Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas Trivia

I know that the above photo doesn't have anything to do with Chrsitmas trivia but I coudn't resist sharing it.

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Anyone wishing to have a look at previous posts with Christmas trivia can click on the following past Bytes links from 2010 and 2011:

Some more Christmas trivia for 2014 follows.

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When reading A Christmas Carol for yesterday’s Bytes post, I came across a reference to “smoking bishop”:

“A merry Christmas, Bob!” said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. “A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you, for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob! Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot another i, Bob Cratchit!”

What would a bowl of smoking bishop be, I wondered.

It turns out that it is a type of mulled wine or punch that was popular at Christmas time in Victorian England.

Oops, wrong pic

Dickens’ book has an illustration of Ebenezer Scrooge sharing some smoking bishop with Bob Cratchit:

It has been suggested that the name smoking bishop comes from the shape of the traditional bowl, shaped like a bishop’s mitre, this being the form in which it was served in medieval guildhalls and universities. 

Here is a recipe for smoking bishop for those willing to give it a try. Drop a line if you make it, let me know how it tastes.

5 unpeeled sweet oranges
1 large unpeeled grapefruit
1/4 lb sugar (a little over 1/2 cup)
30 cloves
1500 ml strong red wine (2 bottles-about 51 oz)
750 ml port wine (1 bottle-about 25.6 oz)

1. Wash the fruit and bake it on a foil lined baking sheet until it becomes pale brown, turning once.
2. Heat a large earthenware bowl and add the fruit. Stud each fruit with five cloves.
3. Add the sugar and the red wine, and store covered in a warm place for about a day.
4. Squeeze the fruit to extract the juice, and strain into a saucepan.
5. Add the port and warm thoroughly, but don't boil.
6. Serve in heated glasses.
7. There are many suggestions for variations in this recipe, including the addition of star anise and cinnamon sticks.
8. There is an alternative suggestion, to bring the mix to a boil, simmer for an hour, and add brandy, brown sugar and orange juice.

There are variations on smoking bishop:
Smoking Archbishop— made with claret
Smoking Beadle— made with ginger wine and raisins
Smoking Cardinal — made with Champagne or Rhine wine
Smoking Pope — made with burgundy

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All the gifts in the Twelve Days of Christmas would equal 364 gifts

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The traditional three colours of Christmas - green, red, and gold – symbolise life and rebirth (green); the blood of Christ (red) and light, wealth and royalty (gold).

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Puritan Oliver Cromwell outlawed Christmas celebrations and carols in England from 1649-1660. The only celebrations allowed were sermons and prayers

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It is estimated that the single “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin is the best selling single of all time, with over 100 million sales worldwide.

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The first person to decorate a Christmas tree was reportedly the Protestant reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546). According to legend, he was so moved by the beauty of the stars shining between the branches of a fir tree, he brought home an evergreen tree and decorated it with candles to share the image with his children.

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26 December was traditionally known as St Stephen's Day, but is more commonly known as Boxing Day. This expression came about because money was collected in alms-boxes placed in churches during the festive season. This money was then distributed during to the poor and needy after Christmas.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens

"A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!" cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Scrooge's nephew, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach.

"Bah!" said Scrooge, "Humbug!"

He had so heated himself with rapid walking in the fog and frost, this nephew of Scrooge's, that he was all in a glow; his face was ruddy and handsome; his eyes sparkled, and his breath smoked again.

"Christmas a humbug, uncle!" said Scrooge's nephew. "You don't mean that, I am sure."

"I do," said Scrooge. "Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You're poor enough."

"Come, then," returned the nephew gaily. "What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You're rich enough."

Scrooge having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment, said "Bah!" again; and followed it up with "Humbug."

- Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has become part of the Christmas tradition. The novella, first published in 1843, tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, the mean spirited and miserly old man who is visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come. Like The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, his heart is transformed to one of love and joy as he comes to understand people and the spirit of Christmas. The book has been in print since first publication and has been turned into films, animations, radio plays, stage plays, songs, ballet, opera and more.

Some trivia and information . . .

According to Richard Kelly, Dickens influenced many aspects of Christmas that are celebrated today in Western culture, such as family gatherings, seasonal food and drink, dancing, games and a festive generosity of spirit.

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"Don't be cross, uncle!" said the nephew.

"What else can I be," returned the uncle, "when I live in such a world of fools as this? Merry Christmas! Out upon merry Christmas! What's Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in 'em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? If I could work my will," said Scrooge indignantly, "every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!"

It is believed that the character of Ebenezer Scrooge is based on British eccentric and miser John Elwes (1714-1789), pictured below, who inherited two fortunes in his lifetime (from his father, £100,000, £8m at 2010 equivalent; from his uncle, £250,000, or £18,000,000 at 20010 standards) but continued to live the life of a miser:

· His clothes were so raggedy that sometimes strangers put money into his hand, thinking he was a beggar, notwithstanding that he served three terms in parliament.

· He let his estates fall into ruin because of his unwillingness to spend money on repairs and maintenance. 

· When his legs were injured, he let the doctor treat only one and wagered him that the untreated one would heal faster. Elwes won the bet by 2 weeks.

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Dickens created his classic character Scrooge after seeing the gravestone of Ebenezer Scroggie while filling in time on a lecture visit to Edinburgh in 1842. The novelist misread the surname on the gravestone as Scrooge and thought "mealman", which referred to Scroggie's career as a corn trader, was 'Meanman'.

According to Peter Clark, a political economist and former Conservative ministerial aide who has researched the issue in life, Scroggie was a rambunctious, generous and licentious man who gave wild parties and impregnated the odd serving wench.ks of a hapless countess.

Clark comments that:

"Scroggie was not mean-spirited, but he did attract the admonition of the Church of Scotland by having a child out of wedlock to a servant in 1830. It is alleged he ‘ravished’ her upon a gravestone. Still, what else was there to do in Edinburgh in 1830? Perhaps Scroggie’s most delightful claim to fame was the result of his dramatically halting proceedings at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, when he "goosed" the Countess of Mansfield during a particularly earnest debate. It fairly dampened the proceedings.”

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Just as Hitler killed the name Adolf, so A Christmas Carol caused Ebenezer to nose dive as a choice of name for babies by parents.

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The word “humbug”, today meaning a person who behaves in a deceptive or dishonest way, often in hoax or jest, dates back to the early 18th century. It was first described in 1751 as student slang, and recorded in 1840 as a "nautical phrase". It is not clear as to which language created the expression but all explanations hark back to a meaning of deception and untruth. It is now also often used as an exclamation to mean nonsense.

Scrooge’s exclamations at people expressing joy at Christmas – Bah! Humbug! - indicates Scrooge’s opinion of those others and Christmas. That it is a waste of time and that those who express joy have been deceived by it.

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Dickens’ intention in writing A Christmas Carol was to spread his views about the horrors of poverty in England at the time. Originally planned as a political pamphlet, he thought that he would reach more people and affect them more profoundly through a Christmas story. The novella was written in 6 weeks.

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The phrase “dead as a doornail” comes from A Christmas Carol. Dickens came up with the phrase in a dream he had.

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The word “Scrooge” is now used to describe a grumpy, miserly, complaining person.

Scrooge McDuck, insopired by and named after Ebenezer Scrooge, made his first named appearance in the story Christmas on Bear Mountain which was published in Dell's Four Color Comics #178, December 1947. In that story he is a nasty, grumpy and miserly old duck, who has thoughts such as "Here I sit in this big lonely dump, waiting for Christmas to pass! Bah! That silly season when everybody loves everybody else! A curse on it! Me—I'm different! Everybody hates me, and I hate everybody!"

Some quotes from A Christmas Carol:

The first edition cover, 1843

“It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.” 

“Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.

Mind! I don't mean to say that, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a doornail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country's done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a doornail.” 

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” 

"Many laughed to see this alteration in him, but he let them laugh and little heeded them, for he knew that no good thing in this world ever happened, at which some did not have their fill of laughter. His own heart laughed and that was quite enough for him. And it was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well if any man alive possessed the knowledge."

He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!

Illustration by George Alfred Williams from the 1905 edition of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Funny Friday

Risque content below.

Today's theme: drivers and driving.  

Some of the items below have been posted in Bytes before but they are either classics or too good not to include again.

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Johnny and his father were driving one afternoon, when his father accidentally honked the car horn by mistake.

Johnny looked at his dad, hoping to get an explanation.

His dad said, "I did that by accident."

Johnny replied, "I know you did, Dad."

He replied, "Yeah, how'd you know?"

"Because you didn't yell 'ARSEHOLE!' afterwards!" Johnny replied.

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As a senior citizen was driving down the freeway, his car phone rang. 

Answering, he heard his wife's voice urgently warning him, "Herman, I just heard on the news that there's a car going the wrong way on 280. Please be careful!"

"Hell," said Herman, "It's not just one car. It's hundreds of them!"

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Daniel was in no shape to drive so he sensibly left his van in the car park and walked home.

As he was wobbling along, he was stopped by a policeman.

What are you doing out here at four o'clock in the morning?" asked the police officer.

"I'm on my way to a lecture," answered Daniel. 

"And who on Earth, in their right mind, is going to give a lecture at this time of the night?” enquired the constable sarcastically. 

"My wife," slurred Daniel grimly.

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A penguin is driving around town when all of a sudden his car begins to splutter and die out. He drives into the nearest service station and tells the mechanic there about the hassles he's having. The mechanic gives his car a quick once over, and says to him "This should take about half an hour - come back and pick it up then".

The penguin decides to grab himself an ice cream while he is waiting. He buys the biggest, creamiest vanilla ice cream money can buy, and lacking an opposable thumb, pushes his face into it to eat it. Ice cream goes everywhere - all over the floor, all over the counter, all over his face. He takes a quick look at his watch and realises he's late, so forgoing the clean up, he races back to the mechanic.

When he gets there, the mechanic looks at him and says "It looks like you've blown a seal."

"No, no," the penguin replies, "It's just ice cream."

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A man is in Dublin on business and takes a taxi from the airport to his hotel in the city centre.

As they come out of the airport, the taxi driver shoots through a red light. 

"Driver, you could have killed us, you jumped that red light!" shouts the passenger.

"It’s alright, my brother does that all the time" says the cabbie.

A mile down the road and the taxi driver shoots through another red light.

"Driver, that was another red light!" screams the man.

"Ah to be sure, ‘tis nothing at all, my brother does it all the time."

They get to the next traffic light. Its green, the taxi driver stops and looks carefully left, right, left, right . . .

" Driver, its a green light ! Why the hell have you stopped? Go! Go!" says the man.

"No way,” says the taxi driver, still checking to his left and right, “my brother drives around here.”

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A friend meets up with her friend as she is picking her car up from the mechanic.

Her friend asks, "Everything ok with your car now?"

The blonde replies, "Yes, thank goodness. I was worried that my mechanic might try to rip me off, so I was relieved when he told me all I needed was blinker fluid."

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I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather. 

Not screaming and yelling like his passengers.

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A young bloke has started work on a property, and the boss sends him up the back paddocks to do some fencing work, but come evening he's half an hour late. The boss gets on the CB radio to check if he's all right.

"I've got a problem, boss. I'm stuck 'ere. I've hit a pig!"

"Ah well, these things happen sometimes," the boss says.

"Just drag the carcass off the road so nobody else hits it in the dark."

"But he's not dead, boss. He's gotten tangled up on the bull bar, and I've tried to untangle him, but he's kicking and squealing, and he's real big boss. I'm afraid he's gonna hurt me!"

"Never mind," says the boss. "There's a .303 under the tarp in the back. Get that out and shoot him. Then drag the carcass off the road and come on home."

"Okay, boss."

Another half an hour goes by, but there's still not a peep from the young fella. The boss gets back on the CB. "What's the problem, son?"

"Well, I did what you said boss, but I'm still stuck."

"What's up? Did you drag the pig off the road like I said?"

"Yeah boss, but his motorcycle is still jammed under the truck."

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Corn corner:

Two cab drivers met. "Hey," asked one, "why did you paint one side of your cab red and the other side blue?"

"Well," the other responded, "when I get into an accident, you should see how all the witnesses contradict each other."

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas Decorations

As regular readers will know, Wednesday night is Trivia Night for son Thomas and myself.

Last night was the last Triv night of the year and, as always, there was a prize awarded by the man in charge, Mr Trivia (aka Graham), for the best decorated Christmas table and the best Christmas dressed team.

In the past we have had a large tree with decorations and flashing lights on our table . . .

and a 6 foot nutcracker type soldier . . .

but this year we went for something different, the minimalist approach . . .

We remained unfazed by Mr Trivia's comment on first sighting our table decoration - "Is that it???" - even knowing that he was the judge. We were confident that originality would triumph over people putting store bought antlers on their heads and others wearing tea towels and having some sort of theme "While shepherds washed their socks at night". But it was not to be, Shepherds and Socks took the prize for the table decoration and Antlers won the dress prize. I think it was fixed, myself.

The night was not a total loss, however. Under the team name "Bring posse" we won the night's trivia comp. Triv starts again on 12 January.

This also serves to introduce some pics of failed Christmas decorations and trees . . .