Apr 182017


Public domain image from Library of Congress, Flickr

In 1883, John Murray published a “Handbook of the Panjáb, Western Rajpútáná, Kashimír and Upper Sind”. Not only is the potential traveller given useful information such as not to pit his tent in Bagh (let’s just say there was a reason it was named for “tiger”) and the truth about Kashmiris (“false, ready with a lie and given to deceit”), but he is also equipped with a short vocabulary and list of useful phrases in Punjabi and Sindhi.

First, the Englishman as taught to count and name the days and months. Encouraged by his newly found linguistic ability he immediately seems to want to address more complicated topics, because he is taught the words for “atom”, “ancestor” and “whirlpool”. Being English, he will naturally want to talk about the weather and so he’s taught to exclaim: “fog!” and “hail!” (likely followed by the appropriate hand gestures; something that will surely make him a social success not only in Punjab but in Kashmir and Upper Sind as well). He is also taught to explain that he has indigestion (always a problem when travelling in the tropics) and if it gets worse, he may draw attention to his condition by shouting “cholera!” On the other hand, if his delicate English bowels manage the shock of being confronted with a whole new continent, he can now order a wide selection of foodstuff; from a meagre “broth” to a full “feast”.

However, it isn’t until the list of phrases we really see what sort of man we’re dealing with.

No sooner has he decided to disembark the P&O ship before he starts:

“I want to go ashore. Is this your boat? Will you take me ashore? What will you charge? These boxes are all mine. Put them in the boat. Is the surf high today? Is there much current? How long will it take to land? I want a palanquin. Take me to the hotel. Which is the best hotel? Take up the palki. Put it down. Put it in the shade.”

You get the picture. Apparently, this Englishman never shuts up. He’s a walking, talking list of demands. Just listen to him having his tea:

“I like it strong. This is not sweet enough. I like it weaker. Put plenty of milk in. Don’t bring cow’s milk but buffalo’s milk. Do you call this milk? There is more water than milk. Don’t smoke the milk.”

His thirst quenched, Mr Englishman complacently goes on:

“I want bearers to Allahabad. What must I pay? Must I give largesse? Tell the bearers their payment depends on their conduct. If they go quickly they shall be well-paid. Have done with your smoking and go on. As you value your place there will be a torchbearer at each set. Make sure he has an abundance of oil for each stage.”

That last one confused me and I admit I leapt to all sorts of unsavoury conclusions (nudge, nudge) until I read in David Gilmour’s The Ruling Caste that back in the day when you travelled by palanquin, there would be a torchbearer running ahead of you with a torch fuelled by coconut oil. Now, if he ran out of coconut oil, you’d obviously all be stuck somewhere in the deep Indian night without any source of light whatsoever, so I’m guessing Mr Englishman is trying to prevent that, because, you know, the torchbearer himself wouldn’t think of this. He’s only a professional torchbearer and all, but, gee, he cannot be expected to have the razor-sharp mind of an Englishman on his first visit to India.

As a paternally-minded colonial officer, our Englishman also takes a profound interest in the health of his household. Therefore, he learns to ask – possibly the torchbearer, who knows – things that any good employer needs to know about his hirelings:

“Are your bowels regular? When were your bowels moved?”

What, your boss never asked that? He must not be taking his responsibilities seriously!

Anyway, the cheerful Englishman slash Amateur Physician is now ready to make a diagnosis of his poor servant’s condition. Guessing wildly, he tosses out: “Gout. Hunger. Indigestion. Inflammation. Asthma. Jaundice. Madness. Measles. Ophtalmia.”

Never mind which really, because the Englishman only knows the word for two treatments anyway: “emetic” and “amputation”. If the one doesn’t work, I suppose he shall have to try the other.

At the end of this trying day, we can imagine our Englishman sitting down to relax over a glass of wine. It starts innocently enough:

“Give me a glass of wine. Is there red wine or white wine?”

But before long he is once more furiously taking charge of the situation:

“Don’t fill the glass so full. That is enough. Bring me a tumbler of water. Cool the wine with salpetre. Ice the water and the soda water.”

Even retiring, he keeps up his endless chatter: “Is the bed clean? Has any sick person slept on this bed lately? What was his ailment? Is this a healthy place? Are there any bugs, fleas or other insects? Is there any epidemic in the village? Is there smallpox, cholera or fever?”

I don’t know what he suggests to do if there is, since he apparently doesn’t react to the answers. One shall have to assume that our Englishman isn’t so much worried about disease as he is merely talkative.

Finally, silence reigns over Mr Englishman’s surroundings. He is snoring; his huge moustaches moving gently with each rumbling sound while he sleeps the deep sleep of the righteous, safe in the knowledge that surely his servants must be in awe of his his wonderful linguistic skills and that his continued journey through the Panjáb, Western Rajpútáná, Kashimír and Upper Sind will indeed be a pleasant one.

Jan 272017

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, when we remember one of the darkest moments in humanity’s history.

Take a moment to say a prayer for the victims of hatred and intolerance, then take the hand of your neighbour, look him in the eye, and say: “Never again.”

Remember; you are your brother’s keeper. Don’t shirk that responsibility.

Dec 292016

Click image to be taken to the film

Viking Cronholm was born in 1874 in Sweden into a typical late 19th century bourgeois family. Interested in sports and generally curious, he nevertheless choose the road less travelled. After a few years at sea, he trained as a physiotherapist, and in 1904 he relocated to South Africa. He was no stranger to martial arts; among other things he had boxed during his period in Chicago in the 1890s. However, in South Africa (of all places) he discovered jujitsu and apparently never looked back.

In 1907, he returned to Sweden and started teaching jujitsu in Stockholm. He became a popular instructor and his book Jiu-Jiutsu Tricks which was published in 1908 has been printed in numerous editions. Above you can see a clip from 1919 where he demonstrates some moves on an unfortunate young man. Kudos, I must say, for looking quite the gentleman while doing it!

Dec 172016

Because it’s finally December and we need to get jolly (and because I have a terrible sense of humor) I’m posting a Christmas video I made over at JibJab, featuring a bunch of historical people
(click the image to watch it).


Of course, these faces do have a common historical denominator – they all took part in the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713) in one way or the other.

Do you know who they are? Most likely not. They don’t really look like they usually do. But you might have seen the guy in the red bandana looking something like this?

King Louis XIV of France. Source: Wikipedia

That’s right – I’m talking about Louis XIV of France, aka The Sun King. He made it to this video because in 1701, he decided to let his grandson become King of Spain despite earlier agreeing that all his heirs should forfeit the right to the Spanish throne. Also I included him because he liked the sort of hair they have in that video and because he has this cute little moustache that makes him look like an overaged Casanova from the 1930′s, bless his little heart.

John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough by Godfrey Kneller, ca 1702. Source: Wikipedia

Our next contender had to be the main singer for no other reason than blatant favorism. I adore the Duke of Marlborough, see. I adore him more when he’s young and pretty (because I’m shallow like that), but heck, I adore him old and saggy-chinned  as well. The fact that I hold him close to my heart isn’t the only reason I added him though – he was also the British commander for most of the war and kicked French butt on a regular basis, such as at Blenheim and Ramillies for example.

Queen Anne of Great Britain

So this is Marlborough’s boss, Queen Anne of England. She supported the ousting of her father James II, had 14 children during her lifetime (none of which survived their childhood) and loved chubby Danish guy to whom she was married. She was also bosom buddies with Marlborough’s wife Sarah until they quarrelled. Queen Anne was the last Stuart monarch and she fought tooth and nail against the idea of recalling her half-brother James and letting him inherit the throne, instead preferring it to pass to distant German relatives.

James FitzJames, 1st Duke of Berwick. Source: Wikipedia

If I say this is James FitzJames, Duke of Berwick, you’re all likely going to think he’s on the British side. Well, it ain’t so. Young Berwick, you see, was an illegitimate son of James II and he trailed after old Papa after they’d kicked said James out of England during the so called Glorious Revolution. That means that Berwick, half-brother of Queen Anne, was actually a general on the French side during the War of the Spanish Succession; a damned good general too. What makes the story even more quaint is that his mother was Arabella Churchill, sister of the Duke of Marlborough.

Eugene of Savoy, ca 1712 (school of Godfrey Kneller). Source: Wikipedia

Finally, we have the second allied commander of the war – Prince Eugene of Savoy. He was apparently brave and had quite a temper and people would say it was uncanny how he and Marlborough worked together like they could read each other’s mind. The man had a strong personal dislike of Louis XIV for complicated family reasons, and is generally considered one of the most successful military commanders in modern European history. Unfortunately, it seems he didn’t realise how good he’d look in red hair or think to learn to play bass.

And now you’ll never forget who the main players in the War of the Spanish Succession were, right?

Sep 242016

Vintage make-over from the days when it was considered de rigeur with a patronising male voice-over who explains that no, you are not worth loving as you are. Rather, ladies, think of beauty as the tax you must pay for occupying a space labelled female.

Ah, the good old days, eh?

Sep 232016
Source: Stockholm City Museum Year: 1925-26 Object ID: F83205 License: CC BY-NC-SA 2.5 SE

Source: Stockholm City Museum Year: 1925-26 Object ID: F83205 License: CC BY-NC-SA 2.5 SE

During the early 20th century housing was a scarce resource in many European cities, and many families lacked adequate living quarters. Many of the social problems experienced in connection with the rapid urbanisation process were also blamed on poor housing. One way to remedy that was to construct temporary living quarters as a sort of emergency measure.

This image shows a temporary arrangement in the gymnasium in the Central Police Building in Stockholm, 1925-1926. It makes you acutely aware of how living standards have risen in Western Europe in the past century, doesn’t it?

Sep 142016


Growing up, I loved Edith Nesbit’s books because they were simply bursting with imagination and magic. Most of all, and not very surprising for a budding history nerd, I loved the time-travelling in House of Arden and Harding’s Luck. Today, Nesbit is perhaps not that well-remembered, but she had huge impact on the development on children’s literature and future writers such as C.S Lewis, P.L. Travers, Diana Wynne Jones and, indeed, J.K. Rowling. This quote is from New Treasure Seekers which is part of a series of four books about the Bastable children and their adventures to help their family, fallen on hard times.

Incidentally, Nesbit herself is also an interesting figure. Not just an author of children’s books, she was also a political political activist who co-founded the Fabian Society, a socialist organisation later affiliated to the Labour Party. Her personal life with Hubert Bland, whom Wikipedia defines as “an infamous libertine, a journalist, an early English socialist, and one of the founders of the Fabian Society” was stormy and not at all what you’d perhaps expect from a children’s author. Among other things, he had several children by Nesbit’s friend and housekeeper Alice Hoatson, which were adopted by the Blands. It’s pretty obvious that she’s one of the real life characters A.S. Byatt drew on for The Children’s Book (2009).

None of that made its way into her books, however, except perhaps indirectly, like in this quote, which I simply adore. Don’t worry about being ladylike, girls. Be a free and happy bounder!