Here Be Dragons

 

Yes, the sign on the window display of the Oxfam Book Shop in Glasgow’s Royal Exchange Square has everything to do with Game of Thrones, as it was timed for the selling of George RR Martin’s fantasy book series, A Song of Ice and Fire, with the ending of its latest TV run, as winter comes ever-nearer.

 

But where exactly does the expression “Here Be Dragons” come from?

 

In old times, mapmaking was a fairly imprecise task, due to the lack of advanced technology for exploration purposes. So, to fill great blank areas on the maps, mapmakers used to include graphic warnings of the dangers of going into uncharted territory. Such warnings took the form of sea serpents, dragons, cannibals and many other mythical and, sometimes, even real creatures.

 

But the saying “Here Be Dragons” soon thereafter fell into folklore, but the actual line was found only once in print (and in Latin, HIC SVNT DRACONES), on the 16th-century Lenox Globe – but is way too cool to give up.

 

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Rachel Maclean’s Billy Connolly tribute, entitled “The Big Yin”, is now part of the Glasgow City Centre Mural Trail and can be found in the Gallowgate – and the young Edinburgh creative multi-media artist’s offering is the most outrageously outlandish and striking of the three official portraits commissioned for the comic’s recent 75th birthday. 

 

Her digital print of Connolly in a specially created outfit features references to many of his fabled jokes from throughout his career, such as ‘mini bike parked in bum’ epaulettes, a sporran with an ‘aged’ nose sprouting hair and makeup reflecting his famous ‘pale blue Scotsman’ joke. The crowning piece though, literally, is his tea cosy crown of one of my favourite Connolly stand-up jokes: “Never trust a man, who when left alone with a tea cosy, doesn’t try it on.”

 

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Before the rise of the Internet, cockney rhyming slang was once a quintessential part of the British culture.  But sadly experts now say the changing face of society has made the phrases that almost took up half the dialogue in Only Fools and Horses are now obsolete – with the new social media generation popularising their own phrases instead.

 

One popular cockney rhyming slang was “Brown Bread”, meaning to be dead, passed on, ceased to be, kicked the bucket, shuffle off your mortal coil, as the Monty Python parrot sketch would have it.  Which I always found slightly ironic when I was growing up as a kid, because health-wise, brown bread, all full of wheatgerm and fibre, was supposed to be nothing but good for you – and the most identifiable brand being Hovis.

 

And for those of a certain age, the very mention of Hovis should brings back fond memories of 1970s television, as a small boy struggled to climb a steep cobbled hill in his early 1930s delivery bike (replete with big wicker basket laden with loaves of bread) to the strains of Dvorak’s New World Symphony – and it turned out to be an instant advertising classic. The iconic 1973 Hovis ad, voted Britain’s all-time favourite, was directed by a promising young filmmaker by the name of Ridley Scott – I wonder whatever happened to him, eh? – and was meant to depict an industrial northern town, but was actually shot at the other end of the country on Gold Hill in Shaftesbury, Dorset, now known as ‘Hovis Hill’.

 

And as this photo from a recent Hovis street campaign shows, where the company gave away hundreds of loafs to the public on Argyle Street, that indelible image of the delivery bike still resonates for us all – but my, hasn’t the little lad grown? But this is Glasgow, and let’s admit it, we’re not all that health conscious, are we? When handed the free offering by this rep, a wee Glesga wifie looked a little puzzled at the hue of the offering, and then I overheard her asking in the local vernacular “Hiv ya naw got any white breid, son?”

 

And that, in a nutshell, might well explain why this dear and much-beloved City of Glasgow finds itself right at the top of just about every European-wide bad health league for all the self-inflicted, nasty dietary and lifestyle things that end up making many of its citizens Brown Bread in the first place!

 

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