All Roads Lead to Britain: Chapter I



Time Immemorial   (Who shall decide when scientists disagree?)

         Fortunately for students the first couple of million years of history are always explained in the twinkling of an eye: somehow (the Lord knows how) somebody (the Lord knows who) appeared at some time (the Lord knows when) somewhere (the Lord knows where). That “creature” is supposed to have been more similar to what nowadays we know as “a monkey” than what we call “a man”. This apeman (half-man, half-monkey) used to live in caves, dressed in animal skins, and hunting was his daily bread and butter. Then one day, out of the blue, he stood up... and learnt to walk. Another day, he invented fire (the best thing since sliced bread)... and learnt to cook. On another occasion, he invented the wheel... and learnt to travel. And at any other moment in this time out of mind he invented something similar to an axe...and learnt to murder.
         An accurate and succinct account of events indeed, but very useful for students since they do not have to learn all the things that have happened in the world from Time Immemorial (can you imagine having to learn millions and millions of things that have happened for millions and millions of years? Undoubtedly, that would make you go off your nut). Thus, at a single stroke, a long period of time passes before your eyes...and that’s the long and the short of the matter.
         All these facts are pure conjecture: the history of the early ages is merely based upon doubtful information and archaeological remains, which are not many, by the way. It is somehow “an invented story” since there are no records which can give chapter and verse for it exactly, and the dates of appearance of man on earth are still the apple of discord among historians (and will keep on being so perhaps to the end of time).

The melting pot   (It takes all sorts to make a world)

         One thing we can be sure of is that the birth of a nation is not something which happens all of a sudden. On the contrary, it takes a lot of time and involves a combination of different people from many different places and cultures who happen to gather around a specific area at different moments in time and who get there in search of a land flowing with milk and honey. This means that the concept of a proper Briton, as well as the concept of a proper Dane, a proper Spaniard or a proper Vietnamese, does not exist, and that a nation is but the result of adding and mixing a good number of ingredients in a pot and cooking them for centuries on a low heat.

Going adrift

         Before the English Channel existed, that is to say, in those times when we could not properly call the British Isles “British Isles” and the map of the world was pretty different from the one we can see nowadays in our atlases, the territory which we refer to with such an appellation was stuck to the rest of Europe. Then around 200,000 years ago, Ireland and Great Britain (at that time, of course, they still had no names) set sail westwards and said goodbye to the Continental people, who remained dumb as statues while waving their hands and saying “so long!”. The big mass of land wandered the seas for some thousand years and reached its present position. (Heaven knows where these islands will be in a couple of millenniums’ time!)
         N.B.  Those who don’t believe that Southern England and Western France were once joined are kindly requested to go and visit the White Cliffs of Dover (Kent) and their counterpart in Boulogne (Pas-de-Calais) in order to check that they are just two pieces of the same jigsaw.

Within a stone’s throw  (A sight for sore eyes )

         The inhabitants of the British Isles may have always wished to be isolated but their proximity to the Continent has always made it a bit difficult. Once boats, rafts and other similar means of transport started to be used, the Continental people’s yearning for discovery brought about continuous voyages to the nearby islands. After all, as people know, travel broadens your mind... The result of those excursions proved to be satisfactory. The new land did not seem to leave a great deal to be desired, as we can conclude from the fact that most of those casual visitors stayed all their lives. It seemed as if the island had cast its spell on them.
         Any Briton of today who wished to have his family tree drawn would find out that his family would trace its origins to someone who used to live in Northern Spain, Western France, Belgium, Holland, Norway or Sweden. The only problem you might find in order to have such a family tree drawn would be where to get a piece of paper large enough.

First come, first served   (An early bird called Brut)

         Legends and mythology play a major role when talking about the history of any country. Stories which have passed from generation to generation by word of mouth and which have no fundamental basis constitute one of the main pillars in the reconstruction of history..., the other pillars being veracity of facts, common sense and knowledge of human nature. This combination can sometimes make “the whole building” tremble, since legends do not always get on well with historical accuracy. To a large extent, therefore, the outline of the ancient history of a country such as Britain is a-cat-and-dog fight between legend and truthfulness: on the one hand, the origin of a country is often based upon cock-and-bull stories which, in spite of being hard to believe, make sense but have no historical foundation; on the other hand, there are no records which can prove anything, so why should we believe the stories we are told? Are historians pulling our legs?
         One of these cock-and-bull stories is the one which was recounted by the first British historian, Geoffrey of Monmouth (c. 1100-1155) in his chronicle Historia regum Britanniae, which unfortunately has little historical value. According to him, the name Britain is derived from Brut, a great-grandson of Aeneas, the Trojan hero who fought against the Greeks. Brut (or Brutus) fled his hometown and reached our islands, thus becoming the first king of these lands, where he founded New Troy, which would later become London. The reward for being the first official settler was to name the country after him. Consequently, Britain would mean, more or less, the land conquered by Brut. Anyway, since Monmouth’s work is based upon imagination rather than upon veracity we can state that there are no grounds for saying that this story is true. All the same, whether we believe it or not, it sounds all right.
         A more believable story is that the name Britain is derived from the Pritani (or Priteni), the inhabitants of the islands in the 4th century BC. The process of conversion of these words into Britain has a logical linguistic explanation and is as clear as the nose on your face.

Every why has a wherefore  (What on earth is this?)

         Prehistoric remains have often lent a hand to historians so that they can decipher the way of life in those remote ages. By means of studying ancient paintings or architectural structures, they have been able to reconstruct those dark days in history. But as it has been mentioned previously, these remains have often lent a hand to historians, or at least they have not always been clear enough for historians to determine why and what they were made for. Such is the case of Stonehenge, on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, the most significant megalithic monument in Britain, which was declared a World Heritage Site because of its importance and magnificence. Built c. 1800 BC, this  “stone circle” (a group of huge stones placed in such a way that they seem to be forming a sort of temple) has amazed, surprised, astonished, astounded, shocked, stunned and startled archaeologists and historians, who have tried to do their best at trying to make head or tail of it: What was it built for? When were these stones put there? How could these heavy stones be transported?. All these questions still have no easy and prompt answers; nevertheless, historians keep on working on it, which means that they really have a genuine love for their work and an iron will.
         This mysterious construction has given rise to a couple of theories that try to explain the purpose for which it was built:
The aligment of the axis of the stones with the sun on Midsummer’s Day has made experts think that Stonehenge was conceived as a sort of observatory, that is, a place from which to watch the movement of the planets and to study the stars. Those prehistoric men, of course, did not know much about celestial bodies, which perhaps they considered to be gods, but we can accept that they could probably feel attracted by the motion of those “bright dots” in the sky.
         A second theory points out that this kind of stone circle was just a sort of temple for the Druids to celebrate their ceremonies. The Druids were the spiritual leaders in those past times. They practised human sacrifices, were the greatest authorities not only in religion but also in law, and knew about astronomy and natural philosophy. It is known that they organized meetings at certain times of the year, so Stonehenge could be one of those temples designed for them to gather. Even today that meeting is held there. A special ceremony takes place on the 21st of June, the summer solstice, to commemorate the ancient mystic rites which occurred at Stonehenge. “Modern druids” meet there and greet the coming of the summer... Some things never change.

         The most shocking fact about Stonehenge is the way that these stones were transported and put one on top of another, taking it for granted that in those times works were done with one’s bare hands and that the use of any kind of tools was little and the knowledge of engineering was scarce. Archaeologists have discovered that these stones were brought from South West Wales (not exactly just around the corner). Then how could these huge heavy stones be transported and lifted? Probably they were floated on rafts across the Bristol Channel and then pulled on sledges with rollers underneath to Salisbury Plain..., slowly but surely. And how long did it take to do it?...God only knows!. One thing is sure: one day these men rolled their sleeves up and set the ball rolling...And they kept it rolling for centuries, since it is estimated that this incredible feat of engineering was begun around 2000 or 1800 BC and was completed definitely c. 1400 BC. Perseverance gets results in the end.
         The important point is that, however Stonehenge was built, it was no doubt a herculean task which required both great effort and a good deal of time. And as effort and time in a work of art are normally proportional to its grandeur, then the greatness of Stonehenge is beyond measure and beyond question.

The dawn of history (Exercises)

1.- In the twinkling of an eye
         “Twinkle” is a verb. It means “to shine with an unsteady light”. In this phrase it has been converted into a noun (as it is preceded by the definite article and followed by the preposition of) by adding –ing to the base of the verb. Paraphrase the following sentences so that the meaning does not change and always use an -ing form as a noun.
         1.1.- The library has been rebuilt recently.
                   ___________________ has been recently completed.
         1.2.- Something was written on the other side of the paper.
                   There ____________________ on the other side of the paper.
         1.3.- It took me a long time to fill the car tank.
                   _____________________________ took me a long time.
         1.4.- You read English quite well but you often write it incorrectly.
                   ________________ in English is satisfactory but _______________ is often incorrect.
         1.5.- It was hard for him to design the plans.
                   _________________________ was hard for him.

2.- The Lord knows how/what/when/where/who...
         We can complete this phrase; for example, “The Lord knows when the first man appeared on earth”. The Lord knows is the main clause and when.....earth is a dependent wh-interrogative clause. As the latter is not a direct question but depends from the former, the general rules for interrogations don’t apply here. A typical mistake in this kind of sentences is to use do/does/did or to reverse the order between subject and object. That must NOT be done in these cases.
         Now do as in the example:
         What time is the train leaving?   (I don’t know)
                   I don’t know what time the train is leaving

         2.1.- Where does he live?   (I wonder)
         2.2.- Is he English or Scottish?   (I am not sure)
         2.3.- How much did you pay for this watch?   (I don’t know)
         2.4.- When does the program start?   (I want to know)
         2.5.- Who lives in this flat?   (We want to know)
         2.6.- When did she learn to drive?   (I wonder)
         2.7.- Why did she leave without saying goodbye?   (I can’t understand)

3.- Out of the blue
         Besides this, there are many other idioms in which the word blue appears. Below you will find some more of them. Complete them with the words in the box.
         3.1.- If you _______ the blues, it means that you are sad.
         3.2.- A synonym of the previous idiom is to _______ blue.
         3.3.- To blue one’s _______ means “to waste it”.
         3.4.- A blue _______ is a censor.
         3.5.- A blue _______ is an obscene one.
         3.6.- Blue _______ is used to refer to someone of aristocratic origin.
         3.7.- Once in a blue _______ means “rarely”
         3.8.- A blue-_______ worker is a factory worker, as opposed to a white-collar one.

collar          blood          film          moon
have            money        pencil      feel

4.- To go off one’s nut
         This expression means “to become crazy, to go out of one’s mind”. The word nut can be substituted by three other words which appear in the box that follows. Try your luck: which words are they?

head      roof     hat      onion     rocker      hair

5.-  The apple of discord
         This is not the only idiom in which a fruit appears. There are some more below in the box. Write them in the blank spaces.
         5.1.- If you have another bite at the __________, you have another chance to do something.
         5.2.- If someone is __________, that person is crazy.
         5.3.- The expression to play ___________ is used to refer to a person who is in the company of
         two people who are in love; those two people want to be alone together and that third
         person is unwelcomed.
5.4.- If you say that something is worthless, although you really want it but you cannot have it,
         you can refer to it as sour __________.
5.5.- In colloquial language, a __________ is someone who is made to appear foolish.

gooseberry     bananas     lemon     grapes     cherry

6.- Dumb as statues (or as dumb as a statue)
         There are many other idioms of comparison. Some of them refer to physical defects. Match the beginnings of those idioms (on the left) and their endings (on the right).

as blind as...        ... a fish                
as deaf as...         ... sin                   
as dumb (=stupid) as..... a bat         
as fat as...           ... a post              
as plump as...      ... a partridge        
as ugly as...         ... a pig                

7.- Travel broadens your mind
         The verb broaden is derived from the adjective broad. The suffix –en is used with other roots in order to make new verbs. Complete the following table.

Adjective           Noun             Verb

broad                 breadth         broaden

8.- Within a stone’s throw / Just around the corner
         Both expressions have the same meaning. Something which is within a stone’s throw or just around the corner is very near. Of the following expressions, only one does NOT mean “very near”. Which one?

close at hand          before your eyes          at arm’s length    
              within arm’s reach              within sight

9.- As clear as the nose on your face
         This is another idiom of comparison. The word clear can be substituted by another adjective and we can get a second version of the same idiom. Which of these four adjectives can be used?

plain       easy       obvious       bright

10.- What on earth is this?
         On earth is an expression that is used for emphasis in wh-questions. It suggests that there is no easy answer to the question someone is asking (how on earth are you going to do it?; who on earth is that man?; what on earth are you trying to tell me?...)
There is another similar expression, but it is a bit ruder. It consists of the wh-word plus an article plus a noun. The meaning of that noun is “the place where the souls of evil people go after they have died”. Can you guess what expression we are referring to?

What/How/When/Where/Who...     _______       ________ ...................?

11.- An early bird
         This is only the first part of a well-known proverb which means that only a person who acts promptly gets his object. Choose the right words in order to complete it.

The early bird       flies                     at sunshine
                            sings                     the worm
                            catches                 fast
                            eats                      in the sky
                            runs                      loudly
                            sleeps                            in the morning

12.- Synonyms
“This stone circle has amazed, surprised, astonished, astounded, shocked, stunned and startled...”. All these verbs have more or less the same meaning. They belong to the same semantic field: surprise. Below you have five more verbs which belong to this field. And there is another group of five verbs which should not be in the list. Use a dictionary if necessary and cross them out. (What semantic field do those “odd words out” belong to?)

take aback     dumbfound    glimpse    stare
glance            stagger       stupefy
behold         gape


Chapter 1: The Dawn of History

1.1.- the rebuilding of the library;  1.2.- there was some writing;  1.3.- the filling of the car tank; 1.4.- your reading; your writing;  1.5.- the designing of the plans
2.1.- I wonder where he lives;  2.2.- I am not sure if he is English or Scottish;  2.3.- I don’t know how much you paid for this watch;  2.4.- I want to know when the program starts;  2.5.- We want to know who lives in this flat;  2.6.- I wonder when she learnt to drive;  2.7.- I can’t understand why she left without saying goodbye
3.1.- have;  3.2.- feel;  3.3.- money;  3.4.- pencil;  3.5.- film;  3.6.- blood;  3.7.- moon;  3.8.- collar
4 head, onion, rocker
5.1.- cherry;  5.2.- bananas;  5.3.- gooseberry;  5.4.- grapes;  5.5.- lemon
6 as blind as a bat;  as deaf as a post;  as dumb as a fish;  as fat as a pig;  as plump as a partridge;  as ugly as sin
7 broad, breadth, broaden;   wide, width, widen;   long, length, lengthen;   deep, depth, deepen;   high, height, heighten
8 at arm’s length
9 plain
10 what/how/when/where/who...the devil...?
11 the early bird catches the worm
12 take aback, dumbfound, stagger, stupefy.
The other verbs are connected with “sight”.

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