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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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Sunday, 31 December 2006

Topshop Ghost Child

I went shopping with bluemeanie this afternoon and we found this notebook with a picture of a “haunted toy doll” on the cover. Cute it is not. Perhaps it’s a left-over relic from Halloween. Perhaps Topshop are going to branch out into a different market: gothic horror.

Posted by bigblue on 31/12/2006 at 10:12 PM
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Saturday, 30 December 2006
Catching up

coffee republic

Over the past few days I have been participating in the traditional return of the sun celebrations, but ironically I haven’t been seeing much daylight because I have been waking up just as it starts to get dark. I also think that my body has been complaining (through the medium of headache) about the reduced caffeine intake so I headed off to the coffee shop in Sevenoaks today to get a large espresso. Although the employees in the coffee shop pronounce it expresso they can still make a decent version.  Surprisingly I got to the coffee shop while it was still light (I had been out till 2:30 am Saturday morning with Raghav and Sergio). I found that I had to be persistant in interupting the social discussions of the staff in the coffee shop to get them to make the espresso.

Later I looked out the window and watched the rain. We have experienced some stormy weather today and last night.


Posted by bigblue on 30/12/2006 at 09:46 PM
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Thursday, 28 December 2006
Mrs Scott rocks!

Mike Scott's mum 4eva

I was struck by this graffiti in a parking garage in Tunbridge Wells. I have no idea who either Mike or Mrs Scott are - but I suspect that this graffiti has nothing to do with either Mike Scott of the Waterboys or Michael Caine and his mother. Caine’s real name is Maurice Joseph Micklewhite but his original stage name was Micheal Scott.

Posted by bigblue on 28/12/2006 at 05:19 PM
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Wednesday, 27 December 2006
Fog in Uxbridge

Uxbridge Canal

This is the recent London fog at the Grand Union Canal in Uxbridge, London. From here you can

walk or cycle down the tow-path all the way to Camden Lock (or back the other way to Birmingham, but that might take some time).

The fog has now lifted, apparently for the rest of this year.

Posted by bigblue on 27/12/2006 at 10:29 PM
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Tuesday, 26 December 2006
Christmas time

M25 roadworks

And so it was Christmas, and it’s all but over now. I had a fairly peaceful time with extended family and friends at Mudkip’s place. I’m also enjoying a break from work as I only return in the new year. On Christmas night, after all the celebrations were over, I did a trip down the M25 and back (to drop a friend at home). I found this band of workers had shut down all but one lane anti-clockwise between junctions 8 and 7 as they were carrying out some bridge maintenance.  After all the complaints one hears (or makes) about the disruptions caused by such maintenance during inconvenient times it is good to see that sometimes such work is scheduled at a time when it is most convenient to the general public (and most inconvenient to the workers carrying it out). The photo was taken after midnight, so it was already Boxing Day. Personally I would prefer nobody to have to work on Christmas Day (and other key public holidays) but of course we should be remember and be grateful to those who work the emergency and essential services on those days.

Posted by bigblue on 26/12/2006 at 10:31 PM
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Sunday, 24 December 2006
Back to Bling


I took this photograph in Hurst Green the other evening. It is a (rare) example of two semi-detached neighbours co-operating with their housebling.  Hurst Green is the housebling capital of Oxted.

There was a power outage for most of the day today which affected the Limpsfield end of Oxted, Westerham, Brasted and some other surrounding areas. There is no indication that someone’s housebling short-circuited and tripped the power in a local substation.

Posted by bigblue on 24/12/2006 at 11:05 PM
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