Tuesday, 29 November 2022
I thought I’d use this opportunity to talk about Ferdinand.
Ferdinand who? You may ask. Ferdinand Magellan! I wrote a book about him, illustrated by Tom Knight who weirdly is in the same pose as me in these photos.
When my publisher asked me who I would like to write about, I proposed Ferdinand – Ferdinand Magellan, the explorer!
Where I grew up – in the Philippines – Ferdinand was famous for DISCOVERING the islands that became my native country! Discovering us whether we liked it or not, I always say – how would you feel if someone turned up at your house and told you he now owned it because he’d discovered it?
Way back in 1519, Ferdinand set off with a fleet of ships from Spain, crossing the Atlantic Ocean to Brazil. He sailed down the coast of the continent we now know as Latin America, until he came to a gap.
Nobody had ever seen that gap before. He believed that he could make his way through the gap to the other side of the continent. Other explorers before Ferdinand had seen an ocean, on the far side of the continent. So he knew it was there.
And Ferdinand found the way through to it.
The passageway he found is now called the Strait of Magellan. And the ocean came to be called the Sea of Magellan. But today, we now know it as the Pacific Ocean.
Many terrible things happened to him on the way. In the 16th century, ships and navigation tools were primitive. They could only taste the water to figure out if they were on a fresh water river or on the right track on a salty ocean. They had no fridges to keep their food fresh, so they had to carry cattle and when that was gone, they had to hunt for food on the shore.
Worse still, his men hated him, probably because Ferdinand was a bit arrogant. He was also Portuguese while many of his men were Spanish – and the Spanish and Portuguese were deadly rivals. There were several nasty attempts by Spanish men to take control from Ferdinand. One of his ships even turned around and sailed back to Spain.
And by the time they reached the Pacific, they were all suffering from sickness and starvation.
And most shocking of all: Ferdinand didn’t have a map. He didn’t know where they were going.
Why would someone VOLUNTEER to go on such a terrible voyage?
Here’s why: Ketchup. French Fries. Pizza. Pasta. Curry. CHOCOLATE.
NONE OF THESE EXISTED IN EUROPE WHEN FERDINAND WAS A KID.
There were no tomatoes. No potatoes. No pasta. No coffee. No sugar. No Spices. No chocolate.
Can you even begin to imagine what life was like for without all these things?
Rich people could buy spices – which were used for everything from deodorant to improving the flavour of food. Remember, there were no fridges, so meat was always slightly off.
The spices came from far away lands, carried by Arab traders across the vast European and Asian continent.
But then the great Ottoman empire rose in the East. They blocked the trade with Europe and Europeans had to find another way to get their spices.
And then some ships began to improve. They could sail longer and longer distances.
Some men, who were a lot braver than they were clever, began to venture out to explore the world beyond Europe.
And when they came back, oh the stories they told! They brought gold and strange new food.
When young Ferdinand was growing up, explorers were like ROCK STARS. And he dreamed of becoming an explorer himself.
In my book I tell the story of how Ferdinand fought to become an explorer. His journey to the other side of the world was filled with adventure and peril. And he had some successes. He was the first European to sail the Pacific Ocean. There is a penguin named after him, the Magellanic Penguin. As well as two dwarf galaxies, now called the Magellanic Clouds.
Mind you, poor Ferdinand died before he ever knew that these things were named after him.
But the most important thing that Ferdinand was known for was being the first man to sail all the way around the globe. But that’s another story.
On his early travels, reaching as far as what we now know as Malaysia by rounding the southernmost point of Africa, Ferdinand had acquired a boy as his slave whom he named Enrique. We know about Enrique because Ferdinand mentions him in his will and later, a man named Antonio Pigafetta, who went on the voyage with Ferdinand, wrote about him.
Pigafetta wrote down a list of words from the language and guess what, it’s the language that my parents speak, called Cebuano.
Because Enrique could talk so fluently, Ferdinand had no trouble being understood by the islanders – he even tried to convert them to his religion! After a long and terrible journey, Ferdinand felt successful at last.
Ferdinand was killed on the island of Mactan, in a battle that he didn’t even have to fight.
Today, people say he was the first man to sail all the way around the world.
But he never returned to Spain.
If you were Ferdinand and you were packing for your trip to an unknown destination, what would you pack? Make a comic or write a story about Ferdinand packing for his journey.
Ferdinand Magellan and the First Names series of books are published by David Fickling Books. All illustrations from the book by Tom Knight. Candy Gourlay’s website is here.
You can watch Candy's video Here.
Tuesday, 22 November 2022
The inspiration for this blog post came from watching the recent film adaptation of Catherine, Called Birdy, American author Karen Cushman’s brilliant coming-of-age novel for young people set in 13th century England.
While I enjoyed the film, the book is even better. Through a series of short, and often laugh-out-loud diary entries, rebellious nobleman’s daughter, fourteen-year-old Catherine, nicknamed ‘Birdy’, recounts her determined efforts to stop her father from marrying her off to a series of unsuitable suitors while at the same time doing her best to resist the attempts of her mother and beloved nurse, Morwenna, to teach her how to be a lady.
Aside from Birdy’s voice and the cast of wonderful characters, from best friend and local goat-herd, Perkin, to the detestable ‘Shaggy Beard’, her future bridegroom, the other thing I love about the book is the brilliant recreation of the medieval world and in particular the banquets and entertainments which Birdy describes.
So, as Christmas is just around the corner, I thought it might be a good opportunity to get those tastebuds tingling by taking a closer look at what went into putting on a feast around the time Birdy’s story is set.
If you are to negotiate your way around a medieval banquet, it’s important to understand that society back then was hierarchical and divided into three broad social classes: the commoners or working classes, the clergy (priests, monks, nuns etc) and the nobility with the King or Queen and their family at the top. Food, like a person’s dress, was an important marker of social status. It was believed that while those working in the fields needed more basic types of food to suit their ‘rougher’ lives and work, the nobility should dine on more refined fare, better suited to their more discriminating digestive systems.
Banquets were a symbol of the nobility’s power as displayed through both their table manners and the meals they ate. But there was much more that went into the staging of a grand feast than the food. For a start, there was the dressing of the hall to be considered. For this, trestle tables would be brought in and covered with tablecloths, while a dresser would be set with drinking vessels, bread boards and serving tools. If guests were expected, then there would also be displays of plate – dishes and other serving vessels made of gold and pewter – all polished to a sparkle to impress.
Everyone attending the banquet had to wash their hands before taking their seats according to their status and position in the household. The lord, lady and their most important guests always sat at the top table, with the youngest, most junior members of the household sitting the furthest from them.
Once seated, everyone said grace. They were then handed trenchers cut from stale bread, or sometimes wood or pewter. These acted as plates into which the food was spooned from sharing bowls and platters handed round by attendants. Before the meal could begin, everyone had to wait for the lord to take a pinch of salt from the ceremonial salt cellar. On the occasion of a grand feast, every dish the lord was served was examined and tasted by a servant to make sure it hadn’t been laced with poison by one of his enemies.
There were no forks at table – these didn’t start to come into use until the very end of the Middle Ages. And diners had to remember to bring their own knives.
For a meal on an ordinary day, the lord might be presented with a choice of six dishes for the first course, though it could be many more at a grand banquet. If you were further down the pecking order, you would choose from just a couple. A second course and the sweetmeats and desserts that followed were offered only to those of the higher ranks.
Ale, perhaps mixed with herbs or else honey and spices, and watered-down wine were served to everyone at table. Though again, only those at the top table could choose how much water to take with their wine.
A stand-out feature of any grand medieval feast table was a ‘subtlety’, a sort of impressive decoration made out of sculpted sugar or else pastry. This was paraded around the hall before being presented to the lord at the top table. The grandest were often several tiers high and might include plaster figures depicting scenes from well-known tales.
Another important feature were the entertainments. Sometimes short plays or ‘interludes’ were performed by players between courses. Or there might be a longer play staged at the end of the meal including performances by musicians, tumblers and a type of costumed actor called a ‘mummer’. A talking point was the inclusion of ‘disguisers’ – people from the lord’s household dressed in masked costumes who might join in the dancing or else act something on their own before disappearing to leave everyone to guess the character they were playing and their true identity.
And now, at last to the food! We’re lucky that some of the old medieval recipes have survived. Here’s a flavour of some of the dishes you might have enjoyed if you had attended a banquet at that time.
Aside from baked goods like bread and rolls, there were vegetable dishes such as braised spring greens seasoned with nutmeg and cinnamon, leeks and onions cooked with saffron, and pottage, a sort of puree made of vegetables such as peas, carrots, leeks, beans and cabbage. Fish dishes included roast salmon in a wine sauce and Pike in Galentine – another type of spice-infused sauce.
Meat dishes might include boiled venison with pepper sauce, spit-roasted pork with spiced wine and, at Christmas, something called a ‘grete pye’ – a pie stuffed with two or three different types of meat (chicken, pigeon or wild duck and saddle of hare or rabbit) plus minced beef mixed with eggs, spices and dried fruit. And for those with a sweet tooth – but only if you were high-ranking remember! – rose-petal pudding, fig and raisin cream, or pine-nut candy.
Anything you couldn’t quite finish would be put in baskets on the tables and taken out after by the lord’s servants to distribute to local workers and beggars at his gates – a feast indeed for those who were used to much humbler ingredients or, worse still, very little at all.
And if you were suffering from an upset stomach caused by too much ‘pye’ the day after, or perhaps a headache from a surfeit of ale, there was usually a Wise Woman or an apothecary on hand with a recipe of their own to set you straight. A bad case of the colic? Then stuff your tummy button with a mixture of rancid butter and chopped saffron covered with a poultice of ale mixed with roasted earth for a sure cure!(?) Though probably best not tried at home!
Happy feasting! Oh, and watch out for those poisoners ...
Ally Sherrick is the award-winning author of stories full of history, mystery and adventure. Black Powder, her debut novel about a boy caught up in the Gunpowder Plot, won the Historical Association’s Young Quills Award. Other titles include The Buried Crown, a wartime tale with a whiff of Anglo-Saxon myth and magic, and The Queen’s Fool, a story of treachery and treason set at the court of King Henry VIII. Ally's latest book, publishing February 2023, is Vita and the Gladiator, the story of a young girl's fight for justice in the high-stakes world of London's gladiatorial arena. She is published by Chicken House Books and her books are widely available in bookshops and online.
You can find out more about Ally and her books at www.allysherrick.com and follow her on Twitter: @ally_sherrick
Tuesday, 15 November 2022
Wednesday, 9 November 2022
Hands up: who enjoys history class in school? Truth be told, I loved history lessons, but I found it all a little bit hard. I was focusing so hard on all those dates and names that I missed something special – something hidden between the pages and beyond the facts! With a bit of digging, I discovered wild adventures that were rarely told. I found little triumphs and forgotten struggles, coincidences, intriguing inventions and strange fashions. I also learned about the personal lives of the stars of our history books (how did 18-year-old Victoria spend that one lonesome hour she’d requested when she was first told she was Queen?).
Over time, I found myself seeking out the stories behind the stories, and I found what I was looking for in several places: in a fiction book with a hint of history; in a fact-filled documentary on TV; in a brilliantly re-imagined moment of history at the movies; in dug-up treasures; in paintings. I soon realised that any mash-up of history and make-believe grabbed and held my fullest attention. The perfect recipe!
Of course there is! The history bit goes as follows: the story is set in Paris 1888, one year before they hosted a spectacular World Fair known as the Exposition Universelle. Great minds of the world marvelled at the fair’s mind-blowing exhibits, and visitors feasted their eyes on intriguing inventions. Even before arrival at the Exposition, visitors were greeted by something extraordinary – the newly built grand entrance to the exhibits: the Eiffel Tower.
And that is where I added make-believe to history: when I found a series of photographs showing the growing Eiffel Tower, I tried to imagine how everyone felt on seeing such a giant rise slowly before their eyes. How would the people of Paris have reacted if they went to sleep one day in 1888 when the tower was only small, and woke up forgetting the whole of the last year? To them, the tower would have grown into a monster overnight, from the first image in the row of towers shown above, to the fifth!
The Eiffel Tower was not the only historical Parisian marvel I included in the book. Paris is the location of possibly the best place in all the world for a game of hide and seek: its underground maze of tunnels, some barely big enough to wriggle through. These underground quarries were the birthplace of the stone used to build many of the great buildings of Paris. Though the existence of the underground city comes as some surprise to The Chestnut Roaster’s main character, Piaf, the estimated nearly 200 miles of tunnels made their presence known throughout Parisian history.
In the 1770s, a deadly sinkhole known as the ‘Mouth of Hell’ swallowed houses at Rue d’Enfer. A few years on, the hidden chambers were used as burial sites during the French Revolution, and later, during World War II, the French Resistance fighters used the dark and deep tunnels as hideouts while other chambers were converted into bunkers by German soldiers. Secret parties and concerts were held underground, explorers explored, and artists left their mark with wild and wonderful murals.
To add a dash of fiction, I added several wondrous underground spots for Piaf and her brother to explore: a Museum of Objects, Tagine Pot Hollow, and the Apothecary, to name a few.
You can visit one small section known as the Catacombs today, and it has some very strange inhabitants indeed – the bones of six million people! At the end of the 18th century, Paris’s cemeteries were overflowing. The streets held the stench of corpses, bones collapsed into neighbouring buildings. By cover of night, the corpses were carried by horse and black cloth-covered wagons to the Catacombs where workers fashioned impressive displays out of the bones themselves. As odd as that may seem, you can see for yourself that the bones are not make-believe! They had to star in Piaf’s story!
Illustration from The Chestnut Roaster, copyright Ewa Beniak-Haremska
But sometimes the mash-up of history and make-believe is not so clear: Piaf and her brother were never alone on their adventures, for the ghost of poor Philibert Aspairt, a man said to have disappeared underground, is said to roam the darkest routes (and also the pages of The Chestnut Roaster!) If that is history or make-believe, we have yet to tell!
So, as you can see, history provided so much inspiration for The Chestnut Roaster – it is indeed one big mash-up of history and make-believe! I wonder, if you picked a page from your history book today, what stories could you imagine when you read between the lines?
Perhaps you can create your own?
Eve McDonnell is a children’s author and artist who lives in Co Wexford with her husband, twins, a dog and three cats. Having recognised the similarities between a blank canvas and a blank page, her writing career kicked off following a visit to a fortune-teller who told her to Write! Write! Write! Eve provides creative writing and crafting workshops to libraries, schools, writing clubs and festivals.
Find out more about Eve and her books on www.evemcdonnell.com, or say hello via Twitter @Eve_Mc_Donnell or Instagram @Eve_Mc_Donnell.
Buying link: uk.bookshop.org
Wednesday, 2 November 2022
One of the earliest programmes transmitted was Children’s Hour in 1922 – the same year the BBC was founded (on 18th October).
The very first wireless (radio) broadcast was made on 14th November from a studio in London. The radio station was called 2LO, and it broadcasts a mixture of news, music, drama and talks.
The first BBC radio broadcast was made on 2nd November 1922
The BBC was created by a group of leading wireless manufacturers including Marconi.
Guglielmo Marconi was an Italian inventor and electrical engineer who created a practical radio wave-based long distance wireless telegraph system.
Shipping companies began to use his radio telegraph and the system was used for passenger communication, navigational reports and distress signals. A Marconia operator on board the Titanic after it struck an iceberg was able to signal for help, resulting in the Carpathia coming to the rescue of 700 survivors.
The earliest BBC broadcasts were on for just a few hours each day.
Children’s Hour was on between 5 and 5.55pm every day.
The first BBC broadcast for children took place on the 5th December 1922 when A.E. Thompson, an engineer on the Birmingham station presented a few minutes of entertainment for children.
This was quickly followed on the 23rd December by the first Children’s Hour.
The programme featured songs, poems and stories. They also included birthday greetings especially for poorly children.
They were so popular that listeners clubs called Radio Circles were set up. Members received a badge and other gifts and were invited to picnics and Christmas parties.
Children were also encouraged to support good causes and to collect ‘silver paper’ for charities. The money raised went to the Children’s Hour Wireless Fund which provided wirelesses for children’s hospital wards.
The show included much-loved presenters such as ‘Uncle Mac’ and ‘Auntie Kathleen’.
A popular feature were long-running series such as Norman and Henry Bones, boy detectives, and Jennings at School; nature study in Out with the Romany, by the Rev George Bramwell Evens who would cross the countryside in his vardo with his horse and dog (thought it was actually all produced in a studio!) and dramas based on books such as The Box of Delights by John Masefield.
Children’s Hour stopped for just four days during WW2 and continued until 1964.
If you wanted to know what programmes would be on the radio, you could buy the Radio Times. The listings programme was first published in September 1923 and continues to include BBC radio schedules today.
In November 1929 John Logie Baird used BBC frequencies to run his first experimental television broadcasts, again from London. Pictures were in black and white.
The first live programme was a variety show called Here’s Looking at You featuring singers, tap dancers and a ‘wonder horse’ called Pogo!
The first regular television service launched on 2 November 1936 with a bulletin of British Movietone news, a documentary called Television Comes to London, and Picture Page where presenter Joan Miller pretended to work a telephone switch board as a way of introducing guests on the talk show!
Joan Miller presenting Picture Page
You can see clips here … https://www.bbc.com/historyofthebbc/research/story-of-bbc-television/tv-as-we-know-it
The first TV announcers were Leslie Mitchell, Jasmine Bligh and Elizabeth Cowell.
Leslie Mitchell was very handsome with a moustache. He also presented on Picture Page but was only called the male announcer – which he didn’t like!
Jasmine and Elizabeth were recruited from over 1000 applicants to become ‘hostess-announcers.’ They were chosen for their looks and for their ability to speak clearly. They also had to look after guests appearing on the programmes. Presenters had to memorise their words as there were no autocues to show them their script.
For the Children was the first TV show for children, it began on 2 April 1937. The show was on for 10 minutes at 3pm and included stories, puppet shows and songs.
Television broadcasts were halted in 1939 because of WW2. TV including For the Children returned in 1946. And in October a now famous puppet Muffin the Mule made his debut on the show with his ‘friend’ presenter Annette Mills.
In 1950 the BBC introduced Children’s Newsreel – the lead story on the first episode was about the first polar bear cub born at London Zoo. Other early news stories included Making Humbugs, Making Cricket Bats and If you Lost your Dog.
Three years later the BBC launched Watch with Mother a cycle of TV shows for children that included puppet shows Andy Pandy, Flowerpot Men, The Woodentops, Rag Tag and Bobtail as well as Picture Book which encouraged children to make things. Watch with Mother was so popular that repeats continued until 1975.
The BBC has continued to produce children's programming for another 50 years including Vision On, Play School, Newsround, Blue Peter, Grange Hill, Live and Kicking, Teletubbies and Doctor Who.
What are your favourites?
Imagine you work for the BBC children’s department and have been asked to come up with a new radio or TV programme.
Can you write a script for the first five or ten minutes of your show? Will there be a presenter like Uncle Mac or one of the Blue Peter presenters? Perhaps it could be a news programme – what topics would you need to cover this week? Or perhaps you would like to bring back one of the characters from one of the old puppet shows like Andy Pandy – what mischief will your characters get up to?!
For this week's Time Tunnellers YouTube video about the BBC click here.
Susan Brownrigg is a Lancashire lass and the author of three historical children's books for ages 8+ - Gracie Fairshaw and the Mysterious Guest & Gracie Fairshaw and the Trouble at the Tower are seaside mysteries set in Blackpool. Kintana and the Captain's Curse is a pirate adventure set in Madagascar.
Tuesday, 25 October 2022
The national tourism organisation for Scotland, VisitScotland, has since 2009 been running themed years to celebrate aspects of Scotland – its people, culture and heritage – that deserve recognition. 2022 has been designated Scotland’s Year of Stories and, as an author with a passion for history, this past year has provided a number of opportunities for me to explore the intersection of local history and archaeology, and the stories they inspire.
My love of the past began as a child on frequent visits to Kirkintilloch’s Auld Kirk Museum, which housed a collection of historical objects such as Roman soldiers’ uniforms and household items through the ages. Staff also put considerable effort into engaging children through activity days and, growing up, I got to try out everything from traditional crafts such as carding wool, spinning and weaving to attempting shoemaking on a cobbler’s last.
These visits sparked lots of story ideas which I scribbled down on bits of paper with hand-drawn illustrations, stapling them together to form my first ‘books’ which usually ended up in the bin when a better idea came along. There was one story idea that stayed with me for many decades, however, inspired by my memorable year in primary four when I was eight, when I learned about the poems of Robert Burns for the first time. That year we read Tam o’ Shanter, and I still remember the thrill of hearing the spine-tingling tale of witches through the medium of Scots poetry and learning about the early life of Burns and the world he grew up in.
The story of witches dancing to the devil’s music in the Auld Kirk at Alloway stayed with me, and when I turned to Scottish stories for inspiration for my books as an adult, that was the first tale that jumped straight into my head. Researching the life of Burns, I came across accounts of the young Burns hearing folktales of kelpies, wraiths and bogles round the kitchen fire, and I could imagine him being just as spellbound by the stories he was told by adults as I was as a child. That got me thinking about a fictional account of how his own adult poem Tam o’ Shanter could have been inspired by a childhood encounter with witches in the Auld Kirk. The story of Hag Storm is therefore a metafiction of the young Rab having a spooky Halloween experience which later becomes the basis of his own supernatural poem.
But it isn’t just books, poems and my own childhood experiences which I’ve drawn on to come up with my own novels. As a member of Archaeology Scotland, I’ve been lucky to have had the chance to get involved in local archaeological digs, and over the past year have got out and about in Denny, near Falkirk, and Cathkin Park, Glasgow, exploring Scotland’s past. Not only do community digs like these teach volunteers the basics of field excavation – from topsoiling, mattocking, trowelling and surveying techniques, to cataloguing finds and interpreting evidence – they also give us the opportunity to experience history in a hands-on way which is very different from the experience of reading about it in a book. I’ve been amazed on these digs just how exciting it is to uncover little pieces of the past, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant-looking. Bits of broken china, glass and bent nails can seem every bit as thrilling a find to an amateur historian like me as digging up stashes of Roman coins or a new dinosaur bone is to a professional. Uncovering the foundations of strike-breakers’ houses in Denny and the original Third Lanark football team baths and changing rooms in Cathkin Park were wonderful experiences, and it felt to the volunteers like we’d found our very own ancient Egyptian tomb or Mayan pyramid.
One of the best things about engaging in local archaeological digs is getting the chance to hear the stories told by excavators, volunteers and visitors to the digs sites about their own experiences of the site as children, or about their ancestors’ experiences. Visitors to the Denny dig site who looked at the displayed ‘Virol bottle’ we’d found recalled being given Virol as a supplement, either by their parents or at school. Passers-by and museum staff at the Jimmy Johnston Academy at Cathkin Park recounted tales of their visits to the football stadium when it was still standing and shared their memories of their time in the park as children. The finds at these sites represented real links not just to the past buried under a layer of ash at Milton Row in Denny and years of soil and infill at Cathkin Park, but to the childhoods and lived experiences of local residents who took part in these digs or who visited the sites. It also emphasised for me the ability of community archaeology to connect the everyday experiences of people alive today to those who lived in the past.
Archaeology Scotland has long been providing fantastic opportunities such as these for volunteers to engage in local digs and find out all about the history on their doorstep. My own journey as an author was started in childhood by enthusiastic historians who passed on their knowledge and encouraged me to explore all of the stories my local area had to offer. But it’s not just children and young people whose imaginations can be sparked by local digs, and whose early experience of history and archaeology might set them on the path to becoming the authors of the future. It’s never too late to embark on your writing adventures, so why not get involved in one of Archaeology Scotland’s digs in this Year of Stories, and see what local tales you can uncover?
Imagine you find a hag stone, either by a river or by the sea. Have a think about the location where you find it – can you describe it? Is it by running water in a deep, dark forest? By a stream in a sunlit glade? By a stormy sea with wind-tossed waves? On a sandy beach with warm waters lapping at your toes? See how many interesting adjectives you can use to describe the place where you find your hag stone, as where you find it might just influence what you see through the hole!
Put the hag stone to your eye and look through the hole. What do you see?
Describe the ‘other world’ that you can see through the hole. This place can be anything you like – a fantasy world, a futuristic science fiction world, funny, spooky, scary, weird or magical – it’s up to you! I’d love to read your hag stone tales, so do get in touch on Twitter or through my website to show off your writing!
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