Birds feature heavily at the British Christmas table.
The Victorians always carved goose at Christmas, but later ate turkey when Charles Dickens wrote about it in A Christmas Carol, adopting it from the New World (America).
“Christmas is a-coming, the goose is getting fat… Please put a penny in the old man’s hat… If you haven’t got a penny a ha’penny will do… If you haven’t got a ha’penny then God bless you!“
A few years ago celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall featured his 10-bird roast. Multi-bird roasts are different types of birds each stuffed inside a larger one, and the more birds involved the better.
Whittingstall was harking back to Tudor times when stuffing birds this way was fashionable. Or a different bird was eaten each day of the 12 days of Christmas (the 12 days between 25th December and the 5th January – the eve of Epiphany or Kings Day)
” 7 swans-a-swimming – 6 geese-a-laying – 4 calling birds – 3 french hens – 2 turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree”
Since then the 3-4-5-7-10-12 bird roast has made a big come back – there is a very interesting article about it in: The Mail Online
However the most popular bird at Christmas in the UK is still Chicken – possibly because it is the cheapest yet tastiest – and the bird of choice with British Hindus, who marinade it in spices for days for slow roasting it.
For my local Halloween story I would like to tell you about the real story of Richard Parker. An unfortunate cabin boy who sailed from Southampton at the tender age of 16 only to be eaten by his crew.
In Southampton’s Peartree Churchyard lies an unusual gravestone…
It is the combined stone which marks the grave of Sarah Parker and the memorial of her beloved son Richard Parker, who had reached the age of 17 by the time he became the victim of cannibalism at sea.
Richard Parker served on the English yacht Mignonette, which set sail for Sydney, Australia from Southampton, England in 1884. While in the South Atlantic, the Mignonette sank, leaving Parker and his three shipmates in a lifeboat. Dying of thirst Richard fell into a coma after drinking sea water. As the crew thought he was going to die anyway, they killed the boy to drink his blood, then ate him so that they could survive. There had been many similar cases like this up until that time, which were given over to sympathy from seafarers, even those in Richard Parker’s own family in Southampton. It had been regarded legally as “A Custom of the Sea”.
The surviving three were rescued after 24 days by the German sailing barque Montezuma, named fittingly enough after the Aztec king who practiced ritual cannibalism.
But this case caused a great uproar in Victorian Britain. The men were charged with murder and were found guilty. Although not much was done about the prisoners even when their sentences were later reduced to six months hard labour. Most importantly, their trial, R v Dudley and Stephens established a legal precedent in common law around the world, that: ‘Necessity is no defence to a charge of murder’. It is one of the first cases that law students read about.
If you haven’t read Yann Martel’s Booker Prize novel about the Life of Pi then you may have seen the ®Oscar-winning movie of the same name directed by Ang Lee.
The narrator is a novelist who has been recommended to interview an Indian man named Piscine Molitor Patel, as his life-story will make him “believe in God”.
Pi’s story is how at 16 he survives a shipwreck in which his family and the zoo of animals they are transporting to Canada, all die, apart from him and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker who he ends up sharing a lifeboat with.
In the novel the tiger who arrived at their zoo was called Thirsty but got mixed up on the list with the hunter’s name – Richard Parker. The novel is an allegorical one about man’s battle between his animal instincts and his religious ones. Pi has been brought up a vegetarian and does not even eat fish.
By a great nautical coincidence, the name of Martel’s tiger, Richard Parker, was also inspired by a character in Edgar Allan Poe’s nautical adventure novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket(1838). In Poe’s book, Richard Parker is a cabin boy who is stranded and eventually the victim of cannibalism on a lifeboat. There is a dog aboard who is named Tiger.
A third Richard Parker drowned in the sinking of the Francis Speight in 1846, described by author Jack London, and later a cabin boy was cannibalized.
Yann Martel said: “So many victimized Richard Parkers had to mean something. My tiger found his name. He’s a victim, too – or is he?”
For most who have never had starvation forced upon us it must be difficult to imagine how this could happen. One can only receive clues from behaviours in the animal kingdom.
There have also been three plays written about Richard Parker – ‘Richard Parker’ by Owen Thomas, ‘Mr Parker’s Bones, or The Strange, Lamentable, Bloody, and mostly true History of Parker of Pear Tree Green and of his Captain, the Dastardly Cannibal Tom’ written by Russ Tunney and more recently The Sad Tale of Richard Parker by Cheryl Butler who also works on historical walking tours of Southampton.
Although there are still many shipwrecks, technology is developing all the time and we are now able to convert sea water into drinking water in minutes. Although still expensive, new materials will soon make it available for common use.
To visit Pear Tree Church and cemetery on Peartree Green by satellite navigation, use the postcode SO19 7GY
I just love walking along empty seasides in bad weather — for some reason they just fill me with so much happiness.
We took a 40 minute drive along the South-East coast to Bognor Regis on a visit to some returned British friends we made in Spain. This is a very run-down, small town filled with Georgian and Victorian decaying old grandeur — which I adore.
Bognor is one of the oldest recorded Anglo-Saxon place names in Sussex. In a document of 680 AD it is referred to as Bucgan ora meaning Bucge’s (a female Anglo-Saxon name) shore, or landing place. Bognor Regis was originally named just “Bognor,” being a fishing (and smuggling) village. In the 18th century it was converted into a resort by Sir Richard Hotham who tried in vein to rename it Hothampton.
King George V bestowed the suffix “Regis” (“of the King”) on Bognor in 1929 when his physicians recommended he convalesce there to recover from lung surgery. The King, when pestered with petitions for the town while undergoing his treatment, was said to have uttered the line: “Oh! Bugger Bognor!” — which has never been forgotten.
In 1959 Butlins (who ran affordable holiday camps for the British working classes) opened their resort here. It declined in the 70s but started to make a bit of a come-back this decade with the “staycation” trend to holiday at home. It was hoped that these would be a way out of Dismaland (see my blogs on Banksy’s Dismaland). Seaside resorts are not popular with young adults; many have no wonderful childhood memories of them like us oldies — and prefer music festivals, or active holidays such mountaineering or trampolining in disused Welsh mines. Butlins have launched vintage weekend raves which seem to be gaining in popularity though. Recent immigrants to Blighty, have opted to live near cheaper seaside towns like this, in the South’s warmer climes. Polish shops have started opening up next to ye olde rock shoppes, so the fashion of the British seaside is once again changing.