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Corgi PB p28

The Mary-Jane: refers to Henry VIII's flagship, the Mary-Rose, that famously sank in home waters during a skirmish with the French, due to being top-heavy, dangerously overloaded, and with lower gunports opening a mere foot or so above the waterline.

Mary-Jane is also a universal euphemism for cannabis. A consolation to the crew, a reference to the hemp rope that rigged her (which sailors the world over dried, shredded, and smoked), or the reason for her sinking?


During the Falklands War of 1982, (a major war over possession of a hitherto unregarded group of remote islands) the Royal Navy, like the Ankh-Morporkian, set to sea with an interestingly ramshackle fleet. Successive defence cuts had denuded the Navy of many of its specialist auxiliary and support vessels: modern defence thinking held that suitable ships might be impressed or borrowed or chartered from the merchant marine, in time of emergency, to make up the shortfall.

Therefore, the luxury liner QE2 rubbed gunwales with things like cross-Channel ferries of the "roll-on, roll-off" type. These latter were so appallingly badly designed that a year or two later, one such, the Herald of Free Enterprise, sank in the Channel with considerable loss of life. The acronym STUFT - Ships Taken Up From Trade - wholly applied here.

Prior to April 1982, the Falklands were such a significant place that the BBC left them completely off the map of the world that was the background to news bulletins. Anyone looking on the BBC map of the world for a group of islands so important a major war had erupted over them.... well, they'd be out of luck.

On the island of Leshp

Leshp may be based in part on the Roundworld island of Ferdinandea, an island near Sicily that rises above sea level after periodic volcanic eruptions, only to disappear again after it is sufficiently eroded. When it made its most recent appearance in 1831, it was claimed as territory by four nations (The United Kingdom, France, pre-Italian-unification Naples, and Spain).

Well, that explains the territorial feuding part, yes. However a city of squid-creatures that has lots of squiddy art about the place and occasionally rises to bedevil humanity also echoes R'lyeh, home of Great Cthulhu.

To add a third level of annotation, a theme of Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus! trilogy concerns the world being brought to the brink of World War Three, over ownership of the hitherto disregarded island of Fernando Poo. Manipulated by the evil Illuminati, the Russians, the Chinese and the Americans each claim that their legitimate sphere of interest is being interfered with, and one of the others must have destabilised a friendly sovereign nation by starting that coup d'état. (Meanwhile, the British don't want another bloody damn war, not when we've only just paid for the last one, North Sea Oil's coming on stream, and the balance of payments is straightening itself out). It falls to the intrepid crew of the free submarine Leif Eriksson to sort things out... a submarine, whose crew are on a mission to prevent war breaking out over ownership of a previously unknown and disregarded island. Hmmm...

"Fernando Poo" really exists, in the Bight of Africa on the Atlantic coast. Initially named after its Portuguese discoverer - a man with something in common with Ponce da Quirm - independence saw it retitled Sao Principe. Shea and Wilson use it as a gateway to a Lovecraftian world of squid-creatures, Unmentionables, and makers of eldrich and evil artistic artefacts.

Assassination attempts on statesmen whose names begin with "K"

The interesting parallels between the assassination attempt on Prince Khufurah, and that on J.F.Kennedy on Roundworld:- see here, here' and here. Hell, TP even writes in the idle-minded bystander with a camera, who captures every detail of the shooting on film... (the Agatean tourist with the iconograph, which is promptly impounded by Vimes and Carrot).

Corgi PB p68

Vimes' butler Willikins, and later on Forthwright the boy, have left Ramkin Manor to join the Army. They chose their unit because of its very natty uniform of a sturdy red frock-coat, picked out with gold frogging, with crossing facing straps in white.

When asked by Samuel Vimes if he saw anything wrong with the picture of men dressed in red and white going to war in a sand-coloured desert and sand-coloured you up against a sand-coloured army whose archers were reputed to be so quick of reflex as to be able to shoot a man lighting a cigarette at night from two hundred yards away, Willikins went blank and was unable to reply.

Vimes has summed up exactly why the British Army was the first in Europe to relegate its scarlet uniform tunics and white cross-banding to ceremonial use only, and why as early as 1870 it adopted khaki for use in desert or semi-desert fighting. Afghans in particular have always had a reputation for being crack shots, and presenting what amounted to a big white cross on a red background was thought - eventually - as making it a little too easy for them.

Other Europeans were slow to grasp the idea that modern rifles and machine-guns made colourful uniforms a thing of the past. Even in 1914, French soldiers still lined up in bright red trousers and glorious blue tunics against grey-clad Germans. Who had good rifles and lots of machine-guns. Even then the French didn't quite get it: the eventual compromise uniform, introduced against protest from generals of a Rust inclination who insisted losing the traditional dark blue would sap the men's fighting spirit, became a sort of bright cheerful sky-blue, designed to enable the French soldier to blend in with the horizon and the skyline...

Corgi PB p160

Carrot is holding forth on the Klatchian script and its implications for ambiguous interpretation.

"(the war) is over a word in their holy book, sir. The Elharibians say it translates as "God" and the Smalies say it's "man"."
How can you mix them up?"
"Well, there's only one tiny dot difference... and some people reckon it's only a speck of fly dirt in any case."
"Centuries of war because a fly crapped in the wrong place?"
"It could have been worse, sir...if it had been slightly to the left the word would have been "liquorice" ".

This refers to the necessarily approximate nature of the Semitic scripts (Arabic and Hebrew), which have no written notations for vowel sounds and which use a bewildering system of super- and subscript- dots as letter modifiers.

It also parodies the essence of Salman Rushdie's controversial novel, The Satanic Verses, in which the Devil is allowed very limited access to Mohammed during the writing of the Koran to corrupt just one verse of his choice. In Middle Eastern culture, one manifestation of Satan is the fly - or rather, Beelzebub, Lord of the Flies. It would not have been impossible for a Lord of the Flies to give one of his creation an unfortunate bowel movement at just the right spot on the page...

It parodies much more exactly the centuries-old schism between the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, where the word in question is either Homoiousis - of similar substance or Homoousis - of the same substance (as man)

I.e. God is similar to a Man or is the same (not just "made in God's image" but pretty much "made like God").

The difference is the letter iota, the smallest letter in the Greek alphabet, and yes, there is some evidence that a speck of fly crap may have been responsible for a mistake in copying at some point...

Corgi PB p162

"You'll have to be quick as I got some cabbage boilin'" and A smell of cabbage drifted across the room. Nobby Nobbs is buying tenpence worth of the future from noted precognitist Mrs Cake.

It might have been commentator George Orwell who noted, musing on the early 20th century craze for visiting "spiritualists" and holding seances in order to communicate with the souls of the dead, that the reassuring thing about English occultism is that there is always, wherever you go, the smell of cabbage being cooked in a kitchen not very far away. The same inexplicable phenomenon, that in communications with the next world, the smell of cabbage is always present, also occurs as a background detail to Madame Tracy's seances in Good Omens.

There is also the possibly apocryphal story of a man, sometimes named as Winston Churchill, who while under anaesthetic at his dentist (or in other stories self-administering ether or nitrous oxide), who while under the influence believes he is having a profound vision of the nature of the Universe, experiences one-ness with God, or is otherwise granted The Answer. Hurrying to write it down before he forgets, he later looks at his notes when in a sober frame of mind, to see all he has written is

A smell of boiled cabbage pervades all. (Although some versions have it as "turpentine", and not cabbage).

Corgi PB p175

Another of those interesting typos that slip through from time to time. Apparently Klatchians are involed by politics. As there is no sign of the nation being invaded or over-run by small shy and retiring riparian rodents during a time of great political stress, this must be a misprint for involved. Later on in the book, a character called Vetinaro is introduced for one brief appearance. (pb p376).

Corgi PB p300

You can persuade armed D'regs not to charge and you have a commander' this man can make water run uphill and he has a commander

This is a reference to the classic scene in Watership Down where Bigwig faces off to General Woundwort and totally deflates him by making a similar comment in relation to Hazel.

Corgi PB p334

  • Ab Hoc Possum Videre Domum Tuum (I Can See Your House From Up Here) - meant, in the opinion of 71-hour Ahmed, to be both a boast and a threat, but now just a line of ornamental masonry in what was once Ankh-Morpork's Klatchian city-colony of Tacticum.

The line is carved on an ornamental plinth, on which only the two feet of what was clearly once an important statue remain.

Shelley's Ozymandias, anyone?

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings.
Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!

It's also the punchline of a rather tasteless religious joke. Christ on the cross on the hill of Golgotha is trying to attract the attention of St Peter, who is playing cards with the Roman soldiers guarding the crucifix. When Peter finally explodes and asks what's so important, Jesus meekly replies

"You know what? I can see your house from up here!"

Corgi PB p358

such a contemptible little army

Cadram and General Ashal are echoing a remark first attributed variably to Kaiser Wilhelm or to one of his senior generals, such as von Moltke, on hearing exactly how small the British army was that was proposing to take on the Prussian juggernaut as it jackbooted its way through Belgium and France. Yet those few tens of thousands of British soldiers slowed and then stopped the advance of nearly a million Germans... as we will soon see, an even smaller number of Ankh-Morporkians stops everything in its tracks, including a vastly superior Klatchian army.

A week is a long time in politics Attributed to British Prime Minister, professional ducker and diver, and notorious fixer/dealer/plotter, Harold Wilson. Incidentally, and possibly germane here, is the idea that Wilson's greatest achievement as PM (1964-70, 1974-76) was to withstand American pressure and repeatedly say "no" to President Johnson, an achievement no British PM seems to have managed since in their dealings with Washington. Wilson's achievement was to prevent any deployment of British forces in Vietnam, despite significant American pressure to force a British presence and give legitimacy to the idea of an international peace-keeping force. Thus we were spared, at least in the 1960's, the aftermath of humiliating defeat and the after-shock of thousands of war-scarred veterans returning home.

The idea of a major battle being averted, and indeed brought to a stumbling halt, by the actions of a relative handful of policeman arresting both armies for unlawful assembly and conspiracy to cause a breach of the peace, was first used as a plot device to bring about a (cheap) end to the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail in 1973, the production money having run out. Here we see King Arthur, Sir Lancelot, Sir Bedevere, Sir Galahad and the rest being handcuffed and loaded, protesting, into the back of a police van. (Lancelot's earlier hacking and slaying of a narrating Historian having been taken into account)