Halloween, a corruption of All-Hallows’ Eve, is a glorious gallimaufry of pagan and Christian traditions. Straddling the midpoint between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice, October 31st heralded for the Celts the end of the harvest season and the start of winter, marked by one of their most important festivals, Samhain.

An occasion for much feasting and drinking, and lasting for several days, it was also the time to prepare for the winter ahead. Grains, fruits, and vegetables crops were made safe, animals slaughtered, and their meat preserved. The bones were burnt on large fires, a custom that gave rise to our word “bonfire”.

On a more spiritual level, Samhain was the point at which the dividing line between the living and the dead was at its most nebulous. Ghosts of dead family members would return to make a visit and in anticipation, the living would leave plates of their favourite foods for them to enjoy. However, there was no telling who might visit.

Revellers would wear elaborate costumes and daub their faces with ashes from the fire to reduce the possibility of being recognised by the spirit of someone whose enmity they had earned. It was also a time for pranks and mischief, supposedly attributable to the elves, fairies, and sprites, convenient scapegoats for high-spirited revellers.

The Roman festival of Lemuria was dedicated to placating the angry and restless dead with a form of exorcism in which, according to Ovid, (Fasti V, 422ff), the head of the household walked barefoot around the house at midnight throwing beans over his shoulder and ordering the malevolent spirits to depart. On behalf of the city the Vestal Virgins prepared a salted flour cake, mola salsa, using sacred water and the first ears of the season’s wheat harvest mixed with grounded salt to propitiate the spirits.

The final day of the festival, May 13th, was also the date Pope Boniface IV chose, in the early 7th century, for a feast day to commemorate all the church’s martyrs, All Martyrs’ Day. A century or so later Pope Gregory III expanded it to include all saints. Whether he moved what was now known as All Saints’ Day to November 1st is unclear, but, according to the Venerable Bede, churches in England, Ireland, and Germany were soon celebrating the festival, known as All-Hallows’, on that date.

The following day, November 2nd was dedicated in the liturgical calendar for the commemoration of the souls of the departed, All Souls’ Day. Graves were visited, candles and bonfires lit, parades were held with revellers dressed as saints, angels, and devils, and on the night of All Saints’ Day church bells were rung for the souls in purgatory to enjoy.

The End Of British Summer Time

Did you remember to alter your clocks last night?

The idea of using different time during the summer has a long history, Benjamin Franklin being among those to propose it. But the dual system of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) in the winter and British Summer Time (BST) in the summer was first mooted by William Willett, in a pamphlet published in 1907, entitled The Waste of Daylight. Willett wasn’t a scientist, but a builder — and also, as it happens, great-great grandfather of Coldplay’s singer, Chris Martin, not that he would have known it at the time.

He was also a keen golfer, and it was this that prompted his idea: he resented the fact that the early onset of dusk curtailed his game. He was successful in lobbying Liberal MP Robert Pearce to introduce the Daylight Saving Bill in 1908. The bill, though, was rejected by the House of Commons and Willett, who died of influenza in 1915, was to miss out on seeing his dream come true by one year.

Ultimately, daylight saving was introduced in Britain in 1916 to conserve energy and help the war effort rather than to appease frustrated golfers. Taking their lead from the Germans, the British moved their clocks forward by one hour between May 21st and October 1st. The move was so popular that BST has remained to this day, although the start and end dates — the last Sundays in March and October respectively — were only aligned across the European Union from October 22, 1995.

Fart Of The Week (10)

New Zealand and the British seem to be poles apart when it comes to farting. The Kiwi Prime Minister, Jacinda Arden, has recently announced plans to tax farmers for the burps and farts of their livestock, due to the huge contribution they make to climate change. “This is an important step forward in New Zealand’s transition to a low emissions future and delivers on our promise to price agricultural emissions from 2025, she parped.

Over in Britain, however, a recent survey has revealed that one in eight of us want to be able to fart more freely in public without getting glared at by those unfortunate enough to be nearby. Liverpudlians were the most fervent champions of this freedom with 22% claiming that it was “natural” to emit gas and that it should be accepted.

This follows some research conducted in 2020 by The Collective Dairy who found that the average Briton farts 15 times a day with the citizens of Oxford the most flatulent with an average of 23, closely followed (although not too closely) by Leeds with 22 and Norwich with 21. 38% of those polled admitted to trying to hold farts in while 13% covered them up with a cough. It also revealed that the average Brit burps 10 times a day, while only 40% cover their mouth with their hand while doing so.

Whoever the Chancellor of the Exchequer is today, perhaps they could consider closing the fiscal gap by taking a leaf out of the New Zealanders’ book by taxing the British flatulence.

Suspects – Nine

A review of Suspects – Nine by E R Punshon

Originally published in 1939 and now reissued by Dean Street Press, Suspects – Nine is the twelfth in Punshon’s Bobby Owen series. Its title and idea, a case where there are (ahem) nine suspects, although one is a bit of a cop-out named just X, can, perhaps, be traced to J J Connington’s A Case with Nine Solutions, published eleven years earlier. At least Pushon delivers us eight potential suspects, even if not a ninth, whereas Connington really only had two or three credible solutions up his sleeve.

There is a distinct change in mood and style about this book. Punshon, who was never afraid to wear his politics lightly on his sleeve, writes with more humour than in many of his books and with a list of characters who occupy the higher echelons of society he has ample opportunity to poke fun at their expense. The threat of war is evident in the narrative and the consequences of a speech by one of the dictators at the time allows Bobby Owen to sort the wheat from the chaff in his mind.

Punshon also has fun with his young police sleuth. Bobby’s engagement with the milliner, Olive Farrar, is still proceeding, but the young detective sergeant is still struggling to understand the female mind and their ways, while Olive finds some of his mannerisms both amusing and irritating, a particular smile eliciting the threat that she would throw her engagement ring at him. Bobby is also frustrated at the lack of opportunities for promotion, having been dubbed as a plodder who succeeds rather than someone mercurial who sometimes fails, not a good look in the Yard, it seems.

Owen does, though, have the knack of being in the right place at the right time, while Olive is a magnet for trouble. It all starts with a hat, which has been custom made for Flora Tamar at Olive’s shop, but which Lady Alice Bedchamber, after coming to look at it, has walked off with. Bobby, as a favour to Olive, goes round to her Ladyship’s in a fruitless attempt to retrieve the hat and while he is there, notices a shady private detective, Bill Martin, lurking in the shadows.            

It emerges that there is a feud between the two ladies, and we soon come across a tangled web of emotional relationships between several of the main characters, jealousies, obsessions, suspicions, and more. Unlike Bobby, the Tamar’s butler is in the wrong place at the wrong time, seemingly lured to Weeton Hill by the prospect of finding £100 hidden under a stone, which an anonymous note asks Michael Tamar to place there. The butler is found having been shot seven times and then, when dead, stabbed by a knife which turns out to be owned by Lady Belchamber, an Amazon of a woman who, in her youth, had a colourful past. Was the butler trying to blackmail someone or was it a case of mistaken identity?

The gun belongs to Renfield who with barely two halfpennies to rub together would inherit from Tamar’s demise. A car belonging to Ernie Maddox (a woman) was seen and photographed in the vicinity and then there is Judy (a man) who appears to be emotionally attached to both Ernie and Flora. The nicknames of these two may have been a joke but it rather palls as they have quite a role to play in the drama.

Bobby’s role is very much that of an outsider. The investigation is conducted by South Essex police Bobby is seconded to them because of his knowledge of and contacts with the principal suspects and even has to suffer the indignity of being assigned as bodyguard to Michael Tamar. Like other observational sleuths, though, he uses his position to advantage to understand the motives of the suspects.

This is a very character-driven story and, in truth, several of the suspects could easily have done it. Punshon gives the impression that he settled on his culprit late on and their fate is sealed by a fatal miscalculation. He also seems to be as interested in exploring human emotions, particularly in affairs of the heart, as much as the mechanics of a crime. It makes for a different, more complex story, often amusing, full of sharp observation, and highly enjoyable. Crime fiction can be more than a whodunit.

Loveday Golden Hour Gin

Falmouth Distilling Company is a small but perfectly formed micro-distillery based in an industrial unit in Penryn, near Falmouth in Cornwall. Created by three women, Daisy Hillier, a cordon bleu chef, Chloe Gillatt, an artist and chef, and Ruth Warfield, a food scientist, when their day jobs had come to a halt thanks to the Covid pandemic, the name of their brand, Loveday, is the English version of the Cornish Leofdag, a name given to the day when peace was brokered between two disputatious factions.

I have written elsewhere about their first offering, Loveday Falmouth Dry[1], which was launched in April 2021 and was so favourably received that they were emboldened to add a second to their range, in the autumn of that year, Loveday Golden Hour Gin. As well as an attempt to spread peace and harmony, it was their paean to the golden hour when the combination of warm light and long shadows makes social occasions all the more rewarding.

They have retained the same elegant, clear cylindrical bottle with a high neck, rounded shoulders, and a short neck leading to a fat lip, a broad wooden top and cork stopper. The elegance is enhanced by the narrow labelling and the decision to allow the writing to run vertically from top to bottom. There is a sort of chemist’s laboratory bottle feel about it.

The typeface at the front is fresh and contemporary, laconically providing the necessary information – ABV of 45%, principal botanicals of grapefruit, pink peppercorn, and cardamom, and that my bottle is from batch no 7 and distilled by Daisy. The rear label lapses more into marketese and apart from the brand name and QR code, the script runs horizontally, making it easier to read.

The spirit itself is a tawny pink colour and if I was taxonomically inclined, I would categorise it as a pink gin. Fortunately, the juniper is strong enough to make its presence felt and is complemented by the warmth of the pink peppercorn, the zestiness of the grapefruit feel and the subtle floral notes. Sensibly, by distilling to an ABV of 45% and resisting the temptation to add extra sweetness, they have allowed their chosen botanicals the opportunity to emerge in their full glory to produce a complex, bitter-sweet, slightly floral spirit that grows on you.

My securing a bottle of this delightful gin began in a pub, the wonderful Trengilly Wartha in Nancenoy in deepest Cornwall. My wife and I met three women there purely by chance, they were sharing my wife’s passion for knitting, and it turned out that they worked at the nearby Potager Garden, where Daisy Hillier was head chef before branching out into distilling. We decided to pay them a visit the following morning.

The site is on an abandoned nursery which is being tamed and turned into a series of delightful small gardens. Greenhouses have been turned into a café, vegetarian and seemingly popular with locals and visitors alike, and a sort of community hub with workshops and where events are held. It was a marvellously tranquil oasis in the middle of nowhere and, as an added attraction, the shop sells Loveday gins. It is the encapsulation of the spirit of Cornwall. What is there not to like?

Until the next time, cheers!

[1] https://windowthroughtime.wordpress.com/2021/09/09/loveday-falmouth-dry-gin/