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Sunday, May 16, 2010

How happy are you?

There are numerous similes to indicate how happy you feel. If you live "Down Under" (Australia or New Zealand), you might feel "as happy as Larry". In England it is more usual to claim that you are "as happy as a sandboy"; and in America you would probably assert that you are "as happy as a clam".

But who is Larry?
What exactly is a sandboy?
And why are marine molluscs supposed to be happy?

The earliest use of Happy as Larry appears to date back to about 1875 when New Zealand writer G. L. Meredith quoted: "We would be as happy as Larry if it were not for the rats". Who "Larry" was seems to be a matter of opinion but one source suggests it is the Australian boxer Larry Foley (1847 - 1917).

Larry Foley, an Australian boxer. Does he look happy?

The English simile Happy as a Sandboy may conjure a picture of a child playing happily on a golden beach when on holiday. In fact it is something far less romantic. A sandboy was the person (the term "boy" in old English often referred to a man with a menial job) who spread the sand on the floor of a pub to soak up spills and saliva (later replaced by sawdust, hence "spit and sawdust"). But why were sandboys happy? Well, the answer may not be so difficult; it appears they were a carefree bunch who were often intoxicated!

A hostelry where sandboys spread sand on the floor to mop up spills.

There is an alternative explanation that goes back to the days when monks copied out their scripts when a dusting of sand was used as the equivalent of blotting paper. A sandboy was a monastic pupil who was excused other work in order to stand by with a ready supply of sand for the calligraphers in the nice, warm, comfortable scriptorium. Hence, they were "happy"!

The American preference for being as Happy as a Clam is more puzzling, for how can a marine invertebrate mollusc be described as "happy"? Because clams are popular sea-food ingredients (for example in clam chowder), they maybe considered to feel happier (if molluscs can express such emotion) at high tide when they cannot be collected. Hence "happy as a clam at high water" used by the Pennsylvania newspaper The Adams Sentinel, in August 1844: "Crispin was soon hammering and whistling away as happy as a clam at high water."

Apparently "As happy as a clam at high water," is a very common expression in those parts of the coast of New England where clams are found in abundance.

This is a clam Donax striatus. Does it look happy to you?

For picture internet sources, please click on the images

Monday, May 10, 2010

Some birds of the Schilf-gürtel

The Schilf-gürtel ("reed girdle") is the band of reed beds that grows around the perimeter of Neusiedler See (Lake Neusiedl) and represents an important habitat for many species of birds. The post below shows the extent of it.

Here are a few pictures that I captured during my recent involvement with the Pannonian Bird Experience at the Seewinkel National Park in Burgenland, close to the Hungarian border in Austria (please refer to the post below). They are simply "record shots" and I claim no scientific or technical merit. Pictures are not processed, apart from a little cropping and some automatic adjustment. They are taken hand held with my Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 camera, often at the maximum 18x (486 mm) zoom.

Bearded Tit Panuris biarmicus is a reed bed specialist.
Look how agile this male holds on to the reed stalks.
This male is evidently collecting insects to feed his chick.

The elusive Penduline Tit Remiz pendulinus eats the very fine seed of the flowers of the Phragmites reeds . Notice the needle sharp bill that can deal with the tiny seeds.

The Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius lives and nests on the muddy fringes
on the edges of the lake and open pools.