Still here in the Corona house

Those readers who read the blog posts I published in the first quarter of the year will be familiar with the Corona house. The place (or to be more precise) two places I’ve been shielding from Corona since Vaughan and I returned from Milan in early March. I managed to blog for the first 75 days before feeling I had less to say than might be necessary to make it 76 days. So what brings me the Corona house back to the blogosphere now?

Today, that’s the result of three parallel moments of wonder that each gave me a momentary pause for thought. Now, if you’re anything like me you’re pretty happy to take your unexpected momentary pleasures as and when they present themselves. So, having three in one day would be selfishness personified, were I not to share them in the hope they might also bring some distraction, entertainment or interest to others. The three tremors were in order the unexpected reminder of a much loved performer, the shock on how tempus has fugited and finally a question from Paula T who allowed me to go all QI for a minute or two. So here they are

The first ‘wow’ of the day came when I worked out just how many days I’ve been in the Corona house. If you read the spring blogs followed the day count to 75 but where would we be now? I ask it as though it isn’t where I am. As it happens, both Vaughan and I have been out of the house barely at all. In reality I’ve been isolating due to medical vulnerability to Covid since March as has Vaughan albeit he’s had the occasional socially distanced gym visit.

I will leave the thought with you and ask you to pitch the day count based on how it feels (no doing the mental arithmetic – I’ll give you the figure a little later and you can see how close you were and whether you under or overestimated the period of captivity. In the meantime, a huge thank you to Kimberley for pointing me at my second highlight of the day.

I’m sure I’m not the only person of a certain age who remembers what UK Sundays were like in the 1970’s. Everything was shut, public transport was on a greatly reduced service. TV (dominated by London Weekend Television) went from the morning service, to Weekend World with Brian Walden and if you were lucky an episode of Space 1999 or UFO. Then if you switched to the radio you could just catch the last ten minutes of Jimmy Clitheroe before two way family favourites. A Sunday afternoon walk then Songs of Praise and Rumpole of the Bailey. The evening was typically brought to a close by the adenoidal tones of Melvyn Bragg and the South Bank Show although I often only made it through the opening credits.

However, if you were lucky there was the Sunday evening comedy slot bizarrely late at around 9.30 or 10pm. There I was introduced to Maureen Lipman in Agony, Judy Dench and Michael Williams in The Two of Us and my favourite Elaine Stritch (and Donald Sinden) in Two’s Company.

Elaine Stritch giving some Ethel to I’m Still Here from Follies

Among those shows, Elaine Stritch seemed amazingly brash and exotic to a would be teenager who’d snuck up to watch, or rather listen to the outrageous Dorothy McNab screach ‘Rohbert’ with a vocal intensity that could shatter any glass. I loved her. Through that I found she was not just a sitcom player but a true trooper and later I was lucky enough to see her perform Broadway Baby in concert (London). You’ll note I said perform rather than sing. Even her greatest fan wouldn’t say she was a natural song bird, but I defy anyone to squeeze more meaning and feeling into and out of a lyric than she did.

The great pity is not a huge amount of her work survives, so to be pointed at a piece with both Patty Lapone and Elaine Stritch which had until this point passed me by was a real tonic. I hope you enjoy it too.

My new clock with questionable roman numerals

The third and final moment of wonder stemmed from a clock I bought for our kitchen. Fairly large (50cm diameter) it provided a much needed tick in the house and means I can finally stop traipsing to the central heating control to find out what time it is.

I posted on Facebook that I was pleased with the character it brought to the room and a fried commented that it looked good but asked why roman numerals used IIII for 4 rather than the more conventional IV.

Now as some of my friends will tell you, to someone who thinks he was robbed for the host of QI not once but twice this was a gift that couldn’t have been better received had it been wrapped in twenty pound notes. As a former quizzer and collator of generally useless information I promised Paula a summary of the reasons why and that led to this blog. So thank you Paula for providing the final straw than pushed this camel back onto t’interweb. In the spirit of exchange being no robbery, here are four reasons why horologists often favour the unconventional IIII over the traditional IV. It’s worth stressing for the uber pedantic that none of these is the answer but rather the combined impact of all four reasons produced the mixed economy we see on face clocks today.

  1. Don’t diss the Gods The IIII style can be found as long ago as Roman times albeit on sun dials and ‘clock candles’ rather than clocks. In this period of history may sun dials used IIII for religious reasons. The latin for the Supreme Roman God (Jupiter) was IVPPITER. Several texts comment that having a shortened version of a deities name on a sun dial (and then upside down and at the bottom of the dial not the top might be misconstrued. So IIII was used as an alternative

  2. Keeping up with the Louis’ Louis XIV instructed his clockmakers to use IIII rather than IV as it made the clock easier to read and less confusing when observed quickly. This subsequently became something of a fashionable quirk and was taken as a sign of a classy clock (or clockmaker) and probably worth an extra marc or two on the price. The fashion spread and most French timepieces used IIII as standard even today.

  3. Keep in simple and cheap Imagine you’re making a clockface and having to cast the numerals. If you use IIII you’ll need 20 x I, 4 x V and 4 x X. A single mould of XVIIIII cast four times gives you all you need and no wastage. If you use IV your numbers are shot and however you try you can’t repeat a waste free casting.

  4. Aestethics Most of the modern clock and watchmakers who comment on these things (I found a few online) point out that if you just had IV, V, VI that quarter of the clock looks very unbalanced when countered by VI, VII, VIII so using IIII instead gives a more balanced appearance to the face of the clock

  5. Mental Symmetry Related to the last point, it may just be that the look is more logical, creates a pattern which is missing if IV is used and is subconsciously more pleasing. With the use of IIII the first four places all start with I, the next four with V and the last four introduce X

Perhaps a combination of reasons accounts for the practice lasting into current times. Perhaps with the move to increasingly digital readouts, it may be a puzzle that will disappear along with a circular clock face. Now there’s a thought.

Finally, just when you thought it was safe to go back outside, here is that answer I promised you. I for one have rarely had my gob so smacked as when I did the count to see how long I’ve been walled up in fifteenth century nun stylee..

So whatever your clock face may look like, I wish you goodnight from what was day 264 in the Corona house.


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