The Lambeth Country Show

Monday, July 25, 2011

It's a gorgeous July day as I write this - warm but not too hot, and the sun is shining, and it's pretty much perfect.  Unfortunately, today is NOT the day of the Lambeth Country Show.  The Lambeth Country Show was last Saturday and Sunday, when the weather was like this:

 Great for a nice day out in the park...
Despite the fact that the skies alternated between long stretches of ominous threateningness, brief moments of tantalising sun, and short, frequent and violent episodes of absolutely CHUCKING it down, I still ventured out on Sunday to see what it was all about.  After all, it was just in Brockwell Park which is a mere hop from home, and I'd been walking past the poster near the Tesco since about February, so I thought I really ought to make an effort. (It had a duck on it!  The poster, that is.  Not the Tesco.)

The Lambeth Country Show is sort of an odd thing.  Apparently it started life as a simple village flower show, but  it expanded in 1974 and now it's still got the horticultural portion, but it’s also part rural fair, complete with livestock showing and best orange marmalade competitions and such, and part music festival, including a couple of live music stages, and part food festival (oh, the food…), and part amusement park, and part community gathering place and part, I dunno, everything.  I'm not sure how a little flower show grew to become a huge annual fair in the middle of Brixton, but I think it definitely qualifies as "off the tourist track". After all, how many tourists are going to travel to the end of the Victoria line to ride bumper cars (here called "Dodge'Ems”), view champion beetroot, and either pet a goat, or eat goat.  Or both.  In fact, you could probably have taken your plate of curried goat over to the goat pen, which would have been weird. Like munching a sausage roll while visiting the heirloom pigs (which you could also have done).

I wandered over after waiting out a particularly vicious spell of rain from the comfort of the couch, and then spent most of my time just wandering and waiting to work up an appetite.  I happened on the food stalls first, and there were ZILLIONS of them.  Here's a partial list of what was on offer that day: cookies, curried goat, malt drink, jerked chicken, real ale, salt beef on a bagel, roti, onion baji, popcorn, cupcakes, cheese, jerked chicken, cakes of all kinds, pizza, calzone, Guyanese cuisine, Pimm’s, noodles, sausages, strawberries and cream, strawberry tarts, jerked chicken, paella, whole roast hog, ice cream, toasties, champagne, fresh-squeezed juice, coffee, burgers, jerked chicken, fudge, cider, chips (of course), tagine, crepes, and jerked chicken. (It is Brixton, after all, the the Carribbean influence is dominant.  And there really were a LOT of jerked chicken stalls.)

So you can see why I needed an appetite.  Eventually, after an appropriate amount of wandering, I opted for a slice of pizza, and a stick of liquorice.  Oh, and how could I NOT have one of these?
Two GIANT chocolate chip cookies, sandwiched together with an obscene amount of vanilla icing.
I also hit the fun fair, which was a pretty typical offering.  I've seen this kind of thing in Brockwell Park a few times before - a fairly standard mix of spinning, twisting, hurling, flinging, bumping sort of devices for inducing nausea, along with a liberal sprinkling of impossible-to-win game stalls filled with equally impossibly large stuffed toys.  Still, there is something charming about encountering this kind of travelling fair in a large green space instead of in a shopping mall parking lot, which is where you'd normally encounter that type of outfit in Canada.  I makes the whole thing seems more festive and less pathetic.

A long shot of the fun fair.  And check out that sky. I told you the weather did not cooperate!
And a lovely Horsey-Up-And-Down.  (Or at least that's what they SHOULD be called according to the lovely and talented CB.)
The more country-ish bits of the show were particularly charming.  I liked seeing the rows of tables showing the entries in the baking competitions, and the vegetable growing competitions.  The winner of the cupcake decorating contest was a favourite:
 Monster cupcakes!
And the vegetable carving competition was also fantastic:

Cauliflower and eggplant poodle
Warty squash crocodile
The livestock tents had petting areas for little kids, and a show ring where people nattered endlessly about the charms of artisanal swine and demonstrated sheep-shearing and gave pony rides and other such rural delights.  The pigs were actually quite nice, and it was a bit like seeing "Babe" live.

 See? Cute!
I also really enjoyed the Owl Tent, where they had at least a dozen birds calmly sitting on perches (tied down, of course).  You could pay £2 to have an owl sit on your arm, which seemed very popular and allowed great close up photo opportunities if you happened to be standing right next to a young person sporting an owl.  Very Hogwarts.

Look!  It’s Pidwidgeon! 
The music stages were less interesting to me, as they generally seeming to be equipped with a sort of generic reggae kind of thing most of the time.  Perhaps I’ve just been overexposed since moving to Brixton, but I quickly grow weary of the stereotypical Rasta-Mon vibe that seems to accompany any gathering of more than 15 or 20 people in this area.  (Though the steel drum band that sets up outside Brixton tube station every once in a while is a cheery change from the mega-phone sporting evangelists who are there most of the time but have yet to succeed in saving me from eternal damnation.)

There were also some more activity-based areas, including the mandatory climbing wall, and I found these people!
The Streatham Chiefs 
It turns out that just half an hour’s bus ride up the road from me is Streatham Ice Rink, home to the Streatham Chief’s men’s team AND the Streatham Storm, London’s only female hockey team.  And here I’m talking about proper  hockey, played on skates and ice, and not the infinitely inferior, sad British variety which is played on a field and requires far too much running, employs annoyingly short, oddly curved sticks, and seems to be mostly about bashing other players in the shins.  Nope, there is genuine hockey within striking distance, which was an exciting enough discovery to have made the whole sodden trip through the Lambeth Country Show worthwhile, even without the enormous chocolate chip cookie.  I might just have to get my skates sent over…

And that was the Lambeth Country Show.  Other than that it’s been a relatively quiet week, but for one overly exciting bike trip home from work last Tuesday, which was really much, much more exciting than called for.  As my friend P put it, “How the Hell do you get run over twice in one go?”  To clarify, I didn’t actually get run over at all (I’m fine Mom!).  But I did end up on the pavement twice, and once there was a moment of airborne acrobatics, and my bike’s rear derailleur and hanger is now at a jaunty and less-than-perfectly-functional angle. 

What happened was this: I was riding home having just left work, travelling on a very quiet street parallel with Waterloo Road.  As I was going south a car approached going north and, to my great surprise, decided to turn right as if he hadn’t even seen I was there (which of course he hadn’t).  I executed a very last minute braking maneuver and was silently congratulating myself on stopping just before hitting his front bumper, thus preventing my bike’s front wheel from being turned into a Pringles potato chip, when I realized that while my bike may have stopped moving forward, I had not.  I was continuing to accelerate, which vaulted me off my bike and over the front right-hand side of the car’s hood.  I’m not exactly sure what kind of move I did in the air, but I ended up landing on my butt, just outside the driver’s door.  Luckily, that’s one of the more well-padded bits of my anatomy, and even as I landed I was thinking, “Wow, I can’t believe I’m ok” (And yes, I do wear a helmet.  I’m not stupid.)

The driver got out with a stream of “I’m so sorry"s and “Are you all right?”s and “I didn’t see you”s and “I thought it was a dead end road”s and more “Are you sure you’re all right?”s.  Then he helped me get the chain back on my bike, and apologized some more.  I was just interested in getting home at that point; the bike seemed fine, I was in one piece, and I just wanted it over.  So off I rode, only to realize that the bike wasn’t really fine, since it made awful grinding clunking noises whenever I tried to shift into any gear lower than four.  And it turns out I wasn’t really fine either.  As you might expect I was actually bit shaky and pumped up on adrenalin.  This meant that when I was remounting my bike after a stop on Kennington Road a mile or two later I ended up losing my balance and toppled over sideways (in the rain, of course) and lay on the wet pavement for a moment thinking, “Seriously?  AGAIN?”  And then I got up, and put the chain back on my bike AGAIN, and kept going.  I did have to get home, after all. 

And then the most chilling part: traffic was blocked as I got closer to home due to an accident involving a car stopped in the intersection of Brixton Road and Stockwell.  I say it involved a car but it also must have involved a very unlucky person because the car had a disturbingly deep person-sized dent in the windshield that gave me a real start, considering the events I’d just experienced.  Part of me was grateful to think that I was not  the person who’d made that dent, and part of me was thinking about how close I’d come to making my own dent.  And then I got back on my bike and made it home without further incident, and poured myself a large glass of wine and sat very still for a little.  Then next morning I yanked my gearing mechanism back into some semblance of order, noted the deep ache in my right butt and, oddly, my right shoulder blade, and got back on the bike and rode to work.

And that’s how things stand.  The bike still needs work, and so does my shoulder, though neither is a cause for great concern (and yes, I’ve seen a doctor).  I’m sure I should have taken the details of the careless freak in the car who started it all, if only so I could maybe squeeze a few quid from him towards bike repair costs, but I really couldn’t be asked at that point.  Really, it’s all FINE.  But would someone pass the ibuprofen, please?

The Crossword

Monday, July 18, 2011

(Insert standard excuses/apologies for lack of bloggage here.  Long hours at work, lack of inspiration, general indifference, mea culpa, blah blah blah.  Moving on…)

It's a rainy Saturday afternoon, so what better time to settle down with a fresh crossword puzzle?  Failing that, how about a blog all about the crossword?  Or to be more specific: the Daily Telegraph Cryptic Crossword, which is not to be confused with the Daily Telegraph Quick Crossword, or the Telegraph Toughie (or the Times Crossword, or the Sunday Times Crossword, or The Guardian crossword, or, well, you get the idea.  This is a nation that loves its newspapers, and every paper has at least one crossword).  I first encountered the Telegraph crossword while on my trip around the world, and since moving to the home of said newspaper have become a daily consumer of said puzzle.  (Let's leave aside for the moment the awkwardness of being a regular consumer of a newspaper whose political bent is decidedly more right-leaning than my own.  Left to follow my own inclinations I suspect I'd be a Guardian reader.  As it is I feel a bit like those men who read Playboy "for the articles".  Honestly, I only buy it for the crossword!)

Thanks to the determined efforts of my Crossword Coach Patrick - he who introduced me to the pleasure and pain of the cryptic crossword and schooled me in its intricacies - I've reached a level of crosswording proficiency that means that every day there is an admittedly small but still existent chance that I might actually be able to finish the whole puzzle. (Note: It only counts when you fill in the whole grid correctly, without help from any person or website, on the day of publication.)  I've actually managed this feat a grand total of THREE times in my life.

The Crossword Tutor
Coach Patrick, puzzling

For those not familiar with cryptic crosswords, they are similar to their more mundane cousins - the ones where the clues are perfectly straightforward variations on something like "Capital of Peru (4)" (LIMA).  However, with cryptic crosswords each clue is a word puzzle in itself, as opposed to a simple definition.  As Wikipedia puts it:
In essence, a cryptic clue leads to its answer as long as it is read in the right way. What the clue appears to say when read normally (the surface reading) is a distraction and usually has nothing to do with the clue answer. The challenge is to find the way of reading the clue that leads to the solution.
There are several types of cryptic clue, one if which is commonly called the  "double definition"' and is an easy way of illustrating the kind of wordplay that's involved in cryptic clues. Take this simple one for example:

"Attempt rugby score (3)" (The number in parentheses indicates how many letters are in the answer)

Naturally, the answer is TRY.  To attempt is to try, and a try is major scoring play in rugby, similar to a touchdown in (American/Canadian) football.  See how that works?  Easy peasy. Or not. Because cryptics are a mostly British invention they often require knowledge of particularly British things like rugby, or the names of the different positions in cricket, or British slang, or local geography, or nicknames of (English) football teams, or obscure Northern Irish politicians, and so on.  It can be tricky work for a colonial like me.

In addition to the "double definition", cryptic clues can also feature hidden words like this:

"Mad ogler harbours rover (3)"

Here the answer is DOG.  No, really.  The word "harbours" is a clue that we're dealing with a hidden word.  "Ma(D OG)ler" is harbouring the word DOG, which is defined by "rover".  Clear as mud, right?

My favourite type of clue is an anagram, where the letters in one part of the clue are meant to be rearranged into a new word or words that are defined by the other part of the clue.  Anagram clues always include the definition you're after, the letters to be anagrammed, and some indication that things are to be muddled about.  A basic anagram clue would be something like this:

"Stain spoiled fabric (5)"

By "spoiling" (rearranging the letters in) stain, we get a fabric: SATIN.  "Fabric" is the definition, "stain" is the anagram, "spoiled" is the indication of anagram. Tic tac toe, it all hangs together.

There are many forms of cryptic clues - reversals, odd/evens, charades, homophones, containers, initialisms, deletions, abbreviations, and even devious combinations of several forms in one clue.  If you're really that interested, look 'em up yourself.  Or better yet, find yourself an experienced cryptic crossworder and get them to take you through a few clues.  That's how I was lucky enough to learn.  Once you're up to speed you can dive in with my whole daily ritual.  The correct procedure for doing a Daily Telegraph crossword, refined to the point of OCD since my arrival in London, is as follows:
  1. Stop at local newsagent on the way to work and purchase Daily Telegraph for £1.00. (Or, if you are lucky enough to have a housemate who works in a media-related job with access to many editions of many newspapers every day, and who works nights, and who often ends up arriving home with an armload of fresh papers just as you are leaving, simply take the Daily Telegraph that's been thoughtfully deposited on the kitchen table, likely alongside The Guardian and The Independent. That is, if you're lucky.)
  2. If taking the bus or tube, proceed to bus stop or tube station. While waiting for bus/tube to arrive, remove the useless Business Section and discard in an appropriate recycling bin. The Business Section is like one's appendix - largely unnecessary, and to be excised if even slightly irksome.
  3. Glance briefly at front page, and then turn over the whole section to reveal the crosswords on the back. Carefully fold back the top of the paper, just above the mid-point.  Then fold the right side under the left side, leaving the pristine crossword perfectly positioned for puzzling. At this stage you can also examine the quality of the "working out" side of the paper, which is the section of ads opposite the puzzle.  Good ads contain lots of empty, light-coloured space for noodling about with anagrams and potential answers.  Bad ones have large dark areas or cram in lots of stuff and leave no proper working out space.

    Stupid AdThe WORST ad for working out space, which appears with dismaying regularity.  Honestly, there's barely room for a four-letter anagram in there, and besides that it's a particularly poorly designed and ugly offering.  (Dear HSL Chairs: Please reconsider your advertising strategy.  Yours peevishly, Pam. )

  4. Count the total number of clues in the puzzle, which will generally be between 28 and 32.  Write the total, surrounded by a small box, in the bottom right hand corner of the space under the puzzle grid.  This is your goal.
  5. Scan the clues for multi-word answers and add appropriate marks to indicate same on the puzzle grid.  Grumble slightly if there are no multi-word answers, since they seem to be slightly easier to figure out..
  6. Start with 1 Across, and proceed from there.  (Getting 1 Across right away is a good omen.)  When you get an answer fill in the grid in capital letters.  Make a small dot next to the completed clue in the list, and make a tick mark under the puzzle to keep a running tally of the total number of clues completed. The correct method is to use pen; use of "The Pencil of Shame" is a breach of crossword honour, as declared by Patrick the Crossword Coach.
  7. When you have completed half the clues, honour is satisfied (according to Patrick). Pause for a brief moment of satisfaction, and note the time at which this milestone was achieved in the area below the puzzle.
    Annotated Crossword
    A properly annotated crossword in progress
  8. Take breaks.  Progress often comes in fits and starts, so be prepared for long dry spells.  It's usually best to set the puzzle aside every once in a while so you can come back to it with fresh eyes.  A few hours away allows a sort of gestation time which often means you can come back to a clue that previously seemed utterly impenetrable and is suddenly glaringly obvious.  This is one of the joyful/maddening things about the cryptic crossword.  The "Time Away Factor" is also handy if you happen to be saddled with something so inconvenient as a full time job, or the need to buy groceries, or do laundry, or bathe, or sleep.
  9. Carry on until one of these things happens:
  • You finish! In which case note the time of finishing, add exclamation points if desired, do a little dance, send a tweet, and generally feel smug.
  • DT 21-10-10
    The first puzzle I ever completed all by myself, on October 21, 2010, finished at the astonishingly early hour of 11:20am. (Yes, there's Liquid Paper at 18 Across, but that's what happens sometimes when you eschew The Pencil of Shame.  There is no disgrace in the Liquid Paper of Reconsidered Cleverness.)
  • You get fed up, the hour is late, and decide you need a bit of help.  Just on ONE clue, mind, and just a HINT.  In which case, you go to Big Dave's Crossword Blog, a brilliant site that gives hints (and cleverly hidden answers) for both of the Telegraph cryptic puzzles every day. The beauty of Big Dave is that he gives hints in a way that usually makes it easy to figure out the answer, but is just slightly less than cheating.  He also explains the logic behind the clue, which is highly instructive.
  • You go home and leave the unfinished puzzle on the kitchen table, from whence it will be taken up by your newspaper-fetching housemate who is making dinner in preparation for leaving for work that night, and who will glance briefly at the unfinished clues while chopping onions or mashing spuds, and will fill in at least half of them without breaking a sweat, or even pausing politely.
    So what is it that I like about the crossword?  You might have gleaned from the slightly obsessive routine noted above that I like the ritual of the thing - folding back a fresh paper, counting up, diving in.  And even though I'm a huge consumer of technology and a confessed gadget freak, I like that it's a physical chunk of newsprint, and a real ballpoint pen. (A Space Pen, if course.  I could do the crossword underwater, upside down, or in the vacuum of space!) I also like the challenge, and the fact that because you can tackle each clue from a couple of different angles, in some ways it’s easier than a conventional crossword.  I mean if you don’t know the capital of Peru, you just don’t know.  But if the clue also mentions something about chalky horrible little beans, or is, perhaps: “Capital initially looms in meal abhorred (4)”, well you’ve got a fighting chance, right?  Also, it makes me feel kind of cozy to be sitting on a train, or a double decker bus, or at a cafe along the Thames with a Daily Telegraph crossword.  And yes, there is a sense of superiority to feel that I'm bending my mind to that somewhat esoteric task instead of zoning out to an iPod.  

    The crossword has also been a catalyst in a few rewarding social moments. For instance, it's been my habit to arrive a bit early at hash runs when I can.  This leaves a moment to relax in the pub before the run starts, and allows some excellent crossword puzzling time.  This fall at the Green Man pub in Putney I ended up striking up a conversation with a guy standing at the bar who had just started working on the day's Telegraph puzzle.  We ended up chatting for much of the evening and finished the puzzle together.  He's now in my cell phone under the name "Dave Telegraph Crossword Green Man", and we spent a pleasant while texting back and forth in the suceeding weeks with messages like "Do you have 15a?" and "How did I NOT get 29d?" and such.  It was a nice thing. (I should really get in touch with Dave again.  I wonder if he got 16 Across today...)
    More importantly, when I first came to visit the happy house in Brixton to meet its inhabitants and allow them to determine if I might be a suitable housemate I was careful to take the crossword puzzle with me.  I thought, "I want these people to know that I am the kind of person who does the cryptic crossword.  Or at least the kind of person who ATTEMPTS the cryptic crossword."  It turns out this was a good move because I think casually displaying the crossword, and professing modest Scrabble skills, were a couple of the things that put me over the top, allowing me to move into the place I now call home, which has been one of the most consistently happy things about my life in London.

    So thank you Patrick, for giving me the Daily Telegraph Crossword. I owe you a drink.

    And finally, of course:
    "Oy! Walk past vile, gory, confused website (2,4,4,4,4)"

    P.S. Anyone who can't unravel this elementary clue is not allowed to read the blog anymore.

    Cracking on with a few more words

    Monday, July 4, 2011

    Time for some more fun with words.  Today we concentrate on a few of the colourful turns of phrase that pepper the language over here.  Many of them have North American equivalents, but a few are purely English.

    ”Painting the Forth Bridge” – The Forth Railway Bridge is the famous Victorian-era cantilevered railway bridge in Scotland, which crosses the Firth of Forth between Edinburgh and Fife.  It is, to put it mildly, rather on the large side.  Hence the task of painting the bridge is assumed to be so immense and time-consuming that once you daub on the last brushful it’s time to go back to the other end and start over again.  Thus, “painting the Forth Bridge” is a colourful way of describing a never-ending job.  North Americans call this type of Sisyphean labour “painting the Golden Gate Bridge”.  Sadly the  phrase must soon be consigned to the bin because the Forth Bridge is currently getting a big makeover that involves blasting off every layer of paint until bare steel is revealed, making any necessary repairs, and then coating the whole bridge in some kind of super epoxy stuff that’s supposed to last for 25 to 40 years.  This means the Brits will have to come up with some new phrase to denote a job that never ends;  perhaps something else culturally appropriate like “Watching ‘Coronation Street’”.  Or maybe we could simply say “blogging”.

    Forth Bridge and Cruise ShipYes, that’s a gigantic cruise ship passing under the Forth Bridge.  I told you it was big.

    “Cheap as chips” – When something is really inexpensive, it’s cheap as chips.  The phrase is so well known and used so much it’s often shortened to simply “cheap as…”.  As in “Let’s go round to the curry place down the street.  It’s cheap as.”

    “Chalk and cheese” – A phrase describing things that are so dissimilar in nature that they can’t be fairly compared, like “apples and oranges”.  It’s also often used to describe people who are very different, as in “That Gavin and his brother, I can’t believe they’re related.  They’re chalk and cheese!”  (Note: In reading up on the phrase – yes, I actually do research some of this stuff – I came across a few variations from other languages some of which are too delicious not to share.  Lots of languages employ the slight variant of “apples and pears” (boring), Latin American Spanish compares “potatoes and sweet potatoes” (yawn), and the Welsh compare “honey and butter” (slightly better).  However, the Serbs employ the much more interesting “grandmothers and toads” comparison, and the Russian use the more abstract “warm and soft”.  But I think the prize goes to the Serbians.  When they contrast two wildly dissimilar things, they compare “the cow to the longjohns”.  Of course.)

    “Popped his clogs” – Just one in the long line of irreverent phrases used to describe someone who is, well, dead.  Like six feet under, kicked the bucket, pushing up the daisies, shuffled off this mortal coil…

    Dead Parrot
    That parrot has popped his clogs.

    ”Sod's Law” – The British equivalent of “Murphy’s Law”, but with subtle and highly culturally revealing differences. Murphy’s Law is commonly quoted as “anything that can go wrong will go wrong”. Sod’s Law includes that idea but is broader, encompassing what Wikipedia calls “a general sense of being ‘mocked by fate’".  Therefore Murphy’s Law would apply if you go out without an umbrella and it rains.  Sod’s Law applies when you pack your umbrella, rain coat and wellies and the day turns out hot and sunny.  Similarly the fact that Beethoven, the brilliant composer, became deaf… well that’s just Sod’s Law, innit?  Do you see the distinction?  Sod’s Law is for a people who don’t just expect that things will go wrong, but also expect an ironic twist of the knife while it’s all going down the pan.  In other words, Sod’s Law is for the English.

    ”Muck in” – Pitch in, help out.  As in “If we all muck in we’ll be done in an hour.”  Or, “I don’t mind mucking in a bit, but where would I even start? The whole thing’s gone completely pear-shaped.”

    “Pear-shaped” – When something’s gone pear-shaped it’s all gone wrong, off the rails, down the tubes.  If the Apollo 13 astronauts had been English they would not have said “Houston, we have a problem”.  They would have said, “Excuse me Houston… terribly sorry to bother… but if you’ve got just a mo’ we thought you might want to know that things up here have gone just a tiny bit pear-shaped.”

    “Crack on” – Get started, get on with it.  As in, “The boffins in Houston have come up with a way of fixing that oxygen filter with a bit of cardboard and duct tape, so let’s crack on lads!”

    Not Cricket“It’s not cricket” – something that’s unfair or unsportsmanlike can be referred to as “not cricket”.  The phrase is derived not from the insect but from the game of cricket, which is held up as a gentlemanly ideal of good sportsmanship and fair play, an important concept for the English.  For instance, recently it’s been revealed that hundreds of coveted 2012 Olympics tickets have been held back from public sale and reserved for VIPs, which is not cricket.  (Nevermind that the game of cricket has recently had troubles of its own, especially related to game-fixing by the Pakistani international squad last summer.  Several Pakistani bowlers were accused of taking bribes to bowl “no balls” at specific points in the game, which is most certainly NOT CRICKET.)

    “Pushing the boat out” – Has nothing whatsoever to do with boats. To “push the boat out” is to do something more extravagantly than usual, especially related to spending generously on a special occasion.  For instance they really pushed the boat out on Will and Kate’s wedding.  It’s also great to use ironically, as in “Wow, half a pint of lager shandy.  You’re really pushing the boat our tonight!” (Note: lager shandy is a half-and-half mix of lager and lemonade (7-Up).  So a drink that’s already watered down and then can’t even be tolerated in proper pint form is weedy in the extreme.)

    “Lost his rag” – got angry.  Similar to “blew his top” or “blew his stack”.  As in, “All I did was ask him to move his BMW off my foot and he totally lost his rag at me!”

    “Taking the piss” – this is a phrase that goes right to the heart of all things English. To take the piss out of someone is to mock, tease or ridicule them, especially someone who is especially full of himself.  The English have a finely honed sense of when people are getting a bit too uppity, and are quick to deflate them when they do.  So taking the piss is a combination of the Englishness of not pushing oneself forward, and the all-pervasive sense of humour, and it happens all the time.  Whole TV shows are essentially just extended sessions of taking the piss (“Mock the Week”, anyone?). 

    “Taking the piss” can also be used to describe an action or situation that’s out of line or unfair.  For instance, I recently tweeted about the price of a pint of lager shandy in a Richmond pub.  £3.95?  For a lager shandy?  That’s just taking the piss. 

    The phrase is sometimes euphemistically changed to “taking the Mickey” in mixed company.  I’ve even heard the phrase “taking the Michael” as a variation on Mickey.  (“Mickey” is a Cockney rhyming slang substitution, but I’m not even going to contemplate getting into Cockney rhyming slang right now because that is most definitely a whole other post.) 

    ”Give it a bit o’ welly!” – A phrase used to request a greater level of effort be employed in the task at hand.  Similar to “put yer back into it!”.  As in, “Come on now lads, give it a bit o’ welly! That 17 tonne pile of gravel isn’t going to shift itself!”

    “On the piss” – as distinct from “taking the piss”.  There are two different meaning for this phrase, and I strongly suspect one is derived from the other.  In the first instance to be “out on the piss” is to spend a night out drinking excessively.  As in “The lads are out on the piss tonight.”  As a corollary, for reasons that should be obvious, something that’s “on the piss” is wonky, or leaned over, or otherwise not straight up and down.  As someone who is frequently required to fit large, bulky or awkwardly shaped items into the back of trucks, it’s a useful phrase.  As in, “I don’t think that thing will go in straight up and down, but it might fit on the piss.”
    Leaning Tower
    The Leaning Tower of Pissa. (Note: using this photo in illustration of this phrase could also be described as taking the piss.  Ah, it’s a subtle, malleable, expressive language…)