Destination: Mikey’s Fontane

I’ve never had a formal Afrikaans lesson, but I’ve lived here long enough to (as with my German and French) learn just about enough to not quite get by.

We’re heading into Mikey’s Fontane today. That’s what the locals call Matjiesfontein, when they’re not calling it home.

With a name like that, you wouldn’t expect that the town was founded by a Scotsman, but it was. He wasn’t even called Mikey – he was James Douglas Logan. In fact, Matjiesfontein means the fountain (or spring) of the little reeds: the sedges used by the original inhabitants to make mat flooring for their huts.

Steeped in colonial history, it’s allegedly like stepping back in time, back to the days when it was a popular Victorian spa town, and sprang up mainly as a stop off on the main railway line across the Cape.

The town also has connections to the Jameson Raid and the Anglo-Boer War.
Plenty to fill our eager minds, then.

Charles the Nickname

It’s June 13th, and if you check the Wikipedia page for today’s date, you’ll see that on this date in 1381, the Peasants’ Revolt led by Wat Tyler culminated in the burning of the Savoy Palace.

Who Tyler? No, Wat Tyler.

But way, way before that happened, it was the birthdate of Charles, the Holy Roman Emperor. “Which Charles?”, you ask, knowing that there were several. Well, today is a birthday for two of them, actually – the unfortunate ones.


Yes, both Charles the Bald and Charles the Fat were born on this day just 16 years apart.
What are the chances?

A quick search of other Wikipedia pages reveals that other Holy Roman Emperors, such as Charles the Handsome, Charles the Devilishly Goodlooking and Charles the OMG Mavis, Int’ee Buff weren’t born on June 13th.
Because they didn’t exist. I made them up.

However, amusingly, reality is almost more ridiculous than whatever was going on in my twisted mind just then.

Firstly, we’re told that Charles the Bald shouldn’t be confused with Charles the Bold. The latter presumably being braver and more hirsute. Charles the Bold was Duke of Burgundy between 1467 and 1477, when he was succeeded by Philip the Good (one of the nicest of the Philips).

Whereas, Charles the Bald was, by all accounts, bald. He had several children, including Judith*, Louis the Stammerer, Lothar the Lame and then – when someone’s imagination ran out – Charles the Child. Charles the Bald was King of West Francia (843–77), King of Italy (875–77) and Holy Roman Emperor (875–77), succeeding his father Louis the Pious and being succeeded by… Charles the Fat.

Annoyingly for Charles the Fat, there’s actually no evidence that he was fat:

The nickname “Charles the Fat” (Latin Carolus Crassus) is not contemporary. It was first used by the Annalista Saxo (the anonymous “Saxon Annalist”) in the twelfth century. There is no contemporary reference to Charles’s physical size, but the nickname has stuck and is the common name in most modern European languages (French Charles le Gros, German Karl der Dicke, Italian Carlo il Grosso).

Unfortunate.

Charles the Fat (sorry) held the offices of King of West Francia and Aquitaine, Emperor of the Romans, King of Italy, King of East Francia and Alemannia during his 48 year life. Busy guy. He had one son, who never amounted to much, probably primarily because his name was Bernard (the Illegitimate). (Oops).

Reading this, and noting the rampant nepotism and huge opulence that were part of the daily lives of these individuals, I can’t help but wish that we had something akin to their use of appropriate descriptions in naming modern day politicians.

Jacob the Corrupt.
Gwede the Boep.
Helen the Repeatedly Foolish.
Julius the Mouth.
Fikile the Clown.
Malusi the Captured.

 

married firstly with Ethelwulf of Wessex, secondly with Ethelbald of Wessex (her stepson), and thirdly with Baldwin I of Flanders. Gosh.

He’s a keeper

PRAISE your deity of choice. Or, if you’re not that way inclined, just be generally thankful.

Sheffield United have signed a new goalkeeper.

He is fresh in from Cardiff City, where he made 25 appearances after being signed from the Southampton academy.

Look, I’m in no way blaming the current goalkeeper, George Long, for our current woes (but I also kinda am):

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Indeed.
And poor old George Long apparently comes from a whole line of dodgy Blades keepers:

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Look at those eyes on the ball. Look at that firm-handed grip.

Des Thompson made 25 appearances for United between 1955 and 1964, before moving to Buxton, which was at that time, not the thriving hotbed of football stardom and celebrity that it still isn’t today.

Des’ brother George was also a goalkeeper, who played for Scunthorpe United, Preston North End, Manchester City and Carlisle United. And, their father (also George) was also a goalkeeper for Southampton.

In the 1929–30 Round 3 match at Bradford City, Thompson allowed a shot to crawl under his body after an awful defensive mix-up for Bradford’s first goal, with Saints going on to lose the match 4–1.

Keeping it in the family.

“Streets in the Sky”

That was the dream of the designers of Park Hill Estate in Sheffield. And apparently it worked for a while. But during my childhood in the Steel City, Park Hill was virtually a no-go area. Things are looking up now, as it’s been taken on by a urban regeneration company with a trendy name a a penchant for bright colours.
Richard Sillitoe and his camera got there before they started to make good:

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The Guardian piece is quite interesting, spelling out the ideas of the utopian estate thought up around the time of the Second World War:

Young Sheffield city council architects Ivor Smith and Jack Lynn began work in 1945, designing a radical scheme to rehouse the local community. Park Hill was the first successful post-second world war slum clearance scheme of an entire community in Britain.

And though they had plenty to do, paradoxically the bar was set pretty low, because the area was pretty awful to begin with, with no sewerage system, and regular typhus and cholera outbreaks.

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Their ideas were lofty, much like the streets they panned, but doomed to eventual failure.

Inspired partly by Le Corbusier, the ‘deck access scheme’ was seen as revolutionary. Its style was known as brutalism, and the concept described as ‘streets in the sky’, where milk floats would trundle along broad decks, stopping at front doors, as if they were in a normal street.
Families were re-homed next to their neighbours to maintain a strong sense of community, and old street names were re-used.

It all fell apart in the 1980s though:

Unemployment was rising as the local steel industry collapsed, Park Hill had descended into dilapidation and was no longer a place people wanted to live in. Boarded up pubs, burned out cars, rubbish, graffiti, it became a ‘no go’ area. The maze of alleys and walkways made it a perfect place for muggings; there were also problems with drugs, poor noise insulation, and even tales of air rifle snipers shooting at kids in the school playground. The spirit and traditions of the pre-war communities faded away, as the original residents aged and eventually died.

And that’s the Park Hill I will always remember: the eyesore on the gateway to Sheffield from the M1.

They’re trying again now, with more of a mix of commercial and residential units: inner city living is the new cool.
I hope it works.

Photos: David Sillitoe at Flickr

Hurricane Tom Jones

… is actually not unusual.

Everyone is talking about Hurricane Sandy today, which is unsurprising, but as ever, things should be kept in perspective.

As we enter the “new” age of social media, it’s sometimes important to remember that just because we see more news about these sort of things doesn’t actually mean that they are particularly unusual or even that they are occurring more regularly than previously.

And just as one swallow does not a summer make, neither is one hurricane proof for global warming, despite what any CNN weatherman might say.

Because New York has had many, many hurricanes hit it before. For example, Wikipedia has a list of 84 of them, dating back as far as the thirteenth century. And yes, Sandy may turn out to be a record breaker, but then so were many of those previous storms – the “Long Island Express” of 1938 is a particularly good example.

So just because this will probably be the most recorded, most shared, most tweeted hurricane in history, doesn’t mean that climate change is real.
Cherry-picking facts to suit one’s hypotheses has never been a valid method of conducting science and thus, conclusions based on that partial information will near invariably be false. Something you might like to remember when the green brigade trots out their post-Sandy propaganda.