Saturday, 28 February 2009


I think someone stole January and I've obviously mislaid large parts of February -- I just don't know where the time goes. I've been writing this blog for a whole year now and I can't quite believe it.

I've had very modest success -- which apparently peaked in October. I believe this may be due to a glitch that redirects people from something about caravan sites in the UK to one of my posts about Square Foot Gardening. Also, I'm guessing a lot of people got covered hangers for Christmas as there seemed to be a fair amount of interest in my post about that; I'd no idea the economic climate was quite that grim.

You wouldn't believe the gyrations I went through to get this graph for you: pull data off statcounter, save as excel spreadsheet, do printscreen into word, copy the picture into Paint; edit and save. Open in picture viewer and crop... Actually I love making graphs -- I used to do it for a living way back when -- and messing around like this is a big part of the fun, I think.

I would recommend blogging to anyone who enjoys writing even half as much as I do; please let me know if you decide to launch a blog! The pleasure I've had from fiddling with this is what really makes me count it a success. In addition, many of my family and friends keep up with our doings via the blog and it is principally for that audience that I write.

I haven't actually met my goals as yet, however. I set myself the target of posting 20 times per month and I've only achieved that on 2 occasions. Also, all that money I plan to make on advertising, etc.....right.

Friday, 27 February 2009

Tynemouth Flea Market

Bill and I went to the Tynemouth Flea Market the other day. Before I start showing it to you, I shall tell you that 'flea markets' began back in the days of the Black Plague, which is of course carried from an animal host, in those days usually a rat, to humans by fleas. Cities and towns had walls for defense. When the plague was about, the town officials wouldn't let itinerant sellers into town for fear they would bring it in with them, so sellers set up their market stalls just outside, along the town walls.

Tynemouth Flea Market is in the Victorian Metro station. I've not seen any rats or fleas there, though there are plenty of pigeons (that the former mayor of London once called 'flying rats') and a fat black and white cat that hangs out there. [During plagues, people bought cats to kill rats, hoping this would help. Ironically, fleas flea a dead host all the faster. Also, cats are quite susceptible to plague and when they have the pneumonic form, it is easily transmitted to a person who cuddles the kitty].

Once a rail station, the brick buildings now house offices, shops and cafes, but at the weekend there is the market. This market is actually responsible for my having bought a house at the coast rather than in Newcastle. I had looked around Newcastle for 8-9 months but didn't find much that I really wanted in my price range.

I often went to the flea market on Sundays to buy paperback books, as the library was shut. Then one day it dawned on me that I could bear a 30 minute commute on the Metro and I started looking around here. A friend called my attention to a house that was for sale; she had taken piano lessons from one of the spinsters who lived here.

We used to go to the flea market a lot more often than we do now; we might make it 2 or 3 times a year these days. We mainly went this time because I needed some batteries put in a couple of watches. I've put it off a long time as I rarely wear watches any more, but having so many of Rita's and mine around I thought I should at least try to enjoy wearing them occasionally.

I could just about live out of the market -- we did for quite a while. I bought dishes, pots and pans there when waiting for my things to come over from America. White Pyrex plates for 35p is one of the best bargains I've ever seen and one of those pots is still my favourite for making popcorn. I used to buy things like toast racks and coffee mugs with the Queen's picture on to take back to friends in the US. Several of Mom's oil paintings, my needlework projects, Bill's ancestor's sampler; they were framed by the man at the corner stall. Furniture, sewing supplies, clothing, light name it, they have it.

Over here when someone dies, there are businesses specialising in house clearance. The contents are sold at auctions and markets, car boot sales, etc; they don't do yard/garage sales here for some reason -- perhaps because not everyone has a yard or a garden? In addition to used stuff, some stalls sell handmade items like these baby dolls which are incredibly life-like.

I thought this doll was rather clever -- aspirational, even.

The bridge over the Metro line has a centre room in which students'

'art' is displayed. This is apparently a glasswork student's work.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Almost as Good as Oklahoma's

Bill was on the way to the kitchen to make some coffee when he poked his head back into the sitting room and told me to "Hurry, come look". Soon as I saw what he meant I dashed upstairs and grabbed the camera; one day there will be a sociological term for the effect blogging has on one's perceptions of life, something like OCBD: Obsessive Compulsive Blogging Disorder.

Never mind, I just wanted to show you we sometimes have good sky around here; it's not always just grey.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Word for February

ABNEGATE v. Deny oneself. Not in itself a word of great usefulness. Included in this book because it is vital that the Superior Person not allow himself to be confused by the similarity between it and abrogate (repeal), derogate (detract), abdicate (renounce), and arrogate (claim). The use of these words is advisable only for pipe-smokers, whose mid-sentence inhalations may afford sufficient time for the mental gymnastics necessary to ensure that the proper term is selected.

Funny thing about living in England is that I seem to get more exposure to practices that I typically think of as related to the Catholic religion. This is in part because the Church of England is pretty much what we call the Episcopal Church in the US. When I lived in the US I thought of Episcopalians as just being Protestant Catholics, which I'm sure is wrong, but if you've ever been to a Catholic mass and to an Episcopal service, you'll know what I mean. My parents sent me off to church with everybody in the neighbourhood, probably so they'd have a quiet morning to recover from the night before.

Anyhow, turns out that Shrove Tuesday is called Pancake Day here. In preparation for Lent, one is supposed to use up all one's cake making supplies by making pancakes. Well, I didn't make pancakes yesterday, not having any maple syrup. I didn't hear about any Pancake races, either.

I worked with a Catholic friend in Oklahoma, Pam. I still remember that she bounced up to my desk one day and asked me if I wanted to give up something for Lent with her, exactly like she might invite me to go out to lunch or something. Pam was always like that, really enthusiastic about everything. Darned if I didn't end up giving up meat for Lent that year and something else -- I forget what -- the next. I haven't bothered with it much since, but one of the sewing ladies is Catholic and this reminded me that Lent was coming up -- not that she's planning to make any sacrifices.

I've considered giving up salt for Lent. I do love my table salt, though I never add it to food when I'm cooking; I prefer to let others make their own decision on the matter. One often hears about the risks of too much salt intake, mainly to do with heart disease and stroke.

I did some reading about it today. Strangely, I found myself nearly talked out of it. We eat almost no processed foods at home and I can't imagine how we might eat more fruit and veg than we do (potassium helps to balance sodium). Since we make our own bread, I know that a loaf that lasts us about a week has only 2 tsp in it; I forgot it one time and we didn't particularly notice, so halving that amount wouldn't be a problem.

The thing is, I've always had low blood pressure, not high. I sometimes have cramps in my feet and legs when I'm training harder, like now, and one theory about what causes this is to do with electrolyte imbalance. Waking up with a cramp in the middle of the night is no fun. Bill probably has low blood pressure as well as he sometimes gets dizzy when he stands up too quickly (orthostatic hypotension - I just love long polysyllabic words). Might I regret agreeing to give up my table salt? I was just about to ignore the issue, then I read this because I know salt has always been a very political subject (where there is money, there will be politics, right?).

On the positive side of less salt is that one's sense of other flavours is supposed to increase and I have a cupboard full of spices just waiting for me to figure out what to do with them. So, I've just about decided to go ahead and try it and see what happens. If the worst happens -- I start getting cramps or passing out or something, I can always opt out, can't I?

Are you abnegating anything for Lent?

Sunday, 22 February 2009

F Words

I was going to title this Frugal Food Fun...but that's not nearly as attention-getting, is it?

I was looking at what we spent on food in January and thinking about what I had learned from our use-it-up project. I found a couple of new main course recipes that we'll definitely be using again, "Vegetarian Cassoulet" and "Salmon Fishcakes". I particularly liked the latter as it helped use up the mountain of tinned salmon I seem to have acquired over the last couple of years. Before this, I made 'Salmon Puff', which Bill quite liked, but it was fiddly, requiring the beating of egg whites; I don't always have eggs on hand.

We tried a couple of fishcake recipes, one with breadcrumbs, but the one I like used boiled potatoes. Just mash the cooked potatoes with the tinned salmon, a knob of butter and a tablespoon of milk, make into patties, roll in seasoned -- which I take to mean salt & pepper -- flour and fry...except that I broil them. Hey, this has to be good; it comes out of a book with 'cordon bleu' in the title. As with Salmon Puff, one tin makes into sufficient food for 2-3 meals.

Last night we had salmon fishcakes, steamed beetroot and broccoli and, for dessert, sliced kiwi fruit, apple and banana topped with yoghurt. I dare anyone to come up with something healthier.

By my reckoning we spent £59 on food in January, much less than the £88 we spent in January last year. However, meals out in Liverpool, even though Bill's work paid for most of his, added something like another £47 ... Eating out never looks expensive until you add it into the food budget like this and then it's positively shocking!

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Snow at the Beach

I'm sure I've mentioned that it snowed here last week. I was annoyed as it meant not going for a run but what I did do was take the camera and stop by the beach on the way home from runing errands. I got a few comments on the picture I used for my Christmas email, so was thinking that I might capture another useful image.

There were plenty of other people out with cameras. The small black specks in the water below are people surfing. I think they are complete nutters, but I suspect the lunacy of doing it is part of the fun.

Fishing on the Tyne and at the coast isn't uncommon, but I've not seen many out in this sort of weather.

This was my favourite. The snow isn't deep -hence the dirty snowman -- but the fog horn was blaring and the dark was closing in. You can just make out a ship setting out ... There are a lot of people around here who are just more prepared to put up with the cold and the dark than I am!

Friday, 20 February 2009

Giant Man-Eating Courgettes

I planted some seeds in mid January (in yogurt pots), covered them with Saran wrap / cling film and then ignored them a while. Within a week there were signs of growth and seems like I just turned around and there were these things sticking up.

Other plants are starting, but they're really weedy in comparison and I'm not sure whether all my scavenged seeds -- from bell peppers, lemons and apples -- will come up, but they were free so what the heck.

What I will be doing is saving and planting seeds from these two giants that I just brought home from the green market! Biggest peppers I've ever seen!

[Not shown above, piece of lovely blue/pink/lavender linoleum I found down my street when finishing a run. I passed it, thinking, no use for that but doubled back when I thought of protecting Grandma and Grandpa's card table, pressed into service for the seedlings. It is just the right size and all my favourite colours, so clearly it was meant to be...]

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Whole Lotta (g)Love(s)

The other day Bill was rushing around trying to get his stuff together to go do a cross-country race. He couldn't find his race number and he couldn't find his gloves and he was not his normally sweet self; I couldn't wait for him to find his way out the door. The irony of it was that the next day when he went for a run around here, he found 4 gloves. Yep, he's started picking them up for me... This is just what we've got in the last 4-5 weeks.

By the way, for a look at what some silly old men go and do for fun on a Saturday (and to hear a Geordie accent), see
Bill's not in this one, but he normally would have been.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Suffering for It

I've had this crazy idea in my head for ages and when I realised Hazel's birthday was coming up I decided it needed to come out of there. Card making is all the rage around here and over in the US as well, I gather, but I've never been that excited about making cards with paper. I much prefer the tactile qualities of fabrics and I had some vague ideas about using fabric to make a birthday greeting.

For Hazel, who is good at making me laugh, I wanted bright cheery colours. I decided on the wording. I thought about flowers or other decorations, but decided to Keep It Simple. I looked at all the fonts in
Word and chose

the ones I liked best either because the shapes were pretty or because I thought they were practical; you might guess that the latter won out in the end. (Ever thought about how squirmy the letter 'e' is?)

I wanted to use the sewing machine but didn't trust that I could make it do what I wanted. The hand sewing didn't take much longer than sew-rip out, sew-rip out in the end. The shiny silk crepe and the thick cotton velvet turned out to be just as difficult as ever to work with. I wasn't confident about putting together the whole thing -- I have no 3-D brain function and so I had a number of false starts. Even the skill about which I was most confident -- embroidery -- didn't serve me as well as I hoped; it's been at least 10 years since I did any and trying to write the words on the shiny fabric was a nightmare.

For a while I questioned whether Hazel was just going to get a store bought paper card after all. It was useful to remember why I wanted to make this for Hazel: she's lovely and funny, not the picky critical type at all. I knew she would see the love and the work that went into the project. The worst that could happen is that she would laugh at it -- not a bad thing at all, making someone laugh on their birthday -- and so I persevered.

On the day it needed to be done and delivered -- no way was I trusting this baby to Royal Mail -- I woke up with ideas for some improvements. I made them in a step-wise fashion so that I could change my mind and put it back the way it was originally finished. I would do a 'tutorial' on this -- like you see on crafty blogs -- but at this stage I think it would be more of a 'notu-torial'.

As I knew I would, I learned a lot doing this and would take a totally different approach on the next one -- if there is a next one...

One thing I will remember: once I gave up on the concept of 'elegant' and moved on to 'fun', it got a lot easier. I decided I wasn't doing craft, this was ART -- and we all know what rubbish artists get away with!

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Do the Thing that Cannot Be Done

That's a note I wrote to myself for last Thursday. Thursdays are the days I'm supposed to work on listing items for sale on Amazon. I've been supposedly working on this since last November; no, that's not right -- I actually set up a seller's account last November. I've been intending to do the Amazon thing with unwanted books and movies for all of 2008.

I had to overcome some huge internal resistance, for some reason I was scared to do this thing. I figure the worst that could happen is that I get it really wrong and I have to refund someone's money and I'm out the postage charges, not that big a deal.

Or someone could sue me, I suppose. I actually heard about a seller on Ebay who was suing a buyer who gave him negative feedback, even though the seller was obviously in the wrong, claiming all sorts about his product that wasn't true. However, his view was that having refunded the guy his money, the buyer had no right to give negative feedback; he was suing because that feedback hurt his business. The buyer wasn't backing down last I read; I wonder how all that worked out.

I'm not in it to make a bunch of money -- Amazon makes the profit, you get pennies after the postage, which they set at I'm not sure a reasonable rate. For each of my listings there are between 11 and 202 other listings at £0.01! I don't recommend that anyone goes to look for my listings, either, as they are not great books, believe me. If they were, I'd be keeping them, right?

There were a handful of books I wanted to list, but they came with various magazines and have NOT FOR RESALE all over them. I resent that, I paid for the darn thing and so I feel I should be able to sell it. Don't think Amazon would collaborate in that though. So they'll go to the pub where we meet after our club runs. They have a book trading scheme on offer. One of the guys, Terry, brought a running book and he's got a betting pool open to see how long that book sits on the shelf before someone trades for it.

Anyhow, I did it -- the thing I've procrastinated on over 50 Thursdays; it's rather satisfying, you know, even though I just made a small start, listing 3 lousy items. It won't be so hard to do more.

They don't make it easy setting up an account, but after about 3 queries to the help desk I got there. The listings aren't that straightforward either: is it the 2003 paperback or the 2004 paperback? Is this the anamorphic version of the the film?? And horrors!!! The seller account listed my full name -- I thought that information was for Amazon, not for everybody!

Fortunately it's dead easy to change your store name (I changed it to ShelleysHouse) why worry over a little negative feedback?

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Your Oldest Thing (Besides Him)

Have I mentioned that I have a cousin in Perth, Australia? We're related through my mother's paternal great-grandparents, I think it is. She could tell you better than I could, probably. Anyhow, ever since we found each other about 18 months ago we've had a great going correspondence.

She asked me a brilliant question in one of her last emails. After expressing interest in the pictures of my Grandmother's furniture, she asked, "What is the oldest thing you have?" I had to work to come up with some guesses:

My Grandfather's s pocket watch ?1914-1924?
Grandma's engagement ring ?1913?
My 1st wedding ring, his grandmother's - ?1905?
Cosmopolitan magazine and her cookbooks - ?1899?
Bill's family's furniture, I've no idea about their ages, older than mine
Sampler by one of his ancestors - definitely 1879

I mentioned this to him at dinner the other night and he fetched this handwritten cookbook. I'd seen it before, it lives in the kitchen next to my Grandma's turn-of-the century cookbooks, but I'd not realised the date, though it appears on the first page. I'm scanning a little to show it to you, but can't really do it justice without risking the binding and there is no way I'm going to do that. I'm sure you'll understand.

There is a page that is loose, however (and one that is missing, apparently):

There are 205 recipes written in this lovely handwriting, from How to Make a Lemon Puding to Wine of Elder Berry. Following the recipes is an alphabetic index, from An Angelic Pudding to To Pickle Walernutts (?); in the recipe she writes walnutts.

At the end of the index is written

Elisabeth Smith her book 1732

The person who next used this book of pages has different writing altogther and apparently far less patience. She only wrote this one recipe in full, having started on the previous page to write about The Gilly of Calvesfeet, but giving up after only two lines. She liked doing swirls, though. (Elisabeth preferred a neat centred column of graduated lines, making an upside down pyramid).

Sadly, the swirlly girl didn't oblige us with any dates.

In the back cover, which I dare not try to scan, yet another handwriting lists dates in 1757 - 1760 on which 3 members of the Baker family went to either Lady att Mr. Finnicks or a Mr S... a name I cannot make out.

I had it in my head that this was visiting tailors, but only because there is a posh department store in Newcastle called Fenwicks (pronounced Fennicks) and this names the part of the store where they sell the designer frocks. It doesn't work, though, as that store wasn't opened until 1882. More prosaically, Bill thinks that, as they all March or April dates, they are hiring fairs for servants. Also, he's made out that "Lady" is actually Lodg, so Eliz. Baker went to Lodg at Mr Finnicks, as servants did at one time. Still, quite interesting.

Bill was disappointed to read the name Baker; he'd earlier thought this was a different name, a family name. Fortunately, one of the Baker's has a slightly unusual given name that a quick check on indicates might be local. I think he's got a bit of interesting genealogical detective work in front of him, but it won't be simple as the English census starts in 1841.

Research issues aside, the date 1732 still takes my breath away. George Washington was born in 1732. You can bet I wipe my hands and touch with gentle reverence. I wonder if we should be wearing gloves?

I just had a look at the schedule for the Antiques Roadshow. I see that on 27 August they will be filming at The Bowes Museum, one of our very favourite places to visit any old time. Here I sit fizzing with excitement but old Wet Blanket William comes home from work and says he thinks this book, even being 277 years old, is probably not that unusual, something I find incredible. Never mind, it would fun to go to the Bowes in August even had we nothing to ask the experts about.

Watch this space...

Friday, 13 February 2009

Confessions of a (Reformed) Magazine Addict

In my previous life when I was rich -- well, richer than now -- I loved buying magazines. I've always loved magazines, but in the last years when I was working, they were practically an addiction.

There are the pretty pictures and the vital information about what make up to buy, what to wear, etc. I rarely took their advice, but it was good to know all the same. At some point I think I crossed a line: I began looking for
answers in magazines. With each issue I bought -- having carefully studied the front covers -- I seemed to have a whisper in the back of my head that this one would change my life. Pretty crazy, huh? My only excuse was that I travelled a lot for work and hated the hours it stole from my real life. I travelled mainly on the train. Every train station has a bookstore. I wanted some escape.

Probably my all time favourite magazine here in the UK was
Eve, originally published by the BBC. It was a riot -- outrageous in some ways. They spoke matter-of-factly about the flaws of older women's bodies, but with humour; in "Doing the Maths" they attempted to justify the purchase of a ridiculously expensive piece of clothing, in "1001 Things Women Should Know", they addressed monumental questions like "Why do men have nipples". I bought subscriptions for my Aunt Rita and my friend, Vivien (who in turn bought a subscription for her mother, which I found amazing). There was also a 'How To' section that was full of really useful information about everyday practical stuff, not just about fashion and vanity. Finally, the feature in the front of every issue, "Women Doing Their Own Thing", was about women in business for themselves doing wonderful stuff like having a flower shop or travelling to Mediterrenean countries to purchase olives for their market stalls. The stuff of dreams for a chicken like me!

Eve, was sold to another publisher and it changed. Always having advertised things beyond my conscionable spending budget, if possibly within the actual budget at that time, it just spiralled into the ridiculous. Like most other fashion magazines, the 'articles' became just a poorly veiled list of adverts and I quit subscribing. It's gone out of business now and I say good riddance.

I never found another magazine that was quite as satisfying as Eve. I did actually feel I learned a few useful things from each issue, no doubt a BBC-effect. Didn't you used to feel intellectually superior for a while after watching some Shakespeare or nature programme from the BBC on the Public Broadcasting System? Channel 13 in OKC, it was. Perhaps it's all Sesame Street or the modern version, now, I don't know. Anyhow...

Have I ever mentioned that I tend to keep stuff? The stack on the left is about 3' tall; the stack on the right is of magazines from the 1990's (picture taken in Jan 2009). I expect I'll keep the right hand stack until I think Antiques Roadshow would be interested. The left hand stack is what is left after weeks and weeks of cutting out articles (and recycling the remainder, of course).

I spent a very peaceful, fun day last Sunday with Bill, sitting at the diningroom table with the fire going. Neither of us felt up to anything more than sitting having been ill the previous week. He was dinking around on his laptop; I was sorting through magazine articles, putting them into categories. I revisit my articles with the same pleasure I get from re-reading my favourite novels. If this sounds totally daft to you, consider that each issue costs between £2 and £5; darned if I'm not going to have something to show for that money!

I almost never buy magazines any more, unless of course I'm in a train station or airport, anticipating a long tedious journey...

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Liverpool International Slavery Museum

So, now I'm going to tell you all about what I saw at the museum. Why did I find this so fascinating? There are probably several reasons. One is that over the years, a few Brits have taken pleasure in telling me "Britain never had slaves like the US did, wasn’t it terrible what you did to the Red Indians, etc., etc., etc." Perhaps I wanted to get some dirt I could dish back in defense. I do agree that the plight of the African slaves and of Native Americans was grim, but I dislike a pompous attitude anytime I meet it.
Whatever I thought the museum would be, it was somehow different. It was a little frustrating in that I couldn't figure out where to start; the layout didn't facilitate a systematic approach (I'm still a control freak, OK?). However, I think I managed to see nearly all of it.

There were bits that addressed the misery of the slaves as people, the conditions on the ships, the selling, etc. but -- not to be dismissive -- I’ve heard about that all my life. In my early 20's, when I took some of my first ever vacations, I loved visiting the grand plantation houses of the Deep South. It was a guilty pleasure knowing how they were originally built and maintained. When one considers the personal experiences of any one who lost their life into slavery, it is deeply disturbing; but I didn't want the emotional side of the issue at this point, I was looking for facts.

What really grabbed me at the Liverpool museum was information about how Europe and also South America, particularly Brazil (the last to formally end slavery in 1888), changed the history of Africa beginning in the 1500’s when they began taking people from that continent to use for their own purposes. Just looking at one kind of impact, I could vaguely make comparisons to when one reads about the American Civil War and about WWI where the number of casualties among young men altered the demographics of the
population. This left far fewer marriageable men, hence there were more spinsters, and it created a subsequent dearth in population growth. I read somewhere that France’s population has never really recovered from her losses in the two world wars and hence the social policies and tax promoting and encouraging families; one sees those in many developed countries. Of course the birth rate in Africa is much higher and so this is probably a foolish comparison; it was the only similarity I could think of at the time where a group of people have just disappeared/been removed. (Also, it is no longer appropriate to talk about Africa as a single place, given the economic growth of a number of her countries, but I assume I may be safe in doing so historically).

In 300-400 years over 12 million people – mainly young men – were stolen from Africa. Basically, one can just empty out the current residents of Oklahoma, Kansas, Utah and Colorado; no wait, just take the really young healthy ones, so we could add a few states to the list if we weren't too lazy to look up the specific age group info. Remember, healthy young adults weren't that easy to come by back when infant and maternal mortality rates were ridiculously high even in rich white societies. Oh, but we'll empty out those states slowly, taking the prime candidates generation after generation. What changes might that have made to US history (putting aside any views about the significant contributions of those particular states, chosen only because they are contiguous and I used to live in two of them). A comparable number of missing persons would constitute 20% of the current UK population. It's just my way of trying to comprehend what 12 million means; I still don't think I do. I took a picture of the plaque because I wanted to remember and understand this better:

"The transatlantic slave trade operated for almost 400 years. At least 12 million Africans were forcibly transported, but many millions more were profoundly affected. ...The transatlantic slave trade distorted African societies, stealing from them their young people; two thirds of enslaved people were males aged between 15 and 25. Arms and ammunition brought to Africa by European traders helped perpetuate conflict and political instability. Robbing the workforce of young and healthy individuals caused industrial and economic stagnation. Successful trade routes that existed before European intervention were disrupted. The development of African communities and cultures was severely stunted. Agriculture suffered as communities abandoned fertile land while fleeing the long reach of the European slavers. The labour and inventiveness of enslaved peoples shaped the Americas and enriched Western Europe, rather than their African homelands."

So, let’s be right about this slavery thing. It was Western Europeans who stole people from Africa and, later after that form of slavery was outlawed, I read somewhere previously, the crowned heads of Europe virtually sat down at the table and carved up Africa. France and Britain did rather well for themselves.

(Britain's portion is the dark red bits; a bit of typical vandalism here).

Somewhere else (frustrating not to be able to remember where) I read that Britain did better out of this than France because they chose areas that were predominantly Muslim, where the people understood hierarchy better than the wild, independent tribes in the areas that France got. This made the British colonies easier to rule than other areas. Not being able to remember the source and knowing that my reading isn't always on the highest of intellectual planes, I'm not certain how reliable that information is. It is true however, that the European divisions did not relate to the tribal allegiances or differences, and so the resulting administrative boundaries that exist today are still problematic: y
et another way in which Europe has altered African history.

Why does this interest me so much? I think of it as attempting to fill one of the many embarrassing gaps in my knowledge of the world. I grew up hearing about places like Rhodesia and French Guiana but it was so far away and so little to do with me I didn’t think about it much. I have since been to The Gambia, admittedly only to a very rich portion of it, staying at the President’s Hotel, a tourist resort owned literally by the President. We did wonder out of the compound a couple of nights; it was a different world, not at all like I expected. I'll have to find those pictures and write about it sometime.

I remember meeting a man from Nigeria once in Oklahoma City sometime in the 1970s. He may as well have been from a different planet, I was so astounded. Working in public health improved my chances of meeting foreigners and of course living abroad has further widened my encounters. Had I remained in OKC it might not have been so obvious to me, but living here I'm more aware of how much I don't know about the world and about history.

I was wide-eyed to learn that Liverpool’s (and Bristol's) vast wealth wasn’t just established on “shipping”, it was built on shipping
slaves. The "slave triangle" was created when

(a) trade goods, ie weapons and printed cotton, from Europe and South America went to various coastal parts of Africa (there was a great little video that showed how the shipping patterns shifted over the centuries) and were swapped for people;
(b) those people were sent to places like Brazil, Jamaica and the American colonies/southern US; apparently not directly into Britain, which is why some people think they can take the moral high ground;
(c) goods like coffee, cotton and sugar – grown with slave labour – were brought back to Europe.

Not surprisingly
a ship called Alabama was built by Liverpool to support the Confederacy during the Civil War.

"The profits from slavery helped changed the industrial and economic landscape of Britain and other parts of Western Europe. As the transatlantic slave trade was growing, Britain was undergoing a transformation into the First Industrial Nation....Successful slave owners were able to amass vast personal fortunes. This wealth was in turn used to build grand houses and as an investment in other enterprises, such as iron, coal and banking....Britain's economy was changed by the increased demand for plantation produce like sugar and cotton. The working classes began to consume sugar on a regular basis; it was no longer a luxury. The cotton industry powered technological innovation and industrial development, speeding up the process of turning this raw material into finished goods...As the demand for plantation produce increased, so did the demand for enslaved Africans to produce it. In order to purchase more Africans, traders needed more guns, textiles and luxury goods. To cope with the increased flow of goods across Britain, rivers were made more navigable and canals and roads constructed."

Awesome to be surrounded by history, to look straight at it, but not know too much about what created it. There was a useful interactive exhibit that showed the many buildings, parks, charities and businesses created by the wealth built from slave trade. One of the examples was Harewood House, one of many stately homes in Britain now open to the public. They probably weren't all built from slave trade, but now I can't help but wonder how many coal magnates around Newcastle got their foot in that door through another route.

One has the impression that the wealth of the Confederate States was lost in the Civil War and subsequent events. There may have been the odd plantation owner smart enough to invest in the industrial North, but it's not a major theme in the history books. One hears more about 'genteel poverty' amongst the Southern 'aristocracy'. [Come to think of it, wasn't that why Rhett Butler still had money?]

In any case, the British looked after their own; the wealthy were in politics after all. In 1833, when Britain sort of, selectively abolished slavery, they spent £20 million pounds compensating those whose business interests would suffer through loss of their slaves. In the early 19th Century, £20 million was an enormouse amount! For example, the then Bishop of Exeter was given £12,700 for his 665 slaves. According to one source (which also works in US$ if you want to play), that £12,700 would be -- using the much more conservative retail price index estimate -- worth £990,185 in current money. More than enough to save you from genteel poverty or any other kind.

Liverpool touts itself as The City of Britain second only to London, a claim which may even be justified for all I know. One of their notable natives, born in Rodney Street, was William Gladstone who rose to be (four-time) Prime Minister. Although he was a Liberal, he supported the Confederacy in the American Civil War (in a speech he made when visiting Newcastle in 1862). His father's wealth came from plantations in the West Indies. I'm certain Gladstone's biography would have been a complete yawn for me at any other time, but I found it -- the abbreviated version in Wikipedia anyhow -- fairly interesting just now.

Finally, when I first came across I remember being intrigued that some people here referred to virtually anyone of colour as being 'black'. When I mentioned this in conversation, Bill didn't believe me. Well,

"The early Black community in Liverpool mainly comprised of seamen working for shipping lines...Because of bomb damage during World War II, the Black community moved from the south docks to the Granby Toxteth area. During the 1970s and 1980s ... 'Black' became a political term that also embraced Asians, Chinese and Arabs."

I love it when I get to be right.

There was a lot more at the museum about the definition of slavery and racism and I didn't quite follow all the argument, so I won't try to discuss that here. There was also a display that explained some of the problems with current trade policies that I would like to better understand, but I think that may take me a while.

In the mean time, whilst the US certainly wasn’t above reproach in all this, I think the next fat, pretentious Brit that wants to have a go at me about our role in slavery is going to get a little more than he might have bargained for.

I can hardly wait…

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Last Day in Liverpool - Part I

Our last morning in Liverpool, we had Laurel and Hardy with us at breakfast (as in, a fat guy and a skinny guy in costume doing the act). I'm sorry not to have taken their picture, as usual I didn't have my camera to hand. I’ve no idea what that was all about, but having lived in Britain for over a decade now, very little about people’s dress and behaviour really surprises me much anymore. That sounds rather blasé, but in fact it is one of the things I like best about living here -- the diversity (a word beloved by HR departments everywhere). Only the previous day I spotted a couple of young men exiting a department store dressed as super heroes, you know, with tights and capes and such, but I didn’t do them the honour of taking their picture. I suspected it had to do with collecting money for charity and didn’t want to attract their attention. It occurs to me to mention here that North Shields claims Stan Laurel as a native son. Reading up on this I can see I need to go take some photos for you...

Anyhow, on this our last day in Liverpool, it turned out that Bill wanted to see much of what I had already covered and so we walked Hope Street starting at the Metropolitan end,
where Bill wanted to check out the modern Catholic church

then wandered down past Chinatown

to Albert Dock,

where we spent most of the day. After that we walked past the Pierhead,

past the Town Hall, which I had previously overlooked (and also needs cleaned)

up to the Walker Museum where we spent an hour or so until it was time to get back to the car and head for Manchester to have dinner and stay the night at Helen’s house.

The main thing at Albert Dock I wanted to see was the International Slavery Museum. I don’t know what I expected, really, maybe sad stories and horrible pictures. I was interested mainly because I understood Liverpool had strong links with slavery. I read so much there that grabbed me that I've decided to make it a separate post. So you'll just have to contain your curiosity until tomorrow...

Monday, 9 February 2009

Under the Weather

Sorry to have been 'silent' for so long. Last week Bill got hit with a stomach bug and I caught some sort of cold that sent me to sleep about 20 hours a day. We were a right pair for a while, but it seems to have passed now thankfully.

Now we have ice on the pavements. The rest of the country seems to have snow -- snow drifts, even -- but we have a light sprinkling of snow hardened into ice. I skated between the back door and the cabbage patch and decided no running for me. I suppose I could drive the short distance to the beach rather than risk falling but you know what? I'm not going to.

Today I have been writing emails to people I've not been good about keeping in touch with, in spite of the fact that I've sent 87 emails to people thus far this year. This -- the 87 and the 15 sent today -- requires lots of typing. I've invited all those people here to this blog and now I'm writing this really scintillating post that is sure to keep them coming back for more, right (not)?

Never mind, like my running and the weather and Bill's disposition of late - it can only get better.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Progress Report

I'm pleased to report that I have been paying attention to tablets and inhaler and am rewarded with slightly better functioning lungs. Even better, during the month of January I ran for 351 minutes, working up from 20 minute to 40 sessions and up to 4 times a week. The best news of all is that I weigh 5 pounds (2.3 kilograms) less than I did at the first of the month and my clothes are much more comfortable.

Another goal I set for myself was to re-learn Spanish, at least well enough to read it. A good number of the people I know here speak at least two or more languages and I've always been a bit embarrassed that I only speak one (though I understand both Okie and Geordie dialects -- does that count?). I took 6 years of Spanish in primary school and still remember many of the phrases; I just don't know what they mean.

Somewhere along the line I acquired Hugo's Simplified Spanish. The writing in the back cover reminds me of my Uncle Bernard's, but to my knowledge he didn't speak Spanish either. I decided I would do myself some flash cards (anyone remember those?) and aim for 100 new words per month. Turns out Hugo has lots more in mind for his students, starting out with grammatical rules. It's all fairly logical and after the section on grammar comes a section to help with reading and only after that is conversational Spanish addressed.

I've been fascinated with the book itself as there is no publication date, no ISBN. It just says "Printed in the United States of America". The preface states it was written 20 years after the "Argentine Republic boom" which I'm guessing has something to do with Peron's rise to power in the 1940's, which we historical idiots only know about because of Madonna. That would mean it was published in the 1960's. Doing a bit more research, turns out that the use of ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers) started here in Britain by the bookseller W.H. Smith in 1966 and only became standard across 150 countries in the 1970s. Strange to think that a system I take for granted only started in my teens; makes me feel older for some reason.

Funny enough, the book is not in copyright and is available right here, so you can follow along with me if you like! I'm only up through lesson two, mind, and I don't know how many words I've written on flash cards, but Bill is well impressed at my routine review of them each evening. Well, I'm off to run some errands.

Hasta luego!