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."