16 April, 2010


The Icelanders' other revenge

There may not be many of 'em but they've managed to silence the skies of Northern Europe.

In earlier posts where it seemed vaguely relevant, I've mentioned that my ethnic heritage is roughly 75% English and 25% Irish. So much is reasonably well documented. There is also however some circumstantial evidence that at least part of that English heritage may be Viking rather than Anglo-Saxon, stemming from the Norse settlement of Lancashire and Cheshire. If that is indeed the case, then I am proud to claim kinship with these awkward, disruptive buggers from the frozen north. More power to their hairy Nordic elbows, say I.

I wonder how the good folk of Hounslow are coping with the eerie quiet. Before I moved to South East London some 30 years ago, I lived for a while near Fiveways Corner in Hendon. The combined traffic of the A1 and A41, which share the same road between Apex and Fiveways Corners, rushed past our front door. At the time, the London end of the M1 terminated at Junction 2, which was then situated just north of us. So we got the M1 traffic as well. You could say that Watford Way was just a touch busy.

It's amazing what you get used to. After a while, the sound of artic airbrakes being applied at 2 or 3 in the morning, as their drivers stopped for a breather before pressing on to London, ceased to disturb my slumbers. Then I moved here to what in the last decade or so has become the Occupied Territories of Greater Woolwich, where the house I live in fronts onto a B road of no importance. For a couple of months I couldn't sleep because of the unwonted silence.

I expect that folk living under flight paths are a bit shell-shocked at the moment. They'd need a few more aeroplane-free weeks to begin to feel the benefit.

But, in addition to grounding all our planes just because we asked for our money back, our Nordic chums have inflicted another, cruel but subtle, indignity on us Southern skrælingar: the name of the volcano which has caused all the trouble, or more precisely the glacier where the volcano is located, is completely unpronounceable (or 'unprounceable', as I originally typed — it's probably that as well). For a couple of days, BBC newsreaders struggled personfully with Eyjafjallajökull, but have since given up and avoid mentioning it except through cagey circumlocution. The IPA transcription is [ˈɛɪjaˌfjatlaˌjœkʏtl̥], for what it's worth; I wouldn't want to attempt a "figured" approximation in English orthography. Oh, go on then, something like "Eh-yerf-yattler-yerr-cuttle". No wonder the newsreaders bottled out.

The services of Magnús Magnússon are sorely missed.

Update (18th)

For the linguistically literate, there is an entertaining and reasonably civilized punch-up on the subject over at the Language Log.

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