Apr 252017
 

Today is celebrated as the anniversary of the founding of the Red Hat Society by members. In 1997, Sue Ellen Cooper, an artist from Fullerton, California, bought an old red fedora for $7.50 from a thrift shop during a trip to Tucson, Arizona. When a good friend was nearing her 55th birthday, Cooper was inspired to buy her a red hat as a present by the Jenny Joseph poem, “Warning”, which begins “When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple, with a red hat which doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me.” Cooper wanted to encourage her friend to grow older in a playful manner.  She repeated the gift on request several times, and eventually several of the women bought purple outfits as well and held a tea party on April 25, 1998, at which the Red Hat Society began. The idea spread, first by word of mouth and then through the internet and publications, so that now there are over 20,000 chapters in the US and numerous others in 30 countries worldwide.

I came across a Red Hat Society function about 10 years ago in New York. They’re hard to miss. The members all had on very elaborately decorated red hats. At the time I had no clue what it was all about, but got the basic drift from the members at the event, and then looked it up afterwards on the internet. What I found most noticeable is that the aims of the Red Hat Society and Jenny Joseph’s poem are a little at odds with one another. Here’s the full poem:

Warning

Jenny Joseph

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me,
And I shall spend my pension
on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals,
And say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I am tired,
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells,
And run my stick along the public railings,
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens,
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat,
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go,
Or only bread and pickle for a week,
And hoard pens and pencils and beer mats
and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry,
And pay our rent and not swear in the street,
And set a good example for the children.
We will have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practise a little now?
So people who know me
are not too shocked and surprised,
When suddenly I am old
and start to wear purple!

Jenny Joseph wrote this poem in 1961 when she was approaching 30. I can see how Sue Ellen Cooper was inspired by the poem – especially the first lines – but what Jenny Joseph is proposing is rather different from what the Red Hat Society became. I think that’s just fine; the poem is not a constitution nor some kind of founding document in total. My general mantra is that if people are having fun (and they are not being insanely destructive), it’s none of my business what they are doing even if it is not to my taste. What I will say is that the poem and the society are a little at odds in their stated aims.

Jenny Joseph wrote “Warning” in the post-war years in England when life could be very drab. Rationing continued well into the 1950s and the country was trying to rebuild itself in the aftermath of absolute calamity. Conformity to certain ideals of “success” were very much the norm. Good job, nice house, smart clothes, thrifty lifestyle etc. were the hallmarks of the successful life, and Jenny Joseph found all of this rather dreary and confining. She wanted to break free, but knew she couldn’t. Instead she fantasized an old age liberated from the strictures of youth, modeled on eccentric old English women, of which there were, and are, an abundance. A mere 2 years ago I spent a fascinating afternoon with a friend of mine in the cottage of a comfortably well off old woman in Oxfordshire who chain smoked, drank whisky, and kept a pet sheep in her kitchen. Her house was an utter riot of random clutter. She had asked my friend to come over to help her with her lawn which was overgrown and choked with weeds and wildflowers, because she wanted to use it for some kind of dog show that I never fully understood.

Jenny Joseph is, in fact, an old lady these days (she was born in 1932), and I have no idea what she is up to now apart from reading poetry now and again.  For a while she was a journalist in South Africa and then worked teaching ESL in London. She is certainly one of the most widely acclaimed living poets and has received numerous honors. I hope she is retired, but I wonder whether she spits, swears, and spends her pension on brandy and summer gloves.  The point of the poem is to stress a desire to break free from the norms of society, but, of course, since 1961 things have changed enormously. There was the decade of the 1960s, to begin with, which turned so many (not all) social norms on their heads. Many people, men and women, stopped wearing hats, for example, and the general rules of everyday street wear went south.  Were it not for the Red Hat Society, a woman wearing a purple dress and a red hat would go completely unnoticed these days

The Red Hat Society was inspired by Jenny Joseph’s poem, but its aims are hardly the same. First, the privilege of wearing a red hat begins at age 50, not the retirement age for women in England in the 1960s which was 60. That’s the kind of age Jenny Joseph was thinking of — or older. Sue Ellen Cooper was imagining something quite different in the US of the late 1990s. She was looking at what was expected of women in their 50s at that time and balking. It’s true that Joseph’s and Cooper’s underlying philosophy is the same –  break the rules and have fun – but what breaking the rules looks like is rather different for each woman. The Red Hat Society is called a “dis-organization” but it looks pretty organized to me. Go to their website https://www.redhatsociety.com/ and you’ll find plenty of organization including a very extensive online store. Nonetheless, I imagine meetings for tea vary enormously from group to group. The thing is that I know full well as an anthropologist that every social rebellion, large or small, sooner or later gets codified and co-opted by the society it is rebelling against. If ONE old woman wears a red hat and a purple dress it could be considered eccentric; if tens of thousands of them do it, it’s another way of conforming. No matter; I’m sure the members have fun in their own way.

If you are going to break the rules, afternoon tea is a good place to start. I’ve talked about afternoon tea several times in my posts, including the annoying misuse of the term “high tea” for afternoon tea in North America. In England high tea (sometimes just referred to as “tea”) is a full meal, whereas afternoon tea consists of dainty sandwiches and little cakes, that was first popularized in Queen Victoria’s court as a stopgap between lunch at noon and dinner at 7. Regular working people (myself included) typically have a full meal after work, rather than having a tea time followed by a later dinner. In my family we referred to our evening meal as tea when I was growing up, and we had it at around 5 o’clock.

I suppose you could “eat three pounds of sausages at a go, Or only bread and pickle for a week” but Joseph’s more basic point is that you should eat what you want without respect for the standards of a healthy diet. When I was a schoolboy in England in the 1960s I was always the first home, and, because I was hungry I would often eat a tinned steak and kidney pudding plus toast and jam with clotted cream and some chocolate to tide me over until dinner time. Nowadays that would be a full meal for me, but when I was a teenager my stomach was bottomless.

So what are you going to have with your cup of tea this afternoon? Three pounds of sausages might be OK, or bread and pickles — or both. They would be unconventional enough for afternoon tea time. But your limit is your imagination. I’ll take steak and kidney pudding — only not tinned.

 

 

Nov 242013
 

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Today is the birthday (1806) of Rev. William Webb Ellis, an Anglican clergyman who is famous for allegedly being the inventor of Rugby football whilst a pupil at Rugby School. Webb Ellis’s name is firmly established in rugby union folklore and the William Webb Ellis Cup is presented to the winners of the Rugby World Cup.

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Webb Ellis was born in Salford, Lancashire (some sources say he was born in Manchester as Webb Ellis himself said he was born there in the 1851 census when he later moved to the city). He was the younger of two sons of James Ellis, an officer in the Dragoon Guards, and Ann Webb, whom James married in Exeter in 1804. After his father was killed at the Battle of Albuera in 1811, his mother decided to move to Rugby in Warwickshire so that William and his older brother Thomas could receive an education at Rugby School with no cost as a local foundationer (i.e. a pupil living within a radius of 10 miles of the Rugby Clock Tower). He attended the school from 1816 to 1826 and was recorded as being a good scholar and cricketer, although it was noted that he was “rather inclined to take unfair advantage at cricket.” The incident in which Webb Ellis supposedly caught the ball in his arms during a football match (which was allowed) and ran with it (which was not) is supposed to have happened in the latter half of 1823.

After leaving Rugby in 1826, he went to Brasenose College, Oxford, aged 20. He played cricket for his college, and for Oxford University against Cambridge University in a first-class match in 1827. He graduated with a BA in 1829 and received his MA in 1831. He entered the Church and became chaplain of St George’s Chapel, Albemarle Street, London (closed c.1909), and then rector of St. Clement Danes in The Strand. He became well known as a low church evangelical clergyman. In 1855, he became rector of Magdalen Laver in Essex. A picture of him (the only known portrait) appeared in the Illustrated London News in 1854, after he gave a particularly stirring sermon on the subject of the Crimean War.

He never married and died in the south of France in 1872, leaving an estate of £9,000, mostly to various charities. His grave in le cimetière du vieux château at Menton in Alpes Maritimes was rediscovered by Ross McWhirter (co-editor of Guinness World Records) in 1958, and has since been renovated by the French Rugby Federation.

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The sole source of the story of Webb Ellis running with the ball originates with Matthew Bloxam, a local antiquarian and former pupil of Rugby. On 10 October 1876, he wrote to The Meteor, the Rugby School magazine, that he had learnt from an unnamed source that the change from a kicking game to a handling game had “…originated with a town boy or foundationer of the name of Ellis, Webb Ellis”.

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On 22 December 1880, in another letter to The Meteor, Bloxam elaborates on the story:

A boy of the name Ellis – William Webb Ellis – a town boy and a foundationer . . . whilst playing Bigside at football in that half-year [1823], caught the ball in his arms. This being so, according to the then rules, he ought to have retired back as far as he pleased, without parting with the ball, for the combatants on the opposite side could only advance to the spot where he had caught the ball, and were unable to rush forward till he had either punted it or had placed it for some one else to kick, for it was by means of these placed kicks that most of the goals were in those days kicked, but the moment the ball touched the ground the opposite side might rush on. Ellis, for the first time, disregarded this rule, and on catching the ball, instead of retiring backwards, rushed forwards with the ball in his hands towards the opposite goal, with what result as to the game I know not, neither do I know how this infringement of a well-known rule was followed up, or when it became, as it is now, a standing rule.

Bloxham’s first account differed from his second one four years later. In his first letter, in 1876, Bloxham claimed that Webb Ellis committed the act in 1824. In his second letter, in 1880, Bloxham put the year as 1823.

The claim that Webb Ellis invented the game did not surface until four years after his death and doubts have been raised about the story since 1895, when it was first investigated by the Old Rugbeian Society. The sub-committee conducting the investigation was “unable to procure any first hand evidence of the occurrence.”

Among those giving evidence, Thomas Harris and his brother John, who had left Rugby in 1828 and 1832 respectively (i.e. after the alleged Webb Ellis incident) recalled that handling of the ball was strictly forbidden. Harris, who requested that he “not [be] quote[d] as an authority”, testified that Webb Ellis had been known as someone to take an “unfair advantage at football.” Harris, who would have been aged 10 years at the time of the alleged incident, did not claim to have been a witness to it, additionally, he stated that he had not heard the story of Webb Ellis’ creation of the game.

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Thomas Hughes (author of Tom Brown’s Schooldays) was asked to comment on the game as played when he attended the school (1834–1842). He is quoted as saying “In my first year, 1834, running with the ball to get a try by touching down within goal was not absolutely forbidden, but a jury of Rugby boys of that day would almost certainly have found a verdict of ‘justifiable homicide’ if a boy had been killed in running in.”

It has been suggested by Dunning and Sheard (2005) that it was no coincidence that this investigation was conducted in 1895, at a time when divisions within the sport led to a schism; the split into the sports of rugby league and rugby union. Dunning and Sheard suggest that the endorsement of a reductionist origin legend by the Rugbeians was an attempt to assert their school’s position and authority over a sport that they were losing control of.

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A plaque, erected in 1895, at Rugby School bears the inscription:

THIS STONE

COMMEMORATES THE EXPLOIT OF

WILLIAM WEBB ELLIS

WHO WITH A FINE DISREGARD FOR THE RULES OF FOOTBALL

AS PLAYED IN HIS TIME

FIRST TOOK THE BALL IN HIS ARMS AND RAN WITH IT

THUS ORIGINATING THE DISTINCTIVE FEATURE OF

THE RUGBY GAME

A.D. 1823

The 'Foul' That Started Rugby Football

Here is a description of tea time at Rugby from Tom Brown’s Schooldays when Tom is newly arrived:

“Tea’s directly after locking-up, you see,” said East, hobbling along as fast as he could, “so you come along down to Sally Harrowell’s; that’s our school-house tuck-shop—she bakes such stunning murphies, we’ll have a penn’orth each for tea; come along, or they’ll all be gone.”

Tom’s new purse and money burnt in his pocket; he wondered, as they toddled through the quadrangle and along the street, whether East would be insulted if he suggested further extravagance, as he had not sufficient faith in a pennyworth of potatoes. At last he blurted out,—

“I say, East, can’t we get something else besides potatoes? I’ve got lots of money, you know.”

“Bless us, yes, I forgot,” said East, “you’ve only just come. You see all my tin’s been gone this twelve weeks, it hardly ever lasts beyond the first fortnight; and our allowances were all stopped this morning for broken windows, so I haven’t got a penny. I’ve got a tick at Sally’s, of course; but then I hate running it high, you see, towards the end of the half, ’cause one has to shell out for it all directly one comes back, and that’s a bore.”

Tom didn’t understand much of this talk, but seized on the fact that East had no money, and was denying himself some little pet luxury in consequence. “Well, what shall I buy?” said he; “I’m uncommon hungry.”

“I say,” said East, stopping to look at him and rest his leg, “you’re a trump, Brown. I’ll do the same by you next half. Let’s have a pound of sausages, then; that’s the best grub for tea I know of.”

“Very well,” said Tom, as pleased as possible; “where do they sell them?”

“Oh, over here, just opposite;” and they crossed the street and walked into the cleanest little front room of a small house, half parlour, half shop, and bought a pound of most particular sausages; East talking pleasantly to Mrs. Porter while she put them in paper, and Tom doing the paying part.

From Porter’s they adjourned to Sally Harrowell’s, where they found a lot of School-house boys waiting for the roast potatoes, and relating their own exploits in the day’s match at the top of their voices. The street opened at once into Sally’s kitchen, a low, brick-floored room, with large recess for fire, and chimney-corner seats. Poor little Sally, the most good-natured and much enduring of womankind, was bustling about with a napkin in her hand, from her own oven to those of the neighbours’ cottages, up the yard at the back of the house. Stumps, her husband, a short, easy-going shoemaker, with a beery humorous eye and ponderous calves, who lived mostly on his wife’s earnings, stood in a corner of the room, exchanging shots of the roughest description of repartee with every boy in turn. “Stumps, you lout, you’ve had too much beer again to-day.” “‘Twasn’t of your paying for, then.”—”Stumps’s calves are running down into his ankles, they want to get to grass.” “Better be doing that, than gone altogether like yours,” &c. &c. Very poor stuff it was, but it served to make time pass; and every now and then Sally arrived in the middle with a smoking tin of potatoes, which were cleared off in a few seconds, each boy as he seized his lot running oft to the house with “Put me down two-penn’orth, Sally;” “Put down three-penn’orth between me and Davis,” &c. How she ever kept the accounts so straight as she did, in her head and on her slate, was a perfect wonder.

East and Tom got served at last, and started back for the School-house just as the locking-up bell began to ring; East on the way recounting the life and adventures of Stumps, who was a character. Amongst his other small avocations, he was the hind carrier of a sedan-chair, the last of its race, in which the Rugby ladies still went out to tea, and in which, when he was fairly harnessed and carrying a load, it was the delight of small and mischievous boys to follow him and whip his calves. This was too much for the temper even of Stumps, and he would pursue his tormentors in a vindictive and apoplectic manner when released, but was easily pacified by twopence to buy beer with.

The lower school-boys of the School-house, some fifteen in number, had tea in the lower-fifth school, and were presided over by the old verger or head-porter. Each boy had a quarter of a loaf of bread and pat of butter, and as much tea as he pleased; and there was scarcely one who didn’t add to this some further luxury, such as baked potatoes, a herring, sprats, or something of the sort; but few, at this period of the half-year, could live up to a pound of Porter’s sausages, and East was in great magnificence upon the strength of theirs. He had produced a toasting-fork from his study, and set Tom to toast the sausages, while he mounted guard over their butter and potatoes; “’cause,” as he explained, “you’re a new boy, and they’ll play you some trick and get our butter, but you can toast just as well as I.” So Tom, in the midst of three or four more urchins similarly employed, toasted his face and the sausages at the same time before the huge fire, till the latter cracked; when East from his watch-tower shouted that they were done; and then the feast proceeded, and the festive cups of tea were filled and emptied, and Tom imparted of the sausages in small bits to many neighbours, and thought he had never tasted such good potatoes or seen such jolly boys. They on their parts waived all ceremony, and pegged away at the sausages and potatoes, and, remembering Tom’s performance in goal, voted East’s new crony a brick. After tea, and while the things were being cleared away, they gathered round the fire, and the talk on the match still went on; and those who had them to show, pulled up their trousers and showed the hacks they had received in the good cause.

It is not difficult to make good sausages as long as you have the proper equipment. You will need a meat grinder with a nozzle attachment for stuffing the casings.  Once you get the hang of it you can make a marvelous variety of sausages from scraps and oddments. My favorite is lamb with rosemary and garlic.  Here is a recipe for a classic English banger, best served with mash and gravy.  Make sure the pork is fatty (about 20% fat), otherwise the sausages will be too dry when cooked.

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Classic English Bangers

Ingredients:

5 lbs ground pork
1 tsp ground white pepper
½ tsp ground ginger
½  sp sage
½ tsp mace
3 tbsps salt
3 ozs breadcrumbs

15’ – 18’ sausage casings

Instructions:

Chill the pork and then run it through the medium blade of a grinder. Mix in the other ingredients (except the casings) and run the mixture through again.  Chill.

Soak the casings for about 15 minutes in warm water, then run warm water through them.

Attach the filling nozzle to the grinder head and thread the casing on to it.  Tie off the end of the casing and start extruding the filling.  With a little practice you will get the knack of allowing the casing to flow off consistently so that the sausages are even in diameter. Leave a few inches of empty casing at the end to be able to tie it off in a knot.

You will end up with one long sausage. Twist the roll a couple of turns every 6” or so, to make individual sausages, twisting in the opposite direction each time.

Hang the sausages to dry on a clothes horse or rack for about an hour, then refrigerate or freeze until ready to use.  It pays to refrigerate them overnight to allow the flavors to marry.