Sunday, 28 December 2008

A Bunch of Amateurs

I read the other day that after watching A Bunch of Amateurs at the annual Royal Film Performance in November, the Queen enjoyed it so much that she asked for a DVD of it to be screened at Sandringham over Christmas. I worked as an extra (a doctor) during the Burt Reynolds starring film's last day of shooting in Surrey, England. There was that end of term feeling on set, actors on their last scenes and crew looking forward to a break after a succession of long days filming in the English winter. Here is my diary entry for that day.

Wednesday 19th March 2008
Filmed A Bunch of Amateurs as a doctor. Call time was 9.15am at Chertsey- not a good time as I'll hit the rush hour traffic on the motorway. Thought I'd better leave early so left home at 6.00 and got to the unit base far too early-7.30pm. No one was there apart from a night watchman, so read and semi-dozed in my car. Not feeling 100%- maybe its a cold I'm going down with. People started arriving at 9.00 and had breakfast at 10.00. I was careful with what I ate as I didn't want to have bacon, tomato, baked beans etc staining my doctor's white coat, as happened when I was previously a doctor. (When filming the comedy Green Wing as a doctor, to the costume department's great displeasure, I managed to squeeze the contents of the inside of a doughnut all over my white coat!) I didn't really feel like a fried breakfast anyway so went for a more healthy option.
I was booked to do one scene. I was hoping it would be with Burt Reynolds- its not everyday one gets to work with (even if its only sort of working with) a Hollywood screen legend. However he wasn't in my scene, but I did get to see him being escorted to the make up trailer and it was difficult to pretend to be looking in his direction in a casual way, rather than staring at him like a stalker. After being an extra for several years I'm quite blase about seeing famous people, but this is BURT REYNOLDS we are talking about.
My scene was with Samantha Bond whom I told another extra was Miss Moneypenny in James Bond, then afterwards wondered if I was getting her confused with someone else as she shares the same surname as 007. Whilst Samantha Bond has a conversation with Richard James who is playing a doctor, I was asked to go up to another extra, who was a patient sitting in the waiting room, mime to her 'come with me' and lead her away (presumably to my consulting room). My bit in the background seemed to go OK, the assistant director didn't ask me to do anything different, which was a good sign. I wonder if the scene will be there on the final edit, it didn't seem to be a particularly important one, though because I was concentrating on my oh so important bit (ha ha!), I didn't take in what the two actors were conversing about.
I got wrapped at 3.15, had lunch (now I've changed out of my white doctor's coat, I was able to relax and not care how much of the meat and gravy lands on me) & got home at 5.10 missing the traffic. Still feeling iffy so crashed out in front of the TV and watched the football.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Prince Albert- A Trivial Biography

Young Victoria- a movie telling the story of the turbulent first years of Queen Victoria's rule, and her enduring romance with Prince Albert is due to be released March 2008. I was booked for a day's filming for the scene showing her coronation but a number of the extras, including me, got chopped for budgetary reasons. I'm not bitter however and I thought I'd take a trivial look at the life of Queen Vic's beloved Bertie.

NAME Prince Albert. Full name Francis Charles Augustus Albert Emmanuel

WHAT FAMOUS FOR The Prince Consort and Husband of Queen Victoria
"A is Prince Albert once buxom and keen
Who came from Germany and got spliced to the Queen."
(Alphabetical Song on the Corn Law Bill-anon)

BIRTH b1819 in the German duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield

FAMILY BACKGROUND Albert was the second son of the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. His family were connected to many of Europe's ruling monarchs. When Albert was four, his mother ran off with a German Baron. Albert and his elder brother, Ernest, spent their youth in a close companionship scarred by their parents' turbulent marriage and eventual separation; their adored mother, exiled from court and barred from seeing her children again due to her affair, died young, at the age 31, of cancer.

EDUCATION Albert received a good education, before attending the University of Bonn. There he studied natural science, political economy, and philosophy. His teachers included the philosopher Fichte and the poet Schlegel. He also studied music and painting and excelled in sports, especially in fencing and riding.
After Prince Albert's death Framingham School in Suffolk was founded as a memorial to him. I know that as my father was educated there.

CAREER RECORD As Prince Consort Albert had no status in the constitution and he occupied a somewhat irregular position. A lacky filling in the census form for the royal family described his job as "husband." However, Albert was a hard worker throughout his time in England, writing endless memos to all and sundry. A more accurate job description would have been Advisor and Private Secretary to the Queen.
Among the entries on his CV would have been
1841 Appointed Head of Commission to encourage the fine arts in Britain.
1847 Elected Chancellor of Cambridge University.
1851 Planned the Great Exhibition which made a profit of £186,000. It had 13,500 exhibitions and constituted at its time the largest assembly of people collected together for one purpose.

APPEARANCE Moustache and receding hairline. Large blue eyes. Dark hair. Broad shouldered. Victoria described him aged 20 as "beautiful blue eyes, exquisite nose and such a pretty mouth with delicate moustachios and slight but very slight whiskers."

FASHION Albert originated a fashion for wearing a watch chain across a waistcoat from one pocket hole to the other.
The traditional black band on a Panama hat was added in mourning for Prince Albert after he died. Its been retained ever since.

CHARACTER Very sensible, hard working, efficient, erm typically German. Attentive, kind, trustworthy and a little bit priggish.
Victoria on Albert "He is an angel and his kindness and affection to me is really touching." Aah!

RELATIONSHIPS The idea of a marriage between Albert and his first cousin Victoria had always been cherished by their uncle, King Leopold I of Belgium, as well as Victoria's mother (Leopold's sister), Victoire, Duchess of Kent, and in May 1836 Albert, along with his father and brother paid a visit to Kensington Palace, where Princess Victoria of Kent, as she then was, lived, for the purpose of meeting her.
The visit did not by any means suit Victoria's uncle, King William IV, who disapproved of the match with his heir, and favoured Prince Alexander of Orange. But Princess Victoria knew of Leopold's plan, and William's objections went for naught.
In her diary Princess Victoria noted that she was attracted by his intellect and also by his “exquisite nose and delicate moustachios.” The parties undertook no formal engagement, but privately understood the situation as one which would naturally develop in time.
After Victoria came to the throne on June 20th 1837, her letters show her interest in Albert's being educated for the part he would have to play. In the winter of 1838 - 1839 the prince travelled in Italy, accompanied by the Queen's confidential adviser.
In October 1839 he and Ernest went again to England to visit the Queen, with the object of finally settling the marriage. She summoned Albert one afternoon and with characteristic directness proposed marriage herself as she was sure Albert would never have taken such a liberty as to propose to the Queen of England. They became definitely engaged on October 15th 1839 and the Queen made a formal declaration of her intention to marry to the Privy Council on November 23rd.
They were married in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace on 10th February 1840 and had a two day honeymoon at Windsor Castle. It proved to be a good match and the couple were devoted to each other.
Victoria and Albert had nine children together. Apparently every fifth child born in this world is Chinese. However none of Albert's were. How strange.

FINANCIAL MATTERS Albert was astute financially, making a lot of money for the royal family. Their fortune today originated from Albert's efforts. For instance, the estates of the Duchy of Cornwall, the hereditary property of his son, the Prince of Wales, improved so greatly under his father's management that the rent receipts rose from £11,000 pounds to £50,000 per year. If Albert was alive today, he'd be very old, but would his financial skills would have come in handy in this current turbulent economic climate.

FOOD AND DRINK Victoria and Albert's wedding cake was 9 feet around, weighed 300 pounds and was 14 inches high. It was served at the wedding breakfast.
A giant wheel of Cheddar cheese was given to the Queen for a wedding gift. It weighed 1,200 pound and two Somerset villages combined to make it.

MUSIC AND ARTS Albert had very good taste in art, far better than his missus. The 1911 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica illustrates his sense of the artistic . "One day the prince had a conversation with a great manufacturer of crockery and sought to convert him to the idea of issuing something better than the eternal willow-pattern in white with gold, red, or blue, which formed the staple of middle and lower class domestic china. The manufacturer held out that new shapes and designs would not sell; but the Prince Consort induced him to try, and he did so with such a rapid success that it revolutionised the china cupboards of Britain."
Albert was also a talented composer of both sacred pieces such as Te Deum in C, which was sang at Victoria's 60th celebration anniversary celebration of her reign and various piano songs that were said to be reminiscent of Mendelssohn and Schubert.

CHRISTMAS Prince Albert, introduced the German habit of erecting a Christmas tree. Published pictures, that were featured in the Illustrated London News, of the Royal Family around a Christmas tree draped with candles, presents and sweets, proved influential in igniting the spark of modern Christmas celebration as a family event.
Christmas pudding became a proper tradition in the 19th century when Prince Albert, a fan, introduced it to the royal Christmas.

PETS Albert and Victoria had a dog called Eos.

HOBBIES AND SPORTS Albert had a special interest in education and science and was the inspiration behind the Science Museum in London. His interest in applying science and art to manufacturing industry bore fruit in the 1851 Great Exhibition. The surplus of £186,000 that the Great Exhibition raised, resulted in a number of educational and cultural institutions. These included what would later be named the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Royal Albert Hall, which was originally conceived by him as a hall of art & sciences.

PHILOSOPHY & THEOLOGY Albert had a non denominational, relaxed attitude to religion. He stressed good works rather than professions of faith.
Many credit Prince Albert with introducing the principle that the British Royal Family should remain above politics. Before his marriage to Victoria the Royal Family supported the Whigs; early in her reign Victoria managed to thwart the formation of a Tory government by Sir Robert Peel by refusing to accept substitutions which Peel wanted to make among her ladies-in-waiting.

SCANDAL Originally British people were suspicious of Albert because of his German connections. A satirical verse at the time went:
"I am a German just arrived
With you to be mingling
My passage it was paid
From Germany to England
To wed your blooming Queen
For better or worse I take her
My father is a duke
And I'm a sausage maker."
Later on opinion was divided between those who regarded him as a meddling foreigner and those who valued his hard work.

MILITARY RECORD Albert showed his bravery by shielding the Queen when an assassin shot at her in an open carriage.
Though the English parliament refused to give the German Prince Consort a rank in the army, he did help reorganise the army training plan during the Crimean War and played a principal part in averting war with the USA in 1861.

HOMES Albert grew up Ehrenburg Palace in Coburg, Germany. Once married to Victoria they lived in a fairly posh abode- Windsor Castle
Their winter home was Osbourne Castle on the Isle of Wight. Albert designed it, together with Thomas Cubitt, as an Italian villa.

TRAVEL Albert and Victoria loved the Highlands of Scotland and brought Balmoral Castle rebuilding it in Scottish baronial style. The British Royal Family still spend some time each year there.

HEALTH AND PHYSICAL FITNESS Albert drove himself too hard trying to win over the public and his health consequently suffered. He had a chronic inability to stay awake once it got to late evening, which lead to a number of embarrassing incidents at various public functions.

DEATH Prince Albert died in 1861 of typhoid fever at Windsor Castle. He had gone up to Cambridge to admonish the future Edward VIII against laziness and fell ill there. The Queen’s court physician, Sir James Clarke, originally diagnosed no more than a nasty cold. It was only after the death of the Prince Consort that Clarke admitted that in hindsight maybe there were typhoid symptoms. Every day for 40 years after his death, Victoria ordered that Albert's clothes be laid afresh on his bed in his suite at Windsor Castle. Queen Victoria never really recovered from his death and was in continual mourning. The Albert memorial is a shrine to his memory at Windsor Castle.
Later Victoria was buried alongside him at Frogmore, Berkshire.

APPEARANCES IN MEDIA Among the films in which Prince Albert has been portrayed are: Victoria the Great 1937 Played by Anton Walbrook
Sixty Glorious Years 1938 Played by Anton Walbrook (again)
The Lady with a Lamp 1951 Played by Peter Graves
Young Victoria 2009 Played by Rupert Friend

ACHIEVEMENTS 1. The title of Prince Consort of Great Britain was conferred in 1857 on Albert
2. Albert is the only British Consort to have had a memorial (Albert Memorial) and a public building (Royal Albert Hall) dedicated to his name.
3. Prince Albert in Central Saskatchewan, Canada, was named after him, as was Lake Albert in Africa .
4. The Albert is a short kind of watch, which was named after Queen Victoria's hubby.

Sources The Faber Book of English History in Verse by Kenneth Baker, People's Almanac Presents the Book of Lists #3 by Amy Wallace, David Wallechinsky and Irving Wallace, The Daily Mail December 23, 2008, Food For Thought (Extraordinary Little Chronicles of the World) by, erm, me and a few bits were nicked from Wikipedia

Sunday, 14 December 2008

The First Christmas Cards

Christmas cards began with a lazy aristocrat and publisher Sir Henry Cole. In 1843 he sent some cards with a short message instead of the common practice of the time of writing seasonal messages on calling cards or in personal letters to relatives and friends. The recipients of his cards were insulted because it seemed they didn’t warrant the usual full and affectionate Christmas letter. Church authorities and temperance adherents also objected because some cards showed members of family groups drinking wine and jolly citizens brandishing brandy glasses . Soon Cole was selling them for a shilling each but they didn’t take off until later in the century when they cost up to five guineas a piece. By 1870 The Times was denouncing them as a “social evil”. But the Christmas card habit was now established.

A Short History of Christmas

For the first few centuries after Jesus' time on Earth, the Church paid little attention to the celebration of His birth. Nevertheless, as Christians increasingly commemorated the events of theie Saviour's life, the issue of the date of His birth became more prominent. However as Scripture at no point mentioned when He was actually born, early Christian teachers suggested various possible dates.
The Christian historian Sextus Julius Africanus, in 221, was possibly the first to nominate the 25th of December. He did this by identifying the spring equinox (March 25th) as the date of the creation of light on the 4th day of creation and by reasoning that Jesus’ conception was the same date, 5500 years later, and His birth being nine months after that, December 25th.
In 350 Pope Julius I designated December 25th as the day to celebrate Christ’s birth. He did so mainly as a political move to counteract the effect of Saturnalia, the popular feast held in honor of the Roman god Saturn, which occurred at the time of the winter solstice, climaxing on December 25th, a Roman holiday. December 25th also was a celebration of the birthday of the Persian sun god Mithra. It was hoped that by picking this date Christianity would be more appealing to pagans. 25th December was formally fixed by the church in AD440 and at first the festival was known as ‘The Feast of the Nativity’. Later it was called ‘Christ Mass’ which was eventually shortened to “Christmas.”
Christmas began to be widely celebrated with a specific liturgy in the 9th century butfor many centuries it did not attain the liturgical importance of either Good Friday or Easter Sunday, the other two major Christian holidays.
Throughout the Middle Ages, various laws were passed to encourage the celebration of Christ's birth. For instance in 1551 the English Protestant King Edward VI’s Holy Days and Fasting Days Act demanded that every citizen must attend a Christian church service on Christmas Day and must walk to church. Also the Unlawful Games Act of 1541prohibited all sport on Christmas Day, with the exception of archery practice. Another law passed around this time was forbidding the making of mince pies or eating Christmas pudding on Christmas Day. This law was decreed by Henry VIII, which seems a bit rich coming from a king historically famed for his gastronomic appetite.
In mid 17th century England, Christmas celebrations had become increasingly rowdy and the puritan Oliver Cromwell and his Parliament felt that Christmas, like the other religious holidays were unscriptural. They reasoned that such days took away from the Sabbath, which God had given to Christians as a special day to celebrate God's work in Christ, so they abolished Christmas and declared it to be an ordinary working day. Soldiers were ordered to go round the streets and confiscate food being cooked for a Christmas celebration and to arrest those taking part. However many churches ignored the edict and entire congregations were detained. After the death of Cromwell and the restoration of King Charles II, Christmas was restored.
Meanwhile, in America, Christmas was not celebrated by the early settlers, who were mainly Puritans. In 1659 in Boston, Christmas was banned, with any one found guilty of observing Christmas or any other religious holiday being made liable to pay a fine of five shillings. The ban lasted for over 20 years before being repealed.
Although Charles Dickens is always associated with Christmas, when he was born in 1812, it was a very minor festival. This was due to the Industrial Revolution, which started in the second half of the 18th century. Christmas had been the great festival of the traditional village community and as this community broke up, so its festivities began to lose their meaning. However, with stories such as The Christmas Carol, Dickens became a successful protagonist for the Victorian middle-class philanthropic view that Christmas should be reinvented as a season of goodwill. Around the same time Queen Victoria's German husband, Prince Albert, introduced the teutonic habit of erecting a Christmas tree. Published pictures, that were featured in the Illustrated London News of the Royal Family around a Christmas tree draped with candles, presents and sweets, proved influential in igniting the spark of modern Christmas celebration as a family event.
In America, by the mid 1850s, rigid puritanical attitudes opposing Christmas had softened and many Americans were adopting the recent English custom of celebrating Christmas in a big way with cards, a tree and other associated paraphernalia. In 1870 Christmas was declared a federal holiday by the United States Congress.
Christmas Day began to be marked in something like its present form in England after the First World War, but public services only started to close down entirely for Dec 25th in the late 1950s, the time when Christmas with all the trimmings became the family norm. It wasn’t until 1958 that Scotland began to celebrate Christmas Day as a national holiday.
Today many complain that Christmas is now an overly commercialised festival. The celebration of the birth of Christ has become a mega-bucks business. In Britain families spend an average of £125 on food and each person £240 on gifts. Sadly, many are caught up in the stream of partying, gift buying, eating and drinking, with barely a thought for the origins of this special day.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

The words to “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” were written by Charles Wesley, the brother of the founder of Methodism John Wesley. He was inspired by the sounds of London church bells whilst walking to church on Christmas Day. The poem first appeared in Hymns and Sacred Poems in 1739 with the opening line of “Hark, how the welkin (heaven) rings”. Wesley’s evangelist colleague, George Whitefield, altered it to the familiar opening line over the protests of the author in 1753. Then in 1760 the Reverend Martin Madan substituted lines seven and eight, to what we know today.
The tune was originally composed by Felix Mendelssohn in 1840 for the second chorus "Gott ist Licht" ("God is Light"), of the cantata Festgesang ("Festival Song"). Festgesang was written by the German composer to commemorate Johann Gutenberg and the invention of printing. Mendelssohn died in 1847 and in 1855 Dr William Cummings, who was an enthusiast of the German composer, put the words and music together in spite of the fact that Mendelssohn had made it clear that his music was not be used for sacred purposes. Additionally Wesley had envisaged his words being sung to the same tune as his Easter hymn, "Christ the Lord is Risen Today." However it is Mendelssohn’s tune, which is the one generally used today.
Charles Wesley was a prolific hymn writer, penning over 6000 hymns, more than any other male writer. (Fanny Crosby wrote 8000). Wesley had the ability of expressing sublime truth in simple ways, his motivation in writing his hymns being to teach the poor and illiterate good doctrine. His brother, John Wesley claimed that Charles’ hymnal was the best theological book in existence. It is said Methodism was born in song and Charles was the chief songwriter. Amongst the hymns Charles Wesley wrote were, “O For A Thousand Tongues”, “Love Divine All Loves Excelling” and “Jesus, Lover of my Soul.”
Originally written for

O Come All Ye Faithful

This carol is generally attributed to John Wade, a British exile living in France after fleeing the Jacobean rebellion. He earned a living by teaching music and copying plain chant and hymn manuscripts for private use. Around 1741 Wade put the Latin text of “Adeste Fideles” to music and later included it in his 1751 publication of Cantus Diversi. There are conflicting theories that Wade wrote the original text of “Adeste Fideles” himself or took the words from an anonymous Latin Hymn, written by monks, possibly as early as the 13th century. The original four verses of the hymn were later extended to a total of eight, (the eighth verse is rarely sung), three of them probably by Abbé Etienne Jean François Borderies. It is thought that Abbé Borderies heard the hymn sung while exiled in England during the French Revolution and wrote the three additional stanzas after he returned to France in 1794. In 1853 the familiar English translation first appeared, attributed to the Reverend Frederick Oakeley.
Oakeley was ordained into the Church of England in 1828, switching to Roman Catholicism in 1845. He was appointed canon at Westminster Cathedral in 1852 and for many years he worked among the poor of Westminster. Small of stature, lame and short-sighted, he did not look like a charismatic person, but his writings, charm and personality meant he exercised a wide influence. He is best remembered for his translation of “Adeste Fideles.”
This was originally written for the Songfacts website.

Good King Wenceslas

Good King Wenceslas is a popular Christmas carol, in which King Wenceslas is blessed for giving money to a poor peasant on St. Stephen's Day (26th December.) Unusually for a Christmas carol, the words do not refer to the Nativity.
In the middle of the nineteenth century John Mason Neale (Warden of Sackville College, East Grinstead, Sussex), a prolific reader and author came across a long narrative German poem about Wenceslas. A section in which the king walked out into the snow to rescue a poor swineherd particularly struck him. He adapted the poem into English and borrowed the tune to go with it from "Tempus Adest Floridum" ("Spring has unwrapped her flowers"), a 13th century spring carol. “Good King Wenceslas” was included in an 1853 publication Carols for Christmas-tide, by Neale and the Rev. Thomas Helmore, (vice-Principal of St. Mark’s College, Chelsea).
The arrangement generally used for this carol today first appeared as in Christmas Carols New and Old (1871) by Sir John Stainer and the Reverend H.R. Bramley. Apart From "Good King Wenceslas," their compilation also included Stainer's arrangements of what were to become the standard versions of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," "The First Nowell," "I Saw Three Ships" and "What Child Is This,” among others.
The tale of King Wenceslas is based on a real person, Wenceslaus, the Duke of Bohemia, who in 935 gained control of Bohemia. Renowned for his piety, he took a vow of celibacy, founded many churches in Prague and elsewhere in the principality and spent much of his time in prayer and carrying out acts of piety. So great was his devotion that it is said he helped sow the corn and gather the grapes from which the bread and wine used at Mass was made. However his brother, Boleslaw and his supporters, murdered the good Wenceslaus on his way to Mass by hacking him to death at the church door. His people were outraged and regarded the martyred Duke as a saint. Neale in his adaptation upgraded Wenceslas to a king.
The story inspired much more than a carol. Neale was so touched by the quality of mercy in the tale he read that he founded the Society of St Margaret, which still offers care to the poor in their homes.
Originally written by myself for Songfacts

It Came Upon A Midnight Clear

The words for this American carol are based on a poem written by a young Unitarian minister in Massachusetts, Reverend Edmund Hamilton Sears (1810-1876), reportedly at the request of his friend and fellow minister, W. P. Lunt. It was first presented at his 1849 Sunday School Christmas celebration and was originally published on December 29th 1849 in a church magazine, The Christian Register. The poem was not the first Christmas poetry by Sears. He had written other Nativity lyrics and several books on religious topics. In addition, he was the editor for the Boston-based Monthly Religious Magazine from 1859 to 1871.
The following year, inspired by the poem, a friend of Sears, Richard Storrs Willis (1819-1900) adapted the words to a melody called "Carol", which he had written for the organ. Willis, who was an eminent editor and critic for the New York Tribune, had studied music in Europe as a young man, with, among others, Felix Mendelssohn, the composer of the music for “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”
Mendelssohn so much admired Willis’s work that he rearranged some of it for orchestra.
It could be claimed that this was the first Christmas song to be composed in the United States, which is today considered to be a standard. In the mid 1850s the Americans were only beginning to celebrate the Christmas traditions of their English forebears. The influence of works such as A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens were beginning to enthuse the American nation. Within twenty years other classic carols celebrating Christmas such as, "We Three Kings of Orient Are", "Jingle Bells", "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" and "O Little Town of Bethlehem" had been written in the United States.
(I originally wrote this for Songfacts).

Once In Royal David's City

The Irish children’s poet, Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895), wrote "Once In Royal David’s City." Cecil knew that children loved poetry and could memorise the great truths of scripture quickly and many of her poems were written to help make the Bible more understandable to them. In 1848 she published a volume of these hymns for children that has probably never been equalled. Amongst the hymns included in her collection were “There Is A Green Hill Far Away” and “All Things Bright and Beautiful” along with “Once In Royal David’s City.” Two years after her volume of children’s hymns was published, Cecil married William Alexander, a parish minister who later became a Bishop and then Archbishop of Ireland. In the early days of their marriage, they served a church in an impoverished rural area. Cecil did not just sit back and write poetry and weep for the needs of her poor neighbours. It is said “From one poor house to another, from one bed of sickness to another, from one sorrow to another, she went. Christ was ever with her and in her, and all felt her influence.” Later she gave the profits from her hymnbook to support handicapped children in the north of Ireland.
Originally posted on the Songfacts website.

Silent Night

Halfway through December 1818, the organ in St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, 11 miles north of Salzburg broke down. The curate, 26-year-old Josef Mohr, realised it couldn’t be repaired in time to provide music on Christmas Eve. He told his troubles to his friend Franz Gruber, who was an amateur composer. After unburdening himself, he gave Gruber a present, which was a poem that he had written two years previously. Gruber was so taken by the rhythm of the poem that he set it to music and, on Christmas Eve, there was music after all. Mohr played his guitar while the pair sang the song. It was the first public performance of "Stille Nacht" or as we know it "Silent Night". It is believed that the carol has been translated into over 300 languages around the world, and it is one of the most popular carols of all time.
Originally posted on the Songfacts website.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

A Short History of the Christmas Carol

The word “carol” originally meant a dance, especially a ring-dance accompanied by communal singing. They were sung during celebrations like Harvest Tide and the great annual festivals such as May Day, Easter and Christmas and they flourished between 1300 and 1550. Gradually the meaning changed so as to denote a merry song with a tune suggestive of dancing. Later in this period carols began to be sung in church, and to be specifically associated with Christmas. These songs had a strong tune and were written for for group singing. Such carols as "Angels from the Realms of Glory" and "The Twelve Days of Christmas" are amongst the oldest musical compositions still regularly sung. Also the original versions of familiar Christmas songs such as "God Rest You Merry Gentlemen" originated back then.
The carol disappeared swiftly and almost completely in countries where Protestant churches gained prominence after the Reformation. In such places it was largely replaced by the metrical psalm.
In Britain the carol retained its popularity until Oliver Cromwell's abolition of Christmas in the middle of the 17th century. For the next century and a half they remained largely forgotten except by country folk. However the middle classes grew concerned that the songs would be forgotten and lost forever. To counter this, antiquarians in the 1820s and 1830s began to compile collections of traditional carols. At the same time, inexpensive printed carol sheets and books, such as The Star of Bethlehem: a selection of excellent carols (1825) and The Evergreen: Carols for the Christmas Holidays (1830) became widely available. Medieval songs and even some from the eighteenth century, such as "O Come all Ye Faithful" and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing", were revived. New carols, such as "Once in Royal David's City", written by Mrs Cecil Frances Alexander in 1845, were also added to the repertoire.
Around the same time a revival began in continental Europe. Such works as "Silent Night" and "Cantique de Noel (O Holy Night)" helped to repopularise the carol. Meanwhile in mid 19th century America "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear" was the first Christmas song to be composed in the United States, which is today considered to be a standard. The Americans were only beginning to celebrate the Christmas traditions of their European cousins as works such as Dickens' A Christmas Carol were beginning to enthuse them. Within twenty years other classic carols celebrating Christmas such as "We Three Kings of Orient Are", "Jingle Bells", "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" and "O Little Town of Bethlehem" had been written in America.
Back in Britain, Sir John Stainer's collection, Christmas Carols New and Old, produced in collaboration with the Rev H.R. Bramley did much to consolidate the revival of the English carol. Stainer was the organist and Bramley the chaplain at Magdalen College, Oxford, when their book was published in 1871. Their compilation included Stainer's arrangements of what were to become the standard versions of “The First Nowell”, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen“, “I Saw Three Ships” and “Good King Wenceslas” amongst others.
It is these carols that were written or revived in the 19th century that are sung in modern times at Christian religious services during the build up to Christmas.

The Very First Package Tour

The very first package tour was organized by an English Baptist minister named Thomas Cook who on the 5th July 1841, for a return fare of 1 shilling, took a party of 570 people from Leicester to a temperance rally 11 miles away at Loughborough. He subsequently organized other package tours as part of his fight against the demon drink. Ironically enough one of the memorials to his name is the Thomas Cook Public House at Leicester, near where he lived.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

John Adams

In 1763 the daughter of a Congregational minister, Abigail, married John, who was the son of a farmer. The minister was so enraged that she was marrying beneath her that the lesson he read was from Luke 7 v33 “John came neither eating bread, nor drinking wine and some say he has a devil in him.” John Adams (1735-1826) later became the second president of the United States.

John Logie Baird

The son of a Scottish minister, John Logie Baird, (1888-1946) is known to us today for developing the world's first working television system. However not all his inventions were as successful. An inventor from a young age, as a boy Baird installed not only a telephone exchange in his father’s manse, but also a system of electric lighting, even entangling passing traffic in the wires. Later on he was forced to resign from his post of a supervising engineer for an electrical supply company in Glasgow when he apparently blacked out half of the city following a failed attempt to manufacture diamonds from coal dust. The Scot also invented an unsuccessful cure for piles which left him in severe pain for a week. A more profitable innovation was his 'Baird Undersock', damp-proof socks for cold Scottish feet, from which Baird earned a fair few pounds.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Was This Eleanor Rigby?

A document recently came to light that how Paul McCartney may have come up with the name Eleanor Rigby, one of the "lonely people" that he sung about in the famous song of the same name. In the early 1990s a lady named Annie Mawson had a job teaching music to children with learning difficulties. Annie managed to teach a severely autistic boy to play "Yellow Submarine", on the piano, which won him a Duke of Edinburgh Silver Award. She wrote to the former Beatle telling him what joy he’d brought. Months later, Annie received a brown envelope bearing a ‘Paul McCartney World Tour’ stamp. Inside was enclosed a page from an accounts log kept by the Corporation of Liverpool, which records the wages paid in 1911 to a scullery maid working for the Liverpool City Hospital, who signed her name "E. Rigby". There was no accompanying letter of explanation. Annie said in an interview that when she saw the name Rigby, “I realised why I'd been sent it. I feel that when you're holding it you're holding a bit of history.”

Lily the Pink

Those of a certain generation will probably recall The Scaffold's 1968 British number one hit "Lily the Pink." What I didn't realise was that Lily the Pink was an actual person, a 19th century pioneer in marketing herbal remedies for women. Here is some trivia that I sent to Songfacts earlier today.
The Scaffold were a group formed in Liverpool, England by comic John Gorman, poet Roger McGough and Mike McGear, who was later revealed to be Paul McCartney’s younger brother. They specialised in comic songs, such as this one, which was their only UK chart-topper. Scaffold achieved two other Top 10 hits “Thank U Very Much” and “Liverpool Lou.”
This was based on a bawdy folk song “The Ballad of Lydia Pinkham,” which was traditionally sung in changing rooms by rugby teams after matches. The trio wrote new lyrics for the tune; “Jennifer Eccles and her terrible freckles” were added because Graham Nash joined them in the studios at Abbey Road to contribute some backing vocals and the lyric alluded to Nash’s band, The Hollies,’ hit “Jennifer Eccles.” The verse about “Mr Frears and his sticky-out ears” related to film director Stephen Frears who in his younger days nearly destroyed the trio’s career with his inept directing of their comedy pieces during a tour. Scaffold extracted revenge by writing about his “sticky-out ears.” Frears went on to have a successful career, which included two Oscar nominations for Best Director, (1990 The Grifters and 2006 The Queen).
Nash was not the only well-known name to contribute to this track. A young Tim Rice, who at the time was a teaboy at Abbey Road studios, was a backing vocalist. He would later find fame as a lyricist for musicals such as Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita. Another young backing vocalist was a certain Reg Dwight, (before he adopted the name of Elton John). Jack Bruce played bass and according to his website Keith Moon was also present.
Mike McGear borrowed Ringo’s bass drum and covered it with his overcoat to get the thump, thump, thump sound right at the end of the song.
The French version of this song, “Le Sirop Typhon” by Richard Anthony, was also a hit selling 800,000 copies.
The real Lydia Pinkham was a 19th century seller of a commercially successful herbal "women's tonic," which was intended to relieve menstrual and menopausal pains. She used the slogan "A Baby in Every Bottle" to advertise her product. A pioneering businesswoman in a man’s world, in the late 19th century, Lydia Pinkham was a household name thanks to her a pioneering and innovative approach to marketing her herbal remedies to women.
The folk song that tells her story was the unofficial regimental song of the Royal Tank Corps during the Second World War. There is also a version by Ragtime revivalist Max Morath on his 1995 album Drugstore Cabaret.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

A Short History of Chinese Food

For many centuries in China rice was the basic food, eaten whole in the south and in the form of
flour in the north. But gradually Chinese food became more varied as different meats such as dog, duck, lamb, pork and venison were incorporated. As time went on, spices such as aniseed, ginger and peppers were increasingly used.
By the mid 19th century there were over 25,000 Chinese working on the American railroads. They ate exotic foods cooked by Chinese cooks such as cuttlefish, dried bamboo shoots and dried mushrooms. The locals were particularly intrigued by a dish made up of stewed vegetables and meat with fried noodles called Chow mein, (from the Mandarin Chinese “ch'ao mien”, meaning "fried noodles”).
Chinese food became popular with sophisticated Europeans and Americans in the 1920s because it was considered exotic. However it wasn't until after the Second World War that Asian cuisines began to interest the ordinary western consumer. In 1947 Jeno Paulucci made Chinese food, under the Chun King label, available in American supermarkets nationwide for the first time.
By the 1950s restaurants were springing up all over western Europe and America. However the typical menu bore little resemblance to the foods the Chinese themselves ate. Egg rolls, barbecued spare ribs and sweet-and-sour pork were some of the many dishes created to appeal to the western consumer’s palate.

The Bible- the Word of God or a bunch of fairy tales?

The Bible is the world's best selling and most popular book, selling over 40 million copies a year. It was written by a team of 40 writers, working independently, living in ten different countries, over a period of about 1600 years. However, though millions vouch for its historical and scientific accuracy, the majority see it as just a bunch of fairy stories, which science over the last few hundred years has shown just can’t be true, so its not relevant in today’s sophisticated 21st century culture (apart, maybe, from some elements of Jesus Christ's teachings). As a Christian, I personally believe that the Bible is God breathed and is His Word, so I have every faith in its accuracy and relevance. Here are some reasons why:

(a) Jesus Christ quoted from Scriptures and claimed them to be accurate. We read in the Gospel many examples of Christ quoting from the Old Testament, for instance in Matthew 22 v44 Jesus quoted Psalm 110 v1 in a theological conversation with the Pharisees over whether the Christ was the son of David. The Pharisees were silenced and Matthew goes on to state that no-one dared to ask him any more questions.

(b) The living witness of Christians who abide by it. The power of the Bible to sustain individuals is well illustrated by the experiences of many who managed to thwart communist brainwashing by mentally repeating scriptures during their ordeals. Among those who proved this was Geoffrey Bull, who in his book When Iron Gates Yield , graphically related how when under brutal mental torture in communist China, he found he could frustrate his torturers and prevent himself from cracking up, by concentrating on memorised passages from the Bible.
Also the Scriptures have a power to transform individuals. For instance the Malagasy Bible was completed in 1835 by the London missionary society before they fled for their lives. In the following 25 years without missionaries present in Malagasy that translation resulted in a growth from handfuls to thousands of believers in thriving churches.

(c) Archaeological proof. Nelson Glueck, a Jewish archaeologist once said that “It may be stated categorically that no archaeology discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference.” The earliest existing manuscripts of Plato’s work were written 1300 years after his death. The earliest existing manuscript of the New Testament was written late in 1st century AD- around 40/50 years after the death of Christ. A man called John Burgon has catalogued more than 86,000 citations of the New Testament in the writings of the early church fathers who lived before AD325. It is illogical that those who doubt the validity of the New Testament would never query the authenticity of the writings from ancient Greece.
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were dated 250BC to AD68 have also revealed the accuracy of the Jewish scribes when they copied the earlier Hebrew texts. The 14 copies of Isaiah found produced only about six agreed changes of a minor nature to the text as previously known.

(d) The fulfilment of prophecies. For instance there are about 300 in the Old Testament concerning Jesus, which were written about 700 BC. They were all fulfilled during His time on Earth, seven hundred years later. One example concerns the prophetic writing in Psalms 22 16-18, hundreds of years before the crucifixion of Christ: “Dogs have surrounded me. A band of evil men have encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I count all my bones: people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” St John reported the fulfilment of this prophecy in his Gospel, saying that when Jesus was hung up on the cross, the soldiers cast lots for his clothing.
There are many other fufilled prophecies in the Bible concerning other historical events. For instance, in 538BC Cyrus the king of Persia decreed that the Jewish exiles taken captive by the Babylonians could return to their land and rebuild Jerusalem and their temple. Remarkably well over a century previously, the prophet Isaiah had prophesied this in Isaiah 44 v24 in such detail that he even mentioned Cyrus by name.
Even in our own lifetime we are seeing prophecies fulfilled. It has been estimated that out of approx 650 prophecies concerning things of the future in the Bible all but around 40 have come about. The prophet Zephaniah for instance promises the scattered Jews “At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home:" And of course, after 2,000 years, in 1948, the Jews returned from all four corners of the earth to their homeland-Israel.

(e) The Survival of the Bible. The French sceptic and writer Voltaire forecast that “One hundred years from my day there will not be a Bible in the earth except one that is looked upon by an antiquarian curiosity seeker.” In fact 100 years after his death, the house in which Voltaire did most of his writing became the publishing house for the Geneva Bible Society.
In centuries past the reading of the Bible has often been outlawed. For instance in medieval Britain, the common man was forbidden to read the Bible himself. The Archbishop of Canterbury Arundel said of John Wycliffe’s English translation of the Bible in 1382. "That pest, lent and most wretched John Wycliffe of darnable memory a child of the old devil and himself a child or pupil of antichrist, who while he lived, walking in the vanity of his mind with a few other adjectives, adverbs and verbs which I shall not give crowned his wickedness by translating the scriptures into the mother tongue." It was dangerous to possess or even be found reading Wycliffe's New Testament and many of his followers were arrested and their Bibles destroyed. Some were burnt themselves with their Scriptures round their neck. This didn’t prevent the common man from wanting to read the Bible. When in 1540 at Archbishop Cranmer’s request, Henry VIII authorised that the Coverdale Bible be bought and read by all his subjects, there was a tremendous widespread excitement. So much in fact that the king was forced to draw back and issue regulations restricting the reading of the Bible to wealthy merchants and aristocrats. The historian GM Trevelyan says of the publication of the 1611 authorised version of the Bible. “For every Englishman who had read Sidney or Spenser, or who had seen Shakespeare acted at the Globe, there were hundreds who had read or heard the Bible with close attention as the words of God. The effect of the continual domestic study of the Bible upon the national character, imagination and intelligence for nearly 3 centuries to come, was greater than that of any literary movement in our annals, or any religious movement since the coming of St Augustine.”
Today, in many communist and Islamic countries where the Bible is outlawed, Christians continue to hang on to their Bibles, treating it as a precious possession, despite the risk that entails. Why would they do this this if its just a bunch of fairy tales?

(f) As a former accountant I’m fascinated by the numerology of the Bible. Traditionally Greek and Hebrew numbers all applied to a letter (Alpha =1, Beta =2 etc). Also in the Bible numbers have a meaning, for instance 8 =resurrection. Interestingly if you convert the letters that make up the word ‘Jesus’ and add up the numbers they come to 888-the resurrection number. Additionally there are 8 examples of resurrection in the Bible. Another example is that 7 in the Bible is traditionally known as the divine number. And in the scriptures the sentences are made up of an abnormally high amount of combinations of 7s. No normal man could write a ‘story’ with such a high combination of 7s.

(g) The accuracy of the science in the Bible. Unlike the many magical and folk medical treatments being used by the rest of the world, the ancient Hebrews used innovative health techniques given to them by God based on science, milleniums before the nature of contagious diseases was understood. In the Book of Leviticus, for instance, one reads that a person with an infectious disease was instructed to wear torn clothes, let their hair go unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out “unclean, unclean.” They had to live alone away from anyone else, the first ever example of quarantine. These innovative rituals were to prevent others coming near and catching any contagious diseases for fear of starting an epidemic. About 3,000 years later at the time of the renaissance it was noticed how the Jews seemed to be less prone to falling sick to plagues. It was then that the rest of the world caught up with the fact epidemics could be prevented by quarantining anyone with an infectious disease.

(h) 40 different writers wrote the Bible over a space of 150 years- yet it flows and remains consistent with the same message containing the remarkable numerology and fulfilled prophecies.

I will conclude my case for the bible with a quote from Abraham Lincoln. “I am profitably engaged in reading the Bible. Take all of this book for what reason you can accept and take the rest on faith and you will live and die a much better man.”

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

There But For The Grace Of God Goes I

John Bradford (1510-1555), an English Protestant had the habit of saying, when he saw criminals going to their execution, “But for the grace of God, there goes John Bradford”, which is where the saying, “There but for the grace of God goes I” originated.
Such was his generous attitude to others that Bradford was known as "Holy Bradford.” After being arrested in the early days of the Catholic Queen Mary’s reign under a trivial charge, Bradford was burned at the stake as a heretic. He was chained to the stake with another young martyr, John Leaf. As always he was thinking of others and concerned about his frightened fellow-martyr, he turned to him with these words, "Be of good comfort brother; for we shall have a merry supper with the Lord this night!"

Sunday, 2 November 2008

The Origins of Tomato Ketchup

Ketchup, or catsup, originated in China in 1690 as a pickled fish sauce called “ke-tsiap”. British sailors took Asian catsup or ketchup from Singapore to England but the British were unable to duplicate the recipe so they started substituting other ingredients, including ground mushrooms, walnuts, and cucumbers. Later the first recipe for "tomato catsup" appeared.

The Canterbury Tales

In 1400 Geoffery Chaucer (c1340-1400) died, having failed to complete his 14 year old project, The Canterbury Tales. In ten fragments, 17,000 lines long, this was a collection of tales, written in English prose and verse told by different pilgrims (including Chaucer himself). They met at Tabard Inn, Southwark then told their stories on their way to Thomas Becket's tomb in Canterbury. By the time of Chaucer death twenty-four tales had been told. The English poet had intended 31 pilgrims would tell two tales each on their way to Canterbury and another two on their way back. Despite not completing it, The Canterbury Tales became the best known and most innovative piece of medieval English literature.

Here are six reasons why Chaucer why was the greatest and most influential English poet of the Middle Ages:

(1) Chaucer produced the first real English poetry. Many call him the Father of English poetry & English literature.

(2) The popularity of Chaucer's work, especially during his spell as court poet, ensured the dominance of the southern English dialect (London area) in literature.

(3) Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde (1385) is a tragic, witty love story adapted from a Boccaccio romance. Some have called it the first modern novel, so complex is it's characterisation.

(4) Among the phrases we use today that Chaucer originated are:

"Thanne is it wisdom as it thinketh me to make virtu of necessitee." Canterbury Tales Knights Tale 3v11 (The origin of "necessity is the mother of virtue.")

"Winsinge she was , as is a jolly colt/ Long as a mast and upright as a bolt." Canterbury Tales Miller's Tale 7v7 (The origin of "upright as a bolt.")

"Whoso first cometh to the mill/ First grint." Canterbury Tales The Wife of Bath prologue. (The origin of "first come first serve.")

"It is not good a sleeping haind to wake/ Nor yeve a wight a cause to devyne." From Troilus and Criseyde. The origin of, "let sleeping dogs lie.")

(5) On 8th July 1998 a first edition of Canterbury Tales was sold for £4,621,500. A little bit more than the paperback Penguin edition. This broke the record for the most expensive book.

(6) William Caxton, who introduced the printing press to England, evidently was an admirer of Chaucer. He described the poet as "The worshipful fader and first fondeur and embellisher of ornate eloquence in our englissh."

The Very First International Game of Rugby

1871 saw the first international rugby game at a time when teams still consisted of 20 players each side. It was played between England and Scotland at Raeburn Place in Edinburgh, in front of a crowd of 4000, who paid an entrance fee of one shilling each. Scotland won by one goal and one try to one goal. There were no penalty goals, as it was accepted that gentlemen would not cheat.
The try was awarded after a 10 minute argument, leading to a famous aphorism by Dr. H.H. Almond, the Scottish referee: "I must say, however, that when an umpire is in doubt, I think he is justified in deciding against the side which makes the most noise. They are probably in the wrong."

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

How The Word 'Beggar' Came Into Being.

A 12th century Flemish priest Lambert le Bègue, (d c1187), was deeply perturbed by the pitiful sight of the many destitute wives and children of men who had lost their lives during the Second Crusade. He made it his special mission to assist such homeless widows and orphans. To house them, he established refuges all over the area. It did not take long for them to be called after the priest who had done so much for them, to be referred to as a Bèghard. That is how the word “beggar” came into the world.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

The Biggest Ever Win

This little piece about the biggest ever winning margin in a football game is taken from an article I did for the Scotland Magazine titled "50 Things You Didn't Know About Scotland."
Arbroath F.C. holds the world record for the largest winning margin in a senior football match, 36-0, in their Scottish Cup match against a scratch team from Aberdeen Bon Accord. On a wet day at Gayfield, 13-goal John Petrie led the rampant home team, a feat which is still recognised as the highest by one man in a single game.
Meanwhile 20 miles away Dundee Harp ran them close by beating Aberdeen Rovers 35-0 on the same day.
The man who refereed the Bon Accord game, Dave Stormont, revealed in a newspaper article many years later, that the Lichties could actually have won 43-0. He said: “My only regret was that I chalked off seven goals, for while they may have looked doubtful from an offside point of view, so quickly did the Maroons carry the ball from midfield, and so close and rapid was their passing, that it was very doubtful whether they could be offside”.

An Anglican Worshipper's View of Mary the Mother of Jesus

This is a talk I gave at my Anglican church on 21st March 2004, which was Mother's Day.

Through the many centuries of church history, the mother of Jesus has achieved a status second only to Jesus himself in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and other churches. She has been the focus of much debate and the subject of some of the greatest art in the Western world. Many of the finest medieval cathedrals are dedicated to her—including the Gothic masterpiece in Chartres, France.
In some denominations she has been venerated and worshipped, while in others she has been almost entirely ignored.
(1) Mary was young, poor and female, all characteristics that to the people of her day would make her unusable by God for any major task. But God chose Mary for one of the most important acts of obedience he has ever demanded of anybody.
A young unmarried girl who became pregnant risked disaster. Unless the father of the child agreed to marry her, she would probably remain unmarried for life. If her own father rejected her, she could be forced into begging or prostitution in order to earn her living. And Mary, with her story about being made pregnant by the Holy Spirit, risked being considered crazy as well. Still Mary said, despite the possible risks, “May it be to me as you have said”. When Mary said that, she didn’t know about the tremendous opportunity she would have.” She only knew that God was asking her to serve him & she willingly obeyed. Mary was obedient to God.
God’s announcement of a virgin born was believed by Mary. She believed the angel’s words & agreed to bear the child, even under humanly impossible circumstances. Mary was a woman of faith.
Mary worshipped God in a beautiful way. In Luke 1 v46-55 we see the Magnificat, when Mary proclaimed “My soul glorifies the Lord & my spirit rejoices in God my saviour”. This beautiful lyrical poem is called the Magnificat as that is the first word in the Latin translation of the passage and her song of praise to the Lord has been used as the basis for much choral music and hymns. The Magnificat also shows that despite being just a young country woman, Mary had a good knowledge of the Old Testament as it corresponds to the song of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2 v 1-10 and it also quotes liberally from various Psalms. William Wordsworth declared this to be what all lyrical poetry should be “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling”. Mary knew the Old Testament thoroughly and many portions especially the lyrical portions such as the song of Hannah, of by heart. That is why their language became the natural vehicle of her praises.
(2)Mary had confidence in her Son. An example being when Mary plus Jesus and his disciples were attending a wedding in Cana. When they ran out of wine, an embarrassing situation, which broke the strong unwritten laws of hospitality Jesus’ mother, looked to her son to solve this major problem. She said to the servants “Do whatever he tells you”. As I’m sure you recall from your Sunday school days Jesus solved the problem by turning water into wine.
(3) Mary was the one person to be with Jesus from birth to death. We see in John 19 v 25-26 at the cross of Jesus stood Mary the wife of Clopas, Mary Magdalene, his aunt and Mary herself. When Jesus saw his mother there and John standing nearby he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son", and to John “Here is your mother” and from that time on John took her into his home. Even after the ascension, Mary along with other women joined together with the disciples in the upper room to pray.

So how did Mary come to be so venerated and indeed worshipped in some denominations? Probably the earliest allusion to Mary in Christian literature is the phrase “born of woman” in Galatians 4:4, which was written before any of the Gospels. This was the only vague reference to Mary that St Paul made. The term itself was intended to establish that Jesus was fully human in contrast to the teaching of some that he did not have a completely human life. Both Luke and Matthew tell of the birth of Jesus in detail (Whether or not the story of the Annunciation in the first chapter of Luke is intended to suggest a similar parallel between Eve and Mary, this did soon become a theme of Christian reflection.) Writing at about the end of the 2nd century, the Church Father Irenaeus elaborated the parallel between Eve, who, as a virgin, had disobeyed the word of God, and Mary, who, also as a virgin, had obeyed it.
Of Mary's later life nothing is known. There is a tradition, probably from the 2nd century, that she went to live in Ephesus in Asia Minor. The veneration of the Virgin Mary possibly started there when the worship of the Roman goddess Diana, or Greek Artemis, whose great temple stood in Ephesus was transferred to Mary. This may have happened when paganism was outlawed and pagan temples destroyed in the 4th century.
The first widespread theological controversy over Mary had to do with the propriety of applying to her the title of Theotokos, meaning “God-bearer” or “mother of God.” The title seems to have arisen in devotional usage, probably in Alexandria, sometime in the 3rd or 4th century; it was a logical deduction from the doctrine of the full deity of Christ, which was established as a dogma during the 4th century. The original aim of the title “bearer of God” for Mary was to honour the divine son. By the end of the 4th century, the Theotokos had successfully established itself in various sections of the church. Because it seemed to him that the supporters of the title were blurring the distinction between the divine and the human in Christ, Nestorius, the patriarch of Constantinople, objected to its use, preferring the less explicit title Christotokos, meaning “Christ-bearer” or “mother of Christ.” Along with other aspects of his teaching, Nestorius' objections were condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431 & Mary was solemnly declared to be the mother of God. In the Eastern churches this doctrine played a major devotional role and became a favorite subject for icon painters.
After Mary was declared to be mother of God at the Council of Ephesus, most theologians began to doubt that one who had been so close to God could have actually experienced sinful acts. In the 12th century the British theologian Duns Scotus asserted that she was free of sin from the moment of conception. Hence arose the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, which became a dogma (something that must be believed) in the Roman Catholic Church in 1854.
The growth of popular devotion in the 12th century greatly advanced the role of the Virgin Mary. She became the “universal mother” the great intercessor with her divine son. The story of mother and son had great human appeal. Mary’s appeal was as the beloved mother and protectress of all men. No sin was too dreadful, no transgression too vile to escape her compassionate pleading with her son on behalf of the sinner. The introduction from the East of the rosary with its prayers to the virgin gave additional support to her cult in the West. Peasants, knights and kings begged her help and she became a romantic obsession. With the rise of the tradition of chivalry, Mary became the focus of a romantic cult that is difficult for the modern mind to appreciate. The great Gothic cathedrals cannot be fully understood until it is recalled that they were built partly as trophies for a beautiful woman, forever young, for ever kind.
In late medieval Europe religion became more personal, more individual. The suffering Christ replaced God, the stern judge. The pitiful Virgin Mary became more human and the cult of the Virgin became increasingly popular. Shrine after shrine was dedicated to her throughout Europe. The use of the rosary, the “Hail, Mary” and feasts of the Virgin became increasingly popular.
The Assumption of Mary into Heaven is the most recent dogma to be proclaimed. about Mary. Again around the 12th century most Roman Catholics had come to believe that Mary was taken up to heaven body and soul into heaven at the end of her earthly life. By the 1860s many were petitioning that this belief be stated as a dogma. The church was at first reluctant to do so because there is no evidence for such a teaching either in the New Testament or in early church history. In 1950 Pope Pius XII finally confirmed the dogma, leaving open the question as to whether she had died first.
With the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century came the teaching that the believer came into direct relation and union with Christ, as the one, only all-sufficient source of grace. His grace is available to the penitent believer by the power of the Holy Spirit, through the preaching of the Word of God. This meant Protestant churches could do away with the need for the Virgin as mediator between the sinner and Christ.
In 1993 I had the privilege of spending four months working with Catholics in Ireland. Before I went I thought of Catholicism as being an idolatrous denomination where Mary is worshipped and placed on the same level as Christ. However I found the true believers in the Catholic Church, those who seeked the Scriptures for themselves and were open to the leading of the Holy Spirit still greatly respected and indeed venerated Mary to a degree very few Protestants do without crossing the line into worship. It was a respect for a poor young country woman who was chosen by God for a quite scary task- to father his son, the saviour of the world and redeemer of mankind. It was veneration for someone who proved equal to this mammoth task, who despite the potential social suicide in those days of giving birth whilst still single with doubts about the father remained obedient, faithful, soaked up the scriptures and was a trusting and loyal mother to her son. On this mother’s day I would like to salute Mary the mother of Jesus.

Love is the End

I purchased this week, Keane's new album Perfect Symmetry. In the main I'm disappointed, as I feel it doesn't have the melodies of their first two albums though I admire them for developing their sound. My favourite track is the last one "Love is the End," which features the eerie sound of a musical saw. I've sent off to some information on each one of the album's tracks including this little snippet on the musical saw.

The musical saw is a regular hand saw used as a musical instrument, which produces an ethereal sound similar to a theremin. They have been used for over a century, Marlene Dietrich, for instance performed with a musical saw when entertaining the troops during World War II. Among contemporary artists who play it are Tom Waits, Eels and Sarah McLachlan. Additionally Mercury Rev used it extensively on their Deserter’s Songs and All is Dream albums. In Britain its popularity increased thanks to the success of a young sawist named Austin Blackburn on ITV’s talent reality show Britain’s Got Talent. Its best known use in the cinema was in the French black comedy Delicatessen, where Louison (Dominique Pinon) plays the saw accompanied by Julie (Marie-Laure Dougnac) on the cello.
The Andean Mountains of South America is the birthplace of the white potato. By around 2000BC The Aymara Indians had developed over two hundred varieties on the Titicaca Plateau at elevations above 10,000 feet.
The influence of potatoes permeated the Incan culture in medieval Peru. For instance Incan units of time correlated to how long it takes for a potato to cook to various consistencies. Potatoes were even used to divine the truth and predict weather.
The Incas stored their potatoes and other food crops on the Andean mountain heights. The cold mountain temperature freezed the food and the water inside slowly vaporised under the low air pressure of the high altitudes. This was the first instance of freeze drying food.
The 16th century Spanish invaders in South America first came across the potato when entering a Colombian village from which the inhabitants had fled. They originally thought they were truffles.
The Spanish introduced the potato to Europe but most Europeans were originally suspicious of them, in part because people realized that the potato is a member of the nightshade family, all of which are very poisonous. Though they became a standard supply item on the Spanish ships as it was noticed that the sailors who ate potatoes did not suffer from scurvy, for the next 200 years it was generally damned as an evil food in Europe. The Scots refused to eat the potato because it wasn’t mentioned in the Bible and in other European countries they were blamed for starting outbreaks of leprosy and syphilis.
By the late 17th century the Irish had recognised the food value of potatoes and became the first country in Europe to plant potatoes as a staple food crop rather than using it primarily as animal fodder. And in 1719 the first permanent potato patches in North America were established near Londonderry, New Hampshire.
In the Mid 18th century the Prussian ruler, Frederick the Great ordered his people to plant and eat potatoes, as a deterrent to famine. The people's fear of poisoning forced him to enforce his orders by threatening to cut off the nose and ears of those who refused. Unsurprisingly, this was effective and with a decade potatoes became a basic part of the Prussian diet.
Later in the 18th century a young French agriculturist and chemist, Antoine Augustin Parmentier, made it his mission to popularise the potato after his experience as prisoner of war in Prussia the spud was part of his diet. He wrote books and pamphlets to dispel the beliefs of many that potatoes cause leprosy and fevers and even persuaded the queen, Marie Antoinette to wear potato flowers to ornament her dress. Parmentier achieved his goals, and by the 1780s potato dishes were being created in great variety and the humble spud had become a delicacy enjoyed by the nobility. Meanwhile the French populace was coveting potatoes for themselves and by the end of the century most of Europe were eating them.
In the late 18th century Belgian street vendors were selling thin fried potatoes called "Belgian fries" from pushcarts and soon the French adapted the idea and their version became known as "French Fries". In 1789 Thomas Jefferson brought back with him to America the joys of fried potatoes after sampling them in Paris. He described them as "potatoes, fried in the French manner" with beefsteak. In the 1860s the popularity of chips in England increased as a result of the opening of fish and chip shops such as Joseph Malin’s in London.
In early 19th century Ireland, potatoes were the mainstay of the diet of poor peasants. However between 1845-48 there was a crop crisis caused by potato blight and the ensuing famine was extreme. The famine devastated the crop and depopulated the island. Some 750,000 people died and over one million emigrated, most of them to the United States. As a result the Irish adopted a more cautious attitude toward dependence on potatoes.
In 1852 a part Native Indian chef George Crum invented potato crisps by accident, thanks to a fussy customer. Industrialist Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt came to the Moon Lake House Hotel in Saratoga Springs, New York, where Crum was a chef and ordered "thinner than normal French fried potatoes." Vanderbilt kept sending them back to Crum, protesting that they were too thick. Finally, out of spite the chef sliced the potatoes paper-thin, so that he wouldn’t be able to eat them with a fork then, fried them to a crisp in oil, and splashed salt on them. The fussy industrialist loved them. These "potato crunches" as Crum called them became a regular feature of the hotel’s menu.
During the 1898 Alaskan Klondike gold rush, potatoes were virtually as valuable as gold. Potatoes were so esteemed for their nutritious content that miners were trading gold for potatoes. In Britain during the Second World War there was a Ministry of Food campaign which used the slogan, " potatoes are good for you." This proved so successful that a new campaign had to be started saying "potatoes are fattening."
In 1995 the potato became the first vegetable to be grown in space. NASA and the University of Wisconsin, Madison created the technology with the goal of feeding astronauts on long space voyages, and eventually, feeding future space colonies.
Extracted from Food For Thought: Extraordinary Little Chronicles of the World by Ed Pearce

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Why Alexander the Great Never Conquered Jerusalem

By 333BC Alexander of Macedon had unified the city states of Greece and his army was now sweeping down the Mediterranean coast towards Egypt. On the way he turned toward Jerusalem, planning to lay siege to it. Word reached the Jews there that the Macedonian army was on its way. Well aware of the danger, the high priest, a godly old man by the name of Jaddua, asked the people to pray to God for his mercy and protection.
Then Jaddua clad in his white priestly robes and carrying the sacred writings of the Jewish prophet Daniel formed a procession to meet Alexander outside the city together with his fellow priests.
The Macedon king unexpectedly left his army and hurried alone to meet this body of priests and greet them warmly. Alexander told the high priest that back home in Macedonia, when he'd been considering how he might obtain control of Asia, God had shown him an old man, robed in a white garment, who told him not to delay. God added that the old man would show him something of great significance to himself. Hearing this Jaddua opened the prophecies of Daniel and read them to Alexander. When Jaddua reached the scripture that prophesied a shaggy goat, the king of Greece, who would come from the West and destroy the power of the Persians and conquer the world, Alexander was so overwhelmed that not only did he declare he would leave Jerusalem alone, but he accompanied the high priest to the Jerusalem temple where he offered sacrifice to God, as directed by the high priest.
If you are interested in finding out more on Alexander the Great- check out this: Alexander The Great Trivial Biography

Sunday, 19 October 2008


I gave this message on the topic of forgiveness on September 11th 2005.
When Mehmet Ali Agcan shot and wounded Pope John Paul 2nd on 13/5/1981, it was the culmination of a lifetime of bitterness and hatred. He was locked up in Rome’s Rebibba prison. One late December day, two and a half years later, the pope in an act of Christian forgiveness sat for over 20 minutes in Mehmet’s cell holding the hand that held the gun.
The call of Jesus is to walk in forgiveness.
The power of forgiveness is amazing. It melts hearts.
We can choose to receive forgiveness or not. We can choose to forgive or not. The language of forgiveness and reconciliation is not primarily the language of the world. However as William Blake wrote “In Heaven, the only art of living is forgetting and forgiving.”
(a) It's not forgetting about something. Or justifying something. (Maybe he was right when he made that nasty comment.) That doesn’t deal with the issue of the heart.
(b) It’s not making excuses
(c) It’s not condoning that which is wrong. (Luke 17 v 3 says “If your brother sins, rebuke him and if he repents, forgive him.)
(d) It’s not cheap or superficial.
A Sunday school class was being quizzed on the prodigal son. The teacher asked one youngster, “who was sorry when the prodigal son returned home?” The boy gave it a lot of deep thought then said “The fatted calf”
We have seen over the last fiveteen years or so many heroic men and women who despite suffering terribly have forgiven their enemies such as Gordon Wilson who lost daughter in the Eniskillen bombing and Nelson Mandela
(a) Forgiveness is a conscious decision. It often involves deeds and words. In Genesis we see Joseph forgiving his brothers who sold him into slavery. He tells them "I will you provide for you, because five years of famine are still to come. Then he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Joseph forgave them with deeds and words."
(b) Forgiveness is something that God does in our heart
My Wordsworth Concise English Dictionary describes forgiveness as “To pardon, to overlook”. If you forgive in your heart any grievance resulting from the act with which the other person wronged you is erased and disappears."
We can put forgiveness into compartments. We can forgive A but not B. But Jesus said in the Lords prayer everyone is to be forgiven. (In the NIV version Luke 11v4 “Forgive us our sins, for we forgive everyone who sins against us").
The book Miracle on the River Kwai tells how for three years prisoners of war were tortured and ridiculed by the Japanese. Many died at their hands. At the end of the war some defeated Japanese soldiers were herded onto a train, without water on their way home. The ex prisoners of war came up to them and bathed their wounds and gave them their water from their rations to drink. Even in those extreme circumstances the allied ex prisoners of war forgave their enemy.
(a) Everything should be forgiven. During World War II, a group of Belgian teenagers were in a church together repeating the words of the Lords prayer. After they had said “Forgive us our trespasses”, they hesitated before going onto the next phrase as they were deeply incensed against those who had overrun their country and devastated so much of it. During the pause, a voice behind them said, "As we forgive those who trespass against us”. They turned and saw the speaker was the deposed King Leopold III of Belgium who had lost everything except his soul.
(b) We should forgive whether it is big or small. On the night of 14/11/1940 much of Coventry city centre was destroyed by Nazi bombers including the cathedral. A wooden cross was placed on the original altar which is now part of the approach to the new cathedral. Behind the cross is an inscription, “Father, forgive”.
(c) What people have done to us or omitted to
(a) We should forgive everytime. Oscar Wilde once quipped “Always forgive your enemies. Nothing annoys them so much.”
In Matthew 18 v21-22 Peter asked Jesus how many times should I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times? Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times." The rabbis taught that people should forgive those who offend them-but only three times. Peter, trying to be especially generous, asked Jesus if seven (the ‘perfect’ number was enough times to forgive someone.) But Jesus answered “Seventy-seven” times, meaning that we shouldn’t even keep track of how many times we forgive someone. We should always forgive those who are truly repentant, no matter how many times they ask.
(b) We should forgive now or ASAP before resentment starts festering inside you. The longer you leave it, the harder it becomes.
(c) It is the responsibility for us to act and not for the other person to come to us first
(a) Matthew 6 v14-15 "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly father will also forgive you. But if you don’t not forgive men their sins, your father will not forgive your sins.”
Not to forgive is rejecting what Jesus did on the cross. A man said to John Wesley, “I’ll never forgive you." Wesley replied, “then pray that you’ll never sin.” If we confess our sins to God and forgive those who upset us, God will forgive us. This cycle of confession and forgiveness maintains our relationship with God.
(b) Proverbs 3 v3-4 “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, wrote them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favour and a good name in the sight of God and man."
Bruce Olsen was called to minister to the Motilove Indians in the Columbia jungle. They shot him down with an arrow and kept him virtually as a prisoner with minimum food for a month and ill-treated him in many other ways before he escaped. But he forgave them, went back and a few years later most of the tribe were converted to Christianity.
(c) Unforgiveness breeds resentment, which breeds bitterness. When Ramon Naverez, a Spanish 19th century General and Prime Minister was on his deathbed, his priest asked him if he’d forgiven his enemies. Naverez replied, “I do not have to forgive my enemies. I have had them all shot.”
(d) Unforgiveness gives an avenue for the devil and makes us capable of anything.
“Revenge at first though sweet, bitter ere long back on itself recoils” Paradise Lost Book 9.
"Current medical research indicates that persons who are unforgiving are more susceptible to a variety of illnesses than are their more tolerant counterparts. The New England Journal of Medicine reported that type A personalities (long thought to be particularly prone to cardiovascular illness) are NO MORE LIKELY than anyone else to suffer heart attack or stroke. The culprit, researchers say now, is anger. Type A persons are in danger only if they carry around unresolved hostility. It is anger, not activity, that places a person at risk." (The Abingdon Preaching Annual 1996 - edited by Michael Duduit, page 307)
A woman who disliked a singularly obnoxious neighbour was put in a bad mood every morning when, standing at her sink fixing breakfast, she would see him driving off to work. Finally one morning she watched him drive away, and as the familiar feeling of resentment began to rise, she whispered to herself "He is a person for whom Christ Jesus died". That morsel of theological insight - applied to her neighbour - was the antidote to her resentment.
Dwight Eisenhower said “I make it a practice to avoid hating anyone. If someone’s been guilty of despicable actions especially towards me, I try to forget him. I used to follow a practice to write the man’s name on a piece of scrap of paper, drop it in the lowest drawer of my desk and say to myself, “That finishes the incident”."
(a) Forgiveness is an act of will. Think of all that God has forgiven you Luke 6 v 36 "Be merciful, just as your father is merciful." Colossians 3 v13 “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you have against each other. Forgive as the Lord forgave you."
(b) You sometimes need God’s grace-the Holy Spirit to forgive. As CS Lewis said “everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.”
(c) We should ask God for the right opportunity to forgive. When a person doesn’t receive forgiveness from us, we need to pray for them.

Alton Ellis

Yesterday I sent to this contribution concerning the 1965 song Get Ready- Rock Steady by the late Alton Ellis.
This song featured the pianist Jackie Mittoo and was recorded for Arthur "Duke" Reid's Treasure Isle label. The innovative rocksteady beat came about because the scheduled bassist didn't show up for a session and Mittoo was consequently forced to play the bass part himself. The pianist’s left hand couldn't keep up with the frantic ska beat, so he decided to slow down the tempo. This resulted in a choppier rhythm, which enabled Ellis to stretch out more.
This genre-defining song was the first number to use the term ‘rocksteady’ and was arguably the first rocksteady single. Ellis recalled: "I spearheaded that sound without a doubt! I was off the scene for a while during the ska period and when I returned and joined the Treasure Isle studio, I came there with a different mood. The musicians picked up on that and we kept on going in that direction. The music became slower, which gave the bass player the time to play more notes. In 1965 I named it rocksteady."
Alton Ellis was a Jamaican musician who was known as the "Godfather of Rocksteady." His songs slowed down to rocksteady the frantic ska beat that was the popular sound in Jamaica in the early 1960s. Between 1965 and 1967 rocksteady dominated the Jamaican airwaves and Ellis, with the help of a backup vocal trio called the Flames, scored a number of hits. Subsequently this emphasis of the slower tempo evolved into reggae. One of his 1960s hits "I’m Still in Love" formed the basis for Althia and Donna’s 1978 UK chart-topping "Uptown Top Ranking". Ellis moved to England in the 1970s as his career declined, but he returned to popularity in the 1990s because of a rocksteady trend in Jamaica and Europe. In 2006, Ellis was inducted into the International Reggae and World Music Awards Hall of Fame. He died in London on October 10, 2008 and was survived by his wife and over 20 children.

Why The French Eat Snails

For some reason I've been asked to give a talk at the Cranbrook & Tenterden Food & Drink Festival on the culinary history of snails. I have never eaten a snail in my life & know nothing about escargots except they are slow and the French eat them. However as I've been promised an opportunity to sell my book Food For Thought in a book signing at the same event I thought I'd give it a go. So for those who are interested here's a precis of my talk.
Snails have been eaten for thousands of years. Presumably they were an easy animal for the prehistoric hunter/gatherers to catch. Discarded roasted snail shells are a frequent component of archaeological sites in the Mediterranean area. Some food historians have argued that the snail was the first animal to be herded and bred for food. The reason for this is that they are relatively easy to cultivate. They are an efficient food, self-packed in a shell, which serves as a plate, the waste is small, the nutrition excellent. The snail was the very first ready meal!
It was the Romans who really developed the industrial breeding of snails. In the same way that Alexander Graham Bell developed the telephone and the Wright Bros, the first aeroplane, you might be wondering, who was the snail-farming equivalent of Johan Gutenberg or John Logie Baird? Pliny tells us that Fulvius Hirpinus was the first to engage in snail-farming at Tarquinium, a Tuscan city not far from Rome about the year 50 B.C. Fulvius’ snail garden had varied species of snails with separate sections for each species and he fed them on wine and cornmeal. As time went on, the Romans developed ‘snaileries’ where a species of large snail, probably the Burgundy snail were kept in special farms, fattened on a diet of bran, flour, herbs, milk and wine dregs and bred for such characteristics as size, colour and fertility. When they were almost full-grown, they were transferred to jars with airholes. When they were so fat that they could not retreat into their shells, they were fried and served with wine and a fish sauce condiment known as liquamen. The latter, which was the Roman equivalent of tomato ketchup as it was served with everything, was made from the gills, blood and the inside of the fish and was then left with salt to stew in the sun.
Now I’d like you to imagine you are a guest at a Roman aristocrat’s banquet, which would include snails. Before eating you will have changed clothes putting on a woollen tunic provided for this purpose. The dishes will be presented first to the master of the house, accompanied by music and a servant executing a dance step. Meanwhile the guests, both men and women, will eat reclining with a crown of flowers over their head. If one of you becomes too full to eat anymore, a servant will be called over to tickle your throat. You will then vomit into a special bowl kept for that purpose, and proceed with the rest of the meal. Don’t worry if you belch, belching at the table is a sign of politeness. The banquets will be livened up by performances of acrobats, dancers, flute players and theatrical performances. Knives and spoons are only occasionally used, most people will eat with their fingers despite the prevalence of sticky sauces, however when it comes to the snails, which will be one of your favourite dishes, you will use a spoon with a pointed handle that can be used as a prong to extract the snails from their shells.
During the expansion of the Roman Empire snail culture was introduced into the countries that came under its control. It was of course the Romans who introduced snails to Britain, but when they left 500 years later, they took with them their recipe for snail a la liquamen leaving the Brits to feast on vegetable gruel, pottage and other delicious medieval recipes.
But how did snails catch on in France? After all today the French consume 40,000 metric tons of snails each year, which is a lot of escargots.
When Caesar invaded Gaul, his legionnaires munched on snails, introducing this gastropod to the French, where it became a culinary sensation. The Gauls, it seemed, enjoyed them as a dessert. In medieval France, monasteries and convents had a monopoly on snail farming. They had special snail parks there, where the escargots were stock-piled in barrels and brought out during festivals and in times when food was scarce.
By the sixteenth century it is clear that they were being served at banquets and snail sales were going through the roof. Monsieur or mademoiselle would cook them in a variety of ways, fried with oil or onion, cooked on skewers or simply boiled. Just as according to Sir Jimmy Saville, the 1970s was the age of the rail or train, so the 16th century was the age of the snail in France. In fact dining on snails was so fashionable that the Catholic Church classified them, along with frogs and turtles, as “fish” and they were therefore allowed to be devoured on Fridays, Lent and other meatless days without incurring the wrath of the church.
Of particularly interest is their inclusion in a little booklet published in 1530, with the catchy title of “Noteworthy Treatise Concerning the Properties of Turtles, Snails, Frogs and Artichokes” by Estienne Laigue. The author criticised four foods that he felt were all equally bizarre but popular with his contemporaries. Of the four, he was kindest to the snail. He wrote “I know snails are ugly, but not so hideous as turtles, nor so vile, and nothing like as poisonous; I also know that the ancients ate them, but I can’t accept people’s eating them daily, since other foods are more nourishing and of better substance.” The association of the three newly classified fish, that is turtles, snails and frogs was to be a constant in French cookbooks virtually from then. This was not only because they could be eaten on meatless days but also, there have always been people, like Laigue, who consider these foods unconventional. I’ve not been able to come up with an intelligent suggestion as to why Laigue particularly highlighted artichokes as well as the three supposed fishes, so as this blog is on snails rather than artichokes I’ll think I’ll just move on...
After 1560 snails went into a decline, culminating in a virtual banishment from refined tables in France for around 250 years. The evidence for this is abundant. If a cookery book gave a recipe for snails, it would be with an apology for introducing such a distasteful food-stuff. The 17th century French writer Nicolas de Bonnefons, who was also a valet at the court of Louis XIV, for instance was “astonished that the odd tastes of man had led him as far as this depraved dish in order to satisfy the extravagance of gluttony.”
In Paris in 1815, not one of the best restaurants had snails on the menu. There is, however, evidence that, although snails were absent from Parisian tables at the turn of the 19th century, they were being eaten in provincial France, particularly in Alsace and Lorraine
After the Napoleonic wars, the great snail comeback began after Talleyrand asked the celebrated French chef Careme to prepare some for the dinner which he gave for the Czar of Russia.
Meanwhile French wine merchants who went to eastern France each year on buying trips had to stay at the local inns where they were frequently served snails that had been gathered from the surrounding vineyards. The mollusc meal was commented upon in a complimentary manner by the merchants when they returned to their homes in Paris. An early 19th century Michael Winner might have reviewed the snail as an unusual but savoury dish. Enough interest was gradually aroused to the point where one of the coaches that travelled between Auxerre and Paris was hired to bring the first baskets of snails to the markets of the French capital.
The comeback sped up in the middle of the 19th century with the advent of the railroad meaning snails were not transported at snail pace any longer. Now they could be transported greater distances by train while still fresh. In this way new markets were developed not only in France but also in Italy and Spain.
The comeback was sealed by the spread of brasserie cafes to Paris by refugees who came from Alsace-Lorraine after the 1870 war. The snail-loving refugees incorporated the molluscs onto the menus and achieved so complete a reinstatement of the escargot that it has stayed in place ever since. Vive l’escargot!