April 3, 2020

Lockdown Cooking: 3 Mimosa Salad

Today I return to the former Soviet Union whose population knew a thing or two about stretching out limited stocks of food. Anyone who ever visited the USSR will be familiar with shops filled with not a lot except tinned fish and might have gone away with the idea the people just loved the stuff. Not much truth in that, they were prepared to queue for hours to get rare fresh fish.

In the battle to feed its vast empire during WW2 a woman was recruited to oversee this daunting task. She was Polina Zhemchuzhina and she shook up the whole fishing and processing business. She became the People’s Commissar for Fisheries and introduced large-scale canning factories and re-organised fish processing to ‘ramp up’, as today’s parlance goes, output of tinned fish right across the country.

Tinned fish had been around for years but the preference was for fresh so to persuade people to buy the canned kind the Central Committee of the Communist Party came up with a tale that pearl smugglers hid jewellery in tins of fish. To prove the point a can was opened in public and to everyone’s amazement, other than those government officials behind the scam, a pearl necklace was produced out of it. They couldn’t keep cans of fish on the shelves such was the clamour for the stuff. Polina and the Fish Factory was the forerunner of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with pearls in place of Charlie Bucket’s golden ticket, only there were no pearls.

Stalin was a hard man to please and Polina was condemned as an enemy of the people and thrown into a labour camp for five years – don’t know why but not for her tinned fish scheme surely. She was released. Still a Stalinist.

Stalinism on a plate

traditional-russian-salad-with-a-salmon-mimosa-traditional-russian-vegetable-salad-with-a-salmon-stock-photo_csp23450222

Mimosa Salad

Serves 4
4-5 eggs, hardboiled and shelled and grated
1-2 carrot, boiled till soft, grated
1 small onion, grated and blanched in boiling water
400g tinned fish, drained and broken up with fork
150g mayonnaise
Optional:
1 apple, grated
100g cheese, grated
100g butter, frozen then grated

Build up salad in layers: fish, mayonnaise, onion, egg, mayonnaise, fish, mayonnaise, onion, egg, mayonnaise, carrot, mayonnaise, egg.
If using apple, cheese and butter add to layers.

The whites and yolks of the eggs should be separately grated, but life’s too short. The yellow yolk provides the colour of the mimosa flower.

Ref: CCR Cook Book; Olga and Pavel Syutkin.

 

 

 

March 31, 2020

Year of the Plague – Self-isolation week 2

Another week of self-isolation and it’s beginning to feel normal. Odd that instead of lying in bed planning the next day’s activities there’s a feeling it doesn’t really matter because what’s not done tomorrow can be done the day after, the week after or the month after – all being well. All being well is the qualification of everything said and planned at present. All being well. The great unknown has taken on far greater resonance of late. About the only thing that has become regular and a priority is the daily assiduous bathroom clean followed by door handles including the front door, inside and out, the letterbox, doorbell and computer keyboards.

But, anyway, one or two events shook up the monotony of last week. My new spectacles arrived. As all deliveries are placed in quarantine for three days before moving into their permanent positions it took a few days to check them, usually done at the opticians. Two pairs, both varifocals – one normal and the other sunglasses. The sunglasses are fine although their designer case is way too over-engineered but the ordinary pair made me feel I was walking through syrup. Phoned the optician who were very good about it – clearly I couldn’t take them back or post them and anyway they were about to close down until – well, until whenever so I’m back to wearing my old pair.

Lots of deliveries this week from online shopping to join the specs in quarantine. Notice now up in porch for packages to be left there, quite safe as we’re always in except when out for a short walk and anyway all the criminals are in lockdown, too.

Mild panic when we couldn’t get access to our usual supermarket home delivery. Gave up after 30 mins on phone but days later persevered, waited over 50 mins and someone picked up. This someone was a young woman with young children who could be heard crying in the background. Felt for the poor woman. She sorted out our problem and a delivery is due next week – a moderate-no-panic-buying-type delivery. I’d highlighted an issue for people like me in Scotland on Twitter and it was taken up by an MSP who was straight onto the supermarket concerned and so now, hopefully, the difficulty is sorted for others in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That’s one of the advantages of living in a small country, sense of collectivism. Also on Twitter had a bit of a run-in with someone from BBC Scotland over its haphazard broadcasting of daily updates on coronavirus from the First Minister, Medical Officer of Health for Scotland and a Scottish government minister. Radio listeners in Scotland have got used to second best but is it too much to ask for them to take Covid-19 more seriously than sport or local news bulletins? Evidently it is.

Been having usual sort of printer problems which involved having to order a supply of paper. It arrived about two weeks before the date given – that is blooming fast. So many jobs to do on the computer it was almost like being back at work but with the weather being generally good am still getting out most days for a walk on what has become far busier roads and even the farm track where it’s always been just me, my shadow and I is attracting neighbours in their multitudes (relatively speaking) entailing a good bit of nipping onto verges and general awkwardness. First primroses flowering, lambs appearing and dippers darting up the burn. Talking of birds the little hollow in a tree opposite the house where various birds have nested over the years is been investigated by a couple of jackdaws, one sticking its head right into the hole and another pecking down from the top. Today starlings looked like they were thinking of moving in. That’s not going to end well.

Eventually got around to running off the FT weekend crossword. It’s almost completed. As another week’s gone by there’s another one waiting to be run off. Rushed through His Bloody Project I mentioned last time. It’s set around Applecross but could as easily be set in Devon for as a Highlander I don’t recognise it as in any way Highland through description or language. Different setup for a novel. Just not to my taste. Still not finished watching Better Call Saul. We’re on season 4 and frankly it’s a bit dull, not as good as the first three. Began an occasional blog of quirky recipes for the self-isolating (nearly the whole of the world) but don’t think many are impressed with my selections so far.

Our household has had one birthday and one anniversary this week – with all the fizz of flat Champagne. There are far worse things to contend with. And finally, we updated our wills by speaker phone. Desperate times.

Stay safe.

March 29, 2020

Lockdown Cooking: 2 Beanery Graveyard Stew

I trust you have all fully recovered from sampling yesterday’s delight of fried eggs and jam and having decided against too much of a good thing are now looking for something a little different.

Today is just that but retaining the sweetness that many crave. It’s taken from a Canadian cook book this time and is a recipe that was a favourite with men who long ago crewed the railroads in western Canada, allegedly.

Canadian_Pacific_Railroad_2

Beanery Graveyard Stew

2 slices white bread, well toasted
Hot milk
Brown sugar
Cinnamon (or a little butter)

Cut the toast into small squares and put into a soup bowl. Pour over the hot milk. Sprinkle on cinnamon and brown sugar to taste.

Sounds like an instant bread pudding.

Buen provecho

March 28, 2020

Lockdown cooking: 1 Fried Eggs and Jam

Once the monotony of lockdown sets in sapping your imagination for preparing meals – don’t despair for I aim to help you work through those foods you stockpiled in the early mad days of just-in-case shopping.

Recipes will come from a variety of sources including a wonderful little book on food in the former USSR from which I’ve taken today’s suggestion. My offerings will be selected for: 1. their simplicity and 2. their quirkiness. You don’t have to be a whizz at culinary preparation to enjoy a good square meal and a smile. Please note fish might sometimes be included but not meat. If you are looking for meat dishes I suggest you try your local abattoir.

Today’s is taken from this volume and could not be simpler to prepare.

fried eggs and jam6

Fried Eggs with Jam

2 eggs per person
Jam, any flavour
Fresh fruit garnish

Fry the eggs for 1-2 mins, cover for a moment or two so the yolk gets a glaze. Serve with jam of your choice and a handful of berries or currants.

Bon appetit.

 

 

March 24, 2020

Year of the Plague in 2020 a far from average year – self-isolation diary. Week 1.

Today is Tuesday March 24th which marks my (our) first week in self-isolation. I was lucky enough to have a pre-booked hair appointment on the Monday before taking to inside. My wonderful hairdresser, Sarah, cut my hair with a view to me not getting back to have it cut for months. Was in two minds about going along to her because of anxiety over contagion but she cheered me up. Her website shows her salon is now closed, till the pestilence has passed, as she puts it.

Next day we did our final shopping in the local village. A sombre affair with people clearly worried despite the gorgeous weather. Not everything available but that’s become the norm. Drove back home and locked the door (metaphorically speaking.)

Wednesday was again very sunny and spring-like. We’re so fortunate to have a garden with lots of flowers, shrubs and trees all behaving normally and bursting with life and colour. And a garden means we can work in it and wander around and sit in.

Hellebores in the garden

Ongoing sore throat and cough, so ongoing I’m sure they’re nothing to worry about. Lucky, too, we have quiet places to walk close to us. Check when neighbours go out and come back and nip out before the next lot get their boots on. We’re very rural so there aren’t many immediate neighbours.

The weather is still great on the Thursday with the briefest of a shower later on. I have food intolerances so a bit worried about not being able to get what have become essential foods for me as small shops close so ordered online from a health chain. Phoned the optician to explain I couldn’t get in to pick up my new glasses and they promised to send them out.

On Friday made short video while walking locally along a farm track, always things to see and hear – birds, flowers, mosses, trees, the sky, running water in the burn. Very uplifting but I was suddenly hit by the threat we are all living under while nature does its usual spring stuff. Nature = benign and nature = malign. Our supermarket order from 3 weeks ago was delivered. I dreaded being confronted by the guy at the door. He kept his distance and I kept a scarf over half my face! Probably he thought I was mad. Ah well. I’d let them know I was in one of those ‘vulnerable’ categories so brilliantly they’d packed everything into those usually shunned plastic carrier bags. We put them into an empty room and left everything except fridge and freezer items for three days in case of contagion. Yes, we’re that paranoid. Lots of alternatives and some things I’d never ever order but we couldn’t find the stuff quickly so just accepted the lot.

Couldn’t face not having the FT’s weekend quiz and crossword to do so took out digital subscription to it but haven’t worked out if I can fill in the crossword through the downloaded pdf so decided to print it off.

Days are taken up editing writing. Discovered read aloud on Word and find it a great way to speed up tedious proofing. Publisher was in touch to say that book due out in May might not be because of events. Got me thinking that some of the companies included in it might not be around once we get out of this horror. Sobering thought.

Ordered a few more items online from an Aberdeen health store. They’re always reliable but I wish they’d offer more such as food items. Trying to figure out if dentists will be available if things go wrong. What if the central heating breaks down?

Kindnesses emerge. Online contacts offer to deliver food/medicines and a couple of local women have put a leaflet through the door with their phone numbers on offering the same.

One week in and my mood fluctuates between feeling optimistic (don’t ask me why) and horrible sinking despair. I’m very worried about my family, several have health issues and so are vulnerable and some have lost their jobs as places shut down. Friends, too – and so I got back in touch with a very old friend on Facebook (which I dislike) and found he’s doing okay but very reliant on a younger relative. Lots of messaging going back and fore.

Yesterday, Monday, the teenager next door was out exercising, running around their garden, and soon her mother joined her. Today we went out for a walk along the road. All quiet, a wave from passing farmer, until on our way back another farmer chose that moment to drop off his ewes and lambs – getting out of his truck to open the gate. We slowed down, shouted our hellos, and speeded past once he’d crossed the road. Can’t be too careful. I’ll repeat that, can’t be too careful. And I still haven’t run off the FT crossword. Maybe this afternoon. Our evenings are largely taken up reading – just finished The Life of Irène Némirovsky and starting Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project watching Better Call Saul which is hugely entertaining. Thumbs up for Netflix. No sign of my new spectacles arriving.

Stay safe.

March 19, 2020

Covid-19 – Coronavirus and the Libertarian

Guest blog by Textor

Things, as they say, are sometimes liable to come back to bite you.

That is if you let your guard down.

And let’s face it many of us have in one way or another let our guards down.

Coronavirus aka Covid-19 has bought home to us that as content as we are in our privileged advanced (there’s a cultural joke) economies the world is other than it seems. Assuming we are not in the gig economy, not queuing at a food bank then things can only get better. We who have access to a fair number of the good things of life; we who thought the real world was little more than novelties in the digital market place – including the delights of Amazon Prime or Netflix – or ever more commodities; we have been brought up short in little over three months by the brute fact of Nature.  Bang! Nature has reared up and taken an almighty bite out of this hubris.

Yes, we are all more or less aware, all more or less concerned/unconcerned about climate change and the impact of the Anthropocene (the Age deemed to be when humankind’s effect upon the planet Earth has been sufficient to cause global, catastrophic change.) Regardless of the evident societal alterations required to alleviate a “far off” doom we – those lucky enough to avoid floods, devastating fires etc.- could in the short term just get on with it; recycle as if there were no tomorrow you might say. Waiting for the end of climate change.

But sometimes Nature does not allow us the luxury of waiting for the apocalypse: coronavirus is just such a time. For decades microbiologists have been predicting the coming of a pandemic. The so-called Spanish Flu provided a model of how devastating a modern microbiological disaster could be. Wikipedia gives figures as high as 100 million dying in the influenza pandemic of 1918-20; more than the man-made slaughter on the battlefields of the Great War. Science had the capacity to devise the most wonderful weapons of death but could not stop the ‘flu.

Evolution has “designed” a human organism capable of sophisticated speech with the capacity to adapt itself to wide variations of environmental conditions. At the same time, and perhaps a necessary part of being human, it put its stamp on Nature. Beavers might dam rivers and create lakes but humans could build the Grand Coulee Dam, produce electricity to power a so-called Second Industrial Revolution. Clever, even ambitious. But no matter how sophisticated is the vast commodity producing system that is industrial capitalism it is no match for the potential speed at which a micro-organism might evolve. Humans have brains big enough to predict outcomes and have the technical knowhow (probably) to design and manufacture anti-virals capable of slowing and even halting the spread of Covid-19 – yes humans could in the next few months do this. But for all this Nature remains unconquered. Natural selection continues without any mastermind operating behind the scenes. And we know, or should know, that this process of selection can be good for some species and bad for others.

And so, the long-predicted crisis has arrived. The pandemic is here and the search goes on for a solution. As with previous modern national and global health events the pharmaceutical industry play a crucial role. However, historically necessary component solutions come under the direction and control of local or national state apparatuses. In other words, individuals/institutions are first advised and then told what to do. Sanctions are threatened and sanctions are imposed.

Nothing new in this. Here in northeast Scotland as far back as the 15th century Aberdeen’s magistrates fearful of plague had the bell rung through the medieval town proclaiming the city’s ports (gates) close, lokit with lokis and keis, at night to prevent strangers entering unobserved. A compact medieval town could very swiftly succumb to viral and bacterial threats. Medieval doctors and apothecaries knew little of the causes of infectious diseases but empirically they were aware that for all claims of God expending his wrath on a sinful community, contagion could be slowed by isolating infected families and potential carriers. Whether this would thwart Divine justice was maybe a theological point not to be dwelt upon. And, it’s worth noting that certainly by the 17th century Aberdeen’s magistrates were also attempting to clean the city of middens, street filth and asking that households be kept clean. This lesson on the need for cleanliness was largely lost by the early 19th century when poorer parts of Aberdeen where people living cheek-by-jowl and in slum conditions were condemned to the horrors of cholera and dysentery. This was industrialising capitalism; the poor were there to be exploited and maybe pitied.

As the centuries progressed even more controls were imposed. Vessels were prevented from entering the harbour, merchandise was left in ship holds. On the other hand, when the threat was seen to be coming from internal migration strangers were banned from entering the town. Town ports were watched and at one stage in 1606 dealers in timber were told to stay away under paine of death. Trade suffered as commodities ceased to flow between manufacturers, tradesmen and consumers. In 1647, again in the midst of plague, draconian measures were introduced with, for example, all ydle stranger beggars . . .  forthwith removed and banished. Any who returned were to be scourged, branded and driven out.

Authoritarian management is a basic mechanism for control of epidemic-pandemic events. Our current crisis has stark contrasts. On the one hand the relatively fast and severe imposition of lock-down in parts of China. With over seventy years of state control the Chinese Communist Party has an apparatus better adapted to widespread controls than liberal democracies. Compare the Chinese response to the bumbling worlds of the UK and USA brought stumbling towards closing doors and mass quarantine.

These manoeuvres will probably bring howls of anger from libertarians both right and left – those who don’t want to be told what to do by the state. Their individual rights, some might say entitlement, trumps (if you’ll pardon the expression) all else. Allowing for the nastiness of all three states mentioned (China, US and UK) this form of libertarianism smacks of, at best, infantile petulance and at worst disintegrative individualism which fails to recognise a larger vision of human community even one within a capitalist formation. Remember the outcry about seat belts and crash helmets – with cries of freedom from state tyranny? Of course the consequences of a libertarian freedom to roam in a time of a modern plague threatens not only the lives of the defence of freedom lobby but ultimately the well-being of global communities. 

And the bite of Nature? As much as humankind imagines itself master/mistress of the world the reality is otherwise. From small nibbles such as occasional volcanic eruption to the all-encompassing bite of climate change Nature exists, not dependent on human imagination, not caring one way or another what happens to humans or any other species. It, if that’s the correct word, does what it does.Humans although in Nature and of Nature are different insofar as this species can make choices. It can gather knowledge, can know history and can act. There lies the rub.

March 7, 2020

The High Price of Coffee

Guest post by Textor

Agent Dale Cooper’s much-loved phrase damn fine cup of coffee helped put the dark beverage back on the trending map in the 1990s. Since then it has been once again boosted, this time by hipsterdom and the emergence of the barista. Long gone are the days when the most exotic flavour of coffee was one containing a slug of whisky – or roasted bullocks’ livers; sometimes added to coffee as an adulteration in the 19th century.

Coffee by Mike Kenneally

We hear so much about globalisation today as though the machinations, strategies and practices of industry and capital across the globe are a recent invention. There’s no doubt that since the 1980s the international mobility of capital has increased with whole industries moving lock-stock-and barrel across state boundaries. Commentators tell us that this free-flow of capital and enterprise in search of cheap, more “efficient” labour, and advantageous tax and tariff benefits offered by some national states, has led to the abandonment of so-called traditional industrial workers and their communities. Those affected have to compete for low-paid work or try to live on desperately poor state benefits. It is this, it is said, that lies behind the pathetic fight-back seen in the rise of Trump in the USA and closer to home in the votes given to the Tory party by working class voters in the north of England.

But don’t be fooled. While acknowledging the rapidity of industrial and commercial change in the past four decades it remains true that industrial capitalism was founded on its global reach which entailed the creation of new labour forces and the destruction of “traditional” communities. At times this was a zero sum game with winners and losers across the globe; in the 19th-20th centuries most of the winners were in Europe and North America as national capitals industrialised and turned to far-flung countries and communities for raw materials and cheap labour.This global division of labour literally paid dividends not only for investors but portions of the British working class, although given the necessary competitive nature of capitalism this was always vulnerable to the fluctuations of business cycles, technological innovation and the turbulence of international relations. This meant booms as well as times of depression  with unemployment and wage struggles as workers fought for their own interests. Britain was the empire builder of the 19th century. The stretch of its “pink” across the globe was achieved by a mixture of commercial power and military might with “formal” and “informal” forces conspiring to bring the benefits of global trade back to British capitalists.

Map of the world showing the extent of the British Empire 1886

A player in this ever-expanding world-wide market place was William McKinnon of Aberdeen, engineer and iron founder. Originating in 1798 this business on the north side of what was then still a compact city, more medieval in form than modern industrial, McKinnon’s seems to have made do with local customers until about 1850. Its integration into the global market came as a result of an expansion in demand for tropical products, notably coffee, cacao and tea; raw materials which had the distinction of involving the exploitation of indigenous and migrant  labour and land in “faraway” places. While historian Regina Wagner asserts that in the 1840s McKinnon’s “mass produced” coffee machinery I think it’s more accurate to date this to the 1860s and I’d be hesitant about calling it mass production. These caveats aside, it’s true to say that the tropical product market gave McKinnon’s an international reputation which lasted into the 21st century. What’s in a name? In the case of some of McKinnon’s processing machinery are references to a history of imperial enterprise, industrial expansion and, at times, ruthless exploitation; specifically the names Smout, Guardiola and Okrassa who designed machines manufactured in Aberdeen for exporting to coffee plantations in places such as Guatemala in Central America.

McKinnon’s penetration of a markets thousands of miles from Aberdeen seems to have flowed from  a connection with one James Gordon, a locally-trained engineer who in the 1840s “followed the flag” to Ceylon where he became a partner in Affleck & Gordon of Bogambara. After about seven years abroad he returned to Britain and founded the London-based John Gordon & Co. Colonial Engineers. Familiar with Aberdeen’s engineering industries he linked up with McKinnon and this relationship led to the expansion of McKinnon’s tropical trade. To get back to the Guatemala connection and coffee. Three men, Julius Smout, José Guardiola and Emil Robert Okrassa independently designed coffee processing machinery which McKinnon, through either expiring patents or acquisition of rights, manufactured products to their designs.

For something like 700 years (250-900 CE) Mayan civilisation dominated the American isthmus. The area’s entry to European history came in the 16th century when Spanish forces landed with the intention of plundering, Christianising and colonising what became Guatemala, part of the so-called New World although, of course, it was only new to the colonisers. This brought to the land and its peoples an abiding connection with Europe which after the fall of the Spanish Empire and Guatemalan “independence” in the 1820s the country became a small focal point in the web of global trade.

Central America c1840s

Julius Smout, from Landsberg in Prussia travelled to Guatemala in the 1840s, an employee of the Belgian Colonization Company. The name betrays its intention. With the connivance of Leopold I and the Guatemalan government the BCC acquired 264,000 acres of “undeveloped” land and was responsible for expelling indigenous peoples from the land. In return the company committed to invest in commerce and industry and in typical imperialist fashion it was awarded tax concessions and monopoly rights. But even this was not enough to guarantee success. BCC organisation seems to have been shambolic; local merchants opposed its monopolization of trade and the company went bankrupt in 1854. Julius Smout was nonetheless in the right place at the right time, at least right for any westerner hoping to benefit from the potential of the tropical land. The ingenious Smout designed a coffee huller and polisher (essential processes in coffee production) so good it was said to process beans to perfection. When Julius sold the patent to John Gordon the Aberdeen connection was made. McKinnon’s went on to manufacture thousands of Smout’s compact hullers and polishers as well as large models, including one which could process 123 tons a day. The compact machines were ideal for small plantations: cheap and fairly easily transportable – to high ground inland where coffee was grown. Replacement parts were despatched from distant Aberdeen or London. Coffee production burgeoned in Guatemala with Europe’s and North America’s near insatiable demand for the beverage.

Smout Peeler and Polisher

Between 1860 and the 1870s production spread like wildfire. Managers, engineers and agronomists arrived to oversee plantation labour, mostly indigenous Mayans whose land was taken for turned over to satisfying the international taste for coffee. While foreign capital invested in coffee production some local landowners, too, looked to take advantage of this expanding market. One such Guatemalan landowner was José Guardiola. Guardiola owned an estate close to the city of Escuintla. He was enthusiastic about the commercialisation of the area’s agriculture and when the Catholic Church began to sell off parcels of land once farmed by independent Mayan families, José was an early investor. Eventually he owned close on 8000 acres. His coffee and cacao estate was called Finca Chocola: Chocola was Mayan for ancient city – little consolation for dispossessed Mayans with ever increasing wealth and power being concentrated in the hands of men of European origin. The inventive landowner increased the profitability of his estate with his design of a dryer capable of processing 120 sacks of beans per day. Apparently when the dryer patent terminated McKinnon stepped in to manufacture an improved version that could be used on either coffee or cacao beans; this was about 1882. In 1891 Guardiola sold the estate to a German businessman.

Guardiola Dryer

The last of the trio, Emil Robert Okrassa, was yet another German. He arrived in Guatemala in 1884 to work on an estate near Antigua in the country’s central highlands (Antigua is now an UNESCO designated World Heritage site.) Famed for its Spanish-influenced architecture the city is evidence of Guatemala’s role in the history of colonisation. By the time Emil arrived coffee exports from Guatemala stood at more than 134 million kilograms annually. Similar to earlier inventors he recognised how technological improvements could ease labour shortages while ensuring the quality of processed beans was consistently high. Okrassa patented a de-pulper in 1891 and an improved polisher and huller. In the first decade of the 20th century he sold patent rights to processors in the USA and McKinnon in Aberdeen. Their roles in the development of coffee processing is the reasons the three names, Smout, Guardiola and Okrassa were cast onto the sides of the coffee trade’s iron machinery and recorded in the pages of the company’s catalogues.

Okrassa Dryer

This period of High Victorian enterprise had its winners and losers. In Aberdeen men fortunate enough to find regular employment in McKinnon’s engineering shops were guaranteed an income. In addition, through a combination of political and trade struggles, allied with progressive employers and others, conditions of employment were improved. It was not a Golden Age for Aberdeen workers but compared to, for example, the horrors which were to be found in textile mills pre-1850 things were definitely better for these men. On the other side of the world workers harvesting tropical products such as coffee were being marginalised from the political process while workers in Britain were slowly being granted franchise rights. Economic power in tropical estates was concentrated in non-indigenous hands and local workers were pushed into debt bondage where running away was often the only way of escaping the clutches of employers. Even today gang masters are still to be found, as is child labour. The long history of colonisation and racism has left a deep and dark mark on Central America.

Harvesting Coffee, Guatemala 1870s

So, enough of the current whinge that globalisation is something new. Enough of the story which has Britain hard done by. Enough of the cry “if only we had not surrendered sovereignty” life would be so much better. This is and has been for a long time the mark of capitalist exploitation. British capital advanced through the 19th century by doing just this and in the process was able to concede benefits to the working class. Of course at the same time it was wasting other cultures and at times reducing foreign labour to all but slavery. This was the hugely productive economic and colonial chain which bound the Victorian world.

McKinnon’s, for all the skills that went into the manufacture of Smout, Guardiola and Okrassa machines, and the pride that men and their families might have felt seeing the company’s name on crates bound for the tropics, it should be remembered that this was but one link in a sometimes cruel enterprise.

The machinery developed by Smout, Guardiola and Ossaka were mainly successful in ensuring beans left plantations in fine condition and ready for roasting to satisfy differing tastes. They still do but Aberdeen’s engineering works, once indispensable to the trade have long gone. And just as 19th century processing technologies can still be found in 21st century plantations so, sad to say, are harsh exploitative conditions. At the larger level, as with all capitalist production, the industry is subject to the ups and downs of supply and demand and practices of their major producers and processors. At the local level – where the trees are grown, where the coffee cherry is harvested, where pulpers, peelers, dryers and graders turn out beans for the world market, there is still child labour, debt bondage and environmental damage – all to satisfy a craving for caffeine and, of course, turn a profit.  So next time you have a cup of Joe remember how it was and still is manufactured. What might be good for you might not be so good for others.

See http://www.chocolaproject.org/finca.html

See https://old.danwatch.dk/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Bitter-coffee-Guatemala-2016.pdf

See https://foodispower.org/our-food-choices/coffee/

February 27, 2020

Don’t try this at home, folks: quack medicine, bloodletting and a hen coop at sea

Fear over the spread of coronavirus has led to a spate of so-called miracle cures such as drinking a couple of ginger teas daily. That sounds as useful as Spectator and Financial Times journalist Camilla Cavendish’s recommendation of aerobic exercise to fight off dementia. Neither the tea or exercise will harm you but as for their efficacy – I have my doubts. Much like the ginger tea advice for coronavirus, a strong infusion of elder blossom and peppermint tea at bedtime was recommended to stall death.

Miracle cure claims are as old as the hills. Before drugs were controlled some terrifying concoctions found their way into people’s stomachs, and other parts, with fatal consequences. At the beginning of the 20th century the British Medical Association published information warning the public about quack ‘remedies’ widely advertised and available. The scoundrels who promised cures for everything from alcoholism to corns had a ready market for access to a doctor was usually way beyond the means of most people. The BMA’s cautionary advice might stop folk wasting their money on swallowing cod’s wallop, some deadly, but did not provide alternative relief to impoverished sick people.

Box’s Golden Fire was poisonous. People still purchased it. It is often said that people today live longer than in the past – they don’t. People in the past did live to ripe old ages but fewer of them than now. There were lots of reasons for the incidences of premature death – poor health, dangerous working conditions, accidents, overcrowded living conditions, general filth, lack of sewerage, poor medical facilities and treatment etc – and so of all causes of premature death quack cures probably rate low but they did contribute to dispatching the desperate.

What of Box of the poisonous Golden Fire? Mr Box claimed he could cure cancer, TB, diphtheria, wind, influenza, heart disease and blindness, to name a few. Another of his wheezes, his Electric Fluid of Intense Power – was promoted as being able to dissolve ‘obstructions’ in the system (of sufferers.) Frankly that sounds terrifying.

But, what of his Golden Fire? It could be rubbed on or swallowed. The fire referred to ‘the hidden fire or life of plants and flowers, the “Quint-essence of Life!” His punctuation. “Bottled Fire!” “Bottled Health!” “Bottled Life!” Box was also keen on Biblical quotes to validate his claims, a particularly nasty trait aimed at winning over the sick and vulnerable folk who had little or no access to health care.

And quack medicines were never short of testimonials.

‘My brother-in-law had his leg jammed in South Africa between rocks just above the ankle. He came home, and feared he would be a cripple for life. I advised him to get you Pills and “Golden Fire,” which he did, and after 6 days a spot came out under the heel as Black As Your Hat. He has since left for America Quite Cured.’

I still haven’t said what’s in his Golden Fire. Here we go. Box was enraged by the BMA casting aspersions on his ‘cure’ so in order to ‘sew up the lying lips’ of the medical authorities he submitted his Golden Fire to chemical analysis. His Fire contained ‘certain carefully selected and powerful, but perfectly innocent, ingredients…’, according to him. These ingredients consisted of acetic acid (which can damage skin, eyes and internal organs), sodium chloride (salt), volatile oils (eucalyptus, camphor, amber, rosemary, alcohol, starch, dextrin (glucose), extractive (barley, lobelia, capsicum). Lobelia, poisonous, was widely used in herbal medicines throughout the 19th century. As for Box’s pills their size varied, as did their ingredients which, in addition to the above, contained flour, soap, aloes and water. The pills were sold at twelve times the value of their worthless ingredients.

Syrup of Poppies sounds a bit more like it. A typical recipe would be to add 3 ½ pounds of white poppies to 6 pounds of sugar and steep in 8 gallons of distilled water. That sounds like the makings of a pretty damn good party – a children’s party for the poppy syrup was kid’s stuff.

Morphine from poppies was a common ingredient in infant soothing syrups. Just the job to send a child to sleep and keep her sleeping for the long hours her mother toiled in Britain’s mills and factories. An alternative version contained potassium bromide (another sedative), alcohol, anise oil but mainly sugar. Often Senna, rhubarb, Cascara Sagrada etc were included, presumably because of the constipating effect of the sedatives. `

Naturally adults were also consumers of the old poppy syrup. For those inclined to over-imbibe while on the high seas there was the risk of falling overboard. If this happened it was advised to throw a hen coop into the water as close to the drowning person as possible. Hopefully, the coop would float and the drowning man could grab hold of it. It his rescue took a long time he might have eggs to keep up his strength. But to avoid such unfortunate accidents at sea it was recommended sailors stitch cork shavings into their clothes, to keep them afloat – and make it easier to reach the hen coop.

The Great Indian Gout and Rheumatic Cure, Levasco, was discovered by a Hindu Doctor in the Himalayan Mountains. Rubbed onto the skin it was said to be absorbed and then break up uric acid crystals while diffusing heat to pain centres. This marvellous treatment worked within hours, even banishing bothersome sciatica. Or didn’t. It also claimed to sort out toothache, headaches, earache – aches of every kind. Levasco was made up of capsicum, rosemary, lavender, camphor, alcohol and soap.

from Berlin came Radium Salve to treat lupus, cancer and all skin diseases. Its radioactive ingredients were in tiny amounts but still…also from Germany was Sprengel’s herbal juice – a blood purifier to tackle diphtheria, trichinosis and whooping-cough. A brown liquid it contained powdered jalap bulbs, suspended in a liquid containing alcohol and liquorice. Jalap is a member of the morning glory family of plants and a purgative, and was illegal in Germany.

Men’s preoccupation with preserving their hair encouraged wonderful head tonics such as the Mexican Hair Renewer and Lockyer’s Sulphur Hair Restorer which could even turn grey hair back to its original colour! Actually, most hair preparations claimed this. These quack concoctions were largely sulphur, lead acetate and lead sulphate, glycerine and rose water. You probably don’t need telling that the lead content was highly poisonous.

Fat was tackled with the Nelson Lloyd Obesity Cure; guaranteed to work. There was no such person as Nelson Lloyd, or rather there was a man who used that name on his ‘cure.’ Not only was his name not Lloyd but his claim to have studied medicine was also untrue. All sorts of names to dupe folk were used – Nurse so-and-so was a favourite, designed to fool folk into believing some kind of nursing/medical knowledge was behind the product. Nurse Hammond was typical of the madey up, approach to deceiving the sick. ‘Her’ remedies for not sure what exactly were marketed as Treatment No.1, Treatment No. 2 and Treatment No. 3. The difference? The price. Treatment No. 3 was over three times the price of No 1 which was twice the price of Number 2. Liquid No 2 combined alcohol with glycerine and not much else. Treatment pills contained some iron and very little else besides the talc they were coated with, a tiny bit liquorice, starch, and soap.

The words, ‘cones are placed in the rectum’ drew my attention when reading up on the topic. This was a wheeze from a ‘Mrs Stafford-Brookes’ – her pelloids were pessaries of boric acid, oil of Theobroma and a smidgen of quinine. Boric acid has been used as an antiseptic for a long time. Theobroma is cocoa butter and was often an ingredient in suppositories and pessaries. Quinine is famously used to treat malaria but it can be lethal in the wrong hands. Just why Mrs Stafford-Brookes wanted folk to stick her pelloids into their rectums I haven’t managed to get to the bottom of yet

Quack medicine providers

In that vicinity, the Absorptive Pile Treatment sound worrying while Martin’s Apiol and Steel Pills aimed at women – they were pink chalk-coated – thankfully contained not steel but iron, Barbados aloes, apiol (known to cause liver and kidney damage) cinnamon and cardamom. Cheap ingredients sold at extortionate prices.

Pregnant women were encouraged to take Matrozone to ensure their children became healthy, beautiful and smart. This was basically diluted alcohol. The few trace solids detected in the cure were suspected to have come from through the tap water content or dust or other chance contamination when it was being bottled.

Alcohol and drug addictions were tackled with the highly dangerous poisons, strychnine and brucine (similar to strychnine.) I think the idea was to induce vomiting and get up what had gone down. These poisons were also promoted for gnawing and baldness. Gnawing might have been used here as a reference to depression or extreme worrying.

In the United States leprosy was put down to cigarette smoking by some authorities (not very authoritative authorities.)

More universal was bloodletting. Once this procedure was regarded as an important means of ridding the body of all things harmful. Hospital floors were described as slippery hazards, awash with patients’ blood. A German physician visiting England in 1836 found medicine there consisted of prescribing mercury, purging and blood-letting. Draining patients’ blood was very popular for a time. Barber-surgeons often carried out this procedure (think of the red and white barber poles still around – red for blood and white for bandages) – they would ‘breath’ a vein – cut into an artery. Another means of bloodletting was carried out with a scarificator, a smart piece of kit that was spring-loaded and armed with gears to enable a blade to move in a circular fashion through the skin.  Leeches, lots and lots of them, were frequently applied to the skin, again and again till patients ran out of blood and fainted. Fainting was seen as a good sign.

“Leeches were applied, and over and over again the patient died while the leeches were on his temples- died as surely as if shot through the head.”

There was nothing that the removal of copious amounts of blood could not cure. Allegedly. It did not matter what the complaint was – cancer, plague, TB, stroke, leprosy, herpes – bloodletting would sort it out. Even a broken heart was tackled, in France, by spilling blood till the point of death.

Bloodletting

Mercury was a standard medicine for treating parasites and syphilis as far back as ancient Greece. In the 19th century it was applied to the treatment of typhoid fever. And before you shake your head at physicians and others being so free with this dangerous metal think about those amalgam fillings in your teeth. Amalgam was introduced in the 1830s to preserve rotting teeth – an amalgam of silver, tin, copper, zinc and mercury. Antimony was another favourite and toxic purgative that saw off many a man and woman. And children, in more recent times the presence of antimony in mattresses was suspected of being implicated in some cot deaths.

The Pharmacy Act 1868 aimed to restrict the sale of poisons in so-called cures and remedies to qualified pharmacists and druggists, a move not without its critics. Fifteen poisons were named and could only be purchased if the buyer was known to the chemist and the sale recorded in a poison register. Arsenic, commonly used in agriculture to treat sheep ticks etc, was already controlled following the tragic poisoning of over 200 people in Bradford, England, when arsenic inadvertently found its way into sweeties.

Trader, Humbug Billy, sold peppermint humbugs, lozenges, made by a man called Joseph Neal. Neal intended substituting gypsum for sugar which was more expensive. In the 19th century all kinds of nasties went into food and drink, in the drive for profit. On this occasion it appears a young pharmacy assistant got confused and sold arsenic instead of the gypsum (chalk) or dust or whatever the chemist usually sold to bulk foods. Neal then made about 40lbs (18kg) of lozenges and some of these were sold by Humbug Billy. Many died as a result of eating his sweets but at first the deaths were put down to cholera. Eventually the real culprit was detected. Each sweet was found to contain over three times a lethal dose of arsenic.

Inadvertent poisoning was a consequence of quack medicines during the 19th century. Strychnine; potassium cyanide; ergot (grass fungus) used to treat migraine and post-childbirth bleeding; opium and all poppy preparations were as common as aspirin today. Laudanum, tincture of opium, was frequently taken to tackle pain and as a cough suppressant.

Every so often a medical crisis, such as coronavirus, reminds us there are always challenges to be met when it comes to illness. Vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) has been one of the greatest preservers of young lives. There have been questions asked about having the three injected as one dose but there is no evidence of this being harmful and hysterical outcries against the vaccine are positively dangerous to life. The discredited former doctor, Andrew Wakefield, struck off in 2010, has influenced public opinion against vaccination, linking it to autism. The success of measles vaccination has meant huge numbers of people have not encountered how deadly it can be for both children and adults and so underestimate its dangers. Now the incidence of measles is rising across Europe.

There always was opposition to vaccination driven by ignorance, self-interest and belief that mass immunisation was tantamount to totalitarianism – with the population deprived of choice over immunisation, in the interests of the greater good. Sir John Ledingham from Boyndie in Banffshire , a director of the Lister Institute in 1939, was an outspoken critic of such opposition. Ledingham condemned Britain for dragging its feet behind other countries when it came to preventative medicine at a time when children died needlessly from diphtheria, whooping cough and measles.

A fascinating little detail – the prevalence of measles among London’s children at the beginning of the 20th century was so widespread that medical authorities found it near impossible to obtain serum for vaccines from the adult population. It was then discovered that Scottish policemen and domestic servants, and Irish domestics, too, often fell victim to measles on arriving in London from rural parts of Scotland and Ireland where they had never encountered the disease as children. They were pressed to provide serum containing active measles antibodies to protect the city’s youngsters.

Time for a cup of ginger tea followed by some light aerobic exercise. And remember, prevention is better than cure.

https://www.spectator.co.uk/2019/05/train-your-brain-how-to-keep-your-mind-young/

February 13, 2020

When Buckhaven was nearly the Torremolinos of Escocia: herein lies a fishy tail

Buckhaven

Scotland’s European credentials are well established but it may surprise you to know that Buckhaven in Fife just missed out on being the Torremolinos of, well, Spain when Philip II of Spain took a liking to the place and a boat-load of Spaniards were so fixated gazing at this little Fife gem their ship ran aground. Might have been part of the plan for they don’t appear to have left but struck up relationships with the Fifers who were soon speaking with Spanish accents and conversing in Spanish, shouldn’t it have been the other way round? So taken were Buckhaveners and Spaniards they kept marrying each other, tell me any old fishing community which didn’t, and evolved their own distinctive dialect.

And it wasn’t only Buckhaven that Phillip II was interested in. To be fair he was mainly interested in extending his empire – but he recognised quality when he saw it. On the west coast, Ailsa Craig, (now famous for its granite curling stones) whose natives paid their land rents with solan geese, seabird feathers and rabbit skins and caught an awful lot of cod was where Philip thought he would begin his annexation of the British Isles by having a castle built. Why start with Ailsa Craig. Well, why not?

Spanish wrecks littered the seas and beaches of Scotland. Their love of the place was second only to the Dutch’s. Their links with northeastern Scotland are long. Aberdeen’s sold salt herring and cod to the continent as far back as the 12th century and of such importance was this trade the Dutch word for salt cod is Labberdaan, its old spelling was haberdien – a corruption of Aberdeen.

White fish and pink. For hundreds of years salmon, fished out of Aberdeen’s two rivers, the Dee and Don, was exported, at first to the Continent and then around the whole world, in mind-blowing quantities.

In 1705, two years before the union, the Scottish parliament copied the Dutch example and remitted duties on everything herring-related, and other fish taxes. Fortunes were accumulated. Amsterdam is said to have been founded on the bones of Scottish herring (the stone for its Stadthouse was quarried and shipped out from the Firth of Forth but that is another story.)

With the waters around Orkney and Shetland teeming with fish they attracted the attention of European fishing boats. Don’t say I’m not contemporary. In 1633 1500 herring busses (vessels) protected by 20 armed ships and a further 400 dogger-boats went about in convoy as they fished. They were looking for cod, not difficult then, and caught them by rod and line. Sounds a slow business but tens of thousands were employed fishing. So thick on the water were these fishing vessels in what came to be known as the North Sea an area off England was named Dogger Bank.

Dutch dogger vessel

It’s as if fishing wars have always been with us. Post-union government bounties were offered to encourage more vessels take to sea to catch ever more fish, such was their value to the economy. The trouble was, and oh, how redolent this is of today, preferential treatment was provided to the biggest vessels over small fishing boats. After union with England, Scotland fishing trade declined, partly through the application of a salt tax (fish goes off quickly so must be cured for export and salt was one means of curing it.) Regulations surrounding the tax were complex and cumbersome. Salt was also difficult to acquire without having red tape attached. The setup was so confusing and risky potential fishers were put off from signing contracts.

When in 1720 an attempt was made to resurrect Scotland’s languishing fishing trade cash was paid to 2,000 of what were described as Scotland’s principal people. They failed but pocketed the cash. Similar failures followed, under royal patronage. Each one cost money. Each failed. Commissioners appointed to oversee every new scheme were richly rewarded. Always the same people. For them failure meant hardship for someone else, not them. They pocketed the cash. A lot of it.

Scotland’s water were then as now sources of incredible wealth, not always well-handled in the best interests of the people of Scotland. Bressay Sound at Shetland had one of the finest harbours in the British Isles in 1800. The fishing grounds here were almost monopolised by the Dutch; like those folk down the east coast many Shetlanders could communicate in Dutch. English vessels, too, headed north to fish for herring, ling, tusk, sea otters and seals. Sponges were sought and ambergris – a secretion of the bile duct in sperm whales that is disgorged into the sea and once used as for medicines, although Charles II loved to eat this stinking waste product. Whalers passed through this busy area on their way to and from Greenland and the Davis’ Straits from Dundee, Aberdeen, Arbroath and Peterhead.

Herds of grampuses (dolphins), sea otters, whales, fish of every description from round to flat were fished off Orkney including coalfish. Coalfish was a mainstay food for many of Scotland’s poorest folk. In Orkney the youngest fish were sillocks, year-olds were cooths and, I think, mature ones, Sethes. Orcadians preferred these wee fish to herring. They also harvested lots of sponges, corals, corallines, large oysters, mussels, cockles etc. and all kinds of unusual things washed ashore from the Atlantic including Molucca or Orkney beans. How they used these mimosa scandens seeds I don’t know – they might have roasted and eaten them or made them into drinks, used them as soaps or threw them at each other. Beyond exotic seeds many varieties of fish were landed. And the odd man. At least once a fin-man or Laplander turned up in his skin canoe.

Orkney beans

Situated between Orkney and Shetland is Fair Isle. Writing about 1800 one commentator described islanders living ‘almost in a state of nature’, whatever that means. His point was that crews on those fishing vessels from Holland and England fishing in the seas around the island raided not only their waters but stole everything they could lift from the island, leaving the people with next to nothing.

In addition to sea fishing carried out on an industrial scale, local communities fished in bays off their villages, in rivers and lochs. At the Solway Firth four distinct methods of catching fish were employed.

  1. Leister – a 4-pronged fork, its prongs turned slightly to one side, and attached to a long shaft of about 20 -24 feet was run along the sand on its edge or thrown at fish. Some expert fishers could spear fish from galloping horses, at great distances. This method was, apparently, very successful.
  2.  Haaving or hauling where the fisher stood in the current trapping fish with a small hand net.
  3.  Pock or small nets were fixed to stakes in rivers to catch fish swimming downstream.
  4.  Boat nets were used to catch salmon.

Fish provided food, oil for lamps and goods to barter for other items. Because fish was readily available it was an important source of income all around Scotland’s coasts. In the Black Isle or Ardmeanach to give it its old name, Rosemarkie’s salmon fishers preserved their catches in ice stored in an ice house near the shore , a deep, dark, dank echoing play place for local children that is now locked up, probably wisely. Avoch was a thriving fishing port taking large quantities of herring until recent times. Cromarty was another Black Isle fishing village, and Munlochy on the Moray Firth also had an excellent fishing station.

West Kilbride was known for its cod and white fisheries. Loch Leven for perch, pike, char, eels and especially its trout. Hebridean waters were rich sources of fish. Lewis took vast quantities of white fish, herring, trout and salmon as well as shellfish. Creeks around the rocky island of Muck provided shelter for fishing boats landing ling and cod. There, oil was extracted from cearban or sunfish – basking sharks. This oil was once popular as medicine and sold to Glasgow merchants. Seals were killed for their oil, too.

In addition to fish fish, shellfish were gathered from pools, off rocks, trapped in the water. It is patently obvious mussels were gathered at Musselburgh and there and Fisherrow were associated with good quality shellfish. Not only there, of course. Dornoch, Cramond and Inchmickery Island had their own enormous oyster beds, until overfishing of them put an end to that. Burntisland oysters were renowned, as were/are those from Loch Fyne. Loch Fyne also operated hundreds of herring boats. The harbour at Inverary at the head of Loch Fyne was called Slochk Ichopper, the gullet where vessels bought or bartered fish. Bartering herring for French wine took place at an area given the name, Frenchman’s point.

Men fished on boats but women and children were involved in all other aspects of the trade; preparing lines and nets, baiting lines, cleaning and processing fish and selling it. Local trading was hard graft for the wicker creels women carried on their backs were heavy before being loaded with wet fish and fishwives would walk long distances to make sales. As a point of interest, we often hear about fishwives but women hawkers sold all kinds produce in towns and country – kailwives sold vegetables and saltwives sold salt, for example.

The diversity of Scotland’s fishing trade began to dwindle when it stopped being a collective activity and became increasingly concentrated into fewer hands, of major businessmen. In addition, back in 1800 some small communities struggled to keep boats at sea and in rivers because their villages were targeted by the British Navy, eager to take away their fit and healthy young men who were able seamen. As with the army when men were needed all eyes turned northwards to Scotland. London could never get enough of Scots men, not only fit and strong but obedient. This was especially true during times of war – which was most of the time. Johnshaven, south of Aberdeen, lost many of its men to press-gangs.

Back in the day fishing was a community enterprise not confined to the handful of billionaire interests that we have now in the white fish industry but, as we’ve seen by the 18th century, public money found its way into the pockets of the rich through subsidies and enticements. During Scotland’s independent centuries fishing as a trade flourished, it was an important source of revenue for the nation, despite the attentions of Spaniards, Dutch and, yes, English seamen. Post-union whaling was for a fairly brief period enabled by virtue of larger vessels capable of sailing to inhospitable places such as Greenland and the Davis’ Straits. Risks were great, though not for the moneyed men behind voyages to harpoon the whale who waited in the warm comforts of their homes for the expected huge profits to further inflate their fortunes. And there was part of that that went straight into Westminster’s coffers; Scotland’s first oil bonanza went the same way as its second. It is hard for us to appreciate the degree of wealth generated from whaling, white fish and salmon. Good riddance to whaling and as for fishing, Scotland’s waters are no longer stuffed with fish as they once were; greed and overfishing have diminished stocks in our seas, rivers and lochs – denial, greed and short-termism has afflicted the trade of fishing for a very long time.

January 5, 2020

The Rampant Kelt

Pall Mall Gazette 30 May 1896

A familiar sight to Aberdonians Rob Roy MacGregor at the Culter burn

Those pesky Scots (Welsh and Irish), complained a writer in a London newspaper called the Pall Mall Gazette on 30 May 1896. Pesky, uppity Scots – just when Britain thought the ‘Kelt’ was dead and a stone added to ‘his cairn’ the pesky Scot – that nuisance who has ruined the English language ‘by mis-spelling’ blah, blah, blah refuses to go away.

Speaking for England Pall Mall insists they are heartily sick of these pesky, ‘scant kilt’ wearing Scots reeking of Glenlivet and the rest of their ‘eccentricities.’

Just as well kilts are water-resistant the amount of abuse hurled at their wearers. Tongue-in-cheek, of course, that relentless racist ranting – and yet and yet.

Their language – not the racist’s you dope – is deplorable. Deplorable! Like Welsh. As for Gaelic with all those consonants! How is an Englishman supposed to be able to understand that! I bet the same was said of just about every other language on the planet apart from God’s own tongue, English. But don’t mention the origins of English … German, Italian and Scandinavian from migrants landing their boats on proud England’s xenophobic shores.

Steer clear of Scotland Pall Mall warns its readers or you’ll have to speak English adulterated by Scots and the local lingo – go to Blairgowrie and you’ll have to be proficient in Scot-English and Blairgowrie babbling. Ach, that rich vein of bigotry and intolerance has always been the mark of the Union.

Determined the reader is left in no doubt to his views the green-ink contributor goes from ridicule of the contamination of the English language by the Welsh and Scots into full-throttle racism explaining the chances of any quality Welsh and Scots literature is as likely as the ability of ni***rs to develop sophisticated society.

Picts –  the race whose stone-built heritage amazes, impresses and confounds us – he dismisses as fairies. His inkwell of green ink is fathomless. Abdy frae Scotland is by definition contemptible. Keep the Scots out of England, behind Antonine’s Wall; banish the Irish from ‘the sacred precincts of Westminster’ and ‘shut up’ the Welsh in Wales – or best of all – shouldn’t England be able to ‘abolish’ these pesky Celts?

The House of Commons a year or two earlier was facetiously referred to as having become a “Scotch Assembly” in which too much was heard from Scots members. They were boring, these Scots, their debates “duller than an Irish” debate. And then, as now, Scots opinions scarcely tolerated were irrelevant at the end of the day because on every occasion they could be outvoted by English MPs whose interests lay in what benefited England not Scotland.

Abuse and prejudice tarted up as journalism drew a response from a Donald MacGregor writing from London. Clearly a Scot, he refused to rise to the bait over the use of the term ‘Kelt’ but agreed that, yes indeed, the ‘Celt is Rampant’ and a good thing, too. He was stirred to write because Celts have for too long been too passive, forbearing, and forgiving of attacks from south of the border. He guessed the frothy-mouthed green-inker was English, but wrote he might have been one of those Lowland Scots who revels in belittling fellow-Scots. Finally he decided the writer was, in fact, a Sassenach with a grudge. As for green-ink wanting to ‘abolish’ Celts – MacGregor wrote that this had been attempted – by the most successful empire builders of all time, the Romans and some pushy Anglo-Saxons but they couldn’t hack it though a ‘goodly number of them’ (Anglo-Saxons) were ‘lodged’ around Bannockburn.

The essence of his letter was that Celtic culture can match anything produced by Anglo-Saxons; that Scots heroes and champions are demonised as degenerates and outlaws by English commentators e.g. Rob Roy (a MacGregor like him) driven off his land is dismissed as a cattle thief while the perpetrators of land clearance – nobility who having acquired lands through nefarious means trade them as they would any speculative venture. A practice evident throughout the British Empire when Johnnie Foreigner’s lands were there for the taking by rogues such as Cecil Rhodes who had he been a poor native in what became Rhodesia would have been shot for his audacity.

What is Pall Mall, I hear you ask. A place, aye, but what was it originally? A game, readers, a game. Can you think where that game started? Go on – take a punt. England? Nah. England? Nah. England? Nah. Pall-mall, palle-malle or pelemele was a Scottish and French pastime. It was the Scottish King James VI aka James I in England – a man too lazy to get off his horse to pee (allegedly) who encouraged the English to play it. And they loved it so much they named a street after it. The Duke of York was very keen on pelemele – but you probably don’t need me to tell you that.

Pall-mall, palle-malle, pelemele are reminders that Scotland’s thousand-year-old Auld Alliance with France is way longer than an embittered, xenophobic, corrupt Union. Lady Violet Greville wrote that, or words to that effect. French and Scottish Celts – we are all Celts. And in a Celt union we’d like to stay.