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Five Roads by Nigel Roth

We’re going to take a short drive.

From my house, let's head up Edwards Street, past the big corner house, The Beeches, now used to house old folk and their teeth, and left along South Street, which miraculously, and very Englishly, becomes Newmarket, after the junction.

A few miles along, past the old area of Kenwick, we'll head east at the roundabout and onto the Manby Road towards that very town.

Manby, named, as were many of the villages in the Lincolnshire Wolds, for the Viking who settled his farm there, is known for absolutely nothing. It’s so ordinary that it had to adjoin with the neighboring village, Grimoldby, to add an Italian restaurant and two village shops to its name, none of which I’ve ever visited.

It does, though, have one curious feature.

Towards the end of the Manby Road, which by now has transformed again, this time into the Manby Middlegate, we’ll take a right on the Carlton Road, and make our way past the post office to a road on the left and a sign revealing its tributaries within that small enclave.

There are five roads, and they tell a story.

The first of these is Valiant Road, and I wondered how it became named so.

Now, I know the accepted meaning, courageous and very determined, but valiant actually derives from the Middle English word for robust, or well-built, so the houses along this particular street are more likely to be constructed to last than ready for battle.

Middle English, incidentally, was the language used in the land of the Angles in the gap between the gradual disappearance of Old, and the even more gradual appearance of Modern, English. The Angles, of course, were the collection of Germanic tribes that settled here in the Middle Ages, and gave this staunch anti-German country its German name.

The word is often used, as we know, to describe that boundless determination in the face of adversity, so it’s possible those houses on Valiant Road are built below the water level, or on unsteady land, and that's why valiance is needed.

William Shakespeare, that bastion of words who never managed to spell his own name the same way twice, speaks of valiance in his awful poem A Lover’s Complaint, which tells the terrible story of a young woman who has been seduced and dumped by a bounder. By way of the consultation with a weird old shepherd, we learn that the man was handsome, witty, charming, and had a 'subduing tongue'. The poem is woeful and long, and includes a moment where the shepherd seems to suggest that horrific old trope about being stronger because one survives,

The scars of battle 'scapeth by the flight, and makes her absence valiant, not her might.”

Anyway, don’t read it. Read William Carlos Williams instead, much better, and no shepherds.

So, when I first noticed Valiant Road I suspected it was a nod to the history of the area, steeped as the word is in ancient etymology, and confirmatory of the well-built homes I’d find along its way.

Next to Valiant Road is Meteor Road.

Now, I know all about meteors, those small stony or metallic galaxy rocks, that hurl through space in showers, and that seemed a very odd moniker for a residential road.

Well, not always small actually, because the largest ever found was in the town of Grootfontein, in Namibia, an Ataxite iron meteor that weighed about sixty-thousand kilograms.

Grootfontein, incidentally, is not a Namibian name as you may have guessed, as it arose from a succession of German and South African colonial powers who renamed it from the aboriginal Otjivanda, to a word that means ‘large spring after the nearby hot springs’, which makes the kind of sense you would expect from colonists.

Of course, the word meteor originally just referred simply to something happening way up there, which is where we get that term about a meteoric rise, not because the celebrity in question is hurtling through the solar system at astonishing speed.

In fact, the Greek root has nothing to do with space at all, but refers more to a loftiness, and so was I to be delighted with futuristic high-towered buildings, like the spaceage Falcon Nest in Prescott, which stretches ten stories up, a stunning one-hundred-and-twenty-four feet, into the Arizona skies? I wondered if Sukumar Pal had completed that six-thousand square foot solar-paneled, alternative power-, heating- and cooling-equipped home and then hotfooted it to Manby to replicate that achievement on a small street next to (by default) an Italian restaurant and two village shops.

I wondered this as I read the next street name in the enclave, Javelin Road.

Evidence for the javelin, or similar weapons of hunting and attack, have been seen in the Lower Paleolithic, like those found in Schoningen from around half-a-million years ago, and their presence has been seen in nearly every era and region on our planet. They are, essentially, the universal weapon. You take a stick, add an arrow-like-end, and throw it.

Throwing is the key, because a javelin, a French term that originated in the Celtic language as javelot, is always thrown, the essence of their effectiveness being mainly a result of the technique of slinging it at things.

Many historical figures have, of course been killed by javelin, Darius III and Titus Herminius Aquilinus among them, but few as unlucky as Dieter Strack, a sports judge who, in 2012, while stooping to measure a javelin throw, was speared through the throat by a competitor’s weapon, who’s legitimate turn to throw coincided with Stracks unfortunate position and distraction. He was, at least, aware of the fact that flying spears are dangerous when you’re near them, which was not the case for Salim Sdiri five years earlier, who was speared by a javelin while competing in the unrelated long jump.

So, I hoped to find homes on Javelin Road that were maybe festooned with handcrafted additions, or customized at the hands of their owners, or simply handbuilt in a very individual way.

Leading on from Javelin Road, so the sign said, is Venom Road.

This one struck me as a really odd name choice, because I associate venom with poisonous creatures.

There are more than one-hundred-and-seventy thousand venomous species on our planet, found in both invertebrates and vertebrates, aquatic and terrestrial animals, and many can and will kill us. They can also help us, because some venoms contain proteins that treat human conditions, like arthritis, cancer, and diabetes, but mostly death, or at least severe discomfort, is their gift.

That was the case for Karl Patterson Schmidt, the famous herpetologist at the Natural History Museum in Chicago.

In 1957, a snake was brought to him for identification, and Schmidt went to work right away, determining that the species was a Sub-Saharan African boomslang, after careful examination. Not careful enough it turned out, though, because during one of these close-up exams the snake bit him on his left thumb, leaving two puncture wounds.

Schmidt put off seeking immediate medical attention, other than sucking furiously on his pollex, and instead began recording in his journal the effects of the bite.

4:30-5:30pm, strong nausea but without vomiting. During a trip to Homewood went on a suburban train.

5:30-6:30pm, strong chill and shaking followed by fever of 101.7. Bleeding of mucus membranes in the mouth began about 5:30, apparently mostly from gums.

8:30pm ate two pieces of milk toast.

9:00-12:20am, slept well. Urination at 12:20am mostly blood but a small amount. Took a glass of water at 4:30am, followed by violent nausea and vomiting, the contents of the stomach being the undigested supper. Felt much better and slept until 6:30am.

September 26. 6:30am, temperature 98.2. Ate cereal and poached eggs on toast and apple sauce and coffee for breakfast. No urine with an ounce or so of blood about every three hours. Mouth and nose continuing to bleed, not excessively.

There are no more entry details, because Schmidt then died of respiration paralysis from the venomous bite. Whether he knew what was coming and determined to record his own death for science, or whether he believed another bowl of cereal and some eggs were on the horizon, no-one knows.

One might take from this that Venom Road might be named for the fact that no venomous creatures live nearby, and so the safety of the locale would be emphasized with minimal boundaries, open front doors, and the smiling faces of friendly, non-venomous neighbors.

Which brings us to the final road in this enclave, Vampire Road.

Now, I know as well as you do that the folkloric vampires wear shrouds to cover their bloated appearances and dark eyes, create chaos and death in villages everywhere, and subsist by feasting on the blood of the living, so I turned my car around and drove swiftly home, not visiting the Italian Restaurant, nor either of the two village shops. I ignored the urge to spy on Venom or Javelin, Meteor or Valiant, so I don't know if my assumptions about their names are anywhere near the truth.

I will tell you this though, on my drive back I passed a sign to the abandoned RAF Manby air force base, where I read they used to fly de Havilland Venoms and Vampires, Gloster Javelins and Meteors, and Vickers Valiants a long time ago.

photo by Andy


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