About Me

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I lead workshops at the British Library, on literature, language, art, history, and the culture of the book; and teach the history of printing at other institutions. I research language usage during the First World War, and lead the Languages and the First World War project. Author of Discovering Words, Discovering Words in the Kitchen, Evolving English Explored, Team Talk - sporting words & their origins, Trench Talk - the Language of the First World War (with Peter Doyle); How to Cure the Plague; The Finishing Touch; and Words and the First World War. As an artist I work in performance, public engagement, and intervention using drawing, curating, text, changing things and embroidery.


Thursday, 18 July 2013

The Britisher’s back-bone

The Britisher’s back-bone

Very powerful muscles along the back support a man’s back-bone, and if the correct balance and poise of the body is to be attained, they must be cultivated with that object. How often do we hear the statement that so-and-so is man with “plenty of back-bone”? Sometimes the phrase may be meant to imply that he is a man full of pluck, sometimes to suggest that he possesses staying-power and endurance; sometimes it may even be used in an attempt to describe him as possessing the essential qualities of a Britisher. Yet a man with a good back-bone is merely a man who supports himself in the upright position with dignity and carriage. Such a one is reckoned within the British Empire to be typical of his race and tradition.

Physical Jerks, Thomas Lowe, 1921  

Captain Lowe was clearly a man with a mission: in the preface he states 'The war proved that the British were a C3 nation in physique and an A1 nation in ideals.' Had the War stiffened the British back-bone? Was there a need for the British male to get fit or to keep fit? Had those endless exercises at the Bull Ring at Etaples actually improved the physical fitness of the British serviceman, or made him so resentful of physical training that any form of PT was to be avoided?

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