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A wry view of life for the world-weary

Monthly Archives: March 2013

What Is The Origin Of (12)?…

220px-Ostara_by_Johannes_Gehrts

Easter

Easter is a true moveable feast. The First Council of Nicaea in 325CE established the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the full moon following the March equinox. Consequently it can be as early as March 22nd and as late as 25th April. The Eastern Orthodox church bases its calculations on the Julian calendar in which April 3rd corresponds to March 21st. The range of possible dates for Easter for the Orthodox church runs from 4th April to 8th May.

The early Christians were past masters at adopting pagan festivals for their own use. Their Christian festival of Easter celebrating the resurrection of Christ is timed to coincide with early spring, the period of rebirth and renewal. Many pagan societies marked the start of spring with festivals celebrating the renewal of life and the promotion of fertility. Northern European communities celebrated a festival named after a goddess of spring, dawn and fertility, Eostre. Two prominent images associated with the festival were the hare and the egg. As Christian missionaries moved north they saw the sense in appropriating some of the (presumably) popular features of Eostre into their celebration of Christ’s resurrection and the rest is history, as they say.

Over time the hare became a rabbit but the furry pest has become firmly associated with Easter time. In around the 1600s we have the first literary reference to a rabbit in the context of Easter, the German Oschter Haws who was believed to lay a nest of coloured eggs for good children.

Eggs themselves are, naturally, a symbol of rebirth. In the Orthodox church eggs were dyed red to represent the blood of Christ shed on the cross and the hard shell symbolised his entombment, the cracking of which signified his resurrection. In 1610 Pope Paul V associated eggs with the resurrection in a prayer, “Bless, O Lord, we beseech thee, this thy creature of eggs, that it may become a wholesome sustenance to thy faithful servants, eating it in thankfulness to thee on account of the resurrection of the Lord”.

The first chocolate Easter eggs were made in France and Germany in the 19th century. A type of eating chocolate had only just been invented and the first eggs were solid. John Cadbury first made his French eating chocolate in 1842 but it was not until 1875 that he made his first Easter egg. Modern eggs owe their existence to two major developments in the production of chocolate – the invention of a press to separate cocoa butter from the bean (1828, Van Houten) and the introduction of pure cocoa butter (1866, Cadbury brothers).  The earliest Cadbury eggs were made of dark chocolate and the earliest decorated eggs were plain shells enhanced with chocolate piping and marzipan flowers. The introduction of the more popular dairy milk chocolate in 1905 was the stimulus the easter egg trade needed.

So now we know!

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What A Way To Go – Part Six

angel

Continuing our occasional series about unusual (an amusing) deaths.

There are some occasions when you just don’t have enough hands and you end up deploying other parts of your body to assist, notably your mouth. This practice can be dangerous as the fate of the famous playwright, Tennessee Williams – Streetcar Named Desire, Cat On a Hot Tin Roof etc – shows. The playwright had opened a bottle of eye drops to administer to himself and decided to hold the top in his mouth. Leaning back to allow the drops to enter his eyes more effectively, the cap loosened and lodged in his windpipe. Tennessee never recovered.

Those who are of an artistic temperament are known for being so wrapped up in their performance that they are oblivious to their surroundings. Add to this the less than effective ‘Elf and Safety regime that operated in days gone by. Result, potential for disaster as the famous prima ballerina, Emma Livry, demonstrated in 1863. While rehearsing her dress got too close to the footlights at a rehearsal – they were naked flames in those days – and caught light. She suffered from severe burns and died eight months later still in agony.

If you are going to die, it may give your poltergeist and your grieving relatives some satisfaction to know that your death was the first of its kind. This may have been the source of consolation for the friends and family of Mary Ward. In 1869, she accepted, as you do, a kind invitation from her cousins who numbered the future steam turbine inventor, Charles Algernon Parsons, to take a ride in a steam car they had built. Unfortunately, for reasons which are not clear she fell from the car and was crushed under the wheels. She did not survive but earned a place in history by being the first person to be killed in a road accident involving a powered vehicle.

Your skull is thick for a reason – to give you extra protection. Sometimes, however, all your skull can do is delay the inevitable. Witness the fate of David Lunt from Deadwood, South Dakota. He was accidentally shot in the head when trying to stop a fight between Tom Smith and the town’s Marshal, Con Stapleton. The bullet passed through his brain and left entry and exit wounds but he remained unconscious throughout and suffered no pain. However, his trauma caught up with him 67 days later when he suffered a terrible headache and died. The autopsy revealed that the bullet wound had killed him but could not reveal why it took so long to do so.

William Holden, who starred in Bridge over the River Kwai, slipped on a rug in his home, hit his head on a bedside table and bled to death. His body was only discovered four days later. The autopsy revealed that he may have been alive for thirty minutes after his fall but due to the amount of alcohol he had consumed, may not have realised the extent and severity of his injuries at the time.

To be continued.

In Graham We Trust – Part Thirty Eight

Graham Turner Post Leeds United

Forty down, six to go, five points to find

Carlisle United 2 TMS 2

Another one of those results that you would have accepted prior to kick-off but after the match leaves you feeling hard done by.

Hurst (welcome return) and McGinn replaced Gayle and McAllister in the line up and Asante (TMS’ 15th loan signing this term) was on the bench. The game came to life around the hour mark when Richards’ thirty yard free kick looped over the Carlisle goalie . The Cumbrians were back on level terms two minutes later, Miller converting from the penalty spot after a Summerfield foul.

On the 76th minute Mambo opened his scoring account for TMS pouncing on a loose ball a yard out but six minutes later Miller who was brought down by Weale picked himself and scored his second spot-kick,

By all accounts the second penalty was harsh and it was a game TMS had done enough to win. But frailties at the back – the loss of Jones after 20 minutes which meant another centre back pairing, Goldson and Mambo could be significant in the run-in – continue to undo the good work.

Still another point earned and one less game to play. Results at the bottom are still broadly going our way but it is still going to be tight.

Next up, home to Crawley on Monday.

Don’t Eat The Messenger

hermes

 

Being the bearer of bad news can sometimes have unfortunate consequences as this tale will demonstrate.

It is August 1870. The setting is Hautefaye in the Dordogne. France was at war with Prussia at the time and three weeks later the Emperor, Napoleon III, would be captured by the enemy and deposed.

On the 16th of August the residents of Hautefaye were holding a fair. The cousin of a young nobleman, Alain de Moneys, turned up and reported that the war was not going well. Fuelled by alcohol the locals attacked the cousin and his party who managed to flee. The mob the turned their attentions to Alain.

Accusing him of being a Prussian spy and a traitor to the Emperor, they surrounded him. The local priest tried to pacify the situation by giving the crowd more drink. This only served to worsen the mob’s  mood and unable to hold them back any more, the priest is reported to have said, “eat him if you want”.

For two hours the crowd set upon poor Alain, nailing horseshoes to his feet and bursting one of his eyeballs. They finally burnt him in the village square, probably whilst he was still alive, collecting fat from the burning body onto bread and, allegedly, eating the resultant tartines.

Three days later the gendarmerie arrested fifty people aged between 14 and 50. Of the twenty-one who eventually stood trial in Perigueux in December of that year nineteen were convicted, of whom four were sentenced to be guillotined. The sentences were carried out on 6th February the next year.

It was only in 1953 that the last direct witness of the collective madness at Hautefaye, Lavaud Noemie, died at the grand old age of 92. To mark the centenary of this horror the village bizarrely hosted a mass of forgiveness to which descendants of the victim, Alain de Moneys, and his killers were invited.

A truly gruesome story of collective mania. So if you have some bad news to convey, pause for thought.

There Ain’t ‘Alf Some Clever Bastards – Part Nine

Wilson Greatbatch (1919 – 2011)

The next inductee into our Hall of Fame is a serial inventor whose greatest contribution to the well-being of mankind was discovered by accident.

In the 1950s after leaving the navy Greatbatch was working as a medical researcher at the University of Buffalo, trying to develop an oscillator to record heart sounds. (Un)fortunately, one day as he was assembling his box of tricks he reached out for a resistor, got hold of the wrong type and unwittingly fitted it to his oscillator. Naturally, the machine did not behave as he anticipated – instead of recording the rhythm of a beating heart he noticed that his machine gave off the a rhythmic electrical pulse. The result reminded him of some discussions he had held with colleagues some time ago in which they speculated whether an electrical stimulation could make up for a breakdown of the heart’s natural beats.

Showing the ingenuity that we come to expect of our inductees Wilson decided to experiment further and two years later he had developed and been awarded a patent for the first implantable pacemaker, just two cubic inches in size.

Before Greatbatch’s breakthrough pacemakers existed but they were the size of televisions and the patient had to be wired up to them. An unfortunate by-product of the early pacemakers was that the patient often received electric shocks.

His first pacemaker was fitted into a 77-year-old who survive for 18 months. Now more than half a million of the devices are fitted per annum and the National Society of Professional Engineers recognised Greatbatch’s invention as one of the top ten engineering achievements in the last fifty years.

But Greatbatch didn’t finish there. He was frustrated by the limitations that battery technology imposed on his pacemaker and so in the 1970s started to develop and manufacture long-life lithium batteries. His company, Greatbatch Inc, eventually supplied 90% of the world’s pacemaker batteries.

By the time of his death (I can’t confirm the cause but I suspect it wasn’t a heart attack) Greatbatch held over 325 patents and had made significant contributions into environmental research and AIDS.

An act of stupidity or carelessness (take your pick) ultimately made a significant contribution to medical science. Wilson, you are worthy of our Hall of Fame.

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If you enjoyed this, why not try Fifty Clever Bastards by Martin Fone which is now available on Amazon in Kindle format and paperback. For details follow the link https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=fifty+clever+bastards

Mayoral Sandpapering

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So Mair succeeded in skewering the mayor. One of the charges levied against him and not denied by Boris Johnson was that in the late 80s, whilst a journo at the Times, he made up a quote from his godfather, Sir Colin Lucas, about Edward II enjoying a reign of dissolution with his catamite, Piers Gaveston, in his then newly discovered palace south of the Thames which was built in 1325. The problem was that Gaveston was beheaded in 1312. In an era where we are familiar with egregious press behaviour – phone hacking et al – this seems a rather minor peccadillo, although in my limited experience of academics the one thing they like more than being cited is being cited accurately. The then editor of the Thunderer fired Boris after complaints from Lucas.

The question on everyone’s lips is who was Piers Gaveston (c1284 to 1312). Gaveston, an English nobleman of Gascon birth, had an Icarus-like career, reaching the heady heights of being appointed the first Earl of Cornwall (1307) by his alleged lover, the recently crowned Edward II, and acted as regent in 1308 when the king left the country to marry the French king’s daughter, Isabella. However, on his way up the greasy pole, Gaveston made many enemies, partly as a result of a humiliating defeat he and his cronies inflicted on a powerful cabal of barons at a tournament held at Wallingford Castle. The pressure for Gaveston’s exile grew to such an extent that the king had no option but to dispatch his paramour to Ireland and stripped him of his earldom.

Whilst in Ireland Gaveston had considerable success in pacifying the Irish rebels and for his efforts was reinstated as Earl of Cornwall in August 1309. However, Piers soon ruffled the feather of his opponents once more and in November 1310 was exiled only being reconciled with the king again in early 1312 and having his lands restored.

Relations between the king and the barons had deteriorated to such an extent that a civil war broke out and in the early summer of 1312 Gaveston was captured by the Earl of Warwick and condemned to death at Warwick castle. On 19th June 1312 Piers was executed and buried behind the site of his execution. Peace was restored in 1313 but the king had to wait until 1315 when he had secured his favourite’s absolution, to move his body to the Dominican friary at Langley. In 1823 a cross was erected at Blacklow Hill on the alleged site of his execution.

A fascinating tale and one can’t help thinking that some aspects of Gaveston’s meteoric career mirror those of our benighted mayor. Boris’ career is unlikely to end, literally, on the executioner’s block but, metaphorically, who knows?

 

GRACE IS THE BEAUTY OF FORM UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF FORM

barocci

To my everlasting shame (probably), I must confess I was unfamiliar with the works of Federico Barocci (around 1533 to 1612). Although guilty of the charge of general ignorance, I would point out in my defence that his work centres around what might be termed as Catholic iconography (not really my cup of tea) and there are only two examples of his work normally resident in this country. Federico was acknowledged by his peers as a rare talent and even survived an assassination attempt by poisoning in the 1560s by jealous rivals that left him debilitated through the rest of his life. So it was with a real spirit of adventure and discovery that I went to the National Gallery’s Barocci : Brilliance and Grace exhibition.

Many of his most famous pieces are in Italian churches and museums and, although some of his masterpieces are not in the exhibition, there are enough to get a sense of his power and style. Housed in six smallish rooms in the Sainsbury’s Wing of the Gallery, the abiding impression is his vivid use of colour coupled with astonishing power of composition. The sixth room is an odd farrago of landscapes and portraits, as if they are left-overs from the main show.

For me, the stand out works were the Entombment from the Chiesa della Croce with a multi-coloured Mary Magdalene portrayed alongside the almost clinically drawn tools of the crucifixion positioned in the left foreground– the hammer, nails and crown of thorns – the Visitation with its vivid and bold use of colour to depict the folds of the clothing of the two pregnant women and the Last Supper from his home town of Urbino which contrasts effectively light and dark.

Alongside his paintings are sketches in oil and drawings. It would seem that Barocci prepared diligently for his works with numerous compositional studies and attempts to master the requisite anatomical features of the poses his characters adopt. The impression I was left with was that whilst his drawings of certain anatomical features such as hands and faces were full of life and accuracy, his drawings of the full torso seem somewhat clumsy. The classical nude is eschewed in his formal works, although most of his drawings feature naked characters or limbs – perhaps as a result of the overt influence of the counter Reformation or perhaps because of this technical deficiency.

What comes through loud and clear in this wonderful exhibition is the emotion of his paintings in which he depicts a sort of idealisation of grace, joy and ecstasy of man in the presence of the divine. His compositions are bold and full of energy whilst his use of colour is stunning. The subject matter may not immediately be to the taste of us puritanical Brits but by the time you leave the exhibition you may be won over. Recommended.

A Prickly Problem

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I can’t say I had ever given it any thought before but my interest was pricked by an article in the Sunday papers as to how a sauropod such as a Stegosaurus procreated. The problem with these dinosaurs is that whilst they were herbivores they were bristling with spikes and plates to protect them against some of their carnivorous foes.

Normal dinosaur sex seems to have been conducted doggy-style or, perhaps, we should call it brontosaurus-style. The problem for the Stegosaurus is that with all those spikes and plates the male mounting the female is likely to run the certain risk of castration or fatal injury. As the bones at the top were fused, the female could not assist by raising their tails. Given that there is fossil evidence that there were many stegosauri roaming around the earth, the process of procreation could not have been so deadly. So how did they achieve it?

According to some recent research conducted by the Museum of Natural History in Berlin, it seems that the most likely answer was that dinosaurs such as the stegosaurus procreated using a version of the missionary position – the female rolling on to her side and the male resting his torso over hers. Alternatively, some sauropods may have ad sex by backing up to each other.

As with any theory, there are others who poo-poo the idea, claiming that animals alive today who encounter the same problem, such as armadillos, have developed extremely long sexual organs. Why would this not apply to spikey dinosaurs?

The only way of resolving this conundrum definitively is to find fossil evidence of dinosaur sexual organs. However, soft tissues are rarely preserved during fossilisation so this is highly unlikely to happen.

I guess, as with everything, you pay your money and take your choice. I can’t help thinking, though, that if I sat in an ivory tower with access to public funding and with time to ponder such questions, I would have come up with this range of possibilities.

Isn’t science wonderful?

 

What Is The Origin of (11)?…

hawthorn

Cast ne’er a clout till May be out

I had not come across this proverb before I met TOWT, who informed me that it was often used within her family.

The first written citation of this peculiar proverb dates back to 1732 in Dr Thomas Fuller’s Gnomologia, “leave not a clout off till May be out”, although the component parts have an earlier origin.

Since as early as the 15th century clout has been used to describe, variously, a blow to the head, a clod of earth or clotted cream or a fragment of cloth or clothing. The use of clout to mean clothing can be traced back in written form to the Early English Miscellanies of Prose and Verse of 1485, “he had not left an holle clowt, wherein to hyde hys body abowte”.

So it is pretty certain that the first part of the proverb warns you not to get rid of your clothing, presumably your warm winter clothing.

There is some uncertainty about the usage of the word may. It could just be the calendar month. The English weather is so uncertain you would be best advise not to discard your winter wear until the end of May.

However, there may be an alternative meaning. The hawthorn was a common feature of the English hedgerow – 200,000 miles of hawthorn were planted as hedgerow in the period of the enclosures between 1750 and 1850 – and its distinctive and beautiful display of flowers occurs between late April and early May. It is known as the May tree and its blossom as May.

Shakespeare in his sonnets describes the darling buds of May (Sonnet 18) and the old rhyme, April showers bring forth May flowers, clearly uses May in the context of the hawthorn.

While this explanation is appealing, there is Victorian evidence that the more prosaic calendar meaning is likely to be correct. In 1855 F K Robertson wrote in his Whitby Gazette, “the wind at north and east/was never good for man nor beast/so never think to cast a clout/til the month of May be out”.

Either way, given the state of our weather, this advice is sound.

Winter Blues

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Well it’s snowing again – TMS match off. Don’t know about you but this winter seems to be interminable, probably because we didn’t have much of a summer. It is incredible to think that 12 months ago we were basking in temperatures in the early 20s (centigrade).

Although we seem to have had nothing but unremitting gloom, history can usually tell us that someone somewhere at some other time  had it worse than us. Cold comfort, perhaps, but comfort nonetheless.

I am old enough to remember the winter of 1962/3 – we actually moved house in the December and were confronted with frozen pipes when we got to our new abode. The snow started in November in the South West but the really bad weather started on Boxing Day with the country blanketed in feet of snow. The thaw didn’t start until March.

Post War Britain had to endure one of its worst ever winters in 1946/7. Snow fell in southern England on 19th December but then there was a notable mild spell with temperatures reaching 14c. Hopes for a mild winter were soon dashed when the weather deteriorated on 22nd January 1947 with continuous snow right up until 17th March.

Between the 15th century and the early 19th century, a period described as the Little Ice Age, the UK often had severe spells of weather. In 1564/5 the Thames froze between Christmas Day and January 13th. Elizabeth the First was reported to have enjoyed daily trips on the ice. The Thames was much shallower in those days (and more clogged up) so the waters did not flow as freely.

The crafty cockneys, not wishing to miss the opportunity to make an extra bob (or groat), saw the frozen and unencumbered waste of the Thames as a large but temporary market place and developed the tradition of the frost fair. The first recorded fair was held in 1608, although Henry the Eighth travelled from London to Greenwich along the Thames by sleigh in 1536 – the ice must have been thick.

The winter of 1683/4 was particularly harsh and ranks alongside that of 1947 for the prolonged period of cold temperatures. The Thames was frozen all the way up to London Bridge by early January 1684 with ice up to eleven inches thick and remained frozen for a couple of months. In Somerset the ground was frozen up to four feet.

The diarist, John Evelyn, has a famous report of the teeming activity on the frozen Thames. “Coaches plied from Westminster to the Temple, and from several other stairs too and fro, as in the streets; sleds, sliding with skeetes, a bull-baiting, horse and coach races, puppet plays and interludes, cooks, tipling and other lewd places, so that it seemed to be a bacchanalian triumph, or carnival on the water”.

The last recorded frost fair was held during the harsh winter of 1813-14, which again had bitter cold from January to March. That winter was the last time that the tidal stretch of the River Thames froze – the removal of the old London Bridge and works to deepen the river meant that the river flowed more easily and was less prone to freezing.

Still, the frost fair in 1814 went out with a bang. It began on 1st February, lasting for 4 days, and featured an elephant which was led across the river below Blackfriars Bridge.

It seems our ancestors made the best of a bad job, perhaps a lesson we would do well to learn.