Thursday, 19 October 2017

Bran Tub # 15: Why is there a ping pong ball in my Guinness?

When my South African friend was over I’d bought what I thought were some tins of Carling beer … as she occasionally enjoys beer – well probably used to enjoy a can … this time it was mostly glasses of rosé Pinot Grigio or some bubbly …

A glass of Pinot Grigio
 Now having cans of beer left in the fridge I thought I should drink them … and not wanting any wine, decided that I’d crack open a tinnie (Australian slang) … this was fine – the Guinness tasted as I thought it should and the evening wandered along …

… a while later as I was trying to empty the can into my glass … it frothily kept blocking up … eventually I thought I should investigate  – perhaps I’d been drinking something mighty odd – my mind had wandered off to poisoning etc …though common sense was in place – so that was a pure waffley thought … perhaps?!

Frothy protrusion
(with some licence!)

Well on tipping up the can there was a white protrusion, covered in froth … the froth was not unexpected in Guinness, the white protrusion was … after a brief thought my deductive powers said ‘a ping pong ball in my Guinness’??

Coloured ping pong balls
So now … the only thing to do – it was night time! … open another tinnie … don’t we rinse and repeat … same result … then my mind turned to toilets – not what you think … but ball cocks … not that either: not what you be thinking … I needed to check this ‘thing’ …

The can, the objet d'art ... and the
spilt Guinness!

Tin opener came next … and what came out - but near enough a ping-pong ball … I was very bemused … it doesn’t take much to amuse me myself!

But could this be some sort of plumbing device put into the Guinness cans … so when the morrow came round … the truth was out via a google or two …

The rocket style widget
They are floating widgets, purposefully added to a tin of beer … and come in two sizes … the 'round ball cock’ type one, and the ‘rocket widget’ found in taller containers …

The Tale of Nitro and the Widget
courtesy of Bespoken Public Relations organisation
 The Guinness drink, to be authentic, has to have a thick, creamy head on the beer, which is less fizzy than regular lager beers.  To ensure this they add a shot of liquid nitrogen to help pressurise the can.

An appropriately named widget!

 Nitrogen gas doesn’t easily dissolve in water, so when I cracked open the beer … I got that frothy head, as most of the gas is released into the air, while the foamy bubbles in the head of beer remain … or remain clothing the ping-pong ball widget in white froth.

A tub of bran
Well that’s it for the story of the widget, the strange froth and the ping-pong ball … all found in the can of Guinness – one is always learning!!

Perhaps this shouldn’t sit in a Bran Tub … but there’s where it has been filed!

A true tale of weirdness.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Write - Edit - Publish Bloghop: Dark Places ...

Walls of violence continue to assault me … the force of iron manacles holding me in place … the thick, murky, smothering smoke lingers …

 … am I alive, or now gone … I no longer can see … images of dark-sky gray emblazoned still in my mind … my mind – OR my soul …

Michaelangelo -
Damned Soul    c 1525

… that n-o-o-i-i-s- e … the howl, ... the scream of terror … is that me … that s-m-e-l-l … burnt skin or tallow candles – both now mixed … a-g-o-n-y … excruciating agony – when will it end …

Josefina de Vasconcellos'
sculpture: The Young Martyr
(in the Cartmel Priory - Lake District)

Is that the steaming hay from the braziers, OR is that the smoke from the pyre … my senses have gone … my soul – the darkness … but I am remembered centuries on – behind bars … forever entombed in sculpture … an early martyr to the barbaric cruelty of man.

Dark night take my soul 

toward the forever darkness

... for I will be at peace.

To participate or visit other entries please go here to the 
Write Edit Publish Monthly blog-hop 

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Bucket List - part 8: The River Thames its history and health ...

The River Thames rises near Cirencester, Gloucestershire and flows roughly eastwards for 215 miles (346 km) out to the North Sea.  It is our longest English river and the second longest, after the Severn, in the UK.
Course of River Thames across England

It drains the whole of Greater London and is tidal up to Teddington Lock … 68 miles from the sea … the rise and fall of the tidal section is 7 metres (24 feet).

It now has 45 navigation locks with accompanying weirs; there are over 80 islands; its waters vary from fresh to almost salt water as it reaches the North Sea.

River Thames flowing into Rhine

Surprisingly the River Thames can be identified as a discrete drainage line – as early as 58 million years ago.  Until about half a million years ago, the Thames flowed on its existing course through Oxfordshire, before turning to the north-east, reaching the North Sea near Ipswich, East Anglia … and was a tributary of the Rhine.

In those early days its course changed, the last ice age came and altered the landscape dramatically – creating the English Channel from the melt waters, leaving Britain as an island.  The river became more as we know it today … flowing ‘happily’ through our capital  - providing, over time, London with a great deal of history.

Our major rivers
It was a place of pilgrimage and devotion, a sacred river but also now a frontier between warring factions – those from the south could not cross, nor could those from the north – never the twain shall meet?  Well we know they did …

Heathrow – interestingly – has connections with Caesar following his expeditions to Britain in 55 and 54 BC.  There is a ‘shrine’ at Caesar’s Camp to the north of Heathrow airport – they are doing a more thorough investigation now.

It is likely the Romans chose Londonium as the Thames, wider before it was tamed and contained, could be bridged, yet was still tidal … we are now at Cornhill, near Bank tube station. 

River Thames, with St Paul's in background ..
by Canaletto (1746)

There were two other ‘hills’ that of Tower Hill, site of the Tower of London, and of Ludgate Hill, crowned by St Paul’s Cathedral.  The highest point of Cornhill is 58 feet (17.7 m) above sea level.

As our knowledge and abilities increased the river and its tributaries was used for trade and transport – more movement up and down the river occurred … so when the Romans ‘bridged’ London at Cornhill in about 43 AD – London was in place to be the capital.

Old St Paul's with its spire before the
Great Fire of London 

Trade was very important to London and great use was made of the Thames’ tributaries into the city – bringing in coal, wood, silver, cloth, food stuffs for animals and peoples … while watermen acted like taxis.

However by the Middle Ages the trade routes around the world were expanding … we had tea, silk, spices coming in from the east; sugar from the Caribbean, timber from Norway and iron ore from Sweden.

London Bridge (1616)
by Claes van Visscher

The river became clogged up – but ships were getting larger and went from sail to steam … new docks were demanded.  As we’ve all seen in our lifetimes – so much change has gone on.

It’s interesting to remember the Little Ice Age which occurred from about 1540 – 1750 when occasionally the Thames froze over – some times for three months.

The frozen Thames (1677)
Frost Fairs were held and Henry VIII is said to have travelled to Greenwich by sleigh along the river, even Elizabeth I took walks on the ice in the winter of 1564.

The last frost fair was held in 1814 lasting just four days … but during that time they managed to lead an elephant across the river below Blackfriars Bridge.

As the river passed through ever increasing urbanised areas it became more polluted and by the Victorian era was in a sorry state.  It had until the early 1800s been a thriving salmon river.

Michael Faraday giving his card to
Father Thames - caricature commenting
on a letter of Faraday's on the
state of the River in 1855
The heatwave of 1857 sent the putrid stench of the Thames wafting into the House of Parliament – they tried to keep ‘the stench’ out … to no avail – they closed down … but a plan in 1865 for new sewers would be agreed.

The system worked in central London, but seriously fouled the water system downstream until a sewage treatment system was introduced in the late 1800s.

Bazalgette’s sewers (I just love that name!) were pretty mammoth … so large that they’re still effective today – just – London is a-growing and we’re not terribly responsible with our waste etc.

World War II’s bombing damaged the sewers and treatment plants, which together with the increasing use of detergents after the war, added to the river’s pollution.  A clean-up operation was begun in 1960.

Satirical cartoon by William Heath
showing a woman observing monsters
in a drop of London water in 1828

The natural flow of the river will break down sewage … but the bacteria use up oxygen in the process – leaving little for other life forms … so by 1957 the Natural History Museum declared the Thames biologically dead – that clean-up operation had not come too soon.

The river began to breathe again … and we became more environmentally aware of the damage caused by pesticides, fertilisers etc … there are stricter industry regulations … however occasionally another spin-off occurs – silver was a pollutant - but with people switching to digital photography this has helped nearly eliminate that polluting substance.

Oxygenating Barge

Now there are ‘bubblers’ in the Thames … these are oxygenation craft to be deployed during or after periods of heavy rain, when sudden storm water surges decreased the dissolved oxygen levels in the river.  These are still needed and provide reactive systems to ensure the continued improvement of the river Thames.


Simply by cleaning the river – the fish came back (naturally) and there are now 125 species of fish in the Thames, up from almost none in the 1950s.  The fish in turn feed marine mammals, including seals, birds and so the cycle of life goes on …

Sea Lamprey - ugly aren't they?!

We now get seals and porpoises in the Thames and on occasions a whale – which is not good news – they rarely survive, unless they can be turned around to head out to sea once again.

Short-snouted Seahorse

There are other exciting species that have returned – salmon have been seen, eels, the really ugly! lampreys and out in the reeds of the Kent marshes delightful sea-horses – all are very sensitive to pollution … another plus in the life of the Thames.

Yet, as we know plastic is now a serious threat to wildlife as a whole … it affects smaller creatures that are prey for the larger ones.

Trap on Thames to catch some of the
rubbish as it floats down stream

A Cleaner Thames campaign was launched in September 2015 to combat plastic waste … it’s a difficult battle, because there are so many sources.

There are other things … as more river taxi boats/cruisers use the river to transport people which disturb the river bed … also making the river noisy and crowded – while it is fast flowing (because of the high walls to contain the river) that makes another challenge for the wildlife …
London City Airport in a dock
alongside the Thames

But we go on looking after the Thames as best we can from its early origins as the Tamesas (from tamessa) recorded in Latin flowing out further north into the Wash, Lincolnshire/Norfolk.

Father Thames - a Coade stone sculpture
by John Bacon in the grounds of
Ham House, Richmond

Father Thames has called time on me and this post! … wild life is in a better position, the banks of the Thames flourish with birds, insects, plants … giving everyone who lives or visits the river and its environs a feast for the senses – 40% of London is green space … so let’s get out feel the wind in our hair and enjoy the great outdoors.

There will be one more of these Bucket List posts … as I have booked (later in October) to climb 60 feet into the scaffolding to check out the art work in the Painted Hall  (part 5) - as they make their restoration work – should be fascinating … my goddaughter’s mother is coming to join me… a good meet up ...

Once this series got going ... it became more about Greenwich than anything else - so perhaps I should end tidying up that side of harbourage (if that's a word) ... but I'll leave it to you to look at this brilliant site on the History of the Port of London - whose link is below: so I shall now retire.  

An adapted quote at the beginning of their site: "A plot of firm soil by the river's bank made a landing place, which became a port and city of the world - that is London."

Here are some links:

11th century delicacy - Lampreys - one of my very early posts in 2009

A Judge, Gardens and the Great Stink - another of my early posts 

St Alfege Church, Greenwich - Henry VIII was baptised here ...but there's a lot more history?!

Plume of Feathers pub in Greenwich Park

History of the Port of London pre 1908 ... 

The Londonist - gives us more details on Father Thames ... and the song 'Old Father Thames...' which you may find interesting ... 

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Bucket List – part 7: Chapel in Queen Mary’s Court, Old Royal Naval College and the Observatory …

The Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich built on the instructions of Queen Mary II (1662 – 1694), had been inspired by the sight of wounded sailors returning in 1692. 

Sir Christopher Wren and his assistant Nicholas Hawksmoor were appointed architects of the new Royal Hospital.  Sir John Vanbrugh succeeded Wren as architect, completing the complex to Wren’s original plans.

Queen Mary portrait by
Sir Godfrey Kneller - 1690
Queen Mary (of William and Mary) had ‘with as much Indignation as her excellent good Temper would suffer her’ refused to have her view blocked … she wanted to retain its ‘visto’ of the Thames – which had only been gained once Charles II cleared the old Tudor palace of Greenwich … part of which has been found under the Painted Hall building and is now being excavated see my earlier post …

… so the quadrants (or Courts) were split providing the avenue we see today from the river through the hospital grounds up to Queen’s House and Greenwich Hill beyond, with its other historical features and buildings … eg The Royal Observatory – see link at end.  

The Chapel's interior

Queen Mary’s Court houses the hospital’s chapel … the original burnt down in a disastrous fire in 1779, being rebuilt and decorated with ‘Greek Revival’ architecture.

James ‘Athenian’ Stuart (1713 – 1788), as Surveyor of the Royal Hospital, was appointed to re-design the Chapel - was a stroke of good fortune for architecture and design that changed the look of buildings in the late 18th century onwards.

James "Athenian" Stuart - self-portrait

Stuart proved to be a talented artist, after the death of his father, supporting his mother and family, by becoming apprenticed to a fan maker.

After 20 years or so he walked to Italy (he still couldn’t afford to go any other way) to expand his artistic knowledge … where he was apprenticed, learning Latin, Italian and Greek, while studying Italian and Roman art and architecture.

He went on to Naples, round to Greece … cementing his interest in studying ancient ruins and designs.  Returning to London he co-authored with Revett a 'design sourcebook' – fuelling the Greek Revival Movement in European architecture … Grand Tours became popular as the love of antiquity spread.

An illustration in the 'design

Nicholas Revett (1721 – 1804) considered himself a gentleman and was probably sufficiently well-off not to have to earn his living … but he and Stuart documented the ruins of ancient Athens … further enhancing European knowledge of Greek architecture …

On his appointment as Surveyor to the Royal Naval Hospital Stuart was able to share his passion for this style of architecture when the new Chapel was built.

An example of scagliola - seen in the
Allen County Courthouse, Fort Wayne
This gave the Greek Revival Movement a real boost … master craftsmen were brought in … creativity came to the fore – but as the cost of Stuart’s design would have been way over the top … funds were scarce - a number of money-saving decorative effects were used … meaning design trickery. 

Scagliola came into fashion in Tuscany in the 17th century … this was used for producing the imposing marble-like stucco columns at each end of the Chapel.

Trompe L'oeil wall by
Jacob de Wet (1730s)

The life-sized figures of evangelists and apostles in the niches are paintings – not sculptures … using the Grisaille technique - artwork entirely in shades of grey or neutral greyish colour … 

The limestone, horsehair and sand plaster decorations on show in the chapel were made in moulds – some of the moulds surviving to this day …

Shire Books have produced
this little booklet about
Coade stone
Coade stone was an artificial ceramic, manufactured in Eleanor Coade’s Lambeth factory – sadly the technique has been lost.

Eleanor Coade (1733 – 1821) was an entrepreneurial businesswoman known for her methodical procedures to produce consistently high quality products.  She had managerial skills, entrepreneurial flair and a talent for marketing and public relations.

She is worth reading up about … her success may be gauged by Josiah Wedgwood’s complaint that he “could not get architects to endorse his new chimney- piece plaques”. 

Twinings: the original shop in the
Strand - the frontispiece is of Coade
stone - rediscovered under a century
of soot

The Chapel contains many Coade stone products … the angel heads and column capitals in the nave, the crest of the Royal Hospital on the balconies, while in the vestibule there are four life-sized Coade stone statues representing the virtues:  Faith, Hope, Charity and Meekness.

Duty reforms made imports cheaper; mahogany could be used more freely … when it was mixed with home grown woods … the art of wood-turning was discovered.

The Chapel's Aisle with the
organ pipes set into mahogany
and oak

The pulpit and the organ … both were made from local and imported woods – oak, mahogany and limewood … the organ is still used almost every day by organ scholars … and remains known for its beauty of tone.   Sadly the organ builder, Samuel Green (1740 – 1796), died in near poverty – how often that happens … yet the names of great craftsmen can live on.

The Chapel was extensively restored in the 1950s … and now looks almost as it did when it was built … it is a stunning and beautiful place of worship … hosting a regular Sunday service.

Plan of Greenwich Courts, Queen's House and
at the back Greenwich Hill

This completes my Greenwich posts … I need to visit again … but in the meantime there are some links, one of which is to another blogger’s recent excellent post on the Royal Observatory …

I will write up one more post in this Bucket List series on the health of the River Thames … then I change tack and carry on with whatever springs to mind.

Thanks for joining me on my various jaunts with the friend who was over from South Africa … it’s been a good journey and knowledge gathering time …

Blogoratti’s post on A Day at the Royal Observatory

Grisaille technique - particularly used in place of a sculpture ... 

More interesting information here on the hospital:  'A Refuge for All' 

Old Royal Naval College - Architecture ... details on the College's architectural development


Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Friday, 29 September 2017

We are the World Blogfest ... # 7 - Cornwall Hugs Grenfell ...

I expect many of you will remember the terrible tragic fire that recently enveloped Grenfell Tower in west London …

I love this logo - so clever ...
Cornwall Hugs Grenfell
Holidays of Hope...
says so much ...

… who could have envisaged something as appalling as this happening in this day and age … I’m not going into the details – suffice to say about 80 people died … and the police are still investigating …

But at the time 280 miles away in Cornwall – and you know how my heart could easily reside in the far west – a mother of two, Esme Page, watched completely shocked as the information on the horror unfolded.

Cornish flags flying high for Grenfell

This has left a whole community bereft … of a loved one, a friend, neighbours and locals of knowing what happened, of trauma, with serious injuries, of post-traumatic stress disorder from the effects of this ghastly event … it is ongoing …

Esme set up a Facebook page “Cornwall Hugs Grenfell” … the response was magnificent … she had posted:

“Imagine if we could put a Cornish holiday on the horizon of every Grenfell resident and firefighter family: a time to rest, a time to let our beautiful county bless these people and work its gentle magic.”

Cornwall travel poster from the 1920s

… more than 200 pledges were received from local businesses – for accommodation, vouchers for attractions and meals, transport, water-sport opportunities, sight-seeing, et al …

The first holiday was hugely successful – the visitors won’t ever forget the devastating effects of the fire, but could now have some recent happy memories to share with each other and others …

St Michael's Mount off Marazion

… the intention is to run the project until 2019 … providing free holidays for those of the families and supporters who wish to take up the offer …

Cornish Cream scone and tea

… there were therapy sessions of massage, reflexology, sound therapy, sculpture and singing workshops … local foods of cream teas, fish and chips, ice creams, picnics on the beach … sightseeing trips to various sites …

It is just the sort of idea that should be sung out to the world … reminding us that we can all help in the background – there’s always a way to offer our comfort – there is a just giving crowdfunding link …


This epitomises We are the World people – who deserve to be recognised … Esme Page with her two children (7 and 10) – more details can be found in the links …

Thank you for participating in our monthly We are the World Blogfest – please join us next month … here's the link to join us - Damyanti Writes ... this is her post after the Manchester bombing earlier this year.

Visit Cornwall - Cornwall Hugs Grenfell 

Just Giving Crowdfunding site details - if you can give a little ... it would be greatly appreciated - the suffering and struggling on must be so difficult ... 

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories