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Friday, 05 January 2007
Twelfth Night

Three Santas

It’s the twelfth day of Christmas tomorrow, Epiphany, the day we remember the three


wise men who brought presents. Or something like that: the Christmas myths tend to get a bit confused around here. I do know for sure that it’s the official day to bring down your Christmas tree, decorations and lights. Don’t forget to pack it all away carefully and make a mental note of where you do so (cough, cough!) because you will need them again later in the year.

Anyway, the ghost of Christmas past reminds me of how we used to celebrate this with a gallette des rois in Alsace.  It’s not too late to make this treat: recipe here. Rather than a whole nut or bean, place a ceramic favour (fève) in the gallette.  Accidental tourist has an explanation, with pictures.

Enough complaining… let’s talk Epiphany. It’s celebrated on January 6th and is also known as Twelfth Day or Drummers Drumming Day. It’s typically explained as being the day the magi visited the Christ child, but the date was likely chosen with respect to the winter solstice and then shuffled around thanks to the calendaring bureaucracy.

The traditional food for Epiphany is the Gallette des Rois, a thin and round flaky pastry disc filled with frangipane, with a single fève hidden inside. The gallette des rois is typically purchased with a cardboard crown wrapped around—the finder of the fève is crowned king for the day and (depending on the house rules) either has good luck for the year, or is obligated to buy the next bottle of champagne, or is obligated to purchase next year’s gallette des rois. Although fève literally translates as ‘bean’, it’s typically a little chunk of gold-coloured metal or a little ceramic figurine—thus, the ‘king’ may also unexpectedly get awarded the heimlich manoeuvre or major dental trauma.

Young children should be supervised while eating Gallette des Rois. You should watch your older children carefully as well, because sometimes they say the darndest things!

If you’re in London this weekend, checkout Jah knows the Green mon cometh, mon, there’s an interesting twist on the Gallette des Rois.  Methinks that the organisers need to be told that a fève is not a bean or pea, but a favour or token!

Posted by bigblue on 05/01/2007 at 06:05 AM
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Thursday, 04 January 2007
The Crown and Treaty

The Crown and Treaty pub in Uxbridge

This building is a pub known as The Crown and Treaty and is next to the bridge over the river Colne, in Uxbridge.  It is a site of historic interest, as outlined at the website:

At the end of the High Street on the Oxford Road stands the inn called The Crown and Treaty House. It faces the entrance to the Highbridge Industrial Estate and is opposite two very modern buildings of the 1990s. Above the entrance a legend is written, ‘Ancient Treaty House where the ill-fated Charles I held the memorable, but unsuccessful treaty with his Parliament in January 1645’.

The building was then two thirds larger and was originally known as Place House when it was built in the early sixteenth century. During the eighteenth century, with the expansion of the coaching trade through Uxbridge, part of the house was demolished and the Oxford Road was built through the gardens. The house then became a coaching inn with stabling for forty horses. The interior panelling which can be seen in the inn today is original. In 1924 it was removed and sold to an American businessman who used it to furnish his office in the Empire State Building (in the 1920s and 1930s there was a renewed interest in wood panelling and several designers were using it in their buildings). In 1953 the wood panelling was returned as a coronation gift to Elizabeth II who had it reinstalled in the inn.

The articles of the unsuccessful Uxbridge Treaty were drawn up by the “Scottish Presbyterian patriot”, Archibald Johnston.

Two of the figures in the foreground of my photograph are what have been known as hoodies (since about 1990).  A prat (since about 1969) recently suggested that hoodies need to be hugged.  As Maureen Lipman commented at the time:

David Cameron’s been having a happy week. He’s been trying to get us to hug a hoodie. Bless.

He’s going to be tough on the causes of crime; tough on the… causes of crime.

Dave, man: sometimes a hoodie can just be a mod, a rocker, a teddy boy, a punk, a goth - a rebel without a cause. But, you know: have a go if you like.

Posted by bigblue on 04/01/2007 at 06:52 AM
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Wednesday, 03 January 2007
Accident on the A25

Road Accident in Oxted

At this spot a few hours ago a pedestrian was knocked down by a car while crossing the road. There is a subway a hundred or so metres away, but people often don’t use it. Unfortunately this is where the speed limit drops from 50mph to 40mph although motor vehicles also tend to ignore the speed limit at this spot.  It is a fairly busy intersection but, because it is in a dip between two hills, cars and trucks tend to speed up in order to keep their momentum for the upcoming hill.

I have been thinking for some time that the speed should be reduced here to 30 mph, not just for safety but because:

The Surrey Green Party Manifesto calls for speed limits to be reduced from 30mph to 20mph in residential and shopping areas and by schools.  In principle I support this. In addition, reducing the speed of the A25 from 40 to 30 mph as it goes through Oxted won’t ensure that drivers always keep below this limit, but it will slow them down and improve safety (and noise levels).

In the photograph the police have completely blocked off the road to traffic and are diverting this through Oxted via Church Lane. Click here for different perspective of the police roadblock. 

I should also state that the police did not co-operate fully with my enquiries. One of the officers did explain to me that a pedestrian had been knocked down and assured me that he would ensure that my concerns were conveyed with the report on the accident to the committee that reviews road safety (and decides for example on speed cameras). He also assured me that they expect the pedestrian to survive. However two of the officers (in the car on the right) were engrossed in their paperwork and refused to answer my questions.  I recognised one of them from a previous encounter in which she was equally unco-operative with my enquiries.

Posted by bigblue on 03/01/2007 at 07:02 PM
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I was not kitsoned - I avoided buying one of these items of footware, despite all the sequins and what-have-you. They just didn’t have my colour.

Today was almost my lucky day, I received the following genuine email:

Avenue 17 Grace Hospital Road
Treich ville, Abidjan Cote d’Ivoire
West Africa.

Name: Mrs. Benedine DAVID
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Calvary greetings to you in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.,
My name is Mrs Benedine DAVID a nationality of Kuwait. I am married to Mr Johnson DAVID who worked with Kuwait embassy in IVORY COAST for nine years before he died in the plane crash of 31 october 2004[with egyptian airline 990] with other passengers aboard as you can confirm it yourself through this web site(
We were married for eleven years without a child.  Before he death we were both born again Christians.
When my late husband was alive we deposited the sum of USD$2.6Million (Two Million six hundred thousand
U.S.Dollars) with one of good bank here in IVORY COAST . Presently, this money is still with the
bank. Recently, my Doctor told me that I would not
last for the next three months due to cancer problem. Though what disturbs me most is my stroke. Having known my condition I decided to donate this
fund to church or good Christian individual that will utilize this money the way I am going to instruct here in.
I want a church that will use this fund to churches, orphanages, Research centres and widows propagating the word of God and to ensure that the house of God is maintained. The Bible made us to understand that blessed is the hand that giveth.
I took this decision because I don’t have any child that will inherit this money and my husband relatives are not Christians and I don’t want my husband money to be misused by unbelievers.I don’t want a situation where this money will be used in an ungodly manner. Hence the reason for taking this bold
decision. I am not afraid of death hence I know where
I am going. I know that I am going to be in the bosom
of the Lord.Exodus 14 VS 14 says that the lord will fight my case and I shall hold my peace. I don’t need any telephone communication in this regard because of my health because of the presence of my family
relatives are around me always. I don’t want them to know about this development.
With God all things are possible. As soon as I receive your reply I shall give you the contact of the Bank. I will also issue you a letter of authority that will empower you as the new beneficiary of this fund.

I want you and the church to always pray for me because the lord is my shepherd. My happiness is that I lived a life of a worthy Christian.
Whoever that wants to serve the Lord must serve him in spirit and truth.
Please always be prayerful all through your life. Any delay in your reply will give me room in sourcing for a church or Christian individual for this
same purpose. Please assure me that you will act Accordingly as I stated here. Expecting to hearing from you.
Remain blessed in the name of the Lord.
Yours in Christ,

Mrs Benedine DAVID

Unfortunately, bigbluemeanie is neither a church or good Christian individual so will not be able to take advantage of this fantastic opportunity. In case any of my readers fit into either category please go ahead and contact the dear lady yourself, however be wary.

Still today was my lucky day because I was awarded some more brownie points and another blog review.

Posted by bigblue on 03/01/2007 at 05:18 PM
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Countdown to what?

I found this countdown contraption on the side of a wall in a public facility at a top-secret location. (About).

Posted by bigblue on 03/01/2007 at 06:11 AM
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Tuesday, 02 January 2007
New Year Resolutions


My New Year’s Resolution is under threat today: I have caught the dreaded lurgy and was unable to go for a run this evening in the rain and cold. My second day: what a disappointment.

Hertfordshire University is seeking to enroll 10,000 people in an online experiment on making - and keeping - New Year’s . (Hat tip: Rebecca Blood). It’s not too late to sign up here.

Posted by bigblue on 02/01/2007 at 09:08 PM
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Monday, 01 January 2007
Black Boy

Black Boy Pub in Sevenoaks

This is the Black Boy pub in Sevenoaks. The official explanation for the name, as posted on the outside wall of the pub, goes as follows:

There are many versions behind the unusual name of this unique house.

The renowned author of Knole and the Sackvilles, Vita Sackville-West, mentions in her chapter on Knole House in James I’s reign, a John Morockoe, a Blackamoor. John must have been a remarkable man as it has been suggested that Black Boy Lane, now known as Bank Street, was named after him.

Another suggestion is that the lane was named after a teacher from Sevenoaks School.

Whatever the reason we do know that the Black Boy dates back to 1616, it is therefore fitting that you can once again sit back and enjoy atmosphere [sic] of this ancient inn, coupled with the hospitality of Shepherd Neame, Britain’s Oldest Brewers, who also date back to the 17th Century.

Far from being a unique house, this pub is one of at least five pubs of the same name that can be found in England today. The other four are:

  1. Black Boy pub in Bushey Heath, Watford, London;
  2. Black Boy in Banbury;
  3. Black Boy in Bewdley; and
  4. Blackboy’s Inn in Uckfield.

There are also about 10 English streets or villages bearing this name.

Following the same theme there was a pub in Back Lane, Exeter called Labour in Vain. The Exeter Memories website gives a more frank explanation of the probable origins of the name:

Mentioned Flying Post 1846 ref AER, fate unknown. One known derivation of this name is displayed on the sign - it shows a black-boy being washed to make him white - they weren’t so politically correct in former times.

The British Muslim Heritage website has an interesting article on coffee, which is believed to have been introduced to Britiain in the 17th Century. (Many records were destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666).

Whether some of these coffee-houses were actually run by Muslim proprietors at one time is a matter for conjecture. However, what can be found in the records are a number of very interesting names. Up to 57 different “Turk’s Head” coffee-houses were recorded in one form or other. We also find “The Jerusalem Coffee-house”; various types of the “Blackamoor” or “Ye Blackmore’s Head”; “The Oriental Cigar Divan”; “The Saracen’s Head” (of Dickens fame); “The Africa and Senegal Coffee-house”; “The Sultaness”; “The Sultan’s Head”; “Solyman’s Coffee House”; “Morat Ye Great”, and many, many more examples can be found, among them the first Indian restaurant of London, “The Hindoostanee” of 1810.

Each coffee-house has its own interesting history. They were all certainly influenced by the Ottoman coffee-house model, which does raise questions about the origins of at least the first few proprietors. Coffee-houses served not only coffee, but some of them offered the lure of tobacco and hookah pipes; tea was also served as it found its way over from the China seas (also initially via the Muslim world). The serving staff seems to have dressed the part, and a “black boy” seeking refuge from the West Indies was sometimes employed as a star attraction to customers. The signs outside, and with them the coffee tokens that were used to purchase, were often be-turbaned.

The “Great Turk Coffee House” (also known as “Morat Ye Great”) in Exchange Alley in 1662 is a case in point. Apparently, inside could be found a bust of “Sultan Almurath IV” himself, “the most detestable tyrant that ever ruled the Ottoman Empire”. The customer could not only find coffee, tea and tobacco here, but also chocolate and a range of sherbets, which, according to the Mercurius Publicus (12-19 March 1662), were “made in Turkie; made of lemons, roses, and violets perfumed”. Another chronicler of the time has suggested that “Morat” was actually the name of the proprietor himself.

The London Gazette of 2-8 September, 1658 advertised what is purported to be the first place to sell tea: “That Excellent, and by all Physitians approved, China Drink, called by Chineans, Tcha, by other Nations Tay, alias Tee, is sold at the Sultaness-head, a Cophee-house, in Sweeting’s Rents by the Royal Exchange, London”. The tokens for the coffee-house bore the Sultaness’ veiled head. Its origins are otherwise obscure, other than it may have moved to the site of Morat Ye Great after its destruction in the Great Fire. The Sultaness Coffee House was also mentioned by Charles Dickens in a number of his works, notably Little Dorrit, and this implies the survival of this particular coffee-house for about two hundred years.


These coffee-houses took London society by storm for about 400 years. They functioned not only as social venues, but many artists and writers began to congregate and hold meetings in them; business and banking transactions took place in them; Freemasons had their Lodge meetings in them. Many coffee-houses, due to their sea-born connections, even set up a postal system for collecting and carrying letters abroad, which annoyed the struggling Postal Service no end. Often they went hand in hand with Turkish baths, which were also becoming a popular London feature. Whatever the local ethos of the area, whether it be one of literary prowess or ill-repute, the coffee-house became the main focal-point for all of this activity. They even gained a reputation for being meeting places for religious or political dissidents, and hence at one point in the mid to late seventeenth century were “under suspicion as being centres of intrigue and treasonable-talk”.

Most coffee shops in the UK today probably have an American theme, and have names that evoke the USA with words like Republic and Star in the name.

Posted by bigblue on 01/01/2007 at 08:51 PM
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