'When he did drink, he would drink to excess to have the benefit of vomiting, which he did easily; by which benefit neither his wit was disturbed (longer than he was spewing) nor his stomach oppressed.'
Saturday, 27 December 2008
'When he did drink, he would drink to excess to have the benefit of vomiting, which he did easily; by which benefit neither his wit was disturbed (longer than he was spewing) nor his stomach oppressed.'
Thursday, 25 December 2008
May I wish you and your families a very happy Christmas.
I have thoroughly enjoyed speaking to all of you in this my first year of blogging. I look forward to continuing our acquaintance in 2009.
Have a great day!
Friday, 19 December 2008
I seem to recall mentioning Saturnalia in passing a few posts back; mainly in connection with Christmas, and the fact that the latter festival's timing owes something to the pagan festival held in Rome. But I didn't really go into much detail, did I? Otherwise I'd have been off at a tangent (nothing unusual for me) and would have found it quite impossible to get back on track.
Saturnalia commemorated the dedication of the temple of Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture and the harvest. In Rome's mythology, when Jupiter ascended the throne of the gods, Saturn is said to have escaped to Rome and ruled the city, presiding over a period of unprecedented peace and harmony - a so-called Golden Age. It was in honour of this period that Saturnalia was celebrated at around the time of the winter solstice - December the 17th.
Originally, Saturnalia, like Christmas, was a single day of celebration, but it became such a popular festival (for obvious reasons, of which more later) that it ended up being a full week long, despite the attempts of emperors to reduce its length. As with all Roman festivals, there were 'official' celebrations; the emperor, in his role of Pontifex Maximus (high priest) would make sacrifices to the god, and priests of the temple would perform other rituals. The feet of the statue of Saturn, bound with woollen thread for the rest of the year, were unbound to symbolise liberation, and the image (which was hollow) was filled with fresh olive oil - one of Rome's agricultural bounties.
For the general population, Saturnalia was a family holiday; a chance to let the hair down and have some fun. Schools were closed, official government business was suspended, and prisoners on death row were spared...but only until the festival ended! Roman armies fighting abroad suspended all hostilities for the duration of the festival, although whether they played football with their enemies in Gallia or Germania is not recorded. The rather formal toga was abandoned in favour of a colourful 'dinner suit' (the synthesis), and everyone wore a pileus - a little pointed hat - which was symbolic of freedom (slaves were traditionally given one of these on being freed). Some sources say these hats were made of paper...now, what does that remind you of?
Families got together to eat and drink, and to exchange gifts. Houses were decorated with boughs and other greenery brought in from outside, and lamps were lit. In those households with slaves (in other words, most households except the poorest), the social order was turned upside-down. The master was expected to both cook, and serve, dinner to his slaves, whilst the slaves were allowed to treat the master with a kind of jokey contempt. Personally, I think it fairly unlikely that there were many masters in Rome who could even boil water, so I suspect the slaves prepared the food for the master to serve it up. The slaves were also exempt from punishment at this time of year, and were allowed to gamble with dice. Romans lived in constant fear of slave revolts, or of being murdered in their beds by their own household slaves, so were probably a bit wary of their slaves getting too much of a taste for freedom during this season of laissez-faire. A slave who was less than respectful to his master at some other time of year would be asked sarcastically, 'Is it December already, then?'
Of course, there were always a few that went over the top. The streets of some parts of Rome, albeit patrolled by the Vigiles (a cross between a police force and a fire brigade), were still extraordinarily dangerous by modern standards, and some used Saturnalia as an excuse for getting extremely drunk and performing random acts of violence upon innocent passers-by. Two such individuals who put on disguises, got drunk, and wandered around Rome's red light district picking fights and beating people up were emperors - Caligula and Nero. Although we cannot be sure that these acts were perpetrated during Saturnalia, it seems pretty likely with Nero. His birthday fell upon the 15th December; two days before the start of the festival. In his twenty-second year he had his mother killed, and celebrated his birthday by shaving off his beard. How better to round the year off than to dress down and inflict a bit of ultra-violence on your people?
Well, I hope your winter celebrations involve something a little less confrontational. Io Saturnalia!
Thursday, 18 December 2008
Equally, it wasn’t unusual for me to try foreign cigarettes. I smoked Bisonte in Spain, Drava in Jugoslavia (the packet was made of brown paper with a picture of a toiling blacksmith on it), and the curiously-named N.E. Lunga in Italy. These latter were so appallingly dull that, on more than one occasion, I was forced to shout, ‘I can’t stand this N.E. Lunga!’
On the whole, my favourite foreign cigarettes were Gaulioses, which hail, of course, from France. When you lit up one of their Disques Bleues and took a lungful of thick smoke, which felt for all the world as if you were inhaling a lump of garlic and herb Christmas cake, you knew you were smoking a cigarette. This week, I noticed, predictably, that the French have handled the smoking ban in the same way they deal with pretty well all the legislation that comes out of the EU - they have ignored it, and continue to smoke in cafes, bars and restaurants. Although I no longer smoke, and welcome the smoke-free atmosphere that now pervades our pubs, I can’t help feeling a sneaky bit of admiration for the French.
This Gallic spirit, which could be characterized as ‘us against the rest of the world’, is nowhere better exemplified than in the Asterix cartoons. Created in 1959 by Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, they follow the fortunes of Asterix, the plucky, moustachioed little Gaul, Obelix, his lumbering, menhir-delivering companion, and the rest of the inhabitants of their little Gaulish village as they resist the incursions of the Romans, led by Julius Caesar. Their village has a secret weapon in the war against Rome - a magic potion, prepared by resident druid Getafix (originally named Panoramix in the French version) that gives the Gauls temporary superhuman strength when fighting. It is Obelix’s constant regret that he is not allowed to drink the potion; his strength is permanent since he fell into a cauldron of the stuff as a baby. And I mustn’t forget Obelix’s little dog, Dogmatix (or Idéfix - meaning obsessed - in the French version).
If you’re new to Asterix, you’ve probably noticed something about the names. They are invariably a play on words. Asterix sounds like asterisk; Obelix is a play on obelisk; and Getafix…well, I’m not sure how The Youth of Today would interpret this one! Other villagers’ names are a pun based on their trade or attributes; Geriatrix is an old man, Unhygienix is the fishmonger, and Cacofonix is the rather unmusical village bard).
Of course, this is a game we can all play. Gaulish mens’ names end in an ‘x’; womens’ (generally, but not necessarily) in an ‘a’, and the name chosen should reflect the individual in some way. And Christmas is traditionally the time when people get together and play silly games.
C'mon! Let’s play!
Masochistix - A downtrodden villager who, curiously, is happy to be so.
Dominatrix - His wife who, not unsurprisingly, takes advantage of the situation.
Aviatrix - A young druidess with dreams of flying. When she can get hold of some of the magic potion, that is.
Backsacncrax - Owner of The Village Spa, a place of calm and relaxation.
Plucka - His wife, who takes an active role in the business.
Botox and Collagena - Their trainees.
Horlix - The village 'bike' (suggested by a person who claims to be my daughter).
Egomaniax - A self-obsessed Gaul.
Monomania - His rather dull wife .
Weetabix - A spelt farmer.
Goneballistix - A villager with a very short fuse.
Consiliata - His wife, who is constantly apologising for him.
Prefix and Suffix - Identical twins. One is always ridiculously early for everything, whilst the other is always terribly late.
Psychotix - the village axe-maniac. Every village needs at least one
Backtobasix - a putative politician, who believes in traditional Gaulish values.
Vitalstatistix watch out!
Panicattax - A terribly nervous Gaul; probably frightened by Romans at some time .
Starbux - Purveyor of an alternative potion to that made by Getafix, which he sells from a small tavern.
Insomniax - Starbux’s best customer.
Cantrelax - Starbux’s second best customer.
Macrobiotix - The village weirdo. No-one is quite sure why he consistently refuses to eat wild boar.
Fixeruppa - the village’s only handywoman.
Earlier today, whilst wandering through the echoing halls that are The Internet, I thought, ‘Let’s have a look at the Parc Asterix website. It’s a theme park, fairly near EuroDisney, and devoted to all things Gaulish. A good place for children from all over Europe to visit, you’d think, especially as you can buy Asterix books in just about every language, including Latin. And guess what? Unlike its American owned rival, it steadfastly refuses to provide site information in anything other than French!
Image copyright 1959 - Goscinny and Uderzo.
Saturday, 13 December 2008
A couple of posts back, chatting as we were over the garden fence about wishbones, you may recall that I mentioned a gent called John Aubrey. He was a noted bon viveur, and author of Brief Lives, a series of pen-portraits of his contemporaries and near-contemporaries in the 17th century. Some of these are inaccurate, some scurrilous, and some downright naughty, but all are fascinating and I hope one day to introduce you to a few of the more interesting characters from his Lives.
Sadly, Mr. Aubrey is no longer with us, having passed away on the 7th June 1697. But it is not the date of his death that concerns me here, but rather that of his birth. According to his autobiographical notes, he was born on the 12th of March, 1625, which he claimed to be St. Gregory’s Day. Now, I took a brief trip into a Calendar of Saints, and discovered that Gregory died on the 12th of March, but that this was not his feast day; that actually falls upon the 3rd of September.
Being a rather maggoty headed individual, not unlike Aubrey himself, I couldn’t leave it there. Oh no. I just had to find out the name of the saint (if any!) whose feast day actually fell upon the 12th of March. And it turns out that there a great many of them. Alphege of Winchester, Bernard of Carinola, Dionysus the Carthusian, Egdunus, Joseph Tshang-ta-Pong, Luigi Orione, Maximilian, Mura, Paul Aurelian, Peter of Nicomedia, Peter the Deacon, Seraphina, Theophanes the Chronographer and Vindician.
Anyway, back to St. Gregory. Now, you probably all know about patron saints - St. Christopher for travellers, St. Francis for animals, and so forth. But St. Gregory is a true multi-tasker. Amongst other things, he is the patron saint of choirboys, gout, musicians, popes, stone masons and the West Indies. Quite a mixture, you might say, and probably spectacularly useful if you are a musical port-drinking sculptor from Barbados. But these are by no means the strangest people or places to be ‘patronised’ by a particular saint. Are you, perchance, afraid of mice? Then you need to have a chat with Gertrude of Nivelles. (Oh, and she does rats as well). Are you a comedian? If so, St. Vitus is your man. Do you suffer from haemorrhoids? St. Fiacre would probably be able to lend a hand. Do you have an unreasoning fear that you will be killed by artillery fire? Call St. Barbara. Perhaps you’re thinking of setting up a business; maybe a coffee shop? Then give St. Drogo a shout.
St. Drogo is an interesting chap. Apparently he had the ability to bilocate; in other words, he could be in two places at the same time, being seen both at mass and out working in the fields. And not only is he the patron of coffee house keepers. He also keeps an eye out for the hard of hearing, for those afflicted with gallstones, for midwives, orphans, sheep and (this one’s for me!) unattractive people. And speaking of unattractive people, let’s not forget St. Wilgefortis (otherwise known as St. Uncumber) who prayed so hard to be rid of a tiresome suitor that she was able to grow a luxuriant beard and moustache. She is the patron saint for ‘difficult’ marriages; the saint to whom women prayed in the middle ages if they wished to be rid of their husbands.
If you can name it, there is a patron saint for it. Everything from the city of Aachen (Apollinaris) to zoos (Francis of Assisi). And, in between, thieves, paratroopers, murderers, boxers, blackbirds, dog fanciers (eh?), motorways, coin collectors, soap boilers and people who whitewash things for a living. However, try as I might, I can’t find a single saint who sticks up for us pensioners (albeit there are no less than three for Old Maids - a term which I thought had long since died out!) But no matter. In my other incarnation as a Blogger (I have devised a new word for what we are - Blognator for a gentleman blogger, Blognatrix for the female of the species) I do at least have St. Isidore of Seville, who is patron of computer users and the Internet!
Tuesday, 9 December 2008
Anyway, I'll tell you a story. A little earlier I went to pay my respects to the Comedy Goddess, in order to make a small jocular remark about Glogg, a Swedish punch which she is currently promoting. Whenever I wish to comment upon CG's blog, I am required to copy a group of apparently random letters, termed 'word verification', before I can post my ramblings. Now, generally speaking, the letters make very little sense, and do not, as a rule, spell out anything that can be found in the OED. But today, another of CG's visitors, Ann (of Ann's Rants) found herself being asked to input the word unpubast, which she thought sounded like the technical term for a bikini waxer.
This, of course, got me thinking. Could we create a whole new dictionary, based solely upon the apparently random output of the word verification gnomes? By Jove, I think we could. The following have all been generated from CG's post a comment box, just this afternoon, and the definitions were the first things that came into my head. Well, almost:
Bakerni - A Croatian oath, similar to the English cry of ‘knackers’.
Scrimpor - Cartoon super-villain, whose special power is an ability to spend very little money.
Ating - The act of stranding someone on a small island in the middle of the River Thames.
Sherrea - A little-known law from a tiny religious sect that insists upon all its adherents drinking fortified wine.
Frensm - An East Anglian dialect word, incorporating friendly and handsome (in the sense of ‘generous’) - eg That’s right frensm of ‘ee! Generally used to thank someone for purchasing a drink.
Coothe - Common name for the North American Lisping Pigeon
Siffist - Someone who shuns the Seattle International Film Festival (there is such a thing, I swear!)
Inegur - An authentic-sounding Icelandic name, generally used with a following adjective (eg Inegur the Strong, Inegur the Skull-splitter, etc.)
Corturts - (i) the pain experienced when injected into an elbow joint with cortisone; or (ii) the actual words uttered by the unfortunate individual in receipt of the injection.
Extusice - The act of expelling a member of a fitness club from the membership list.
Gatiomen - An unusual Japanese noodle dish, made piquant by the addition of a small amount of kitten meat.
Eazed - The sense of relief afforded by the application of a soothing rub or cream.
Grallin - An ocean fish, noted for its passing resemblance to Sarah Palin, former vice-presidential hopeful.
Over to you. I'm hoping this even-lighter-weight-than-usual posting will buy me some time until I have something really useful to say.
Friday, 5 December 2008
One thing that I'm fairly sure hasn't changed is the tradition concerning the chicken's wishbone. Quite simply, one individual takes hold of one side of the wishbone, and another person the other. Sometimes the thumb and forefinger are used; in our family it was the little finger curled around the bone. The two pull in opposite directions, and the wishbone snaps. The person with the larger portion of the bone is then permitted to make a wish, but must not reveal what is wished for.
Superstitions concerning the wishbone date back a very long way. The Etruscans, who inhabited Italy before the Romans, believed that chickens were able to divine the future, and 'sacred' birds were used in ceremonies where they were permitted to peck at little piles of grain representing different letters of the Etruscan alphabet. As they pecked, the appropriate letters were noted down, and used by priests to foretell the future. For some unaccountable reason, the furculae, or fused clavicles (aw, alright, wishbones!) of these sacred birds were thought capable of granting wishes. Once dried in the sun, an individual was allowed to hold the unbroken bone and make a wish.
The Romans also regarded chickens as sacred. Publius Claudius Pulcher, given command of the Roman fleet against Carthage at the Battle of Drepana, had a cage containing sacred chickens on his flagship. The behaviour of these birds would determine when battle should be joined. Apparently, the chickens appeared to be off their food; a very bad omen. Foolishly, Pulcher threw the birds, still in their cage, into the sea, saying, 'If they won't eat, let them drink'. Needless to say, the battle resulted in a spectacular defeat for Rome. On his return to Rome, Pulcher was tried for sacriledge, convicted, and exiled, dying soon afterwards, possibly at his own hand. So let that be a lesson to anyone who chooses to ignore their chickens.
I digress. The Romans continued the Etruscan tradition regarding the wishbone. One source claims that citizens of the Republic fought over possession of these bones because they were in short supply. During the course of these brawls, the wishbones were accidentally broken, thus kick-starting the trend for snapping them in two that continues to this day. But this seems a little fishy to me. Chickens were by no means a rare bird in Rome. The ancient author and cook Apicius had no less than seventeen recipes involving chicken; eggs, hard-boiled and otherwise, found their way into many dishes; and Columella, in his De Re Rustica, suggested that flocks of chickens should ideally consist of around two hundred birds. So the idea that our little feathered friends were hard to come by seems unlikely. The idea of Roman Citizens having a punch-up over a clavicle seems equally implausible. The preferred method of getting one's own way in Rome involved either (i) sticking a dagger between your opponent's ribs, taking whatever it was you wanted, and then dumping his body in the Cloaca Magna (Rome's main sewer), or (ii) paying a group of ruffians to do the job for you. If you had a wishbone, and someone bigger and tougher than you wanted it, the chances are they'd get it, and without a single bone (other than yours, of course) getting broken.
Empires rise and fall, but chickens go on for ever. So, it seems, do superstitions. In 15th century Germany, it was the (unbroken) wishbone of the goose that was used for divination. In 1455, a Bavarian physician named Hartlieb wrote: 'When the goose has been eaten on St. Martin's Day or Night, the oldest and most sagacious keeps the breast-bone and allowing it to dry until the morning examines it all around, in front, behind and in the middle. Thereby they divine whether the winter will be severe or mild, dry or wet, and are so confident in their prediction that they will wager their goods and chattels on its accuracy.' The good doctor also remarked that the bone would be used to determine when battles should be fought; a link back to poor old Publius Claudius Pulcher. The tradition of pulling the wishbone flourished in England too. The Seventeenth century diarist and raconteur John Aubrey, in his work The Remaines of Gentilisme and Judaisme, relates the correct method of dealing with the Merrythought. I make no apology for quoting him in full:
Tis common for two, to breake the Merry-thought of a Chick Hen, or wood-cock, &c and the Anatomists call it 'Furcula': 'tis called Merrythought, because when the fowle is dissected, or carved it resembles the Pudenda of a Woman.
The manner of breaking it, as I have it from the Woemen, is thus, viz: One puts the merrithought on his nose (slightly) like a paire of Spectacles, and shakes his head till he shakes it off his Nose thinking all the while his Thought: then he holds one of the legs of it betweene his forefinger and Thumbe, and another hold the other in like manner: and breake it: he that has the longer part, hath got the Thought: then he that hath got the Thought putts both parts into his hand and the other drawes (by way of Lott) and then they both Wish: and he that lost his Thought drawes: if he drawes the longest part, he getts his Wish: if the shorter, he looses his Wish.
Did everyone get that? I hope so, as I'll be asking questions later.
It is, perhaps, unsurprising that the traditions surrounding the wishbone were carried to America by the Pilgrim Fathers. An excellent account of the fortunes of the furcula on the other side of the Atlantic can be found in Willow's blog here. American tradition pays homage to the turkey rather than the chicken, the latter beast being plentiful there.
It is worth noting that the first settlers in North America enjoyed (if that is the right word) a precarious living for the first few years; so it is likely that many of them were vegetarians by dint of necessity rather than by choice. However, in these latter days, many people are vegetarian by choice, and this creates a problem. How do vegetarians keep alive the old custom of breaking the turkey wishbone? The enterprising Lucky Break Wishbone Corporation has produced a fully synthetic turkey wishbone that looks and breaks just like the real thing!
There now. I bet you wish I'd found this before Thanksgiving, don't you? Never mind. You've still got time to make that last minute order for Christmas.
Image © 2004, The Lucky Break Wishbone Corporation.
Wednesday, 3 December 2008
I've had some very nice comments from all of you out there, for which I thank you. I'm struck by the extraordinary range of talent, intellect and humour that runs through the blogs I have read. I hope that I may one day reach your dizzy heights. At the moment I'm a rather scuffy albatross flapping around outside the third storey of the massive skyscraper that is the Empire Blog Building.
I like the word Blog. It has an onomatopoeic feel about it. Take a plastic bucket, turn it upside down and push it down into a swimming pool, so the air can't escape. Then slowly turn it over. The rush of air to the water's surface sounds something like blog. Although it's really more like bluuuog. Repeated over and over again, blog can sound like the diesel engine of a canal boat. Or, when whispered a number of times, like boiling coffee in a percolator. Blog could also be pressed into service by cartoons or graphic novels. We're all familiar with wham, biff, boing and splat. Blog seems to me equally serviceable, perhaps as the sound of a villain being brained by a railway sleeper wrapped in a duvet.
When I was a kid, the English equivalent of John Doe was Fred Bloggs. And there was a famous lifeboatman from Cromer called Henry Blogg. But none of these things have anything to do with this post. When I wrote Greetings from Lower Blogworthy, I made a quick trawl through cyberspace to see whether there was, in fact, a village of that name or similar. There wasn't, but I did find the word 'Blogworthy' in the Urban Dictionary, which defined it as 'literally, worthy of blogging'. This started me wondering. Were there other words or phrases that could be adapted using the word blog, in order to describe blogs themselves, the people that created them, their contents, how they were written, and the etiquette surrounding their use? My previous post on the Common Smurf prompted the question once again. So, at the risk of your Humble Author's blog becoming even more lightweight than it is already, I have devised a short list of bloggy words or phrases. Here they are...
Ablogate - to deny any responsibility for the contents of your blog.
Blogarithm - the act of getting into one’s stride in the art of blogging.
Blogart - Either (i) the pretty pictures on your blog; or (ii) an online aficionado of 1940s films.
Blogdan - a suitable online name for a male Polish blogger.
Bloggery - an all-purpose swear-word (eg it’s raining like bloggery)
Blog flume - the torrent of comments following an interesting or controversial post.
Blogmanlike - a no-nonsense blog; sturdy and reliable.
Blognoxious - an unnecessarily offensive blogger.
Blogotá - a Colombian blog.
Blography (or Autoblography) - your online profile.
Blogsworth - a petty-minded blogger
Blogthario - one whose sole purpose in blogging is to make the acquaintance of women online.
Blogue - a blog with a strong Gaelic theme.
Oblogation - the feeling that you must post regularly so as not to disappoint your readership.
Obloguy - An abusive blog post.
Spaghetti Blognese - the act of tying yourself in knots by attempting to stick to your own principles and views, whilst at the same time trying not to offend your followers.
So there you have it. You can't get much more lightweight, can you? Next thing you know, I'll be telling you how you can increase the size of your blog by seven inches. Or offering you a genuine online degree. Or (less credible) a Readers' Digest cash prize that actually arrives.
All this typing has worn me out. I'm just popping down to the library for a snooze.