Penny Wise

It would seem that there is a day commemorating everything and this morning according to the CBC today is Lost Penny Day! A quick search at Days of the Year revealed that it is also Extraterrestrial Culture Day and Plum Pudding Day. Plum Pudding in February? Really? Well that is a line of questioning for another day.

But let’s give some thoughts to the penny (damn how’s that for a segue?) lost or found. Of course pennies went out of circulation here in Canada back in 2012. According to the government of the time it cost 1.6 cents to produce a 1 cent piece – though given their accounting practices … well never mind again that’s another question. The last penny was minted in Winnipeg on May 4th of that year and on February 4th 2013 the Mint began collecting and melting down the pennies in circulation.

Before 1858 coinage in Canada was a combination of the British sterling, American decimal coins, bank and commercial tokens, and the Spanish Milled Dollar. The first penny had a one inch diameter and was valued at two cents but when they were discontinued the name and size were applied to the one cent coin. The large penny was the second piece struck at the new Royal Mint when we began producing our own coinage in 1908. It was to remain a large coin until the size was reduced in 1920 to bring it in line with our neighbours to the South. And so it remained until 2012 when we indeed “lost” the penny.

But now the penny – the one cent, the copper – is lost to us. It is a thing of memory and you have to wonder what effect that will have on our language. Two generations from now will anyone know what was meant by all the phrases that reference the lowly penny. What will we be giving for a thought? What will we spend? What will be dropping? What exactly will a miser be pinching? The mind boggles!

And all this penny talk reminds me of a dreadful story (penny-dreadful!!! get it? Penny-dre… never mind!) that was a favourite of an former work colleague:

In a far eastern country there was a Sultan who decreed that sons of the Royal family must never shave on pain of death. Now the Sultan had many children but his favourite was Beni, the youngest and most handsome of his sons. As Beni reached manhood he obeyed his father’s decree and he let his beard grow. It was as black as coal and never once touched by a razor. It was full and luxuriant and Beni combed it, groomed it and perfumed it with sweet smelling oils. Beni, and indeed the entire kingdom, took great pride in his beard.

The women of the palace would often chatter and just as often blush when they spoke of the handsome Beni and his luxuriant beard. All but one: Fatima, the most beautiful woman in the kingdom. She did not like beards and thought that Beni would be more handsome without it. And of course that was the one woman that Beni loved more than any other woman in the kingdom.

But sadly as much as Beni paid court to her, she refused him. Beni pleaded but still Fatima refused; he sent her gifts but still she would not countenance his bewhiskered countenance. Finally Beni begged her to tell him what he could do to change her indifference to love. Fatima had only four words in reply: Shave off your beard!

Now love makes men do foolish things and in his passion Beni forgot the decree of his father, as indeed dear reader, in all probability so had you. Rashly he shaved off his beard and sadly he suffered the consequences. The Sultan went into a rage and, despite his love for his favourite son, had Beni beheaded. But in a moment of regret he had Beni’s body cremated and the ashes put in a beautiful mosaic urn. And because he wanted his favourite son always beside him he placed the urn at the right hand of his throne.

When Fatima heard what had happened she ran into the throne room and prostrated herself at the Sultan’s feet. Sobbing she begged for an explanation. The Sultan sighed and said that he had made a decree and that as heavy as his heart was, decrees must be followed. And he offered her the comfort that in this action there was a lesson to be learned. Fatima ask what lesson could possibly come from such a horror.

“Well my dear,” said the Sultan point to the urn at his side, “we have learned today that a Beni shaved is a Beni urned.”

Don’t blame me – I told you it was a nickel-dreadful! No that just doesn’t fall on the ear

On this day in 1818: Bernardo O’Higgins formally approves the Chilean Declaration of Independence near Concepción, Chile.

The Winter of Some Discontent

In which photos send me on a search….

Reading my friend David’s blog on Friday took me back to our last trip to London and the realization that I had never tidied up the photos from that trip. So I diligently began going through the files and labelling things properly. Now who this is for, other than mysef, I’m not really sure. We all take millions of pixels with our iPhones and digital cameras these days but other than a few posts to a social media where else do they go?

The Frost Fair of 1621 looking toward Southwark – a diorama in the exhibition hall at Shakespeare’s Globe. Thorp Modelmakers – 1912

Ah but I digress much as I did when I came across photos of a diorama from the exhibition at Shakespeare’s Globe. Crafted in 1912 by Thorp Modelmakers it is a reconstruction of the Thames looking to Southwark as it would have been in 1621 during the Great Frost of that year.

Title page to the published works of John Taylor – 1640 from the Lambeth Palace Library

This led me to a search for the story behind that particular Great Frost (one of the many during the 16th-19th centuries) that turned the River Thames to “water hard as iron”. In one source there was a quote from The colde tearme; or the frozen age; Or the metamorphoses of the River of the Thames by John Taylor, the Water Poet. Who? Never heard of him? Neither had I and that led to yet a further search. A fascinating man, Taylor was a waterman as well as the writer of some 150 poems, pamphlets, tracts, and travel diaries. At the time there was only one bridge across the Thames and the populace was dependent on the watermen to ferry them and their goods from the City across to Southwark. Ships also loaded and took on cargo from midstream as the tides made it impossible to dock close to shore.

Taylor became an officer of the newly formed Watermen’s Company and in 1620 he estimated that 20,000 people – watermen, their families and servants – made a living from this service. By 1620 that number had doubled as trade with the New World increased. Watermen had a bad reputation and Taylor often addressed their life and plight in his poems. Indeed a portion of The colde tearme talks of the Great Frost not only killing “hearbes and rootes” but the livelihood of the watermen.

Of course this lead to a search for the poem itself. Not the easiest thing to find and once there some of the language was a bit obscure – after all we are talking Elizabethan/Jacobean English. That led to further searches for meanings, etymologies etc. But it was great fun – almost as much fun as a Frost Fair?

Though his poem does speak to some of the pleasures of that Frost Fair in 1621, he also records the suffering that six weeks of bitter and freezing cold brings to those around him. The shortage of firewood, the lack of water, the dwindling of supplies coming in by boat, inadequate housing and clothing, the smog from the coal being burned – is it any wonder the Frost Fair was a welcome diversion?

In the following sections I’ve modernized some of Taylor’s language however left the case endings that still existed in the English of the day e.g. boots = bootes. I’ve also left some of the more colourful archaic words or phrases that give his writing its character, with an explanation at the bottom of each passage.

 It was the time when men wore liquor’d bootes*,
When rugged Winter, murdered hearbes & rootes;
When as the Heavens, the Earth did all attire
With plashes,* puddles, pooles, black dirt & mire.
Then at that time (to poore men’s care and costs)
A Christmas came to Towne, betwixt two Frosts
Then in the numb Cold month of January,
When as the Sunne was lodg’d in moyst* Aquarius:
When Boreas* (all with Isickles bedight*)
Worse than a Barber, ‘gan to shave* and bite,
Turning Thames streames to hard congealed flakes,
And pearled water drops to Christall* cakes.
*liquor’d boots – waxed boots
  hearbes - herbs
  plashes - grey curtains of rain
  moyst – moist, wet
  Boreas - the North Wind
  with Isickles bedight – with icicles bedecked
  shave – nip
  Christall – crystal 
The Swan playhouse (red building centre on shore) was one of four theatres that vied for audiences along the South Bank. Watermen depended on eager punters making their way from the City to the fleshpots and entertainment in Southwark and environs.

Taylor was a strange mixture of boatman, moralist, publicity hound, social activist and would-be poet. In the next passage he sees the tragic side of the six weeks of bitter cold on those around him. Charity is perhaps a person though might just as well be an allegory for that often forgotten virtue.

 Then Charity (in poore distresled* state)
Upon a Cake of Ice, lamenting late,
Halfe hunger-sterv’d*, and thinly clad she quiver’d,
As if in peeces shee would straight have shiver’d.
When as a Parson (that could never Preach,
Yet to three Benefices* well could reach)
Saw Charity to want both Foode and Cloathing,
Past by, ne’re spake to her, nor gave her nothing.
Next an Atturney her poore Case did see,
But all his Consciences wayted* on his Fee:
He walk’d along, and look’d a scaunt* on her,
And vow’d that all his Life, he never knew her.
A world of people more did thrust and throng,
Yet none Reliev’d her as they past along:
Until at last (as she was like to Dye)
The Maisters of an Hospitall past by;
They stay’d and did compassionate her Case,
And straight provided her a Lodging place.
There was a Us’rer*, with his Purse fast shut,
Did rayle* at her and call’d her Idle slut:
And said she to Virginia should be Shipt,
Or to Bridewell* be sent, and soundly whipt.
But at the last (to many a mizers* Griefe)
Shee in an Hospitall did finde Reliefe:
And whither shee be dead or like to dye,
Those that Relieve her better know than I.

* sterve - perishing/dying
   Benefices - paid church position
   wayted - waited
   scaunt - I could not find a word could he mean "askance"?
   Us'rer - Usurer or money lender
   rayle - scoff
   Bridewell - a London prison for fallen women and vagrants
   mizers - misers
Ramps were cut out of the embankments to give horses, wagons and holiday maker access to the frozen Thames.
 But once againe, I’ll turn me to my Theame
Of the conglutinated Frozen streame;
Upon whose Glassie face both too and fro,
Five hundred people all at once did go.
At Westminster there went three Horses over
Which safely did from shore to shore recover,
There might be seen spic’d Cakes and roasted Pigs,
Beere, Ale, Tobacco, Apples, Nuts, and Figs,
Fires made of Char-coles, Faggots, and Sea-coles*,
Playing and couz’ning* at the Pidg’on-holes*:
Some, for two Pots at Tables, Cards, or Dice:
Some slipping in betwixt two Cakes of Ice:
Some going on their businesse and affaires,
From Bank-side to Pauls or to Trig-staires*.
*sea-coles – mined coal
  couz’ning – trickery or deceit
  Pidg’on-holes – a form of gambling
  Bankside to Pauls or to Trig-staires – from Southwark
  to the stairs at Pauls or Trig’s wharves
The Bull Baiting ring had been moved from the large red building on shore to a temporary home on the ice.

The first few lines of the next section brought to mind the price-gouging that I recall in Montreal during the Great Ice Storm of 1998. Plus ça change!

 And in this gnashing age of Snow and Ice,
The Wood-mongers* did mount so high their price:
That many did to lye a bed desire
To save the charge of Wood, and Cole, and Fire.
Amongst the Whores, there were hot commings in,
Who ever lost, they still were sure to win,
They in one hour, so strangely did heat men,
That (for) all the Frost they scarce were coole again.
The Us’rers* Bonds, and Landlords Rent came on,
Most Trades had something to depend upon;
Onely the water-men just nothing got,
And yet (by Gods good helpe) they wanted not:
But all had coyne* or credit, foode and fire,
And what the neede of nature did require.
So farewell Frost, if Charity be living,
Poore men shall finde it, by rich mens giving.

* Wood-mongers - Sellers of fire wood
   coyne - money (coin)

Though Taylor’s poetry served him well in his time it is almost unknown today. It is often mere doggerel but with sudden turns of phrase or passages that brilliantly capture his era – its morals and its events. He was a colourful man and a left click on the picture below will take you to a brief essay on the man and his work (waterman and poet).

On this day in 1940: Tom and Jerry make their debut with Puss Gets The Boot.

A Challenge

In which the writer attempts to reign in his addictive personality.

I found this rather interesting graphic that suggested a challenge I am imposing on myself: I’m going to try and turn the page on my use of FaceBook for a while. It’s sort of the anchorite in the desert thing except no voice from above told me to do it – rather a voice from within that suggested enough was indeed enough.

In one of the rare moments when the stars align and send a message I found myself involved in a Facebook “discussion” that was as foolish as it was futile, being inundated with unsavoury and unresearched memes and claims, righteous indignation on a particularly innocuous subject, a revealing report on my “screen time” and the little icon at the left in the picture below.

I hadn’t signed in to Facebook first thing in the morning the way I normally do and suddenly an FB Icon appeared with an alarm clock. Now I had not asked to be notified by the good people at FB so it was obviously based on my visiting patterns. And as I found out there is no way to remove it until the system decides to do it – again based on patterns.

Though as an application Facebook has reconnected me with neighbours and acquaintances from the past, kept me in touch with friends, and introduced me to new people I have also allowed it to engender anger and frustration. And notice I said “I have allowed it” so the fault is entirely mine.

It has broadened my world in many ways but it has also narrowed it in others. As much as I love my American friends and I understand their point of view there are things other than the situation in the US; as much as I care deeply for my British/European friends there is more than Brexit, as painful as it is, happening in the world; and as for Canada I sometimes wonder why people still live here since things are so bad? And I don’t mean the weather.

Perhaps if there were a way to expunge the political from feeds and leave only the cute kitty, adorable dog, silly memes, recipes (and their results), birthdays, or family photos/events I would be happier. Yes I know a very narrow view of the world but surely that’s what it was originally intended for – to keep up to date with people. Perhaps even foolishly just to see a picture of what they had for lunch!

In any event we will see how I make out on this challenge. I have an addictive personality and have been known to backslide – at times all the way to the bottom of the hill. Meanwhile I will be posting on here, I have an email address and two telephone lines – yes I still have a landline. So I won’t exactly be out of touch with people.

On this day in 1790: The first boat specializing as a lifeboat is tested on the River Tyne.

Not Moussaka It’s MOOssaKKa!

We were fortunate that Laurent’s posting to Italy also meant that he was accredited to Greece which meant regular trips to Athens during our time there. We had made our first visit in 1997 to catch a cruise of Anatolia and several of the Greek Islands on a four-masted schooner. It was the first time we used Matt Barrett’s Guide to Greece – and it was a gold mine of valuable information that we referred to frequently over the years.

Fast forward to 2007 and the first of the regular trips that allowed us to become familiar with the city, the countryside, the culture, the people, and the food. Ah the food – we had so many good, often simple, meals in Athens, Corinth, Napflion, Delphi and Arachova (where we spent our 30th anniversary) including some very good moussaka. However I honestly think that this hearty vegetable-meat dish is best prepared at home; and at our house I use a recipe from Akis Petretziki.


For the vegetables

  • olive oil, for brushing and extra for vegetables
  • 2 potatoes, cut into thin slices
  • 1 onion, cut into thin slices
  • 1 eggplant, cut into thin slices
  • 2 medium zucchini, cut into thin slices
  • salt
  • ground pepper
  • thyme

For the ground meat mixture

  • olive oil, for sautéing
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 500 g or roughly 1 lb ground meat (beef or lamb)
  • salt
  • ground pepper
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch of ground cloves
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 400 g or 14 oz diced tomatoes

For the béchamel sauce

  • 750 ml or 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 100 g or 3.5 oz all-purpose flour
  • 100 g or 3.5 oz butter
  • ground pepper
  • pinch of ground nutmeg
  • 100 g or 3.5 oz grated Parmesan
  • plus additional Parmesan for sprinkling


  • Preheat oven to 200* C (390* F)

For the vegetables

  • Brush a 25×30 cm baking pan with olive oil.
  • Peel the potatoes and onion and cut into thin slices.
  • Transfer to a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt, pepper and some thyme. Toss to coat.
  • Spread in a single layer on the bottom of the baking pan.
  • Bake for 20 minutes, until they soften and turn golden.
  • Thinly slice an eggplant. The vegetable slices need to be thin in order for them to cook correctly in the oven.
  • Transfer eggplant slices to a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt, pepper and thyme. Toss.
  • Remove pan from oven and add the eggplant slices. Spread them in a single layer over the potato and onion. If your eggplant looks a little dry, drizzle with some more olive oil.
  • Bake for another 20 minutes.
  • Cut the zucchini into thin slices. Once again, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt, pepper and thyme. Toss to coat.
  • Spread them in a single layer over the eggplant and bake for 20 minutes.

For the ground meat

  • Pour a small amount of olive oil into a pan. Mince an onion. Add it to the pan and caramelize over high heat.
  • Mince a clove of garlic. Add it to your pan and mix. Sauté until it softens and turns slightly golden.
  • Add ½ teaspoon of cinnamon and a pinch of ground cloves. Mix and sauté. It makes such a huge difference when you cook your spices before you add the meat.
  • Add 1 tablespoon of tomato paste. Sauté.
  • Add the ground meat. Use a wooden spoon to break it up into small pieces. Season with salt and pepper and brown over high heat.
  • Add a can of chopped tomatoes. Sauté for 5-10 minutes or until most of the liquid evaporates. The mixture should be quite dry. Set aside.

For the béchamel sauce

  • Place a medium sized saucepan over medium heat. Add the butter. As soon as the butter starts to melt add the flour and start to whisk as you sauté.
  • Start to add the milk slowly and in batches. Whisk continuously throughout this process so no lumps form in the mixture. As soon as the first batch of milk is absorbed in the flour, you can add the next batch. Repeat process until all of the milk has been added and completely incorporated in the mixture.
  • When the sauce finally starts to bubble you’ll know it’s ready. It should be smooth, creamy and delicious.
  • Remove from heat. Add some freshly ground pepper, ground nutmeg, grated Parmesan and 3 egg yolks. Stir and set aside.
  • Preheat oven to 180* C (350* F)

To assemble

  • Add 1/3 of the béchamel sauce to the ground meat mixture. Mix together to create a sticky filling that will hold the dish together when serving and eating.
  • Spread filling over vegetable layers.
  • Pour béchamel sauce over meat filling. Use a spatula to smooth the top and sprinkle with some grated parmesan.
  • Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.
  • Remove from oven. Allow to cool for at least 1 hour.
  • Cut into pieces, serve and enjoy!

This goes well with Horiatiki the traditional Greek Salad and one of Akis’ recipes for this favourite can be found here.

We found out about Akis from our good friend Yannis who appeared with him on the Greek version of Master Chef. Yannis was one of the semi-finalists and currently works as part of the Kitchen Lab team.

On this day in 1968: Apollo 5 lifts off carrying the first Lunar module into space.

Winter 1917

A good deal of Central Canada is under an extreme winter warning (Ottawa was hovering at -39c/-38.2f and they had a strange mix of a blizzard and extreme cold). Here in the Maritimes it’s been anywhere from -22c to +8c over the past week or two with snow, freezing rain, and rain. This has brought out the usual barrage of “so where’s this Global Warming they’re talking about” but we will put that down to brains numbed by the cold and confused by the shifting weather patterns.

There’s been the odd comment from a few people that this winter reminds them of their childhood – all the snow, the cold, the ice. In that mood of nostalgia I was pleased when my FB friend Richard sent me the link for this fascinating video of the winter of 1917 in Holland. And before anyone get’s smart-arsed and ask if I remember it (and you know who this is addressed to don’t you?) – No I don’t. I was born a few years after!

On this day in 1506: The first contingent of 150 Swiss Guards arrives at the Vatican.