Two things I learned this week and some Tornmile news

So apologies about the radio silence over the last little bit of time. It’s been a hectic sort of period with performing in plays (one at the Royal Shakespeare Company) and moving house (not at the Royal Shakespeare Company). Also, I hadn’t a whole lot to post about and wanted to take some time to think about what I wanted to do with this space. I hope, therefore, to be back to regular blogging now. As an introduction, then, here are two things that I learned this week and some news on Tornmile, my erstwhile fantasy series.

Jacks At Sea?

The Union Jack is really the Union Flag, except when flying from a jackstaff. This is something that I knew, even trotted out by Rose Tyler in Doctor Who in the episode Idiot’s Lantern:

Rose: ‘Scuse me Mr Connolly, hang on a minute. Union Jacks?

Eddie: Yes, that’s right, isn’t it?

Rose: That’s the Union Flag. It’s the Union Jack only when it’s flown at sea.

Eddie: Oh. Oh, I’m sorry. I… I do apologise.

Rose: Well, don’t get it wrong again. There’s a good man, now get to it!

The problem is it’s Rose that’s wrong. According to the website of the Flag Institute (and yes, that’s a thing), the Union Jack was referred to as such in 1674, over a hundred and fifty years before the jackstaff came into being. It is thought that the jack was referred to as such because it was a small version of flag, which for their size were called “jacks”.

The Planet of the Monkeys

Fellow pedants will have been in this position before – someone at the zoo looks at a chimp and says something about monkeys. Under your breath or out loud if you’re a bit of a dick, you correct them: “it’s not a monkey, it’s an ape”. I’m not about to say anything controversial like chimpanzees aren’t apes. They are, along with gorillas, orang-utans, gibbons and, of course, humans, which form the superfamily Hominoidea. Of those, gibbons are not included in the family Hominidae, the great apes. All well and good, you may think. However, apes are monkeys.

Or, at least, they could be. Apes, along with Old World monkeys and New World monkeys all form the infraorder Simiiformes. Fair enough, you may be saying, but that doesn’t make apes, monkeys. And you’d be correct, but Simiiformes contains two – and only two – parvorders (or subdivisons). These are Catarrhini and Platyrrhini. The Platyrrhines have sideways facing nostrils, encompassing all New World monkeys. The Catarrhines have downwards facing nostrils, encompassing all the Old World monkeys and the apes. The apes split from the Old World monkeys, our fellow Catarrhines, around 25 million years ago. So what we have is an ancestor primate, which was a type of monkey that split into two different forms of monkey-types, one of which later became apes. So, to form a valid clade that includes all the things we call monkey, we have to include all the apes in that as well. So all apes are monkeys, but not all monkeys are apes.

The crime that the zoo person calling the chimpanzee a monkey is making is not one of complete factual accuracy, but of a lack of specificity. That is to say, to call an ape a monkey is accurate in terms of cladistics, but not particularly informative or necessarily appropriate. An ape has differences from monkeys, but isn’t not a monkey. There’s a taxanomic expert who explains this much better than I can on his blog – here and extra information here.


You may remember that over the course of a year I wrote a fantasy series called Tornmile, which is still on the site and available for you to read. The idea was to have something new for my followers every week that was original. Hopefully, if you read it, you enjoyed it. I expected to return to start Book 2 last year, which was delayed for various reasons. I am now working on preparing Book 1 as a manuscript for publication. The process of that has meant that I’ve changed a lot of names, bits of geography and history and bulked out the world. Some of the character journeys have changed as well and I’m still working on this process. The end cause of that is that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to continue with Book 2 at this point. Firstly, because what has been established in the Book 1 on the website is no longer accurate to what I consider to have happened and that to write Book 2 I would have to operate in a double stream – previous canon and new canon – which would make work on the manuscript much harder. I’m sorry to say, then, that there won’t be a Book 2 on the site. Hopefully, you’ll be able to enjoy Book 1 in its proper format once I’ve written it and thereafter Books 2 and 3, tentatively (i.e. in my own mind) titled The Knotted Crown series.

In the meantime, you can still read the non-canon Book 1 for free on this site. I may remove it in the future, but for the time being it’s still there. Feedback on it would be greatly appreciated as well, which will help me shape the manuscript. Thanks to everyone who read the original Tornmile. Brielle, Mishak and Johreel will all return.

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