Thursday, April 05, 2007

Privileged Poor and Horsehair Pancakes

Sir Peter Ustinov. 1921 – 2004. British-born actor, writer, dramatist, wit and raconteur.

A member of the privileged poor?

My animated yeomen, I need to select a particularly woody word for my state of mind today. You see, I am in a quandary. You may remember, I did a short entry about the origins of April Fools Day and it seems it failed to match my usual high standards. It seems that Sean not only knew of the origins, but was able to follow my synaptic tangents.

As all of teachers never tired of telling me (well those that were not carted of to the technicians area in tears) – I must try harder. So I set you the following conundrum. Why have I described Sir Peter Ustinov as a member of the privileged poor and what is the connection to today (5th April 2007)?

There is a huge temptation to pause here and hand the stick of chalk over to Sean and repeat another favoured phrase of my teachers, but I won’t. (Note 1)

Today is the last Thursday before Easter, the day of the Last Supper. While we all remember the breaking of the bread and the taking of the wine that are now symbolically taken as part of Christian Communion Rite, another symbolic gesture was widely followed in the early church – that of washing the feet of the guests. (Note 2)

So it is on the Thursday before Easter, some churches run a “Mandatum" ceremony where the clergy wash the feet of twelve specially selected members of the congregation (I’m not sure I would want to be in charge of the selection process though).

In the past one of the downsides of Kingship in Britain was that you had to get involved in the feet washing thing at the local cathederal. This was part of Maundy Thursday ceremonies. This all died out in 1736 and the monarchs instead handed out alms to specially selected poor people (although again probably selected on their ability to smell like fresh paint and ability to look reasonably presentable). The monarch would hand out a donation equivalent to the monarch’s age in pence. As Queen Elizabeth (God Bless you ma’am) was 80 last year, she handed out 80p to the selected poor people.

Maundy Money comes in red and white purses. It is specially minted in sterling silver – but is legal tender.

For rather obvious reason this is known as Maundy Money.

All well and good I hear you yell, but what has this got to do with Sir Peter Ustinov?

Well, up until the 1970s, it was customary for Maundy Money to also be given to the youngest students in Westminster School - an independent school with fees around £16 800 per year. Sean has probably already guessed it, but Sir Peter Ustinov was a pupil at Westminster School – although I cannot say if he received Maundy Money.

So, there you have it. Maundy Money going to the poor. I feel within my rights of describing the students of Westminster as privileged. So Westminster students (including Sir Peter Ustinov maybe) who receive the Maundy Money must be the privileged poor.

All that remains is to explain the horsehair pancake. This is a tradition at Westminster School and is no way indicative of the standard of school dinners there. On Shrove Tuesday, a pancake reinforced with horsehair is tossed over a bar and students fight over it. The student gaining the greatest weight is given loan of a gold sovereign. You really can’t make this stuff up you know, I found this wonderful fact courtesy Wikipedia).

Oh, Sean? If I bored you, I’m sorry.

From 14th June 2006, the industry standard Crozzy Standard has been applied to footnotes.

NOTE 1: You may have gathered that for the most part, I had a rather uneasy relationship with my teachers at school. There was a certain tension in the air between us. They had this idea that I should accept what they say as absolute truth, while I believed that it was my duty to talk about anything but the matter in hand. My old geography teacher used to tried to counter this by handing me the chalk and saying “If you know so much, Holder, why don’t you teach the class?” Only he backed out when I rushed to the front with a look of glee on my face. Looking back on it, I think the teachers had the last laugh. Had I tried that little bit harder in school, I might now be feted as a “British-born actor, writer, dramatist, wit and raconteur” rather than a smart-arse. Click to return

NOTE 2: Personally this would kill any appetite I had for dinner. If I was honest, if I was invited anywhere it would kill the appetite of all my fellow guests as well as soon as I took my shoes off. Click to return

My cute little mascot is having a rest. Instead here is one for all you Easter Egg hunters from the UK.

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