Thursday 8 August 2013

What's In A Name?

There has been as storm of stuff around the media and the web about the UKIP politician Geoffrey Bloom and his use of the term "Bongobongoland" relating to UK overseas aid going to regimes where the money might put to uses not intended, notably enriching the least deserving.
The usual comment is that it harks back to Alan Clark who was carefree in his use of insults and rather enjoyed upsetting people.  Accordingly it is taken to be a relatively recent insulting term with racist overtones referring to Africa and one that should be avoided.

But as ever, these things are more complicated.  The attractive picture above is one of a maternal Bongo, a species of African antelopes.  Clearly it is a part of our natural life that deserves to be preserved and cherished.  It is possible that the Bongo drums originally were made from the hide of this particular type.

When I saw the reports, I recognised the word and headed straight for the bookshelves.  As expected listed in the British Railways Eastern Region locomotives for 1951 was a Class B1 locomotive 61005 "Bongo", many of the class bearing the names of African antelope species.  Running a check on the web revealed that the name perhaps has a history.

There is a web site for railway enthusiasts call for those interested in the former London and North Eastern Railway.  In the forums a question arose over one of the B1 Class of locomotives, 61036 Ralph Assheton which seemed an oddity for this class.

Two of the posts dealt with 61005, the first:

Reminds me of the story of L.P.Parker, Running Superintendent, Southern Area who had a problem with B1 61005 'Bongo', which spent some time at Parkeston, stating that it should not be used on the Hook Continental boat train. He evidently thought the name inappropriate, lacking gravitas and that it conveyed the wrong impression to overseas visitors. No idea whether anyone took any notice of his edict, though he could evidently be a somewhat terrifying figure. 

Another comment was: 

I was a BONGO once.  One of the terms applied to new recruits in the Army pre passing out.

This latter comment is intriguing.  New recruits undergoing basic training were called many things, most of them laced with extreme obscenities.  But one was an expression now seriously offensive, it was "nig nog" although then in more casual use to suggest someone who did not really know what they were doing.

Another site noted that the trains between Harwich and Parkeston Quay that moved troops between London and The Hook of Holland between late 1945 and 1961, had B1's as their locomotives, including "Bongo". So was Bongoland originally Holland or even Essex?  It might just have been a word to describe somewhere that you did not want to be.

Clearly there is real research to be done about this.  But it is not going to be me.  The other aspect of this case was the surname Bloom.  Immediately, the reaction is Leopold Bloom of the book "Ulysses" by James Joyce. 

The book is set on the same day that Joyce had his first date with Norah Barnacle, 16th June 1904, an  event which has had whole schools of academia debating who did what to whom.  Fifty years later the first "Bloomsday" was celebrated to celebrate the life and works of Joyce.  So the coming 16th June 2014 will be the centenary.  We can expect a great deal of attention then and coverage in the press.

When we pick up our next supply of venison from the deer farm along the road, we must ask which species it is.  It may or may not add to the taste.


  1. I thought the Army slang term was "Pongo" - or perhaps that meant something else.

    It was a common term of insult flung around between the various branches of the CCF when I was at school.

  2. Bet the farmed deer is red deer.

    I imagine your local butcher can get you wild roe during the season. Shouldn't cost too much either-they're practically a pest nowadays.

  3. It would be a service if you could regularly publish a list of whatever outrages the Enlish currently .
    From outside it all seems rather strange.
    I suppose the is a reason for it all.