Category Archives: history

The flagship named Mary Rose

Sunday 19th July 1545 was the day that the Mary Rose, flagship of King Henry VIII’s fleet, sank off Portsmouth 34 years after coming into service.   In 1971 the wreck was located, raised and is now a museum that attracts visitors from across the world.

The actual reason why she sank remains a matter for deep discussion. The only confirmed eyewitness account of the sinking says that she had fired all of her guns on one side and was turning when she was caught in a strong gust of wind. Other accounts agree that she was turning, but offer various reasons why she sank during the manoeuvre.

Although there is no archaeological evidence from the wreck to confirm this, a French cavalry officer present at the battle stated that the Mary Rose had been sunk by French guns. A cannonball low in the hull would have let water to flood in, making the ship unstable and leading to her sinking. Perhaps this was why the ship turned north so suddenly. Was she aiming to reach the ‘Spitbank’ shallows which were only a few hundred meters away?

A fourth suggestion is that she was overloaded with heavy guns and/or with extra soldiers. If this was the case, a strong gust of wind could have heeled her over into the sea. However, the guns had been put aboard in London so she had managed to get round the Kent coast, and along the English Channel, without mishap so why did she topple in the Solent?  All we know is that we probably never will know why it happened – but that’s the perennial challenge presented by so much of our history!

There are many questions – and as many may-be answers – that go with this story.  For instance – why was the ship named as it was?   The second part of the flagship’s name is believed to refer to the Tudor rose, the emblem of Henry VIII’s house – but what about ‘Mary’?  That name could refer to the Virgin Mary, but it is more commonly seen as a reference to Henry VIII’s sister Mary who was the wife of King Louis XII of France.  We’ll never know!

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Music and other aspects of the 1930s

For a great many the 1930s were remembered for mass unemployment with unemployment in Britain at the start of 1933 at 22.8%.  However, by January 1936 it had eased to 13.9% and in 1938 it was down to around 10%.  There was still a semi-permanent depression area in the North of England, Scotland and South Wales but new industries, such as car and aircraft manufacture, and new electronics were prospering in the Midlands and the South of England where unemployment was relatively low.

The 1930s were the great age of cinema going in Britain with many people going at least once and sometimes twice a week. The early films were black and white but in the 1930s the first colour films were made – although it was decades before all films were made in colour.  Radio broadcasting had begun in 1922 in Britain when the BBC was formed and by 1933 half the households in Britain had a radio. Television began in Britain in 1936 when the BBC began broadcasting.

From the mid-1920s to 1946 the most popular form of music in the UK was that produced by dance bands. The British bands never quite adopted the kind of USA “Swing” and “Big Band” jazz and during the 1930s the most popular form of music in the UK was that produced by dance bands – quite tame compared to American jazz and was generally sweeter.  Non-the-less Billy Cotton began in the 1930s and still had a prime-time TV programme until the late ’60s and Ted Heath’s fame lasted until 1964. Many others carefully adjusted as time passed.  For instant – Jack Hilton’s band was “hot” until 1933, but then became sweeter as their success grew.  Some of the lead singers also enjoyed fame on their own. Most famous were Al Bowlly and Leslie `Hutch` Hutchinson.

I’ll close off for this week with something very different from music – but something that people could nibble while they listened their music of choice …..

This decade also saw sales of ice cream boom and many new kinds of sweets introduced. Jaffa cakes had gone on sale in 1927 and Twiglets and Crunchy Bars in 1929.  Milky Way had been on sale in 1923 in the USA and arrived in Britain in 1935. Other UK arrivals included:  Snickers (1930), Mars Bar (1932), Whole Nut (1933), Aero and Kit Kat (1935), Maltsters and Blue Riband (1936) and Smarties, Rolo and Milky Bar (1937).

Music through good times & bad in the 1920’s

By the mid-1920s jazz was thriving in Britain with its popularity being boosted by the Melody Maker, a music newspaper which first appeared in January 1926, as well as by radio programmes from the recently launched British Broadcasting Corporation.

However this mid-1920s post-war period of prosperity was soon to be well and truly over. The re-introduction of the Gold Standard by Winston Churchill in 1925 kept interest rates high and meant UK exports were expensive. Coal reserves had been depleted during the War and Britain was now importing more coal than it was mining. All this, and the lack of investment in the new mass-production techniques in industry, led to a period of depression, deflation and decline in the UK’s economy. Unemployment rose to over 2 million, and particularly affected areas in the north of England and Wales, where unemployment reached 70% in some places. This lead in turn to the Great Strike of 1926 and, following the US Wall Street crash of 1929, the beginning of the Great Depressions of the 1930s.

From a decade that started with such a ‘boom’, the 1920s ended in an almighty bust, the likes of which weren’t to be seen again for a great many more years. None-the-less – all this poverty amongst the unemployed contrasted strikingly with the affluence of the middle and upper classes!

An American who came to the UK in the 1920s was Carroll Gibbons. He was born and raised in Clinton, Massachusetts. In his late teens he travelled to London to study at the Royal Academy of Music. In 1924 he returned to London with the brassless Boston Orchestra for an engagement at the Savoy Hotel in the Strand. He liked Britain so much that he settled there and later became the co-leader (with Howie Jacobs) of the Savoy Orpheans and the bandleader of the New May Fair Orchestra, which recorded for the Gramophone Company on the HMV label. In 1929, Gibbons appeared in the British film ‘Splinters’ as “Carroll Gibbons and His Masters Voice Orchestra”. Ray Noble himself led the New Mayfair Orchestra starting in 1929

Despite all of the hardships in the UK and the USA there were glimpses of a ‘new world’ – of ‘new people’.

A story of a soccer team – my soccer team!

I’ve been a Manchester United supporter ever since they beat Blackpool 4-2 to win the FA Cup at Wembley in 1948.  Twenty years later – on Wednesday 29th May 1968 – I was on tenterhooks as I listened to another game at Wembley.  This one was the European Cup Final between Manchester United and the Spanish masters Benfica.  Bobby Charlton put United ahead 8 minutes into the second half; Benfica had equalized 20 minutes later and, but for a great save by United’s goalkeeper Alex Stepney from Eusébio, came close to defeat.  In extra-time goals from George Best (93 mins), Brian Kidd (94 mins) and Bobby Charlton (99 mins) made United 4-1 winners and me VERY happy!  Manchester United – ‘my team’ – had become the first English club to win the European Cup!

Ten years after the Munich air crash, which killed eight of Matt Busby’s young team, Manchester United had reached the pinnacle of European football again.  Celtic FC had become the first Scottish and British club to win the cup the previous year.  Manchester United were out to be the second.  United’s star player, George Best had been named European Footballer of the Year – just a fortnight after being named the British football writers’ Footballer of the Year.

At Wembley Stadium on 29th May 1968 there were100,000 supporters to watchers with an estimated 250 million TV viewers across Europe making it the biggest television audience since the World Cup final two years previous.  The match was to determine the winners of the 1967-68 European Cup – the 13th season of this trophy – a final being contested by Benfica of Portugal and Manchester United of England.  The first half passed in a flurry of fouls but no goals.  In the second half Bobby Charlton broke the stalemate with a headed goal to United but with just 10 minutes left Benfica scored the equaliser.  Things now got challenging and Benfica nearly won the match when Eusebio broke away from Nobby Stiles and blasted the ball towards the net.  However – United’s keeper, Alex Stepney, made the save and the game went into extra time.

The world now seemed to take care of United because two minutes into extra time Georgie Best put United ahead again, when he slipped round the Benfica keeper and gently tapped the ball over the line.  Two more United goals followed – one from the 19-year-old Brian Kidd and the last one from captain Bobby Charlton.  The ‘United’ had won 4-1.

Matt Busby – the United Manager said: “They’ve done us proud. They came back with all their hearts to show everyone what Manchester United are made of. This is the most wonderful thing that has happened in my life and I am the proudest man in England tonight.”

Matt Busby had been seriously injured in the crash that had claimed the lives of his so-called Busby Babes and there was speculation at the time that the club had been so badly damaged it would have to fold.  But they struggled on to complete the 1958/59 season and when Busby returned to the manager’s role the following season he began the task of rebuilding the side. Bobby Charlton and Bill Foulkes were the only survivors of the crash who played in today’s final. The European Cup marked the highlight of Matt Busby’s long career at Manchester United and he later received a knighthood from the Queen.  He retired after the following season to become the club’s general manager.

For George Best it was the highlight of his footballing career. The same year he was also named European Footballer of the Year and was regarded by many as one of the greatest footballing talents in the world, ranked alongside the Brazilian great Pele.

Bobby Charlton had a distinguished playing career for England and Manchester United. He scored 48 goals for England, a record which still stands. He was knighted in 1994.

The world is changing – and perhaps not for the better

It’s the second decade of the 20th century and the world continues to develop and change.

At this time Great Britain was at the centre of the world’s largest empire, a beneficiary of colonial resources and trade.  It occupied territory on four different continents and was at the centre of a vast trading and commercial empire.  However, domestically, 19th century Britain was often unsettled by demands for improved conditions and political reform.  British rulers had engaged in imperial expansion over the years but had sought to avoid war – a policy dubbed ‘splendid isolation’.  However – this policy approach was waning in the early 1900s as British interest concentrated on events in Europe, particularly the unification of Germany and the expansionist policies adopted by Kaiser Wilhelm II.

In the USA Sophie Tucker was singing of ‘Some of These Days’; Arthur Collins & Byron Harlan were telling us all about ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’.  We also have the American Quartet group singing  ‘Moonlight Bay’; Billy Murray telling the story of ‘Casey Jones’ while Al Jolson was singing ‘You Made Me Love You (I Didn’t Want to Do It)’ to the US population at large.

By 1914 Britain was no longer the dominant economic power in Europe. It still had the world’s largest shipbuilding industry but in other areas such as coal, iron, chemicals and light engineering, Britain was being out-performed by Germany.

Britain was a constitutional monarchy under George V with a government formed by the majority party of the House of Commons with members being elected by some 8 million registered male voters. The aristocratic House of Lords had limited power to veto legislation.

Since the later part of the 19th century the British government had considered Germany to be the main threat to its empire. This was reinforced by Germany’s decision in 1882 to form a Triple Alliance with Austria-Hungary and Italy – an alliance to support each other if attacked by either France or Russia.  France felt threatened by the Triple Alliance and was concerned by the growth in the German Navy and, in 1904, the two countries had signed the Entente Cordiale (friendly understanding) with the objective of the alliance was to encourage co-operation against the perceived German threat. Three years later Russia, who also feared the growth of the German Army, joined Britain and France – and the ‘Triple Entente’ was formed.

By August 1914, Britain had 247,432 regular troops. About 120,000 of these were in the British Expeditionary Army and the rest were stationed abroad. There were soldiers in all Britain’s overseas possessions except the white dominions of Australia, New Zealand and Canada.  The USA had no links with either side at this time.

Despite everything, there was music to generate some cheerfulness.  One such number was ‘Pack up your troubles in your old Kit Bag – and Smile, Smile, Smile’ written in 1915 by Welsh brothers Felix Powell – an army staff sergeant – and George Henry Powell who became a conscientious objector.  A later play presented by the National Theatre recounts how these music hall stars rescued the song from their rejects pile and re-scored it to win a wartime competition for a marching song.  In its many ways it became very popular and boosted British morale despite the horrors of that war. It was one of a large number of music hall songs aimed at maintaining morale, recruiting for the forces, or defending Britain’s war aims. Here are the words if you want to turn back those challenging times:

Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag, and smile, smile, smile. While you’ve a lucifer to light your fag, smile, boys, that’s the style.  What’s the use of worrying?  It never was worthwhile, so pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag, and smile, smile, smile.

Another of these songs, ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’ was so similar in musical structure that the two were sometimes sung side by side.

Ragtime begins to change our music

Ragtime became central to the development of jazz in both America and Britain around the turn of the century.  The term ‘ragtime’ comes from the syncopated or ‘ragged’ rhythm and had its origins in the African-American communities in cities such as St. Louis. One of the first pioneers and composers of ragtime was Ernest Hogan. He was the first composer to have his ragtime pieces (or “rags”) published as sheet music, beginning with the song “LA Pas Ma LA” published in 1895.  More important, though, could be the fact that he has been credited for coining the term ragtime.  Ben Harney, another Kentucky native, has often been credited for introducing the music to the mainstream public. His first ragtime composition, “You’ve Been a Good Old Wagon but You Done Broke Down”, helped popularize the style. However – the composition was published in 1895, a few months after Ernest Hogan.

Nun-the-less – it is neither of these that keep Ragtime in our memory.  That composer is Scott Joplin who became famous through the publication of the “Maple Leaf Rag” in 1899 and was followed by “The Entertainer” in 1902.  Despite this Scott, and many others of the time, were later forgotten by all but a small, dedicated community of ragtime aficionados.  It was not until a major ragtime revival in the early 1970s that brought them to the fore.

So what’s happening in Britain at this time?  Well – not too much with regard to day-to-day music it would appear.  Many of the earliest parlour songs were transcriptions for voice and keyboard of other music.  Thomas Moore’s Irish Melodies, for instance, were traditional “folk” tunes with new lyrics by Moore.  Many arias from Italian operas, particularly those of Bellini and Donizetti, had become parlour songs, with texts either translated or replaced by new lyrics. Various other genres were also performed in the parlour, including patriotic selections, religious songs, and pieces written for the musical stage.  However – excerpts from blackface minstrels, arranged for voice and keyboard, were particularly popular.  Also we we have a handful of the better-known songs, such as Schubert’s “Serenade”, that became part of the parlour repertory. Lyrics written for parlour songs often have sentimental themes, such as love songs or poetic meditations.  We’ll come to these at a later time.

However – the following has been tracked down as being the top 10 pieces in 1901 to 1910. Starting at 10th best – and heading to number one – we have:

Arthur Collins (1902) we have ‘Bill Bailey, Won’t You Please Come Home’.

Harry MacDonough with Miss Walton (1909)‘Shine on Harvest Moon’.

Hayden Quartet (1903) ‘In the Good Old Summer Time’.

Bill Murray in 1905 ‘Yankee Doodle Boy’.

Billy Murray (1904) ‘Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis’.

Byron Harlan (1907) ‘School Days (When We Were a Couple of Kids)’.

Bill Murray (1905) ‘Give my Regards to Broadway’

Hayden Quartet (1908) ‘Take me out to the ball game’.

Hayden Quartet (1904) ‘Sweet Adeline (You’re the Flower of My Heart)’.

And at number one for the years 1901 to 1910 we have:

Bill Murray (1906) ‘You’re a Grand Old Flag (aka ‘The Grand Old Rag’)’.

Ragtime gets closer

Last week we started our story with a broad overview of ‘Ragtime’ from both sides of the Atlantic.  This week we’ll have a look at early British popular music. This music can be seen as originating in the 16th and 17th centuries and from this we can trace the arrival of printed musical copies which were sold cheaply and in great numbers through to the 19th century.

Most of the instruments used by British brass bands had existed for some time but they only became a mass activity in the 1840/50s out of village, church and military bands. For many these brass bands were an expression of the local solidarity and their newly formed and often rapidly growing communities.

This developed as a result of a steady increase in the number of households with enough surplus cash to purchase musical instruments and instruction in music and with the leisure time and cultural motivation to engage in recreational music-making. This high point of the parlor song came in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a distinction arose between ‘art music’ and ‘popular music’, even if it was not expressed exactly in those terms.

The increase in urban populations and the rise of the bourgeoisie brought a need for public demonstrations of social standing, since it was no longer common knowledge who was important. Attending concerts was, among other things, a means of displaying status.  What for a working-class audience might be down-to-earth, plain-speaking and funny – for the bourgeois audience might appear as rude, vulgar, and silly! Perhaps this is why inversion was common in popular form – for example, lust not love, crudity not politeness, degradation not sublimity, materiality not spirituality.

For the middle class, culture was in itself instructive but first required that people be instructed in it; hence the didactic character of attempts to encourage working-class ‘appreciation’ of music. The People’s Concert Society, founded in 1878, was an amateur organization dedicated to making high-status music known among the London poor. The Society began Sunday concerts of chamber music in South Place, Moorgate, in 1887. From the succeeding year, admission was free, or a voluntary contribution could be made, and attendance was good.

The British Brass Band Movement, in the second half of the century, was another example of ‘rational recreation’, with the willingness of factory owners to sponsor works bands. These bands had their roots in the industrial North, but the steel, ironworks and shipping companies of east London also had bands in the 1860s. Some of the difficulties and distractions facing London bands compared to bands further north have been discussed by Dave Russell. Huge annual contests were held at the Crystal Palace during 1860-63. The first of these, a two-day event with entrance prices of 2s 6d for the first and 1s for the second day, attracted an audience of 29,000. The test pieces for the contests at the Crystal Palace placed an emphasis on high-status music: selections from Meyerbeer’s grand operas were the favourite choices, as at the Belle Vue contests in Manchester that same decade.

The labouring poor may have been sung about and even felt to be understood in certain socially-concerned drawing-room ballads, but their lives often lay outside the experience of those who sang the ballads. Antoinette Sterling, who so movingly sang ‘Three Fishers Went Sailing’, confessed that not only had she no experience of storms at sea, but ‘had never even seen fishermen’. Actual acquaintance with fishermen was undoubtedly unnecessary, since the subject position such ballads addressed was that of the middle class.

So we have now had a glance of both sides of the water in the years as music met with the changing needs and attitudes.
Our story, though, was born as being from ‘Ragtime to Rock ‘n’ Roll’. That arrives next week – on Wednesday 25th April 2018.   Please be there!

The aftermath of Marlene Dietrich’s life

It was on Saturday 6th May 1992 that Marlene Dietrich died of renal failure at her flat in Paris – she was 90.  Her funeral ceremony was conducted at La Madeleine in Paris, a Roman Catholic Church on Sunday 14th May 1992 and her funeral service was attended by approximately 1,500 mourners in the church itself—including several ambassadors from Germany, Russia, the US, the UK and other countries—with thousands more outside. It was rather a surprise, therefore, when the U.S. institutions showed no interest at all in Marlene’s estate.  Germany was different: the Deutsche Kinemathek had officially opened in February 1963 with Gerhard Lamprecht as its founding director. Over the following decades he had meticulously put together an extensive collection of films, documents and equipment. The City State of Berlin had acquired this collection and then handed it over to the new institution for its preservation and use.

It must be remembered that Marlene was German by birth and, on Sunday 24th October 1993, the largest portion of her estate was sold to Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek – and that very soon became the core of the exhibition at Filmmuseum Berlin.

Marlene’s collection included some 3,000 textile items from the 1920s to the 1990s, including film and stage costumes as well as over a thousand items from Marlene’s personal wardrobe.  There was also a photograph collection containing some 15,000 photographs from various sources including Cecil Beaton and Lord Snowdon.  There were also 300,000 or so pages of documents with correspondence from such individuals as Yul Brynner / Orson Wells / Nancy & Ronald Reagan / Ernest Hemingway and Burt Bacharach.

Separate to this there was Marlene’s Manhattan apartment along with her personal effects.  The personal items – such as jewellery and items of clothing were sold by public auction at Sotheby’s in Los Angeles on Saturday 1st November 1997.  Her former apartment at 993 Park Avenue, Manhattan was sold for $615,000 in 1998.

In 1992 a plaque was unveiled at Leberstrase 65 in Berlin-Schöneberg, the site of Marlene’s birth and on Thursday 14th August 1997 a postage stamp bearing her portrait was issued in Germany.

Glamorous star of the cinema screen, idolised vamp and charismatic diva – Marlene Dietrich was one of the most captivating women of the 20th century. In spite of her fame, star-performer’s salary and brilliant Hollywood career, the “Blue Angel” always remained true to her ideals and lived according to her own code of conduct, which not only made her perhaps the most uncompromising star of her era, but also a role model for all women who believe in realizing their visions.

In England and fancy a day out this Saturday, 6th January 2018?

It is Haxey Hood day – the day when a part of the Isle of Axholme goes a bit crazy for the afternoon to mark one of England’s oldest traditions.  Where is it? It’s in North Lincolnshire – the only part of Lincolnshire west of the River Trent – and between the three towns of Doncaster, Scunthorpe and Gainsborough.

There in the Isle of Axholme goes one of England’s oldest traditions. Regulars from four pubs will be going head to head in a marathon battle to get the famed Hood into their favoured watering hole in the latest staging of the traditional contest which has been running for more than 700 years.

The official story is that in the 14th century, Lady de Mowbray, wife of Isle landowner, John De Mowbray, was out riding towards Westwoodside on the hill that separates it from Haxey. As she went over the hill her silk riding hood was blown away by the wind. Thirteen farm workers in the field rushed to help and chased the hood all over the field. It was finally caught by one of the farm workers, but being too shy to hand it back to the lady, he gave it to one of the others to hand back to her. She thanked the farm worker who had returned the hood and said that he had acted like a Lord, whereas the worker who had actually caught the hood was a Fool. So amused was she by this act of chivalry and the resulting chase, that she donated 13 acres of land on condition that the chase for the hood would be re-enacted each year.

If you can get there this year, or want plan for a visit next year, or want to arrange a similar event for your community, here’s 21 things you might like to know about the Haxey Hood!

  1. The contest is always held on the Twelfth Day of Christmas – January 6, unless the date falls on Sunday when it’s held on January 5.
  2. The rugby style scrum is officially called The Sway.
  3. The hood is actually a cylindrical piece of leather.
  4. Four pubs compete – The Loco, Duke William and the King’s Arms in Haxey and the Carpenters Arms in Westwoodside.
  5. The nobles mentioned in the story did exist. Records show that John De Mowbray (29 November 1310 – 4 October 1361), the 3rd Baron Mowbray of Axholme, would be the most likely candidate for the husband of the lady. {If you can’t get one of these I’m sure someone will improvise}
  6. The Hood is thought to date from about 1359. {I’m sure someone could make a hood to suit.}
  7. It has similarities to other village combats, such as Ashbourne’s Royal Shrovetide Football, the Shrove Tuesday Football Games in Sedgefield, Durham and Alnwick, Northumberland and the Hallaton Bottle Kicking contest in Leicestershire. {Gives you a valid excuse to do your own event.}
  8. There is speculation regarding the hood having originally been the head or penis of a sacrificial animal used in a fertility ritual is just that. {I guess that it could be replicated.}
  9. The songs sung ahead of the contest in the pubs are well-known folk songs including ‘John Barleycorn’, ‘Cannons (Drink England Dry)’ and ‘The Farmer’s Boy’.
  10. The red-coated overseer of proceedings is the Lord of The Hood. He is assisted by the Chief Boggin, ten other Boggins and the Fool.
  11. The Fool leads the procession between pubs and has the right to kiss any woman on the way.
  12. Once at the green in front of the Parish Church, the Fool makes his traditional speech of welcome at around 2.30pm standing on an old mounting block in front of the church known as the Mowbray Stone.
  13. During this speech a fire is lit with damp straw behind him. The smoke rises up and around him and this is known as ‘Smoking the Fool’.
  14. This is a watered-down version of the earlier custom in which a more substantial fire was lit with damp straw beneath a tree. The Fool was then suspended over the fire and swung back and forth until he was almost suffocated before being cut down and dropped into the fire, where he had to make his escape as best he could.
  15. At the end of the speech, the Fool finishes with the traditional words that the crowd chant along with him. They are: “hoose agen hoose, toon agen toon, if a man meets a man knock ‘im doon, but doan’t ‘ot ‘im,” which translates as: “house against house, town against town, if a man meets a man, knock him down but don’t hurt him.”
  16. The Lord also carries his wand of office. This is a staff made from twelve willow wands with one more upside down in the centre. These are bound thirteen times with willow twigs and a red ribbon at the top. The thirteen willow wands are supposed to represent the twelve apostles and the upside down one represents Judas.
  17. Proceedings start at 3pm with the throwing of twelve Sack Hoods. These are rolled hessian sacks, a prequel to the main game, mainly for children.
  18. The Hood, which cannot be thrown or run with, is moved slowly by ‘swaying’, that is pushing and pulling the Hood and people within the ‘Sway’ toward the direction of their pub.
  19. Nobody parks on the roads where the Sway may go, and for good reason. In 2002, a couple of drivers parked opposite the Duke William. The Sway headed right for them and pushed one of the cars 10 feet down the road and into the other.
  20. The game ends when the Hood arrives at one of the pubs and is touched by the landlord from his front step. The landlord then takes charge of the Hood for the year, and is supposed to give everyone a free drink. The winning pub pours beer over the Hood and then hangs it behind the bar (each pub has two hooks especially for this purpose).
  21. Last year’s winner was the King’s Arms, the first time the pub had won since 2014.

Let me know if you go and enjoy or if set about replicating it in your community,  I’m happily post the fact! 

Not in the UK and our history?  No problem – I’m sure that there are similar opportunities to put on a similar event.  If you do have a go I’m happy to post the fact!

A New Year begins

Hello all – I hope you have had a good Christmas and that 2018 will deliver everything you wish for – well, quite a lot of what you wish for, we mustn’t be too greedy!

Today is the first day of a New Year – a year that will, one hopes, deliver new work; new challenges – and that long standing beliefs will become truths. As far as my life is concerned many of these beliefs go back to happenings long ago.  Over the past few weeks I have been recalling the past and looking forward to the future.  Often these thoughts caused me to think – ‘was that a real happenings or am I just remembering things?‘

I have always lived and worked in England so – did I really go to Detroit and then on to Toronto in the 1970s at my boss’s request – and money?  Did a different company & boss take me to Las Vegas and San Francisco – and what about my 8 day in Japan for yet another company?  My life has had so many events and changes.

At this time of the year in Britain there are many things that I wish I had done but never have – and never will.  A friend of mine enjoyed one of these wishes and who knows – you may have the chance.   This is the story he told to me:

‘I walked along the High Street at Stonehaven in Scotland at Midnight on New Year Night to watch the Ancient Fireballs Ceremony. I had been told that, for over 150 years, at the stroke of midnight, the High Street would be lit up as sixty or so local fireball-swingers make their way through their town, swinging their fireballs above their heads.

It looked dangerous but the fireballs were, I was told, very safely packed in wire cages and attached to strong, five-foot-long wire ropes. The balls are made of combustible and oily waste matter, (rags, twigs, cones, bits of coal), soaked in paraffin and are held together in a case of wire mesh. The ‘balls’ are made as heavy as each ‘swinger’ feels they can handle – anything from 5 to 15 pounds. Some balls can be 3 feet in diameter and, in the past, have been recorded to burn for 2 hours but now they only last for 20 minutes maximum: – Health & Safety rules must be followed you know!

For the parade, the swingers, all of whom must reside in the Burgh, marched down the High Street to the accompaniment of Pipes and Drums from the Mercat Cross to the Police Station, swinging the flaming balls around their heads. After the ‘fireball swingers’ have proceeded through the town they go down to the harbour where the balls are then thrown into the sea.

I was told that the ceremony dates from a fishermen’s festival in the 19th century but that the torch processions go back to before Christianity arrived in Scotland and that there is a number of theories about the significance of the festival.  Some say that it coincides with the winter solstice and the swinging fireballs relate to the recall of the sun but others follow the pre-Christian theory in that the fireballs are to purify the world by consuming evil and warding off witches and evil spirits.