Friday, March 24, 2017

Keeping children safe: Childproofing your home

Here is an inforgraphic with tips about childproofing your home.  It's a guide to arrange your home so that your child is kept out of danger.  It may remind you of something you hadn't thought about or missed.  This guide takes you room by room as it shows you ways to better protect your child from the moment he or she begins crawling.  I hope you'll find it useful and informative.

- Joanne

Childproofing Your Home by Radiator Valves 4u
Childproofing Your Home by Radiator Valves 4u.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Danging Plague of 1518: Why did people in Strasbourg dance themselves to death?

The story of the Dancing Plague of 1518 is both mysterious and macabre.  It happened in the city of Strasbourg, then a part of the Holy Roman Empire (now northeastern France). The Dutch scholar,and social critic, Erasmus, visited the city in 1514 and described it as "a monarchy without tyranny, an aristocracy without factions, a democracy without disorder, prosperity without luxury, happiness without insolence."  However, despite Erasmus' favourable portrayal, of early 16th century Strasbourg, there was a much darker side to life in the city and its surrounding area.  Prior the dancing plague of 1518, the region was hit by a number of terrible afflictions that turned it into a place of misery.

According to John Waller, author of two books on the subject - A Time to Dance, A Time To Die: The Extraordinary Story of the Dancing Plague of 1518 and Dancing Plague: The Strange True Story of an Extraordinary Illness - hunger and disease were rampant.

In the decade before the dancing plague of 1518, famine, sickness and terrible cold caused widespread despair in Strasbourg and its environs.  Bread prices reached their highest levels for a generation, thousands of starving farmers and vine growers arrived at the city gates, and old killers like leprosy and the plague were joined by a terrifying new affliction named syphilis. (John Waller, The Psychologist, July 2009, "Dancing Plagues and Mass Hysteria")

In mid-July of 1518, Frau Troffea, a resident of Strasbourg, suddenly began dancing in the street for no apparent reason.  There was no music associated with her dancing.  Before long, however, she was joined by others and they were all dancing wildly in the searing summer heat. They danced for days without rest.  Within a week, 100 people were consumed with an uncontrollable compulsion to dance. Within a month, the number of dancers in the city had swollen to 400.  They were loaded onto wagons and brought to a healing shrine. Many died from exhaustion and heart attacks. the madness did not subside until early September.

Waller, a professor of the History of Medicine at Michigan State University, points out that this was not the first outbreak of a dancing frenzy in Europe.  There had been about ten dance epidemics prior to 1518.  One in 1374 swept over many towns located in present-day Belgium, northeastern France and Luxembourg. However, the 1518 outbreak is the best documented and probably the final one to occur in Europe.

The dancing plagues may seem quite bizarre and difficult to believe, but there is plenty of evidence that they happened.  Waller contends that there is documentation from "scores of physicians, chroniclers, monks and priests."  He says that during the time of the 1518 epidemic, municipal orders were written by nervous Strasbourg authorities.

How can the Dancing Plague of 1518 be explained. What was the the cause of such mass hysteria? Was a it a genuine illness?  Was it some kind of social phenomenon?  According to John Waller, one popular theory has been that the dancers had accidentally ingested ergot fungus, a psychotropic mould that grows on stalks of rye.  However, Walker dismisses this theory, pointing out that although Ergotism can cause delusions and spasms, it cuts off blood supply to the hands and feet, making coordinated movement very difficult.

Professor Waller thinks it is plausible that the dancing outbreak of 1518 was caused by mass psychogenic illness (MPI), a symptom of mass hysteria that is brought on by the horrific conditions that were experienced in Strasbourg at that time.  In a September 2008 BBC article entitled "Dancing Death," he asserts that "the poor of Strasbourg were experiencing famine and disease and spiritual despair on a scale unknown for generations."  According to Waller, the dancer were in a trance state. Otherwise, he argues, they would not have been able to dance for such lengths of time.

Trances more often occur in people who are in extreme psychological stress, as were the people of Strasbourg, and in people who believe in spiritual possession. Waller believes that those conditions were met in the city of Strasbourg in 1518.  He tells us that many people in the city were devotees of a saint called St. Vitas.  Christian legend holds that Vitas, a Sicilian, died as a martyr in 303 A.D during the persecution of Christians by co-ruling Roman Emperors Diocletian and Maximian.  People in Strasbourg believed that if anyone aroused the anger of St. Vitas, he would take over their minds and bring down plagues of uncontrollable dancing.  Once they anticipated the St. Vitas curse, says Waller, it increased the chances that they would enter into a trance-like state.  One they entered a trance-like state, they played the role of the accursed and possessed, dancing crazily for days at a time.

John Waller sums up his conclusions about the Dancing Plague of 1518 with these words: " So the epidemic, I argue, was a result of both desperation and pious fear."


St. Vitus is regarded as the patron saint of actors, comedians and epileptics.  He is believed to have been only 12 or 13 at the time of his death.  During the Middle Ages, people in places such as Germany and Latvia danced before his statue.

- Joanne

Monday, March 20, 2017

Vera Lynn on her 100th Birthday

We'll meet again
Don't know where
Don't know when
But I know we'll meet again

Some sunny day

- Refrain from the song We'll Meet Again, written by Ross Parker and Hughie Charles

Dame Vera Lynn celebrates her 100th birthday today.  The English singer, songwriter and actress is a living treasure to those of the World War II generation.  Her recordings and performances were extremely popular during that era.  Her wistful tunes brought hope and comfort to the British people and their allies in their darkest days.  Vera was nicknamed "the Forces sweetheart" and her most well known songs include "We'll Meet Again," "The White Cliffs of Dover," "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" and "There'll Always Be an England."  Their sentimental lyrics and unabashed patriotism resonated strongly with soldiers abroad who were homesick for their familiar surroundings.

Vera Lynn was born Vera Margaret Welch on March 20, 1917 in East Ham, Essex (now Greater London), England.  She was born to a working class family and, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica, began singing at men's clubs by the age of seven.  At 11, she assumed her grandmother's maiden name (Lynn) and joined a singing troupe.

After dropping out of school at 14, Vera caught the eye of a talent agent who found work for her at parties and events.  By 1935, she was singing the refrain on big band recordings and performing on the radio. In 1936, she released her first solo recording, "Up the Wooden Hill to Bedfordshire."

In 1937, Vera Lynn collaborated with bandleader Benjamin "Bert" Ambrose, entertaining on his radio program, Life from Mayfair, until 1940.  In late 1939, she performed her signature song, "We'll Meet Again," which was written by Ross Parker and Hughie Charles, two composers on Life from Mayfair. In 1941, Vera became the star of her own BBC radio show, Sincerely Yours, Vera Lynn.  The next year, she recorded "The White Cliffs of Dover."

Vera was affiliated with the Entertainments National Service Association which was established in 1939 to entertain soldiers.  During the war, she toured the world in order to perform for troops, often placing her own life in jeopardy.

When the war end, Vera travelled extensively throughout Europe and continued to broadcast her radio show for years.  She has continually engaged in charitable activities, including establishing a fund for those suffering from cerebral palsy.  She has also been a tireless advocate for veterans and their causes. In 2008, she became a patron of the Forces Literary Organisation Worldwide for ALL.  In 2010 she became patron of the British charity Projects to Support Refugees from Burma/Help 4 Forgotten Allies  In 2013, she lent her support to a People for Ethical Treatment of Animals' (PETA) campaign against pigeon racing, which she described as "utterly cruel."

To mark the centenary of Dame Vera's birth, her image will be projected over the White Cliffs of Dover today.


* Vera Lynn was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1969 and was created a Dame of the British Empire in 1975.

* In 1941, Vera married Harry Lewis, a clarinetist and saxophonist in Bert Ambrose's orchestra.  The couple had one child, a daughter named Virginia Penelope Anne Lewis.  Harry Lewis, who worked as Vera's manager after the war, died in 1998,

* In September of 2009, Vera, who was then 92 years of age, became the oldest living artist to have a Number 1 record in Britain. when her album, We'll Meet Again - The Very Best of Vera Lynn, reached top spot.

* In August of 2014, Vera was one of the 200 public figures who signed a letter to The Guardian opposing the independence of Scotland during the referendum campaign on the issue that year.

* On March 17, 2017, in commemoration of her 100th birthday, Vera Lynn released a new album on the Decca Records label.  It's titled Vera Lynn 100.

Vera Lynn in 2009

PHOTO ATTRIBUTION: Nicki (Growl Roar) from United Kingdom

- Joanne

EDITOR'S UPDATE: Vera Lynn died on June 18, 2020.  Her family issued the following statement: "The family are deeply saddened to announce the passing of one of Britain's best-loved entertainers at the age of 103.  Dame Vera Lynn, who lived in Ditchling, East Sussex, passed away earlier today, 18 June 2020, surrounded by her close family."

Thursday, March 9, 2017

How To Make Your Home a Happier Place Using Hygge

Do you want to improve the atmosphere of the place where you live. This infographic guides you in the task of improving the mood of your home.  It provides you with tips on how to make your dwelling place happier by using the concept of Hygge or "well-being."  I hope that you find it informative and useful.  Note: Prices are listed in British pounds.

- Joanne

 How to Make a Hygge Home by The Rug Seller
How to Make a Hygge Home by The Rug Seller by The Rug Seller

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Eleven Missed Days: The Disappearance of Agatha Cristie

According to The Guinness Book of Records, Agatha Christie is the best selling novelist of all time. Her books have sold millions of copies and have been translated into over 100 languages.  She is renowned as the author of  numerous mystery novels and is credited with writing the world's longest running play, The Mousetrap.

In 1926, this famous crime writer was the subject of a real life detective story. Christie, the queen of the "whodunnit" found herself involved in a perplexing mystery of her own..  At a very difficult time in her life, she went missing for 11 days.  The disappearance of the popular author caused quite a stir and there was an extensive manhunt for her.  The public, not knowing whether she was dead or alive, feared greatly for her safety.  The Daily Mail offered a reward of 100 pounds for her location. Without a doubt, Christie's 1926 disappearance remains the most intriguing episode of the great author's life.

Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born in Torquay, Devon, England on September 15, 1890, the youngest of three siblings.  She came from an affluent upper-middle class family.  Her mother, Clarissa "Clara" Boehmer, was a Belfast-born Englishwoman. Her father, Frederick Alvah Miller, was a well-to-do American stockbroker, born in New York in 1846.  The couple married in April of 1878 and their first child, Margaret Fray "Madge" Miller (1879-1950), was born in Torquay.

Madge was followed by a son, Louis Montant "Monty" Miller (1880-1929), who was born in the United States.  The Millers lived in America for a time, but eventually returned to England. While Frederick, who had financial interests in both Britain and the U.S., was away on business in New York, Clara purchased a Victorian mansion in Torquay, on the southwest coast of England. Upon his return, the family settled in the grand villa,called "Ashfield," where their youngest child, Agatha, was born.


For the most part, Agatha enjoyed a happy childhood in her little seaside town.  Her life at Ashfield was secure, although fairly insulated.  She had a nanny called "Nursie" and was home schooled, at her mother's insistence.  At the same time, however, she experienced loneliness.  According to her autobiography, Agatha Christie: An Autobigraphy. this childhood loneliness fuelled her active imaginations and her creativity.  She made up stores and imaginary characters.

Agatha as a child

Agatha's idyllic childhood was shattered when her father, Frederick Christie, died on November 26, 1901.  After his death, the 11-year-old Agatha and her mother experienced serious financial decline. Nevertheless, they continued to maintain their home by renting out Ashfield and travelling.

Frederick Miller
In 1906, at the age of 16, Agatha was sent to a finishing school in Paris to study vocals and piano, but was never able to establish a career as a musician due to shyness and stage fright. She did, however, retain a lifelong love of music and became a skilled pianist.

In October of 1912, Agatha met Colonel Archibald "Archie" Christie at a dance given by Lady Clifford at her home in Chudleigh, England,  Archie, a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps, was born in India on September 30, 1889 and his father was in the Indian civil service.  Agatha and Archie wed on Christmas Eve, 1914 and the nuptials took place at a church in Clifton, Bristol, England, the home of Archie's parents.

Archibald Christie in 1915

During World War I, Agatha served as a nurse and tended to wounded solders at a Red Cross Hospital in Torquay.  She then underwent training to work in the pharmacy as an apothecary's assistant.  As part of her training. Agatha studied chemistry and became knowledgeable about poisons, including their lethal dosages.  This knowledge became invaluable when she was devising plots for her detective stories.  It added to their authenticity.  That is why poison became the method of murder in her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, and in many other of her works.

During the war, Archie was stationed in France, so he and Agatha were unable to see much of each other.  It was at this time that Agatha first began writing detective fiction.  After the war, she and Archie settled into a flat in northwest London and Archie took a position in a bank.  On August 5, 1919, Agatha gave birth to the couple's only child, a daughter named Rosalind Margaret Clarissa.

Agatha with daughter Rosalind 

* Editor's Note (September 1, 2022): I recently received an email from a reader who claims that the child in the above photo is not Agatha Christie's daughter, but Rosalind Franklin, a scientist who was involved in the discovery of of the structure of DNA.  

Agatha Christie published her debut novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, in 1920.  Its plot centred on the murder of a wealthy heiress, but more importantly, the book introduced one of Christie's most enduring characters, Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. Christie's other major creation is Miss Jane Marple, an elderly village lady and amateur sleuth.  Miss Marple's first appearance in a full-length novel was in The Murder at the Vicarage (1930).

By 1924, cracks had begun to appear in the Christie marriage, one of the irritants being Archie's passion for the game of golf. In 1926, Agatha released The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which was very successful and warmly received.  Her career had begun to flourish, but her personal life was in turmoil. She suffered two devastating blows that year.  It was "a period of sorrow, misery, heartbreak," she wrote in her autobiography.

In the early part of 1926, Agatha went on a vacation to Corsica without Archie.  When she returned from her trip, she found her mother severely ill with bronchitis. Clara Miller died in April, just days after Agatha's return.  In June, soon after Clara's passing, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was published and Agatha earned much acclaim.  She was still grieving her mother's death, however, when she received a second devastating blow, this time delivered by her husband.  Archie requested a divorce because he had fallen in love with another woman. The woman was Nancy Neale, a friend of the family who was a decade younger than Agatha.  Unlike Agatha, Nancy shared Archie's interest in golf.

On the evening of Friday, December 3, 1926, around 9:45 p.m., Christie disappeared from her English estate in Sunningdale, Berkshire. She and Archie had argued and he had gone to spend the weekend with Nancy at Godalming, Surrey, England.  A distraught Agatha left her sleeping seven-year-old daughter Rosalind and just drove away.

Police soon located her car, a green Morris Cowley, on a sharp slope at Newlands Corner, near Guildford. The abandoned vehicle contained a bag of clothing and an expired driver's licence.  However, there was no sign of the famous author and there was no evidence that an accident had occurred.  Many feared she was dead and volunteers failed to find her.  There were even rumours that she had been murdered by her unfaithful husband, Archie.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, joined the search for Agatha.  Conan Doyle, an occultist, attempted to use paranormal powers to find the missing writer.  He brought one of Agatha's gloves to a medium in the hopes that it wold provide a clue to Agatha's whereabouts. British author and crime writer, Dorothy Sayer also tried to help.  She searched for possible clues at the scene of Christie's vacated car.  There was concern that she may have committed suicide, but no body was found.

Christie's disappearance made headlines around the world.  The story was so was featured on the front page of The New York Times.  There was so much speculation that the British Home Secretary at the time, William Joynson-Hicks pressured the police to expedite the search for her.  Here is the police description of Agatha at the time: “Aged 35 (Editor's note; she was actually 36), height 5ft 7in, hair reddish and shingled, eyes grey, complexion fair. Well-built, dressed in grey and dark grey cardigan, small green velour hat, wearing a platinum ring with one pearl, but no wedding ring.”

On December 14, 1926, Agatha finally surfaced in a spa at Harrogate, Yorkshire.  She was registered at the elegant Swan Hydropathic Hotel (now the Old Swan Hotel) as "Mrs. Teresa Neele"(the same surname as her husband's lover) from Capetown, South Africa.  A hotel musician, Bob Tappin, recognized her and alerted police.  They informed Archie who rushed to the hotel, identified his wife and brought her home. Tappin claimed the reward money for informing police of Agatha's whereabouts.

Much of Agatha's disappearance remains unexplained.  There is no reference to it in her memoir Agatha Christie: An Autobigraphy.  Archibald Christie claimed that she'd suffered from amnesia as a result of the car crash.  He publicly stated that his wife "has suffered the most complete loss of memory and does not know who she is."  However, his comments failed to put a stop to the conjecture and numerous other theories regarding Agatha's disappearance.  Some postulated that Christie's disappearance had been a publicity stunt for her novel.

Jared Cade put forth another theory in his book Agatha Christie and the Eleven Missing Days (1998). Cade contended that Christie staged her own disappearance to embarrass and humiliate Archie.  This theory was roundly rejected by Agatha's grandson, Matthew Prichard, a staunch defender of his grandmother's memory.

In Agatha Christie: The Finished Portrait (2006), biographer Andrew Norman, who worked as a family doctor in the U.K. until 1983, argued that the crime writer may have been in a "fugue" state or psychogenic trance as a result of trauma or depression.  Norman concluded that she was suicidal.  "Her state of mind was very low," he declared, "and she writes about it through the character of Celia in her autobiographical novel Unfinished Portrait."

By the end of 1927, Agatha Christie had recovered from her traumatic experience and had begun writing again.  In 1928, she divorced her philandering husband and he wed Nancy Neale.  Archie became a successful businessman and he Nancy had a son, Archibald, who was born in 1930.

On September 11, 1930, Agatha married Sir Max Mallowan, a renowned British archaeologist who specialized in ancient Middle Eastern history.  She met Mallowan while visiting her friends Sir Leonard and Katherine Wooley on an archaeological expedition at Ur, an important Sumerian city-state in ancient Mesopotamia.(now part of south Iraq's Dhi Qar Governorate).  At the time of their wedding in Scotland, Agatha was 39 and Max was 26.

Agatha with Max Mallowan

Agatha accompanied her husband on his archaeological digs, taking photographs and keeping records. She often used the subect of archeology in her mystery novels,  Below is a photo of her with Mallowan at Tell Halaf, an archeological site in northeastern Syria.

Max Mallowan was knighted in 1968.  In 1971, Agatha Christie was made a Dame of the British Empire by Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. That same year, she suffered a leg injury and her health went into decline.  In 1974, Agatha made her final public appearance at the opening night gala of the theatrical version of Murder on the Orient Express.  She died on January 12, 1976 in Wallingford, Oxfordshire, England at the age of 85.  She and Max Mallowan remained married for 46 years - until her death.  In 1977, Mallowan married Barbara Hastings Parker, a fellow archaeologist with whom he was reported to have been having an affair.  Sir Max passed away on August 19, 1978 at the age of 85.


* Agatha Christie's daughter, Rosalind, died on October 28, 2004 at the age of 85 (coincidentally the same age at which her mother died).  According to Rosalind's obituary in The Guardian, she "fiercely guarded her mother's estate, works and reputation.

* Nancy Neale died in 1958 at the age of 58.  Archibald Christie died four years later, on December 20, 1962.  He was 73 at the time of his death.

*  Barbara Hastings Parker, the second Lady Mallowan, died on November 21, 1993 in Wallingford, Oxfordshire, England at the age of 85.

* Ashfield, Agatha Christie's childhood home, was demolished in the 1960s to make way for an apartment block.  A blue plaque on Barton Road in Torquay marks the spot where the villa once stood.

* Agatha Christie wrote six novels under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott and they were not detective novels.  One of them, Unfinished Portrait (1934), was the fictionalized account of her first marriage, which is why she hid her real identity.  In Agatha Christie: An English Mystery, a 2007 biography, Laura Thompson writes  : "She felt an absolute freedom writing those books. She could go wherever she wanted, into every idea that had ever fascinated her, even into the recesses of her own past - there was a sense that the revelation of her identity had closed a door: the one that opened into her most private and precious imaginative garden."

In 1949, however,  a London Sunday Times journalist blew Christie's cover.  The last two of the Westmacott novels, A Daughter's Daughter (1952) and The Burden (1956), appeared after 1949 her secret was revealed.

SOURCES: Encyclopaedia BritannicaAgatha Christie: An English Mystery (2007), by Laura Thompson; The Guardian; Wikipedia; Agatha Christie: The Finished Portrait (2006)by Andrew Norman; The Complete Christie: An Agatha Christie Encyclopedia (2000), by Matthew Bunson; Agatha Christie; An Autobiography (1977).

- Joanne