Interesting prompts ... to start a conversation going ... as and when you might need one ... a diversion to talk about
Thursday, 30 April 2009
Food for the table .. seeds from under stones!
Wednesday, 29 April 2009
Letter delivery 1501 ... tell me a story via a Positive Letter
Tuesday, 28 April 2009
This is a story for Catarina ...Have some Madeira m'Dear?
Dear Catarina - my mother loves seeing you when you visit your great-grandmother, Olinda, who is also in the hospital .. and it is really kind of you to wave back! I thought a little story about your homeland (except you're so English now) and some other little points of interest that I've found out or remembered ... Mum and I call these - Hilary's snippets! .. might interest you.
Dear Readers - Catarina is 9 .. and loves school .. and loves animals - she has a cross Labrador-Alsation and cat here in England, while they also have two dogs and some kittens in Maderia - where the family have a home. She was reading a story about a cat .. (bad Hilary cannot remember the name of the book!) .. I wonder if she's read the story of the Mousehole "Mowzal" Cat I mentioned recently? ... I'll print her a copy out. Her grandmother, Maria, takes care of her after school .. and they visit and bring great-grandmother some treats - to ensure she gets better soon.
Madeira .. conjured up memories from our past .. my own grandmother had visited Madeira quite often on her way out to India from the 1920s onwards .. as it was the scenic route .. via Cape Town and the tip of southern Africa. So we remembered the embroidery, the magnificient scenery of this tiny island ..the fantastic flowers, the butterflies .. apparently the biggest European tarantula spiders live on the Desertas islands - and can be as wide as a normal man's hand .. while the islands have more than 250 species of land molluscs (snails and slugs), some with very unusual shell shapes and colours - they are only found here and are also in need of protection.
My mother loves butterflies and we have them flying around her room .. painted lady, swallowtail, large skipper, male orange tip, small copper, common blue .. such wonderful evocative names .. Catarina - you can almost visualise them from their descriptions - can't you? Your Madeiran Large White butterfly is extremely rare .. and needs protection too - have you ever seen one?
We talked about Madeira .. and did not know much .. so my mother suggested that I 'google' it .. and see what I came up with .. Madeira was discovered by the Portuguese in their exploratory phase in the 1400s .. finally it became independent on 1 July 1976. The population of Eastbourne where we live is 95,000, while the county of East Sussex has a population of about 762,000 .. Madeira falls somewhere in between with a population of 246,000.
Funchal is the capital and is named after the funcho (fennel) growing there. For us .. both areas have important tourist industries .. Eastbourne claims to be the sunniest place in Great Britain .. it is pretty good!! .. while Madeira basking in the Atlantic Ocean south of Portugal and off Morocco can definitely claim to have a sunny climate.
However ... Madeira has one claim to fame that we here in Eastbourne do not have .. though my mother's favourite 'wish' tipple now is champagne, which they're starting to being able to produce in the UK due to global warming ... I deviate .. Madeira wine .. that wonderful fortified Portuguese wine .. have you tasted it - Catarina?
The islands have a long winemaking history dating back to the Age of Exploration when Madeira was a standard port of call for ships heading to the East Indies or the New World. Once when a shipment was returned after a voyage being tossed on the high seas, exposed to excessive heat and changes of temperature .. it was found that the wine flavour was transformed. A similar process is utilised today .. however the wine "vinho da roda" does not now make a round trip in a ship!! .. and Madeira has become a very robust wine that can be quite long lived, even after being opened.
Madeiras have been known to survive 150 years in excellent condition .. and it is not uncommon to see Madeiras pushing the century mark for sale at stores that specialise in rare wine!! Before refrigeration Madeira wine was prized in areas where it was impractical to construct wine cellars, e.g. in the southern States of America, because unlike other fine wines it could survive being stored over hot summers without deteriorating.
Some other interesting notes for our American readers .. apparently the American leaders - founding fathers and presidents - all appreciated the Madeiran wine. Thomas Jefferson insisted on it being used to toast the Declaration of Independence - 4 July 1776. As well as the "vinho da roda" wine, there is another style called "Rainwater" - it is rarely produced today and, when it is, is usually shipped only to the the US. A possibility for the name 'rainwater' is that rain somehow got into the casks while sitting at the docks .. so the merchants decided to offer this 'new' wine .. and were surprised to find that it was very popular with the local Americans!!
My mother and I remember the name 'Madeira' for another reason .. the wonderful song from Flanders and Swann "Have some Madeira m'dear!". It's available on Youtube .. they were wonderful songs with some brilliant lyrics .. so do please have a listen .. Youtube - Flanders and Swann - Michael Flanders is in a wheel chair, while Swann plays the piano: an inspiration .. bringing joy to my mother some 50+ years later ... we did used to laugh and still do .. they are just so light and touching .. stories told through lyrics and music ..
Have some Madeira M'Dear .. is a naughty but fun song - loved by all ages .. with its lyrics ..
She was young, she was pure, she was new, she was nice,
She was fair, she was sweet seventeen,
He was old, he was vile, and no stranger to vice,
He was base, he was bad, he was mean.
It's been a pleasure to meet you Catarina with your family, and my Mum and I both wish you all the best at school and for happy times here in England and in Madeira .... lucky girl .. can you pack us in your suitcase please .. so we can come with you??!!
Thank you Mr Postman .. it's kind of you to say that you enjoyed Catarina's story .. and that she'll be happy to know about the Mowzal cat! .. she's a lovely girl - well mannered and very polite = a pleasure to have around!!
Monday, 27 April 2009
A Big Ben and the King of Clocks ...
As the world's most famous timepiece celebrates its 150th anniversary - a forthright statement of faith in a masterpiece of Victorian Engineering that was deemed so ambitious at the time of its inception that many clock-makers thought it could never be built .. - now .. "why should it not last forever?"!
Big Ben was born 150 years ago this year .. that it was ever completed was a triumph of perseverance and ingenuity over ill-fortune and acrimony. Lawsuits and cracked bells abounded .. the first bell cracked on testing -had to be broken up and recast. The second bell cracked too - but would be patched and turned a quarter-turn .. and so the bell behind the "bongs" was born .. and has given all but uninterrupted service ever since.
It has its own website .. any other bell you know has its own site?? .. and from here is described thus:
During 2009 Parliament celebrates the 150th anniversary of its world famous Clock Tower, Great Clock and Great Bell.
The name Big Ben is often used to describe the tower, the clock and the bell but the name was first given to the Great Bell. 1859 was the beginning for all three elements when the Clock Tower was completed, the Great Clock started on 31 May and the Great Bell’s chimes were heard for the first time on 11 July.
As part of the rebuilding of the Palace of Westminster after the fire of 1834, the Office of Works called for a "noble clock, indeed a king of clocks, the biggest the world has ever seen, within sight and sound of the throbbing heart of London". The Astronomer Royal also insisted on one that would be accurate to within a second, which was all very well for a small indoor clock, but a tall order for such a huge one, which would constantly be exposed to the elements. Most clock-makers at that time thought that it was impossible.
The man who proved otherwise was not even a professional clock-maker. Edmund Beckett Denison was a leading barrister and gifted amateur horologist who got himself involved in the selection of the final design, by the clock-maker Edward Dent. Denison's greatest contribution was to design a means of ensuring that the pendulum was separated from the movement of the hands, so that it was not affected by the weather. His ground-breaking invention, which is called a double three-legged gravity escapement, is the reason that Big Ben keeps such good time.
Accurate Big Ben may be, but it is not immune to failure. Over the years it has been stopped by snow, mechanical failure and builders who have left paint pots where they shouldn't!; and on one occasion it was slowed down by a flock of starlings settling on the minute hand .
The man charged with looking after it - a Mr McCann, rejoicing in the title 'Keeper of the Great Clock' - checks Big Ben .. by, guess what?, ringing up the speaking clock!! It is wound three times a week by hand, as it is not possible to wind while it is chiming ... and if adjustment is required .. an old pre-decimal penny is placed on or removed from the pendulum: adding one speeds up the clock by two-fifths of a second a day!!
The famous bell in the Clock Tower (St Stephen's Tower) of the Houses of Parliament weighs 13.5 tons and was named after Sir Benjamin Hall, Chief Commissioner of Works in 1856, when it was cast - Hall himself was called "Big Ben" on account of his size!
The sound of Big Ben was first broadcast in 1923, and has since become a national institution. Dent clocks are still used on iconic landmarks of London .. one of latest ones being on the new St Pancras Station .. and can be seen in my post "Incense Sticks, Candles, HourGlass and Bells .. what's the Connection?"
It is an icon .. and I hope I've satisfied Giovanna's curiosity re Big Ben after her visit in 2007 .. her Imperfect Action was not finding out more about it!!
The information for this article came mostly from The Week - the last word 10 January 09, from the article first appearing in The Times: Bong! Big Ben still rings out 150 years on- written by Valentine Low on January 1st 2009.
Thank you Mr Postman .. that was most interesting .. my mother will have something to say about the story and we'll laugh .. as I'm sure she's heard its sonorous tones more often than most of us ...
Sunday, 26 April 2009
It's a marathon ...
"...whether London could stage such a festival?" (picture of the NY marathon!)
Saturday, 25 April 2009
Another day ... are we in Tokyo?
Friday, 24 April 2009
Giving my mother something to live for, while she moves on ...
Yesterday was an incredible day with my mother .. only an hour and a half – but so uplifting and thought provoking. My mother is quite extraordinary .. and has been throughout this whole process. She originally had her strokes 26 months ago .. was stabilised in the Acute Brain Injury Unit and we eventually got her down her to Eastbourne 19 months ago.
The doctors realised that her stroke had not affected her cognisance or her ability to communicate and so were happy to let her have a PEG feeding tube fitted – initially she had a small intake of food and tea ... but since she’s been in Eastbourne .. she’s been nil by mouth.
She’s been in hospital now for over 3 weeks – she’s well! – but unfortunately her feeding tube had come out and the Nursing Centre were not able to put it back within the 2 hour window of opportunity there is for these things. For 11 days she was only on a drip .. then they tried to reinsert the PEG feed using a camera .. that failed & it was Easter.
At this point the doctors decided that she had to have a nose feeding tube .. so she could get nourishment and her drugs. This week, 2 weeks later, they tried again to fit the PEG with an Xray – sadly her stroked leg got in the way & that failed.
Wednesday night Mum obviously got irritated with the nose tube and it came out – so now needs to be reinserted. The Staff Nurse and Sister were with us during part of the following conversation ... – which she was wide awake and bright for: she’d been fairly subdued for most of the 3 weeks .. which is not like her. So this is my report back to my mother ..
Darling Mum .. you never cease to amaze me .. yesterday we needed to get your agreement to having the nose feed reinserted, which you didn’t want! Fortunately the Sister had had one and understood that it’s irritating – I haven’t, I agree – but we want you to have it put back.
The choices are pretty limited .. we need to ensure that you keep your strength up with the feed, and the nurses need to be able to give you your drugs, so that next week they will give you an anaesthetic and operate to reinsert the PEG.
If we can’t give you your feed – then you’ll die. Well I’m going to die anyway sometime soon aren’t I? Yes – but are you ready to die now? No! Will you have the nose feed reinserted – Yes ... with an anaesthetic! Well I’m afraid we can’t do that.. the PEG operation will be with an anaesthetic.
This went on .. but interspersed in all this ..which was repeated a few times .. we were laughing or smiling .. as soon as Mum said ‘yes – but with an anaesthetic’ we started laughing .. and she was belly laughing .. it’s so good.
Did you say you saw that Granny is here? Yes – she’s still alive isn’t she? Well – no Mum .. she died about 37 years ago .. perhaps she’s here with you waiting to go with you through the pearly gates? Why don’t they give her a key then? .......
You tell me – how you couldn’t laugh .. and we laughed and smiled round the problem .. she eventually consented to the nose tube .. which I hope has happened over night.
During this I read a couple of cards we’d received from friends .. including one from an employee of my mother’s .. regarding, her own mother’s, Lorraine’s 90th birthday party .. Margaret said she used to cringe when Lorraine and my mother argued over whose kitchen it was ... Mum owned a Care Home in Cornwall – we reminisced a bit about the old days.
Then I mentioned the two recent posts .. on Asparagus and Rhubarb ..”what a mix!!” and we talked about growing asparagus .. and making rhubarb fool with our new Kenwood mixer! Then I told Mum about St George’s Cross .. and how St George and the Dragon came about .. she was most interested.
Darling Mum – I am honoured to have been able to share so much with you over the last two years .. and to have been able to laugh with you, smile with you .. and watch your belly ratchet up and down laughing uproariously .. bringing others into our room to see what’s going on!
You’ve been an inspiration to me .. in that you’ve never complained, never worried, never whinged or moaned .. we’ve laughed our way through your adversity, our trials and tribulations ..we seem to have settled into a wonderful existence and have two minds that have met enjoying each other's company, while also appreciating the snippets of information or things that amuse us
I don’t know where your brain is .. but it never ceases to amaze me at what you can remember .. you may be muddled occasionally .. but it doesn’t matter you’re just so pragmatic about everything and ready to join in the fray – you are most definitely extra special .. and I love you.
I love you photo from Daphne and her "A Positive Letter to Hilary" post written for me at Joyful Days blog .... I am just grateful for everyone's support ... THANKYOU!!
Thursday, 23 April 2009
The saint and the dragon - St George's Day: 23 April
Wednesday, 22 April 2009
Rhubarb and Asparagus ..
Rhubarb is one of the earliest fruits available .. the Victorians originally brought it over from Siberia so that fresh produce could be put on the table at a time when nothing else fresh was available. Rhubarb had however been around much longer – in ancient times it was revered for its mysterious cathartic powers, while the Romans, who bought the dried roots from the north Asiatic caravan traders supplied the apothecaries and herbalists with a root considered of value for various ailments.
Each winter - rhubarb flourishes in Yorkshire’s cold damp soils and is then tricked into triggering growth –being transferred by hand into long dark nursery sheds to be ‘forced’. The stalks grow at an accelerated rate in the light-free hothouses (originally heated by the coal from the new coal fields of the 1800s) – they are harvested by candlelight!! as the dim light will not spoil the conditions .. light and heat within the sheds.
The harvested stalks are tender, sweet, and a distinctive bright pink in colour with tiny curled yellow leaves that makes forced rhubarb instantly recognisable. Now-a-days –the Yorkshire triangle of Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield produce this champagne rhubarb, as it is known.
While it is also being promoted as a good accompaniment to high-fat meats, such as duck, and to oily fish .. – it is also a taste of today ... as its sharpness makes it an ideal companion as a savoury ingredient, people are developing a taste for the sharper flavoured fruits such as cranberries, blueberries and fresh pink rhubarb.
Asparagus has over the years had many elaborate growing instructions given out .. trenching, dressing with salt and seaweed .. not sure what we did 30 miles to the west of London! However we too followed the experts and made raised beds and made sure the earth was raised in mounds over the roots. We also gathered wild asparagus on our walks .. whenever we were lucky enough to come across a patch ... free food was a gift – even then.
Asparagus was appreciated by the Egyptians, Greeks and the Romans .. being used as a vegetable and medicine owing to its delicate flavour and diuretic properties.; it was eaten fresh in season and dried for use in winter. Apparently there’s a recipe for cooking asparagus in the oldest surviving book of recipes – Apicius’ 3rd century De re Coquinaria – book 3.
Asparagus is known today as not only tasting exceptionally good but is one of nature’s super foods ... helping fight cancer, heart disease as well as boosting your immune system .. and is really low in calories .. another secret benefit
Rhubarb festivals and Asparagus festivals abound in the English counties .. particularly in the Yorkshire triangle for the champagne rhubarb season.
Tuesday, 21 April 2009
Happy Birthday: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
We are extraordinarily lucky to still have our Sovereign Queen, which gives us a reason to maintain our wonderful heritage with all its pomp and circumstance - it would be so sad if we were to lose it all. So Happy Birthday your Majesty .. have a bright and wonderful day with your family and friends. The official website of the British Monarchy can be found here.
The Queen is 83 today, and has been our Queen since her Coronation on 2nd June 1953, albeit her reign started on 6 February 1952 when her father, George VI, died. Her father had been very ill for a while and Princess Elizabeth carried with her a draft accession declaration, which came into force when she was in Kenya on an official tour on her way to Australia and New Zealand.
This was the first television I had ever watched .. we had to travel from our home to a friend of my father's in order to watch the event - the Queen had expressly requested that the BBC cover the event using the relatively new technology of television! An estimated 20 million people watched the entire ceremony, while 12 million more listened on the radio. Radio was launched in 1922, the BBC was incorporated in 1927, while television commenced in 1932 - and during this time we had the war years in between.
We watched the University Boat Race from Mr Blake's house too .. probably in the same year - my father used to row for Worcester College Oxford before the war .. see my previous post. I do believe that I remember Mr Blake's house .. it backed onto the Thames and we were able to access the slipway to watch the race .. so it would have been an ideal place for two small children (5 and 2) to play, while at the same time to sit and watch this incredible box which had these moving pictures of the Procession, the Gold Carriage, the Ceremony, the pomp and circumstance after the deprivations of war ... we still had rationing!
On Saturday, April 18th, another milestone was reached .. Prince Philip has become the longest serving royal consort in British history ... overtaking the record of 57 years 70 days set by George III's wife Queen Charlotte - who died in 1818. The Queen must live until 10 September 2015, when she would be 89, to claim the record of the longest serving monarch -presently held by Queen Victoria (63.5 years).
The Queen has always appeared extremely aware of her responsibilities and has a deep sense of religious and civic duty, and to take her coronation oath seriously - and for that we admire her in this day and age of spin and celebrity .. she maintains her pride in all things Constitutional.
Happy Birthday Your Majesty!
Thank you Mr Postman for bringing us this letter reminding us of a few snippets of information regarding the Queen and a few personal remembrances to stimulate and trigger some discussions with my mother - we will enjoy these and no doubt laugh at two tottering children .. who are distinctly older now!
Yes - I do remember the film The Queen detail from Wiki; and perhaps the YouTube clip of
President Obama meeting the Queen this year is another link worth having here .. for a quick reminder. Some of the information came from Wikipedia: (The Queen or BBC), while others are personal memories.
Previous letter on "the Beast"
Heraldry - part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4
Monday, 20 April 2009
Heraldry .. "a shorthand of history" - the floral border - part 4/4
Sunday, 19 April 2009
Heraldry .. "a shorthand of history" - part 3/4
Metals being the most important of the tinctures – gold and silver; the colours encompass blue, red, black, green, purple .. while gold and silver become yellow and white; then the third component is the ‘furs’ – the patterns – representing the white winter fur coat of the stoat and the blue-gray of the Vair (a kind of squirrel) – which is simultaneously a two-coloured filed treatment.
Saturday, 18 April 2009
Heraldry .. "a shorthand of history" - part 2/4
So now we have a simple structure of how the coats of arms are made up and tomorrow we'll start looking at the colours, the plants, animals, specific flowers, mythical creatures as well as some world wide examples of heraldic shields in use today ..
Mr Postman - thank you for delivering our letter .. I see there are a lot of building blocks to give us even a simple understanding of how the coats of arms are made up .. it is tantalising that we have to wait another day - but I can understand that .. Mum and I can mull over these facts and go back to yesterday's post - it takes her a little while to absorb things, but she will definitely comment and make some salient points - that is what is wonderful .. that she's still with us. Thank you - til tomorrow then ...
Friday, 17 April 2009
Heraldry .. "a shorthand of history" - part 1/4
as does .... The coat of arms of University of California San Diego
Thursday, 16 April 2009
To skylark, eat pies ...
Dear Mr Postman .. how nice to see you again .. are you saying that today's letter has a link with yesterday's .. but with a twist .. oh! alright .. we will enjoy reading ..
Our English culture is so amazing .. now-a-days fortunately some of the customs have disappeared in to the mists of time .. such as
Sing a song of sixpence, A pocket full of rye;
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie!
When the pie was opened the birds began to sing,
Oh wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the king?
A cook would skylark around and produce a pie with live birds inside a huge pastry crust to the wealthy medieval knight to amuse his guests, and then bring in a real pie once the birds had been released ...
Larks until fairly recently in Europe were shot, or caught in nets, and eaten as a delicacy .. and in fact in England were sent to Leadenhall Market in sack loads in the late 1800s .. per a reference by Roy Booth: & to a recipe for lark pie by Elizabeth Grey - the Countess of Kent - 1687 ... it starts ...
Take three dozen of Larks, season them with Nutmegs, and half an ounce of Pepper, a quarter of an ounce of mace beaten, then take the Lumber pye-meat [I think she means loin], and fill their bellies, if you will; if not, take half a pound of suet, and one pound of Mutton minced, half a pound of Raisins of the Sun, and six Apples minced all together very small, then season it with a Nutmeg, pepper and salt, and one spoonful of sweet Herbs, and a Lemon peel minced, one penny loaf grated, a quarter of a pint of Cream, two or three spoonfuls of Rose-water, three spoonfuls of Sugar, one or two spoonfuls of Verjuice (unripe grape juice); then make this in boles (balls), and put it in their bellies, and put your Larks in your Pie ......
Other birds were hunted to extinction - cranes an ancient British bird had been wiped out by the 1600s .. as dozens of them had been the lavish centre piece of medieval banquets ... or included in the great theatrical show of cooking a bird within another bird .. tiny larks last, blackbird or thrush, hens, partridge, cranes ... = a meal fit for a king.
Cranes have returned to England and are being protected to ensure their population growth, skylarks are being protected by the farmers setting aside rough areas of farmland for them to breed - as they are ground breeders, blackbirds are still fairly common throughout their habitat - Africa to Scandinavia and northern Europe ... although the rise in the magpie population is taking its toll on smaller birds .. blackbirds, robins, wrens etc
Thank you Mr Postman .. that was very interesting and I'm pleased we are learning to protect and reintroduce our natural world again ... is there a link for tomorrow - heraldry .. oh good .. we look forward to seeing you then ..
PS: Thank you Giovanna for suggesting I add in the Beatles' 'Blackbird' track sung by Sarah McLachlan.
Hilary Melton-Butcher - Positive Letters
Wednesday, 15 April 2009
Innocent Pleasures ...
When we're out in the country on warm days we can take in the innocent pleasures of spring without a second thought and watch the skylark as it rises straight up to hover at distant heights singing its lofty song before it plunges down .. my mother and I were talking and laughing about the memories of our walks in the country listening and watching the distant specks high in the blue skies of spring.