Sep 062017

Today is the birthday (1766) of John Dalton FRS, English chemist, physicist, and meteorologist, best known (by people who know about these things) for proposing the basis of modern atomic theory. Dalton was born into a Quaker family in Eaglesfield, near Cockermouth, in the Lake District. His father was a weaver. He received his early education from his father and from Quaker John Fletcher, who ran a private school in the nearby village of Pardshaw Hall. Dalton’s family did not have enough money to support him in school for long, so he began to earn his living at the age of 10 in the service of a wealthy local Quaker, Elihu Robinson. It is said he began teaching at a local school at age 12, and became proficient in Latin at age 14.

When he was 15, Dalton joined his older brother Jonathan in running a Quaker school in Kendal, about 45 miles (72 km) from his home. Around the age of 23, Dalton may have considered studying law or medicine, but his relatives did not encourage him, perhaps because being a Dissenter, he was barred from attending English universities. He acquired most of his scientific knowledge from informal instruction by John Gough, a blind natural philosopher. At the age of 27 he was appointed teacher of mathematics and natural philosophy at the “New College” in Manchester, a dissenting academy. He remained there until the age of 34, when the college’s worsening financial situation led him to resign his post and take up a new career as a private tutor in mathematics and natural philosophy.

Dalton’s early life was strongly influenced by Elihu Robinson, who was a competent meteorologist and instrument maker, and who interested him in problems of mathematics and meteorology. In 1787 at age 21 he began his meteorological diary in which, during the succeeding 57 years, he entered more than 200,000 observations. He rediscovered George Hadley’s theory of global atmospheric circulation (now known as the Hadley cell) around this time. In 1793 Dalton’s first publication, Meteorological Observations and Essays, contained the seeds of several of his later discoveries but despite the originality of his treatment, little attention was paid to them by other scholars. His Elements of English Grammar, was published in 1801.

After leaving the Lake District, Dalton returned annually to spend his holidays studying meteorology and climbing mountains to measure their height. He took measurements of temperature and humidity at various altitudes which he estimated using a barometer. Until the Ordnance Survey published maps for the Lake District in the 1860s, Dalton was one of the few sources of information on altitudes in the region.

In 1794, shortly after his arrival in Manchester, Dalton was elected a member of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, the “Lit & Phil”, and a few weeks later he communicated his first paper on “Extraordinary facts relating to the vision of colours”, in which he postulated that inability in color perception was caused by discoloration of the liquid medium of the eyeball. Both he and his brother were color blind, and so postulated (correctly) that the condition must be hereditary. He was able to recognize only blue, purple, and yellow. At the time (and still to an extent today), being colorblind was a severe handicap to being an analytic chemist.

The most important of all Dalton’s investigations concern atomic theory in chemistry. How he came up with the theory is not fully understood. The theory may have been suggested to him either by researches on ethylene (olefiant gas) and methane (carburetted hydrogen) or by analysis of nitrous oxide (protoxide of azote) and nitrogen dioxide (deutoxide of azote). These investigations may have led him to the idea that chemical combination (the production of definable compounds) consists in the interaction of atoms of definite and characteristic weight. Or the idea of atoms may have arisen in his mind as a purely physical concept, forced on him by study of the physical properties of the atmosphere and other gases. The first published indications of this idea are to be found at the end of his paper “On the Absorption of Gases by Water and other Liquids” where he says:

Why does not water admit its bulk of every kind of gas alike? This question I have duly considered, and though I am not able to satisfy myself completely I am nearly persuaded that the circumstance depends on the weight and number of the ultimate particles of the several gases. This is the germ of the idea that elements are composed of atoms and that the atoms of different elements have different weights.

The main points of Dalton’s atomic theory are:

Elements are made of extremely small particles called atoms.

 Atoms of a given element are identical in size, mass, and other properties; atoms of different elements differ in size, mass, and other properties.

 Atoms cannot be subdivided, created, or destroyed.

 Atoms of different elements combine in simple whole-number ratios to form chemical compounds.

Dalton published his table of relative atomic weights containing six elements, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, sulfur, and phosphorus, with the atom of hydrogen conventionally assumed to weigh 1. He provided no indication in this paper how he had arrived at these numbers but in his laboratory notebook, dated 6 September 1803, is a list in which he set out the relative weights of the atoms of a number of elements, derived from analysis of water, ammonia, carbon dioxide, etc. by chemists of the time.

Compounds were listed as binary, ternary, quaternary, etc. (molecules composed of two, three, four, etc. atoms) in the New System of Chemical Philosophy depending on the number of atoms a compound had in its simplest, empirical form. Dalton hypothesized the structure of compounds can be represented in whole number ratios. So, one atom of element X combining with one atom of element Y is a binary compound; one atom of element X combining with two elements of Y is a ternary compound, and so on. Many of the first compounds listed in the New System of Chemical Philosophy correspond to modern views, although many others do not.

Dalton used his own symbols to visually represent the atomic structure of compounds (see above). They were depicted in the New System of Chemical Philosophy, where he listed 20 elements and 17 simple molecules.

He always objected to the chemical notation devised by Jöns Jakob Berzelius (the one using letters for elements that we use today), although most thought that it was much simpler and more convenient than his own cumbersome system of circular symbols.

Dalton never married and had only a few close friends. As a Quaker, he lived a modest and unassuming personal life. For the 26 years prior to his death, Dalton lived in a room in the home of the Rev W. Johns, a published botanist, and his wife, in George Street, Manchester. Dalton and Johns died in the same year (1844).

Dalton’s daily round of laboratory work and tutoring in Manchester was broken only by annual excursions to the Lake District and occasional visits to London. In 1822 he paid a short visit to Paris, and attended several of the earlier meetings of the British Association at York, Oxford, Dublin and Bristol.

Dalton suffered a minor stroke in 1837, and a second in 1838 left him with a speech impairment, although he remained able to perform experiments. In May 1844 he had another stroke. On 26th July 1844 he recorded with trembling hand his last meteorological observation. On 27th July 1844, in Manchester, Dalton fell from his bed and was found lifeless by his attendant. He was accorded a civic funeral with full honors. His body lay in state in Manchester Town Hall for four days and more than 40,000 people filed past his coffin. The funeral procession included representatives of the city’s major civic, commercial, and scientific bodies. He was buried in Manchester in Ardwick cemetery which was later converted to a playing field, and all the graves moved.

Dalton was a native of Cumbria but he spent all of his working life as a scientist in Manchester so a Manchester recipe is suitable to celebrate his birthday.  Manchester tart is a perennial favorite that used to be a mainstay of school lunches. It’s a rich mixture of raspberries, raspberry jam, and egg custard baked in a tart shell. Some people add sliced bananas as well.

Manchester Tart


butter, for greasing
500g shortcrust pastry
plain flour, for dusting
200g raspberry jam
3 tbsp plain desiccated coconut
3 tbsp desiccated coconut, toasted in a dry frying pan until golden-brown
300g fresh raspberries
500ml milk
1 vanilla pod, split, seeds scraped out with a knife
5 egg yolks
125g caster sugar
1 tbsp cornflour
2 tbsp icing sugar, for dusting
400ml double cream, whipped until soft peaks form when the whisk is removed


Preheat the oven to 200˚C.

Grease a 24 cm tart tin with butter. Roll out the shortcrust pastry on to a lightly floured work surface to a 0.5cm thickness. Line the prepared tart tin with the pastry. Prick the pastry several times with a fork, then chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Place a sheet of baking parchment into the chilled pastry case and half-fill with dried beans. Transfer the pastry case to the oven and bake for 15 minutes, or until pale golden-brown. Remove the beans and baking parchment and return the pastry case to the oven for a further 4-5 minutes, or until pale golden-brown.

Spread the raspberry jam over the pastry base in an even layer. Sprinkle over the three tablespoons of non-toasted desiccated coconut and half of the fresh raspberries. Set the pastry base aside.

Bring the milk, vanilla pod and vanilla seeds to the boil in a pan, then reduce the heat to a simmer and simmer for 1-2 minutes. Remove the vanilla pod.

In a bowl, beat together the egg yolks and sugar until well combined. Pour the hot milk and vanilla mixture over the egg and sugar mixture, whisking continuously, until the mixture is smooth and well combined. Return the mixture to the pan over a medium heat. Whisk in the cornflour, gradually until well combined, then heat, stirring continuously until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Transfer the custard mixture to a clean bowl and dust with the icing sugar to prevent a skin forming on the surface of the custard. Set aside to cool, then chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Fold the whipped double cream into the chilled custard mixture until well combined. Spoon the custard and cream mixture into the pastry case in an even layer. Sprinkle over the remaining fresh raspberries.

To serve, sprinkle over the three tablespoons of toasted desiccated coconut. Serve immediately.

Sep 052017

William Dampier, English explorer and navigator who became the first Englishman to explore parts of what is today Australia, and the first person to circumnavigate the world three times was baptized on this date in 1651. He has also been described as one of the most important British explorers between Sir Walter Raleigh and James Cook, although I imagine few people in England would recognize his name these days. At the end of this post I’ll detail some of his acts that you might know without necessarily knowing he was involved.

Dampier was born at Hymerford House in East Coker, Somerset, in 1651. His precise date of birth is not recorded. He was educated at King’s School, Bruton. Dampier sailed on two merchant voyages to Newfoundland and Java before joining the Royal Navy in 1673. He took part in the two Battles of Schooneveld in June of that year. Dampier’s service was cut short by a catastrophic illness, and he returned to England for several months of recuperation. For the next several years he tried his hand at various careers, including plantation management in Jamaica and logging in Mexico, before he eventually joined another sailing expedition. Returning to England, he married around 1679, only to leave for the sea a few months later.

In 1679, Dampier joined the crew of the buccaneer (or pirate) Captain Bartholomew Sharp on the Spanish Main of Central America, twice visiting the Bay of Campeche, or “Campeachy” as it was then known, on the north coast of Mexico. This led to his first circumnavigation, during which he accompanied a raid across the Isthmus of Darién in Panama and took part in the capture of Spanish ships on the Pacific coast of that isthmus. The pirates then raided Spanish settlements in Peru before returning to the Caribbean. Dampier made his way to Virginia, where in 1683 he was engaged by the privateer John Cooke. Cooke entered the Pacific via Cape Horn and spent a year raiding Spanish possessions in Peru, the Galápagos Islands, and Mexico. This expedition collected buccaneers and ships as it went along, at one time having a fleet of ten vessels. Cooke died in Mexico, and a new leader, Edward Davis, was elected captain by the crew, taking the ship Batchelor’s Delight, with future Captain George Raynor in the crew.

Dampier transferred to the privateer Charles Swan’s ship, Cygnet, and on 31 March 1686 they set out across the Pacific to raid the East Indies, calling at Guam and Mindanao. Spanish witnesses saw the predominantly English crew as not only pirates and heretics but also cannibals. Leaving Swan and 36 others behind on Mindanao, the rest of the privateers sailed on to Manila, Poulo Condor, China, the Spice Islands, and New Holland. Contrary to Dampier’s later claim that he had not actively participated in actual piratical attacks during this voyage, he was in fact selected in 1687 to command one of the Spanish ships captured by Cygnet‘s crew off Manila.

On 5 January 1688, Cygnet “anchored two miles from shore in 29 fathoms” on the northwest coast of Australia, near King Sound. Dampier and his ship remained there until March 12, and while the ship was being careened (turned on its side for cleaning and repair) Dampier made notes on the fauna and flora and the indigenous peoples he found there. Among his fellows were a significant number of Spanish sailors, most notably Alonso Ramírez, a native of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Later that year, by agreement, Dampier and two shipmates were marooned on one of the Nicobar Islands. They obtained a small canoe which they modified after first capsizing and then, after surviving a great storm at sea, called at “Acheen” (Aceh) in Sumatra.

Dampier returned to England in 1691 via the Cape of Good Hope, penniless but in possession of his journals. He also had as a source of income a slave known as Prince Jeoly (or Giolo), from Miangas (now Indonesia), who became famous for his tattoos (or “paintings” as they were known at the time). Dampier exhibited Jeoly in London, thereby also generating publicity for a book based on his diaries.

The publication of the book, A New Voyage Round the World, in 1697 was a popular sensation, creating interest at the Admiralty. In 1699, Dampier was given command of the 26-gun warship HMS Roebuck, with a commission from King William III. His mission was to explore the east coast of New Holland (Australia) and Dampier’s intention was to travel there via Cape Horn.

The expedition set out on 14 January 1699, too late in the season to attempt the Horn, so it headed to New Holland via the Cape of Good Hope instead. Following the Dutch route to the Indies, Dampier passed between Dirk Hartog Island and the Western Australian mainland into what he called Shark Bay on 6 August 1699. He landed and began producing the first known detailed record of Australian flora and fauna. The botanical drawings that were made are believed to be by his clerk, James Brand. Dampier then followed the coast north-east, reaching the Dampier Archipelago and Lagrange Bay, just south of what is now called Roebuck Bay, all the while recording and collecting specimens, including many shells. From there he bore northward for Timor. Then he sailed east and on 3rd December 1699 rounded New Guinea, which he passed to the north. He traced the south-eastern coasts of New Hanover, New Ireland and New Britain, charting the Dampier Strait between these islands (now the Bismarck Archipelago) and New Guinea. En route, he paused to collect specimens such as giant clams.

By this time, Roebuck was in such bad condition that Dampier was forced to abandon his plan to examine the east coast of New Holland while less than a hundred miles from it. In danger of sinking, he attempted to make the return voyage to England, but the ship foundered at Ascension Island on 21 February 1701. While anchored offshore the ship began to take on more water and the carpenter could do nothing with the worm-eaten planking. As a result, the vessel had to be run aground. Dampier’s crew was marooned there for five weeks before being picked up on 3 April by an East Indiaman and returned home in August 1701.

Although many papers were lost with Roebuck, Dampier was able to save some new charts of coastlines, and his record of trade winds and currents in the seas around Australia and New Guinea. He also preserved a few of his specimens. In 2001, the Roebuck wreck was located in Clarence Bay, Ascension Island, by a team from the Western Australian Maritime Museum. Because of his widespread influence, and also because so little exists that can now be linked to him, it has been argued that the remains of his ship and the objects still at the site on Ascension Island – while the property of Britain and subject to the island government’s management – are actually the shared maritime heritage of those parts of the world first visited or described by him. His account of the expedition was published as A Voyage to New Holland in 1703.

On his return from the Roebuck expedition, Dampier was court martialed for cruelty. On the outward voyage, Dampier had his lieutenant, George Fisher, removed from the ship and jailed in Brazil. Fisher returned to England and complained about his treatment to the Admiralty. Dampier aggressively defended his conduct, but he was found guilty. His pay for the voyage was docked, and he was dismissed from the Royal Navy.

The War of the Spanish Succession had broken out in 1701, and English privateers were being readied to act against French and Spanish interests. Dampier was appointed commander of the 26-gun ship St George, with a crew of 120 men. They were joined by the 16-gun Cinque Ports with 63 men, and sailed on 11 September 1703 from Kinsale, Ireland. The two ships made a storm-tossed passage round Cape Horn, arriving at the Juan Fernández Islands off the coast of Chile in February 1704. While watering and provisioning there, they sighted a heavily armed French merchantman, which they engaged in a seven-hour battle but were driven off.

Dampier succeeded in capturing a number of small Spanish ships along the coast of Peru, but released them after removing only a fraction of their cargoes because he believed they “would be a hindrance to his greater designs.” The greater design he had in mind was a raid on Santa María, a town on the Gulf of Panama rumored to hold stockpiles of gold from nearby mines. When the force of seamen he led against the town met with unexpectedly strong resistance, however, he withdrew. In May 1704, Cinque Ports separated from St George and, after putting Alexander Selkirk ashore alone on an island for complaining about the vessel’s seaworthiness, sank off the coast of what is today Colombia. Some of its crew survived being shipwrecked but were made prisoners of the Spanish.

It was now left to St George to make an attempt on the Manila galleon, the main object of the expedition. The ship was sighted on 6 December 1704, probably Nuestra Señora del Rosario. It was caught unprepared and had not run out its guns. But while Dampier and his officers argued over the best way to mount an attack, the galleon got its guns loaded and the battle was joined. St George soon found itself out-sized by the galleon’s 18- and 24-pounders, and, suffering serious damage, they were forced to break off the attack.

The failure to capture the Spanish galleon completed the break-up of the expedition. Dampier, with about thirty men, stayed in St George, while the rest of the crew took a captured barque across the Pacific to Amboyna in the Dutch settlements. The undermanned and worm-damaged St George had to be abandoned on the coast of Peru. He and his remaining men embarked in a Spanish prize for the East Indies, where they were thrown into prison as pirates by their supposed allies the Dutch but later released. Now without a ship, Dampier made his way back to England at the end of 1707.

In 1708, Dampier was engaged to serve on the privateer Duke, not as captain but as sailing master. Duke beat its way into the South Pacific Ocean round Cape Horn in consort with a second ship, Duchess. Commanded by Woodes Rogers, this voyage was more successful: Selkirk was rescued on 2 February 1709, and the expedition amassed £147,975 (equivalent to £19.9 million today) worth of plundered goods. Most of that came from the capture of a Spanish galleon, Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación y Desengaño, along the coast of Mexico in December 1709.

In January 1710, Dampier crossed the Pacific in Duke, accompanied by Duchess and two prizes. They stopped at Guam before arriving in Batavia. Following a refit at Horn Island (near Batavia) and the sale of one of their prize ships, they sailed for the Cape of Good Hope where they remained for more than three months awaiting a convoy. They left the Cape in company with 25 Dutch and English ships, with Dampier now serving as sailing master of Encarnación.[36] After a further delay at the Texel, they dropped anchor on the Thames in London on 14 October 1711.

Dampier may not have lived to receive all of his share of the expedition’s gains. He died in the Parish of St Stephen Coleman Street, London. The exact date and circumstances of his death, and his final resting place, are all unknown. His will was proven on 23 March 1715, and it is generally assumed he died earlier that month, but this is not known with any certainty. His estate was almost £2,000 in debt.

Dampier influenced several people in a variety of fields who are now better known than he is:

He made important contributions to navigation, collecting for the first time data on currents, winds and tides across all the world’s oceans that were used by James Cook and Horatio Nelson.

His travel journals depicting Panama may have influenced the undertaking of the ill-fated Darien Scheme, leading to the Act of Union of 1707.

Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, was likely inspired by accounts of real-life castaway Alexander Selkirk, whom Dampier rescued.

Jonathan Swift explicitly mentions Dampier in his Gulliver’s Travels as a mariner comparable to Lemuel Gulliver.

His notes on the fauna and flora of north-western Australia were studied by naturalist and scientist Joseph Banks, who made further studies during the first voyage with James Cook.

His reports on breadfruit led to William Bligh’s ill-fated voyage in HMS Bounty.

Another storied crew mate of Dampier’s, Simon Hatley, who is best remembered for shooting an albatross while his ship battled storms off Cape Horn, influenced the writing of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”

His observations and analysis of natural history helped Alexander von Humboldt and Charles Darwin develop their scientific theories.[44]

His observations (and those of Mr William Funnell) during his expeditions are mentioned several times by Alfred Russel Wallace in his book The Malay Archipelago, and compared to his own observations made on his 19th-century voyages.

Here’s a sufficiently crazy and exotic 17th century recipe to celebrate Dampier. It comes from a cookbook usually called The English and French Cook whose full title is, The English and French cook: describing the best and newest ways of ordering and dressing all sorts of flesh, fish and fowl, whether boiled, baked, stewed, roasted, broiled, frigassied, fryed, souc’d, marrinated, or pickled; with their proper sauces and garnishes: together with all manner of the most approved soops and potages used, either in England or France. By T. P. J. P. R. C. N. B. and several other approved cooks of London and Westminster.  London : printed for Simon Miller at the Star, at the west-end of St. Pauls, 1674.

I’m not sure what to make of the name of the dish. As in 17th century usage, “herbs” means any annual greens. Why are they out of sight? This is a wonderful collection of edible leaves.  The only one needing explanation is “succory” which is chicory. Sippets are slices of toast.

Potage without the sight of Herbs.

Having minced several sorts of sweet Herbs very small, stamp them with your Oatmeal, then strain them through a strainer with some of the broth of the Pot, boil your Herbs and Oatmeal with your Mutton, and some Salt, let your Herbs be Violet-leaves, Strawberry-leaves, Succory, Spinage, Scallions, Parsley and Marry-gold-flowers; having boiled them enough, serve them on Sippets.


Sep 042017

On this date in 1949 there were full scale riots outside Peekskill NY (Cortlandt Manor in Westchester County) protesting a concert given by Paul Robeson and others. They were, ostensibly anti-communist riots but with strong elements of racism and anti-Semitism. I want to highlight them today to point out that rioting in support of White supremacy, White nationalism, along with police brutality against African-Americans has a long history in the United States, and not only in the South.The catalyst for the rioting was an announced concert by singer Paul Robeson, who was well known for his strong pro-trade union stance, civil rights activism, and sympathies with communism and anti-colonialist sentiments. The concert, organized as a benefit for the Civil Rights Congress, was scheduled to take place on August 27 in Lakeland Acres, just north of Peekskill.

Robeson had given three earlier concerts in Peekskill without incident, but subsequently Robeson had been increasingly vocal against the Ku Klux Klan and other forces of White supremacy, both domestically and internationally. Robeson had made the transformation from someone who was primarily a singer into a political persona with vocal support for what were at the time popularly considered “communist” causes, including the decolonization of Africa, anti-Jim Crow legislation, and peace with the USSR. Robeson had also appeared before the House Committee on Un-American Activities to oppose a bill that would require communists to register as foreign agents and, just months before the concerts in 1949, he had appeared at the Soviet-sponsored World Peace Conference in Paris. Referring to the growing tensions between the USA and the USSR, his exact words were:

We in America do not forget that it was the backs of White workers from Europe and on the backs of millions of Blacks that the wealth of America was built. And we are resolved to share it equally. We reject any hysterical raving that urges us to make war on anyone. Our will to fight for peace is strong…We shall support peace and friendship among all nations, with Soviet Russia and the People’s Republics.

What came over the wires to news agencies via the AP in the United States was as follows,

We colonial peoples have contributed to the building of the United States and are determined to share its wealth. We denounce the policy of the United States government which is similar to Hitler and Goebbels…. It is unthinkable that American Negros would go to war on behalf of those who have oppressed us for generations against the Soviet Union which in one generation has lifted our people to full human dignity.

Research by historians would later show that the AP had put a prepared dispatch on the wires as Robeson was starting his speech, not reporting what he actually said. The false reporting was not investigated by the US press for its veracity and there was nationwide condemnation of Robeson. In the early stages of the Cold War and its accompanying wide anti-communist sentiments in the West, this statement was seen by many as especially anti-American. The local paper, the Peekskill Evening Star, condemned the concert and encouraged people to make their position on communism felt, but did not directly espouse violence. There was a strong racial element to the riots, including burning crosses and lynching an effigy of Robeson both in Peekskill and in other areas of the United States.

The concert, organized as a benefit for the Civil Rights Congress, was scheduled to take place on August 27th in Lakeland Acres, just north of Peekskill. Before Robeson arrived, a mob of locals attacked concert-goers with baseball bats and rocks. The local police arrived hours later and did little to intervene. Thirteen people were seriously injured, Robeson was lynched in effigy and a cross was seen burning on an adjacent hillside. The concert was then postponed until September 4th. Following the concert, new requests for Klan memberships from the Peekskill area numbered 748.

Robeson’s longtime friend and Peekskill resident, Helen Rosen, who had agreed to collect Robeson at the train station, had heard on the radio that protesters were massing at the concert grounds. Robeson drove with Rosen and two others to the concert site and saw marauding groups of youngsters, a burning cross on a nearby hill and a jeering crowd throwing rocks and chanting “Dirty Commie” and “Dirty Kikes.” Robeson made more than one attempt to get out of the car and confront the mob but was restrained by his friends.

The media were flooded with reactions and charges. The Joint Veterans Council of Peekskill refused to admit any involvement, describing its activities as a “protest parade… held without disorder and… perfectly disbanded.” Peekskill police officials said the picnic grounds had been outside their jurisdiction.  A state police spokesman said there had never been a request for state troopers. The commander of Peekskill Post 274 of the American Legion stated: “Our objective was to prevent the Paul Robeson concert and I think our objective was reached.”

Following a meeting of local citizens, union members, and Robeson supporters who formed “The Westchester Committee for Law and Order” it was unanimously determined that Robeson should be invited back to perform in Peekskill. Representatives from various left-wing unions – the Fur and Leather Workers, the Longshoremen and the United Electrical Workers – all agreed to converge and serve as a wall of defense around the concert grounds. Ten union men slept on the property of the Rosens, effectively guarding it. A call was then put out by the “Emergency Committee to Protest the Peekskill Riot.” On Tuesday, August 30, an overflow crowd of 3,000 people assembled peacefully and without incident at the Golden Gate Ballroom in Harlem to hear Robeson speak:

I will be loyal to America of true traditions; to the America of the abolitionists, of Harriet Tubman, of Thaddeus Stevens, of those who fought for my people’s freedom, not of those who tried to enslave them. And I will have no loyalty to the Forrestals, to the Harrimans, to the WallStreeters… the surest way to get police protection is to have it very clear that we’ll protect ourselves, and good!… I’ll be back with my friends in Peekskill…

The re-scheduled (September 4, 1949) concert itself was free from violence, though marred by the presence of a police helicopter overhead and the flushing out of at least one sniper’s nest. The concert was located on the grounds of the old Hollow Brook Golf Course in Cortlandt Manor, near the site of the original concert. 20,000 people showed up. Security was organized by the Communist Party and Communist dominated labor unions. The men were directed by the Communist Party and some unions to form a line around the outer edge of the concert area and were sitting with Robeson on the stage. They were there to fight any protestors who objected to Robeson’s presence. They effectively kept the local police from the concert area. The musicians performed without incident.

Setlist (incomplete)

Sylvia Kahn: “The Star-Spangled Banner”

Piano performances by Leonid Hambro and Ray Lev[19] including works by Chopin and Bach, Prokofiev and Ravel

Singing by soprano Hope Foye

Pete Seeger: “T For Texas”, “If I Had a Hammer”,[18] and another song[23]

Paul Robeson: “Go Down Moses”, the English ballad “No John No”, and “Farewell, My Son, I’m Dying” («Прощай, мой сын, умираю…», Proshchay, moy syn, umirayu…), the final aria from Boris Godunov, and other songs including “America the Beautiful” and traditional spirituals, ending with “Ol’ Man River.” Robeson’s accompaniment was provided by Larry Brown.


The aftermath of the concert was far from peaceful, however. After some violence to south-going buses near the intersection of Locust Avenue and Hillside Avenue, concertgoers were diverted to head northward to Oregon Corners and forced to run a gauntlet, miles long, of veterans and their families, who threw rocks through windshields of the cars and buses. Much of the violence was also caused by anti-Communist members of local Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion chapters. An angry mob of rioters chanted “go on back to Russia, you niggers” and “white niggers”, some of the concertgoers and union members, along with writer Howard Fast and others assembled a non-violent line of resistance, locked arms, and sang the song “We Shall Not Be Moved.” Some people were reportedly dragged from their vehicles and beaten. Over 140 people were injured and numerous vehicles were severely damaged as police stood by.

One car carried Woody Guthrie, Lee Hays, Pete Seeger, Seeger’s wife Toshi, and his infant children. Guthrie pinned a shirt to the inside of the window to stop it shattering. “Wouldn’t you know it, Woody pinned up a red shirt,” Hays recalled. Seeger used some of the thrown rocks to build the chimney of his cabin in the Town of Fishkill, New York, to stand as a reminder of that incident.

The first African-American combat pilot and decorated World War I veteran, Eugene Bullard, was knocked to the ground and beaten by the mob, which included White members of state and local law enforcement. The beating was captured on film and can be seen in the 1970s documentary The Tallest Tree in Our Forest and the Oscar-winning, Sidney Poitier-narrated documentary Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist. Despite recorded evidence of the beating, no one was ever prosecuted for the assault. Graphic photos of Eugene Bullard being beaten by two policemen, a state trooper and concert-goer were later published in Susan Robeson’s pictorial biography of her grandfather, The Whole World in His Hands: a Pictorial Biography of Paul Robeson.

Following the riots, more than 300 people went to Albany to voice their indignation to Governor Thomas Dewey, who refused to meet with them, blaming communists for provoking the violence. Twenty-seven plaintiffs filed a civil suit against Westchester County and two veterans’ groups. The charges were dismissed three years later.

Following the riots, House Representative John E. Rankin (D-Mississippi) condemned Robeson on the house floor. When Republican New York Congressman Jacob Javits spoke to the United States House of Representatives, deploring the Peekskill riots as a violation of constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and free assembly, Rankin replied angrily. “It was not surprising to hear the gentlemen from New York defend the Communist enclave,” Rankin bellowed, saying that he wanted it known that the American people are not in sympathy “with that Nigger Communist and that bunch of Reds who went up there.” On a point of order, American Labor Party House Representative Vito Marcantonio protested to speaker Rayburn that “the gentlemen from Mississippi used the word ‘nigger.’ I ask that the word be taken down and stricken from the RECORD inasmuch as there are two members in this house of Negro race.” Rayburn claimed that Rankin had not said “nigger” but “Negro” but Rankin yelled over him saying “I said Niggra! Just as I have said since I have been able to talk and shall continue to say.” Speaker Rayburn then defended Rankin, ruling that “the gentlemen from Mississippi is not subject to a point of order… referred to the Negro race and they should not be afraid of that designation.” Then Representative Edward E. Cox (D-Georgia) denounced Robeson on the House floor as a “Communist agent provocateur.”

Within a few days, hundreds of editorials and letters appeared in newspapers across the nation and abroad, by prominent individuals, organizations, trade unions, churches and others. They condemned not only the attacks but also the failure of Governor Dewey and the State Police to protect the lives and property of citizens, and called for a full investigation of the violence and prosecution of the perpetrators. Despite condemnation from progressives and civil rights activists, the mainstream press and local officials overwhelmingly blamed Robeson and his fans for “provoking” the violence. Following the Peekskill riots, other cities became fearful of similar incidents, and over 80 scheduled concert dates of Robeson’s were canceled.

On September 12, 1949, in response to Robeson’s controversial status in the press and leftist affiliations, the National Maritime Union convention considered a motion that Robeson’s name be removed from the union’s honorary membership list; the motion was withdrawn for lack of support among members. Later that month, the All-China Art and Literature Workers’ Association and All-China Association of Musicians of Liberated China protested the Peekskill attack on Robeson. On October 2, 1949, Robeson spoke at a luncheon for the National Labor Conference for Peace, Ashland Auditorium, Chicago, and referenced the riots.

In recent years, Westchester County has gone to great lengths to make amends to the survivors of the riots by holding a commemorative ceremony, at which an apology was made for their treatment. In September 1999, county officials held a “Remembrance and Reconciliation Ceremony, 50th anniversary commemoration of the 1949 Peekskill riots.” It included speakers Paul Robeson, Jr., Peter Seeger and several local elected officials.

When I celebrated Robeson’s birthday here  I mentioned the heirloom Paul Robeson tomato which was bred in the Soviet Union in honor of his visit. If you can get hold of some, a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich would be in order.  Also in his honor, several cake recipes appeared in cookbooks in the Soviet Union – all full of chocolate and very rich layered cakes. Here’s a couple of sites that have rather incomplete recipes (in Russian and in bad translation):

This gallery may inspire you.

The cakes all have one thing in common: they are made of black and white layers (very subtle).  Some are covered in chocolate icing, some with a mix of cream and chocolate.

Sep 032017

On this date in 590 Gregory I, commonly called Gregory the Great, became pope of the Catholic church. He is not the Gregory who instituted the calendar reforms that gave us the (current) Gregorian calendar, but he is famous (in some circles) for instigating the first recorded large-scale mission from Rome to convert the pagan peoples of Europe (including the English) to Christianity. It is quite legitimate to argue that the papacy, Catholicism, and Europe itself as we conceive them now had their origins in the ideas implemented by Gregory. Gregorian chant is also named after him, although it’s not clear whether he founded it. Gregory is also well known for his writings, which were more prolific than those of any of his predecessors as pope.

Gregory was the son of a senator and the Prefect of Rome at age 30. He tried the monastic life for a time but soon returned to active public life. Even so, he ended his life as pope. Although he was the first pope from a monastic background, his prior political experiences may have helped him to be a talented administrator, who successfully established papal supremacy. During his papacy he greatly surpassed the administrative and political abilities of the emperors and improved the overall welfare of the people of Rome. Gregory regained papal authority in Spain and France, and sent missionaries to England. The realignment of their allegiance to Rome from their Arian Christian alliances shaped medieval Europe. Gregory also oversaw the alliance of Franks, Lombards, and Visigoths with Rome in religion.

Throughout the Middle Ages he was known as “the Father of Christian Worship” because of his exceptional efforts in revising the Roman worship of his day. His contributions to the development of the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, for example, still in use in the Byzantine Rite, were so significant that he is generally recognized as its de facto author. Immediately after his death, Gregory was canonized by popular acclaim. The Protestant reformer John Calvin admired Gregory and declared in his Institutes that Gregory was the last good pope (which could be conceived as a form of damning by faint praise, I suppose). He is the patron saint of musicians, singers, students, and teachers.

In texts of all genres, especially those produced in his first year as pope, Gregory bemoaned the burden of office and mourned the loss of the undisturbed life of prayer he had once enjoyed as a monk. When he became pope in 590, among his first acts was writing a series of letters disavowing any ambition to the throne of Peter and praising the contemplative life of the monks. At that time, for various reasons, the Holy See had not exerted effective leadership in the West since the pontificate of Gelasius I (410-496). The episcopacy in Gaul was drawn from the great territorial families, and identified with them: the parochial horizon of Gregory’s contemporary, Gregory of Tours, may be considered typical. In Visigothic Spain the bishops had little contact with Rome; in Italy the territories which had de facto fallen under the administration of the papacy were beset by the violent Lombard dukes and the rivalry of the Byzantines in the Exarchate of Ravenna and in the south.

Gregory had strong convictions on missions: “Almighty God places good men in authority that He may impart through them the gifts of His mercy to their subjects. And this we find to be the case with the British over whom you have been appointed to rule, that through the blessings bestowed on you the blessings of heaven might be bestowed on your people also.” He is credited with re-energizing the Church’s missionary work among the non-Christian peoples of northern Europe. He is most famous for sending a mission, often called the Gregorian mission, under Augustine of Canterbury, prior of Saint Andrew’s (Gregory’s monastery), where he had perhaps succeeded Gregory, to evangelize the pagan Anglo-Saxons of England. It seems that the pope had never forgotten the English child slaves whom he had once seen in the Roman Forum. He famously said on meeting them, “Non Angli, sed angeli (they are not Angles, but angels) . . . well named, for they have angelic faces and ought to be co-heirs with the angels in heaven.”

The mission was successful, and it was from England that missionaries later set out for the Netherlands and Germany. The preaching of non-heretical Christian faith and the elimination of all deviations from it was a key element in Gregory’s worldview, and it constituted one of the major continuing policies of his pontificate.

The secular state in which Gregory became pope in 590 was a ruined one. The Lombards held the better part of Italy. Their predations had brought the economy to a standstill. They camped nearly at the gates of Rome. The city was packed with refugees from all walks of life, who lived in the streets and had few of the necessities of life. The seat of government was far from Rome in Constantinople, which appeared unable to undertake the relief of Italy. The pope had sent emissaries, including Gregory, asking for assistance, to no avail. In 590, Gregory could wait for Constantinople no longer. He organized the resources of the church into an administration for general relief. In doing so he evidenced a talent for and intuitive understanding of the principles of accounting, which was not to be formalized for centuries. The church already had basic accounting documents: every expense was recorded in journals called regesta, “lists” of amounts, recipients and circumstances. Revenue was recorded in polyptici, “books”. Many of these polyptici were ledgers recording the operating expenses of the church and the assets, the patrimonia. A central papal administration, the notarii, under a chief, the primicerius notariorum, kept the ledgers and issued brevia patrimonii, or lists of property for which each rector was responsible.

Gregory began by aggressively requiring his churchmen to seek out and relieve the needy and reprimanded them if they did not. In a letter to a subordinate in Sicily he wrote: “I asked you most of all to take care of the poor. And if you knew of people in poverty, you should have pointed them out … I desire that you give the woman, Pateria, forty solidi for the children’s shoes and forty bushels of grain ….” Soon he was replacing administrators who would not cooperate with those who would and at the same time adding more in a build-up to a great plan that he had in mind. He understood that expenses must be matched by income. To pay for his increased expenses he liquidated the investment property and paid the expenses in cash according to a budget recorded in the polyptici. The churchmen were paid four times a year and also personally given a golden coin for their efforts.

Gregory’s general charitable frame of mind completely won the hearts and minds of the Roman people. They now looked to the papacy for government, ignoring the rump state at Constantinople, which had only disrespect for Gregory, calling him a fool for his pacifist dealings with the Lombards. The Roman office of urban prefect went without candidates and secular government was largely defunct. From the time of Gregory the Great to the rise of Italian nationalism the papacy was the most influential voice in ruling Italy.

The mainstream form of Western plainchant which was standardized in the late 9th century, was attributed to Gregory  and so took the name of Gregorian chant, but the attribution is only loosely warranted. The earliest such attribution is in John the Deacon’s 873 biography of Gregory, almost three centuries after the pope’s death, and the chant that bears his name is actually the result of the fusion of Roman and Frankish elements which took place in the Franco-German empire under Pepin, Charlemagne and their successors.

Gregory is interred in St Peter’s in Rome.

Not much is known about cooking in the 6th century in Italy or anywhere else in Europe for that matter.  So I’ll start by talking about the ecclesiastical cycle of feast and fast that dominated Europe through the Middle Ages and beyond. Today is both Sunday and a significant feast day in the Catholic church. That means you are free to eat what you want. On fast days, which used to include Fridays, the eves of feast, and the period of Lent, different regions of the Catholic world and different sects had different rules. Many animal products such as dairy, eggs, fats, and meats were not to be eaten and, in the more restrictive regions, only one meal during the day was allowed. Such restrictions were more relevant to the rich than the poor (who were numerous). For the majority, cereals were the norm and meat was a luxury. Even so, the rich found many ways around the restrictions and managed to eat quite sumptuously on fast days even though technically deprived of eggs and meat on those days. It comes down to whether you subscribe to the letter or the spirit of the law. As (nominal) followers of Jesus, they should have observed the spirit, but you know how people are.

I’ve had times in my life when I have been extremely observant of fast and feast days even though as a Protestant minister I have no obligation to do so. These days I am much less aware of such issues because I routinely eat one meal a day – breakfast – and it consists primarily of soup, rice, vegetables, and fruit (with a small amount of meat). I make a practice of eating eggs on Sundays as a treat. This practice has to do with my age and my circumstances. I live in Myanmar where rice is a staple and other dishes are small accompaniments for flavor, not the main ingredients.  When I lived in the US and was an active pastor I followed Medieval fast and feast rules rigorously, most especially in Lent. I won’t go into the spiritual details here, but I will point out that an Easter Sunday dinner of roast lamb, roast potatoes, and sumptuous gravy followed by a suet pudding with fresh egg custard was glorious after 40 days of fasting.

There’s the medieval trick that has long left us behind. Satisfying every culinary whim, because you feel like it, just makes you fat and lazy. Working on a cycle of fast and feast has much to commend it, but it’s a personal choice. Furthermore, alternating feasting and fasting is another version of my desire for variety in my culinary life.

Frumenty is a reasonable medieval dish for a feast day.  It’s basically a wheat porridge with various flavorings added. The typical method of preparation was to parboil whole grains of wheat in water, then strain them and boil them in milk. The finished grains were then sweetened with sugar and flavored with cinnamon and other sweet spices, such as cloves and allspice. Dried fruits, usually raisins, might also be added.

Sep 012017

Cetshwayo kaMpande (c. 1826 – 8 February 1884) became king of the Zulu Kingdom on this date in 1873, and remained king until 1879 when he was deposed by the British following the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. His name has been transliterated as Cetawayo, Cetewayo, Cetywajo and Ketchwayo. He famously led the Zulu nation to victory against the British in the Battle of Isandlwana. Let’s get a few things clear at the outset. First, the idea that the British were in South Africa to shoulder the “White man’s burden” of civilizing Africans is rank nonsense. The Zulu had their own nation and social structure that was certainly equal in many ways to British culture. The British army had a tough time defeating them. Superior weaponry turned the tide, and the result was virtual enslavement and apartheid. Not exactly my idea of “civilization.” The British (and Dutch) were in South Africa for economic gain (both cheap labor and greed for resources), pure and simple. Cetshwayo was murderously ruthless, and he and his ilk were equally ruthless in training Zulu warriors. Therefore, I am not holding him up as someone to emulate. Cetshwayo’s great uncle was the legendary Shaka, the Zulu king who established the Zulu as a regional power. His methods were brutal and no mistake:

As he conquered a tribe, he enrolled its remnants in his army, so that they might in their turn help to conquer others. He armed his regiments with the short stabbing assegai, instead of the throwing assegai which they had been accustomed to use, and kept them subject to an iron discipline. If a man was observed to show the slightest hesitation about coming to close quarters with the enemy, he was executed as soon as the fight was over. If a regiment had the misfortune to be defeated, whether by its own fault or not, it would on its return to headquarters find that a goodly proportion of the wives and children belonging to it had been beaten to death by Shaka’s orders, and that he was waiting their arrival to complete his vengeance by dashing out their brains. The result was, that though Shaka’s armies were occasionally annihilated, they were rarely defeated, and they never ran away.

Cetshwayo was a son of Zulu king Mpande and Queen Ngqumbazi and grandson of Senzangakhona kaJama. In 1856 he defeated and killed in battle his younger brother Mbuyazi, Mpande’s favourite, at the Battle of Ndondakusuka. Almost all Mbuyazi’s followers were massacred in the aftermath of the battle, including five of Cetshwayo’s own brothers. Like Nero, he killed his own mother, and then caused several people to be executed because they did not show sufficient sorrow at her death. Following this he became the effective ruler of the Zulu people. He did not ascend to the throne, however, as his father was still alive. Stories from that time regarding his huge size vary, saying he stood somewhere between 6 feet 6 inches (198 cm) tall and 6 feet 8 inches (203 cm) and weighed close to 25 stone (350 lb; 160 kg).

His other brother, Umtonga, was still a potential rival. Cetshwayo also kept an eye on his father’s new wives and children for potential rivals, ordering the death of his favorite wife Nomantshali and her children in 1861. Though two sons escaped, the youngest was murdered in front of the king. After these events Umtonga fled to the Boers’ side of the border and Cetshwayo had to make deals with the Boers to get him back. In 1865, Umtonga did the same thing, apparently making Cetshwayo believe that Umtonga would organize help from the Boers against him, the same way his father had overthrown his predecessor, Dingaan.

Mpande died in 1872. His death was concealed at first, to ensure a smooth transition. Cetshwayo was installed as king on 1 September 1873. Sir Theophilus Shepstone, who annexed the Transvaal for Britain, crowned Cetshwayo as king in a rather shoddy and farcical ceremony, but quickly turned on the Zulus because he felt he was being undermined by Cetshwayo’s skilful negotiating for land area compromised by encroaching Boers, and the fact that the Boundary Commission established to examine the ownership of the land in question actually ruled in favor of the Zulus. The report was subsequently buried. As was customary, Cetshwayo established a new capital for the Zulu nation and called it Ulundi (the high place). He expanded his army and readopted many of Shaka’s methods. He also equipped his impis with muskets, though evidence of their use is limited. He banished European missionaries from his land. He also may have incited other native African peoples to rebel against Boers in Transvaal.

In 1878, Sir Henry Bartle Frere, British High Commissioner for South Africa, sought to confederate South Africa the same way Canada had been, and felt that this could not be done while there was a powerful and independent Zulu state. So, he began to demand reparations for border infractions and forced his subordinates to send carping messages complaining about Cetshwayo’s rule, seeking to provoke the Zulu King. They succeeded, but Cetshwayo kept his calm, considering the British to be his friends and being aware of the power of the British army. He did, however, state that he and Frere were equals and since he did not complain about how Frere ruled, the same courtesy should be observed by Frere in regard to Zululand. Eventually, Frere issued an ultimatum that demanded that he should effectively disband his army. Cetshwayo’s refusal led to the Zulu War in 1879, though it should be noted that he continually sought to make peace after the first battle at Isandhlwana. After an initial crushing but costly Zulu victory over the British at the Battle of Isandlwana, and the failure of the other two columns of the three-pronged British attack to make headway (one was bogged down in the Siege of Eshowe), the British retreated, other columns suffering two further defeats to Zulu armies in the field at the Battle of Intombe and the Battle of Hlobane. However, the British follow-up victories at the famous Battle of Rorke’s Drift and the Battle of Kambula restored some British hope. While this retreat gave the chance for a Zulu counter-attack deep into Natal, Cetshwayo refused, his intention only being to repulse the British, not provoke further reprisals.

However, the British then returned to Zululand with a far larger and better armed force, finally capturing the Zulu capital at the Battle of Ulundi, in which the British, having learned their lesson from their defeat at Isandlwana, set up a hollow square on the open plain, armed with cannons and Gatling Guns. The battle lasted approximately 45 minutes before the British unleashed the cavalry to rout the Zulus. After Ulundi was taken and torched on 4 July, Cetshwayo was deposed and exiled, first to Cape Town, and then to London, returning to Zululand only in 1883.

From 1881, his cause had been taken up by, among others, Lady Florence Dixie, correspondent of the London Morning Post, who wrote articles and books in his support. This, along with his gentle and dignified manner, gave rise to public sympathy and the sentiment that he had been ill-used and shoddily treated by Bartle Frere and Lord Chelmsford.

By 1882 differences between two Zulu factions—pro-Cetshwayo uSuthus and three rival chiefs UZibhebhu—had erupted into a blood feud and civil war. In 1883, the British tried to restore Cetshwayo to rule at least part of his previous territory but the attempt failed. With the aid of Boer mercenaries, Chief UZibhebhu started a war contesting the succession and on 22 July 1883 he attacked Cetshwayo’s new kraal in Ulundi. Cetshwayo was wounded but escaped to the forest at Nkandla. After pleas from the Resident Commissioner, Sir Melmoth Osborne, Cetshwayo moved to Eshowe, where he died a few months later on 8 February 1884, aged between 57 and 60, presumably from a heart attack, although there are some theories that he may have been poisoned. His body was buried in a field within sight of the forest, to the south near Nkunzane River. The remains of the wagon which carried his corpse to the site were placed on the grave, and may be seen at Ondini Museum, near Ulundi.

Cetshwayo is remembered by historians as being the last king of an independent Zulu nation. His son Dinizulu, as heir to the throne, was proclaimed king on 20 May 1884, supported by (other) Boer mercenaries.

Current-day Zulu cooking is an eclectic mix of influences including indigenous ingredients along with ingredients and cooking methods from Europe and India courtesy of European colonization and a heavy influx of indentured workers from India. I’ve already given a traditional recipe here:

Here is Zulu cabbage:

Zulu Cabbage


vegetable oil

1 onion, peeled and sliced

1 green bell pepper, seeded and sliced

1 small head white cabbage, sliced

12 oz can tomatoes, with juice

1 tbsp curry powder

salt and pepper


Heat a little oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. Sauté the onion and pepper until they are soft. Add the remaining ingredients and season with salt and pepper to taste if you are so inclined.  For me the curry is sufficient.  Simmer gently for 20 to 30 minutes depending on how well cooked you prefer the cabbage. I prefer mine al dente. You should let the water from the tomatoes evaporate, but do not let the dish get completely dry so that it sticks.

Serve hot.

Aug 312017

Today is the anniversary of the independence of Trinidad and Tobago (officially the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago) from the U.K in 1962. It remained part of the British commonwealth until 1976 with queen Elizabeth II as head of state until 1976 when it became a republic. Trinidad and Tobago is a twin island country situated off the northern edge of the South American mainland, lying just 11 kilometres (6.8 miles) off the coast of northeastern Venezuela and 130 kilometres (81 miles) south of Grenada. Bordering other Caribbean nations to the north, it shares maritime boundaries with other nations including Barbados to the northeast, Grenada to the northwest, Guyana to the southeast, and Venezuela to the south and west.


The island of Trinidad was a Spanish colony from the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1498 to the capitulation of the Spanish Governor, Don José María Chacón, on the arrival of a British fleet of 18 warships on 18th February 1797. During the same period, the island of Tobago changed hands between Spanish, British, French, Dutch and Courlander colonizers, more times than any other island in the Caribbean. Trinidad and Tobago (remaining separate until 1889) were ceded to Britain in 1802 under the Treaty of Amiens.

Trinidad and Tobago is the third richest country by GDP (PPP) per capita in the Americas after the United States and Canada. Furthermore, it is recognized as a high-income economy by the World Bank. Unlike most of the English-speaking Caribbean, the country’s economy is primarily industrial, with an emphasis on petroleum and petrochemicals due to its large reserves and exploitation of oil and natural gas.

Trinidad and Tobago has a complex ethnic mix of peoples because of the history of colonization. British rule led to an influx of settlers from the United Kingdom and the British colonies of the Eastern Caribbean. English, Scots, Irish, German and Italian families arrived. Under British rule, new estates were created and the import of slaves did increase, but this was the period of abolitionism in England and the slave trade was under attack. Slavery was abolished in 1833, after which former slaves served an “apprenticeship” period which ended on 1 August 1838 with full emancipation. An overview of the populations statistics in 1838, however, clearly reveals the contrast between Trinidad and its neighboring islands. Upon emancipation of the slaves in 1838, Trinidad had only 17,439 slaves, with 80% of slave owners having fewer than 10 slaves each. In contrast, at twice the size of Trinidad, Jamaica had roughly 360,000 slaves.

After slaves were emancipated, plantation owners were in severe need of labor. The British authorities filled this need by instituting a system of indentureship. Various nationalities were contracted under this system, including East Indians, Chinese and Portuguese. Of these, the East Indians were imported in the largest numbers, starting from 1 May 1845, when 225 Indians were brought in the first shipment to Trinidad on the Fatel Razack, a Muslim-owned vessel. Indentureship of the East Indians lasted from 1845 to 1917, during which more than 147,000 Indians were brought to Trinidad to work on sugarcane plantations. They added what was initially the second-largest population grouping to the young nation, and their labor developed previously underdeveloped plantation lands.

The indentureship contract was exploitative, such that historians including Hugh Tinker were to call it “a new system of slavery”. People were contracted for a period of five years, with a daily wage as low as 25 cents in the early 20th century, and they were guaranteed return passage to India at the end of their contract period. However, coercive means were often used to retain laborers, and the indentureship contracts were soon extended to 10 years after the planters complained that they were losing their labor too early. In lieu of the return passage, the British authorities soon began offering portions of land to encourage settlement; however, the numbers of people who did receive land grants is unclear. East Indians entering the colony were also subject to particular crown laws which segregated them from the rest of Trinidad’s population, such as the requirement that they carry a pass with them once off the plantations, and that if freed, they carry their “Free Papers” or certificate indicating completion of the indenture period. The ex-Indentureds came to constitute a vital and significant section of the population, as did the ex-slaves.

Alongside sugarcane, the cacao (cocoa) crop also contributed greatly to economic earnings in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the 1920–1930 period, the collapse of the sugarcane industry concomitant with the failure of the cocoa industry resulted in widespread depression among the rural and agricultural workers in Trinidad, and encouraged the rise of the Labour movement. This movement was led by Arthur Cipriani and Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler, who, in combination with his Indian partners (notably Adrian Cola Rienzi), aimed to unite the working class and agricultural labor class to achieve a better standard of living for them, as well as to hasten the departure of the British. This effort was severely undermined by the British Home Office and by the British-educated Trinidadian elite, many of whom were descended from the plantocracy themselves. They instigated a vicious race politicking in Trinidad aimed at dividing the class-based movement on race-based lines, and they succeeded, especially since Butler’s support had collapsed from the top down.

Petroleum had been discovered in 1857, but became economically significant only in the 1930s and afterwards, as a result of the collapse of sugarcane and cocoa, and increasing industrialization. By the 1950s, petroleum had become a staple in Trinidad’s export market, and was responsible for a growing middle class among all sections of the Trinidad population. The collapse of Trinidad’s major agricultural commodities, followed by the Depression, and the rise of the oil economy, led to major changes in the country’s social structure. Trinidad and Tobago gained its independence from the United Kingdom on 31 August 1962.

Cricket is the national sport of the country. Trinidad and Tobago is represented at Test cricket, One Day International as well as Twenty20 cricket level as a member of the West Indies team. The national team plays at the first-class level in regional competitions. The Queen’s Park Oval located in Port of Spain is the largest cricket ground in the West Indies. Brian Lara, world record holder for the most runs scored both in a Test and in a First Class innings and other records, was born in the small town of Santa Cruz, Trinidad and Tobago and is often referred to as the Prince of Port of Spain or simply the Prince.

Trinidad and Tobago is known for its Carnival which manifests itself uniquely in different parts of the world. It is the celebration leading up to Lent which in predominantly Catholic countries is usually centered on parades (as well as food and drink).

Trinidad and Tobago is the birthplace of steelpan which it claims is the only percussion instrument invented in the 20th century. Steelpans were, and still sometimes are, an instrument born of poor necessity, crafted from old oil drums.

Along with steel drums came limbo, and the music styles of calypso, soca, parang, chutney, chutney soca, chutney parang, cariso, extempo, kaiso, parang soca, pichakaree, and rapso.

Trinidad and Tobago is known in the Caribbean for its variety of foods, which are an eclectic mix of Native American, African, Indian, and European influences.  The most famous street food is probably doubles, two pieces of flatbread filled with curried chickpeas.

Macaroni pie is a comfort-food favorite in homes across the islands.  It’s easy to prepare and works as both a main dish or side dish.  Use whatever good melting cheese suits your tastes.  Cheddar is the most common in the islands.

Macaroni Pie


8 oz elbow macaroni
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups melting cheese, grated
1 ½ cups evaporated milk
salt and white pepper


Cook the macaroni in abundant boiling, salted water until it is cooked al dente. Do not overcook. Drain and reserve.

Preheat the oven to 350˚F.

In a large mixing bowl combine the cooked macaroni, eggs, cheese, evaporated milk, and salt and pepper to taste.  Turn out into a well greased baking dish and bake for about 30 minutes or until firm.

Serve hot, in slices.

Aug 302017

Today is the birthday (1871) of Ernest Rutherford, 1st Baron Rutherford of Nelson, OM, PRS, a New Zealand-born British physicist who is one of the great pioneers of nuclear physics, yet, like so many other great experimental and theoretical physicists, his name is mostly unknown among the general public because it is not “Einstein.” In early work, Rutherford discovered the concept of radioactive half-life, proved that radioactivity involved the nuclear transmutation of one chemical element to another, and also discovered, differentiated and named alpha and beta radiation. This work was the basis for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry he was awarded in 1908. After the Nobel he performed his most famous work when he theorized that atoms have their charge concentrated in a very small nucleus, and thereby pioneered the Rutherford model of the atom. He conducted research that led to the first “splitting” of the atom in 1917 in a nuclear reaction between nitrogen and alpha particles, in which he also discovered (and named) the proton. Under his leadership the neutron was discovered by James Chadwick in 1932 and in the same year the first experiment to split the nucleus in a fully controlled manner was performed by students working under his direction, John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton.

Rutherford was the son of James Rutherford, a farmer, and his wife Martha Thompson, a school teacher originally from Hornchurch, Essex in England. James had emigrated to New Zealand from Perth, Scotland, “to raise a little flax and a lot of children.” Ernest was born at Brightwater, near Nelson, New Zealand. His first name was mistakenly spelled ‘Earnest’ when his birth was registered.

Rutherford studied at Havelock School and then Nelson College and won a scholarship to study at Canterbury College, University of New Zealand. After gaining his BA, MA and BSc, and doing two years of research during which he invented a new form of radio receiver, in 1895 Rutherford was awarded a research fellowship from the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851, to travel to England for postgraduate study at the Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge. He was among the first of the ‘aliens’ (those without a Cambridge degree) allowed to do research at the university, under the leadership of J. J. Thomson, and the newcomers aroused jealousies from the more conservative members of the Cavendish fraternity. With Thomson’s encouragement, he managed to detect radio waves at half a mile and briefly held the world record for the distance over which electromagnetic waves could be detected, though when he presented his results at the British Association meeting in 1896, he discovered he had been outdone by another lecturer: his name was Marconi.

In 1898 Thomson recommended Rutherford for a position at McGill University in Montreal. He was to replace Hugh Longbourne Callendar who held the chair of Macdonald Professor of physics and was coming to Cambridge. In 1907 Rutherford returned to Britain to take the chair of physics at the Victoria University of Manchester. During World War I, he worked on a top secret project to solve the practical problems of submarine detection by sonar. In 1919 he returned to the Cavendish succeeding J. J. Thomson as the Cavendish professor and Director.

When he first went to Cambridge as a research student, Rutherford started to work with J. J. Thomson on the conductive effects of X-rays on gases, work which led to the discovery of the electron which Thomson presented to the scientific world in 1897. Hearing of Becquerel’s experience with uranium, Rutherford started to explore its radioactivity, discovering two types that differed from X-rays in their penetrating power. Continuing his research in Canada, he coined the terms alpha ray and beta ray in 1899 to describe the two distinct types of radiation. He then discovered that thorium gave off a gas which produced an emanation which was itself radioactive and would coat other substances. He found that a sample of this radioactive material of any size invariably took the same amount of time for half the sample to decay – its “half-life” (11½ minutes in this case).

From 1900 to 1903, he was joined at McGill by the young chemist Frederick Soddy (Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1921) for whom he set the problem of identifying the thorium emanations. Once he had eliminated all the normal chemical reactions, Soddy suggested that it must be one of the inert gases, which they named thoron (later found to be an isotope of radon). They also found another type of thorium they called Thorium X, and kept on finding traces of helium. They also worked with samples of “Uranium X” from William Crookes and radium from Marie Curie.

In 1902, they produced a “Theory of Atomic Disintegration” to account for all their experiments. Until then atoms were assumed to be the indestructable basis of all matter and although Curie had suggested that radioactivity was an atomic phenomenon, the idea of the atoms of radioactive substances breaking up was a radically new idea. Rutherford and Soddy demonstrated that radioactivity involved the spontaneous disintegration of atoms into other types of atoms (one element spontaneously being changed to another). The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1908 was awarded to Ernest Rutherford “for his investigations into the disintegration of the elements, and the chemistry of radioactive substances”.

In 1903, Rutherford considered a type of radiation discovered (but not named) by French chemist Paul Villard in 1900, as an emission from radium, and realized that this observation must represent something different from his own alpha and beta rays, due to its very much greater penetrating power. Rutherford therefore gave this third type of radiation the name of gamma ray. All three of Rutherford’s terms are in standard use today – other types of radioactive decay have since been discovered, but Rutherford’s three types are among the most common.

In Manchester, he continued to work with alpha radiation. In conjunction with Hans Geiger (of radioactive counter fame) he developed zinc sulfide scintillation screens and ionization chambers to count alphas. By dividing the total charge they produced by the number counted, Rutherford determined that the charge on the alphas was 2 (suggesting it was helium nuclei). In late 1907, Ernest Rutherford and Thomas Royds allowed alphas to penetrate a very thin window into an evacuated tube. As they sparked the tube into discharge, the spectrum obtained from it changed, as the alphas accumulated in the tube. Eventually, the clear spectrum of helium gas appeared, proving that alphas were at least ionized helium atoms, and probably helium nuclei.

Rutherford performed his most famous work after receiving the Nobel prize in 1908. Along with Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden in 1909, he carried out the Geiger–Marsden experiment, which demonstrated the nuclear nature of atoms by deflecting alpha particles passing through a thin gold foil. Rutherford was inspired to ask Geiger and Marsden in this experiment to look for alpha particles with very high deflection angles, of a type not expected from any theory of matter at that time. Such deflections, though rare, were found, and proved to be a smooth but high-order function of the deflection angle. It was Rutherford’s interpretation of this data that led him to formulate the Rutherford model of the atom in 1911 – that a very small charged nucleus, containing much of the atom’s mass, was orbited by low-mass electrons.

Before leaving Manchester in 1919 to take over the Cavendish laboratory in Cambridge, Rutherford became, in 1919, the first person to deliberately transmute one element into another. In this experiment, he had discovered peculiar radiations when alphas were projected into air, and narrowed the effect down to the nitrogen, not the oxygen in the air. Using pure nitrogen, Rutherford used alpha radiation to convert nitrogen into oxygen through the nuclear reaction 14N + α → 17O + proton. The proton was not then known. In the products of this reaction Rutherford simply identified hydrogen nuclei, by their similarity to the particle radiation from earlier experiments in which he had bombarded hydrogen gas with alpha particles to knock hydrogen nuclei out of hydrogen atoms. This result showed Rutherford that hydrogen nuclei were a part of nitrogen nuclei (and by inference, probably other nuclei as well). Such a construction had been suspected for many years on the basis of atomic weights which were whole numbers of that of hydrogen. Hydrogen was known to be the lightest element, and its nuclei presumably the lightest nuclei. Now, because of all these considerations, Rutherford decided that a hydrogen nucleus was possibly a fundamental building block of all nuclei, and also possibly a new fundamental particle as well, since nothing was known from the nucleus that was lighter. Thus, Rutherford postulated the hydrogen nucleus to be a new particle in 1920, which he dubbed the proton.

In 1921, while working with Niels Bohr (who later postulated that electrons moved in specific orbits), Rutherford theorized about the existence of neutrons, (which he had christened in his 1920 Bakerian Lecture), which could somehow compensate for the repelling effect of the positive charges of protons by causing an attractive nuclear force and thus keep the nuclei from flying apart from the repulsion between protons. The only alternative to neutrons was the existence of “nuclear electrons” which would counteract some of the proton charges in the nucleus, since by then it was known that nuclei had about twice the mass that could be accounted for if they were simply assembled from hydrogen nuclei (protons). But how these nuclear electrons could be trapped in the nucleus, was a mystery.

Rutherford’s theory of neutrons was proved in 1932 by his associate James Chadwick, who recognized neutrons immediately when they were produced by other scientists and later himself, in bombarding beryllium with alpha particles. In 1935, Chadwick was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for this discovery.

There you have it.  The current model of the atom – much refined by later physicists – of a dense nucleus consisting of protons and neutrons surrounded by electrons (along with the nature of radioactive decay as a nuclear process) is owed to the work of Rutherford. Rutherford died too early to see Leó Szilárd’s idea of controlled nuclear chain reactions come into being. However, a speech of Rutherford’s about his artificially-induced transmutation in lithium, printed in 12 September 1933 in The Times, was reported by Szilárd to have been his inspiration for thinking of the possibility of a controlled energy-producing nuclear chain reaction. Szilard had this idea while walking in London, on the same day.

Rutherford’s speech touched on the 1932 work of his students John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton in “splitting” lithium into alpha particles by bombardment with protons from a particle accelerator they had constructed. Rutherford realized that the energy released from the split lithium atoms was enormous, but he also believed that the energy needed for the accelerator, and its essential inefficiency in splitting atoms in this fashion, made the project an impossibility as a practical source of energy (accelerator-induced fission of light elements remains too inefficient to be used in this way, even today). Rutherford’s speech in part, read:

We might in these processes obtain very much more energy than the proton supplied, but on the average we could not expect to obtain energy in this way. It was a very poor and inefficient way of producing energy, and anyone who looked for a source of power in the transformation of the atoms was talking moonshine. But the subject was scientifically interesting because it gave insight into the atoms.

Well, his work on releasing energy from the nuclei of light elements was, as he predicted, not practical, but his theorizing on radioactive elements led in the right direction.

Given that Rutherford was born in New Zealand and always thought of himself as a Kiwi first, a New Zealand recipe is in order, but, like Australian cooking, there’s not a lot to choose from. Australia and New Zealand continue to battle it out over who invented the pavlova (meringue shell with fruit and cream) as their signature dish, but I’ve given a recipe already. If you like you can make one with kiwi fruit.

I’ll go for something more modern, but very popular throughout New Zealand nowadays: Southland cheese rolls. They originated in the Southland region of the South Island but are now more or less universal. They are basically cheese and onion rolled in toasted bread and lightly baked. This recipe gives just one version, but you can vary the types of bread and cheese any way you want.  I recommend a hearty whole wheat for the bread. It’s common to use a commercial spread on top after broiling but I prefer butter.

Southland Cheese Rolls


1 loaf bread cut in slices
200 gm Colby or Cheddar cheese (grated)
150 gm Parmesan cheese (grated)
1 6 oz can evaporated milk
1 cup heavy cream (optional)
1 packet onion soup
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 tsp dry English mustard
butter (or nasty commercial spread) for topping (optional)


Mix the cheeses, onion, soup powder, mustard, cream (if used), and evaporated milk together in a small saucepan. Stir over low heat until the cheeses are melted and you have a thick smooth mixture. Let cool slightly.

Spread the cheese mixture generously over the bread slices and roll them into logs.  Place them on a baking tray and broil them, turning until all sides are evenly toasted.

Serve hot with a knob of butter on top.

Aug 292017

On this date in 1885 Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach received a patent for the Daimler Petroleum Reitwagen (“riding car”) or Einspur (“single track”). It is widely recognized as the first petrol driven motorcycle. Daimler is sometimes called “the father of the motorcycle” for this invention. Even though three steam powered two wheelers preceded the Reitwagen, the Michaux-Perreaux and Roper of 1867–1869, and the 1884 Copeland and can be considered to be motorcycles, the Reitwagen remains, nonetheless, the first petrol driven internal combustion motorcycle, and the forerunner of all vehicles, land, sea and air, that use its engine type. Daimler, of course, moved on from two-wheelers to four-wheelers.

The Reitwagen’s status as the first motorcycle rests on whether the definition of “motorcycle” includes having an internal combustion engine. The Oxford English Dictionary uses this criterion, but even by that definition, the use of four wheels instead of two raises doubts. The Reitwagen had two outriggers with small wheels, affixed like training wheels, because it was not properly stable due to the front wheel fork lying vertically under the handlebars instead of at an angle (the principles of “rake” and “trail”). I’m not sure why the front fork wasn’t raked because the principle was well understood in cycling by that time. A raked fork makes steering much easier.

Daimler visited Paris in 1861 and spent some time observing the first internal combustion engine developed by Etienne Lenoir. These observations were helpful later when he joined Nikolaus August Otto’s company N.A. Otto & Cie (Otto and Company). By 1872 Daimler had become the director of N.A. Otto & Cie, the world’s largest engine manufacturer.  Otto’s company had created the first successful gaseous fuel engine in 1864 and in 1876 finally succeeded in creating a compressed charge gaseous petroleum engine under the direction of Daimler and his plant engineer Wilhelm Maybach (Daimler’s long-time friend).

Otto had no interest in making engines small enough to be used in transportation. After some dispute over the direction design of the engines should take Daimler left Deutz and took Maybach with him. Together they moved to the town of Cannstatt where they began work on a “high speed explosion engine.” This goal was achieved in 1883 with the development of their first engine, a horizontal cylinder engine that ran on Petroleum Naptha. The Otto engines were incapable of running at speeds much higher than 150 to 200 rpm and were not designed to be throttled. Daimler’s goal was to build an engine small enough that it could be used to power a wide range of transportation equipment with a minimum rotation speed of 600 rpm. This was realized with the 1883 engine. The next year Daimler and Maybach developed a vertical cylinder model which they called the Grandfather Clock engine and achieved 700 rpm (and soon 900). This was made possible by using a hot-tube ignition, developed by an English engineer, instead of an electrical ignition system (which at the time was unreliable). The hot tube ignition was a platinum tube running into the combustion chamber, heated by an external open flame. The engine had a float metered carburetor, used mushroom intake valves which were opened by the suction of the piston’s intake stroke. It could also run on coal gas. It used twin flywheels and had an aluminium crankcase.

Having achieved the goals of producing a throttling engine with high enough rpm, yet small enough to be used in transportation, Daimler and Maybach built the 1884 engine into a two-wheeled test frame which was patented as the “Petroleum Reitwagen” (Petroleum Riding Car). This test machine demonstrated the feasibility of a liquid petroleum engine which used a compressed fuel charge to power an automobile.  The first motorcycle was created along the way to Daimler’s real goal, a four-wheeled car, and earning him credit as the inventor of the motorcycle in spite of himself. Daimler’s and Maybach’s next step was to install the engine in a test bed to prove the viability of their engine in a vehicle. Their goal was to learn what the engine could do, and not to create a motorcycle; it was just that the engine prototype was not yet powerful enough for a full-sized carriage.

The original design of 1884 used a belt drive, and twist grip on the handlebars which applied the brake when turned one way and tensioned the drive belt, applying power to the wheel, when turned the other way. Roper’s velocipede of the late 1860s used a similar two way twist grip handlebar control. The plans also called for steering linkage shafts that made two right angle bends connected with gears, but the actual working model used a simple handlebar without the twist grip or gear linkage. The design was patented on August 29, 1885.

It had a 264-cubic-centimetre (16.1 cu in) single-cylinder Otto cycle four-stroke engine mounted on rubber blocks, with two iron tread wooden wheels and a pair of spring-loaded outrigger wheels to help it remain upright. Its engine output of 0.5 horsepower (0.37 kW) at 600 rpm gave it a speed of about 11 km/h (6.8 mph). Daimler’s 17-year-old son, Paul, rode it first on November 18, 1885, going 5–12 kilometres (3.1–7.5 mi), from Cannstatt to Untertürkheim. The seat caught fire on that excursion. The engine’s hot tube ignition (which was very hot), being located directly underneath. Over the winter of 1885–1886 the belt drive was upgraded to a two-stage, two-speed transmission with a belt primary drive and the final drive using a ring gear on the back wheel. By 1886 the Reitwagen had served its purpose and was abandoned in favor of research on four wheeled vehicles. But the motorbike was here to stay.

For several years the “Hairy Bikers” produced a cooking show on BBC television which involved them traveling around England and Europe on their motorbikes.  Here’s an episode they made traveling around Germany, including the region where Daimler worked.  Pay special attention to the Black Forest cake.

Aug 282017

Today is the birthday (1906) of Sir John Betjeman, English poet, writer, and broadcaster who described himself in Who’s Who as a “poet and hack”. He was Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1972 until his death. In his own words:

I was born in London and so were my parents. I have lived in London most of my life. I was born in 1906. I am a poet and prose-writer, particularly on English architecture and topography. I founded and for many years edited the Shell Guides. I edited Collins’ Guide to English Parish Churches. I started in journalism as Assistant Editor of the Architectural Review. I was for some years architectural correspondent to the Daily Telegraph. I am a Companion of Literature and an Honorary Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Until my extended term of office expired last year. I was a member of the Royal Fine Art Commission. I am an honorary advisor to the Historic Buildings Committee of the GLC and one of her Majesty’s Commissioners of Ancient Monuments.

I’ll add a (very) little to this, but mostly appraise his poetry. Betjeman is a bit of a kindred spirit of mine in a way. He detested Oxford University teaching but enjoyed the overall experience (particularly the libraries and the fellow students), loved the English countryside, traveled a great deal, and saw humor in even mundane things.  Where we part company is in our view of England in general. His England was a comforting and reassuring home for him, full of foibles that could be endearing or irritating.  I mostly find the country irritating, with endearing bits around the edges.

Betjeman was born “John Betjemann”. His parents, Mabel (née Dawson) and Ernest Betjemann, had a family firm at 34–42 Pentonville Road which manufactured the kind of ornamental household furniture and gadgets distinctive to Victorians. The family name was changed to the less German-looking “Betjeman” during the First World War. His father’s forebears had actually come from the present-day Netherlands and had, ironically, added the extra “-n” during the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War to avoid the anti-Dutch sentiment existing at the time, more than a century earlier, setting up their home and business in Islington, in north London.

Betjeman was baptized at St Anne’s Church, Highgate Rise, a 19th-century church at the foot of Highgate West Hill. The family lived at Parliament Hill Mansions in the Lissenden Gardens private estate in Gospel Oak in north London. In 1909, the Betjemanns moved half a mile north to more opulent Highgate. Betjeman’s early schooling was at the local Byron House and Highgate School, where he was taught by T. S. Eliot. After this, he boarded at the Dragon School preparatory school in North Oxford and Marlborough College, a public school in Wiltshire. In his penultimate year, he joined the secret Society of Amici in which he was a contemporary of both Louis MacNeice and Graham Shepard. He founded The Heretick, a satirical magazine that lampooned Marlborough’s obsession with sport. While at school, his exposure to the works of Arthur Machen won him over to High Church Anglicanism, a conversion of importance to his later writing and conception of the arts.

Betjeman entered the University of Oxford with difficulty, having failed the mathematics portion of the university’s matriculation exam, Responsions. He was, however, admitted as a commoner (i.e. a non-scholarship student) at Magdalen College and entered the newly created School of English Language and Literature. At Oxford, Betjeman made little use of the academic opportunities. His tutor, a young C. S. Lewis, regarded him as an “idle prig” and Betjeman in turn considered Lewis unfriendly, demanding, and uninspired as a teacher. Betjeman particularly disliked the coursework’s emphasis on linguistics, and dedicated most of his time to cultivating his social life and his interest in English ecclesiastical architecture, and to private literary pursuits.

Here I resonate very much with Betjeman.  I have no doubt that Lewis was a self-important prick who looked down on his students. His writings on Christianity are grotesquely simplistic and the Chronicles of Narnia are not much better – 19th century “muscular Christianity” dressed up as fantasy. He was the quintessence of the Oxford scholar I could not stomach at any cost: thinking that all things in the world worth knowing are contained within half a mile of Carfax, and the top of Magdalen tower is the pinnacle of the universe.

At Oxford Betjeman was a friend of Maurice Bowra, later (1938 to 1970) to be Warden of Wadham. Betjeman had a poem published in Isis, the university magazine, and served as editor of the Cherwell student newspaper during 1927. His first book of poems was privately printed with the help of fellow student Edward James. He famously brought his teddy bear Archibald Ormsby-Gore up to Magdalen with him, the memory of which inspired his Oxford contemporary Evelyn Waugh to include Sebastian Flyte’s teddy, Aloysius, in Brideshead Revisited.

It is a common misapprehension, cultivated by Betjeman himself, that he did not complete his degree because he failed to pass the compulsory holy scripture examination, known colloquially as “Divvers”, short for “Divinity”. In Hilary term 1928, Betjeman failed Divinity for the second time. He had to leave the university for the Trinity term to prepare for a retake of the exam. Betjeman then wrote to the Secretary of the Tutorial Board at Magdalen, G. C. Lee, asking to be entered for the Pass School, a set of examinations taken on rare occasions by undergraduates who are deemed unlikely to achieve an honours degree. In Summoned by Bells Betjeman claims that his tutor, C. S. Lewis, said “You’d have only got a third” – but he had informed the tutorial board that he thought Betjeman would not achieve an honours degree of any class.

Permission to sit the Pass School was granted. Betjeman famously decided to offer a paper in Welsh. Osbert Lancaster tells the story that a tutor came by train twice a week (first class) from Aberystwyth to teach Betjeman. However, Jesus College had a number of Welsh tutors who more probably would have taught him. Betjeman finally had to leave at the end of the Michaelmas term, 1928. He did pass his Divinity examination on his third try but was sent down (expelled) after failing the Pass School. He had achieved a satisfactory result in only one of the three required papers (on Shakespeare and other English authors). Betjeman’s academic failure at Oxford rankled with him for the rest of his life and he was never reconciled with C.S. Lewis, towards whom he nursed a bitter detestation. This situation was perhaps complicated by his enduring love of Oxford, from which he accepted an honorary doctorate of letters in 1974.

This all seems wearily familiar. The vast bulk of my friends at Oxford plodded through their work and got average degrees before settling into a lifetime of drudgery in civil service, the military, or middle management; a sprinkling were meteorically successful so that I include among my erstwhile companions, Nobel laureates, knights bachelor, Oxford college heads, bishops, and the like; and a few, like myself and Betjeman, found the academic system laughably rigid and stupid, and so spent our time educating ourselves in the things that mattered to us and, having barely crawled through the examinations, found successes in various arenas of life.

Betjeman’s poems are often humorous, and in broadcasting he exploited his bumbling and fogeyish image. His wryly comic verse is accessible and has attracted a great following for its satirical and observant grace. W.H. Auden (an Oxford friend) wrote in his introduction to Slick But Not Streamlined that Betjeman was “so at home with the provincial gaslit towns, the seaside lodgings, the bicycle, the harmonium.” His poetry is similarly redolent of time and place, continually seeking out intimations of the eternal in the manifestly ordinary. There are constant evocations of the physical chaff and clutter that accumulates in everyday life, the miscellanea of an England now gone but not beyond the reach of living memory.

In a 1962 radio interview he told teenage questioners that he could not write about ‘abstract things’, preferring places, and faces. Philip Larkin wrote of his work, “how much more interesting & worth writing about Betjeman’s subjects are than most other modern poets, I mean, whether so-and-so achieves some metaphysical inner unity is not really so interesting to us as the overbuilding of rural Middlesex.”

Here’s one of his earliest poems which I like partly because its appraisal of death is, at best, comically sardonic, and partly because I lived for a year in Leamington which is the perfectly lackluster setting for a lackluster demise.

Death In Leamington

She died in the upstairs bedroom
By the light of the ev’ning star
That shone through the plate glass window
From over Leamington Spa

Beside her the lonely crochet
Lay patiently and unstirred,
But the fingers that would have work’d it
Were dead as the spoken word.

And Nurse came in with the tea-things
Breast high ‘mid the stands and chairs-
But Nurse was alone with her own little soul,
And the things were alone with theirs.

She bolted the big round window,
She let the blinds unroll,
She set a match to the mantle,
She covered the fire with coal.

And “Tea!” she said in a tiny voice
“Wake up! It’s nearly five”
Oh! Chintzy, chintzy cheeriness,
Half dead and half alive.

Do you know that the stucco is peeling?
Do you know that the heart will stop?
From those yellow Italianate arches
Do you hear the plaster drop?

Nurse looked at the silent bedstead,
At the gray, decaying face,
As the calm of a Leamington ev’ning
Drifted into the place.

She moved the table of bottles
Away from the bed to the wall;
And tiptoeing gently over the stairs
Turned down the gas in the hall.

Some of his poems have been set, quite successfully, to music. This one, “A Shropshire Lad,” concerning the death of Capt. Webb, famed channel swimmer ( ), has been popular among my friends for years.

His pre-war poem (1937), “Slough,” takes issue with the general quality of life in the new Trading Estate in Slough with its grimy and faceless factories, opening with the now famous lines:

Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough!
It isn’t fit for humans now . . .

Bombs did, in fact, fall on Slough during the Second World War and Betjeman later repudiated the poem although it was not written so much about Slough in particular but about burgeoning industrial growth in general. On the centenary of Betjeman’s birth in 2006, his daughter, Candida Lycett-Green, visited Slough and apologized for the poem saying her father “regretted having ever written it”. During her visit, Mrs Lycett-Green presented the mayor of Slough, David MacIsaac, with a book of her father’s poems. In it she wrote: “We love Slough”.

In the first series of The Office, which is set in Slough, Ricky Gervais, in the character of David Brent, reads extracts of the poem interjected with comments such as, “You don’t solve town planning problems by dropping bombs all over the place.”

In his deeply ironic “In Westminster Abbey” Betjeman shows his true feelings for people who pray for bombs to fall:

Gracious Lord, oh bomb the Germans.
    Spare their women for Thy Sake,
And if that is not too easy
   We will pardon Thy Mistake.
But, gracious Lord, whate’er shall be,
Don’t let anyone bomb me.

Keep our Empire undismembered
    Guide our Forces by Thy Hand,
Gallant blacks from far Jamaica,
    Honduras and Togoland;
Protect them Lord in all their fights,
And, even more, protect the whites.


Betjeman loved Victorian architecture and crusaded in its favor at a time when Victorian arts in general were lampooned as outdated and cluttered monstrosities. His statue stands outside St Pancras station in London which was in danger of being torn down until he put up a vigorous campaign to stop the destruction.

Victorian desserts are similarly ornately over the top so go for broke.

Meanwhile I’ll go with something a little less flamboyant in looks, but outrageously delicious: apple snow.  First, Mrs Beeton:


(A pretty Supper Dish.)

  1. INGREDIENTS.—10 good-sized apples, the whites of 10 eggs, the rind of 1 lemon, 1/2 lb. of pounded sugar.

Mode.—Peel, core, and cut the apples into quarters, and put them into a saucepan with the lemon-peel and sufficient water to prevent them from burning,—rather less than 1/2 pint. When they are tender, take out the peel, beat them to a pulp, let them cool, and stir them to the whites of the eggs, which should be previously beaten to a strong froth. Add the sifted sugar, and continue the whisking until the mixture becomes quite stiff; and either heap it on a glass dish, or serve it in small glasses. The dish may be garnished with preserved barberries, or strips of bright-coloured jelly; and a dish of custards should be served with it, or a jug of cream.

Time.—From 30 to 40 minutes to stew the apples.

Average cost, 1s. 6d.

Sufficient to fill a moderate-sized glass dish.

Seasonable from July to March.

Next a video of an even more decadent recipe for apple snow that includes the cream that Beeton serves on the side.

Aug 272017

Today is the birthday (854 CE) of Abū Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariyyā al-Rāzī (ابوبكر محمّد زکرياى رازى) usually known in the West by his Latinized name Razi (also Rhazes or Rasis), a Persian polymath, physician, alchemist, and philosopher who was a key figure in the history of medicine – now mostly forgotten by the history books, as are scores of classical Muslim scholars. To acknowledge them too much would be to dent the fable of the West climbing to dominance all by itself (and with almost no recognition that Muslim scholars preserved the writings of the likes of Plato and Aristotle when the West had no use for them).

Razi made fundamental and enduring contributions to various fields, which he recorded in over 200 manuscripts, and is particularly remembered for numerous advances in medicine through his observations and discoveries. He was an early proponent of experimental medicine, became a successful doctor, and served as chief physician of Baghdad and Ray hospitals. As a teacher of medicine, he attracted students of all backgrounds and interests and was said to be compassionate and devoted to the service of his patients, whether rich or poor. Through translation, his medical works and ideas became known among medieval European practitioners and profoundly influenced medical education in the Latin West.

Razi was born in the city of Ray (modern Rey) situated on the Great Silk Road that for centuries facilitated trade and cultural exchanges between East and West. His nisba (locational surname, like “da Vinci”), Râzī (رازی), means “from the city of Ray” in Persian. It is located on the southern slopes of the Alborz mountain range near Tehran.

In his youth, Razi moved to Baghdad where he studied and practiced at the local bimaristan (hospital). Later, he was invited back to Rey by Mansur ibn Ishaq, then the governor of Rey, and became a bimaristan’s head. He dedicated two books on medicine to Mansur ibn Ishaq, The Spiritual Physic and Al-Mansūrī on Medicine. Because of his newly acquired popularity as physician, Razi was invited to Baghdad where he assumed the responsibilities of a director in a new hospital named after its founder al-Muʿtaḍid (d. 902 CE). Under the reign of Al-Mutadid’s son, Al-Muktafi (r. 902-908) Razi was commissioned to build a new hospital, which would be the largest of the Abbasid Caliphate. To pick the future hospital’s location, Razi adopted what is nowadays known as an evidence-based approach — having fresh meat hung in various places throughout the city and to build the hospital where meat took longest to rot.

He spent the last years of his life in his native Rey suffering from glaucoma. His eye affliction started with cataracts and ended in total blindness. The cause of his blindness is uncertain. One account mentioned by Ibn Juljul attributed the cause to a blow to his head by his patron, Mansur ibn Ishaq, for failing to provide proof for his alchemical theories; while Abulfaraj and Casiri claimed that the cause was a diet of beans only. Allegedly, he was approached by a physician offering an ointment to cure his blindness. Razi then asked him how many layers the eye contained and when he was unable to receive an answer, he declined the treatment saying “my eyes will not be treated by one who does not know the basics of its anatomy”.

Razi’s lectures attracted many students. He was considered a shaikh, an honorary title given to one entitled to teach and be surrounded by several circles of students. When someone raised a question, it was passed on to students of the ‘first circle’; if they did not know the answer, it was passed on to those of the ‘second circle’, and so on. If all students failed to answer, Razi himself would consider the question. Razi was a generous person by nature, with a considerate attitude towards his patients. He was charitable to the poor, treated them without payment in any form. One former pupil from Tabaristan came to look after him, but as al-Biruni wrote, Razi rewarded him for his intentions and sent him back home, proclaiming that his final days were approaching. According to Biruni, Razi died in Rey in 925 at 60 years of age. Biruni, who considered Razi as his mentor, wrote a short biography of Razi including a bibliography of his numerous works. (also see )

After his death, his fame spread beyond the Middle East to Medieval Europe, and lived on. In an undated catalog of the library at Peterborough Abbey, most likely from the 14th century, Razi is listed as a part author of ten books on medicine.

If you are interested in Razi you’ll have to look up his works.  There are plenty of resources online.  This would be a good place to start:   Razi wrote way too much for me to summarize even in the most superficial way. It would take pages for me simply to list his major writings. All I can do is point you in the right direction.  The two most obvious qualities about Razi that are admirable are, first, that he did not rely slavishly on ancient authorities, such as Hippocrates, Galen or Aristotle, but read them critically and wrote about their errors as well as their good qualities; and, second, that he was a very keen observer, making extensive and detailed notes on diseases, chemicals, and the like. These qualities made him a first-rate experimental scientist in many spheres.

As an example, Razi’s book al-Judari wa al-Hasbah (On Smallpox and Measles) was the first book describing smallpox and measles as distinct diseases. It was translated more than a dozen times into Latin and other European languages. Its lack of dogmatism and its reliance on clinical observation show Razi’s medical methods. A small passage:

The eruption of smallpox is preceded by a continued fever, pain in the back, itching in the nose and nightmares during sleep. These are the more acute symptoms of its approach together with a noticeable pain in the back accompanied by fever and an itching felt by the patient all over his body. A swelling of the face appears, which comes and goes, and one notices an overall inflammatory color noticeable as a strong redness on both cheeks and around both eyes. One experiences a heaviness of the whole body and great restlessness, which expresses itself as a lot of stretching and yawning. There is a pain in the throat and chest and one finds it difficult to breathe and cough. Additional symptoms are: dryness of breath, thick spittle, hoarseness of the voice, pain and heaviness of the head, restlessness, nausea and anxiety. Note the difference: restlessness, nausea and anxiety occur more frequently with measles than with smallpox. On the other hand, pain in the back is more apparent with smallpox than with measles. Altogether one experiences heat over the whole body, one has an inflamed colon and one shows an overall shining redness, with a very pronounced redness of the gums.

Razi contributed in many ways to the early practice of pharmacy by compiling texts, in which he introduces the use of “mercurial ointments” and his development of apparatus such as mortars, flasks, spatulas and phials, which were used in pharmacies until the early twentieth century.

On a professional level, Razi introduced many practical, progressive, medical and psychological ideas. He attacked charlatans and fake doctors who roamed the cities and countryside selling their nostrums and “cures”. At the same time, he warned that even highly educated doctors did not have the answers to all medical problems and could not cure all sicknesses or heal every disease. To become more useful in their services and truer to their calling, Razi advised practitioners to keep up with advanced knowledge by continually studying medical books and constantly seeking new information. He made a distinction between curable and incurable diseases. Pertaining to the latter, he commented that in the case of advanced cases of cancer and leprosy the physician should not be blamed when he could not cure them. Razi also remarked that he felt great pity for physicians who took care of princes and nobles because they did not obey the doctor’s orders to restrict their diet or get medical treatment, thus making it difficult to be their physician.

Razi also wrote a medical text for the general public: For One Who Has No Physician to Attend Him (Man la Yahduruhu Al-Tabib) (من لا يحضره الطبيب). Razi was possibly the first Persian doctor to write a home medical manual. He dedicated it to the poor, the traveler, and the ordinary citizen who could consult it for treatment of common ailments when a doctor was not available. Some of the illnesses treated were headaches, colds, coughing, melancholy and diseases of the eye, ear, and stomach.

Razi’s interest in alchemy and his strong belief in the possibility of transmutation of lesser metals to silver and gold was attested half a century after his death by Ibn an-Nadim’s The Philosopher’s Stone. Nadim attributed a series of 12 books to Razi, plus an additional 7, including his refutation of al-Kindi’s denial of the validity of alchemy. Al-Kindi (801–873 CE) had been appointed by the Abbasid Caliph Ma’mum founder of Baghdad, to ‘the House of Wisdom’ in that city. He was a philosopher and an opponent of alchemy. Razi’s two best-known alchemical texts, al-Asrar (الاسرار “The Secrets”), and Sirr al-Asrar (سر الاسرار “The Secret of Secrets”), incorporate his major work in the field.

Apparently Razi’s contemporaries believed that he had obtained the secret of turning iron and copper into gold. Biographer Khosro Moetazed reports in Mohammad Zakaria Razi that a certain General Simjur confronted Razi in public, and asked whether that was the underlying reason for his willingness to treat patients without a fee. “It appeared to those present that Razi was reluctant to answer; he looked sideways at the general and replied:

I understand alchemy and I have been working on the characteristic properties of metals for an extended time. However, it still has not turned out to be evident to me how one can transmute gold from copper. Despite the research from the ancient scientists done over the past centuries, there has been no answer. I very much doubt if it is possible.

Razi developed several chemical instruments that remain in use to this day. He is known to have perfected methods of the distillation of alcohol (which the Arabs used for perfume making, not for drinking). Razi dismissed magic as useless, but he did not reject the idea that miracles were possible (in the sense that some phenomena could not be explained by natural science). He also rejected the idea of four elements – earth, water, fire, and air – as explanations for the physical properties of materials.

Razi’s works present the first systematic classification of carefully observed and verified facts regarding chemical substances, reactions and apparatus, described in a language almost entirely free from mysticism and ambiguity. By modern standards Razi’s taxonomy of matter is a bit strange, but he was attempting to develop a rational, rather than mystical, natural science. Whether or not we should thank him for this is another matter entirely. He did have a metaphysical doctrine, however. Razi’s theory of the “five eternals” suggests that the world is produced out of an interaction between God and four other eternal principles (soul, matter, time, and place).

Toward the end of his life he wrote:

In short, while I am writing the present book, I have written so far around 200 books and articles on different aspects of science, philosophy, theology, and hekmat (wisdom). I never entered the service of any king as a military man or a man of office, and if I ever did have a conversation with a king, it never went beyond my medical responsibility and advice. Those who have seen me know, that I did not into excess with eating, drinking or acting the wrong way. As to my interest in science, people know perfectly well and must have witnessed how I have devoted all my life to science since my youth. My patience and diligence in the pursuit of science has been such that on one special issue specifically I have written 20,000 pages (in small print), moreover I spent fifteen years of my life -night and day- writing the big collection entitled Al Hawi. It was during this time that I lost my eyesight, my hand became paralyzed, with the result that I am now deprived of reading and writing. Nonetheless, I’ve never given up, but kept on reading and writing with the help of others. I could make concessions with my opponents and admit some shortcomings, but I am most curious what they have to say about my scientific achievement. If they consider my approach incorrect, they could present their views and state their points clearly, so that I may study them, and if I determined their views to be right, I would admit it. However, if I disagreed, I would discuss the matter to prove my standpoint. If this is not the case, and they merely disagree with my approach and way of life, I would appreciate they only use my written knowledge and stop interfering with my behavior.

A little over a thousand years ago, an Arab scribe, Abu Muhammad al-Muzaffar ibn Sayyar, wrote Kitab al-Tabikh (The Book of Recipes). It was a collection of recipes from the court of 9th-century Baghdad, produced for the scribe’s unnamed patron—probably Saif al-Dawlah Al-Hamdani,  prince of 10th-century Aleppo— who asked him for the recipes of “kings and caliphs and lords and leaders.” The book is extant in three manuscripts and fragments of a fourth. These are the dishes actually eaten by the elite of Baghdad when it was the richest city in the world. There are recipes from the personal collections of every caliph from al-Mahdi (d.785) to al-Mutawakkil (d.861), including 20 from Harun al-Rashid’s son al-Ma’mun. 35 of the recipes—nearly one-tenth of the non-medicinal dishes in the book—come from Harun’s brother, the famous poet and gourmet Ibrahim ibn al-Mahdi. This was a golden age of medieval Persian cookery. The centerpiece of 9th-century Baghdadi cuisine was rich and complex stews, often cooked in the tandoor oven, which are prominent in the collection. But there are smaller dishes too.  This is a modern interpretation of a recipe for an appetizer, bazmaawurd: chicken and flavorings rolled in flatbread and baked. Bazmaawurd a traditional first course at a banquet in Abbasid Baghdad. The name comes from the Persian bazm, “banquet,” and awurd, “bringing.” The recipe given here is from the collection of the Caliph al-Ma’mun. It calls for the flesh of citron, but fresh citrons are hard to come by in the West, and there is little flesh anyway. They are grown for their peels mostly. Lemon can substitute.



1 fresh thin flour flatbread about 12″ diameter
1 whole chicken breast, boned, roasted, and chopped
2 tbspn chopped walnuts
flesh of 3-4 citrons, chopped
1 tbspn chopped fresh tarragon
1 tbspn chopped mint
2 tbspn chopped basil


Preheat the oven to 300˚F/150˚C

Place the flatbread on a lightly greased baking sheet. Spread the chicken evenly over the bread. Sprinkle with citron, walnuts, tarragon, mint and basil. Roll up the bread, and warm in the oven for about 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven, cut into 4 pieces and serve immediately.