THIS column is obviously diligently planned and meticulously researched. And in the week of a remarkable u-turn, it seemed appropriate to look at the history of the u-turn and then conclude with my favourite phrase from the day that Darlington’s reprieved library was opened.

The U-turn, quite wonderfully performed by Darlington council which has spent nearly three years fighting judicial cases trying to shut a library it is now going to spend £2m keeping open, was popularised by Edward Heath and his watery government of the early 1970s. He about-turned on everything from economic policy and tackling the miners so that headlines became full of U-turns.

Margaret Thatcher really cemented the phrase in the English language in 1980 when, mocking her predecessor, she said: “To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase, the 'U-turn', I have only one thing to say: U-turn if you want to. The lady's not for turning’.”

However, in this column’s planning stage, a u-turn was performed on Wednesday evening when David Mitchell, playing William Shakespeare in Upstart Crow on BBC1, said: “Pamperloins and folderoys are snooking their cocks at me.”

This reminded me that Chris Greenwell in Darlington had spotted the phrase “cocking a snook” in a recent letter in Hear All Sides and had written asking if I were in a position to “shed any light on snook cocking”.

Cocking a snook is, apparently, Europe’s best know gesture. You put your thumb to your nose, fan out your fingers and stick your tongue out. If you’re really clever, you’ll go cross-eyed at the same time.

Sadly, no one understands why you should cock a snook. A snook is either a northern bit of sticky-out land, or it is a small fish in a foreign sea, neither of which can really be cocked in a dismissive gesture.

That gesture is known by Americans as “the five-finger salute”, for obvious reasons, and also, inexplicably, as “to make long bacon”.

The British also call it “Queen Anne’s fan” because it became popular during her reign, of 1702-1714. Perhaps the best explanation of snook-cocking is that it is the queen dismissively wafting away the cares, and the smells, of her working class subjects.

But then yesterday lunchtime, just as this column was taking shape, I was talking inconsequential piffle on Bob Fischer’s BBC Tees’ radio programme when a listener startled us with a glorious piece of trivia.

The listener said that the pre-decimal sixpence coin was known as a “bender” because its high silver content allowed it to be easily bent by fingers. Once-upon-a-time, when sixpence was a lot of money, you could spend your bender on so much beer that you would be drunk for days – hence the phrase “going on a bender”.

The piffleometer shot off the scale.

The Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t mention this wondrous revelation, but the Royal Mint’s website confirms it: “The value of a sixpence was enough to get thoroughly inebriated as taverns would often allow you to drink all day for tuppence. This gave rise to the expression ‘going on a bender’.” This explains why a bender lasts three days.

So having done a u-turn out of u-turns, this discovery cocks a snook at my explanation of snook-cocking. In fact, it knocks it into a cocked hat. However, I now have no room for my favourite phrase from the library’s opening days, so I’ll plan that in for next week.