So the Olympic Games in Rio has just started, with all the attendant controversy about athletic enhancement. It takes me back to the Olympics in London four years ago.
The 2012 Olympics were amazing. I am not a huge sports fan, but I will remember the Olympics until the day I die, and not just for the sport. The main site for the Olympics was an ex-industrial site in Stratford, London E15 (thinking back now, I struggle to think what it was like pre-Olympics, although I have a photograph somewhere, and I’ve lived over that way for a long time).
The opening ceremony was directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting fame, to name only one). Most of us Londoners were pretty impressed.
A highlight of the games was that Qatar, Brunei and Saudi Arabia entered female athletes for the first time. Female boxing was admitted as a sport for the first time, which meant that every sport had female competitors. Yay for London 2012.
Transport for London built the cable car across the Thames between Greenwich Peninsula and Royal Docks (which was a very under-developed area before the games) to make travel between venues easier. It is called the Emirates Air Line, because of the sponsorship.
Something that made the games stand out were the Games Makers. They were a team of (in the region of) 70,000 volunteers who helped everyone (visitors, athletes, etc) to make their way aroud the venues. They were amazing the whole way through, with some of them even handing out sweets to visitors. I know we should never accept sweets from strangers, but when it’s a chocolate…. Lol.
The Olympics was followed by the Paralympics, which was renowned as a success for the athletes involved, and the number of countries who put forward paralymians. And the number of medals Britain won. (Sorry if that’s not very sporting but it was good for us Brits.)
I was fortunate enough to attend the winners’ parade. It was amazing. All these people who had worked so hard to get themselves to their peak of fitness and bring home the goods. Oh yes, the 2012 Olympics were good. Here’s hoping that Rio is just as good.
I took my brother and my sister-in-law on a little walking tour the other day. We passed the site of Baynard Castle, which was originally a Norman castle in the area that is now Queen Victoria Street in the City of London. Baynard Castle was, like so much of the rest of the City, destroyed in the Great Fire of London, but well before that, Henry VIII gave it to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon as a wedding present. Researching that, I found out a few things, so here are ten things I’ve learned about Catherine of Aragon:
She was the great-granddaughter of Catherine of Lancaster on her mother’s side.
She had a stronger claim to the English throne than Henry VII and Henry VIII – her ancestors were born on the right side of the blankets, the Henrys’ weren’t. That was why they were so keen to make an alliance with her.
She was betrothed to Arthur, Prince of Wales, at the age on only three years.
Had Catherine not married someone else in the royal family after the death of her first husband, Henry VIII’s brother Arthur, her (rather large) dowry would have had to be repaid. Not an appealing thought for the king or his son.
Henry VIII was five years younger than his wife.
Catherine’s mother died before she re-married, which reduced her “value” as a bride. (Hey, I know it’s sexist, but that was the way of the world then.)
Catherine served as Spanish ambassador to England in 1507 – the first female ambassador in European history.
Although she had six pregnancies, only one of her children survived to adulthood – she later went on to become Queen Mary, also known as Bloody Mary.
When Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn, Catherine was retitled “Princess Dowager,” a huge slap in the face.
When Catherine first arrived in London, she brought her African attendants with her. They were the first Africans to have been recorded as coming to London, and were said to be luxury servants.
A visit to Windsor and Runnymede the other day made me think about the Magna Carta. The Magna Carta (Great Charter) was issued by King John in 1215 because he was facing a political crisis – to put it bluntly, he’d upset all his barons and they were raising arms against him. He didn’t really have a great deal of choice but to try to appease them. (As it happened, he didn’t stick to the terms, so his troubles were far from over, but I’m jumping ahead of myself.)
I’d always wondered why John chose Runnymede as the spot for the agreement. It turns out that this lovely little place, along the bank of the Thames, was the traditional place for assemblies at the time, but also, it was about half way Windsor castle, the rebels base at Staines. It was neutral ground and did not confer a military advantage on either side. That must have been an important consideration for the barons as King John had a reputation for being somewhat duplicitous.
I hope you’ve all got over your shock and horror at learning that someone in a position of power had a reputation for being a bit of a cad. Outrageous behaviour. Wouldn’t happen nowadays. Ahem.
John was the younger brother of Richard the Lion Heart. Richard, loved as he was by the people, wasn’t actually the best king ever, he spent a lot of time away fighting in the Crusades. (Good for him but bad for us peasants.) So John, although not the greatest king, and a bit of a cowardly custard compared with big Bro, wasn’t totally to blame. He didn’t help matters though, he didn’t have his brother’s charisma, nor his sense, and he lost a lot of the family jewels to France. The long and the short of it was that John owed money to his barons and had no intention of paying them back. That was possibly a good short-term plan, but was never going to work in the long-term.
The Magna Carta didn’t, if John complied with the legal terms, give him a lot of wriggle room. Many historians say that there was only one way out – civil war. And, sure as eggs are eggs, war broke out within three months of the signing of the Magna Carta.
There were several more “Great Charters” over the years; to be honest, the territory becomes quite technical in terms of legal issues, and I have no intention of going into them here. (Two reasons: one, I am not a lawyer, two, I am not a historian.) Suffice it to say that the Magna Carta had a huge impact, conferring a number of rights on the barons of the day (not on the rest of us, those of us that were peasants were really unaffected by it). The rights conferred were built on over time, who knows where we would all be now, if not for the Magna Carta? Although, somehow, I suspect we’d have reached a place not far from where we are now, just maybe with far more bloodshed.
I am, and always have been an animal lover. I don’t like all animals – I don’t like slugs, not crazy about snails, and would really prefer not to be close to wild rats. Aside from that, I like animals. So when I found an injured stray cat in my garden a couple of weeks ago, I was in a bit of a flap.
Regular readers will know that I have four cats, all female, all beautiful, so it’s no surprise that the local boys like to come for a visit, but my girls are not very friendly. (They are to me, but they know me.). They don’t like these male interlopers staring in through the windows at them. I’ve even see Artemis “fighting” through the window because she doesn’t think they should be there.
This little stray – I knew he was male because of his behaviour – had been hanging around in my garden for some weeks but I still didn’t know his distress call, and anyway, he didn’t make a noise until he saw me. I don’t generally feed the strays because my girls don’t like it. (Very jealous.). He had taken to sitting in Telesto’s favourite spot under one of the trees, which didn’t go down too well.
So it wasn’t until I got up to let my girls go outside that I realised that he was injured. He did his usual thing when he saw me and got up to move away from me so I could see he was limping, holding his right back leg at an angle and not putting any weight on it.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to just catch him, so what to do? I rang the RSPCA.
“Feed him at the same time every day, try to catch him. When you do, give us a ring and we’ll give you a reference number so you can take him to a vet to get him treated.”
“I don’t think it’s going to be that easy.”
“We’ll get one of the inspectors to give you a ring.”
Sure enough, one of their inspectors did give me a ring, a few days later, and came round. Of course, the cat had disappeared by the time Michael turned up. He told me that he didn’t think the leg was broken as the cat would have been dragging it rather than holding it up. My plan to try to get the little cat in one of my pet carriers had failed miserably – I’d bought some cheap food that little boy cats could have, put a bowl in the carrier but when the lovely Oceana went outside, she went into the carrier, ate the food and pushed the door “to” behind her. Well, she can open cupboard doors, provided the spring is not too strong, and very nearly open drawers, so why was I surprised?
Michael told me that they use humane traps to catch cats but they didn’t have any spare at the time so he suggested I try Celia Hammond or the PDSA. I did, but they couldn’t help me. A few days later, Michael called me back,
“I’ve got a trap. I can be round in fifteen minutes.”
“Great, thank you.”
The little stray cat had been injured for a week now, and although by now he was able to jump, he still wasn’t putting his full weight on his back leg.
Michael showed me how to operate the trap. I didn’t try to catch him straight away, I really wanted it to be a day when I didn’t have to go out, but I was also conscious that the poor little boy was still in pain. Oh the best laid plans…
To cut a long story short, I did manage to trap him – it was actually much easier than I thought, but due to a break down in communication, he was in the trap for 24 hours, which upset me and him.
Joe, another inspector, came round the following day and took him. He told me that he could see by looking at him that the cat was not neutered, which probably meant that he wasn’t micro chipped. He also told me that only about one in 20 of the cats they collect has a micro chip. This little stray cat has gone off, and hopefully will be neutered and found a good home.
No-one knows exactly how many cats there are in the UK at the moment, but between July and September 2012, there were over 24,000 calls to the RSPCA and Cats Protection alone reporting strays or unwanted cats. As a nation of so-called animal lovers, we really aren’t doing very well.
If you do have a pet (cat or dog), unless you are a serious breeder, please get it spayed or neutered. It’s better for the animal, and it will help to reduce the number of strays. Some of the following charities are able to help with neutering if you are in financial difficulty:
A comment made by one of the men at a workshop I attended this week reminded me of the well-dressed Beau Brummell. I’ve seen the 1954 film starring Stewart Granger and Elizabeth Taylor, but apart from reading that he was a “Dandy” didn’t know much about him, so I decided to find out more about Mr Beau Brummell.
Anyone who has ever watched any period dramas will know that Henry VIII and Charles II were very flamboyant in their dress, complete with the elaborate wigs the men wore in the seventeenth century, yet somewhere it all changed… Beau Brummell was the catalyst for that change, which included spending a lot of time in the bathroom. And frankly, in a good way, because hygiene wasn’t high on the list of things to do in Tudor and Stuart England. Brummell changed the fashion from men wearing multi-coloured outfits to wearing just a few, usually more sombre colours, and jackets closer to the ones worn nowadays.
Brummell was born George Bryan Brummell on 7 June 1778, in London (apparently in Downing Street), the son of Lord North’s secretary (Prime Minister from 1770 to 1782). Brummell went to Eton and Oxford, although he only spent a year at the latter, having requested to join the army. (In those days, you had to pay to join, so he had to get the money from the executors of his father’s estate.)
He joined the Prince of Wales’ own regiment as the lowest officer rank, a cornet, however, within two years he had been promoted to captain. No-one is really clear how Brummell came to the notice of the Prince, but come to notice he did, and they became close. When the regiment was sent to Manchester, Brummell resigned his commission; clearing being out of London would not assist him in staying close to the Prince.
By 1799, Brummell had come into his inheritance and soon became known for his understated style of dress. He became very powerful – if he liked you, you would be in the “in” crowd, or not as the case might have been.
He was also known for his wit, and, some might say, rudeness, and this is, allegedly, how he lost favour with the prince – he asked, “Who is your fat friend?” when referring to the prince. Yep, that’ll do it every time.
Brummell also ran up a lot of debts through gambling, and someone to whom he owed money, Richard Meyler, found out that Brummell intended to renege on them. Meyler took the opportunity of telling anyone who would listen about Brummell’s behaviour, which was the nearest thing to challenging him to a duel without actually using those words that he could do. Brummell did a runner. He made his way to Calais, where he could go without having a passport.
Beau went on to become British Consul in Caen, which enabled him to pay off some of his debts, but he probably knew his days were numbered – he was suffering from syphilis. When the job as consul came to an end, the debts started to mount again, and he was eventually imprisoned as a result. A contact agreed to return to the UK to try to get some money, which he did, so Brummell was released from prison.
Within a few years, however, he was growing increasingly ill, leading to insanity that is so often characteristic of the disease. He died in a mental asylum in March 1840.
I’m not a political animal but even I haven’t been able to avoid the events of the past week – the Brexit, David Cameron resigning, the Euros, Labour front bench MPS resigning, and a vote of no confidence against Jeremy Corbyn. I’m not sure whether this counts as a constitutional crisis or not.
In fact, there is no official definition of a constitutional crisis, although much of the world press seems to think it’s on the cards that one will happen. Whatever, it’s an unsettling time for us all, and not just in the UK. My fears that the EU will fall apart now have been echoed across the water. I’m amazed that no-one in any position of authority (other than the wonderful Mark Carney at the Bank of England) appears to have planned the next move in the event of a leave vote.
Will Scotland leave the Union? (I think that’s a resounding yes, if Nicola Sturgeon gets her way, but then, surely, Scotland will have to apply to join the EU in its own right? That doesn’t happen overnight.) If so, that would push us closer to a constitutional crisis, surely?
In order for a constitutional crisis to occur, it’s usually necessary for there usually has to be a situation in which the constitutional principles do not answer a serious issue of governance. To add confusion to the mix, Britain doesn’t have a written constitution. It has its written laws, it’s institutions (eg parliament itself) and its customs, all of which have worked pretty well together up until now.
As we don’t have a written constitution, technically, the referendum is not binding on the government. (That said, ignoring the result might be enough to trigger a constitutional crisis.). Not only that, there is a body of legal thought that says that the Scottish Parliament has to give its consent to Britain leaving the EU… That’s an interesting thought.
Has there ever been a constitutional crisis before in the UK? By gad, yes. In 1215, there was the Barons Revolt, which led to King John signing the Magna Carta. That was pretty serious for the King. And then again in 1936, when Edward VIII abdicated so that he could marry Wallis Simpson. (Rumours about his being Nazi sympathiser still abound.) So if this does become a constitutional crisis, we will survive it, things just might be messy for a while.
The truth is that none of us knows how this is all going to play out yet, but I might just write to the FA and offer them my services as a career coach…
My friend Vilma bought me a voucher for a trip to the Chiltern Valley Winery and Brewery near to Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire. It was last year’s birthday present. The vineyard is way out in the country, down narrow country lanes, it was a good job we had sat nav.
Our tour started promptly at 11am, in the shop. Steve, our guide, explained that the vineyard started life as a pig farm. When it was purchased in 1980, the new owner decided that pig farming was not for him. He contacted the Department of Agriculture to get them to test the soil to see what would grow best there. When the report came back, his choices were rhubarb or grapes. He plumped for grapes. The first harvest was in 1984 and the vineyard has moved from strength to strength ever since. In the 1990s they moved into brewing beer. They were awarded a Royal Warrant in 2007 – the Duke of Edinburgh is rather partial to Barn Ale, one of their beers.
Steve took us into the brewing area, and showed us the big wine press and the bottling plant (which was rather impressive). He explained the processes while we were there. The sparkling wine is produced in the traditional methode champenoise with the second fermentation taking place in the bottle.
The beers are also made in traditional ways, using pale, crystal or chocolate malted barleys – Steve explained this better than I can, but in essence, the longer the barley is roasted, the darker it becomes, so pale is roasted for the shortest time, crystal longer and chocolate longer still. (I did become rather excited when the word chocolate was mentioned but the malting is named after appearance rather than taste.)
And then to the tastings…
I was rather partial to the English Sparkling Wine (absolutely delicious) and the Dry White, although we didn’t try all of the wines that they make there. I have a feeling that there would have been others that took my fancy. After the beers came the liqueurs. I’m rather prone to sloe gin but I bought a little bottle of the Irish Cream. I actually prefer it to the better known variety, I found it a softer taste.
You really do need a car to get here, it’s down narrow country lanes, but it’s well worth a visit.
A chance remark by my sister-in-law the other day made me wonder about the history of the English pub.
According to Historic UK (Historic-uk.com) they date back to Roman times. In Rome, tabernae were shops that sold wine. When the Romans invaded, they brought the tabernae along with them, although ale being the local drink replaced the wine that would have traditionally been drunk in Italy.
As is the English way, the word tabernae became corrupted to the word tavern. They were built beside the great Roman roads, which were the main transport hubs. Back in those days, there weren’t many towns, England was mostly villages.
In case you, like me, ever wondered, taverns and alehouses (a far more English term) provided food and drink, inns also offered accommodation. Apparently, Inns were also used as recruitment centres to accompany the king on his crusades. It wasn’t until the fourteenth century that we started to use hops in brewing so making beer instead of ale.
Over time, inns, alehouses and taverns became public houses, and eventually pubs. In 1552, an act of parliament required those who ran pubs to have a licence. By 1577, there were over 19,000 pubs across England and Wales – around one pub to 200 people. Some competition, then.
Brewing was the traditional way of purifying water in the northern hemisphere, making it a part of everyday life, even when tea and coffee were introduced into the country in the 1600s as it was only the wealthy who could afford to drink these
Around the first half of the eighteenth century, cheap gin came over from Holland, as well as other cheap spirits from elsewhere in Europe. They rose in popularity, bringing their own set of social problems – if you’ve ever watched any adaptations of Dickens’ novels, you’ll have some idea of this, but it was good for the pubs.
When stagecoaches hit the street, coaching inns were built on the main routes up and down the country, providing food and drink, stabling and changes of horses, an absolute necessity for the stagecoach companies. It was the stagecoaches that started the first, second and third class system of travel that persisted on to the railways, and pubs set themselves up in a similar way – the public bar and saloon bar.
So there we have it ladies and gentlemen, a brief history of the English pub.
Bro, Li’l Sis and I took a trip to St Paul’s Cathedral at the weekend. We had booked a guided tour. Our guide, Janna, a very passionate and exuberant lady who told us that she really wanted to keep us in the Cathedral for two weeks to tell us and show us everything that there was to know and see… That wasn’t as creepy as I’ve just made it sound, she really did mean it as a joke. I think. She also told us that we were not allowed to take photographs inside the cathedral, which is a real shame since it was so stunning.
St Paul’s Cathedral since 604AD
Janna told us that there has been a cathedral on this site since 604AD (earlier than the first abbey was built down the road at Westminster). The site where St Paul’s stands was chosen for a few reasons – one was that what we know as the City of London was London in those days, most of the rest of what is now London was fields and marsh land. Ludgate Hill, where St Paul’s stands, is the highest point in the City, so strategically a good position to have a building of importance. When the Romans were here (what did they do for us??) it is likely that there was a temple in the same area, so the rest, as they say, is history.
A Bit of History to put it in Context
By medieval times, London was still a walled City, and hadn’t spread much outside at that time. As 95% of the population was illiterate, streets became named after the trades carried out in there: Milk Street (milk was sold there), Bread Street (bread was made there), Love Lane (you can work that one out for yourselves). The social lives of the common folk revolved around the 87 churches in the City, and St Paul’s was at the heart of it all.
Most of the houses were timber built (there was plenty of wood in England) and when the families got bigger, people just extended their houses upwards. London wasn’t a clean city in those days, all the household waste was just chucked in the streets, and eventually made its way into the River Thames.
St Paul’s – Destroyed and Rebuilt
On 2 September 1666, soon after midnight, in a baker’s shop in Pudding Lane, a young apprentice fell asleep whilst in charge of the fire under the oven. A spark flew out of the fire and set fire to the flammable materials nearby and the fire took hold. The fire lasted for four days. Despite King Charles II himself taking charge and ordering a number of buildings to be destroyed to create fire breaks, it persisted for four days because the wind kept changing direction. Amazing then, that although there were only about eight fatalities when so much of of London was destroyed, St Paul’s included.
Sir Christopher Wren (he was plain old Chris Wren when he started working on rebuilding St Paul’s) was a very clever man – an architect, mathematician, he could read Latin and Ancient Greek, to name but a few of his talents. He designed many buildings, including Christ Church College Bell Tower, Oxford, The Wren Library at Trinity College, Cambridge and the Royal Hospital at Chelsea.
The King engaged Wren to do a lot of the reconstruction in London, including St Paul’s. (In fact, he rebuilt 52 churches in the City after the fire. I think I am correct in saying that the the remaining 35 were never rebuilt.) Wren told the King that he wanted the new cathedral to be different from the original, he wanted people to see the light of God. He also said that he wanted the cathedral to have a dome.
The King rejected Wren’s first four designs. The King, whose father had been beheaded, and who was still concerned about Catholic:Protestant unease, felt that an Anglican Church with a dome was not right, it seemed more in the style of Catholic Churches eg St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Eventually, after some negotiation and modification, Wren’s fifth design was accepted. It took Wren 28 years to perfect the style and build of the dome – I believe he did “trial runs” on seven other churches before he was sure he’d got it right – St Stephen’s at Walbrook being one of them. The whole rebuild of St Paul’s took 35 years.
A Triumph of Structural Engineering
London is built on a clay soil, relatively weak in structural terms, which presented something of a challenge to Wren because of the weight of the cathedral he was about to build. St Paul’s has a crypt, the largest of any church in Europe. About half of the area of which is taken up by columns that support the weight of the cathedral. Additionally, the dome is supported by eight columns (rather than the usual four for similar designs) in order to distribute the weight more easily. As the foundations settled during the building of the cathedral, Wren made adjustments in the design to allow for this.
During our tour, Janna took us to what is known as the Dean’s stairway, a spiral staircase in which each of the 88 steps only goes into the wall by about 150 mm. Such was Wren’s genius that he worked out that if he cantilevered each step slightly, the weight would be born down thus obviating the necessity of a large inset into the wall. The entrance here has been seen in a number of films, including the Sherlock Holmes film with Robert Downey Junior and one of the Harry Potter’s.
The strength of the design was born out during World War II, when two bombs exploded nearby and an incendiary device also went off. The steps remained in place. In fact, about four years ago, when the building was being checked, only a couple of the steps were found to have cracks, some 300 odd years after being built. I know of many newer buildings that haven’t withstood the ravages of time so well, without bombs going off nearby.
The main doors of the cathedral weigh a ton each, and yet, because of Wren’s design, they can be opened easily by one person.
Although you wouldn’t know it to look at it, there are actually three domes. The outer one, that we all know and love is wooden, covered with lead, the inner one is brick. The one in between, a bit like an inverted ice-cream cone is made of wooden struts that hold the other domes together. Although Wren wanted mosaics in the dome area, it was, once again, thought to be too similar to a Catholic Church, so it wasn’t until many years later that the mosaics were installed.
It is 365 feet from the ground floor to the top of St Paul’s Whispering Gallery, with 257 steps to get there. From the Whispering Gallery to the next level, the Stone Gallery, is another 119 steps, and from there to the Golden Gallery is a further 152 steps – 528 in total.
There is much, much more to be said about St Paul’s, far too much for one blog post. Too many secrets for one visit too. Definitely worth another visit.
I had dinner with my friend named Dorothy the other day, which set me on thinking about the origin of the expression, “A friend of Dorothy’s.” I first heard this expression a few years ago, when a gay friend of mine used it. As he knows our Dorothy, I thought he was referring to another friend of hers to start with. How confusing life becomes.
The term “a friend of Dorothy” originates from the Second World War, or maybe earlier. In those days, homosexual acts were illegal in both the UK and the USA. That meant all homosexual acts, whether behind closed doors or not. So, in the States, asking if someone was “a friend of Dorothy” was a way of finding out someone’s sexual orientation without giving too much away. In the UK, at around the same time, the question was, “Are you a friend of Mrs King?”
My thinking around this moved me onto thinking about the origin of a few other phrases that I still use:
CupboardLove – I use this a lot with my cats, who seem to find me utterly desirable when I am eating chicken or fish… I believe the technical definition is affection that is given to obtain reward. Sounds about right in my household. Somewhat annoyingly, I haven’t been able to find the origin of this expression, but I wanted to include it.
Month of Sunday’s – means a long, indeterminate time, eg, “I haven’t seen Jo in a month of Sunday’s.” It is believed to originate from the Christian Holy Day Sunday, when activities were (and still are, to a certain extent, at least in the UK) regulated eg, shops not open, etc. Some people perceived Sunday’s as being long and boring, and a month of Sunday’s would have been 30 or 31 weeks, the amount of time it would take for a month of Sunday’s to pass.
Every Cloud has a Silver Lining – I love this phrase, I think it’s lyrical and full of hope (which it is, of course). John Milton first used the expression “Silver Lining” in 1634. From then on, it started to be used extensively in literature. It wasn’t until 1840 that “There’s a silver lining to every cloud,” was first used, and that was how the phrase came to be commonly used until 1849 when the current form was used in a book review.
A Fate Worse than Death – this originally meant anything that would make life unbearable, and was generally used with regard to rape or loss of one’s virginity in the days when respectable ladies “didn’t do that sort of thing” outside of wedlock. Back in those days, women were believed to be better off dead if either of these circumstances had occurred. (I dare say that some would still feel that way about rape.). It seems to have first been used in literature in the late 1700s but nowadays is used in a much more lighthearted fashion.
The English language is full of odd little sayings and idioms, and maybe I’ll write about more in the future, but that’s all for now.