October 16 – A Palace Burns

Posted October 16, 2017

I never really think of this building as a palace. I think of it as Westminster, or as the United Kingdom's Parliament.

Parliament, as you probably know, is the lawmaking body of the United Kingdom. Made up of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, it is similar in some ways to the United States' Congress.

Of course, the U.K. has royalty, unlike the U.S., and when you think of kings and queens, you think of palaces. Back when it was first created, in the 11th Century, Westminster Palace was the main residence of England's kings and queens. Even now, the Parliament building is "owned" by Queen Elizabeth II, and it's still formally considered a royal residence - even though it isn't used that way. 

As with most other very old buildings, Westminster has been damaged and even partially destroyed in its long past. Much of it was destroyed by a fire in 1512. But on this date in 1834, an even worse fire destroyed almost all of the original medieval portions!

The roof of Westminster Hall remained
intact, although the cloisters were badly
The only original structures to survive were Westminster Hall, the Chapel of St. Mary Undercroft, the Cloisters (covered walk) of St. Stephen, and the Jewel Tower. 

Here's how it went down:

Back in the 1800s, England had an accountant sort of person called the Exchequer. He would keep track of the collection of taxes using split tally sticks. These were cut in half lengthwise with a series of notches to stand for monies owed or paid. After the stick was cut, one portion was given to the taxpayer (say, a farmer), and the other portion was kept by the Exchequer.

It was tamper proof. There are always natural irregularities in wood and in the cut surfaces of the tallies - and so they would only fit back together perfectly if the correct halves were used. Nobody could pretend that he or she had paid more by cutting more notches - because the other half would remain as proof of the tampering.

Charles Dickens wrote about how tally sticks were notched: 
The manner of cutting is as follows. At the top of the tally a cut is made, the thickness of the palm of the hand, to represent a thousand pounds; then a hundred pounds by a cut the breadth of a thumb; twenty pounds, the breadth of the little finger; a single pound, the width of a swollen barleycorn; a shilling rather narrower; then a penny is marked by a single cut without removing any wood.

Basically, the tally sticks became a sort of currency (money).

After using tally sticks for about 700 years (!), the tally stick system fell out of use in 1826. In October of 1834, the Clerk of Works was ordered to destroy the stockpile of tally sticks while Parliament was not in session. So he decided to destroy them by burning them.

But the Clerk used the two heating furnaces in the cellar below the House of Lords. And those furnaces were designed to burn coal, not wood. And wood burns with a higher flame!

Apparently the Clerk tried to be careful. He had two workers burning the wood with the furnace doors open, so they could keep their eyes on the flames. However, the heat from the flames had melted the copper lining of the chimneys, and the chimney fires that resulted could not be seen. 

The burning of the tally sticks had begun at dawn. By 4:00 p.m., there was a strong smell of burning in the House of the Lords. But, remember, Parliament was not in session. Some tourists felt some heat from the floor, and smelled the smoke, but apparently they did not realize that anything was actually wrong. (At the time, flames and heat and smoke were probably more common inside buildings - in furnaces and fireplaces - than nowadays.)

In the meantime, the workers who had labored all day to burn the sticks finally finished shortly after 4:00 p.m., closed the furnace doors, and left the cellars and the building.

At 6:00 p.m., the wife of the doorkeeper saw flames and raised the alarm among the House of Lords staff. For about half an hour, the staff tried to fight the fire without calling for outside assistance - and also without alerting the staff at the House of Commons.

At 6:30, a giant ball of flame that was seen by the royal family 20 miles away in Windsor Castle! - and pretty much all of London, of course. Parish men with two hand-pump engines joined the battle against the fire, and 100 soldiers arrive to help fight the blaze and also to control the crowd. 

A London fire fighting organization run by insurance companies (apparently there was no public fire fighters at this time) were finally alerted at 7:00 p.m., and they 64 fire fighters used 12 engines, hoses, and water from the nearby Thames River to fight the fire. Note that they did this even though the Palace complex was NOT insured! 

People then could act just as stupidly as people now - and apparently so many people gathered around to watch their Parliament go up in flames that Westminster Bridge was jammed, many people clustered near the fire on the river, using whatever boat they owned or could hire, and thousands of people watched from nearby Parliament Square. I imagine that having such big crowds to deal with made the fire fighters' job even harder.

Thank goodness, even with all the gawking crowds, there were no deaths from the fire!

All that remained of some buildings were the outside walls.

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October 15 – National Cheese Curd Day

Posted October 15, 2017

Buttery - crunchy fried outside. Ooey - gooey - chewy - melty - oh, so savory inside. Mmmm...fried cheese curds!

It's Cheese Curd Day!

Cheese curds are solid pieces of curdled milk eaten alone or in a snack. Cottage cheese is one sort of cheese curd. 

People in Quebec, Canada, make poutine by putting cheese curds and gravy on French fries.

People in the Northeastern U.S. often call cheese curds "squeaky cheese," and they eat them plain as finger food or on skewers with smoked sausage or ham as appetizers. All sorts of flavorings can be added to the curds - everything from jalapeño to garlic, from Cajun seasonings to dill.

In the Midwest, cheese curds are often fried.

According to Culver's, Cheese Curd Day celebrates fried cheese curds made with unaged yellow or white Wisconsin cheddar cheese. The company sold 17.7 million orders of Culver's Wisconsin Cheese Curds in 2015 alone. If all those cheese curds were laid end to end, Culver's claims, they would stretch from the Earth to the Moon three times!

By the way, having a special day dedicated to cheese curds isn't all that Wisconsinites do - they also have a late-summer Cheese Curd Fest! 

Also on this date:

National Cake Decorating Day

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October 14 - Happy Birthday, President Eisenhower

Posted October 14, 2017

Dwight D. Eisenhower is consistently ranked in the top half of  presidents - almost always in the top quarter of presidents, from #5 to #10 - in rankings of effectiveness and leadership qualities.

And recently historians have upgraded him - it's the more recent rankings that are higher.

Before he was president, Eisenhower (aka "Ike") was a 5-star general in the U.S. Army. During World War II he served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe - in other words, he was the guy who planned and supervised the successful invasions of North Africa in 1942-43 and of France and Germany in 1944-45.

So Ike was a legitimate war hero. 

It's perhaps not surprising that he won the presidency in landslide elections.

President Eisenhower earned his high rankings by showing crisis leadership. Here are a few of his accomplishments:

  • He obtained a truce after years of war in Korea (it started before he was in office).
  • He got China to agree to release POWs.

  • He desegregated the armed forces.

  • He sent federal troops to enforce a court order desegregating public schools in Little Rock, Arkansas.

  • He continued New Deal programs and expanded Social Security.

  • He opposed Joseph McCarthy's "witch hunt" of communists in the U.S.
  • He created NASA.

  • He warned about the "military industrial complex" with some specifics that have since proved spectacularly correct (even though his advice was largely ignored!).

  • He formed the Interstate Highway System.

October 13 – Silly Sayings Day

Posted October 13, 2017 

Don't spill the beans!
He's the bees knees!
She's the cat's meow!
You're snug as a bug in a rug!
Oh, man, that's a real fly in the ointment!
He's slower than molasses in January.

Ummm...yes, there truly are a lot of sayings that might fairly be called "silly." 

Some are meant to be rhyme-y and sing-song-y and silly.

Some are colorful metaphors that are so old-fashioned - and so oft-repeated - that they have crossed over into "silly saying" territory. 

Here's an example: "Don't spill the beans" is a reminder not to leak a secret. Maybe there's a surprise party; one person is in charge of taking the birthday girl out shopping, and getting her home at the right time for the party. 

What could you say to remind that person not to let on that plans are afoot?

"Don't spill the guacamole," might be a fresh metaphor - and might even be more apropos than beans, in a surprise party situation - but would it be understood? The thing with a common saying is that nobody looks around for physical beans they're not supposed to spill!

"Don't put the walrus onto the bag"
is definitely not a common saying. LOL
"Don't let the cat out of the bag" is another common saying that means about the same thing. But I'm not sure how clear it would be if you said, "Don't let the walrus out of the bag," or "Don't let the cat out of the cart," or some other similar non-saying.

So then we're left with direct, common-sense language like "Don't leak the plan," or "Don't let the party plan slip," or "Don't give the plan away." And that's fine...

But today just pile on as many silly sayings as you can - the more the merrier!