Alfred James Robertson

A recent sort out of old papers and photographs in the depths of my larder revealed many items of interest but this one has a particular relevance on this remembrance day to honour those who lost gtheir lives in the great war.

It is the discharge certificate for Alfred James Robertson, Granny Robertson’s husband and my maternal grandfather, who was disabled in the conflict and honourably discharged in September 1918.

As a document that must have been reproduced many hundreds of thousands of times it is quite a complex design, especially at a time well before DTP, and on such an incredibly large scale.

I also thought it might be of interest to display it here, along with a fairly contemporary photo of Alfred James (I would hazard a guess at the mid-twenties) as my sort of tribute to those who gave their lives.

Gassed in the later years of the war he never recovered full fitness and had to retire early from his job as a tax accountant.

He never talked of the actual extent of his injuries nor gave details of his experiences, not even within the family and if he ever told his wife, (Granny Robertson, below left) though even if he did she never repeated them.

But such attitudes were not so uncommon at the time, that the stoic British ‘stiff upper lip’ would not permit for any such open display of less than manly bravado.

As the brigade doctor during the early days of the Battle of Ypres, Lieutenant John McCrae was asked to conduct the burial service for a young Canadian officer Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, who had been killed on 2nd May, 1915, because the chaplain had been called away somewhere else on duty that evening.

It is believed that later that evening, McRae began to draft his now famous poem “In Flanders Fields”.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders Fields.

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ten Things You Never Knew About . . . Guy Fawkes

Tonight, otherwise normal, law-abiding people across England will become pyromaniacs  for the evening, lighting bonfires and setting off fireworks.

This annual tradition is a way of remembering the events of November 5th 1605 when a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament was foiled. One of the most famous conspirators of what became known as the Gunpowder Plot was Guy Fawkes.

Here for your delectation are ten little known facts about him:

1) Guy (or Guido as he liked to be known) Fawkes was born on April 13th 1570 in Stonegate in York. He was educated at St. Peter’s School in York.

2) Fawkes and the other members of the Gunpowder Plot were also Catholics and the plot was a response to the repression they experienced. After the death of Queen Elizabeth I, King James (King James VI of Scotland) was next in line to the throne of England. Many English people being opposed to the rule of a Scot meant that the Gunpowder Plot would have been a very populist response.

3) Fawkes was an experienced soldier, although he never fought for his country. He gained experience with explosives fighting for the Spanish against the Dutch.

4) Although Fawkes wasn’t the main conspirator he had one of the most important roles. A cellar below the Houses of Parliament, rented by the members of the plot was filled with thirty-six barrels of gunpowder, sufficient to have completely destroyed the building and cause severe damage to all buildings within a one mile radius.

5) During his involvement in the Gunpowder Plot, Fawkes called himself John Johnson and when arrested was the name he gave.

6) Despite being involved in what was, essentially a terrorist plot, Fawkes was named the 30th All Time Greatest Briton in a 2002 BBC poll.

7) When Fawkes was taken to the King’s bedchamber to explain why he wanted to kill him and blow up Parliament, Fawkes calmly replied that, following his excommunication by the Pope, he regarded the King as a disease on the land.

8) Under torture, it took four days for Fawkes to admit to his part in the Plot and give names of other people involved in it. His signature on the written confession after torture, which is still held by the National Archives, was very faint and weak. Fawkes and other conspirators in the Plot were tried on January 31st 1606 and then hung, drawn and quartered in the Old Palace Yard in Westminster.

9) Contrary to popular belief, Fawkes wasn’t thrown onto a bonfire. That only happens to straw effigies that have been made of him since.

10) An uninhabited island in the Galapagos is named Isla Guy Fawkes, or Guy Fawkes Island.

 

In the intervening years, Guy (or Guido as he preferred in honour of his Spanish connections) Fawkes’ reputation has undergone a major rehabilitation and he is regularly toasted as “the last man to enter Parliament with honest intentions”

 

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Hallowe’en Cakes

Some pretty little fancies for All Hallows Eve for the edification of the residents of the elderly mothers nursing home.

The brief was soft, colourful and just a tad ghoulish but mostly fun!

The cakes are from a small book on party treats which was unusual for the liquidity of the batter.

Topped with a standard coloured butter cream and some commercial ‘fancies’ they easily passed muster.

Not quite a cupcake but soft and fluffy all the same.

Vanilla Cakes

325 gm flour
425 gm sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
240 ml milk
120 ml vegetable oil
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
240 ml water

Method

Preheat oven to 175°C.

Add the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt to a large mixer bowl and blend.

Add the milk, vegetable oil, vanilla extract and eggs to a medium sized bowl and mix well.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and beat well together before slowly adding the water.

Fill the cupcake liners about half way and bake for 15-17 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 2 minutes then remove to a cooling rack.

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The Art of Food

226px-Tomb_of_Nakht_(16)

Tomb of Nakht

Food preparation and consumption is a fact of life. It has been the very cornerstone of our day to day existence as a major part in our social, cultural and aesthetic life.

Is it any wonder then that the appearance of food in our artistic endeavours is so fundamentally interwoven into the fabric of recorded human history when images of food and feasting have been found in the pyramids of ancient Egypt, drawn and painted on the inner walls of burial chambers, and more importantly on coffins, depicting all the good things prepared to sustain the deceased on their final journey to the afterlife.

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A Roman Banquet

In myriad contexts the practice continued into ancient Greece and the Roman Empire where banquets, bacchanals and orgies became consuming passions celebrated in literature, painting, and mosaics.

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A Greek Symposia or Mens Room

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A Greek Symposia Platter

Food remained a recurring theme throughout the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, being celebrated for certain virtues or values or emphasizing eroticism, exoticism or wealth.

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A Medieval Banquet, c.15th century

Since food is intertwined with all aspects of our lives, comestible art history also connects with larger themes such as politics, gender, religion and class.

Medieval Banquet - Feasting with The King of Portugal, 1368

A Medieval Feast, c. 14th Century

Over the years I have been collecting such images, initially for my own interest but sadly with little proper attribution. Mainly I have the names and dates of the artists but hopefully I’m not infringing any copyright regulations by putting them into this blog.

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A Vegetable ‘Descriptive’ (French) c. 17th Century

But be that as it may, I shall carry on in what I hope will be a mini series of posts to show off some of the many images I have gathered together. These are just a small selection from across the ages that I hope will be of some interest.

Foods

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Billy’s Lake

A few weeks ago I took Poppy on a voyage of discovery to Billy’s Lake. Being a dog of the woods and the short mown grass of the local park, she loved running through the long grass, in places taller than herself.

And there we found a man in a digger clearing a path from the car park and off toward the lake.

But not for the building of yet more houses and flats but to provide a hard flat pathway for the visiting fishermen who now cast their lines into the cool, green waters.

Now there are some places that should not be revisited and Billy’s lake is one of those, a place of mystery and adventure that filled many childhood hours with fun, frolics and lots of wet swampy mud! Because Billy’s Lake was part of a large, wet, swampy area to the north of my childhood home.

Back then, legend had it that it was only accessible by bicycle and even then parts of the trek required the bicycle to be physically man-handled across the wetter parts, whilst avoiding the large patches of stinging nettles and the deeper, gloopier patches of black mud that could remove both shoe and sock in one go!

The bicycles were mainly those rickety old death traps handed down by fathers and older brothers, drop handles, five or possibly ten gears, aluminium mudguards and names like Raleigh, Triumph and Ranger.

Unless you were really lucky and some parent with more money than sense bought you a Chopper, like my mate Trevor.

With its exotic orange painted frame, (other colours were available though not nearly as stunning) shoulder high handlebars and central gearstick it was the envy of the district!

Despite being a pig to steer, especially when changing gear, and inordinately heavy it was considered the best thing since sliced bread. Health and Safety would have had a fit!

Under thick hedgerows dens would be constructed as protection against Red Indians, swamp ‘Things’ and seasonal downpours as well as providing a dining hall for the consumption of packets of sandwiches, bottles of orangeade and blackberries picked from the ubiquitous brambles. Bicycles would be taken apart and reassembled just to find out how they worked.

How we survived all that thick, black mud, huge beds of nettles, muddy water and eating sandwiches from hands caked in both mud and bicycle grease I shall never know.  But we did.

A word to the wise out there, don’t grow up!

It’s a trap!

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Make Your Own English Country Wine

A glass of home-made Country wine is a tradition of old English hospitality that stretches back centuries.

Forget grapes! Despite being universally accepted as the most reliable fruit for winemaking, grapes do not fare well in England.

Therefore the juices of fruits, vegetables and flowers found in the hedgerow and orchards of the countryside have been utilised instead, (although raisins and sultanas are often seen in country wine recipes)

More recently a surplus of fruit or vegetables from the garden has also been known to motivate people into making their own wines.

Mind you, it is one of the most rewarding of hobbies going.

The ingredients are often free, or at least very cheap, provided you are prepared to put in the effort to go and gather them for yourself!

Wine can be made from virtually anything. From potato peelings to crab apples, nettle leaves to may flowers.

If it ferments it can be used to make wine.

Every wine made will have its own distinctive personality and characteristics that can, with experience, can be tailored to the majority of tastes from dry to sweet, rich to light, smooth to flavoursome.

And because Country, or fruit wines, mature within six to eighteen months you will not have to wait very long to enjoy the results of your labours. And generally they are well worth the effort.

So, in order to propagate the art, I give here an illustrated recipe for  mayflower wine taken from a ‘Country Wine’ book dating back to the early fifties.

To the best of my knowledge the equipment suppliers on this post are no longer in business but since most of the necessities are now obtainable on-line why not give it a go?

Everybody should try it at least once.

 

 

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The Origins of English Wine

During their occupation the Romans introduced wine making to England, even trying to grow grapes as far north as Lincolnshire.

And winemaking continued at least down to the time of the Normans with over 40 vineyards in England mentioned in the Domesday Book. (although a great part of the harvest was for making communion wine for the Eucharist)

From the Middle Ages, the English market was the main customer of clarets from Bordeaux, aided by the Plantagenet kingdom, which included England and large provinces in France.

When Henry VIII was crowned in 1509, 139 vineyards were recorded, 11 of which were Royal vineyards, dedicated to the monarchy while later, in the 1660’s Lady Batten, wife of Sir William Batten, Surveyor of the Navy, had a vineyard at their estate at Walthamstow. Samuel Pepys thought their wine, a red, was “very good”.

The Methuen Treaty of 1703 imposed high duties on French wine which led to the English becoming one of the main consumers of fortified wines like sherry, port wine, and Madeira from the Iberian Peninsula. Fortified wine became popular because unlike normal wine, it would not spoil during the long sea journey to England.

Just as English wine began to recover from the epidemics of Phylloxera and Powdery Mildew that were brought back in the mid 19th century, by the Explorers of New America, it was dealt another heavy blow in 1860 when the government, under Lord Palmerston, supported a policy of free trade which drastically cut the tax on imported wines from 1 shilling (5p) to two-pence, (½p) a decrease of 83%.

And then, later in the 19th century, many upper and upper-middle class people, with reasonably cheap access to European wines, began to drink them once more and things went from bad to worse.  The short, ignominious twilight of British winemaking tradition, which stretched back to the first Roman explorers, was brought to an abrupt end with the onset of the First World War.

As the need for land to produce food took precedence over wine production and the subsequent rationing of sugar pushed the knife even deeper until, for the first time in 2,000 years, English wines were no longer being produced, not even in Wessex. (and all Alfred did was burn the cakes!)

It was not until 1936, when George Ordish planted vines in Wessex and the South of England that winemaking returned, bringing about a voyage of rediscovery for English wines and wine making.

With many individuals keen to produce their own wines from home, and with equipment and methods becoming more available, the government characteristically outlawed the production of homemade alcohol at the beginning of the 1960’s! (until the law was retracted after a mere 5 years, when the fashion for the home-brew escalated considerably, and there were taxes to be reaped!)

The effective reboot of English Wine (in the post-monastic era) can be traced to 1952 when English viticulture pioneer John Edginton (born 1936) planted his first experimental commercial grape vines at Lackham College in Lacock, Wiltshire. These vines still exist to this day and are believed to be the oldest surviving commercial wine grapes in the UK.

For the next ten years, Edginton continued to experiment with training and pruning systems, as well as vine varieties, experimenting with new cutting edge hybrid varieties and turning those grapes into palatable wine.

By 1962, he’d planted an experimental vineyard of half an acre of new advanced hybrid varieties of Müller, Reichensteiner, and Seyval grapes, believed to be the oldest surviving examples of these variants in the UK.

This vineyard at Teffont in Wiltshire, later joined by Awbridge and Dinton in Hampshire, still produces wine grapes and Edginton continues to pioneer viticulture and wine making. methods of wine and beer production.

Viticulture itself as a procedure was revived in the 70’s, possibly helped by a rising local temperature due to global warming making many parts of Hampshire, Sussex, Kent Essex, Suffolk, Berkshire, and Cambridgeshire dry enough and hot enough to grow grapes of high quality. The first English wines of the new era were influenced by the sweet German wines like Liebfraumilch and Hock that were popular in the 60’s and were blended white and red sweet wines, called “cream wine” The largest vineyard in England is Denbies Wine Estate in Surrey, which has 265 acres under vines, and a visitors’ centre that is open all year round.

Some random cheese

From a peak of over 400 vineyards in the late 1980’s, by 2000 one-third of these had given up, but have since accelerated, helped by the growing success of English sparkling wines. In 2004, a panel judging European sparkling wines awarded most of the top ten positions to English wines with the remaining positions going to Champagne.

Such results have encouraged an explosion of sparkling wine plantings. Winemaking has spread from the South East, South West, the Midlands and the North of England, with Yorkshire, Shropshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Lancashire boasting at least one vineyard each as of 2007.

Significant plantings have been happening across the south of the country too. The return per tonne for grapes over more traditional crops, are quite astounding. A field of wheat might yield 3 tonnes per acre at around £120 per tonne while grapes can yield 3 to 4 tonnes per acre at around £950 to £1,100 per tonne.

One concern is that growers need to invest a chunk of money for no initial return, as crops tend to come in the third or fourth year. In England, it is only in about 2 years in every 10 that grape production will be really good, 4 years will be average and 4 years poor or terrible – largely due to weather and/or disease exacerbated by weather.

However English vineyards share common European weather patterns and so 2006 was a bumper year while 2007 saw ripe grapes but low volumes. 2008 was very poor, but both 2009 and 2010 were good years. 2011 was average, 2012 dreadful, and 2013 good. Typical British weather one might say, if one were a cynic that is!

But be that as it may, English wine was given a boost when HRH the Duchess of Cornwall became the new President of The United Kingdom Vineyards Association on 25 July 2011 and further added prestige in June 2012 during the celebration of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.

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