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Cripes, there’s Tripes in the Spittoon!

The steamships that ploughed the seas during the 19th-c were floating villages, equipped with gardeners, cooks and butchers to make sure fresh food could be had on board. Not always good news for the livestock they carried: when the SS Great Eastern (the largest steam ship in the world when she was built in 1859) sailed into a huge storm in 1861 the cow-house broke free from the deck, causing one of its inmates to be thrust head-down from a skylight through the roof of the forward saloon, from where she dangled horridly in the shrieking winds until she fell to her death.

Perhaps a too literal example of the sea-slang that says of an awkward, clumsy person : you’re no more use than a cow in a spittoon.


And here’s a snatch of poem that might have been running through that poor cow’s mind before she disentangled from wood and glass and was released to death:

   On black, bare trees a stale cream moon
     Hangs dead, and sours the unborn buds.

   Two gaunt old hacks, knees bent, heads low,
     Tug, tired and spent, an old horse tram.

   Damp smoke, rank mist fill the dark square;
     And round the bend six bullocks come.

   A hobbling, dirt-grimed drover guides
     Their clattering feet –
       Their clattering feet!
         To the slaughterhouse.

From ‘Eau-Forte’ by London-born poet F.S. (Frank Stewart) Flint (1885-1960)

And if by chance a cow does fall through your skylight one stormy night, don’t let it go to waste. It’s pretty much edible nose to tail, including its four stomachs, known as tripe in the cooking world, each stomach or tripe having a different name depending on what it (vaguely) looks like: Blanket, Bonnet, Book and Reed.

One, two, three, four, Tripes’ a-knocking on my door…

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