Monthly Archives: January 2008

A Pilcrow

I like pilcrows. They’re the ghosts of punctuation. They signify nothingness.


A Hertford resident tries her first latte
Starbucks are now recruiting for their forthcoming outlet in Hertford. Let’s hope the new branch doesn’t repeat a recent controversial Starbucks innovation in the USA.

Roaring Meg

the Roaring Meg river in Stevenage
I visited the Roaring Meg Retail Park in Stevenage the other day and was overcome with curiosity about Meg and her roaring. Was she a resident of Stevenage? Why did she roar?
So I asked a tattooed passer by in a hooded top. ‘Roaring Meg’s the river mate,’ he mumbled. ‘That stream thing.’ He pointed to a vague dribble disappearing into a pipe. It was quite picturesque, for Stevenage.
When I got home I investigated further.
It turns out that the original Roaring Meg was a wild and loose woman. In fact, all such women were once known as ‘Megs’. A particularly notorious one was ‘Long Meg of Westminster’. I don’t like the sound of her.
I then discovered a Buckinghamshire rock band named after Ms Roaring. Their website claims that she ‘crosses the boundary betwixt this world and the afterworld, gate-crashing parties and whipping unsuspecting souls into a riotous frenzy.’ This is clearly a veiled reference to Amy Winehouse.
Roaring Meg apparently liked nothing better than straddling a cannon. Several famous cannons and guns were named after her (and her pal Big Bertha). In fact, the word ‘gun’ itself is derived from a woman’s name – Gunhilda.
Roaring Meg is also –
a dam in New Zealand
a boat
a type of beer
a waterfall in Queensland
a make of Cider
a pub in Staffordshire


I’ve learnt something new this weekend. ‘Hippopotomonstrosesquipedeliaophobia’ is now considered to be the longest word in English. It means ‘the fear of long words’.

Nintendo Boll

I noticed the cover of Nintendo Cats and Dogs today in a shop and was struck by the astounding similarity between the Nintendo cat and Bolly (pictured right – as a kitten). Clearly she’s been modelling behind my back to fund her Whiskas habit.

Rupert (The) Bear

Rupert – a bear

There was a letter in The Times (or The Telegraph – can’t remember) this week, bemoaning the widespread use of ‘Rupert the Bear’. Rupert is, of course, just ‘Rupert Bear’. Why dub him ‘Rupert the Bear’, fulminated the disgruntled correspondent, when we don’t refer to Rupert’s Peruvian cousin as ‘Paddington the Bear’. What next? ‘Mickey the Mouse’? ‘Donald the Duck’?

The Rupert issue is, of course, a thorny one. Why, for example, is Felix always ‘Felix the Cat’ rather than plain old ‘Felix Cat’. Why, for that matter, isn’t he just ‘Felix – a Cat’? I guess he’s Felix the Cat in order to distinguish him from Felix the Gerbil or Felix the Termite. And ‘Felix the Cat’ scans better in the song.

I like a nice ‘the’. ‘The’ adds a touch of Edwardian grandeur to a name. Imagine dining at ‘Ivy’ (or even ‘Ivy’s’) rather than ‘The Ivy’. It just wouldn’t be cricket. And, for me, it will always be ‘The Lebanon’, ‘The Gambia’, ‘The Ivory Coast’ and ‘The West Country’.

But some jumped-up metropolitan popinjays have recently got it into their heads that ‘the’ is a bit up-tight and dropping it is cool – the verbal equivalent of not doing up the laces on your trainers.

On the tube the other day, the voice announced, ‘Alight here for Houses of Parliament’. No ‘the’ whatsoever. As a protest, I refused to get off and stayed on … all the way to The Canary Wharf.

In the perverse and slouchy world of art, it’s also considered a bit old-school to bother with ‘the’. So we end up with the article-free ‘Tate Modern’ in London and ‘Baltic’ in Newcastle. But it’s a human right to be preceded by a ‘the’ in my view, so I jolly well add one, as in: ‘I went to The Baltic the other day and saw lots of random objects which made no sense.’

Without ‘the’, we’d all be cast adrift in a sea full of indefinite articles, bobbing around like driftwood. ‘The Queen’ is clearly not the same as ‘a queen’. Being invited to ‘a queen’s garden party’ is a different thing altogether. And ‘The Queen’ is not ‘Queen’. To my knowledge, Elizabeth II has never had a hit with Bohemian Rhapsody and doesn’t sport a camp moustache.

Talking of bands, it doesn’t do to get your definite articles in a twist. Some have a compulsory ‘the’ – ‘The Stones’, ‘The Who’, ‘The Fall’. People would think you were a bit odd, or an entomologist perhaps, if you dropped the compulsory ‘the’ and said: ‘I’m a big fan of Beatles. I’ve got lots of Beatles in my iPod.’

But ‘The Fleetwood Mac’, ‘The Wham’, ‘The Take That’? No. I think not.

Other bands are more borderline. It gives me a cheeky fillip to add a ‘the’ to ‘Kaiser Chiefs’ for example. But I’m quite hardline about ‘Arctic Monkeys’ who are emphatically not ‘The Arctic Monkeys’. Saying ‘The Arctic Monkeys’ is a sure sign that your CD collection qualifies for Saga insurance. ‘The’ is still hanging on, but seems to be reserved for the more perky bands such as ‘The Wombats’.

Which brings us to the eighties band ‘The The’. If they were launching now, they’d probably be required to drop the initial ‘the’ and just call themselves ‘The’.

On the other hand – they could privately think of themselves as ‘The The The’, drop the first ’The’, remain ‘The The’ and just about manage to save face.

Or should that be ‘save the face’? No. My face is my face. Not the face or a face. In English, we say, ‘I’ve broken my nose.’ But in many other languages, your nose is simply ‘the nose’, as in: ‘I’ve broken the nose’. I guess the assumption is that ‘the nose’ is quite obviously your own one and not one which happened to be randomly passing by.

It is acceptable to drop the ‘the’ in everyday phrases such as ‘I’m going to bed’ – unless you’re Scottish, in which case you say ‘I’m going to my bed’, presumably to make it unequivocally clear that you’re not heading for someone else’s.

‘The’ is becoming an endangered species in English and must be preserved at all costs. In other European languages such as German, they fling it in willy nilly wherever they can. Friends are referred to as ‘The Siegfied’ or ‘The Brunhilde’. You attend ‘the school’, you get admitted to ‘the hospital’ and you fear ‘the death’.

I hope you’ve found this article definite. And – by the way – I am the Ian Peacock and not the other one.

The the is dead. Long live the the.


Pollock of the Day

Today’s Pollock is by Jane from Hertford.

Pollock of the Day

Today’s Pollock is by Ben from Cambridge.

Pollock of the Day

Today’s Pollock is by Frank from Waltham Abbey.

Six Degrees

According to a totally unsubstantiated rumour doing the rounds in Hertford, Bollinger’s vet also looks after the Blue Peter cats Socks and Cookie.

Six Degrees

Inspired by Bollinger’s impressive new connections, here are some utterly pathetic and desperate quasi-namedrops relating to me and Blue Peter. I can almost sense Shep in the room as I write.