Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Now Who's The Dummy? Eh? Eh?

I wont get caught out this year when the festive quizzes start to flow. Oh no. Not me. Here are a few things I have learnt since last year to ensure I don't get caught out again. If any of them come up in the course of conversation or asked as devilishly hard pub quiz questions - I will be there with the answer.

In Sweden, a common Christmas decoration is the Julbukk, a small figurine of a goat. Of what material is it usually made?

The answer I shall give without missing a beat is 'straw.' As if I always knew. Next.

What is the Irish custom of "feeding the wren" or "hunting the wren" on December 26?

I'll sit with furrowed brow as if in deep cogitation before offering: "A wren is carried from door to door by children as they collect money for charity, a St Stephen's day ritual". And then, if pushed, offer a little backgrounding explaining that the caged wren is taken along as a form of symbolic penance as it was a wren that blew the cover of St Stephen who was in hiding from his pursuers on this very date. It was thanks to the wren's snitchy, chattering, head nodding and eye ball swiveling towards the bush where Stevie was cowering that did for him, and he was dragged off and stoned. The wren, I shall opine, does well to keep itself hidden on St Stephen's day as he's likely to get a few whacks of his own before he's caged. He's the Irish's feathery bad-boy at this time of year.

All that background will ensure it'll seem I've always known. I haven't. There's more.

In Tchaikovsky's ballet "The Nutcracker", who is the nutcracker's main enemy?

I know nothing of ballet. It'll show on my face. I'll put my finger tips together in open prayer mode and drum them whilst gazing upwards as if searching the heavens for inspiration. And then I'll say: "I know, I know, it's ... The King of the Mice, a seven-headed fiend who leads his troops against the nutcracker's toy soldiers but his luck runs out when the heroine, Clara, gives him what for with a shoe. Gives him a good shooing." Go on.

At lavish Christmas feasts in the Middle Ages, swans and peacocks were sometimes served "endored". What does that mean?

Endored? Swans and peacocks? Difficult to imagine. I shall lean forward with pursed lips before uttering a few breathless hang-on-hang-ons, I know this ones. And then seem to recall reading once, that these swans and peacocks, forerunners of the turkey, had their flesh painted with saffron and butter and wrapped back up in their own skin and feathers after roasting. They were ... endored before being presented. How smug will I be? Bring it on, I'm on roll.

All through the Christmas season in old England, "lambswool" could be found in the houses of the well-to-do. What was it?

Lambswool. Hmm. Don't tell me I would say. Lambswool, eh? And then: "Lambswool..was the drink that filled the wassail or toasting bowl. Hot ale, with a few extras. To be proper 'Lambswool, I would say, putting my most know-it-all voice on, it has to have roast apples floating in it as well as sugar, eggs and spices. And toast. No not a toast, bread, toasted; floating soggily on top with the apples. So soggy in fact it looks like lambswool. Mmmm." Lambswool. Yeurk! "Am I right?" I would ask. And I would be. No wonder they gave it to the down and outs when they came to the door. 'Ere, have some of this and bugger off. In fact take it with you.

And finally, because I'm feeling a bit sick now: In Victorian times, most Londoners would have been familiar with the "goose club". What was it?

This could be the clincher, the one that wins the day. And because I'm so well read, so up in the social history of old London town I'll be able to answer: Goose clubs were popular with working-class Londoner's sick of year long diets dominated by cockles and whelks, who paid a few pence a week towards the cost of a Christmas goose. And I'd even be able - thanks to being so well prepared - to provide a little literary background from The Blue Carbuncle by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

Holmes: "Your beer should be excellent if it is as good as your geese."

Barman: "My geese!" The man seemed surprised.

Holmes: "Yes. I was speaking only half an hour ago to Mr. Henry Baker, who was a member of your goose club."

Barman: "Ah! yes, I see. But you see, sir, them's not our geese."

Holmes: "Indeed! Whose, then?"

Barman: "Well, I got the two dozen from a salesman in Covent Garden."

None of these will come up of course.

I'd like to go back to Holmes' time to see what happened in those goose clubs.

Yes, I'd like to have a good gander.
What a fowl joke, etc.
I love trivia....more more more :o)
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