Saturday, 11 December 2010

Never too late to learn

One of the great privileges of retirement is that I have time to read.  On most afternoons I am “lost” in my latest borrowing from our excellent Selby Library.

After a spate of histories and biographies I am taking a little time for fiction. Presently I am reading “There was a Time”, written in 1947 by Taylor Caldwell.  She was born in Manchester, U.K. in 1900, and died in Greenwich, CT in 1985.

The book begins with little Frank, aged two, who began to experience a mystical sense of wonder as he played in the walled-in back garden of his parents’ home somewhere near Leeds, Yorkshire in 1904.   I immediately “became” Frank, and I could imagine/remember myself as a two year old rather sensitive boy in a walled back garden in Bristol U.K.

My interest was aroused when, in the book, Frank’s ultra respectable and very judgmental grandmother instructs Frank’s father to “clout” him.

I’d not heard or used the word “clout” in oh so many years.  It means “to hit”.  A father or mother might be heard addressing a child with “if you don’t stop right this minute, I’ll give you a clout”.

Do people in Great Britain still use the word “clout”?   
Was it ever used in the United States?

In another passage Frank’s mother Maybelle says that he does not mither her. “Mither” is a regional English word meaning to bother or annoy.   

It was still used in the East Midlands when I was a theological student in Nottingham (1972-1976).  Perhaps it has died about by now, together with other regional words.  

(East Midlands’ folks used to pronounce the word “father” as “fay-theur”.  I hope that they still do so).

When little Frank’s grandmother emigrates to America most of her belongings are crated up for the sea passage, but she carries with her some “lares and penates”.  I had to look that up!

“Lares and penates” were household gods in the world of the Roman Empire.   

By derivation the words now refer to treasured household objects. They might be (for instance) those two candlesticks which have been in the family for many years. Although the candlesticks might not have any marketable value, they are treasures for the family. Thus, if the family were to move house, these candlesticks would not be packed up for the movers.  Instead they would be taken to the new home under the personal care of a family member.

Taylor Caldwell also used the word “crepuscular”, which to my shame I did not know!  It’s a fancy word for twilight.  Here is a picture of some crepuscular rays.


  1. I read most of Taylor Caldwell's books when I was younger and enjoyed them tremendously. Thanks for reminding me of them.

  2. Yes "clout" is still available in most reputable
    Fishmongers, it's a type of smoked,shreded line caught Sea Bass, very popular in Knightsbridge & Kensington, & for some strange reason in Barnsley. If you go there you may well hear, on a Friday night after the Pubs close many wives offering to give their husband a "clout" if he cannot go to sleep.

    There is even a band of "clout spotters" who descend upon Durham Down right here in Bristol, in the late spring/early summer evenings in the hope of a glimpse of some "clout". A practice frowned upon in polite society, but completely within the Law