Badger Day

DawnGroundhog

Here is a photo from my house this morning.  As you can see the sky is clear, promising a clear dawn and a sunny sky.  Which according to Pensylvania Dutch tradition is a disaster.  Because today is groundhog day, and if the critter sees his shadow he goes back into the burrow and winter lasts another 6 weeks.

Yesterday was Lá Féile Bríde here in Ireland, St Bridgets Day, which sits upon the older pagan feast of Imbolc, the first cross quarter day.  Imbolc marks the beginning of the Celtic spring and involved various fertility rites.

In Ireland we don’t have groundhogs so we don’t actually celebrate groundhog day.  Of course before they arrived in Pensylvania the Dutch did not have groundhogs either.  But they did have badgers.  So apparently you can celebrate badger day.

Sadly there is little cute or cuddly about what happens in Ireland and England to Badgers.  Badger baiting is considered by some to be a “sport”.  They train dogs to fight with badgers, often rescue or kidnapped dogs, because the dogs are damaged in the fights.  They would not risk a valuable animal, so these dogs are considered to be “disposable” and are treated accordingly.  The poem below by John Clare is a pretty fair description of the practice in all its cruelty.  Clare was born in 1793, son of a farm labourer.  He is an important 19th century poet because he gives us a view of life at the bottom of the social divide.

At the bottom I will include some photos from modern badger baiting.  It is an abhorrent practice that serves no purpose but to entertain the foulest of people.  If you are a sensitive type you will not want to look at those photos.

 

Badger: by John Clare

The badger grunting on his woodland track
With shaggy hide and sharp nose scrowed with black
Roots in the bushes and the woods, and makes
A great high burrow in the ferns and brakes.
With nose on ground he runs an awkward pace,
And anything will beat him in the race.
The shepherd’s dog will run him to his den
Followed and hooted by the dogs and men.
The woodman when the hunting comes about
Goes round at night to stop the foxes out
And hurrying through the bushes to the chin
Breaks the old holes, and tumbles headlong in.
When midnight comes a host of dogs and men
Go out and track the badger to his den,
And put a sack within the hole, and lie
Till the old grunting badger passes bye.
He comes and hears—they let the strongest loose.
The old fox hears the noise and drops the goose.
The poacher shoots and hurries from the cry,
And the old hare half wounded buzzes bye.
They get a forked stick to bear him down
And clap the dogs and take him to the town,
And bait him all the day with many dogs,
And laugh and shout and fright the scampering hogs.
He runs along and bites at all he meets:
They shout and hollo down the noisy streets.
He turns about to face the loud uproar
And drives the rebels to their very door.
The frequent stone is hurled where e’er they go;
When badgers fight, then every one’s a foe.
The dogs are clapt and urged to join the fray;
The badger turns and drives them all away.
Though scarcely half as big, demure and small,
He fights with dogs for bones and beats them all.
The heavy mastiff, savage in the fray,
Lies down and licks his feet and turns away.
The bulldog knows his match and waxes cold,
The badger grins and never leaves his hold.
He drives the crowd and follows at their heels
And bites them through—the drunkard swears and reels.
The frighted women take the boys away,
The blackguard laughs and hurries on the fray.
He tries to reach the woods, an awkward race,
But sticks and cudgels quickly stop the chase.
He turns again and drives the noisy crowd
And beats the many dogs in noises loud.
He drives away and beats them every one,
And then they loose them all and set them on.
He falls as dead and kicked by boys and men,
Then starts and grins and drives the crowd again;
Till kicked and torn and beaten out he lies
And leaves his hold and cackles, groans, and dies.
Some keep a baited badger tame as hog
And tame him till he follows like the dog.
They urge him on like dogs and show fair play.
He beats and scarcely wounded goes away.
Lapt up as if asleep, he scorns to fly
And seizes any dog that ventures nigh.
Clapt like a dog, he never bites the men
But worries dogs and hurries to his den.
They let him out and turn a harrow down
And there he fights the host of all the town.
He licks the patting hand, and tries to play
And never tries to bite or run away,
And runs away from the noise in hollow trees
Burnt by the boys to get a swarm of bees.

 

Badger1

Badger2

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Plump, plumb, plum.

HayamiGyoshu

Tea Bowl & Fruits by Hayami Gyoshu

Plump comes from a dutch word meaning blunt, not sharp, rounded.  It now means full with fruits or overweight with people.  It has become something of an insult, equating with being fat.  You can plump up cushions or pillows to make them fuller and more rounded.

Plum, the fruit, may be plump, but the origin of their name is not dutch.   It seems that the ancient Greek proumnon (prune) evolved into Plum by the time it reached here as Old English.

A plumb may be shaped like a plum, but the word derives from the latin for lead; plumbum.  A plumb is a lead weight attached to a line used in building to measure if a vertical is true.   It is also used in sailing to measure the depth of water beneath a vessel.

 

This Is Just To Say: by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Battle of Plassey

Clive

Robert, 1st Baron Clive of Plassey

On this day in the year 1757 Robert Clive led his army of 3,000 soldiers against an Indian and French army of 50,000 at the village of Palashi, north of modern day Kolkata.  On the morning of this day the British position in India was highly uncertain.  The French or the Dutch could easily have ended up as paramount European power in India.

After the battle of Plassey the French were neutralised.  Two years later the British were able to consolidate their position by defeating the Dutch at the battle of Chinsurah.

The Battle of Plassey was won by two secret weapons; bribery and tarpaulins.  Clive negotiated a deal with Mir Jafar and a group of senior Indians.  Jafar commanded the left wing of the Indian forces at Plassey, and defected to the British for a bribe.  There was also an issue of two different sets of treaties that were drawn up to hoodwink certain of the conspirators.  Sadly this type of double dealing is all too common in the history of British diplomatic dealings.  Beware perfidious Albion.

On the military side the victory was not assured.  The early stages of the battle were a stalemate as the French and English artillery pounded at each other with little strategic effect.  Then the rain came down.  The French and Indian artillery saw their powder drenched.  Their fire rates plummeted.

This was the signal for the massive Indian cavalry contingent to sweep the British from the field.  They charged the British guns only to be decimated by a hail of grapeshot.  The British had tarpaulins and they deployed them to keep the powder dry.  This simple expedient turned the course of the battle and gave the day to Robert Clive.  The ennobled Clive built his Estate in County Clare in Ireland and named it Plassey Estate.

Across the Shannon River Thomas Maunsell, scion of another General of the British Army on the day named his Limerick House after the battle, Plassey House.  These lands now house Limerick University.  Students nickname the building “The White House”.

 

Missing the target

Tasmanroutes

It was on this day in 1642 that Abel Tasman discovered the island that bears his name.  Tasman is an explorer that I feel sorry for.  He is not remembered as a ‘great’ explorer like Captain Cook.  In his own lifetime his employers, the Dutch East India Company, expressed their disappointment with his findings.  They thought that a more diligent explorer might have made a better fist of mapping and exploring the territories that he found.

On his first voyage of discovery he sailed right around Australia, and managed to miss it!  Quite a feat.

When you see his track in 1642 it does seem very much like a sail by and not a discovery trip.  And when he did hit Tasmania, was he not curious to see how far north he could map the land?  But bear in mind the sailing technology of the time!  He was doing his best with what he had.  It was a huge task for them to land at all in Tasmania.  One of his crew had to swim to shore in a storm to plant a flag.  He tried to sail north but was blown away by the weather.  Even today the Bass Strait has a bit of a reputation with sailors.

He found New Zealand and he did not discover the Cook Straight which divides the islands, he thought it was a long inlet.  But then he thought that he was on the west coast of South America.  Remember that the charts were not very accurate in those days.  Also, they were under constant attack by the Maori on the coast of New Zealand, and had to use their cannon more than once to defend themselves.

The East India Company were not interested in maps.  They were looking for trade goods to bring back to Europe or areas to exploit and colonize.  They were disappointed because he found neither.  Had the weather been more favourable Tasman might have stumbled upon Botany Bay 100 years before Cook.

It is easy to criticize the failings of past explorers when we have the complete map in front of us.  But given the Charts and directions that were available to Tasman would we do any better?  He had no way to calculate longitude, only dead reckoning.  And yet he rounded the Australian continent on his first voyage and found his way safely home.  On his second voyage he confirmed the existence of the fabled ‘Terra incognita australis’ and mapped most of its north coastline.  He filled in a lot of knowledge gaps and gave subsequent explorers a far better idea of where to look.

Discovery of the New World: By Carter Revard

The creatures that we met this morning
marveled at our green skins
and scarlet eyes.
They lack antennae
and can’t be made to grasp
your proclamation that they are
our lawful food and prey and slaves,
nor can they seem to learn
their body-space is needed to materialize
our oxygen absorbers –
which they conceive are breathing
and thinking creatures whom they implore
at first as angels or (later) as devils
when they are being snuffed out
by an absorber swelling
into their space.
Their history bled from one this morning
while we were tasting his brain
in holographic rainbows
which we assembled into quite an interesting
set of legends –
that’s all it came to, though
the colors were quite lovely before we
poured them into our time;
the blue shift bleached away
meaningless circumstance and they would not fit
any of our truth-matrices –
there was, however,
a curious visual echo in their history
of our own coming to their earth;
a certain General Sherman
had said concerning a group of them
exactly what we were saying to you
about these creatures:
it is our destiny to asterize this planet,
and they will not be asterized,
so they must be wiped out.
We need their space and oxygen
which they do not know how to use,
yet they will not give up their gas unforced,
and we feel sure,
whatever our “agreements” made this morning,
we’ll have to kill them all:
the more we cook this orbit,
the fewer next time around.
We’ve finished burning all their crops
and killed their cattle.
They’ll have to come into our pens
and then we’ll get to study
the way our heart attacks and cancers spread among them,
since they seem not immune to these.
If we didn’t have this mission it might be sad
to see such helpless creatures die,
but never fear,
the riches of this place are ours
and worth whatever pain others may have to feel.
We’ll soon have it cleared
as in fact it is already, at the poles.
Then we will be safe, and rich, and happy here forever.

Slooterdijck

Image

Aemilia (1631) Galleon of Dutch East India Company

This rude looking word is the name of a Dutch town.  It gets its name from a dike (dijck) built on the river Sloter or Slooter, to prevent flooding from the Zuider Zee.

In the 17th Century the name was adopted for one of the 9 Dutch Galleons which fought the Ming navy for control of the Taiwan strait back in 1633.  The Dutch lost.  Three galleons were sunk and Slooterdijck was boarded and captured by the Chinese.

Slooterdijck was notable because she was a “Kit Ship”, essentially a Flat Pack vessel that was shipped out from Holland and assembled in the Indies.

The Galleon was a development from two earlier ships of exploration.  The Caravel was a small, lateen rigged, shallow draught ship (think of the Niña & Pinta of Columbus).  The Carrack or Nao (Santa Maria for instance) was a larger, square sailed, less stable and unwieldy ship more suited for cargo.  The Galleon combined the best of both.  By lengthening the keel and lowering the forecastle the Portuguese developed a faster and more stable ocean going ship.  Smaller and more maneuverable than the Carrack, the Galleon rapidly developed a reputation as an effective all-rounder for exploration, trade and battle.  Big enough to carry significant armament and stable enough to fight, it became the battleship of its day.

From the mid 16th century Galleons were adopted by Portuguese, Spanish, French, Dutch and English fleets.  They remained in service until they were replaced by more specialised vessels in the 18th Century. Hence, the Galleon ruled the waves for 150 years more or less.  Though the early voyages of discovery were made in Naos or Carracks the great sea empires were built by the Galleon.

As time went by galleons developed for more specialised roles.  Some became larger and more suited to cargo carrying, and evolved into the East Indiamen.  Others were strengthened and became specialised military ships of the line.  Razed galleons were cut lower and lower to the waterline for increased speed and stability and evolved into frigates.

The reasons for these evolutions have more to do with the guns than with the Galleons themselves.  The primary ship to ship battle tactic of the Galleon was boarding.  The guns on board were slow to load and fire.  During the battles of the Spanish Armada it is calculated that each Spanish Gun fired on average only once per day.  By contrast the smaller English ships and their lighter guns could fire once per hour.

As gun technology advanced the gunners designed specialised trucks to carry shipboard guns, which the gun team could haul inboard for reloading, and push outboard for firing.  As the rate of fire increased ship to ship actions developed more into shooting matches than boarding actions.  This culminated in the invention of the broadside, firing of all guns simultaneously to disable an enemy both physically and mentally.

By the Napoleonic wars the Royal Navy had given up on the idea of firing accuracy in favour of reloading speed.  While the French and Spanish ships wasted their effort targeting the masts of British ships to disable them for capture, the British concentrated on closing up to bring the full impact of the broadside to bear.  Once beside their foe the British ship had the advantage of a higher rate of fire.  Even with smaller guns that was often enough to carry the day.

In a gun to gun action the high fore and stern castles of the Galleons, so useful for boarding,  became a liability.  They presented larger targets and made the ship more susceptible to cross winds than a lower vessel.

The only surviving original galleon is the Vasa in Stockholm which sank in 1628 all of 1,400 yards into her maiden voyage, in full view of her audience.  In an incident similar to the sinking of that other famous preserved wreck, the Carrack Mary Rose, it seems she had her lower gun ports open to fire a salute.  A gust of wind caught her by surprise and the gun-ports dipped below the waterline, flooding the ship.

If you have read this far, well done you salty old sea dog.  You are clearly a lover of all things nautical.  So here is another treat for you.

Psalm 107:23 (KJ V)

 They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;

 These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.

For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof.

They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble.

 They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit’s end.

Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses.

He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.

Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven.