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Of raspberries and foghorns

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While on the subject of soft fruit, Merlin, who has always enjoyed loud noises, once made an alpine horn for his young daughter out of the cardboard inner tubes from kitchen rolls. When blown, this produced a loud raspberry noise, much to said daughter’s delight.

When demonstrating this at small daughter’s grandmother’s house, Merlin discovered that placing the business end of the device against the window pane amplifies the sound. Unfortunately, the local vicar’s wife was passing at the time and looked up, obviously thinking that a raspberry was being blown at her. Merlin was told off firmly by Mother-in-Law, and Mrs Merlin muttered something to the effect of “some people never grow up”.

The term “blowing a raspberry”, as a means of expressing contempt, is not often heard nowadays. Perhaps people prefer rude hand gestures. The term itself is thought to have originated from Cockney rhyming slang: raspberry is short for raspberry tart and — Merlin will desist at this point.

Perhaps the loudest raspberry ever blown comes from a marine foghorn. The first foghorn, powered by steam and intended to warn ships of their nearness to dangerous rocks when visibility is poor, is said to have been erected in 1859 on Partridge Island in Saint John Harbour, New Brunswick.

The inventor of the steam foghorn was a Scottish civil engineer and artist, Robert Foulis, who had emigrated to Canada in 1818. However, he did not patent the idea and never received the due recognition for his invention. He died in 1866, a poor man.

The first UK foghorn was installed at St Abb’s Head lighthouse, Scotland, in 1876. This was quickly followed by others, until all lighthouses had audible signals for use in poor visibility. Originally powered by steam, foghorns are now sounded by compressed air.

In 1995, the Northern Lighthouse Board, which controls lighthouses in Scotland and the Isle of Man, concluded that its foghorns were surplus to requirements because of the widespread use of electronic position-finding aids (similar in principle to the motorist’s satellite navigation systems) and radar.

Sadly, the last Scottish foghorn, at Skerryvore Lighthouse, was switched off in October that year. Let us hope that maritime global positioning systems do not share the idiosyncracies shown by in-car satnavs.

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From: Beyond pharmacy blog

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