Tuesday, 3 October 2023

Thunder and Lightning – André Rieu

Thunder and lightning!

In this rendition by André Rieu and the Johann Strauss Orchestra the polka is played at a fast and furious pace and sometimes seems in danger of running away with itself. 

It's great fun, though, and certainly gets the toes tapping. All the members of this privately owned orchestra look as though they are really enjoying the experience and surely that should be the case with all music performances.

André Rieu founded The Johann Strauss Orchestra in 1987 with twelve members. Now there are more than 50 musicians who travel around the world to perform concerts in large venues.

The Austrian violinist and composer Johann Strauss II, (Strauss the Younger)  wrote the Thunder and Lightning Polka (Unter Donner und Blitz) in 1868.  He composed it in Vienna for the Artists’ Ball. He was known in his lifetime as ‘The Waltz King’ and wrote over 500 pieces of dance music, as well as operettas and a ballet. He is credited with popularising the waltz in 19th century Vienna.

We have had thunder and lightning today. It had been forecast for many days, but the weather sometimes passes us by. Our 'thunderstorm' was rather pathetic but maybe we'll have more action later. I may live to regret that last sentence! 

Our storm was more on a par with the nursery action rhyme:

I hear thunder, I hear thunder.

Hark! Don’t you? Hark! Don’t you?

Pitter, patter raindrops, pitter, patter, raindrops.

I’m wet through, so are you!

Monday, 2 October 2023

The Teddy Bear's Picnic

The Teddy Bears’ Picnic

 The name teddy bear came from President Theodore Roosevelt, whose childhood name, which he disliked, was Teddy. The first teddy bears were created in 1902 and quickly became very popular, following a bear-hunting trip in which Roosevelt took part. He was unable to locate a bear, unlike others in the party, so someone caught and beat a black bear and tied it to a tree and invited Roosevelt to shoot it. He thought that was unsportsmanlike and refused, asking someone else to shoot it to put it out of its misery. A political cartoonist, Clifford Berryman, seized on this incident, depicting Roosevelt with his back turned to the bear and The Washington Post published it.

Clifford Berryman's cartoon, Washington Post, November 16th, 1902

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons     

The music for The Teddy Bears’ Picnic was written by American composer John Walter Bratton in 1907. It started life as the ‘Teddy Bear Two-Step’ and was often used to accompany circus acts. The words, by Irish songwriter Jimmy Kennedy, were written in 1932 and the Two-Step was renamed The Teddy Bears’ Picnic.

In the same year, Henry Hall and his orchestra recorded the song with the singer Val Rosing. The recording was of such high quality that it was used by BBC sound engineers until the early 1980s to assess audio equipment.

If you go down in the woods today, you're sure of a big surprise
If you go down in the woods today, you'd better go in disguise
For every bear that ever there was
Will gather there for certain because
Today's the day the teddy bears have their picnic

Every teddy bear who's been good is sure of a treat today
There's lots of marvelous things to eat and wonderful games to play
Beneath the trees where nobody sees
They'll hide and seek as long as they please
That's the way the teddy bears have their picnic

Picnic time for teddy bears
The little teddy bears are having a lovely time today
Watch them, catch them unawares
And see them picnic on their holiday

See them gaily gad about
They love to play and shout
They never have any cares
At six o'clock their mummies and daddies
Will take them back home to bed
'Cause they're tired little teddy bears

If you go down in the woods today, you'd better not go alone
It's lovely down in the woods today, but safer to stay at home
For every bear that ever there was
Will gather there for certain because
Today's the day the teddy bears have their picnic

Some critics have claimed that the lyrics are grim and menacing and not at all suitable for children.  Not everyone likes the song. I think it’s rather charming and I really like teddy bears!

                                Here is someone who's gone 'in disguise'

The 1992 illustrations in my board book version are by Michael Hague, an American illustrator who has created drawings for many books,  mainly children’s.

Sunday, 1 October 2023

Traditional pursuits in October – part 1

Traditional pursuits in October – part 1

Two children playing Pease Porridge hot
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

October 1st is the traditional start of the English Pudding Season. (No, I didn’t know there was such a thing, either!)

September is harvest time and was traditionally followed by the slaughtering of animals and the preservation of their meat. Keeping animals not needed for breeding would require them to be fed throughout the winter, an expense most families would not wish to incur. By October 1st most of the slaughtering would have been completed and the meat salted to preserve it. Women would then start making puddings and pies.

In days of yore, English puddings were savoury. Ingredients included meat, vegetables and spices and sometimes dried fruits were added, to give sweetness.

The word ‘pudding’ derives from the French ‘boudin’ by way of the Latin ‘botellus’. ‘Boudin’ is a French kind of black pudding and ‘botellus’ means small sausage. So, traditional English puddings were essentially sausages! Mediaeval puddings were mainly meat-based. Black pudding is described as a traditional delicacy, though I’m not sure that’s really the right word as black pudding is not ‘dainty’. It is made from animal blood, usually from pigs. It is mixed with fat, onions, cereal and seasoning.  White pudding is similar but doesn’t contain blood.

By the 17th century English puddings could be either savoury or sweet.

One mediaeval dish that is still eaten, particularly in North Eastern England, is pease pudding or porridge. It is usually made from yellow split peas and spices and is often cooked with a ham joint. It is similar in texture to houmous (hummus).  

The nursery rhyme is a clapping game between two children, who stand opposite each other. They clap their own hands on the first word, right hands with each other on the second, own hands on the third,  left hands with each other, own hands and then both hands with their partner. The sequence is repeated, getting faster with each repetition until one of the pair makes a mistake or they both collapse in a heap of giggles.                                                                                 


Pease pudding hot
Pease pudding cold
Pease pudding in the pot
Nine days old

Some like it hot
Some like it cold
Some like it in the pot
Nine days old

It is very entertaining watching children playing clapping games. The nimbleness they display is impressive and it would be a shame if such pastimes lapsed. Among other things, clapping games promote memory skills, improve fine motor control, and encourage concentration. 

The following clip shows two girls playing a traditional clapping game.

Saturday, 30 September 2023

Michaelmas Day


Michaelmas Day

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday, September 29th, was Michaelmas Day, Là Fhéill Micheil, the Feast of Michael and All Angels. It marks the end of harvest and the beginning of autumn and its shorter days. The archangel Michael was the leader of Heaven’s armies and defeated Lucifer.

Traditionally, blackberries should not be picked after St Michael’s Day because that was the date that Lucifer was expelled from Heaven as punishment for his dreadful deeds. He landed in a bramble bush, and burnt, stamped and spat upon the berries so picking them after that date is not advisable.

A traditional Michaelmas meal might consist of a goose fattened on the stubble of the harvested fields and carrots. This meal foretold good luck for the coming year. Sometimes the day was known as ‘Goose Day’ and goose fairs were held, when labourers looking for work after harvest could be hired.

Nottingham Goose Fair still takes place around this date. It is said that Queen Elizabeth I was eating goose when she heard that the Spanish Armada had been defeated and declared that she would eat goose on Michaelmas Day. Thus was a tradition formed.

The name ‘Goose Fair’ was first recorded in 1541-1542, though it probably had been in existence since the Charter of King Edward I (who reigned 1272 to 1307) referred to Nottingham city fairs, around 1284. 20,000 geese raised and fattened in the Lincolnshire fens each year were driven to Nottingham to be sold.  Goose Fair used to be held for eight days from September 21st but was moved to early October in 1752, after the adoption of the Gregorian calendar.

                                Sculpture of goose girl, Wittingen, Lower Saxony, Germany
                                                     Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Asters, also known as Michaelmas daisies, are associated with Michaelmas Day. They are perennial, nectar and pollen-rich flowers which bloom in late summer and autumn and come in a variety of colours from white to pink, purple, blue and red. They are easy to grow in all but the most difficult soils, like heavy clay.

Asters are named after the Greek for ‘star’ because their flowers resemble stars. The flowers were formed from the tears of Astraea, the ‘Starry Maid’, the Greek goddess of innocence, who cried when she saw there were no stars on earth.

Asters signify love, wisdom and faith and became representative of love after being offered on altars to the gods. In the Language of Flowers they symbolised love, patience and wisdom, as well as elegance and grace, two qualities greatly admired by the Victorians.

A posy of asters carries the message that the recipient should take care of themselves for the sender. Different colours say different things. Purple asters stand for dignity and admiration. Pink flowers symbolise innocence and love and white flowers also represent innocence as well as purity. Blue asters signify faithfulness and trustworthiness.

Friday, 29 September 2023

Reading in accents

Reading in accents

When an author depicts a character as living in or from a particular geographic location I find myself reading in the accent of that character. This is fine if all the characters are ‘local’ but if the story includes individuals from diverse parts of the country it can become quite trying.

Some authors are adept at writing in the distinctive speech rhythms and patterns of different localities, but others are not and it can be quite jarring. With yet other authors it doesn’t matter at all and I read in my normal voice. I don’t read aloud, of course . . . well, not often.

I have recently read books set in Norfolk, Lincolnshire, Dorset and Kent, with all of whose cadences I am familiar. I have family in Norfolk and Dorset, went to college in Lincolnshire and was born and brought up in Kent. I have also lived in Ireland, Wiltshire, Cambridgeshire and West Midlands (and Germany, where I spoke poor German!) and for much time past have lived in Berkshire.

Although familiarity with a regional accent is useful it does not prepare one for a ‘deep-dyed’ local. One day, my son-in-law, Paul, met an acquaintance in Dorset and started talking to him. I happened to be there but could not understand a word his acquaintance said. It was a most extraordinary experience.

I learnt later that the Dorset dialect stems from Old West Saxon and is preserved in the Blackmore Vale, where this encounter took place. Paul was speaking standard English with a Dorset inflection while his acquaintance was responding in rapid dialect. It was fascinating and quite musical and completely incomprehensible to an outsider.                                       

The following is from William Barnes’ book, ‘Poems of Rural Life in the Dorset Dialect’.

Ees; now mahogany’s the goo,

An’ good wold English woak won’t do.

I wish vo’k always mid auvord

Hot meals upon a woakèn bwoard,

As good as think that took my cup

An’ trencher all my growèn up

(‘Wold’ is ‘old’, ‘woak’ is ‘oak’, ‘vo’k’ is ‘folk’ . . . )

William Barnes (1801-1886) was a polymath, poet, priest and artist among other things. He believed strongly that foreign words should not be brought into the English language, saying that ‘strong old Anglo-Saxon speech’ should prevail.

Everyone who has read or watched Harry Potter knows at least one Dorset word. Dumbledore is dialect for bumblebee.

  This is the 1972 Yetties version of "Dorset is Beautiful", originally written by Bob Gale from Beaminster....

Oh! Dorset is a'beautiful wherever you go

 And the rain in the summer-time makes the wurzle tree grow

 When you're sitting in the spring-time in the thunder and the hail,

With your true love, on a turnip plant, to hear the sweet nightingale...

As I was a'walking one morning with a lass,

Two Dorsetshire farmers I chanced for to pass.

And one said to the other as we went strolling by;

"There be more birds in the long grass than there be in the sky"

Oh! Nellie is my girlfriend and I loves her so.

Her's as big as an haystack and 40 years old.

 Farmer says hers ginormous and loud do he scoff

For you has to leave a chalk mark to show where you left off.

 Farmer looks at young Gwendoline and he looks at young Ned

"What a handsome young couple, they ought to be wed".

Farmer says sadly "It's impossible of course

For Gwendoline is my daughter and Ned he is my horse".

One day as her went milking with Nellie the cow,

Her pulled and her tugged but her didn't know how.

So after a short while, Nellie turned with a frown,

                    Saying "You hang on tight love and I'll jump up and down".

Thursday, 28 September 2023

War horses


War horses

'Goodbye, Old Man' by Fortunino Matania (1881-1963) 

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I am indebted to Joan(Devon) for introducing me to the Brooke Charity for horses, donkeys and mules. I must also thank her and Willie for telling me about the poem, ‘A Soldier’s Kiss’ by Henry Lang Chappell (1874-1937)

Henry Chappell worked at Bath railway station for most of his life and was a prolific poet.


A Soldier’s Kiss


Only a dying horse! pull off the gear,

And slip the needless bit from frothing jaws,

Drag it aside there, leaving the road clear.

The battery thunders on with scarce a pause.


Prone by the shell-swept highway there it lies

With quivering limbs, as fast the life-tide fails,

Dark films are closing o’er the faithful eyes

That mutely plead for aid where none avails.


Onward the battery rolls, but one there speeds

Heedlessly of comrades voice or bursting shell,

Back to the wounded friend who lonely bleeds

Beside the stony highway where he fell.


Only a dying horse! he swiftly kneels,

Lifts the limp head and hears the shivering sigh

Kisses his friend, while down his cheek there steals

Sweet pity’s tear, ‘Goodbye old man. Goodbye’.


No honours wait him, medal, badge or star,

Though scarce could war a kindlier deed unfold;

He bears within his breast, more precious far

Beyond the gift of kings, a heart of gold.

The Brooke Charity owes its existence to Dorothy Brooke. Living in Egypt and knowing of the plight of war horses abandoned at the end of the First World War she appealed for funds to alleviate their suffering. With generous donations, she was able to found the Old War Horse Memorial Hospital in Cairo. The work expanded and today the charity helps to care for working horses, donkeys and mules in countries including Ethiopia, Latin America and India.

Wednesday, 27 September 2023


Are you Scottish?

 There are pronunciation guides online if you get stuck 😉

Thunder and Lightning – André Rieu

Thunder and lightning! In this rendition by  André  Rieu and the Johann Strauss Orchestra the polka is played at a fast and furious pace and...