Thursday, 19 April 2018

Oscar Wilde's poetic pedigree.

Oscar Fingall O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (1853 - 1900) Irish poet, wit and dramatist studied at Magdalen College, Oxford and in 1878 won the Newdigate prize for his Ravenna. In 1881 he published Poems; in 1891 a novel, Dorian Gray  and in 1893 the play Lady Windemere's Fan. Three  other plays followed; in 1894, A Woman of No Importance : in 1895, An Ideal Husband  and in 1899  The Importance of Being Earnest.
His works The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898) and De Profundunis (1905) give life to his imprisonment and two years hard labour for homosexual practices revealed during his abortive libel action (1895) against the Marquis of Queensberry, who had objected to Wilde's association with his son Lord Alfred Douglas.
Wilde died an exile in Paris, having adopted the name Sebastian Melmoth. While Wilde was alive his controversial 'art for art's sake' personality and the notoriety of his trial made an impartial assessment of his work difficult. He was strongest as a dramatist, his brilliant epigrams lending distinction to his writing and making a penetrating commentary on the society of his time.
Did you know that Oscar Wilde's mother was a poet herself?  Lady Jane Frances Speranza was a Dublin socialite whose salon was the most celebrated in the city. 
Born in 1821, young Jane Elgee was exceptionally bright and eager to learn, but the denial of a formal education to women left her dependent on her own resources. In an interview published in Hearth and Home towards the end of her life, she recalled her studious nature: ‘I was always very fond of study, and of books,’ she said, "My favourite study was languages. I succeeded in mastering ten of the European languages. Till my eighteenth year I never wrote anything. All my time was given to study."

The first poems from the pen of Speranza were translations of suitably rousing verse from Russian, Turkish, Spanish, German, Italian and Portuguese, but she soon gained the confidence to write poetry of her own.
During the famine year of 1847, Jane’s words had a galvanizing effect: ‘a nation is arising from her long and ghastly swoon’, she declared. In ‘The Voice of the Poor’, she railed against the horror, writing ‘before us die our brothers of starvation’. In ‘The Famine Year’, she condemned the arrival of ‘stately ships to bear our food away’. In ‘The Exodus’, she lamented the ‘million a decade’ forced to flee. Her most popular composition was ‘The Brothers’, a rousing ballad eulogising Henry and John Sheares, one a lawyer, the other a barrister, both United Irishmen hanged for their part in the uprising of 1798. In tone and theme it resembles her son’s Ballad of Reading Gaol and it was taken up by the street balladeers of Dublin.
Throughout her life, Jane was bitter in her condemnation of the neglect of women. Harnessing her finest revolutionary rhetoric, she raged:  "Women truly need much to be done for them. At present they have neither dignity nor position. All avenues to wealth and rank are closed to them. The state takes no notice of their existence except to injure them by it's laws."
Following her husband's death  she was contributing wide-ranging, learned articles to the Pall Mall Gazette, The Burlington Magazine, The Queen, The Lady’s Pictorial, TheSt. James’s Magazine, and Tinsley’s Magazine. She wrote several learned, humorous and eminently readable books, the last of which, Social Studies, contains essays exploring her distinct take on feminism.
Jane’s progressive, albeit slightly erratic, views on the position of women in society were uncompromisingly frank and she injected much of the revolutionary fire she had harnessed in the pursuit of Irish nationalism into her arguments for gender equality. In ‘The Bondage of Women’, she expressed despair at the universal disregard shown for the intellect of women: ‘For six thousand years,’ she wrote, ‘the history of women has been a mournful record of helpless resignation to social prejudice and legal tyranny’. She finished with an exceptionally powerful passage; "Genius never unsexed a woman, or learning culture ever so extended; but the meanness of her ordinary social routine life, with all its petty duties and claims, and ritual of small observances, degrades and humiliates her of all dignity, and leaves her without any meaning in God's great universe."

I would definitely have agreed with her on that one.

Thanks for reading.  Adele

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Oscar Wilde - Come to my Party

If I could host a gathering of people from bygone times, Oscar Wilde would be way up at the top of my guest list. I would sit him next to me for a good while so I could hang on to his every word and hope that his brilliance and wit might rub off on me. Eventually, I would have to set him free to mingle amongst my other guests and allow him to entertain, as is his nature. Sometimes, I’m quite sure I belong to Victorian times. I enjoy the written work of Oscar Wilde. I prefer his plays to his poetry and best of all, his novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray.

A decade ago, I visited Dublin with a small group of fellow writers. It was just four of us and amusing to us that we were English, Irish, Welsh and Scottish, gone to Ireland to see a play by a Russian, (The Three Sisters by Chekhov at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre) and a film about Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, ‘The Edge of Love’, which had just released. We packed a lot of literary based interest into our three day adventure and spent as much time as possible in the fascinating Dublin Writers Museum. I enjoyed everything we did and everywhere we went. My personal highlight was going to Merrion Square and seeing the birthplace of Oscar Wilde then spending ages in complete wonder at Danny Osborne’s 1997 sculpture.

This is my own photograph, one of many taken that afternoon. I thought the statue was painted, but the colours come from the different materials used by the sculptor. The torso is made from nephrite jade and pink thulite, the legs from blue pearl granite from Norway and the head was originally porcelain but replaced by white jadeite when the porcelain showed early signs of cracking. The Trinity College tie is made of porcelain. The stone he is placed on is quartz from Wicklow.

Oscar Wilde read Classics at Trinity College, Dublin then continued at Magdalen College Oxford where he gained a double first in his B.A. of Classical Moderations and Literae Humaniores.

It is well documented that Wilde led a ‘scandalous lifestyle’ for which he served time in prison. Last year, he and others were posthumously pardoned for committing homosexual acts which were no longer offences.

To me, he was a great writer, with nothing to declare except his genius.
John Betjeman's poem,

The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel
He sipped at a weak hock and seltzer
As he gazed at the London skies
Through the Nottingham lace of the curtains
Or was it his bees-winged eyes?
To the right and before him Pont Street
Did tower in her new built red,
As hard as the morning gaslight
That shone on his unmade bed.
‘I want some more hock in my seltzer,
And Robbie, please give me your hand -
Is this the end or beginning?
How can I understand?
‘So you’ve brought me the latest Yellow Book:
And Buchan has got in it now:
Approval of what is approved of
Is as false as a well-kept vow.
‘More hock, Robbie – where is the seltzer?
Dear boy, pull again at the bell!
They are all little better than cretins,
Though this is the Cadogan Hotel.
‘One astrakhan coat is at Willis’s –
Another one’s at the Savoy:
Do fetch my morocco portmanteau,
And bring them on later, dear boy.’
A thump, and a murmur of voices –
(‘Oh why must they make such a din?’)
As the door of the bedroom swung open
And two plain clothes policemen came in:
‘Mr Woilde, we ‘ave come for tew take yew
Where felons and criminals dwell:
We must ask yew tew leave with us quoietly
For this is the Cadogan Hotel.’
He rose, and he put down The Yellow Book.
He staggered – and, terrible-eyed,
He brushed past the palms on the staircase
And was helped to a hansom outside.
                         John Betjeman
 Thanks for reading, Pam x

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Just One Slice

What can I tell you about cake? I don't bake. I've been known to enjoy the odd piece of Battenburg (it's the marzipan) and I'll happily see off a seasonal hunk of Christmas cake (accompanied by cheese) - but that's about it. I suppose if I'm out at a coffee shop I might snaffle some millionaire's shortbread just for form's sake...although that's not really cake, is it?

My favourite cake is probably Pear's soap, a lovely translucent bar - not for internal consumption. Therefore, being the contrarian that I am, you're in for another left-field take on this week's theme and the approach will be a somewhat roundabout one.

I don't know how many of you are heavily into music; probably quite a few. Does anyone else regret having sold most of their vinyl albums back in the 1990s? I sold hundreds of them as I 'upgraded' to compact disc, for the economy of storage and ease of use as much as anything. I hung on to a few much-loved LPs that stood very little chance of ever getting re-released on CD but for years I had no turntable to play them on. I have to say I missed the ritual of getting records out of their sleeves, cueing them to play and then sitting perusing the album cover while listening to the music. The miniaturised versions of artwork that come with CDs lose something of the aesthetic beauty of the whole experience.

Therefore a couple of years ago I purchased a new turntable and pre-amp for my hi-fi system and started buying vinyl albums again in a limited way. I thought it would be cool to have my Top Twenty all time favourite albums on 180g vinyl - and the sound quality is undoubtedly superior to CD. That twenty became thirty, plus a few interesting contemporary albums that are only available on vinyl (there's a novel trend), then forty and fifty and counting. I have two reasons for mentioning all of this...

Reason number one is that next Saturday (i.e. a week today on 21st April) it's Record Store Day with lots of special events and special vinyl releases to enjoy at old-fashioned record stores up and down the country. Blackpool still possesses two record stores and I'll probably pay a visit to both of them. I'm highlighting this now because all the fun will be over by the time next Saturday's blog gets posted.

Reason number two concerns one particular album from my Top however many, a record by the American band Little Feat, released in 1972 and titled "Sailin' Shoes". It features here not because of the music - which is excellent, by the way - but because of its gate-fold album cover, reproduced below:

It's a distinctly quirky painting by an artist calling himself Neon Park xiii and prominent in the picture is a cake on a swing, jettisoning one sailing shoe. I decided that for today's blog I'd write a poem inspired (if that is the right word) by the cover art. I like to think of the cake as Sara Lee, after that iconic American brand whose tagline stated: "Everybody doesn't like something - but nobody doesn't like Sara Lee".

Neon Park xiii (real name Martin Muller) was a US artist and illustrator best known for painting the quirky cover art for several Little Feat albums and for other musicians' records as well (the Beach Boys, David Bowie and Frank Zappa among them). He started to suffer from a numbness in his hands in his early forties and was eventually diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a degenerative disease with no effective treatment. Eventually he was unable to paint any more, so he concentrated on writing poetry, typing with one finger when he could no longer hold a pen. Sad to say, Neon died in 1993 aged just fifty-two.

The term applied to the sort of poem I'm writing here is ekphrastic poetry, from the Greek words ἐκ and φράσις ('out' and 'speak' respectively); essentially a literary description of a work of art (in this case a painting) wherein the writer seeks to illuminate the scene and expand its meaning through the medium of words - making the picture speak.

As I have absolutely no idea what Neon had in mind when he painted this scene, the imagination has free rei(g)n...should be interesting. Here we go - ekphrasticakes! As sometimes happens, this may not be its finished form.

No Bride Cake She
Sara Lee swings from a greenwood tree,
kicking off her heels to prove a point,
a national sweetheart cutting free
and getting high effortlessly.

Comely this girl who's been baked to perfection,
now wide-eyed and blushing in ecstasy;
no bride cake she but a wanton confection
happily yielding a section.

The first piece is always the freshest and best,
a cake's nothing proved till she's sliced;
Sara savours the breeze with zest
having passed the crumb test.

(to be continued...)

Thanks for reading and have a groovy week, S ;-)

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Cake - Baked With Love

“This morning I resolved to bake

A Mary Berry drizzle cake.

Down your way the sun may sizzle,

Round here there is heavy drizzle.”
                                                         Pam Ayres, from Twitter


We have eaten the last crumbs of my home made Simnel cake. It lasted surprisingly long, for any cake in our house, but we were also working our way through an abundant supply of hot cross buns. They were on special offer of two packs for half price or something like that and we couldn’t resist. The thing is, there are only the two of us living here and a limited time to eat them. Actually, no one else in the family likes anything with fruit in, so we weren’t obliged to share. For visiting family, I made some plain buns with icing on top, which my grandchildren call ‘Nanna cake’ and enjoy devouring.

My Nanna Hetty made the best currant cake I’ve ever known. She had it in a tin in her yellow kitchen and always gave me a piece after I’d eaten all my tea. She passed away when I was eight. My memories of her are precious. I loved spending school holidays at her bungalow and she enjoyed looking after me. My currant buns are good, but not a patch on her delicious recipe.

We were so lucky to have the generous gift of a perfect wedding cake. Three tiers of dark, rich fruit cake baked and decorated by my friend’s mother.  It was a beautiful work of art and tasted divine.

Last year, on the run up to Hallowe’en, I was given some home-grown pumpkins and looked for something to make instead of pumpkin pie and pumpkin soup. I discovered a recipe for pumpkin loaf, a sweet, dessert bread which was equally good plain or buttered and with or without dried fruit.

Home-made cake is the best. I have made Victoria Sponge birthday cakes for my children and now I make them for my grandchildren. I tell them that I put lots of love into the mixture to make them extra special. I hope I’m also baking happy memories, like my Nanna Hetty did.
I found this poem,

Cakes in the Staffroom by Brian Moses

Nothing gets teachers more excited
than cakes in the staffroom at break time.
Nothing gets them more delighted
than the sight of plates
piled high with jammy doughnuts
or chocolate cake

It’s an absolute stampede
as the word gets round quickly,

And it’s “Oooh” these are really delicious
and “Aaah” these doughnuts are ace.

And you hear them say, “I really shouldn’t”
or “Just a tiny bit, I’m on a diet.”

Really, it’s the only time they’re quiet
when they’re cramming cakes into their mouths,
when they’re wearing a creamy moustache
or the jam squirts out like blood,
or they’re licking chocolate
from their fingers.

You can tell when they’ve been scoffing,
they get lazy in literacy,
sleepy in silent reading,
nonsensical in numeracy,
look guilty in assembly.

But nothing gets teachers more excited
than cakes in the staffroom at break time,
unless of course,
it’s wine in the staffroom at lunchtime!

© 2005, Brian Moses

Thanks for reading, Pam x

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Saturday Sailing

I've regaled you before, (regular readers of the Saturday blog), with stories of how I was born and brought up in West Africa; Nigeria to be exact in the 1950s, when it was still a British colony. My dad was a missionary out there and my mother a nurse. It meant I had an unusual but very interesting early childhood (until age five when we moved permanently back to this country).

My parents were entitled to a three-month break every couple of years. It was known as furlough (my word of the week) and gave them the opportunity to return to visit family in England. This was way before the era of affordable commercial plane travel and so sailing was the only practical way to make the journey. It took up to two weeks each way with frequent stops at various ports en route to drop off and pick up mail, cargo et cetera - an exciting and exotic adventure for a small boy.

From my childhood I retain an abiding love of all things connected with sailing on a proper steamship: the comforting thrum of the engine-room vibrating deep in the vessel; the constant sound and motion of the ship driving through waves; the smells of salt, tar, oil, funnel-smoke; the tang of sea spray; the bright froth left in our wake; days of dazzling sunlight and the sheer expanse of openness all around.

Today's poem is inspired by my second voyage from West Africa to England on the MV Calabar, a merchant vessel of the Elder Dempster line. I was only a baby when I made the first trip, but by the time of this second sailing I was rising three and capable of taking it all in. The Calabar was essentially a cargo ship with provision for a few passengers. Young children on board were something of a rarity and according to my mother I was 'adopted' by the sailors and made a great fuss of as an inquisitive young lad.

My parents being very religious, I was well versed in notions of Heaven and Hell, so when I was told we were sailing from Lagos to Hull, I assumed it was a mis-pronunciation of the latter and that Hell was where we were bound! Apparently the sailors on the MV Calabar took a great and frequent delight in asking me where we were sailing to - for the amusement of hearing my earnest reply that we were sailing to Hell.

When we finally docked at our destination, I found Northern England a stark contrast to West Africa. It made a marked, though decidedly unfavourable, impression on me at three and I couldn't wait to set sail for hot and sunny Nigeria again...

Cold, grey and gloomy Hull in the 1950s
To Hell And Back
Where are we sailing to, sonny boy?
We're going to Hell, mister.
And what will we find there, funny boy?
I can't tell, I've not been before.

Tar, rope, salt and rust,
cleaving aquamarine, sparkling in ozone,
flying fish leap in front of the prow
and jellyfish pulse down below.

Where are we sailing to, sunny boy?
I've told you, we're going to Hell.
And what'll we do there, bonny boy?
We'll all go ashore and explore.

Tar, rope, salt and rust,
churning grey waters, funnel smoke,
cold spray rising up from the prow
as the engine-room rattles below.

Hell is so green it bruises the eye,
it's people are pale and wear too many clothes.
They maunder beneath its hooded grey sky,
their houses are all squashed together in rows
and the rain is bitterly cold!

When are we sailing to sunny days?
I don't like it here in Hell.
I want to return to my home and my toys,
and stay there for evermore!

Tar, rope, salt and rust,
heading west, sparkling in ozone,
flying fish leap in front of the prow
and jellyfish pulse down below.

Thanks for reading, Steve ;-)

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Sailing - All the Nice Girls Love a Sailor

‘The big ships sail on the Alley Alley O, the Alley Alley O…’

That nursery rhyme always takes me back to the film version of Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey. The first time I watched it, I was supposed to be in bed. My mother had shooed me off to my room once, on the grounds that it was on too late and not suitable for my eleven year old self. She went back downstairs to our pub and I sneaked back to the living room doorway to watch the film with one ear listening out for her possible return. I was spellbound by Jo and her sailor boyfriend, Jimmy. Whatever it was that my mother thought I shouldn’t see went way over my head. And we used to live near Salford.

My father took up sailing in his retirement. He had a small cabin cruiser on the Lancaster Canal and after a couple of years he upgraded to a larger, better built vessel. It was like a ship inside, all highly polished and varnished dark oak with brass fittings, like a miniature galleon.  He won awards for the best maintained wooden boat. Most summer weekends were spent sailing with my step-mother and in good weather they often took longer trips. They went to boat rallies and joined the Lancaster Canal Boat Club. I attended a couple of dinner dances. Events always ended with everyone singing along loudly to Rod Stewart’s ‘Sailing’, with arms waving. It could get emotional. Dad enjoyed his years with his boat and the club. He climbed the ranks to President of the LCBC, a post he held at the time of his death.  I only visited them on the boat very occasionally. I became queasy after another boat once sailed by and gently rocked us a tiny bit. Clearly, I’m not a sailor.

My husband was a proper sailor.  He left home to study at Nautical College in Hull then sailed with the Merchant Navy to faraway places. He loved his life and would have continued but physical injury put an end to his career. Eventually, it was back to college to train for something else, then in the future, he met me. Every cloud…

Together, we have taken a few short boat trips, Dover to Calais, the south coast of Jersey, Tenby to Caldey Island and St Helier to St Malo. Mostly, I have been fine. The St Malo to St Helier return trip was bad for me. Last year we island-hopped the Outer Hebrides travelling on ferries and we didn’t have any problems. This year we’re doing something similar, but the ferry trip is about four hours. I hope I can cope. I’m sure the destination will be worth it.

My father loved his boat and sailing on the Lancaster Canal, but he visited other waterways as well. He spent holidays on the Norfolk Broads, the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, the Caledonian Canal and other places in other boats. Sailing became his ‘thing’, but despite growing his sea-legs, a trip on the Fleetwood ferry to the Isle of Man made him sea-sick, something that gave us, his family, great amusement.
Two special men, both sailors.

I have watched A Taste of Honey many times, sang the song and cried.
I found this John Masefield poem.

Sea Fever
I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the sea again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And a quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
John Masefield, 1878-1967
Thanks for reading, Pam x

Monday, 2 April 2018


I am a sailor. I am.  At least I was. I still sail, just differently.
A proper grown up now, conscious of everything that I do.
A proper bore often. Sailing through the life for now.
But I have to tell you about a real sailing, I can’t help it but tell the story.
I was growing up in a place and at the time where there wasn’t any child protection, risk assessments, health and safety. Families were looking after children who were free and happy. We learned early to assess situations, developed common sense and discovered the 'cause and effect' rule. We climbed trees and fences, we spotted and seized opportunities to try new adventures, big and small, to be honest, mostly small, at least till teenage years.
Back to the sailing.  I used to spend a big part of summers at auntie Liz’s house. It was in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by meadows, woodlands and, just wait, it was near a quite large and rapid salmon river, as we called it. My grandma as a full time grandma, looked after me, my brother and my two cousins. I was the oldest. Grandma used to say, when looking after children you can’t take your eye of them, and she didn’t. We were considered good children, we were, and grandma had hands full of different jobs, to keep us fed, clean and our mess under control.
I was always fascinated by water, an Aquarius, who didn’t believe in horoscopes. But you never know.  So once when grandma took her eye off us, doing one of her many chores, I had a brilliant idea and I managed to take an instant action. I took my team of sailors down to the river, packed into an old 'seen better days' wooden boat, untied it and pushed off the river bank straight into the stream.
The boat was the kind of one you move and manoeuvre with a long pole, pushing with it from the river bottom.  I was nine, my brother two, my cousins three and five. The pushing pole, or whatever it was called, was a bit too long and heavy for me, but it didn’t matter, the enjoyment of actually sailing was breath-taking, we all were excited and scared. Grandma spotted us nearly straight away, but it was too late already, by that time, the boat was in the stream, being carried down the river towards the Baltic sea. To be honest, the sea was not that close at all.
I can’t remember panicking, I was focusing to keep the boat moving my way, not stream’s way. At that point grandma was running on the river bank shouting: “Push the boat to me, push the boat to me!” I did my best but, as I said, the pole was very heavy and a little bit of water started to come into the boat through the holes, a little bit more than just a little bit. Anyway, I kept calm and focused.
I think I did extremely well, because in a couple of hundred metres I  managed to get my ship to the shore. Grandma and all of us were so excited about such a successful mooring, she even did not screamed or yelled or punished us, she never did anyway, she seemed just absolutely happy about the outcome of this little sailing adventure.
Then the old boat was cut into pieces and used for a bonfire. We enjoyed it as much as the sailing, even we felt a bit sad about our vehicle.  At the end of the day it was my first and last proper little ship.
Later, I found out that grandma’s dad was a sailor who drowned in the Baltic sea when she was just a little girl, leaving her mum on her own with nine children.
Grandma passed away at age of eighty eight with heart arrhythmia, no wonder, knowing how her life was, before the grandchildren and then doing years long service, looking after four sailors, musketeers, explorers and unruly teenagers later, full time.
She sailed through her life extremely well, I know it now. I always look up to her, I know I can do it, whatever happens, I can sail through my life extremely well too.
Thank you for reading, Maya Anna Ozolina

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Stranger Than Fiction

It was mad, bad and dangerous to know Lord Byron who once asserted that "truth is always stranger than fiction"; and Mark Twain who is supposed to have added the rider "because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn't." Make of that paradox what you will. Owen Oyston, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are regular subscribers to the Twain maxim!

You might have deduced already that the revelatory theme of the blog this week is...

...and your diligent Saturday blogger has travelled to 16th century France and back in the interests of researching today's piece. It has been an eye-watering voyage of discovery and I hope you are all sitting comfortably before I begin. The men among you may not be, by the time I've finished!

Back in that pre-enlightened age of religious orthodoxy, the Roman Catholic church made it extremely difficult for people to get divorced, as Henry VIIIth of England discovered. The Vatican allowed very few permissible grounds. Not everyone had the option of establishing a new state religion in order to sanction their uncoupling.

In France, however, which has traditionally taken a more liberal view of all things sexual, there was an interesting loophole permitted to women of sufficient means. If a husband was unable to rise to his duty (we would call it erectile dysfunction these days) then she could cite "injurious non-consummation" as grounds for divorce. Of course, she couldn't just make the claim and expect to be believed. There was a due process of law to be followed and she was required to pay for the privilege. Assuming she could do so, then - to put it bluntly -  the man had to prove that it could stand up in court!

Zut alors! Pas ce soir!
These were ecclesiastical courts and the real justification behind the loophole related to the religious belief that the primary intent of marriage was procreation, to the greater glory of God. Wanting to have a satisfying sex-life didn't enter into it.

If a man could demonstrate to the court that his reproductive equipment was in satisfactory working order, then the parties were "condemned to live as man and wife." However, one suspects that many men who might normally be as rampant as goats would flag under such circumstances as these ecclesiastical courts - also nick-named the impotence courts. The French judiciary conceded this possibility as well. Therefore any defendant who couldn't bestir his manhood to spit in the eye of his detractor (so to speak) could have recourse to what was called Trial by Congress if he so wished.

The majority of men who failed to satisfy the impotence courts chose not to follow this route. They accepted the harsh reality that their women wanted shot of them.  The ecclesiastical court would then order the marriage to be annulled. Not only did such unfortunate men have to pick up the cost of the action (and refund their ex-wives both the court charges and the wedding dowry), they also had to live out their lives with the ignominy and could never marry again. Some were simply miserable, many went mad and there are reports of men having died from embarrassment.

Any individual who elected to go to Trial by Congress would then be required, with suitable examination of both parties beforehand and afterwards, to perform the sexual act with his estranged wife in front of a panel of experts - doctors, midwives and priests - to prove beyond a doubt that he possessed the ability to procreate. Such men were either masochists or desperate to hang onto a wife for her money. If he succeeded, the marriage stood. If he failed, he effectively lost everything.

Apparently there were as many as 10,000 such trials in France in the 16th century. I am sure there were some, perhaps many, women who deserved to be free of their husbands (for a whole variety of reasons) and the mechanism of the impotence courts served them well. I am equally sure there were many men who were ill-served by the processes outlined above. Thankfully we are slightly more civilised about it all six hundred years down the line.

And so to this week's poem, which seeks to furnish some light-hearted relief at the end of what has proved a deeply disturbing journey through the mores of our (French) ancestral past. If it sounds somewhat puerile, blame it on regression caused by shock! It attempts to put a positive spin on the whole thing - as why wouldn't it?

Arise Sir Loin!
Arise, Sir Loin,
knight of the wronged wives.
Spring forth
and put these pining plaintiffs
to the sword of pleasure.
Stay strong,
bury your measure up to the hilt
in their treasure
and feel no guilt
for our country loves
your gallant stand
and in so servicing the ladies
you do serve the Lord.
Ride glorious then,
ride on at His command
till kingdom come,
that when at last
your lancing days are done,
all your good seed being sown,
you may withdraw at leisure
to hang your head with pride.

Thanks for reading. May all your Easter rabbits be generous, S ;-)

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Strange But True

At 2:10 pm on 5th December 1945, five U.S. Navy Avenger torpedo-bombers comprising Flight 19 take off from the Ft. Lauderdale Naval Air Station in Florida on a routine three-hour training mission. Flight 19 was scheduled to take them due east for 120 miles, north for 73 miles, and then back over a final 120-mile leg that would return them to the naval base. They never returned.

Two hours after the flight began, the leader of the squadron, who had been flying in the area for more than six months, reported that his compass and back-up compass had failed and that his position was unknown. The other planes experienced similar instrument malfunctions. Radio facilities on land were contacted to find the location of the lost squadron, but none were successful. After two more hours of confused messages from the fliers, a distorted radio transmission from the squadron leader was heard at 6:20 p.m., apparently calling for his men to prepare to ditch their aircraft simultaneously because of lack of fuel.

By this time, several land radar stations finally determined that Flight 19 was somewhere north of the Bahamas and east of the Florida coast, and at 7:27 p.m. a search and rescue Mariner aircraft took off with a 13-man crew. Three minutes later, the Mariner aircraft radioed to its home base that its mission was underway. The Mariner was never heard from again. Later, there was a report from a tanker cruising off the coast of Florida of a visible explosion seen at 7:50 p.m.

The disappearance of the 14 men of Flight 19 and the 13 men of the Mariner led to one of the largest air and seas searches to that date, and hundreds of ships and aircraft combed thousands of square miles of the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and remote locations within the interior of Florida. No trace of the bodies or aircraft was ever found.

Although naval officials maintained that the remains of the six aircraft and 27 men were not found because stormy weather destroyed the evidence, the story of the “Lost Squadron” helped cement the legend of the Bermuda Triangle, an area of the Atlantic Ocean where ships and aircraft are said to disappear without a trace. The Bermuda Triangle is said to stretch from the southern U.S. coast across to Bermuda and down to the Atlantic coast of Cuba and Santo Domingo.

There is a long catalogue of missing aircraft and ocean-going craft lost without trace in this notorious region of the Atlantic.
  • 1945: July 10, Thomas Arthur Garner, AMM3, USN, along with eleven other crew members, was lost at sea in a US Navy PBM3S patrol seaplane, Bu. No.6545, Sqd VPB2-OTU#3, in the Bermuda Triangle. They left the Naval Air Station, Banana River, Florida, at 7:07 p.m. on July 9, 1945, for a radar training flight to Great Exuma, Bahamas. Their last radio position report was sent at 1:16 a.m., July 10, 1945, with a latitude/longitude of 25-22N 77.34W, near Providence Island, after which they were never heard from again. An extensive ten day surface and air search, including a carrier sweep, found nothing
  • 1945: December 5, Flight 19 (five TBF Avengers) lost with 14 airmen, and later the same day PBM Mariner BuNo 59225 lost with 13 airmen while searching for Flight 19
  • 1948: January 30, Avro Tudor G-AHNP Star Tiger lost with six crew and 25 passengers, en route from Santa Maria Airport in the Azores to Kindley Field, Bermuda1948: December 28, Douglas DC-3 NC16002 lost with three crew and 36 passengers, en route from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Miami. 1949: January 17, Avro Tudor G-AGRE Star Ariel lost with seven crew and 13 passengers, en route from Kindley Field, Bermuda, to Kingston Airport, Jamaica. 1956: November 9, Martin Marlin lost ten crewmen taking off from Bermuda.
The list continues into modern times. The explanations given for the disappearances range from the sublime to the ridiculous;
1. The paranormal -  Some writers have blamed UFOs for the disappearances. They believe that aliens use the Triangle as a portal to travel to and from our planet. The area is like a gathering station where they capture people, ships and aircraft to conduct research.
2. The lost city of Atlantis - Theorists believe the fabled city once resided under the Triangle and mystical crystals which powered Atlantis are still resting on the seabed transmitting huge waves of energy that destroy the vessels on the sea above.
3. Gigantic structures under the sea - Paranormal explorers claimed they found a massive crystal pyramid lurking beneath the ocean within the triangle. They implied that this might be responsible for crashing aircraft and sinking ships.
4. Souls of African slaves - One of the most significant theories is that the Triangle is made up of the souls of slaves who had been thrown overboard by sea captains on their journey to the States. In his book Healing the Haunted, Dr Kenneth McAll claimed that a haunting sound could be heard while sailing in the notorious waters.
5. Government testing - The US Navy's Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC) is located in the mysterious Bermuda Triangle. It's used as a hub to test submarines, weapons, sonar, secret projects and reverse-engineered alien technology, and some say it is behind the phenomenon. 
A more recent theory was posed by scientists investigating strange hexagonal patterning in cloud formations over the 440,000 square mile area of the Bermuda Triangle. While looking at satellite images of coastal clouds above the North Atlantic Ocean, the meteorologists reportedly noted strange patterns of hexagonal gaps as large as 88 kilometers (55 miles) in the cloud formations, according to Science Channel. It just so happens, this bizarre phenomenon was found on the west tip of the Bermuda Triangle, as well as a precarious point in Europe's North Sea.“These types of hexagonal shapes in the ocean are, in essence, air bombs," Dr Randy Cerveny, a meteorologist from Arizona State University, told the Science Channel’s What on Earth show. "They’re formed by what is called microbursts and they’re blasts of air that come down out of the bottom of the cloud and then hit the ocean and then create waves, sometimes massive in size..."
The scientists believe that these “air bombs” could pump winds to move at over 273 kilometers (170 miles) per hour, which could account for the handful of reports of ships going missing in the area.
Whatever the real reason for these tragedies, I have always found the phenomenon totally fascinating.xAnd of course, Barry Manilow wrote and recorded a song about it.
Thank you for reading. Adele  


Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Strange but True - Amsterdam Funeral

I was trying to find something different to fit in with the theme of Strange but True when I came across this, I think it was in a ‘100 Strange but True Facts’ article.

“If you die in Amsterdam with no next of kin and no friends or family to prepare funeral or mourn over the body, a poet will write a poem for you and recite it at your funeral.”

I was impressed and wondered where to apply for the job…
     I must visit Amsterdam.

I’ve laughed and I’ve cried reading ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’.  Anne Frank wrote witty and amusing accounts to ‘Kitty’, with honesty about her feelings as she coped with her family’s situation and truthful about her mixed up moods and personal concerns as she emerged from childhood into puberty. For two years, summer 1942 until summer 1944, the Frank family were in hiding from the Germans with another Jewish family in the top floors of an office block in Amsterdam.

This is my real reason to visit Amsterdam, just to see for myself the place known by the family as ‘the annexe’ that Anne Frank called home and learn more about how they managed. I believe it is tiny and I’m told it’s much commercialised but I would like to see for myself and show respect for their hardship and later suffering.

One of my father’s pubs had a live-in barman. He was an elderly gentleman known as Old Joe and he had lived there for many years. The only family he had was a nephew who came to take him out on his day off. He worked in the pub, played snooker for the team and always had toffees in his pocket for me and my sister. He blended in with us like family and even had his favourite ‘tripe and cow heel pie’ made for him by my mother or our housekeeper once a week. He was very deaf and had the tv on full volume when he sat in our living-room to watch the sport on a Saturday afternoon.  According to my father, he’d heard a rumour that Old Joe had a drawer full of unopened wage packets. Joe had free board and lodgings with us, the locals kept him in beer with a pint or two and his nephew treated him to lunch and whatever else on their days out. My dad was concerned and thought that if Joe really did have so much money around, it would be safer in the bank. Apparently, Joe neither confirmed nor denied the rumour, just laughed it off and told my dad he was alright, there was no need to bother. Joe lived a few more years into his nineties. There was no significant amount of money in his room. Strange, perhaps, to some, but true.
My chosen poem, I'd love to believe it's true.
The lost Lost Property Office
‘On buses and trains you wouldn’t believe
The crazy things that passengers leave
A ventriloquist’s dummy mouthing a scream
Two tickets (unused) for Midsummer Night’s Dream
Handcuffs, chains and a spiderman suit
The tangled remains of a failed parachute
Rucksacks, tents and rolled-up beds
If they weren’t screwed on they’d lose their heads
Two bull terriers and a Siamese kitten
Suicide note, hastily written
Garden forks with broken handles
A birthday cake with four candles
A file with TOP SECRET stamped in red
(Inside a card, April Fool, it said)
Safe and secure behind a locked door
Priceless works of art by the score
Paintings by Hockney, Warhol and Blake
Two Mona Lisas (possibly fake)
Magritte’s bowler hat and Van Gogh’s chair
Duchamp’s urinal and a paint-stained pair
Of trousers belonging to Toulouse Lautrec
(short in the leg, black and white check)
A painting by numbers of Rembrandt’s head
Dirty sheet and a pillow off Tracey’s bed
Jigsaw by Rodin, of two lovers kissing
Damien Hirst skull with the diamonds missing
Am I overworked? Of course I am
The list goes on ad nauseam
A shot putter’s shot and a pole vaulter’s pole
A partial eclipse and a Black Hole
A bucket of toenails and a wooden plank
Two air-to-air missiles and a Russian tank
The Statue of Liberty and an oil slick
Mountains of mobiles and an old walking stick
Lost any of these? Bad news I’m afraid
The Lost Property Office has been mislaid.’
Roger McGough, CBE, FRSL
Thanks for reading, Pam x