It was a relatively hot day today and that put me in mind of what I thought was an old saying, that “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.” I was having tea with two of my new colleagues and I asked them if they knew that expression. They did not, but they both laughed at the implied “caricature reference” to their former colonial overlords. I took the opportunity to strengthen my bonds with them by mentioning that “we Irish” had been oppressed by those same British.
Actually, I have as much English ancestry as Irish, despite my very ethnic name. Really, I am a typically American mongrel from way back. On the other hand, my very Irish name gives me a sympathy with the Irish, who really did suffer great hardship under the British. So while my DNA may be as mixed as they come, and the most tardy of my ancestors arrived in the US by 1830, making me about as un-hyphenated American as they come, the fact of my name makes me feel like an Irish-American. One of my tea companions reads my blog and I hope he will forgive me for my lack of full disclosure at the time.
Heck, I figured the “Only mad dogs…” phrase had to have originated in one of the tropical former British colonies. It was so apt a description of the very proper English wearing suits and ties in the equatorial heat, that I figured once coined, the phrase would have spread throughout the Empire. I did a Google search on the phrase. According to Wikipedia, the phrase comes from a Noel Coward song entitled “Mad dogs and Englishmen.” The song was composed, without benefit of pen, paper, or piano, while Mr. Coward was driving through Vietnam from Hanoi to Saigon. The lyrics, which really are amusing in a Gilbert and Sullivan way, can be found here and a recording of the song, sung by Mr. Coward himself on CBS TV, can be found here.
There is a bit of irony in all of this as Mr. Coward was himself an Englishman.