{01/04/2012}   RMS Titanic

At 11.40pm on 14th April 1912 on her maiden voyage to New York (having set sail from Southampton on 10th April, stopping at Cherbourg then Queenstown/Cobh in Ireland, from where her Atlantic crossing commenced on 11th April), RMS Titanic hit an iceberg, after six iceberg warnings had gone unheeded. Approximately two hours and forty minutes later, at c2.20am on 15th April, RMS Titanic disappeared under the sea, not to be discovered until 74 years later, in 1986.

Royal Mail Ship Titanic, as well as being a passenger ship, was also a designated post carrier, complete with onboard post office. Most of the c seven million items of mail were destined for the US, so if by some miracle any post is ever retrieved, the US Postal Service will still deliver the post.

The sea temperature at that time was -2c. There were 2,223 people on board (she could have taken a maximum of 3,547), of which 1,324 were passengers. A mere 31.6% of people survived (it could have been a 53.4% survival rate had the available lifeboats been used to full capacity), almost 1,600 people died. The first lifeboat that left the sinking ship could have taken 65 people to safety. There were only 28 people on that lifeboat. RMS Titanic was equipped to carry 64 lifeboats, but only 20 were on this ill-fated maiden voyage.

In total, only 328 bodies were ever found. Rescuers had hoped to identify all bodies so the rescue boat sent out from Nova Scotia was loaded with embalming supples, 40 embalmers, ice (strange, sad irony) and 100 coffins. Of the 306 bodies the Mackay-Bennett retrieved, 116 were too badly damaged so were buried at sea.

The most obvious tragedy surrounding RMS Titanic is that she sank and that hundreds of people were killed. The other tragedy is that there were a lot of missed/ignored opportunities to hugely reduce the number of lives lost: on the day she sank, a planned lifeboat drill didn’t take place. The closest ship to RMS Titanic was the Californian, 10 miles away, yet for various reasons she didn’t respond, and indeed didn’t even hear the distress signals because the wireless operator was in bed. Fortunately the Carpathia, 58 miles away, did go to her rescue, but with the freezing conditions, she couldn’t get to Titanic’s aid fast enough to save as many people as the Californian could have done, yet figures reveal she saved 703 lives. The list goes on, though the more I read about it to write it here, the more futile it seems to dwell on the catalogue of errors, and in some cases even individual names of people who failed to act appropriately.

A single first class ticket, in today’s economy, was approximately $50,000.

There are lots of lovely stories of bravery, loyalty, love and sacrifice, but the story I want to end on is that, as in the Titanic film, the band did play on as the ship sank, only stopping when it was impossible to carry on. Bandmaster Wallace Hartley and his seven band members all died.

A link for the kind of music the band played:

* NB based on all reading I have done, all these figures vary so I am not 100% confident of their accuracy.


As a child I was dragged from stately home to garden to castle. My appreciation, if ever there were any (secretly, I know I enjoyed some places but I tended to play the hard-done-by-forced-to-sightsee child!), diminished enormously and for a period of up to ten years in the post-having-to-go-where-your-parents-go years, I barely visited such sights in the UK (it was different abroad!). In the last few years I have found myself quite enjoying stately homes, gardens and castles.

Over the weekend I went to Styal Quarry Bank Mill, billed to be one of the best preserved textile mills from the Industrial Revolution. I loved it. I even, brace yourself, joined the National Trust while I was there, which to me is a commitment to visit such places to get your membership fee back over the next year!

Going there and being as fascinated and horrified as I was (children from the age of nine working c6am to 7pm six days a week in a dusty, noisy, dangerous environment) got me thinking about why as adults we feel a need (or at least those of us who do feel a need) to visit these places.

This particular mill was a cotton mill. The life expectancy of anyone who worked on one particular machine was c30 years because they would inhale so much cotton fluff that they would essentially slowly drown on in as it filled their lungs over the years. So at nine years old you’d be pretty much a third of the way through your life. Horrific. In the girls’ dorm (bearing in mind this mill was considered quite progressive/ahead of its time in terms of conditions, mainly because there were no beatings and at dinner time they could eat as much as they wanted), 60 girls slept two to a “bed” in one room, kind of the size or two large bedrooms. They were locked in the room at night. There were five chamber pots to be shared between them and only straw to act as loo roll. The room was not heated (ie no fire), their mattresses were made of straw and the blankets were far from adequate. I have no idea understanding from personal experience of how hideous conditions would have been. Also, these children/apprentices didn’t get paid, they worked for their food and lodging.

I guess knowing this is in part interesting because we all have ancestors who lived in these years, perhaps in these conditions. It’s perhaps a way to understand where we came from, how the cities and country as a whole was changed to become the place we now live in. We can appreciate that times have moved on, that things are easier for us. I had an unexpected feeling of being grateful for all that was done to pave the way for my life as it is now; it’s embarrassingly easy compared to the lives of people during, for example, the Industrial Revolution. But I also felt really, really sad that the UK has lost its industrial strength and a lot of these towns and cities, in the North of the UK in particular, are left with mere remains of a greatness that once was.

However, I also visited The Lowry and the miserable people portrayed in LS Lowry’s paintings were another stark reminder that times were incredibly tough then, that the streets of Manchester were once filled with thousands of poorly paid workers trudging through smoke filled streets. I worry that some of the modern technology we have that makes our lives so much easier now is made under conditions in developing countries not unlike those of the Industrial Revolution in the UK I just got a brief insight into at the Quarry Barn Mill and which I expressed relief over not existing 200 years later, my generation. Food for thought, eh?

“The production and raising of a family was the accepted future of every woman lucky enough to escape what was regarded as the disgrace of spinsterhood.”*
Today, a good friend gave birth to a baby boy, Nathaniel, about which I am delighted. I find myself, a disgraceful spinster, reading a 1948 book about reminiscences of England’s Middle Class Golden Age, 1890-1910, and more specifically reading a chapter on “The Happy Event”.
Had my friend had her baby 100 years ago, things would have been very different. She would have “retired” from public life long before it was apparent she was pregnant and she certainly wouldn’t have been working up until a few weeks ago as she would officially have “not been going about much”. Her shopping would have been done for her and she would have been outdoors in a carriage or for a walk with her husband after dark.
News and baby congratulations would have been by letter rather than today’s text. I fear I would’ve been expected to sew or knit a suitable item of clothing, adorned with, in this case, blue ribbon. However, the display and discussion of such baby clothes could only have taken place between the women as “obstetric matters” were too delicate to be discussed with the father or men present. Sheesh!
Births then were usually at home and medical assistance came as a result of the father-to-be (when not at work, where apparently they hoped to be during the birth) running to fetch the doctor – how the neighbours, twitching their lace curtains, would know the baby was on its way. Not many people had phones. If the father-to-be were in the office, he might get home to discover he were a new father!
As the father wouldn’t have much if any involvement in his child’s arrival, “the poor man soon had recourse to the decanter”, the contents of which the doctor would most likely want to share after the birth, a celebratory tipple.
While it would be the father who dealt with telegrams and inserted an announcement in the newspaper. He would have the opportunity to wet the baby’s head with office staff and any acquaintances in the street.
The newborn in the meantime would be introduced to clothing, excessive clothing: a binder (a length of flannel wrapped around the baby and secured with a safety-pin), little vests, a kind of overall, vest and petticoat in one piece made of flannel and laced up with tape, more petticoats and long muslin robes highly decorated and with appropriate coloured ribbon (perhaps to make gender identification easier?!). The baby’s head was also covered with a shawl … as it wasn’t thought right for the baby to be subjected to fresh air.
As for feeding, solids came much later than is nowadays considered normal. A milk diet lasted about nine months, followed by beef tea and slops and some time later, solids.
Baths were also a lot more challenging for hot water wasn’t, excuse the pun, on tap. As nurseries were always at the top of the house, hot water would have to be carried upstairs from the kitchen in kettles, or boiled up on an open nursery room fire.
How different things were 100 years ago. For all my moans about modern society, the excessive plastic and packaging and paranoid health and safety, I feel relieved and fortunate not to be considered a disgraceful spinster who should be knitting clothes for my friend’s baby. I am also glad her life will be made easier by hot water tanks, her husband helping rather than wetting the baby’s head at every opportunity and instantaneous communication methods.

*Quotes from “Twenty Shillings in the Pound” by W. Macqueen-Pope, 1948.

Recipe and ingredients for Apple Balls (1951)

I’ve done it!  I’ve actually followed something through!  Challenge number one was a success in that I did it AND it was delicious, albeit a bit messy.

I did cheat a little bit though because I used pastry that I defrosted … but it was me who made it.
This recipe was embarrassingly easy and I chose it because I had all the ingredients and I was getting a bit twitchy about not having done my first challenge already.
The recipe:
“pastry as required
1 teaspoon apricot jam for each apple (I only had raspberry – apricot wouldn’t have looked so messy!)
6 or 8 apples (I did four – this recipe is vague and easy to adapt)
1 teaspoon brown sugar for each apple (I didn’t register the one teaspoon thing and filled the apples with sugar!)
Roll out the pastry, and cut into as many squares as there are apples.  Peel and core the apples without breaking them.  Spread each square with jam.  Stand the apple on it.  With sugar fill the holes.  Close up the pastry round the fruit.  Press edges together.  Bake apples on a greased tin in a brisk oven till the pastry is nicely browned.  They will take about 25 minutes to bake, according to the size of the apples.”
This process really doesn’t need photographic help but I was feeling enthusiastic and keen to photograph every stage!
As even distribution of jam wasn’t occurring, I shoved some on top of the sugared centre
Coring, peeling and pastry rolling are, obviously, easy but it’s challenging to wrap an apple in jam-covered pastry.
I’m now having some photo download issues so I may be able to escape revealing the finished product in its pool of raspberry jam (Baking tray still soaking in a potentially futile attempt to salvage it – just re-read recipe and noticed I’d also ignored the bit about greasing the baking tray!).
This is a very simple recipe.  I almost dismissed it as being boring but it was extremely good!  Admittedly most of the jam had escaped but the apple was really soft and it had a lovely caramel taste.
I used dark brown sugar and baked it at 180 for about 30 minutes.
Make it, seal it well, maybe add a dollop of ice cream and hey presto, a pretty quick and easy pudding that tastes far better than you’d expect!
I had visions of writing a witty, interesting and informative blog about creative things.  I’ve started off with apple balls, neither creative nor challenging (beyond the issues of wrapping pastry round a jam covered apple!)!  It can only get better … surely!

My £2, taped together, pages falling out copy

I bought this book in July 2010 for £2.  It’s been a source of entertainment ever since.  It’s outrageous and shocking to read today.  Here’s part of the preface to set the scene:

“The first edition of this book, published in 1928, was compiled with the hope that it would prove of some assistance to newcomers to the Colony, to young or inexperienced housekeepers, and to bachelor settlers in Kenya, who must often find themselves obliged to put up with incompetency on the part of untrained native cooks or houseboys.”

Anyone fancy an egg experiment, as detailed in this book (This doesn’t appeal to me, particularly the toast soaked in milk aspect!):

Eggs Daisy
4 or 6 eggs
4 or 6 rounds of toast
salt and pepper
a little milk

Butter toast and place in oven.  Separate white and yolks of eggs and beat up whites until very light and stiff. Pile them on the slices of toast, which should be previously dipped in milk.  Make a hollow in the white and drop in the yolk of the egg.  Bake in quick oven till yolks are set and whites a light brown, dust with pepper and salt.  Serve very hot.

“Three Hints to Bachelors”:

“(1) Explain to your boy the danger of using damp bed linen and clothing, and see that after ironing, he airs all these in the sun, or by the fire, before putting them away in boxes or drawers.  Many an illness has been traced to carelessness in this matter.
“(2) Tell your boy that socks are not washed in the same way as khaki clothes, but must be washed in warm soapy water, rinsed in warm water, and hung up to dry.
“(3) Avoid chill as you would poison.  If you come in wet, have a hot bath at once, then put on dry clothing, and take 5 grains of quinine, with a hot drink, preferably tea or coffee.  Unless you can sit by a fire, go to bed and keep warm.”

Cure for hiccups:

“Drink 1/2 a teaspoonful of vinegar, and keep the arms in an upright position for a minute or so afterwards.”

“Orders to Servants”

Useful orders to servants (English – Ki-Swahili – Ki-Settler):

“Dust well, do not flick with the duster.”
“Every day the bwana wants hot water for shaving.”
“I do not allow strange boys near the house.”
“Make tea and bring it here now.”
“You are insolent!  You must look pleasant (or) pleased.”

Some Kikuyu sentences (many of which are put into idiom) to give orders:

“When you dig have a basket besides you, into which to put small stones which you find when digging.  Stones may stop a flower finding food or room for its roots.”
“Cut the edge straight like the top of a table.”
“Do not forget to give the poultry much water to drink every day.”

I got sidetracked looking through recipes.  I’m going to choose one, make it and see how it turns out.  Which of the following shall I go for:

Apple Balls, Delicate Cakes, Silver Cake, Lemon Queens or Apple Amber?

My first challenge is set!

et cetera