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The early days of the English Language

PUBLISHED: 14:36 25 February 2019 | UPDATED: 15:14 25 February 2019

It was lovely... even the restaurant knew it was my birthday Picture: LJM

It was lovely... even the restaurant knew it was my birthday Picture: LJM

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The British Library's Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition opened a window on our first century past.

My pre-birthday treat was three-pronged (no it wasn’t a prod with a trident): a trip to London on the train (one) a visit to the British Library (two) and lunch at Marcus Wareing’s restaurant at St Pancras (three).

One didn’t start out well because our train was cancelled and I found myself instead in a sandwich of male strangers on one of Greater Anglia’s smaller trains - the ones with the automatic doors. It might have been fun, being flanked by two men but it wasn’t. Most people were on their smart phones.

My husband sat elsewhere squashed against a window like a wasp, next to a man with a hacking cough - which was bequeathed to him during the journey. There was, of course, no buffet car and I don’t know what was up with the toilet but one woman went and came back muttering: “I won’t bother.”

Meanwhile, we all got to hear about the marital status of one chap who was telling someone on the other end of the phone − and the entire carriage − all about it.

On the plus side, we arrived at Liverpool Street well on time and arrived at the British Library with 45 minutes to spare before our entry to the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition (which has now finished). I was looking forward to seeing evidence of East Anglia’s heritage... after all, we are the only region to have held on to a bit of our Angle roots in its name.

Unsurprisingly, being held in a library, the exhibition was mainly comprised of contemporary illustrated texts, many of them ecclesiastical. If you wanted a book in the 5th to 11th centuries, a monastery was the place to go.

Being written in Latin or olde English, explanatory notes accompanied the texts. It was fascinating but a little bit... well... dry. Lines of people shuffling along display cabinets with the occasional light relief of a golden buckle from Sutton Hoo or similar.

One translated text told us that in the year 1017 King Cnut (who used to be Canute) gave control of the East Anglians to the Viking, Thorkel (aka Thorkell the Tall). Now Thorkel’s grandparent was Gorm the Old and so I guess we can extrapolate that by the time Thorkel was a man he was Gormless.

Around the same time, in Cambridgeshire, you could rent a fen for 26,275 eels. Presumably the payment was made to a slippery customer.

This was an era when the English language emerged - you will have heard of the Venerable Bede (or Venomous Bead as he is dubbed in the humorous account of British history 1066 and All That). The Northumbrian monk wrote an account of the period in 731.

And so to lunch. We were hungry after all that erudition.

The food and service were very good but I had hoped TV chef Marcus Wareing would be there as I have a bit of a thing for his arms which are very hairy; very, very hairy. After we had eaten, the restaurant presented a plate with “Happy birthday sketched on it plus a blob of chocolate mousse with a candle in it. This may sound churlish but I had rather hoped for a quick stroke of a Marcus Wareing arm. And I hope that doesn’t make me sound creepy.

When I was small, I used to comb my dad’s arms, so wondrously hirsute were they. My favourite James Bonds are the hairy ones – Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan.

Moving on − I think I should − I was this week sent an email which listed five things you should never say to rich people. These come from lifestyle coach Anna Bey who has an online finishing school https://www.schoolofaffluence.com which offers women the chance to “enter the elite”.

“Don’t let your past hinder your future! School of Affluence will teach you how you can create a luxurious lifestyle and rub shoulders with the rich! The 7-Step Formula To High-Society is a course for women who want to fine-tune their elegance, social grace & enter the elite community,” says the homepage.

These are Ms Bey’s tips:

1. Don’t ask “What do you do?” (Doesn’t The Queen ask that... or is that a myth?)

2. Don’t say things to impress or pretend you’re on their level

3. Don’t ask questions about their money or possessions

4. Don’t talk about your money or possessions in a negative way

5. Don’t say “Nice to meet you”

Well, I’m jiggered. This is obviously where I’ve been going wrong all my life. It just goes to show what a common person I am. I always say “nice to meet you” whether people are rich or not. The only difference is that I don’t ask poorer people for money (joke). And worse, I can’t help asking people what they do (Actually, it’s your job, Lynne. ED).

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