Thursday, July 31, 2008

Calling all history buffs

In my research of your fair land I have come across much more than just language items that interest me, of course. Here's one. This dude really knew how to dress. In those days (as now) General officers (and top naval officers) designed their own uniforms. And I think this dude was one hell of a designer. Is he magnificent-looking, even for that period? I think so. Of course, this is a portrait of one of the most famous British citizens who ever lived, so each and every Brit who comes across this post will reognize this famous face in an instant. But let me challenge my American readers: Who is this incredibly important and famous man? When it is past 2 PM in England, the Brits can comment and set the Americans straight. No googling. If you don't know him, leave it for someone who does, please.

Would you not just DIE for a hat like that? I would wear it. I would wear that sucker right down main street. And I would give a smart salute to all the people who dared to stare at me openly. But that's just me.


[Click here to see the American version of the picture.]

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Alison is finally back. Hi Alison!

Alison is back. Yay! We all missed you!

I was gone for a while too, on holiday, back East in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. I saw an unusual building that looked sort of like a little castle (I thought) and I thought of you, of course. Here are some pictures of it. This was in Salem, Mass, which had witch trials back in the 1690-somethings, so please don't take offense - it has nothing to do with you, just looks like a castle is all.
It was kind of cool though, for a tourist trap. Inside there's this big dark room and everybody sits on benches around the parameter of the dark room. And there is just this light coming down in the middle from the high ceiling that projects a pentagram on the floor. OoooooOOOOoooo! Anyway. Then the sound system comes on and tells about witches throughout history, and then they get to the Salem witch trials. Which, incidentally, one of my ancestor grandmothers was convicted and hanged as a witch. There really weren't that many hanged, though - not like in Europe during that period. But a lot were put in prison and lost their property. At least that's what the guy on the recording said. He had a really cool deep scary voice, btw.

Anyway, while the recording is going on over the sound system, they light up areas of the walls and you can see scenes from the witch trials. They are like alcoves in the wall (sort of like stages, or balconies, with statues of people dressed in old-time clothes.) One was of a courtroom scene, and another was a jail house, and another was like in the woods with a big tree where they hanged people. And several more. Too cool. And some other stuff. You would have liked the presentation.

Then they take you on a tour down various halls with pictures on the wall and displays and stuff like that. You end up in the gift shop of course. (Probably just like Castle Fraser, I'll bet. Ha!). But I didn't see the need to buy any witch hats made in China. So.

Salem is a much bigger city than I had thought it was. I thought it was just a little village. It probably was back then, huh? It's like 30 miles outside Boston, or something like that. Maybe not even that far. Also, Salem is the home of Nathaniel Hawthorne. I didn't know that. They have his statue in the middle of one of the main street medians, and also his "House of the Seven Gables" (or whatever the name of that book was) is there, too. He also wrote a book called "The Scarlet Letter" which I read the first chapter of once. And that book is about an adultress who is charged as a witch. She had to wear a big red "A" around her neck. (Just like you do sometimes, I'll bet. I mean, for "Alison" not "Adultress".) I guess that is why the book is called "The Scarlet Letter." Seems overly dramatic, though. Even for the 1600s. Hester Prynn was her name, as I recall. Maybe with only one "N". That also seems sort of a bit too much in my mind: he could just as easily named her Barbara or Nancy or something. Hester? Come ON!!

So, I guess her being tried as a witch in the book should have been a clue to me where the dude lived. (He is an American author from the 1800s.) You probably know that. (And don't really care, being British and all.) Don't blame you. Catherine might be interested in that though. Being as he was an author, I mean.

I can't think of anything else. They had a lot of of other museums and more witch stuff. But I wanted to get on to Boston. So.

Glad you are back, lady. :)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

HMS Victory

Admiral Nelson's HMS Victory.
(Now displayed at Portsmouth)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

"Old Ironsides"

Docked in Boston Harbor is the oldest still-commissioned ship in the U.S. Navy, the U.S.S Constitution - "Old Ironsides". Thirty-some engagements and no losses. Part of the reason was it was very fast. If it couldn't outgun the opponent, it could outrun them.

Although built in the late 1700s (in response to the Barbary Coast pirate problem of that era) the ship saw its main service in the war of 1812. That means its battles were against the British.

The U.S. Sailors who are assigned to her wear the old uniforms of 1812 - mostly a ceremonial post, of course. But she is still awesome to see and to walk her decks, as I did last week.

At the top is a photo of her in 1997 - her first "voyage" in over 100 years - in Boston Harbor. You will note that even then she was not under full sail. It takes a certain specialized expertise to sail a ship of that size under full sail, which few modern sailors possess. Cool.

Below are some pictures I took of the ship last week. Her fore and aft top masts are missing (they are being replaced) but she is still pretty impressive.

Below: note on right, on blocks, one of her yardarms. Large.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Sage's Memories of Scotland and Balmoral

Balmoral Castle
Photo from Flickr/Nick Bramhall

A guest post from Sage of Wise Herb's Random Jottings. Thank you Sage!

I was lucky enough to join the staff who helped look after Her Majesty (and the rest of the family) at Buckingham Palace from 1977 to 1980 when I left to go and work in IT. I joined not long after the major celebrations of her Silver Jubilee, just before the trip to Balmoral. In fact I joined on a Monday morning and the following evening found myself on a sleeper up to Aberdeen along with four other staff who were being transferred up there for the shooting season.

This was my first experience of working away from home, and though I had a fair amount of independence it was still a culture shock to be hundreds of miles from home. My job was to work alongside the chefs in the kitchen, helping to prepare food and clean up afterwards, the porters did the bulk of the heavy work but it was still a long day when you sometimes didn't finish until nearly 11pm even if you had a few hours off in the afternoon it wasn't always enough to switch off.

Balmoral was a good introduction to working in service, yes it still happens even today, though I think many of the perks we had are much more restricted now. We were only charged a nominal rate for breakfast, lunch and dinner with free tea and coffee and a subsidised bar which I believe they got rid of after I left and no I don't think there is a connection to that fact either.

Every week there was a staff event, which was either a Scottish country dance down at the stables hall, attended by the London and the local staff as well as the police/soldiers in attendance (the first year was the Black Watch and I still like their tartan) and usually very well natured even though there was plenty of alcohol consumed. The alternative was a filmshow or a team quiz, and the cliques of staff became apparent when the different branches wouldn't allow people on their teams but it wasn't a big problem.

Photo from Flickr/garethjmsaunders

We each got a day to go on the staff outing, two of those was to the Bells whisky distillery and as a whisky drinker I enjoyed seeing how it was made even though it isn't my favourite brand of whisky; in fact now I enjoy drinking Jamesons Irish Whiskey as it is very smooth (apologies for my heresy) though there is still room for Laphroaig in the drinks cupboard. Please note it didn't stop me accepting the free half-bottle they gave us at the end of the tour the first year, and regrettably wasn't repeated on our return visit.

Another year we went to the Baxters factory/farm (my memory of this is not strong after a gap of 30 years) and after the tour of the production line we were treated to tea with Edna Baxter and her sons before being given a sample of jams and other products to take away with us. While the Fochaber's shop is open to visitors I can't be certain this is where we went.

The third year I was there, we got off work from 4pm but had the evening off every other day so could get out and about, whereas before you just got time off between 2pm and 6pm and just had enough time to take the bus into Ballater. One memorable occasion, a member of the kitchen staff arranged a hill race; I am not athletic at the best of times as I can't remember to run and breathe (it's a sprint mentality or so my school gym teacher said) so my version of this was to jog/walk round the 4 miles. After a quick shower I caught the bus to Ballater only by the time I got their the poor abused muscles refused to let me off the bus so I sat on there by myself until it was time to go back to the castle and it took me ages to live the embarrassment down.

Stables and carriage house
Photo from Flickr/kryis

One of the perks of working there was that if the hill ponies weren't required, and you could prove you could ride then you could go out onto the hills for the afternoon. I enjoyed doing that but just spending the time with the ponies was a pleasure, the jawing around in the tack room cleaning the saddles and bridles and having some of the family drop in whilst doing so.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Red letter boxes

The pillar box is a protected species.

Photo from Flickr user Redvers. Creative Commons licence.
George V pillar box

The first one was set up in 1852 on the island of Jersey, octagonal in shape and painted green. Red became the standard colour in 1874, although ten more years elapsed before every box in the UK had been repainted. At first each area could have its own design, until 1859 when a standardised version was adopted.

Apart from the stand-alone pillar box, there are also wall boxes:

Photo by Flickr user DavidT2006. Creative Commons licence.
Queen Victoria wall box

and lamp boxes. Lamp boxes were designed to be attached to lamp posts but often have their own post.

Photo by Flickr user Ingy the Wingy. Creative Commons licence.
Elizabeth II lamp box

They all bear the Royal cipher of the reigning monarch when manufactured. There are over 100,000 in the UK. There are even some in Ireland, where they were retained after independence, but painted green, and still bear the Royal cipher.

English Heritage agreed a joint policy (pdf file) with the Royal Mail in 2002 for the retention and conservation of these boxes. Some 198 of the oldest and rarest versions were already “listed” before this agreement was made.

This is a serious subject as presented by our mutual friend, Sheila, who really can't cope with the idea of anyone introducing Henry into to any of her letterboxes. Too unseemly.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Vacation time for Max

I'm off. But you knew that already, didn't you?

Newport/Cape Cod/Boston. Ho hum.

Back the 24th If I don't drown or explode from chowder consumption.

Sure would be nice if Claire or Andy or A. or SOMEBODY would make a post or two. Fat chance.

Try and pretend you'll miss me.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Rufous Chested Dotterel...

Some of the most gorgeous and unique birds on our planet call your Falkland Islands home.

Dolphin & Kelp Gulls, Magellanic Oystercatcher, 32 Rufous Chested Dotterel, 6 Snowy Sheathbills, Patagonian Crested Duck, Speckled Teal, Tussacbird & Dark Faced Ground Tyrant.

Go take a look.
Click here. Magnificent pictures.

Monday, July 7, 2008

What's my line?

Princess Elizabeth/Life Magazine/Issue: February 15, 1943

Royal trivia question:
In 1945, 18-year-old Princess Elizabeth convinced her father that she should be allowed to contribute directly to the war effort. She joined the Women's Auxiliary Territorial Service, where she was known as No 230873 Second Subaltern Elizabeth Windsor.

Question: What was her job during the time she served in WWII?

Answer: Truck (lorry) driver. Also could perform operational maintenance on the vehicles. (Shown below changing a tyre.)

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Happy Birthday to Dubya.

We sure are having a lot of birthdays lately.

George W. Bush, born July 6, 1946, in New Haven, Connecticut.

Ummm...this is your last birthday in office, right? You'll forgive me if I check that out? One moment, please...

Passed by Congress March 21, 1947. Ratified February 27, 1951.
Section 1.
"No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice..."

Ok. Just checking. No offense.

Christ. I just thought of something. What if he suddenly agrees with the liberals who claim he wasn't really elected the first time, and uses that as an excuse to run again. Can he do that???

"Well, hell's bells, I was only elected once. Y'all said that yersefs. You bin sayin' it fer 8 goddam years now. Screw ya. You were right all along. So I'm runnin' agin."


Also, on a lighter note, Grumpus reminds me that today was also the date of birth of Frida Kahlo. Thank you, Grumpus.

Also (on my own) John Paul Jones and Sylvester Stalone.

Who else? Don't want to miss anyone. Oh:

Jamie Lee Curtis' mother Janet Leigh. But she was killed in the original Psycho.

Nancy Reagan, Della Reese (happy birthday Della! Mwaaa!!)

And, popular singers Gene Chandler, 50 Cent, and the Dahli Lama. Ummm. He isn't a singer. You knew that.

Are we out of space? Good.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Taking the oath

News from the colonies yesterday...

The 4th of July is a day of parades, cookouts, fireworks, and more. It is also a day that newcomers to the U.S.A. often choose to become citizens. And other things.

(above: Little Julia White Freeman, formerly of China, takes her oath of citizenship at Montecello, Charlottesville, during a July 4th ceremony yesterday.)

(below: In Iraq, approximately 1200 U.S. soldiers choose July 4 to reenlist. The ceremony took place yesterday in one of Saddam Hussein's palaces in Baghdad.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Birthday America!

Happy 232nd, U.S.A.! You don't look a day over 185!


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