Friday 21 December 2012

Winter Solstice and the Mayan's Apocalypse ...

My clock is slowly unwinding towards 2013, when it will definitely pick up steam ... and the posts I had thought of doing were totally inappropriate after Sandy Hook ... so I’m having a short reflection instead.
Eternal Clock

Reflections lead to new information ... I found the revival of the Celtic tradition of Montol, the Winter Solstice, in the western reaches of Cornwall -  the Penwith area, of which Penzance and St Ives are the main towns – the term Montol reflects the ‘death’ and ‘rebirth’ of the sun through "Rivers of Fire" processions in the town.

Many of us have lost loved ones this year, have suffered in many ways, or are caring for others in much need – we can so easily forget people’s sorrows, trials and tribulations ... as we get so tied up on our own worlds we forget to focus on those in need, or just those who could do with our thoughtfulness and compassion ...

Rivers of Fire - Penzance
 Montol  takes me back to Cornwall and my mother’s roots, now my maternal roots, stretching back to the fisher folk of St Ives in the 1800s – and further back into the recesses of time, as we know it – Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Middle Ages ... when the written word started to record our history.

Haab Calendar - one of the system of
Mayan calendars

Yet the Mayan civilization may have arisen in 2,600BC, but they set their calendar so that the end of the current World Age would coincide with certain astronomic events, namely the point when the rising sun on the winter solstice appears to overlay that part of the galaxy we term the ‘Dark Rift’ – an apparent gap caused by interstellar dust and gas cloud.
(see more here at The History Girls blog - from which this extract was taken.)

Apocalypse depicted in Christian
Orthodox traditional fresco scenes in
Osogovo Monastery, Macedonia
Should the end of the world occur – then I wish you a tender farewell ... but I suspect that the future telling of a new World Age is much more likely. 

It has sort of drawn attention to my new beginning ... as I look forward to happy years ahead – with so much opportunity to be grasped.  However I will always remember my mother and her desire for knowledge, which we were able to share as I explored new historical horizons, and how she expanded that knowledge through her queries, always being amazed that I was sharing these quests with you.

Christmas Lights on the
fisher fleet in Mousehole
Harbour, Cornwall

We are in a time of dark despair ... yet if we can look beyond – there are hopes for new beginnings: people are more compassionate and more aware ... so through this amazing group of bloggers, your families and friends we can influence those around us to smile more, volunteer more, help others ... and probably most importantly give of our time – just those extra few seconds, minutes with people who hanker for company and love ...

Have a wonderful Christmas and festive season with your families and friends ... with plenty of time for giving and sharing with those in need ...

I shall be around and will post anon – either this year or next!  But I’ll be calling by your blogs as I go ...

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Friday 14 December 2012

Christmas with The Hobbit ...

Christmas is a-coming – it is the launch of The Hobbit – the film ... and last night I was able to do something I thought I’d never get to do on this blog ... beat many of you to see a film.

Mary Pax' poster design

Our film society had its latest showing on Wednesday and I was wondering if I needed to get back for SkyFall before they took it off – but to my surprise noticed The Hobbit was showing the next day – I thought it only opened today on the 14th ....

So as SkyFall is still on ... off I went to meet up with the curious Hobbit.  He must have been surprised to find in this ‘retirement’ town on the south coast of little England – the outskirts of Middle Earth – a cinema practically empty – luxury!!

An Art Deco cabinet  - that would look
not out of place at Bag End
The film is brilliant and I’ll be so looking forward to reading your thoughts on the movie, once you get to see it ... Alex I know will want to be first ... but nota bene – I beat you to it Capn Alex Joseph Ninja!

 Curiouser and curiouser ... oh that comes from a much more recent book and I thought it was an ‘old phrase’ (interesting how quickly that has come into my mind’s (at least) psyche ...

Bilbo appears from his Down the Rabbit Hole – but as we know Tolkien, on marking exam papers – got bored! – found a blank page ... and wrote the immortal words: In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit ...

Fruit and Flowers at Fortnums (homely!)
I’d love to live in Bilbo’s hole in the ground – it seemed extraordinarily homely ... lovely creamy woods, full of food – pantries of it ... so don’t go hungry, because you’ll have a rumbling tum ... mind you you’ll work it off in the chases!

Rewind a few years (regrettably a few decades) I remember being daunted by my grandmother’s Christmas present to us all, though I doubt my brothers remember as I must have only been 8; this big box arrived from Fortnum and Mason’s ...

Fortnum and Mason £ breaking hamper
... it was full of all kinds of goodies I expect, but was definitely not what we were used to ... I’m sure it had biscuits, teas, jams, chocolates etc, lots of toys – but the thing I remember (and always have) was a book: The Hobbit.

I read voraciously ... but could never get my head into that book then or later, perhaps now is the time of change.  The imagination required from this youngster was obviously not there ... also my grandmother died soon afterwards, and my father was not very well ... so no guidance would have been available to help with reading it.

That Christmas box with the book The Hobbit remains embedded in my memory ...

British Library's poster of Hobbiton Hill

On one of my forays to the British Library I spotted that there was a lecture on 21 September – 75 years to the day after the first publication of The Hobbit – I thought of you ...
An Art Deco panther ... possibly a model for
the deadly Wark?

It was fascinating, choc-a-block, and I just sat mesmerised listening, without taking notes (I’m sorry to say – I should have had a tape recorder for this one). 

The speakers were brilliant ... the main thing that stood out in my mind, was one of the speakers saying that all great stories come from the heart, written without thought for publication ...

... often written for children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, or young friends with no intent in mind, other than to tell a mighty good yarn – which purely by default turns into a masterpiece ... many that we know: Wind in the Willows, Alice through the Looking Glass, The Hobbit ...

Oh and one other snippet I remembered: on the early dust-cover the red sun had to be taken out ... because in pre-war Britain they could only use three colours ...

Just had to add in this
Art Deco staircase made
from golden wood
(warm and homely too)

So to celebrate with you all fellow Hobbit Festers c/o Mary Pax and Tyrean and her writing spot ... this has been my personal history of The Hobbit – and now it looks like I must clamber down my hobbit hole to read the book, then see the film again – no doubt with a fuller audience.

Enjoy the fest and the film anon ...

The British Library notes on the Event “TheHobbit at 75”

*The cinema can now show HD films – and this has enabled us to see films that we might have missed ... this week's being the very British 1943 updated version of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp ...

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Story

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Insecure Writer’s Support Group – IWSG and Cheers to Roasting Cavanaugh Blogfest ...

Fly Me To The Moon – up up and away from the insecurities of the final day of posting for Alex’ fest – there have been some great entries and from the moment I read Roland’s post on Sunday – I never had a chance: his post is excellent.

Then I read/watched Ellie’s video ... amazingly clever ... and so all the 138 bloggers went – how can one even enter a competition that in one’s own mind has been won ... needs must – play the game, Hilary.

There was Elise’s little plywood model Alexes (is that a word?!) that someone suggested she get a production line going for ebay, or a shop of her own ... not sure what the French would say about that ...

Then of course he’s posted “Who Am I?” ...  as he says he’s a head-banging movie geek ... so he’d know about the movie Fly Me to the Moon and all those versions of the song ..

Fly Me to the Moon is a definite in Alex' life ... CassaStar, CassaFire and the soon to be released CassaStorm ... all are set for intergalactic take off ...

On reflecting and worrying! I drifted on from the song (and I don’t like Frank Sinatra – for some reason ... but I’m a heathen!), found there were at least 49 other notable recordings.

Quincy Jones presents platinum copies
of "Fly me to the Moon" to Senator
John Glenn and Apollo 11 commander
Neil Armstrong

Yet the most important version was Frank’s – played by the astronauts of Apollo 10 on their lunar-orbital mission and again on the moon itself by the astronaut Buzz Aldrin during the Apollo 11 landing.

Alex with his trilogy I’m sure is flying to the moon and beyond – perhaps he’ll establish the first library in space ... he doesn’t like basking in the spotlight – another phrase that sprang to mind ... and something he mentioned.

Map of the Moon by Johannes Hevelius
from his Selenographia (1647), the first
map to include the libration zones
(an oscillating motion of orbiting bodies)

When I googled the phrase I came up with this British site (Claire Shrader) – it is interesting – she was an introvert ... but found theatre, then wrote her first play ... the doors had opened. 

She describes herself as a free spirit.  I have no idea about her work ... but reading her bio and seeing the website – made me think that it was a good-look/read-link for Wednesday’s IWSG day ...

A sort of Tinkerbell
guardian angel ...
aka Mrs C
Back to Alex – also thinking about who would Alex look like and Mrs C supporting her hubby in the back ground ... I came up with Peter Pan – a mixture of Peter himself, Mr George Darling ... 

... and then Mrs C as Mary Darling with an ability to become Tinkerbell .... keeping Alex safe as he darts across the skies visiting us all ... making sure he returns to the comfort of the Darling-Cavanaugh home ...

I haven’t conformed, I’m sure I haven’t complied ... but many congratulations to    Mark "The Madman" Koopmans, Morgan "Whammy" Shamy,  David "The Kingpin" King, and Stephen “the Breakthrough” Tremp  for hosting the Cheers Cavanaugh Blogfest.

There have been some fantastic entries – creative words, songs, guitarists, rappers ... all I can say is this blogosphere contains some incredibly creative peeps ... and Alex I say GOOD LUCK to you for selecting the winner/s.

Nicaraguan Nacatamales

Boy = good luck Alex!!! and congratulations to those who rise to the top of the winners pile ...

Cheers to you all ... from a champagne swinging hot tamales girl – occasionally I will vaguely conform!

Oh - one question .. has anyone asked what the J stands for in Alex J. Cavanaugh  ...... Mrs C - any comment?

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Friday 7 December 2012

Roman Christmas - Saturnalia ...

Saturnalia, in Roman times, was the annual festival on 17th December celebrating the end of winter, which quickly expanded into a week of Misrule, feasting, partying, gambling, drinking, playing card games, and general cavorting around the town ...

Ruins of the Temple of Saturn
(eight columns to the far right) in 2010

They even dressed down – togas came off and bright tunics appeared with silly hats.  Misrule was a very debauched affair ... masters serving servants ... lawlessness prevailed briefly ...

... Roman courts were closed, and Roman law dictated that no-one could be punished for damaging property or injuring people during the weeklong celebration.

The festivities began when the Roman authorities chose “an enemy of the Roman people” to represent the “Lord of Misrule” – this poor victim was subjected to some rather unpleasant ‘pranks’ ...

Saturnalia by Ernesto Biondi (1909) in the
Buenos Aires Botanical Gardens
... at the festival’s conclusion the Roman authorities believed they were destroying the forces of darkness by brutally murdering this innocent – represented by gingerbread men biscuits today.

Surprisingly during Saturnalia the Romans did not over indulge – our main tradition the lavish and luxurious eating of a fine feast developed over the centuries as we relinquished Saturnalia, paganism and embraced the Christian faith.

However quite a few of the Roman traditions make their appearance in our Christmas of today ... gift giving (sometimes with little verse cards attached), carol singing, gingerbread men biscuits –as we know those had devilish connotations.
Dice players in a wall painting
from Pompeii

Christians adopted the Pagan tradition of tree worshiping, decorating their homes with greenery – ivy and mistletoe ... our Christmas tree today.

The forum was the town’s main meeting place where people would mingle, the theatre would show a variety of theatrical entertainments ... with street performers adding to the mix.

Roman foods
Although feasting did not occur – the wealthier Romans ate well ... banquets would consist of a variety of courses – but normal life was as we know it today ... revolving around the rhythms of manual labour (in the fields).

Breakfast was bread and fruit, a light lunch in the middle of the day consisting of thick porridge, bread, cheese, cold fish, meat and with humble vegetables ...

... while the main meal of the day was a three course dinner served in the late afternoon in the Triclinium, where diners reclined on three couches, arranged around a low dining table, and served from the kitchen within the villa.

A Roman Dinner

The wealthy, patriarchs and plebeians, would have kitchens, but most people, the freedmen (general plebeians), lived in apartments and they had to eat cold meals or buy hot food from the many take-away food shops. 

The slaves would get handouts of grain which they made into a porridge type gruel, while the freedmen ate this staple porridge supplemented by oil, the simpler vegetables and salt fish.

Stuffed Roasted Boar
Cooks in the homes of the wealthy patricians were valued household slaves – as it was exceedingly hard work - the evening meal often taking all day to prepare ... food being cooked in a brick oven, and was either boiled in a pot or roasted on a griddle over the flames.

Food was quite varied but depended on the seasons and availability – roasted meats: pigeons cooked inside chickens, wild boar or pigs stuffed with sausages made from extra meats and innards – waste not want not ...

Richer classes had starters of eggs, seafood or snails ... supplemented with cheeses, olives, lentils, sea urchins, molluscs, shrimp, salted anchovies ... with extra vegetables: kale, chard, nettles and sorrel.

Foods from plant sources

Pickled vegetables were readily available ... olives, chicory, cardoons, broccoli, asparagus, artichokes, leeks, carrots, turnips, parsnips, beets, peas, green beans, radishes, cauliflower, cabbages, lettuces and field greens, onions, cucumbers fennel, capers – early varieties of the types we eat today ...

The main dish usually consisted of meat – pork was the most popular – all parts being eaten; beef wasn’t very popular – cattle were working animals; geese, duck, chickens, peacocks and swans all featured ... sausages of various sorts were made.  Hares and rabbits were bred and eaten – hares less successfully.

Chickens hanging in a shop in Mexico
Fresh fish was usually only found at lunch times – they were difficult to fatten up ... though freshwater and saltwater ponds existed.  Fish sauce was the universal sauce added to everything ... when it was being made the production of garum was banned in the towns ... as the stench was unbelievable!  

The small sealed amphorae were distributed throughout the Empire and totally replaced salt as a condiment.  The remaining solids were sold as a kind of savoury spread ...

"The Mullus" harvesting pepper taken from a
French edition of The Travels of Marco Polo

Spices were imported on a large scale and used copiously ... pepper, saffron, cinnamon, herbs, cloves, nutmeg, ginger ...

Desserts would include plenty of fruits – fresh or dried – grapes, figs, dates, pomegranates, quinces, apples, apricots et al ... and the Romans loved walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, chestnuts and pine nuts ...

Roman Honey Cakes
Roman bakers were famous for the many varieties of breads, rolls, fruit tarts, sweet buns and cakes ... cakes made of wheat and usually soaked in honey were often served.

Drinks were early types of wine, mixed with herbs and honey, early mead, strong raisin wine, matured spiced wine; beer was known but considered vulgar.  Sour wine mixed with water and herbs was a popular drink for the lower classes.

In some ways the Romans had the same choices we have today for our Christmas feast ... and our foods have evolved from those early beginnings.


Their entertainment was similar to ours today – even in this technological age – musicians, acrobats, poets or dancers .... dances were not usual, as it was considered improper and would not mix well with table manners ... although during the comissatio (a round of drinks) this habit was often disregarded.

Times have not really changed that much in two millennia ... different countries have evolved their own cultures out of those early beginnings ...

Our Christmas Pudding complete with holly
sprig - if the Romans had invented matches
 - then they too would have flamed it

Thankfully we don’t have to choose a Lord of Misrule – except as a revival of those early traditions enacted to remember our roots ... and I love that we don’t forget our history ... it’s made who we are ...

Happy Christmas preparations ... though I’ll still be around!

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Monday 3 December 2012

It’s time for the powder room ....

Ever thought where the term came from ... I used to see it when I visited golf clubs, posh hotels, Harrods – the 1p slots were beyond! – none of which in our youth we frequented often.  But Powder Room – seemed to imply powdering faces, powdering our noses ...  and I suppose that’s why it stuck ...

A very modern powder room

Going round Bateman’s (Kipling’s house) recently and having the Powder Room pointed out – a small room off Kipling’s bedroom – it was clarified as the wig powdering room ... I thought oh ok = interesting fact.

Then I read an article about a Queen Anne house that had been restored in the east end of London, together with other houses in the terrace.  Here again – the powder room off the landing was highlighted.

The Kiplings' powder
room off their bedroom,
now full of display items
Now it made sense ... wig powdering, Queen Anne (reigned 1702 – 1714) and Bateman’s built in 1634 – even a farm house in the Sussex countryside needed a wig powdering room:  well if you can get your head round the fact that wig powdering was a necessity in the country as well.

After the fall of the Roman Empire the use of wigs fell into abeyance in the West until they were revived in the 16th century as a means for compensating for hair loss or improving one’s personal appearance.

There were also the practical reasons to use a hair piece: head lice jumping around and the unhygienic conditions of the times ... having one’s head shaved and then using a wig, which could easily be removed and cleaned, made a great deal of sense.

Elizabeth 1 - her Armada portrait (1588)

Well now I’m not sure about that ... Samuel Pepys recorded the day in 1663 that he was at the Swan pub by the river in Chelsea and sent for his periwig-maker to bring his periwig; but it was full of nits ... so he sent the old boy away to make it clean.

Royal patronage was crucial to the revival of the wig – Queen Elizabeth 1 reigned from 1558 – 1603 and wore a red wig, elaborately curled tight in a “Roman” style.

But wig wearing really came into its own in the 17th century – King Louis of France (1601 – 1643) started to pioneer wig-wearing in 1624 when he had prematurely begun to lose his hair. 

Queen Anne - who didn't look
like she needed a wig (1705)

Women followed on in the 1700s – usually only adding to their own hair – with supplemental hair-pieces – or lightly dusting and colouring their hair – rather than the full wigs worn by the men.

However it became de-rigueur with Louis’ son and successor King Louis XlV (1638 – 1715) from where it spread to the rest of Europe – here in England Charles II, on his restoration in 1660, brought the style back with him from his exile in France.

It’s interesting to consider Bateman’s building’s date of 1634 with these timings ... Kipling’s house was off the beaten track – he had a new lane built down to make the house more easily accessible.

Queen Anne terrace in Kew, SW London
I’d better stick to my theme of powder room ... wig powder was made from finely ground starch that was scented with orange flower, lavender or orris root.  It could be coloured violet, blue, pink or yellow, but most often was used as off-white.

Wigs were made from human hair (expensive), horsehair, cows’ tail hair and even linen and silk threads sewn into a cloth cap ... the oils from the wearer’s head tended to soak into the wig’s material.  However talcum powder would absorb these oils.

Puffing the powder, using
powder bellows - no sign of
face protection here
A wig had to be powdered while it was being worn to keep the powder in situ atop the head ... hence the powder room – when a cover cloth would be used to protect the clothes ... but the face – breathing in all that powder wouldn’t do anyone any good.

The wearer would place their face in a paper cone to avoid breathing in any of the powder.  A family member or servant would take a cloth bag filled with crushed talc and shake it vigorously over the wig – where it would stick to the oily/greasy hair. 

Powder bellows became popular in the 18th century, but powder puffing was more genteel.

Example of powder bellows
The powder room doubled as an early washroom before water was piped around the house ... certainly the two I’ve seen recently were relatively small in size.

In 1795, the British government ever keen on raising money ... taxed hair powder – levying one guinea per year!  That put the kibosh on the fashion for wigs and powder.

A Hundertwasser designed toilet in Kawakawa,
New Zealand - couldn't resist this photo
The Duty on Hair Powder Act 1795 was repealed in 1869 – so it didn’t last very long ... the Act stated that anyone wishing to use hair powder must visit a stamp office and register ... in 1812 46, 684 people paid the tax, by 1855 only 917 did ...

Wigs have continued on in many guises ... while powder rooms have evolved out of private houses to be only found in public places for ladies’ use ... where plumbing is now to be found.

The Austrian artist
Friedensreich Hundertwasser
(1928 - 2000) see Wiki
he looked interesting

It’s interesting how the names/phrases keep on – powder rooms, powder puff – powder our noses - even if the government taxed the fashion to its death ...

The Kiplings’ House – Bateman’s ... my recent posts:
Putting the House to Bed part 1 (the background)
Puttingthe House to Bed part 2 (managing wear and tear)

Fascinating what we can find – I was very surprised to find the Duty on Hair Powder link ...

I did write a post a year ago on toilets and using the pan - different turns of phrases ... see here.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories