Monday, May 31, 2004

31 May 2004

Happy Spring Bank Holiday, if you're in the UK; and happy Whit Monday, if not. This year, untypically, they both fall on the same day. Except for the Orthodox church, which uses a different calendar . . . .

Even without the differences between the Orthodox and western Christian churches, Whit Monday is very much a moveable feast, falling anywhere between 11 May and 14 June. This is why Ted Heath's government marked the 100th anniversary of the Whit Monday bank holiday in 1971 by abolishing it. In its place we got the spring bank holiday, which is always the last Monday in May. It is traditionally celebrated in England with Morris dancing, Whit walks, well dressing, traffic jams and rain.

Why won't Whit Monday keep still? For the same reason that Easter refuses to occupy the same place in the calendar two years running.

Easter, for the benefit of those who missed the Ecumenical Council of Nicea in AD 325, is defined as the first Sunday after the full moon (the paschal moon) that occurs on, or is the first after, the spring equinox (which is taken to be 21 March, using the Gregorian calendar, by the western church). If the paschal moon occurs on a Sunday, Easter is deemed to be the following Sunday.

With me so far? Good, the next bit is easy.

Whit Monday is the day after Whit Sunday; and Whit Sunday is the seventh Sunday after Easter. Which day it falls on each year depends upon which day is Easter.

So what's it all about? It's unlikely that more than one person in a hundred can tell you; and those that can are as likely to be talking in tongues as in a language that the rest of us can understand.

Whit Sunday, you see, is Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit is supposed to have descended on the apostles, causing them all to speak in tongues. In the Jewish calendar, it's a festival celebrated on the 50th day (seven weeks) after the second day of the Passover; and is generally reckoned to mark the occasion when Moses received the ten commandments, 50 days after the Jews left Egypt.

As for the 'Whit' bit, that comes from 'White', which is what newly baptised Christians used to wear to church between Easter and Pentecost.


Sunday, May 30, 2004

30 May 2004

According to Mark Twain, "She is easily and by far the most extraordinary person the human race has ever produced." Convicted of heresy and burnt at the stake on 30 May 1431, the most famous transvestite in history was declared innocent 25 years later by the Inquisition and eventually elevated to the sainthood by Pope Benedict XV in 1920.

Not to be confused with Noah's wife (think about it), Joan of Arc was condemned because of her 'voices'. These, she said, belonged to the Archangel Michael (him again) and Saints Catherine and Margaret, all of whom urged her into battle against the English, who were then about nine-tenths of the way through their 100 Years War with France.

'Do you know if Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret hate the English?' her inquisitors asked her at her trial.

'They love what God loves: they hate what God hates,' Joan replied.

'Does God hate the English?'

'Of the love or hate God may have for the English, or of what He will do for their souls, I know nothing; but I know quite well that they will be put out of France, except those who shall die there, and that God will send victory to the French against the English.'

And so He did, as Liverpool, Newcastle, Chelsea and even Arsenal, in their subversive way, can all testify this season. And that's before we get on to the rugby . . . .

So close the wall up with our English dead. Crying God for Harry, England and Saint George is no use now. Just enjoy Whit Sunday – and hope Saint Michael and his heavenly hosts are on our side in Portugal.


Saturday, May 29, 2004

29 May 1984

Still on a mining theme, today is the 20th anniversary of the worst clashes between police and pickets at the Orgreave coking plant, near Sheffield, during the 1984/85 miners' strike.

The patron saint of the police (who they share with many other groups, ranging from ambulance drivers to greengrocers) is the Archangel Michael, who celebrates his feast day on my birthday. (No cards, cash only please.) Michael's main claim to fame is as leader of the army of God against Satan's rebels.

There were those who tried to portray miners' leader Arthur Scargill as a modern-day Satan in 1984. I'll leave you to guess whether I was one of those who worshipped at the altar of the Blessed Margaret of Thatcher, but since I come from Stoke, a city built on pots, pits and steel but with neither of the last two left by the time she'd finished with us, the answer to that might be a bit obvious.


Friday, May 28, 2004

28 May 2004

There are at least six patron saints of miners, including Cornwall's St Piran, whose first three converts on his arrival from Ireland were a badger, a fox and a bear. (Jealous of his healing powers, the Irish had thrown him into the sea with a millstone around his neck, but he used it as float to carry him to Cornwall.)

There's also Joseph of Arimathea, the wealthy tin mine-owner who provided Jesus's tomb and is said to have brought the Holy Grail to Glastonbury. There's still a thorn tree growing there that's supposed to be descended from the one that grew when he stuck his staff in his ground. It's meant to flower at Christmas.

None of these saints has saved as many miners' lives as Sir Humphry Davy, however. His safety lamp, invented in 1815, burned safely even in the presence of methane and other inflammable gases. Changes in the brightness and colour of the flame warned of the build-up of dangerous gases, while heavy concentrations of carbon dioxide would extinguish the flame. Countless thousands of miners were saved from early deaths by this simple innovation, which Davy did not patent – leading to George Stephenson, of locomotive engine fame, to falsely claim the invention as his own.

Davy's death on 28 May 1829 is as worthy of a feast day as any number of saints, as any miner will tell you.


Thursday, May 27, 2004

27 May 2004

A horror double-bill today, courtesy of the indefatigable Chris Walker, whose researches are truly Calvinist (died today, 1564) in determination and extent. (John Calvin died a virtual skeleton at 55, having allowed himself only one frugal meal a day despite his unceasing labours. Be sure to feed your body, Chris, as well as the spirit.)

The double-bill consists of Peter Cushing, born on 26 May 1913, and Christopher Lee, born on 27 May 1922. They may have been no saints, but Chris W's (selective) listings of the deadly duo's contributions to the horror genre show the hard-labouring Calvinist streak in this pair too.

Peter Cushing

Monster Island (1981) .... William T. Kolderup
Shock waves (1977) .... SS Commandant
Uncanny, The (1977) .... Wilbur Gray
Land of the Minotaur (1976) .... Baron Corofax
Ghoul, The (1975) .... Doctor Lawrence
Legend of the Werewolf (1975) .... Paul Cataflanque
Tender Dracula (1975) .... MacGregor
Beast Must Die, The (1974) .... Dr. Christopher Lundgren
Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974) .... Baron Frankenstein
Madhouse (1974) .... Herbert Flay
Satanic Rites of Dracula, The (1974) .... Professor Larimer Van Helsing
Shatter (1974) .... Paul Rattwood
Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, The (1974) .... Prof. Van Helsing
And Now the Screaming Starts! (1973) .... Dr. Pope
Creeping Flesh, The (1973) .... Emmanuel Hildern
From Beyond the Grave (1973) .... Antique Shop Proprietor
Asylum (1972) .... Smith
Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972) .... Ship's Captain
Horror Express (1972) .... Dr. Wells
Nothing But the Night (1972) .... Sir Mark Ashley
Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) .... Professor Van Helsing
Fear in the Night (1972) .... Michael Carmichael
Tales from the Crypt (1972) .... Arthur Edward Grimsdyke ("Poetic Justice")
Incense for the Damned (1972) .... Dr. Walter Goodrich
I, Monster (1971) .... Frederick Utterson
Twins of Evil (1971) .... Gustav Weil
House That Dripped Blood, The (1970) .... Philip Grayson (segment "Waxworks")
One More Time (1970) (uncredited) .... Dr. Frankenstein
Vampire Lovers, The (1970) .... General von Spielsdorf
Scream and Scream Again (1969) .... Benedek
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969) .... Baron Victor Frankenstein
Blood Beast Terror, The (1967) .... Inspector Quennell
Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) .... Baron Frankenstein
Night of the Big Heat (1967) .... Dr. Vernon Stone
Some May Live (1967) (TV) .... John Meredith
Torture Garden (1967) .... Lancelot Canning
Daleks' Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1966) .... Dr. Who
Island of Terror (1966) .... Dr. Brian Stanley
Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) (uncredited) (archive footage) .... Doctor Van Helsing
Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965) .... Dr. Who
Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965) .... Dr. Sandor Schreck
Skull, The (1965) .... Dr. Christopher Maitland
She (1965) .... Maj. Horace Holly
Gorgon, The (1964) .... Dr. Namaroff
Evil of Frankenstein, The (1964) .... Baron Frankenstein
Man Who Finally Died, The (1962) .... Dr. von Brecht
Brides of Dracula, The (1960) .... Dr. Van Helsing
Flesh and the Fiends, The (1959) .... Dr. Robert Knox
Mummy, The (1959) .... John Banning
Hound of the Baskervilles, The (1959) .... Sherlock Holmes
Revenge of Frankenstein, The (1958) .... Dr. Victor Stein aka Frankenstein
Violent Playground (1958) .... The Priest
Dracula (1958) .... Doctor Van Helsing
Abominable Snowman, The (1957) .... Dr. John Rollason
Curse of Frankenstein, The (1957) .... Baron Victor Frankenstein

Christopher Lee:

Sleepy Hollow (1999) .... Magistrate
Tale of the Mummy (1998) .... Sir Richard Turkel
Flesh and Blood: The Hammer Heritage of Horror (1994).... Himself/Narrator
Curse III: Blood Sacrifice (1991) .... Doctor Pearson
Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990) .... Doctor Catheter
Mask of Murder (1985) .... Chief Rich
Howling II (1985) .... Stefan Crosscoe
House of the Long Shadows (1983) .... Corrigan/Roderick Grisbane
Nutcracker Fantasy (1979) .... Uncle Drosselmeyer/Street Singer/Puppeteer/Watchmaker
Return from Witch Mountain (1978) .... Dr. Victor Gannon
Meatcleaver Massacre (1977) .... On-screen narrator
Dracula père et fils (1977) .... Dracula
... aka Dracula and Son (1977) (USA)
Keeper, The (1976) .... The Keeper
To the Devil a Daughter (1976) .... Father Michael Rayner
Vem var Dracula? (1975) .... Himself/Vlad Tepes/Count Dracula
... aka Dracula's Transylvania (1975)
... aka Legend of Dracula, The (1975)
Dark Places (1974) .... Dr. Mandeville
Satanic Rites of Dracula, The (1974) .... Count Dracula
Creeping Flesh, The (1973) .... James Hildern
Wicker Man, The (1973) .... Lord Summerisle
Horror Express (1972) .... Professor Alexander Saxton
Nothing But the Night (1972) .... Colonel Charles Bingham
... aka Devil's Undead, The (1972)
... aka Resurrection Syndicate, The (1976) (USA: reissue title)
Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) .... Count Dracula
I, Monster (1971) .... Dr. Charles Marlowe/Edward Blake
House That Dripped Blood, The (1970) .... John Reid (segment "Sweets to the Sweet")
One More Time (1970) (uncredited) .... Dracula
Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) .... Dracula
Vampir-Cuadecuc (1970) .... Himself/Count Dracula
... aka Vampir (1970)
Scars of Dracula (1970) .... Dracula
Conde Drácula, El (1970) .... Count Dracula
... aka Bram Stoker's Count Dracula (1970)
... aka Nights of Dracula, The (1970)
Night of the Blood Monster (1969) .... Lord George Jeffreys
Oblong Box, The (1969) .... Dr. J. Neuhart
Scream and Scream Again (1969) .... Fremont
Magic Christian, The (1969) .... Ship's vampire
Folterkammer des Dr. Fu Man Chu, Die (1969) .... Fu Manchu
... aka Fu Manchu's Castle (1969)
... aka Torture Chamber of Fu Manchu, The (1969)
Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968) .... Morley
Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968) .... Dracula
Blood of Fu Manchu, The (1968) .... Fu Manchu
Devil Rides Out, The (1968) .... Duc de Richleau
Five Golden Dragons (1967) .... Dragon #4 !!!!!!!
Night of the Big Heat (1967) .... Godfrey Hanson
... aka Island of the Burning Damned (1971) (USA)
Schlangengrube und das Pendel, Die (1967) .... Count Frederic Regula, Graf von Andomai
... aka Blood Demon, The (1967) (USA)
... aka Castle of the Walking Dead (1967)
Theatre of Death (1967) .... Philippe Darvas
... aka Blood Fiend (1967) (USA)
... aka Female Fiend, The (1967)
Vengeance of Fu Manchu, The (1967) .... Fu Manchu
Brides of Fu Manchu, The (1966) .... Fu Manchu
Psycho-Circus (1966) .... Gregor
... aka Circus of Terror (1966)
Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966) .... Grigori Rasputin
Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) .... Dracula
Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965) .... Franklyn Marsh
Skull, The (1965) .... Sir Matthew Phillips
Face of Fu Manchu, The (1965) .... Dr. Fu Manchu
She (1965/I) .... Billali
Castello dei morti vivi, Il (1964) .... Count Drago
... aka Crypt of Horror (1964)
Gorgon, The (1964) .... Prof. Karl Meister
Devil-Ship Pirates, The (1964) .... Captain Robeles
Doctor from Seven Dials (1962) .... Resurrection Joe
Pirates of Blood River, The (1962) .... Captain LaRoche
Devil's Agent, The (1961) .... Baron von Staub
Terror of the Tongs, The (1961) .... The Tong Leader
City of the Dead, The (1960) .... Professor Alan Driscoll
Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, The (1960) .... Paul Allen
Man Who Could Cheat Death, The (1959) .... Dr. Pierre Gerard
Mummy, The (1959) .... Kharis, the Mummy
Hound of the Baskervilles, The (1959) .... Sir Henry Baskerville
Dracula (1958) .... Count Dracula
Curse of Frankenstein, The (1957) .... The Creature


Wednesday, May 26, 2004

26 May 2004

By one of those quirks of the historical record, we know that St Augustine, who came to Canterbury to convert the English to Christianity, died on this day – but we don't know in which year. It was probably 605, so no doubt Canterbury's hotels are already taking bookings from American evangelists hoping to repeat the trick for the 1400th anniversary.

A lesser-known saint who shares 26 May as his feast day is Quadratus the Apologist, thought to have been bishop of Athens and to have died around 130. The term 'apologist' didn't used to have the derogatory associations that it does today. An apologist was simply someone who argued in defence of something, especially Christianity.

Quadratus's Apology for Christianity, then, had nothing to do with saying sorry. Indeed, it was a statement of defiance in the face of persecutions by the Roman emperor, Hadrian. Only a fragment has survived, however – and that only as part of someone else's writing two centuries later – so we'll never know for sure how convincing an apology it was.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

25 May 2004

Happy 21st birthday today to Return of the Jedi, part three of the Star Wars Trilogy or episode six of the whole caboodle. Return of the Jedi grossed $527.7 million from its three releases (1983, 1985 and 1997) – not a bad return on the $32.5 million production budget.

The Star Wars films also gave us Britain's fourth-biggest religion, according to the 2001 Census. An internet campaign claimed that Jedi would have to be recognised as an official religion if 10,000 people declared themselves as followers. This wasn't true, but it didn't stop 390,000 people (0.7% of the UK population) stating Jedi as their religion in the Census. There were similar campaigns in Canada, where 20,000 people declared themselves believers in the Gospel according to St Luke Skywalker, Australia, where 70,000 did so, and various other countries too.


Monday, May 24, 2004

Bob Dylan's birthday, so I couldn't let it pass without a compilation CD for the occasion.

The Times They Are A'Changin -- Tracy Chapman or Nina Simone
It Ain't Me Babe -- Johnny Cash
I Pity The Poor Immigrant -- Richie Havens
This Wheel's On Fire -- Siouxsie and The Banshees (as well as Jools)
Mr. Tambourine Man -- The Byrds, of course
Masters Of War -- The Flying Pickets
Blowin' In The Wind -- Sam Cooke or Stevie Wonder
It's All Over Now Baby Blue -- Them featuring a very young Van Morrison
Just Like A Woman -- Joe Cocker or Richie Havens (or Nina Simone again)
I'll Be Your Baby Tonight -- Marianne Faithfull
Lay Lady Lay -- Isaac Hayes (for the sheer smooth of it) or the Everly Brothers
Chimes Of Freedom -- Bruce Springsteen or Youssou N'Dour
If You Gotta Go, Go Now -- Fairport Convention rather than Manfred Mann
The Mighty Quinn -- Manfred Mann
It's All Over Now, Baby Blue -- Grateful Dead
Tomorrow Is A Long Time -- Elvis Presley
One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later) -- The Boo Radleys
Girl From The North Country -- Rod Stewart
I Shall Be Released -- Chrissie Hynde
Highway 61 Revisited -- Johnny Winter
Knockin' On Heaven's Door -- Eric Clapton

And one for everyone who remembers the eighties:
Maggie’s Farm -- The Specials

24 May 2004

Now pay attention because this can get a little complicated.

Today is Empire Day, as in British Empire Day. Or at least it is in parts of what used to be the empire. In Britain itself it was renamed Commonwealth Day in 1959 – until they moved Commonwealth Day to the second Monday in March. This didn't stop the Canadians, among others, from continuing to celebrate it as Victoria Day (or ''Fête des Patriotes'' in Quebec), which is what it was called originally when it marked the birthday of Queen Victoria.

Victoria was unusual among recent British monarchs in actually celebrating her birthday on her birthday. Her immediate predecessors, George IV and William IV, celebrated theirs on 4 June, the birthday of George III, while her immediate successor, Edward VII, who was born on 9 November, held his on Victoria Day.

George V celebrated his birthday on the actual date, 3 June, except when it fell on a Sunday, when he delayed it for a day. George VI liked this time of year, so he also held his birthday celebrations in early June, even though he was born on 14 December. The current queen continues the June tradition, although she was born in April. Except in Canada, that is, where the queen's birthday is officially today.

Empire Day, incidentally, was chosen as the day on which to introduce conscription in Britain in 1916. The British Legion was formed on the same day in 1921. And Mick Jagger, who's since accepted a knighthood from the queen, was done for drugs, along with Marianne Faithful, on this day in 1968.


Sunday, May 23, 2004

23 May 2004

It's not every day that sees the foundation of a new religion, but today marks the 160th anniversary of one of the world's youngest, the Bahá'í faith. I'll let it speak for itself.

The Promulgation of Universal Peace, page 138


This is 23 May, the anniversary of the message and Declaration of the Báb. It is a blessed day and the dawn of manifestation, for the appearance of the Báb was the early light of the true morn, whereas the manifestation of the Blessed Beauty, Bahá'u'lláh, was the shining forth of the sun. Therefore, it is a blessed day, the inception of the heavenly bounty, the beginning of the divine effulgence. On this day in 1844 the Báb was sent forth heralding and proclaiming the Kingdom of God, announcing the glad tidings of the coming of Bahá'u'lláh and withstanding the opposition of the whole Persian nation. Some of the Persians followed Him. For this they suffered the most grievous difficulties and severe ordeals. They withstood the tests with wonderful power and sublime heroism. Thousands were cast into prison, punished, persecuted and martyred. Their homes were pillaged and destroyed, their possessions confiscated. They sacrificed their lives most willingly and remained unshaken in their faith to the very end. Those wonderful souls are the lamps of God, the stars of sanctity shining gloriously from the eternal horizon of the will of God.

There's a history of the Bahá'í at: http://www.planetbahai.org/articles/2000/ar052000a.html


Saturday, May 22, 2004

22 May 2004

No one sang to St Godric's verse yesterday, so I'm sulking. Today's offering is from Chris Walker, who deserves a little encouragement after Swindon's defeat at the hands of Brighton on Thursday. (Football on a Thursday, I ask you. Is nothing sacred?)

Today is the feast day of St John Forest, Catherine of Aragon’s confessor, who was sentenced to death for refusing the oath acknowledging Henry VIII's primacy in spiritual matters. He was first hanged and then burned to death on 22 May 1538 at Smithfield, London. At this display of (literal) overkill, a wooden statue of St Derfel, taken from a local church, was used in the fire. This supposedly fulfilled a local prophecy that the statue's burning would destroy a forest.

Never let it be said that Henry VIII didn't have a sense of humour . . .


Friday, May 21, 2004

21 May 2004

Chris Walker, of the Other Place, tells me that today some people celebrate the feast of St Eugene de Mazenod. Yes, the Simpsons actually have their own patron Saint as St Eugene is the patron of dysfunctional families . . .

Alternatively, 21 May is St Godric of Fichlane's feast day.

He was, by all accounts, a drunken brawler, a conman, a womaniser and, in the description of one contemporary document, a 'pirate'. St Godric of Finchale (1069-1170) converted to Christianity after a visit to Lindisfarne and lived as a hermit for nearly 60 years, during which time he went barefoot everywhere as a penance for his former sins.

Godric was a mystic visionary and the author of some of the earliest surviving English lyric poetry, which came to him during his visions. And since I know you all like nothing better than a rousing sing-along, here are the words to what is almost certainly the oldest known song about Santa Claus, St Godric's Sainte Nicholaes.

Sainte Nicolaes Godes drud
Tymbre us faire scone us
At thi burth at thi bare
Sainte Nicolaes bring us wel thare

Which translates roughly as:

Saint Nicholas God's darling
Build us fair polish us
At thy birth at thy bier
Saint Nicholas bring us well there.

Altogether now!


Thursday, May 20, 2004

20 May 2004

Where would we be without parthogenesis? Well, there'd be no Virgin Mary for a start, and no Jesus either. Parthogenesis, for those who don't know their Greek, means 'virgin birth' and the man who established its existence in female aphids died on this day in 1793.

Charles Bonnet, a Swiss naturalist, is also credited with being one of the first people to use the term 'evolution' in a scientific context. He believed that the female of a species carried an infinite number of miniature beings within her, and that these were able to survive cataclysmic events such as the biblical Flood.

In his book, La Palingénésie philosophique (Philosophical palingesis, or Ideas on the past and future states of living beings), published in 1770, Bonnet argued that each great global disaster produces an evolutionary leap forward. The next one would result in minerals becoming plants, plants becoming animals, animals turning into intelligent beings and humans turning into angels.

Far fetched? They said that about virgin births too.


Wednesday, May 19, 2004

19 May 2004

Chris Walker, of the Other Place, suggests that yesterday I might have opted for St Leonard Murialdo, whose feast day falls on 18 May.

'Supported the Catholic Workers Union. Established a national federation to improve the level of Italian journalism. He was dubbed a socialist for advocating an eight-hour work day in 1885,' writes Chris.

All of which sounds promising, as does Leonard's work with boys who were 'rich only in ignorance, unruliness and vice' in Turin. 'Poor and abandoned: these are the two essential requirements for a young man to become one of ours,' he wrote. 'And the poorer and more abandoned he is, the more he is one of ours.'

I'm not sure what to make of St Leonard's Spiritual Testament, however, which reveals the power of the Catholic guilt complex in all its terrible glory. A large chunk of it is about what a terrible sinner he was, when he obviously wasn't. Racked by remorse over the most minor transgressions, his account of one of his 'sins' will serve as example for the rest.

'I remember once, while I was playing a game,' Leonard writes, 'I lost the ball and blurted out the blasphemy: "May God be damned!"' He expresses astonishment that 'the good Lord did not strike me down on the spot'. What he'd have done if he'd uttered the 'c' word defies description.

Chris Walker also supplies the information that on 18 May 1955, the first Wimpy Bar opened in London, 'beginning the fast-food invasion'. Watch out, then, for some tacky 50th-anniversary Wimpyburger celebrations this time next year.

Wimpy didn't start any invasions, though. Although it took its name from Popeye's hamburger-loving mate, J Wellington Wimpy, it was a British company, so it wasn't invading anywhere. And unlike the US hamburger chains its branches are actually allowed to use local suppliers for some of their food.

As for today, I offer you Albinus Flaccus Alcuinus, or Alcuin of York, who died 1200 years ago today. One of the greatest scholars of his age, among much else he developed the Carolingian miniscule script, on which modern representations of the Roman alphabet are based. Most of the surviving copies of the works of the ancient Greek mathematicians were made in this script.

It's difficult to improve on Alcuin's own description of his life: 'In the morning, at the height of my powers, I sowed the seed in Britain, now in the evening when my blood is growing cold, I am still sowing in France, hoping both will grow, by the grace of God, giving some the honey of the holy scriptures, making others drunk on the old wine of ancient learning.'


Tuesday, May 18, 2004

18 May 2004

Roll out the barrel today, if you will, for Saint Theodotus, patron saint of innkeepers, and the seven virgins of Ancyra (Ankara), martyred in 304. The improbable proximity of a publican and chastity has got to be worth a sainthood or seven ....


Monday, May 17, 2004

17 May 2004

As a postscript to yesterday's perambulations, W&J, of the Other Place, inform me that on 16 May 1971, Saint John of Lennon refused to talk to Michael Parkinson about the Beatles unless Parky climbed into a sack. That's my excuse for imparting two pieces of Lennonabilia that I know you can't live without.

First, it was on this day in 1967 that BBC2's Man Alive programme (at 8.05pm, since you ask) broadcast a 30-minute documentary entitled 'What is a happening?' It featured a real-life happening, the '14-hour Technicolour Dream', which took place in London a few weeks earlier and which John Lennon just happened to have attended. Unfortunately, the Technicolour Dream was only shown in black and white.

And second, it was on this day 21 years later that John Lennon's Shaved Fish CD (first released on 24 October 1975) was reissued. The original reissue was withdrawn because of 'problems with sound quality' and is now, inevitably, a collector's item.

Finally, by way of one of those strange and serendipitous coincidences, I bring you the fact that today is Norway's national day. (Of course, you'll know this already if you're Norwegian.) And John Lennon was the author of that plaintive young man's ballad . . . Norwegian Wood.

Altogether now:

I once had a girl,
Or should I say,
She once had me.

She showed me her room,
Isn't it good?
Norwegian wood.

She asked me to stay and she told me to sit anywhere.
So I looked around and I noticed there wasn't a chair.

I sat on the rug,
Biding my time,
Drinking her wine.

We talked until two,
And then she said,
It's time for bed.

She told me she worked in the morning and started to laugh.
I told her I didn't and crawled out to sleep in the bath.

And, when I awoke,
I was alone,
This bird had flown.

So, I lit a fire,
Isn't it good,
Norwegian wood.


Sunday, May 16, 2004

16 May 2004
St Brendan the Navigator's Day

Of all the many missionary-monks who came out of Ireland in that great burst of evangelical zeal after the Christian conversion, none was so famous -- or well travelled -- as St Brendan the Navigator. Not even St Patrick could match the man who might possibly have sailed to America more than 900 years before Colombus, and whose adventures included discovering a sea monster the size of an island ‘full of herbage and of wide extent’; birds that sang the 64th psalm in celebration of Easter; ‘crystals that rose up to the sky’ (icebergs?); and a place where they were ‘pelted with flaming, foul smelling rocks by the inhabitants of a large island on their route’ (a volcano).

You can read Nauigatio sancti Brendani abbatis (The Voyage of St Brendan the Abbot) online here:

The Voyage of St Brendan the Abbot

Or you can sing along with me with Christy Moore's version right here and now:

St. Brendan's Voyage

A boat sailed out of Brandon in the year of 501
'Twas a damp and dirty mornin' Brendan's voyage it began.
Tired of thinnin' turnips and cuttin' curley kale
When he got back from the creamery he hoisted up the sail.
He ploughed a lonely furrow to the north, south, east and west
Of all the navigators, St, Brendan was the best.

'Is it right or left for Gibraltar?'
'What tack do I take for Mizen Head?'
'I'd love to settle down near Ventry Harbour,'
St. Brendan to his albatross he said.

When he ran out of candles he was forced to make a stop,
He tied up in Long Island and put America on the map.
Did you know that Honolulu was found by a Kerryman,
Who went on to find Australia then China and Japan.
When he was touchin' 70, he began to miss the crack,
Turnin' to his albatross he sez 'I'm headin' back'.

To make it fast he bent the mast and built up mighty steam.
Around Terra del Fuego and up the warm Gulf Stream,
He crossed the last horizon, Mount Brandon came in sight
And when he cleared the customs into Dingle for the night.
Whe he got the Cordon Bleu he went to douse the drought,
He headed west to Kruger's to murder pints of stout

Around by Ballyferriter and up the Conor Pass
He freewheeled into Brandon, the saint was home at last.
The entire population came (281) the place was chock-a-block
Love nor money wouldn't get your nose inside the shop.
The fishermen hauled up their nets, the farmers left their hay,
Kerry people know that saints don't turn up every day.

Everythin' was goin' great 'til Brendan did announce
His reason for returnin' was to try and set up house.
The girls were flabbergasted at St Bredan's neck
To seek a wife so late in life and him a total wreck.
Worn down by rejection that pierced his humble pride,
'Begod,', sez Brendan, If I run I'll surely catch the tide'

Turnin' on his sandals he made straight for the docks
And haulin' up his anchor he cast off from the rocks.
As he sailed past Inishvickallaun there stood the albatross
'I knew you'd never stick it out, 'tis great to see you boss'
'I'm bailin' out,' sez Brendan, 'I badly need a break,
A fortnight is about as much as any aul' saint could take.'


Saturday, May 15, 2004

15 May 2004

Today, among many other things, is the United Nations International Day of Families (as proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in its resolution 47/237 of 20 September 1993, in case you were wondering). It's also Teachers' Day (or dia del profesor) in Colombia and South Korea. I wonder which country came up with the idea first . . .

More topically, unfortunately, it's Armed Forces Day in the USA. I'm really not sure how you'd like to mark this, but you may like to know that it's one of the days on which it's especially important to display the Stars and Stripes.

At least it is according to the US Flag Code (Title 36, United States Code, Chapter 10, as amended by Public Law 322, 103rd Congress, approved 13 September, 1994). Incredibly (I'm sure you're thinking), the US survived without Congress legislating for a Flag Code until June 1942. Now the code covers everything from using the flag as a ceiling covering (you mustn't) to where to wear it as a lapel pin (on the left near the heart).

The code is far too long to go into in detail, but for those of you who are unfamiliar with the etiquette, a few tips:

1. The flag is normally only displayed from sunrise to sunset. 'However, when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed 24 hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness.' (Section 6a)

2. 'The flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously.' (Section 6b)

3. 'The flag should not be displayed on days when the weather is inclement, except when an all weather flag is displayed.' (Section 6c)

4. 'No other flag or pennant should be placed above, or, if on the same level, to the right of the flag of the United States of America, except during church services conducted by naval chaplains at sea.' (Section 7c)

5. 'The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.' (Section 8b)

6. 'The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.' (Section 8g)

And finally:

'The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.'


Thursday, May 13, 2004

14 May 2004

Who is describing what here?

'A mighty and horrible monster, with the horns of a bull, the hind hoofs of a horse, the jaws of the kraken, the teeth and claws of a tiger, the tail of a cow, – all the evils of Pandora's box in his belly, – plague, pestilence, leprosy, purple blotches, fetid ulcers, and filthy sores, covering his body, – and an atmosphere of accumulated disease, pain, and death around him, has made his appearance in the world, and devours mankind, – especially poor, helpless infants; not by scores only, or hundreds, or thousands, but by hundreds of thousands.'

The answer is that it's Charles II's great grandson describing vaccination, and if ever there was an argument to say that the English Revolution should have cut off more than one Stuart head, this is it.

Ferdinand Smyth Stuart first came to public notice as the author of the pamphlet, Narrative or Journal of Captain John Ferdinand Dalziel Smith, of the Queen’s Rangers, taken Prisoner by the Rebels in 1775, which described his experiences at the hands of the fighters for American independence. Later, after a name change to establish his claim to the Stuart line, he turned his attention to vaccination, which he listed along with Evil and Napoleon Bonaparte as having been permitted by God 'to triumph for a short space of time, perhaps as the scourge and punishment of mankind for their sins'.

Napoleon is long since dead, as is Ferdinand Smyth Stuart, but evil and vaccination are still with us. Celebrate today, then, the 208th anniversary of that 'mighty and horrible monster', which Edward Jenner first practised on this day in 1796. And a special mention for 'a boy of the name of Phipps', who, as Jenner described it, 'was inoculated in the arm, from a pustule on the hand of a young woman, who was infected by her master's cows.' Thus from cow pox came an end to smallpox, from which the whole world has now been saved.

13 May 2004

St John the Silent's Day today, which should be reason enough for me to shut up.

First, however, a belated mention of the fact that yesterday (12 May) was the 10th anniversary of the British Labour Party leader John Smith's death. The greatest Prime Minister we never had?

And second, my thanks to W&J of the Other Place for the information that one of Florence Nightingale's former homes is now a school - 'for backward boys and forward girls' apparently.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Chris Walker of the Other Place makes a neat connection that is too good to be entirely true:

Ahh....Edward Lear.....famed for his Limericks...........
It just so happens that the Patron Saint of Limerick, St Diomma, also has his feast today 12th May. Of course Saint Patrick made sure that Diomma never saw a dragon

Nice one Chris, but not quite.

The patron saint of Limerick is Munchin - or, if you prefer a female, Ita, who once healed a man who'd had his head cut off. Diomma (or Díoma in Irish) is the patron saint of Kildimo, a village on the road between Limerick and Tralee. Its name comes from 'Cill Díoma', the church of St Díoma. There's no trace of Díoma's church now, but there's a picture of the new (1960s) Kildimo church here and there's one of the old Kildimo church here. The old one is now used as some sort of business premises.

St Díoma does have a connection with Munchin, though: he's supposed to be his uncle. This despite the fact that Munchin seems to have lived a century or so after Díoma died.
12 May 2004

Ian Dury, Katherine Hepburn, Florence Nightingale, Dante Gabriel Rossetti or Edward Lear?

Difficult choice but I couldn't resist the man who introduced us to the Fizzgiggious Fish (who always walked about upon stilts because he had no legs) and the Scroobious Snake (who always wore a Hat on his Head [with a capital Haitch, mind], for fear he should bite anybody).

And ne'er a mention of dragons anywhere in his work, believe it or not. Sensible man, Mr Lear, he didn't have time for any nonsense.

This is the sort of website, incidentally, that makes it worthwhile wading through all the rubbish on the web:

Edward Lear


Tuesday, May 11, 2004

11 May 2004

Today, I gather from W&J from the Other Place, is the anniversary of Massachusetts Bay Colony Puritans banning Christmas celebrations, because they were too Pagan, in 1659. Why did they do it in May?

As for saints' days, how about St John of Beverley, one-time archbishop of York and teacher of Bede? Never mind St George, never mind St Cuthbert (see previous entries), 'St John' was the common war cry of the North when it went into battle with the Scots. And (for the benefit of Liverpool fans everywhere) they weren't calling upon Ian ...

John was fonder of his monastic cell deep in the forest of the Deiri (a northern tribe of the time) than he was waging war. This is said to have been located by a river known in Saxon as Beofor-leag, or the lea of beavers - hence Beverley.

A further note on leprosy. It's the charity Lepra's 80th anniversary this year, and since there are 700,000 new leprosy cases diagnosed every year they've still got a lot to do. Details of their anniversary events are at:



Monday, May 10, 2004

10 May 2004

My nomination for today comes courtesy of Mahatma Gandhi, who said of him: 'The political and journalistic world can boast of very few heroes who compare with Father Damien of Molokai . . . it is worthwhile to look for the sources of such heroism.'

Anyone who's good enough for Gandhi is good enough for me, and Father Damien de Veuster, the Apostle of Molokai, is about as good as they get. (He was born Joseph but adopted the name of Damien later. Obviously the film 'The Omen' had not been made then.)

On 10 May 1873, aged 33, he stepped ashore on the island of Molokai, Hawaii, where an isolation colony had been set up for people with Hansen's disease (leprosy). The inhabitants were simply dumped there and left to cope as best they could. There were no medical facilities, nothing: it was a notorious hell-hole. 'Aole kanawai ma reia wahi', in this place there is no law, new arrivals were told.

Father Damien was there for 16 years, during which time he transformed the place. In 1884, he was diagnosed as having leprosy himself, but he continued his work until a month before his death in 1889.

He's one step short of a sainthood now, although it seems he may not have been altogether saintly throughout his life. Robert Louis Stevenson, of Treasure Island fame, was moved to write an Open Letter in his defence against his critics. But who cares? His 16 years on Molokai and the price he paid for his work speak for themselves.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Courtesy of Chris Walker, from the Other Place:

Today is the feast of St. Beatus.

"Beatus of Lungern (d. c. 112), A hermit who lived and died in a cave on Mount Beatenberg, Switzerland. His untrustworthy legendary story has him the apostle of Switzerland, baptised in England by St. Barnabas and ordained in Rome by St. Peter, who sent him to evangelise the Swiss. His cave became a place of pilgrimage and his legend has him fighting and slaying a dragon there. Saint's day: 9 May."
Source: Dictionary of Saints, by John J. Delaney, 1980.

Very apt name for today, Beatus, as Mr. Platt wends his way to his Sunday football game - the Saint's name will no doubt be echoing around the changing rooms at full time.
9 May 2004

Who'll give me St Gofor's Day? The Confessor of Llanover, Wales, should be the patron saint of the put-upon (go for this, go for that) but probably isn't. Maybe he's the patron saint of lost footballs. Go for . . . oh forget it.

Which reminds me of a bunch of kids who shouted to me through the fence of their playground once. 'Hey, mister, will you get our ball for us?' 'Sure, where is it?' 'At home, we didn't bring it with us, naaaaaaaaaaaah!'

Note to Northumbrians (and Swindonians): watch out for dragons.


Saturday, May 08, 2004

8 May 2004 (part 2)

A squalid compromise in Swindon, so a quick change of subject.

Despite everything else that is happening sportswise today, I couldn't let pass the 150th anniversary of the death of Robert Barclay Allardice. Known simply as 'Captain Barclay' in his day, he was also titled the 'Celebrated Pedestrian' in recognition of his many feats on his feet.

According to Chambers' Book of Days (1869):

'One of Captain Barclay's first notable feats – done, indeed, in his 15th year – was to walk, "fair toe and heel", six miles in an hour. In June 1801, when 22, he walked from his family seat of Ury, in Kincardineshire, to Boroughbridge, in Yorkshire, a distance of 300 miles, in five oppressively hot days. It was on 10 November in the same year, that he completed the performance of one of his most notable feats, walking 90 miles in 21 and a half successive hours, on a bet of 5,000 guineas. This he accomplished in an hour and eight minutes within time, without being greatly fatigued.

'Some years later, the task of walking 1,000 miles in 1,000 successive hours, a mile within each hour, in which many had before failed and none succeeded, was undertaken by Barclay, and about £100,000 was staked on the issue. He began his course at Newmarket at midnight on 1 June [1809], and duly finished it at 3pm on 12 July, amidst a vast concourse of spectators. Here, of course, the shortness of the periods of repose was what constituted the real difficulty. The pain undergone by the gallant captain is understood to have been excessive; he had often to be lifted after resting, yet his limbs never swelled, nor did his appetite fail; and, five days after, he was off upon duty in the luckless Walcheren expedition.'

Captain Barclay won and lost several fortunes during his lifetime – not surprisingly, since he was as big a gambler as he was in physique. One fact that Chambers' Book of Days neglects to mention, for example, is that before winning those 5,000 guineas for his 90-mile walk he lost bets of 1,000 and 2,000 guineas over the same distance. So much money was placed in side bets at these events (up to £40 million in today's equivalent at just one of them, according to one estimate) that Barclay would employ prizefighter bodyguards and carry two pistols in his belt to guarantee his safety.

One of his other feats involved single-handedly driving a stagecoach from London to Aberdeen, which he accomplished non-stop in a little under three days and three nights. Meanwhile, he also found the time to manage and train Tom Cribb, the bareknuckle boxing world champion in 1807 and 1809.

In between times, he thought nothing of a quick stroll before breakfast. In 1808, for example, he set off at 5am, covered 30 miles grouse shooting, took in a 60-mile round trip home in 11 hours, ate a hearty meal, walked a further 16 miles to go to a ball, got back home the next morning at 7am, and still spent the next day shooting.

The Captain died on 8 May 1854 a few days after being kicked by a horse. He was 76.

The Celebrated Captain Barclay: Sport, Money and Fame in Regency Britain by Peter Radford (Headline, 2002)

8 May 2004

VE Day, or 8 Mei, as the Germans prefer for some reason.

Overnight "terrible portents appeared over Northumbria, which sorely affrighted the inhabitants: there were exceptional flashes of lightning, and fiery dragons were seen flying through the air. There followed much wailing and gnashing of teeth, and neither monkeys, mayors nor MPs (nor any combination thereof) could preserve the citizens of Hartlepool from the calamity that was about to befall them."

Yes, folks, only a squalid compromise in Swindon can prevent today being forever commemorated as Victory in Rushden Day. The harrying of the heathen starts now. Come on the Vale!


Friday, May 07, 2004

7 May 2004

Today I give you Dien Bien Phu Day. Fifty years ago, on 7 May 1954, the Viet Minh guerillas, led by Ho Chi Minh, overran the French garrison at this village in north-west Vietnam. The victory brought to an end French colonial rule in Indo-China. American intervention helped to prolong the post-colonial agony for a further 21 years, destroying Laos and Cambodia in the process and costing millions of lives, including those of 64,000 US soldiers. I'll leave others to decide whether there are any lessons to be learnt elsewhere in the world in the present day.


Thursday, May 06, 2004

6 May 2004

Fil2, from the Other Place writes:

'The 5th May also marks the death of Napoleon in 1821 and the first publication of John Keats in 1816. Michael Palin was born this day in 1943 and Mary Astor in 1906.

May 6th is of course the bithday of Tony Blair (1953), Orson Welles (1915), Robespierre (1758) and Sigmund Freud (1856). It was also the day the Hindenburg crashed (1937). the 50th anniversary of the first 4 minute mile, the tenth anniversary of the opening of the Chunnel and marks the end of the Iran Embassy siege (1980) and the start of life imprisonment for the Moors Murderers (1967).'

I'm not sure who among that lot would be most deserving of a day in their honour, so with cancer sufferer and fundraiser Jane Tomlinson in mind (nominated by RonW), I hereby give you St Job the Sufferer's Day. It's 6 May in the Orthodox church and 10 May in the Catholic, but what's a few days among friends? (Try telling that to the Serbs and Croats .... )

Tsar Nicholas II, last tsar of all the Russias, was born on Job's Day in 1868, but his suffering came at the end of a life of unimaginable luxury and was largely self-inflicted. Job, in contrast, begs the question of why anyone would want to stay true to a God who arranges for all your worldy possessions to be stolen or destroyed, murders your children, inflicts you with a foul skin disease, causes you to fall out with your wife, turns you into a social outcast and gets your best friends to say it's all your fault.

All this, despite the fact that God says that Job is the most pious man who ever lived. God works in mysterious ways indeed . . .

Here's to Job the Sufferer's Day then.


Wednesday, May 05, 2004

5 May 2004

Karl Marx, 5 May 1818. Tammy Wynette, 5 May 1942. Need I say more?

It's a little-known fact that visiting Marxists now have to pay £2 to look at Karl's tomb at Highgate Cemetery, while at the same time the imperialist lackeys who run the place do their damnedest to stop people posing for pictures in front of it. That's like banning people from being photographed in front of the Horseguards: why else are they there?

Never fear, dialectical materialism will rise again, almost certainly in 14 years time, when the world should be just about ripe for some 200th-anniversary revivalism.

In the meantime, I give you Karl and Tammy's Day, in honour of the philosopher who taught the world that 'Philosophy is to the real world as masturbation is to sex' and the singer who taught the English-speaking part of it how to spell divorce.

By the way, for those of you who missed the lunar eclipse last night (I told you about heaven and earth meeting), there's another due on 28 October. It reaches totality at 02.23am in London.


Tuesday, May 04, 2004

4 May 2004

A very wet St Ethelred of Bardney's Day today.

Not to be confused with Ethelred the Unready, this Ethelred was that rare creature - an Anglo-Saxon king (of Mercia) who gave up his crown without a fight. He did this to become abbot of Bardney Abbey in 704.

Bardney was a Benedictine Abbey, to which the body of Oswald, king of Northumbria, was brought after his death at the battle of Masserfield in 642. The monks wouldn't open their doors at night, though, so Oswald's corpse was kept waiting outside. The next day they were told that a bright light had shone from his coffin all night long. Horrified that they had refused admission to the coffin of a saint, the monks removed all locks from the abbey doors and declared that in future all travellers must be allowed in at any time.

This was probably not a good idea. A couple of centuries later, in 870, the Vikings took advantage of the open-doors policy and slaughtered all the abbey's inhabitants.

Local people still ask 'Are you from Bardney?' when someone leaves a door open.

3 May 2004

Today, of course, being a bank holiday, should be the patron saint of DIY's day. Someone once told me that they pray to St Sebastian at Homebase, but I haven't had time to check that one (it might be B&Q).

What I do know is that the moon becomes full tonight and it's Wesak Day, the Buddha's birthday and a time when heaven and earth are connected. So raise your spirits in simultaneous celebration of his birthday, enlightenment and achievement of Nirvana, which are all marked on the same day.

If you're in Malaysia, you'll probably especially welcome the chance of some quiet meditation, since they're now into the third of four big days this weekend. Saturday was Labour Day, Sunday was Mohammed's birthday and today it's the Buddha's turn. Even the dragons are worn out.

2 May 2004

Mohammed's birthday, peace be upon him.

And also upon Swindon and Hartlepool, who were in the Div 2 play-offs at 20 to five yesterday afternoon, despite both losing. And then, without the aid of dragons, a miracle in Burslem! All down to the wire now.

1 May 2004

No time to tarry on this the most important day of the year. Forget about St George and dragons, May Day is for England – and the rest of the world as well. This is the day for spring, those darling buds, pagan rites – and workers everywhere. It's Joseph the Worker's saint's day, and the occasion when trade unionists and socialists (and 57 varieties of other lefties besides) dust off their banners and try to remember what they're supposed to be all about.

This year is the 120th anniversary of the proclamation of the demand for an eight-hour workday in the US by the Federation of Organised Trades and Labor Unions, which is what led to May Day's adoption as an international labour day. It's also the 696th anniversary of the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton, when England recognised Scotland as an independent nation and Edward III promised to return the Stone of Destiny to Scotland. It's a moot point whether it will take longer for workers to get an eight-hour working day than it took Scotland to get its stone back (700 years).

May Day greetings one and all!

30 April 2004

Today's a special day for Billy Bragg, Anna Sutton and all my friends from Barking - and it may come in handy for anyone who overdoes the wrong sort of spirits on a regular basis. A very happy St Erconwald's Day, then, to one and all.

Bishop of the East Sassenachs in the late 7th century, Erconwald died in Barking on 30 April 686, or 87, or 88, or 89, or 690, or 91, or 92, or 93 - no one's entirely sure. Or maybe it was 13 May, as he has has another feast day in two weeks - greedy bugger. That might explain why he's the patron saint of gout, which is why I thought he might come in handy for the heavy drinkers.

29 April 2004

A very happy St Dichu's Day, the first person converted by Patrick, before he expelled the serpents from Ireland (which explains why St Patrick, unlike St George, never had to go around killing dragons).

28 April 2004

Today I give you St Cronan of Roscrea's Day. Not to be confused with St Cronan of Clashmore (10 February), St Cronan of Clonmacnoise (18 July), St Cronan of Moville (7 September), or St Cronan of Sliabh Eibhlem (4 May).

St Cronan is associated with many miracles, including that performed by a monk named Dimma. For some reason, Dimma was only able to carry out one task, which had to be completed between sunrise and sunset on the same day. Cronan told him to transcribe the Gospels and Dimma didn't stop until he had finished. As you can imagine, this would have taken a lot longer than one day, especially since Irish monks of the time (early 7th century) didn't have word processors, preferring to produce elaborate illuminated manuscripts instead. Miraculously, however, the sun shone for 40 days and nights to enable Dimma to complete the task within the time allotted. There is no truth in the legend that the saintly monk went on to invent the rheostat.

27 April 2004

The Pope announced another six beatifications at the weekend, bringing the total under his papacy to 1,330. He has canonised a total of 476 saints. (You need one miracle for a beatification, two for a sainthood.)

So today I thought I'd wish you all a very happy St Lawrence Nguyên Van Huong's Day. He was one of 117 'Martyrs of Vietnam' canonised by the Pope in 1988.

26 April 2004

Today, I wish you all a very happy St Exuerentia's Day, of whom we know bugger-all. The perfect patron saint for people who live in places like Bala, in other words.

(Actually we do know that Exuerentia was a Benedictine nun, that her relics are at Troyes and that she died of natural causes – not not as a result of being fed to dragons.)

25 April 2004

A very happy St Mark's Day to everyone, especially Ron from Birkenhead. As well as being the author of the earliest Gospel, St Mark is also the patron saint of lawyers, prisoners and glaziers, all of which may be of special relevance to Birkenhead on a Sunday morning.

He's also the patron saint of lions and is traditionally represented as a winged lion. A lion, note - not a dragon.

24 April 2004

A very happy St Ivo's Day to you all, this fine spring morning.

St Ivo was a Persian archbishop and Christian missionary, who came to England in the 7th century and lived as a hermit in what is now St Ives, Huntingdonshire. He gave his name to the town and died about 660 without killing any dragons.

Incidentally, if ever you meet a man with seven wives while on your way to St Ives, make sure you don't confuse St Ives, Huntingdonshire, with St Ives, Cornwall. The latter gets its name from another Saint Ives (or Eia or Ia or Hia). The Cornwall one is a she, best known for sailing to Cornwall from Ireland on a leaf.

23 April 2004

Bah! Humbug! St George's Day and the English are trying to reclaim their patron saint's day and flag from the British National Party and other assorted nutcases, Nazis and chauvinist reactionaries. I can't say that I'm over-enthused by the thought of celebrating a mythical dragon-slayer's day. I might be 'English', but my national identity is British, my ethnic identity is mixed and my racial (and preferred) identity is human.

Never mind. Every day is special to someone, so raise a cheer with me, if you will, to the patron saint of England. And of syphilis, herpes, the plague, leprosy and other skin diseases. That's in addition to Beirut, Catalonia, Greece, Canada, Germany, Malta, Moscow, Portugal, Istanbul and Palestine. Oh yes, and the Boy Scouts.

Now what excuse have we got for celebration on every other day of the year?


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