Happy Birthday Sir Philip Sidney

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Scholar, Knight, Diplomat, Traveller, Linguist, Poet, Politician, Advisor to Queen Elizabeth, Master of Ordnance, Soldier; shot in the leg in the battle of Zutphen in the Netherlands during the 80 years war against Spain.  An avid proponent of the Protestant cause.  He died aged only 31 from gangrene.  Born November 30th, 1554.  A true renaissance man.

 

The Bargain; by Sir Philip Sidney

My true love hath my heart, and I have his,
by just exchange one for another given:
I hold his dear, and mine he cannot miss,
there never was a better bargain driven:
My true love hath my heart, and I have his.

His heart in me keeps him and me in one,
my heart in him his thoughts and senses guides:
He loves my heart, for once it was his own,
I cherish his because in me it bides:
My true love hath my heart, and I have his.

Gives me the Shivers!

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The man who invented superheroes was born on this day, November 29th, 1920.

And no – it wasn’t Stan Lee.  It was Joe Shivers.

Joseph Shivers was working for DuPont in the 1950’s when he and his team perfected the design of Fibre K.  The fabric was trademarked as Lycra in Britain, Ireland and many former English colonies.  The elastic nature of the product is reflected in the variants of the name Elastane used in many non-English speaking countries.

In the USA they stressed the expandable nature of the fabric with an anagram of Expands:  Spandex.

Without Lycra/ Spandex would we have Superheroes today?

Another outcome of Shivers invention is the modern middle aged male Cyclist:

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And don’t get me started on shapewear:

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Nixtamalisation

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The process of nixtamalization is one of my favourite cooking stories from history.  It is a sophisticated process involving empirical chemistry to convert maize from useless bulk into a nutritional food.

The nixtamalization process was vital to the early Mesoamerican diet.  Unprocessed maize is deficient in vitamin B3; niacin. A population that depends on untreated maize as a staple food risks malnourishment and is more likely to develop deficiency diseases such as pellagra, niacin deficiency, or kwashiorkor, the absence of certain amino acids that maize is deficient in.

To unlock the niacin you must cook the maize in a solution containing lime, and ideally calcium.   This can be done by adding lye (wood fire ash) to the kernels during boiling or by the addition of lime as a slaked rock.

Nextamalli is a Nahuatl (Aztec) word for the processed grain – also called Hominy which comes from the Algonquin word uskatahomen.

The spread of maize cultivation in the Americas was accompanied by the adoption of the nixtamalization process.

How this process developed may be understood by looking at cooking in Ancient Ireland, despite the fact that the Irish did not need the process.  If you look at the cooking arrangement in the photo above you will see what is called a Fulacht Fiadh.  In bronze age Ireland people did not have good cooking pots.  If you are really careful it is possible to boil a stew in a bark container or an anmial skin, but it’s not easy.

The Irish used a cooking pit.  The pit was lined with timber to prevent the sides from collapsing into a muddy hole.  It was filled with water.  Then a fire was built in the hearth and limestone rocks were placed on the fire.  When they heated up the “cooks” used large wooden paddles to lift  or roll the hot rocks and place them in the pit, which caused the water to boil and the meal to cook.

Using the same process in South America the locals found that the combination of slaked lime stone, and the wood ash from the fire had a magical effect on the maize.  It converted maize from a vegetable into a staple food that gave almost everything you needed to live.  Add a few beans, potato, tomato, chile and you have a feast.

When Europeans discovered maize in the new world, and saw how it formed a staple food, they brought it home and used it as a food in their colonies, especially in Africa and India.  But they didn’t know about nixtamalization and famine soon followed.  To this day pellagra remains a problem in some parts of the world where the grain spread without the process.  South Africa, Egypt and Southern India still see problems.

The British attempted to feed the Irish with maize during the potato famine.  Robert Peel imported Indian Corn from America and had it distributed at cost price.  Most people could not afford it and those that could were appalled by the garish yellow rock hard grain that was unfit to make bread.  They labelled it “Peel’s Brimstone” and many thought it was a plot to poison them.  They had no idea how to cook the food.  Those who persisted and boiled it down to a tasteless porridge were not feeding themselves in any case, because they had no niacin.

 

Call it out

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Late November and we have hit a relentless spell of misery, dark cold rainy weather.  It is at times like this that the blues can creep in.  People who suffer from depression struggle to get the mental gears engaged.

One thing I have learned over the years is that it is important to engage with your emotion even if the emotion is negative.  When you call out your emotion you can confront it, if you are the confronting type, or you can embrace it if you are not the confrontational type.

When you have the blues its time to listen to the blues.  At least for me.

So here is BB King with an ode to the love of his life:

Lucille; by Donal Clancy

BB holds Her in his arms

when the rain falls cold and wet

he pulls all the right strings

when he sees her fret

one arm around her body

his fingers stroke her neck

& when she sings to BB

he’s ensnared in her net.

The blues are gone,

the blues are gone.

Now that’s what I call a polka!

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The 2017 Jack Black film “The Polka King” tells the (mostly) true story of Jan Lewan.  It opens the lid on one of Amercia’s greatest dirty little secrets;  the popularity of Polka.

In the 1987 film “Good Morning Vietnam” accordian led Polka music is the preference of Second Lieutenant Steven Hauk who acts as a comedic straight man to Robin Williams portrayal of Adrian Cronauer.  It’s a battle of James Brown vs Slavko Avsenik.

Today is the birthday of Slavko Avsenik, born Nov 26th 1929.  The music might be the butt of Rock & Roll jokes, but try arguing with the success of this Slovene Cultural Icon.

12 million record sales, 31 gold, two diamond and a platinum record.  Composer of 1,000 numbers.  In 1961 he headlined in front of a crowd of 80,000 in Berlin.

Translated into English lyrics his music became the hits of the “Cleveland-Style” and his compositions have been recorded by all the giants; Johnny Pecon, Hank Haller, Fred Ziwich, Fred Kuhar, the Fairport Ensemble, Al Markic, Roger Bright, Al Tercek, and Cilka Dolgan.

He wrote “the most played instrumental song in the world” called variously Trumpet Echoes, or Na Golici or Trompeten-Echo.

OK, my tongue hurts I’ve been biting it so hard.  I rate Polka music as being way less cool than country music and I don’t rate country music.  But hey, all those crowds of prosperous germanic looking people really dig this stuff, and who am I to argue with success?

 

Happy Birthday Isaac Rosenberg

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Isaac Rosenberg – Self Portrait – 1915

Born in Britain to a family of immigrant Lithuanian Jews, 25th November 1890.  In East London he gravitated towards the arts and was taken under the wing by Laurence Binyon and Edward Marsh.

He permanently suffered from bad health, bronchitis in particular, and emigrated to South Africa for the better air and warmer climate.  At the outbreak of WW1 he returned to Britain to do his duty and “get the trouble over” despite being anti-war.

Because of his small size, an outcome of poor health, he was assigned to a “Bantam” battalion which was a unit for men under the normal height.

He served for the entire war, despite bad health, until his death in action in 1918, producing some of the best poetry of the war.

As a side note the Tory Government of the UK today would not allow Rosenbergs family into the country if they have their way.  Priti Patel, herself a daughter of immigrants, wants to close the door.  England had no better servant than Isaac Rosenberg.

 

Break Of Day In The Trenches; by Isaac Rosenberg

The darkness crumbles away
it is the same old druid Time as ever,
only a live thing leaps my hand,
a queer sardonic rat,
as I pull the parapet’s poppy
to stick behind my ear.

Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew
your cosmopolitan sympathies,
now you have touched this English hand
you will do the same to a German
soon, no doubt, if it be your pleasure
to cross the sleeping green between.

It seems you inwardly grin as you pass
strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes,
less chanced than you for life,
bonds to the whims of murder,
sprawled in the bowels of the earth,
the torn fields of France.

What do you see in our eyes
at the shrieking iron and flame
hurled through still heavens?
What quaver -what heart aghast?
Poppies whose roots are in men’s veins
drop, and are ever dropping;
but mine in my ear is safe,
just a little white with the dust.

Missing Treasure

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November 24th, 1971, the man known in the media as D.B. Cooper booked a ticket from Portland Oregon to Seattle Washington.

He told the air hostess he had a bomb (showing her cylinders wired in this briefcase) and demanded that the flight be met in Seattle with €200,000, four parachutes and a refuelling truck.  That money is worth about €1.3 million in todays terms.

When the demands were met he allowed the passengers and cabin crew to depart in Seattle and told the Pilot to fly to Mexico.  He told them to fly as slowly as possible without stalling the aircraft and to leave the undercarriage deployed.  The rear exit door was left open for the flight.

Cooper parachuted from the aircraft somewhere between Seattle and Nevada.

Despite a massive manhunt he was never found.  In 1980 a young boy camping with his family found three stacks of 20 dollar bills that came from the ransom.  The stash amounted to €5,800.

The case remains the only unsolved act of air piracy in commercial aviation history.  Arr me hearties.  X marks the spot!

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