I believe in Santa Claus

Doubting the existence of Santa is not new.  On September 21, 1897, the editor of The New York Sun newspaper published a reply to a letter from a an 8 year-old girl that has become a classic.  In it, he gives that famous line, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”  Now I am here to say, “I believe in Santa Claus.”  (click here for the entire article)  He also wrote, “The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see.”  Maybe part of the reason is that I am Santa Claus, to give the children a Santa to see.  Well, not all year, but a few special occasions each year.  But more on that later.  Let’s talk a little about who Santa Claus is.

St. Nicholas of Myrna

St. Nicholas of Myra with a white beard and the red attire of a bishop

Being in love with history, I am compelled to give a little history of the old fellow.  The name Santa Claus is derived from the Dutch Sinterklaas (click here for more), a red-cloaked bishop with white hair and beard who brings gifts to good children on the eve of St. Nicholas’ Day, December 6th.  His name comes from Saint Nicholas, the Greek Bishop of Myra (now in Turkey), who was known for his generosity (click here for more).  Early on, gifts were given to children in some countries on St. Nicholas Day, not on Christmas Day.  From Jolly Olde England came Father Christmas.  As early as the 1400’s, King Christmas would ride in the Christmas festival on a decorated horse.  Remember, Christmas trees were not a part of the English Christmas celebration until German Prince Albert brought them across the Channel when he married Queen Victoria (although they had been a part of the Royal Family’s since the time of George III), so decorating a horse had to do.  Over time, he also became known as Father Christmas, an old man in a long, fur-trimmed cloak.  However, King Christmas was known for bringing fine food and drink to the Christmas celebration, lots of it, rather than toys for children.

Father Christmas

Father Christmas

When the Puritans took control of England in the mid-17th century and banned the celebration of holidays, originally Holy Days, by anything but church attendance, Father Christmas was a casualty.  He also became a cause célèbre for the Royalists who longed for a return to the wilder, less restrictive days of the Stuart kings.  After the Restoration, when Charles II regained the throne, poor Father Christmas had served his purpose and was almost forgotten.  However, in the Victorian Age, he returned to prominence as the spirit of Christmas.  In fact, the Ghost of Christmas Present in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a version of Father Christmas, dispensing Christmas cheer from his torch.  Check out the movie version with George C. Scott for a great example of how he looked to the English of that era (more on that and other versions of the movie here). But how did he join with Sinterklaas to become Santa Claus?  That’s an American tale.

Thomas Nast's Santa Claus

Thomas Nast’s 1881 Santa Claus

When Clement Moore’s (click here for author dispute)  “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (also known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas”) was published in 1823, it created much of the mythos.  (click here for the entire poem)  This was the first time we have a sleigh with the reindeer numerated and named.  St. Nicholas is dressed in fur (not red, though) and comes down the chimney to fill stockings.  While much of this is in the Dutch tradition, he does his good work on Christmas Eve or early that morning, not on St. Nicholas Day!  Next came Thomas Nast’s drawings that appeared in Harper’s Weekly from 1863 through 1886.   Nast is best known for creating the elephant as the symbol of the Republican Party and the donkey for the Democrats, but also did Santa.  His elaborate drawing of “Santa Claus and His Works,” was included in an 1869 printing of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” and gave Santa his now-traditional red attire.  St. Nicholas had become Santa Claus.  Nast also gave us Santa’s home in the North Pole that he termed “Santa Claussville, N.P.”  and evolved Santa from a short elf into a full-grown man.  The drawing of Santa he did in 1881 is much like the current standard concept of Santa, except for the politically incorrect pipe.  Thank you, Thomas, for giving us our Santa.

Santa and Coca Cola

Santa and Coca Cola

In the movie “Miracle on 34th Street,” the young Alfred says, “there’s a lot of bad ‘isms’ floatin’ around this world, but one of the worst is commercialism.”  Yet, it is a commercial ad campaign that refined our image of Santa Claus.  Nast’s Santa looks dated to us now, too 19th century.  It was Coca Cola that gave us the 20th century version that we still identify as the real Santa.  Although Coca Cola began using Santa in its ad campaigns in the 1920’s, it was Haddon Sundblom who drew the ones in the 1930’s until the 1960’s that we now consider the real Santa.  Since Santa didn’t and wouldn’t get any residuals from his images, the jolly old elf was the perfect promoter for Coke.  Still, we do get to enjoy the art and Haddon’s images are our image of Santa to this day, so that wasn’t all bad.  (click here for the Coca Cola Santa story)

Santa and a believer at the Roamin Angel Toy Drive in 2015

Santa Claus and a true believer                                  at the Roamin Angel Toy Drive in 2015

So what about me being Santa?  I believed in Santa as a child.  When I found that he was my dad, it didn’t damage my psyche.  I appreciated the magic that my parents gave me at Christmas, how they made the holiday even more special.  Since Christmas is about God’s gift of his Son as a child to mankind, isn’t there something appropriate about having a saint’s namesake bring gifts to children?  Even the idea of naughty and nice lists teaches accountability for our actions. I still believe in Santa.  In the mid-1970’s, my parents gave me a Santa suit for Christmas.  It was not an expensive one and they did so more as a joke, but it began a change in my life.  I wore it to our towing company Christmas party at a local restaurant, kidding around with the office staff and the drivers.  One of the drivers was sitting on my knee, telling me what he wanted for Christmas, when a waiter came up and told me a little boy would like to talk to Santa.  I went over to his table and took him on my knee.  As he told me of his Christmas wishes, it all changed.  It was no longer a joke.  I was taking on the mantle.  Since then, I have been Santa for many children, including my own daughter.  I only hope I have given as much joy to them as they have given to me.

Santa MacClaus and Mikey MacElf ring that bell.

Santa MacClaus and Mikey MacElf ring that bell.

I have also appeared as Santa MacClaus, ringing the bell for the Salvation Army at Christmas.  The response has been great.  Seeing people laugh at the Scottish Santa and contribute to help others at Christmas is wonderful.  Having the kids, eyes going wide to see Santa in a kilt, is hilarious.  Interestingly, none of the kids have a problem with that,  Santa is Santa no matter what.  And the cause is great for Claus.  All the money we raise goes to help others in our local community, whether it be for toys and clothes at Christmas or to keep the homeless from freezing to death in cold weather, it’s worth a little of my time.  Plus I love being Santa, bringing joy where I can.  I will keep doing it as long as I am able.  After all, I believe in Santa.

 

Scottish Games

A Pipe Band at a Scottish Games

A Pipe Band at a Scottish Games

Over Memorial Day weekend, I will be attending the United Scottish Society’s Scottish games in Costa Mesa, CA, known as Scottish Fest, (click here for info) selling my Celtic saga, Three Legs of the Cauldron.  Alas, I have only attended Scottish Games in California, so my impressions are not of any Games in Scotland.  Those are competitions in athletics and dancing, far different than the Celtic fairs of America.  Even the one at Braemar that the Queen regularly attends and draws about 20,000 people is focused on the competitions.  There will be kilts and pipe bands, but no clan booths or musicians (sorry, pipers, I mean no slight to your musical talents).  They harken back 950 years to the time of Malcolm II, known as Canmore or Bighead, who is said to have had the games as a way to have Scots compete with each other without someone literally losing his head. Since he’s the guy who killed the historical Macbeth, there may be some irony there.  But I digress.  Back to the New World.

Lady Saltoun, chief of the name Fraser and Lord Lovat, chief of the Lovat Frasers

Lady Saltoun, chief of the name Fraser and Lord Lovat, chief of the Lovat Frasers

The games in America are more of a fair or festival, hence the name Scottish Fest for Costa Mesa.  I first attended these games when they were held at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in Pomona.  It was 1981, a hot Sunday afternoon, and my little clan (family) barely made it to them before closing time.  They were a rather small affair then, but I was bitten by the Scottish bug.  My nearest tie is through my father’s mother, a Fraser.  A couple of years later, I went to the games the Clans of the Highlands used to hold in Chino as a member of Clan Fraser Society of North America.  Although a small games, they had the necessary components of a games in America: clan tents, vendors of about every item Scottish and not so Scottish as well as food and drink, and Scottish, or at least Celtic, musical entertainment.  Oh, yes, they also had Scottish athletic and dancing competitions as well as pipe bands.  Other games might add a Highland animal exhibit, sheepdog competitions, whisky tasting, historical re-creationist groups (Want to meet Mary, Queen of Scots?  Well, not the real one, since she’d be rather decomposed by now, but someone who has taken a lot of time to learn to act like she would have.  She just might be there.), and even odd events like beard competitions.

Caber Toss

Caber Toss

What do the Games in Scotland and the Scottish Games in America have in common?  Much.  The athletic competitions always have some uniquely Scottish events.  The most dramatic is the caber toss, which has been termed the telephone-pole toss by those of non-Scottish descent.  Some burly guy in a kilt balances a log the size of a telephone pole upright against his shoulder, slowly trots ahead and heaves it upward so that it lands on the other end and falls forward.  It’s supposed to land perfectly upright and fall directly away from the competitor.  Take it from me, it’s not easy even with a smaller, practice one. (click here to see)  Then there is the stone toss.  It’s like shot putting, except with an irregularly shaped stone weighing about 18 lbs. and done with no approach, feet firmly planted.   (click here to see)  Next is the weight toss over a bar, similar to a pole vault bar.  The 56 lb. weight has a ring attached for gripping and tossed over a bar 18 ft. or more directly overhead.  Not keeping an eye on the weight could be fatal.  (click here to see)  Then there’s a 28 lb. weight toss for distance.  Finally, there is the 22 lb. hammer throw for distance.  This is also an Olympic event.  In the Scottish games, the big guys throw it 185 ft. or more.  (click here to see)  In the Olympics, the record is 284 ft.  Of course, the Olympic hammer is 6 lbs. lighter and has an easily-gripped handle on the end of a chain instead of a simple pole!  Maybe the Scottish one is a little too much for the rest of the world.  The real kicker is that, unlike the Olympics, Scottish heavy competitors compete in all these events and over a relatively short period of time.  Not exactly the same, is it?

Highland Fling

Highland Fling

Another common ground for Scotland and America are the dancers.  Highland dancing is not done with a partner and is energetic, to say the least.  The sword dance is done over a pair of crossed swords, supposedly originally done by Malcolm Bighead celebrating his victory over Macbeth.  If a dancer touches one of the swords in this difficult dance, he or she loses major points.  (click here to see)  The Highland fling requires the dancer to stay in the same spot while going through fast and rigorous steps.  (click here to see)  Both of these are performed mainly on tiptoe.  Although there are other dances like the sailor’s hornpipe, these are the essentials of Highland dance competitions.  There is no improv in any of these dances.  The dancer must learn the steps and follow them.

Bagpiper

Lone Piper

The last commonalities for the New World and the Old World games are pipers and the kilts.  Pipe bands are the mainstay for the music at the games.  You can hear pipers practicing their music, often eerily wafting through the games.  You either love them or you hate them.  There is a joke that says that a bad piper sounds like someone strangling a cat.  A good piper sounds like someone strangling a cat gently.  However, if you’ve got any Scots blood in your veins, the sound of a good pipe band will send cold chills down your spine.  (click here to see and hear)  I remember when my wife and I were first in Scotland in 1986, we were driving along a glen when we saw some red deer and got out for a photo.  It was about 11:00 at night, but still twilight and the hills along the burn were covered with heather.  There was not a person or a house in sight.  A lone piper was playing somewhere in the far distance, echoing along the glen.  It was so beautiful it almost brought tears to my eyes.  (click here to listen)  I am a Scot, not only by some of the blood in my veins, but in m heart.

James Bond in a Kilt. No one to mess with.

James Bond in a traditional kilt. No one to mess with.

And then there is the kilt.  I cannot take the time to go into the entire history of the kilt and tartans, but what has evolved is a pleated wool garment with a tartan that is registered with the Scottish Register of Tartans.  For most, that means a Scottish Highland clan or Lowland family.  In America, you will see many men in these kilts at the games. but many more who are not.  They are custom tailored, somewhat expensive and, quite frankly, take a little courage to wear.  Although, as I said, I have not been to any Games in Scotland, I would imagine that is the case there.  Here, however, things have changed since I got my kilt in 1983.  Now there are Utilikilts and their Pakistani knock-offs.  These are off-the-rack, made in heavy cotton, solid-color or camo instead of tartan cloth and (shudder) have pockets.  While it’s a free country and anyone can wear whatever they wish, I will never wear a Utilikilt.  To me, it would be like wearing Jockey underwear (Y-fronts for my British friends) and calling them swim trunks: not the same thing and rather embarrassing to be seen in in public.  An American site summarized my thoughts very well.  “They took a traditional garb and perverted it.  A kilt is a symbol of Scotland and its history.  A Utilikilt is someone trying to functionalize culture.”

Scary dude in Utilikilt

Scary dude in Utilikilt

It’s like wearing white athletic shoes with a tux: just not right.  If you figure the cost of my kilt for the 30-plus years I’ve owned it, it’s not that much, far less than an iPhone and lasting far longer.  If you want to show your Scottish heritage, do it with the real thing and not a cheap substitute.  When you walk in a real kilt, there is a “swoosh” of the fabric side to side.  When you walk in a Utilikilt, it hangs stiffly down.  A U.K. site called it, “hardly a kilt at all, but a man skirt, marketed as a kilt.”  If you wear a Utilikilt, just be honest and say it’s a man-skirt.  Like a man-purse or a man-bun, it’s a masculine version of a feminine fashion item.

Wicked Tinkers- not exactly traditional Scottish music.

Wicked Tinkers- not exactly traditional Scottish music.

 

But back to the games.  For Americans, they are a Scottish festival as well as competitions.  The music reflects that, although I do wish there were more in the traditional style than the modern, rock-type, but the organizers book what draws the crowds.  While they’re not to my taste, I guess I can live with that.  The vendors provide a chance for purchasing British food and drink, Celtic jewelry, British knick-knacks and Celtic-themed clothing that varies from T-shirts to kilts and tracing your name’s ancestry.  There are also books on Celtic topics, which is where I fit in.  As I said, I will be autographing and selling Three Legs of the Cauldron at the Celtic Nook booth in Costa Mesa as well as Pleasanton, CA, over Labor Day weekend.  (click here for info)  Then there is that American innovation, clan tents.

Clan tents

Clan tents

For native Scots, they consider clan membership to be a matter of birth, not joining.  If you’re born a Fraser in Scotland, you are a member of the clan.  However, in America (and I now understand in a number of other countries as well), you join a clan society.  Requirements vary, but most bend over backwards to find a way to include those interested in membership.  We are a nation of mutts, so pure-blooded Scots are rare and oft times the connection is many generations back.  Many clan societies have ties with the clan chief or chief of the name in Scotland, but there is no copyright on a name and some are not connected with Scotland at all.  Nonetheless, it is all about preserving our Celtic heritage.  In this modern, mobile and transitory society, many of us are looking for roots, a tie to the past that will keep us grounded in the present.  Having manned the Clan Fraser Society of North America clan tent as Southern California Convener for many years, there is a special place in my heart for those who put time, effort and money into preserving this heritage.  That great duo, Men of Worth, have made a tongue-in-cheek song about them entitled The Clan Tent Cavaliers(Click here to listen)  At the clan tents, diasporan Scots can find their connection to their heritage.  Dedicated volunteers are more than willing to share their research and knowledge with any who stop by.  It’s all free.  If you attend the games in America and have any Scottish name in your ancestry, take the time to check out your clan tent.  It’s a part of the Scottish games experience in America.

Alice in Wonderland

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland A early edition

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
An early edition

This is Alice’s 150th birthday and she certainly doesn’t show her age.  You’d never believe she’s a day over 100.  Like the brainy Athena from the skull of Zeus, Alice sprang from the imagination of  Lewis Carroll.  While oft mistakenly considered merely children’s books, both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (shortened to Alice in Wonderland) and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Saw There (shortened to Through the Looking Glass) are not simplistic.  True, they can be taken on the children’s level, where they are amusing and entertaining.  Queen Victoria enjoyed Alice so much that she sent for all Lewis Carroll’s other books and was surprised to receive mathematics treatises.  You see, Lewis Carroll, the pen name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, was an Oxford don of mathematics.  Droll, erudite wit permeated both books.  Even his pen name is a reversal of the Latin translation of his first and middle names.  Originally, he planned to use an anagram of them, Edgar Cuthwellis, but his publisher thankfully nixed that idea.  So Charles translated his names to Carolus Ludovicus, then swapped them around and Anglicized them to Lewis Carroll.  Simple, eh?

Alice Liddell at 8 years old July 1860

Alice Liddell at 8 years old
July 1860

Although books have been written about why he penned Alice’s tales and what then happened, the short version is that the bachelor don took the  three daughters of his friend and college dean, Henry George Liddell, out rowing on July 4th, 1862.  Ten-year old Alice, the middle child, begged him to tell them a story.  He spun a fanciful tale about a young girl named Alice who followed a white rabbit down a hole to Wonderland.  At Alice’s urging, he put it on paper.  The working title was Alice’s Adventures Under Ground.  Fortunately, Carroll was persuaded to change it because the book might be thought to have something to do with mining, but he did give a handwritten copy with that title to Alice in 1863.  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was published on November 26th, 1865.  While Dodgson expected to sell about 400 books, it was soon a runaway hit.  It continues to have many incarnations, including ones by Disney, Depp and even a porno version.  Alice’s tales have become a mainstay of children’s (and adult) fiction.

Humpty Dumpty sitting on a wall

Humpty Dumpty sitting on a wall before the fall

All this is nice, but so what?  It doesn’t make these books of enduring quality or Mensa standing.  Although Dodgson was a mathematician, there are no profound formulas or theorems of great repute in the two books.  Instead, it is the way he uses the English language, the banter and brilliance, the puns and portmanteaus that stand the test of time.  Consider that scrambled egghead, Humpty Dumpty, who uses “glory” to describe a “nice knock-down argument,” in Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Saw There.  It sounds like nonsense, right?  Yet it had to do with a linguistic debate as to whether words have an intrinsic meaning that is inbuilt and inherent or whether they can be defined or redefined at will.  When Carroll wrote the books, there was a strong school of linguistic thought that words had an intrinsic meaning.  Few now follow that school and the other view seems to be what we now follow.  “Cool” has nothing to do with temperature, but with popular acceptance.  “Sweet” doesn’t describe the sugar content of a food, but means “cool.”  “Ill” doesn’t mean sick, but “cool” or “sweet.”  Who knows what the newest and latest word will be tomorrow.  Since traditional dictionaries cannot keep pace with this rapid “evolution,” there are even “urban dictionaries” to help you keep up on this ever-changing patois of the youth culture, since yesterday’s youth are today’s AARP.  The upshot, it seems, is that Humpty was right when he said, “When I use a word, . . . it means just what I chose it to mean.”   An existential etymology.  Meaning of words do change over time, although that has been greatly accelerated in the last few decades.  Not exactly the stuff of a children’s book.

Jabberwocky. The stuff that fantasy is made of.

Jabberwocky.
The stuff that fantasy is made of.

Another bit of linguistic wit is the poem “Jabberwocky,” which I can still stumble through  by memory to this day.  Again, it is from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Saw There and found by Alice in a book.  It is a masterpiece of pun and portmanteau words.  In fact, Carroll first coined that phrase for “two meanings packed up into one word.”   A portmanteau is a small suitcase with two equal compartments (ever hear of one now?), so Carroll used it to describe two words combined into one with elements of both.  Who does not understand that a motel is a motorists hotel?  Or that a brunch is a combination of breakfast and lunch?  Even the air many breathe has long been smog, or smoke and fog.  But the list keeps growing, with Labradoodle (Labrador Retriever/poodle mix) and frappuccino (frappe/cappuccino blend) now common parlance.  But grue as green and blue?   Chuggers from charity and muggers, meaning people who accost you for contributions for their favorite cause?  To me, chuggers were guys who downed mugs of beer quickly.  But I’m obviously dated.   I could go on, but there are far too many to list here.  And all this came from Lewis Carroll.  Consider this poem, which I quote in full because I like it and it’s my blog.  Hmmm.  My web log?

 Jabberwocky

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe.
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
      The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
      The frumious Bandersnatch!”
He took his vorpal sword in hand;
      Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree
      And stood awhile in thought.
And, as in uffish thought he stood,
      The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
      And burbled as it came!
One, two! One, two! And through and through
      The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
      He went galumphing back.
“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
      Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
      He chortled in his joy.
’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe.
While it may seem like nonsense words, Carroll had specific meanings in mind for some of them, which he has Humpty Dumpty explain.  Some are portmanteau words, some are variations or derivations of normal words and some are whimsys.  Here is Humpty’s explanations.
  • “Brillig”: four o’clock in the afternoon — the time when you begin broiling things for dinner.
  • “Slithy”: lithe and slimy. ‘Lithe’ is the same as ‘active’.
  • “Toves”: curious creatures that are something like badgers, something like lizards, and something like corkscrews. They make their nests under sun-dials and live on cheese.
  • “To gyre”: to go round and round like a gyroscope.
  • “To gimble”: to make holes like a gimblet.
  • “Wabe”: the grass-plot round a sun-dial. It is called like that because it goes a long way before it, and a long way behind it. And a long way beyond it on each side.
  • “Mimsy”: flimsy and miserable
  • “Borogove”: a thin shabby-looking bird with its feathers sticking out all round; something like a live mop.
  • “Mome rath”: a ‘rath’ is a sort of green pig. Humpty Dumpty is not certain about the meaning of ‘mome’, but thinks it’s short for “from home”; meaning that they’d lost their way.
  • “To outgrabe”: ‘outgribing’ is something between bellowing and whistling, with a kind of sneeze in the middle.

The question I posit is that, even without an explanation of the words, do you understand the action, the basic concept?  The words bring images to mind, perhaps a little different for each reader.  Vorpal sword.  Manxome foe.  Uffish thought.  Snicker-snack.  Beamish boy.  You get a feeling for the intent without fully understanding the meaning.  It is a masterful stroke of lexical lightheartedness.

Cheshire Cat Pheline Philosopher or Feline Filosofer?

Cheshire Cat
Pheline Philosopher or
Feline Filosofer?

I tend to menander (mentally wander) a bit, so I will close with another favorite of mine, the Cheshire cat from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  He explains to Alice why he is mad.

“And how do you know that you’re mad?”    “To begin with,” said the Cat, “a dog’s not mad. You grant that?”                                   I suppose so, said Alice.                        “Well then,” the Cat went on, “you see a dog growls when it’s angry, and wags its tail when it’s pleased. Now I growl when I’m pleased, and wag my tail when I’m angry. Therefore I’m mad.”

In other words, madness (insanity, not anger) is going against expected behavior, not diminished mental capabilities.  By such a standard, I am happily mad. When Alice asks him which road to take, he gives her another delightfully illogically logical answer that pretty much sums up the way many live their lives.

Alice asked the Cheshire Cat, who was sitting in a tree, “What road do I take?”
The cat asked, “Where do you want to go?”
“I don’t know,” Alice answered.
“Then,” said the cat, “it really doesn’t matter, does it?”

Try explaining these concepts to an eight-year-old.  Yet an eight-year-old can enjoy Alice’s adventures without worrying about deeper meanings.  That is the genius of Lewis Carroll.  Happy birthday, Alice.  You look marvetastic.

 

Suddenly Royal, or Suddenly Stupid

Well, here we go again.  In the latest episode, “King” David, or Drew, talked many times about wanting to move to the Isle of Man permanently and getting a job driving taxi and/or being on the radio.  It is pure bunk.  I moved there with my family in 1994.  At the time, I had the personal recommendation of the British Consul and still had to write what was, in effect, an essay explaining why it would be good for the Isle to let me in.  I had heard that it was even more difficult to be admitted now, so I checked it out.

Isle of Man 1994 Yearbook, which KD obviously never read.

Isle of Man 1994 Yearbook, which KD obviously never read.

The only chance KD has is General Migrant, since his claim of kinship is not a grandparent, which is the most distant relative allowed for claiming kinship.  According to the official Isle of Man government site (not KD’s “official” site), requirements for “indefinite leave to remain” on the Isle under General Migrant are (click here):

The applicant must have spent a continuous period of 5 years lawfully in the Isle of Man, of which the most recent period must have been spent with leave as a Tier 1 (General) Migrant, in any combination of the following categories:
(i) as a Tier 1 (General) Migrant,
(ii) as a Highly skilled Migrant,
(iii) as a Work Permit Holder,
(iv) [Not used],
(v) [Not used],
(vi) as a Writer, Composer or Artist,
(vii) as a Tier 2 (General) Migrant, a Tier 2 (Minister of Religion) Migrant or a Tier 2 (Sportsperson) Migrant, or
(viii) as a Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) Migrant

Work permit holders don’t include taxi drivers or “radio personalities,” obviously, so what are his chances of getting a temporary “right to remain” under that category and hanging in for 5 years to make it permanent?  Since the changes to the law in 2010, they are nil.  Here’s what it says:                                                                                                            Tier 1 (General) Migrants                                                                                                   This route is now closed except for indefinite leave to remain applications.
That means that unless he was already there as a General Migrant in 2010 when the law was changed, that road onto the Isle is closed to him.  Thank God.

Perhaps KD might be able to hold a job for 30-48 days, but that’s it.  So it’s all a joke, just like KD.  No immigration, no job.  It looks like he didn’t check it out, TLC didn’t check it out or they both ignored the laws.  Most likely, there was no intention of KD and family moving to the IOM, just making a little “Reality TV” drama.A real knighting by a king.

Then came KD”s plan for an “investiture” of “knights,” an incredible farce.  Lord K thought it was a good idea.  Since he bought his title and KD has previously tried to sell “knighthoods” as “King of Mann” for 40,000 pounds, perhaps he thought he would get a kick-back for titles sold.  But KD had a hard time giving them away.  Stu Peters, a personality on Manx Radio accepted, possibly taking the mick out (pulling the leg) of KD, because it would make an interesting radio program.  Mol Holmes, the kind fellow who loaned KD a bathtub for the Castletown Tin Bath Race, refused.  Typically a Manxman who says much with few words, he merely stated, “That’s pushing it a bit.”  But “Push” is KD’s middle name.  Or one of them.  I have a few more I could add.

After a ludicrous rehearsal at the ruins of Peel Castle (not named in the show), he decides to ask his “royal etiquette expert,” Lady Cruella, I mean Lady C, if he should go through with it.  For once, I agreed with her.  “That is the official act of an acknowledged monarchy,” she told him.  “You are not an acknowledged monarch.  You are a claimant.  No phony investitures.”  The whale started to blubber.  “I don’t want to be an embarrassment,” he said.  WHAT!  That’s all he is.  Without embarrassment, he wouldn’t exist.  Lady C notes that European men don’t break into tears so easily.  It should be noted that neither to American men with cajones.

You're live on Manx Radio!

You’re live on Manx Radio!

I did love when Stu Peters interviewed him on Manx Radio.  Promised knighthood or not, the velvet glove was off the mailed fist.  As KD sat, doing some spastic boogie with his hands before the interview, he bragged about not preparing.  It was soon obvious.  Stu stated that the House of Keys had categorically rejected KD’s claim, then asked KD three things he would do as king, if they suddenly did an about-face.  KD was like a deer in the headlights, sitting there with a typically stupid look on his face and saying nothing.  Finally, Stu threw him a bone, asking if he would reduce income taxes.  KD took the bait and said he would reduce them.  Guess what?  the Isle of Man is a tax haven, having taxes far lower than the UK or Ireland, and the USA.  With a maximum rate or 20% and no capital gains or inheritance taxes, many rich seek to live there for that reason.  But KD was too stupid to even check out such basics about his “kingdom.”  His closing statements were well-considered to win friends and influence people, especially the Manx.  “I am the king.  That’s a fact,” he pronounced on air.  “You’d better get used to it.  I’m the king and I’m here to stay.”  Afterwards, when talking with his wife, he said he thought the interview went okay.  Another case of a grand delusion.

KD continued to display lack of class, and poor taste to the end of the episode.  When it came to taking his wife out for a special night on the town, what did KD and his wife wear?  Jeans.  While America is more casual in attire than the Isle of Man, we are not all slobs.  When we lived on the Isle and went to a quality restaurant, I wore a coat and tie.  And not with jeans.  Maybe he was taking Pam to that Scottish restaurant in Douglas: McDonald’s.  Probably splurged and bought her a Big Mac.  And three for himself, to maintain his impressive physique.  Or should that be Himself?

In closing, let me quote from other sources on the Net and comment.

According to Fox News:  Howe filed a claim with Her Majesty’s Stationary Office on Dec. 20, 2006, they published the claim in Queen Elizabeth II’s paper of record, the London Gazette, and after no one objected, they sent him a crown, robe and anointing spoon for the ceremony, he said. “It kind of blew up into something big,” Howe said. “I’m certainly not challenging the Queen’s authority or sovereignty over the island. I haven’t amassed an army or anything like that to invade, so I’m certainly not a threat at all.”

I'm your king.  Resistance is futile.

I’m your king. Resistance is futile.

Although I’ve already discussed why no one responded, who the heck sent him “a crown, a robe and an anointing spoon?”  I will go out on a limb here and definitely state it wasn’t the Queen.  As to KD not “amassing an army,” I’d love to see him and any idiots he might garner to invade the Isle go up against the United Kingdom Special Forces.   Really.  I’d love to see it.  Actually, the Manx wouldn’t need any help from the UK to kick his “royal” butt.

According to TLC, KD got an invitation to the Duke and Duchess’s royal wedding.  Why hasn’t he shown it anywhere, including on his official website (Click here)?  Smoke and mirrors, smoke and mirrors.

Next time I’m going to address KD’s ties to The Sovereign Magistral Order of the Temple of Solomon.  One good joke deserves another.  Or, to paraphrase the quote attributed to Admiral Farragut, “History and facts be damned, full speed ahead.”

Suddenly Royal

Coat of arms of the Isle of Man

Coat of arms of the Isle of Man                    “However you throw me, I will stand”

When my wife told me she’d recorded a new program on the grossly misnamed The Learning Channel (TLC) entitled Suddenly Royal about an American who is trying to claim his title as the King of Man, I was appalled.  We had lived there for five years and I did my Masters’ thesis about the Isle of Man during the 17th century and read a lot of Manx history.  I knew his claim was rubbish, at best.  However, we decided to watch it for the scenery of a place that was near and dear to our hearts.  Sadly, so far we’ve seen too much of “King” David “Drew” Howe and far too little scenery.

Bonnie Prince Charlie A Pretender With A Real Claim

Bonnie Prince Charlie
A Pretender With A Real Claim

So, you may have seen King Ralph and think it’s a similar case, a long-lost relative inherits the throne when everyone else suddenly kicks the bucket.  Not so.  Drew had his ancestry done and found out that he is the direct line descendant of Lord Thomas Stanley, the last man to hold the title of King of Man.  I’m assuming that’s what he found, but no proof of this has ever been provided.  I’m reminded of “Prince” Michael Stewart, who I met in 1990.  He was a pretender (unproven claimant) to the throne of Scotland, saying that he was descended from an unrecorded, yet legitimate, son of Bonnie Prince Charlie.  He refused to show me his proof, saying the Queen didn’t have to prove her claim.  Ever hear of him?  I thought not.  Last I knew, he was still living in a one-room apartment in Edinburgh.  Maybe I’ll tell more of his story another time.

Drew was an “auto-service manager” living in Frederick, MD, when he found out about his “royalty.”  He posted an official claim to be the King of Man in the London Gazette in 2007 and, because no one protested, it’s official now.  Or so he says.  “Prince” Michael Stewart did the same thing decades ago.  Since he is now universally recognized the King of Scotland, that must work.  Right.  I’m thinking of posting a notice there that I’m the King of Sky.  I mean Skye.  Medialife MagazineOne definition of the word “pretender” is “a person who pretends.”  Another is “a claimant to a throne.”   On the show, he’s a pretender in the first sense.  He pretends to believe that his claim isn’t silly and that he’s going to the island not because he’s being paid to by the TV show but because he’s trying to press his claim.  He and his wife, Pam, and their 12-year-old daughter, Grace, pretend that the things they do and the things that happen to them aren’t set up for the cameras.  Drew says, “A couple days ago, the local paper on the Isle of Man came out attacking me.”

Hmmm.  I wonder how’d I’d feel about someone claiming ownership of all of California because of a Spanish land grant?

World Tin Bath Championship in Castletown

World Tin Bath Championship, Castletown            Photo by BBC News

Drew sets off to win the hearts of the Manx people by entering the Isle of Man Tin Bathtub Race in Castletown.  Organizer David Collister described it as, “People just like to have fun and the spectators come because they like to see people get wet and they like to see people sink.  It’s two hours of family fun and slapstick entertainment involving household tin baths that your granny will have used in front of the fire.”  Drew dresses in a clownish king costume and participates.  I guess that, since the Queen did not, that makes him a winner.  Or a wiener.  Definitely a pretender in the first sense.

If “King” Drew wanted to participate in an event that would gain the respect of the Manx people, he should try the long-running, world-famous TT Motorcycle Road Race.  There’s nothing slapstick about it and it takes real cajones to ride in it.  Click here to find out why.

However, he is advised on how to be the new “King of Man” by two upstanding members of the British nobility and long term Manx residents: Lady Colin Campbell and Lord Kevin Couling.  Well, maybe not.  First neither of them live on the Isle of Man.  Secondly, there is a matter of character.  You be the judge.

In spite of her name, Lady Colin Campbell is not Scottish.  Lady Colin Campbell, a.k.a. Lady Poison Pen, was previously Georgia Ziadie.  She was born in Jamaica to a Lebanese father and English, Irish, Portuguese and Spanish mother.  She had a terrible childhood and her marriage to Lord Colin Campbell, younger brother of the Duke of Argyll, was just as bad.  It lasted fourteen months and she divorced him, claiming abuse and that he was a drunken addict.  Yet, she continues using his name forty years later.  Why?  Perhaps because it does give her more credibility as a writer of exposés of the Royals, from whence comes the Lady Poison Pen title.

According to the Daily MailWe are talking in the wake of a vociferous outcry in the media this week at the salacious and utterly unsubstantiated allegations in her new book The Untold Life Of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.
If she doesn’t draw definitive conclusions in the book, she does hold all manner of gossip up to the light for examination.
For one thing, she suggests that the Queen Mother — as well as her younger brother David — was the natural child of her father and the family cook, Marguerite Rodiere, because her mother was too fragile to have another baby after a nervous breakdown following the death of one of her older children.
The second bombshell is that the present Queen and her late sister Princess Margaret were conceived by artificial insemination, because their mother didn’t like sex . . . .
She points out in her book that the artificial insemination story has been doing the rounds as a rumour in some circles for years (which is certainly true) and that she had it ‘from several sources’.
Which, naturally, doesn’t mean it’s true.  And, happily for her, since all the players are now dead, no one can prove the point one way or the other.
There is no doubt that she loves to shock and can be horribly poisonous. Indeed, much of what Lady Colin says should, I suspect, be taken with a large pinch of salt.

No doubt, she sees “KIng” Drew as a way to get more publicity for her books, as well as a paycheck from TLC.  But surely the soft-spoken Lord Kevin Couling, who Drew said, “works with a lot of royal families,” is far better.  Right?  I’ll let the press describe him and his companion.  Mrs. Victoria Ayling.

According to the Mail on Sunday: Victoria Ayling, a high-profile ‘trusted ally’ of UKIP leader Nigel Farage, joined the openly racist party and attended its rallies as a student, according to her former husband, a friend and even her own mother.
A Mail on Sunday investigation has also discovered Mrs Ayling is being investigated by police after allegedly making abusive comments about her former husband – who is a transvestite.
The Mail on Sunday can also reveal that Mrs Ayling and her new partner, Lord Kevin Couling – who purchased his title, the 64th Lord of Little Neasden (my emphasis)– are also being investigated by police for an alleged hate crime against Mr Ayling.

But does “Lord” Kevin agree with Mrs. Ayling’s politics?  Spiegel online quotes him:
“Nowadays, you almost have to be ashamed to be British,” says her (Mrs Ayling) partner, Kevin Couling.  In school, children learn a great deal about the Holocaust and the women’s suffrage movement, he says, but not much about the country’s history. “They can’t even name the British kings.”  Besides, says Couling, Polish and Latvian immigrants are taking away jobs in the asparagus fields.

I feel sorry for all those native-born British who lost their asparagus-picking jobs to a bunch of Slavs.  But Kevin came to England from New Zealand, bought his title, and is taking a paycheck from TLC that could have gone to a native-born British lord, so maybe he shouldn’t speak.  According to The Armorial Register Limited, “Lord” Kevin is “Kevin Derek Couling, Lord of the Manor of Little Neston,” a title tied to the estate rather than hereditary.  Don’t look for famous lords and ladies in that registry, they’re not there.  Furthermore, Kevin registered his coat of arms in Serbia!  Cheaper, I’m sure, and maybe he got a few Serbs in to help pick his asparagus.

Finally, here is a caveat posted on the Armorial Registry website that should tell you who registers their arms there: The Armorial Register Limited is aware that at the present time proving the validity of the ownership of a manor and its associated right to be known as “Lord of the Manor of” is fraught with difficulty.  There are an ever growing number of businesses on the Internet only too willing to satisfy a seemingly endless consumer demand for “titles” and it seems that Manors and the right of their owners to be known as Lords have become the easiest target for less than scrupulous dealers. Our best advice is Caveat emptor “Let the buyer beware”.

Now that you have the cut of “King” Drew’s advisers, what about any validity of his claim?  Could he be king?  No.  In spite of what was said on the show, the Stanleys were the LAST kings of Mann, not the first.  Haraldr Óláfsson termed himself King of Mann and the Isles in 1237 and at least six other rulers after that held that title before the Stanleys.  Thomas Stanley made the ruler of Man the Lord of Mann instead of the King of Mann in 1504.  That cannot be changed.  The Isle of Man was sold to the Crown by the Duke of Atholl in 1765.  It doesn’t matter who anyone is descended from, the Queen is also the Lord of Man now.  Any Manx schoolchild knows this.  Of course, you have to be bright enough to read a little history.

House of Keys Logo - Green on White

House of Keys Logo

Lastly, notice that “King” Drew pushes his claim with no one who has authority on the Isle.  To date, no MHK (Member of the House of Keys, the Manx parliament) has been on the show.  No Deemster, or judge, has chatted with him.  His Excellency Lieutenant Governor Adam Wood has not received him at Government House (as I was received by His Excellency Sir Timothy Daunt while I lived there).  Instead, he tries to push his claim with a few locals in pubs and with people who do not have any authority.  When the “King” met with the Curreys, grandmother Heather, son Richard and grandson Cosmo, they gave him the go-ahead to pursue his claim.  “King” Drew acted like they were his only possible rivals.  I was puzzled.  Who were they?  The short answer: no one who had any say in the matter.  The long answer is below, but feel free to skip it.  Unless you are really into history.  I’d love it if you read it, since it took a lot to dig all this up.  I will understand if you don’t.

James Stanley- 10th Earl Of Derby

James Stanley-                       10th Earl Of Derby

Under the Stanleys, the title Lord Strange (an English title) was given to the son of the Earl of Derby until he inherited the earldom.  When James Stanley, 10th Earl of Derby, died in 1736 “without issue,” the title of Lord Strange and its barony, along with the Isle of Man, went to John Murray, 2nd Duke of Atholl, through the Stanley female line.  Since the earldom had to go only through the male line, it went to a distant cousin.  At the death of the 9th Duke of Atholl and 14th Baron (or Lord) Strange, James Thomas Stewart-Murray, in 1957, the title of Lord Strange and the Barony of Strange went into abeyance.  Charlotte Murray, the third oldest daughter of the 4th Duke married Admiral Sir Alan Drummond.  They had a son, John.  John had a son, Malcolm.  Malcolm had a son, John, who petitioned to regain and received the title of 15th Lord Strange from the Queen in 1965, but no land came with the title.  The title of 17th Lord Strange is currently held by Adam Drummond, who is one of five children and has two healthy children of his own.  Interestingly enough, he lives in a small cottage next to the castle that his mother, Baroness Strange, left with all her money to his youngest sister.  That’s a story that would be interesting to pursue, but not here.  The 15th Lord Strange’s second daughter is Heather, who married Lt. Andrew Currey.  Her son is Robert.  His son is Cosmo.  The chances of Cosmo becoming Lord Strange are little better than mine of winning the lottery.  And I never buy any tickets.  None of them have any claim on the kingship, lordship or any other title regarding the Isle of Man.

What is the opinion of the Manx about their “King?”  According to The Guardian: On Isle of Man websites, residents’ comments range from bewilderment to genuine concern. Mick, from Douglas, wrote: “What started out as an interesting and amusing story of a seemingly self-delusional American has now turned into something quite serious, as the monetary amounts stated are huge. Surely the authorities must intervene.” Kim wrote: “King David- get over yourself! You are NOT our King – you will never be our King. If you’ve got any respect at all you will give up this silly claim.”

So why has “King” Drew continued on this idiotic quest for seven years?  He claims it’s for his daughter, but the kid seems bright enough not to really believe his delusions.  So, is he deluded, a raving lunatic or something else?  It wasn’t until TLC started pumping money into this that he flew to the Isle.  Shrewd.  He and his family are only there for six weeks.  Wise.  Then, according to Medialife Magazine, “This may all seem harmless, but that same Telegraph story alleges that Drew was involved with a company that was selling supposed noble titles for as much as 90,000 British pounds (my emphasis). This isn’t mentioned in the premiere.”  He’s been doing this since 2007.  According to IOM Today:. . .  Noble Titles company’s website has been altered to include King David’s title and photograph. Among titles available are a dukedom for 90,000 or you can become a marquess for 80,000. The title of count will set you back 70,000 a countess 60,000 and 50,000 to become a viscount. The website states all proceeds will go to the Malawi Missions Project Charity by instruction of the King of Mann, excluding ‘investiture, regalia and administration costs’.  Uh, greedy? As backers of Hollywood movies have often learned, “costs” can eat up every invested dollar.  Or pound.  So what exactly is King Ralph . .. uh, Drew . . . uh, David?  I’ll let you be the judge.  If you can stomach the show enough to watch it for the spectacular scenery.  And if it survives.  Again, according to Medialife Magazine, “The true story behind ‘Suddenly Royal’ might be funny, or dramatic, or tawdry, but the creators of the show seem to have neither the talent nor the intention to tell it.”

In closing, why do I care enough to write this?  Because I love the Isle of Man and had many friends there who thought Americans were decent people.  If any of the Manx watch Suddenly Royal, their opinion of us will be that we are rude, crude and ignorant.  “King” Drew slurping his soup from his spoon and tucking his napkin under his chin?  Sure, I know it was orchestrated, with a slim, attractive wife accepting the behavior of her tub-of-lard husband, but “King” Drew went right along with it.  The Isle of Man can’t hate the publicity they’re getting from the show, but they also can’t have gained any respect for Americans.  We are buffoons of our own making.  Thank you, Drew, and TLC for harming the image of Americans in the eyes of the Manx, the British and the European viewers.  Your show is truly un-American.  As Kim on the Isle of Man said so well, my message to Drew is, “If you’ve got any respect at all you will give up this silly claim.”

 

 

 

 

 

Celtic Kingdom of Dal Riata

My next book, Three Legs of the Cauldron, will be out by Christmas.  It is a 6th century Celtic saga of Northeastern Ireland and Western Scotland, the kingdom of Dal Riata.  Here is a little history lesson about that little-known place and time.  This is a tad long, so consider it, “Everything you wanted to know about Dal Riata, but were afraid to ask.  And then some.”  Feel free to read it over a couple of days.  Or weeks.

You say Dal Riada, or Dalriata, or Dalriada, I say Dal Riata.
As with most Gaelic words, there is no authoritative spelling of the kingdom’s name.  Here, I will use Dal Riata, like I did in in my book.

Location

Dal Riada

Dal Riada

Dal Riata was a kingdom that encompassed part of the current County Antrim in Northern Ireland and stretched across the northern part of the Irish Sea to Scotland’s Kintyre Peninsula (Argyll) and islands in the Inner Hebrides. Although initially it only had the major islands of Islay and Jura, at its zenith in the late 6th and early 7th centuries it expanded to all the Inner Hebrides, including Mull and Arran as well as Skye and even the Isle of Man, although it could not always hold those last two.  It was a coastal kingdom, never conquering and holding any inland regions of Scotland and slowly declined until united with Pictish lands to become the kingdom of Alba, then Scotland.  Its Irish lands were lost in the mid-seventh century, after the Battle of Mag Rath in 637, although the Dal Riatans seem to have continued to fight in Irish wars alongside their allies, the Ui Neills, until the mid-eighth century.

Geography
Dal Riata consisted mainly of islands and coastal regions.  The land was rocky, hilly to mountainous, and windy- not great farmland.

Origins
The origins of the kingdom of Dal Riata are lost to us.  It happened before recorded history, so all our records were written, at best, a couple hundred years later. It’s as though no one had written what happened in the early 1800’s or before in American history and we had to rely on the stories handed down through the generations.  While some of it might be told accurately, no doubt some would be forgotten, added on to for the sake of a good story or remembered differently by different sources.  Can you imagine how the American Revolution might be portrayed if all that survived were accounts handed down over the years by Tories and not written until now?

When did the Irish (or Scotti, as the Romans called them) first settle in Scotland?  That’s a matter of continued debate.

1. Some think it started in the 3rd century.  In 365 AD, the Roman historian Ammianus Marcellus wrote of Picti and Scotti as raiders of Britannia.  But were the Scotti raiding from Ireland or from Scotland?

2. Some think it was later when Dal Riata was settled, perhaps not long before the Duan Albanach (Song of the Scots) says that King Erc’s sons came to Scotland and moved the kingship there.  However, it was written in the 11th c, so it’s not accepted as historical proof.  Some versions of Senchus Fer nAlban (History of the men of Scotland) also include this.

3. The Venerable Bede wrote that in the late 2nd Century, Cairbre Riada, Son of Conary, King of Ireland, and Grandson of Con of the Hundred Battles, settled on the west coast of Alba.  Dal is Gaelic for place or region, making Dal Riada “Riada’s place” or “region of Riada.”  That might seem likely, but Bede was an Anglo-Saxon who wrote in the early 8th century who also said Ireland was settled by the Spanish.  Some versions of Senchus have a similar tale.

3. We do know some events and people from about 576 A.D. and have a high degree of certainty that Dal Riata was already an established kingdom at that point.

4. A revisionist theory is that the kingdom was not settled by the Irish at all, but a Pictish people that came under the influence linguistically and culturally of the Irish by trade.  This is a theory pushed by Scotophiles who might be a little Hibernophobic.  Or, lovers of things Scottish who might be anti-Irish.

Now you see the problems in trying to know with a high degree of certainty exactly what happened so many years ago.  For the most part, history is made up of opinions and even wishful thinking.  But you can take the opinions, try to sort out the fluff and wishful thinking, and come up with your best theory.  For me, I think Bede makes sense, since it explains the name of Dal Riata itself.  I also think the Duan Albanach explains how the king of Dal Riata came to be in Scotland instead of Ireland.  Until some new, long-forgotten text shows up to prove me wrong, it works for me.

Culture
Gaelic Celtic culture, basically the same as Ireland, with cenels, or extended families, being the same as clans.  The customs, laws, political structure, mores and values were Irish.  Brehon Law would have been the standard.

Food
Hand-sown oats and barley were the grain.  The rocky land was difficult to plow, so the yield per acre was low.  The stones removed for cultivation did prove a source of building material for house walls and walls to keep in livestock.  Beef, mutton, goat, pork and fish, including shellfish, mackerel, herring and salmon, were primary protein sources.  Hunting added boar and venison to their diet and gathering brought in wild berries and nuts.  Stone querns survive, so we know they ground their grains for breads, soups and such.  Cooking cauldrons and shards of cooking pottery have also survived.

Clothing and appearance

Leine and Bratt

Leine and Bratt

Although few examples of clothing have survived, we know that wool was the favorite material, which has warmth and a natural water resistance.  A leine or tunic was worn by both sexes, with women’s longer than the men’s.  A cape-like woolen cloak, called a bratt, would be pinned with a brooch.  Men would wear trews, or trousers, in colder weather.  Men wore beards or long mustaches.  Ornate jewelry was worn by both sexes, with armlets, bracelets, torcs and brooches most popular.  Grooming was important and there is evidence of stone and wood bath tubs, warmed by heated stones, as early as 1200 BC.  Men were 5’6″ to 5’9″ and women 5′ to 5’4″.

 

 

Transportation

Currach

Currach

Many people traveled on foo.  Those who could afford to, went on horseback, using trails rather than roads. Few carts or other wheeled vehicles were used due to terrain and lack of roads.  Being a coastal kingdom, boats were very important. Currachs, boats made of greased or pitch-covered hides over wicker frames, were used for peace-time commerce as well as for transporting warriors.  They had a single, square sail and benches for rowers.  Originally, they seem to have been seven-benchers, but later twenty-two was a standard crew, with ten benches with two oarsmen per bench.

Housing

Houses might stand alone or be in small groups, but there were no cities, towns or villages as such.

Roundhouse

Roundhouse

Round houses were made with a low wall of stone, timber or mud-and-wattle with a steeply pitched thatched roof.  They would normally have one door and no windows. The door often faced the rising sun.  They varied in size with the smallest being about 12 ft. around to the largest at about 70 ft. Most were larger and housed an extended family up to 30 people. Internal dividers would give some privacy. Smoke from the central hearth fire filtered through the thatch, but they would have been smoky inside.  Sometimes sections were set aside for livestock, especially in the winter, so maybe the odor of the fire helped against other odors.

Crannog

Crannog

Crannogs were artificial islands built on lakes by using timber pilings, piled lumber and/or stone and dirt rubble as fill.  Planks formed the flooring and a timber round house gave protection.  A wood causeway connected it to the shore.

 

 

Population
According to Senchus, Cenel nOengusa had 430 houses, Cenel Loairn had 420 and Cenel nGabrain had 560.  Total population was probably between 7,000 and 8,000.

Religion

Celtic Cross

Celtic Cross

If the first settlement was in the 3rd c., Dal Riata was initially pagan, with the same gods the Irish had, and later became Christian.  Colm Cille (St. Columba, the church dove) founded a monastery on Iona, off the coast of the isle of Mull, in the late 6th c.  He was a noble of the powerful Ui Neill’s and is said to have fled there in penance for lives lost in a battle he caused. He is the first person of Christian authority to crown a king in Scotland, that being Aeden in 576 AD on Iona.  Colm Cille is credited with bringing Christianity to Scotland, although St. Ninian brought it to southern Scotland.  It is on the Isle of Iona that a couple of centuries later the monks created the Book of Kells.  It was taken to Kells, Ireland, to save it from destruction by the Vikings.

Political divisions
The kingdom was divided into Cenels, which are similar to Scottish clans, that held lands and had their own Dals, or tribal councils.  There were three Cenels named in the Senchus, nOengusa, Cenel Loairn, and Cenel nGabrain. Cenel Comghal apparently was one line of nGabrain that later became independent of it.  Check the map for the divisions.  Over all of them was the king, who depended on their support both politically and militarily.

Warriors

Celtic Warriors from My Book

Gaelic Warriors from My Book

Warriors, for both the army and navy, were required to be furnished by each household.  According to the Senchus, Cenel nOengusa would furnish 600, Cenel Loairn would furnish 600 and Cenel nGabrain would field 800.  These, of course, are estimates, but equal an available military force of 2000 men for the entire kingdom.  Seldom would all be called. They were armed mainly with spears, swords and shields and operated either as foot soldiers or armed sailors.  Later in the kingdom, mail shirts and finally metal helms were used.  A number of naval battles were fought by the Dal Riatans, evidencing their skill as fighting sailors.

Kings
Kingship was not primogeniture, but normally went to a male within the royal derbfhine, or close family, but a king might just as well be succeeded by an uncle, brother, cousin, or nephew as by a son, elected by the Dal, or cenel council.  For many years the kingship of Scottish Dalriata alternated irregularly between the Cenel nGabrain and the Cenel Comghal until the royal line of the Cenel Comghal died out in the 7th Century.  At that time, the Cenel Loairn began to compete for the kingship, using the Celtic custom that a derbfhine could submit a candidate for the chieftainship whenever the chief died without a tanist (heir) having been appointed.

Dunadd or Dun Ad

Dun Ad Today

Dun Ad Today

Dun is Gaelic for fort.  Dun Ad was the fort of the king of Dal Riata.  It is located near Kilmartin on the Kintyre Peninsula, on a rocky hill in the plain near the Add river.  At one time, it may even have been an island in the river.  We do not know when it was first settled but became the seat of the kings.  It has two main, natural levels, with the upper fort or citadel not large, about 40 by 60 ft., only enough for the royal family and a small entourage.  There are various clear areas lower where more troops and craftsmen (there is evidence of smelting and metalwork) were housed.  It is reached by a steep trail through a natural cleft in the rock that was barred by a gate.  At one time timber walls added to the natural defense, but are long gone.  A Pictish boar, a cup and a footprint were carved into a rock in the citadel (no longer there) that has fueled many debates over their use.  It is not large and has very little water inside the fort, so it was of questionable defensive value. It was conquered at least one time, by the Picts in 736 AD who held it at least until the next century.

Neighbors

The Picts

Pictish Warrior

Pictish Warrior

The Picts never called themselves Picts.  Pictus, a Latin word for a painting, was how the Romans termed them because they had pictures painted on their bodies or tattoos, most likely the latter.  They would never have called themselves such.  They were most likely related to the Britons in the south and spoke a Brythonic Celtic tongue. They were competent warriors and became strong nations in Scotland.  Different tribes or petty kingdoms gained supremacy at different times, often uniting all or almost all of Pictland as one. They battled the Dal Riatans and the Angles many times, sometimes successfully and sometimes not.  They even occupied the kingdom as foreign rulers.  With no written language, we know them from what others wrote about them and from their art.

The Britons
Alt Cult (Strathclyde) was the main Briton kingdom that the Dal Riatans had to deal with. Sometimes they were allies, sometimes foes. The kingdom formed with the fall of the Roman Empire’s rule in Britain and proved strong, native British kingdoms could thrive again, at least for a time.  They suffered a major defeat by the Vikings in 870 AD, but the kingdom survived until the Battle of Brunanburh in 973 AD.  Wessex’s King Athelstan’s victory over a Norse, Alban, Pictish army ended Strathclyde’s power and it later became a part of Alba, Scotland.

Anglean Warrior

Anglian Warrior

The Angles

Bernicia and Deira were the main Anglian kingdoms during the mid-Dal Riatan period and united to become Northumbria before the Viking invasions.  Often termed Saxons in early writings, these Germanic invaders conquered more and more of Britain over the years, finally holding all of the region now called England.  They were fearsome fighters who defeated Dal Riatans in battle at times, but never conquered the kingdom.

 

 

Highwater mark for Dal Riata
King Aeden is considered the most powerful king of Dal Riata.  He is the first king whose reign is accepted by most reputable historians as accurately recorded.  Aeden raided Orkney, successfully battled the Picts, regained the Isle of Man, defeated the Maeatae in a bloody battle on the River Forth and formed an alliance with the Ui Neills that secured the safety of his Irish lands.  However, when he grew alarmed at the growing strength of the Anglian Bernician king Æthelfrith, he led his forces to Degsastan (somewhere on the Scottish-English border).  There, in 603 AD, he suffered a disastrous defeat when his superior numbers were decimated by the Bernicians.  He escaped with his life, but never was a major force in Britain again.

End of Dal Riata
Cináed mac Ailpín (Kenneth MacAlpin) united the Picts and Dal Riata as one kingdom circa 878 AD.  Which kingship he had first is a matter of debate, with some claiming the Picts and some the Scots.  Whatever the case, the new kingdom was Alba (from the Latin word for Scotland, probably coming from the word “white.”  Perhaps from their pale skin?). It was not a conquest by either people, but more of uniting against a new, seemingly unstoppable foe, the Vikings.  Much of the coastal lands and islands of Dal Riata were seized by them and the focus of the new kingdom moved inland to Dunkeld.. But that’s another story.

Why not Pictland Instead of Alba?  Or the Roman Caladonia?  Some claim Alba was the Gaelic term for what the Picts called their kingdom, but there is no proof for that.  In fact, at one point it referred to all of Britain.  It was not until about 1286 and the Wars of Scottish Independence from England that it is referred to as the Kingdom of the Scots or Scotland. It gave them a national identity rather than that of a family or tribe (clan).  It defined the nation as a Gaelic entity, not English.  This is further demonstrated by Edward Bruce’s (Robert the Bruce’s brother) unsuccessful attempt to unite Ireland with Scotland.  By then, the Picts were almost forgotten.  While their art survived, there were no writings in their forgotten tongue.  It was the Irish-related Scots Gaelic that was spoken.  So Scotland it was to be.  And, besides, they would never have referred to themselves as “Picts.”

Primary sources for information on Dal Riata
Scottish kings are listed in the Annals of the Irish Kings
Adomnan’s Life of Columba was written in the 8th C by a monk on Iona.
Senchus Fer nAlban (History of the men of Scotland) which was a mythic history, census, and a genealogy of the early kings of Dal Riata, with the earliest existing copy from about the 10th c, probably written in the 7th c.
Duan Albanach (Song of the Scots) was written in the 11th century to show the line of Malcolm Canmore (of Shakespearean fame).

Magna Carta

King John signs the Magna Carta

King John signs the Magna Carta

The Magna Carta was signed by the wicked King John on June 15th, 1215, and it is having its 800th birthday this year.  Why is that important?  Because the Magna Carta is kind of the same as our Declaration of Independence and our Bill of Rights, establishing the rights of the people in England, right?  Aside from using the word “right” too often, that sentence has a serious problem.  The Magna Carta Libertatum, or Great Charter of  the Liberties, said little regarding the rights of all of the people.  Only in sections 15, 20, 27 and 39 are “freemen” directly named (more here).  Serfs, of course, are not. Then again, neither are black slaves in our Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, except for how many representatives slave states may send to Congress.  Neither serfs nor slaves had rights in any of these documents.  What was addressed in the Magna Carta?  A group of powerful barons (the 1% of their day) had a number of beefs with King John and were in revolt.  This was, in effect, a peace treaty offered to John with a threat dangling overhead like the sword of Damocles.  A number of the sections in the Magna Carta had to do with inheritance, keeping the king from plundering estates of dead nobles.  Others dealt with legal rights and the church’s standing.  However, some of the more interesting sections deal with removing relatives of Gerard de Athyes from positions of authority and freeing the son of Llewellyn and all the Welsh hostages.  Ever heard of Gerard de Athyes?  Obviously, it was meant to address immediate complaints as well as general principles.  Yet it is considered a milestone of contractual government.  Why?

Robin Hood.  Original artwork for Look and Learn (issue yet to be identified).

Robin Hood, real or not.

At the time the barons met with King John (yes, the bad guy who didn’t get along well with Robin Hood) on the Runnymede meadow, the concept of “divine right” was strongly ingrained in kings and, they hoped, the people.  After Charlemagne was crowned by  Pope Leo II, the king was seen as anointed by God.  At least by the kings.  As such, to revolt against him was to revolt against God.  Not a good idea.  Yet revolts happened.  Either there were those who did not recognize a king’s divine right or they were willing to risk the wrath of God for gain on Earth.  If the papacy also had an issue with a king, divine right became a non-issue.  Such was the case with poor King John.  In fact, the highest ecclesiastical authority in England, Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton, is said to have written the original Magna Carta.  However, things soon went south for the barons.  After a dispute with Pope Innocent III a couple of years before, John had surrendered England to the papacy as a feudal holding.  In other words, the Pope was John’s liege lord.  Wily John contacted Pope Innocent III about this charter and the Pope, seeing it as an infringement on his authority, declared it “null and void of all validity for ever.”

Magna Carta Libertatum

Magna Carta Libertatum

Yet, we have the Magna Carta around to this day.  During a war with King John against his barons in which they offered the throne to French Prince Louis, John died of dysentery, or severe diarrhea.  You might say he had the crap kicked out of him.  His son, Henry III, agreed to the basic terms of the Magna Carta.  Although it went through a few other revisions in the next few years, it survived to this day. Three sections still ring true: the ban on cruel and unusual punishments, trial by a jury of one’s peers and the idea that justice should not be sold or unnecessarily delayed.  Why is that so important?

The key issue here is the authority of a government.  Does God (or Allah) appoint a ruler who can do what he wants with impunity?  Or does a governing person or body rule with the consent of those governed?  The Magna Carta, in effect, says, “There is a contract between the ruler and those who are ruled.  Unless the conditions agreed upon by those being ruled are followed, that contract is null and void.”  It was an agreement between those ruled and those who rule.  It was, in a very real sense, the precursor of John Locke’s Social Contract, a theory that was a key part of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence and the founding of the United States of America.

On the 800th anniversary of the first signing of the Magna Carta, let us remember the main points: the ultimate authority is with those governed, we allow others to run the government and can rescind that power at any time, and no man is above the will of the people or has authority to act with impunity.

Memorial Day- Remembering Andrew Bryant, an Unsung Hero

A young and dapper Andrew Bryant

A young and dapper Andrew Bryant

While Memorial Day, which was started after the Civil War to honor the fallen soldiers and is not meant for remembering those who survive, I think we should also remember those who survived, but died inside protecting this nation.  Too many lived thorough a war, but at great cost.  One was Andrew Bryant.  Few people have heard of Andrew Thomas Bryant.  If you Google the name, you won’t find anything about the Andrew Bryant who was my great-uncle in at least the first few hundred listings.  I know because I’ve checked.  I only met Andrew once, when I was about 10 years old, and have little personal memory of him.  I never heard him talk of his wartime experiences.  Until a short time ago, all I had was hearsay evidence of his service.

Americans and Filipinos surrender at the fall of Corrigidor

Americans and Filipinos surrender at the fall of Corrigidor

According to my late mother, her uncle Andrew was in the Philippines when WWII broke out.  Having enlisted in the Army during WWI, he was due to retire about that time and had a Filipino wife who owned a shop in Manila.  They had stockpiled bolts of silk to bring back to the States as an early form of an IRA.  But things didn’t work out as planned when the Japanese cut off the islands and invaded.  He was taken prisoner at the fall of Corrigidor in 1942, but survived in the Bataan Death March.   He saw men fall on that march, killed and dragged to the side of the road by Samari swords.  Once in the POW camp, he traded gold rings off his fingers for salt.  He had been wounded and a fellow soldier dug out the bullet with a rusty bayonet, leaving a permanent hole in his side.  After being freed from the POW camp, he tried to find his wife, but her shop had been destroyed by a bomb and he never could find her.  Although he made it through the war physically, he drank heavily and would often descend into tears at the memory of what had happened in the war, talking about people long dead.  It was a classic case of PTSD.  He never forgave General Douglas MacArthur for secretly leaving Corrigidor in a submarine in the middle of the night after promising his men he would stay with them, no matter what.  But, like I said, all this came from my mother.

Andrew in 1946.  If he had survived a Japanese POW camp, why was he so fat?  Was it because when food was readily available, he went out of control?

Andrew in 1946. If he had survived a Japanese POW camp, why was he so fat? Was it because when food was readily available, he went out of control?

In history, every event should be verified by more than one reliable source to have credence.  Often that is not the case in family history.  A tour guide I met used to say, “There are lots of tales and some of them are true.”  Although I wanted to believe that what my mother had told me about Andrew was true, I wanted impartial proof.  All of my mother’s brothers and her sister have passed away and Andrew’s children by his second wife (if the story I was told was correct) have proved impossible to find.  So I tried to find any information I could about him.  I spent hours checking every website that had info on Bataan Death March survivors, Army personnel stationed in the Philippines at the outbreak of WWII, POW’s in Japanese camps and any other relevant source of such information.  Nada.  I was beginning to wonder if it were all a fake, if instead of being a hero, my great-uncle was a fraud.   Was this story from my mother one that wasn’t true?

Not long ago I had worked with my cousin’s son (first cousin, once removed for you genealogists) in researching my uncle, Earl Owen Thresher, a Marine who died on Guadalcanal.   We took on Andrew as a project and he sent a copy of a short item in the Louisville Courier-Journal from 1942 that said,”Second Lieu. Andrew Bryant, 43, former Louisvillian previously reported as missing, is a prisoner of war of the Japanese Government in the Philippines, the War Department has notified his sister, Mrs. Betty Thresher. A World War veteran, Lieutenant Bryant has been in the Army ever since except for a two-year period.  He was at Corregidor when it fell, Mrs. Thresher said.  He served six years in Hawaii and about twelve in the Philippines where he was stationed when war broke out.”  It was the only confirmation of anything I had been told, but I was inspired to continue my search.

The big break came when the deacon at our church, a chaplain for Marine survivors of Corrigidor,  gave me a website of Bataan survivors to check out.  Scrolling down, I hit “Bryant, Andrew T., 2nd Lt.”  A cold chill ran down my spine.  This was actual confirmation that Andrew was there.  More importantly, it gave me his Army serial number.  I was in.  From there on, the information about him was easily accessible.  He’d been in the Cabanatuan POW camp in the Philippines and been shipped to Japan on 7/17/1944.  He’d been on the Hell Ship (so termed because of the horrendous conditions aboard these transport vessels that too often were sunk by unknowing American submarines) Nissyo Maru.   The ship took him to Takao/ Moji, Japan, arriving on 8/3/44.  He was interned in the notorious Moji POW camp.  If you want to know what it was like for men like Andrew, read the book Unbroken.  While the movie was not up to the quality of the book, it will give you an idea of what “hell on Earth” means.  Andrew was there.

Andrew the survivor

Andrew, a survivor in body.

After the war, Andrew returned to the U.S. on the S.S. Simon Bolivar, landing in San Francisco on 10/21/1945.  I know this from the official records.  But there is so much I don’t know for sure.  Did he have a Filipino wife who likely perished in the fall of Manila to the Japanese?  Did he somehow keep his rings after being taken captive and trade them for salt to keep alive?  Did a fellow soldier dig out a bullet or shrapnel with a dirty bayonet?  I doubt that there is any chance of actually knowing if these are facts or fiction.  However, in light of so many of the stories my mother told me being true, these might be as well.  One thing I do know is that Andrew really was a hero, a soldier who suffered and survived what might have killed lesser men.  So, while he did not physically die in the war, I think a part of his being died for his country.  For that reason, while I remember those who have given their lives for our country on this Memorial Day, I also remember all those men and women who physically lived through a war to protect this country, but suffered a certain type of death inside, known as PTSD.  Like Lt.Andrew Bryant.  I sing their praises.

The Real Mother’s Day

Cybele, Rome's Magna Mater ("Great Mother")

Cybele, Rome’s Magna Mater (“Great Mother”)

Through time, there have been certain days when many cultures have honored mothers, but they aren’t tied directly to the American Mother’s Day. To claim that a day organized by different individuals on a different day of the month for a different purpose is the same as Mother’s Day is as fallacious as claiming it has close ties to the Hilaria, the Roman festivals to honor Cybele, their Magna Mater or Great Mother of the gods.  She was all about the power of the Roman state, not a nurturing mother.  Not the same animal.  Today, there are celebrations of women or mothers, with a day set aside for them, in most every country of the world.  However, America was the first country to make an official day honoring mothers per se.  Such events as Mothering Sunday in Great Britain originally had more to do with returning to one’s mother church before copying the the American version and Russia’s communist International Women’s Day only became Mother’s Day in 1998.

Suffragette and peace activist, Julia Ward Howe

Abolitionist, suffragette and peace activist, Julia Ward Howe

There those who claim that Julia Ward Howe’s Mother’s Day for Peace was the first Mother’s Day.  She is most famous for having penned “The battle Hymn of the Republic,” written to the music of the abolitionist’s theme song, “John Brown;s Body.”  It became the marching tune of the Union Army in the Civil War.  However, she later became a pacifist and proposed a day of “marching in the streets, not eating brunch” that started in 1872, to be observed every 2nd of June, known as the Mother’s Day for Peace. However, that Mother’s Day was never observed on a national level and Ms Howe’s version was almost defunct by 1893. Anna Jarvis started her efforts in 1907, inspired by honoring her own mother. Ms. Jarvis had no connection to Ms. Howe’s peace movement and only wanted a day to recognize mothers (beginning with her own), not of marches and protests.

Anna Marie Jarvis, beloved mother of the originator Mother's Day

Ann Marie Jarvis, beloved mother of the originator Mother’s Day

Some sources claim that Ms. Jarvis’ mother, Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis, is a tie to Ms. Howe’s movement because of Ann’s efforts to help her community. While Ann Jarvis started Mothers’ Day Work Clubs to improve health and sanitation in 1858, which later treated wounded soldiers from both sides during the Civil War, and started Mothers Friendship Day to bind up families’ emotional wounds from that war in 1865 (or 1868, depending on your source), she had no connection with Ms. Howe. According to those sources, Ann Jarvis inspired Ms. Howe to start her day of marches, but no one claims either Ms. Jarvis were ever a part of them.

Miss Anna Jarvis

Miss Anna Jarvis, who almost single-handedly created Mother’s Day, was never a mother herself.

Miss Anna Jarvis dearly loved her mother, Ann Marie, and, after her death in 1905, strove to honor her. Notice “Mother’s Day” is not “Mothers’ Day,” because you are to honor your own mother on that day as Anna honored hers. In 1913 the House passed a resolution encouraging the wearing of a white carnation in honor of mothers on May 11th, but not creating the holiday Mother’s Day at that time.  Anna was not satisfied.  It was almost entirely due to her efforts that, on May 8, 1914, Congress passed the enactment of Mother’s Day (not Mother’s Day for Peace) as a national holiday to be celebrated on the second Sunday of May (not June 2).

Over-the-top Red Roses

Over-the-top Red Roses

It is true that Mother’s Day was soon commercialized, with businesses reaping great profits from the sale of flowers and cards, which greatly upset Anna Jarvis. She even became an opponent of her own holiday. However, if we wish to harken back to her original intent for Mother’s Day, we should write a letter to our wives and mothers, telling them how much they mean to us and go to church with them (Ms. Jarvis was a devout Christian). She even trademarked “Mother’s Day” in a vain effort to prevent anyone from misusing the name. Those were her soon-dashed hopes for Mother’s Day.

A simple White Carnation speaks volumes

A simple White Carnation speaks volumes

if you want to really observe Mother’s Day as its founder would have done, write a letter to your mother and, if you are also a father, to the mother of your children to say how much they mean to you.  Go to church or your own place of religious observance with her.  It is more in keeping with Anna’s vision than sending roses.  However, if you’re sending flowers, remember that a single white carnation is much more appropriate than a whole room full of red roses.

Happy Birthday, Bach

ill_be_bachWhile you may have heard that the famous Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach was born on March 21, 1685, he wasn’t.  Well, that’s what the date was when he was born according to Old Style dating, but the calendar changed before he died, so he was born March 31, 1685 according to New Style dating.  Is that as clear as mud?  Let me muddy the waters more.

Julius Caesar established a reformed calendar in 46 BC.  However, it lagged the astronomical calendar by 11 minutes a year.  Hey, what’s a few minutes a year?  By 1582, it amounted to 10 days, so Pope Gregory XIII did a quick-step and bumped the calendar up 10 days to correct that.  However, only Catholic countries, i.e., Venice, the Papal States the Holy Roman Empire, Spain, the Spanish Netherlands, Portugal, and France made the change at that time.  Although Protestant countries later fell in line, Bach’s Saxe-Eisenach only did so in 1700, making him born March 21, O.S. (Old Style), but March 31, N.S. (New Style).  Since I was also born on March 31, I opt to use the N.S. dating, making him a birthday brother, so to speak.

The Three B's Bach, Beethoven and Brahms

The Three B’s
Bach, Beethoven and Brahms

The “Three B’s” are considered the premier composers, all beginning with the letter B.  Although Bach, Beethoven and Brahms are now considered to be the three great B’s, it was not originally so.  In 1854, composer and writer Peter Cornelius described the Three B’s at Bach, Beethoven and Berlioz in an article meant to elevate Hector Berlioz to the stature of the already-recognized greatness of Bach and Beethoven.  If you’re not that familiar with Hector’s works, don’t feel like the Lone Stranger.  Although considered influential in the Romantic period, he and his works are not well known to the general music listener.  However, later that century the conductor Hans van Bulow replaced Berlioz with Johannes Brahms (Mr. Lullaby) in his assessment of the great Three B’s and the rest is history.

The Rabbit of Seville

The Rabbit of Seville

Getting back to J.S. Bach, let me give a more personal note of why I am so proud to have been born on his birthday.  I was not brought up in a household that listened to classical music.  In fact, the only classical music I remember experiencing was in Warner Brothers cartoons.  Who can forget Elmer Fudd singing “Kill the Rabbit” to the tune of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” in (click here) “What’s Opera Doc?”  Or Bugs Bunny singing “Let Me Shave Your Mop” in the revised version of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro,” (click here) “The Rabbit of Seville?”  Yet I had no idea these were but parodies of the great musical masterpieces lying in wait for me.

When I went to college, there were private listening rooms in the library where I could play records (I’m dating myself here) while listening to them on headphones while I studied calculus or fluid dynamics. One of the platters I played was (click here) “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” by J.S. Bach.  I was hooked.  Perhaps it was because his intricate precision appealed to my engineering mind.  Musicologist Hebert Anton Kellner considered Bach a mathematician because of this aspect of his music (click here).  Whatever the case, this superstar of the Baroque era of classical music became a favorite of mine and remains so to this day.  I can honestly say that Bach was a guiding light on my path of musical appreciation.

For those of you who remember the TV show M.A.S.H., when Hawkeye is giving Radar a crash course in classical music for a nurse he is dating, Hawkeye tells Radar to just say “Ah, Bach,” if the nurse brings up J.S.  The reason is that Bach is the penultimate composer, about whom nothing needs to be said.  Unfortunately, Radar doesn’t quite understand.  (click here)  Yet, the point is well made: the very name of Bach says it all.

Birthday Boy, Johann Sebastian Bach

Birthday Boy,
Johann Sebastian Bach

Only a fool would deny the fact that J.S. Bach was a great composer.  There are far better sites from far better musical historians who write on that, so I will not make any feeble effort to compete.  I will only say that he is the greatest to me.  I will also note that the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church has a (click here) feast day in his remembrance on July 28th every year (he died on July 28, 1750).  As an Anglican myself, I find this most appropriate for a man who wrote some of the greatest musical works of all times, primarily for the Christian church.  For an example, click here for a performance of “St. Matthew’s Passion.”

Happy 330th birthday, Bach.