Friday, 16 December 2016

Good King Wenceslas last looked on the Feast of Stephen …

I had absolutely no idea about Good King Wenceslas (907 – 935AD) – I have heartily sung his carol every year, without being aware of his story …

Another of those Bohemian tales … of intrigue, cruelty, murder and power struggles in the medieval period.

He was a good man … not a king, but a duke - who was murdered in AD 935 by his brother Boleslav: to whom he had generously given lands and status.

Boleslav town where Wenceslas lived

A mass burial site at Budec was found in 1982 … it is north of Prague … the Budec massacre is not mentioned in history, but it is speculated that it was part of “the wave of violence that reportedly followed the murder of the Duke”, while Boleslav secured the area.  The younger brother was more of the time and place in history: cruel and power hungry …

St Peter and Paul Church, Budec, Kladno
 ... a prehistoric place of settlement

The martyrdom of Wenceslas I, Duke of Bohemia … quickly gave rise to a reputation for heroic goodness, resulting in his being elevated to sainthood, posthumously declared king, seen as the patron saint of the Czech state, and who today comes down to us as a man of peace and goodwill.

St Wenceslas Chapel, St Vitus

Let us bring peace to our fellow citizens … helping make our world a better place for everyone – give and receive a smile, live and give hope ….

So let the last two lines of the carol ring out:

Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.

Have blessed, peaceful, generous Christmases, New Years with remembrances into 2017 …

I'll be back in the New Year and around otherwise ... 

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories 

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Cinnamon – homely and exotic …

… definitely a spice … I will, anon, add a Cinnamon post into my Herbs, Spices and Herbalists series – for now let’s celebrate its festive attributes …

Cinnamon with apple

 We are into that Christmassy spice … oh aroma! wafting from the homely domestic kitchen … the pervading spicy scent inhabiting all corners …

Share mulled wiine while making
Christmas cookies, pomander oranges

Christmas is a-coming … and what better way than with some cinnamon dishes to tempt you to try old favourites, or new ones …

Cinnamon Roll
… share the kitchen with one or two friends, relatives near and dear … try new recipes out … entice, laugh and remember days gone by, look happily to the future …

Cafe de Olla
(see the Piloncillo cone)
Cinnamon – use a stick to stir your coffee … giving it a delicate, elusive flavour … or the Mexican speciality … CafĂ© de Olla – flavoured with cinnamon and piloncillo (unrefined cane sugar, typically found in the shape of cones) …

Or how about Persian Rice with Cinnamon ...
this version has lentils instead of pistacchios

Southern Fried Chicken – one of the best known of all American dishes … uses flour mixed with cinnamon as coating before frying … I’m not sure it would go with our Christmas turkey …

Choose the best - it comes from
Ceylon and is not the 'rougher' Cassia

So let’s use our ‘pudding stick’ the old English name for cinnamon … like a wand to transform all manner of foodie delights …

Stir the pudding ... add the cinnamon
Then settle down with some mulled wine, cinnamon sticks included of course … thinking about the baked apples with cinnamon, the Christmas cake, mince pies … some exotic Mexican flavoured chocolate …

Cinnamon Apple Tart - make some to
share at a community event

What more could one want in the build up to the festive season … a few kind words for everyone, a smile, food bank donations, charitable thoughts and pennies, and a good laugh …

Early Medieval Wassailers

Good King Wenceslas visits this blog next … and then it’s relax, chaotic preparation, and down time til the New Year … see you all in a few days …

An Anglo-Saxon greeting … Wassail: Be Thou Hale …:

A wassail, A wassail, A wassail we begin,

With sugar plums and cinnamon, and other spices in;

Sugar Plums and Cinnamon cake

    With a wassail, a wassail, a jolly wassail,

    And may joy come to you and to our wassail

    With a wassail, a wassail, a jolly wassail,

    And may joy come to you and to our wassail.

Please Remember Others ... and our Environment ... 

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Marmite v Bovril ...

Love it – or hate it … or both … when we were growing up after the War – we would have Bovril as a drink when we were ill in bed or recovering, or Marmite as a spread to help us get better or later on … just because that’s what we liked …

So ours were two distinctly different kitchen items … now I have just one: Marmite.

Marmite is the vegetarian version … as I’ve just been told this by the Chairman of our local Astronomical Society … I’m fairly certain it is true?! 

We don't get these at our meetings ... coffee and
biscuits: this would make a good student lunch -
perhaps x two slices!  Marmite and cheese on toast.
We were at our local Geology meeting – where we’re discussing galaxies and stars … the precursors to ‘us’ … and life on earth.  Don’t ask … posts will appear one day!  Dark Matter will be first …

Back to the subjects of this post …

It appears that Bovril has the longer history … in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1), Napoleon III ordered one million cans of beef to feed his troops.

Strangely, well I find it strange, this task went to a Scotsman living in Canada (John Lawson Johnston).  Transport and storage were problematic … and thus Johnston created a product known as ‘Johnston’s Fluid Beef’ …

Early poster - about 1900 AD

In less than 20 years (by 1888) over 3,000 UK public houses, grocers and dispensing chemists were selling Bovril.  The name coming about from the Latin bos for “ox”. 

Sci-Fi fans ... se my post

Johnston took the vril suffix from Bulwer-Lytton’s then-popular novel, The Power of the  Coming Race (1870), whose plot revolves around a superior race of people, the Vril-ya, who derive their powers from an electromagnetic substance named “Vril” … thus we have Bovril … and a Sci-Fi link …

Now to Marmite … ‘Marmeet’ … this is made from yeast extract, a by-product of beer brewing … a way of cutting down on one’s pint perhaps … or increasing said drinks because of the salty nature of Marmite.

A stylised French Marmite pot -
casserole or stock pot

It’s not obvious why it was named ‘Marmite’ – but could have been because of the earthenware pot, similar to the French ‘Marmeet’ cooking pot, that the product was originally sold in.

A German scientist, in 19th C, discovered that brewer’s yeast could be concentrated, bottled and eaten.  By 1902 the Marmite Food Extract Company was formed in Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire, England near the Bass Brewery, which would supply the essential yeast by-product.

Edouard Manet:
 a bar at the
Folies-Bergere: 1882 a bottle of
Bass Beer on the table

At the turn of the 20th century, there seemed to be an ‘exponential’ expansion of its popularity ... when it was distributed around the world.

By 1912, the discovery of vitamins was a boost, as the spread is a rich source of the vitamin B complex … eight water-soluble vitamins essential to good health.  The British troops in World War One were issued with Marmite in their rations.

Copied from "The Week" ... but many would like
a marmite well!
It is a valuable source of Folic Acid … a supplement during pregnancy, and now many countries require it to be in certain foods as a measure to decrease the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease.  It is exceedingly helpful in overcoming beri-beri, wherever it is prevalent.

The company, Bovril, took over Marmite, but now both brands have been subsumed into Unilever …

Puff Pastry cheese and marmite wheels
The choice probably is … the one you’ve grown up with … I would drink Bovril, but smear or spread Marmite … while both can be added to savoury dishes to bring some zing …

Marmite on toast … Marmite with Cheese … both would warm the cockles of my heart – normally called tummy!  Cheese Straws or Cheesy puff pastry rolls – good for party snacks …. Marmite soldiers for young children (or old for that matter!) …

Toasted Cheese and Marmite sandwich
with pickle
Bovril apparently is an icon of British culture … it is commonly associated with football culture … that’s put me off somewhat!  Still I don’t own any Bovril now … but a flask of Bovril would be put to good use if caught in a winter storm …

We have Mandela featuring again … in his book “Conversations with Myself” in 1980 he mentioned he’d like some marmite!

But …. a hundred years ago the Pope had the last laugh … Bovril holds the unusual position of having been advertised with a Pope – as you can see Pope Leon XIII seated on his throne, bearing a mug of Bovril … see the slogan:

“The Two Infallible Powers – The Pope and Bovril” : a 1900 poster …

Well now it’s lunchtime and this has got me very hungry … I’d better round this off and disappear to my kitchen larder and rustle up a marmite sandwich!!

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Bayeux Tapestry and Opus Anglicanum ...

Having just written a couple of posts about St Nicolas Church, celebrating its 800th year, arising from two talks at the Church on William the Conqueror and Pevensey … it seems, per the comments, a brief note on the Bayeux Tapestry would add to the story.

A full size copy of the Bayeux Tapestry
was given to Reading Museum in 1895:
it is well travelled, but now has its own
gallery; see the Museum site

The Bayeux Tapestry depicting the events leading up to and telling the story of the Norman conquest of England in 1066 AD … is an extraordinary piece of art showing life at that time.

iphone photo out of window - across Eastbourne,
slightly inland is Pevensey and in the far distance
across the bay is Hastings

It is an embroidered cloth nearly 70 metres (230 feet) long and 50 centimetres (20 inches) high … containing 50 scenes with Latin tituli (text), embroidered on linen with coloured woollen yarns. 

Hastings, not taken by me, looking back across the bay to
the South Downs and Eastbourne/Pevensey in the distance

It is thus not technically a tapestry … but has always been called one.  It is exceptionally large and appears to be not quite finished … thankfully not much is missing …

Embroidered bookbinding - English Work
of the 12th C

Anglo-Saxon needlework of the more detailed type known as Opus Anglicanum (English Work) was famous across Europe from the late 12th to mid 14th centuries.

It is believed that William Odo, William’s half-brother, probably commissioned the tapestry … the reasoning for this is that: 

three of Bishop Odo’s followers mentioned in the Domesday Book appear on the tapestry; 

it was found in Bayeux Cathedral, built by Odo; and 

it may have been ordered when the Cathedral was constructed during the 1070s in time for display at the Cathedral’s Dedication.

Detail of stem stitching and laid work

The tapestry has two types of stitching: 

outline or stem-stitch for lettering and the outlines of figures, and

couching or laid-work for filling in the figures.

Detail of  Tituli and stem-stitch, as
too laid work

There are nine linen panels, which once sewn together (after being embroidered) had the joins disguised with subsequent embroidery.

The main yarn colours are terracotta or russet, blue-green, dull gold, olive green, and blue, with small amounts of dark blue or black and sage green.

The vegetable dyes are those found in traditionally woven cloth in England, and particularly the south, at that time.

The earliest known reference to the tapestry is a 1476 AD inventory of Bayeux Cathedral … now having been carefully preserved - it is on permanent display in the Bayeux Museum.

Odo, Bishop of Bayeux

Tituli are included in many scenes to point out names of people or places or to explain briefly the event being depicted.  The text is in Medieval Latin but at times the style of words and spelling show an English influence.

A stylised tree

Stylised trees usually separate the scenes … this one here shows some messengers with Guy, and then below the border various medieval agricultural practices.  (Guy was the Count of Ponthieu who supported Duke William.)

Normandy and Brittany - the red box outlines
the whereabouts of Bayeux, while Caen is
the main town to the south east

The Bayeux Museum is near the Normandy coast and a few miles from Caen – the preferred building material by the Dukes of Normandy … the stone had been used in England in previous centuries, for example in Canterbury Cathedral.

The Tapestry is so widely recognised and is so distinctive in its artistic style, it has been frequently been used or reimagined in a variety of different popular culture contexts: being cited by Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics as an example of early narrative art, and Bryan Talbot, a British comic book artist, has called it “the first known British comic strip”.

Pevensey Castle - as it is today - it is possible
to walk from the west to the east at the top of the picture,
within the walls of the castle,
where we will find St Nicolas Church

It has also inspired many replicas, or creations of a similar ilk to celebrate anniversary events …

An illustration of St Nicolas church in the 19thC

So the Kings and Dukes may not have been able to write, yet their achievements or defeats can be recorded through embroidery … which is why we know so much about the events surrounding the Battle of Hastings, but why some things will be known, but never fully explained.

The Butler-Bowden Cope - 1330 - 1350 AD
it is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum

The Opus Anglicanum (English Work) is worth a note … it was usually embroidered on linen, or later, velvet, in split stitch and couching with silver and gold or silver-gilt thread. 

Gold-wound threads, pearls and jewels are all mentioned in inventory descriptions.  Examples can be found in the Cloisters Museum in New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and in the Treasure of Sens Cathedral, Burgundy …

An early 1920s photo of the lane to the Church

The links to the two talks I mentioned can be found here …

That Law of Unintended Consequence reared its wonderful head again … I had written this post ready to schedule – when the English Historical Fiction Authors put up a post by Mark Patton – “Opus Anglicanum: Embroidery inMedieval England” … giving us a much better idea of Embroidery in Medieval England …

… and reminding us that there is an exhibition in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London open until mid-February 2017. 

Elizabeth Chadwick of The History Girls has written about a research project she made to the V&A to see the above exhibition ... and some of the glass galleries ... please take a look ... 

Well those are both great additions to this post, and tie in many of the loose threads to give us comprehensive coverage …  of the Bayeux Tapestry together with the English embroiderers of Medieval days …

Novel Writing Month - congratulations to all completing NaNo in 2016 - may your stories be successful ...

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Thanksgiving 2016 with Human Beans ...

To those who celebrate have a very happy Thanksgiving, while to those of us who will be thinking of you, and to those others whom we almost certainly do not know …

The First Thanksgiving 1621 painted by
Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

 … let us all celebrate the great and wonderful Human Bean … be they magnolia, green, purple, brown, freckly, speckled, beige … a right mix of human beans …

… which come with lots of Vitamins … A, B6, C and K … let alone the rest of the special accoutrements beans share … 

So let those funny beans –

Many Bean varieties from Africa

Painted beans


Red Epicure Beans

 ... then all the others … remind us that we are all human: old, young, tall, tiny, big, fat, skinny … all human beans – all sharing this world.

As Aesop said: 

 “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.

Or –

Better beans and bacon in peace, than cake and ale in fear.

Even Jelly Beans!

We share this planet with 7 billion others … we can live together in peace and companionship … we can share all we have …

… we can be friends, even in disagreement, we need to help ourselves so much … especially at this time.

Royal Burgundy Beans

These magical vegetable beans originated from Peru … spread via South and Central America by migrating human bean Indian tribes …

… were introduced into Europe around the 16th C by Spanish human bean explorers returning from their voyages to the New World …

English Runner Beans
… and then spread further in Europe and around the world by Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and British human bean explorers …

I am sure you’ll be having some form of bean for Thanksgiving and many of us will have a bean or two in the coming winter or summer months …

So let’s be thankful … remember peace is important to all our communities - local, countrywide and global ... 

Happy Thanksgiving to all the world
let's spread the Human Bean word

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories