History for the Rest of Us

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens

Nov 30, 2012

1812 – 1870 Early Years Charles Dickens was born at Landport, now a great town, but then a little suburb of Portsmouth, or Portsea, lying half a mile outside of the town walls. The date of his birth was Friday, February 7, 1812. His father was John Dickens, a clerk in the navy pay-office, and at that time attached to the Portsmouth dockyard. The familiarity which the novelist shows with sea-ports and sailors is not, however, due to his birthplace, because his father, in the year 1814, was recalled to London, and in 1816 went to Chatham. They still show the room in the dockyard where the elder Dickens worked, and where his son often came to visit him. The family lived in Ordnance Place, Chatham, and the boy was sent to a school kept in Gibraltar Place, New Road, by one William Giles. As a child he is said to have been a great reader, and very early began to attempt original writing. In 1821, Charles being then nine years of age, the family fell into trouble; reforms in the Admiralty deprived the father of his post, and the greater part of his income. They had to leave Chatham and removed to London, where a mean house in a shabby street of Camden Town received them. But not for long. The unfortunate father was presently arrested for debt and consigned to the Marshalsea, and Charles, then only ten years of age, and small for his age, was placed in a blacking factory at Hungerford Market, where all he could do was to put the labels on the blacking-bottles, with half a dozen rough and rude boys. The degradation and misery of this occupation sunk deep into the boy’s soul. He could never dare to speak of this time; it was never mentioned in his presence. Not only were his days passed in this wretched work, but the child was left entirely to himself at night, when he made his way home from Hungerford Market to Camden Town, a distance of four miles, to his lonely bedroom. On Sundays he visited his father in the prison. Of course such a neglected way of living...

Michael Jackson – Thriller

Michael Jackson – Thriller

Nov 30, 2012

One of the top selling albums of all time, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, was released November 30, 1982. The recording of the album began at Westlake Recording Studios in Los Angeles on April 14, 1982. When Quincy Jones walked into the studio, he said to some of the others involved in the recording, ‘OK guys, we’re going to save the recording industry’. At 12:00 noon the actual recording began with Paul McCartney and Micheal singing ‘The Girl is Mine’. The album spent 37 weeks at number one on the Billboard charts. Thriller consisted of nine tracks, seven of which were released as singles. All seven reached the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100. Michael indicated that his inspiration for the album was Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Nutcracker Suite’ because ‘every song was a killer’. Listen on Spotify:Thriller Backgrounds on some of the songs: Beat It Beat It was written by Jackson and was an attempt to make a clean break with the disco sound of Jackson’s Off the Wall album. Quincy Jones and Jackson wanted to make a rock song that would appeal to all tastes, and after weeks of searching for a guitarist, found Eddie Van Halen. Van Halen would later say about the recording ‘Everybody (from Van Halen) was out of town and I figured, who’s going to know if I play on this kid’s record?’ Billie Jean Michael wrote this song with a particular obsessed fan in mind. The most persistant of his admirers he received dozens of letters from her, including one with a gun and a note indicating that since she and her child (which she claimed was his) couldn’t be with him in this life, the three of them should commit suicide on an appointed day. Michael himself became obsessed with the situation and had her picture framed and placed on a coffee table feeling like he needed to remember her face in case she showed up. Quincy Jones didn’t feel like the song was strong enough to be included on the album, but Michael prevailed. Quincy also believed fans would think the song was about tennis legend Billie Jean King and wanted the title to be changed to ‘Not...

Miölnir – Thor’s Hammer

Miölnir – Thor’s Hammer

Nov 29, 2012

Thor was the proud possessor of a magic hammer called Miölnir (the crusher) which he hurled at his enemies, the frost-giants, with destructive power, and which possessed the wonderful property of always returning to his hand, however far away he might hurl it. “I am the Thunderer! Here in my Northland, My fastness and fortress, Reign I forever! “Here amid icebergs Rule I the nations; This is my hammer, Miölnir the mighty; Giants and sorcerers Cannot withstand it!” Saga of King Olaf (Longfellow). As this huge hammer, the emblem of the thunderbolts, was generally red-hot, the god had an iron gauntlet called Iarn-greiper, which enabled him to grasp it firmly. He could hurl Miölnir a great distance, and his strength, which was always remarkable, was doubled when he wore his magic belt called Megin-giörd. “This is my girdle: Whenever I brace it, Strength is redoubled!” Saga of King Olaf (Longfellow). Thor’s hammer was considered so very sacred by the ancient Northern people, that they were wont to make the sign of the hammer, as the Christians later taught them to make the sign of the cross, to ward off all evil influences, and to secure blessings. The same sign was also made over the newly born infant when water was poured over its head and a name given. The hammer was used to drive in boundary stakes, which it was considered sacrilegious to remove, to hallow the threshold of a new house, to solemnise a marriage, and, lastly, it played a part in the consecration of the funeral pyre upon which the bodies of heroes, together with their weapons and steeds, and, in some cases, with their wives and dependents, were burned. In Sweden, Thor, like Odin, was supposed to wear a broad-brimmed hat, and hence the storm-clouds in that country are known as Thor’s hat, a name also given to one of the principal mountains in Norway. The rumble and roar of the thunder were said to be the roll of his chariot, for he alone among the gods never rode on horseback, but walked, or drove in a brazen chariot drawn by two goats, Tanngniostr (tooth-cracker), and Tanngrisnr (tooth-gnasher), from whose teeth...

History of Fruitcake

History of Fruitcake

Nov 29, 2012

According to culinary legend, ancient Egyptians created the first version of the fruitcake for placement on the tombs or in the coffins of friends and relatives, perhaps as a food that could survive their journey into the afterlife. If the Egyptians felt the same way I do about fruitcake, they must have thought those friends and relatives were going somewhere other than heaven. Fruitcake became common in Roman times due to traits that made it perfect for fueling the Roman army. Made from a combination of barley mash, raisins, pine nuts, and pomegranate seeds, this early version of fruitcake was a portable, long-lasting, relatively light combat ration. Requiring no preparation, and averse to spoilage, the cake could be shipped around the empire with ease, and became a staple in the legionnaire’s diet. As an energy source it was extremely efficient. Pomegranate seeds pack 234 calories per cup, while raisins provide 435 calories per cup. Both pale in comparison to pine nuts which weigh in at 916 calories per cup. Pretty significant when you consider that nearly two thousand years later, the average Meals Ready to Eat or MRE used in today’s military contains approximately 1,250 calories. Fruitcake continued to fuel the armies of Europe during the ensuing centuries. The Crusaders also brought the energizing treat along in their packs on their search for the Holy Grail. Their cakes incorporated additional ingredients such as fruits, honey, and spices. It was during this time when the name fruitcake was first used. The cakes became more flexible during this time period as well, with different ingredients being added based on availability and cost. They became heavier than the original versions, continuing to pack a substantial caloric punch. During the 1400s the British were able to successfully import dried fruits from the Mediterranean, beginning their love affair with the treat. Cheap sugar arriving in Europe from the colonies in the 16th century contributed to the success of the modern fruitcake. This along with the discovery that soaking fruit in successively greater concentrations of sugar intensified its color and flavor while working as a preservative, led to the proliferation of the fruit-laden cakes. Native fruits could now be conserved,...

Edward the Black Prince

Edward the Black Prince

Nov 27, 2012

LIVED FROM 1330-1376 One of the most famous warriors of the Middle Ages was Edward the Black Prince. He was so called because he wore black armor in battle. The Black Prince was the son of Edward III who reigned over England from 1327 to 1377. He won his fame as a soldier in the wars which his father carried on against France. The early kings of England, from the time of William the Conqueror, had possessions in France. Henry II, William’s grandson, was the duke of Normandy and lord of Brittany and other provinces, and when he married Eleanor of Aquitaine she brought him that province also. Henry’s son John lost all the French possessions of the English crown except a part of Aquitaine, and Edward III inherited this. So when Philip of Valois became king of France, about a year after Edward had become king of England, Edward had to do homage to Philip. To be king of England and yet to do homage to the king of France—to bend the knee before Philip and kiss his foot—was something Edward did not like. He thought it was quite beneath his dignity, as his ancestor Rollo had thought when told that he must kiss the foot of King Charles. So Edward tried to persuade the nobles of France that he himself ought by right to be the king of France instead of being only a vassal. Philip of Valois was only a cousin of the late French King Charles IV. Edward was the son of his sister. But there was a curious old law in France, called the Salic Law, which forbade that daughters should inherit lands. This law barred the claim of Edward, because his claim came through his mother. Still he determined to win the French throne by force of arms. A chance came to quarrel with Philip. Another of Philip’s vassals rebelled against him, and Edward helped the rebel. He hoped by doing so to weaken Philip and more easily overpower him. Philip at once declared that Edward’s possessions in France were forfeited. Then Edward raised an army of thirty thousand men, and with it invaded France. The Black Prince...