Perpetua: by Royal Appointment

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As I watched on TV the congregation leaving Westminster Abbey after the Queen’s funeral last week I noticed that most were carrying a copy of the printed Order of Service. Such is the speed of modern communications, I was able to find a downloadable PDF on the Gov.uk website within a minute or two. Well done those royal flunkeys responsible.

The use of Perpetua Bold on the cover caught my eye, although the Times Roman setting beneath for the dateline grated. Inside I was pleased to see that the Perpetua theme was carried on throughout, with a nice use of spaced caps, drop caps and italic.

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Perpetua was in fact used for the last great State occasion in Westminster Abbey, the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. I remembered this because I have a copy of the special edition of the Monotype Recorder celebrating the life and work of Stanley Morison, and I recalled that it showed the covers of the Orders of Service for the Coronations of both George VI and Elizabeth II, as seen below:

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(I have taken the above illustration from the collection of PDFs of the Monotype Recorder on the wonderful Metaltype website.)

Sadly, I couldn’t find the full Coronation Order of Service online, although I did come across a couple of images. One, on the Parliament website, shows a handsome double page spread:

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The second is just a snippet of one page, on a University of Nottingham blog:

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There are a couple of things about this second image which makes it different from the Parliament version. The text is in black only and the section heading is in u/lc rather than caps. The Nottingham blog from which I sourced the image says that it is from the “Music with the Form and Order of Service”, so perhaps this was a different publication for use by the choirs and musicians.

But what is the same about both is that they are typeset in Perpetua, with a lovely long-tailed Q which I imagine was specially cut. I’m guessing that it was set in Monotype, but I’m not enough of an expert to be certain. The 2022 digital version is a faithful reproduction.

Perpetua is a lovely typeface, and looks splendid when used for this kind of setting. However, in my view, it never really works in books – there is something about its idiosyncrasies which makes continuous reading difficult.

We’ll see next year whether it’s used for Charles III’s Coronation. It would be nice if it is. But I wonder if he might issue one of his ‘black spider’ decrees that some other type be chosen? On a recent visit to Poundbury in Dorset, with its ‘feudal Disneyland’ architecture, I didn’t spot any evidence of an interest in typography or lettering.

Good old Caslon

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Pic: Spitalfields Life/Bishopsgate Institute

One of the loveliest things on the modern interwebnet is the anonymous Gentle Author’s Spitalfields Life, who writes every day about things he comes across in his small corner on the fringe of the City of London. (It’s interesting that he lives just a mile or two from the home of another anonymous blogger also dedicated to the daily long-form art, Diamond Geezer. How do these two wonders keep things going for so long?)

Last Saturday, the Gentle Author wrote a piece about another distinguished Londoner, William Caslon, which contained a lot of local information which I wish I’d known when I lived nearby. He is surely right when he describes Caslon, nearly three centuries after his death, as still:

“the pre-eminent letter founder this country has produced. Before Caslon, there was little letter founding in Britain and most type was imported – even Shakespeare’s First Folio was printed with French type. But Caslon’s achievement was to realise designs and produce type which have been widely used ever since.”

And it all happened around the eastern fringes of the City of London. “The Caslon family tomb stands alone today in front of St Luke’s Old St, just yards from where William Caslon started his first letter foundry in Helmet Row in 1727 and, with pleasing consistency, it is lettered in Caslon type.”

“It was in the creation of his distinctly English version of Roman letters and italics, derived from the Dutch typefaces that were most commonly used in London at that time, which was the decisive factor in the establishment of Caslon’s reputation.

Caslon’s first type Specimen of 1734 exemplifies a confidence and clarity of design which has become so familiar that it is difficult to appreciate in retrospect. The Specimen offered a range of styles and sizes of type with an unprecedented authority and a distinctive personality which is immediately recognisable. As a consequence of the legibility and grace of Caslon’s work, his became the default choice of typeface for books and all kinds of publications in the English-speaking world for the next two centuries.”

The Caslon type crossed the Atlantic and became very influential in the just-about-to-be born United States of America when John Dunlap of Philadelphia set the type for the first printing of 200 copies of the Declaration of Independence, working into the night of 4 July 1776. It’s a source of pleasure to those of us of a typographic bent that one of the Committee of Five final drafting committee was Benjamin Franklin, statesman, polymath and printer, later to have a typeface named after him. Whether Franklin instructed Dunlap to use Caslon’s typeface is not known.

Caslon’s type has remained extraordinarily popular in the USA, probably more so than in the country of its birth. It is still used by the New Yorker, both for the paper copies and in the online version. There are those, however, who dislike it: one such being the American type historian Bruce Rogers, who thought it overused in England, which he described in the early 20th century as a “Caslon-ridden country”. This may well have been a reaction to the insistence of George Bernard Shaw that all his books be printed in it.

Caslon himself died in 1767 and is buried in St Luke’s church in Old Street, London. This is now deconsecrated and used for rehearsals and performances by the London Symphony Orchestra. One hopes that, as they pluck and blow through their latest repertoire, the musicians think occasionally of the important history of the man in the tomb outside.

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Pic: Wikimedia Commons

The last Lord’s Gentlemen v. Players match

GentsPlayers 2up 900pxSixty years ago, on Friday 20 July 1962, I was at the final day of what would turn out to be the final Lord’s cricket match between the Gentlemen and Players. Up until the end of the 1962 season, English first class cricket was played by a mixture of paid professionals (Players) and unpaid amateurs (Gentlemen), and every year a team from each category played a three day game at the home of cricket, as well as a later match at the Scarborough Festival. So on this particular Friday a small group of boys from my school travelled up to London where we bought scorecards, watched the game and hung around at the close of play for long enough to get autographs. I dutifully filled in my scorecard with a stubby pencil and at the end of the day had it signed by one of the most recognisable figures in the amateur team, Rev David Sheppard, sometime captain of both Sussex and England, who went on to become Bishop of Liverpool.

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1962 was the year in which sport began to change as the amateur tradition started to fade. Earlier in July, Rod Laver had won Wimbledon and before the season was out would turn pro. He capped off his career by winning the US Open and thereby completing the Grand Slam. This surely speeded up the process that brought in the open era in tennis just six years later. Athletics followed, the Olympic tradition of only allowing amateurs to compete was largely devalued by the combination of sponsorship and surreptitious payments in the west and the blatant use of state subsidy in the Soviet bloc. Restrictions began to be relaxed in the 1970s. Rugby Union took a lot longer.

Somewhat surprisingly, cricket prefigured these other sports. The process to abolish amateurism had already taken several years and gone through various committees before being ushered in by a vote of the Advisory County Cricket Committee on 26 November 1962. (The whole event is documented in Charles Williams’s book, Gentlemen and Players, Phoenix 2013, which is an entertaining read.) The last ever Gentlemen v. Players match (which actually took place at Scarborough between 8 and 11 September 1962) had been played.

Edward Craig, who played for the Gentlemen, is interesting in that he appears to have decided not to pursue cricket as a possible career. He scored 1000 runs at an average of 42 in his first year at Cambridge when he was just 19 and was first selected to play for the Gentlemen. Mike Brearley went up to Cambridge in the same year and also scored 1000 runs. In those days he was a wicket keeper batsman. Craig, who went on to have a distinguished career in philosophy at Cambridge, ending as Knightbridge Professor of Philosophy, is discussed in this 1981 Cricinfo article by none other than John Arlott.

For the record, the line up in the September match at Scarborough, the last ever Gentlemen v Players, was as follows:
Gentlemen: Tony Lewis, Roger Prideaux, Mike Smith, Ray White, David Kirby, Alan Smith, Richard Hutton, Colin Drybrough, George Richardson, Richard Jefferson, Ossie Wheatley.
Players: John Edrich, Norman Horner, Bob Gale, Ken Barrington, Brian Close, Albert Lightfoot, Derek Morgan, Barry Knight, Geoff Millman, Fred Trueman, Tony Lock.

Ramsden’s ‘Don’t Mention The War’ notes

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Looking for something to read in the inevitable queues on a couple of upcoming journeys, I took John Ramsden’s 2006 book Don’t Mention the War down from my shelf. I had glanced through it a decade or more ago when I bought it, but never read it right through. I’m glad to say that it is a terrific, easy read and I will get round to writing more about it when I finish it. But in the meantime, I want to write now about the defect in book production which pushed the footnotes out into cyberspace, and the inevitable consequences.

When I bought the book, I noticed this ominous sentence at the start of the bibliography: ‘ The note section can be found on the Internet at http://www.johnramsden-dmtw.co.uk. ‘ I recall checking this website out, and may even have downloaded the text. However, God knows where I filed it. Probably on the computer I was using then – four or five computers ago.

Little Brown’s decision was a bit unusual, even then, and seems to have led to a certain amount of discussion. Someone called Dan (who I take to be the historian Daniel Todman who was a colleague of Ramsden’s at Queen Mary) wrote on the Airminded blog that there had only been a handful of complaints. However, I reckon this misses the point.

This is because when, sadly, Ramsden died in 2009 only a year into retirement his website eventually vanished along with the link to his notes. So now all you get is an error message.

So I did a bit more Googling, this time of the website address, and came across this Twitter post from the Cambridge historian Ben Griffin:

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Thanks Ben. I rushed to the Web Archive link and found Ramsden’s original post. I downloaded the notes, made them up into a PDF and printed them out. So now I have something I can at least tuck into the back of the book when I put it back on the shelf.

As to Ramsden himself, he seems to have been an intriguing man. A writer about the Conservative Party, but also an active Tory himself who had even done his time as leader of the council in the London Borough of Redbridge. There are some lovely tributes to him online, including this obituary in the Guardian by Peter Hennessy, a blog post by Bob Jones and a piece on Conservative History Journal.

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So just in case the WebArchive itself goes under (unlikely I know, but you never know) as a public service I decided to post my own printable 19 page PDF of the notes (shown above) for anyone to download. If everything works OK, you should be able to get them from here:  Ramsden notes

One hundred today

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My father, John Lisle Foster, was born one hundred years ago today, 22 May 1922, in what was then Blantyre, Nyasaland (now Malawi). He was the older of the two sons of Lionel Hubert Lisle Foster, a District Commissioner in the British colonial service, and his wife Judith Mary (née Sandberg).

Like many children of the colonial service, he spent most of his early schooldays in England, not seeing his parents for a year or more. He and his younger brother Humphrey were shipped from Africa to England, boarding at a prep school during term time and then going to a relative’s home for the holidays. It is hard to believe now, but it what was expected at the time. He was sent to King’s College choir school in Cambridge at the age of eight or so. As a result, although he was not a chorister he always had a good singing voice. In later life this could be heard at church services, his consonants being pronounced distinctly in the way he had been coached in childhood.

He must have expressed an interest in science and engineering because he won this book, the interestingly named Romance of Modern Engineering, as a school prize for Mathematics when he was 13.

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He went to the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, in either the autumn of 1935 or early in 1936. I’m not sure which date is correct, but I know that he was in the St Vincent term, as he wore his term’s tie all his civilian life. At this time, Dartmouth acted as a school for boys who were destined to be navy officers. As he was still 17 when the war started in September 1939, he must then still have been at Dartmouth. In due course, he went on to the Royal Naval Engineering College at Keyham in Plymouth, where the war had meant that the course was accelerated in order to get the training done as fast as possible. After being commissioned as a Sub Lieutenant (E) in January 1943, his first posting was to HMS Ceylon.

The process of attrition for Royal Navy officers may not have been as severe as it was for their brethren in the RAF, but it was galling enough, and many of his Dartmouth colleagues fell in the war. One was on HMS Hood, sunk by the Bismarck in 1941, another lost a leg on HMS Penelope in 1944. Dad, however, saw out the war on a series of heavy cruisers and battleships. 

After the war, he served in a series of ships, mainly in the Mediterranean fleet based in Malta, and on shore in Rosyth and Plymouth. Having met in Hastings, he and my mother were married there in 1948. I was born in Malta in 1950 and my four brothers and sisters in Plymouth between 1952 and 1956. 

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By 1958, the war had been over for more than a decade and the services were contracting. Officers in their mid-thirties were offered a “golden bowler”, a lump sum and a pension for life. Dad took the offer, and we moved as a family to Gerrards Cross, within commuting distance of the Guinness brewery in Park Royal, west London, where he got a job. He joined an engineering department which seemed to be full of ex-service personnel – the chief engineer had been a Brigadier in the sappers. Guinness was only the second employer he ever had, and he would stay there for almost thirty more years, retiring in about 1984. 

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Dad behind his desk at Guinness in a photograph taken for a staff magazine. 

He was an old-fashioned engineer, a dab hand at calculating with a slide rule or log tables. He wasn’t really big into DIY but he had a few tools, some of which he passed on to me when I left home in the 1970s. The big screwdriver shown in the picture at the top of this article had, he told me, actually come from his own father so it could itself be 80 or 90 years old. 

I love these old tools. They have a heft and a feel which demands respect. I’ve inherited a few things from both my parents, but these working implements are amongst the most prized. And I will look at them with pride and affection today, as I salute a father who, sadly, never got to his own century.

John Lisle Foster, officer, gentleman and engineer, 22 May 1922– 25 May 2002. 

ADDENDUM: My brother Andrew, who has Dad’s old toolbox, has sent me this photo.

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Most of the stuff it contains hasn’t been used for years, although Andrew has a ratchet screwdriver which occasionally comes in handy. I like the block of soap he must have used for easing screws into very hard blocks of wood (you can still see the grooves, apparently) and the old style round pin plug. 

 

For one proud moment, things did only get better

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Quiet confidence was the watchword to those in the know in the run-up to the 1997 General Election. Nobody at Labour Party HQ, or those close to it, wanted to talk up a Labour victory too much just in case everything went pear-shaped at the very last minute. However, I can reveal that some preparations were undertaken to mark what was likely to be a historic occasion, when polls closed at 10pm on May Day, Thursday 1 May 1997.

A very minor artefact from these preparations has rested in my kitchen cupboard for the last 25 years. Some time before polling day, David Wilkinson, Deputy Secretary of the London Labour Party, rang me with a fund-raising wheeze. “Let’s get some celebration mugs made, to go on sale straight after the election. People are bound to want some souvenirs and I’m sure we will sell out.” There’s quite a long production lead-time needed in the souvenir mugs trade, so we had to get the design ready right away, which I duly did. I culled a few words from the manifesto – thereby removing the need to send the text to be approved by the Leader’s Office, always a complicated process – and produced the artwork. I waived my fee, asking for half-a-dozen mugs instead, and everything went ahead. I picked up the mugs a few days after 1 May, and gave them all away except for one, which has been in my house ever since.

I have seen virtually no publicity marking the silver anniversary of Labour’s greatest ever election victory. There are local elections in the UK this coming Thursday in which, whisper it softly, the party could do well. But superstitious lot that us political groupies are, we don’t want to jinx the results. So fingers crossed for a good result that night.

The 1997-2010 Labour governments did achieve a huge amount, something that has been conveniently forgotten by those who took command in the bleak years between 2015 and 2019. One of those who held the faith throughout that period is Alan Johnson, postman, union official, politician and writer, who was first elected as an MP in 1997 and became a cabinet minister seven years later. Back in 2015, he wrote this piece in the Guardian, and it acts as a useful summary of some of the many achievements of the 1997-2010 years:

Before new party members become enmeshed in the “culture of betrayal”, it’s worth taking a second to examine the charge that Labour in government did nothing for working people.
Leave aside the transformation in health and education (plus additional jobs and extra pay for nurses and teachers), the 3,000 Sure Start centres, the Disability Discrimination Act, the Human Rights Act, civil partnerships, rescuing 1.2 million children from absolute poverty and 1.8 million from relative poverty, pension credit (which made the single biggest contribution to the fact that for the first time in recorded history being old is no longer associated with being poor), the Pension Protection Fund, the resuscitation of apprenticeships and the world’s first legally enforceable carbon reduction targets. Is it accurate to suggest that trade unionists fared badly in the Blair years?
Hardie’s vision of a national minimum wage wasn’t enacted by MacDonald or Attlee, Wilson or Callaghan; it was introduced by the Blair government along with the right to paid holidays (later extended by law to be in addition to bank holidays). Every single worker was given the right to be accompanied at a disciplinary or grievance hearing by a trade union official, regardless of whether the union was recognised and irrespective of whether the individual was a member. During the “virus” years, a woman’s right to paid maternity leave rose from 16 weeks to nine months. Paternity leave was introduced for the first time.
The ban on trade union representation at GCHQ was lifted along with the pernicious “check-off” legislation, which forced unions to re-recruit their members every three years. The Public Disclosures Act gave protection to whistleblowers, new rights were enacted to protect part-time and temporary workers, agency workers and those subjected to control by gangmasters. Legislation on union recognition insisted that if 50% plus one of the workforce was recruited, the union was automatically recognised. Prior to 1997 it had always been the case that an employer could sack striking workers en masse on day one of a dispute. The Blair government changed the law to prevent that happening. Far from being a period when trade unions were betrayed, it was the most benign period in their history.

Amen to all that. So charge your glasses on Sunday evening and drink a toast to the night when things really did get better. For a while.

Light at last on rugby dark arts

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A scrum in the England-Ireland match. [Pic: YouTube]

Like many regular TV viewers of international Rugby matches I’ve often sat through games which have long sequences of scrummaging. From a distance it’s hard to see what is going on, but they frequently seem to end with the referee blowing his whistle for a penalty against one side, whereupon the other bunch of forwards look delighted with themselves and indulge in a minor orgy of back slapping and manly hugs.

It’s at this point that commentators habitually refer to the “dark arts” of the scrum. And we viewers nod knowingly, and take another sip from our tea cups or beer cans, depending on the time of the day.

But exactly what activity constitutes the dark arts is not usually explained. An exception came in last Saturday’s Irish Times, in an article by Matt Williams. He is now a TV pundit and journalist but was previously the Scotland and Leinster coach, so he knows therefore of what he writes. His piece was a preview of the match Ireland were due to play against Scotland on Saturday afternoon, but in it he also described what happened in the previous week’s game versus England, which to me looked as though the England scrum were somehow pushing their Irish counterparts off the park. He wrote:

“England’s scrum tactics were another example of the desperate need to overhaul the scrum laws. England were brilliantly clever and highly illegal in almost every scrum that resulted in a penalty to them. I admire their cohesiveness and the superb execution of their well-coached plan. It was a virtuoso performance of the dark arts of scrummaging.
The co-ordination from the English pack was astonishing. England’s tighthead [Kyle Sinckler] would angle in on [hooker] Sheehan while twisting [loosehead prop] Cian Healy’s outside shoulder in towards the tunnel. Simultaneously, the English tighthead flanker, Tom Curry, would break his bind on his prop and drive directly on to Healy’s ribs, illegally pushing him across the scrum. At the same time, the other six players in the English scrum would step in unison to the left, away from Healy. Like a well-drilled set of the Queens guards, twisting the entire scrum giving the illusion that Ireland were the culprits. Now that takes a lot of planning and coaching.
It was technically brilliant stuff and despite it all being highly illegal, I truly admired it.”

So now I know. And, of course, as soon as I Googled this, I found other explanations online. Here is an article on the interestingly named site balls.ie with analysis from Mike Ross, the Irish tighthead who anchored the front row so effectively from 2009 that he won 60 caps and was forgiven his lack of mobility in the rest of the match. And there’s even a Youtube video featuring Matt Williams which you can see here.

Great Aunt Kyria’s marmalade

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I must have met my Great Aunt Kyria in the dim and distant past – she died in 1966, when I was 16 – but I have no memory of her. However, I do remember my mother telling me that the home-made marmalade she made every year was based on a recipe given to her by Kyria. And she made industrial quantities of it – whenever I went home a jar or two would be presented to me as I was leaving.

When my father retired and the pair moved to St Leonards-on-Sea (a terrible idea but they couldn’t be dissuaded) my father took his part in the production process. A huge preserving pan was deployed and several batches were made every year, with each batch taking two days. So perhaps it was not surprising that when my mother died in 1987, he carried on. It was good therapy for him, we children reasoned. And on every visit, another couple of jars would be pressed into our hands as we left the house.

This carried on, even though a few years later he remarried. My new stepmother was also a home-made marmalade sort of woman, and helped him with its manufacture. Round about the year 2000 and approaching his eighties, however, he announced that he might retire from the annual production cycle. He gave the big pan and the recipe to my brother Andrew, and helped him the first year Andrew tried it. I took the hint that I might need to begin making any own, and Andrew dictated the recipe to me over the phone.

I remember the first year. I used my biggest saucepan but it was nothing like large enough and I had to scale the recipe back. The whole process seemed to take an age, and I stayed up half the night boiling the final mix and never seeming to get it to pass the required crinkly-skin-on-cold-saucer test. Eventually I gave up, and put the small amount I had left into jars, and – lo and behold – it did set and seemed to have worked. It was very dark, but it certainly smelt and tasted like the chunky marmalade that I was used to.

My father died in 2002, and when we cleared out the house in September of that year, there were dozens of jars lined up on shelves in the garage. So much so, that I didn’t need to make any for the next couple of years. But now, every January when the marmalade oranges arrive in my local supermarket, I buy a couple of bags and search out the largest lemons, ready to start work.

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I bought a large stainless steel pan in our local Dunnes Stores – on sale as a ham pot – some 15 years ago, and have scaled up Dad’s recipe accordingly, so I now make just one batch of about 17 or 18 jars. And I’ve stretched the production cycle out over three days, which allows the mixture of fruit, pith and water to cool down completely. This makes getting the sticky gunk out of the muslin much easier.

This is my recipe:

15 large Seville oranges
5 large lemons
10.6 pts (6 l) water
10 lb (4.5 kg) sugar (I use 2 kg of jam sugar + 2.5 kg granulated sugar)

Day 1: Half and squeeze oranges and lemons, putting juice into the boiling pan, and the pips and bits of pith into a muslin cloth stretched out over a bowl. Cut the halved fruit into suitable size pieces, separating out any more pips and pith, and put the fruit in the pan. I use kitchen scissors for this, which I reckon is quicker than deploying a knife. Tie up the pips and pith inside the muslin cloth with cotton string and bung that into the pan as well. Add the water, and leave the mixture to soak overnight.

Day 2: Bring the mixture to the boil, and then maintain it at a rolling boil for about two hours, covered partially by the lid to reduce evaporation. Watch carefully as it may boil over and leave a sticky mess on your hob. Let it cool down overnight.

Day 3: Remove muslin bag, and squeeze out all the gunk into the mixture. (You can also then open the bag, put the remaining pips and pith into a small saucepan, add a little water and boil for ten minutes or so. Drain the liquid through a sieve back into the mixture.)
Bring the mixture up to the boil and add sugar in batches, stirring the pot after each batch in order to make sure it is properly dissolved. When all the sugar is dissolved, bring back to a rolling boil and watch carefully for about 1 ½ hours. Then take a small amount of liquid from the mixture and place it on a pre-cooled saucer taken from your freezer drawer. If the skin crinkles when you draw a finger through it, it’s ready. If not, keep boiling away and test again about 15 minutes later.
Let it cool for 30 minutes or so, and then decant into jars. Leave them to cool right down before you put the lids on.

Here’s the result:

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A note on the jars and lids: these should all be washed thoroughly before use. I put them in the dishwasher the day before and sterilise the glass jars in a hot oven while the final boil is going on.

A final family history note. My second cousin Sarah, who is Kyria’s granddaughter, now lives in the States, and I hadn’t seen her since we were all children. But she came to stay a few years back, and brought with her some sample jars of the marmalade she makes for her local craft fairs. Lo and behold, she still uses Kyria’s recipe, and the jar she produced did taste much the same. Bon appetit!

‘The’ shortest word ever hyphenated (possibly)

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The Economist, 18 December 2021.

Richard Hollick started working for Cambridge University Press in 1965 and remained there in various capacities for 29 years in London, Cambridge, and finally New York. He then switched sides, and worked for Oxford University Press in New York, retiring in 2013. His daily blog Making Books is full of great stuff, especially for people from his generation, like me.

He recently spotted possibly the most egregious example of automatic hyphenation, in a copy of The Economist, no less, and shown above. As he says in the accompanying post, with a sigh, all the established editorial authorities don’t actually forbid you to take over a single letter — because nobody would dream of doing such a thing. But automatic H&J programs which don’t have minimum character numbers specified may well resort to this.

Once again, old crusties like me mutter into our metaphorical beards and say it wasn’t like that in our day. This is principally because the human element has been taken out of the make-up of typeset text. A long time ago, I came across a description of how a traditionally trained Linotype compositor worked:

[He] knew, remembered and observed a set of rules for splitting words. He had to be ready to decide who to ‘turn the line over’, how to deal with word breaks, how much white space was tolerable between words. This decision-making influenced his setting from the first character of the line till the last. (Cynthia Cockburn, Brothers: Male Dominance and Technological Change, 2nd edition, Pluto Press, 1991.)

A fine explanation of exactly what is now missing.

From early sunsets to the long stretch

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Photograph taken at 15.59 on Friday 10 December 2021, two days before the earliest sunset time.

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Photograph taken at 16.02 on Tuesday 14 December 2021, one day after the earliest sunset time.

This is the time of the year when the earth’s orbit round the sun as seen in the northern hemisphere moves past the point where we have the least amount of daylight. In Dublin this year the earliest sunset was at 16.06.20 on both 12 and 13 December and the latest sunrise was at 08.40.17 on 29 December. The dates and times straddle the actual solstice which was on 21 December and is the day on which the shortest total daytime occurs. This year the daytime clocked in at 7h 30m 6s. (The reason why these dates vary was explained in this post of mine in 2016.) I have previously relied on the timeanddate.com website but this only provides the data in hours and minutes. The sunrise.maplogs.com site grills down to seconds in its listings, although the exact times differ slightly from the timeanddate.com figures. Here is a screenshot from its site:

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Because we have had a few lovely bright afternoons this month I have managed to take some good photographs in the Phoenix Park near the time when the sun dips below the horizon, as seen while walking my dog Evie. The pics taken on 10 and 14 December are shown at the top of this post.

These pictures were all taken on bright afternoons, but when returning to my car on a different dull and misty day I was approached by a man with two large professional-type cameras slung round his neck. He turned out to be none other than Alan Betson, the celebrated Irish Times photographer. He had taken some pictures of Evie and me, and was about to send them in to the picture desk as possible shots for the next day’s gallery feature. Duly flattered, I of course agreed, and gave him our names.

Charles Foster and his dog Evie enjoy a walk in Dublins Phoenix Park

A dull day in the Phoenix Park. Pic: Alan Betson/Irish Times.

Sadly for me, the picture lost out to a much more joyful shot of a grandfather and grandchildren walking nearby. Our mundane trudge may not have been recorded in the national press, but with Alan’s permission, you can enjoy it as seen above.