Ten Things You Probably Didn’t Want To Know About . . .

The Venerable Bede

Christmas or ¡Navidad!, Noël or  Weihnachten, God Jul or Sretan Božić, Crăciun fericit or Ziemassvētkus!

The languages of the world have quite a variety of names for Christmas. That’s not surprising, what with the language issues involved but it turns out that our Christmas is arbitrarily loaded with words that mean something else. And while many people frown upon the seemingly modern abbreviation of Xmas, X stands for the Greek letter chi, which was the early abbreviation for Christ or the Greek ‘Khristos’. The X also symbolises the cross on which Christ was crucified. The Angles, Saxons and Jutes, the original Germanic invaders, were not Christian, but nevertheless still engaged in celebrations on the 25th December in a festival known as Yule, which is still celebrated by Neo-Pagans across the world. In the 8th century, The Venerable Bede wrote: ‘They began the year with December 25th, the day we now celebrate as Christmas; and the very night to which we attach special sanctity they designated by the heathen mothers’ night, a name bestowed presumably on account of the ceremonies they performed while watching this night through. (De temporum tione)’

2) The pagan festival has some association with fertility and possibly involved ceremonial copulation creating a link between Yule and Christmas. When the date of Christ’s birth was decided, by Pope Julius I a link was forged with the pagan’s celebration of birth by which the Roman Church sought to create a mandate for the early Christians to continue attempting to convert the pagans of Europe by pursuing a policy of continuity.

3 ) From the time of Charlemagne, the great Frankish king, who was crowned Holy Roman Emperor on Christmas Day 800 at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the ‘Christian’ Christmas slowly grew in importance despite the longer established Anglo-Saxon Christmas traditions. According to Egbert of York, a contemporary of Bede: ‘the English people have been accustomed to practice fasts, vigils, prayers, and the giving of alms both to monasteries and to the common people, for the full twelve days before Christmas’. Alfred The Great whose stepmother, Judith, was great-granddaughter of Charlemagne, was greatly influenced by the Frankish Court. It seems he shared their view of the importance of Christmas as a festival. One of Alfred’s laws stated that twelve days of holiday was to be taken by all but those engaged in the most important of occupations from Christmas Day to Twelfth Night. It has been noted that Alfred’s rigorous observance of his own law left him so vulnerable to his Viking adversaries that it led to his defeat in battle on 6th January, 878: the day after Twelfth Night.

4 ) One of the most interesting aspects of the Christian Christmas is the mention of alms-giving which can be seen as the predecessor of modern day Christmas presents, a tradition that almost certainly came about in imitation of the Three Wise Men bringing the infant Christ Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. Alms were charitable relief given to the poor, without expectation of payment during both the Anglo-Saxon and Christian communities. These can also be seen as the start of the more traditional fund raising organisations such as the Salvation Army and linked to numerous other charitable Christmas acts.

5 ) Carols flourished in Tudor times as a way of celebrating Christmas and to spread the story of the nativity but came to an abrupt end in the 17th century when the Puritans under Oliver Cromwell banned all superfluous festivities including Christmas and Easter. Carollers on the doorstep is in fact a result of carols being banned in churches during this time, although carols remained in a virtual wilderness until the Victorians reinstated the concept of an ‘Olde English Christmas’. This included traditional gems such as While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night and The Holly and the Ivy as well as introducing a plethora of new hits such as Away in a Manger and O Little Town of Bethlehem, to mention but a few. The earliest recorded published collection of carols dates back to 521 and is by Wynken de Worde which includes the Boars Head Carol.

6 ) Mince Pies were originally baked in rectangular cases to represent the infant Jesus’ crib and the addition of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg was meant to symbolise the gifts bestowed by the three wise men. Traditionally the pies are not very large and it was considered good luck to eat one mince pie on each of the twelve days of Christmas. The original mince pies were made of a variety of shredded meats along with spices and fruit. The out-pouring of Christmas spirit might entice a Lord to donate the unwanted parts of the family’s Christmas deer, the offal, or ‘umbles’, to make the pies go further.  The poor could be said to be eating ‘umble pie’, an expression now used to to describe someone who has fallen from the pedestal of high achievement to a far more modest level. It is only since the Victorian era that the recipe came to include only spices and fruit.

7 ) Over the intervening centuries, serious Christmas day feasting would have been the reserve of royalty and the landed gentry. In medieval times goose was the most common option while venison was also popular alternative, although the poor were not allowed to eat the best cuts of meat. Turkey was first introduced into Britain in about 1523 with Henry VIII being one of the first people to eat it as part of their Christmas feast. The popularity of the bird grew quickly and soon around October large flocks of turkeys could be seen walking to London from Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire on foot; a journey which they may have started as early as early as August! And while many poor people made do with hare, rabbit or if they were lucky, goose, the Christmas Day menu for Queen Victoria on the other hand included both beef and a roast swan or two. By the end of the century 18th most people feasted on turkey for their Christmas dinner. With feet clad in fashionable but hardwearing leather the unsuspecting birds would have set out on the lengthy hike from their rural farms to arrive somewhat tired and on the scrawny side they must have thought London hospitality unbeatable as they feasted and fattened up in the last few weeks before Christmas!

8 ) The burning of the Yule Log is thought to derive from the midwinter ritual of the early Viking invaders, who built enormous bonfires to celebrate their festival of light. The word ‘Yule’ has existed in the English language for many centuries as an alternative term for Christmas. Traditionally, a large log would be selected in the forest on Christmas Eve, decorated with ribbons, dragged home and laid upon the hearth. After lighting it was kept burning throughout the twelve days of Christmas. It was considered lucky to keep some of the charred remains to kindle the log of the following year.

9 ) Christmas Day was a national holiday, spent by the gentry in their country houses and estates. People went to church and returned to a celebratory Christmas dinner. Boxing Day on the other hand has traditionally been seen as the reversal of fortunes, where the rich provide gifts for the poor. In medieval times, the gift was generally money and it was provided in a hollow clay pot with a slit in the top which had to be smashed for the money to be taken out. These small clay pots were nicknamed “piggies” and thus became the first version of the piggy banks we use today. Unfortunately, Christmas Day was also traditionally a “quarter day”, one of the four days in the financial year on which payments such as ground rents were due, meaning many poor tenants had to pay their rent on Christmas Day!

10 ) The Christmas Crib originated in 1223 in medieval Italy when Saint Francis of Assisi explained the Christmas Nativity story to local people using a crib to symbolise the birth of Jesus. When seeking information on a Georgian or Regency Christmas, who better to consult than Jane Austen? In her novel, ‘Mansfield Park’, Sir Thomas gives a ball for Fanny and William. In ‘Pride and Prejudice’, the Bennets play host to relatives. In ‘Sense and Sensibility’, John Willoughby dances the night away, from eight o’clock until four in the morning. In ‘Emma’, the Weston’s give a party.



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Battle of Britain 80th anniversary 2020

How Australia’s ‘brave few’ helped to stop the Nazi war machine

Eighty years ago this year, the Battle of Britain was being fought in the skies over southern England. Hitler’s Luftwaffe was trying to destroy the Royal Air Force to pave the way for a German invasion of Britain. A successful invasion and occupation would complete the domination of western Europe by Hitler’s Third Reich and to this end German commanders believed a massive bombing campaign would bring Britain to its knees and lead to its ultimate surrender.

The Battle of Britain opened with raids against key airfields and radar sites across southern England in an attempt to destroy the RAF on the ground but despite Britain’s perilous state in 1940, it had developed a strong air defence network of ground observers and radar that would prove crucial during the Battle of Britain in providing early warning of German attacks. And Australia was among the first nations to come to Britain’s aid.

Thirty-five Australians flew combat operations during the Battle of Britain, 10 of whom were killed in action. One of them was Flight Lieutenant Pat Hughes of Cooma, New South Wales, who had at least 15 credited kills to his tally and was among the top aces of the time.

Each day between July and October 1940, British and German aircraft clashed in the skies above England and, although outnumbered the RAF had superior fighter aircraft in their Spitfires and Hurricanes.

The Australian airmen were among those international airmen immortalised by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in his tribute to the men of Fighter Command:  “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

One of the last few surviving Spitfires in the world is housed in the Temora Aviation Museum, New South Wales.

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Halloween – A Romantic Poem

Robbie Burns wrote some weird stuff. From the ‘Address to a Haggis’ to ‘The Cottars Saturday Night’ his poetic works range far and wide.

Halloween is a romantic tale for an ethereal night though somewhat tongue if you can actually separate the tongue from the cheek within the jaw-breaking dialectic form in which it is written.

A far cry from the prosaic, ‘From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggetty beasties and things that go bump in the night, Good Lord deliver us’


Robert Burns – 1759-1796

Upon that night, when fairies light
On Cassilis Downans dance,
Or owre the lays, in splendid blaze,
On sprightly coursers prance;
Or for Colean the route is ta’en,
Beneath the moon’s pale beams;
There, up the cove, to stray and rove,
Among the rocks and streams
To sport that night.

Among the bonny winding banks,
Where Doon rins, wimplin’ clear,
Where Bruce ance ruled the martial ranks,
And shook his Carrick spear,
Some merry, friendly, country-folks,
Together did convene,
To burn their nits, and pou their stocks,
And haud their Halloween
Fu’ blithe that night.

The lasses feat, and cleanly neat,
Mair braw than when they’re fine;
Their faces blithe, fu’ sweetly kythe,
Hearts leal, and warm, and kin’;
The lads sae trig, wi’ wooer-babs,
Weel knotted on their garten,
Some unco blate, and some wi’ gabs,
Gar lasses’ hearts gang startin’
Whiles fast at night.

Then, first and foremost, through the kail,
Their stocks maun a’ be sought ance;
They steek their een, and graip and wale,
For muckle anes and straught anes.
Poor hav’rel Will fell aff the drift,
And wander’d through the bow-kail,
And pou’t, for want o’ better shift,
A runt was like a sow-tail,
Sae bow’t that night.

Then, staught or crooked, yird or nane,
They roar and cry a’ throu’ther;
The very wee things, todlin’, rin,
Wi’ stocks out owre their shouther;
And gif the custoc’s sweet or sour.
Wi’ joctelegs they taste them;
Syne cozily, aboon the door,
Wi cannie care, they’ve placed them
To lie that night.

The lasses staw frae ‘mang them a’
To pou their stalks of corn:
But Rab slips out, and jinks about,
Behint the muckle thorn:
He grippet Nelly hard and fast;
Loud skirl’d a’ the lasses;
But her tap-pickle maist was lost,
When kitlin’ in the fause-house
Wi’ him that night.

The auld guidwife’s well-hoordit nits,
Are round and round divided,
And monie lads’ and lasses’ fates
Are there that night decided:
Some kindle coothie, side by side,
And burn thegither trimly;
Some start awa, wi’ saucy pride,
And jump out-owre the chimlie
Fu’ high that night.

Jean slips in twa wi’ tentie ee;
Wha ’twas she wadna tell;
But this is Jock, and this is me,
She says in to hersel:
He bleezed owre her, and she owre him,
As they wad never mair part;
Till, fuff! he started up the lum,
And Jean had e’en a sair heart
To see’t that night.

Poor Willie, wi’ his bow-kail runt,
Was brunt wi’ primsie Mallie;
And Mallie, nae doubt, took the drunt,
To be compared to Willie;
Mall’s nit lap out wi’ pridefu’ fling,
And her ain fit it brunt it;
While Willie lap, and swore by jing,
‘Twas just the way he wanted
To be that night.

Nell had the fause-house in her min’,
She pits hersel and Rob in;
In loving bleeze they sweetly join,
Till white in ase they’re sobbin’;
Nell’s heart was dancin’ at the view,
She whisper’d Rob to leuk for’t:
Rob, stowlins, prie’d her bonny mou’,
Fu’ cozie in the neuk for’t,
Unseen that night.

But Merran sat behint their backs,
Her thoughts on Andrew Bell;
She lea’es them gashin’ at their cracks,
And slips out by hersel:
She through the yard the nearest taks,
And to the kiln goes then,
And darklins graipit for the bauks,
And in the blue-clue throws then,
Right fear’t that night.

And aye she win’t, and aye she swat,
I wat she made nae jaukin’,
Till something held within the pat,
Guid Lord! but she was quakin’!
But whether ‘was the deil himsel,
Or whether ’twas a bauk-en’,
Or whether it was Andrew Bell,
She didna wait on talkin’
To spier that night.

Wee Jennie to her grannie says,
“Will ye go wi’ me, grannie?
I’ll eat the apple at the glass
I gat frae Uncle Johnnie:”
She fuff’t her pipe wi’ sic a lunt,
In wrath she was sae vap’rin’,
She notice’t na, an aizle brunt
Her braw new worset apron
Out through that night.

“Ye little skelpie-limmer’s face!
I daur you try sic sportin’,
As seek the foul thief ony place,
For him to spae your fortune.
Nae doubt but ye may get a sight!
Great cause ye hae to fear it;
For mony a ane has gotten a fright,
And lived and died deleeret
On sic a night.

“Ae hairst afore the Sherramoor, —
I mind’t as weel’s yestreen,
I was a gilpey then, I’m sure
I wasna past fifteen;
The simmer had been cauld and wat,
And stuff was unco green;
And aye a rantin’ kirn we gat,
And just on Halloween
It fell that night.

“Our stibble-rig was Rab M’Graen,
A clever sturdy fallow:
His son gat Eppie Sim wi’ wean,
That lived in Achmacalla:
He gat hemp-seed, I mind it weel,
And he made unco light o’t;
But mony a day was by himsel,
He was sae sairly frighted
That very night.”

Then up gat fechtin’ Jamie Fleck,
And he swore by his conscience,
That he could saw hemp-seed a peck;
For it was a’ but nonsense.
The auld guidman raught down the pock,
And out a hanfu’ gied him;
Syne bade him slip frae ‘mang the folk,
Some time when nae ane see’d him,
And try’t that night.

He marches through amang the stacks,
Though he was something sturtin;
The graip he for a harrow taks.
And haurls it at his curpin;
And every now and then he says,
“Hemp-seed, I saw thee,
And her that is to be my lass,
Come after me, and draw thee
As fast this night.”

He whistled up Lord Lennox’ march
To keep his courage cheery;
Although his hair began to arch,
He was say fley’d and eerie:
Till presently he hears a squeak,
And then a grane and gruntle;
He by his shouther gae a keek,
And tumbled wi’ a wintle
Out-owre that night.

He roar’d a horrid murder-shout,
In dreadfu’ desperation!
And young and auld came runnin’ out
To hear the sad narration;
He swore ’twas hilchin Jean M’Craw,
Or crouchie Merran Humphie,
Till, stop! she trotted through them
And wha was it but grumphie
Asteer that night!

Meg fain wad to the barn hae gaen,
To win three wechts o’ naething;
But for to meet the deil her lane,
She pat but little faith in:
She gies the herd a pickle nits,
And two red-cheekit apples,
To watch, while for the barn she sets,
In hopes to see Tam Kipples
That very nicht.

She turns the key wi cannie thraw,
And owre the threshold ventures;
But first on Sawnie gies a ca’
Syne bauldly in she enters:
A ratton rattled up the wa’,
And she cried, Lord, preserve her!
And ran through midden-hole and a’,
And pray’d wi’ zeal and fervour,
Fu’ fast that night;

They hoy’t out Will wi’ sair advice;
They hecht him some fine braw ane;
It chanced the stack he faddom’d thrice
Was timmer-propt for thrawin’;
He taks a swirlie, auld moss-oak,
For some black grousome carlin;
And loot a winze, and drew a stroke,
Till skin in blypes cam haurlin’
Aff’s nieves that night.

A wanton widow Leezie was,
As canty as a kittlin;
But, och! that night amang the shaws,
She got a fearfu’ settlin’!
She through the whins, and by the cairn,
And owre the hill gaed scrievin,
Whare three lairds’ lands met at a burn
To dip her left sark-sleeve in,
Was bent that night.

Whyles owre a linn the burnie plays,
As through the glen it wimpl’t;
Whyles round a rocky scaur it strays;
Whyles in a wiel it dimpl’t;
Whyles glitter’d to the nightly rays,
Wi’ bickering, dancing dazzle;
Whyles cookit underneath the braes,
Below the spreading hazel,
Unseen that night.

Among the brackens, on the brae,
Between her and the moon,
The deil, or else an outler quey,
Gat up and gae a croon:
Poor Leezie’s heart maist lap the hool!
Near lav’rock-height she jumpit;
but mist a fit, and in the pool
Out-owre the lugs she plumpit,
Wi’ a plunge that night.

In order, on the clean hearth-stane,
The luggies three are ranged,
And every time great care is ta’en’,
To see them duly changed:
Auld Uncle John, wha wedlock joys
Sin’ Mar’s year did desire,
Because he gat the toom dish thrice,
He heaved them on the fire
In wrath that night.

Wi’ merry sangs, and friendly cracks,
I wat they didna weary;
And unco tales, and funny jokes,
Their sports were cheap and cheery;
Till butter’d so’ns, wi’ fragrant lunt,
Set a’ their gabs a-steerin’;
Syne, wi’ a social glass o’ strunt,
They parted aff careerin’
Fu’ blythe that night.

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10 Things You May Possibly Not Have Known About Halloween

Sometime in the 8th century, Pope Gregory I (540 – 604 AD) had the date of the All Hallows’ feast moved from the 13th of May to 1st of November. It is thought that in doing so, he was attempting to replace or eradicate the Celtic festival of the dead (or Samhain) with a more church related and therefore controllable celebration. Samhain transposed initially into All-hallows-even and then still later into Hallowe’en and then of course Halloween. Many believe that Halloween is a time when the spirit world can make contact with the physical world, a night when magic is at its most potent.

Throughout Britain, Halloween has traditionally been celebrated by children’s games, telling ghost stories and the carving of faces into hollowed-out vegetables such as swedes and turnips. These faces would then be illuminated from within by a candle to be displayed in windows to scare off any evil spirits that may be lurking. The current use of pumpkins is a relatively modern innovation imported from the United States, as has the ultra-quaint  ‘trick-or-treat’ tradition!

1) It is commonly believed that 31st October was an ancient pagan festival associated with the supernatural, but it also has religious connotations. There is disagreement among historians about when it actually began. Some say it was introduced as All Saints’ Day in the 7th century AD by Pope Boniface IV, as All Hallows Eve in the 8th century by Pope Gregory and as a celebration to commemorate the martyrs and saints of the Christians in the 9th century. In medieval Britain, ‘Halloween’ was the eve of the Catholic festival All Saints or All-Hallows, from the Old English ‘Holy Man’, on 1st November, followed on the 2nd by the feast of All Souls.

2) The tradition of carving a face on mangel-wurzles, swedes and turnips on the last Thursday in October to make them into a lanterns to be lit by candles was for children to carry them through the streets to ward off evil spirits.

3) Much of the modern supernatural lore surrounding Halloween derives from the 19th century when Scots and Irish settlers took the customs and traditions of All-Hallows to North America, where it became known as ‘trick or treat’. Ironically the revival of interest in Halloween during the 1970’s came from America through American TV programmes and the 1982 film E.T.

4) Although there is no evidence the pagan Anglo-Saxons celebrated Halloween, the Venerable Bede cites that the month was known as ‘Blod-monath’ or blood month, when surplus livestock were slaughtered and offered as sacrifices to the pagan gods. Besides that reference there is no written evidence that 31st October was linked to the supernatural in England before the 19th century.

5) Halloween as a festival of evil other-worldly forces is an entirely modern invention. Razor blades in apples, cyanide in sweets, poltergeists, swamp-things and being haunted by malignant shadows of the dead on or around the 31st October is more common ‘rip ‘em up an’ slash ‘em’ in horror films, reflecting modern fears and terrors.

6) In pre-Christian Ireland, 1st November was known as ‘Samhain’ or summer’s end, the date that marked the onset of winter in Gaelic-speaking areas of Britain. It was also the end of the pastoral farming year when cattle were slaughtered and tribal gatherings such as the ‘Feis na Cara’ (a celebratory dance festival) It was not until the 19th century when the anthropologist Sir James Frazer popularised the idea of Samhain as an ancient Celtic festival of the dead when pagan religious ceremonies were observed.)

7) In medieval times on the 1st November, prayers were said for souls trapped in purgatory. It was believed to be a sort of ‘halfway house’ on the road to Heaven, and it was thought their ghosts could return to earth to ask relatives for assistance in the journey. From this grew the Catholic tradition of offering prayers to the dead, the ringing of church bells and lighting of candles and torches on 1st  November to provide a link with the spirit world

8) ‘Souling’ was an early form of carol singing where groups of adults and children in traditional wearing costumes would visit big houses to sing for the occupants and collect money and food. Souling was common in Cheshire, Shropshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire on 1st and 2nd November while in other parts of northern England special cakes were baked and left in churchyards as offerings to the dead.

9) Until the 19th century, bonfires were lit on Halloween in parts of northern England and Derbyshire. Some folklorists believe the enduring popularity of the Guy Fawkes celebrations on 5th November harks back to memories of the older pagan fire festivals of the 17th and 18th centuries.

10) Halloween has also been linked to romance, spreading to England from Scotland as a result of the popularity of Robert Burn’s poem Halloween in Victorian times. One love divination mentioned by Burns includes placing hazelnuts in the fire, naming one for yourself and the other for your partner. If they burned gently and then went out, this indicated a long and harmonious life together; if they coughed and spluttered or exploded, this was a sign of problems ahead. Apples were also used for divination purposes, the fruit floating in water or hung upon strings, to be seized by the teeth of the players.

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A Further Taste Of India

Returning to the Little Indian Cookbook mentioned previously I include here a few more recipes worth a second look.

Spices are used in many different forms: whole, chopped, ground, roasted, sautéed, fried, and as a topping. They blend food to extract the nutrients and bind them in a palatable form. Some spices are added at the end as a flavouring and are typically heated in a pan with ghee (clarified butter) or vegetable oil before being added to a dish. Lighter spices are added last, and spices with strong flavour should be added first.

Curry is not a spice, but a term used by Western people and refers to any dish in Indian cuisine that contains several spices blended together, whether dry or with a sauce base.

An old favourite of the wedding buffet, the public bar on a Saturday night or the takeaway after a night out with the lads.

Very much an ‘anglicised’ dish, properly made it is well worth a try.

Dhansak on the other hand is a fairly unusual lentil and gram curry garnished with carrot, aubergine and potato.

Use either chicken or king prawns for a traditional Parsi (Persian) dish.

More to follow

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The Collegiate Church of St Mary, Warwick

IMAG0032The Collegiate Church of St Mary, or rather the foundations thereof, date back to 1123 when they were laid by Roger de Beaumont, 2nd Earl Warwick.

It is located in the county town of Warwick, a mere stone’s throw from Warwick Castle, traditional home of the Earls of Warwick for many generations.

IMAG0030When de Beaumont also established a college of secular canons its ecclesiastical status was elevated to the point where it’s governance and religious observance were similar to that of a cathedral. But although there is a Bishop of Warwick, but it is merely an episcopal title coming under the aegis of the Diocese of Coventry.

IMAG0034Great parts of the church were extensively rebuilt in the 14th century by Thomas de Beauchamp (later anglicised to Beecham), a later Earl Warwick in the Perpendicular Gothic style


The Beauchamp Chapel

His descendants later built the Chapel of Our Lady, more commonly known as the Beauchamp Chapel which houses monuments to Richard de Beauchamp, the 13th Earl Warwick, Ambrose Dudley the 3rd Earl Warwick and Robert Dudley, the 1st Earl Leicester

In the chancel of the church is William Parr, 1st Marquess Northampton, brother of the Queen Consort, Catherine Parr.


The Memoriam to Robert Dudley

St Marys, along with much of Warwick, was devastated by the Great Fire of Warwick in 1694. The nave and tower of the building were completely destroyed. In 1704, the rebuilt church was completed in a Gothic design by William Wilson. The current tower rises to a very creditable height of 130 feet.


Heraldic Symbols of Warwick, Warwick Castle





The only part of the building that remains of the original 1123 structure is the crypt beneath.

Unfortunately these pictures were all taken about two years ago, during a working visit to the area, on a camera phone and are not of the best quality. Enjoy anyway!


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Madame Tajana

The Stars Know All . . .

Astrology, Astronomy, Agronomy, Madame Tajana knows all!

And all for the princely sum of two shillings!

 I can’t promise that your two shillings will be returned, even on plain paper, but you will be amazed all the same!

Advert from the back pages, around 1956


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So You Want To Grow Up Big & Strong . . .

Spinach PlantThen you must eat up all your Spinach (pronounced spin-atch) Used in almost every cuisine around the world, spinach is an enormously popular green vegetable, the leaves of which can be either flat or slightly ruffled. Bright green when young it deepens to a more intense colour as it grows older.

Like Marmite, you either love it or hate it. The distinctive bitter flavour complements dairy products such as eggs but also features in Indian and Italian cuisine.

Spinach PastriesThe younger, milder, leaves tend to be eaten raw in salads and suchlike, while the older ones are tend towards being cooked.

The main problem with cooking spinach is that it has one of the shortest cooking times of all vegetables and reduces dramatically during cooking. A large (1lb) bag will be just enough for two when cooked!

Spinach first appeared in England and France during the 14th century, via Spain. It gained popularity quickly because it appeared in early spring, when other vegetables were scarce and when Lenten dietary restrictions discouraged consumption of other foods.

Spinach DishesSpinach is mentioned in the first known English cookbook, The Forme of Cury (1390), where it is referred to as spinnedge or spynoches.

When, in 1533, Catherine de Medici became queen of France she so loved spinach that she demanded it be served at every meal! To this day, dishes made with spinach are known as Florentine, reflecting Catherine’s birth city of Florence.

spinach1The cartoon character Popeye the Sailor Man is portrayed as having a strong affinity for spinach, becoming physically stronger after consuming it. But it has since been proven that this portrayal was based on faulty calculations of the iron content.

It was discovered that the German scientist Emil von Wolff misplaced a decimal point in an 1870 measurement of spinach’s iron content, leading to an iron value ten times higher than it should have been. But this faulty measurement was not noticed until the 1930’s by which time the misconception that spinach is high in iron and makes the body stronger, was widespread.

Spinach also contributes to a very healthy smoothie, a vibrant (or vile, depending on your viewpoint) green concoction created from avocado, cucumber, spinach and kale. Blitz all together with fresh pineapple and coconut water.

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The Evolution Of . . .

The Supermarket.

A Supermarket is just what it says on the tin: a self-service grocery store offering a wide variety of food and household merchandise comprising meat, fresh produce, dairy, and baked goods with shelf space reserved for canned and pre-packaged goods as well as non-food items such as household cleaners, pharmacy products and pet supplies.

The traditional suburban supermarket occupies a large amount of floor space on a single level and is usually situated near a residential area in order to be ‘convenient’ to consumers.

Its basic appeal is the availability of a broad selection of goods under a single roof, at relatively low prices.

Certain products such as bread, milk and sugar are frequently sold as loss leaders.
To balance the books somewhat, into profit hopefully, supermarkets attempt to make up for the negative margins by a higher overall volume of sales.

And since customers collect their own purchases and take them for payment to a checkout, there are obvious savings in staff costs.

Many supermarket chains are currently attempting to further reduce labour costs by introducing a ‘self-checkout’ system, whereby one member of staff could oversee four or five checkouts, assisting multiple customers at the same time.

While branding and store advertising differ from company to company, the layout of a supermarket remains virtually unchanged since John and Mary Sainsbury opened their first shop in London’s Drury Lane selling just butter, eggs and milk. In 1875  imported Irish bacon was added to the range. The Sainsbury’s high quality of food proved popular and by 1903 there were 100 branches in London.

Mr Michael Marks, a Russian born Polish refugee, opened a fine new store in Marble Arch, London with his partner Tom Spencer in 1930. And M&S was born.

Jack Cohen and TE Stockwell, a tea supplier, amalgamated their names to form a company called Tesco. Their first own brand product, Tesco Tea, hit the shelves in 1924. Stores began to pop up across the country until, in 1961, Tesco Leicester was listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest Supermarket in Europe.

Although big companies spend time giving consumers a pleasant shopping experience, the design of the supermarket is directly connected to the in-store marketing that supermarkets must conduct in order to get shoppers to spend more money whilst there!

A simple product can become more saleable by the simple addition of a ‘celebrity’ face or image that somehow appeals to our communal psyche.

Ever felt like a mouse in a wheel?  A rat directed through a complex maze by a series of treat/threat conditions? Just wait for part two, Super-Marketing!!

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The Fish, The Chip and the Shop

Ten things you never knew about Fish And Chips!

Fish & Chips 3

1. There is a blue plaque at Tommyfield Market in Oldham, Lancashire that marks the 1860’s origin of the fish and chip shop and thereby all subsequent fast food industries. By 1910, there were more than 25,000 fish and chip shops across the UK rising to more than 35,000 by the 1920’s.

2. Fried fish (no chips) was being sold as a street food in the 1840’s, and by the early 1850’s there were several ‘Fried Fish Shops’ in London. According to Cassels Dictionary of Cookery fried fish should be wiped very dry, and floured before being put into the pan of boiling fat. Next to oil clarified dripping is the best.

Fish & Chips 13. At around the same time, the owner of a shop in the town of Mossley in Lancashire that sold pigs= trotters and pea soup noticed a vendor at a nearby market selling ‘chipped potatoes in the French style’ subsequently added them to his repertoire, thus creating the very first Chip Shop.

4. Charles Dickens, that champion of the English downtrodden, gives the first reference to chips of potatoes in his novel ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and mentions a fried fish warehouse in ‘Oliver Twist’ Perhaps his widely‑read and much‑loved books had something to do with their subsequent, and widespread popularity.

5. In 1928 Harry Ramsden opened an unpretentious little shop near Bradford in Yorkshire that was to become the most famous fish and chip shop in the world. On a single day in 1952, his shop in Guiseley, West Yorkshire, served 10,000 portions of fish and chips, earning itself a place in the Guinness Book of Records. The business has 35 owned and franchised outlets throughout the UK and Ireland. Harry Ramsden’s claims to be ‘Britain’s longest established restaurant chain’

Fish & Chips 5 - Deep Fried Mars Bar6. In the mid 1990’s The Carron Fish Bar in Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, claims to have created the deep-fried Mars bar. As it says on the tin it is just an ordinary Mars bar fried in the type of batter more commonly used for deep-frying fish, sausages, and other battered products. The chocolate bar is typically chilled before battering to prevent it from melting into the frying oil. Some tongue in cheek reporting on the popularity of the dish in the mid-1990s, as a ‘commentary’ on Scotland’s unhealthy diet, saw the popularity of the dishes rise as inevitable!

7. The name ‘chip-shop’ was first coined the early fifties while the form was shortened to ‘Chippy’ (or ‘chippie’) in the early sixties. Occasionally the type of fish will be specified, as in ‘Cod’n’Chips’. The ‘fish and chip shop’ has become a staple throughout the western world whilst making inroads into middle and far-eastern markets.

8. During World War II, fish and chips remained one of the few foods in the United Kingdom not subject to rationing. The Prime Minister Winston 1940's A Coke Fired Fish & Chip Van, WymeringChurchill referred to the combination of fish and chips as ‘the good companions’ British fish and chips were originally served in a wrapping of old newspapers but this practice has now largely ceased, with plain paper, cardboard, or plastic being used instead.

9. The concept of a fish restaurant, as opposed to take-away, was introduced by Samuel Isaacs (born 1856 in Whitechapel, London; died 1939 in Brighton, Sussex) who ran a thriving wholesale and retail fish business throughout London and the South of England in the latter part of the 19th century. Isaacs’ first restaurant opened in London in 1896 serving fish and chips, bread and butter, and tea for nine pence, and its popularity ensured a rapid expansion of the chain. The restaurants were carpeted, had table service, tablecloths, flowers, china and cutlery, and made the trappings of upmarket dining affordable to the working classes for the first time. They were located in London, Clacton, Brighton, Ramsgate, Margate and other seaside resorts in southern England

10. The true history of this classic combination seasoned with salt and vinegar will, like that of the hamburger in the USA, almost certainly never be proven to the satisfaction of every stakeholder. But be that as it may, this must not let this put us off considering the ‘facts’ as they appear! I have been reliably informed that John Lennon enjoyed his fish and chips, a staple of the working class, smothered in ketchup while in America people prefer tartare sauce! Well would you credit it!

Fish & Chips - 9 Ultimate combination


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