Grey Britain: changed reading habits and an alternative view of World History

The best thing about rambling is the frissance of uncertainty about where you might end up, the slight anticlimax of finishing where you planned to be, day dream dashed. There may have been somewhere or something more interesting which you failed to serendipitously stumble upon.  A place, an object, an idea more interesting, more exotic, even a bit  mad ….. a Portmeirion.  Sometimes rambling can open  up whole new world views.

I realised after Christmas that I had a problem.  Not a problem like a leaky house or declining health or being pursued by the taxman for fiscal incompetence (more of which in the next blog).  Strictly speaking I guess it isn’t really even a bona fide problem.  Except that changing long established habits isn’t always easy …. so it’s kind of verging on being a problem.

Since I bought the Kindle I have been reading more, largely because I take it with me to most places and given time to kill, I kill it by reading rather than staring into space.

When I finished the last book I was reading on Kindle I started to read a book I had been given for Christmas – yes, that’s right, a paper book.  It’s about the Mani peninsula of the Peloponnese and the area sounds so interesting that, as I have noted in an earlier blog, I decided to include it in my gradually emerging itinerary for the summer.  It isn’t available on Kindle so having a real book was the only option.

The rub is that it’s too chunky to carry around everywhere on the off chance that I have time to read when I’m out-and-about.  So, ideal solution, I read the Kindle when I’m out-and-about and the ‘real’ book when I’m at home.  It’s a good solution if only because I have a backlog of unread books on the shelves and I can conserve the Kindle library for when I’m away in the summer.  Yet while it makes a lot of sense it does mean that for the first time ever, I am reading two books in parallel.  Revolutionary! Previously I have always read them in series: read a book; finish it; start another one.  For detractors and doubters I can confirm that I still have the mental agility to cope with this change in my life.

It’s always good when the books you read in some way lead you to change either how you do things or how you view things.  As noted, that’s certainly true of the ‘Mani’ book.  It’s also true of the book I’m reading on the Kindle, ‘The Etymologicon’ by Mark Forsyth.  As I mentioned last week (my rambling about the possible connexion between my taxophobia and taxidermy on 13 January) it’s an absolutely fascinating book to anyone who wonders about the origin of words and the connexions between them.

Well !!! Wednesday and I headed for Cardiff to buy some maps to help plan my Greek Itinerary for the summer and while I was there to look up some old friends.  I left home at 11.00 and arrived back 23.00 having met up with 3 friends, separately and equally  enjoyably, and done my shopping.  During the course of the day I had a fair bit of time in between get-togethers and shopping to read more of the Etymologicon.

And in so doing ….. a triumphant discovery.  It seems that my disgruntlement with Grey Britain has a very long pedigree. I quote: “Do you know the difference between the clouds and the sky?  If you do, you’re lucky, because if you live in England, the two are pretty much synonymous.  ………  Our word for sky comes from the Viking word for cloud, but in England there’s simply no difference between the two concepts, and so the word changed its meaning because of the awful weather”.  Succinct, apt, re-affirming.  I can’t say ‘brilliant’ because that presupposes that the sun is shining (it’s derived from the French verb briller,  to shine), the antithesis of the weather in Grey Britain.

I’m sure that the author isn’t really intending to confine his comment to one part of the British Isles but, as is so typical of Englishmen, he uses ‘England’ as a short form for Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England.  In order to avoid fisticuffs I take this as an oversight rather than historical and genetically inbred English arrogance. Certainly there seems to be to be no significant difference in the extent of cloud cover in the UK compared with, say, Greece or Italy or …. many parts of the world.

Now here’s a thought, just a thought, but it might be worth a PhD research programme.  Maybe historians have got it wrong all these years.  One single, simple hypothesis could explain both the Vikings being the first Europeans to discover the New World and the planet–spanning extent of the (now long moribund) British Empire.    They were all simply trying to get away from the rubbish weather!!!! They were trying to get out from under the sky/cloud.

How much simpler would it have been if the major UK and Scandinavian holiday companies had got themselves organised a few centuries earlier.  Brits would have settled for a sun bed somewhere in Southern Europe rather than having to ship all those convicts over to Botany Bay and find Bondi Beach.   The Vikings would certainly have taken to the Greek Islands much sooner had they not gone in for transatlantic travel in search of the sun.  The only nagging doubt about how much nicer a place the world would have been without the British Empire  is that if the advent of Thomas Cook et al  had preceded world colonisation there may have been an earlier outbreak of the Sun Bed Wars.

How did we get here?

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