Day 541: French Lick

As Laetitia walked down Raglan Road toward the Emerald Victorian in the early dawn hour, a curious thought crossed her mind from her recent tour of Cincinatti. She wondered whether Bailey and Hurst had found the Licking River. After she put a pot of Sumatran dark roast on to brew, she pulled Rude World from the library shelf and perused its index. She found Beaverlick, Big Bone Lick, and Knob Lick, but no Licking River. There was also French Lick, a name that had a familiar ring to it. When she searched her memory, she remembered meeting a couple from French Lick, Indiana, when she led a tour in Bay Minette, Louisiana. She recalled telling them she would tour their hometown when the time came. She checked a map and found that it was not far from Cincinnati, so she decided to go there today.

As she planned the trip to French Lick, Laetitia thought, “The French seem to have a penchant for licking.” The French phrase for what would be called “window shopping” in the United States, is léche-vitrines, which translates as “window licking.” What is now French Lick, Indiana, was the site of a trading post during the seventeenth-century, when the French occupied the American Midwest. The town’s name came from the French trading post and a salt lick that was close by. Later, a spa and casino was built around a nearby mineral spring that reputedly had medicinal properties.

After leaving Cincinnati, Laetitia and her group stopped at Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge for bird watching before proceeding on to their destination. They were headed for French Lick Resort, where most of her group had expressed an interest in using the spa. When they stopped for lunch in a small-town storefront restaurant, Laetitia was close enough to overhear the conversation of several middle-aged women in a nearby booth who had heard wonderful things about the French Lick spa and were going there for the first time. The waiter for both Laetitia’s table and the ladies’ booth was a local lad named Rick who was in his late teens. When Sal, the loudest of the women in the booth, asked Rick if he knew the way to French Lick and went on to talk about the wonderful things she had heard about its services, he blushed and then smirked as he gave her directions. The conversation gave Laetitia the limerick of the day.

“Do you know the way to French Lick?”
Said Sal to a waiter named Rick,
“They say it’s nirvana.”
“No it’s Indiana,”
Said he with a smirk that was quick.

Day 351: Tinkerbush Lane

Oxford is situated on the edge of that scenic range of hills called the Cotswolds, famous in the past as a wool-growing region, now a popular tourist destination. Laetitia took her group to Stanway, a small Cotswolds village. There they toured Stanway House, a Jacobean manor house built during the sixteenth century that, interestingly, has a small brewery on the premises. J. M. Barrie, a Scottish author and playwright who lived mostly in London, often stayed there during the 1920s. It is said that it was during one of his sojourns at Stanway House that he had the inspiration to write the plays and books about Peter Panthe Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. After the tour, Laetitia and her group sampled some of the brews from the Stanway House Brewery and then headed south to Wantage.

Wantage is southwest of Oxford, in an area formerly part of Berkshire, but now in Oxfordshire. It is the birthplace of King Alfred the Great (born in 849) and was home to John Betjeman, who was England’s poet Laureate from 1972 to 1984. Laetitia and her group visited a water-powered mill that dates from the days when Wantage was a prominent wool-trading center. However her primary reason for going to Wantage is the presence of a street there called Tinkerbush Lane, which is listed in Rude Britain. When the group went to a pub after the visit to the street, they had a lively conversation stimulated by the street name and their recent visit to Stanway House. The conversation inspired Laetitia’s limerick of the day.

As children, we thought they were swell
Those characters we knew so well
In the Peter Pan book
Smee, Wendy, and Hook
And Peter Pan’s Pal, Tinker Bell.

Was this book with its deeds astronomical
Source of a street name that is comical
Called Tinkerbush Lane
Derived, some think plain,
From a Tinker Bell part anatomical?

Day 350: Golden Balls

Oxford is the oldest university in the English-speaking world. Its founding date is uncertain, but it dates back to at least the eleventh century. Prior to that, where Oxford is now, there were Roman settlements and later monastic institutions. During the twelfth century, the University of Paris kicked out all of its English scholars, and they brought the French university’s curriculum with them when they fled back to England.

Sipping from a cup of freshly brewed Guatemalan dark roast as she surfed the Internet in the Emerald Victorian library, Laetitia ran across an interesting piece about an Oxford scholar who was applying new imaging techniques to ancient codices (manuscripts bound in book form) from the University’s archives. He had discovered, among other things, a piece of Roman erotica that had been written over with a religious text. Parchment, made from specially treated animal skins with the hair removed, was costly and hard to obtain. Thus monastic scribes recycled parchment by disassembling old discarded texts, removing the ink, writing new text in its place, and reassembling the rewritten pages into a new codex.

The original text, from the Roman period, was written in Latin. It was a variation of the story of mythical Phrygian (Greek) King Midas. Midas was given the golden touch as a gift by Dionysus or Bacchus; mythical stories vary. In the recently discovered manuscript, the Midas story has been reset in England near Oxford. Midas’ wife, Queen Demodike, distraught because Midas can no longer touch her without turning the touched area to gold, takes a lover. Midas discovers them in flagrante delicto and takes his revenge on her young suitor. At the end of the story, the queen secretly has her servants erect a monument to her lover somewhere in the vicinity of Oxford.

Shortly after the discovery of the manuscript and its translation was in the local newspapers, a man from a nearby hamlet called Golden Balls called on the scholar and told him that the Midas love triangle story had been part of the oral tradition of their community for centuries. Part of the legend was that the monument was an anatomically correct nude male statue made of marble, except for testicles, which were made of gold. The gold parts were almost immediately stolen. Until recently, there was a badly eroded and unrecognizable piece of marble statuary in the hamlet that local folks thought might have been the one in the story, but unfortunately it was accidentally destroyed during the construction of a roundabout.

After reading the Internet piece, Laetitia took another sip of coffee and thought to herself, “I can’t believe Bailey and Hurst would miss a place called Golden Balls.” She looked and indeed they hadn’t. She found that Golden Balls was number 90 in Rude UK. Next to the text was a picture of the sign announcing the approach to the Golden Balls Roundabout. Laetitia decided she wouldn’t lead a tour today. She already had her limerick.

There’s a story around that appalls
‘Bout a King Midas curse that befalls
A bloke who was seen
Trysting with Midas’ queen
And the hamlet that’s called “Golden Balls.”

Day 349: Titup Hall Drive

On St. Giles Street in Oxford is a pub called The Eagle and Child. The name comes from a feature of the crest of the Earl of Derby depicting a family legend about a child of noble birth found in an eagle’s nest. When Charles I made Oxford his headquarters during the English Civil War, the building is said to have housed the Chancellor of the Exchequer. However it is probably best known as a place where C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkein, and their colleagues met regularly over drinks to discuss literature, philosophy, and religion when they were Oxford faculty during the first half of the twentieth century.

After having lunch at the pub, several members of Laetitia’s group wanted to visit the Kilns, the home in Headington where C. S. Lewis lived with his brother, Warnie, and where he and Joy lived after they were married. The house, so named because it was built on the site of a former brickworks, is not usually open for tours, but members of Laetita’s group took pictures of the house and grounds from the street.

Also in Headington is a street called Titup Hall Drive, number 45 in Rude UK. It was originally a place where extra horses were harnessed to pull loads over nearby Shotover Hill. The horses needed a prancing start to get up the hill, hence the word “titup,” meaning “prancing horse.” Since we now live in a mechanized age where most are unfamiliar with equine terminology, the word is now likely to be interpreted differently.

Today folks are likely to have in mind something like those resourceful folks at the Canadian Lady Corset Company were thinking in 1935 when they invented the push-up underwire brassiere that became known as the “Wonder Bra.” It soon began to compete with the whalebone corsets that had provided uplifting experiences for women in past centuries. Eventually it became so successful that in 2008, a survey of 3,000 women from United Kingdom voted it the greatest fashion innovation in history. This was the beginning dinner conversation of Laetitia’s group after visiting Titup Hall Drive in the afternoon.

Later the talk drifted to breast implants. Laetitia recounted one of Uncle Milt’s stories from the early days of breast implants about male scientists absentmindedly fondling the small bags of silicone oil that were on display at booths in the exhibit hall. Uncle Milt was a scientist who was involved with some sort of implantable devices. Every year he went to the annual meeting of a group called the Congress of Artificial Organs, a name that conjured in Laetitia’s mind an image of robots copulating. There was not universal agreement within Laetitia’s group about whether the move to breast implants was progress.

This was followed by a totally inane conversation about what sort of enhancements might be used by the women who live on Titup Hall Drive, a purely speculative subject since no one knew any of the women in question. Laetitia summarized the latter part of the evening’s conversation tersely in a limerick.

T’was wondered if ladies who thrive
On the high life of Titup Hall Drive
Like wire or whalebone
Or now want silicone
Or would rather stay jiggly and live.