Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

Home

www.google.co.uk


Recent Comments


Monthly Archives


Most recent entries


Search


Advanced Search


Other Blogs I write for

Brian Micklethwait's Education Blog

CNE Competition
CNE Intellectual Property
Samizdata
Transport Blog


Blogroll

2 Blowhards
6000 Miles from Civilisation
A Decent Muesli
Adloyada
Adventures in Capitalism
Alan Little
Albion's Seedling
Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
Alex Singleton
AngloAustria
Another Food Blog
Antoine Clarke
Antoine Clarke's Election Watch
Armed and Dangerous
Art Of The State Blog
Biased BBC
Bishop Hill
BLDG BLOG
Bloggers Blog
Blognor Regis
Blowing Smoke
Boatang & Demetriou
Boing Boing
Boris Johnson
Brazen Careerist
Bryan Appleyard
Burning Our Money
Cafe Hayek
Cato@Liberty
Charlie's Diary
Chase me ladies, I'm in the cavalry
Chicago Boyz
China Law Blog
Cicero's Songs
City Comforts
Civilian Gun Self-Defense Blog
Clay Shirky
Climate Resistance
Climate Skeptic
Coffee & Complexity
Coffee House
Communities Dominate Brands
Confused of Calcutta
Conservative Party Reptile
Contra Niche
Contrary Brin
Counting Cats in Zanzibar
Скрипучая беседка
CrozierVision
Dave Barry
Davids Medienkritik
David Thompson
Deleted by tomorrow
deputydog
diamond geezer
Dilbert.Blog
Dizzy Thinks
Dodgeblogium
Don't Hold Your Breath
Douglas Carswell Blog
dropsafe
Dr Robert Lefever
Dr. Weevil
ecomyths
engadget
Englands Freedome, Souldiers Rights
English Cut
English Russia
EU Referendum
Ezra Levant
Everything I Say is Right
Fat Man on a Keyboard
Ferraris for all
Flickr blog
Freeborn John
Freedom and Whisky
From The Barrel of a Gun
ft.com/maverecon
Fugitive Ink
Future Perfect
FuturePundit
Gaping Void
Garnerblog
Gates of Vienna
Gizmodo
Global Warming Politics
Greg Mankiw's Blog
Guido Fawkes' blog
HE&OS
Here Comes Everybody
Hit & Run
House of Dumb
Iain Dale's Diary
Ideas
Idiot Toys
IMAO
Indexed
India Uncut
Instapundit
Intermezzo
Jackie Danicki
James Delingpole
James Fallows
Jeffrey Archer's Official Blog
Jessica Duchen's classical music blog
Jihad Watch
Joanne Jacobs
Johan Norberg
John Redwood
Jonathan's Photoblog
Kristine Lowe
Laissez Faire Books
Languagehat
Last of the Few
Lessig Blog
Libertarian Alliance: Blog
Liberty Alone
Liberty Dad - a World Without Dictators
Lib on the United Kingdom
Little Man, What Now?
listen missy
Loic Le Meur Blog
L'Ombre de l'Olivier
London Daily Photo
Londonist
Mad Housewife
Mangan's Miscellany
Marginal Revolution
Mark Wadsworth
Media Influencer
Melanie Phillips
Metamagician and the Hellfire Club
Michael Jennings
Michael J. Totten's Middle East Journal
Mick Hartley
More Than Mind Games
mr eugenides
Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism
My Boyfriend Is A Twat
My Other Stuff
Natalie Solent
Nation of Shopkeepers
Neatorama
neo-neocon
Never Trust a Hippy
NO2ID NewsBlog
Non Diet Weight Loss
Normblog
Nurses for Reform blog
Obnoxio The Clown
Oddity Central
Oliver Kamm
On an Overgrown Path
One Man & His Blog
Owlthoughts of a peripatetic pedant
Oxford Libertarian Society /blog
Patri's Peripatetic Peregrinations
phosita
Picking Losers
Pigeon Blog
Police Inspector Blog
PooterGeek
Power Line
Private Sector Development blog
Public Interest.co.uk
Publius Pundit
Quotulatiousness
Rachel Lucas
RealClimate
Remember I'm the Bloody Architect
Rob's Blog
Sandow
Scrappleface
Setting The World To Rights
Shane Greer
Shanghaiist
SimonHewittJones.com The Violin Blog
Sinclair's Musings
Slipped Disc
Sky Watching My World
Social Affairs Unit
Squander Two Blog
Stephen Fry
Stuff White People Like
Stumbling and Mumbling
Style Bubble
Sunset Gun
Survival Arts
Susan Hill
Teblog
Techdirt
Technology Liberation Front
The Adam Smith Institute Blog
The Agitator
The AntRant
The Becker-Posner Blog
The Belgravia Dispatch
The Belmont Club
The Big Blog Company
The Big Picture
the blog of dave cole
The Corridor of Uncertainty (a Cricket blog)
The Croydonian
The Daily Ablution
The Devil's Advocate
The Devil's Kitchen
The Dissident Frogman
The Distributed Republic
The Early Days of a Better Nation
The Examined Life
The Filter^
The Fly Bottle
The Freeway to Serfdom
The Future of Music
The Futurist
The Happiness Project
The Jarndyce Blog
The London Fog
The Long Tail
The Lumber Room
The Online Photographer
The Only Winning Move
The Policeman's Blog
The Road to Surfdom
The Sharpener
The Speculist
The Surfer
The Wedding Photography Blog
The Welfare State We're In
things magazine
TigerHawk
Tim Blair
Tim Harford
Tim Worstall
tomgpalmer.com
tompeters!
Transterrestrial Musings
UK Commentators - Laban Tall's Blog
UK Libertarian Party
Unqualified Offerings
Violins and Starships
Virginia Postrel
Vodkapundit
WebUrbanist
we make money not art
What Do I Know?
What's Up With That?
Where the grass is greener
White Sun of the Desert
Why Evolution Is True
Your Freedom and Ours


Websites


Mainstream Media

BBC
Guardian
Economist
Independent
MSNBC
Telegraph
The Sun
This is London
Times


Syndicate

RSS 1.0
RSS 2.0
Atom
Feedburner
Podcasts


Categories

Advertising
Africa
Anglosphere
Architecture
Art
Asia
Atheism
Australasia
Billion Monkeys
Bits from books
Bloggers and blogging
Books
Brian Micklethwait podcasts
Brians
Bridges
Business
Career counselling
Cartoons
Cats and kittens
China
Civil liberties
Classical music
Comedy
Comments
Computer graphics
Cranes
Crime
Current events
Democracy
Design
Digital photographers
Drones
Economics
Education
Emmanuel Todd
Environment
Europe
Expression Engine
Family
Food and drink
France
Friends
Getting old
Globalisation
Healthcare
History
How the mind works
India
Intellectual property
Japan
Kevin Dowd
Language
Latin America
Law
Libertarianism
Links
Literature
London
Media and journalism
Middle East and Islam
Movies
Music
My blog ruins
My photographs
Open Source
Opera
Other creatures
Painting
Photography
Podcasting
Poetry
Politics
Pop music
Propaganda
Quote unquote
Radio
Religion
Roof clutter
Russia
Scaffolding
Science
Science fiction
Sculpture
Signs and notices
Social Media
Society
Software
South America
Space
Sport
Technology
Television
The internet
The Micklethwait Clock
Theatre
This and that
This blog
Transport
Travel
USA
Video
War


Category archive: Language

Sunday April 23 2017

I love it when a metaphor gets mixed.  But here is a metaphor that is not so much mixed as turned on its head.  It’s Samizdata’s Mr Ed, commenting on this, describing how our former PM David Cameron hoped that his EU referendum would see off UKIP and stop it sucking votes away from the Conservatives.  And it looks like that referendum will indeed see off UKIP, but not in the way that Cameron campaigned for.

Says Mr Ed of this referendum:

… a chance to lance the boil ended up boiling the lance.

Patrick Crozier (a couple of comments later) liked this also.

What particularly impresses me is how Mr Ed made use of those double double meanings, both of “lance” and of “boil”.

Sunday April 16 2017

Incoming, from “Phani”, to Cricinfo, during this game:

“Raina is trying too hard. Take a cue from Mccullum, start timing shits instead of forcing them. Be there till the end, not the usual batting paradise this.”

At the end of the ninth over of the Gujurat Lions innings, if you don’t believe me.  I’m guessing it will remain thus.

It’s never good to be forcing your shits.  On the other hand, being too rigid about the timing of them is often what leads to you forcing them.  Like Raina, you find yourself trying too hard.

And a Happy Easter to all.

Thursday April 13 2017

Indeed, a decade ago to the day, on the grass outside Westminster Abbey.  The word “selfie” didn’t then exist, but that didn’t stop anyone from doing it.  It was because so many were doing it that the word was needed:

image

I like how the soles of their feet are the bit of the photo that’s most in focus.

My first use of the word “selfie” was, according to my blogging software, in this posting.  It’s all about me.

Monday April 10 2017

You hear this phrase a lot, along with its twin “No, yeah …”.  Sportsmen in particular use this phrase a lot, especially cricketers.

A couple of days ago, I was sitting having a drink with a friend, and I heard a regular human being at a nearby table use this strange expression.  And straight away, I listened to myself in amazement as I immediately explained to my companion why people, especially cricketers, say this.  I had no idea why this nearby person had said “No, yeah” - or was it “Yeah, No”? - but quite suddenly, it became clear to me why cricketers so often talk like this.

Consider the following example, from earlier today.  Gareth Batty, the captain of the Surrey cricket team, is speaking about Surrey’s fine win, completed this morning, against Warwickshire, in a four minute video that you can watch at the Surrey website, here.

Surrey’s two best players in this game were, first, Mark Stoneman, who made a big hundred which enabled Surrey to get a big first innings score of 450 odd, and second, another Mark, Mark Footitt, who wrecked the Warwickshire first innings reply, with figures of 9 overs 2 maidens 14 runs 6 wickets, which are very good figures.  Footitt in particular was a match winner.  A batsmen can make sure his team doesn’t lose the game, but a bowler can, often with brutal suddenness, win the game, and Footitt won this game, in one brilliant afternoon of bowling.  He got Bell and Trott, both recent major England batsmen, both for ducks, in one over.  Warwickshire never recovered.  Yesterday Warwickshire batted quite well in their second innings, Trott in particular, but it was too late. This morning Surrey got Warwickshire’s last few wickets and won by an innings.

So, of course, Gareth Batty was invited by his video interlocutor to agree that Stoneman and Footitt had been brilliant, as they had been.  But Batty had something else he wanted to say.  He wanted to say, and did say, that this was a team effort. Everybody contributed.  We all hit the ground running in our first game of the season.  Well done all of us.  Well done all our hard work in training, all that pre-season effort in the nets, and all that.  And when he’d finished saying all that he said how great the Surrey fans had been.  Message: we all pull together.  Not a few individuals.  The team, in fact the entire club and its supporters.

So, before all that, by way of introduction, how did Batty react to the claim that he should be singling out Stoneman and Footitt for praise, and also be talking about a brilliant catch by Borthwick to get Bell out when Bell looked like staying a lot longer with Trott than he did and threatening to save the game, and giving Borthwick a name check also.  By saying: “Yeah, no …” You can hear him say this just over a minute into the video.

What gives?

What gives is that Batty is saying “Yeah” to the inescapable facts being presented to him.  Stoneman and Footitt did play brilliantly.  Borthwick’s catch was also superb, and a game-changer.  So he is not going to disagree.  So: “Yeah”.

But: “No”, because Batty wants to say something else instead, which he then says.

The “root cause” so to speak, of the Yeah, No, No, Yeah thing is that typically, when sportsmen are being interviewed, they are knackered, and have had no time to think what the hell to say, and in any case mostly don’t make a living doing sport after being top of their class at school in elocution, and they have to be helped.  And the way that sports interviewers help sportsmen is typically by supplying them with a ready-made answer and asking them to agree.  But often, the sportsman, while not wanting to contradict exactly, doesn’t want fully to agree either.  If he personally did brilliantly (that often being why he is picked out to be interviewed), he doesn’t want to deny that he did indeed do brilliantly, exactly, but he would rather say that it was, you know, nice to do well, and pick out a few other team-mates by name who also did quite well.  So, he starts by saying “Yeah, no”.  Yeah, he did well, but no, not that well.  He of course thinks that he did brilliantly, sure, but he doesn’t want to say it, because then everyone, and especially his team-mates, would think he’s a arrogant pillock.

Batty, today, agrees that two particular guys, whom he makes a point of not naming, did indeed do well.  “They don’t need me to tell them” how well they did, is how he puts it, and then talks about the whole team.  By saying “Yeah, no” at the beginning of all this, he is neither wholly agreeing nor wholly disagreeing with the “question”.  He is more, as it were, sculpting, modifying, diluting, shifting the emphasis of, changing the balance of, what has just been put to him.  Yeah, it’s not wrong.  But no, he wants to say something else.

Sunday March 26 2017

I just sent out the mass email flagging up Chris Cooper’s talk on the Rise of Our Robot Overlords, chez moi, next Friday.  I have asked his permission to reproduce his entire spiel.  Meanwhile, here is how it begins, which I really like:

I’ve only recently realized the staggering implications of the project of AGI, or artificial general intelligence – the Holy Grail of present-day AI research. (I prefer to talk about AGIs, or AGI systems, rather than “robots”; “robot” has tin-man connotations that are part of the problem – they suggest the possibility of fraternization.) …

Which is why the talk is now officially entitled: “The Threat to Life and to Liberty of Artificial General Intelligence”.

These robots, whose pronouncements I have been following in recent days and weeks, don’t seem very fraternal:

image

They sound more like they’re artificial general intelligence.

Saturday March 25 2017

Before we entered the Royal Opera House to endure and eventually to enjoy Die Meistersinger my friend and I wandered around Covent Garden, and chanced upon a shop selling artfully decorated skateboards, in other words looking like this:

image

As soon as I was inside this shop I asked if I could take some photos, and they said: snap away.  So I did.  I took the above photo first, which gives an idea of what it was that got my attention.  And then I took a lot more, of which the following were the least worst:

imageimageimageimageimage
imageimageimageimageimage
imageimageimageimageimage

I know.  Lots of reflections in the shiny surfaces of the skateboards.  But, you get the pictures.

A cat is involved (1.3 in the above clutch).  A rather rude cat, but a cat.  At first, I thought I ought to hurry the posting up and have this ready for last Friday.  Then I thought, no, wait until next Friday.  And then I thought to hell with that, I’ve nearly done it, I will post it when it’s done.

These artistically enhanced boards have all the relaxed and unpretentious exuberance of graffiti, of the sort I most regularly observe in Leake Street under Waterloo Station.  You don’t have to read some idiot art-speak essay to find out what the hell this or that skateboard is “about”, even though it is sometimes obscure.  “SHAKEJUNT”.  “HAND IN GLOVE”.  “FIVE BORE”.  “FLIP”.  You probably have to be a skateboarder to get what words like those mean.  Which probably explains why I like the giant TV remote the best.  That I definitely understand.

However, a magic ingredient that separates these skateboards from graffiti is that the skateboards come with added property rights.  Once you’ve painted your own particular skateboard, that’s how it stays painted.  Which means you can really go to town on it, make it really great, confident that some other artist won’t paint over what you’ve just done.

There is also the fact that a skateboard, unlike graffiti, can be moved hither and thither, which means it can be bought and sold.  This means that politically sane people will gravitate towards decorating skateboards and political ignorami will prefer graffiti, property rights and civilisation being things that go hand in hand, as do attacking property rights and barbarism.  Sadly, this does not necessarily mean that the skateboard art will be better, because mad artists are often better than sane artists.  Plus, you can now add the magic of digital photography to graffiti, thereby preserving it.  But as art objects, these skateboards will, unlike graffiti, be profitable and permanent.

Here’s the final photo I took, complete with the guy who said I could take all the other photos, despite knowing I wasn’t in the market for a decorated skateboard, but was merely interested in an art gallery-ish way:

image

I asked this guy for a card or something, so I could put a link to the place here, as I have done, see above.  He didn’t have anything on paper.  But then he thought: have a bag:

image

And that’s how I knew what the shop was called and where to find its website.

I hope this posting doesn’t do any harm to this enterprise, for example by diminishing its street credibility.  Do things still have street credibility?  Or, to put it in more recent parlance, is street credibility still a thing? 

Friday March 24 2017

A few days back, probably because it has long been aware of my fascination with cat fascination, the Great Machine in the Sky presented me with this advertisement:

image

Click on it to get to what was being advertised.

What it is, of course, is a system for a machine to become aware of other machines in its vicinity and thereby to communicate with these other machines, and this system is the work of CAT.  But the idea that a machine might somehow learn to realise if there is a cat in its vicinity, and would then, if there is, feel compelled to alert other machines to this menace, is rather clearly suggested.

If you do click on the above piece of horizontality, you will be greeted by the following claim:

WHEN MACHINES TALK, EVERYONE’S SAFER.

In a week’s time, there will be a Brian’s Last Friday meeting at which the speaker, Chris Cooper, will be contesting this claim.

Wednesday March 22 2017

Incoming from Michael Jennings, who encountered this sign at (a?) (the?) Jodhpur Fort in Rajasthan:

image

Hm, what to do?

Easy.  Use a drone instead.

LATER: See first comment.  It’s this:

image

There can only be one fort like that.

Categories updated to include Architecture, History, Sport, and War.

Blog and learn.

Saturday February 25 2017

imageI am hopeless at drawing, as you can see.

But having been watching the Six Nations rugby tournament for the last few weeks, and having in particular been listening to the various television commentators, I feel the need to offer you all this attempt at a cartoon.

Anyone who wants to copy this, or indeed copy it and improve the graphics, is most welcome.  I am surely not the first to have thought of this particular observation.

(There was a bit of fiddling about with the presentation of this, on account of my software not actually showing me exactly how a posting like this will look.  Sorry about that.)

Thursday February 23 2017

Another drone application hovers into view:

image

Yes, it’s UPS:

“This is really a vision for the future for us,” UPS senior vice president for engineering and sustainability, Mark Wallace, said in an interview with Business Insider.

The drone will work as a mechanized helper for the driver, reducing the number of miles a driver will need to drive. According to Wallace, UPS can save $50 million a year if everyone of its drivers reduces the length of their delivery routes by one mile.

UPS sees several potential usage cases for its autonomous drones. This ranges from inventory control at warehouses to the delivery of urgent packages such as medical supplies. However, this latest test is geared towards the company’s  operations in rural areas where drivers have to cover vast distances between delivery points.

But all this is still some way off:

Currently, the technology [is] still in the testing phase and UPS doesn’t have an exact timeline for its introduction into service, Wallace said.

Timeline being the twenty first century way of saying: time.  See also learning curve (learning); learning experience (fuck-up); etc.

I once had a job delivering number plates, in a white van, all over Britain.  Much of it was lots of unassembled number plate components in big heavy boxes, to big suppliers, which we delivered direct.  And the rest of the job was one-off finished number plates to motorbike shops, which the other drivers often used to deliver by posting them.  I always went there direct, because I enjoyed the drive, but either way the economics of those one-off number plates was ridiculous.  A drone to do the final thirty miles or so would have been most handy, if it could have been organised.  (A digital camera would have been very nice also.  But alas, I had to wait a quarter of a century for that.)

The serious point: drones are useful tools for running big and visible and trustable (because so easily embarrassable and controlable) businesses, for example the big and very visible enterprise that provided this.  Drones are, basically, tools for workers rather that toys for funsters.  They may supply fun, but they will mostly be operated by workers.

In London anyway.  Things may be different out in the wilds of the countryside.  But even taking photos out in the wilds of Yorkshire involves – I bet – getting some kind of permit.  If not, it soon will.  Because there will be complaints, and drones are highly visible.

Also audible, yes?  Anyone know how noisy drones tend to be?  6K?  How noisy is your drone?

Tuesday January 31 2017

Africa is big, and Africa’s rivers don’t help in cutting these huge distances down to size.

More from Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography (p. 119):

Most of the continent’s rivers also pose a problem, as they begin in high land and descend in abrupt drops which thwart navigation. For example, the mighty Zambezi may be Africa’s fourth-longest river, running for 1,600 miles, and may be a stunning tourist attraction with its white-water rapids and the Victoria Falls, but as a trade route it is of little use. It flows through six countries, dropping from 4,900 feet to sea level when it reaches the Indian Ocean in Mozambique. Parts of it are navigable by shallow boats, but these parts do not interconnect, thus limiting the transportation of cargo.

Unlike in Europe, which has the Danube and the Rhine, this drawback has hindered contact and trade between regions - which in turn affected economic development, and hindered the formation of large trading regions. The continent’s great rivers, the Niger, the Congo, the Zambezi, the Nile and others, don’t connect and this disconnection has a human factor.  Whereas huge areas of Russia, China and the USA speak a unifying language which helps trade, in Africa thousands of languages exist and no one culture emerged to dominate areas of similar size. Europe, on the other hand, was small enough to have a ‘lingua franca’ through which to communicate, and a landscape that encouraged interaction.

I’m guessing that Africa’s famed natural resources (although not of the mineral sort – those natural resources just suck in thieving foreigners) also helped to split the population up into lots of little enclaves, by making it possible for quite small communities to be economically self-sufficient.  Not very self-sufficient, as in rich, but sufficiently self-sufficient not to die out but instead to keep ticking over.

Friday January 27 2017

Friday is my day for cats and other creatures, but it is also David Thompson’s day for more substsantial collections of all this weird and wonderful on the internet, and one ephemeron (ephemeros? ephemerum?) in his collection today is this:

Brutalist colouring book.  Because concrete needs colour.

I followed that link.

Quote:

Brutalism lovers, sharpen your cold grey and warm grey pencils and add some colour to some great concrete constructions. First edition of 500 hundred copies. Each copy is numbered.

Ooh.  First edition.  Numbered copies.  Very arty.  Sign of the times?  I want it to be.

I have long thought that the brutalities of brutalism could use a bit of softening, and actually, a lot of softening.  With colour.  Bring it on.

Someone who agreed with me, from way back was, actually, would you believe?: Le Corbusier.  He was into bright colours to soften the brutalities of his brutalism, from the getgo.

(See also: these colourful kittens.  No softening needed there, but it was done anyway.)

Thursday January 26 2017

Just heard an announcer on London Live TV pronounce Persephone as “Percy Phone”.  It should be Per Seffany, in case you also are not sure.  Y(oung) P(eople) T(hese) D(ays).  They just don’t have the Classics.

This was in connection with a show at the Vault Festival, at which a friend of mine is also performing, tonight.

Saturday November 26 2016

From the BBC updates on the Scotland v Georgia rugby game at Murrayfield this afternoon:

Scotland have really struggled against the Georgian scum in the second-half.

Hastily corrected to “scrum”.  Should have done a screen capture.  As it is, you just have to take my word for it.

Actually Georgia is a great place.  It recently came sixth in the world in one of those economic freedom charts, as I mentioned in passing in this posting

LATER: Oh dear.  Not Murrayfield.  Kilmarnock.  Whenever you moan about someone else’s error, you make an error.  It’s inevitable.

Saturday October 15 2016

I’ve already given you Rod Green’s Dangereuse.  Here’s another, longer bit from his book about Magna Carta, a bit which he entitled “Boys and Men” (pp. 61-66) I was especially struck by the part near the end, about people who could pronounce Latin words but who didn’t know what they meant.  Sounds horribly familiar:

Not so long ago, it was widely assumed that the concept of “childhood” simply didn’t exist in the Middle Ages. The view was that the kind of life led by a modern child - where good health, play and education experienced as part of a loving family environment is seen as the norm - was in stark contrast to the lives of children 800 years ago, who were treated as a burden to be tolerated until they were old enough to be of some use.

Recent research, however, shows that this may not have been entirely the case. Studies of toys from the period have shown that children were encouraged to play. The toys may have been homemade in many cases, but models of mounted knights made out of metal would have been bought or specially commissioned, showing that some parents cared enough about their children’s play time to lavish gifts on them.

Children do not feature prominently in illustrated manuscripts, paintings or tapestries doing anything more than emulating their parents, but in some cases they can be seen playing games like tag or “king of the castle” and riding on hobby-horses. They were, it seems, encouraged to play and enjoy an active childhood, although their lives were set on a predetermined course at an early age.

In the early thirteenth century, a child surviving the first year of life had a reasonable chance of fighting off disease long enough to acquire the strength needed to survive in the harsh and unhygienic medieval world. In fact, 25 per cent of those born to wealthy parents and up to 50 per cent of those born to the poor did not. A whole host of infectious
diseases for which we now have myriad names would then simply have been classed as “fever” or “food poisoning”.  Life expectancy was only around 30 years, although anyone from the ruling classes who made it, strong and healthy, to the age of 21, might well have had another 40 years to look forward to.  In the fourteenth century, the Black Death was to reduce life expectancy dramatically.

In the days of King John, however, a fit young boy born into a noble family could expect to live in his parents’ grand house or castle until he was about seven years old.  He would then be sent off to live in another castle, most likely in the house of a nobleman a rung or two up the feudal ladder from his own parents, perhaps even in one of the king’s
own residences.

Here he would serve first as a page, running errands and generally waiting on the lords and ladies of the household.  However, he would also learn how a large house functioned and how people interacted with one another, as well as learning about customs and proper manners. He might also be taught how to read and understand Latin and, if it were not already his native tongue, the version of French spoken by the Norman nobility.

A young boy would also learn how to ride and, if he showed promise, he might, when he was around 14 years old, become apprenticed to a knight as a squire. They had to train hard to learn the art of combat, which included lifting heavy stones to build muscle, throwing the javelin, fighting with a quarterstaff, archery, wrestling, acrobatics and sword fighting.  Swordsmanship was taught using a blunted sword and a buckler, a small shield the size of a pot lid. This trained the would-be knight how to parry sword thrusts and how to use his shield as an offensive weapon without the novice having to start off with a full-sized, cumbersome shield. Similarly, the blunted sword was used against heavily padded protective layers, although the dull blade could still inflict painful wounds.

The squire would learn how to clean and prepare the knight’s armour and weapons, although major repairs had to be undertaken by a blacksmith or armourer.  He would also need to help his knight put on his armour, which meant more than simply helping him to dress - the various elements of the heavy steel all had to be strapped into place in the correct sequence to make sure that they overlapped and allowed for movement in the right way.

This, of course, meant that the squire went with his knight to compete in tournaments. He would eventually get the chance to compete in his own right, even before he became a knight, as there were special contests organized solely for squires.

Whether a squire lived in his knight’s house, or whether he lived in a baron’s castle where landless knights also lived as part of the baron’s permanent military force, he would have regular chores to perform, which would include acting as a servant when his masters sat down to eat.  Squires were expected, for example, to learn the correct way to carve meat at the table.

The squire’s apprenticeship would last until he was around 21 years of age, at which point he might expect to be knighted himself. However, he might want to avoid that happening - a squire could be made a knight either by his local lord or by the king, but it wasn’t an honour that everyone could afford. The squire’s family, whom he may have visited only a couple of times a year since he was sent away as a seven-year-old, would have to pay for the costly armour, weapons and warhorse that a knight required, as well as funding any forays he might make to tournaments far and wide. Being a knight could be prohibitively expensive, especially if a second, third or fourth son, who might not inherit any part of his father’s estate when he died (the bulk of property often being bequeathed to the first-born).

Around the beginning of the thirteenth century, there was a growing “middle class” of merchants, tradesmen and professionals, particularly in the new cities and busy ports.  Trade with continental Europe had expanded enormously since the Norman Conquest, although Anglo-Saxon entrepreneurs are known to have traded extensively with partners as far away as Russia. Clauses 41 and 42 of Magna Carta make special mention of such merchants.

The son of a merchant would live an entirely different life from that of a boy born into the nobility. From a very young age, he would learn about the family business, in order to play a full part as soon as he was old enough. A boy might also become apprenticed to another merchant or tradesman, a privilege for which his family would have to pay, and be sent away from home to live with his new master.

Merchants, especially those dealing in foreign trade, had to be able to speak and read Latin, which was the international language of commerce, the legal profession and the Church. The sons of the middle classes learned Latin either through private tuition or at one of the new schools that were beginning to appear.

Merchants donated money to set up schools in the most important trading towns and boys would be sent to school to learn arithmetic and Latin grammar, the institutions becoming known as grammar schools. The schools were allied to a particular trade, making them private schools, although fee-paying schools would later be established that were open to anyone who could pay, such establishments being termed “public” schools.

There would have been few if any books in schools.  These were hugely expensive, hand-written items - the first printed books didn’t begin appearing until the mid-fifteenth century. Boys learned their lessons verbally, repeating their Latin phrases time and time again, and earning themselves a beating if they got anything wrong.

Some might learn mathematics or become proficient in the use of an abacus, but few would continue their formal education beyond a basic level or contemplate attending one of the new universities.

As the oldest university in the English-speaking world, Oxford University had been growing in stature since the latter part of the eleventh century and the colleges of Cambridge University can trace their history back to around the same time.

Peasants, still by far and away the largest portion of the population, could not afford to send their sons to school.  A peasant boy was expected to do chores as soon as he was old enough to learn how to feed chickens or help to herd livestock. When he was strong enough, he would help with the back-breaking work in the fields and perhaps spend some time working in the local landowner’s house or castle, if such was required by the terms of his family’s tenure.

The Church played a major role in everyone’s lives and even the most lowly peasants attended church on a regular basis.  However, all services were conducted in Latin, so most people couldn’t understand what was being said - sometimes not even the priest.  Despite being the most educated man in the village, while the priest might be able to pronounce written Latin, the chances are he did not understand it.  For a lucky few, a well-educated priest might teach boys how to read, but even as late as the fourteenth century it has been estimated that 8 out of 10 adults in England were unable even to spell their own names.