Christmas is a time of traditions. And like all traditions, their origins (depending on your source of choice) may as well be thrown in a pot and boiled for days, just like a Christmas pudding. Unravelling some of these mysteries can be confusing, and just like Great Aunt Dora’s secret Christmas cake recipe, possibly lost for ever in the mists of time, never to be revealed…
Turkey is an obvious one. For a start, why such a dish, and why now? It’s something I never buy in the shops from one end of the year to the other. I don’t even bother with it pre-cooked, in little packets, for sandwiches. But every Christmas without fail one is bought, cooked and served up with all the trimmings. It is a New World beast, of course, and once the trade routes were well established between Europe and the Americas, the humble turkey was just one of those things that made the journey back here (by boat!). It was Henry VIII, allegedly, who made the turkey a popular dish to have at this time of year, and no doubt Thanksgiving had a hand in this too.
It’s a decent size, I suppose, if you have a large family, or guests. It certainly has more eating on it than a goose, which is sometimes found on Irish tables.
Another tradition, albeit a much more recent addition to the Yuletide calendar, is the GOAL mile on Stephen’s Day. This fundraiser dates back to 1982, and it is what you imagine it to be: rock up at a venue somewhere and walk, jog or run a mile for the GOAL humanitarian charity. No mystery to this one!
Our local athletics club (Le Chéile AC) was hosting a run from 11.30am. Just for the hell of it, I decided to use it as a training run, so knocked out a 10k. It was quite a change to be on a professional running track, rather than skulking around in the woods in our local park, or pounding out the miles along the canal towpath. And I was able to try out one of the several pairs of shoes I inherited from my late friend, Ciaran. These are Salming S1s and I admit it was not a brand I was familiar with. They are extremely light-weight, and so ideal for the running track, and possibly if I ever have another crack at a sub-20 5k.
Somewhere in the middle of mooching around the track, and nodding at a few familiar faces, I threw in four quicker laps to get the ‘mile’ done. This I did in about 6.40, so not exactly super-speedy, but then, I am trying not to completely bollocks up my legs… there is still Lock up the Year to consider this Friday, and I have not yet made up my mind whether to run the marathon or the half. And of course, there is the small matter of Donadea 50k in February, and the rather larger matter of St. Declan’s Way ultra-run later in the year. But overall, pleased to get the 10k done in just over 48 minutes.
And there was plenty of time for me to ponder on the direction of travel as I clocked up the kilometres. Why do we run anti-clockwise on the track? I assumed it was something to do with being right-handed, so made a mental note to do a little digging when I had returned. And this I did. I’m guessing that a few of my faithful readers have already resolved this question; it was just something that I had never really considered before…
You may not be all that surprised to find that the internet throws up quite a few theories about this behaviour. So: the more odd ones include the earth’s rotation, and its effect on times; something that applies to the northern hemisphere, and is therefore disadvantageous to the athletes below the equator. Also in the mix is the theory about centrifugal forces on the chambers of the heart. I think this may have a bearing with higher g-forces. For runners? Unlikely. At least, not at the speeds I travel at…
There are running tracks where the athletes run in a clockwise direction. And when the Olympics was revived in 1896, runners did indeed run clockwise, but there were complaints, and the IOC returned to the anti-clockwise direction in 1913. And there it has stayed.
I suspect the origins are indeed related to the dominance of right-handedness. Evolution has led us down this path, subconsciously, as we ‘protect’ our heart on the left side of the body. This gave us, over time, a stronger right arm and right leg. Thus archers draw the arrow with their dominant arm, and knights hold their swords in the right hand, and therefore staircases in castles all spiral upwards to make it impossible for a fair fight – the defender above will always have the ‘upper hand’ assuming they are right-handed. And whilst we’re on the subject, the Latin for right-handed is dextra and left-handed is sinistra. And up to relatively recently, in Irish schools, lefties could expect a rap on the knuckles if they tried to write with the left. That’s just a little nod towards the fact that left-handers are sinister weirdos. (My brother is left-handed. Just sayin’).
If you have a chariot, you keep your dominant hand free for fighting. Ditto jousting, with the lance in your right-arm. And so this probably led to driving on the left in parts of the world where horse and cart travel became the norm. More reading here, if you are of a mind. (And if you are chariot-racing in a stadium, you will have to perform circuits, obviously, and so the left turn would be the more natural choice for charioteers, so possibly everything just followed on from this). This might naturally all point towards a dominance in the right-hand side of the body, and therefore running anti-clockwise is the obvious choice as it favours the stronger right limbs. But there may be more to it than that… of course! Also mentioned is our preference for reading things left to right, so we would rather see a race run from our left field of vision, towards the right, and the finish.
Many of the theories you might unearth on your searches may indeed come from this work. There may be deeper reasons for this direction of travel, and I would encourage my dear readers to do their own research. Suffice to say, some of these ‘observations’ are very northern-hemisphere -centric. A sundial, for example, ‘works’ the other way around in the south. And objects spinning in a certain direction are viewed and described as such by the viewer, so much of this is relative. The hands of a clock are indeed moving clockwise. But if I observe them from inside the clock, looking out, they will go anti-clockwise. And so forth. Anyway, do your own reading. It’s an interesting rabbit hole to fall into. Just make sure you come back and finish reading this fascinating post.
A few days before Christmas, I had a family funeral. A cousin had passed away, so it was a rather gloomy run-up to the holidays. The funeral was in the south suburbs of Dublin city, and I took my Dad along. We were in familiar territory as he grew up in Dublin, and many of his family are still in this area. Of course, it’s changed hugely since he was a nipper, not least with the M50 ring road which skirts the capital. When Dad was a youngster, he lived in Ticknock, in the foothills of the Dublin Mountains. The large family shared a small cottage. Times were indeed tough. The nearest ‘town’ as such would have been Dundrum – about 5 kilometres down the hill. No car then either, and certainly no public transport. Now that route has been cauterised by this new motorway – the road which never sleeps. As we passed by on the way to the funeral, Dad told a tale of Trinity College students.
I can’t recall how we got on the subject, but the story was about students at Trinity College, and their behaviour during the Trinity Ball. This would have been seventy or eighty years ago, when the trams would have been running past the front gates of this esteemed college. Apparently the students would have fights with flour out on College Green, much to the dismay of my grandmother, who remarked that there was enough flour wasted on the pavements of our fair city to make bread for her hungry children. Or words to that effect. Like the explanation of traditions, I cannot say exactly what was said. But I can recall this formidable lady from my early childhood, and I can well believe she viewed this wanton waste of good food with a jaundiced eye. And some.
I’d love to know what she would have made of her grandson, Robert, being a Trinity student? My gran worked hard to give all her children a decent life, and my Dad did likewise for us. My brother went to this famous institution and is now Dr. Kenny, working in a research facility in Italy, specialising in fibre-optics and wind energy. Two of his four children graduated from this college, and the youngest will, I have no doubt, do likewise in the next few years.
I can say without fear of contradiction, that none of them has spilt so much as a teaspoon of flour in their time at Trinity.
Yesterday, we took the dogs out to the beach. I cannot say for sure, but this may have been their first view of the sea. If they were suitably impressed, they forgot to mention it to us. But then, greyhounds are famously nonchalant. Unless there’s food involved, of course.
We also brought them out to Howth Pier for a wander, and needless to say, met some other lovely doggie people, and we chatted for ages about how absolutely wonderful doggie people are (okay, maybe I am exaggerating a wee bit here).
And so, my dear friends and colleagues, I must away. There are things to be watched on the telly, chocolates to be scoffed, and plans to be drawn up for the new year.
As regards resolutions, well… as a graphic designer, whenever I was asked if I had any new year’s resolutions, I would always say no; I’m sticking with 72 pixels per inch, thanks. That’s a very poor modern designer gag, and you can have it for free.
The other one I trot out mercilessly in the run up to the big day is when folks ask me if I’m ‘all set for Christmas’, and I reply ‘what do you think I am, a jelly?’
Yes, it’s mighty craic around here folks!
I probably need to get out more often.
P.S. Apologies if I have not been following, liking and generally posting silly comments on the various blogs I follow as per normal. It’s been a busy old time, and my ever-ageing browser software has more or less ground to a halt, so I need to start re-following some folks on a new platform. But hey-ho; luxury problems, I guess!