Thursday, 24 March 2005
British Ceremonies and Pageantry
Now Playing: God Save The Queen
Every Maundy Thursday, the British Sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II, distributes Maundy Money at the Ceremony of the Royal Maundy
. This ancient custom dates back to the 13th century when the Sovereign gave gifts of food and clothing to the poor. As an act of humility, the Monarch would even wash the feet pf the recipients - as Christ washed the feet of his disciples before the Last Supper - although the last King to actually do this was James II
, who died in 1701. Maundy Money
consists of sets of small silver coins which are specially minted for the occasion. The Queen presents them to local deserving pensioners who are chosen because of their outstanding services to their church and community. During her reign, the ceremony has taken place each year in a different cathedral or abbey around the country. In 1986, it took place at Chichester Cathedral
and I seem to remember that we were all let out of our offices to line the route and wave to the Queen!
At the ceremony, each person receives two purses from the Queen, one red and one white. The white purse contains one silver Maundy coin for each year of the monarch's reign. The red purse contains ordinary money in place of the other gifts which used to be given to the poor. The silver Maundy coins originally consisted of a penny and a groat (4 pence). In 1551, a threepence was added and in 1667, a twopence.
It was Henry IV
(ruled 1399-1413) who instigated the practice of relating the number of people receiving maundy money to the sovereign's age and sex. This custom was revised under Queen Elizabeth II and now equal numbers of sets are presented to both male and female recipients. As the Queen is 79 this year, this means that 79 men and 79 women will be presented with Maundy sets at today's ceremony in Wakefield Cathedral
. [For a chuckle, also view this news item
Victorian maundy money is fairly common as the general public could order sets from a bank. This changed, from 1908, when King Edward VII
instructed that only recipients involved in the ceremony were entitled to receive the sets. So after this date, Maundy coin sets became one of the most collectible and sought after numismatic items.
Tuesday, 22 March 2005
Topic: In the News
It was on the BBC News at Ten last night, it was on the Radio Two News this morning, there is an article in today's Times Online
and probably lots of other newspapers are running the story as well. What is it about? Well, apparently we have had such a dry winter in the South of England that the Environment Agency is predicting a water shortage and warning householders of impending hosepipe and sprinkler bans. "Save water", we are told - don't buy plants!
So, what did it do last night? It poured and poured and poured with rain - all night and well into the morning. So heavy was the rain that there was a constant thundering waterfall from next door's faulty guttering at the back of their house. Good job we sleep at the front of our house.
Apparently, the average rainfall for the last four months is down by about 140mm, which means that a lot of reservoirs are down to 57% full instead of 85-90%. Well, they told us that last year and we still got the normal amount of average rain - it just came later than usual! April Showers will probably turn into April Floods - we will wait and see.
Monday, 21 March 2005
Topic: Health Issues
This week, 21st to 27th March 2005, is Prostate Cancer Awareness Week
in the United Kingdom. Prostate cancer is the most common male cancer in this country. However, many men do not know where their prostate gland is or what it does. For those who don't, the gland is located at the base of the bladder surrounding the urethra and it produces some of the fluid that makes up semen. The risk of developing prostate cancer increases with age and increases further if your father, uncle or brother has the disease. Nearly 10,000 men die from this disease every year so, if you experience any problems with urinating or find blood in your urine (like my husband did), you should see your doctor immediately.
It is a fact that ALL men, if they live long enough, will get prostate cancer. Many do not know they have it and many never have any serious symptoms. So, if you are in your eighties or nineties, the odds are that it will not kill you. However, if you get problems in your forties or fifties, DON'T IGNORE IT, it will not go away.
My husband first found blood in his urine in November 2003. The doctor found his prostate to be slightly enlarged (normal for his age) and sent him for a routine blood test to measure his PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen). This measured 13, so the next stage was x-rays, ultra-sound and a cystoscopy at the end of February 2004 (which showed some small kidney stones) and also a CT scan in March to investigate a possible lump on the liver, which turned out to be fat! The cystoscopy (when they pass a little tube with a light through the urethra) is a little unpleasant! Apart from feeling embarrassed, it is a bit uncomfortable and burns when you have to go to the loo for a few hours afterwards. However, my husband said that he could see the inside of his bladder on the monitor, which was very interesting! And it confirmed that his bladder was healthy. The next stage was a biopsy (more discomfort) of the prostate gland and that confirmed that he did have prostate cancer.
Last September, his PSA count had risen one to 14, last month it was 17. If it stays around this level, he will continue with his "watchful waiting". As he is in his seventies, the consultants in this country do not recommend having a prostatectomy (removal of the protate). His options are conformal radiotherapy or wait and see. Unfortunately, radiotherapy can have some potentially very unpleasant side effects. So he chose not to have it done, unless it becomes absolutely necessary, especially as he is not experiencing any real problems at the moment. He gets up two or three times a night, has to go to the loo twice within ten minutes as a precaution if we are going out - nothing he can't live with. In the meantime, medical research is advancing, hopefully, at a much faster rate than his cancer.
A Voice Spake Out Of The Skies
Topic: Poetry and Poets
A brief verse for World Poetry Day
and, I suspect, a little known work by one of England's greatest poets, Alfred Lord Tennyson
A Voice Spake Out Of The Skies
A Voice spake out of the skies
To a just man and a wise?
'The world and all within it
Will only last a minute!'
And a beggar began to cry
'Food, food or I die'!
Is it worth his while to eat,
Or mine to give him meat,
If the world and all within it
Were nothing the next minute?
from Ballads And Other Poems by Alfred Lord Tennyson Poet Laureate.
London: Macmillan And Co., Limited New York: The Macmillan Company 1906
Food for thought?
Sunday, 20 March 2005
Palm Trees and Parrots
Topic: In the News
Apparently, Christian churches are amongst the largest consumers of palm trees, especially on Palm Sunday. Palm fronds, usually from the Date Palm, are handed out to every member of the congregation to commemorate the triumphant entrance of Jesus riding on the back of a donkey, into Jerusalem. So, I was surprised to come across this news item last night, Palm Sunday Pact for Parrot
about an initiative in Columbia.
Apparently, there are only 540 or so yellow-eared parrots alive in the world today and they all live in the Colombian mountain forests. This is where the world's tallest palm tree, the Wax Palm
, (Columbia's national tree) grows. For centuries, Colombians have used the fronds of the wax palm for Palm Sunday. However, when fronds are cut off young wax palms, they die or their growth is seriously stunted. The practice has led to a dramatic thinning of the towering palms, which in turn, affects the poor parrot living amongst them.
So, in a special ceremony in Bogota, a priest has blessed thousands of palm seedlings of the Alexandra palm - one of the alternatives to the wax palm. These will be planted for future Palm Sundays and, hopefully, this initiative will save the wax palm and the yellow-eared parrot from disappearing from the planet.
I knew about date palms, coconut palms and ornamental palms but I had never heard of the wax palm or the Alexandrian palm before, so it made me wonder how many varieties of palm trees there were. Would you believe that there are between 210-236 genera comprising some 2,000 to 2,500 species of palm trees?
Also, I thought palms were mainly tropical plants growing in desert oases or on sandy beaches on coral atolls. So, I was surprised to discover that the great majority grow in gloomy rainforests and perhaps never see the sun, certainly the young plants don't! Apparently, there are many species thriving a long way from the tropics, which actually prefer cool climates, and will happily thrive outdoors in temperature areas such as the United Kingdom. (So, you don't need a conservatory or a greenhouse after all!)
It seems that palm trees, which first evolved during the late Cretaceous period about 85 million years ago, must be one of the most successful and wide-ranging trees on the planet.
Friday, 18 March 2005
Topic: Poetry and Poets
The English poet, Wilfred Owen
, was born 112 years' ago, on the 18th March 1893, in Oswestry
, Shropshire, United Kingdom. He enlisted in the army in 1915 and fought as an officer in the Battle of the Somme
. In May 1917, he was hospitalised for shell shock and during his convalescence, met Siegfried Sassoon
, the poet and novelist. They became firm friends and Sassoon took him under his wing, guiding and influencing him with his writing. It is thanks to Sassoon that Wilfred Owen's war poems were eventually published.
The horrors of war and Wilfred Owen's own sense of outrage at the senseless waste of life permeate through his work. Sadly, his war poems often seem to echo what is happening in today's battle zones and only serve to emphasis the futility of war. Something that human beings, whom I once dubbed 'Homo Hostilis
' (a mutated form of 'Homo Sapiens') never seem to learn! Sadly, Owen was killed in action on 4th November 1918 - just seven days before the end of hostilities. This is one of his dark poems, penned in 1917:
ANTHEM FOR DOOMED YOUTH
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them; no prayer nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs?
The shrill, demented choirs?of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmer of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
Taken from "Selections from Modern Poets" made by J.C. Squire. Published 1934 - London: Martin Secker
Thursday, 17 March 2005
St. Patrick's Day
Topic: Special Days
St. Patrick's Day
Around a willow tree,
Pussy willows waking,
Longing to be free.
Colleens and shamrocks
And castles old and gray,
Put them all together
To make St. Patrick's Day
St. Patrick is the Patron Saint of Ireland and, in many countries, his day is also celebrated as the Feast Day for everybody called Patrick or Patricia. Did you know that, in Spain, 'el Dia de Santo' is more likely to be celebrated than a birthday? Everyone knows exactly when your feast day is and sends you best wishes for that day. That means my Spanish relatives are doubly lucky - they get Feast Days and Birthdays!
For people of Irish descent, St. Patrick?s Day conjures up visions of leprechauns, pots of gold and shamrocks. However, don?t forget that this is also a Religious Festival - I found this St. Patrick?s Day wish which highlights this aspect of the holiday:
St. Patrick plucked a shamrock
Out of Ireland?s sweet, green sod
And said, ?Behold,
A symbol of the Trinity of God!
the blessings of the Father
the love of the Son
and the peace
of the Holy Spirit.
Tuesday, 15 March 2005
Julius C?sar Assassinated
Well that was a long time ago - 44 BC to be exact. Yes, it?s the Ides of March
today - just the Roman way of noting the 15th March. I have found out that, in the ancient Roman calendar, each of the 12 months had ?ides?, derived from the Latin ?to divide?. Apparently, the ancient Roman calendar organised its months around three days, each of which served as a reference point for counting the other days. These were Kalends
, for the 1st day of the month, Nones
, for the 7th day in March, May, July, and October (the 5th
in the other months) and Ides
, for the 15th day in March, May, July, and October (the 13th
in the other months). The unnamed days of the month were identified by counting backwards from the Kalends, the Nones, or the Ides. For example, the 3rd March would be "V Nones" - 5 days before the Nones (to make matters even more complicated
, the Roman method of counting days was inclusive; in other words, the Nones would be counted as one of the 5 days). However, the 6th March was not "II Nones" - it was called Pridie Nones (Latin for ?on the day before?). PHEW!
were originally coincidental with the advent of the new moon but, as the calendar for the Roman year wasn?t quite long enough, everything gradually got out of step. Apparently, the Romans were ruled by superstition and believed that even numbers were unlucky. So they ended up with a year of 355 days made up of four months of 31 days, seven months of 29 days and one unlucky month of 28 days. To try to realign the calendar with the seasons, they created an extra month called Mercedonius
of 22 or 23 days which they added to the calendar every second year.
Eventually, even that system became so far out that Julius C?sar, advised by the astronomer, Sosigenes
, ordered a major reform in 45 BC and the Romans endured their longest year of 445 days to bring the calendar back in step with the seasons. The solar year was calculated as 365 days and 6 hours (nearly right but actually 11? minutes longer than the solar year) and this formed the basis for the new Julian Calendar
. The months were 30 or 31 days long and C?sar decreed that every fourth year would have 366 days. As this new calendar followed the seasons instead of the moon, C?sar also decreed that the year start on the lst January instead of the vernal equinox in late March.
So, did C?sar get confused with the dates when the soothsayer warned him to ?beware the ides of March??
Monday, 14 March 2005
Einstein's Theory of Relativity Comes 'Full Circle'
Topic: In the News
It is one hundred years since Einstein wrote his Theory of Relativity (E=mc?) in 1905 and, in his honour, the U.S. General Assembly has named 2005 the World Year of Physics
. I read somewhere that Einstein described his famous theory in this simple way: 'When you sit with a nice girl for two hours, it seems like two minutes. When you sit on a hot stove for two minutes, it seems like two hours. That's relativity.' (Wish it was that easy!)
Einstein had a strong belief that the laws of physics were an expression of the Divine. He hated the implications of Quantum Mechanics as this meant that you could no longer describe the universe with absolute accuracy and he spent many years trying to formulate a Theory of Everything. If he is watching from above, I am sure he would be delighted with the theories expounded in a new publication Absolute Intelligence
, available from today (the anniversary of his birthday). [Also read this article
]. Written by Ilexa Yardley, this book sets out to prove that there is a 'higher intelligence' guiding the universe . I must have a look although I suspect it may be a little too erudite for the likes of me!
Sunday, 13 March 2005
Do You Think You Are A Good Driver?
Topic: In the News
It is 70 years ago today since the introduction of the dreaded Driving Test in Great Britain and around nine years since the theory examination was introduced in 1996. Apparently, a third of motorists (including me!) fear that they would not pass their test if they had to re-take it. [see this news article
]. In fact I'm sure I would fail as, in common with a lot of women, my spatial cognition is lacking and I can't reverse park into that small space between two cars or reverse park into my own drive!
Could you pass your Driving Test today? Do you know your Highway Code? Have you had your eyesight tested recently? Are you an agressive driver? Do you think that women
are better drivers?
If you want to be a better driver, why not find your local group of Advanced Motorists
. These 'clubs' are run by volunteers who advise prospective candidates on how to prepare for the Advanced Driving Test. The approaches vary from informal classroom sessions to on-the-road advice from skilled and experienced IAM
Group Members called Observers. Even if you don't take the Advanced Test (or fail it, like I did!) your driving will improve and you will be a safer driver. And, if you have the chance, go for a demonstration drive in a Police Car (part of an LEA
evening course on "Better Driving"). Wow! The running commentary on the road ahead and possible hazards was a real eye-opener. It was also great fun watching all the other motorists pulling in and slowing down!
Go on - find out what courses are available in your area.
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