Ye goode olde dayes.

Myles_Birket_Foster_-_The_Country_Inn

The Country Inn: Myles Birket Foster

Born on this day in 1859 AE Housman was too old to serve in Flanders Field but he was a poet ahead of his time.  The sentimentality of his poetry conjures up the nostalgia of a bucolic idyll of an England that never was.  His verse was the poetic equivalent of the chocolate box art of John Constable and Myles Birket Foster.  His nostalgia for a simpler and more wholesome life is reflected in JRR Tolkien’s image of the Shire from Lord of the Rings.  I like the lyric from the Kinks “Muswell Hilbillies” which says “Take me back to the black hills where I ain’t never been”.

World War One began with the Jingoistic and Triumphalist doggerel of music hall verse singing of the glories of adventure:  It’s a long way to Tipperary!

It then moved towards sacrificial verse like Rupert Brooke’s “The Soldier” and of Housman which said “This is what we are fighting for”.

Eventually it descended into the true war poets like Sassoon, Owen and McCrae who expressed the absolute futility of young lives thrown away.

 

A Shropshire Lad 53; by A.E. Housman

The lad came to the door at night,
when lovers crown their vows,
and whistled soft and out of sight
in shadow of the boughs.

‘I shall not vex you with my face
henceforth, my love, for aye;
so take me in your arms a space
before the east is grey.

‘When I from hence away am past
I shall not find a bride,
and you shall be the first and last
I ever lay beside.’

She heard and went and knew not why;
her heart to his she laid;
light was the air beneath the sky
but dark under the shade.

‘Oh do you breathe, lad, that your breast
seems not to rise and fall,
and here upon my bosom prest
there beats no heart at all?’

‘Oh loud, my girl, it once would knock,
you should have felt it then;
but since for you I stopped the clock
it never goes again.’

‘Oh lad, what is it, lad, that drips
wet from your neck on mine?
What is it falling on my lips,
my lad, that tastes of brine?’

‘Oh like enough ’tis blood, my dear,
for when the knife has slit
the throat across from ear to ear
’twill bleed because of it.’

Dear Mr. Vernon

Image result for the breakfast club

Molly Ringwald was born February 18th, 1968.  A member of the bratpack which churned out a raft of John Hughes movies in the 1980’s and probably best remembered as the Princess in the Breakfast Club.

 

The Essay from the end of the movie:

Dear Mr. Vernon,

we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole saturday in detention for whatever it is we did wrong, but we think you’re crazy for making us write an essay telling you who we think we are.

You see us as you want to see us, in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions.

But what we found out, is that each one of us is a brain,

and an athlete,

and a basketcase,

a princess,

and a criminal.

Does that answer your question?

Sincerely yours,

The Breakfast Club.

 

Cue Simple Minds “Don’t you forget about me” as the Breakfast Club 5 ride into the sunset.

 

Happy Birthday Eleanor Farjeon

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Born this day in 1881 Farjeon is best known as a childrens writer.  She is also the author of the Hymn “Morning Has Broken” set to an old Gaelic air, which was made famous by Cat Stevens, in 1971, six years after Eleanor passed away.

But she saw the men march off to war more than once and this is a very adult poem I give you.  Eleanor was good friends with the poet Edward Thomas who died in 1917 at Arras, and remained a lifelong friend of his widow, Helen, publishing their correspondence in 1958.

 

Now that You Too Must Shortly Go; by Eleanor Farjeon

Now that you too must shortly go the way
which in these bloodshot years uncounted men
have gone in vanishing armies day by day,
and in their numbers will not come again:

I must not strain the moments of our meeting
striving for each look, each accent, not to miss,
or question of our parting and our greeting,
is this the last of all? is this—or this?

Last sight of all it may be with these eyes,
last touch, last hearing, since eyes, hands, and ears,
even serving love, are our mortalities,
and cling to what they own in mortal fears:—
But oh, let end what will, I hold you fast
by immortal love, which has no first or last.

The Humble Herring

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I have to admit I was never a great fan of herring.  It’s those tiny pesky bones you get in small fish that annoyed me.  We had fresh herring regularly when I was a kid.  That was back in the days when eating fish on Friday was de-rigeur for Catholic families.

Herring was cheap.  So was Whiting, Mackerel and Cods Roe.  As a kid, at the elbow of my mother when she was shopping, you picked these things up.  So knowing it was cheap probably reduced its desirability in my young mind.

But more to the point, my mother would pan fry herrings or grill them and what made Friday special was deep fried fish and chips.  My favourite was deep fried smoked cod.

But herring was an engine of the Industrial Revolution, and in the time before we figured out canning it was one of the most important foods for armies.  So important that there was a Battle of the Herrings fought, on this day, in 1429.  During the Siege of Órleans a supply column was successfully defended from attack at the town of Rouvray to protect the vital supply of food to the English forces.

The English protector of the herrings was none other than Sir John Falstaff, made famous by the plays of Shakespeare.

Herrings were abundantly available in Northern Europe.  Until the modern era and the arrival of the Factory Trawler it seemed that they would never run short.  Herring stocks recover very quickly as they are a fast breeding fish.  The vast shoals were followed and harvested by great fleets of small fishing boats.  Fishermen derived their living from the abundance of this one fish.  Entire communities were engaged in the processing and preservation of the catch.

The fresh fish is still prized in Baltic countries where it is dipped in chopped onions and downed with a shot of aquavit or vodka.

But it is the fact that you can preserve the little oily fish easily that made them the staple of the working class populations.  First farm labourers, then soldiers and eventually poor industrial town populations relied heavily on this cheap and easily replenshed source of protein.

You can simply fillet them and salt them and store them in barrels.  That is probably what the English were defending at the battle of the herrings.  But you can also use a wide variety of other preservation techniques.  Pickling, fermenting and smoking of some variety turn into hundreds of local variants when you carry out some research.

So popular a fish it is of course celebrated in poem and song.  Here is the Clancy Brothers version of the highly popular “Shoals of Herring”

 

Shoals of Herring

The strange death of Claude Vivier

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Claude Vivier was 34 when his body was found in his Paris flat on March 12th 1983.   The Canadian born classical music composer was a student of Karlheinz Stockhausen.  His music was concerned with life, death and the afterlife.

When his body was found there was a manuscript on the table for a work titled “Glaubst du an die Unsterblichkeit der Seele?” – (Do you believe in the immortality of the soul?).

The work describes how he takes a journey on the Metro and notices a handsome young man (yes Vivier was openly gay), and he becomes attracted to him.  The music ends with the sung line “then he removed a dagger from his jacket and stabbed me through the heart“.

Vivier had been stabbed to death 5 days earlier by a homeless french gay prostitute; Pascal Dolzan.

 

 

Happy Birthday Rudyard Kipling

Kipling in 1895

Despite being a nobel prize winning author Rudyard Kipling is a divisive figure in the modern world.  Many of his poems, novels and short stories are schoolboy classics.  But he represents the most obnoxious, biased and jingoistic elements of British Imperialism.   One thing is certain; he was a prolific writer and he has left us a wealth of poetry, not all of which is doggerel.  Born in India, December 30th, 1865, in the days when the sun did not set on the British Empire, and when the world map was a sea of pink, the colour used to pick out the Empire.

 

My Boy Jack? ; by Rudyard Kipling

‘Have you news of my boy Jack? ‘
Not this tide.

‘When d’you think that he’ll come back? ‘
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

‘Has anyone else had word of him? ‘
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
not with this wind blowing and this tide.

‘Oh, dear, what comfort can I find? ‘
None this tide,
nor any tide,
except he did not shame his kind –
not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.
Then hold your head up all the more,
this tide,
and every tide;
because he was the son you bore,
and gave to that wind blowing and that tide!