Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Linda Berry's Latest

Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of attending the launch of Linda Berry's latest book Death and the Crossed Wires at the Denver Woman's Press Club. It was a wonderful afternoon as Linda read a short piece from her new book and then fielded questions about the six Trudy Roundtree Mysteries she has penned over the years.

Besides being a member of the Denver Woman's Press Club, Linda is also a member of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, and Sisters in Crime. She describes herself as a community arts activist and an insatiable theatre-goer.

For more information on Linda Berry's books go to:

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Piracy on the Open Seas (origin Jolly Roger)

It was called the Golden Age of Piracy and had colorful characters such as Captain Kidd, Calico Jack, Blackbeard and Black Bart. These pirates roamed the open seas causing fear and creating havoc from 1698 to 1718. Just the sight of their flag, the Jolly Roger, could bring about the surrender of a much larger ship. Often, a captain would rather lose his ship and merchandise than the lives of his men.

A common tactic for a pirate captain would be to sail without displaying a flag of any kind. Then, once they were close enough for battle, the pirates would hoist their flag to intimidate the merchant vessel’s captain into submission. Over years, the color and design of the flag changed. Originally, the flag was red in color with no emblem; the color indicated the pirates would take no quarter. Later, a black flag replaced the red, and sometime later still, an individual sewed the emblem of a grinning skull complete with crossbones (sometimes cutlasses) on the black flag. Perhaps the flag became known as the Jolly Roger because a pirate’s nickname for the devil was “Old Roger” but the exact origins are unknown.

Acts of piracy were not exclusive to men; there were at least two women pirates. Mary Read and Anne Bonny masqueraded as men and by all accounts were able to manage the work and keep their identity hidden. These women played a small part in the history of piracy, but men such as Blackbeard, alias Edward Teach and Black Bart, alias Bartholomew Roberts are the subjects of legends.

Black Beard stood approximately 6’4” had long black hair and a black beard. He was known to matt his black beard into long tendrils and, to further intimidate his opponents, he would push hemp cords under the brim of his hat and then light the bottom so the cords appeared like a mane. These slow burning fuses around Blackbeard’s head gave him an even more menacing appearance. Blackbeard’s pirate flag had a distinct design. His flag displayed a full skeletal figure holding an hourglass in one hand and a weapon pointing towards a bleeding heart in the other.

Blackbeard favored the seas around South Carolina and was anchored at Ocracoke Island in his sloop, the Adventure, when his career ended. It was here that he died after a battle with Lieutenant Robert Maynard, Captain of the HMS Pearl. It is believed that Blackbeard had been drinking heavily and this may have helped in his demise. Later, on examination of his body, it was determined that his death resulted from 5 gunshot and at least 20 stab wounds. Legend has it that Blackbeard’s crew fulfilled their captain’s request should he die in battle. Those instructions were to remove his head and throw his body overboard. It is said Blackbeard’s headless body swam around the ship several times before it sank to its watery grave.

Bartholomew Roberts, alias Black Bart, was a completely different character to Blackbeard. Black Bart dressed immaculately, supposedly drank only tea (although this cannot be substantiated) and rarely used profanity. He ruled his crew with fierce determination and had them adhere to a code of conduct that included a disability clause stating that any crewman losing a limb or becoming unable to work due injury in battle would receive a portion of the bounty commensurate with the injuries received.

Roberts’ career in piracy lasted only four short years but he was extremely successful seizing over 400 ships. At one time, he had over 500 men manning four ships. Black Bart lost is life in battle after being hit in the throat by cannon fire. His crew weighted his body and threw it overboard in accordance with his previously stated wishes.
Black Bart’s motto: A merry life and a short one.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Barber's Pole

When we see one, we know immediately what it means. The red, white and sometimes blue stripe on a pole outside a shop indicates that a barber is hard at work within. The Barber’s Pole has an interesting origin that dates from the Middle Ages. It was associated with the art of bloodletting, leeching, surgery and tooth extractions. After a procedure, the bandages were washed and hung on the pole to dry. As the bandages whipped around in the wind, they formed a spiral, and it’s believed this action began the tradition of a striped pole to indicate a barber’s shop. It is thought the red respresents the blood spilled during surgery and the white the bandages. In England during the late 1800s, a statute was enacted that separated surgical procedures from those performed by barbers. From then on, a red stripe on a pole indicated a surgeon and blue for a barber. This made their places of business easily recognizable for the mostly illiterate population.

The barber’s pole in the photograph is in historic downtown Fort Myers, Florida.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Pub Signs in England

Pub signs have been used in England since the 14th century when in 1393 King Richard II ordered landlords to put signs outside their premises so they were easy to identify. Some pubs have maintained the same name for centuries. The signs were highly graphical to make it easy for travelers who would neither read nor write to recognize the name of the establishment. Pubs (or inns if they offered rooms to rent) were often used as landmarks together with churches, milestones and cairns to help a traveler find their destination. Often the signs indicated an allegiance to the crown with names such as “The King’s Head” or “Queen’s Head”, but others signified the area specialty such as “The Lamb and Fleece” (farming) or “The Cutlers Arms” (an area known for their cutlery expertise).

Another visual image used by the innkeeper provided an instant message. When he had brewed a new batch of ale, he would advertise the fact by wrapping a garland around his door post. The sign was instantly recognizable by any traveler who was therefore enticed into the inn for refreshments.

By the way, a pub is actually short for “Public House”. The landlord “invites” an individual into “his house” and therefore reserves the right to decline service and ask an unruly patron to leave his premises.