Research is dangerous if you want to keep your  illusions.

I put Morris Dancers alongside Beefeaters as quintessentially English and therefore faintly ridiculous. But looking into the marathon Elizabethan morrissman, Will Kemp, for an article about David Walliams, suddenly threw their Englishness into question (though not their ridiculousness).

Go to any morris website, ask any Morris Dancer, and you’ll find acceptance that the name might be a corruption of ‘Moorish’. Alongside a denial that the present dance originated anywhere but England.

One thing is clear. it’s not a dance the Moors ever did. Very probably, it’s a dance intended to poke fun at the Moors.

Morris dancing

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, fear was the incentive for doing this (no change there, then). It wasn’t until 2 January, 1492, that Isabella I, Queen of Castile, and Ferdinand V, King of Aragon, finally drove the Moors (non-White Muslims) out of Europe. The surrender of Granada was the first time in 770 years that the White Goths had managed to reclaim all of Spain. In celebration, a pageant known as a Moresca was devised and performed. It caught on because hostilities continued for most of the next century until the Battle of Lepanto permanently weakened Turkish maritime power.

So the Moors were a significant threat to all of Europe during the time ‘morris dancing’ became popular in England. Of course, England wasn’t in Europe then (any more than it seems to want to be now). Other than in an ideological sense, the English weren’t threatened by the Moors. We had less reason to ridicule them than the French (who danced morisques), Germans (who had the Moriskentanz) , Croats (known for their moreška) and Italians or Spaniards (who leapt about in a moresco, moresca or morisca ). The likelihood of any of them borrowing our ‘moreys daunce’, rather than the other way round, is therefore remote.

The term ‘Morris-dance’ only appeared in English in the 17th century. In Shakespeare’s day, we weren’t  anal about spelling and referred to it variously as a morisk, moreys , moresque, morisce, morys or morisse dance/daunce. Will Kemp preferred to call it simply a Morrice, which he danced continually for nine days on his way to Norwich from London (he was as mad as Walliams).

The morrice began as an entertainment for the court not the peasantry. In view of the close relationships between the nobles of the two countries, the dance probably came to England by way of France where it was an upper class custom for a dancer to come into the hall, when supper was finished, his face blackened with soot to represent a Moor, his forehead bound with white or yellow taffeta, and bells tied to his legs. He then jigged around a lot.

This jokey tableau was almost certainly based on a Spanish sword dance, or moresco, performed around, or for the benefit of, a beautiful or important woman. It may have come to the English court directly from Spain since’ The Great London Chronicle’ records spangled Spanish dancers performing energetically before Henry VII at Christmas in 1494.

The confusion about whether the morrice is a form of wooing or a demonstration of dexterity with a  weapon is seen in the different English styles of the dance.

Border morris dancer

English Morris Dancers dress according to the part of the country in which they dance. Most commonly, they dance in white with coloured baldrics across their chests. In the Welsh Borders,  they wear ‘tatter jackets’ and black their faces. Local folklore explains this as a form of disguise in spite of its remarkable resemblance to the original pantomime dance of the French court.

In most English forms, the dancers wave white handkerchiefs or bang short sticks against each other.  The sticks are a residual of the swords in the moresca.  Many have bell-pads tied at their knees to create loud and infectious rhythm as they dance. Occasionally a female figure, usually in the form of a hobby horse, is included just as they were in the sixteenth century painting. None of this seems other than derivative.

Morris dancing on the Thames at Richmond

It also goes to prove that history is a tricky bugger. As I contended in a previous blog, a lot of history is fiction, and fiction can become history.

Whatever the true origins of English morrismen, my sense of Engiishness is undermined.

I have very little to fall back on. Even the Beefeater nickname for the Yeoman Warders of the Tower of London is claimed by the French who point out that they are no more than glorified buffetiers (waiters).

Beefeaters or buffetiers?

That leaves me with tea. From China. Roses. Introduced from Greece or Egypt. And…well, there’s not a lot else.

Please don’t tell me that Frederick Gibson Garton didn’t actually name his quintessentially English and utterly ridiculous dark brown sauce after the Houses of Parliament.


A Toilet Read is a book or magazine kept in a toilet or bathroom for reading when sitting on the toilet.

Toilet reading habit starts early

What was the first book to be prominently displayed in a toilet for all users to read? Was there a single book that kick started the genre of literature that now has nearly two hundred volumes in the Amazon Book store?

I think there was.

It’s difficult to be sure. For all I know,  there was  a school of philosophy that did its best reading in some communal Greek outhouse. I wouldn’t put anything past the Greeks. Greek philosophers aside, I don’t think many serious authors would want that kind of first highlighted on their dustcovers or in their reviews. It’s conceivable that a high minded but nasally challenged cleric left his bible in a monastic  toilet for the delectation of the brothers and sisters. Arguing against that having happened is the thought that devotion and defecation aren’t  happy roommates. It would also be counter to the teachings of Valentinus and Clement of Alexandria who maintained that Jesus never defecated, although he did eat and drink.

Ancient Greek communal outhouse

What can’t be denied is that a diverse collection of reading material is to be found in literate households all over the world today. The scope and scale of the library in the WC is an expression of the personality of the householder(s). Even the absence of books and magazines besides the porcelain potty can be meant to indicate that the prime user(s) is not anally retentive. Of course, it usually means the opposite.

Whatever you think about reading in the toilet – and views range from ‘intellectually stimulating’ to ‘dangerous to health’ – loo literature is a social phenomenon that might even survive the invasion of the e-readers. Social anthropologists should be delving into the roots of this phenomenon. Since, in all likelihood, loo literature can be closely correlated with voting intention, the psephologists should be getting in on the act too.

To save you from a surfeit of ologists, I can reveal the most likely source.

In the late Tudor era, an accomplished writer, better known in his time than Will Shakespeare, stipulated that his most recent and controversial book should be hung by a chain on the door of the newest privy in Richmond Palace. He was in a position to make this stipulation because the privy had been installed at his own cost and he was very friendly with the ladies-in-waiting who looked after Queen Elizabeth’s toilet habits.

The man was John Harington and I stumbled on this fact when researching for my book, ‘The Archer Prism: reflecting Sir John Harington’.

Harington was admired for his wit and you might expect that the book he wanted hung in Queen Liiz’s loo was a collection of his scurrilously amusing epigrams and verse. Not at all. He wanted his serious side on show to any royally-favoured noble who answered the call of nature in Richmond.

It was appropriate for him to suggest that people got into the toilet reading habit because he had invented the first mechanically flushing and perfumed toilet in the world. His was the first toilet designed to be pleasant to sit in and his Queen was so impressed with it that she wanted one for Richmond. As long as she didn’t have to foot the bill.

The book he wanted hanging beside the regal loo paper was not a light read. It certainly wasn’t the first of the toilet trivia books that are now stuffed into Xmas stockings every year. ‘A New Discourse of a Stale Subject, Called the Metamorphosis of Ajax ‘ was a social commentary on the ills of Tudor society wrapped inside a tortured analogy with human waste disposal. The title, which was a pun on the Elizabethan epithet for the toilet , the jakes, was the funniest thing about it. The impenetrable wrapping was necessary to keep Harington’s head off the block – Elizabeth was very touchy about any criticism of her way of running England, funny or serious.

Sadly Amazon doesn’t feature ‘The metamorphosis of Ajax’ in its ‘toilet reading’ list although it was in print right up until the 1960s. it should be there if only for curiosity’s sake.

It should be there to inspire writers like Nicholson Baker to pen:

”    … she told me how she often rushed around the apartment looking for just the right thing to flip through while she jobbed, rejecting the book or magazine she had been reading in favor of some other, often a specialized work of reference – Beal’s Grasses of North America, for instance. That’s kind of incredible, I told her – I did the same thing! Sometimes I spent four or five minutes hurriedly scanning my bookcase, wanting something I hadn’t examined in a long time, something out of the way, improving, life-advancing, lamp-smelling, jobworthy, so that this tiresome physical act would be a step forward, although by the time I finally sat down with a volume of my grandfather’s 1991 Encyclopædia Britannica I barely had time to locate an article on Accursius or Porson and read one sentence before I was done and could reshelve the book and resume whatever real reading I had been in the midst of.” Room temperature

It should be there for the benefit of minds like Henry Miller who claimed that:

“All my good reading, you might say, was done in the toilet. There are passages in Ulysses which can be read only in the toilet — if one wants to extract the full flavor of their content.”

Could the Kindle/Nook be heading this way?

Miller went so far as to recommend particular toilets for individual authors. To enjoy Rabelais, he advised a plain country toilet, “a little outhouse in the corn patch, with a crescent sliver of light coming through the door”. Better still, he said, take a friend along, to sit with you for half an hour of minor bliss.

‘Best places to read  (an author)’ could make an amusing list.

Where would you feel most comfortable alone with Archer, Barnes, Rushdie, Vincenzi, Pratchet, Childs, Fry, Grisham etc.?

And should they all be stored on a Kindle or a Nook especially designed for  the toilet?

Beautiful Joe appeared in 1893

Marshall Saunder’s Beautiful  Joe; Sir James Fitzpatrick’s Jock of the Bushveld; John Steinbeck’s Charley and Albert Terhune’s Lad are some of the first dogs to have been immortalised in print.

None of them is THE first, though.

The first real dog to appear in a best selling book was called Bungey. Or Bungay. His owner didn’t care which, as he only felt the need to spell properly in Latin or Greek. You won’t find Bungey in Wikipedia or any other index of famous dogs. This is a sad oversight in today’s information-rich world.

Bungey was the first dog in literature (English literature at least) both because he was a truly remarkable animal and because his owner was a famous writer at time when very few people wrote books.

Jock was immortalised in 1907

Famous is a relative term, Bungey’s master was more famous when he was alive than his contemporary, William Shakespeare. However, if you haven’t read the books about him by Southern, Scott-Warren, Grimble, Kilroy and Craig, you’ll never have heard of him. Unless, of course, you’ve read some of my previous blogs or my book, ‘The Archer Prism’, and there aren’t many of you that have, unfortunately.

So both a famous dog and a famous writer have been more or less written out of the history of literature. It’s time to put them back. Especially Bungey who has been completely forgotten.

Bungey should not be confused with the Black Dog of Bungay, the spectral hound who terrorised  the East Anglian town a few years before the real Bungey was scampering across south and west England.

Bungey was a spaniel. With the stamina of a wildebeest and the intelligence of a rhesus monkey.

His owner lived near Bath but he had career opportunities in Westminster. On one occasion he attached a message to Bungey’s collar and told him to take it to the Court at Westminster Palace. A couple of days later, Bungey was back with the reply. A round trip of 200 miles.

A year or so later, his owner put two charges (small containers) of wine across his back and instructed Bungey to take them  from their manor house in Kelston to their townhouse in Bath about twelve miles away. The rope holding one of the charges frayed and the barrel tumbled to the ground. Field hands working the Kelston manor holdings saw Bungey nose  the fallen barrel behind a hedge and then trot off with the remaining one. Within hours they were amazed to see him back to ferret out the fallen barrel, take the rope around it in his mouth and hurry back to Bath. The second barrel arrived intact, just like the first.

Bungey was always happy to run besides his master as they rode between Bath and London but he was independently-minded enough to go on jaunts of his own too. During one of them, he was dognapped.  For six months, his distraught owner looked high and low for him. Eventually, he tracked him down to the house of a fellow gentleman. Bungey’s new owner refused to give him back unless it could be proved who owned him before. When the visitor commanded Bungey to go to the adjacent dining room and fetch a pheasant from among the food on the dining table, Bungey did just that. The dognapper was so impressed he handed Bungey back with an apology.

Bungey’ s owner was John Harington, favourite godson of Queen Elizabeth I, inventor of the mechanically flushing toilet and well-known author of books, verse and epigrams. Bungey played such an important part in his life that he included him on the title page of his first great work, a translation of ‘Orlando Furioso’. This title page was the first to feature a living author and the first to include a beloved (and still panting) pet. See him, bottom left on the picture. Marketing before marketing was invented!

Bungey, bottom left on title page of 'Orlando Furioso' in 1592

Harington was not a conventional dog person and his wife acidly remarked that he had no time for any of her dogs. They couldn’t live up to Bungey, who, according to his owner, “lacked only the talent to shake golden du cats out of his ears”.

There must be other dogs almost as remarkable as Bungey. If you know any, I’d be happy to tell their tale in a continuation of this blog.

I fear I’m a Social Media size zero with a Social Mass Index well into the danger zone. That’s not right for the Editor of an online magazine and self-published author.

I didn’t realise I had an SMI until I discovered Social Mention. Now I find out I’m hardly registering on the SM scales. Size 0 doesn’t cut it in the social space however you dress it up. I don’t want to be another Ana Carolina Reston of the Social Media world.

I’ve either got to do something about it myself or join Social Weight Watchers (anyone know where my local group meets – please don’t tell me it’s in a virtual place?)

What’s a target SM weight?

How big should my SMI be? I know big is really beautiful out there in the social networks but I’m not temperamentally geared to letting it all hang out. I survived well enough in the real world without feeling the need to be stared at. Now I’m not sure the world is real any more so I’m banking on the idea that a virtual leopard can change his spots.

I can see that shyness isn’t tolerated in SM, that it’s as lethal as anorexia. To continue the metaphor, I also get the feeling bulimia has no equivalent risk factor in SM. Consuming as much as you like and then spewing it all back straight away is seen as healthy behaviour. I’m equally convinced smediacolism is not rated as a morbidity issue. It doesn’t affect the liver, heart or lungs and the strain it puts on the bank balance is minimal. I’d need a few large scale, randomised, double blind trials to convince me that brain function is not impaired by SM overindulgence but the gods are lining most of us up for senile dementia anyway, so what do I care? It’s reassuring to know you can’t be overweight in Social Media. However, that doesn’t help me with setting a target. Size matters because there’s a lot of grown up girls in the social space.

How big a fish, how small a pond?

I’m not in any conventional media spotlights. For all I know, a paparazzi is something you wash down with a Peroni in Pizza Express. So unless I get into serial killing – the writing about or committing thereof – I’ll never get among the heavy weights like Gaga and Bieber. No matter, all I want is to make a splash in some small ponds like history, creative writing or online publishing. I’ve got to bulk up to do that. I could set my sights on being the kind of guru Seth Godin is in Social Marketing though I haven’t got his advantage of sounding like an apostle before I type a word. I could try to emulate the queen of twitter , Laura Fitton of oneforty, for sheer output but that would involve too much multitasking for a bloke.

Instead, I Googled ‘Social Media Diet Plan’. The best I got was Christian Collard’s pretty pyramid, which is about average monitor time in the US. No good to me, I’m not targeting average, I’m after obese.

I decided the only way forward was to make up my own diet plan and try to stick to it. I only started it last week so who knows when or if I’ll start piling on the SM pounds. I’m not recommending it to anyone else but I’m laying it on the table so you can all share my pain.

My SM diet


It’s tweets for breakfast. I’m starting with continental (read 5-10 tweets, retweet two, one @ and one new send) with a view to working up to Full English (read 30 tweets, RT several, ditto for @s, schedule 5-10 for posting over the next couple of days). As a reminder to myself of what not to do, I’ll constantly search #pointlesstweets.

How will I count my SM calories?

  • No. of tweets
  • No. of follows
  • No. following

I’ll target 10% higher every week. I’ll set a ceiling for no. following because I doubt following more people will increase my SMI, in spite of all the experts banging on about how crucial it is to listen.


Lunch is Facebook. I’ll be checking my walls (personal and business) and adding a brick or two if I can find something to give or say. Whenever I can, I’ll update my Profile or load some photos. I won’t just duplicate my tweets. I may say the same thing as I said in the morning but I’ll breakthrough the 140 character barrier so the message looks more comfortable in its Facebook space.

Calorie count:

  • No. of recent comments I’ve made
  • No. of recent comments from others
  • No. of Likes
  • No. of discussions raging

I’ll keep telling myself ‘More is more’.


Evening meal is Linkedin (Social Media Today, B2B Social Media, History Enthusiasts etc.)and other professional networks or resources including Social Marketing on Xing, History Teachers on diilgo. History News Network on Ning, Historum, Stumbleupon, Mequoda, Quora and Alltop.

I won’t go for a banquet every night but be disciplined about consuming them all at least twice a week.

Calorie count:

  • No. of activities
  • No. of comments
  • No. of connections

Evening work out

I’ll interrogate Google, Bing, Social Mention, Klout or Listorious for any sites or people I should be spying on. And watch how prominently they are listing EditorEgo and Egopendium. Or not.

Calorie count:

I know this will vary.

Social Mention scores on Strength, Sentiment, Passion and Reach. I can hit all of those, girls, just give me gym time.

Klout positions me on the Listening-Participating, Sharing-Creating, Broad-Focused, Casual-Consistent quartile map. I’ll constantly go back to to remind myself what a hefty SMI looks like.


They never happen in SM. I’ll have to accept that.

And what about my SMIQ?

That’s how I’m attempting to beef up my SMI. Any suggestions on or criticisms of my diet plan welcome. I do realise that it’s not all about when and how often you diet. Content is king. Anyone know of any exercises to improve my SMIQ?

Note: This blog was first published in Egopendium.

Here’s a question to which I’d love to know the answer.

Now that you won’t find a UK ad for cigarettes in the press, on tv, at the cinema or by the roadside, have the tobacco companies started pouring money into tv drama production? Or is it just that the progs I like are all set in the heyday of the ciggie?

I can’t seem to tune in without getting smoke blown in my face at sometime during the evening. OK, I don’t get brand names stuffed down my throat and the cancerous effect on my lungs is less than negligible, yet I can’t escape the implication that I’d be a more interesting character if I got into the habit of burning dried leaves in my mouth.

Personally, I’m not vulnerable to any sort of advertising or marketing suggestion, subliminal or overt. I do realise that I’m in a minority of one in that respect. It’s the rest of you susceptible lot that I’m worried about. Because there does seem to be an unnecessarily thick tobacco haze around some of the major tv offerings.

Frank shamelessly sets the tone

I’m a relatively heavy tv inhaler. About three to four programmes most nights, mainly drama brand. Call me over-protective, but I’ve got into the habit of rating my favourite series on their likely ciggie content in case someone more vulnerable turns up to watch one of them with me and I have to give them a health warning.

This would be especially necessary if my companions were lapsed smokers. According to the Journal of Neuroscience simply watching movie and tv stars take a drag is enough to spark a pattern of activity in smokers’ brains which mirrors the act of lighting up. This response to seeing smoking on screen is thought to make cravings more intense for those who are trying to quit a habit that kills 5 million people worldwide each year.

While ‘The Borgias’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ tempt me into all sorts of undesirable practices, they are refreshingly free of smoke rings. Any programme set pre-nineteenth century tends to fall in that category, though I suspect that ‘The Tudors’ could have made more play with Walter’s weed than they did. In contrast, a number of the more modern shows revel in creating a smoky atmosphere.

It’s the actors I feel sorry for and I don’t usually sympathise with the breed.

Watching as much tv as I do, I come to the conclusion that an actor would be permanently ‘resting’ if they were a committed non-smoker. Happy to take any actor’s comment on that assertion. I don’t know whether it’s driven by the script writers, the directors, the producers or the actors themselves but the general consensus seems to be that the cigarette is dramatic shorthand for depth of character. If I was cynical, I might imagine that the tobacco corporations are encouraging them to think that way. God forbid, they may even be inducing them!

If I’m right, the promotion of smoking has become  a lot more insidious than it used to be. I was an avid consumer of tobacco ads. The ‘Hamlet’ tv ads were hilarious. The ‘B&H’ double page spreads were beautiful, even though their psychological underpinnings were strangely dark. ‘Silk Cut’ posters were almost pornographically attractive and I’ve always wanted to go to ‘Marlboro’ country. They never persuaded me to buy a packet because, as I said, I’m the one man immune to marketing.

This singularity might mean that I’m overreacting to the puff content of current tv drama. It’s likely that my drama tastes incline me towards programmes set in times when heavy smoking was the norm. Of course tobacco companies wouldn’t be so underhand as to try to influence characterisation in tv drama, would they? Equally, of course, tv producers are known to be incorruptible, aren’t they? And actors never smoke off set, do they?

I’m worried that I’m getting a late-life Mary Whitehouse complex and that I shouldn’t object to being given a virtual smoking habit. However, in case I’m not alone with my misgivings, I’ve published my ciggie ratings for the programmes I watch on my Egopendium website.

It’s a small percentage of tv drama output so I’d welcome other people rating their own viewing habits by the fag factor. If you see some smokin’ tv with a bit too much smoking in it, tell me. Just use the Comment box at the bottom of the page to give a 0-5 score for a programme and I’ll add it to the ratings.

Otherwise ignore me. You definitely won’t be in a minority if you do.

Note: First published in Egopendium