Posts tagged food

BarnCamp burns the nerd gag

Last weekend saw the staging of BarnCamp 2015 (in which Bristol Wireless’ volunteers have been involved since its inception. Ed.). Running from Friday 19th June to Sunday 21st, BarnCamp was as usual a low-cost rural DIY skillsharing event open to everyone, including UK activists, campaigners, people involved in social and community groups and anybody else with an interest in technology and how to subvert it to put it to good use.

According to the sales pitch: “All skill levels are invited and we promise that workshops are not too geeky due to our infamous nerd gag” (of which more later. Ed.).

Once again we were the guests of Highbury Farm, a housing co-operative set in some 30 acres of unimproved but rather steep grassland at Redbrook in the beautiful Wye Valley south of Monmouth.

Looking north towards Monmouth from Highbury Farm

Looking north towards Monmouth from Highbury Farm

Your correspondent formed part of the forward crew who went to site on Wednesday to set up the event. This year a few more of us were on hand to ensure that all the essential infrastructure – large tents for workshops, signage, kitchen, other refreshment facilities, camp fire, showers and the like – was all in place for the first arrivals. Indeed it was more or less complete by lunchtime on Thursday. Well done all!

Once into the event proper, each day started with breakfast, followed by a plenary session, then workshops, lunch, more workshops and concluding with supper and socialising.

The workshops this year had the usual variety: an introduction to satellite communications, basic electronics, using WordPress and OpenStreetMap, to mention but a few. There were even sessions on basic self defence, whilst Ben’s ever-popular wild food walk took place on no fewer than 3 occasions.

Your correspondent was in charge of building the nightly campfire, a duty that occasionally involved some sheltering of the previous night’s embers from the rain, whilst even the woodpile showed its geeky side.

sign on woodpile reading session locked; enter password

The pyromaniac’s equivalent of the locked screen

The woodpile geeking out wasn’t the only bit of strangeness occurring on site during BarnCamp. There was also the the intriguing sounding shamanic laptop massage that happened somewhere in the surrounding woodland, for which scant photographic evidence exists.

Shamanic laptop massage montage

Shamanic laptop massage

What’s happened to the nerd gag? And what is it in the first place? This was a standard implemented some years ago to stop the less technical becoming too intimidated to the use of too much jargon by the more technically adept. Workshop presenters are encouraged to explain things properly if anyone so asks; this year there was even a space on the information wall where BarnCampers could share the jargon they had just acquired.

BarnCamp jargon buster

The jargon buster

Nevertheless, there was one workshop – Sunday morning’s session on server optimisation – that not only ripped off the nerd gag, but set light to it and threw it away! (And that was just with the first slide of the presentation! That one slide contained more technical acronyms than the rest of the programme put together. Ed.) However, this was perhaps the most jargon-laden session of the weekend and the most geeky, but it did come with lots of laughs… as long as you could get the jokes.

I hope all my fellow BarnCampers had as good a weekend as I did and once again my thanks go out to the good folk at Highbury Farm for their friendliness and hospitality. See you at the next one! 🙂

Staffordshire Sexagenarian Sibling Saunter

It’s your ‘umble scribe’s 60th birthday this week and to mark this occasion, Hilary and Andrew, my siblings conspired to take me away from Bristol for the weekend. When we were sorting out our late mother’s estate, we all expressed a wish for a sibling saunter in Staffordshire and this proved the ideal excuse.

Andrew and Hilary made the arrangements, whilst I researched walks and gave them 2 options – one involving a circular walk round the Head of Trent (the upper reaches of the Trent before it enters the city of Stoke on Trent. Ed.), the other a walk round the site of the Battle of Blore Heath, one of the first major battles of the Wars of the Roses, which was fought on 23rd September 1459.

In the end the Blore Heath won and found the assembled siblings outside the Loggerheads Hotel in Loggerheads ready to start walking the excellent route provided by the Blore Heath website. The route comprises a circuit of the main battlefield down its eastern flank along what would have been the Lancastrian line, then down through the valley which saw the most fighting. There is then a walk through woodland and up towards the quiet village of Mucklestone, where it is said that Queen Margaret watched the battle unfold.

Battle of Blore Heath – a summary

The battle occurred when the Yorkist force based at Middleham Castle in Yorkshire (led by the Earl of Salisbury) needed to link up with the main Yorkist army at Ludlow Castle in Shropshire. As Salisbury marched south-west through the north Midlands, Queen Margaret ordered Lord Audley to intercept them.

Audley chose the barren heathland of Blore Heath to set up an ambush. On the morning of 23rd September 1459 (Saint Thecla’s day), a force of some 10,000 men took up a defensive position behind a ‘great hedge’ on the south-western edge of Blore Heath facing the direction of Newcastle-under-Lyme to the north-east, the direction from which Salisbury was approaching.

Yorkist scouts spotted Lancastrian banners over the top of the ‘great hedge’ and immediately warned Salisbury. As they emerged from the woodland, the Yorkist force of some 5,000 men realised that a much larger enemy force was awaiting their arrival. Salisbury, instead of disbanding or withdrawing his army, immediately arranged his troops into battle order, just out of range of the Lancastrian archers. To secure his right flank, he arranged the supply wagons in a defensive laager, a circular formation to provide cover to the men. Fearing a rout, Yorkist soldiers are reported to have kissed the ground beneath them, supposing that this would be the ground on which they would meet their deaths.

The two armies were separated by about 300 metres of barren heathland. A steep-sided, wide and fast-flowing brook – the Wemberton or Hemp Mill Brook – ran between them. The brook made Audley’s position seemingly impenetrable.

Initially, both leaders sought unsuccessfully to parley in an attempt to avoid bloodshed. In keeping with many late medieval battles, the conflict opened with an archery duel between the longbows of both armies. At Blore Heath this proved inconclusive due to the distance between the two sides.

Salisbury, aware that any attack across the brook would be suicidal, employed a ruse to encourage the enemy to attack him. He withdrew some of his middle order just far enough that the Lancastrians believed them to be retreating. The Lancastrians launched a cavalry charge. After they had committed themselves, Salisbury ordered his men to turn back and catch the Lancastrians as they attempted to cross the brook. It is possible that the order for this Lancastrian charge was not given by Audley but it had the effect of turning the balance in favour of Salisbury. The charge resulted in heavy casualties for the Lancastrians.

The Lancastrians withdrew, and then made a second assault, possibly attempting to rescue casualties. This second attack was more successful with many Lancastrians crossing the brook. This led to a period of intense fighting in which Audley himself was killed, possibly by Sir Roger Kynaston of Myddle and Hordley.

The death of Audley meant that Lancastrian command fell to the second-in-command, Lord Dudley, who ordered an attack on foot with some 4,000 men. As this attack also failed, some 500 Lancastrians joined the enemy and began attacking their own side. At this point, all remaining Lancastrian resistance collapsed and the Yorkists had only to advance to complete the rout.

The rout continued through the night, with the Yorkists pursuing the fleeing enemy for miles across the countryside. Salisbury employed a local friar to remain on Blore Heath throughout the night and to discharge a cannon periodically in order to deceive any Lancastrians nearby into believing that the fight was continuing.

At least 2,000 Lancastrians were killed, with the Yorkists losing nearly 1,000.

Plan of Battle of Blore Heath

Ramsay’s map of the battlefield from 1889. Click on the image for the full-sized version

The walk

Starting from Loggerheads, we skirted the borders of Burnt Wood (called “Rounhay wood” at the time of the battle. Ed.). We were following the route that the Yorkist forces would have taken. This top end of the walk was quite boggy, so good waterproof boots are recommended. From this high point of the walk there are fantastic views across Shropshire to the mountains of North Wales, some forty miles away. The landmark of the Wrekin is clearly visible to the SW and is about 20 miles away, as is the tower of St Mary’s Church in Market Drayton, some 4 miles away.

We continued downhill to the hamlet of Blore, where we turned onto a a lane and then from the edge of the hamlet followed the line of the ‘great hedge’ behind which the Lancastrian banners were seen. The hedge has been much reduced in stature by the invention of the flail mower, but experts believe it has been in situ for 1,000 years. Halfway along the hedge is a large horse chestnut tree from which Audley’s Cross – marking the spot where Lord Audley was slain – can be seen. We stopped for lunch near the end of the ‘great hedge’ roughly at the end of the Yorkists’ left flank.

The brothers dine near the end of the Yorkist left flank

The brothers dine near the end of the Lancastrian left flank. Picture courtesy of Hilary Midgley.

From the lunch stop we proceeded downhill across the fields downhill and around the southern edge of the battlefield towards Hemp Mill Brook and a crossing of both it and the A53, the latter being particularly dangerous due to its narrowness, bends and the speed of the traffic. At this point we deviated from the route and went up the A53 for a better view of Audley’s Cross (a cross has stood on that spot since the day of the battle. Ed.) before returning to the actual route of the walk.

Once over the A53 and back on the route, we followed a lane for a short while, then proceeded through Folly Wood to the outskirts of Mucklestone, entered the village and headed for the church.

Folly Wood - signage in dire need of maintenance

Folly Wood – signage in dire need of maintenance

It was from the top of the Mucklestone church tower that Queen Margaret is said to have stood and watched her forces defeated. She is then supposed to have made good her escape in the direction of Eccleshall by forcing William Skelhorn, the village blacksmith, to reverse her horse’s shoes, thus confusing any pursuit. The anvil in the churchyard, which was retrieved from the smithy when the latter was demolished, commemorates this legend. The anvil is sited next to the grave of another, much later member of the Skelhorn family.

Anvil in Mucklestone churchyard

Anvil in Mucklestone churchyard. Picture courtesy of Hilary Midgley.

From Mucklestone we proceeded up a rough track called Rock Lane to return to our starting point in Loggerheads.

After the battle the victorious Lord Salisbury, anxious to press on towards Ludlow and the main Yorkist forces, moved south, camping on a hill on the outskirts of Market Drayton ever since known as Salisbury Hill. When we were children, this was the main hill in the town for sledging when it snowed. This delight is now out of bounds to today’s Drayton children, as the hill has been absorbed into the land occupied by the local golf club and the stile we used for access is no longer in situ.

After a most satisfactory walk we all retired to Newcastle-under-Lyme for a night in a hotel, preceded by an excellent curry and a couple of beers in Audley.

I’d like to thank my siblings, Andrew and Hilary, for making it a memorable weekend and suggest we plan other Staffordshire Saunter sometime soon. 🙂

The reunion

It’s the first Monday of October 1973. With a sense of trepidation, an 18 year-old lad leaves home, a large proportion of his possessions and a heavy set of books in a rucksack on his back. He’s off to Wolverhampton in the Black Country to join the second ever intake on the BA Modern Languages (BAML) course being offered by Wolverhampton Polytechnic.

Let’s fast forward to May 2015. With a sense of trepidation a 59 year-old man leaves his home in Bristol, a laptop in a rucksack on his back and a suit in a holdall in his hand. He’s off to Wolverhampton to reunite with the second ever intake on the BA Modern Languages course once offered by Wolverhampton Polytechnic.

There have been lots of changes in the meantime. The polytechnic has transformed into the University of Wolverhampton. Wolverhampton itself has changed from a large industrial town with belching blast furnaces and gained city status. The Black Country either side of the railway between Birmingham and Wolverhampton – once a realistic implementation of a medieval painter’s vision of hell with flames, smoke and smut – is now de-industrialised with leafy areas interspersed with pleasant housing.

Sticking with the leafy pleasantness, the reunion is being held at The Mount Hotel in the Tettenhall Wood area of Wolverhampton, not a frequent haunt of student days when town centre pubs and night clubs were preferred to comfortable, content suburbia.

The Mount is a grade II listed manor house that was originally the home of Mander family of Wolverhampton (who made their money from paint and varnish. Ed.), which acquired the Mount in 1890 for £5,000 and refurbished it extensively. In 1929 the then master of the house Charles Tertius Mander was unfortunately killed in a hunting accident, leaving his wife Mary a widow. The Mount was far too large for post-war life without servants and the house was sold by Charles Marcus Mander at auction in 1952 after being in the family for just ninety years and started its new life as a hotel.

Once settled in, the minor worries started: would I recognise anyone – and would they recognise me? The rest of the crew were veterans at reunions, having held a couple in the intervening years, whilst I was the novice tonight. Standing outside, I scrutinised the faces of those passing, trying to see if any matched features whose recollection was dimmed by nearly 4 decades, whilst that same amount of time had etched its effects on the faces of my contemporaries.

At table: Jill, Steve and Stuart

At table: Jill, Steve and Stuart. Photo courtesy of Jill Easton.

In all honesty I shouldn’t have worried: as we assembled at 7.00 p.m. for pre-dinner drinks, the memory went into action and I readily recognised most of the faces familiar from of old, although most now came complete with a partner. There were even a few lecturers there. Apologies to those I miss, but these included course director Alan Dobson, French lecturer Stuart Williams and politics lecturer Harvey Wolf.

The 3 courses of dinner were most pleasant: I was seated between Jill Easton (née Marshall) and Stuart Williams. The meal itself, with 3 choices for each course, was delicious and passed in leisurely fashion. Between the main course and dessert a hiatus occurred for the obligatory speeches.

First on his feet was course director Alan Dobson. He passed on greetings from John White, the former head of the poly’s department of languages and praised him for his foresight in establishing the modern languages degree course; and once more trepidation intervened. Alan explained the sense of trepidation in establishing the course. At that time Wolverhampton didn’t exactly have a great reputation. It was the but of jokes. As an academic institution, the polytechnic didn’t exactly have the prestige of a traditional university, something not helped by the presence in those days of a sleazy massage parlour over the road from campus.

The teaching accommodation often left something to be desired in those days. Alan reminded us of the long-vanished St. Peter’s Hall, whose top floor was leased to the polytechnic for teaching. It was invariably freezing cold in the autumn and winter and the landlord’s use of the building’s heating system was a juggling act: downstairs was leased as a potato store and the stock needed to be kept cool. As students we were probably regarded as cool enough in one sense, but fingers stiff with cold are not best suited to taking lecture notes.

Alan was followed by Paul Sutton. Paul and his wife Gwenda had done most of the organisation of the event (and done it splendidly. Ed.). Of those in the 1973 course intake, most had been located and contacted: only 6 remain lost. One of our number, Viv Allum, sadly passed away a number of years ago. The development of the internet had been of great assistance in finding folk; Sheila Searle had done most of the detective work, I believe.

Paul praised the quality of the education we’d received and the skills gained, which have seen many of the alumni employed in fields far removed from languages. The fact most of us have been continuously employed since graduation is ample evidence that the investment in human capital made in those years at Wolverhampton had been amply repaid many times over with interest.

Paul recalled life in Wolverhampton in 1973 when we arrived: beer at 13p a pint in the Union bar, Derek Dougan taking to the field for Wolverhampton Wanderers F.C. (his slipping into the Union Bar for a quick pint was not unknown either. Ed.), Queen supporting Mott the Hoople at Wolverhampton’s Civic Hall shortly after our arrival on campus.

He also reminisced fondly of the polytechnic’s first halls of residence: Brinsford Lodge. These former munitions factory buildings helped accommodate students from 1964 to 1982. Others have started documenting student life at Brinsford, including Richard Elliott’s Brinsford pages and

Brinsford in the 1970s

Some of the luxurious student accommodation at Brinsford in the early 1970s. Photo courtesy of Tim Baker.

Paul mentioned that there would be a further reunion in 2 years’ time to mark the 40th anniversary of our graduation. Responsibility for organising it would fall to the first member of the student body to head off to bed!

With speeches, dessert and coffee out of the way, it was time for dancing and the old crew proved that time had not diminished their enthusiasm for partying. The inevitable group photographs were taken, like the example below.

Class of 73

Class of ’73. Well, a lot of them anyway! Course director Alan Dobson is on the far left of the picture. Photo courtesy of Wendy Jackson.

Some group photos even took a sideways look.

An alternative group shot

An alternative group shot. Photo courtesy of Paddy Ring.

The dancing continued till 1.00 a.m., after which the night owls chatted the darkness away until long after dawn peeped over the horizon. However, we weren’t just reminiscing but discussing contemporary matters and the future too.

Breakfast on Sunday morning was a subdued affair for most.

It was wonderful to meet the BAML crew again. My time spent on the course with you represents an important stage of making me the person I am today. I now realise what I missed by not attending previous reunions; I’ll definitely be at the 2017 one as long as there’s breath in my body.

Thank you all for a brilliant weekend. 😀

Update 13/05/17: The comment below arrived yesterday (well after the end of the period for submitting comments. Ed.) from Gary (Gaz) Peters, another of the class of ’73.

Steve, just seen the blog on Wolves Poly 73. Really brought back memories and I wish that I had been found when you were trawling the net for BAML 73 alumni! I have sadly lost touch with everyone from those halcyon days and have regretted it for a long time. Do you know when the next reunion is? Would love to meet up with everyone. Very best wishes, Gary (Gaz) Peters

Look forward to seeing you again as the next get-together, Gaz! 😀

More culinary sexism

Perhaps taking its lead from a city centre café in Bristol (posts passim), multinational junk food chain McDonalds has now introduced sexism onto its menu.

The advertisement below was spotted on Easton Way, Bristol this morning.

McDonalds advertising poster featuring manly sausage and bacon breakfast muffin

Once again bacon and sausage are apparently foods exclusively for men. If any woman is ‘man enough’ to ask for them, what would that make her – a tomboy or a butch lesbian? Or simply unfeminine?

Answers in the comments below, please McDonalds.

Raking & Baking starting at St Werburghs

I’m very proud to be Chair of St Werburgh’s Community Association and in that capacity am pleased to announce the return of our very popular Raking & Baking sessions, made possible by the kind support of the Big Lottery Fund.

All the details are on the poster below.

publicity poster for raking and baking at SWCC

Sexism in café society

An unnamed café in Bristol is apparently serving his and hers breakfasts.

café menu board featuring his and hers breakfasts

Yes, that’s right! Men get to scoff tortilla, bacon, sausages, 2 token items of fruit/vegetables (tomato and mushroom), Cheddar cheese, ham roll and butter, whilst women are supposed to pick their way daintily through muffin, poached egg, smoked salmon, salad leaves, cherry tomatoes, avocado, red onion, blueberries, yoghurt and pumpkin seeds.

Men can obviously let their figures go to pot (and blood cholesterol levels too. Ed.), whilst women are automatically assumed to be on a diet; women have “gotta stay slim for our men obvz” in the scathing words of one on social media.

This isn’t the first time that sexism has emerged at breakfast time (posts passim).

Update 30/04/15: The his and hers labels are being removed from the menu according to the Western Daily Press, which also revealed the name of the establishment as Caffe Be On. In addition, this post was quoted in yesterday’s Daily Mirror.

Hat tip: MarinaS.

Hygiene notice

In a supermarket somewhere in the UK…

text in photo says do not touch bread with hands. Please use tongue

Using tongs would have been more hygienic in my opinion. 🙂

Sign of spring – blackthorn

This morning on my walk from home in Easton to the Bristol Wireless lab in Bedminster, my eye was caught by blackthorn blossom standing out white against the blue sky.

blackthorn blossom

Blackthorn blossom in Lawford’s Gate, Bristol

Blackthorn (prunus spinosa) derives its name from its thorny nature and its very dark bark.

As its Latin name denotes, it is a member of the plum family. Its fruits – sloes – are well known for their bitterness, unless picked after they’ve been bletted, i.e. attacked by autumn frosts. Their best-known use is for making sloe gin.

photo of sloes

Sloes. Note the thorns. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The modern English word sloe comes from the Old English slāh. The same word is noted in Middle Low German, historically spoken in Lower Saxony. Similar words are found in other languages with Teutonic roots.

With its savage thorns, blackthorn has traditionally been used for making a hedge against cattle or a “cattle-proof” hedge.

Special opening offer

Thanks to skimping on proof-reading, La Despensa Del Gourmet, a new Spanish delicatessen that’s recently opened in Prince Street, Bristol has a rather unusual offer at present, which sounds a bargain at £3.50!

poster reads daily offer spanish sandwich with cock/water

Picture courtesy of Bristol Bites

Speculation has it that the proprietors are actually trying to offer a carbonated soft drink originally from America… However, that could be phallusy! 😉

Hat tip: Bristol Bites.

Another sign of spring

Following on from last weekend’s catkins (posts passim), another sign of spring has just emerged: the croci (or crocuses) have burst into flower in the pocket park in Chaplin Road, Easton. On a bright, sunny day the flowers shine like beacons.

crocus in flower

Although not native to the British Isles, crocus sativus, the saffron crocus, has long been cultivated for the spice saffron.

Indeed, such cultivation has given rise to some place names. For starters, there’s Saffron Walden in Essex, as well as Croydon in the sprawl of Greater London.

As regards the latter, the theory accepted by most philologists is that the name Croydon derives originally from the Anglo-Saxon croh, meaning “crocus”, and denu, “valley”, indicating that it was a centre for the cultivation of saffron. It has been argued that this cultivation is likely to have taken place in the Roman period, when the saffron crocus would have been grown to supply the London market, most probably for medicinal purposes, and particularly for the treatment of granulation of the eyelids.

The croci shown above are not saffron crocus, but are still a welcome sight. On a sunny day the air inside the flower cup of the crocus is said to be some degrees warmer than the surrounding air, making it a welcome place to visit for early pollinating insects.

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