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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Speaking of Bridget Jones . . . .

Happy New Year! We can't think of anything more fitting than watching this video as we ring in the New Year. If you'll be spending the New Year with friends, it'll get you into the party spirit and if you'll be celebrating alone, it will give you hope - things eventually turned out well for Bridget . . . didn't they? Watch the video here.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Prepare for The Year of Dickens

2012 brings the 200th Birthday of Charles Dickens (1812-1870), the man who shaped our perception of Victorian England in his thousands of pages of delicious stories -- not to mention his reporting and essays.

Dickens in 1858

Charles Dickens was born in 1812. His somewhat feckless parents caused him to have an alternately comfortable and difficult life as a child, including a stint working in a London blacking factory, where he experienced first hand the travails of the poor working class he so vividly portrayed in his stories.

Santa favored me with a copy of Claire Tomalin's biography of Dickens, a book that was on many "best" lists for 2011 and which received many glowing reviews.  Tomalin had already done considerable work on Dickens and his secret life.  Her book, Invisible Woman, was published in 1991, telling of his 13-year affair with Ellen Ternan at the end of his life.  He had previously married the boss's daughter (or one of his bosses), Catherine Hogarth, whose father was the editor of the Evening Chronicle, for which Dickens wrote. They had ten children, but grew apart.

Claire Tomalin is an excellent biographer.  She has published the life stories of many famous writers, such as Katherine Mansfield (1989), Pepys (2003), and Thomas Hardy (2007). She has written about others, as well, particularly - from my bookshelf -- Mrs. Jordan's Profession (1994) -- the story of London actress Dorothea Jordan (1761-1816) and her long affair with Prince William, Duke of Clarence (1765-1837), with whom Dora had ten children.  He later succeeded his brother to become William IV, King of England 1830-1837.

Claire Tomalin
I suppose it will come as no surprise to occasional readers of this blog to learn that my favorite biography of Tomalin's is her Jane Austen: A Life, an excellent study of the artist whose work is the source-point for all my interests in the long 18th Century, the Regency, the Georgians, the Victorians, and all things English/British.

But I digress... you will find no shortage of biographies and studies of the work of Charles Dickens in the upcoming months. Plays, movies, television programs -- he will be everywhere.  We have just had, in many US cities and elsewhere, the traditional holiday season performances of A Christmas Carol, which one cannot see too many times, or so it seems to me.

Ebenezer Scrooge is only one of the hundreds of characters Dickens create which stay  in our memories forever. Who could ever forget the Artful Dodger?  Or Miss Havisham? Or Mr. Micawber or Uriah Heep? You can name dozens more, no doubt.

David Copperfield illustration

David Copperfield is said to be somewhat biographical. 

Dickens began publishing stories in 1833 when he was just 21 years old. He generally published his stories in magazines, in serial form, meaning that every few pages, there is a suspenseful moment, designed to bring the reader back next month to buy the next installment.  This method enhances the page-turner quality of all of his novels.  He was immensely popular in his day, engaging in many public readings around Britain as well as during two trips to the U.S.

Charles Dickens by Ary Scheffer, 1855; NPG, London
So in the next 12 months (and beyond), be self-indulgent, and read some of the long and enjoyable works of Charles Dickens. It is a pleasure you owe yourself!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Queen's Diamond Jubilee in 2012

Great Britain and the world will celebrate Queen Elizabeth's sixty-year reign in 2012.  We can't wait!

The logo was chosen from 35,000 entries in a contest sponsored by the BBC.  Katherine Dewar, of Chester, age ten, is the talented artist.

The Queen's Silver Jubilee was celebrated in 1977.

 The Golden Jubilee, marking Queen Elizabeth's fifty years on the throne, was celebrated in 2002.  One of the fun events was a grand concert in the Garden of Buckingham Palace -- broadcast all over the world. I imagine we will see some of the same kind of spectacles next summer around the official weekend on June, 2012.

Queen Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Above is her official picture from the celebration.  She became Queen of England on the death of her uncle, William IV, in 1837, when she was age 18.  She died in January, 1901, after a reign of 63 years and 7 months, longest ever for an English monarch. 

Victoria's 1897 Diamond Jubilee was marked by nationwide celebrations, a gathering of the world's reigning monarchs and local festivities, setting the precedents for 2012.

Above is a commemorative plate, just one of many souvenirs available.  For the very finest quality items, I suggest contacting the Royal collection gift shop here.  Think of how valuable it might become, though a quick google search for commemoratives from Victoria's Jubilee turns up several examples for less than $200, as below.

If you aren't in a collecting mood so soon after Christmas, you could spend hours surfing the sites devoted to the 2012 jubilee. 

Here is the official site, soon to be updated.  Above is the jubilee barge, to be used on the Thames during the official weekend of celebrations, beginning June 3, 2012. For more info on the barge, go to the BBC News.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Boxing Day

From  The book of Christmas: descriptive of the customs, ceremonies, traditions ... By Thomas Kibble Hervey (1845)

This day—which, in our calendar, is still dedicated to the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen (for John the Baptist perished in the same cause, before the consummation of the old law, and the full introduction of the Christian dispensation),—is more popularly known by the title of Boxing-day; and its importance, amongst the Christmas festivities, is derived from the practice whence that title comes.

We have already mentioned that the custom of bestowing gifts, at seasons of joyous commemoration, has been a form of thankfulness at most periods;—and that it may have been directly borrowed, by the Christian worshippers, from the Polytheists of Rome, along with those other modes of celebration which descended to the Christmas festival, from that source,—introduced, however, amongst our own observances, under scripture sanctions, drawn both from the Old and New Testaments. The particular form of that practice, whose donations are known by the title of Christmas-boxes (and which appear to differ from New-year's gifts in this,—that the former, passing from the rich to the poor, and from the master to his dependants, are not reciprocal in their distribution,—whereas the latter are those gifts, for the mutual expression of good-will and congratulation, which are exchanged between friends and acquaintances), was, perhaps, originally one of the observances of Christmas-day, and made a portion of its charities. The multiplied business of that festival, however, probably caused it to be postponed till the day following,—and thereby placed the Christmas-boxes under the patronage of St. Stephen.

The title itself has been derived, by some, from the box which was kept on board of every vessel that sailed upon a distant voyage, for the reception of donations to the priest; who, in return, was expected to offer masses for the safety of the expedition, to the particular saint having charge of the ship—and, above all, of the box. This box was not to be opened till the return of the vessel; and we can conceive that, in cases where the mariners had had a perilous time of it, this casket would be found to enclose a tolerable offering. Probably the state of the box might be as good an evidence as the log-book, of the character of the voyage which had been achieved. The mass was, at that time, called Christmass;—and the boxes kept to pay for it were, of course, called Christmass-boxes. The poor, amongst those who had an interest in the fate of these ships,—or of those who sailed in them,—were in the habit of begging money from the rich, that they might contribute to the mass boxes; and hence the title which has descended to our day:—giving to the anniversary of St. Stephen's martyrdom the title of Christmas-boxing day— and, by corruption, its present popular one of Boxing-day. A relic of these ancient boxes yet exists, in the earthen or wooden box, with a slit in it, which still bears the same name; and is carried, by servants and children, for the purpose of gathering money, at this season—being broken only when the period of collection is supposed to be over.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Wellington Connection: Christmas

Kristine here, sharing my ornaments with you . . .

We have lots of bears . . . .

Some birds, calling and otherwise . . .

a few souveniers of our travels

But the majority are British themed baubles, including several Big Bens

several soldiers . . . .

a few Royal personages

some London icons . . . . .

and some thrones for good measure . . . .

So where, you rightly ask, is the Wellington Connection? Did you think we'd forget the Duke at Christmas!?

Not a bit of it! The Duke's halls have been decked, and lit, as well.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Raising a Toast to Christmas

The grocery store Trader Joe's recomends egg nog for Christmas in its Holiday Guide 2011. We all love the rich mix, whether or not it is laced with whiskey or rum. The Guide notes that there are some things among our food and drink traditions that are closely associated with the holidays every year.   One version of eggnog's origin is from the English area of East Anglia where a noggin is a small mug.  There are other explanations, but this one is probably as good as any.  Yum.

The picture above accompanies Rachel Ray's recipe(s) for EggNog. Try one of them here.  Ray suggests rum to add a touch of cheer to the traditional egg, cream and nutmeg ingredients.

I remember my parrents serving Tom and Jerrys many years ago at the holidays.  I thought they meant the cat and mouse cartoon characters, but the drink was invented by Pierce Egan (1772-1849), creator of the regency era ne-er-do-wells Tom and Jerry, whose Life in London ran to many editions in the 19th century.  The cat and mouse were named after them too.  Egan was a journalist and sportswriter, and his silly characters had many adventures.  Above, they manage to enter Almack's, where they probably would not find any alcohol, unless it was smuggled in by a regency rake. Though there are many variations, a Tom and Jerry resembles eggnog.

For a recipe, click this link.

As long as I was looking into Christmas cheer, I looked up wassail.  I've sung about going wassailing for years in the well-known carol -- and never stopped to wonder what in the world it meant.

Here is an recipe based on fruit juices and without alcohol.

Appropriately, there are many recipes for wassail or wassail punch, though all seem to have a apple  cider base.  According to several sources, wassailing was a group activity involving singing and saluting the health of the apple trees to encourage a good harvest in the future.  Wouldn't this just be a good excuse for a party?  Wassailing could be done at harvest time in the fall, particularly in the south of England where the apple orchards prevail, and at Christmas time, though the roots of the custom seem to go back to pre-Christian days in England. For ale-based and wine-laced recipes and more, click here.

  Another popular warm drink for the holidays is the Hot Toddy, usually made with a lemon-juice base. As in all of the above, alcohol is optional. I note than many examples carry a cinnamon stick as a stir.  To repeat, yum.  Some sources say the Scottish version is usually made with whisky and the English version with strong black tea. For recipes, click here.

 There are many more Christmas drinks, both traditional and cutting-edge.  Think hot buttered rum, mulled wine and/or cider, hot chocolate, or Irish Coffee.  Or try Bishop, a warm wine-based drink mixed by Scrooge in Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol. 

So here's to you, a virtual cup of good cheer for the holidays!!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

In this sequel, Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Dr. Watson join forces to outwit and bring down their fiercest adversary, Professor Moriarty, played by Jared Harris, below.

Stephen Fry is Mycroft Holmes, elder brother of Sherlock.

And then, of course, there are Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law -

This cast alone should be more than enough encouragement to see the film, but should you be the odd man out and need even more incentive, Wikipedia offers this plot synopsis: "Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) has always been the smartest man in the room…until now. There is a new criminal mastermind at large—Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris)—and not only is he Holmes’ intellectual equal, but his capacity for evil, coupled with a complete lack of conscience, may actually give him an advantage over the renowned detective. When the Crown Prince of Austria is found dead, the evidence, as construed by Inspector Lestrade (Eddie Marsan), points to suicide. But Sherlock Holmes deduces that the prince has been the victim of murder—a murder that is only one piece of a larger and much more portentous puzzle, designed by one Professor Moriarty. Mixing business with pleasure, Holmes tracks the clues to an underground gentlemen’s club, where he and his brother, Mycroft Holmes (Stephen Fry) are toasting Dr. Watson (Jude Law) on his last night of bachelorhood. It is there that Holmes encounters Sim (Noomi Rapace), a Gypsy fortune teller, who sees more than she is telling and whose unwitting involvement in the prince’s murder makes her the killer’s next target. Holmes barely manages to save her life and, in return, she reluctantly agrees to help him. The investigation becomes ever more dangerous as it leads Holmes, Watson and Sim across the continent, from England to France to Germany and finally to Switzerland. But the cunning Moriarty is always one step ahead as he spins a web of death and destruction—all part of a greater plan that, if he succeeds, will change the course of history." Yowza!

Watch the trailer here.