfigured by old-fashioned hair-dressing and weird clothes, there was no disguising the handsomeness of the girl in the picture with her clear-cut features and spirited bearing.

So, in 1936, which was the time my character was speaking of, one of Agatha Christie’s characters had used weird in what i had thought was a completely modern way!

In case you haven’t yet read my books, here is a link:


I like your sauce! Vintage sauce!

Something which gets me leaping onto my hobby-horse and galloping round and round the room is best before dates; I understand why there needs to be some information on when a product was made and especially some suggestions of when such things as fresh meat or fish should be eaten by (even though your nose and eyes should give you a big hint) but modern packaging these days with its ‘best before’ dates has led to a huge amount of unnecessary food waste. People will throw things away as soon as they reach their best before dates even though they are perfectly safe to eat – ‘best’ means best – not you will suffer excruciatingly if a morsel of this passes your lips the day after…

Preserves – the clue is in the word ‘preserve’; the whole process, millennia old no doubt, is to keep food so it will last healthily and safely; a couple of days ago, I messaged a friend to tell her how much I was enjoying her whisky marmalade – which she gave me in 2012… yes five years ago, and it was delicious! I don’t often have bacon sandwiches, but when I do I have brown sauce, HP, actually; it’s the only time I have the sauce so you can imagine it’s not often used.  As I was closing the lid after dribbling it onto my bacon, I glanced at the ‘best before’ date… 2007… yes, no mistake, 2007…

This doesn’t mean you should pay no attention to bb dates – I opened a new bag of  couscous for dinner last night… It was edible but had a strange musty flavour – that’s because I bought it three years ago and it had got tucked at the back of everything else… It was edible but not very nice, so I threw it away (in the food recycling bin of course!)

By the way the word ‘sauce’ comes as you might guess from Latin, meaning things which have been salted… or seasoned. To be saucy is to be cheeky or suggestive, but the phrase ‘I like your sauce!’ implies that someone has been impolite, rude or arrogant – but sometimes in a joking way, as with me and my title!


I have to confess, right from the start, that I have never eaten junket. My dad found it repellent so we never had it at home – I don’t know whether my mum knew of it or liked it… it just never was mentioned, and we had so many other delicious things, all home-cooked, that although I read about it in old story books, I never came across it.

The old word, very old word comes originally from the late 1300’s where a jonket was a fish trap or basket; I remember seeing old eel traps in museums made out of rushes and willow, which I guess were jonkets. The origins of that word is even older, and goes back to Latin – probably I guess from the Normans. The distant origin meant rushes, and when rushes were made into baskets the word transferred, and then later It came to mean a meal carried in a basket, and then a feast or a banquet – and that today is another meaning of the word something fun, a trip or adventure, possibly with someone else paying!

So how did junket also come to mean the wobbly milk dessert – possibly because they were served on a ‘plate’ of rushes, like the Italian giuncata which is almost the same as junket, and is also served on rushes!

I wonder if I should try making junket? here is a recipe:

  • 1 pint milk
  • 1 tbsp castor sugar
  • 1 tsp rennet
  • 1 tbsp rum or brandy
  • nutmeg or cinammon, toasted almonds and or soft fruit to serve
  1. heat the milk very gently for about five minutes until blood temperature
  2. add sugar and stir to dissolve
  3. add the rennet and stir in carefully then add the rum or brandy
  4. pour into a serving dish and leave to set (not in the fridge)
  5. sprinkle surface with the nutmeg or cinnamon, the toasted almonds and serve with the soft fruit if wanted

A west country addition is to spread the surface of the junket with clotted cream and then the spice and nuts. Another variation, which sounds nice is to add the zest of a lemon or an orange to the milk while heating – I guess you could add other flavourings such as rose-water or vanilla!

I’m not sure why my dad didn’t like it, but I guess it was the texture, he had very particular reactions to the texture of food!


Shiver those timbers

I’ve been sharing some examples of nautical slang over the last few days, and my friend David mentioned ‘shiver me timbers’! I didn’t know if it was an actual piece of sailor-speak or made up by Robert Louis Stevenson in his wonderful book, ‘Treasure Island’. The phrase was in the original, but I think it was brought into common parlance by the different actors who over the years have played the part of the most famous pirate of them all, Long John Silver.

So many different actors have taken on this role on radio, TV, film, including:

  • Wallace Beery
  • Robert Newton
  • Orson Welles
  • James Mason
  • Peter Jeffrey
  • Jack Shepherd
  • Brian Blessed
  • Charlton Heston
  • Eddie Izzard
  • Anthony Quinn
  • Bernard Miles
  • Peter Vaughan
  • Alfred Burke

Back to the shivering of timbers; these days the word shiver is nearly always used for something trembling or shaking, often with cold or fear. The timbers of a ship in a storm would shake or tremble – and also in a battle, or when coming into contact with rocks!

However, shivering could also mean splintering or shattering – and I guess the timber parts of old ships often did splinter and smash, thorough violent weather or contact with rocks and reefs. When cannon and guns began to be used, the damage inflicted by shattering wood was horrific; timbers would almost explode and splinters of flying debris could kill a sailor or maim him for life. Shivering, or splintering timbers were a most dreadful thing.

So did sailors actually say ‘shiver me/my timbers’? Yes, apparently they did! Stevenson was careful to be accurate with his language, and he used nautical language to add colour and realism to his stories and tales… you can find a list here of various terms – including seamen’s slang, here:


And here is a rather saucy cartoon using ‘shiver me topsails’ – other variations include ‘shiver my hulk’.

Off on another tack and feeling groggy

A couple of weeks ago, I shared some nautical terms I’ve come across which reflect our maritime heritage in everyday language. I still don’t know if other seagoing nations have a similar rich naval vocabulary!

Here is another selection:

  • Down the hatch
  • Edging forward
  • Fathom out
  • Feeling under the weather
  • Fend off
  • Field day
  • First-rate
  • From stem to stern:
  • Full to the gunwales
  • Get underway
  • Give a wide berth
  • Give leeway
  • Give/cut some slack
  • Go by the board
  • Go off on another tack
  • Go overboard:
  • Groggy
  • Ground swell
  • Hand over fist
  • Hard and fast
  • High and dry
  • Hit the deck
  • Hot pursuit
  • In the offing
  • Keel over/keep an even keel
  • Know the ropes
  • Loose cannon
  • Loose ends
  • Main stay
  • On the wrong tack: