Monday 29 February 2016

29th February

29th February – four quarter days rolled into one.  Some businesses will be enjoying the extra revenue, as will the Inland Revenue, but many employees will be working an extra day for no remuneration.
Who can be held to account for a four-year extra day, namely 29th February or a Leap Day?
Julius Caesar introduced Leap Days over two thousand years ago in 46 B.C. The aim was to have an accurate calendar for sowing and harvesting crops. Unfortunately it didn’t reflect how long it takes the earth to go around the sun accurately enough and so it was replaced by Pope Gregory XIII’s Gregorian Calendar in some European countries in 1582. Many countries carried on using the Julian Calendar and it took three hundred years to complete the change over with Turkey being the last country to switch as late as the 1st January 1927. To read further on this, click here
February is the shortest month and has twenty-eight days in normal years and twenty-nine in leap years, but it has had thirty days twice.

In 1712 Sweden added the date to its calendar and the Soviet Union had 30th February in 1930 and again in 1931. This was an attempt to reduce the seven-day week to five and every month was to have thirty days. This was abandoned in 1940, as it proved too difficult to eliminate the tradition of Sunday rest.
Further reading on the 30th February can be found here.
Traditionally, the 29th February is the day when women are allowed to propose to men. From Irish legend, St Brigid and St Patrick forged an agreement to introduce a balance of the traditional roles of men and women in the same way that leap days balance the calendar.
Leap days are also known a Bachelors' Day and should a man refuse a proposal of marriage then he had to pay a penalty – money, a garment or, twelve pairs of gloves. The gloves were to hide the woman’s embarrassment of not having an engagement ring.
In Greece, it is considered unlucky to marry on a Leap Day.
The 29th February is also St Oswald’s Day. St Oswald was the Archbishop of York and died on the 29th February 992.

Sunday 21 February 2016

Unseemly Science by Rod Duncan - Book Review

Unseemly Science is the second novel from The Fall of the Gas Lit Empire and is much darker than the first, (The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter). This Steampunk mystery had me gripped from the first page. 

Elizabeth Barnabus, still an outlaw and leading a double life in the persona of her brother, Edwin, (who I would have liked to have seen more of) is joined in her quest by her good friend, Julia Swain and orphaned ragamuffin, Tinker.

Elizabeth discovers that an extradition treaty between the Kingdom and the Republic is imminent and a few contemptible characters try to manipulate her for reward. Whilst evading the authorities, she finds herself involved in a sinister plot that grows increasingly dangerous.

Some gruesome scenes are disturbing in this compelling tale and Miss Barnabus faces trials and tribulations with grit and determination. It was pleasing to see an old adversary turn ally.

The writing is superb; tight and pacy and Duncan’s ability to engage a reader in this fantasy world by feeding their imagination in a way that distorts the real, and yet gives a sense of realism, is skilful. Each chapter heading is extraordinary, and accomplished.

As with The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter, before embarking on Elizabeth’s journey in Unseemly Science, it helps to read The Glossary as a number of surreal things are revealed to help understand Duncan’s alternate history of the Gas Lit Empire.

Unseemly Science  and The Bullet Catcher's Daughter are published by Angry Robot, and available in both paperback and e-book formats. 

The third novel from The Fall of the Gas Lit Empire is Custodian of Marvels

Sunday 14 February 2016

St Valentine's Day

The 14th February each year is the date when St Valentine, the patron saint of lovers, is remembered.

The excitement of receiving an unsigned card from an admirer is perhaps a fond memory for some and a present-day delight for many.  Anyone who has never received such a card is still loved, but in a way that may not be tangible or material. You cannot see or touch love; you live it.

The 14th February is this particular saint’s day as that is the date he was executed, around 270 AD.

Valentine was a priest in Rome in the days of Emperor Claudius II. The emperor needed a strong army, but young men were reluctant to join as they feared the consequences for a wife and family should they die in battle. To overcome this, Claudius decreed that any marriage was illegal.  Valentine, however, defied Claudius and married young couples in secret.

Valentine’s actions were discovered and he was arrested, put in prison and tortured for defying Claudius’s law. One of the men who were to judge Valentine was called Asterius; his daughter was blind. It is widely believed that Valentine prayed with Asterius and healed his daughter and as a result, Asterius became Christian.

Not all were as forgiving and Valentine was sentenced to a three-part execution, he was beaten, stoned and finally beheaded, all because of his stand for Christian marriage. The sentence was carried out on the 14th February 270 (or thereabouts). Valentine supposedly sent a final letter to Asterius’s daughter and it is his letter that has inspired today’s romantic acts as he signed it: “from your Valentine.”

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia there are at least three St Valentines, all of them martyrs and all recorded on 14th February. One was the priest in Rome, a second was a martyr in the Roman province of Africa and a third was a bishop from Terni in Italy (which was then known as Interamna).

The date of Valentine’s death, 14th February was also the Feast of Lupercalia, a pagan festival of love. This was when the names of young women were placed in a box and drawn by men, thus sealing their future. Pope Gelasius decided in 496 AD that such actions should cease and that instead the 14th February should celebrate St Valentine, something we still do today.

Happy St Valentine’s Day.

All images - Creative Commons

Saturday 13 February 2016

Wonky Vegetable Soup

A 'wonky' parsnip from our kitchen garden

The idea that vegetables should be straight, of a certain size, the correct weight and unblemished, is bonkers.

I find it infuriating that EU specifications and supermarket requirements dictate what consumers should be offered with no consideration for the farmers and growers.

One supermarket is now offering a ‘wonky veg’ box in just five of its hundreds of stores, (as at 26 January 2016), which I suppose is a step in the right direction and they are reportedly selling very well. But the terrible waste and loss of income that these stupid so called requirements cause is, quite frankly, deplorable.  Does it matter if the carrot you are chopping isn’t straight? Or the parsnip not twisted? How often do you eat a whole cucumber? So what if it bends a little?

On today’s menu is our Wonky Veg Soup, most ingredients coming from the kitchen garden, but some are shop bought, although we do prefer to buy from local, independent growers and vendors.

A 'lumpy' cauliflower from a local grower
Wonky Veg Soup

Suggested ingredients:
1 un-trimmed leek so that you can use some of the green part too
1 medium-sized onion
1 bunch of spring onions
1 carrot
2 parsnips
1 apple
2 or 3 sticks of celery, with leaves left on.
1-2 pints of stock*
Vegetable oil (about a tablespoon)
Butter – about an ounce
Salt** and pepper

*Today I used stock made from the water I cooked a gammon joint in yesterday. You can, of course, use stock cubes and boiling water.

Here’s what to do:

Wash and chop all the veg, discarding roots and tops.  
Can you tell whether this carrot was wonky?

Put the oil into a large pan, turn on the heat and add the butter. 

Add the onion, leek and spring onions and cook them gently, but do not brown. (About ten minutes.)

Pour in the stock and add the other ingredients. 

Simmer until all the vegetables are cooked. 
**Add white pepper but make sure you taste before adding salt, as it may well be salty enough.

You can leave the soup ‘chunky’ or liquidise it (I use a Kenwood hand blender).

Chunky soup

Smooth soup
If the soup is too thick, add some milk until you reach the correct consistency for your taste.

Serve with warm, crusty bread.

Friday 12 February 2016

Winter Tales - Book Review

Winter Tales: An anthology of seasonal short stories: Published by Ruler's Wit available  as a paperback or on Kindle.

This is a delightful anthology of fourteen short stories that has been written by four authors of differing genres.

Number Nine                                  Karen Ette                           

The First and the Last                     Melinda Ingram                    

The Christmas Wish                        Donna Shepherd                  

One for the Road                             Stephen Ashurst                           

Mephisto Waltz                               Karen Ette                           

Starting Over                                  Melinda Ingram

A Winter Tail                                   Donna Shepherd                  

The Damage is Done                       Stephen Ashurst                  

What if the Hokey Cokey                 Karen Ette                                          really is what it’s all about?

Sledging                                          Melinda Ingram                    

Candlemas                                      Karen Ette                           

Just Desserts                                  Melinda Ingram                    

Threat                                            Donna Shepherd   
A Photograph                                  Stephen Ashurst

Some of the stories are sad, some a bit scary, some supernatural and some with a romantic theme, so there’s plenty for everyone, but not all have a happy ending, in fact you may be left thinking, "what????" 

It is satisfying that you can complete a whole story in one session and this makes the book a great coffee-break read, or to keep in your bag for that journey on the bus or the wait for your appointment.

No spoilers as many of these tales have a twist in them but it is recommended as a great little read.

Looking forward to Spring Tales.

To get your copy of Winter Tales, please click here.