You can blame a chap called Jennings way back in the 60s I think who was the first to apply meanings to place names, a bit of fantasy fun in the days when there were but three TV channels and shops had what was called ‘early closing’. It was a in many ways the death of the corner shop, and later they revived when ethnic minorities never closed them, ever. I can remember now just one of those place names that Mr Jennings gave a new meaning to:
Wembley : to feel a bit Wembley was to feel not quite up to scratch, like a headache on a rainy day, probably a Sunday when all the shops are closed. You get my drift.
This seemed to me to be very amusing and the same plan was adopted by John Lloyd and Douglas Adams, the former now a venerated BBC comedy producer and the latter, the writer of the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy who died some years ago and far too young. Their book: “The Meaning of Liff”, did the same sort of thing as Paul Jennings. Beautifully written and sharply observed this slim volume was something I enthused about for years and still do. It was something you could dip into and have a chuckle at without wading through the whole gamut. Get it and look up Huby ( actual place in Lincolnshire ) and Great Tosson ( a small village in county ) the latter translating as ‘ A book of cartoons costing £3.99.’I’m familiar with that. Get the book if you can and look up Huby for yourselves.
I nicked the idea for a little book of my own some years ago, which I called Glossary. This little volume, even slimmer than the Meaning of Liff, but with some of my drawings in there, was self published and invented meanings for Gloucestershire place names. It made no money for me whatsoever, but was well received by friends who had it foisted upon them, or at least they were kind to me.
One of the best things about doing it was the doing of it. It’s a bit like drawing, once you get in to it it becomes like meditation, all those decisions, some thought about others instinctive, are a balm on the brain. Just watch children drawing and you will see what I mean, they go quiet, they stay still, they choose colours carefully, in a word, they love it. It has the power to transport them to another place.
Way back some years ago, I taught a few hours a week at a small art college in Gloucester. The students were on a foundation year, their first year after school and most of them had never met. They were 17 and 18 year olds. I wanted them to be at ease, so thought it a good idea if they did drawings of each other, but the big limitation of the brief was that they just had to draw each other’s eyes. I have to say that it worked quite well. They had to look each other right in the eye. It broke the ice, and it was fun. There was almost complete silence in the room as they tried it out, and then some amusement when they showed each other the results.
It was the same sort of feeling I had when I found a name to suit my little book of names and then I chuckled to myself at the eventual invented meaning. To illustrate one of my favourites here:
Filkins: Bits found all over a jumper or dark piece of clothing that come from an unemptied pocket where a paper tissue has resided after being in a washing machine. It sticks to the other garment relentlessly as if by super glue, making it unwearable for some time.
This was of course inspired by real events and I’m willing to admit to being the culprit of leaving my tissues in my pocket when the trousers have gone to the wash.
More recently I improved on this transgression by leaving a few spare plastic blades that I use on a grass trimmer in my pocket. This resulted in the washing machine going close to nervous breakdown. I had to look up on You Tube on how to clear the jam, and when I opened the drain plug and three of these blades popped out, my exclamation of “Well, how on earth did they get there?” was met with the normal thousand yard stare of incomprehension.
One can ascribe this description to a place name if you feel like it. Pore over the map of Gloucestershire and you”ll be sure to find one that suits, then claim it . Gumstool! How about that?
Gumstool: a jammed electric device usually caused by a foreign object unrelated to the device being present in an important working area. Removal of said object involves taking the electrical device apart and then losing another vital object in that taking apart operation.
Gumstool Hill is in Tetbury, a village that houses our new King in Gloucestershire. I bet he doesn’t run into this sort of problem.
Tetbury: One of those hats that people in the country wear no matter how hot and sunny it is. Popular with the ruling classes and only worn by the over 50s. There you go, I’m doing it again.
There! Was that not fun?
This one is called Amberley: The way an old gardener walks with head facing downward looking for weeds.
An original garden gait.
Amberley is actually a small village on the edge of Stroud, mainly inhabited by dentists these days.