Red-letter day

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I share my birthday with some pretty cool people, including Paul Simon (75 today) and Iona Opie (93 today).

And now I also share it with The Word Detective, which by coincidence was published in the UK today.

The Word Detective

Word Detective (UK)

My account of my time at the OED is being published in October by Basic Books in the US and by Little Brown in the UK, under the title The Word Detective. 

Click here to see Lara Heimert (Publisher at Basic Books and my US editor) talking about it.

The Captain comes to visit

 

Portrait of Captain Henry Skillicorne

For the past week we have been playing host to Captain Henry Skillicorne (1678–1763).

It’s all thanks to Jenny Ogle, the Queen of the Friends of The Wilson (Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum). Jenny heard on the grapevine that a Cheltenham hotel was selling off some of its pictures, including a forgotten three-quarter length portrait of the Captain, one of Cheltenham’s founding fathers, which had graced a bar there for many years. Jenny was stung into action, and she and Hilary went off to the auction with a view to securing the portrait for the public to own and see at The Wilson.

2015-12-16 22.17.34The dashing sea-captain Henry Skillicorne (1678–1763) came from the Isle of Man and spent his career in Bristol running merchant ships for Mr Jacob Elton to and from Zante (Zakynthos) and the “Currant Islands” in the Ionian Sea – and further afield – in the early eighteenth century. When he retired from a life on the ocean wave, Henry met and married Elizabeth Mason in Bristol (his second wife) and through her inherited property in Cheltenham, at the spot where the first mineral springs were found. He moved to Cheltenham in 1838 and set about marketing the town as a spa, building a pump to regulate the flow of spring water, and generally contributing to the development of Cheltenham’s elegant central walkways.

And the painting? Jenny and Hilary secured it for The Wilson, and after lodging with us for a week it’s now undergoing some minor restoration before it graces the walls of Cheltenham’s art gallery…

EFNIL Conference in Helsinki

Just back from Helsinki where (alongside Tony Jones of the British Council) I represented the UK at the annual conference of EFNIL, the European Federation for National Institutions for Language. I’d like to say we reached the semi-finals, but that’s not how it’s organised.

John with Johan Van Hoorde - EFNIL conference dinner Oct 2012
With Johan Van Hoorde at the 2012 Conference

The conference theme was “plain language” (as opposed to gobbledegook). What is fascinating about these conferences is hearing how each of the member states of the EU is addressing these linguistic – and political – questions. We were all pulling together, for once.

Roll on next year’s meeting.