Saturday, 12 December 2009

From Portobello Road to Mount Vernon with a Hangover

In 1739 Admiral Edward Vernon led the British assault on Porto Bello in what's now Panama. He took just six ships but with lots of derring do and British pluck etc etc he won a startling victory. So startling was the victory in fact that a patriotic agrarian heard the news, dashed off to the countryside west of London, and built Portobello Farm in honour of the victory's startlingness. Green's Lane, which was nearby, soon became known as Portobello Lane and then Portobello Road and so the market (apparently the largest antiques market in the world) is called Portobello Market.

But Admiral Vernon's naming exploits did not end there. In 1740 he got a new officer called Lawrence Washington, who had been recruited from the British dominions in North America. Lawrence Washington ran around bravely shooting lots of Spaniards and then returned home to be with his brother George (who also has some minor role in history). So much did Lawrence love his old commanding officer that he renamed the family estate Mount Vernon.

But Admiral Vernon's naming exploits did not end there. When the seas were stormy he used to wear a thick coat made out of a coarse material called grogram (from the French gros graine). So he was known to his men as Old Grog.

British sailors used to have daily allowance of rum. In 1740 flushed from victory at Porto Bello and perhaps under the pernicious influence of Lawrence Washington, Vernon ordered that the rum be watered down. The resulting mixture, which eventually became standard for the whole navy, was known as grog.

If you drank to much grog you became drunk or groggy. My battered Concise Oxford Dictionary still has groggy down as meaning drunk. But the word has slipped through the night and in the chic dipsomaniac circles in which I move groggy now means hungover.

This means that I have visited two places named after the same chap and woken up with him.

Old Grog

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