Apr 162018
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Kobal Collection / United Artists

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

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

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

All men are cremated equal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Herring is a lucky fish
From all disease inured.

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

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

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

 

Mar 022016
 

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Today is the birthday (1904) of Theodor Seuss Geisel a U.S. writer and illustrator best known for writing and illustrating popular children’s books under the pen name Dr. Seuss. His work includes several of the most popular children’s books of all time, selling over 600 million copies and being translated into more than 20 languages by the time of his death.

Geisel was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, to Theodor Robert and Henrietta (née Seuss) Geisel. All of his grandparents were German immigrants. His father managed the family brewery and was later appointed to supervise Springfield’s public park system by Mayor John A. Denison after the brewery closed because of Prohibition. Mulberry Street in Springfield was made famous in Dr. Seuss’ first children’s book And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street! and is less than a mile southwest of his boyhood home on Fairfield Street.

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Geisel attended Dartmouth College, graduating in 1925. At Dartmouth, he joined the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and the humor magazine Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern, eventually rising to editor-in-chief. While at Dartmouth, he was caught drinking gin with nine friends in his room. At the time, the possession and consumption of alcohol was illegal under Prohibition laws and as a result of this infraction, Dean Craven Laycock insisted that Geisel resign from all extracurricular activities, including the college humor magazine. To continue work on the Jack-O-Lantern without the administration’s knowledge, Geisel began signing his work with the pen name “Seuss”. He was encouraged in his writing by professor of rhetoric W. Benfield Pressey, whom he described as his “big inspiration for writing” at Dartmouth.

Upon graduating from Dartmouth, he entered Lincoln College, Oxford intending to earn a doctorate in English literature. At Oxford, he met Helen Palmer, who encouraged him to give up becoming an English teacher in favor of pursuing drawing as a career. Geisel left Oxford without earning a degree and returned to the United States in February 1927, where he immediately began submitting writings and drawings to magazines, book publishers, and advertising agencies. Making use of his time in Europe, he pitched a series of cartoons called Eminent Europeans to Life magazine, but the magazine passed on it. His first nationally published cartoon appeared in the July 16, 1927 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. This single $25 sale encouraged Geisel to move from Springfield to New York City.

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Later that year, Geisel accepted a job as writer and illustrator at the humor magazine Judge, and he felt financially stable enough to marry Helen. His first cartoon for Judge appeared on October 22, 1927, and the Geisels were married on November 29. Geisel’s first work signed “Dr. Seuss” was published in Judge about six months after he started working there.

In early 1928, one of Geisel’s cartoons for Judge mentioned Flit, a common bug spray at the time manufactured by Standard Oil of New Jersey. According to Geisel, the wife of an advertising executive in charge of advertising Flit saw Geisel’s cartoon at a hairdresser’s and urged her husband to sign him. Geisel’s first Flit ad appeared on May 31, 1928, and the campaign continued sporadically until 1941. The campaign’s catchphrase “Quick, Henry, the Flit!” became a part of popular culture. It spawned a song and was used as a punch line for comedians such as Fred Allen and Jack Benny. As Geisel gained notoriety for the Flit campaign, his work was sought after and began to appear regularly in magazines such as Life, Liberty, and Vanity Fair.

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In 1936, the couple were returning from an ocean voyage to Europe when the rhythm of the ship’s engines inspired the poem that became his first book: And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. Based on Geisel’s varied accounts, the book was rejected by between 20 and 43 publishers. According to Geisel, he was walking home to burn the manuscript when a chance encounter with an old Dartmouth classmate led to its publication by Vanguard Press. Geisel wrote four more books before the US entered World War II. This included The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins in 1938, as well as The King’s Stilts and The Seven Lady Godivas in 1939, all of which were in prose, atypically for him. This was followed by Horton Hatches the Egg in 1940, in which Geisel returned to the use of poetry.

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As World War II began, Geisel turned to political cartoons, drawing over 400 in two years as editorial cartoonist for the left-leaning New York City daily newspaper, PM. Geisel’s political cartoons, later published in Dr. Seuss Goes to War, denounced Hitler and Mussolini and were highly critical of non-interventionists (“isolationists”), most notably Charles Lindbergh, who opposed US entry into the war. One cartoon depicted all Japanese Americans as latent traitors or fifth-columnists (his moral blind spot which he later recanted after Hiroshima), while other cartoons simultaneously deplored the racism at home against Jews and blacks that harmed the war effort. His cartoons were strongly supportive of President Roosevelt’s handling of the war, combining the usual exhortations to ration and contribute to the war effort with frequent attacks on Congress (especially the Republican Party), parts of the press (such as the New York Daily News, Chicago Tribune, and Washington Times-Herald), and others for criticism of Roosevelt, criticism of aid to the Soviet Union, investigation of suspected Communists, and other offenses that he depicted as leading to disunity and helping the Nazis, intentionally or inadvertently.

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In 1942, Geisel turned his energies to direct support of the U.S. war effort. First, he worked drawing posters for the Treasury Department and the War Production Board. Then, in 1943, he joined the Army as a Captain and was commander of the Animation Department of the First Motion Picture Unit of the United States Army Air Forces, where he wrote films that included Your Job in Germany, a 1945 propaganda film about peace in Europe after World War II; Our Job in Japan; and the Private Snafu series of adult army training films. While in the Army, he was awarded the Legion of Merit.[43] Our Job in Japan became the basis for the commercially released film Design for Death (1947), a study of Japanese culture that won the Academy Award for Documentary Feature. Gerald McBoing-Boing (1950) was based on an original story by Seuss and won the Academy Award for Animated Short Film.

After the war, Geisel and his wife moved to La Jolla, California where he returned to writing children’s books. He wrote many, including such favorites as If I Ran the Zoo (1950), Horton Hears a Who! (1955), If I Ran the Circus (1956), The Cat in the Hat (1957), How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1957), and Green Eggs and Ham (1960).

In May 1954, Life magazine published a report on illiteracy among school children which concluded that children were not learning to read because their books were boring. William Ellsworth Spaulding was the director of the education division at Houghton Mifflin (he later became its chairman), and he compiled a list of 348 words that he felt were important for first-graders to recognize. He asked Geisel to cut the list to 250 words and to write a book using only those words. Spaulding challenged Geisel to “bring back a book children can’t put down”. Nine months later, Geisel completed The Cat in the Hat, using 236 of the words given to him. It retained the drawing style, verse rhythms, and all the imaginative power of Geisel’s earlier works but, because of its simplified vocabulary, it could be read by beginning readers. The Cat in the Hat and subsequent books written for young children achieved significant international success and they remain very popular today.

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Geisel died of oral cancer on September 24, 1991 at his home in La Jolla at the age of 87. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered. On December 1, 1995, four years after his death, University of California, San Diego’s University Library Building was renamed Geisel Library in honor of Geisel and Audrey for the generous contributions that they made to the library and their devotion to improving literacy.

Geisel’s most famous pen name is regularly pronounced /ˈsjuːs/, an anglicized pronunciation inconsistent with his German surname (the standard German pronunciation is [ˈzɔʏ̯s]). He himself noted that it rhymed with “voice” (his own pronunciation being /ˈsɔɪs/). Alexander Liang, one of his collaborators on the Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern, wrote of it:

You’re wrong as the deuce
And you shouldn’t rejoice
If you’re calling him Seuss.
He pronounces it Soice.

Geisel switched to the anglicized pronunciation because it “evoked a figure advantageous for an author of children’s books to be associated with—Mother Goose” and because most people used this pronunciation.

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It’s a no-brainer to choose green eggs and ham as the recipe du jour, but what recipe should I use? Many cooks get away with just putting green food coloring in scrambled eggs. This seems a bit tame for me: not especially appetizing. Also you have to consider how to parse “green eggs and ham.” Geisel’s own illustration suggests it should be “green eggs and green ham,” but the Italian translation follows the usual English understanding “green eggs and regular ham.”

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I’ll go with the latter for my recipe. It’s not a vivid green recipe, but it is delicious.

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Start by poaching spinach, and crisping some ham (I’m using prosciutto today because I live in Italy).

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Beat 2 eggs and add the spinach. Then pour into a hot omelet pan.

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Add the ham.

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And serve.

My breakfast this morning — a real change just to honor Dr Seuss. I normally eat leftovers: curry, pasta, fruit or whatever.

May 092014
 

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In Jersey, Liberation Day (Jèrriais: Jour d’la Libéthâtion) is celebrated each year on 9 May, to mark the end of the occupation by Nazi Germany during World War II. It is celebrated as Jersey’s national day. On 9 May 1945, HMS Beagle, which had set out from Plymouth, arrived in Jersey to accept the surrender of the occupying forces. Two naval officers, one of whom was Surgeon Lt Ronald McDonald, were met by the Harbour Master who escorted them to the Harbour Master’s Office where they together hoisted the Union Jack, before also raising it on the flagstaff of the Pomme D’Or Hotel. This has been re-enacted every year on Liberation Day since 1995. From 2003 to 2011 Harbour Master and Jerseyman Captain Howard Le Cornu performed this annually. His father John E. Le Cornu and uncle David M. Le Cornu had been in the crowds and had witnessed the occasion on 9 May 1945.

Since the 50th anniversary of Liberation in 1995, a pattern of official ceremonies has developed based in and around Liberation Square in Saint Helier where the events at the Harbour Master’s Office and Pomme D’Or Hotel occurred in 1945. Following a special sitting of the States of Jersey in the morning, States Members, clergy, the Bailiff of Jersey, the Lieutenant-Governor, Jurats, Crown Officers and other officials process from the Royal Square to Liberation Square accompanied by the Royal Mace and the Bailiff’s Seal. An open air ecumenical service takes place in Liberation Square followed by the singing of “Man Bieau P’tit Jèrri”/”Beautiful Jersey” (in Jèrriais and English) and a re-enactment of the raising of flags (including that at Fort Regent). A parade of vintage and military vehicles, bands and service organizations is reviewed by the official party. An official ceremony also takes place at the Crematorium where there is a memorial to victims and slave workers of various nationalities. Representatives of affected nationalities take part in the commemoration.

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Jersey is part of the ancient Duchy of Normandy, and is ruled by the Duke of Normandy—a title held by the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom, though unrelated to those duties as king or queen of the UK. The title goes back to the days of William the Conqueror who, as Duke of Normandy, conquered and united England in 1066 (one of those memorable dates if you happen to be English). It lies just off the coast of Normandy in the English Channel. Jersey is a self-governing parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy, with its own financial, legal and judicial systems, and the power of self-determination.

The island of Jersey is the largest of the Channel Islands. Although the Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey are often referred to collectively as the Channel Islands, the “Channel Islands” are not a constitutional or political unit. Jersey has a separate relationship to the British Crown from the other Crown dependencies of Guernsey and the Isle of Man. It is not part of the United Kingdom, and has an international identity separate from that of the UK but the United Kingdom is constitutionally responsible for the defense of Jersey. Jersey is not fully part of the European Union but has a special relationship with it, notably being treated as within the European Community for the purposes of free trade in goods.

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Jersey history is influenced by its strategic location between the northern coast of France and the southern coast of England. The island’s recorded history extends over a thousand years. La Cotte de St Brelade is a Palaeolithic site inhabited before rising sea levels transformed Jersey into an island. Jersey was a centre of Neolithic activity, as demonstrated by the concentration of dolmens. Evidence of Bronze Age and early Iron Age settlements can be found in many locations around the island. In June 2012 it was announced that two people with metal detectors had uncovered in Grouville what could be Europe’s largest hoard of Iron Age coins, which may be worth up to £10 M, after a search spanning 30 years. It was reported that the hoard weighed about three quarters of a metric ton and could contain up to 50,000 Roman and Celtic coins. This came after an earlier find of 60 Iron Age coins, in the same area, by the same people. Further archaeological evidence of Roman influence has been found, in particular the coastal headland site at Le Pinacle, Les Landes, where remains of a primitive structure are attributed to Gallo-Roman temple worship.

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Jersey was part of Neustria with the same Gallo-Frankish population as the continental mainland. Jersey, the whole Channel Islands and the Cotentin peninsula (probably with the Avranchin) came formerly under the control of the duke of Brittany during the Viking invasions, because the king of the Franks was unable to defend them, however they remained in the archbishopric of Rouen. Jersey was invaded by Vikings in the ninth century, and was eventually annexed to the future Duchy of Normandy, together with the other Channel Islands, Cotentin and Avranchin, by William Longsword, count of Rouen in 933 and it became one of the Norman Islands. When William’s descendant, William the Conqueror, conquered England in 1066, the Duchy of Normandy and the kingdom of England were governed under one monarch. The Dukes of Normandy owned considerable estates in the island, and Norman families living on their estates established many of the historical Norman-French Jersey family names. King John lost all his territories in mainland Normandy in 1204 to King Philip II Augustus, but retained possession of Jersey and the other Channel Islands. The islands have been internally self-governing since then.

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Islanders traveled across the North Atlantic to participate in the Newfoundland fisheries in the late 16th century. In recognition for help given to him during his exile in Jersey in the 1640s, Charles II gave George Carteret, bailiff and governor, a large grant of land in the North American colonies in between the Hudson and Delaware rivers which he promptly named New Jersey. Although popularly known for industrial cities, organized crime, and highway congestion, much of New Jersey is agricultural and pastoral land (it’s called the Garden State), and is surprisingly reminiscent of Jersey in places — particularly in the north.

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Following the withdrawal of defenses by the British government and German bombardment, Jersey was occupied by German troops between 1940 and 1945. The Channel Islands were the only British soil occupied by German troops in World War II. This period of occupation saw about 8,000 islanders evacuated, 1,200 islanders deported to camps in Germany and over 300 islanders being sentenced to the prison and concentration camps of mainland Europe. 20 died as a result. During this time the Germans constructed many fortifications using Soviet slave labor. The islanders endured near-starvation in the winter of 1944-45, after the Channel Islands had been cut off from German-occupied Europe by Allied forces advancing from the Normandy beachheads, avoided only by the arrival of the Red Cross supply ship Vega in December 1944.

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The indigenous language of Jersey is Jèrriais, a dialect of the Norman language that once predominated in all Normandy. It has been in decline over the past century as English has increasingly become the language of education, commerce and administration. There are very few people now who speak Jèrriais as a first language and, owing to the age of the remaining speakers, their numbers decrease annually. Despite this, efforts are being made to keep the language alive.

Although Jèrriais is occasionally misleadingly described as a mixture of Norse and French, it would be more linguistically accurate to say that when the Norse-speaking Normans/Vikings conquered the territory that is now called Normandy they started speaking the langue d’oïl of their new subjects. The Norman language is therefore basically a Romance language with a certain amount of vocabulary of Norse origin, plus later loanwords from other languages. Jèrriais is only partially intelligible to speakers of standard (Parisian) French.

Seafood has traditionally been important to the cuisine of Jersey: mussels, oysters, lobster and crabs – especially spider crabs – ormers, and conger. Cream and butter, from the milk of world famous Jersey cows, are also major ingredients in cooking. Surprisingly, there is no indigenous tradition of cheese making, contrary to the custom of mainland Normandy, but some cheese is produced commercially. Ironically, Jersey fudge is very popular with tourists but is actually imported although it is made with milk from Jersey herds. Jersey Royal potatoes are the local variety of new potato, and the island is famous for its early crop of Chats (small potatoes) from the south-facing côtils (steeply sloping fields). They were originally grown using vraic (seaweed) as a natural fertilizer giving them their own individual taste. Now only a small portion of those grown in the island still use this method.

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Apples historically were an important crop. Bourdélots are apple dumplings, but the most typical speciality is black butter (lé nièr beurre), a dark spicy spread prepared from apples, cider, and spices. Cider used to be an important export. After decline and near-disappearance in the late 20th century, apple production is being increased and promoted. Besides cider, apple brandy is produced. Other production of alcohol drinks includes wine, and in 2013 the first commercial vodkas made from Jersey Royal potatoes were marketed. Among other traditional dishes are cabbage loaf, Jersey wonders (les mèrvelles), fliottes, bean crock (les pais au fou), nettle (ortchie) soup, and vraic buns.

Today’s “recipe” is a video of the making of lé nièr beurre on the island. You really cannot make this at home; it is a classic terroir dish – you have to have Jersey apples and Jersey cider. The video also helps show how lé nièr beurre fits within the larger cultural context of life on Jersey.

Jul 272013
 

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The 1929 Geneva Convention was signed in Geneva on July 27. Its official name is the Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, Geneva July 27, 1929. It entered into force on 19 June 1931. People often refer to THE Geneva Convention, whereas there have been many Geneva Conventions resulting at present in four treaties, and three additional protocols, that establish the standards of international law for humanitarian approaches to certain aspects of war. The Geneva Convention of 1929 covered the treatment of prisoners of war during World War II. It is the predecessor of the Third Geneva Convention signed in 1949. This later Convention was made necessary because of the widespread disregard for the 1929 Convention, and because of  its loopholes and ambiguities. Unfortunately the 1949 Convention has also been widely disregarded by its signatories since then to the present day.

The 1929 Convention contains 97 articles. They can be grouped as follows:

Articles 1 to 3 cover who counts as a legitimate prisoner of war (POW).

Articles 2 to 4 specify that POW’s are prisoners of the power which holds them and not prisoners of the unit which takes their surrender; that POW’s have the right to honor and respect; that women should be treated with all the regard due to their sex; and that prisoners of a similar category must be treated in the same way.

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Articles 5 and 6 cover what may or may not be done to a prisoner on capture. If requested, unless too ill to comply, prisoners are bound to give their true name and rank, but they may not be coerced into giving any more information. Prisoners’ personal possessions, other than arms and horses, may not be taken from them.

Articles 7 and 8 state that prisoners should be evacuated from the combat zone within the shortest possible period, and that belligerents are bound mutually to notify each other of their capture of prisoners within the shortest period possible.

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Articles 9 and 10 cover the type of camp in which POW’s may be detained. They must be constructed in such a way that the conditions are similar to those used by the belligerent’s own soldiers in base camps. The camps must be located in healthy locations and away from the combat zone.

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Articles 11 to 13 state that the food served in the camps must be of a similar quality and quantity to that of the belligerent’s own soldiers, and POW’s cannot be denied food as a punishment. A canteen selling local produce and products should be provided. Adequate clothing should be provided; and sanitary service in camps should be more than sufficient to prevent epidemics.

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Articles 14 and 15 cover the provision of medical facilities in each camp.

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Articles 16 and 17 cover the provision of religious needs, intellectual diversions, and sport facilities.

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Articles 18 and 19 cover the internal discipline of a camp which is under the command of a responsible officer.

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Articles 20 to 23 state that officers and persons of equivalent status who are prisoners of war should be treated with the regard due their rank and age, and go on to provide details on what that treatment should be.

Article 24 covers the rate of pay of prisoners of war.

Articles 25 and 26 cover the responsibilities of the detaining authority when transferring prisoners from one location to another. Prisoners must be healthy enough to travel, they must be informed as to where they are being transferred, and their personal possessions, including bank accounts, should remain accessible.

Articles 27 to 34 cover labor by prisoners of war. Work must fit the rank and health of the prisoners. The work must not be war-related and must be safe work. Remuneration will be agreed between the belligerents and will belong to the prisoner who carries out the work.

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Articles 35 to 41 cover how and when prisoners of war may correspond with others. Prisoners should be allowed to correspond with their family within a week of capture. They should be allowed to receive letters, and parcels which contain books, which may be censored, food, and clothing.

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Articles 42 to 67 cover the prisoners’ relations with the authorities. Most of these provisions are covered by the provision that prisoners are under the detaining power’s own code of military regulations, with some additional provisions which cover specific prisoner of war issues and some other provisions to protect prisoners of war if the military regulations of the detaining power do not meet a minimum standard.

WAR & CONFLICT BOOKERA: PRISONERS

Articles 68 to 74 state that seriously sick and seriously injured prisoners of war must be repatriated as soon as their condition allows and no repatriated person may be utilized in active military service.

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Article 75 covers release at the end of hostilities. The release of prisoners should form part of the armistice. If this is not possible then repatriation of prisoners should be effected with the least possible delay after the conclusion of peace.

Article 76 covers prisoners of war dying in captivity: they should be honorably buried and their graves marked and maintained properly. Wills and death certificate provisions should be the same as those for the detaining power’s own soldiers.

Articles 77 to 80 cover how and how frequently the powers should exchange information about prisoners and the details of how relief societies for prisoners of war should be involved in their relief.

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Article 81 states that individuals who follow armed forces without directly belonging thereto, who fall into the enemy’s hands and whom the latter think expedient to detain, should be entitled to be treated as prisoners of war. This provision covers military support contractors and civilian war correspondents

Articles 82 to 97 cover the technicalities of the implementation of this convention

53 countries ratified the Convention. Countries that ratified the Convention are called State Parties. Not all countries that later were involved in World War II ratified the Convention.  Russia and Japan, signed the Convention, but did not ratify it. They were ‘state signatories’ only.  As we all know from history these articles were by no means followed by the parties involved in World War II, some powers ignoring them more than others.  I won’t get into that.  War is brutal, no matter what. Let us simply celebrate the fact that efforts were being made (after the devastation of World War I) to inject a degree of humanity into an inhumane situation.

Because the Convention requires that POW’s be served food similar to camp mess halls I have decided to include a classic U.S. army breakfast dish – chipped beef on toast, commonly known as ‘shit on a shingle’ by the soldiers.  It’s easy to see why it is common in camp messes. The beef can be stored without refrigeration for long periods, the milk can be reconstituted from powder, and vegetable oil can replace the butter. Thus, all the ingredients can be stored for long periods under poor conditions.  I make chipped beef  once in a while and like it, although I can see how a steady diet of it would be cause for complaint. This is a stock recipe from my days living in a fishing village in coastal North Carolina. It’s simplicity itself – thin slices of dried beef in a plain béchamel sauce over toast.  You could add a little nutmeg to the béchamel if you like, but there is no need for salt in the sauce because the beef is salty enough.

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Chipped Beef on Toast

Ingredients:

6 oz dried beef, sliced into ribbons

4 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons all-purpose flour

4 cups whole milk

white pepper to taste

4 toast squares

Instructions:

Melt the butter in a heavy pan over medium heat. Add the flour to the pan and whisk for several minutes without browning. Slowly pour in the milk, whisking continuously until a thick sauce forms. Add pepper to taste and stir in the dried beef. Heat through.

Serve over plain toast.

Serves 4