Advent 19: Mummers, Wassailers and Yulesingers

Blessing the orchard at Manor Farm Country Park, Southampton
Blessing the orchard at Manor Farm Country Park, Southampton

Wassailing, an ancient custom from Saxon times to give blessings of good health over the twelve days of Christmas, is making something of a come-back.

Traditionally, livestock, crops and farm machinery were blessed as well as people. Blessings were taken from door to door. In Scotland and the North of England this is known as First Footing in the New Year.  The Lord of the Manor would give food (figgy pudding) and drink to peasants who worked on his estate in exchange for their blessing and goodwill.

Toasting the apple tree in the literal sense
Toasting the apple tree in the literal sense

P1130610This was the forerunner of carolling – considered too rowdy to be done in church and also the forerunner of trick-or-treating in America, as Halloween was the original New Year’s Eve in the Celtic calendar.

“Love and joy come to you,

And to you your wassail too;

And God bless you and send you

a Happy New Year”

Another example of a carol originating from wassail is “We wish you a Merry Christmas” (see Advent 15)

In the Southern shires of England – apple wassail blessings were to ensure a good crop for cider, especially in Kent which produces the best apples for commercial cider, and in the south-west for Scrumpy.   English writer Thomas Hardy wrote about wassailing in his books and short stories set in Dorset ensuring that the custom has never died out there. The proceedings for apple wassailing are led by a Wassail King through the orchard, toasting trees and pouring cider on the roots:


p1100943 Hampshire Wassail Rhyme:

Stand fast root, bear well top.

Pray God send us a good howling crop

Every twig, apples big. Every bough, apples enow.

Hats full, caps full, Tall quarter, sacks full.

Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!

Cider is drunk, songs are sung and drums, sticks, rattles and bells are beaten to drive away bad spirits and encourage the trees to give a good harvest.

Mummers play with St George and Olde Father Christmas
Mummers play with St George and Olde Father Christmas

Mummers plays, about the Good fighting off Evil, are often performed at apple wassails too. These were known throughout the UK and Ireland and were even taken to Newfoundland with The Pilgrim Fathers. Though kept in much of Wales, the festivals elsewhere gave way to Morris dancing in England, sword dancing in Scotland and pantomime (see Advent 8) just about everywhere. Raggedy characters (literally in costumes made from rags) introduce themselves in rhyming couplets:

Policeman Plod: ‘Ello, ‘ello, ello. In comes I, Policeman Plod.

Jack the Sniffer: You’ll never catch me you silly old sod. (He exits)

Betty Bertha: He’s gone off and scarpered all hurt and affronted 

You’ve poked your nose in where it’s not wanted.

Mummer-characters have been Christian crusaders versus Moors, St George (Prince George or King George) and the Dragon, Beelzebub, Dracula, Robin Hood and the Sherif. But secondary characters kept in these plays included Olde Father Christmas and The Fool. These were obviously continued in our pantomimes.

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Dipping toast in the wassail bowl to put on apple tree branches at Manor Farm

Wassail also refers to the spiced-cider punch in the wassail-bowl. There are many recipes, which you can find online, but I use beer (left-over and flat) along with fizzy cider and a small cup of brandy in a slow-cooker. Throw in some brown sugar, the juice and rind of a clementine or two, a squirt of lemon, some apples quartered (pips & stalk removed) and Christmas spices such as ginger, cloves, cardamom and a few sticks of cinnamon. It makes the house smell lovely and is a warm welcome for guests coming in from the cold.

All photos © Southampton Old Lady

Advent 13: Floral Christmas

The Holly bears the crown
The Holly bears the crown
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Christmas flowers © Southampton Old Lady
If you're not fond of traditional Brussels sprouts then they make intriguing wreaths!
If you’re not fond of traditional Brussels sprouts then they make intriguing wreaths!
Scarce in Britain the last decade, mild weather this year has meant an abundance of mistletoe
Scarce in Britain the last decade, mild weather this year has meant an abundance of mistletoe
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Citrus and spice © Southampton Old Lady

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traditional poinsettias
traditional poinsettias

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Advent 9: Christmas Crackers

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Specially illustrated stamps are printed each Christmas this one is of Father Christmas with a cracker. The cracker has an illustration of a Pantomime Dame

christmas-cracker-drummerIn Britain and Ireland we pull Christmas crackers at the dinner table which we have at lunch time on December 25th.

Victorian illustration of pulling a Christmas cracker
Victorian illustration of pulling a Christmas cracker

Crackers may have caught on in other countries too and I’d be interested to hear from your part of the world if they have.

When pulled it activates a firecracker that makes a loud ‘crack’.

Whoever gets the longest end, gets the prize. Prizes can vary from cheap plastic charms to gold tie-pins depending on how much you can afford.

Coloured paper crown can get quite wrinkly by the end of dinner © Southampton Old Lady
Coloured paper crowns can get quite wrinkly by the end of dinner © Southampton Old Lady

One is set at each dinner place. Each will contain a paper crown, which is compulsory to wear at the table and there will be a lot of cajoling to get a grumpy Grandad to wear his. There will also be a joke to read out – usually a pun on words that will be so corny it makes everyone sigh. It is essential that the joke is corny.

Here are some examples:

Q: What kind of sweet goes swinging through the jungle?  A: Tarzi-pan

QWhat do you call two robbers? A:  A pair of knickers

This then starts the reminiscing  old jokes and funny tales. Often there are enough crackers left to pull the next day “Boxing Day” which is also a holiday in Britain.

Goodwood Revival 2016

 

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Bubble car at parking meter outside reconstructed Piccadilly Circus

Like being on a giant film set

The first ever car-race took place at Goodwood race track 75 years ago. For the last 20 years there has also been a Revival, where vintage cars or bikes, race (and sometimes crash). There is a strict dress code for spectators; They must dress in vintage or authentic-looking retro clothing from the 40s, 50s or 60s. Goodwood also employs a number of actors and entertainers who take on characters from those eras.

For a few hours work each morning, I was able to enjoy myself for the rest of the day and take snaps. More people belong to drama groups in Britain than they do football clubs, so it is not surprising that so many make an effort to look the part. But visitors come from all over Europe and the Commonwealth.

The Sixties       (Click on photos to enlarge and read captions)

Each year there is a highlighted theme. This year because it was the 50th anniversary of the England football team winning the World Cup, it was England verses Germany 1966.

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Join in a kick-about with the 1966 England Team reconstruction
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Family day out
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We’re going to Wembley

 

Part of the grounds had a reconstructed football pitch where spectators could join the likes of ‘Bobby Moore’ in a knock-about. There was a parade around the track of traffic on their way to Wembley Stadium, which showed off owners cars that would have been around in 1966. The vehicles included vintage: police cars, milk carts, motorbikes, Mini and Bubble cars, Bentleys, Daffodils, Fords, Hillmans, Jaguars, Rolls, Sunbeams, Triumphs, Vauxhalls, plenty of public transport buses and coaches as well as Germans in Volkswagens.

 

The Fifties

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Dancing in the rain – we are use bad weather at some point during any British festival
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family fun fair
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Go roller skating courtesy of Butlins

The Forties

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Our North American allies and barbershop quartet
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Goodwood invites Veterans raising funds and awareness of D-Day
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There are vintage air displays from Goodwood Airfield. Everything from Dakotas to Lancaster Bombers

Beer tents are a must at British festivals – especially when it rains

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Heading for the Doom Bar beer tent
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Beer tents are always friendly
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Come step back in time
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stand-up atmosphere
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or you might be lucky to find a comfy chair
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There are a quite a few pub tents
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and gin bars
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Vintage cars are on sale
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One could almost forget that the main event is the racing
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Jackie Stewart (in the cap) Stirling Moss and many other first class drivers and celebrities race each year

 

Copyright © Southampton Old Lady. If you would like to use any of my photographs please consult me first.  If your stand or you yourself are in any of my photographs feel free to use them however you wish. Goodwood Actors Guild Members also have my permission to use any of these photos or add links for their profile purposes. Please credit: http://www.southamptonoldlady.wordpress.com wherever possible.  Thank you

 

English Bramley Apples

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This time of year, my friend invites us to visit her garden and collect the excess of Bramley Apples (they tend remain green in the North) from her grand tree. Bees adore its blooms. When I lived abroad this was the ingredient from home that I missed the most. An exceptionally large, tart cooking apple that has a wonderful texture when hot.

The original Bramley Apple Tree was planted in Southwell, Nottinghamshire by a girl called Mary Ann Brailsford in 1809. It was a fluke of nature. The Bramley Apple cannot be cultivated from its pips. All strains of the tree throughout the United Kingdom, come from the mother tree.

That very tree today, over two centuries later, with its own blue plaque and visitors’ book of dedications from all over the globe, is dying from a fungal infection. It is very sad.

Fortunately the University of Nottingham has enough of its offspring to continue the culture. Attempts have been made to grow them in other continents, but unfortunately they do not last long and fruit tends to be more sparse and small.

There are many websites dedicated to the English Bramley Apple, complete with recipes: puddings, pies, crumbles, dumplings, tarts, sauces and stews. It is often mixed with another English apple – the Cox’s Orange Pippin – in equal parts to make the perfect accompaniment to roast pork.

apple dumplingRecipe

One dish that has been handed down to me (which our family referred to as Dorset Dumplings) was to core, but not peel, an apple for each person. Dry and butter the skins. Sit each apple on its own disc of pastry (puff or short-crust). Cram as many chopped or small mixed dried fruits into the cored centre. Then pour honey or golden-syrup into any spaces of the dried fruits. Wrap the apple in the pastry by either folding it over the top and sticking it down with a brush of water,  or rolled quickly with the hands so that it resembles a ball.

Place the apple balls onto a greased and floured metal tray, then sprinkle with plenty of sugar before baking them in a hot oven for 15-25 minutes or until brown.

Serve with thick cream, vanilla ice cream or English custard.

They look like they are going to be too big to eat, but are surprisingly light (it is mainly apple after all) and are popular with children, who love the shape and the sweet-and-sour taste, without them realising they are getting essential vitamins.

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WPC: Frame

When I saw that the weekly WordPress Photo Challenge this week was Frame (click to take part or see others), I realised that framing a photo was a natural past-time for me taking my routine snaps. So here are 15 from my media library (click on to enlarge or see captions)

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From outside looking inside a tent
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From inside looking outside a tent
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Reality reflected in a frame
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A reflection framed with reality
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From outside looking inside a vehicle window
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From inside looking outside a vehicle window
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A frame of nature
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A frame of concrete
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A frame of a house tunnel
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Framed construction
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Framed by a stairwell

 

Fun Arcade

When I saw these vintage penny arcade machines at Portsmouth’s  Historical Dockyard, it brought back so many happy childhood memories of going to the Southsea funfair with my parents. I loved the puppets so much and could remember exactly what would happen before I put my coin in. I am so happy to find that they still exist in a museum.

In response to the Weekly WordPress Photo Challenge: Fun

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A coin in this machine has this “Laughing Sailor” belly-laughing so infectiously that the most grumpy person ends up chuckling to it.
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The machine reveals funny things that happen to “The Drunkard” (from erotic to nightmarish) in  his dream as he crashes out in the beer cellar
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Ghosts galore in “The Haunted Churchyard”
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An art nuevo machine with crane to attempt to catch sweets.
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“The Burglar” finds himself distracted by the fire cracking, the radio pipping, the victim snoring while he tries hard to listen to the clicks of the dial of the safe.

English Place Names

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Anglophenia is a funny series of YouTube shorts for Americans who visit England.
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Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce complete with the Royal Seal of Approval.

One of the ways we can tell if someone was brought up in a local area of England is the way that they pronounce place names. They often sound nothing like they are spelled. I follow a blog called Travel Much by Olive Ole who often gives some wonderful recipes from Norway. The latest being her home-made burgers (to die for) using Worcestershire Sauce (click HERE for Wiki origins). I have always been led to believe that Worcestershire Sauce originated in Bengal, India and it was brought back to Worcestershire in England and enhanced by two chemists Lea & Perrins. I make my own version and call mine Elephant Sauce (a family joke).

After informing Olive Ole of how impressed I was after making her recipe, this funny conversation took place:

Olive Ole: Oh maybe you can help resolve the argument I have with Sir Nerdalot at the moment. He claims that Worchestershire sauce is pronounced Woster sauce! How dum is that! If they want it pronounced as Woster, then they should spell it that way! I say it like Wor-Chester-Shire-Sauce, and the Nerd giggles!

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My own version Elephant Sauce

SOL: He is right I am afraid. UK English has a number of names like that. Magdalene College in Oxford is pronounced «Maudlin College» It was a popular way to catch out spies during WW2.

Olive Ole: Noooooooooo! Ah! The teasing will be endless! Or I could just not admit to him that he was right! Yup, that is my best option!

(after this I accidentally posted this reply to Poet Rummager – another interesting blogger I follow, instead of to Olive Ole)

SOL: Further to the Woster confusion – this you tube lesson may be of interest: https://youtu.be/9q7VjLVU8Ec (this is a hilarious YouTube post about pronouncing British Place names by Anglophenia – if you click this it will help understand how different place names can sound from how they are spelled)

Poet Rummager: That was hilarious! I got, maybe, 2 right!! Wow, go me. Thanks for the link — I feel so stupid now. Haha! How do you pronounce Southampton? I bet I’ve been saying it wrong all this time. Wanna bet??

SOL: I am going to have to do a blog about this – it has made me laugh so much. Southampton is as it looks. For nearly every town or village older than 1776 in England, there is a town or village of that name (some with the additional New in front) in North America and many of those names also in Australia, as it referred to where those people (colonists) settled from. Many WordPress visitors first think I am from Southampton, Suffolk County, New York. (There’s 3 places from England) There are also Southamptons or South Hamptons in Pennsylvania, California and Ontario. They all sound the same with a soft ‘p’.

Olive Ole replied to your comment  ‘I am going to have to do a post about this – it’s so funny’. Haha! Looking forward to read it (but wont show it to hubby)

(Then after I sent the original reply to Olive Ole):

Olive Ole: hahahaha love the link! And although I am not American, I would say most of those names fairly similar to the american…

___________

Let us not even begin to get into long Welsh names or those from the rest of the UK.

But my question today is: Are there any English place names that you discovered you have been pronouncing differently?

Brexit Hangover

Economic Times India
Economic Times, India

Well that’s it!  We’re coming out of the European Union. It was a close call.

No jubilations – even for Exiteers: just an exhausting hangover and the reality of Divorce. We’ll have a short period of chaos and name-blaming. We’ll be on our guard against anyone who may take advantage while we’re down. We’ve a tough time ahead but we will survive!  The Dunkirk spirit – Keep Calm and Carry On.

Numb – looking at the headlines from around the world.

Brexit Spain

Sydney Morning Herald