Category Archives: me

Penny for the Guy…

Cast your mind back. Back. Little bit further. Good. Elizabethan England. Henry VIII and his split from the church in Rome wasn’t all that long ago. Catholics v Protestants in fanatical ideological struggles (you would be passionate too if your immortal soul was on the line), and the Catholics had definitely got the shitty end of the stick. They had been fiercely persecuted under Elizabeth I, though not without provocation, as a series of plots and attacks – among them the war with Spain – sought to oust her and bring Catholicism back to Britain. The declaration that Catholic Mass was illegal though, predates the Spanish Armada.

When she died in 1603, English Catholics hoped that her successor, James I, would be more forgiving. His mum, after all, was Catholic. They were wrong though (it’s more complicated than that, obviously, but read this to find out more), and a group of 13 men came together under the leadership of Robert Catesby to do something about it. Their plan? Blow up the House of Lords. They’d get James I, a whole bunch of MPs who hated them, maybe even the Prince of Wales too for good measure.

Does this ring any bells? It should. Religion polarising people to such an extent that a fanatical, disaffected group comes together to make a stand – violence their final recourse. It could be modern-day London, Washington, you name it. Then they were conspirators, today they’d be terrorists. But it’s hard not to have some sympathy for their cause.

The conspirators got hold of 36 barrels of gunpowder, enough to pulverise the House of Lords, and stored them in a cellar just under the building. Guy Fawkes, who had 10 years of military experience fighting in the Spanish Netherlands in suppression of the Dutch Revolt, was given charge of the explosives. But as the group worked on the plot, it became clear that innocent people would be hurt or killed in the attack, including some people who even fought for more rights for Catholics. Some of the plotters started having second thoughts. One of the group members even sent an anonymous letter warning his friend, Lord Monteagle, to stay away from the Parliament on November 5th (though this may have been a fake).

The warning letter reached the King, and the King’s forces made plans to stop the conspirators. At midnight on 4 November, 1605, they stormed the cellars and caught Fawkes. Most of the conspirators fled London, trying to enlist support along the way. Several made a stand against the pursuing Sheriff of Worcester and his men at Holbeche House; in the ensuing battle Catesby was one of those shot and killed. At their trial on 27 January 1606, eight of the survivors, including Fawkes, were convicted and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

The Gunpowder Plot struck a very profound chord for the people of England. In fact, even today, the reigning monarch only enters the Parliament once a year, on what is called “the State Opening of Parliament”. Prior to the Opening, and according to custom, the Yeomen of the Guard search the cellars of the Palace of Westminster. Nowadays, the Queen and Parliament still observe this tradition. On the very night that the plot was foiled, bonfires were set alight to celebrate the safety of the King. The thwarting of the event was for years commemorated with church services, bell ringing and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes on a bonfire – hence today’s Guy Fawkes Night.

Are we partying in support of Fawkes’ execution or honoring his attempt to do away with the government? Perhaps it doesn’t really matter any more – politics have always been best sanitised by masquerading as a celebration.

In Lewes, fireworks night is a bit darker than at other paces. Bonfire societies parade down the streets in costumes, lighting fireworks, burning crosses and effigies as they go, all under the “no popery” standard. The event’s roots commemorate the burning of 17 Protestant martyrs by Catholics in the 16th century. Now, as well as the Pope and Guy Fawkes, you’ll see tableux and effigies of modern day baddies being burnt – George Bush, Saddam, even John Prescott. It’s an annual day of misrule, the costumes were originally to stop participants being recognised. Of course, while it’s not exactly politically correct, it’s hugely popular. If it does get shut down, it’ll probably because so many people go that Lewes can’t cope, not because we don’t want to see Iranian presidents being chucked on bonfires.

Now watch this, it’s worth it:

Boys, check your balls innit

Goolies Cancer – Jack and Mark’s stories – NHS Choices.

The Guy Quote: Aristotle

Aristotle. In short: the man. The brainy man. Greek philosopher, student of Plato, teacher of Alexander the Great, and one of Western thought’s most important figures. His writings were the first to create a comprehensive system of Western philosophy – morality and aesthetics, logic and science, politics and metaphysics – and yet only a third of them survived.

He covered physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology. His understanding of physical sciences lasted until Isaac Newton’s apple dropped, and we still talk about his philosophy today. There’s an excellent Wikipedia on him here, but below are some of my favourite sayings of his.

Love is one soul in two bodies.

A tyrant must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion. Subjects are less apprehensive of illegal treatment from a ruler whom they consider god-fearing and pious. On the other hand, they do less easily move against him, believing that he has the gods on his side.

All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsions, habit, reason, passion, desire.

All men by nature desire knowledge.

All paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind.

All virtue is summed up in dealing justly.

Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.

Character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion.

Courage is a mean with regard to fear and confidence.

In nine cases out of ten, a woman had better show more affection than she feels.

It is best to rise from life as from a banquet, neither thirsty nor drunken.

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[[ps – please check out some of my other quote collections here – The Guy Quote]]

Make that and party (courgette Norway disco)

THE INGREDIENTS:

4 large courgettes (not enormous though – if you’re American you won’t call them courgettes either, you’ll probably call them zucchini or something)
1 big-ass egg
1 fresh red chilli (deseeded and finely chopped)
1 heaped tablespoon of flour
a handful of fresh mint
1 lemon, zested and quartered
a good handful of freshly grated parmesan cheese
sea salt (Maldon of course) and some pepper
olive oil
half a tsp of cumin

Optional extras: maybe a bit of tinned sweetcorn or some bacon bits that are nice and crispy but not too big

THE METHOD:
Thick-grate the courgettes (scoop out the middles if you are up to it). Then put them into a clean tea towel and wrap them up and wring them out – loads of water will come out. You want this to happen. The more you can squeeze out the better. Plus it’s really satisfying.

Separate the egg and put the white in one bowl and the yolk in another. Add the courgette, pepper, flour, chilli, mint, lemon zest and parmesan to the yolk and mix it up with your hands. Don’t be shy. Get really stuck in. Whip the egg white up with a pinch of salt until stiff. Carefully that add to courgette mix (for fluffiness, you see, otherwise it gets dense).

Put a good couple of glugs of olive oil in the pan and put 5 or 6 fritters into your favourite big frying pan. They’ll be about a serving-spoon size each. The heat should be sizzly but not burny. They should need about 2.5 min on each side to go golden. Pop them on a bit of kitchen paper to degrease. Eat them up with maybe some creme fraiche or something. Bit of nice crisp salad.

AND FOR THE MUSIC:

Norway’s nu disco king Bjørn Torske. Low slung disco vibes with percussive change up and and bubbling bass lines give us a window into the type of tunes his new album has in store. Out on Smalltown Supersound on November 15th you can find out more here.

Botey with his bird. Mongolia (2010). Copyright me.

The Willow Pattern Story

I’ve been surrounded by blue and white china my whole life. Mum is a massive fan – the kitchen has always been packed with jugs, tureens, plates, dishes, and more, sometimes chipped but always loved. Thinking on it, it has been a massive influence on me, the idea that something utilitarian (a plate) can also have aesthetic value. This was drilled into me at an early age when I used to have to eat my food to see which Peter Rabbit plate I had. Then there’s The Dining Room Shop – Mum’s shop – which has always had gorgeous stuff – some really quite rare and beautiful (I’ve always liked the old Wedgwood, personally, especially the quite plain Jacobean (?) stuff).

Nowadays it’s a sort of collective term for knock-offs – usually transfers – of various other patterns. But Willow Pattern is named after an original Chinese design, first engraved by Thomas Minton in 1780. He was then followed by Royal Worcester, Spode, Adams, Wedgwood, the whole gang (Burgess and Leigh’s modern Willow has been in continuous production since 1922).

There’s a story behind the original pattern, and it’s quite beautiful. Look at the plate first. It might look like a single image, but there’s a whole narrative happening inside it.

Once upon a time, there was a very grand Mandarin (that’s his palace under the big tree) who had a stunning daughter, Koong-se. She was so beautiful that he had knew he could do very well out of marrying her to the right person.

He also had a secretary, Chang. A personable young man who, while doing the Mandarin’s acccounts, full head over heels with Koong-se, and she with him. It was proper love too. Not an infatuation but an all-consuming need. When he found out, the Mandarin was livid. How could this lowly secretary ever dream he was suitable for his daughter? Something had to be done.

Poor Chang was banished, and a huge fence was build around the gardens of the Mandarin’s palace – you can see it at the bottom of the dish – so that Chang could not get in, and Koong-se was trapped inside, a bird in a gilded cage.

One day she was standing at the water’s edge when she saw something in the water – a shell, with tiny little sails on it. She picked it out of the water and found inside a poem, and bead that she had given her lover. Chang was outside, and he still loved her.

But then – terrible news – the Mandarin came in to tell her that he had found a suitable match. Ta-jin, a powerful warrior Duke. Not only that, but he was on his way to meet his betrothed, with loads of jewels for her (that’s him on the boat on the left hand side, making his way to the palace).

Chang had a plan though. Disguised as a servant, he snuck in to that night’s banquet, and up to Koong-se’s room. They kissed and decided to make a break for it. The Mandarin and Ta-Jin had drunk themselves into a stupor, and the two lovers quietly crept out. But just as they were leaving, the Mandarin woke up and tore after them (that’s him chasing them over the bridge – she’s holding jewels and I think the Mandarin has a whip).

They just managed to escape, and hid with a maid who the Magistrate had already fired for conspiring with the lovers. Koong-se had given the casket of jewels to Chang, so the Mandarin, who was also a magistrate, swore that he would use the jewels as a pretext to execute Chang as a thief when he caught him.

One night the Mandarin’s spies reported that a man was hiding in a house by the river (on the plate it’s just behind the boat) and the Mandarin’s guards raided the house. But Chang had jumped into the ragging torrent and Koong-se thought that he had drowned.

Some days later the guards returned to search the house again. While Koong-se’s maid talked to them, Chang came by boat to the window and took Koong-se away to safety.

They settled on a distant island, and over the years Chang became famous for his writings. This was to prove his undoing. The Mandarin heard about him and sent guards to destroy him. Chang was put to the sword and Koong-se set fire to the house while she was still inside.

The two birds on that plate? The gods, touched by their love, immortalised them as two beautiful doves.

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There’s another story to the plate – a secret Shaolin legend.The Shaolin Monastery is burned by the Imperial troops of the Manchu rulers, called invaders by Chinese nationalist and later communist factions. Souls of the dead monks take a boat to the isle of the Blest. On the bridge are three Buddha awaiting the dead souls: Sakyamuni, the Buddha of the Past; Maitreya, the Buddha of the Future; and, Amitabha, the Ruler of the Western Paradise. Beyond them is the City of Willows – Buddhist Heaven. The doves are the monks’ souls on the journey from human to immortal life.

[I might get Mum to check this 😉 – oh, and with all fables and legends, there’s always another version, so apologies if this isn’t the one you know]