They were on a two month epic trek around the UK producing thirteen one hour programmes for French Canadian Travel Channel - Canal Évasion.
She practised it, repeating, out loud "arse, arse, arse," to the disturbed bemusement of an elderly couple who’d just entered the Reading Room.
On the look out for the unusual and the distinctive they'd latched on to the Tour of Uninteresting Objects as a good item for the Manchester leg of their journey - they filmed for four days in the city.
The tour takes place on-street looking at seemingly mundane objects and then revealing the rich stories that lie behind their apparently dull appearance.
On Tuesday this week though it was raining so hard it was threatening to wash the camera out of the hands of Sara, the camera woman, from the Montreal-based team.
As respite I sought, and was granted, permission to film in Chetham's Library. Michael, Fergus, Sue, Jane and the people there are some of the most gracious in the city.
Of course the crew were North American and were blown away by the library. This is understandable. The buildings date back to before Columbus arrived in the New World.
Filming and tweeting an important book on an important table
The Uninteresting Object I wanted to show them was the table in the bay window, a mundane if elderly object, where Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels studied – along with a whole roster of the great and good since the library was inserted in the 1420s buildings in the 1650s. Library visitors have included Daniel Defoe, Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Disraeli, some other people called Benjamin, Winston Churchill and Damon Albarn.
En route to the Reading Room and the table I pointed out to Tamy the first edition of the Samuel Johnson Dictionary from 1755, visible on the shelves from the stairs.
This was a ground-breaking, nine year work from the renowned eighteenth century man of letters and was in many ways the first modern dictionary. Johnson had a laugh, cheeky man, while preparing it. Some of his more curious definitions are included in the yellow box below.
As an inquisitive and very good presenter of the programmes Tamy asked to see one of the two volumes that form the dictionary. Thus with the approval of the library, the mighty tome, was released from the shelf, and so on that very important table mentioned earlier, we got to see one of the most influential books of the eighteenth century in English.
Johnson's title page
On one word we got stuck. This was ‘butt’ – referring to archery, the containment of liquid and so forth.
Tamy said: “Isn’t there another meaning for butt?”
“There is,” I said, “but not in Johnson’s dictionary.”
“So it didn’t mean 'ass' back then?”
“Butt is short for buttocks I guess, we probably need to look that word up,” I said, before adding: “In Britain we say ‘arse’ not ‘ass’.”
“Say that again,” said Tamy, for whom French is her first language of course. “Arse is it? With a long a and r?”
“That’s right,” I said.
She practised it, repeating, out loud, "arse, arse, arse." She was doing this when an elderly couple entered the Reading Room. That was a memorable look on their faces.
“Interesting," I said. "I honestly would never have guessed that I’d be standing over this famous table staring down at this famous book helping French Canadians pronounce the word ‘arse’ today."
Later Tamy tweeted: ‘Today: read the 1st English Dictionary on the table where Marx studied yet managed to talk to @JonathSchofield about arse. Mum wld be proud.”
The Tour of Uninteresting Objects can lead down unusual paths.
There’s a public Tour of Uninteresting Objects, on Saturday 18 October. This is the last of the year and while it doesn’t take in Chetham’s Library does cover Chinatown, The Village, the northern end of Oxford Road, the River Medlock and Whitworth Street. Meet 3pm outside Manchester Art Gallery, Mosley Street. As it’s the last of the year there’ll be some surprises thrown in. £8. Click here to book.
Lots of water on the next Tour of Uninteresting Objects
Cough: A convulsion of the lungs, vellicated by some sharp serosity.
Distiller: One who makes and sells pernicious and inflammatory spirits.
Dull: Not exhilaterating (sic); not delightful; as, to make dictionaries is dull work.
Excise: A hateful tax levied upon commodities, and adjudged not by the common judges of property, but wretches hired by those to whom excise is paid.
Far-fetch: A deep stratagem. A ludicrous word.
Jobbernowl: Loggerhead; blockhead.
Kickshaw: A dish so changed by the cookery that it can scarcely be known.
Lexicographer: A writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signification of words.
Network: Any thing reticulated or decussated, at equal distances, with interstices between the intersections. (See how he defined 'reticulated,' below.)
Oats: A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland appears to support the people.
Pastern: The knee of a horse. (This is wrong. When Johnson was once asked how he came to make such a mistake, Boswell tells us he replied, "Ignorance, Madam, pure ignorance.")
Patron: One who countenances, supports or protects. Commonly a wretch who supports with insolence, and is paid with flattery.
Pension: An allowance made to any one without an equivalent. In England it is generally understood to mean pay given to a state hireling for treason to his country.
Politician: 1. One versed in the arts of government; one skilled in politicks. 2. A man of artifice; one of deep contrivance.
Reticulated: Made of network; formed with interstitial vacuities.
To worm: To deprive a dog of something, nobody knows what, under his tongue, which is said to prevent him, nobody knows why, from running mad.
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