Kerr's Corner

Kerr's Corner is a regular feature in East Antrim and Newtownabbey editions of The Wizard. David Kerr would like to hear your memories of life in your own area. Maybe you'll trigger some thoughts for a future column. kerrscorner@ulsteronline.org.uk

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Are you Kerr-Handed?

KERR’S CORNER READERS sometimes surprise me. The last column on the anniversary of the invention of the Biro pen was a case in point. My mention in passing that I found ballpoint pens useful as I am left-handed brought in an email that caused me to take a double-take. At first I thought my email was on the blink! It came from David Kerr of Jordanstown, formerly from the Limestone Road area in Belfast. A double coincidence. I am David Kerr and used to live in the Limestone Road too.

David wrote to say that he too is left-handed and wondered if I had heard about left-handedness being a common trait in people called Kerr. He had heard that castles of the Kerr clan in Scotland had anti-clockwise staircases as a protective measure. These would give left-handed defenders a free sword hand while hampering the progress of right-handed attackers as they tried to fight their way up. David thought this was a bit fanciful, but wondered if I had heard anything about this and if there is any truth in it.

As it happens, there is some truth to this legend. My sister visited Ferniehurst Castle last summer and it does indeed have an anti-clockwise staircase. The legend is even celebrated in poetry. In The Raid of the Kerrs, Ettrick Shepherd summed up the feelings Englishmen had toward this warlike Scottish border clan family. “The Kerrs were aye the deadliest foes that e’er to Englishmen were known, For they were all bred left handed men, and fence [defence] against them there was none”. The Kerrs played a very important role in the Scottish borders. They originally came over to Britain from Normandy with William the Conqueror in 1066. The clan descended from two brothers, Ralph and John, who settled in Jedburgh around 1330. The clan soon prospered, protecting Scottish borderlands from English encounters and occasionally raiding England whenever they felt the need for some prime beef. Cattle raids were a Kerr speciality. The clan had a long-running rivalry with the neighbouring Scott clan.

In another poem The Reprisal, celebrating the storming of Ferniehurst Castle, Walter Laidlaw wrote “So well the Kerrs their left hands ply, the dead and dying round them lie, the castle gained, the battle won, Revenge and slaughter are begun”. The clan chief was Sir John Kerr. After the battle he and his men played handball with the severed heads of their enemies. A game known as “Jedburgh Ba’” based on this ancient and gory victory is played today with leather balls in the place of English heads.

Ralph Kerr’s line became the Marquesses of Lothian, while John’s rose to the Dukedom of Roxburgh. At different times both lines held the title Warden of the Middle March which consisted of the border area between England and Scotland. By the time of the Jacobite uprisings, the Kerrs opposed the rebels. Lord Robert Kerr died at Culloden in 1746.
There is a Kerr Crest and two tartans. The current head of the Kerr Clan is the leading Conservative MP, Michael Ancram. His family name is Kerr. Until his father’s death in 2004 he was the Earl of Ancrum. He succeeded to the hereditary title of 13th Marquess of Lothian on his father’s death but he was able to keep his parliamentary seat without renouncing his title as hereditary peers are no longer entitled to sit in the House of Lords. He doesn’t use his title.

Approximately some 30% of male Kerrs are supposed to be left-handed. My dad was left-handed for everything but handwriting. He hammered in nails and painted with his left hand. As was common early in the last century, he had been forced to use his right hand for writing at school.

Even today, there are many obstacles for left-handed children to overcome in the classroom. Pencil sharpeners, spiral notebooks, scissors, desks, rulers, and sports equipment such as hockey sticks are all designed for right-handed children.

Things are never as bad as during the Medieval period in Europe when the left hand was linked to Satan and those who used their left hand were thought to be possessed by devils, in league with Satan. One of the qualifications to be questioned, or tortured, in the infamous Spanish Inquisition was to be left-handed and often meant death. The Latin word for ‘left’ is ‘sinister’ and has left us with ‘sinistral’ which is the scientific term for ‘left-handed’. Many other words that translate into ‘left’ in English have secondary meanings. In French: gauche: awkward, clumsy; Italian: mancini: crooked, maimed; German: linkisch; awkward.

This is understandable. We lefties are awkward as the world is not designed for us to fit in easily. We have to adapt as best we can. At home and later in the world of work the following common tools all require left-to-right wrist turning movements more comfortable for right-handers: corkscrews, rotary dial phones, analogue clock-setting & winding, screws, Edison screw lightbulbs, door handles, and ice cream scoops.

The following are specifically designed to be used in a right-handed fashion: scissors, can openers, coffee makers, computer keyboards (numeric keypad on right), many computer mice, calculators and pushbutton phones (left-to-right array), golf clubs, wrenches, slot machines, playing cards, lipped saucepans, gravy boats, rulers, bowling balls, vegetable peelers, phone kiosks, violins (and most other stringed instruments), saxophones, and most hand-held power tools. I’ve nearly come to grief a few times myself as the safety button on electric drills is on the wrong side for me and the flex tends to come out to the left side. The emergence of cordless appliances has been a bit of a help to me.

Because of this there are jobs that are more difficult for the left-handed person to do as safely and as fast as the right-handed. Meat slicers, drill presses, band saws, textile machinery, production lines, and heavy equipment are set up for right hand use. Recent research in this subject has proven the greater threat of harm for left-handers in areas such as manufacturing and construction over the threat for the right handed workers.

I’m glad to report that wider use of ballpoint pens, and greater availability of left-handed scissors, rulers and tape measures are helping left-handed children and adults to fit in more easily. Such items tend to be more expensive than mass-produced products for the greater number of right-handed folk but they are a great help.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Double Indemnity

This is the third in my occasional looks at all-time classic movies.

DOUBLE INDEMNITY has a reputation as one of the best-loved classic films of all time. This verdict is well-deserved as the movie sets a cracking pace. I had always associated Barbara Stanwyck as the matriarch in the classic television series, The Big Valley. Some older readers may remember this. The screenplay for Double Indemnity was written by Director Billy Wilder in collaboration with the great Raymond Chandler who created the private eye, Philip Marlowe.

The story opens in flashback as dying insurance agent Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) crashes into his office, picks up a dictaphone and tells his story in flashback to a colleague who investigates insurance scams.

Neff is a mess. How did he get this way? While out selling insurance policies he met an extremely attractive young woman, Phyllis Dietrichson, (Barbara Stanwyck) who feels trapped in her marriage to her boorish husband, (Tom Powers). The ultimate femme fatale, Phyllis asks how she could work an insurance scam to murder her husband and collect the insurance.

Infatuated by Phyllis’s charms, Neff proposes a scheme that makes it look as if the crutch-bound Mr Dietrichson fell or jumped off a moving train. All seems to be going well, but the investigator Barton Keyes (Edward G Robinson) is suspicious. He feels in his bones that something about the grieving widow’s claim is not right. This has to be one of the best roles of Robinson’s career. He is like a terrier who won’t let go. When he sees something that doesn’t seem right, he worries away at it until he gets to the solution. There’s not a lot of action in the modern sense in Double Indemnity yet there are no boring lulls.either. Instead, the tension builds up gradually through the magnificent performances from Stanwyck, MacMurray and Robinson. Will they get away with it? What went wrong? It’s powerful stuff.

This classic is now available to a whole new audience on DVD. It’s a perfect example of the film noir genre.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Kerr's Collector's Corner - Remember Northern Ireland's Famous Victory

NORTHERN IRELAND’S next match (in their qualifying Group F for the forthcoming Euro 2008 Championship) is against Liechtenstein on Saturday 24th March. With any luck Lawrie Sanchez’s men should get a good result away from home. This would set the team up nicely for their following match against Sweden a few days later on Wednesday 28th March. This vital game will be at Windsor Park – the scene of two memorable victories against England (on 7th September 2005) and Spain (on 6th September 2006).

And it’s back to September 2005 that we’re going with this issue of Kerr’s Collector’s Corner, because an excellent badge is doing the rounds that celebrates that famous victory. This really is one of the most colourful sporting badges I’ve ever seen. Its centre-piece features a large Union Jack shield. Either side of this shield is a player representing Northern Ireland and England. Both are in their national kits and they are shaking hands. Also featured are the badges of the Irish Football Association and the English Football Association. There’s also an inscription which reads: Northern Ireland v England Windsor Park 7th September 2005. All Northern Ireland fans will recall that this match was won by a thunderbolt of a goal scored by - who else? – David Healy.

This excellent six colour Northern Ireland v England commemorative enamel badge is a must for all genuine Northern Ireland fans. It costs only £2.50 (including p&p) each. To get yours simply send a cheque/Postal Order (made payable to Glenwood Publications) to: Glenwood Publications, First Floor, 316 Shankill Road, Belfast, BT13 3AB. If you get hold of one, why not wear it on the day of any Northern Ireland match – you never know, it might end up as a lucky omen. Happy badge collecting!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Film Review - Apocalypto

In association with Counter Culture magazine and www.altculture.co.uk

139 min Language: Maya. Certificate:18

AFTER THE wildly successful The Passion of the Christ I was interested to see if the maverick actor and director Mell Gibson could do it again. Like the Passion, this film is made in an obscure language with English subtitles. Not everyone has the patience to deal with subtitles, so it’s a bit of a gamble. Subtitled foreign language films have more of the flavour of arthouse cinemas like QFT rather than the Movie House at Yorkgate. However, the path was cleared for subtitled films in mainstream cinema theatres by the wild success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero and The House of Flying Daggers.

Gibson has made a terrific tension-filled, rip-roaring chase film. There’s lots of blood and gore set to a high-adrenaline musical score. It starts off quietly enough with a small hunting party out to provide food for their little village in the forest. They catch a tapir and have a lot of fun at the expense of one of their number, Blunted, who seems unable to father children. It’s the typical piss-taking male bonding seen in any gathering of young males the world over. Even Flint Sky, the older leader gets in the act by offering Blunted some herbs to rub on ‘down below’ to help his little problem. They turn out to be chillies.

The party is disturbed by a group of strangers passing through their forest who tell fearul tales of having to flee destruction wrought on them by vicious marauders. They say nothing of this to the villagers when they return with the tapir, but their village becomes the next victim of a sneak night attack.

Jaguar Paw, one of the young hunters, manages to hide his young heavily pregnant wife and son before he is captured and dragged through the jungle with many others to a stone-built town. To his horror, he finds that he and his people are to be sacrificed to bring good harvests back to the Mayan society.

Without revealing plot details, Jaguar Paw, is determined to get back to his village and to rescue his wife and family from her perilous hiding place. Equally, a small band of his captors are determined to stop him. The jungle chase scenes are edge-of-the-seat heart-stoppingly awesome. The audience really roots for Jaguar Paw as he dodges wild animals and tries to even the odds in his wild flight to freedom. Be warned, though, the violence is very brutal. Gibson has trimphed with an unknown cast in an unknown tongue. Don’t miss it!

David Kerr

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Film Review - Cars

120 minutes. Disney-Pixar, 2006. DVD/VHS to come. Voices of Owen Wilson, Bonnie Hunt, Paul Newmann, Larry the Cable Guy, and Richard Petty. Director: John Lasseter.

IS THIS a film review about a cartoon? Yes it is! The creators of Toy Story and Finding Nemo have given audiences, old and young, another treat with their computer graphics. On the surface cartoons have always been funny stories for the children, but some also carry parabolic messages for adults. When I was a youngster I enjoyed The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, which was a series of comic tales about a smart squirrel and his dim-witted moose companion. For adults this 1960s cartoon was a satire on the Cold War. This same kind of child/adult appreciation can be found in Cars.

For children, Cars is a fun story about talking automobiles who embody the personalities of their probable owners and drivers. The main character, Lightning McQueen (with the voice of Owen Wilson), is a self-centered hotshot rookie racecar who thinks he can win the championship cup on his own. A wrong turn on the way to the big race lands him in Radiator Springs, a small town in the American southwest bypassed by a major highway (or interstate). During his sojourn off the beaten path Lightning befriends many other cars who teach him about the values of teamwork and looking out for others. He eventually heads to the race a different vehicle than he was when he had arrived.

Cars also has added-value for adults too. It is a comment on how North American society has become obsessed too much with the quick pace of the 24/7 work schedule. In several scenes Sally, a lawyer Porsche 911 who left the fast lane of Los Angeles for the slower pace of Radiator Springs (voice of Bonnie Hunt), tells Lightning about how roads used to be built to bend and move with the contours of the land. Driving was more about “having a good time” instead of “making time.” Instead, the new superhighways have cut into the land to save time, and travelers tend to miss the good view. Realizing that he has learned a lesson, Lightning admits that he too needs to slow down at times.

With a surname like McQueen, one could assume Ulster-Scots roots for the main character. (Did not Belfast once build DeLoreans?!) In telling this modern parable Cars uses the ever popular NASCAR circuit as the backdrop. Of course, auto racing has a following world-wide, yet this unique American style of auto racing originated with, and it continues to be promoted by, the Appalachian Scots-Irish (Ulster-Scots). While these Ulster-descendents are known for being a laid back plain folk, their love of racing may have given even them an addiction to speed in the 24/7 world. Lightning starts off as a cocky individualist concerned about the instant glory, prestige and commercialism of winning the cup. Come the final race, Lightning remembers what he learned in Radiator Springs, and he gives up instant glory in an act of true sportsmanship. By adhering to these older and noble values, he wins the hearts of many.
This cartoon is both entertaining and heart touching. Included are the character voices of NASCAR legend Richard Petty and veteran actor and part-time racer Paul Newmann. Watch Cars with your children, and learn its lessons to slow down at times. Of course, slowing down can be difficult with youngsters!

Alex Greer