Sunday, April 25, 2010

My New Blog

I'm happy to annouce that I've set up a new blog that's designed to support all of my work rather than just travel and etymology. I hope you'll continue to visit regularly by following this link.

Thanks for your interest.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Town Crier

Photo: James Shrubb, Town Crier and Doreen Waters (both mentioned in Christmas Past in Essex ISBN #978 0 7524 4463 5)

In days of old, when few people could read and write, the appearance of the Town Crier was a cause for much excitement. He would appear in a brightly colored outfit, white stockings, three cornered hat and ringing his bell to assemble an audience. He would unroll the proclamation with pomp and ceremony, read it aloud and nail it on the door of the local inn.

Town Criers were protected by the reigning monarch. Interfering with his duties or heckling while he was giving his address was considered an act of treason.

In addition to his duties as a reader of proclamations, the Crier was often called upon to keep the peace. See the following excerpt from:

“In 1620, there was a fight at the cross between the butchers and the bakers where the 'Cryer brake his Mace in peeces Amonge them'. In 1607, one public notice read by George Tunnall, the bellman, forbade tipping rubbish in the river. In 1715, a local man recorded that the 'Belman at the Cross ... Reads publicly a proclamation in the Mayor's name, commanding all persons in the City to be of peaceable and civil behaviour, not to walk around the Streets or Rows at unreasonable hours of night'.”

Monday, March 29, 2010

Kitchen News - The Versatile Stock Pot

Do you want to control the fat and salt in your diet? Why not try a centuries’ old custom of keeping a stock pot? What could be better than a nutritious and flavorful base for soups, stews and sauces? It’s easy to do, full of goodness and may help reduce high blood pressure. Yes, I know it’s convenient to use a little cube or take a spoonful of paste instead of using a cup of homemade stock; I’ve done so myself many times over the years but when I look at the amount of sodium in some of these products, I actually feel guilty adding it to my recipe.

So, why not give a stock pot a try? Once you begin, you will see how easy it is. It will cost you little and the benefits of a stock pot are tremendous. I’m most pleased when my stock has a jelly-like consistency where I have to actually scoop a cup of stock because it’s too thick to pour. By the way, it’s a good idea to keep the strained water from cooked vegetables and add this to your stock pot too. Incidentally, a good stock shouldn’t be over-flavored but merely a liquid that enhances your dishes. Don’t use the water from cooking potatoes, peas or other green vegetables; these do not enhance the flavor.

Stock Pot Recipe

2 lbs of bones – preferably marrow bones. (Ask your butcher to chop them)
1 medium carrot – peeled and cut into small pieces
1 small turnip – peeled and cut into small pieces
1 medium onion – sliced and diced
4 cups of water
1 teaspoon of thyme
1/8 teaspoon of pepper
1 teaspoon of salt (optional)

Place all ingredients in a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Cook for approximately 2 1/2 hours over a low heat. Remove any “froth” from the top of pot with a spoon and discard. When cool, strain the liquid and place in the refrigerator overnight. When completely cool, the fat will solidify and can be removed easily from the top of the stock.

Handy Hint: Your stock can be frozen in ice cube trays to use as needed or simply put the stock in plastic containers.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Stilt Performer

I came across this man on stilts walking through a park in Cozumel. Unfortunately, I did not get his name, but as you can see...he was wearing evening dress. I watched him stride across the park and literally had to run alongside him to catch up and ask for the photo. The man was very polite and accommodating, especially as he was on his way to work. He was advertising a shop called Diamonds (the logo runs down the outside of his pants) a very nice jewelry shop located on the main thoroughfare in Cozumel.

Once back in the States, I tried to find the origins of stilt walkers and found the following information - courtesy Bill “Stretch” Coleman.

Astounding Stilt Walking Events
In China, there is an old custom called "walking on stilts" that it is a performance which employs two lengths of wooden sticks over three metres long to one's feet and walking on them. It is also termed "tied-on long feet". This kind of performance can be traced back to very ancient origins. It is described in "Leizi"(a book), "There was a man named Lanzi in the state of Song (circa 7th century B.C.) who entertained the first Song emperor with his feet of walking and running with two wooden poles taller than himself attached to his lower legs. Performers are dressed as legendary characters and perform with long poles attached to their feet. It is a holiday folk performance, especially popular in some country areas.

1411 - Date of Namur (Belgium) town ordinance dealing with "Echasseur" or "jousting while wearing stilts"! Opposing teams of jousters, the Mélans and the Avresses, battle each other in a wild melee of blows using shoulders and elbows; shoving, jabbing, blocking and tripping their opponents. We observed one such enactment at the 2002 Dallas Texas State Fair.

This extraordinary sport is still practiced today.

Another troupe of stilt performers and jousters
A collection of jousting photos

Sunday, February 21, 2010

George Washington's Birthday

As I sat enjoying a meal at The Bell Pub in Purleigh, Essex, I had the distinct feeling this was the very place where the great-great grandfather of George Washington (Lawrence Washington c1633-1650) "...sat daily tippling there and encouraging others in the same beastly vice..." as was said by the Parliamentarians who wanted to oust Lawrence Washington from his post as Rector of All Saints Church, Purleigh. The pub was built centuries before Washington took his position and is located just 50 yards down the hill from the church. Hounded until he could take the abuse no longer, he left with his little family and settled in Maldon, Essex. He died penniless five years later. His sons, John and Lawrence (the younger) despondent over their father's treatment by the Parliamentarians, left England for the New World.

For more information please go to Extraordinary Places...Close to London as the first two chapters are devoted to Washington, how he lived, the bells he had cast in defiance of the Parliamentarians' wishes, and how he rang them at every opportunity. Indeed, they are still rung to this very day.

Photo courtesy and text provided by Julie and Barry Mott.
"The Bell is a 14th century pub which was extensively refurbished in the 16th century. Set in a small conservation area with the church and original village buildings on top of the hill. With views over the Blackwater Estuary. Good beer and food can be enjoyed in the peace as no music or children are allowed in the bars. We are on top of the hill next to the church in the village of Purleigh, four miles South of Maldon, Essex."

Barry & Julie Mott.
The Street, Purleigh, Essex CM3 6QJ Tel. 01621 828348

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Ancient Vineyard in Pompeii

Care was taken during the restoration of Pompeii. Even the vineyards were carefully reconstructed in every detail. The following information was taken from a pamphlet in the area.

"Nearly 2,400 root holes of vines were plastercast in this large area, along with their supporting stakes: the plants were laid out along north-south rows at a distance of 1.20m from each other, with a 1.5m between rows. This layout followed the rules given by ancient authors for growing wine on hillsides which required sunny and ventilated land.

The area, which was also used as a work space for wine making and with triclinia for wine tasting, was replanted with sciascinoso and piedi rosso vines. These vines were called by the ancient Pompeians oleogina vitis and columbina, and their bunches of grapes are depicted in frescos."

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Connections - England and America

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of giving an Extraordinary Places presentation to the Kum Dubl group, a fascinating and interesting study group. Many shared the stories of their lives, some remembering the dust bowl and how the sky "...turned black as though it were dark was the afternoon..." said one woman. Most remembered stories their grandmothers and grandfathers had told them when they arrived from England and mainland Europe. Knowing the background and interest of my audience, I decided to title the program Connections and began researching just how many men from my own county of Essex left for the New World.

During the mid 1600s, Essex, was a great recruiting ground for America. As word spread, men from influential families left in droves seeking a new life, some twenty from the Sherman family alone. Others such as John Washington who swore that if his father Lawrence Washington (great-great grandfather to George Washington) was ousted from the church because of his royalist leanings, that he too would leave for the New World -- of course, the rest is American history. The Bush family came from Messing, Essex, William Penn from Billericay, Essex and and Thomas Hook from Chelmsford left much later in 1681 but who became the co-founder of Connecticut - Essex men all!

More information on some of the individuals mentioned above as well as other short, armchair travel stories about kings and queen, witches and Vikings, the Witchfinder General, Ley Lines, ghosts and much more can be found within the pages of Extraordinary Places...Close to London. Published by Hastings House, the ISBN is: 0-8038-2031-3.