MY grandfather, Charlie McCarthy, described himself as a “Journeyman Tailor.”
I learnt this a few years ago when I applied for a copy of my mother’s birth certificate to support my application for citizenship. I had to go to the Public Records Office on the Strand to get the document and it involved pulling down and looking through large printed books that were filed by years of birth. If you knew the year you wanted then you went through the entries in alphabetical order. If you did not find who you were looking for you tried another year. I could have looked up Winston
Churchill, who was born in 1874, or Dick Turpin, who was born in 1706 and hanged in 1730. Winston Churchill was not hanged but there are plenty of people who thought he should have been.
Each of the ledger entries had a number by it and when you knew the number you went to a small window where a clerk took the details and some money from you. A few days later the birth certificate
turned up in the mail. My mother’s certificate told me that she was born in London. It also said that her father was Charles McCarthy, “Journeyman Tailor” and her mother was Jessie Slater McCarthy, described as “Seamstress.” I knew what a seamstress did but did not have much idea what defined a “journeyman tailor.” Perhaps Charlie McCarthy had travelled for a living, carrying his needles and
pinking-shears from one part of England to another. I hoped that, like Dick Turpin, he at least had owned a horse.
I later learnt that “journey”, “journeyman” and “journal” derive from medieval English from old French from Latin: “of the day,” even though carpe diem means “for the day.” No wonder the Roman Empire declined. Actually, it was the fault of late Latin scholar of the period 390 to 700 who somehow thought diurnalis sounded better pronounced as “journee.” If it had not been for this obscure monk we would now have tabloid diurnalists (Note: A learned friend, on reading this last paragraph, informed me that carpe diem, in fact, means “seize the day.” He is correct, of course, even Robin Williams knows that. But I think the word could as well come from the Latin carpe meaning a muddy, fresh water fish). In one of the 29 volumes of The Encyclopaedia Brittanica of 1911 that grace my library shelves, the ITA to KYS
volume has an entry for “journeyman.” And for Dick Turpin, but he is in the volume TON to VES.
“Journeyman distinguishes a qualified workman or mechanic from an apprentice on the one hand and a master on the other, and is applied to one who is employed by another person to work at his trade or occupation at a day’s wage.” So, Charlie McCarthy was neither apprentice nor master but he must have been good at buttonholes because he and his wife Jessie were employed for many years by the well-known gentleman’s tailors, Ravenscroft of Saville Row. Here a bespoke cod-piece could set you back as much
as seven guineas. Even Winston Churchill got his ermine cut at Ravenscroft.
On the BBC World Service recently they announced that the late John Peel’s real name was Ravenscroft, so maybe my grandfather worked for his grandfather. I just hope Ravenscroft senior had better taste in music. There was an earlier Ravenscroft, Edward, who wrote a play called The London Cuckold in 1683 but you probably have not seen it as the last performance was at Cambridge in 1751.
Driving over lemmings
The Amputee was seated next to a loquacious
English woman at a dinner party the other evening. She told me that she was
writing a book about her recent move to lang=EN-GB>Spain and
her new life in the small pueblo she had chosen to live. I asked her to pass me
the spuds and commented on the wine. Not to be deterred, she said did I know of
any publisher that might be interested in her book? Have you heard that
Andalucía has declared itself a self-governing autonomous region and that all
foreign-born residents will soon be deported to lang=EN-GB>Mali, I
said? She said do you think I can get an advance? Do you know
that lang=EN-GB> they are shooting authors in the streets in Órgiva, I replied? She
looked at me intensely and said how much can I reasonably ask for?
The woman was the fifth
person in the last few weeks who told me they had a book in progress, or were
planning one. I blame this on demise of manual typewriters and the best-selling
author, Chris Stewart. Only the intrepid attempted to write a book when it
meant months of pounding on a noisy, mechanical writing machine built by
Olivetti, Remington or Smith Corona. A successful manuscript also involved
reams of foolscap, messy typewriter ribbons and boxes of carbon paper.
Nowadays, a low-cost word processor with a few gigabytes of memory can produce
your book, and samples of rejection letters that you are likely to receive,
within minutes. And you never need
to lang=EN-GB> get ink on your fingers.
Chris Stewart wrote a book about life in La
Alpujarra that sold more copies than The Joys of Sex. It was translated into 35
languages and has proved an inspiration to the many aspiring writers who think
they should try to write a best-selling book before they open a real-estate
agency. Local manuscripts looking for a
publisher include: The Gay Guide to
Bayacas, The Really Rough Guide to Órgiva, How to Drive to Motril and What to
do if Attacked by a Crystal Healer.
Ghost writers in the sky
Of course, the really big publishing
phenomenon at the moment is the celebrity autobiography. Anyone who has
appeared even briefly in the pages of a tabloid newspaper, or who has heard of
Max Clifford, seems destined to write their life-story: Jordan, Wayne Rooney,
Michael Barrymore, Billie Piper, Courtney Love, Adam Ant, Shayne Ward, Abi
Titmuss, Gordon Ramsey, Kerry Katona, Chantelle Houghton and Alex Ferguson are
a few of the A, B and C graders who have already published, or are about to
publish, autobiographies. As many of these celebrities have writer’s block
factor fifty, or think syntax is something you take for headaches, they employ
a ghost-writer, who invents a vaguely interesting life for them and puts it
into words of one and two syllables. The finished product is then sold by the
thousands in supermarkets, at 3 for 2, and/or serialized in the Daily Mail.
A friend and I are thinking of setting-up a
ghost-writers agency in Órgiva. If there are any winners of TV reality shows,
12 year old football prodigies (with career threatening injuries), surgically-enhanced
bosoms, celebrity chefs, gay priests, girl band members or card-carrying,
life-style gurus out there, we can have your biography finished by next
Thursday. If you have snorted coke with Pete Doherty and have photos of the
occasion, this will ensure at least ten weeks on the best-selling lists.
Democracy – sounds Greek to me
On September 22 last, lang=EN-GB>Venezuela‘s
president, Hugo Chavez, addressed the United Nations (UN) in lang=EN-GB>New York. In a
fiery speech he accused the lang=EN-GB>United States lang=EN-GB> of double standards on terrorism, saying it had previously
“planned, financed and set in motion a coup in lang=EN-GB>Venezuela
and continues to support coup attempts. I accuse the American government of
protecting terrorists.” George Bush had addressed the UN the day before
from the same podium and Chavez commented: “The devil came here yesterday,
the devil came right here and it still smells of sulphur.” Chavez also
said that Bush thought he was in a western movie, shooting from the hip and
this was “imperialist, fascist,
assassin lang=EN-GB>, genocidal, the empire.”
The interesting thing about Chavez’s
unusual speech was that when he stepped down from the podium the applause from
the delegates and world leaders lasted so long it had to be curtailed by the
chair. I do not imagine that John Bolton, he of the strange haircut, was overly
effusive though. The question remains, does the American administration know,
or even care, how unpopular with the rest of the world is their foreign policy?