Wednesday 31 October 2012

Hallowe’en mysteries and histories

I don’t remember pumpkin carving as a youngster ... our next ‘celebration’ was the Guy Fawkes, Firework and Bonfire night on 5th November ... the trick or treat, spidery devlish dressing up seems to have become popular in the last few decades – coming back over the pond from the States.

Carved pumpkin

But Hallowe‘en has a longer history than that and is thought to have originated from the pagan festival of Samhain, meaning ‘summer’s ending’ in Old Irish,  indicating the New Year: an important event in the Celtic calendar that would begin at the turn of dusk every October 31st.

Christian and Pagan lore co-existed side by side until both in the 21st centuries have their place – in the Christian Church, or as part of Pagan festivals. 

All Saints (All Hallows, Hallowmas)
Painting by Fra Angelico (1395 - 1455)
All Hallows’ Day, originally celebrated on May 13th, was better known as All Saints’ Day, a feast day celebrated to honour the saints and martyrs of Christian history, and those departed souls who had yet to reach Heaven.

Pope Gregory, in 835 AD, decided to move All Hallows’ Day to 1st November so it coincided with Samhain – making it easier to convert pagans to Christianity.

Pomona, by Nicolas Fouche
(c 1700)
All Souls’ Day follows on 2nd November, a day used to commemorate the faithful departed ... praying for their release from Purgatory into the acceptance of Heaven.

Celtic and pagan festivals would have had communities celebrating with harvest fare, bonfires, ancient customs – leaving some of the food outside to pacify the wandering souls ... dressing up as part of these rituals to scare off evil spirits while they checked for soul cakes.

Snap-Apple Night (1832)
by Daniel Maclise: depicts apple
bobbing and divination games at a
Halloween party in Blarney, Ireland
As influences moved between countries – it is thought that the origins of Hallowe’en perhaps also had links with the Roman feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds ... the festivals continued to evolve with the passage of time ...

Shakespeare mentions the practice of collecting soul cakes in his comedy “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” (1593) ... so the tradition occurred as far south as Italy.

In Britain these customs came under attack during the Reformation as Protestants berated Purgatory as a “popish” doctrine ... this, coupled with the rising popularity of Guy Fawkes Night from 1605 onward, led to Hallowe’en’s popularity waning in England and Wales.
In this Halloween greeting card
from 1904, divination is depicted:
a young woman looking into a
mirror in a darkened room hopes
to catch a sight of her future

Samhain and Hallowe’en were celebrated in Scotland and Ireland since at least the early Middle Ages (5th century onwards) – they were seen as important to the life cycle and rites of passage of communities and thus ensuring the festival’s survival in those countries.

North American almanacs of the late 18th and early 19th century give no indication that Hallowe’en was celebrated there.  The Puritans of New England, for example, maintained strong opposition to Hallowe’en and it was not until the mass Irish and Scottish immigration during the 19th century that Hallowe’en was brought to North America in earnest.

Subsequently it was gradually assimilated into mainstream society and by the early 1900s was being celebrated coast to coast by people of all social racial and religious backgrounds.

Traditional Cornish Jack o' Lantern
made from a turnip  (NB good for pasties!)
Nowadays one of the most practiced customs of Hallowe’en is the carving of a pumpkin, referred to as a Jack O’Lantern.   This tradition is believed to have originated from the old Irish legend of Stingy Jack, a miserable farmer who played a trick on the devil ...

.... as punishment for his actions Jack was forced to wander the earth in between heaven and hell, with his only light being a single candle placed inside a hollowed out turnip.

The spooky faces are believed to have been carved to scare off Jack – but it wasn’t until the tradition of carving the lanterns moved to America that pumpkins were used instead of turnips, as they are easier to carve.

Traditional pumpkin carving

Mischief Night (also known as Devil’s Night, Hell Night, Cabbage Night .. etc) is another night of trickery – either before Hallowe’en, or Bonfire Night ... 

... dating back to the 1700s when it was an evening of chaos – thought to have started in a time when laws were often suspended for several hours or days in Britain, leaving trickery to prevail.

Mischief ranged from throwing cabbages to swapping shopkeeper’s signs, customs that continue to this day in parts of the north of England.

Trick or Treating in Sweden
Typical festive Hallowe’en activities include trick-or-treating, attending costume parties, carving pumpkins into lanterns, lighting bonfires, apple bobbing, visiting haunting attractions, playing pranks, telling scary stories and watching horror films.

History has shown us that Hallowe’en is not just a single night of mysteries, it is part of a series of ancient events and dates with strong English and Irish roots that have developed over time into the period of celebration we are so familiar with.

NaNoWriMo – good luck to all who are participating this year ... have fun.

Disaster “Sandy” ... anyone, family, and/or friends, who has been caught in the various events – flood, trees, sand, wind damage, snow, electricity failure etc etc ... my thoughts are with you – may the coming days bring relief ... and coming months and years enable your life to ease back to a degree of normality.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Shaken, Not Stirred ...

After all that tea last weekend celebrating Lenny’s birthday – I really needed to sit quietly and have a drink ... not just any drink – but a Bond drink ... decisions, decisions ... cocktails galore ...
British Cinema poster for Skyfall

Skyfall, the latest Bond movie, premiered yesterday at the Royal Albert Hall, and will open to the public on Friday – our film society has already said we’ll be ousted from our usual screen and relegated in the ranks as Bond will take precedence!

Ian Fleming certainly knew what he was doing when he included those magic words into his books ...  first in the novel Diamonds are Forever (1956) – though Bond doesn’t actually say the line until Dr No (1958) ... when Fleming plagiarises his own phrase to shaken and not stirred ...

Vesper Martini
... it is Sean Connery’s Bond  in Goldfinger (1964) who first utters the much loved movie quote – yet Dr Julius No offers 007 a Martini and uses those words in the 1962 film Dr No.

Bond first ordered a drink to be shaken in Fleming’s novel Casino Royale (1953) when he requested a drink of his own invention, which would later be referred to as a “Vesper” ... a dry martini:

  • in a deep champagne goblet
  • three measures of Gordon’s
  • one of vodka – Russian or Polish preferably ..
  • half a measure of Kina Lillet
  • shake it very well until it is ice-cold
  • then add a large thin slice of lemon peel ..

Black Velvet

A “Vesper” differs from Bond’s usual cocktail of choice, the gin Martini ... with vermouth and an olive ...

  • Black Velvet from Diamonds are Forever – Guinness and champagne
  • the Stinger from Diamonds are Forever – Brandy and crème de menthe
  • Mint Julep in Goldfinger – mint leaf (preferably spearmint), bourbon, sugar and water
  • Rum Collins during Thunderball – light rum, lemon juice, sugar and carbonated water ...

Mint Julep
The myth continues with many cocktails being created ... mixologists have devised Bond-themed cocktails drawing their inspiration from 007’s greatest escapades.

The Skyfall cocktail is made of Heineken beer (a product placement too far?), Tanqueray No 10 gin, white grapefruit, elderflower cordial, honey and topped with elderflower foam.

While looking up the cocktails for 007 ... it was interesting to note that “Vesper” uses the aperitif Kina Lillet ... that rang a very recent bell so I scouted around and found a newspaper cutting I’d pulled out ...

The idea of the aperitif, an alcoholic beverage, is to stimulate the appetite ... from the Latin aperire: to receive the flavours of the food you are about to eat.  The dry bitter flavours are the best for that – hence campari, vermouth, champagne, fino sherries or the revived Kina-Lillet.

An early advertising

Quinquina, a collective name for bitters (aperitif) have quinine as one of their main ingredients ... while quinquina is also known as Peruvian Bark originating from South America via the Spanish missionaries in the 17th century.    Most widely known quinquinas include Lillet Blanc,  Dubonnet is another of these quinine-containing wine formula drinks.

Lillet has, with great timing, launched its first new product for 60 years: Lillet Rose.  Lillet Blanc or Rouge were popular in France and its colonies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries ... based on grapes, spirit and quinquina.

Pierce Brosnan in Die Another Day about to
drink a Stinger
I think most of us will see this Bond movie somewhere along the line ... it’s a good guess we’ve all seen many of them – I usually catch up on tv ...  it appears this new Bond has blended classic Bond elements with a contemporary plot, the return of the legendary Aston Martin DB5 ...

... fifty years after Bond’s screen debut, it makes for a fitting celebration of cinema’s favourite spy ...  perhaps with another 50 years ahead for the spy to keep seeking out global villains with more scripts being written ...

Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee
packed for retail

Fleming had a preference for gin – however he was converted to bourbon at the behest of his doctor who informed him of his failing health ...  Bond’s drinking habits tended to mirror those of his creator.

However I think we can expect Bond to favour a few non alcoholic beverages in the future ... he enjoys Yin Hao, the highest traditional grade of jasmine tea, and has expressed a fondness for Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee.

The Bond brand seems to be strengthened by this latest 23rd film in the series ... but we could be seeing many more ‘Shaken, not stirred’ drinks ... perhaps Aperitifs will come back into favour ...  using other barks and spices ...

I think that drink is now due ... but I’ll be having one that was refined and spread by the Normans ... apple cider.  After their conquest of England ... new varieties of apples were introduced and cider began to figure in the tax records – still does (sadly!) ... here’s to your evening ahead ... cheers!!

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Saturday 20 October 2012

Hardwick’s Nose ... smells a party – a BIRTHDAY PARTY at that ...

The little, but rather aged, wire-haired, fox terrier rests on his haunches, as he has become accustomed to, sniffing the air to see what is afoot ...
Hardwick's Nose!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to LENNY LEE – that is what is afoot ...

AfootAfoot ... what on earth is that ... why can’t she write properly – Lenny always does – Hardwick mutters to himself ..

Marshmallow cakes, Fairy cakes, Jam
tarts, Cherry Bakeswells, chocolate
swiss rolls

Shhh Hardwick ... didn’t you know Shakespeare used the word in 1597 – I thought your prodigious brain would remind you about Henry IV Part 1 

“Before the game is afoot, though still let’st slip”

The little dog decided he’d better keep to himself ... but

Hardwick guarding the cakes

.... HE DID LIKE A PARTY ... so instead he went off into Eastbourne bought lots of cakes ... took them up to the old folk so they could share in THE PARTY.

Oh boy – oh! and you too Lenny – those good folk were so happy to have a cake or two and to share in happy memories ...

Hardwick, Muddy Hippo with Lenny's
photo of Rocky the Raccoon resting
before that tube ride .....
... actually – Missus Hilary I’m having a dream ... foxy-dog dream ... I’m spiralling out of control through a tube, I’m clutching our cakes to my bosom, will they won’t they, will they won’t they be crushed to smithereens before I can join the party ... for sure I will get out of this tube ...

I’ll alight into Lenny’s beautiful home wish him Happy Birthday, say hello to Rocky and to Lenny’s family ... share my cakes with one and all ... and travel back under the pond – all in the twinkling of an eye.

Hardwick, Hardwick ... wake up boy ... Muddy Hippo says we must sing HAPPY BIRTHDAY to LENNY LEE – who has attained that magical age of becoming a teenager ...

Congratulations to Lenny and Happy Birthday from all his friends in Eastbourne ... Happy weekend with your family and friends ...

Hardwick and I are going to rest now!  Muddy Hippo sends a big muddy hug – the weather’s been suiting him recently ... Mud Mud Mud Glorious Mud ....

Just have so much fun and enjoy reaching 13 ....


Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Presumed Dead – A Dylan Scott Mystery

This is a first in a series of five, and going on this particular book I would be very happy (and in fact look forward) to reading the rest in the series.

I won Shirley Well’s book a while ago and finally felt ready to actually sit and read a book ... especially as Alex’ and Ciara’s “Did I Notice Your Book Blogfest” is today.

I thoroughly enjoyed the read ... Dylan Scott is one of those investigators, who mulls through his thought processes, engages in the seedy side of investigative thoroughness ... while easily drawing me along in this tale of “Presumed Dead”.

The search is on for a missing mother – the reality is there – I certainly could see this easily transcribed into a tv murder mystery ... a lady with a weakness for shoes ... bright red killer heels, lime green ankle breakers – completely out of context set in the whereabouts of a mobile home.

Ciara Knight's Blog 
Shirley’s descriptions seem to fit with my understanding of England in the time span – the last 40 years or so – I can relate to everything ... I followed along, I cross-questioned her interrogations and thought processes in the story – I was happily transported: I had to find out the answer.

The dialogue is great ... Presumed Dead is all so readable ... easy to get lost in, absorbed and happily so – I highly recommend Shirley’s book ...

I wonder how long before she turns up here?!  I hope I have enticed you to give her book a go ... a really good read for an afternoon in winter, wrapped up against the snowy chill ...

... you might need that support against the icy scenes, or those characters wanting to jump out at you... too realistically ... I’m glad I don’t live on the wild side!

Presumed Dead will appeal to all readers ... I am certain you’ll enjoy it too ... let me know!

Presumed Dead – falls into the Crime Fiction/Murder Mystery genre – the synopsis and detail can be found here: Shirley Wells Presumed Dead 

I found the Carina Press link not working while the Amazon US link had no price detail, however the Amazon UK site is here for the kindle edition 

I am sure Shirley will correct these aspects, or amend the link pages ... (once she gets here!)

Barnes & Noble – it’s available as a Nook book ... 

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Sunday 14 October 2012

Memorial - Whet your Appetite at The Coldstreamer

Food, food, glorious food – my mother was an excellent cook and entertainer ... so for her final farewell we had to do her proud – and of course that depended on the chosen venue ... fortunately she had said to me “... and pasties in the pub opposite afterwards” – so that was fairly simple ...

Front of pub taken from the Church Square

However, The Coldstreamer pub had changed hands and my source of information, the amazing Elizabeth, my mother’s manager at her Care Home and great friend, had sadly died suddenly 18 months ago ... 

... so I thought I had to visit the pub and check out details etc ...  it’s a challenge sorting things out from the retirement town of Eastbourne with those Pirates of Penzance 300 miles away  – so in September off I set – to clarify our Memorial lunch, tie in with the vicar for the Service, and generally do the rounds ... flowers, organ etc and friends, who would help.

Entrance in was in the far room

 The pub were welcoming, but they had their way of doing things and I had a feeling I wasn’t waiving much influence (but truth be told I didn't need to)! – we made a few changes ... mainly that there were plenty of crudités, that the mini pavlovas were separate – bowls of fresh fruits/salads and piles of meringues ...  with treacle tart – a favourite of ours as children (rather than brownies).

When friends came over for supper that evening I felt more encouraged as the food was excellent, freshly provided by local provenders, and I decided that the family would be duly impressed – they have pretty high standards ... !!

The dining area at the other end - where our buffet was laid out

Our dinner the night before the Memorial went off very happily – well when I left they were all enjoying themselves ... Jenny had my room and I stayed with friends.

The day dawned – I gather croissants had been had for breakfast, home-made blackcurrant jam or dark full rich marmalade, there was plenty of coffee and tea on the go ...

Fresh vegetable box supplier

When we returned from the Memorial one of the rooms had been set up with the buffet dishes, the middle room and bar, had coffee and tea, wine, water and squash (I’m not going to try and explain squash again ... it’s a troublesome thirst quencher from our youth .... but one we’ve had ‘forever’ in this country ... my “Wimbledon in 2036” post has more info – should you feel intrepid enough to hop on over!). 

Cornish Yarg being covered in nettles
while it matures
The bar was open for other drinks ... and extended into another room .... so there was plenty of space for eating, drinking, chatting and reminiscing.

Our menu – that seemed to pass muster ... with many commenting “such good food” - was:

  • Sandwiches: a mix of Rare Roast Beef & Horseradish; Cheese & Chutney
  • Pâté  served on toast: a mix of Smoked Mackerel & Cucumber Chutney; Chicken Liver with Chutney
  • Hummus: served with plenty of crudités and veggies
  • Spanish style Tortilla pieces
  • Cajun Cornish new Potato wedges
  • Pasties – pixie size ... I never had one, but gather they were delicious
  • Scotch Eggs – halved ... the eggs were golden centred
  • Cheeses – Cornish Yarg, Blue Cheese and a soft Cornish Camembert with chutney
  • Fresh sliced baguette style bread
Scotch Egg - served as is .... ours
tasted very good and looked even
better than this one!

  • Fresh fruits/slices ... strawberries and raspberries
  • Grape bunches
  • Meringue nests
  • Cornish Cream
  • Treacle tart

Mini Pavlova - except we made our own
and we'd have had Cornish Cream

I’m not going to let you know about our dinners – they were too delicious and deserve another Memorable Mention!

The venue was brilliant and served our purpose very well ... no driving for anyone, good food, plenty of liquid in varying forms, a few locals came in as is their wont on a Friday lunchtime ... for a tipple or two ... so we didn’t block anyone’s usual enjoyment ...

Red sail in the sunset - for the Lady in Red
 A happy farewell day was had by all ... and as far as I’m concerned we couldn’t have asked for anything better ... it was simple, professional, delicious and we’d been very well cared for at the Church ... we remembered and shared those memories of our mother ... I feel certain she would have heartily approved.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Wednesday 10 October 2012

Memorial - the lady in red ...

Our hearts were warm ...yet the day dawned very dull and threatening ... that’s the trouble in being near Land’s End ... no land, lots of sea and thus vistas to watch the weather setting in ... our family service outside fortunately remained dry, though the ground was somewhat soggy!
Gulval Church hidden amongst the
ancient Cornish windswept trees

We regrouped for coffee across the road in the pub – relatives began to arrive ... that was good timing – giving them a chance to spend time with Jenny, my mother’s cousin from Vancouver Island, before she left that afternoon to prepare for a flight to Holland from Exeter airport early the next day.

The rain came down ... the typical Cornish drenching sort ... not heavy, but certainly enough to become soaked through if the occasion arose ... thankfully the trees sheltered us in our meander across, while The Coldstreamer welcomed us with a roaring fire, lots of fresh hot coffee and tea ...

A brigantine

Then the good folks started to gather for the Memorial Service in celebration of our mother’s life ... she loved all things to do with the sea – so this Tall Ship graced the Order of Service ... I tried to get round the church to say my welcomes and thanks ... for coming, for the harvest- autumnal flowers, for manning the Church etc - for us ...

The Service was simple and old fashioned – yet ‘rocked’ along happily – no time for stuffiness (that was not my mother) ... the vicar had said don’t  worry about having all the verses, the organist will ‘drive’ you along – and he sure did.

Gulval Church interior

I know many of you will be interested to see the hymns, psalms and readings we chose ... so I’ve listed them out, with the anomalies that occur in life ... oh I missed some choruses off the Order of Service sheet, and I just spotted a spelling mistake  ... oh well!

Eastbourne Service:
  • Debussy’s Symphonic Suite “La Mer”  (rather long for a 30 minute service!)
  • Hymn:  Eternal Father, Strong to Save (vs 1 and 4)
  • Opening prayers
  • Psalm 121: I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills (sung by St Paul’s Cathedral choir)
  • Reading:  John 14, vs 1 – 6
  • The tribute
  • Hymn: The Day Though Gavest, Lord, is Ended (vs 1 and 5)
  • Prayer:  Eternal God, our life is a fleeting shadow that does not endure. Our years pass quickly ....
  • The Lord’s Prayer, prayers, The Blessing ...
  • Closing music: Johann Sebastian Bach’s Chorale Movement: “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring”

Sailing in the Fal estuary
That was rushed, but we just made it  in 30 minutes ... but tying in the piped music to what you actually wanted ... was somewhat guess work  – and it showed ... the 2nd hymn was so quiet we reached the end, while the choristers had two lines left ..... at least it was the right music!

Penzance Service:   at which we had an organist – bliss! – someone who knew what they were doing:        
  • Incoming music ... various pieces including “Melody in F” by Anton Rubinstein
  • Hymn: Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven
  • Opening prayers
  • Psalm 134: Behold now, praise the lord: all ye servants of the Lord ... (we said this together)
  • Reading: 1 Thessalonians 4: verses 13 – 18
  • Hymn: O God, Our help in ages past
  • Appreciations, tributes and thanks ...
  • Hymn: Guide me, O Thou Great Redeemer
  • Prayer – we repeated the same prayer from the earlier service – it seems to sum up many aspects of a life passing .... ‘Eternal God, our life is a fleeting shadow ...’
  • The Lord’s Prayer, prayers, The Blessing ...
  • Outgoing music: Theme from Largo by Dvorak, taken from the New World Symphony

Gulval Church - it is now much more
Somewhere in here ... the vicar, who was amazing and really cohered the Service into a semblance of order ... made fond mention of our mother – remembering her strengths and sense of fun, along with her formidable mind, kindness and thoughtfulness ...  everyone commented what a fabulous job he did ...

... he summarised our mother’s presence by striding forth down the nave, then gesturing with his right arm ... and saying – that is where the lady in red sat ... at times I feel I can see her there – that seat ‘hugging the pillar’ was her seat – always in a red coat ... I will always remember her.

The ornate drinking fountain, designed
for both horses and humans ... now put
to a modern use for a flower display:
Church behind the trees, Coldstreamer
pub behind the photographer ... 
We then made use of those trees again splashing our way across the square to the welcoming arms of The Coldstreamer ... they too did us proud ... the three rooms gave us space, plenty of places to sit ... and time to chat or catch up.

We had a goodly mix ... family and friends, Jenny from Vancouver Island and two more cousins from my mother’s generation, a cousin from Moscow, via Zimbabwe and South Africa, another cousin, whose grandparents my mother had looked after at the Care Home – Diana, who was able to meet the carer, who had sat with her grandmother in her last hours ...

... a niece from my mother’s first marriage (he died in the War) ... plenty of carers, who used to work for my mother, and associates from the Care Homes fraternity ... church members – including a chap, whose mother used to know our great grandmother (at least I think that was the connection) ... the family is local – though as you can gather dispersed somewhat.

A Redwing racing through the waves

I’m back and slowly getting into things ... I guess by Christmas I might be clear – letter writing seems to abound still!  But I have plenty to blog about ...

Farewell to ‘the lady in red’ ... at least we have some lovely final memories and all the dots have been dotted, the ‘t’s’ crossed and now I just need to relax into a life of my own.

I will tempt your taste buds next ... the food was delicious and just what our mother would have ordered ... I’m sure she’d have been pleased and very surprised at the response we have had ...

Hardwick says ... his new mistress
needs to take some better pictures!
... as well as all of you – I would love to have her here now ... so I could amuse her with your comments – she’d have been so, so pleased – I can’t thank you enough ... you have all made my journey along the way so much easier ...

Hardwick came with me ... and I believe we will continue our exploratory musings into life ...

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories