Sunday, 4 March 2018


Two years ago, at the end of a forttnight’s holiday in Asia, my mother, my brother and I had a rest day in the scorching heat of Ho Chi Minh City, where we had had a good walk around the previous sweltering day.

I had bought copies of the 1903 and 1904 Wisdens with me, and I began to re-read familiar sections of the former issue, when I said:
“of the Surrey bowling there is nothing to be said except that 锁木 (“swǎw–mòo”) had some wonderful days and that Richardson, though no longer great, worked most strenuously.”
锁木 means “Lock Wood”, and referred to William Henry Lockwood, a deadly fast bowler for Surrey between 1891 and 1894, and between 1898 and 1903 after a series of accidents completely nullified his effectiveness between 1894/1895 (Ashes tour) and 1897.

My brother, who studied Chinese vastly more seriously than I ever did, still did not recognise what I meant by “锁木”, and – as I tend to do myself, read “swǎw–mòo” (I have never mastered the tones in Chinese) as “swarm–oo”. Without understanding who this “swǎw–mòo” was, my brother joked that he “died because he was stung by a swarm of bees” based on the mispronunciation! Bill Lockwood was very accident-prone and during his Australian tour severely cut a hand when a soda syphon exploded, and narrowly escaped both drowning and losing an arm. However, there is actually no evidence Lockwood (锁木) was ever attacked by a swarm of bees as my brother joked during any point of his life!

In the two years since we returned from Vietnam, I have again mentioned “锁木” and my brother repeats the joke about him being stung by a swarm of bees – to the extent that my mother finds it offensive even though she does not understand the Chinese pronunciation. In recent months, as I have actually tried to look at real cases of people being stung by a swarm of bees, this has become embarrassing because – although the claim is my brother’s joke – I have found that people can indeed be killed if a swarm of bees stings, and Mummy had known that for a long time. However, the joke is just too funny despite it’s silliness and the fact that my brother has long been pointing out to me that foreign names (“Lockwood” etc.) are almost never translated into Chinese by meaning (“锁木”) but are almost always translated more prosaically by the nearest allowable sound (thus “洛克伍德”, “lwàw–kèr–wǒo–dèr”).

1 comment:

pp said...

Hi Julien,
That is so funny; I always enjoy reading about your family's in-jokes and annoyances. What about Tony Lock in Chinese? Or Alfred (Tich) Freeman AKA Mianfei? Have you got any jokes about them?