Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere !
And gie's a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
For auld lang syne.


Here's to you.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Gibraltar in three easy steps

In response to your many cards and letters, I have decided to do the long-neglected post about Gibraltar.

1. What it is.

Gibraltar is a rock.

But Gibraltar is much more than JUST a rock, right? Gibraltar is a symbol of British... what?... Ancient Naval might? Empire? A subtle reminder to Spain to mind their manners or else?

Anyway, whatever it is to the rest of the world, it will always be to Americans a symbol of British Power, primate haven, and, above all, the logo for America's largest life insurance company.

It used to be a trivia test question: "Find Gibraltar on the map. 10 seconds." Now, newly-minted American university graduates would be hard-pressed to find, say, China, on a map, much less Gibraltar. Or Canada, for that matter.

2. Why would you want this rock?

Okay, first - you would want it because it commanded a strategic military asset: entrance (or exit, I suppose) to the Mediterranean Sea. Controlling the Strait (Straits? I can never remember that) of Gibraltar is important. At least it WAS important before the invention of the airplane; people in Italy probably feel less claustrophobic today than they must have felt when Britain ACTUALLY controlled the exit of the Mediterranean.

Now I must stop fumbling for answers and come right out and admit it: I don't know why you would want it. Search me.

3. How did you get this rock?

First and foremost, you must recall that (at the beginnings of your Great Empire, at least) you have always hated Spain. Remember that. France, too. I forgot France. You have always hated Spain AND France. And Germany. But never mind Germany for the time being.

So, you probably wanted Gibraltar because Spain had it. That would have been good enough reason. PLUS it was a good Naval thing to have. So.

The year was 1704. The British and Dutch allied with each other (ostensibly to help the Austrian pretender to the Spanish throne wink wink nudge nudge) against the Spanish and the French. Yay! You got to fight both of them at once.

The British sovereign in 1704 was queen Anne. I can't really remember anything else she did. Or even if she did THIS, actually. But she was on the throne (so to speak) when it happened. You are welcome to tell me in the comments what else happened during her reign, but I probably won't retain the knowledge.

And so, in 1704, you took Gibraltar from Spain (and also got to fight France again) and then, in 1713, Spain ADMITTED you had taken it, and signed it over to you. I am a little hazy about what happened to your Dutch allies and the Austrians. I guess they were just SOL, as we crass Americans might say.

Incidentally, before you get too carried away, we are talking about 2.6 square miles here, K?

And there you have it. Bob's your uncle. If there is more to it than this, please share.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Finn McCool

I received some books for Christmas, as usual, and the one I am reading first is Malachy McCourt's History of Ireland (told as a series of stories of Irish legends and heroes, along with more modern history, all mixed in with the personal tidbits that make the McCourt boys' tales so interesting to read.

Malachy is Frank's younger brother, as those of you who are familar with Frank's "Angela's Ashes" are well aware. His writing style is every bit as captivating as Frank's, I think, and I already recommend Malachy's book to you even though I have only just started reading it.

One of the very first ancient stories that Malachy recounts in the book is of the legendary giant warrier Fionn mac Cumaill. Here I must tell you that Malachy McCourt relies heavily on the writings of the great Irish storyteller Peig Sayers for these early stories I am reading now. Peig was a fantastic storyteller of the early legends, especially in the oral tradition (as was McCourt's own father, by the way) but she never learned English and so her stories, related by Malachy, are directly from the Irish, of necessity. As a result, this wee American brain is mentally translating Fionn mac Cumaill as "Finn McCool", though McCourt never does. I take this liberty because McCourt mentions the legend of the "construction" of the wondrous "Giant's Causeway" in County Antrim which stretches out into the sea towards Scotland. I have heard of this legend before, but the Irish hero was called Finn McCool in the version I have read. So I make the assumption the names are the same, the latter simply anglicized. Please correct me if you disagree with my assumption.

I realize that Irish history may seem off-topic for this blog, Ireland not being part of the United Kingdom now, but if you know me you will understand my collateral interest and forgive my digression. (McCool happens to be of Northern Ireland, though, at least the Causeway story.)

Anyway, the story goes that the visiting giant from Scotland came upon Fionn mac Cumaill, who had disguised himself as a baby. An 18-foot baby, but a baby nonetheless. And the "baby" bit the giant and caused the Scottish visitor to calculate that if an Irish baby were so fearsome, he had no further desire to meet the adult beings of the Isle, and ran back into the sea, pursued hotly by Fionn mac Cumaill, who was throwing rocks at the giant as the chase progressed. Legend says one of these rocks missed the giant and landed in the sea, becoming the Isle of Man.

I don't know.

But the stories are fascinating.

I am reading about Deirdre now.

"One day when the girl had grown into quite a beauty, her tutor was flaying a calf on the snow-covered ground. Nearby a raven was drinking the blood that had collected in the snow.

"Those three colors remind me of the man I would love, a man I see in my dreams," Dierdre told her nurse. "He has hair as black as the raven, cheeks as red as the calf's blood, and skin as white as the snow."

"There is such a man," said the nurse, and he lives in the household of [king] Connor. He is Naoise, son of Uisneach..."

I love it. I can't wait.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Where are you?

Of course, I really mean "Where are the objects in these pictures located?" Can you tell the county?

"Well! I've often seen a cat without a grin," thought Alice; "but a grin without a cat! It's the most curious thing I ever saw in all my life!"

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Precious memories

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, dressed smartly in a Savoy bellhop uniform, poses at 10 Downing Street next to a wax likeness of U.S. President Ronald Reagan. Mrs. Thatcher had been keeping the statue in the residence foyer for some time, but has now decided to donate it to Madam Tussaud's. 

Saturday, December 20, 2008

My new president

I see in the news where Obama, having finished appointing his cabinet, has turned his attention to the need of constructing an indoor basketball court in the White House. It brings a tear to the eye. Such a common man of the people. No privilege at all. So refreshing. Just as the liberals promised.

This is tongue-in-cheek. I have not turned against him already. Better sports than war, hey?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

17 December

1718 England declares war on Spain.

1745 Bonnie Prince Charles' army retreats to Scotland.

1770 Beethoven born.

1777 George Washington's army returns to Valley Forge, PA.

1894 Cricket day 3 1T Aus vs. Eng Eng 325 all out, 261 behind on 1st inn. Can someone translate?

1903 First sustained motorized aircraft flight, Orville Wright.

1922 Last British soldiers leave Ireland Freestate.

1941 Rommel begins retreat in North Africa.

1944 Japanese-Americans released from detention camps.

1962 Beatles first British TV appearance.

1969 Tiny Tim marries Miss Vicky on Tonight Show.

1980 Great Britain performs nuclear test in Nevada.

1986 First heart-lung-liver transplant, Cambridge.

2008 Britishspeak's 254th post. Pretty lame.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Putting an animated gif in your blogger post

I realize this blog is not meant to be a tutorial. But you are my friends and maybe you have never bothered to learn to do this.

This is only for those who use blogger (blogspot) blogs, but regular websites use the same principle.

1. If you simply upload an animated gif from your computer to your blog, using the picture upload feature of blogger, you will only get a picture and it will no longer be animated.

2. In order to preserve the animation, you must "host" the gif on an external website and then link to it using some simple html.

3. So the first thing you do is to upload your chosen animation element (one you have found or one you have created yourself) to your "host". Let's use Photobucket for the host. 'Cause it's free. First, create your free Photobucket account if you don't have one already. Then upload the animation you want to use, to your account, using Photobucket's instructions.

4. When your uploaded animation appears in Photobucket, hover your mouse over it and you will see 4 boxes appear under the animation. The third box, titled "HTML code" is the code you want to highlight and copy. This you will paste into your blogger post editor at the point you want the animation to appear. If you want it to appear at the top, simply paste the code before any of your other words in the post.

Note: make sure your blogger editor is not in "Compose" mode. It should be in "Edit Html" mode in order to properly understand and display your pasted HTML. After you paste it, you can then return to "Compose" mode if you want to look at the animation before you publish.

Update: Please note that this post was made a long time ago - in 2008. Blogger has been revised since I made this post. The modern blogger now handles animated gifs internally, and you don't have to host them on an outside site like this post says. Now you can simply load your animated gif (in blogger) as if it were a regular photo and then put it into your blog post. You won't be able to see it move in preview mode, but it will move when you publish your post.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Guinness for the distressed

Here in America, we give simple food boxes to the poor for Christmas. Things are apparently considerately better for the less fortunate Irish in Australia, thank God. An advertisement we saw:

"The Irish Australian Chamber of Commerce is selling traditional Irish Christmas Puddings with a donation from every pudding sold going towards the Australian Irish Welfare Bureau (AIWB)

"The AIWB is a non-profit voluntary organisation whose aims are to assist where possible, any person/persons in the Irish community in Victoria or any person who may be associated with the Irish community, who is in distress.

"Your company would be able to make a charitable donation to the AIWB by buying puddings for your clients.

"These are Traditional Irish Puddings made with Guinness and Irish Whiskey Butter, they come in cloth and they are boxed and personally addressed to anyone you choose."

Dear God, please have one of my dear readers send poor, destitute, 'in distress' Relax Max one of these for Christmas. Or even before. Amen."

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Homeless at Christmas

There are many homeless people in the city of Washington. It is cold, and it is nearing Christmas.

Add one more family to the list of the homeless: the Obamas.

On today's news we learn that the Obamas have requested permission to move into Blair House (the official guest house of the President, used mainly to house visiting heads of state and other dignitaries and their families) but have been refused by the Bush administration's minions.
As a senator, Obama commuted to Washington from Chicago and rented a small apartment. He still has the apartment, but it is too small for a family of four. Hence the request to move into Blair House until his inauguration on January 20.

One assumes that Obama has enough friends in the Washington area with fancy houses where he could stay, so the Obamas will not likely sleep on a sidewalk grate in a cardboard box as other Washington homeless presumably do. But it isn't quite that simple: an incoming president has almost as much Secret Service protection as the sitting president, and Blair House (across from the White House) is already within the normal security zone. So it would be more difficult to provide security for a private residence. The Secret Service is under the direction of the president, of course, and a Bush spokesman was quick to say that adequate security will be provided for the Obama family, regardless of where they choose to live. Wink wink nudge nudge. Kidding.

The reason for the early residence request, according to Obama, is so that the girls can begin at their new school on January 5th when the new school session begins after the holidays. The White House says protocol dictates that Blair House be made available to the President-Elect on January 15, 5 days before the inauguration, and that it will be available to Obama on that date.

Lest we make Bush seem too harsh, it should be pointed out that foreign dignitaries visit Washington continuously, and Blair House is simply "booked up." It isn't likely that Bush personally handles logistics like sleeping accommodations anyway. Obama's transition officials were quick to say they are not angry at being turned away and that "The White House has been extremely accommodating to the Obama family needs - and the entire process has been smooth and friendly."

Much ado over nothing then.

This story does remind this blogger about how the incoming presidents' treatment has improved over the years.

Back in March of 1801, the new president, Thomas Jefferson, spent a bit too much time giving speeches and such, and when he walked back to his boarding house after his inaugural festivities, he found that the evening meal had already been served. And so the new president simply went up to bed without his supper.

::Wistful sigh for the old days.::

Friday, December 12, 2008

Young Love

They say for every boy and girl
There's just one love in this whole world
And I-I-I-I know-ow I've found mine.
The heavenly touch of your embrace
Tells me no one could take your place
Ev-ev-ev-ev-ever in my heart.

Young love, first love,
Fillllllled with true devotion.
Young love, our love,
We share with deeeeeep. Emotion.

Just one kiss from your sweet lips
Will tell me that your love is real,
And I-I-I can feee-el that it's true.
We will vow to one another
There will never be another ::suppress laughter here::
Love-uv-uv for you-oo... or for me.

Young love, first love,
Fillllllled with true devotion.
Young love, our love,
We share with deeeeeep. Emotion.

Dum. Deedum. Deedum. Deedum..... ::fade out::

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Soul food

Soul Cakes are an echo of the sacrificial foods of the Celtic festival of Samhain held in early autumn. These little cakes were traditionally set out with glasses of wine on All Hallows Eve for the souls of the dead. On All Saints Day children would go "souling" calling out "Soul, Soul, for a Soul Cake: pray you good mistress, a soul cake".

Well, we missed Halloween and All Saints Day, didn't we? So maybe I will make some soul cake for Christmas instead.

3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup caster/superfine sugar
4 cups plain flour, sifted
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1 teaspoon allspice
3 tablespoons currants
a little milk

Cream the butter and sugar together
Beat in the egg yolks.
Fold in the sifted flour and spices.
Stir in the currants.
Add enough milk to make a soft dough.
Form into flat cakes and mark each top with a cross.
Bake on a well-greased baking tray in a hot oven until golden.

Cream? Beat? Fold? Stir? Form? I can stir. And probably form. I know "bake".

Don't want to embarrass myself but it sure looks like a donut to me.

Peter, Paul & Mary > Movin'> a'soalin':

Hey ho, nobody home, meat nor drink nor money have I none
Yet shall we be merry, Hey ho, nobody home.
Hey ho, nobody home, Meat nor drink nor money have I none
Yet shall we be merry, Hey ho, nobody home.
Hey Ho, nobody home.

Soal, a soal, a soal cake, please good missus a soul cake.
An apple, a pear, a plum, a cherry,
any good thing to make us all merry,
One for Peter, two for Paul, three for Him who made us all.

The streets are very dirty, my shoes are very thin.
I have a little pocket to put a penny in.
If you haven't got a penny, a ha' penny will do.
If you haven't got a ha' penny then God bless you.

Soal, a soal, a soal cake, please good missus a soul cake.
An apple, a pear, a plum, a cherry,
any good thing to make us all merry,
One for Peter, two for Paul, three for Him who made us all.

Listen to a free short clip of A'Soaling. (click on start button in center of page)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Broads National Park, East Anglia and the East of England (UK).

When a pun has to be explained, it obviously shouldn't have been made in the first place.


Suggested reading: Dictionary of American Slang.

British phrases which confuse Americans, #217

Norfolk, East Anglia: "Gateway to the Broads."


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Fingal's Cave

Fingal's Cave, Inner Hebrides, Scotland. (Wikipedia Commons. Click to enlarge.)

Staffa is an uninhabited island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, owned by the National Trust for Scotland.

You may take a boat tour of Staffa from the Isle of Mull, itself a place of magnificent unspoiled beauty with a 300 mile coastline and a population of only about 2700.

In turn you may reach the Isle of Mull by ferry from Oban, a town about 90 miles north of Glasgow.

Some of us will never visit Staffa, or the Isle of Mull, or even Scotland for that matter, and we know who we are. Many people have made the journey however, and if you live in the United Kingdom, you should certainly be one of these visitors. You will never forget it.

In 1829, a classical composer by the name of Felix Mendelssohn made the trip from his German homeland and was inspired to write the beautiful and haunting Hebrides Overture, commonly known simply as "Fingal’s Cave." The music was inspired by the almost unearthly echoes of the sea which can be heard from inside the cave.

This and subsequent trips to Britain, and his friendship with Queen Victoria and her musical husband Prince Albert, also inspired Mendelssohn’s Symphony #3 (Scottish Symphony.)

Although the boat tours do not go into the cave, it may be reached on foot from the island in which it is located, Staffa.

Sir Walter Scott described Fingal's Cave as "…one of the most extraordinary places I ever beheld. It exceeded, in my mind, every description I had heard of it… composed entirely of basaltic pillars as high as the roof of a cathedral, and running deep into the rock, eternally swept by a deep and swelling sea, and paved, as it were, with ruddy marble, baffles all description."

Update: Check out this song Fingal The Giant on Soubriquet's blog.

Note: If you can't place Mendelssohn, here is probably his most recognized composition.

And...  Fingal's Cave (short free preview)

Italian Symphony (short free preview, click on #1)

Scottish Symphony (short free preview, click on #2)

Pearl Harbor

On this date in 1941, also a Sunday morning in that year, the Japanese Empire attacked the United States, precipitating it's entry into WWII. Europe had already been at war for more than 2 years by this time.

Above: Photo of the attack in progress (The Arizona explodes), Wikipedia Commons, click to enlarge.
Below: Photo of the memorial to the U.S. battleship Arizona, ©Tom Osburn, click to enlarge.

Happy birthday to my cousin Pearl Harbor McDonald. (Not born that year.) :) :)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

John o' Groats

Photo from Wikipedia/Asterion

John o' Groats is regarded the most northerly community of mainland Great Britain although it isn't quite. What do I know about John o' Groats? Even less than I know about Cornwall.

The name is used in the phrase "Land's End to John o' Groats" to indicate a long journey and it is very often the start or end of charitable walks which do cover the whole distance to or from Land's End. It's also a popular tourist destination in spite of being, according to the Lonely Planet, a seedy tourist trap.

I really wanted to tell you about Stirling and its Castle. I wasn't allowed.

Photo from Wikipedia/Finlay McWalter

But the thing is, I know a great deal more about Stirling. I lived nearby for four years, so the castle, the Wallace Monument, Bannockburn were all familiar haunts.

The castle is in the most magnificent position, high up on the rocks, and visible for miles in any direction. And of course this means the view from there is equally magnificent.

The Wallace Monument has a similarly great position, on Abbey Craig, the place where William Wallace watched the English army approaching Stirling Bridge in 1297. The monument was built in 1869 and you can climb to the top to see some stunning views.

The site of the Battle of Bannockburn is nearby, and also Sheriffmuir. I nearly forgot Sheriffmuir, a favourite place for picnics.

I could have told you all sorts, instead of a few measly sentences but it was not to be.

I'm expecting to be excommunicated soon. Very soon.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


Our host is unavoidably detained for the rest of this week, so he has asked me to do a post for him. About Cornwall. What do I know about Cornwall? Not a lot. I've been there only twice.

I do know that it is considered one of the six Celtic nations as shown on this map. It has its own language, related more to Welsh and Breton than to the other Celtic languages.

The north coast is wild and exposed but with some wonderful beaches which attract tourists. Tintagel Castle is there, the legendary birthplace of King Arthur. The south coast is more sheltered.

Porthcurno beach from Wikipedia.

The Eden Project, gardens and the world's largest greenhouse, is another valuable tourist destination built in a disused clay pit. I've been there and it is amazing.

The Eden Project from Wikipedia

They eat a lot of Cornish pasties in Cornwall, but nobody seems able to agree on the true and authentic recipe.

A Cornish pasty, from Wikipedia.

Finally , they have Land's End, the western-most tip of England. It's rather a shame that it's become something of a theme park, or it was when I saw it a few years ago. It ought to be wild, remote and windswept.

I'm afraid that's pretty much the sum total of what I know about Cornwall. I feel sure Sage and Soubriquet will be able to add and embellish.

Next post: John O'Groats.

Update. Sage has kindly done a whole post of her own on the subject of Cornwall AND the famous authentic pasty recipe. Many, many thanks Sage.


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