Riddle Me This

Riddle me this.

Three words which hailed from Spring 1940, and issue one of that timeless neo-classic, Batman.

They were the playthings of a jocular psychopath and Batman’s arch-enemy,The Joker. Sadism is his middle name: but he does love a good riddle.

Because it’s so much more than a joke, isn’t it? A riddle needs ingenuity to solve. The Oxford Dictionary tells us a riddle can be many things: a question serving to test the ingenuity; a puzzling or mysterious fact.

We were driving towards the M6 today, a car loaded with family heading South. And very soon we passed a sign which always affords us more amusement than is strictly necessary.

We passed a sign for the town of Fazakerly.

Pronounced in a Liverpool accent, it becomes less a riddle than a slapstick joke worthy of guffaws. We practice saying it in high tones and low tones, with good and atrocious manners, and it makes us howl for reasons not entirely clear to any of us.

Riddle me this: how did an English town come to have a name like this?

Fazakerly is ancient English, it seems.

It is three Saxon words combined: ‘faes’ is an old word for border ‘aecer’ means field, and lei- describing a clearing.

But, back in 1321 when it was first mentioned in county assizes, colourful it was not. “The country is extremely flat and treeless, with nothing to recommend it to the passer-by, for it seems to be a district of straight lines, devoid of any beauty,” writes some perceptive fourteenth century bureaucrat.

Riddle solved.

The M6 also passes a village which couches a riddle which is centuries old, and no-one has ever solved.

It is called: The Shugborough Inscription.

Thomas Anson was born in 1695 in the upper echelons of society. A traveller and Member of Parliament, he inherited a vast fortune amassed by his brother, which he used to improve the family seat at Shugborough.

In the grounds of the hall lies The Shepherd’s Monument. It was sculpted by the man who fashioned William Shakespeare’s monument in Westminster Abbey, the Flemish Peter Scheemakers. And it bears one of the world’s great unsolved codes. Josiah Wedgewood, Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin are all reputed to have tried. And all failed.

In Ninth-Gate fashion, it is a copy of the French classical painter Nicholas Poussin’s ‘Shepherds of Arcadia’.

But there are some tiny differences: and there’s an extra sarcophagus on top of the main tomb.
Below the frieze lie eight letters: O,U,O,S,V,A,V and V.

They have two more letters as henchmen: D and M, which would at that time have been take to mean Diis Manibus: Dedicated to the Manes, the Roman word for the Spirits of the Dead.

Riddle me this: what do those letters stand for?

The theories abound but there’s no proof. Take your pick: each might be the first letter of a Latin word, and the whole stands for a dedication to his late wife; or for a Latin translation of the Ecclesiastes verses, “Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.” My favourite: if we read the two Vs as ten, the letters form a perfect anagram of ‘Devout Mason”.

But that riddle seems to be evading those who would like to solve it.

As we carved into the Midlands, my husband Phil indicated he had a riddle he would like me to solve. “Hold on”, he advised, “It’s coming up….”

And sure enough, there it was: a canal viaduct crossing over the M6. It was triumphantly labelled the Lichfield Canal Aqueduct.

Trouble was: there was no canal going in, and no canal going out of it. It was just this bit of aqueduct, slung across the M6, devoid of any water or a chance barge to make motorists ooh and aah (and possibly swerve wildly).

Do I even have to ask the question?

The Lichfield and Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust holds dear a little stretch of local canal which used to serve coal mines in the area.

The builders of the toll road discovered an aqueduct running across the path of their route. They rode roughshod over it, destroying the centuries-old brickwork and promising only to provide footings for a new aqueduct to pass over the road.

The local restorers worked with the industry which has made that part of the world affluent. They raised the money, and they built it – for who knew when they would need to link the final restored sections of the canal?

But restoration takes time, and plenty of money, and the Lichfield and the Trust must rebuild its empire brick by brick.

And so the aqueduct sits, waiting for water and barges which might be decades away.

Three riddles in as many hours, travelling down a motorway on a mundane Sunday afternoon. They’re everywhere you look: puzzles that wait, good humouredly, to be solved.

Riddle me that.

Written in response to Side View’s weekend theme: ‘Joke’. She chooses an absorbing theme every weekend- find her here


41 thoughts on “Riddle Me This

  1. Bravo, Kate! I was right there with you, giggling madly, as the fab four pronounced in haughty (and naughty) tones . . . Fazakerly.

    What a wonderful way to spend an afternoon “waiting for water and barges which might be decades away.”

    1. It proved an absorbing journey, Nancy, thanks to the wonders of modern technology. Now at last you can ask those questions you always ask on long journeys – and have a hope of getting the answer!

  2. I love to fiddle with riddles. My latest book even has an update for the Sphinx to pose, after the ‘legs’ one was solved. I would have thought that town one was Fazarkerly impossible to solve. As for shrugging at the Shug … I think the VV 10 transposition would have been cheating. Are the letters placed in a straight line?

  3. What a fabulous post, Kate! It also reminded me of another riddle I heard this week regarding names/origins. In a small, small town in Iowa, the town’s name is Elkader. Elkader is a famous Algerian Muslim who led resistance to France in the 1800s. To this day, no one knows why the town coined the name… rural Iowa is very Christian, white and un-worldly, even today. riddle me that… ~

  4. Yes, I say “Bravo” as well Kate – as I often do for your posts. I adore the local heritage that you’ve woven amongst the riddle. We have the same here and I’m hopeful to write of them in children’s form one day. Thank you for your strong writing that challenges each of us as readers. Really well done.

  5. I think the ex Colonials are green with envy at the history embodied in the old buildings, memorials and stone structures like Stonehenge in the Mother Country!

  6. I’m from Liverpool and never gave that name a thought. I like it when a riddle appears and is solved immediately πŸ™‚ Thanks.

    Do you remember that book, around 1980, that was one big riddle? Picture of a hare, I think, and there was a gold and jewelled replica of it buried somewhere and you had to solve the riddles to dig it up and claim it. If I remember correctly, it was found by accident. Bummer for the author. Kit something?

  7. OMG, how fascinating, Kate! You have such a way of serving up intrigue to get our minds going…beats the hell out of playing “I Spy” on a long journey πŸ˜€

  8. Interesting as ever. I must look out for that aqueduct next time I’m up that way! I googled it and found some good images so that I know what it looks like.

    (Note to self— must subscribe to Side View’s Weekend Theme…. )

      1. I have done it once or twice, but without the link I sometimes forget to pop over and take a look!

  9. Challenging stuff as always, Kate.
    At my time of life, I have heard a good many riddles and place names, and forgotten them.
    I must get the little grey cells moving!
    Love, Dad

  10. if you knew the significance of the number ‘137’ to a Freemason, a physicist, and a Qabalist, then you would be close to solving this mystery that transcends space/time.

    OUOSVAVV = 15+21+15+19+22+1+22+22 = 137

    Ξ‘Ξ‘ΞšΞ‘Ξ”Ξ™Ξ‘ = 1+100+20+1+4+10+1 = 137

    QBLH = 137

    How important to a theory of everything in physics is the fine structure constant, known also as the fingerprint of an atom or the DNA of light, which is referred to as 137?

    This riddle has been solved, or should I suggest, has been taken to a new level of understanding >>> do a search of ‘1379 Maya Code key to portals’


      1. I am passionate about 137 for good reason.
        As is the author Arthur I. Miller whose first edition of the book ‘137’ was only just released in 2010.

        137 is by far an anomaly, and at the same time 137 is that common denominator that helps bridge past and present.
        That is part of what makes it an anomaly, it IS capable of weaving the many theories of everything, ancient and modern, together under ONE idea that is fundamental to life, the EM field and how data or info gets around the universe…helping to enrich it.

  11. You wished to know the meaning of the letters. In the first place I concur with the D M Dis Manibus, to the gods and the spirits of the dead. As for OUOSVAVV, the vowels represent one letter, the letter G. As for the consonants, these represent two letters. They are the letters I and C. The three letters form part of the name of a man.

    1. Hello Lionel, I am still learning a bit of the french, after the Normans sacked me Saxon home in Sutton Soo.

      G and I C?
      (could you elaborate on how vowels = ‘G’ee whiz and how SVVV = IC

      Maybe a GIC is what you mean?

      In Zionist Kanada a GIC is a Guaranteed Investment Certificate

      It is clear the original ‘WORD’ the LOGOS has become the corporate advertising LOGOS, complete with *branding* of the herd who have not heard the TRUTH in yEARS.

      wake and smell the Rosicrucian Roses?
      we are being lead without a doubt…
      but by who or is it HU?

      Elijah or is it ELI-ya-HU?


  12. please just do a search of ’1379 Maya Code key to portals’ to see how deep ‘137’ the fine structure constant goes down the hole.

    137 unites Christians with Jews, Buddhists, Nazis and Freemasons too!

    Both science and rELIgion are reconcILEd by the enigmatic ‘137’.

    Richard Feynman (who was respected probably more than any other physicist) suggested all good physicists should write that number on the wailing wall and worry about it.

    I suggest all of you do too.


  13. I agree he does love a good riddle and this shows how mean he can be I think. I think the Joker is mean and a sadist 2 and down right evil these are just my thoughts on this subject.

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