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Walsh, J. (2013). A Clash of Tongues: Notes on an Observation Placement. Free Associations, 14(1):8-13.

(2013). Free Associations, 14(1):8-13

A Clash of Tongues: Notes on an Observation Placement

Julie Walsh

Everyone has to have a name. And everyone has to come from somewhere, he tells me. My name is Julie Walsh, I tell him, and I come from Derbyshire. We move to a quiet area by the patio windows, away from the noise, where I thought it would be easier to talk. Ned is someone who knows very well what his present problem is. He's been involved with the law in one way or another since the year 840. He comes from a family of common officers and was himself in the courthouses when the very first laws were issued. As a child it was his role to write down the words that would later be distributed to make the law. He wrote down these words in the dictionary: he can remember this. But the olden days were different. There were picnics with women: louse leys / nitpicking / loose and low / picking lousy women / loose (k)nits / nits at picnics / loosely laid. Perhaps I didn't understand how it worked back then, he enquires. Communities were given the law through new words. Take, for example, ‘Chopping boards’: when a community only had the word ‘table’, they didn't have anything else to chop on. They had to be given the word ‘chopping board’ before they could know what it was. The police had to give them the word chopping board! Can I imagine that they were that stupid, he asks. Then there were the massacres in London. This was crucial because it was his job as a common officer - on a Tuesday though, not on a Wednesday, he tells me - to undertake to chop off all the heads of everyone in the streets. There was a ship with big glass jars in it - one with sugar, one with sand, one with sweets, one with sandwiches - the dead bodies dragged the ship down to the bottom of the river. It was a ship for the chopped up. But now the police are raping his son, torturing his ex-girlfriend, and he's powerless to stop them. He couldn't be more tense, he tells me.

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