About Ellen Hawley

Fiction writer and blogger, living in Cornwall.

What happens when you elect a pony as your mayor

Cockington, a village in Devon, has elected a shetland pony as its mayor. 

The pony’s name is Patrick, he’s four years old, he works as a therapy animal in hospitals and schools, and at some point after the pandemic started his person brought him to the local pub to help people who were struggling with–well, whatever the pandemic had them struggling with in the pub. 

As a logical outcome of all that, when the previous mayor–a human–died in 2019, 200 people signed a petition supporting Patrick’s candidacy on the grounds that he was “non judgemental and genuinely caring and supportive to all.”

His person–who doubled as his campaign manager–wrote the petition. 

Irrelevant photo: a sunflower–our neighbor’s.

Disappointingly (especially in view of my  misleading headline), the best the village could do was to make him the unofficial mayor, but he did have a very official-seeming ceremony and his own office. And all was well until someone complained about him being in the pub and the Torbay Council–that’s the local government–stuck its nose in and announced that the pub needed planning permission for Patrick’s pen and for animal grazing. 

That meant money, so the pub dismantled Patrick’s enclosure. (I think that was his office, but I can’t swear to it.)

Why did someone complain? One local suspects jealousy. “It’s someone who also thinks they are mayor of Cockington.”

On the other hand, the council hasn’t banned Patrick from visiting the pub. Which is good because he ‘s developed a taste for Guiness. 

 

Less upbeat political news

Liz Truss, one of the two remaining candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party and (ever so incidentally) the country, briefly proposed saving £11 billion by reducing the cost of the civil service. In headline-speak, that was going to be a War on Whitehall Waste, complete with capital letters.

Most of the savings were going to come through cutting civil servants’ pay and vacation time and it would save £8.8 billion.

Why is that £8.8 billion instead of £11 billion? No idea. I’m allergic to numbers. But it doesn’t matter, because according to Alex Thomas, program director for the Institute for Government, the total bill for the civil service comes to around £9 billion. 

What the proposal meant, he explained in a tweet, was not just cutting the pay of civil servants, who politicians love to attack, but also the pay of nurses, doctors, and all the important but less picturesque people who keep the National Health Service running, plus (while we’re at it) teachers.

Truss backed away from the proposal as soon as the bricks started flying, but if the local council orders the pub to tear down her enclosure, I’m not sure how many people will protest.

 

News from the art world

I don’t know why I think this next story follows from that, but what the hell, it’s about money, so let’s put it here: A New Zealand artist is asking $10,000 NZ for an artwork that (if you have an eye for art) you’ll recognize as the pickle slice from a McDonald’s cheeseburger that’s been thrown onto an art gallery ceiling.

That’s the pickle, not the whole cheeseburger. I do think it’s important to get these details right.

The rest of us, barbarians that we are, will probably think it came from some low-rent, cheeseless quarter-pounder. But no, this pickle slice not only comes from a cheeseburger, it’s classy enough to be a “provocative gesture” designed to question what has value–or so the gallery says. And since art-speak has lots of value, it must be so. At least until the bugs get to it.

The work is called  “Pickle.” If you buy it–and I know  you’d love to–you’ll get instructions on how to recreate it in your own space. But you’ll have to buy your own burger and remove the pickle, so that’ll cost you $4.44 NZ on top of the $10,000.

Or you can just paste a pickle to your ceiling and save yourself $10,000 NZ. If you need a bit of rhetoric to justify saving money on art, I’m happy to work with you on that. For free. Art-speak isn’t my specialty but I’m pretty sure we could, in combination, come up with something and then add art-speak to our CVs.

 

Can we go back to politics now?

…or at least to the corner where politics and money meet and where so many politicians aspire to live? 

The Summit of the Americas brought together both of the above in the interest of promoting investment and development and profit. Who could possibly object?

Yes, I know you could, but the question was rhetorical so please put your hand down. 

Since the people who attended have no need of free goodies, they were given expensive goodie bags, demonstrating yet again that to those who need not shall free stuff be given. And it was in that spirit that the US Chamber of Commerce (purpose? “We . . . fight for business growth and America’s success”) promoted US business by handing out goodie bags with  sunglasses and insulated drinking bottles stamped with the words “Made in China.” 

 

From the International Relations Desk

Denmark and Canada have ended the Whiskey War

The what?

A fifty-year squabble over the uninhabited Arctic rock called Hans Island,which is less than a square mile–and for reasons I’ll never wrap my head around that’s not the same as a mile square. You’re welcome to explain that to me as long as you don’t suffer from the illusion that it’ll help. 

The battle began with a boundary dispute over the Nares Channel, which separates Canada and Greenland. That was settled in 1973 but the two countries are close enough to Hans Island that under international law both had a legitimate claim to it. 

And who wouldn’t want to claim a small, uninhabited, and apparently useless rock if international law says you can? 

What does all this have to do with Denmark, you ask? Greenland’s an autonomous territory of Denmark, which means Denmark had a dog in that fight–or as a friend insists on putting it, an animal in that barn.

The two sides eventually came to an agreement about the unimportant stuff but had to postpone the contentious issue of Hans Island. Then in 1984, Canada landed, planted its flag, and buried a bottle of Canadian whiskey. Denmark responded by replacing the maple leaf with its own flag and leaving a bottle of schnapps, along with a note saying, “Welcome to Danish Island.”

And so it went back and forth for 49 years, through multiple flags and lots of booze, until in 2018 the two countries agreed to split the island. 

Why are we only hearing about this now? Is it one of those things the Deep State doesn’t want you to know? 

Well, no. Both countries needed parliamentary approval before they could commit themselves on anything this momentous, so it’s taken time. When the news broke in June, it looked like both sides were ready to declare peace. 

I don’t know who’s been opening all those bottles, but I’m sure they’ll miss the war.

 

And related to none of that…

The Encyclopedia Britannica’s One Good Fact email informs me that the first ever webcam was set up to monitor a pot of coffee “so scientists wouldn’t have to go check if it was empty.”

A woman artist in Afghanistan dreams of letting her hair fly free

This isn’t what I normally post, but I hope you’ll give it a bit of your time. A young Afghan artist, Hafiza Qasimi, whose work and studio were destroyed by the Taliban, is trying to leave Afghanistan for Germany, where her brother lives, so she can work freely, and after seeing an article about her in the German press a group of German artists and feminists have rallied to her cause–which is how I heard about it.

At this point, I’ll get out of the way and let Qasimi speak for herself, as she did in the German publication Chrismon (which I offer  you with the help of a bit of AI magic, which Englished the German in its own slightly odd way):

 “Before the Taliban took power, I had a gallery where I exhibited my paintings. I had students that I taught drawing. I earned my own money, I could live from my work as an artist. If I needed something, I could buy it. Now I have to ask my brother, with whom I live in Kabul, for money. I wanted to go to art school, get better, get really good. All of that is now completely out of reach. 

“My brother in Germany, Anosh, encouraged me to paint my feelings and thoughts about life under the Taliban. Almost intoxicated, I painted 13 pictures in February. A photographer friend of mine took pictures of them and sent them to my brother. I immediately burned the originals. Just in time, because in March the Taliban came to search our house. If they had seen the pictures, they would have killed me. I painted women without veils, as dreaming, strong people.

“Since then I’ve felt paralyzed. To continue painting would be life-threatening. This morning I made breakfast for everyone, washed the dishes, what you do as a housewife. It’s hard for me to describe how terrifying I find the idea of ​​having to do this my whole life. I’m an artist, I have all these things in my head that I want to express. And now I do housework and take care of the children – who knows for how long, maybe forever.”

Right now, “Kabul is my prison and . . . my pictures in Germany dream for me.”

From a painting by Hafiza Qasimi.

The photos have not only been dreaming in Germany, they’ve been speaking there at exhibits, and what  stands between Qasimi and joining them there is a visa, and to get one she needs a German bank account of 10,000 euros, which the government requires as proof that she can support herself. When I checked, her supporters had raised over half the amount. Small donations are welcome. Large donations are welcome. It all helps.

Her supporters are also working to get her an art school scholarship.

Of course I hope you’ll donate, but no guilt, please. People have their own struggles with money, and I respect that. Others simply won’t want to. I’m only free to ask if you’re free to say no. 

If you do want to donate, though? The donation website starts out in German and doesn’t offer a translation, but you can see by the painting of the woman with long black hair flying free that you’re in the right place. To donate, press the button that says “spenden,” which is German for spenden. Then fill in the amount and the means of payment (credit card, debit card, or Klarna). 

What’s a Klarna? Something that translates as Klarna and seems to be as untranslatably mysterious in German as it is in (don’t ask me to explain this) Swedish. When I made our donation, I decided to give Klarna a miss and use a credit card. At some point it noticed how befuddled I was and switched to English. Don’t ask me to explain that either.

*

Update: Since I wrote this, I’ve learned that Qasimi has left Afghanistan for a central Asian country, where she is safe and can apply for a German visa. Exactly how she got out is unclear. All I know is that it was risky, and that a woman is not allowed to travel within the country or to leave it unless she has a male chaperone. She is safe, but she still needs our support.

It’s variant day at the Covid Cafe

Welcome to the Covid Cafe, my friends. We have two variants on the menu today.

 

BA.5

Our first variant, BA.5, has gotten better than previous versions at evading both the vaccines and the immunity people acquired from earlier infections. But where previous omicron variants tended to stay in the upper respiratory tract, making it somewhat milder, BA.5 has picked up some mutations from the delta variant–that’s the most damaging variant to date–and it’s very pleased with them, thanks, and with itself for being so clever. 

They may be the reason it’s better at infecting cells than those respiratory-type omicron variants, and why it may be more serious. 

Seeing it circle back in this way doesn’t make me want to go out and celebrate. On the positive side, though, the current vaccines do still protect against its worst effects. But sensible people are recommending masks, ventilation, and distance–all those things governments and a lot of our fellow citizens have gotten bored with. 

 

Irrelevant photo: thistle with bee

BA.2.75

Are we having fun yet? 

Our second variant is BA.2.75. It seems to spread quickly and to evade immunity. How hard it hits people is yet to be determined. It’s also called Centaurus. I have no idea why and my brain isn’t willing to expend any bandwidth on it, but since it’s also possible that the thing has peaked, it has a second name: scariant. 

Come fall, updated vaccines are expected to target the omicron mutations. I’m in line already, and rolling my sleeve up.

 

However

Efforts to create a pan-coronavirus vaccine have slowed down for lack of funding, lack of any sense of pressure, and lack of even marginal good sense. The current vaccines are still keeping death and destruction to a minimum, and hey, that’s good enough. Let’s just stagger on.  I could toss in a quote or two here, but hell, you get the point. Follow the link if you like. It’s find-your-own-quote day here at the cafe.

In addition, testing candidate vaccines won’t be as easy it was at the beginning of the pandemic because Covid isn’t raging through populations the way it was. Pre-existing immunities make their effectiveness harder to measure.

 

Other mutations

A team that’s been analyzing millions of omicron samples in order to study its mutations reports that omicron alone has 130 sublineages. A member of the team, Kamlendra Singh, thinks vaccines might become less effective over time.  

“The ultimate solution,” he said, “will likely be the development of small molecule, antiviral drugs that target parts of the virus that do not mutate. While there is no vaccine for HIV, there are very effective antiviral drugs that help those infected live a healthy life, so hopefully the same can be true with COVID-19.” 

Singh helped develop CoroQuil-Zn, a supplement that infected people can take to help reduce their viral load. It’s currently being used in India, southeast Asia, and Great Britain and is waiting for FDA approval in the United States.

A virologist writing in the Conversation agrees, at least in part, saying that vaccines targeting recent variants will inevitably fall behind as the virus mutates. “Vaccines that generate antibodies against a broad range of SARS-CoV-2 variants and a cocktail of broad-ranging treatments, including monoclonal antibodies and antiviral drugs, will be critical in the fight against COVID-19.”

 

Long Covid news

Long Covid’s too stale for the cafe, but it’s not growing mold yet, so let’s have a nibble out here in the alley. 

The BMJ (formerly known as the British Medical Journal) has summarized 15 studies showing that the vaccinated are less likely than the unvaxxed to end up with long Covid. That’s most true of people over 60 and least true of people between 19 and 35. 

Long covid can range from annoying to life changing (in a bad way, in case that’s not already clear; it won’t make you grow wings or develop superpowers). It also ranges from transient to no-end-in-sight. In the UK, 2% of the population has reported having it and in the US, that’s 7.5%. 

Or by another count, 2 million people in the UK have it. That may or may not work out 2%. Don’t worry about it.  

Why is the percentage in the UK so different from the one in the US and why don’t I care if the UK numbers match? Because no one’s tracking long Covid systematically. It can get pretty weird out there.  

With that out of the way, let’s talk about the important stuff: “hy did the British Medical Journal change its name? I don’t know, but since my father did the same thing, I shouldn’t roll my eyes about it.

Which is unlikely to stop me. Especially since my father didn’t change his name to an abbreviation,but to the last name I use although I have no deep-rooted claim to it.

On the positive side, that bit of history means I know for a fact the Josh Hawley isn’t a relative–even a distant one.

*

In the absence of systematic tracking, a UK study compared a big whackin’ number of people’s medical records to see what they could learn about long Covid. 

Among other things, they were able to add 42 symptoms to the existing list. (Yeah, progress comes in some annoying colors.) The new ones include hair loss, reduced sex drive, erectile problems, swelling limbs, and bowel incontinence.

I did tell you it could be serious, didn’t I? You should listen to me. 

They also organized the symptoms into three categories: 80% of the people with long Covid symptoms had a broad spectrum of problems, from fatigue to pain; 15% had mental health and cognitive problems, from depression to brain fog; and 5% had respiratory problems.

*

A small study treated long Covid patients with cognitive symptoms by using hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and the results were enough to give a person hope. The group that got the real treatment had “significant improvement in their global cognitive function and more cognitive improvement related to their specific damaged brain regions responsible for attention and executive function,” along with improvement in their energy, sleep, and psychiatric symptoms.

The patients who got the placebo treatment didn’t, although they did get a simpler sentence with no fancy language or quotation marks.

The treatment, unfortunately, isn’t something you can set up in your garage. It involves five treatments a week for two months in a machine that looks like a mid-size submarine. 

 

Protective actions you never thought of

Covid is less likely to kill or hospitalize people who fast at least one day a month than it is to do either of those things to those of us who think eating should be a daily practice. This may be because fasting reduces inflammation or it may be attributable to a couple of other reasons that you can look up yourself by following the link.

The bad news? The study involved people who’d been fasting intermittently for decades. It offers no information on people who took it up twenty minutes before becoming infected.

 

A bit more about vaccines

I’ve found enough shreds of good news that I can spare you one more piece: Vaccination, although it doesn’t prevent Covid, does seem to reduce the odds of infection. Not by as much as we’d all like, but I don’t know about you, I’ll take any percentage I can get.

You want details, though, right? Fine: In the second wave of the pandemic, vaccinated National Health Service employees who worked face to face with patients were 10% less likely to get infected than unvaccinated ones. And I’ll remind the assorted anti-vaxxers who pop up here periodically that the primary value of the vaccines lies in preventing death and serious illness, which (do you really need to be reminded?) is not a bad thing. They haven’t turned out to create sterilizing immunity, and that’s a damn shame but doesn’t mean the people who recommend them should be burned at the stake. 

No one’s offered to do exactly that to me yet, but the conversations do have a way of turning hostile. Or starting out that way. A recent comment opened with, “Stop lying, Ellen.”

And I appreciated the suggestion, since hadn’t thought of that myself. I also appreciated the generous and high-minded approach to discussion. Let it be a model for us all.

*

But forget about me. Ben Neuman, a professor in the Department of Biology and chief virologist at the Texas A&M Global Health Research Complex, has another reason to get vaccinated: “to avoid the brain damage that often comes with COVID. During a natural infection, the immune response around your brain will starve cells of oxygen, and the effect is that you will lose a lot of gray matter—something like a stroke. Unlike a stroke, where usually only one part of the brain is affected, COVID seems to affect the entire brain, so you don’t necessarily lose one thing, like the ability to control nerves on one side of the face, you lose a bit from everywhere. COVID-associated brain damage only happens with infection, not with the vaccine, and having a strong set of white blood cells trained by the vaccine is likely to be helpful in preventing brain damage.” 

 

Okay, but what about monkeypox?

Let’s forget about whether monkeypox is a pandemic or an epidemic or just a damned nuisance. Those–especially damned nuisance–have technical definitions that, for a bunch of free-range blog readers, aren’t the most useful standards. The more pressing question is, How much of a problem is this likely to be?

After what sounds like a lot of internal argument, the World Health Organization declared it a global health emergency. The disagreement, as far as I understand it, comes from this: Diseases that spread on the air (think Covid or flu) are bigger worries. They’re easy to catch. Monkeypox is spreading through touch. That doesn’t make it fun and I don’t recommend rubbing up against anyone with a rash right now, but it does mean transmission’s slower and more difficult.

It’s also less deadly than Covid. 

If that’s not reassuring enough, existing vaccines can slow the spread–or they can once production catches up with the need.

On the other hand, it’s popping up in a wide range of countries and seems to have surprised the experts.

Monkeypox could (I’ve read) go in two directions: It could establish itself in many countries as a sexually (an also not-sexually) transmitted disease that people will have to deal with or it could be gotten under control. The first prospect isn’t fun, but it’s still not Covid all over again.

Who gets to vote on Britain’s next prime minister?

What’s the news from Britain? Well, the race for leadership of the Conservative Party–and incidentally of the country–is now down to two people, Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss. The winner will be decided by something like 160,000 members of the Conservative Party, 97% of them white, half of them over sixty, and most of them male. While we’re at it, a hefty number are from southern England. 

That’s based on the 2019 count. Statisticians tried to do a complete count but fell asleep before they could complete their work. 

What’s the population of Britain? Something in the neighborhood of 67 million. I’d give you a link to prove it but I fell asleep too. 

So yes, it’s all very democratic and representative and so forth. 

I can hardly wait to see what happens next.

Irrelevant photo: a hydrangea

*

In other uplifting political news, the Nottinghamshire police and crime commissioner won her position (it’s an elected post) by promising to crack down on speeding, then went on to get caught speeding five times in twelve weeks, two of them near a primary school. She’s lost her license for six months and was fined £2,450. 

She asked to keep her license because losing it would cause her exceptional hardship, to which the judge did not say, “Are you kidding me?” 

Sh hasn’t said whether she’ll resign but it won’t surprise you to learn that she’s been asked.

*

In what’s probably an unrelated story, wild European bison are roaming the country for the first time in 6,000 years. Three females were released in Kent this month and a male is set to join them in August, as soon as he gets through the backup at Heathrow’s passport control. 

I’m not sure how the three get to be the first in Britain, since one of them came from a herd in Scotland, but maybe it’s because they’re roaming in the woods as opposed to, um, you know, taking the tram up and down Princes Street in Edinburgh.

Listen, I don’t understand this stuff, I just report it. What does seem comprehensible is that they’re expected to strip the bark off of trees, thinning the forest canopy, creating paths, collecting seeds (bison like seeds), planting wildflowers, and generally rearranging the ecosystem and transforming the woods “into a lush, thriving, biodiverse environment once more.” Which will allow the trust that owns the land “to step back from hands-on management.”

I did say the bison were wild, right? 

I did, but what that means depends on how you define wild. They have tracking collars and are now fenced in a five-hectare area, which will eventually increase to two hundred hectares. But, yeah, within that, they’re wild as hell. 

They’ll soon be joined by ponies from Exmoor and iron-age pigs.

What’s an iron-age pig? For starters, it’s older than anyone you or I know.

*

It turns out that if you switch off a neighborhood’s streetlights between midnight and 5 a.m., it will cut down on the number of things that get stolen from cars. By almost 50%. And crime overall will fall by 25%.

Why’s that? Because it’s hard to see. 

The bad news is that both will increase in nearby neighborhoods. 

*

Have I slagged off the government enough lately? Sorry, I let myself get distracted.

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak (who now hate each other but used to work together and played nice in front of the TV cameras) spent £2.9 billion on the Restart program, a mandatory program that was supposed to get the long-term unemployed back to work. A mandatory program, meaning if you were referred to it you had to go. Because, hey, we’re trying to help you here.

How well did it work? Oh, gorgeously. Some 93% of its participants didn’t find work. That gives us with–wait, I need to consult Lord Google to be sure I get this right–a 7% success rate. 

It did, however, transfer a lot of money to the private contractors it was farmed out to. 

By way of accuracy, the program cost £2.9 billion in the headline but more than £2.5 billion in the text. Why the difference? Dunno, but even I will admit that £2.9 billion is more than £2.5 billion.

*

No summary of the news would be complete without this one: A retired Church of England vicar was fined and added to the list of sex offenders after a member of the public (“who was attending a talk about Asperger’s syndrome) found him in church naked except for a pair of stockings and performing a sex act with a vacuum cleaner.

You thought you’d heard it all? Silly you. Human sexuality is infinite. You can never hear it all.

It’s true that this particular vacuum cleaner has a name–not the individual vacuum but the brand. They’re called Henry. All of them. And they have a face painted on the side. So it might be easier to personify them than it is your average back-of-the-mop-cupboard vacuum cleaner. But then, I could be misunderstanding the situation completely.

The newspaper article I stole this from notes that the vicar had, before this, a clean record. As he would, given his inclinations. 

 

But enough about Britain. What’s happening elsewhere?

Well, around the world, at any given time, one out of six people will have a headache.Maybe it’s why more people aren’t having sex with vacuum cleaners.

*

According to a study in Japan, decisive people are no more likely to make the right choices than people who are full of doubt. 

“What we found is that confidence was the only thing that was different,” said the study’s first author, whose name is the Japanese equivalent of Smith: Zajkowski.

Hesitant people of the world, unite. 

Or not. You might want to think about it before you jump in. 

*

A Belgian virologist and government Covid advisor, Marc Van Ranst, was threatened by an air force officer who got his hands on a submachine gun and four anti-tank missile launchers.

But that’s not our story. The story is that the head of an anti-vax group, who is not so incidentally a dance teacher, publicly said something approving about the death threat.

“When there’s a salsa pandemic,” the virologist tweeted, “I’ll listen to you with great pleasure. But at this moment, I don’t give a flying fuck what you have to say and nobody in the Netherlands should either.”

*

In the US, Republican Senatorial candidate Herschel Walker impressed the hell out of everyone by explaining the climate change problem this way: “Since we don’t control the air, our good air decided to float over to China’s bad air. So when China gets our good air, their bad air got to move. So it moves over to our good air space. Then — now we got we to clean that back up.”

I can’t swear to it, but I think the shift from general incoherence to total incoherence there at the end is the actual quote, not a typo. 

Here’s what he had to say about gun control after the Uvalde shooting:

“Cain killed Abel and that’s a problem that we have. What we need to do is look into how we can stop those things. You know, you talked about doing a disinformation — what about getting a department that can look at young men that’s looking at women that’s looking at their social media. What about doing that? Looking into things like that and we can stop that that way. But yet they want to just continue to talk about taking away your constitutional rights. And I think there’s more things we need to look into. This has been happening for years and the way we stop it is putting money into the mental health field, by putting money into other departments rather than departments that want to take away your rights.”

There you go. A problem understood is a problem halfway solved. 

 

And a bit of history

Benjamin Franklin deliberately misspelled Pennsylvania when he printed the colony’s currency.And not just one wrong way but three different ones: Pensilvania, Pennsilvania, and Pensylvania. 

The state seems to have survived his efforts.

The plan was to foil counterfeiters, or so it’s generally believed.

An incomplete guide to Boris Johnson’s downfall, or How to have fun with British politics

Let’s do a quick review of recent British political mayhem for the benefit both of folks who don’t live in Britain and of the ones who do but want a few extra moments to gloat: 

Boris Johnson has stepped down as prime minister and head of the Conservative Party. But Boris Johnson is also  still the prime minister and head of the Conservative Party.

Confused? I can’t think why. Stick around. It’ll all make something vaguely approaching sense before we’re done. 

Or else it won’t. I make no promises.

 

Irrelevant photo: Purple toadflax

What went wrong for Johnson?

You might as well ask what didn’t, but as so often happens he wasn’t brought down by the real scandals–the corruption, the lies, a Brexit cobbled together from high-end wine corks and journalistic fairy dust, not to mention heartless policies, destruction of the infrastructure, drunken parties during lockdown, lost elections, and the resignations of two ethics advisors–but by a sex scandal. And not even one he participated in. 

What happened was that he appointed someone named Chris Pincher as deputy chief whip, ignoring accusations that he was not a pincher but a groper.

Deputy chief whip? No, that’s not the sex scandal. It’s one of those weird British things that we can blame on history and that I won’t bother to explain.. 

When the accusations became public, Johnson said he hadn’t known about them.

Then it became public that he had been told. Formally. 

Then more allegations surfaced.

For the record, the people Pincher groped were male. I’m not sure if that had an impact in how the scandal’s played out. It would an interesting study. Or in the absence of evidence, an interesting essay. You could assert all kinds of things you couldn’t actually demonstrate.

Anyway, once all that happened, resignation letters from cabinet ministers and assorted less impressive governmental appointees began to flutter to the pavement outside 10 Downing Street like autumn leaves–first two, then more, than dozens, including, eventually, resignations from people who’d been appointed to replace people who’d resigned earlier.

At this point, any normal politician would have put their hands in the air and surrendered peacefully, but this is Boris Johnson we’re talking about, and it wasn’t until the resignation letters formed a layer dep enough to resemble Larry the Cat’s litter box that he finally, grudgingly, made a resignation speech that blamed herd mentality for running him out. 

Why did this particular scandal bring him down when other equally lurid ones haven’t? It’s a mystery. If enough autumn leaves fall onto a balance scale, eventually they’ll outweigh the political convenience on the other side. That’s the best I can do. 

But (see above; you’re supposed to be paying attention here), he’s not actually gone yet.

You know about Rasputin? He was a mystic, a faith healer, a self-proclaimed holy man, and a key hanger-on in the court of Russia’s last tsar–assuming, of course, that we don’t count Putin. He was assassinated by other court hangers-on who were desperate to get rid of him, and the story goes that he was poisoned, stabbed, beaten, shot three times, and finally wrapped in a rug and tossed into the River Neva. When he was fished out he was decisively dead, but he had water in his lungs, indicating that he was still alive when they threw him in.

The rug was ruined.

To be fair, it may not have happened exactly that way, but that’s okay, we’re not doing Russian history here, we’re just giving it a passing glance because I suspect it’s going to take something along the same lines to get Johnson out of Number 10, even now that he’s resigned.

And just for the record, I’m not advocating that particular set of actions, just contemplating overblown similarities. 

Johnson, they say, likes the perks of office. I can’t imagine he’ll give them up willingly. Already he’s had to move a postponed wedding reception from the grand mansion where prime ministers get to play to I don’t know where but wherever it is it’s less impressive.

Hasn’t the poor man suffered enough already?

 

What has Johnson learned from all those resignations?

The names of people he wants to take revenge on, although whether he’ll have the power to do them any damage is still up for grabs. Other than that, nothing that I can see. He new appointments aren’t much better than his old ones. One of the new crop (because he’s still the prime minister and is expected to have some semblance of a functioning government around him) has been accused by someone Pincher groped of asking if he’s gay, because if he is then surely what happened isn’t straightforward sexual harassment. 

In other words, she wanted to know if he asking for it.

Another appointee demonstrated the political judgment and sensitivity that she’ll bring to her new position by giving the finger to demonstrators outside Number 10. That may breach the ministerial code, which expects “high standards of behavior” and “propriety.” But that’s okay because  who’s going to enforce it? 

A third appointee doesn’t believe people are really having trouble affording food–presumably they’re using food banks because, hey, it’s free food–and compared taking the knee to giving a Nazi salute.

The big appointment, though, is to the chancellor’s job, since the last one resigned and is a front runner in the race to replace Johnson. The chancellor’s the guy who counts the money and makes financial policy. Or tries to, anyway. The new one is Nadhim Zahawi, and reports leaked out that civil servants sent out warnings about his finances. That’s not the same as saying he’s guilty of anything, only that disturbing allegations are buzzing around his head like flies around cowpies.

Wise politicians might want to be careful where they set their foot, although a wise politician is not what we’re dealing with.

An unnamed Conservative grandee accused Johnson of making unsuitable appointments so that he could leave a mess behind for his successor, but it’s also possible that no one suitable will take his phone calls. Or that he doesn’t know a bad appointment from a convenient one.

 

What didn’t happen

Under the current law, the prime minister can call an election at any time, and at one point Johnson hinted that he might just do that. Since his party has a huge whackin’ majority and polls indicate that right now it’s scraping caked-on crud off the linoleum, his party will be against this. As one article says, it would be “constitutionally very unusual.” And the queen could, if her advisers advised, refuse the request on the grounds that the existing parliament is viable.

From what I’ve read, that would be done via back channels, not in public. A message would go to Number 10 saying, basically, “Do not embarrass the queen by requesting this.” Only they’d capitalize queen.

 

So why’s he still the prime minister?

The best I can do by way of an answer is to say, Because that’s the way it works. Prime ministers aren’t elected directly. They’re (usually) the leader of the majority party, if there is one, or of the biggest, baddest party in the case of a coalition government. So if they step down, guess who gets to choose a new one.

You got it: the biggest, baddest party in the House of Commons. Which does it by following its own party rules instead of rules drawn up by anything as finicky as the government. So the process can take time, depending on the rules. 

Of course, since the rules are the party’s, the party can also change them at will–at least if its rules allow it to. If it wants to choose the next prime minister by seeing who can throw a rock farthest, I can’t see what would stop it.

Prime ministers can always resign effective immediately, in which case their party texts a temp agency and says, “Send us someone of prime ministerial quality, please. Must make public appearances and know how to wear a suit convincingly.” And then that person will run a caretaker government.  

But that’s not what’s happened. When Johnson finally bowed to something approaching reality and agreed to resign, he proposed hanging on until October, when the Conservatives hold their convention. 

To which the party said, “Not a chance,” but it didn’t roll him in that rug, so the date when he’s fully replaced depends on how quickly it can organize its replacement procedures: First the people who wanted to replace Johnson had to get support from at least 20 of their fellow Conservative MPs (that knocked a few out of the race), then those same MPs have (or had–I’m writing this a bit in advance of the fact, so I’m not sure if it’s happened yet) to vote until they’ve narrowed the list to two.  Then the party’s members vote. 

They’re rushing it as fast as they can and he should be gone by September 5. What happens after that is anyone’s guess. They might roll him in the wallpaper * and head for the river.

 

  • Yeah, that was another scandal. It’s breathtakingly ugly, it was very expensive (but then so was the rest of the furniture), and Johnson got caught arranging for a Conservative donor to pay for it. The next prime minister will either be haunted by it or bringing in a team of people with acetylene torches to get rid of it.

What causes long Covid?

A lot of clever people are chasing the cause of long Covid, but so far the virus is outrunning them–and we’re talking about a virus, remember, that doesn’t have a degree in either science or medicine and that’s rumored to be illiterate.

Not that I’m making fun of those clever people. Long covid scares the bejeezus out of me and I’m grateful for the work they’re doing, but I’m also painfully aware that they haven’t even found all the puzzle pieces yet, never mind gotten them in the right place. 

Puzzle pieces? What happened to the chase metaphor? 

I couldn’t keep up with it and had to grab something else off the shelf where I store my cliches.

Irrelevant photos: Morning glories–or as the British call them, bindweed.

But back to our actual subject: The clever folk are at the stage where they have theories, but that’s not all bad. Theories open up possibilities and they’re a good place to start. Let’s check in with a few of them:

Pediatrician Danilo Buonsenso noticed that some of his patients–these are kids, remember, with their habit of showing up at pediatricians’ offices and licking their fingers before touching the toys–

Where were we? Some of his patients who’d had mild Covid cases were left short of breath, exhausted and sporting a variety of other symptoms. That’s not common in post-Covid kids, but what with him being a doctor and all, and one who specializes in infectious diseases (I know, I didn’t get around to mentioning that earlier)–well, the kids he’s most likely to see are the ones who are sick, which skews the sample.

As the article I stole this from explains it, “He now suspects that, in some of them, the cells and tissues that control blood flow are damaged and the blood’s tendency to clot is amplified. Minute blood clots, leftover from the viral assault or fueled by its aftermath, might be gumming up the body’s circulation, to disastrous effect from the brain to joints. ‘In some patients we have specific areas where no blood flow comes in’ or the flow is reduced, Buonsenso says. 

Another theory comes from  microbiologist Amy Proal: that the virus hangs on in the body after the acute stage of the infection is over. Studies show that “the virus is capable of persistence in a wide range of body sites,” she said. 

A third theory comes from Chansavath Phetsouphanh, who’s observed that the immune cells of long Covid patients are still on high alert as much as eight months after they first tested positive. 

A fourth theory comes from Nick Reynolds, who found amyloid clumps in the brains of people with the neurological symptoms of  long Covid. They’re similar to the clumps that cause Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. That doesn’t necessarily mean the patients will have lasting damage or that the drugs used to treat those diseases help in these different circumstances. On the other hand–well, who knows at this stage? It might.

Are any of the theories right? Are all of them showing us a small piece of a large picture? Tune in sometime later–possibly a lot later–for the next exciting episode of What’re We Going to Do to Get Out of This Mess? And keep in mind that once the clever people figure out what’s driving long Covid, they or some colleagues still need to figure out a treatment.

Don’t you just feel better after you hang around here? 

In the meantime, an assortment of studies are following up on the possibilities these theories raise. Wish them well, please. It won’t make any material difference, but it might make you feel like you contributed to the effort.

 

Numbers

How many people actually have long Covid? Answering that depends on how we define long Covid, but let’s set that aside. We’re not scientists–or most of us aren’t and anyone who is must be slumming. We can get away with being hazy when it suits us. 

In May, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rampaged through the medical records of some 2 million people and reported that at least 1 in 5 people who’d had Covid came away with long Covid symptoms. For some of them, that meant struggling but hanging onto their normal lives. For others, it meant struggling, only with nobut at the end of the sentence.  

In the UK, some 2 million people have long Covid according to the Office for National Statistics, which does have a definition of the thing but never mind what it is. We’re not scientists, remember? Or else we’re slumming and will have to put up with the way other people’s minds work. 

Proal (remember her?) said, “I consider Long Covid to be a massive emergency.”

 

Who’s most at risk of long Covid?

A small study from Japan found that being over 40 increased the odds. So did being over 60. Since I’m over both (it took a while, but I got there), this is not good news where I live. 

In contrast to other studies, it didn’t find sex to be a big factor, although long Covid seemed to have a harder psychological impact on women than on men. 

In contrast, a UK study found that being female, being in poor pre-pandemic mental and physical health, being obese, and having asthma all increased the odds of long Covid. 

Do the two studies contradict each other? Partially. The data they’re working from is sketchy, but the issue’s important enough to use it anyway. Take them for what they’re worth.

The UK study finds that between 7.8% and 17%of the people who reported having Covid also reported symptoms that lasted longer than longer than 12 weeks, and between 1.2% to 4.8% reported  that the symptoms were debilitating. 

Why the range? I haven’t a clue. I find numbers debilitating.

The numbers were lower when they worked from doctors’ records as opposed to self-reports, but that could be because doctors weren’t reporting long Covid before November 2020.

 

A shred of good news

The omicron variant may be less likely than delta to cause long Covid–20 to 50% lower. To put that another way, with omicron, 4.4% of cases turned into long Covid. With delta, that was 10.8%. But that’s still a shitload of people.

 

More numbers: What have vaccinations ever done for us?

Well, in the first year they were available, they prevented an estimated 19.8 million Covid deaths. That’s based on excess deaths in 185 countries and territories. 

Excess deaths? It’s the figure you use when you don’t have any other consistent or reliable way to count the pandemic’s impact. In rough terms, it compares deaths during the pandemic to deaths in some pre-pandemic year. It’s imperfect, but the other systems are even more so. If you don’t use it, you end up counting the number of people who (if they weren’t dead) could brag about having Covid listed on their death certificates. You miss a lot of people that way. You can also count the number who are known to have had Covid and who then went on to die, leaving you counting people who died because a brick fell on their head and missing some who died undiagnosed. Or you can count people who die within 28 days of a diagnosis and miss the ones who took too long to die as well as include a few who had unfortunate encounters with bricks.

The UK switched methods midway through the pandemic, probably because the government wanted it to look like fewer people had died and the new way yielded a lower number. 

Yeah, I have absolute faith in the people leading the country. They’ll do whatever works best for them and to hell with everything and everyone else.

Not only is none of the systems accurate, different countries rely on different definitions of a Covid death, raising hell with international studies. 

But let’s put death on the shelf for a minute and go back to vaccines and lives saved, which is what we’re pretending to talk about. The study estimates that 599,300 more lives would’ve been saved if the world, lower case, had met the World (upper case) Health Organization’s target of getting  two or more vaccine doses to 40% of the population of every country by the end of 2021

By now, 66% of the world’s population has received at least one dose of vaccine.

 

More numbers

In 2020 and 2021, Covid was the third leading cause of death in the United States, crossing the finish line after cancer and heart disease. So it gets a bronze medal and modest bragging rights, but not as much glory as it was hoping for. 

Oops

If an email caused you to go chasing my last post and you discovered that nothing’s there, nothing weird is going on. I hit Publish when I meant to schedule it for Friday. It wasn’t ready to go and took it down within seconds, leaving me just enough time for some extensive swearing.

In the meantime, enjoy the meltdown of Boris Johnson’s government.

Medieval England’s piepowder courts

In the Middle Ages, English fairs and markets had a fast-acting justice system called–well, what it was called sort of depends on how you want to spell it, and then your best guess about how to pronounce it. This is English, remember. Pronunciation and spelling aren’t often on speaking terms, and in the Middle Ages spelling was still a liquid–years away from taking on a fixed form.

The spellings I ran into most often were pie poudre and piepowder, but the West Sussex Records Office adds “pyepowder, pipoulder, pepowder, and pipoudre,” and notes (gleefully) that the spelling sometimes changed within the same document. How do you pronounce it, then? I consulted Lord Google, as I so often do, using the pie poudre spelling, and he led me to a website that asked if the phrase was Catalan, Mandarin, or Australian English. It didn’t matter what I chose, though, because it couldn’t actually hack up a pronunciation in any of them, but that was fine since by then I’d pretty well lost my trust in it.

YouTube, however, looked me right in the eye and swore the correct pronunciation is pie powder. I have no reason to think YouTube knows what it’s talking about, but let’s go with it anyway. It’s hard to remember a set of letters unless your brain can tack a pronunciation onto them. Or that’s how my brain works, anyway. When it works at all.

However you pronounce and spell it, though, we’re not talking about an instant pie mix. The name came from the French for dusty feet, pieds poudrés, or so Lord Google, in the authoritative person of the Encyclopedia Britannica (with a little help from the West Sussex Records Office), assures me. 

We’ll come back to that and I promise it’ll almost make sense, 

Irrelevant photo: a California poppy after the rain.

What was the piepowder court?

It was the lowest level of common-law justice in medieval England. As the Britannica puts it, it was constituted by merchants. It then defines constituted in several different ways, leaving me to wonder if it was made up of merchants or if merchants organized it or if they actually established it. 

Screw it. It existed. Merchants were involved. Let’s move on. 

The court dealt with problems that came up at markets or fairs–and medieval fairs, remember, were places where business got done. So they heard arguments about who cheated who, who stole whose spot, and who was a disorderly nuisance. 

The piepowder court would meet for as long as the market or fair lasted, and people could drag each other into court to be judged on the spot by the merchants in charge. With the dust of the market still on their feet.

You get a sense of medieval snobbery from that, don’t you? Dusty feet? The horror!

Let’s go back to West Sussex for its take on dusty feet:

“What this is referring to is most likely the people who travelled to towns from far and wide for market days–travellers and vagabonds. Within modern French, pieds-poudreux is supposedly used for travelling beggars. Another given reason is how it relates to the speedy justice that was administered. Or perhaps another origin comes from how members of the piepowder courts were constantly walking around the markets, the dust coating their feet as they moved.  It’s possible the term references them, rather than the travellers and merchants. In my mind the first is the most obvious answer, but it is likely the true answer is a combination of all three.”

An alternative explanation is that justice was done as speedily as dust can fall from a person’s foot. We’ll probably never know, so take your pick.

 

How did they work?

Once someone accused someone else of whatever, the court had to make its decision within a day and a half. Markets and fairs attracted people from outside their areas, and they couldn’t hang around, waiting for the court to get around to them. 

The piepowder court in Bristol, at least, had three or four judges, and it was up to the accusers to prove their cases. Then the defendants could argue their innocence and present their evidence. This was unusual in medieval courts. They generally relied on oaths. People would bring in a set number of their equals who’d swear they believed the oath.

Piepowder courts could punish a person with a fine or the pillory, and if they didn’t pay up the court could seize their goods.

 

Opening the court

West Sussex still has a record of how to open the court at the Chichester Sloe Fair. 

“Let the Cryer make Proclamation on the South Side of the High Cross as follows – at 8 o’clock:

“Oyez – All manner of Persons that have to do or intend to have to do At the Ancient Pavillion Court of the Right Rev. Father in God Sir Wm Ashburnham Bart. Lord Bishop of Chichr holden on this Day [at the Gate commonly called the Canon Gate] for this City and the Liberties there of with the Fair called the Sloe Fair, for the time and space of Eight days beginning this Day being the Eve or Vigil of the Feast of St Faith the Virgin come forth and give your attendance. God save the King.”

For that, the town crier got a cut of the court’s income.

Yes, of course the court made money. Even if justice is supposed to be blind–and I doubt the phrase wandered into the language this early–it sure as hell doesn’t do its work for nothing. And fairs and markets were all about making money. The Sloe Fair’s income went to the Bishop of Chichester.

A sloe? It’s the fruit of the blackthorn and grows wild or in hedgerows, although History Extra reminds us that hedgerows didn’t really proliferate until the 16th and 17th centuries, with the full blast of the enclosure movement. It looks like an oversized blueberry but I doubt you’d wouldn’t want to pop it in your mouth without cooking it–and sweetening it if you can. Ask Lord G. about recipes and he’ll tell you about sloe gin, about jelly, and about cooking it with meat. Mostly, though, it’s about the gin these days.

 

The end of the piepowder courts

The Chichester court last sat in 1834.

Bristol’s piepowder court was active until 1870 and  Hemel Hempstead’s last sat in 1898. The Courts Act 1971 formally abolished them, which by then was just a formality, and as far as I can figure out without taking on more research, the Administration of Justice Act 1977 did the same thing all over again. 

The Bristol court, by the way, prefers to call itself the Court of Pie Poudre, thanks.

What foods are native to Britain

Every so often, somebody starts a campaign to run some non-native plant out of Britain. With a few, that makes sense–when they got loose in this new climate they turned hazardous, choking out native growth, growing through the foundations of houses, running for parliament so they can run other non-native plants out of the country. But setting those few aside, the rest of it, I suspect, is about returning Britain to some imagined state of purity. 

But what really is native? For the sake of simplicity, let’s stick with food.

This comes with a warning: The further back in time we go, the sketchier the notes people left behind. So I can’t guarantee 600% accuracy. Take it–as is appropriate for food–with a grain of salt.

 

A rare relevant photo: St. John’s Wort, which isn’t used as a food but is traditionally medicinal. It’s native to Britain but a couple of varieties were introduced in the 17th century. So it’s native but also not. Nothing’s ever simple, is it?

Imports

The first chicken bones show up in the Bronze Age–around 800 B.C.E. That makes them–not to mention their eggs–foreigners.

The Romans (start counting in 43 C.E.) brought rabbits, pheasants, and brown hare (not to be confused with brown hair, which was already present). Also cabbages, leeks, onions, garlic, basil, thyme, turnips, walnuts, and grapes. And alexanders, which went wild. Foragers still eat them and everyone else pretty much ignores them. They’re sometimes called wild celery. 

Incomers, the lot of them.

As an aside, by the time we get to the medieval era, cabbage was peasants’ food and not fit for the upper classes. It was thought to cause melancholy and nightmares but also to cure drunkenness. 

According to one source the Saxon word for February was Sprout Kale–the month when the cabbages sprout. If you’re not a fan of kale, you can blame it on the Saxons. It won’t be fair, but it’ll keep your mind off worse things. (Another source says it was April, but it’s outvoted. Let’s go with February. It’s shorter, and I’m not a big fan of kale.)

You won’t find sugar until 1099–or at least you won’t find it mentioned until then–and for a long time it was the wildest of luxuries. From the 12th century through the 15th, you’ll find monasteries cultivating apples and pears. Or you’d find them if you could get back there. They would’ve been luxuries.

Turkeys and rice showed up in the Tudor period, and potatoes, corn, and tomatoes didn’t arrive until Europeans started bothering the New World. 

Beets–or as the British call them, beetroot–probably came from the Mediterranean. Broccoli showed up around 1700, chocolate bars around 1847, and baked beans in 1886.

Yes, I did switch from raw ingredients to processed food. You’ve got to keep an eye on me every minute. I’ll pull a fast one on you every time.

 

Native foods

Wild carrots do grow in Britain and as far as I can untangle things they’re native, but a foraging guide describes them as tough and stringy. You’d want to put these in stews, not eat them raw. The plant they come from is also called Queen Anne’s lace and looks a lot like hemlock, which is toxic, so I wouldn’t recommend munching your way through the hedgerows hoping to figure out which is which. 

Cultivated carrots seem to have wandered into England in Elizabethan times, so they’re not exactly native. Emphasis on seems. I got that from a site whose information appears to be solid but whose writing is murky. 

Peas? Probably native, although some people argue that the Romans brought them. 

Of course, someone out there would surely argue that the Romans brought Nintendo. I’d make the argument myself, but I’m trying to keep this brief. 

Cultivated peas are related to vetches, a category of wildflower that does well in Britain without human interference. The early ones would’ve been smaller than the peas we know, and probably bitterer. And if we’re to judge from that last adjective, harder to pronounce. The best thing to do with them would’ve been to put them in pottage–something eaten widely in medieval Britain and varied enough that if you think of it as anything that can be tossed in a pot and cooked with liquid, you won’t go too far wrong. 

It’s not until you get into Tudor times that peas become sweeter and the elite start eating them as a delicacy.

Oats, rye, wheat, and barley are all native. As is brewing alcohol from at least some of them and getting shitfaced. 

Native fruits would’ve been small purple plums, sloes, wild currants, brambles (that means blackberries), raspberries, wood strawberries, cranberries, blackberries, redberries (no idea what this is; they’re probably red), heather berries (Lord Google tells me they’re edible but nasty), elderberries, rowan berries (edible if cooked; toxic when raw), haws, and hips (that’s probably rose hips). To summarize, the native fruits ran the gamut from delicious to nasty.

The wild apple, crabapple, and cherry would might have been rare or absent, although the British apple seems to have predated the Romans. You notice how much of a workout the word probably is getting? Not as much as it should’, I expect. 

We haven’t talked about the nuts and leaves, but let’s skip them, okay? 

The Corby Pole Fair

If nations could be patron saints, England would be the patron saint of weird-ass traditional festivals. Since it doesn’t work that way, it’s had to settle for holding them and glorying in its own oddity. 

Allow me to welcome you to today’s strange traditional festival, the Corby Pole Fair. 

What’s strange about it? It’s held once every twenty years.

Why’s that? Nobody knows.

Marginally relevant photo: A traditional British phone box, now converted into a second-hand bookstore that’s raising money to maintain a village defibrillator.

Anytime you write about one of these festivals, you’re pretty much required to use the phrase “nobody knows.” More than once. If I use it more than 15 times here, I owe you a drink. Of course, you’ll have to catch me first.

But before we go on, let me try to unbraid what’s English from what’s British–something I do regularly and usually get wrong. I’m not sure whether the other nations that make up Britain–or the UK, which isn’t quite the same thing but never mind that for now–are as strange about their festivals as England is. The spotlight falls most often on English weird-assery, so let’s go with that. I’m happy to hear arguments and corrections from anyone even remotely knowledgeable about these things. Or if not knowledgeable, funny. That’ll do at least as well. 

 

The Fair

The Corby Pole Fair dates back (according to one article) “to the 13th century, when Queen Elizabeth I granted the town a charter in 1585.” Which is awkward, because Liz hadn’t been born in the 13th century, and neither had 1585.

Okay, it was a typo and we can all stop being so smug. It’s not like we haven’t written something at least as embarrassing.

Typo aside, though, an alternative explanation of the fair’s origins is easily available. One–or two, or three–almost always is. Or are. That same article tells us that some people say, “It’s after the monarch was rescued from a bog by villagers.”

Is the it in that quote the fair or the charter? 

Hard to say. 

Do we care? Yes, but only a little. Guesswork will do well enough, so let’s nod as if it all makes sense and move on. 

A more coherent attempt at explaining the fair’s origins comes from the BBC–working, I’m sure, from the same press release but reading it more carefully. It says, “Some say it [that’s the fair] goes back to the 13th Century, some to 1585 when Queen Elizabeth I was rescued from a bog by Corby villagers and others to the 17th Century when Charles II granted the town a charter.”

Yes, I checked. Liz was alive in 1585. I can’t verify that she was in a bog or, for that matter, anywhere near Corby but we have at least taken a step in the right direction. 

The fair could also date back to 1226, when Henry III granted Corby (or someone, anyway) the right to hold a fair.

Was Elizabeth I ever rescued from a bog, by Corby villagers or anyone else? Possibly, but I can’t verify it. I asked Lord Google and got referred to scholarly papers that opened with her wanting to build a stable, peaceful country, but nope, no bog.

Next I found something about Queen Elizabeth and a blog. 

Did Queen Elizabeth keep a blog? Well, she did try, but the technology of the time didn’t support it and she gave it up to devote her efforts to more era-appropriate occupations. 

Lord Google’s related questions included, “What is Elizabeth the First known for?” Related answers do not include being rescued from a bog. 

So no, I can’t find any evidence that she was rescued from a bog. Equally, I can’t find any evidence that she wasn’t.  

 

Fairs and Charters

Why did they need a charter to hold a fair? Because that’s how things worked. The National Archive says that  “Early markets and fairs were generally held in one of two ways. . . . If they were held: 

  • “by virtue of a specific royal grant, you are likely to find a charter recording it; 
  • “by prescriptive right, that is, based on immemorial custom, you may not find any charter evidence.”

Charters could be issued to an individual or to something like a town or church. One fair, in Stourbridge, ran for three weeks. In addition to giving everyone a chance to let off steam, they also made money for whoever held the charter. And for whoever came to trade. 

Does any of that still matter today? Oddly enough, yes. The Ilkeston Charter Fair has permission to run for four days, and for more or less 800 years that’s what it did. Then, in 2018, it decided to run for a fifth day and had to apply to the home secretary for permission. Which meant it had to figure out what the correct procedure was. It’s that unusual. And if it got the procedure wrong, it could lose the right to hold the fair at all. 

And that’s where I bailed out and scuttled back to our Corby Pole Fair.

Corby resident Paul Balmer has looked for Liz’s charter but found only a later one, which dates from “1670 or 1682 depending on who you listen to.”

I’d love to explain that phrase to you, but that’s all I know. 

You see why the phrase “nobody knows” comes up so often?

 

Historical accuracy

The fair includes what Balmer says is a Viking tradition of riding the stang. 

“If you didn’t pay your toll [that’s your admission to the fair] you were carried on the ‘stang’ to the stocks and had to pay a penny to get out, but the villagers, because of the charter, were exempt from the toll.”

Why Viking tradition? Corby started out as a Viking settlement.

“Then there’s the greasy pole, which is most probably associated with the ox roast. The lord of the manor often gives an ox to villagers when they are celebrating a fair or a big occasion, the grease from the ox is put on a pole with a ham on the top and if you climb the greasy pole you get to keep it.”

This year, there’ll be a pole but no one gets to climb it. They couldn’t get insurance. 

Then there’s that charter. Remember the charter? At 6 a.m. the bells ring a.m., calling everyone to come hear the charter read out loud at all the entrances to the village.

There’ll also be historical re-enactments, including some Viking-type stuff. You know, a little light looting and pillaging. Some jousting. Some road closures. What could be more historically accurate than road closures? 

In the interest of historical accuracy, the decision to hold this year’s fair was made after surveying the community, holding focus groups and workshops, and meeting with groups and individuals and businesses, not to mention filling out and filing grant applications and advertising the whole mess–and then putting a discussion of it up on the website, presumably to prove the fair has community support.

Decisions about the content of the fair were also influenced by what funding bodies would (and wouldn’t) be willing to pay for,” it says. I worked around nonprofits long enough to recognize a near-universal truth in that.

Town dignitaries get carried around in chairs. There’s a free breakfast for residents.

The fair also offers music. I haven’t seen any mention of morris dancers, so this may be the only safe festival in England for morris-haters.

 

The Details

When is it held? It was on June 3 this year, which means we’ve missed it and will have to wait until 2042. The date for that one hasn’t been set yet.

What? Do I look like a tourist site? You want to know about these things in advance, go someplace sensible.

There. I made it through without saying “nobody knows” more than twice. Or maybe that was three times. Either way, go buy your own drink.