Saturday, 14 January 2017

Baize, and Other Stuff

Talking with my son about the finer points of baize tonight got me thinking about the word. He was a little surprised that I knew the correct name for the felt-like fabric used on billiard and poker tables. But then he remembered he was talking to his mother, who knows lots of random facts: here are a few more!

I researched the origin of the word baize. Originally a coarse woollen cloth, it was chosen for its use on playing surfaces because the coarseness causes a desirable friction. There are different grades, depending on the speed at which you wish to play. While today baize is almost always green, originally it came in brown. The name baize comes from the French adjective meaning bay-coloured.

In English we still use the word bay to describe a type of brown horse. Although, as my Icelandic friend says: there are lots of different types of brown in horses. I think she was shocked when I described her horse as "brown" and I am sure  Icelandic has a much richer vocabulary in describing colours of horses than English. Something to do with the importance of the horse within the culture. Even so, my research shows English has more horse colour names than I gave it credit.

Me and a horsey friend in Iceland 2015

A bay horse is generally reddish brown, but it must have black points: dark mane, and ear and leg edges. Despite the word bay originating from the Latin word badius for chestnut or reddish brown, a chestnut horse is not a bay: a chestnut has no dark points. For further reading about Icelandic culture, horses and the meaning of life, check out "A Good Horse has no Colour"

recommended reading
It makes me wonder about the phrase "brown as a berry" and whether the berry referenced is the Chestnut... but more on that another day.

Back to that green cloth: baize was also traditionally tacked to the door leading to the servants quarters in grand houses. It helped to deaden the noise: an type of soundproofing. It gave rise to the phrase "green baize door" to denote domestic service.

I hope that is not the green door they are referring to in this song: if so, the staff are going to be in trouble when the master gets home! This is the original version of a song I remember from the 80's.

Friday, 13 January 2017

British Tea time biscuits and political persuasions

As a rule, I am not a big consumer of commercially made biscuits. However one of my kiwi friends who has just returned to the UK to live is an expert. We were discussing differences in food between NZ and UK and she bemoaned the fact that Malt biscuits are unobtainable here, and how can she make lolly cake without them? I have to confess I have never made lolly cake, a classic for Kiwi kids, and this failing must be rectified. I have promised to bring her a packet of malt biscuits when I return from New Zealand in March, and we will make lolly cake together. Happy Days!

Bourbon Cream and a cuppa

That conversation got me thinking about biscuits and then I was offered a Bourbon Cream at morning tea yesterday. It got me thinking about the classic British biscuits. Some of these biscuits I already knew of by name from references in British films and books. So it was interesting to see if the reality lived up to the anticipation.

Bourbon Cream: two oblong chocolate biscuits sandwiched with a cream filling. Not sure if there is a NZ equivalent. No, not named for, or flavoured with American whisky. it's named in honour of the ancient European royal house. The Bourbons out-lived their welcome in France, but still reign in Spain and Luxembourg. The biscuit was first made in London in 1910.

Marie biscuit: similar to a Vanilla Wine. Its the creation of a London bakery, and named in honour of Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia to the Duke of Edinburgh* (second son of Queen Victoria) in 1874. Really popular worldwide, apparently.

Garibaldi: Full o' Fruit would be our NZ equivalent. This biscuit, commonly referred to as a fly cemetery, was named in honour of the leader of Italian unification. Garibaldi apparently made quite an impression on the British public when he visited South Shields in the 1850's. The biscuit has been manufactured since 1861.

So, a couple of right wing, pro-monarchy choices, and a left wing populist biscuit, which might be slightly better for you. Could be a conversation starter at your next cup of tea?

* New Zealand link: Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh was the first member of the British Royal family to visit New Zealand. This was in 1869, on board the HMS Galatea, the Royal Navy ship of which he was commander. He had survived an assassination attempt the previous year while in Australia.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Pinner Church

St John the Baptist Church, Pinner, Middlesex

St John the Baptist Church at the head of the High Street in Pinner has more than its share of curiosities.

Looking up the High Street, past the Queens Head pub to the church

First off, a favourite for me, a New Zealand connection. There is a memorial window in the church to the son and grandson of a Pinner resident: both died in the First World War. The grandson Edward A Hogg, served with the NZ Expeditionary Forces and fell at Bapaume in the last months of the war.

Edward A Hogg died 1918
Talk about side-tracked: I did a little research on the Hogg family and what was meant to be a quick blog post quickly got derailed, and delayed this post by a day. More information will follow another day: it includes famous hymns, spiders, shellshock, drunkenness and contested wills. And lots of New Zealand connections.

The Pinner church includes a small graveyard: there is another bigger one just around the corner: Paines Lane, which I have written about before. The most unusual tomb has what looks like a coffin raised at least six feet above ground... but apparently the body is in the ground at the conventional six feet below.

In the graveyard, St John the Baptist Church, Pinner

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Calendar Notes: looking forward and back

Coin minted by Brutus to mark the assassination of Julius Caesar (on the ides of March)

As part of my review of the year I have been spending some time looking at dates on my fast-filling diary for 2017. I am using my Outlook calendar for lightweight-travel sake, but with my visual wiring, I do prefer a real live wall calendar, preferably with boxes I can write in.

Thinking about calendars, looking at 50% off calendars in the shops and practicing my high school Latin (!) by deciphering the mottos on the Harrow School crest on my walk yesterday all converged. This morning I had a eureka moment. OMG, only just realised! (after all these years, lol) Calendar comes from kalends: the first day of a Roman month. We all know about the ides of March, from Shakespeare, don't we? (translated as 15 March)

In the Roman year the days of the month were denoted by reference to the kalends, ides or nones which were the first day of the month, the middle of the month and eight days before the ides respectively. The dates were set by counting back from the next named reference day. So today would be 4 days before the kalends of January.

As I tell my kids: I may not pick up on it at first, but I always work it out in the end.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Avoiding New Year's Resolutions

HMS Resolution*

I have been a follower of Chris Guillebeau's blog, the Art of Non-Conformity for many years. Each year at this time he conducts an annual review, and this year I am going  follow along with his procedure in this outline post. The aim is to not make resolutions, but rather a personalised plan of action for 2017.

He recommends first making a pen and paper list of what worked well and what didn't work so well in the past year. So that is what I am working on today. And as he notes, from my initial thoughts that "not much happened in 2016" it is amazing what I have achieved when I spend some time to think about it.

* New Zealand connection: Resolution was Captain James Cook's ship on his second and third voyages of discovery. On both trips he visited New Zealand

Monday, 26 December 2016

Christmas Dinner for one or two

As Christmas day approached I was reminded of some fun facts my German cousin Annegret taught me. I visited her in Frankfurt two years ago in the run up to Christmas. She introduced me to a couple of traditional German TV programmes for the festive season. One is watching "Sissi" a highly romanticised story of the courtship of  Emperor Franz Josef I*and Princess Elizabeth. Empress Elizabeth, as she became, was a fascinating but quite mentally unstable woman (in my opinion) and this film was a large part of her mythmaking. Elizabeth was born the year that Victoria came to the throne. There are some interesting parallels between her story and that of the late, lamented Diana, Princess of Wales

The other TV tradition is watching "Dinner for One" a short black and white film, in English. More properly watched on Silvester (New Years Eve), it has become a German tradition to watch in the festive season. People have put theories forward on why it has become a cult classic in Germany, while remaining unknown in English-speaking countries, but essentially it is a mystery.

This article gives you a bit more background (and a  better quality video: skip the first 2 1/2 minutes if you want to miss the German intro)

The scenario seems poignantly relevant for me this year as I spent Christmas Day (and every other day of the holidays) with my elderly client, in my current role as live-in carer. Christmas Day was just her, me, and the turkey. Unlike the film, no alcohol was involved.
a. because I was working, and
b. because this is a teetotal home.

I have been working as a relief live-in carer for the past 4 months, and it certainly raises some talking points about a slew of topics. I'll be discussing some of them with my family when we celebrate a very belated Christmas when I am back home in February 2017.

*New Zealand connection: yes that's the emperor our famous Franz Josef glacier is named for.