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Essentially England News - Of Chillies and Firefighters
August 05, 2017

Of Chillies and Firefighters

Honestly, where is this year going? My calendar says it’s August which, for us in England, means the middle of the summer. It’s a stormy one this year. A few warm, sunny days, followed by strong winds before the grey and the rain move in. Not quite as much rain as this time ten years ago, when the tail end of July and the beginning of August brought heavy rain and widespread flooding. You’d think that, this being England, we’re used to rain. For most of the time we are. The summer of 2007 was something else, though.

We were working in Swindon at the time - not a place associated with flooding - but on one Friday afternoon we had to be rescued from our office by firefighters. It was a weird day, where we exclaimed at the rain mid-morning, and moved computers, files and equipment upstairs three hours later, while the ground floor of our office building was about a foot underwater.

2007 Floods ©

The upper row of images is the view from our office window through the day… from a little rain to evacuation. The second row of pictures is Lechlade in Gloucestershire, and the expanse of water is - on normal days - the baby River Thames. That line of boats in the middle of the lake? That’s where the river usually stops.

That Friday was an unusual day, and a long one, but we were the lucky ones, because a lot of the water was gone by next morning and we could start fixing the damage. People in other parts of the country - Tewkesbury, most notably - were a lot worse off, and the town, which sits in a triangle of rivers, remained cut off for days.

One thing that stayed with me from those few weeks - apart from six months of working in temporary offices while the factory was being refitted - were my memories of the firefighters who came out to our site. A semiconductor manufacturing site isn’t a nice place. There are chemicals, acids, poisonous gases, and cables everywhere. Mounting an emergency response, hip-deep in filthy water, isn’t glamorous, but they came out and they got on with it.

Not sure why I have firefighters on my mind today - maybe there’s a new book brewing in the back of my head - but at any rate - this is a thank you. Because that flood was one of the reasons I started Essentially England. Back then, I was looking after the computer system that drove our factory, and that factory was out of commission for almost six months. There wasn’t a lot for me to do and while my boss needed me at work to help with reports and provide data when needed, I had a lot of time where I was told to “make your own entertainment”.

So I started researching and planning the England site. Ten years later, it’s still a lot of fun. Fun that I owe to unpredictable weather, Swindon’s firefighters, my boss, and a few thousand years of English history and food.

Chillies, Anyone?

Moving on from all that water… how about some heat? I’m not sure whether there are firefighters on standby, but between August 11-13th West Dean Gardens once more hosts its annual chilli fiesta. It’s a giant party of music, food and gardening… which sounds essentially English to me. If you’re in the vicinity, I recommend you check it out.

The company doing the PR for the event has very kindly sent me a press release and you can read this here. Come for a day, or stay for the weekend - there are camp sites, but booking is very highly recommended as they’re popular.

Wander around and try everything chilli flavoured from beer to ice cream and anything in between. Listen to hot music, watch cookery demos or take a wander around the gardens and the greenhouses growing 150 variety of chillies with the chilli growers.

Chilli Festival Tile

Something Else I didn't Know...

Like many book lovers, I pick up the oddest books in the oddest places. Just because they look interesting, for research purposes, and - sometimes - because I fall in love with the title or the cover. So somewhere, most likely during our stay in York, I added a little book called “Yorkshire, A Very Peculiar History" to my to-be-read pile. And from this little gem I just learned that August 1st is Yorkshire Day. It’s by no means an ancient feast day. Rather, it started as an act of defiance after the government changed the ancient Ridings of Yorkshire into the three counties of North, West and South Yorkshire. A kind of re-zoning, I think… and the Yorkshirefolk weren’t at all happy about that. To make their displeasure public, and to remind all and sundry of Yorkshire’s long, distinguished history, the Yorkshire Ridings Society came up with Yorkshire Day. And it’s a good day to celebrate!

Something else this great little book told me about, is one epic feast for 2,500 guests given by George Neville in 1464 to celebrate his investiture as the Archbishop of York. The Great Feast of Cawood required among other things: 300 casks of ale, 100 casks of wine, 4000 cold tarts, 3000 cold custards, 2000 hot custards, 1000 jellies, 400 pigeons, 300 pigs, 4000 rabbits, 2000 chickens, 6 bulls, 104 peacocks, 12 porpoises and seals, and 500 stags, bucks and roes! This is barely half the list… and I’m sure the archbishop and his guests dined superlatively well…but imagine you were kitchen staff. Or wait staff. Or the washer-upper…. !

Amazon stocks the book both in kindle and hardback, and if you like unusual facts and things you were never told in school… this is excellent fun. (I know this is ridiculously early, but can I whisper stocking stuffer?)

And Next Month …

I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to write about next month. It probably depends a little on what I’m reading…

Until then, please take care.

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