Are we overusing ‘overhaul’?

Last week, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer were overhauling their stores. Football clubs were madly overhauling teams and we women were overhauling wardrobes, if you can believe what you read in the papers. There was a clear danger of over overhauling. What do we mean by it? Overhauling implies change. But that sense has only dominated in the past 150 years. Before that, the usual meaning was to inspect or audit, in a naval context. ‘To-day I over-haul’d the Powder, and told the Lieutenant that I had twenty-three half Barrels in Store,’ wrote the Royal Navy gunner John Bulkeley in 1740. His ship, the Wager, was wrecked in remote

The foghorn’s haunting hoot is a sad loss

Halfway through what must count as one of the more esoteric quests, Jennifer Lucy Allan finds herself on a hill near Birkenhead, in a cottage which houses the archive of the Association of Lighthouse Keepers. In a small bedroom long since surrendered to the past, she is handed a homemade CD of 90 foghorn recordings of ‘uncertain provenance’. Let’s call them Bootleg Blasts. She sits on the end of the single bed, craning her neck, ‘listening for more than what is there, listening for answers, listening for meaning’. Allan is a British writer, journalist and broadcaster with a passion for experimental music: I have had a long affair with ‘weird’

From ancient Greece to TikTok: a short history of the sea shanty

Many things are now normal that would have seemed unlikely a year ago. But even in this strange new world the sudden rise of the sea shanty is, perhaps, strangest of all. It all started in December when Nathan Evans, a postman from North Lanarkshire, posted a video of himself online — a lone figure filmed in no-frills close-up, hoodie high under the chin, beanie pulled down to the eyes — singing the 19th-century whaling song ‘Wellerman’. A trickle of views became a storm, thousands turning to millions (now billions) and just like that sea shanties went from kitsch, Last Night of the Proms novelty to global phenomenon. The song