Saturday 22 April 2017

Of Barnard Castle and Beorhtnoth

Barnard Castle's castle

I wonder how common it is for politically-minded listeners to shun any programmes presented by someone whose views seem particularly objectionable to them and, as a result, how many have missed out on all manner of possible delights?

I've never been very keen on the far-Left, for example, so I've always tended to avoid programmes featuring, say, Mark Steel or Michael Rosen.

And this went on for years, until I heard an episode each of Word of Mouth and Mark Steel's in Town and now I try to listen to those programmes as much as possible and have come to like and admire Mark Steel as a comedian and Michael Rosen as a presenter.

Mark Steel's in Town has shown that Radio 4 comedy isn't all predictable, unfunny, self-congratulatory stuff that only appeals to metropolitan types. A recent repeat of a 2015 edition from Barnard Castle (which I'd never heard before) actually made me laugh out loud a lot - and how often can you say that about a Radio 4 comedy programme? It made the Barnard Castle audience laugh out loud a lot too. It was warm and clever. And as someone who's been to Barnard Castle, and experienced some of the difficulties Mark Steel himself experienced in getting to that Brigadoon of County Durham, it all sounded spot-on to me. (And to the audience of locals).
But then I went to the museum, which I honestly didn't know about before I came here. And I thought it would be like a typical museum - the sort of museum you would normally expect to see in a place this size with a stuffed otter and a bone. But it's a French chateau! It's about 30 miles long. It's the sort of thing you expect to find at the top of a magic beanstalk. I don't mean to be rude Barnard Castle but it's more than what you need. The whole population could move in there. It would make more sense if you all lived in there and the rest of the town was the museum. I know you're used to it but to the outsider it comes across as slightly eccentric for a town to consist of a castle, a Co-Op, a shop that sells milkshakes and a building with three floors of original Renaissance paintings. This must be the only place in the world where it's more effort to get a box of matches than to get a Rembrandt.  
The local museum in Barnard Castle

And as for Word of Mouth last week, that was full of fascinating facts about Anglo-Norman influences on the English language.
Laura Wright: For within a generation of 1066, Michael, we're giving up our English names. I mean, this presupposes an incredible glamour, I think, of the Anglo-Normans. So let me give you some old English names which we abandoned very quickly: Ælfgifu, Beorhtnoth 
Michael Rosen: Oh, that's our producer's name!
Laura Wright: ...Æthelflæd, Leofthryth...
Michael Rosen: I like him. I've always liked Leofthryth.
Laura Wright: You've got a weak spot for Leofthryth. Well, we started giving our children Anglo-Norman/French names such as Alan, John, Robert, Alice, William, Stephen, Susan, Christine, Jeffrey, Joan, Peter, Thomas..let me end on Michael...
Michael Rosen: Alright. I'm Anglo-Norman, am I?
Laura Wright: Well, these Anglo-Norman names just kicked out those older ones. I mean, there are very few old English names. I can think of Eric and Edward...
Richard Ashdowne: Alfred?
Laura Wright: Well, that's actually a Victorian reintroduction...
Richard Ashdowne: That's right. A lot of these have enjoyed a new vogue recently. 
Laura Wright: Ethyl. 
Richard Ashdowne: Yeah.
Laura Wright: But we didn't completely abandon our old English names, in reality, because a lot of them continued as surnames. So that Leofthryth is probably still with us as a surname. So, for example, if I give you a name like 'Margaret Cole'. 'Margaret' is Anglo-Norman, 'Cole' is an old English given name. Or 'Richard Elliott'. 'Richard' is Anglo-Norman 'Elliott' is old English. 'Catherine Wolsey' - the 'Catherine' bit is Anglo-Norman French but 'Wolsey' is an old English given name. 
That's very much my kind of thing.


  1. I was talking to a friend today about Mark Steel. We can all see he is a complete lefty (and some of his leftiness I don't have a problem with) but (a) he still has a human sense of humour about him (b) he isn't vindictive and (c) he engages with a wide audience.

    Quite different from Jeremy Hardy to take just one example. :)

  2. Don't feel too bad about it, I laughed at something Jeremy Hardy said yesterday on The News Quiz. Admittedly, it was one of those unintentionally funny quotes that people send in. But it did make me laugh.


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