Thursday, 31 December 2015

New Year's Eve Traditions

Image result for new years eveToday is New Year's Eve. Or if you're in Scotland, Hogmanay. Or, if you're in Wales, Nos Galan.
This is where tradition dictates you get totally and absolutely sloshed out of your mind, head-butt four random strangers in a game of No-I-Love-YOU-The-Most (this is where the Klingons got the ritual, in case you were wondering), urinate in a policeman's hat (but only if you're pregnant), and then forget where you live.
It's a tradition that dates back to the Norse over a thousand years ago, when Thor, the Asgard god of thunder and hair products, descended on Scotland during the dark days between Avengers films, to demonstrate the virtues of over-drinking and public displays of this-is-just-embarrassing-you-can't-get-married-to-a-lamppost.
There are some pretty strange and interesting local traditions around the United Kingdom.
For example, in Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, in north-east Scotland, they have a rather dangerous way of celebrating the festivities. After the local blokes spend the entire day, evening and night consuming many gallons of cheap beer, lager and why-has-this-whiskey-not-killed-me-yet, they pretend they are Klingons, and then set their balls on fire.
Oh, I jest you not.
They really do.
The locals construct massive balls of chicken wire (two feet in diameter), stuff them with old newspapers, sticks, rags and other flammable materials, attach the balls to a chain, or non-flammable rope (because, yes, that's the type of rope you want in a situation like this), and then, when the bells strike midnight, they set fire to their balls.
Crowds of 12,000 people have gathered to watch the locals walking up and down the High Street, swinging their massive flaming balls around in circles above their heads. The Stonehaven Fireballs tradition has been going on for over 150 years. Check out the Stonehaven Fireballs website for details: 
In Allendale, Northumberland, England, their merriment is cut short for the Tar Barl Ceremony. A tradition dating back to 1858.
The local 'Guisers' gulp down an entire barrel of whiskey, usually in one gulp, and then fill them with tar. Now, I know what you're thinking: no one can drink an entire whiskey barrel in one gulp. Most normal people take between three gulps and nine hundred thousand sips and three hundred years for one barrel. But these Guisers are a hardy bunch. They aren't known as One-Gulp-Guisers for nothing.
And besides, they need all that whiskey to cope with the pain that follows.
After the obligatory belch and seven hiccoughs (that's one belch and seven hiccoughs, no more, no less), they set the tar on fire and put the barrel on their heads.
What the heck? Are you kidding?
Nope. Not kidding.
They carry the burning barrels, on their heads, through the streets of Allendale to the town centre. At which point no-one is complaining about the freezing temperatures, just how slow those in front are walking.
They then head-butt the barrels onto a bonfire, called the Baal Fire, and shout, "Be damned to he who throws last."
Usually, this is quite apt. As the guy who throws last is on fire.
Side note: Allendale has the highest concentration of bald men anywhere in England (No one is quite sure why). And the highest count of "Death-By-Headbutting-A-Burning-Barrel-Of-Tar" anywhere in Britain. Northampton was second. Mostly by accident. The guy was trying to recreate a scene from Lord of the Rings. It didn't go well.
In Wales, New Year's Eve is called "Nos Galan".
There is a tradition called Mari Lwyd in the land of the dragon, and, strangely, it doesn't actually involve fire. Or a dragon.
Very disappointing.
Instead, false ears and eyes are attached to a horse's skull, along with bells, reins and ribbons, and then it's covered with a white sheet, before inserting a pole right up its.... well, skull. They don't bother with the rest of the horse.
The Mari Lwyd, or, the thing you wouldn't want the Mafia to put on your pillow, is carried from house to house by a crowd of merry-makers, who are traditionally tipsy and singing Tom Jones songs.
At each house, they pause their tributes to Tom Jones, to recite Welsh poetry. Which, because the merry-makers are hammered, sounds a lot like Klingon poetry. Those in the house then recite poetry back at the them. This goes back and forth a bit until someone wins the fight. Yep, that's how the Welsh fight. Not with fists and feet, but with Klingon poetry.

If only the wars of the past were fought under Welsh rules.

No guns.

No bombs.

Just a few well written poems spoken with passion in the romantic language of the Klingons, whilst holding the bow-and-ribbon-decorated head of a dead horse.

To end the New Year's Eve, or Hogmanay, or Nos Galan celebrations is a tradition started by the Scottish and carried around the world. The folding of arms and holding of hands and the singing For Auld Lang Syne, a traditional poem by Robert Burns, a Scottish Poet, played by Mel Gibson in Braveheart.

So, wherever you are, whoever you be, have a Happy New Year, and Oche Aye Your Hogmanay.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

On This Day In History - 30th December

Richard, Duke of YorkOn This Day in History - December 30th
On this day in history, in 1460, Richard-Of-The-Grand-Old-Duke-Of-York (who didn't have 10,000 men, only about 8,000) marched his men up a hill, down a hill, then right back up the hill, and went too far, so came down a bit, and a bit more. After many hours, he finally decided they were at the half-way point. And died.
Soon after, a rainbow appeared and he came back to life, briefly, to ask his trusted friend, the unicorn, to remember him every time she saw a rainbow.
This is why we now remember the colours of the rainbow using the mnemonic Richard-Of-York-Gave-Battle-In-Vain (Red-Orange-Yellow-Groot-Bilbo-Indigo-Viagra).

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

On This Day in History - 29th December

On This Day In History - 29th December
On This Day, 29th December, 1170, Thomas Becket had a knight problem on a cold winter's night. That is to say, he was stabbed to death by four knights.
Long story short, in 1161 King Henry II made Thomas Becket the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Church's highest ranking bloke in England.
After nine short years, Henry got really miffed with him, because of reasons. Henry is said to have remarked, "Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?" Which the four knights took as an order to travel back to England and kill Thomas Becket. And then kill him a lot more, slicing and dicing away, hacking and whacking, dipping and skipping.
When King Henry II heard about the death of Thomas Becket, he was heard to say, "What the frigging frack did you do that for? It was a sodding rhetorical question. Bunch of twaddling dingbats. Now, go look rhetorical up in the dictionary. Write it a thousand times on a piece of paper. And, whilst you're at it, someone write me a really long apology letter to the Pope. He is so going to make me pay for killing one of his stupid troublesome priests."
Which is why, a mere six Henrys later, the King separated from the Pope and formed his own Church of Never-Going-To-Be-Rhetorical-Again, Off-With-His-And-Her-Troublesome-Heads.

Monday, 28 December 2015

On This Day In History - 28th December

On This Day In History - December 28th
On this day in 1065, Westminster Abbey was concentrated, copulated, discombobulated, err, nope, they don't sound right. Oh, I mean consecrated. Yes, consecrated. It's when two lovers decided they had done every other room in the house, so might as well do it here, too.
That's what consecrated means, right?
Err, it might actually mean to make something sacred and to dedicate something formally to a religious purpose.
Anyways, every coronation of a king or queen in England has been held at Westminster Abbey since that day. King Edward-The-Confessor, called that because he liked to hear people confess before he shot them in the head with a AK-47, had started the process of the Abbey being consecrated, but had fallen ill and couldn't attend the love-making ceremony on the day. He died a week later, looking at porn on the internet instead. He was the first king to be buried at the Abbey.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

ON THIS DAY - 24th of November

On This Day In History - 24th of November

British weather forecasters warned the UK would suffer a prolonged cold spell, and could bring the earliest serious snowfalls in twenty years. A couple of days later, snow fell. And it fell a lot. A thousand schools closed as a blanket of the white stuff covered Northern England and Scotland, bringing with it chaos and death.

If only the weather forecasters had just kept their stupid mouths shut. Burn the witches.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

The Gunpowder Plot - A New Theory

Image result for gunpowder plotThe Gunpowder Plot - A New Theory.
Remember, remember, the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
Yet, although we remember the discovery of Guy Fawkes each year on the 5th of November, and the failed attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament, the details of the plot are forgotten by most. As are Fawkes' fellow conspirators.
Image result for thomas tresham
And the most overlooked person of them all was never named in the plot. Never thought to be involved. Never considered to be anything but the father of one of the conspirators -- Sir Thomas Tresham, who died two months before the attempt was even made.
Image result for the triangular lodgeThis strange, triangular building, located in the heart of Northamptonshire, in the small village of Rushton, near Kettering, didn't just become the location for a few meetings between conspirators, it was built for the sole purpose of planning and plotting the overthrowing of the English Parliament and the utter destruction of the historic Houses of Parliament, and the committing of the most grievous and unthinkable crime at the time - the murder of the King of England.
Image result for triangular lodge inscriptionsIt's written in stone. An inscription along one of the triangular walls of the building reads:
Aperiatur terra & germinet Salvatorem:  "Let the earth open and … bring forth salvation"
Thirty Six barrels of gunpowder would rip the ground open and bring salvation to the Catholic church in England.
Image result for robert catesbyFor the last four hundred years it has been known that the leader of the conspirators was Robert Catesby. But, what if he wasn't? What if there was a figure hidden in shadow? A shadow directing Catesby and the Thirteen?
Thomas Tresham was a Catholic full of anger and resentment of the Protestant Monarch who had destroyed and persecuted his faith in England. He had been imprisoned for fifteen years for his faith, and for his unwillingness to be subjugated by the protestant crown. On his release from captivity in 1593 he had one goal, and one goal alone - to bring down his persecutor. To destroy him and restore the Catholic church to its rightful place in England.
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" - Another inscription on one of the sides of the Triangular Lodge.
Image result for james iWho shall separate us? King James I of England.
And he who would separate us from the love of Christ needs to brought down and replaced. The building of the Lodge would begin. And the plot to bring down the King would have a home and Thomas Tresham would have his vengeance.
It took four years for the Lodge to be completed and Tresham's faith and treason would be carved into each stone. The number 3 features heavily in the building. The Holy Trinity - a witness to the holy war he had declared on the King of England for denying the Catholic Church and Jesus as their saviour.
Image result for triangular lodge inscriptions
The Lodge has three walls each of 33 feet in length. There are three triangular windows, surmounted by three gargoyles, a reminder of the three sins and three evils that he would need to commit in his journey to salvation.
He would have to lie, steel and kill, three of the sins of the commandments.
But, he realised the sins and acknowledged them in the stones of the third side of the Lodge.
"I have contemplated thy works, O Lord, and was afraid"
The Triangular lodge was completed. And Thomas Tresham's work would begin. But he would need help. He only intended there to be Five. And the number Five is inscribed within the stones of the Lodge. The five: Robert Catesby, Thomas Wintour, John Wright, Guy Fawkes and Thomas Percy.
Those five, directed from the shadows by Thomas Tresham would plan, plot and contemplate the treason of their actions.
But with all plots of magnitude, five was not enough.
More would follow.
Robert Keyes, Thomas Bates, Robert Wintour, Christopher Wright, John Grant, Ambrose Rookwood, and Sir Everart Digby.
Image result for gunpowder barrelsIn front of a roaring fire, the wood crackling away and spitting embers onto the stone floors, The Thirteen would meet in secret during the dark nights of 1604. They planned a meticulous strategy to transport 36 barrels of explosive gunpowder into the tunnels beneath the Houses of Parliament. Guy Fawkes would be entrusted to guard and set the fuses, and a route for his escape was mapped out.
The king would die. Parliament would be destroyed. The old order of the Catholic Church would be restored with the King's nine-year-old daughter raised to the thrown as a puppet for their future plans.
But, as with all best-laid plans, unforeseen problems would arise.

The Earth was to swallow the King at the opening of Parliament on Christmas Eve, 1604. But the opening was delayed over concerns of the Plague until February 1605, and then again until the 3rd of October.
That would be their opportunity. But, again, it was delayed, this time until the 5th of November 1605. A date burned into history.
In September, though, Thomas Tresham died. And, with him, his plans and the oath those Thirteen had taken to bring down the King and restore Catholicism to England.
But, the twelve remaining conspirators would not be deterred.
And, they decided, the death of Thomas Tresham also meant the death of the promise Catesby and the others had taken to leave Tresham's son, Francis, out of the conspiracy.
Without Thomas Tresham's funding, they could not continue. They needed money. They needed the safety of the Triangular Lodge. They needed Francis Tresham.
Francis was brought into the conspiracy. The group were Thirteen again.
Francis was not entirely willing. He had reservations.
The plot continued and the barrels of gunpowder were transported to the tunnels beneath the Houses of Parliament. The Thirteen disbanded and made their way to homes throughout the capital city, and awaited the explosions that would follow the next day.
Image result for houses of parliament cellarGuy Fawkes remained in the cold, dark tunnels overnight, guarding the gunpowder, ready for the lighting of the fuses when the King of England would open Parliament.
In the early hours of the 5th of November, 1605, he was discovered.
Unknown to Guy Fawkes, the Palace of Westminster, the Houses of Parliament, and the tunnels beneath the buildings had been undergoing a rigorous search. There had been a warning. A warning of a catastrophe and plot of such treason that was unrivalled in the entire history of England. Each room, each corridor, each nook and cranny were searched. Each stairwell and each tunnel were scoured.
Image result for guy fawkes gunpowder plotGuy Fawkes was found with his arsenal of destruction.
For days Guy Fawkes was questioned, then tortured, so he would give up the names of his fellow conspirators. The pain got too much, and one by one, the names of the Thirteen were extracted.
Robert Catesby, Thomas Wintour, John Wright, Guy Fawkes and Thomas Percy. Robert Keyes, Thomas Bates, Robert Wintour, Christopher Wright, John Grant, Ambrose Rookwood, and Sir Everart Digby.
And Francis Tresham. A name given up by Guy Fawkes at the end. A name, he insisted, was insignificant to the plot. A minor conspirator who, although knew of the plot, had little, if anything, to do with it. A parting gift, perhaps, from Guy Fawkes, to the true originator of the treason, Francis' father, Thomas Tresham, who was never acknowledged to be a part of the group.
Most the Thirteen had fled the city.
Francis Tresham had not.
He was captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Instead of being tortured, hanged, drawn, and quartered, like the others, he died the following month of natural causes. He never gave up his father. He never admitted the use of the Triangular Lodge, or its significance and sole purpose.
Image result for monteagle letter gunpowder plot
He also never admitted to writing the Monteagle Letter, which had warned of the Treason, and had instigated the searching of the Houses of Parliament, and the discovery of the gunpowder and Guy Fawkes.
The Triangular Lodge now stands, a forgotten part of history, relegated to insignificance; just a curious building built by Thomas Tresham as a mark and remembrance of his faith.
Above the door, and underneath the Tresham coat of arms, an inscription is carved into the stone:
Tres testimonium dant.
The number three bears witness.
The Holy Trinity of the Catholic Church, the Three: Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit, would bear witness to Thomas Tresham and his part in the most famous event in English history.
Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.