THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library

Introduction

Discover more about the British Library's 6 million sound recordings and the access we provide to thousands of moving images. Comments and feedback are welcomed. Read more

21 August 2017

Recording of the week: being the prize guinea pig

Jonathan Blake was one of the first people in the UK to be diagnosed with HIV. An activist for LGBT rights and HIV and AIDS awareness, Blake remembers the circumstances around being diagnosed in the 1980s, what it was like being on of the first people to be diagnosed, his experience of losing friends, and the impact of diagnosis on his outlook on life.

Jonathan Blake on his HIV diagnosis

The interview was conducted by Margot Farnham for the Hall-Carpenter Oral History Project in 1991, when Jonathan was forty years old. His full interview (C456/104) is available on British Library Sounds in the Observing the 1980s package, alongside three other Hall-Carpenter interviews: the Greenham Common campaigners Cheryl Slack and Sue King and the feminist Roberta Henderson.

Walking after Midnight - Gay Men's Life StoriesWalking After Midnight - Gay Men's Life Stories by the Hall Carpenter Archives Oral History Group

In the four and a half hour life story interview, Jonathan discusses (among many other things) his family history, upbringing, school experiences, coming out to his parents, Kings Road in the 1960s, his involvement in Gay Pride politics in New York in the 1970s, his acting career in theatre and film, his diagnosis with HIV in 1983 and his decision to live a 'healthy' life.

Funnily enough, he doesn't talk much about his time campaigning for Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners in the years following his diagnosis. But then you can watch the film Pride to find out about that - and read Pride - The Book, just out this month. And you catch up with Jonathan's latest campaigning work over on Twitter.

Come to the British Library's free exhibition Gay UK (hurry - it's only open until 19 September) to listen to many more oral history extracts from the Hall-Carpenter oral history collection.

17 August 2017

San Fairy Ann

Rosy Hall is an ESRC-funded PhD student from Oxford University working with the BL's Spoken English collections. She writes:

The phrase ‘San Fairy Ann’ might sound familiar, perhaps conjuring up memories of Paul McCartney's 1976 song, or Barbara Windsor's 1965 comedy of the same name. But what does it actually mean, and where does it come from?

The saying has cropped up in our WordBank collection twice so far, both times the speakers attributing it to an elderly grandparent.

C1442 San Fairy Ann (female b.1942) uncatalogued

‘My grandmother always used the phrase when she didn’t want to know about something was ‘San Fairy Ann’ which when I started to learn French at school I discovered was ‘ça ne fait rien’. I believe that this was um she probably picked it up from my grandfather when he came back from the First World War.’

C1442X3968 San Fairy Ann (female b.1962)

‘In my family we use the phrase ‘San Fairy Ann,’ which is yelled at people – usually the kids – when they’re misbehaving. Um, we think it might come from the French, ça ne fait rien, which we think means – is a phrase of dismissal. My grandmother who’s ninety-eight uses it and we’ve all picked it up from her.’

As the speakers themselves observe here, ‘San Fairy Ann’ is the result of a common process whereby a saying or word is converted by mis-hearers into something different that seems to make (at least some) sense. There’s ‘all intensive purposes,’ for example, ‘electrical votes,’ and of course ‘damp squid.’ Geoffrey Pullum and Mark Liberman call these ‘eggcorn’ moments, after the mis-interpretation of ‘acorn’ – and explain that they are not stupid mistakes, but rather ‘imaginative attempts at relating something heard to lexical material already known.’

In the case of ‘San Fairy Ann’, the process has taken place in translation; the phrase is recorded as becoming popular in England after British soldiers came into contact with French during the First World War. ‘Ça ne fait rien’ – meaning ‘never mind’ or ‘it doesn’t matter’ – became ‘San Fairy Ann,’ also commonly ‘san ferry Ann’ or ‘Sally Fairy Ann.’ A dictionary of ‘Soldier and Sailor Words’ from 1925 even has an entry for ‘sand for Mary-Ann.’ This type of ‘soldier slang’ is also behind French-influenced phrases like ‘mercy buckets’ (merci beaucoup) and ‘bottle of plonk’ (vin blanc).

Author Jeanette Winterson has also written about the concept, celebrating it as ‘a tribute to the exuberance and flexibility of language.’ Below she describes the evolution of ‘San Fairy Ann’ in her own family:

My father was in Ipres, (pronounced Wipers), during the War, and like many of his generation, came back with bits of French. Ce ne fait rien turned into San Fairy Ann, meaning Stuff You, and then a new character emerged in Lancashire-speak, known as Fairy Ann; a got-up creature, no better than she should be, who couldn’t give a damn. ‘San Fairy Ann to you’, morphed into, ‘Who does she think she is? Fairy Ann?’

Continue the conversation with us @VoicesofEnglish

14 August 2017

Recording of the week: the seabirds of Bempton Cliffs

This week's selection comes from Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds.

If you find yourself in East Yorkshire during the summer holidays, be sure to pay a visit to the stunning seabird colonies at Bempton Cliffs. Every year nearly half a million seabirds congregate on the hard chalk cliff faces in order to breed. Numbers are at their highest between April and August, when Gannets, Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Razorbills, Fulmars, Puffins and gulls jostle for the best positions along the precipitous ledges. This recording, made by Richard Margoschis in 1990, captures all the excitement of this busy community.

You can listen to more wildlife and environmental recordings in the Environment and Nature section of British Library Sounds.

Follow @CherylTipp and @soundarchive for all the latest news.