Apr 232018

Today is English Language Day as designated by the UN. The UN celebrates on different days for each of its 6 official languages, and there are many other “language days” promoted by various countries for languages that are not part of the UN official corpus. Today was chosen because it is St George’s day – patron of England – and is purportedly Shakespeare’s birthday. There is actually no record of Shakespeare’s birth. This date is conjectured to be his birthday because he was baptized on April 26 – http://www.bookofdaystales.com/william-shakespeare/  – and counting back three days to his birthday is a reasonable (but by no means certain) conjecture.  It is known that he died on this date, possibly making him one of the noble few who died on their birthdays.

English is classified by historical linguists as a West Germanic language that was first spoken in early medieval England, but the issue is considerably more complex than that because the Old English that was first spoken in what is now England (Angle-land), by Angle and Saxon invaders, is not intelligible to Modern English speakers. It has gone through several significant shifts in vocabulary and syntax that make me want to argue that it is a creole of Old Frisian and Old Norman (maybe with Old Norse thrown in for good measure), rather than a simple descendant of Germanic languages.

English has developed over the course of more than 1,400 years and continues to evolve. The earliest forms of English are actually a set of dialects that we do not have very many written examples of to be fully sure what was spoken in England in the 5th century when invaders from the north German plains moved into southern England. This collection of dialects used to be called Anglo-Saxon, reflecting its complex history, but is now usually called Old English. Middle English began in the late 11th century with the Norman conquest of England: a period in which the language was heavily influenced by Norman French. Early Modern English began in the late 15th century with the introduction of the printing press to London and the printing of the King James Bible, and was the period of the Great Vowel Shift, when pronunciation shifted dramatically (both vowels and consonants), and spelling and pronunciation parted ways.

Because of the worldwide influence of the British Empire, modern English spread around the world starting in the 17th century. English has become the leading language of international discourse and the lingua franca in many regions as well as professional contexts such as science, navigation and law. English is the third most spoken native language in the world, after Standard Chinese and Spanish. It is the most widely learned second language and is either the official language or one of the official languages in almost 60 sovereign states.

Modern English grammar is the result of a gradual change from a typical Indo-European dependent marking pattern (e.g. gender agreement) with a rich inflectional morphology and relatively free word order, to a mostly analytic pattern (i.e. using auxiliary, “helper” words) with little inflection, a fairly fixed SVO (Subject Verb Object) word order and a complex syntax. Modern English relies mostly on auxiliary verbs and word order for the expression of complex tenses, aspect, and mood, as well as for passive constructions, interrogatives and some negation. Despite noticeable variation among the accents and dialects of English used in different countries and regions – in terms of phonetics and phonology, and sometimes also vocabulary, grammar and spelling – English-speakers from around the world are able to communicate with one another fairly easily, increasingly so with the widespread availability of English language programs on public media.

Having an English Language Day does strike me as a bit like having a Straight White Men’s day, as does the attempt recently to create a celebration of St George’s Day in England. If you hold all the power it is not only pointless, but offensive, to celebrate how wonderful you are. The UN is being even handed about things by celebrating each of its official languages on separate days. That’s all right, I guess. English does not need a special day given its immense power in the world today. I have taught English in one form or another – writing, public speaking, etc. – all of my professional life, and have taught English as a foreign language (ESL or EFL) for a number of years. Teaching the language to non-native speakers is incredibly instructive. Having to think about the way you construct a sentence can be eye opening. Recently I was given to wonder why we use the future perfect to express a certainty about the past. For example, I can enter a new class and say, “You will have learned such-and-such last year,” meaning “I am confident that you know such-and-such.” We can use both the present simple (e.g. “I go”) and the present continuous (e.g. “I am going”) for past, present, or future. Try explaining the nuances to a non-native speaker.

Coming to grips with the “rules” that govern the order of adjectives, phrasal verbs, tenses, prepositions, and so forth in English, to be able to teach them, is a severe challenge. I have evolved a system via my teaching that might land up as a text book one day, but it is hardly a priority. The simple fact is that these so-called rules are mutable, and change from culture to culture. The big non-issue for me is British versus American English. Some Brits get really adamant about British English being the more correct of the two, which is utter nonsense. I once had a long, tedious, and fruitless discussion with an English pedant who wanted to argue that the British English “Wednesday to Saturday” made more sense than the American English “Wednesday through Saturday.” What a waste of time. Either way, you can get your point across. If anything, the American English is more logical because you are going through Saturday, not up to it. There is a notable difference between going to a door and going through it. But logic is not really the issue. The “logic” of English prepositions is not logical. You can tease out some generalities, but that’s it.

Old English recipes for everyday food do not exist but we have quite a few recipes for medicines such as this c. 9th century one from Leechbook III contained in the MS commonly called Bald’s Leechbook held in the British Library:

Gif mon biþ on wæterælfadle,
þonne beoþ him þa handnæglas wonne and þa
eagon tearige and wile locian niþer.
Do him þis to læcedome:
eoforþrote, cassuc, fone nioþoweard, eowberge, elehtre, eolone,
merscmealwan crop, fenminte, dile, lilie, attorlaþe, polleie, marubie,
docce, ellen, felterre, wermod, streawbergean leaf, consolde.
Ofgeat mid ealaþ, do hæligwæter to, sing þis gealdor ofer þriwa:

Ic binne awrat betest beadowræda,
swa benne ne burnon, ne burston,
ne fundian, ne feologan, ne hoppettan,
ne wund waxsian,
ne dolh diopian;
ac him self healde halewæge,
ne ace þe þon ma þe eorþan on eare ace.

Sing þis manegum siþum:
Eorþe þe onbere eallum hire mihtum and mægenum.

In modern English (roughly):

If a person has the water elf disease,
then his fingernails will be dark and the
eyes teary and he will look downward.
Prepare him this for a medicine:
carline thistle, cassock, the lower part of an iris, yew berry, lupine, elecampane,
marshmallow tops, fen mint, dill, lily, betony, pennyroyal, horehound,
dock, elder, centaury, wormwood, strawberry leaves, comfrey.
Soak with ale, add holy water to it, and sing this charm three times:

I within wrote the best war-bandages,
so the wounds not boil, nor burst,
nor hasten, nor cleave, nor throb,
nor the wound grow,
nor the gash deepen;
but for him I hold a health-cup,
it will not pain you any more than earth hurts the earth.

Sing this many times:
Earth reduce you with all Her might and power.

Heaven alone knows what water elf disease is. I have seen it claimed to be chicken pox or measles, but why this identification was made defeats me. The symptoms here are darkened fingernails and watery eyes. More interesting is the list of herbs used to make the concoction, which sounds like something Macbeth’s witches would dream up. Probably as useful too. No doubt modern Wiccans bottle it and sell it. Most of the herbs are identifiable and quite useful in cooking, and suggests to me that the common diet in England in the 9th century was richer than we give them credit for. Their breads and porridges may have been pretty plain, and probably the average peasant was not a foodie. But there must have been the odd baker or two who added some flavorings to the daily bread, or something different once in a while to the porridge. Of course, there are plenty of cultures in the world today where a daily porridge of grains is made without extras, even when wild herbs are available. My mother never added anything to our porridge in all the years I was growing up, but that’s because she was a thoroughly unimaginative cook.

English Language Day gives you full license to cook anything in English, although for my money I’d cook something that is decidedly English – if you can find such a thing. Recipes are like languages: their influences come from all over the place. However, the issue is not so much where recipes/languages came from, but, rather, what they have become. English might have once been a creole of German, Danish, and French, but it is now its own thing. Elizabeth David likes to claim that English Christmas pudding is originally French, and so it may be that some assemblage of the basic ingredients may once have been boiled together in France. But the dish as it is made now is English through and through. Japanese tempura is not a version of fish and chips, even though the Japanese got the idea of frying fish in batter from Europeans.

So . . . a thoroughly English dish to celebrate today? I’ve given a ton of recipes already, both regional and general, in my quest to counter all the stupid opinions generated by ignorant travelers. Most recently, a colleague of mine from Myanmar took an extensive trip to England and mixed up his occasional diet of fish and chips with Thai food because he could not find anything more “interesting.” That’s because he did not talk to me before he went, and his English hosts were not all that bright. Asking locals about good food is never a sure-fire way to get it – even in countries where the cuisine is legendary.

I’m going to go with faggots because they were a staple of school lunches when I was a boy, though they were not very good in those days. The name is also a word with different meanings in British and American English. They were cheap meatballs in gravy back then, which is not far off how they started. But they can be good if made well. They were originally a traditional cheap food of country people in western England, particularly west Wiltshire and the west Midlands. They were usually made from pig’s heart, liver and fatty belly meat or bacon minced together, with herbs added for flavoring, and sometimes bread crumbs as a filler and binder, then wrapped in pig’s caul and cooked. In a way, therefore, they were an informal sausage. This recipe is reasonably similar to 19th century ones.



4 oz./110 gm fatty pork shoulder, minced
4 oz./110 gm pig’s liver, minced
8 oz./250 gm pig’s heart, minced
4 oz./110 gm bacon scraps
4 oz./110 gm breadcrumbs
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
½ tsp ground mace
1 tsp ground allspice
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
2 sage leaves, finely chopped
salt and pepper
caul fat (or streaky bacon)


Preheat the oven to 375˚F/190˚C.

Place the minced meats, breadcrumbs, onion, herbs, spices in a large mixing bowl. Mix thoroughly, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Using your hands, moistened under running cold water, divide the minced meat mixture into 8 evenly sized portions and roll them into balls.

Wrap each ball in caul (or streaky bacon) making sure the caul overlaps and is secure. Place the faggots on a baking sheet and bake for 45 to 50 minutes. Serve immediately with onion gravy and mashed potatoes (maybe also mushy peas) rather like bangers and mash.








Apr 222018

Today is the birthday (1707) of Henry Fielding, English novelist and dramatist known primarily as the author of Tom Jones, written at a time when the English novel was in its infancy. He holds a significant place in the history of law enforcement, and, with his half-brother John, founded what some have called London’s first police force, the Bow Street Runners.

Fielding was born in Sharpham in Somerset, and educated at Eton College, where he established a lifelong friendship with William Pitt the Elder. When Fielding was 11, his mother died. A suit for custody was brought by his grandmother against his father, Lt. Gen. Edmund Fielding, whom she deemed irresponsible. The settlement placed Fielding in his grandmother’s care, although he continued to see his father in London. In 1725, Fielding tried to abduct his cousin, Sarah Andrews, while she was on her way to church. To avoid prosecution, he fled. In 1728, he travelled to Leiden to study classics and law at the university. However, lack of money obliged him to return to London and he began writing for the theatre. Some of his work was savagely critical of the government of the prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole.

The Theatrical Licensing Act of 1737 is alleged to be a direct response to his activities. The particular play that triggered the Licensing Act was the unproduced, anonymously authored, The Golden Rump, but Fielding’s dramatic satires had set the tone. Once the act was passed, political satire on the stage became virtually impossible, and playwrights whose works were staged were viewed as suspect. Fielding therefore retired from the theater and resumed his career in law in order to support his wife, Charlotte Craddock, and two children, by becoming a barrister. Fielding’s lack of business sense meant he and his family often endured periods of poverty, but he was helped by Ralph Allen, a wealthy benefactor, on whom Squire Allworthy in Tom Jones was later based. Allen went on to provide for the education and support of Fielding’s children after Fielding’s death.

Fielding never stopped writing political satire and satires of current arts and letters. The Tragedy of Tragedies (for which Hogarth designed the frontispiece) was, for example, quite successful as a printed play. He also contributed a number of works to journals of the day. From 1734 until 1739 he wrote anonymously for the leading Tory periodical, The Craftsman, against Walpole. Fielding’s patron was the opposition Whig MP (and his boyhood friend from Eton) George Lyttelton. Lyttelton followed his leader Lord Cobham in forming a Whig opposition to Walpole’s government, called the Cobhamites (who also included Fielding’s other Eton friend, William Pitt). In The Craftsman, Fielding articulated the opposition’s attack on bribery and corruption in British politics.

Fielding dedicated his play Don Quixote in England to the opposition Whig leader, Lord Chesterfield, and it was published on 17th April 1734, the same day writs were issued for the general election. He dedicated his 1735 play The Universal Gallant to Charles Spencer, 3rd Duke of Marlborough, a political follower of Chesterfield. The other prominent opposition newspaper, Common Sense, was named after a character in Fielding’s Pasquin (1736) and was founded by Chesterfield and Lyttelton. Fielding continued to air his political views in satirical articles and newspapers in the late 1730s and early 1740s. He became the chief writer for the Whig government of Henry Pelham.

Fielding took to writing novels in 1741, irritated by Samuel Richardson’s success with Pamela. His first big success was an anonymous parody: Shamela. This satire follows the model of the famous Tory satirists of the previous generation, such as, Jonathan Swift and John Gay. Fielding followed Shamela with Joseph Andrews (1742), an original work supposedly dealing with Pamela’s brother, Joseph. His purpose in this book, however, was more than parody, for he intended, as he announced in the preface, a “kind of writing which I do not remember to have seen hithereto attempted in our language.” In this new kind of writing, which Fielding called a “comic epic poem in prouse,” he creatively blended two classical traditions: that of the epic, which had been poetic, and that of the drama, but emphasizing the comic rather than the tragic. Another distinction of Joseph Andrews and of the novels to come was the use of everyday reality of character and action as opposed to the fables of the past. Although begun as a parody, it developed into an accomplished novel in its own right and is considered to mark Fielding’s debut as a serious novelist. In 1743, he published a novel in the Miscellanies volume III (which was the first volume of the Miscellanies): The History of the Life of the Late Mr Jonathan Wild the Great, which is sometimes counted as his first, as he almost certainly began it before he wrote Shamela and Joseph Andrews. It is a satire of Walpole that draws a parallel between him and Jonathan Wild, the infamous gang leader and highwayman. He implicitly compares the Whig party in Parliament with a gang of thieves being run by Walpole, whose constant desire to be a “Great Man” (a common epithet for Walpole) ought to culminate in the antithesis of greatness: being hanged.

His anonymous The Female Husband (1746) is a fictionalized account of a notorious case in which a female transvestite was tried for duping another woman into marriage. This was one of a number of small pamphlets, and cost sixpence at the time. Though a minor item in Fielding’s œuvre, the subject is consistent with his ongoing preoccupation with fraud, shamming and masks. His greatest work, Tom Jones (1749), came next.  If you don’t know it, read it. The hallmark of the book is its presentation of English life and character in the mid-18th century (akin to Hogarth’s art). Every social type is represented, and through them every shade of moral behavior.

Fielding married Charlotte Craddock in 1734 at the Church of St Mary in Charlcombe, Somerset. She died in 1744, and he later modelled the heroines of both Tom Jones and Amelia on her. They had five children together; their only daughter Henrietta died at age 23, having already been “in deep decline” when she married military engineer James Gabriel Montresor some months before. Three years after Charlotte’s death, Fielding disregarded public opinion by marrying her former maid Mary Daniel, who was pregnant. Mary bore five children: three daughters who died young, and sons William and Allen.

Despite this scandal, Fielding’s consistent anti-Jacobitism and support for the Church of England led to his being rewarded a year later with the position of London’s chief magistrate, while his literary career broadened. Most of his work was concerned with London’s criminal population of thieves, informers, gamblers, and prostitutes. In a corrupt and callous society, he became noted for his impartial judgements, incorruptibility, and compassion for those whom social inequities had forced into crime. The income from his office, which he called “the dirtiest money upon earth,” dwindled because he refused to take money from the very poor. With his younger half-brother, John, he helped found the Bow Street Runners, in 1749, which were, arguably, London’s first police force.

Both Fieldings did much to enhance judicial reform and improve prison conditions. Fielding’s influential pamphlets and enquiries included a proposal for the abolition of public hangings. This did not, however, imply opposition to capital punishment as such – as is evident, for example, in his presiding in 1751 over the trial of the notorious criminal James Field, finding him guilty in a robbery and sentencing him to hang. John Fielding, despite being blind by then, succeeded his older brother as chief magistrate, becoming known as the “Blind Beak of Bow Street” for his ability to recognize criminals by their voices alone.

In January 1752 Fielding started a fortnightly periodical, The Covent-Garden Journal, which he published under the pseudonym of “Sir Alexander Drawcansir, Knt. Censor of Great Britain” until November of the same year. In this periodical, Fielding directly challenged the “armies of Grub Street” and the contemporary periodical writers of the day in a conflict that would eventually become the Paper War of 1752–3.

Fielding then published “Examples of the Interposition of Providence in the Detection and Punishment of Murder” (1752), a treatise in which he rejected the deistic and materialistic visions of the world in favor of belief in God’s presence and divine judgement, arguing that the murder rate was rising due to neglect of the Christian religion. In 1753 he wrote “Proposals for Making an Effectual Provision for the Poor.”

Fielding’s ardent commitment to the cause of justice as a great humanitarian in the 1750s (for instance, his support of Elizabeth Canning) coincided with rapid deterioration in his health. Gout, asthma, cirrhosis of the liver and other afflictions made him use crutches. His ill health led him to Portugal in 1754 in search of a cure, but he died in Lisbon, reportedly in physical pain and mental distress, only two months later. His tomb is in the city’s English Cemetery (Cemitério Inglês), which is now the graveyard of St. George’s Church, Lisbon.

“The Roast Beef of Old England” was originally written by Henry Fielding for his play The Grub-Street Opera, first performed in 1731, and I gave it full coverage here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/roast-beef-old-england/  The 18th century saw a number of changes in food habits and fashions in England, including an increase in the use of vegetables in dishes, the popularity of potatoes, and a great interest in Continental cuisines, especially French. “The Roast Beef of Old England” was written as a counterblast to this trend, touting good, hearty roast beef as proper fare for the English rather than all this foreign muck – bisques and ragouts and whatnot (rather like Burns’s praise of haggis). John Nott published The Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary: or, the Accomplish’d Housewives Companion in 1723, and from it we catch a glimpse of changing food tastes in England. You can find a .pdf of the full text in facsimile here: https://ia802700.us.archive.org/14/items/cooksandconfect00nottgoog/cooksandconfect00nottgoog.pdf It is organized alphabetically based on the name of the principal ingredient discussed. The section on beef is curious because there is no mention of good old-fashioned roast beef, but plenty of recipes for fricassee, braised beef, stuffed beef rolls and the like. Times were changing.

Here is a recipe for an asparagus omelet:

  1. To make an Amlet of Asparagus

Blanch your Asparagus, cut them in short Pieces, fry them in fresh Butter, with a little Parsley and Chibols [green onions]; then pour in some Cream, season them well, and let them boil over a gentle Fire: In the mean time make an Amlet with new laid Eggs, Cream, and Salt ; when it is enough, dress it on a Dish ; thicken the Asparagus with the Yolk of an Egg or two, turn the Asparagus on the Amlet, and serve it up hot.

Despite lack of precise measurements, it’s an easy enough recipe to follow if you have some experience in the kitchen, and worth a shot. I normally make an asparagus omelet by frying some asparagus spears in butter, making an omelet, and then folding the asparagus in before serving. This 18th century recipe is not so very different except that the asparagus has a creamy sauce with it.

Apr 212018

Today is the birthday (1752) of Humphry Repton, the last great English landscape designer of the 18th century, often regarded as the successor to Capability Brown, and a link to the more intricate and eclectic styles of the 19th century. Repton was born in Bury St Edmunds, the son of a collector of excise, John Repton, and Martha (née Fitch). In 1762 his father set up a transport business in Norwich, where Humphry attended Norwich Grammar School. At age 12 he was sent to the Netherlands to learn Dutch and prepare for a career as a merchant. However, Repton was befriended by a wealthy Dutch family and the trip may have done more to stimulate his interest in other pursuits such as sketching and gardening.

On his return to Norwich, Repton was apprenticed to a textile merchant, then, after marriage to Mary Clarke in 1773, set up in the business himself. He was not successful, and when his parents died in 1778 used his modest legacy to move to a small country estate at Sustead, near Aylsham in Norfolk. Repton tried his hand as a journalist, dramatist, artist, political agent, and as confidential secretary to his neighbor William Windham of Felbrigg Hall during Windham’s very brief stint as Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Repton also joined John Palmer in a venture to reform the mail-coach system, but while the scheme ultimately made Palmer’s fortune, Repton again lost money. Consequently, Repton’s childhood friend, James Edward Smith, encouraged him to study botany and gardening.

To save his dwindling resources, Repton moved to a modest cottage in Hare Street near Romford in Essex. In 1788, aged 36 and with four children and no secure income, he hit on the idea of combining his sketching skills with his limited experience of laying out grounds at Sustead to become a ‘landscape gardener’ (a term he himself coined). Since the death of Capability Brown in 1783, there was no single figure who dominated English garden design. Repton was ambitious to fill this gap and sent circulars around his contacts in the upper classes advertising his services. He was at first an avid defender of Brown’s views, contrasted with those of Richard Payne Knight and Uvedale Price, but later adopted a more moderate position. His first paid commission was Catton Park, to the north of Norwich, in 1788.

That Repton, with no real experience of practical horticulture, became an overnight success, is a tribute to his undeniable talent, but also to the original way he presented his work. To help clients visualize his designs, Repton produced ‘Red Books’ (so called for their binding) with explanatory text and watercolors with a system of overlays to show ‘before’ and ‘after’ views. In this he differed from Capability Brown, who worked almost exclusively with plans and rarely illustrated or wrote about his work. Repton’s overlays were soon copied by the Irish-Philadelphian Bernard McMahon in his 1806 American Gardener’s Calendar.

To understand what was special about Repton we should examine how he differed from Brown in more detail. Brown worked for many of the wealthiest aristocrats in Britain, carving huge landscape parks out of old formal gardens and agricultural land. Repton worked for equally important clients, such as the Dukes of Bedford and Portland, but he was usually fine-tuning earlier work, often that of Brown himself. Where Repton got the chance to lay out grounds from scratch it was generally on a much more modest scale. On these smaller estates, where Brown would have surrounded the park with a continuous perimeter belt, Repton cut vistas through to ‘borrowed’ items such as church towers, making them seem part of the designed landscape. At Catton Park, for example, he cut down trees to incorporate a view of the spire of Norwich cathedral. He designedapproach drives and lodges to enhance impressions of size and importance of the main house, and even introduced monogramed milestones on the roads around some estates, for which he was satirized by Thomas Love Peacock as ‘Marmaduke Milestone, esquire, a Picturesque Landscape Gardener’ in Headlong Hall.

Around 1787, Richard Page (1748-1803), landowner of Sudbury, to the west of Wembley decided to convert the Page family home ‘Wellers’ into a country seat and turn the fields around it into a private estate. In 1792 Page employed Humphry Repton, by then famous as a landscape architect, to convert the farmland into wooded parkland and to make improvements to the house. Repton often called the areas he landscaped ‘parks’, thus it is to Repton that Wembley Park owes its name. The original site that Repton transformed was later built on in the construction of the short-lived Watkin’s Tower. The area landscaped by Repton was larger than the current Wembley Park. It included the southern slopes of Barn Hill to the north, where Repton planted trees and started building a ‘prospect house’ – a gothic tower offering a view over the parkland. Repton may also have designed the thatched lodge that survives on Wembley Hill Road, to the west of Wembley Park. It is in the cottage orné style frequently used by Repton. Regrettably, Repton’s Red Book for Wembley Park, which would give a definitive answer, has not survived.

Capability Brown was a large-scale contractor, who not only designed, but also arranged the realization of his work. By contrast, Repton acted as a consultant, charging for his Red Books and sometimes staking out the ground, but leaving his client to arrange the actual execution. Thus, many of Repton’s 400 or so designs remained wholly or partially unfinished and, while Brown became rich, Repton’s income was never more than comfortable.

Early in his career, Repton defended Brown’s reputation during the ‘picturesque controversy.’ In 1794 Richard Payne Knight and Uvedale Price simultaneously published vicious attacks on the ‘meagre genius of the bare and bald’, criticizing his smooth, serpentine curves as bland and unnatural and championing rugged and intricate designs, composed according to ‘picturesque’ principles of landscape painting. Repton’s defence of Brown rested partly on the impracticality of many picturesque ideas. As a professional, Repton had to produce practical designs for his clients. Paradoxically, however, as his career progressed Repton drew more and more on picturesque ideas. One major criticism of Brown’s landscapes was the lack of a formal setting for the house, with rolling lawns sweeping right up to the front door. Repton re-introduced formal terraces, balustrades, trellis work and flower gardens around the house in a way that became common practice in the 19th century. He also designed one of the most famous ‘picturesque’ landscapes in Britain at Blaise Castle, near Bristol. At Woburn Abbey, Repton foreshadowed another 19th-century development, creating themed garden areas including a Chinese garden, American garden, arboretum and forcing garden. At Stoneleigh Abbey in 1808, Repton foreshadowed another 19th-century development, creating a perfect cricket pitch called ‘home lawn’ in front of the west wing, and a bowling green lawn between the gatehouse and the house.

Success at Woburn earned him a further commission from the Duke of Bedford. He designed the central gardens in Russell Square, the centerpiece of the Bloomsbury development. The gardens were restored with the additional help of archaeological investigation and archival photographs, to the original plans and are now listed as Grade II by Historic England. The square was to be a flagship commission for Repton and was one of three within the central London.

Buildings played an important part in many of Repton’s landscapes. In the 1790s he often worked with the relatively unknown architect John Nash, whose loose compositions suited Repton’s style. Nash benefited greatly from the exposure, while Repton received a commission on building work. Around 1800, however, the two fell out, probably over Nash’s refusal to credit the work of Repton’s architect son John Adey Repton. Thereafter John Adey and Repton’s younger son George Stanley Repton often worked with their father, although George continued to work in Nash’s office as well. In 1811 Repton suffered a serious carriage accident which often left him needing to use a wheelchair for mobility. He died in 1818 and is buried in the graveyard of St Michael’s Church at Aylsham in north Norfolk.

You could pick any 18th century English recipe you like to celebrate Repton, but I thought I would choose a Dutch one of the same period, because he spent time in the Netherlands as a boy, and seems to have been inspired by a Dutch family to take up sketching and (ultimately) landscape design. The recipe is from De volmaakte Hollandsche Keuken-meid […] (The perfect Dutch Kitchen maid . . .), written by “a distinguished lady, passed away recently.” The first edition was in 1746, and it was reprinted several times up to 1857. Maybe Repton ate these “fine cakes.” I pinched the Dutch version from here http://coquinaria.nl/en/excellent-cookies/ where you can also find a modern interpretation, which I have not tried. The English translation on the site is poor, so the one below is mostly my own – with more accurate interpretations of the measures – not the incorrect ones as in the original translation. Given the incorrect measures in the original, I would not trust the interpretation. The pint, ounce, and pound cited are equivalent (roughly) to Imperial measure. They became the names for metric measures after the Treaty of Vienna, when only France and the Netherlands used the metric system, but this recipe predates that time. Even with my better translation, I do not trust the measures (especially not the pint of yeast).

Fyne kaaks, hoe men die bakken zal.

Neemt een half vierdevat bloem van Tarwe Meel, het beste dat men krygen kan ; stampt het heel fyn, met een weinigje zout daar onder, een half loot nagelen, een half loot foelie, een half loot note-muscaat en een half once  kaneel, doet dit gemengd met drie vierendeel poejer-suiker onder het Meel, en kneedt het ter degen door met anderhalf pond booter : doet ‘er dan by een mingelen Room met een pintje gist, met 12 eijeren, acht zonder het wit en vier met het wit, een weinigje Roozewater en Ambergrys : als het wel doorkneed en gerezen is, dan moet men ‘er nog 3 ponden korenten en een pond rosynen zonder korrels, dooreen, wel fyn gesneeden by doen : Maakt het deeg tot Kaakjes en zet het drie uuren te bakken in een laauwe Oven ; dan haald het ‘er uit en bestrykt ze met het wit van een ei en rosewater, en met suiker bestrooid, zet ze nog eens in den Oven om de suiker te doen kandilizeren, is delicaat om te eeten.

Fine cakes, how to bake them.

Take half a four-vessel (4 cups) of wheat flour, the best one can get. Pound it very finely, with a little salt, a half loot (1 loot/lood = 10 gms) of cloves, a half loot of mace, a half ounce of nutmeg and a half ounce of cinnamon. Add this, tempered with ¾ pound powdered sugar, to the flour, and knead it well with one and a half pounds of butter. Then add a mingel (5 cups) of cream with a pint of yeast, 12 eggs, eight without the white and four with the white, a little rosewater and ambergris. When it is kneaded thoroughly and risen well enough, then add 3 pounds of currants and 1 pound of raisins without pits, finely chopped. Make the dough into little cakes and set them to bake for three hours in a lukewarm oven. Then take them out and coat them with the white of an egg and rosewater, and sprinkle with sugar. Put them in the oven once more to caramelize the sugar. This is a joy to eat.

Apr 182018

Today is formally called the International Day for Monuments and Sites (informally, World Heritage Day). Activities around the world include visits to monuments and heritage sites, conferences, round tables and newspaper articles. Each year has a theme. Last year (2017) was sustainable tourism. The International Day for Monuments and Sites was proposed by the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) on 18 April 1982 and approved by the General Assembly of UNESCO in 1983. The aim is to promote awareness about the diversity of cultural heritage of humanity, their vulnerability and the efforts required for their protection and conservation.

I’m more than slightly ambivalent about the whole “world heritage” thing. On the one hand there are many countries who can benefit from having sites designated by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. The designation brings attention to them and attracts tourists. Although not an unalloyed benefit, tourism can bring in much-needed foreign currency. There are downsides, however, and the designation is completely uneven. Some European countries have a long list of sites, while Third World countries usually have a bare handful at best. Furthermore, what counts as a site worthy of attention can be really vague. The banks of the Seine in Paris, for example, are a heritage site. Why not the banks of the Tonlé Sap river in Phnom Penh. They have been the site of major events in Cambodian history for 1,000 years or more. Are chain-smoking French intellectuals and artists hanging out in Left Bank cafes more inherently worthy of notice than Khmer peasants and monks? What about the Devon coast? Sure it’s pleasant, and has been associated with art and literature for a long time. So what? Aren’t there thousands of coastlines worldwide that are equally attractive and of historic interest? To dig deeper into the issues, let me focus on Angkor in Cambodia because I have visited a number of times with guests.

Angkor was designated as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1992. Foreigners typically do not understand that Angkor is a great deal more than Angkor Wat (which is the centerpiece and of fundamental importance to Cambodian history). Angkor is a 400 km2 zone containing hundreds of temples of various ages, and the UNESCO site encompasses it all. Foreigners (and most Cambodians) are not allowed in Angkor before dawn or after dusk except in certain places that are listed as “must see” places. Chief of these is the area to the west of Angkor Wat where tourists are encouraged to experience sunrise over the temple. In consequence, foreigners are dutifully shuttled in their thousands to a parking lot near the lake by the Wat in the pre-dawn hours, via tuk tuk or bus, to pick their way over rocky paths and steps in the dark to await the great moment. I have done this on 3 occasions with guests and know the ropes by now. First problem is that the vast majority do not even know what sunrise is. They click a few photos with their phones at first light, and then drift off to stand in line for entrance to the Bakan, the highest point in the central tower. They completely miss the actual rising of the sun, which, in my ever-humble opinion, is pretty ordinary in comparison with sunrises I have experienced in other places. Second problem is that this same vast majority pay scant, or no, attention to all there is to see in the general Angkor Wat complex – which is enormously complex. I have been 4 times, and barely scratched the surface (not literally I hasten to add).

Before Angkor was a UNESCO site there were almost no foreign visitors. In 1993, there were only 7,650 visitors to the site. A great deal of the paucity of tourists previously is directly attributable to various wars and the dominance of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, of course. The UNESCO designation was a major component in the reconstruction of Cambodia in general. By 2004, government figures show that 561,000 foreign visitors had arrived in Siem Reap province that year, approximately 50% of all foreign tourists in Cambodia. The number reached over 1 million in 2007, and over 2 million by 2012. Most of them visited Angkor (particularly Angkor Wat), which had over 2 million foreign tourists in 2013. The influx of tourists has so far caused relatively little damage, other than some graffiti, and bits of wear and tear. Ropes and wooden steps have been introduced to protect the bas-reliefs and floors. Tourism has provided much-needed funds for maintenance and restoration—as of 2000 approximately 28% of ticket revenues across the whole Angkor site was spent on the temples—although most work is carried out by teams sponsored by foreign governments rather than by the Cambodian authorities.

Since Angkor Wat has seen significant growth in tourism throughout the years, UNESCO and its International Co-ordinating Committee for the Safeguarding and Development of the Historic Site of Angkor (ICC), in association with representatives from the Royal Government and the Authority for the Protection of the Site and Management of the Region of Angkor (APSARA), organized seminars to discuss the concept of “cultural tourism.” Wanting to avoid commercial and mass tourism, the seminars emphasized the importance of providing high quality accommodation and services in order for the Cambodian government to benefit economically, while also incorporating the richness of Cambodian culture. In 2001, this incentive resulted in the concept of the “Angkor Tourist City” which would be developed based on traditional Khmer architecture, contain leisure and tourist facilities, and provide luxurious hotels capable of accommodating large numbers of tourists.

The prospect of developing such large tourist accommodations has encountered concerns from both APSARA and the ICC, claiming that previous tourism developments in the area have neglected construction regulations and these projects have the potential to damage landscape features. Also, the large scale of these projects have begun to threaten the quality of Siem Reap’s water, sewage, and electricity systems. It has been noted that such high frequency of tourism and growing demand for quality accommodations in the area, such as the development of a large highway, has had a direct effect on the underground water table, subsequently straining the structural stability of the temples at Angkor Wat. Locals of Siem Reap have also voiced concern that the charm and atmosphere of their town have been ruined in order to entertain tourism. I am wholeheartedly in agreement. I have taken the time to explore parts of Siem Reap that are quite different from Angkor, but every bit as intriguing. Last time I was there I spent several hours exploring Wat Bo, which is filled with stupas of various ages, murals, and sacred enclosures, and in all that time I saw no tourists – zero – they were all off in search of the Night Market and Pub Street where they could get cheap beer, schlocky souvenirs, and overpriced massages. All good for the economy but terrible for local culture – which UNESCO is supposed to be promoting.

UNESCO has a category of Intangible Cultural Heritage, which is designed to incorporate parts of a culture that are not solid structures: things such as dance, music, AND FOOD. Here too the designation is spotty and also vague. Naples has been fighting for some time now to make Neapolitan pizza an intangible heritage, and it was granted in 2017. I am not sure why, since EU regulations encompass a wide range of foods that have protected status of different types, including the Cornish pasty, Stilton, and Herefordshire cider (for people who know anything about English food and drink). Most UNESCO food designations are so general as to be worthless. Mexican food, for example, is one. You might as well characterize the cuisine of any country in this way. Mexican cooking is regionally distinctive, so that designating the cuisine of the whole nation as special is ridiculous. Or, how about The Mediterranean Diet? This encompasses the dishes of Greece, Italy, Morocco, Spain, and parts of France at minimum. Fortunately, some recipes are quite specific, such as Croatian licitars (gingerbread) which I have mentioned before: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/roerich-pact/   French baguettes are now fighting for the status. I cannot remotely understand why. Bakers are pushing for the designation to combat inferior supermarket bread. Good luck with that. UNESCO status will not soften the taste buds of morons with cardboard palates.

For today’s recipe I suggest you go rogue and find the best regional cooking you can wherever you are, and revel in it. Good regional cooking is still available just about everywhere – even in the US – if you know where to look.  The US may look like a wasteland of hotdogs and hamburgers, but there are amazing treats in store if you get off the beaten path. One of my favorites is Cincinnati chilli, or Kentucky smoked mutton. North Carolina pulled pork and pork BBQ are also old friends. Your challenge today is to find a dish locally that you would designate for UNESCO status.  Cambodian sour fish soup gets my vote today.

Apr 172018

Daffy Duck first appeared in Porky’s Duck Hunt, which was released on this date in 1937. The cartoon was directed by Tex Avery and animated by Bob Clampett. Porky’s Duck Hunt was standard hunter/hunted fare, for which Leon Schlesinger’s studio was famous, but Daffy (barely more than an unnamed bit player in this short) was something new to moviegoers: an assertive, completely unrestrained, combative protagonist. Clampett wrote:

At that time, audiences weren’t accustomed to seeing a cartoon character do these things. And so, when it hit the theaters it was an explosion. People would leave the theaters talking about this daffy duck.

This “daffy duck” is nothing like the character he evolved into over the years. Here’s the original:

Without knowing that this duck was to become Daffy Duck, you would not recognize him. That’s evolution for you.

The only aspects of the character that have remained consistent through the years are his voice characterization by Mel Blanc, and his black feathers with a white neck ring. Blanc’s characterization of Daffy once held the world record for the longest characterization of one animated character by his or her original actor: 52 years. The origin of Daffy’s voice, with its notable lateral lisp, is a matter of some debate. One often-repeated “official” story is that it was modeled after producer Leon Schlesinger’s tendency to lisp. However, in Mel Blanc’s autobiography, That’s Not All Folks!, he contradicts that conventional belief, saying, “It seemed to me that such an extended mandible would hinder his speech, particularly on words containing an s sound. Thus ‘despicable’ became ‘desthpicable.'”

Virtually every Warner Bros. cartoon director put his own spin on the Daffy Duck character – he may be a lunatic vigilante in one short but a greedy gloryhound in another. Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones both made extensive use of these two very different versions of the character. Tex Avery and Bob Clampett created the original version of Daffy in 1937. Daffy established his status by jumping into the water, hopping around, and yelling, “Woo-hoo! Woo-hoo! Woo-hoo! Woo-hoo! Woo-hoo!” Animator Bob Clampett immediately seized upon the Daffy Duck character and cast him in a series of cartoons in the 1930s and 1940s. The early Daffy is a wild and zany screwball, perpetually bouncing around the screen with cries of “Hoo-hoo! Hoo-hoo!” (In his autobiography, Mel Blanc stated that the zany demeanor was inspired by Hugh Herbert’s catchphrase, which was taken to a wild extreme for Daffy.) Clampett physically redesigned the character, making him taller and lankier and rounding out his feet and bill. He was often paired with Porky Pig.

Daffy featured in several war-themed shorts during World War II. Daffy always stays true to his unbridled nature. He attempts to dodge conscription in Draftee Daffy (1945), battles a Nazi goat intent on eating Daffy’s scrap metal in Scrap Happy Daffy (1943), hits Adolf Hitler’s head with a giant mallet in Daffy the Commando (1943) and outwits Hitler, Goebbels and Goering in Plane Daffy (1944). Daffy was “drafted” as a mascot for the 600th Bombardment Squadron.

For Daffy Doodles, Robert McKimson, as his new director, tamed Daffy a bit, redesigning him yet again to be rounder and less elastic. The studio also instilled some of Bugs Bunny’s savvy into the duck, making him as brilliant with his mouth as he was with his battiness. Daffy was teamed up with Porky Pig becoming his straight man instead of rival. Arthur Davis, who directed Warner Bros cartoon shorts for a few years in the late 1940s until upper management decreed there should be only three units (McKimson, Friz Freleng, and Jones), presented a Daffy similar to McKimson’s. McKimson is noted as the last of the three units to make his Daffy uniform with Jones’s, with even late shorts, such as Don’t Axe Me (1958), featuring traits of the “screwball” Daffy.

While Daffy’s loony days were over, McKimson continued to make him as bad or good as his various roles required him to be. McKimson used this Daffy from 1946 to 1961. Friz Freleng’s version took a hint from Chuck Jones to make the duck more sympathetic, as in the 1957 Show Biz Bugs. Here, Daffy is over-emotional and jealous of Bugs, yet he has real talent that is ignored by the theater manager and the crowd. This cartoon finishes with a sequence in which Daffy attempts to wow the Bugs-besotted audience with an act in which he drinks gasoline and swallows nitroglycerine, gunpowder, and uranium-238 (in a greenish solution), jumps up and down to “shake well” and finally swallows a lit match that detonates the whole mixture. When Bugs tells Daffy that the audience loves the act and wants more, Daffy, now a ghost floating upward (presumably to Heaven), says that he can only do the act once. Some TV stations, and in the 1990s the cable network TNT, edited out the dangerous act, afraid of imitation by young children.

While Bugs Bunny became Warner Bros’ most popular character, the directors still found ample use for Daffy. Several cartoons place him in parodies of popular movies and radio serials; Porky Pig was usually a comic relief sidekick. For example, Daffy in The Great Piggy Bank Robbery (1946) as “Duck Twacy” (Dick Tracy) by Bob Clampett and The Scarlet Pumpernickel (1950), Daffy was the hero and Porky Pig was the villain. In Drip-Along Daffy (released in 1951 and named after the popular Hopalong Cassidy character) puts Daffy into a Western with him labeled “Western-Type Hero” and Porky Pig labeled “Comedy Relief”. In Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century (1953), a parody of Buck Rogers, Daffy trades barbs (and bullets) with Marvin the Martian, with Porky Pig retaining the role of Daffy’s sidekick. In Rocket Squad, a 1956 parody of Dragnet and Racket Squad, Daffy and Porky Pig pair up once again. Robin Hood Daffy (1958) casts Daffy as Robin Hood with Porky Pig as Friar Tuck.

Bugs Bunny’s rise to stardom also prompted the Warner Bros animators to recast Daffy as Bugs’s rival, intensely jealous, insecure and determined to steal back the spotlight, while Bugs either remains cool headed but mildly amused or indifferent to the duck’s jealousy or uses it to his advantage. Daffy’s desire to achieve stardom at almost any cost was explored as early as 1940 in Freleng’s You Ought to Be in Pictures, but the idea was most successfully used by Chuck Jones, who redesigned Daffy once again, making him scrawnier and scruffier. In Jones’s famous “Hunting Trilogy” (or “Duck Season/Rabbit Season Trilogy”) of Rabbit Fire, Rabbit Seasoning and Duck! Rabbit, Duck! (respectively launched in 1951, 1952, and 1953), Daffy’s attention-grabbing ways and excitability provide Bugs Bunny the perfect opportunity to fool the hapless Elmer Fudd into repeatedly shooting the duck’s bill off. Also, these cartoons initiate Daffy’s catchphrase, “Youuu’re deththpicable!” Jones’s Daffy sees himself as self-preservationist, not selfish. However, this Daffy can do nothing that does not backfire on him, more likely to singe his tail feathers as well as his ego and pride. It is surmised that Chuck Jones based Daffy Duck’s new personality on his fellow animator Bob Clampett, who, like Daffy, was known as a loud self-promoter. In Beanstalk Bunny Daffy, Bugs and Elmer are once again teamed up in a parody of Jack and the Beanstalk (with Elmer as the giant) while in the spoofs of the TV shows The Millionaire and This Is Your Life, in The Million Hare, Daffy tries to defeat his arch-rival Bugs Bunny for a $1,000,000 prize given out by his favorite TV show and in This Is a Life? Daffy tries to upstage Bugs Bunny in order to be the guest of honor on the show. In all three of these cartoons Daffy ends up a loser because of his own over-emotional personality (which impairs Daffy’s reasoning ability) and his craving for attention.

Film critic Steve Schneider calls Jones’s version of Daffy “a kind of unleashed id.” Jones said that his version of the character “expresses all of the things we’re afraid to express.” This is evident in Jones’s Duck Amuck (1953), “one of the few unarguable masterpieces of American animation” according to Schneider.In the episode, Daffy is plagued by a godlike animator whose malicious paintbrush alters the setting, soundtrack, and even Daffy. When Daffy demands to know who is responsible for the changes, the camera pulls back to reveal Bugs Bunny as the animator. Duck Amuck is widely heralded as a classic of filmmaking for its illustration that a character’s personality can be recognized independently of appearance, setting, voice, and plot. It has long been a favorite of mine because of its self-referential character as a cartoon about cartooning. I cannot embed the whole for copyright reasons. Here’s the beginning:

After the Jones era Warner outsourced its cartooning, and I lost interest in Daffy (and Bugs). The classics will always remain classic.

Bugs and Daffy are frequently rivals, sometimes trying to escape hunters, as in Duck! Rabbit, Duck! – giving me the obvious idea of pairing rabbit and duck together. You can find a fair number of recipes online for duck and rabbit together, usually put together out of necessity. For example:



I have an idea for a duck and rabbit cold raised pie which I have not experimented with because I cannot get rabbit in Cambodia and the ducks are pathetic scrawny things. It would be different in China or Italy. I’ll work it out in detail when I am in the right place. For now, here is my (untested) recipe. The chicken stock for the jelly must be refrigerated overnight to be sure that it gels well. If not add some extra gelatin. Clarify it with egg shells and sieve through muslin. This is modified from a Victorian recipe that is BIG. When I have used the original for game pies, I make several rather than one big pie.

©Duck and Rabbit Raised Pie


500 gm/16 oz cooked rabbit, cut in small chunks
100 gm/3½ oz duck fat
500 gm/16 oz skinned duck breast, cut in slices
150 gm/6 oz bacon
12 shallots, peeled and minced (or 6 banana shallots, chopped small)
5 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 tsp ground allspice
30 gm/1 oz butter
extra virgin olive oil
4 tbsp brandy
4 tbsp port
salt and black pepper

For the Pastry:

375 gm/ 13 oz​ ​lard
1 kg/ 2lbs all-purpose flour (plus extra)
2 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp milk

For the Jelly:

3 cups chicken stock
2 tbsp port (optional)


For one pie grease a 26 cm/9 inch, 7 cm/3 inch deep springform tin. Lightly flour the inside, shake it all around so that the surface are completely covered, and tip out the excess.

Heat the butter and a little olive oil in a large skillet over medium low heat. Add the shallots and soften for a few minutes. Do not let them take on color. Add the garlic and allspice and stir to mix. Add the brandy and port, turn the heat to high, and let the liquid reduce until it is syrupy. Turn off the heat and let cool. When the shallot mix is cool add the meats and duck fat and stir to combine well.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F.

To make the pastry, melt the lard into 2 cups of water in a small pan over a low heat. Bring to the boil then immediately turn the heat off. Put the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl and make a well in the middle. Pour the hot, fatty water into the hole and stir well with a wooden spoon to form a dough. Do not work too long because you want the pastry to remain warm and pliable. Turn it out on to a floured surface and knead the dough until it is elastic (about 2 minutes). Cut off a quarter of the dough for the lid.

At this point, traditionalists dump the remaining pie dough into the tin and work it with their fingers until it is spread along the bottom of the tin and up the sides (hence “raised”). To do this quickly and evenly takes considerable skill and experience. I can do it, but usually I just roll out the dough into a circle of the right size and lower it into the baking tin, then press it all around evenly with an overhang over the top for crimping. While the dough for the lid is still warm, roll it out too and set it aside. Keep any scraps for repairs and decoration.

Fill the pastry with the meat mixture, making sure not to pack it too tight. You want room for the aspic to flow around the meat.

Lay the pastry lid on top and crimp the edges all around. Cut a central steam hole in the lid. Beat the egg and milk together and brush it liberally over the lid and edges. If you have extra pastry cut some decorative leaves and put them on the lid. Brush them with egg wash as well. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes applying the egg wash halfway through if the top is not golden enough for you.

Let the pie cool a little (not completely) in the pan, and then pop the springform. If you wait until it is completely cool you run the risk of the pastry sticking to the tin, which is a disaster. Let the pie cool completely.

Make sure your stock is clarified and can gel solidly. Heat it up very gently until it is just liquid and add the port if you wish. Using a small funnel inserted into the pie’s steam hole, pour the stock into the pie. It takes a little time for the stock to find all the nooks and crannies, so be patient. It may take an hour or so before the stock is all absorbed into the pie, and there will be some left over.

Refrigerate the pie once you have added the stock – preferably overnight. In this state it will keep for several days. Cut into thin wedges to serve.

Apr 162018

Today is the birthday (1918) of Terence Alan “Spike” Milligan KBE who may be best known as the co-creator, main writer and a principal cast member of the The Goon Show, performing a range of roles including the popular Eccles and Minnie Bannister characters. It is possible to trace the history of absurdist English comedy – from Peter Cook and Dudley Moore to Monty Python and beyond – back to The Goon Show and ultimately to Milligan. It was not simply that Milligan was able to see the humor in any situation you can name, including the Second World War, but his humor frequently broke any pretense at reality. His legacy within English comedy is immense, and sets it light years away from what counts as comedy in other cultures.

Milligan was born in Ahmednagar in India, the son of an Irish father, Captain Leo Alphonso Milligan, MSM, RA (1890–1969), who was serving in the British Indian Army. His mother, Florence Mary Winifred (née Kettleband; 1893–1990), was English. He spent his childhood in Poona (now called Pune) and later in Rangoon (now Yangon), capital of British Burma. He was educated at the Convent of Jesus and Mary, Poona, and later at St Paul’s High School, Rangoon. After moving to Brockley, south east London at the age of 12 in 1931, he attended Brownhill Road School (later to be renamed Catford Boys School) and St Saviours School, Lewisham High Road. On leaving school he played the cornet and got involved in jazz performance. He also joined the Young Communist League in opposition to Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, who were gaining support near his home in south London.

After returning from Burma, Milligan lived most of his life in the United Kingdom apart from overseas service in the British Army in the Royal Artillery during the Second World War. During most of the late 1930s and early 1940s, Milligan performed as an amateur jazz vocalist and trumpet player before, during and after being called up for military service in the war. Even then he wrote and performed comedy sketches as part of concerts to entertain troops. After his call-up, but before being sent abroad, he and fellow musician Harry Edgington (1919–1993) (whose nickname ‘Edge-ying-Tong’, inspired one of Milligan’s most memorable musical creations, the “Ying Tong Song”) would compose surreal stories, filled with puns and skewed logic, as a way of staving off the boredom of life in barracks. One biographer describes his early dance band work as follows: “He managed to croon like Bing Crosby and win a competition: he also played drums, guitar and trumpet, in which he was entirely self taught.” He also acquired a double bass, on which he took lessons and would play along in jazz sessions. He is known to have had absolute pitch.

During the Second World War, Milligan served as a signaller in the 56th Heavy Regiment Royal Artillery, D Battery (later 19 Battery), as Gunner Milligan, 954024. The unit was equipped with the obsolete First World War era BL 9.2-inch howitzer and based in Bexhill on the south coast of England. Milligan describes training with these guns in part  II of Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall, claiming that, during training, gun crews resorted to shouting “bang” in unison as they had no shells to practice with. The unit was later re-equipped with the BL 7.2-inch howitzer and saw action as part of the First Army in the North African campaign and then in the succeeding Italian campaign. Milligan was appointed lance bombardier and was about to be promoted to bombardier, when he was wounded in action in the Italian theatre at the Battle of Monte Cassino. He was hospitalized for a mortar wound to the right leg and was demoted by an unsympathetic commanding officer (identified in his war diaries as Major Evan “Jumbo” Jenkins) back to Gunner. It was Milligan’s opinion that Major Jenkins did not like him, because Milligan constantly kept up the morale of his fellow soldiers, whereas Jenkins’ approach was to be stern and bullying. A compounding incident may have been that Jenkins invited Gunners Milligan and Edgington to his bivouac to play some jazz with him, only to discover that their musicianship was far superior to his own.

After hospitalization, Milligan drifted through a number of rear-echelon military jobs in Italy, eventually becoming a full-time entertainer. He played the guitar with a jazz and comedy group called The Bill Hall Trio, in concert parties for the troops. After being demobilized, Milligan remained in Italy playing with the trio but returned to Britain soon after. While he was with the Central Pool of Artists (a group he described as composed “of bomb-happy squaddies”) he began to write parodies of their mainstream plays, which displayed many of the key elements of what would later become The Goon Show (originally called Crazy People) with Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Michael Bentine.

Milligan returned to jazz in the late 1940s and made a precarious living with the Hall trio and other musical comedy acts. He was also trying to break into the world of radio, as a performer or script writer. His first success in radio was as writer for comedian Derek Roy’s show. After a delayed start, Milligan, Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Michael Bentine joined forces in a relatively radical comedy project, The Goon Show. During its first season the BBC titled the show as Crazy People, or in full, The Junior Crazy Gang featuring those Crazy People, the Goons!, an attempt to make the program palatable to BBC officials, by connecting it with the popular group of theatre comedians known as The Crazy Gang.

The first episode was broadcast on 28 May 1951 on the BBC Home Service.  Although he did not perform as much in the early shows, Milligan eventually became a lead performer in almost all of the Goon Show episodes, portraying a wide range of characters including Eccles, Minnie Bannister, Jim Spriggs and the nefarious Count Moriarty. He was also the primary author of most of the scripts, although he co-wrote many scripts with various collaborators, most notably Larry Stephens and Eric Sykes. Check out my main post for more details: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/the-goon-show/

Milligan made several forays into television as a writer-performer, in addition to his many guest appearances on interview, variety and sketch comedy series from the 1950s to the 2000s. The Idiot Weekly, Price 2d (1956), starring Peter Sellers, was the first attempt to translate Goons humor to TV. It was followed by A Show Called Fred and Son of Fred, both made during 1956 and directed by Richard Lester, who went on to work with the Beatles. During a visit to Australia in 1958, a similar special was made for the Australian Broadcasting Commission, “The Gladys Half-Hour” which also featured local actors Ray Barrett and John Bluthal, who appeared in several later Milligan projects. In 1961, Milligan co-wrote two episodes of the popular sitcom Sykes and a…, co-starring Sykes and Hattie Jacques and the one-off “Spike Milligan Offers A Series of Unrelated Incidents at Market Value”.

The 15-minute series The Telegoons (1963), was the next attempt to transplant the Goons to television, this time using puppet versions of the familiar characters. The initial intention was to give a visual representation of original recordings of 1950s Goon Show episodes, but this proved difficult because of the rapid-fire dialogue and was ultimately frustrated by the BBC’s refusal to allow the original audio to be used. 15-minute adaptations of the original scripts by Maurice Wiltshire were used instead, with Milligan, Sellers and Secombe reuniting to provide the voices; according to a contemporary press report, they received the highest fees the BBC had ever paid for 15-minute shows. Two series were made in 1963 and 1964 and (presumably because it was shot on 35mm film rather than video) the entire series has reportedly been preserved in the BBC archives.

Milligan’s next major TV venture was the sketch comedy series The World of Beachcomber (1968), made in color for BBC 2. It is believed all 19 episodes are lost although audio survives. That same year, the three Goons reunited for a televised re-staging of a vintage Goon Show for Thames Television, with John Cleese substituting for the late Wallace Greenslade but the pilot was not successful and no further programs were made.

In early 1969, Milligan starred in blackface in the situation comedy Curry & Chips, created and written by Johnny Speight and featuring Milligan’s old friend and colleague Eric Sykes. Curry & Chips set out to satirize racist attitudes in Britain in a similar vein to Speight’s earlier creation, the hugely successful Till Death Us Do Part, with Milligan ‘blacking up’ to play Kevin O’Grady, a half-Pakistani–half-Irish factory worker. The series generated numerous complaints, because of its frequent use of racist epithets and ‘bad language’ – one viewer reportedly complained of counting 59 uses of the word “bloody” in one episode – and it was cancelled on the orders of the Independent Broadcasting Authority after only six episodes.

Director John Goldschmidt’s film The Other Spike dramatized Milligan’s mental breakdown in a film for Granada Television, for which Milligan wrote the screenplay and in which he played himself. Later that year, he was commissioned by the BBC to write and star in Q5, the first in the innovative “Q” TV series, acknowledged as an important precursor to Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which premiered several months later. There was a hiatus of several years, before the BBC commissioned Q6 in 1975. Q7 appeared in 1977, Q8 in 1978, Q9 in 1980 and There’s a Lot of It About in 1982. Milligan later complained of the BBC’s cold attitude towards the series and stated that he would have made more programs, had he been given the opportunity. A number of episodes of the earlier “Q” series are missing, presumed erased. In 1979 he hosted an episode of The Muppet Show.

Milligan also wrote verse, considered to be within the genre of literary nonsense. His poetry has been described by comedian Stephen Fry as “absolutely immortal—greatly in the tradition of Lear.” One of his poems, “On the Ning Nang Nong”, was voted the UK’s favorite comic poem in 1998 in a nationwide poll, ahead of other nonsense poets including Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear.

While depressed, Milligan wrote serious poetry. He also wrote a novel Puckoon and a series of war memoirs, including Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall (1971), “Rommel?” “Gunner Who?”: A Confrontation in the Desert (1974), Monty: His Part in My Victory (1976) and Mussolini: His Part in My Downfall (1978). Milligan’s seven volumes of memoirs cover the years from 1939 to 1950 (his call-up, war service, first breakdown, time spent entertaining in Italy and return to the UK).

Bernard Miles gave Milligan his first straight acting role, as Ben Gunn, in the Mermaid Theatre production of Treasure Island. By chance I met Milligan outside the Mermaid one afternoon. He was sitting on the ground smoking a cigar. He abruptly left, dropping his cigar which I picked up and kept for a number of years. Treasure Island played twice daily through the winter of 1961–62 and was an annual production at the Mermaid Theatre for some years. In the 1968 production, Barry Humphries played the role of Long John Silver, alongside William Rushton as Squire Trelawney and Milligan as Ben Gunn. Humphries wrote, “Milligan’s best performance must surely have been as Ben Gunn. Milligan stole the show every night, in a makeup which took at least an hour to apply. His appearance on stage always brought a roar of delight from the kids in the audience and Spike had soon left the text far behind as he went off into a riff of sublime absurdity.”

The Kobal Collection / United Artists

In 1961–62, during the long pauses between the matinee and the evening show of Treasure Island, Milligan began talking to Miles about the idea he and John Antrobus were exploring, of a dramatized post-nuclear world. This became the one-act play The Bed-Sitting Room, which Milligan co-wrote with John Antrobus and which premiered at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury on 12th February 1962. It was adapted to a longer play and staged by Miles at London’s Mermaid Theatre, making its debut on 31 January 1963. It was a critical and commercial success and was revived in 1967 with a provincial tour before opening at London’s Saville Theatre on 3 May 1967. Richard Lester later directed a film version, released in 1969. You can find the full movie here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=de0w8tU0j1U It’s a bit of a period piece now. I saw it when it first came out, and was marginally traumatized by it because of its savage view of the world I lived in at the time. Some of Terry Gilliam’s more apocalyptic movies clearly were influenced by it.

To the end of his life, Milligan maintained a twisted sense of humor. After the death of Harry Secombe from cancer, he said, “I’m glad he died before me, because I didn’t want him to sing at my funeral.” Perhaps as a wry backhander, a recording of Secombe singing was played at Milligan’s memorial service. He also wrote his own obituary, in which he stated repeatedly that he “wrote the Goon Show and died.” Milligan died from kidney failure, at the age of 83, on 27th February 2002, at his home in Rye in Sussex.  On the day of his funeral, 8th March 2002, his coffin was carried to St Thomas Church in Winchelsea, East Sussex, and was draped in the flag of Ireland. He had once said that he wanted his headstone to bear the words “I told you I was ill.” He was buried at St Thomas’ churchyard but the Chichester diocese refused to allow this epitaph. A compromise was reached with the Irish translation, Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite and in English, “Love, light, peace.” The additional epitaph “Grá mór ort Shelagh” can be read as “Great love for you Shelagh”.

I could give you Milligan quotes for a month and not be exhausted, but I’ll settle for a few of my favorites:

All men are cremated equal.

A sure cure for seasickness is to sit under a tree.

All I ask is the chance to prove that money can’t make me happy.

Money can’t buy you happiness but it does bring you a more pleasant form of misery.

My Father had a profound influence on me. He was a lunatic.

I’m not afraid of dying I just don’t want to be there when it happens.

Milligan’s food habits are elusive. He is known to have invited the likes of Prince Charles and Dusty Springfield to dinner but I cannot find anything on the kinds of things they ate. His daughter, Jane, records that during the day he had tea and toast, and that was it. There’s this from his poetry:

The Herring is a lucky fish
From all disease inured.

Should he be ill when caught at sea;
Immediately – he’s cured!

You can cure your own herrings, and I could give you a recipe, but you are quite capable of looking one up on your own. It’s not hard, just time consuming. Besides, commercial varieties are not all that bad, and satisfy my occasional cravings. I like herrings, cured, and preserved in sour cream over the straight pickled variety. Dill is my preferred seasoning, with dark brown bread as an accompaniment for an open-faced sandwich. Very Norse of me, no doubt.

If you want to go to town, you can make all manner of sauces for pickled herrings, including cream and mustard, or horseradish, or a tomato sauce with hot pepper. You can serve them separately in their sauces with bread, and let guests make their own choices. I’d also recommend pickled herring salad with mandarin orange slices and shaved fennel. While facing the fact that pickled herrings are strongly distinctive (like Milligan), they are versatile (also like Milligan).


Apr 152018

Today is the birthday (1707) of Leonhard Euler, a Swiss-born mathematician, physicist, astronomer, logician and engineer, who was unquestionably the most prolific, and one of the most influential, mathematicians in the West of all time. His written works fill around 80 quarto volumes. He, like so many other great mathematicians of the past, is not a household name these days, although you may know what an Euler diagram is, or you may know that the mathematical constant e is also known as Euler’s number, because he was the first to prove that e is irrational (“e” stands for “Euler”). I am going to spare you a diatribe on mathematics, working on the assumption that most people’s eyes glaze over when I stray too far from 2 + 2 = 4. This fact of life is a great pity in my ever-humble opinion. Mathematics and mathematical logic are useful intellectual tools. They are not the only tools in the toolbox, nor necessarily the most useful, but deep thinking is difficult without them. Care to build a shed without a hammer? It can be done, but is easier with one. I’ll delve into Euler’s life and influence mostly, and just give you a taste of what his mathematics can (and cannot) do.

Euler was born in Basel in Switzerland to Paul Euler, a pastor of the Reformed Church, and Marguerite née Brucker, a pastor’s daughter. He had two younger sisters: Anna Maria and Maria Magdalena, and a younger brother Johann Heinrich. Soon after the birth of Leonhard, the Eulers moved from Basel to the town of Riehen, where Euler spent most of his childhood. Paul Euler was a friend of the Bernoulli family. Johann Bernoulli was then regarded as Europe’s foremost mathematician, and would eventually be the most important influence on young Leonhard.

Euler’s formal education started in Basel, where he was sent to live with his maternal grandmother. In 1720, aged 13, he enrolled at the University of Basel, and in 1723 (aged 16), he received a Master of Philosophy with a dissertation that compared the philosophies of Descartes and Newton. During that time, he was receiving Saturday afternoon lessons from Johann Bernoulli, who quickly discovered his pupil’s incredible aptitude for mathematics. At that time Euler’s main studies included theology, Greek, and Hebrew at his father’s urging in order to become a pastor, but Bernoulli convinced his father that Euler was destined to become a great mathematician.

In 1726, Euler completed a dissertation on the propagation of sound, titled De Sono. At that time, he was unsuccessfully attempting to obtain a position at the University of Basel. In 1727, he first entered the Paris Academy Prize Problem competition; the problem that year was to find the best way to place the masts on a ship. Pierre Bouguer, who became known as “the father of naval architecture,” won and Euler took second place. Euler later won this annual prize 12 times.

Around this time Johann Bernoulli’s two sons, Daniel and Nicolaus, were working at the Imperial Russian Academy of Sciences in Saint Petersburg. On 31st July 1726, Nicolaus died of appendicitis after spending less than a year in Russia, and when Daniel assumed his brother’s position in the mathematics/physics division, he recommended that the post in physiology that he had vacated be filled by his friend Euler. In November 1726 Euler accepted the offer, but delayed making the trip to Saint Petersburg while he unsuccessfully applied for a physics professorship at the University of Basel.

Euler arrived in Saint Petersburg on 17th May 1727. He was promoted from his junior post in the medical department of the academy to a position in the mathematics department. He lodged with Daniel Bernoulli with whom he often worked in close collaboration. Euler mastered Russian and settled into life in Saint Petersburg. He also took on an additional job as a medic in the Russian Navy. The Academy at Saint Petersburg, established by Peter the Great, was intended to improve education in Russia and to close the scientific gap with Western Europe. As a result, it was made especially attractive to foreign scholars like Euler. The academy possessed ample financial resources and a comprehensive library drawn from the private libraries of Peter himself and of the nobility. Very few students were enrolled in the academy in order to lessen the faculty’s teaching burden, and the academy emphasized research and offered to its faculty both the time and the freedom to pursue scientific questions.

The Academy’s patron, Catherine I, who had continued the progressive policies of her late husband, died on the day of Euler’s arrival. The Russian nobility then gained power upon the ascension of the 12-year-old Peter II. The nobility was suspicious of the academy’s foreign scientists, and thus cut funding and caused other difficulties for Euler and his colleagues. Conditions improved slightly after the death of Peter II, and Euler swiftly rose through the ranks in the academy and was made a professor of physics in 1731. Two years later, Daniel Bernoulli, who was fed up with the censorship and hostility he faced at Saint Petersburg, left for Basel. Euler succeeded him as the head of the mathematics department.

Concerned about the continuing turmoil in Russia, Euler left St. Petersburg  in June 1741 to take up a post at the Berlin Academy, which he had been offered by Frederick the Great of Prussia. He lived for 25 years in Berlin, where he wrote over 380 articles. In Berlin, he published the two works for which he would become most renowned: the Introductio in analysin infinitorum, a text on functions, published in 1748, and the Institutiones calculi differentialis, on differential calculus, published in 1755.

Euler was asked to tutor Friederike Charlotte of Brandenburg-Schwedt, the Princess of Anhalt-Dessau and Frederick’s niece. Euler wrote over 200 letters to her in the early 1760s, which were later compiled into a best-selling volume: Letters of Euler on different Subjects in Natural Philosophy Addressed to a German Princess. This work contained Euler’s exposition on various subjects pertaining to physics and mathematics, as well as offering valuable insights into Euler’s personality and religious beliefs. This book became more widely read than any of his mathematical works and was published across Europe and in the United States. The popularity of the “Letters” testifies to Euler’s ability to communicate scientific matters effectively to a lay audience.

Despite Euler’s immense contribution to the Academy’s prestige, he eventually incurred the wrath of Frederick and ended up having to leave Berlin. The Prussian king had a large circle of intellectuals in his court, and he found the mathematician unsophisticated and ill-informed on matters beyond numbers and figures. Euler was a simple, devoutly religious man who never questioned the existing social order or conventional beliefs, in many ways the polar opposite of Voltaire, who enjoyed a high place of prestige at Frederick’s court. Euler was not a skilled debater and often made it a point to argue subjects that he knew little about, making him the frequent target of Voltaire’s wit. Frederick also expressed disappointment with Euler’s practical engineering abilities:

I wanted to have a water jet in my garden: Euler calculated the force of the wheels necessary to raise the water to a reservoir, from where it should fall back through channels, finally spurting out in Sanssouci. My mill was carried out geometrically and could not raise a mouthful of water closer than fifty paces to the reservoir. Vanity of vanities! Vanity of geometry!

Euler’s eyesight worsened throughout his mathematical career. In 1738, three years after nearly dying from a fever, he became almost blind in his right eye, but Euler preferred to blame the painstaking work on cartography he performed for the St. Petersburg Academy for his condition. Euler’s vision in that eye worsened throughout his stay in Germany, to the extent that Frederick referred to him as “Cyclops”. Euler later developed a cataract in his left eye, which was discovered in 1766. Just a few weeks after its discovery, he was rendered almost totally blind. However, his condition appeared to have little effect on his productivity, as he compensated for it with his mental calculation skills and exceptional memory. Upon losing the sight in both eyes, Euler remarked, “Now I will have fewer distractions.” Euler could repeat Virgil’s Aeneid from beginning to end without hesitation, and for every page in the edition he could indicate which line was the first and which the last. With the aid of his scribes, Euler’s productivity on many areas of study actually increased. He produced, on average, one mathematical paper every week in the year 1775. The Eulers bore a double name, Euler-Schölpi, the latter of which derives from schelb and schief, signifying squint-eyed, cross-eyed, or crooked. This suggests that the Eulers may have had a genetic disposition to eye problems.

In 1760, with the Seven Years’ War raging, Euler’s farm in Charlottenburg was ransacked by advancing Russian troops. Upon learning of this event, General Ivan Petrovich Saltykov paid compensation for the damage caused to Euler’s estate, later Empress Elizabeth of Russia added a further payment of 4000 rubles – an exorbitant amount at the time. The political situation in Russia stabilized after Catherine the Great’s accession to the throne, so in 1766 Euler accepted an invitation to return to the St. Petersburg Academy. His conditions were steep – a 3000 ruble annual salary, a pension for his wife, and the promise of high-ranking appointments for his sons. All of these requests were granted. He spent the rest of his life in Russia. However, his second stay in the country was marred by tragedy. A fire in St. Petersburg in 1771 cost him his home, and almost his life. In 1773, he lost his wife Katharina after 40 years of marriage. Three years after his wife’s death, Euler married her half-sister, Salome Abigail Gsell (1723–1794). This marriage lasted until his death.

In St. Petersburg on 18 September 1783, after a lunch with his family, Euler was discussing the newly discovered planet Uranus and its orbit with a fellow academician Anders Johan Lexell, when he collapsed from a brain hemorrhage. He died a few hours later. French mathematician and philosopher Marquis de Condorcet, wrote: “il cessa de calculer et de vivre” (he ceased to calculate and to live). Euler was buried next to Katharina at the Smolensk Lutheran Cemetery on Goloday Island. In 1785, the Russian Academy of Sciences put a marble bust of Leonhard Euler on a pedestal next to the Director’s seat and, in 1837, placed a headstone on Euler’s grave. To commemorate the 250th anniversary of Euler’s birth, the headstone was moved in 1956, together with his remains, to the 18th-century necropolis at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery.

Here I am going to touch on Euler’s contributions to mathematics and related fields, so, if your eyes glaze over at this stuff, skip to the recipe. This section is not really technical (just a tiny bit). Euler worked in almost all areas of mathematics, such as geometry, infinitesimal calculus, trigonometry, algebra, and number theory, as well as continuum physics, lunar theory and other areas of physics. He is the only mathematician to have two numbers named after him: the Euler number, e, approximately equal to 2.71828, and the Euler–Mascheroni constant γ (gamma) sometimes referred to as just “Euler’s constant,” approximately equal to 0.57721.

Euler introduced and popularized several notational conventions, that are now commonplace, through his numerous and widely circulated textbooks. Most notably, he introduced the concept of a function and was the first to write f(x) to denote the function f applied to the argument x. He also introduced the modern notation for the trigonometric functions, the letter e for the base of the natural logarithm (not originally “e” for “Euler’s number”), the Greek letter Σ for summations, and the letter i to denote the square root of -1. The use of the Greek letter π to denote the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter was also popularized by Euler, although it originated with Welsh mathematician William Jones.

The development of infinitesimal calculus was at the forefront of 18th-century mathematical research, and the Bernoullis—family friends of Euler—were responsible for much of the early progress in the field. Because of their influence, studying calculus became a major focus of Euler’s work. Newton and Leibniz got the ball rolling by showing that if you tolerated the concept of infinity (in mathematics) a giant new world opened up that had not been known in the West before. You have to grasp – maybe against your intuition, or common sense – that as you get closer and closer and ever closer to infinity with a series of numbers that are getting smaller and smaller and yet smaller, a simple answer (almost magically) pops out when you get all the way to infinity (known as the limit). Getting the answer is almost a leap of faith although mathematicians won’t admit this. The classic “explanation” is to take the number 1.999999999999999999999999999 with the 9s extending all the way to infinity. As the list of 9s gets longer and longer, the number gets closer and closer to 2. So, at the limit 1 followed by infinite 9s is the same as 2. There’s your leap of faith. It is not just a tiny bit smaller than 2, it is exactly equal to 2.

Brilliant mathematicians like Euler appear to be able, not only to grasp mathematical concepts intuitively, but also to see patterns between seemingly disparate mathematical expressions. The ratio pi, for example, concerning the diameter and circumference of a circle, shows up all over the place in expressions that do not seem to have anything to do with circles. It is almost mystical. Mathematicians like Euler are not worried by this oddity; they see much deeper into the structure of mathematics than ordinary mortals, in ways that seem obvious to them, but are opaque to the rest of us. For example, he derived the formula known as Euler’s identity:

e i π + 1 = 0

Richard Feynman called it the “most remarkable formula in all mathematics” because it pulls together fundamental, but rather quirky, constants of mathematics in one neat bundle combining the operations of addition, multiplication, exponentiation, and equality.

Euler also pioneered the use of analytic methods to solve number theory problems. Euler’s interest in number theory can be traced to the influence of Christian Goldbach, his friend in the St. Petersburg Academy. A lot of Euler’s early work on number theory was based on the works of Pierre de Fermat. Euler developed some of Fermat’s ideas and disproved some of his conjectures. He contributed significantly to the theory of perfect numbers, which had fascinated mathematicians since Euclid. A perfect number is a number that is the sum of all of its positive divisors (excepting itself). So, for example, 6 is a perfect number because its divisors are 1, 2, and 3, and 1 + 2 + 3 = 6.

In 1735, Euler presented a solution to the problem known as the Seven Bridges of Königsberg. The city of Königsberg in Prussia was set on the Pregel River, and included two large islands that were connected to each other and the mainland by seven bridges. The problem is to decide whether it is possible to follow a path that crosses each bridge exactly once and returns to the starting point. Euler proved it is not possible. This solution is considered to be the first theorem of graph theory, specifically of planar graph theory. Euler also discovered the formula V − E + F = 2 relating the number of vertices (V), edges (E) and faces (F) of a convex polyhedron, and hence of a planar graph.

One of Euler’s more unusual interests was the application of mathematical ideas in music. In 1739 he wrote the Tentamen novae theoriae musicae, hoping to eventually incorporate musical theory as part of mathematics. This part of his work, however, did not receive wide attention and was once described as too mathematical for musicians and too musical for mathematicians.

Euler helped develop the Euler–Bernoulli beam equation, which became a cornerstone of engineering. Aside from successfully applying his analytic tools to problems in classical mechanics, Euler also applied these techniques to celestial problems. His work in astronomy was recognized by a number of Paris Academy Prizes over the course of his career. His accomplishments include determining with great accuracy the orbits of comets and other celestial bodies, understanding the nature of comets, and calculating the parallax of the sun. His calculations also contributed to the development of accurate longitude tables.

In addition, Euler made important contributions in optics. He disagreed with Newton’s corpuscular theory of light in the Opticks, which was then the prevailing theory. His 1740s papers on optics helped ensure that the wave theory of light proposed by Christiaan Huygens would become the dominant mode of thought, at least until the development of the quantum theory of light.

Euler is also credited with using closed curves to illustrate syllogistic reasoning (1768). These diagrams have become known as Euler diagrams which are sometimes confused with Venn diagrams. Here is a series of images that might help explain the difference.

An Euler diagram is a diagrammatic means of representing sets and their relationships. Euler diagrams consist of simple closed curves (usually circles) in the plane that depict sets. Each Euler curve divides the plane into two regions or “zones”: the interior, which symbolically represents the elements of the set, and the exterior, which represents all elements that are not members of the set. In Venn diagrams every closed curve must intersect every other curve, but in Euler diagrams they do not.

Much of what is known of Euler’s religious beliefs can be deduced from his Letters to a German Princess and an earlier work, Rettung der Göttlichen Offenbahrung Gegen die Einwürfe der Freygeister (Defense of the Divine Revelation against the Objections of the Freethinkers). These works show that Euler was a devout Christian who believed the Bible to be inspired; the Rettung was primarily an argument for the divine inspiration of scripture.

The dish known as French Meat was developed in St Petersburg in Euler’s time – a time when the Russian aristocracy wanted to appear more cosmopolitan to the outside world. The dish is unknown in France, of course, but it has remained popular in parts of Europe.  Worth a try, I’d say. I like it, and it is simple to make. The order of layers in the dish may vary depending on your preferences. The bottom layer can be onions to create a stratum between the meat and the baking tray, or potatoes, which will result in the dish saturated with pork fat. Some people make French Meat without potatoes. In this case, the pork chunks should be larger. Some don’t use mayonnaise, but the cheese-mayonnaise layer should always be on top, creating an aromatic gratin cheese crust while the dish is in the oven.

French Meat


500 gm/ 1lb moderately fat pork, cut in small chunks
600 gm/ 1 ¼ lb potatoes, peeled and sliced
4 large onions, peeled and sliced
300 gm/ 10 ½ oz melting cheese, grated
200 grams/ 7 oz (approx.) mayonnaise
salt, pepper to taste


Pre-heat the oven to 200˚C/400˚F.

Grease a casserole and spread the pork in a layer on the bottom. Cover the pork evenly with a layer of onion slices. Put a layer of thin slices of potato on top of the onions. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Top with a layer of grated cheese smothered in mayonnaise using a tablespoon or a cooking brush.

Bake the dish  for about 30 minutes. The dish is ready when the top layer of cheese is golden and bubbly. Remove the casserole from the oven and let it cool for 10 minutes before serving in blocks or slices.

Apr 142018

Today is the first day of the Cambodian New Year in 2018, Khmer: បុណ្យចូលឆ្នាំថ្មី or Choul Chnam Thmey, literally “Enter New Year.” The holiday lasts for three days beginning on New Year’s Day, which usually falls on April 13th or 14th, which is the end of the harvesting season, when farmers enjoy the fruits of their labor before the rainy season begins. Khmers living abroad may choose to celebrate during a weekend rather than just specifically April 13th through 16th. The Khmer New Year coincides with the traditional solar new year in several parts of India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand. It was originally pegged to the lunar calendar, but is now more fixed within the Gregorian calendar. Cambodians also use the Buddhist Era to count the year based on the Buddhist calendar. For 2018, it will be 2562 BE (Buddhist Era).

The three days of the new year are:

Maha Sangkran (មហាសង្រ្កាន្ត)

Maha Sangkran, derived from Sanskrit Maha Sankranti, is the name of the first day of the new year celebration. It is the end of the year and the beginning of a new one. People dress up in new clothes and light candles and burn incense sticks at shrines, where the members of each family pay homage to offer thanks for the Buddha’s teachings by bowing, kneeling and prostrating themselves three times before his image. For good luck people wash their face with holy water in the morning, their chests at noon, and their feet in the evening before they go to bed.

Virak Vanabat (វិរ:វ័នបត)

Vireak Vanabat is the name of the second day of the new year celebration. People contribute charity to the less fortunate by helping the poor, servants, homeless, and low-income families. Families attend a dedication ceremony to their ancestors at monasteries.

Vearak Loeng Sak (វារៈឡើងស័ក)

T’ngai Loeng Sak in Khmer is the name of the third day of the new year celebration. Buddhists wash the Buddha statues and their elders with perfumed water. Bathing the Buddha images is a symbolic practice to wash bad actions away like water clean dirt from household items. It is also thought to be a kind deed that will bring longevity, good luck, happiness and prosperity in life. By washing their grandparents and parents, the children can obtain from them best wishes and good pieces of advice to live the life for the rest of the year.

In temples, people erect a sand hillock on temple grounds. They mound up a big pointed hill of sand or dome in the center which represents Valuka Chaitya, the stupa at Tavatimsa where the Buddha’s hair and diadem are buried. The big stupa is surrounded by four small ones, which represent the stupas of the Buddha’s favorite disciples: Sariputta, Moggallana, Ananda, and Maha Kassapa. There is another tradition called Sraung Preah (ស្រង់ព្រះ): pouring water or liquid plaster (a mixture of water with some chalk powder) on an elder relative, or people in general. This is now mostly a lark for younger people. I will have to watch my step.

There are also a number of traditional games performed over the three days.

Chol Chhoung (ចោល⁣ឈូង), for example, is played on the first nightfall of the Khmer New Year by two groups of boys and girls. Ten or 20 people comprise each group, standing in two rows opposite each other. One group throws the “chhoung” to the other group. When it is caught, it will be rapidly thrown back to the first group. If someone is hit by the “chhoung,” the whole group must dance to get the “chhoung” back while the other group sings to the dance.

Chab Kon Kleng (ចាប់⁣កូនខ្លែង) is a game played by imitating a hen as she protects her chicks from a crow. Adults typically play this game on the night of the first New Year’s Day. Participants usually appoint a strong player to play the hen who protects “her” chicks, while another person is picked to be the “crow”. While both sides sing a song of bargaining, the crow tries to catch as many chicks as possible as they hide behind the hen.

The Khmer New Year is also a time to prepare special dishes. One of these is a “kralan”: a cake made from steamed rice mixed with beans or peas, grated coconut and coconut milk. The mixture is stuffed inside a bamboo stick and slowly roasted. I have prepared ansom chek (អន្សមចេក) for today – sticky rice and banana steamed in banana leaves. It’s traditional and not that hard to make – if you live in Cambodia. I’ll make a sour fish soup that I like, as well. Also, very popular for festivals. This site gives a ton of Khmer recipes for festivals. As ever, the challenge is finding the right ingredients http://www.khmerkromrecipes.com/recipes/recipe273.html . I’ll break my normal reluctance to post recipes from Asia because of the difficulty in getting ingredients (this once). If you do not know what you are aiming for I will not be answerable for your results. I’ll also embed a video at the end for good measure (in English). Fish amok is a fish curry with coconut that is very common in Cambodia, year round, but you will find it on festive tables too. Unless you live in SE Asia you will not find all of the ingredients, but here’s the recipe anyway.

Fish Amok (ហហ្មុកត្រី)

For kreung paste

5 kaffir lime leaves, ribs removed, thinly sliced
3 dried Thai red chiles, soaked in water until soft, drained, seeds discarded, chopped
3 slices galangal, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 slices kacheay (also known as lesser ginger or lesser rhizome), peeled and chopped
3 shallots, thinly sliced
2 stalks lemongrass, bottom parts only, thinly sliced
2 small pieces fresh turmeric, peeled and sliced, or 1 teaspoon ground turmeric

For fish amok

½ cup coconut milk, plus extra
1 tbsp Cambodian chili paste
1 tbsp Cambodian (or Thai) fish sauce
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp shrimp paste
½ tsp salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 lb boneless skinless meaty white fish, cut into chunks
8 banana leaves
¼ cup nhor/noni leaves (morinda citriforlia), shredded
4 fresh red chiles, cut lengthwise in thin strips


First make the kreung paste. Pound together the lime leaves, red chiles, galangal, garlic, kacheay, shallots, lemongrass and turmeric, a few ingredients at a time, using a mortar and pestle until a fine paste forms. You can do this in a food processor, but mortar and pestle is better.

Mix the kreung paste with the coconut milk, chili paste, fish sauce, sugar, shrimp paste, salt and egg in a large bowl. Add the fish and combine well with the kreung paste marinade. Set aside and allow the marinade to infuse the fish for about 15 minutes or longer.

Set up a steamer. Make banana leaf bowls (konthoangs) by placing 2 banana leaves on top of each other and folding into little rectangular bowls with the tapered sides folded up and held together with bamboo toothpicks. Make 4 in total. Make a bed of noni leaves in the bottom of each konthoang. Divide the marinated fish between the bowls, and place on top of the noni beds. Spoon 2 tablespoons of coconut milk over each serving of fish and top off with a fresh red chile. Place the filled konthoangs in the steamer and steam until the fish is cooked through, about 20 minutes. Serve with plain, boiled jasmine rice.

Apr 132018

Today is the birthday (1906) of Samuel Barclay Beckett, an Irish avant-garde novelist, playwright, theatre director, poet, and literary translator who lived in Paris for most of his adult life. He wrote in both English and French, and is probably best known for Waiting for Godot, which he wrote first in French, and then translated into English.

Samuel Beckett was born in Dublin on Good Friday, 1906, to William Frank Beckett, a quantity surveyor and descendant of the Huguenots, and Maria Jones Roe, a nurse, when both were 35. They had married in 1901. Beckett had one older brother, Frank Edward Beckett (1902–1954). At the age of 5, Beckett attended a local playschool in Dublin, where he started to learn music, and then moved to Earlsfort House School in Dublin city center near Harcourt Street. The Becketts were members of the Anglican Church of Ireland. The family home, Cooldrinagh in the Dublin suburb of Foxrock, was a large house and garden complete with tennis court built in 1903 by Samuel’s father. The house and garden, together with the surrounding countryside where he often went walking with his father, the nearby Leopardstown Racecourse, the Foxrock railway station and Harcourt Street station at the city terminus of the line, all feature in his prose and plays.

In 1919/1920, Beckett went to Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh (which Oscar Wilde had also attended). He left 3 years later, in 1923. Beckett excelled at cricket as a left-handed batsman and a left-arm medium-pace bowler. Later, he was to play for Dublin University and played two first-class games against Northamptonshire. Beckett studied French, Italian, and English at Trinity College, Dublin from 1923 to 1927. He graduated with a BA and, after teaching briefly at Campbell College in Belfast, took up the post of lecteur d’anglais at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris from November 1928 to 1930. While there, he was introduced to James Joyce by Thomas MacGreevy, a poet and close confidant of Beckett who also worked there.  Beckett assisted Joyce in various ways, one of which was research towards the book that became Finnegans Wake.

In 1929, Beckett published his first work, a critical essay entitled “Dante… Bruno. Vico.. Joyce.” The essay defends Joyce’s work and method, chiefly from allegations of wanton obscurity and dimness, and was Beckett’s contribution to Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress (a book of essays on Joyce which also included contributions by Eugene Jolas, Robert McAlmon, and William Carlos Williams). Beckett’s close relationship with Joyce and his family cooled, however, when he rejected the advances of Joyce’s daughter Lucia owing to her progressing schizophrenia. Beckett’s first short story, “Assumption”, was published in Jolas’ periodical transition. The next year he won a small literary prize for his hastily composed poem “Whoroscope”, which draws on a biography of René Descartes that Beckett happened to be reading when he was encouraged to submit.

In 1930, Beckett returned to Trinity College as a lecturer. In November 1930, he presented a paper in French to the Modern Languages Society of Trinity on the Toulouse poet Jean du Chas, founder of a movement called le Concentrisme. It was a literary parody; Beckett had in fact invented the poet and his movement that claimed to be “at odds with all that is clear and distinct in Descartes.” Beckett later insisted that he had not intended to fool his audience. When Beckett resigned from Trinity at the end of 1931, his brief academic career was at an end.

After Dublin, Beckett travelled in Europe, and spent some time in London, where in 1931 he published Proust, his critical study of Marcel Proust’s work. Two years later, following his father’s death, he began two years’ treatment with Tavistock Clinic psychoanalyst Dr. Wilfred Bion. Aspects of this time played out in Beckett’s later works, such as Watt and Waiting for Godot. In 1932, he wrote his first novel, Dream of Fair to Middling Women, but after many rejections from publishers decided to abandon it (it was eventually published in 1992). Despite his inability to get it published, however, the novel served as a source for many of Beckett’s early poems, as well as for his first full-length book, the 1933 short-story collection More Pricks Than Kicks.

In 1935—the year that Beckett successfully published a book of his poetry, Echo’s Bones and Other Precipitates—Beckett worked on his novel Murphy. In May, he wrote to MacGreevy that he had been reading about film and wished to go to Moscow to study with Sergei Eisenstein at the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography in Moscow. In mid-1936 he wrote to Eisenstein and Vsevolod Pudovkin to offer himself as their apprentice. Nothing came of this, however, as Beckett’s letter was lost owing to Eisenstein’s quarantine during the smallpox outbreak, as well as his focus on a script re-write of his postponed film production.

Murphy was finished in 1936 and Beckett departed for extensive travel around Germany, during which time he filled several notebooks with lists of noteworthy art that he had seen, and noted his distaste for the Nazi savagery that was overtaking the country. Returning to Ireland briefly in 1937, he oversaw the publication of Murphy (1938), which he translated into French the following year. He fell out with his mother, which contributed to his decision to settle permanently in Paris. Beckett remained in Paris following the outbreak of World War II in 1939, preferring, in his own words, “France at war to Ireland at peace.” His was soon a known face in and around Left Bank cafés, where he strengthened his allegiance with Joyce and forged new ones with artists Alberto Giacometti and Marcel Duchamp, with whom he regularly played chess. Some time around December 1937, Beckett had a brief affair with Peggy Guggenheim, who nicknamed him “Oblomov” (after the character in Ivan Goncharov’s novel).

In January 1938 in Paris, Beckett was stabbed in the chest and nearly killed when he refused the solicitations of a notorious pimp (who went by the name of Prudent). Joyce arranged a private room for Beckett at the hospital. The publicity surrounding the stabbing attracted the attention of Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnil, who previously knew Beckett slightly from his first stay in Paris. This time, however, the two would begin a lifelong companionship. At a preliminary hearing, Beckett asked his attacker for the motive behind the stabbing. Prudent replied: “Je ne sais pas, Monsieur. Je m’excuse” [“I do not know, sir. I’m sorry”]. Beckett eventually dropped the charges against his attacker—partly to avoid further formalities, partly because he found Prudent likeable and well-mannered.

After the Nazi German occupation of France in 1940, Beckett joined the French Resistance, in which he worked as a courier. On several occasions over the next two years he was nearly caught by the Gestapo. In August 1942, his unit was betrayed, and he and Suzanne fled south on foot to the safety of the small village of Roussillon, in the Vaucluse département in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. There he continued to assist the Resistance by storing armaments in the back yard of his home. During the two years that Beckett stayed in Roussillon he indirectly helped the Maquis sabotage the German army in the Vaucluse mountains, though he rarely spoke about his wartime work in later life.

Beckett was awarded the Croix de guerre and the Médaille de la Résistance by the French government for his efforts in fighting the German occupation. To the end of his life, however, Beckett referred to his work with the French Resistance as “boy scout stuff.” While in hiding in Roussillon, he continued work on the novel Watt (begun in 1941 and completed in 1945, but not published until 1953, though an extract had appeared in the Dublin literary periodical Envoy).

In 1945, Beckett returned to Dublin for a brief visit. During his stay, he had a revelation in his mother’s room: His entire future direction in literature appeared to him. Beckett had felt that he would remain forever in the shadow of Joyce, certain to never best him at his own game. His revelation prompted him to change direction and to acknowledge both his own stupidity and his interest in ignorance and impotence:

I realized that Joyce had gone as far as one could in the direction of knowing more, [being] in control of one’s material. He was always adding to it; you only have to look at his proofs to see that. I realized that my own way was in impoverishment, in lack of knowledge and in taking away, in subtracting rather than in adding.

In the future, his work focused on poverty, failure, exile and loss.

In 1946, Jean-Paul Sartre’s magazine Les Temps modernes published the first part of Beckett’s short story “Suite” (later to be called “La Fin”, or “The End”), not realizing that Beckett had only submitted the first half of the story, Simone de Beauvoir refused to publish the second part. Beckett also began to write his fourth novel, Mercier et Camier, which was not published until 1970. The novel presaged his most famous work, the play Waiting for Godot, which was written not long afterwards. More importantly, the novel was Beckett’s first long work that he wrote in French, the language of most of his subsequent works which were strongly supported by Jérôme Lindon director of his Parisian publishing house Les Éditions de Minuit, including the poioumenon “trilogy” of novels: Molloy (1951); Malone meurt (1951), Malone Dies (1958); L’innommable (1953), The Unnamable, (1960). Despite being a native English speaker, Beckett wrote in French because—as he himself claimed—it was easier for him to write “without style” in French than in English.

Beckett is, of course, most famous for his play En attendant Godot (1953) (Waiting for Godot). In a much-quoted article, the critic Vivian Mercier wrote that Beckett,

has achieved a theoretical impossibility—a play in which nothing happens, that yet keeps audiences glued to their seats. What’s more, since the second act is a subtly different reprise of the first, he has written a play in which nothing happens, twice.

Godot premièred in 1953 in French in Paris and was a critical and popular, yet controversial, success in Paris. It opened in London in 1955 to mainly negative reviews, but the tide turned with positive reactions from Harold Hobson in The Sunday Times and, later, Kenneth Tynan. In the United States, it flopped in Miami and had a qualified success in New York City. After this, the play became extremely popular, with highly successful performances in the US and Germany. It is frequently performed today.

The US television sitcom, Seinfeld, is frequently praised as being “about nothing.” No. Seinfeld is quite obviously about something. Godot is about NOTHING – at great length. In my younger years I did not appreciate Godot. You have to have experienced life, and reflected on it to understand what Beckett is getting at. Life is an endless succession of pointless encounters, that seem, at first, to be brimming with meaning, but turn out to be devoid of it. Reading academic appraisals of Godot makes me laugh out loud: it is about ego, sex, fascism, stupidity, hunger, etc. etc. etc. Beckett is laughing at all of you.

Beckett translated all of his works into English himself, with the exception of Molloy, for which he collaborated with Patrick Bowles. The success of Waiting for Godot opened up a career in theater for Beckett. He went on to write successful full-length plays, including Fin de partie (Endgame) (1957), Krapp’s Last Tape (1958, written in English), Happy Days (1961, also written in English), and Play (1963).

In 1961, Beckett married Suzanne in a secret civil ceremony in England (its secrecy due to reasons relating to French inheritance law). The success of his plays led to invitations to attend rehearsals and productions around the world, leading eventually to a new career as a theater director. In 1957, he had his first commission from the BBC Third Programme for a radio play, All That Fall. He continued writing sporadically for radio and extended his scope to include cinema and television. He began to write in English again, although he also wrote in French until the end of his life.

From the late 1950s until his death, Beckett had a relationship with Barbara Bray, a widow who worked as a script editor for the BBC. In October 1969 while on holiday in Tunis with Suzanne, Beckett heard that he had won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Anticipating that her intensely private husband would be saddled with fame from that moment on, Suzanne called the award a catastrophe. He gave away all of the prize money. Suzanne died on 17th July 1989. Beckett died on 22nd December the same year, confined to a nursing home and suffering from emphysema and possibly Parkinson’s disease. The two were interred together in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris and share a simple granite gravestone that follows Beckett’s directive that it should be “any colour, so long as it’s grey.”

Although Beckett was intensely private and ascetic with a generally pessimistic outlook on life, he did enjoy meeting friends for a good meal once in a while, especially grilled sole and white wine in restaurants such as Aux Îles Marquises on the rue de la Gaité. Well, grilled sole is about as simple as it gets. The usual habit is to grill fillets and serve them with lemon wedges and butter. I’m happier to be even simpler than that. I like nothing better than to take a whole fish – head on, but gutted and cleaned – heat the grill or broiler as hot as it gets, and grill the fish for about 12 minutes without turning it. Plate and serve as is. Sole has an extremely delicate taste (if you buy actual Dover sole and not some mimic), and needs no additions. French chefs will bristle at that sentiment, but I am not French. As a small boy my mother would occasionally serve me a whole sole (or plaice) for lunch, caught that day off the Eastbourne coast, and sold from the fishing boats. She grilled it, put it on a plate, and let me have at it with a slice of buttered brown bread. For some reason she thought brown bread would help in case I swallowed some bones.  I accompany grilled sole with buttered new potatoes and spinach or asparagus. A simple dish to celebrate Beckett’s favored simple life.

Apr 122018

The announcement of the successful results of major testing of Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine was made on this date in 1955, leading to its approval as safe and effective, and dramatically reducing the incidence of polio worldwide. I was born a number of years before the vaccine was developed, but I was part of a massive effort to inoculate children after the vaccine had been refined and declared safe. I was part of a generation that was ravaged by polio, and I knew a number of children who were permanently crippled by the disease. The polio vaccine was created, starting in 1952, by Salk and a team at the University of Pittsburgh that included Julius Youngner, Byron Bennett, L. James Lewis, and Lorraine Friedman, and required years of subsequent testing. Salk went on CBS radio to report a successful test on a small group of adults and children on 26 March 1953; two days later the results were published in JAMA. Beginning 23 February 1954, the vaccine was tested at Arsenal Elementary School and the Watson Home for Children in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Salk’s vaccine was then used in a test called the Francis Field Trial, led by Thomas Francis, the largest medical experiment in history at that time. The test began with approximately 4,000 children at Franklin Sherman Elementary School in McLean, Virginia, and would eventually involve 1.8 million children, in 44 states from Maine to California. By the conclusion of the study, roughly 440,000 received one or more injections of the vaccine, about 210,000 children received a placebo, consisting of harmless culture media, and 1.2 million children received no vaccination and served as a control group, who would then be observed to see if any contracted polio.

The results of the field trial were announced 12th April 1955 (the tenth anniversary of the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose paralytic illness was generally believed to have been caused by polio). The Salk vaccine had been 60–70% effective against PV1 (poliovirus type 1), over 90% effective against PV2 and PV3, and 94% effective against the development of bulbar polio. Soon after Salk’s vaccine was licensed in 1955, children’s vaccination campaigns were launched. In the U.S, following a mass immunization campaign promoted by the March of Dimes, the annual number of polio cases fell from 35,000 in 1953 to 5,600 by 1957. By 1961 only 161 cases were recorded in the United States.

Salk is not only a worthy scientist to celebrate on this blog for his achievements, his outlook on life, expressed in various aphorisms, is commendable:

The reward for work well done is the opportunity to do more.

Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors.

Nothing happens quite by chance. It’s a question of accretion of information and experience.

I have dreams, and I have nightmares. I overcame the nightmares because of my dreams.

I couldn’t possibly have become a member of this institute [The Salk Institute for Biological Studies] if I hadn’t founded it myself.

There are three stages of truth. First is that it can’t be true, and that’s what they said. You couldn’t immunize against polio with a killed-virus vaccine. Second phase: they say, “Well, if it’s true, it’s not very important.” And the third stage is, “Well, we’ve known it all along.”

Now, some people might look at something and let it go by, because they don’t recognize the pattern and the significance. It’s the sensitivity to pattern recognition that seems to me to be of great importance. It’s a matter of being able to find meaning, whether it’s positive or negative, in whatever you encounter.

Reason alone will not serve. Intuition alone can be improved by reason, but reason alone without intuition can easily lead the wrong way. They both are necessary.

In the years that Salk was developing the vaccine, his favorite eating place right near the University of Pittsburgh was the Bamboo Garden, a Chinese restaurant on Forbes Avenue, operated by Roy Shew and Ken Yee. It is said that he used to think through problems over a bowl of wonton soup, egg roll, rice and chicken chow mein made with homegrown bean sprouts. I would find 1950s-style Westernized Cantonese cooking of this order pretty wretched these days, but back then I was probably as much of a fan as Salk.  The words chow mein mean ‘stir-fried noodles’, chow meaning ‘stir-fried’ and mein meaning ‘noodles’. The pronunciation chow mein is an English corruption of the Taishanese pronunciation chāu-mèing. The lightly pronounced Taishanese [ŋ], resembling the end of a Portuguese nasal vowel, was taken to be /n/ by English speakers. The Taishan dialect was spoken by migrants to North America from Taishan, a city in southwestern Guangdong.

There are as many variants of chow mein as there are countries where Chinese have opened restaurants, none of them being much like 炒面 (fried noodles), served in China. Indeed, “fried noodles” is about as generic in China as “pasta” is in Italy. Salk would have eaten one of two kinds of chow mein, probably the steamed kind, because his favorite mentions bean sprouts. There are two main kinds of chow meins available in the US:

  1. Steamed chow mein
  2. Crispy chow mein, also known as Hong Kong style chow mein

Steamed chow mein has a softer texture, while the latter is crisper and drier. Crispy chow mein uses fried, flat noodles, while soft chow mein uses long, rounded noodles. Crispy chow mein has either onions and celery in the finished dish or is served “strained” (without any vegetables). Steamed chow mein can have many different kinds of vegetables in the finished dish, most commonly including onions and celery but sometimes carrots, cabbage and mung bean sprouts as well. Crispy chow mein is usually topped with a thick brown sauce, while steamed chow mein is mixed with soy sauce before being served. Both are commonly served with chicken or pork (or even beef), but can also be vegetarian.

Finding a Chinese restaurant that will serve 1950s-style chow mein in Cambodia is not happening for me, and I can’t say that I relish the prospect either. If you live away from the east or west coast of the US, I expect you will have a better shot at it. I wish you luck if that is your thing: 很多运气.