The Very Important Dish of Fish and Chips

It’s food month and, while I was trying to think of some obscure meals not even I’d heard of (and I like my worldly foods!), I decided instead to stick to a staple classic, born from England’s Industrial Revolution.

The good old potato – too starchy to count as one of our five-a-day but still everyone’s favourite  vegetable – found its way to England in the seventeenth century by Walter Raleigh. One day, many years later, a very smart and beautiful person decided to fry them and created the chip (although they’re referred to as a denomination of ‘fries’ in nearly every country but England and Australia).

Chips became a common, cheap food in Lancashire in the nineteenth century as it was an affordable and quick meal for a population that was becoming heavily industrial. Fried fish is believed to have been thought up somewhere in London’s East End.

Fish and Chips have become synonymous with England in popular culture, but it’s not an exaggerated stereotype that it is incredibly popular in the UK. Traditionally in Christianity, Fridays are usually days to substitute meat with fish. This tradition in England has stuck with many families, even with decline in religious beliefs, and in England it’s pretty traditional to have fish and chips on a Friday. Chip shops are incredibly common in England so that no estate goes without one. The Hull Daily Mail claimed in 1936 that the fish and chip trade in England “is one which plays an important role in the lives of the people in this country”, not only by being one of the biggest customers of the British fishing industry but because of its cheap and easy availability. In 1926, one particular enthusiast about the British diet claimed in the Essex Newsman that more fish and chips was consumed by thousands of families than bread. Although not exactly held up by actual statistics, this still gives a rather strong image of the meal’s popularity.

Fish and Chip shops were originally small family businesses, which actually operated out of the front rooms of family homes. In the early days of Chip shops, regulations were lax and accidents occurred more than often. The same Hull Daily Mail article mentioned earlier underlines how at the time (1936) new regulations were being put in place to stop any old shop popping up where it pleased, without adhering to health standards. By the end of the nineteenth century, fish and chips were commonplace, and the trade was heavily expanded due to the growing demand of the growing industrial population (and, of course, by holiday-makers who craved their chips on a seaside getaway).

Limoncello

For Food history week I am going to write about a very famous liquor I came across on my travels this summer called Limoncello. Although Limoncello is a drink it is relevant for the food theme as it is a product made from lemons. The drink originates from the Campania region of Southern Italy, primarily associated with Sorrento, the island of Capri and the Amalfi Coast.

In terms of when the drink was invented, this is currently unknown as there have been many theories circulating about who actually made the drink first. Many of the theories stem from the Middle Ages and contain elements of myth and legend, making the exact origins of the drink near impossible. However there does appear to be a general consensus with these theories in question. Some say fisherman used to drink Limoncello as a way of warding of the cold at a time when there was a Saracen invasion from the Middle East. Another popular theory states monks made Limoncello as a treat for themselves between their daily prayers. Again these theories perhaps should not be taken literally as there have been no documented evidence to support this and these stories have been heavily reliant on word of mouth. The only documented evidence of Limoncello making we have is from the early twentieth century and that it was not consumed on such a large scale amongst Italians until the late 1980s.

This June in 2015 I was lucky enough to visit a Limoncello factory on the Sorrentine Peninsula and the process of making Limoncello was explained. Firstly the lemons are grown on large plantations across the Sorrentine Peninsula, the Amalfi coast and sometimes on the island of Capri. They are then harvested by hand between February and October when they are above 3 metres in height. The lemons are then put into warm water and the zest of the lemon is removed as the lemon zest is the main ingredient for the flavour. Then two litres of pure alcohol is added to the zest of the lemons and is stored in a cool dark place at room temperature until the mixture turns yellow. The alcohol content is expected to be approximately 28 to 32%. After a month of putting the mixture into storage syrup and sugar is added with boiling water. After allowing the sugar to dissolve and allowing the syrup to cool, when this is done it is added to the zest of lemons and alcohol. Once again when this process is done they leave the mixture in a cool dark place for forty days. When the forty days have finished the mixture is then bottled ready to be dispatched and sold. After purchasing the Limoncello it is customary to store it in a freezer.

Sometimes the Limoncello is added with Pistachios, Walnuts, Berries and Fennel in order to make different flavours and I as the typical student I am could not help but down a few shots of Limoncello!

The primary industry focuses on agriculture and the growing of lemons aids the local economy. The lemons in this area of Italy have also been used to make other products like cosmetics, soaps, olive oil and biscuits and has done for many years maybe due to the popularity of Limoncello in recent years.

Tudor Confectionery

Human’s attachment to sugar began several thousand years ago, exact date unknown, with the growth of the sugar cane plant, and with steady cultivation across Asia meant it was one of the most valued and rich export from the Asian world to Europe. Sugar itself was incredibly expensive up until the year 1500 when sugar was grown extensively across the tropical climates of the South Americas and earned the name ‘fine spice’ which was reserved for the wealthy. Sugar under the Tudor dynasty (1485-1603) developed an economic status, you were rich if you were able to provide sugary treats for dessert and most specifically have a cook capable of creating sugar sculptures of monumental sizes. But it also played a part in court life in romance since sugar items were used as a way of a gentleman sweetening the woman he was courting.

From Henry VIII to Elizabeth I it was well known that the monarch adored rich, sweet and fruity tastes for their meals. Everything could be laced with honey or drenched in a thick sauce or spiced wine that would eventually turn your teeth black. Due to the rise of cookery books in the late sixteenth century, experimentation with food created new puddings and dishes; the most popular of all was confectionary. This expanded once exploration of the supposed new worlds expanded the food available to the Tudor society. ‘Sweetmeats’ was a delicacy of crystallised fruit or a piece of candy that was popular in banquets and feasts, this included home grown strawberries and pears to the more exotic pomegranates and oranges. These are still popular today but due to mass marketing in the nineteenth century they lost their ‘only for the wealthy’ status. But in Tudor times this was reserved for royalty and the top echelons of society. The term ‘sweetmeats’ also refers to the course that came after the meat course during dinner. The prime example of this would be ‘marchpane’, marzipan to today’s confectionery world. Powdered almonds would be combined with what would be considered as icing sugar and then moulded into sculptures. This became popular under the late Plantagenet dynasty but is better remembered as a delicacy of the Tudor age. One Tudor feast was known to have displayed transformations of Ovid in marchpane, another would be a scaled model of a bear and other legendary or mythological scenes. The sculpturing of marchpane eventually gave way to being known as ‘subtleties’ and was usually covered in gold leaf. The Tudor court would eat the entirety including the gold and usually the biggest or most prominent piece would be given to the monarch. Slices would get smaller the further down the table of the Tudor hierarchy you were. Since the Tudors were the epitome to pageantry and obvious conspicuous consumption, it was natural that the properties of sugar was used to full effect when putting on a show since it was so expensive. The sweetmeats course would occur at dinner, around 3-4pm, every day but on special occasions or important diplomatic feasts, sugar would be used to create the finest confectionary. Occasionally there would be a whole extra banqueting tent put up in the royal gardens to house the subtleties, especially if it was portraying a scene from a play, or a scale size version of a palace/castle.

All sugar products were handmade in the Tudor era and was a skill highly valued in an upper class house’s kitchen. Many cooks would find themselves occupied in mixing sugar to make ribbons, bows or table decorations as and when needed. Something similar to what we would recognise as red laces coloured with fruit juices would be a popular treat. Children were not given a lesser diet then the adults so they would be introduced to sugar from a young age so naturally sugary products would be used as gifts to children or as part of courtship between an unmarried couple. Romance was attached to the products alongside it being part of daily life. There is one story of Elizabeth I attending Kenilworth Castle, home of the Earl of Leicester, and arriving to confectionery hanging from the trees. The idea was for a gentleman to take the confectionery from the tree and present to the lady he was courting. Once again this was all to do with the parade that was court life, yet sweets and sugar still hold a connection within today’s society with it being one of the most affluent sect in the business of food.

Chocolate and the Quakers: Cadbury, Rowntree and Fry

The nineteenth century saw the rise of the three famous cocoa refining companies: Cadbury; J. S. Fry & Sons and Rowntree. What were unique about these companies were their Quaker roots. All three were run during this period by Quaker families although by the twentieth century these companies moved out of Quaker control. So why did Quakers come to dominate the British cocoa industry?

Quakers, as Protestant dissenters, were a marginalised group up until the early nineteenth century, including being barred from universities. This meant that a highly educated and motivated group in society were left to pursue business. While a number of famous British companies such as Clarks and Barclays Bank were set up by Quakers, in the nineteenth century Quakers like other Protestant groups such as Salvationists, were concerned about the effects of alcohol abuse. Quakers were a leading group in the temperance movement and saw drinking cocoa as an alternative for alcohol. Cocoa was seen as a good substitute, as not only was it cheap but the requirement to boil water to make the drink meant that it was safer than drinking just water, therefore it was suitable for consumption from those from all social classes.

Fry was the first of the companies beginning chocolate production in 1759. By 1822 the company was the largest commercial producer of chocolate in Britain and had introduced several factory techniques to improve chocolate production. Fry was followed by Cadbury in 1824. After initial success including a royal warrant the company went into decline in the 1850s until Richard and George Cadbury took over in 1861 who turned the company profitable within three years by moving the company’s focus solely onto cocoa products rather than tea and coffee. In 1862 Rowntree was founded and the three Quaker companies began to coexist.

So why were the three companies so successful? Their Quaker roots certainly were a major factor as Quaker businesses were widely seen by the public as reliable and fair who were not out to rip off consumers with unfair prices like non-Quaker businesses. They were also seen as good employers who were socially conscious, again due to being Quakers. They provided decent working conditions, housing, healthcare and education for both staff and their families. Cadbury and Rowntree in particular pioneered socially conscious working conditions such as the five day week, sick pay and pensions. These two companies are also particularly famous for their model villages built for their workers. Cadbury designed the famous Bournville village in Birmingham for their workers, with superior housing stock and facilities for their workers. Rowntree produced a similar village known as New Earswick in York. As Quakers the signature community pub however was missing in conjunction with Quaker views on alcohol.

However while these may seem morally enlightened, some aspects were outdated, such as the fact women were not allowed to continue working after marriage. Fry who did practise fair practices towards their workers were let down by their refusal to move from their cramped premises which meant that Fry’s employees worked and lived in worse conditions than their Cadbury and Rowntree counterparts.

By the early twentieth century Cadbury began to dominate. During the nineteenth century the three companies had managed to coexist in the market. For example Fry had produced the first chocolate Easter egg in 1873, which Cadbury followed in 1875. These Easter eggs were different from those produced today made out of a much more bitter dark chocolate and were hand decorated, which meant they were seen as a luxury item. However the creation and popularity of the brand’s staple Dairy Milk in 1905 propelled Cadbury to become the leader in the market while Fry’s and Rowntree’s attempts could not match up to the quality of Dairy Milk. Rowntree was let down by the belief of its owner Joseph Rowntree who mistakenly branded milk chocolate as a fad. Fry on the other hand was let down by its premises once again, which did not allow the transportation of fresh milk in the quantities needed for quality production, instead they used dried milk which led to an inferior product.
While Rowntree managed to maintain some level of competition with Cadbury, Fry was plagued by problems. They failed in advertising, which meant that Cadbury and Rowntree managed to gain more of their market share. The final blow was upon the death of Joseph Storrs Fry when the company fell into the hands of squabbling family members who would only communicate via letter. As a result Fry merged with Cadbury in 1919.

By the second half of the twentieth century both Cadbury and Rowntree had both moved on from their Quaker roots and were run in a more typically capitalist fashion, with Cadbury merging with Schweppes in 1969 and Rowntree taken over by Nestlé in 1988.
For British readers, especially, Cadbury and Rowntree are part of our daily life. We recognise and have purchased products bearing these brand names since childhood. In some respects they are a fundamental part and symbol of British life. While in their current capitalist itineration it is easy to forget their impact on British history. Firstly their impact on chocolate becoming such a valued and popular food in Britain and secondly how as companies they helped revolutionise working conditions in Britain, helping make their historical impact twofold.

The Trauma of War: through the Lenses of Beckmann, Kirchner and Apollinaire

Following our First World War timeline, today I will be guiding you through a pretty rough patch, which is the living scars the war perpetrated in the creative souls of its time. Several artists, writers and performers served their country and formed part of the troops that were helplessly thrown into the battlefield with little hope for survival. Many died. Others endured the nightmare and took their terrors back home, and this is reflected in their works. There are many of these people who deserve attention, but Beckmann, Kirchner and Apollinaire reflect and summarise well their case study. Before I tell you their stories, I am afraid I’ll have to warn you, they will not have a happy ending, and they have in fact moved me. So if you are sensitive, take this with a pinch of salt…

The three artists were born in the 1880s, an era where the arts were heaving. Max Bechmann was born in Leipzig (Saxony). Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, was German as well, from Aschaffenburg, (Bavaria). Guillaume Apollinaire’s back ground is, however, more intricate. He was born in Rome, under the name of Wilhelm Albert Włodzimierz Apolinary Kostrowicki, but he grew up in France- his name for sure gave away already that his ancestry was Polish. Bechmann served in the war as a medical orderly, and spent a lot of time surrounded by the wounded. Kirchner volunteered to the army in capacity of driver for the reserve unit of the 75 Mansfeld Field Artillery Regiment- he was eventually discharged due to a mental breakdown. Apollinaire fought in the war and received a wound to his head, in the temple from which he never fully recovered. The traumatic experiences of these three artists coincide with a moment of change or self-development in their styles.

In the case of Bechmann, it was after the war that his academic style changed into something twisted, deformed. His visions of space and figures would become his resource for success. He achieved great renown because of his self-portraits, which reached numbers and intensity close to those of Rembrandt and Picasso. Kirchner’s experience is somewhat similar. He was one of the founders of the “Die Brucke”, one of the leading groups that contributed to the foundation of Expressionism.  However, since his unsettling experience as a military volunteer, he started producing many paintings of himself as a soldier. This eventually lead to his admittance in a sanatorium in Königstein in Taunus in December 1915. He was there diagnosed with a severe addition to alcohol and Veronal-which was used as a sleeping aid until the 1950s. Since there on Kirchner’s emotional stability got in the way of his artistic production, and even though he had moments of splendor and financial security, his issues ended up getting the best of him. After 1920, when he was experiencing good health, his art started deriving towards the abstract end of the scope. However, with the rise of Nazism, the works of both artist were classified as degenerate art by Hitler and his associates. As a result, many of their art works were confiscated, or even repudiated, making the selling and the exhibition of Bechmann’s and Kirchner’s pieces extremely difficult. The artistic disturbances created by the Nazis lead both artists to flee their fatherlands. Bechmann moved to the Netherlands in an attempt to obtain a visa to travel to the United States. Kirchner looked for refuge in Switzerland.

Meanwhile in France, Guillame Apollinaire’s career took a different path from those of the German duo. The artist was versed in a different creative branch, for he was foremost a poet, writer and art critic. He was well acquainted with Picasso, and was a great defender of Cubism as a concept. Moreover, it was Apollinaire who first used the terms Orphism and Surrealism in 1912 and 1917 respectively. In addition,  he did work on several poems about the war during this time, although these were not published until after his death. These were his famous Calligrammes, so in that sense they are a form of visual poetry, where the spacial disposition of the words and letters is just as meaningful as the writing itself. This eccentric type of productions linked with Surrealism is what he focused and developed in-depth after the war. Unfortunately for Apollinaire, his battle trauma was not so palpable in his pieces, as in the case of the Bechmann or Kirchner; instead it was very real and very physical. The injury in his head caused him to suffer from very poor health, and contributed to his untimely death in 1918 due to influenza during the Spanish Flue outbreak.

Some recordings of his work can be found online http://www.ubu.com/sound/app.html

As for the German artists, their future was not much brighter. After the inclusion of Austria into the Third Reich’s territories, Kirchner became greatly disturbed by the possibility of the Nazis taking over Switzerland. This also coincided with a time where he experienced particularly bad health. His physical and mental state lead him to take his own life with a gun on the 15th of June, 1938. As for Bechmann, he eventually moved to the states where he worked as an art teacher in a few institutions such as the Washington University in St Louis and the Brooklyn Museum. He passed away at the end of 1950 after suffering a heart attack. Nevertheless, the art of Bechmann, and that of Kirchner likewise, survived in the United States, where both their art works have been exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art (New York). They became deeply influential for the new generations of American modernist. As for Apollinaire, he was the poet of his time in France, and a role model for many to come since then. His work resounded in the Futuristic and Surreal tendencies of Europe, not only for those of pen and paper, but also for artists and even film producers. These individuals, with their deep traumas and troubling experiences showed the world, through their eyes what the world was experiencing: a time of change, of commotion. A time, indeed, very twisted and dark, but equally innovative. Their names may not be taught in schools, to the same degree of others like Picasso, but perhaps they should, as a signifier of the impact that the Great War had not only on the nations that played a part, but in their people, and said people’s minds.

Medieval English Food and Drink

The theme for this month is Food and Drink, and seeing as I specialize in the medieval period, I will be discussing food and drink in Medieval England.

Now, in medieval England there was an obvious difference in the types of food and drink that were eaten and drunk depending on the class of people. However, there were some types of food that were common across the classes, such as bread and ale. However, while bread was eaten by villagers and those in higher classes, it was made very differently. For the villagers, their bread was made of rye and barley as wheat flour was quite hard to grow. However these ingredients would change depending on how good the harvest was that year, for instance, if the harvest was poor the villagers would have to include beans and nuts to add more subsistence. Even making the bread wasn’t easy as the bakers had to pay to use their lords’ facilities as they weren’t allowed private ovens.

The villagers were meant to drink water, which was free from the river, but it was rarely clean, therefore the main drink drunk by the villagers was ale. As milk, another possibility for them to drink did not stay good for long. Ale was hard to make and took time as the barley needed to soak and then germinated. Then dried and ground, finally being added to hot water for fermentation. The higher classes had more choice as they drank ale and wine, as well as better bread and more choices of food. They had meat and fish with most meals, whereas the villagers were lucky to get meat, if they were even allowed to hunt on the Lords’ lands.

Below is a table taken from The History Learning Site and was created by C N Trueman as an example of the type of meals eaten by the different social classes.

Meal Lord Peasant
Breakfast This was eaten between 6 and 7 in the morning. It was a leisurely affair. A lord might have white bread; three meat dishes; three fish dishes (more fish on a saint’s day) and wine or ale to drink. This was eaten at sunrise. It would consist on dark bread (probably made of rye) with ale to drink.
Dinner This was eaten between 11 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon. A lord would usually have three courses but each course might have between four to six courses in it! There would be meat and fish on offer with wine and ale. It is likely that only small parts from each dish were eaten with the rest meant to be thrown away – though the lord’s kitchen workers and servants might be able to help themselves if the lord was not looking! This was what we would call a “ploughman’s lunch” as it was eaten in the fields where the peasant was working. He would have dark bread and cheese. If he was lucky, he might have some meat. He would carry a flask of ale to drink. He would have this meal at about 11 to 12 o’clock.
Supper This was eaten between 6 and 7 in the evening. It would be very similar to the dinner but with slightly more unusual dishes such as pigeon pie, woodcock and sturgeon. Wine and ale would also be available. This would be eaten towards sunset, so this would vary with the seasons. The main meal was vegetable pottage. Again, if the family was lucky there might be some meat or fish to go round. Bread would be available and ale.

Merry Drinking and Home Food in Lithuania

By popular vote the guys decided July would be themed as “Food Month”. This is to say that we would look at the role food has played in history from different view points. When I came to choose my subject, I realised I had actually written about this previously: Pumpkins. So, I thought I’d take this opportunity to revisit some of the areas of the blog we have left for dead. I looked through our tags and discovered that the history of Lithuania only had one update. One of my dear friends, Karolina, happens to be Lithuanian and always tells me wonders about the food from her home. So today I welcome you to embrace the Lithuanian food spirit, and as a congratulations for getting a great grade in her Archaeology Dissertation: this one is for you!

 

Lithuanian cuisine has many elements in common with that of other Eastern European and Baltic countries, particularly Poland-after all they formed a great duchy and alliance since the Middle Ages. This is the reason why there are similar types of dumplings, spurgos and blynai in Lithuanian, Polish and many Jewish recipes. The staple foods from this area are things like barley, rye, berries, potatoes, mushrooms, and certain greens, suited to the climate of the region. However, the nation making and expansionism of certain countries in Europe had great impact in the cultural and collective identity of the country, which did also leave a mark in their culinary heritage. The absorption of Lithuania into the Soviet Union did produce severe changes in the way Lithuanian food was understood- like elsewhere, Soviet product and dishes took prevalence, replacing those of the native population. Nevertheless, the local traditions were kept alive in private garden plots that the Soviet government allowed the people in the region to keep. Families dedicated themselves to the cultivation and care of these plots as a way of keeping their identity and memory alive. Since the independence of Lithuania in 1990, returning to their old dishes and recipes has been an important cultural drive as a way of re-establishing Lithuanian identity.

Now, there is an incredible amount of Lithuanian delicatessen that I could spend hours talking about. Yet, I realised there is something that remarks this revival of cultural identity, and that I am very familiar with, which I believe exemplifies the Lithuanian spirit and identity in a concise way- and without having to induce anyone into a food coma. I believe that Lithuanian brews and drinks show the right amount of tradition and innovation that their entire cuisine represents.

One of the products that is highly celebrated since the Lithuanian independence is Alus -beer. In fact, Lithuanian beer has won several international awards and its finding its own niche within the European supermarkets. (I know this first hand – Karolina knows everything about beer!). They produce this in a traditional farmhouse brewing style. Since their independence, over 200 breweries appeared in the country; many have since closed, and it is acknowledged that perhaps only 70-80 of them are still functioning. In any case, these are local produce, with recipes unknown and dissimilar to other place in Europe and the world. Another traditional Lithuanian drink is Krupnikas (Starka). This is a honey like liqueur and it dates back to the 16th century, during the time of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. It is not so popular nowadays, and in fact the beverage has rather derive into a kind of trauktine, which is like an herbal vodka, that also has medicinal properties. Mead, or midus, also has an important place in Lithuanian history. As in the rest of Northern and Baltic Europe, mead was a common drink since ancient times. Experts believe that the Balts drank and produced mead since 1600 BC. The tradition continued and is reflected in the use of this beverage by noble families as a signed of distinction and identity throughout the Middle Ages and into the 16th century. Some academics advise that the Radvila family, one of the most famous aristocratic lineages in Lithuania, used and produced med heavily well into the 17th and 18th centuries. In the 20th century there was a rise in mead production, just like with bear. Beini Šakovas Prienai bier brewery was one of the first companies to start producing four different types of mead that they will let mature for at least five years before consumption. Lithuanian mead reached its peak when Aleksandras Sinkevičius was awarded his own production certificate by the Soviet Union in 1969 as a registered product. Thus the Lietuviškas midus because a honey brew technique recognised by the Soviet power as an achievement and drink innovation. Even though mead is not very common nowadays in Lithuania, its rich history still has a soft spot in the heart of the communities.

 

As an afterword, I think it is interesting to find out that food matters so much in Lithuania that, according to Alexander Belyi and Antanas Astrauskas, national legislation on  traditional culinary tendencies must prove a continuous use and recurrence of at least 100 years. This is heavily overseen by the Culinary Heritage Foundation, created in 2001 by Birutė Imbrasienė, trying to restore some of the traditional Lithuanian recipes of 19th century. As a cultural scholar, I find it fascinating that a nation can have such a deep reflection of their cultural changes and values imbued in their everyday use and consumption: food and drink. This is true of many cultures and communities, and I believe that throughout this month, you will become well acquainted with this phenomenon elsewhere. We usually take food for granted, even though is an intrinsic part of our existence.  As we change, it changes with us. What we drink and what we eat, and how we understand these things, shows our own character, who we are, and where we come from.

Old Norse vs. Old English

This month I will be writing about the battle between these two languages during the time of the Viking occupation of England, and the centuries afterwards. This topic has interested me for some time, I even wrote my dissertation on it, and hopefully I won’t be plagiarising myself! After the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons seemed to come to some sort of agreement c.878 when King Alfred defeated Guthrum, the leader of the Great Army. The two cultures settled in some semblance of peace, which resulted in a clear divide across the country. Several historians have researched the relationship between Old Norse and Old English, to see how the two languages were linked and the exchanges between them.

Obviously the places that had the most impact were those places controlled by the Vikings, such as York and other places in the Danelaw. Due to the language barrier between the Anglo-Saxons and the Scandinavians some historians have theorised on how the two cultures communicated with each other, did they learn each other’s languages or was there some level of mutual intelligibility? Through the study of particular word studies I was able to find that while it may not be easy to find a definitive answer to this question it is obvious that the speakers of Old English absorbed some words from the Viking language.

So what does this mean? Does this mean that Old Norse was slowly taking over Old English? Or does this mean that the two languages, and therefore the two cultures, were learning to co-exist? While it may never be possible to figure out what was really going on, it is fun trying to figure it out. There are certain types of words in Modern English that originate from Old Norse, such as legal and naval terms. Also taken from Old Norse are various parts of our grammar system. If you think the whole ‘their/there/they’re’ thing is confusing, you should try to learn the system we used before the Vikings invaded! I have included a table of the Old English system of third person pronouns below.

Third person
Case Singular Plural  
Masculine Neuter Feminine Masculine Feminine  
Nominative hit hēo hiē hēo  
Accusative hine hit hīe hiē hīo  
Genitive his his hire hiera heora  
Dative him him hire him him  

(Table taken from Wikipedia)

I think the types of words taken from the Old Norse language shows the type of relationship the two cultures had, especially what the most prominent aspects of their conversations were. Now my research only consisted of legal documents, which are some of the most prominent primary sources existing from this time period, so it is quite likely that other types of words were shared between the two cultures, but there is no written evidence of this. If anyone wanted to read up on this topic any further then I would recommend reading Patrick Wormald’s The making of English law: King Alfred to the twelfth century, Vol.1, Legislation and its limits, and Matthew Townend’s Language and History in Viking Age England: Linguistic Relations between Speakers of Old Norse and Old English.

Blood and snow; Myth and poetry. The White war re-visited.

There are not so many opportunities to find, in the same book, knowledge, literary prowess and entertainment. Historical research, moreover, is prone to lack at least one of the former (not wanting to stir polemics, though, I would not mention which one). But in this particular case you can find all of them, plus accuracy, clear analysing and an overwhelming command of the data. If I ever write a book, I would like it to be as easy reading and well-informed as this one is. And the name of this jewel is “The white war”, the goldsmith being Mark Thompson.

Cover of my copy of the book.

Cover of my copy of the book.

This was true the first time I wrote this, back in 2012, and still is in 2015. Only that now we are engaged in this multi-year WWI following, so some polishing is needed, given the evolution of History as a science and mine as a writer. If interested, you can still find the original article searching in March 2012.

The issue is not very amenable: the Italian front during World War I. But if the tale is told in the way Thompson does, every matter could turn into a fascinating story. This one, in particular, is not only about politics, war, and the usual madness about both. There is more to it, there is life, as a developing creature whose growth is deeply affected by the environment, both social and political, and which is trampled underfoot men’s ambition and ethnic dreams of purity and supremacy. And with life comes everything, even poetry. Now, WWI was a rare event of poets becoming soldiers, or soldiers becoming poets, a case we will study further on in our ongoing work about the conflict. Not that poetry is the thing you first think of in the morning, one guess, when you are in a trench. Probably hunger, lice, fear, or relief would be better options. Yet again, poetry came to soldiers’ minds every so often it seems. At least when they were not killing each other for the sake of frontiers, industrial resources or simple nation pride.

Thompson dedicates a whole chapter here to poets, properly called “Starlight from violence”. In it, we go from Ungaretti’s delicate lyricism, “This morning I lay back/ in an urn of water/ and like a relic/ took my rest” to Govoni’s brutality and joyful aggressiveness, “Burn, burn,/ set fire to this world till it becomes a sun./ Devastate smash destroy,/ go forth, go forth, oh lovely human flail,/ be plague earthquake and hurricane.” Such were the different moods of the soldier on the field of the Isonzo and the civilian prior to Italy’s declaration of war. Sometimes poetry is a kind of note to self. Ungaretti didn’t want to be an officer, desiring not a single privilege from their comrades. So he writes about the soldier’s experience of war: “Struck/ in these guts/ of rubble/ hours and hours/ I dragged/ my bones/ given to mud/ like a boot-sole/ or a seed/ of hawthorn”. Ungaretti was first rejected for active service. When the casualties began to surmount, standards relaxed, so our poet ended up serving two and a half years in the front.

This is, obviously, a story about war. No surprise in that. The Italian front is better known thanks to Hemingway’s contribution in “Farewell to arms”, but all the same is probably the perfect stranger in World War I records. Not as huge but yet as brutal as the Western front, not as epic as Suvla Bay or Anzac Cove but with all the epics that mountain warfare has. Without the wider and deeper political implications that the Eastern front was ready to provide but with connections that extend till the Balkan Wars in the nineties, it is, in fact, a perfect example of the “niceties” of war, and its uselessness, and its long-term political implications.

Thompson explains the misunderstandings and lack of trust between the Allies and Italy, which was part of a treaty with the Central Powers at the beginning of the war. Italy decided the that there was more to gain turning the coat. As it turned out Italy’s sense of self-importance and grievance was nothing but a pebble in the political game of post-war treaties. Wilson was set on achieving his own political (even religious) goals about anti-imperialism and self-determination, and Italy’s territorial claims sounded too much like Mediterranean imperialism. So much bloodletting to so little advantage.

What Thompson achieves better (my own uneasiness aside) is transporting you there, to the center of a nonsensical war theater, but without cruelty, without all the blood and guts so usually found in books of the sort. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of blood when needed, this was, after all, a bloodletting conflict if ever there was one; but the sense of fear, hatred, un-awareness, feebleness, despairing solitude is transported on the back of more solid arguments tan the mere bloodshed. There is analysis here, both of the men’s souls before, during and after the war, and of the circumstances that lead the world to an era of chaos, hatred and destruction which probably has not yet finished as we see in everyday news. In the end you will find that after all, the whim of so few was the damnation of so many. So History goes.

And then, there is myth. Fighting in the mountains, carrying artillery pieces to the summits, caving trenches in the snow. And above all the literary myth, the new men, new order myth was arising and Benito Mussolini was riding it. The seeds for WWII were already sown. Thompson’s depiction of the military cemetery between Gorizia and Monfalcone, at Redipuglia, is chilling and disturbing, knowing the facts. A cyclopean tomb, a shrine to the Third Army, is now the eternal resting place of over 100000 soldiers, built in the place of the original cemetery in which families had created a quiet, secluded place. But that was not enough for the Fascist Heroes, something gigantic, colossal, was needed. In the edges of the terraces, the word PRESENTE, soldier’s reply at roll call. The Fascist martyrs were there, ready to raise and defend their country once again. Lessons learned? Sir, no sir. So Italy will be once again amidst the fraught some years later. And this time the amount of blood and death would be unheard-of.

Now then, if you are to read but one book this year, you will probably would like to try either Kate Morton or The Hobbit or maybe one of those popular Scandinavian detective stories . But, if you want to be enlightened by a book, if you want your conscience awaken, if you want a deeper understanding of what mankind is willing to do to itself, I would keep an eye on “The white war”.

History of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

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Picture above showing my Blenheim coloured Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Charlie. The name Blenheim was used for the chestnut and white coloured coatings of the breed. The name was to honour John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough as he had many of the King Charles Spaniel Variety in the chestnut and whit colour.

The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is a Pedigree dog and a member of the Toy dog group according to the British Kennel Club and the American Kennel Club. The breed is commonly mistaken for the King Charles Spaniel often, however there are clear differences between both breeds making them distinct. The snout of the Cavalier is longer, whereas the snout of the King Charles is similar to that of a Pug (nose squashed on to the face). Historically the main purpose for the breed was to be a lap dog for the wealthy. This was the usual requirement for small toy breeds like the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel in order to keep their owners warm and to transfer their fleas to the hairs of the dog. The breed was said to have been a favourite of Charles II of England that he went so far as to sign a decree that enabled the breed to be recognised as a royal breed. This entitled the breed to enter public buildings, even the Houses of Parliament. This decree lasted through Charles II’s reign and was even in effect up until the reign of his successor James II.

However the popularity for the breed soon waivered as William and Mary preferred Toy Spaniels with shorter snouts. This changed the physical appearance of the dog that was associated with the time of Charles II. Yet in the nineteenth century Queen Victoria’s Toy Spaniel Dash appeared to look very much like the dogs of Charles II, with the longer snout according to portraits. However it was not until the 1920s that the revival of the traditional of Charles II’s Cavalier King Charles Spaniel came into place. In the early 1920s an American, Roswell Eldridge came to England for the Crufts dog show, disappointed to learn that that the version of Charles II’s Toy Spaniel was no longer in existence in England he decided to make a public advert that said he would offer prize money to a breeder who was successful in re-producing the traditional King Charles Spaniel. However it was not until 1928 when the prize money was given to a Miss Walker and the breed Cavalier King Charles was formed.

‘Blenheim Spaniels of the Old Type, as shown in pictures of Charles II’s time, long face, no stop, flat skull, not inclined to be domed with spot in centre of skull.  First prize of £25 in Class 947 and 948 are given by Roswell Eldridge Esq., of New York, USA.  Prizes go to nearest to type required.’The advertisement of Roswell Eldridge

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