Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Lawn cutters: Keep your toes on

There is no need to remind you dear reader how tiring a day's physical graft can become when you are on your feet all day. Nor would it be appropriate to bombard you with a set of statistics that might want you to not to get out of your beds of a morning. But it is a well known fact that statistics indicate many tens of thousands of people are treated annually in hospital each year across the globe for lawn mower related injuries. Adults aged between 25-60 sustain most. Injuries involve deep lacerations, amputation and broken and dislocated bones. Fourteen (14) % involve the foot with a large percentage resulting in loss of toes or part of the foot. The vast majority of these injuries are considered preventable. The risk and occupation hazards with people on their feet for a living are well documented and clearly understood.

Injuries associated with power lawn mowers fall into four categories:

Direct contact with rotating blades.
Propelled objects at high speed
Overturning (riding mowers)
Riding over victims.

The foot has an amazingly complex architecture with 26 small bones and 32 joints. It operates by an intricate system of ligaments muscles and tendons and needs to endure forces often 3 times our body weight. There are five separate phases of foot behaviour during one step.

The foot needs to land safely, stabilise to take weight, then distribute load, it locks into a rigid lever, before propelling itself forward to take off. Quite an engineering feat (wise choice of words). All of the above is completed in six-tenths of a second. The faster you move the quicker it happens.

A normal function of the working foot is to sweat and when confined in the airtight boots this leads to break down of bacteria which give off offensive odours. Perfectly normal but often a source of concern (usually to the people you live with). Easily rectified by simple and regular foot hygiene. Bathing the feet in hand hot water using simple soap (46 degrees C) will wash the bacteria off the skin. Do not steep the feet in hot water as this may weaken the structures, which support the arches of the foot. Pat dry, take care to dry between the toes, then apply cream (the cheaper the better) before a light talcum between the toes (can use baby powder or medicated varieties). This will improve most athletes' foot types. If symptoms persist such as itchiness or tenderness then see a podiatrist.

About 25% of the population sweat excessively, good tip is to wear socks, which absorb fluids and can be easily washed. Preferred fabric is cotton or cotton mix. Nowadays there are new polymers, which offer both antibacterial as well as anti fungal properties and these are integrated within the knitted sock. Ideal as treatments for existing infections or as a preventative measures. Recommend a fresh pair of cotton socks per day which allows others to be washed and dried etc. Recommend a second pair of long socks be worn over the short socks. These come over the ankle and can be tired down over the boot to prevent entry of foreign bodies. Woollen socks with double knit soles trap air, which heats to body temperature, and prevents hypothermia of the foot.

There are many over the counter inlays, which help reduce the flow of sweat or deodorise the smell. Regular boot fumigation is recommended and kills all microorganisms likely to cause infection. Footwear should be left in an aerated place to distribute pungent fumes. Working boots should be left in the open air when not worn and some people suggest keeping the spare boots in the fridge or freezer to kill micro-organisms Just remember to defrost them in good time. A light sprinkle of talcum or medicated powder into the boot reduces friction against the sides of the boot. Some people used bicarbonate of soda instead. If your work boot do not contain aeration portholes these can easily and cheaply be made by a cobbler. An important proviso is to have a mesh protection to prevent entry of foreign objects.

Safe footwear is important especially when walking behind a lawnmower. Developments in polymer technologies mean today's work boots are both lightweight and extremely supportive for the working foot. Occupational footwear needs to support the foot especially during excessive activities. Further they need to be flexible and lightweight incorporating good fit and comfort to reduce foot fatigue. The range is vast and meets most people's requirements. It is therefore not my intention to recommend any one supplier but instead to briefly highlight the features necessary for a safety boot.

Resilience and durability
Working boots need tough uppers for durability many are made from treated leathers which combat degrading and cracking due to environmental factors. This means the surface must be treated regularly which prolongs the life of the boot. You are recommended to follow the manufacturer’ instructions.

Sole Traction
Tread designs must prevent slippage on unstable surfaces. Protective non-sip soles should incorporate studded, ridged or cleated patterns to grip slippery or rough ground. These rough ridges increase the foot's surface contact and thereby reduce the risk of slippage. Lightweight polyurethane foams are very hardwearing and maintain their integrity longer, thus prolong the effective working life of the boot. Injection sole systems combine the upper and sole of boots, which make for a stronger union than traditional stitched soles. Most quality work boots will have heat resistant soles, which are not adversely affected by exposure to chemicals.

Reinforced toe box
A sensible precaution is to wear boots with a reinforced toe box. There many types available but steel toe capped boots would be ideal. Some people do experience problems with the toe box and it is recommended an adequate depth be left to accommodate the toes.

For the vast majority of people getting boots to fit their specific foot requirement is not a problem but due care and attention is required, non-the less. Length and breadth are important if the boot is to take the strain of the walking day. Sometimes these measurements are complicated because there is no standardised system of measurement. Wherever possible have you does a trained shoe fitter assess feet but the vast majority of footwear is sold self-service. This has increased recently with online services supplying footwear.

Support for the foot
Advances in material science and improved understanding of foot function mean boots offer maximum support without loss of cushioning or added weight. Provided vital statistics of foot volume match the boot size, than that is all that is required. Quality boots will include other luxury features, which are often, overkill and account for the price tag. Boots, which provide a quality foot bed to cushion the foot and protect against friction within the shoe, add to their comfort. Top of the range boots incorporate polyurethane foams and ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) as part of the dual density midsole. The former is responsible for support, whereas the latter gives cushioning to the foot. All fitting boots will accommodate foot orthoses and some include this support within their structure circumventing the need for added supports. By cradling the foot in this way there is reason to assume it will reduce foot fatigue and referred leg and backache. Reinforced heel support (multi-layers) keep the foot from excess movement and air trapped in the sole of the boot reduce the effects of ground reaction on the foot.

Lacing Systems
There are now many different lacing systems available. The vamp of the boot i.e. lacing section, helps hold the heel of the foot in the rear of the boot which stabilises the foot. Lacing is a mechanical means of adjusting boot fit to the precise dimension of the foot within. Different systems are available which further enhance comfort to accommodate broad and narrow fittings. Designs of eyelets again are varied and help reduce entry of foreign objects.

Trouble shooting
High on the ankle boots can cause shin splints. Buy boots in the afternoon when the foot is at its biggest size.

Have a safe day.

Reviewed 6/01/2016

Selfie Shoes

Friday, February 16, 2018

Chinese New Year: The Year of the Dog

The Chinese calendar is based on the movement of the moon around the sun. There are twelve months in the Chinese year but only 354 days in the year. Whilst the Chinese New Year's Day always falls on the first day of the Chinese lunar calendar, the dates vary each year on the Gregorian calendar, between January 21th and February 20th. Only the first three days of Chinese New Year are statutory holiday, but many people take 7 consecutive days off. This year is the Year of the Dog and for people born in a year of the dog (1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018). The Dog is the eleventh of all zodiac animals.

As an agricultural culture, the Chinese New Year or Spring Festival holiday traditionally was set to start at the beginning of the growing season, which nowadays corresponds to the beginning of a new business year. The hope is always the new zodiac year will bring prosperity and success so it is important to get a good start to the year. During the Chinese New Year thousands flock to the temple, to pray for good fortune in the coming year. The customs is similar to Hogmonay, in that debts are cleared, the house is cleaned and family and friends meet for a feast. Family’s homes and surrounds are cleaned prior to the festival in order to rid the home of any bad fortune from the previous year. Old decorations are removed and replaced with new ones for the Spring Festival. Having a clean home also makes way for good luck in the New Year. Domestic cleaning is never undertaken during the festival in case it sweeps away good fortune.

Chinese New Year is a time for family and get together. The New Year’s Eve dinner is a major event with certain foods are prominent because of their symbolic meanings, based on their names or appearances. Fish is a must, as the Chinese word for fish sounds like the word for surplus. Eating fish is thought to bring a surplus of money and good luck in the coming year. Other favourites include dumplings, spring rolls, glutinous rice cakes, and sweet rice balls.

Pyrotechnics are a tradition at Chinese New Year. The significance of the fire crackers is to "sound out" the old year and "sound in" the new year. Displays start with one string of small firecrackers, followed by three big firecrackers. The louder and more colourful (red) the three firecrackers are the better and luckier it’ is for the coming year. Evil spirits have an aversion to anything red and loud noises.

During the Spring Festival, gifts are exchanged with the most common hóng bāo or red envelopes (yāsuì qián),containing an even number of new bank notes as odd numbers are related to cash given during funerals. Red symbolizes good luck (lee see). It was widely believed with each one hundred dollars received in these holy packets your life span is increased twofold. Traditionally these are given to children, young unmarried adults and (retired) seniors but sometimes employers will reward their workers with red envelopes. In the cyber age young people exchange cyber money via red envelope apps for fun.

The magical effects of the hóng bāo can be nullified by the Yu Quan Demon, a malicious spirit that manifests itself in the teeth of the dead. To avoid this, the custom is to burn three sticks of incense every night five minutes before sleeping for three days before and after the Chinese New Year.

The practice of giving Mandarin oranges (always in pairs) is also a symbol of good luck. Giving gifts of clocks, watches or other time pieces should be avoided. To the superstitious these symbolise time running out, as well as relationships coming to an end. The Chinese word for shoes sounds similar to evil, and since people step on shoes, they should be avoided as gifts.

Families follow a set of beliefs and superstitions to start the year on the right note and there are many superstitions observed during the Spring Festival season. These taboos usually apply up to a month before the festival and continue to the end of the festival (day 15, the Lantern Festival).

Washing Hair in the first three days is considered bad luck for fear of washing away good luck.

Crying children is bad karma and so the young are placated fastidiously. Children are also spared from all punishments even if they are misbehaving.

It is normal is clear all debts before the beginning on the new year and asking for a loan, lending or begging during the festival is not a done practice, as it is believed it will only bring misfortune.

Talking about anything related to death is strictly forbidden as is wearing black clothing.

Using knives or scissors should be avoided as they may cut off fortune.

People born in the Year of Dog, have many excellent characteristics, such as being honest, trustworthy, loyal and very good friends. They are popular in social circles and like helping their friends find and fix their bad habits. Often whilst they may be worried and anxious inside, Dogs are determined to see things through and no matter how they feel inside, the job must be done. Men are straightforward and genuine but also opinionated, and always ready to correct others and defend their stance. They care deeply for their family and any stubbornness fades in the face of their loved ones. They work to understand and compromise, resulting in a harmonious family life. Women born in the Dog year are very cautious. They are indifferent towards people they don’t like, and don’t trust easily. But once they do, it’s permanent. They are intensely protective of their friends and family. They are genial and independent. They love outdoor activities and being in nature. However, they are also hard workers and don’t give up until they succeed. Security and a stable income are her requirements for a career.

2018 is a most unlucky year with trouble and danger lurking at every corner. There will be unforeseeable problems in work and the Dog’s financial situation is at risk. Dogs will also find it difficult to communicate with loved ones too. In order to not make things worse, Dogs should keep a low profile. Thinking before they speak and act is the key. Overall, this is a year that Dogs must get through. The directions of fortune and wealth for Dogs this year are the southeast, southwest and north. It would be the best to put the bed, worktable and sofa in these positions of the room. To avoid bad luck, do not put important furniture in the south and east. The lucky colors in 2018 are yellow, red and orange. Decorating the home or wearing these colors will help greatly with changing luck for the better. Colors to avoid are green and gray. Lucky numbers that will open the road to wealth are 4 and 6. It’s the Chinese tradition to wear red underwear every day during their zodiac year. Dogs can try this to ward off the bad luck. Once past this year, Dogs can continue on their steady and quiet road to happiness.

In China, it is still popular to name dogs Wàng Cái (旺财). It means “prosperous wealth” and comes from dogs’ barking sounds (旺旺—wàng wàng).

Zao Jun is the Kitchen God (or Stove God) and he is a popular domestic deity. Many household keet paper effigy in his honour and he has a very important role to play. At the Spring Festival. The common belief is he returned to Heaven ach year at this time to report on the activities of every household over the past year to the Jade Emperor The Jade Emperor (Yu Huang). who will in turn either reward or punish a family based on Zao Jun's yearly report. To prevent Zao Jun from giving too much information about the family sticky sweet cakes (Chinese New Year's cake) are left as offering in the hope his mouth will be too sticky to tell all on the family. The lips of Zao Jun's paper effigy are often smeared with honey to sweeten his words to Yu Huang (Jade Emperor), or to keep his lips stuck together. After this, the effigy will be burnt and replaced by a new one on New Year's Day. If the household has a statue or a nameplate of Zao Jun it will be taken down and cleaned on this day for the new year.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

St Valentine's Day: Footsie this St Valentine's ?

St Valentine’s Day: What to do with your feet?

Feet are funny things. Stuck away and forgotten about unless they give us pain or it is time for some naughty foot frolics such as a date on St Valentine’s Day. According to the University of Manchester study some years ago we use feet as a means of non-verbal communication and the secret language of feet can reveal a great deal about our personality. Researchers discovered the way we move our feet reveals much about our feelings both consciously and subconsciously. At a social gathering women will move their feet towards men if they find him attractive. An unnatural amount of foot movement signals dishonesty in both sexes and men tend to move their feet more, when nervous. Unlike facial expressions or hand gestures people are usually unaware when their feet are moving and apparently most of us are oblivious to the messages our feet send out.

A few years ago the University of Virginia undertook some interesting research when they paired 48 subjects into male and female couples. The volunteers were unknown to each other and everyone was shown how to play a game of cards before being divided into three groups. Group one could talk to each other but were not allowed to have any physical contact. The couples in the second group could communicate non-verbally by secretly playing footsie under the table but were not able to speak to each other. The last group could communicate by touching feet openly. The groups were then asked to play cards and during this time were observed. The results supported those who talked and touched feet openly were much less attracted to each other than those instructed to play secret footsie. Apparently the attraction related to the risk of detection which heightened participant’s erotic feelings for each other. Secrecy releases phenylethylamine (PEA) which is the same chemical released during the early stages of infatuation. PEA also keeps us up all night and suppresses our appetites. PEA raises blood pressure, increases heart rate and `is evidenced in thrill seekers. The same buzz comes from chocolate but care is required not to consume as too much of the stuff otherwise the opposite effect occurs.

I expect everyone is familiar with the act of flirting or sharing a surreptitious intimacy called footsie or footsie - footsie. This kind of intimate touching of the feet or leg under the table has been known since the Middle Ages but perhaps never better described better than in Dianne Brill’s book Boobs, ‘Boobs, boys and high heels.’ According to the fashion doyenne, there are six ways you can enjoy close encounters of the footsie kind. Apparently there are several moves involved starting with the toe nudge followed by delicate investigation up under the trouser hem. The less direct method is to rest your foot against your partner but alternate between removing the pressure and pushing again. This needs to be done in a spontaneous manner so the recipient is unsure if the contact is intentional or otherwise. Leg crossing and toying with the shoe are other forms of footsie but a high degree of dexterity is required in this matter, if you are going to be successful. So practice is essential.

The origin of the gentle art of foot seduction is unknown although unsolicited foot attention is well documented in many cultures. The ancients for example had a preoccupation with feet as ‘object sensual’ with many Roman generals taking their lover’s sandal as keepsakes into battle. Why feet and shoes should be thought sexy in this way is complex but likely to involve a phenomenon known as the Displacement Theory. Simply put this describes what took place after we started to cover up our wobbly bits. Unable to see genitalia because it was covered meant greater significance was placed on clothing as an indication of gender. As part of this process hair and hats; feet and shoes became sexualized. In ancient society the sight of clothes provided the safest distance to judge friend or foe. Clothing served three main functions: decoration, modesty and protection. The word shoe (scoe) is Anglo-Saxon, meaning 'to cover furtively,’ and shoes have a long history of being used as sex toys for safe sex.

In antiquity clothing provided decoration and modesty. Fig leaf mentality from the 3rd century onward may explain why we covered up, but by far the major reason for clothing, was decoration. The essential purpose of decoration is to beautify bodily appearance in order to attract admiring glances. This became a preoccupation of the ruling class and was fiercely imitated by the rising middle class. Only when decoration and modesty are pitted together however, do we witness a modern psychological conflict or clothing neurosis. The degree of harmony or compromise between these conflicting interests is clearly seen in shoes. This is where many believe shoes and or feet have much to say about personality. In psycho-social terms there are three types of female shoes. Revealing shoes display feet as objects of frailty. Concealing shoes transmit a suggestive erotic message of tight containment. Both strongly proclaim femininity, individuality and sexual allure. Finally masking shoes play down personality by discouraging notice.

Ladies, according to people who know these things wearing red shoes guarantees you will have a good day. Dressed in high-heeled red pumps gives a spring to your step, and puts a smile on the face of anybody who happens to catch a glimpse of your lipstick-colored footwear. For Valentine’s Day the message is clear – for him buy her a pair of red shoes, and for her get out the red Bobby Dazzlers.

Back in European history to the middle ages when a nameless cobbler crafted a pair of poulaines (long toed shoes) for courtier Rulk Fulkner. Rulk was a dandy and fop and dedicated setter of fashion. Like Posh Spice he suffered painful bunions and had very broad feet. His cobbler crafted the new look long toed shoe broad enough at the bunion area but ending the shoe well beyond the end of the toes and meeting at a point. The fashion caught on and lasted unabated for at least three hundred years. Extensions became longer and longer (24” longer than the foot) until they were so long as to make walking almost impossible. Young bucks started to stuff wool and moss in the extensions to keep them erect. Indeed, the blatant phallic symbol became so long, often they had to be attached to the knee with a chain to prevent tripping. A popular vulgarity was to paint the extensions flesh coloured, allowing them to flap with lifelike mobility. Small bells (hawk bells) were often attached to the end of the poulaine to indicate the wearer was a willing partner in sexual frolic.

Footsie-footsie took on a more meaningful importance during this time and many a dinner party would be enhanced with below table shenanigans. This allowed a man to keep three women perfectly happy under the table whilst leaving his hands free to enjoy a healthy repast. Shocked at the overt obscenity of long toed shoes, the Church tried to condemn them and when this met with dumb silence Papal Bulls were issued to prevent commoners from wearing peaked toed shoes.

So what do the professional people think you should do this Valentine’s Day?

The American Board of Multiple Specialties in Podiatry (ABMSP) are keen to remind all of the benefits to body and soul that come with a simple foot massage. Just the job for this forthcoming St Valentine’s Day. According to the expert’s foot massage, whether administered by a professional masseuse or a loved one, can bring substantial health benefits as well as pure comfort and relaxation. Other benefits include :

Improved peripheral circulation. Foot massage stimulates better blood flow, and reduces blood pressure with improvement to overall body function. This is especially important for people suffering from diabetes, which is a known culprit of chronic poor circulation.

Improved skin integrity. Careful, gentle foot massage can improve skin elasticity and strength and help maintain its protective properties.

Eased pain and soreness. Foot massage can reduce the discomforts of a day's work and can even accelerate recovery from recovering foot injuries and mild ailments.

Stress reduction. Gentle massage soothes muscles and in turn calms the nervous system, resulting in a more relaxed state of mind and a more attuned and satisfied consciousness.

In the past the UK Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists, took the unprecedented step of commissioning a Gallup Poll on what people would like to do with their feet on Valentine's Day. Not surprisingly top of the poll for men and women was to tickle the feet of their favourite celebrities.


Flowers, chocolates and candlelight are more associated with St Valentine's Day than the well being and appearance of your feet, but this year you might like to give some thought to them. Clearly there are more romantic things than discolored toenails or skin that feels like sandpaper and according to experts, ugly feet sap self confidence. People who lack self-confidence, do not project sex appeal or so we are told. Partners can be understood when they draw the line and insist socks must be worn at all times. Nothing more unromantic into bed than your partner with their socks on , or so you might think. A study undertaken in Canada has revealed sock wearers are more likely to enjoy better sex, so there is hope for us all. Keeping the feet warm may enhance perfectly the function of the brain which controls relaxation and climax. So this Valentine's Day maybe the perfect time to take stock of feet and foot attire and an ideal gift for a loved one is to book them in for a pedicure, with a nail trim, skin scrape and massage. Complemented, of course with a nice pair of shoes and that way, you can keep your socks on.

Brill D 1999 Boobs, boys and high heels 1993 London: Vermillion

Reviewed 14/02/2017

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Slippers for St Valentine's Day

At a loss what to get for you paramour this Valentine’s Day? Then you might like to think slippers. Oh we have heard all the nonsense about sexy heels and the like but a quick review of the history of the humble slipper will leave you blushing. Slippers were always house-shoes and to tell the truth, the footwear of the boudoir. The term slipper was first recorded in English in 1478 and described a slip-on shoe that barely covered the foot and was worn for ease. Now there are many different varieties including backless slip-ons; boudoir slippers which were like mules sometimes with a heel; carpet slippers – a house-shoe made of carpet type material; and fuzzies – a slipper lined with fleece or shearling. Throughout history slippers were associated with wealth, prestige and intimacy. In Dutch, the word slipper is used in its diminutive form 'slippertje' and denotes an amorous affair which a married person 'slips' into. Slippers cause shuffling which makes the old gluteal muscles wobble – very sexy.

In ancient Asian and Oriental Cultures taking off their shoes was a condition of crossing the threshold of a dwelling, donning slippers became a social custom. Then there were two styles of slipper: one had a small toe post which fitted between the first and second toes; and the another had cross-shaped leather upper (similar to a mule). In some provinces the slippers were red. European slippers were made from sumptuous materials such as tapestry, soft leather or velvet.

By the 16th century ladies and men’s’ slippers were worn either as small platforms or with heels. The more flimsy the slipper and sumptuous its make up indicated breeding and wealth. Marie Antoinette (1755 – 1793) had a wardrobe full of precious slippers (500) most of which were only ever worn once.

By the nineteenth century tissue thin kid or luxurious dress silk slippers were worn to grand balls by the aristocracy and became the precursor of modern dancing shoes. During the La Belle Epoque, Parisian aristocrats would sip champagne from a lady’s slipper – very sexy. The Albert Slipper was the preferred footwear of Victorian gentlemen and typified by Sherlock Holmes. The backs of the slippers were closed and made from light bright coloured leathers. These were associated with smoking which was a preoccupation at the time. The typical Albert slipper was a velvet slipper with plain leather sole and quilted silk lining. This may be worn with a smoking jacket or black tie.

The Scots’ word for shuffle is ‘bachle,’ and was often used in a derogatory sense to describe ‘the underclass.’ When slippers became passé and were seen to be worn by the lower classes (usually because that was all they could afford) slippers in Scotland were called "baffies." This is a term thought to derive from ‘bachle,’ and rather like Ugg boots in Oz, slippers were condemned back to the house where they remain to this day.

None the less ever since the Emperor Constantine presented a pair of embroidered purple slippers to Pope Sylvester (4th century AD) flat soled slippers of brocade silk or velvet has long been the preferred foot attire of the Episcopal hierarchy. The present Pontiff, Pope Francis broke tradition and wore black shoes instead of the ancient practice of wearing red shoes. His predecessor Pope Benedict brought back age-old Vatican customs and wore red shoes to commemorate blood of martyrdom. Since the 16th century, slippers were handmade in red satin and embroidered in gold thread. Benedict wore ruby-red shoes custom-made by Antonio Arellano, his personal cobbler at Gammarelli and another pair by Adriano Stefanelli. Pope John Paul II also discontinued tradition when he wore cordovan brown leather loafers from his native Poland.

So, if you are to romance inclined this Valentine’s Day, think feet and think slippers.

Cinderella (Aschenputtel) - Lotte Reiniger (1922)

The walking machine

The “walking machine” tested wear on shoes (1937).

This Valentine's Day don't you be swept off your feet

A traditional besom broom consisted of an ash stave with bristles made from birch twigs and tied on with thin pieces of willow wood. Symbolically the stave (or handle) was masculine and the brush or broom (the faggot), feminine. There is reference to the Beson Broom in the Bible :

‘… I will sweep it with the besom of destruction, saith the LORD of hosts.'
– Isaiah 14:23 (KJV translation)

In pagan belief the Beson Broom represents purification, protection, fertility and prosperity and were ritualistically used to sweep harmful energies away before a rite could be performed.

Handfasting, predates the Christian marriage ceremony, and was an old marriage ritual where the couple’s hands were generally bound together with a cord. The idiom “tied the knot” comes from this tradition which was still practised in some parts of Scotland and Wales, within living memory. Symbolically the person overseeing the ritual i.e. the high priestess, used the beson broom to sweep away evil prior to the ceremony. In the past handfasting was the binding of two lovers and not marriage for life. Handfasting ceremonies were frequently renewed usually at a year and a day intervals. This may account for the declaration of love we see today, in Valentine’s Day.

A beson wedding (or civil wedding) involved the couple jumping over a broomstick for good luck. In front of witnesses the man would jump the broom first, followed by his intended bride. Provided the jumps were clean and either party did not touch or knock the beson broom then the marriage was recognised and the offspring were legitimate. This kind of marriage was a partnership between spouses and the woman kept her own home and did not become the property (a shackle) of her husband. If the couple decided to divorce, they simply jumped back over the broomstick again, but this could only be done in the first year of marriage.

In the home of superstitious people, an upward pointed besom (bristles up) sat over or near a doorway, to keep evil spirits and negative energies away for the house The Idiom ‘swept (a person) off their feet’ is used to describe someone so infatuated with another as to be effortlessly carried along unquestionably with their object of affection. "To sweep," in this case, is likely to refer to a broom and its action to inexorably move things together and if a metaphorical broom sweeps you off your feet, then you have completely lost your balance (reality) and fall for someone or something (infatuation). By the same token the person may have become bewitched.

There are many associations between the bosum broom and witchcraft and in Ireland, the besom was called a "Faery's Horse". Witches riding broomsticks may have had its origins in ancient fertility rites when to encourage the crops to grow high, people would jump high in the air on brooms. It is recorded the leaping witches smeared their bodies, hands and feet with “flying ointments” made from psychoactive drugs i.e. a base of either atropa belladonna or Mandragora officinarum. Sometimes the broom was ridden with the faggot (brush) facing downward or reversed. When not used for ritual flying the beson broom ever present in the household may also have been used as a sex toy as many accused witches were spinsters or widows. By the Middle Ages the beson broom had become a symbol of anti-establishmentarianism and sensuality. This is evidenced by the word 'besom' (bissum) becoming a slang term for an easy woman or hussy. 'Bissum' was also a common Scottish noun used to describe ‘mischieviously playful little girls.’

Monday, February 12, 2018

The origins of St Valentine's Day

There was almost certainly more than one Christian martyr by the name Valentine and all were beatified. Estimates vary between three and nineteen with many of their biographies and cults sharing a number of common elements. Experts believe two vie as ‘the’ Saint Valentine celebrated on 14 February. One was a bishop from the central Italian city of Terni and the other a holy priest in Rome.

The earliest martyrology describes the bishop from Terni who went to Rome to heal a crippled boy. When he refused to worship idols he was arrested by the prefect Placidus and eventually decapitated. Scholars generally agreed that the Roman Valentine was likely to be the real origin of the day’s festival.

According to Lasance, St. Valentine was a holy priest in Rome who assisted martyrs in the persecution under Claudius II. Under the rule of Emperor Claudius II (210 – 270) Rome was involved in many bloody and unpopular campaigns. Claudius the Cruel experienced difficulty getting soldiers to join his military leagues and was suspicious young roman men did not want to leave their loves or families. The emperor cancelled all marriages and engagements in Rome. Like other Christian priests, Valentine secretly married couples, and for this he was condemned to be beaten to death with clubs and to have his head cut off. He suffered martyrdom on the 14th day of February, about the year 270. This Valentine was a priest and probably a physician and whilst in prison he restored the sight to his jailer’s daughter and was instrumental in converting her father to Christianity. A final gesture of affection for the jailor’s daughter was shown when Valentine left a farewell note signed it "From Your Valentine".

Although there is evidence both Valentines enjoyed cult status with basilicas built in their memory and their relics reported to be found as far afield as Dublin and Glasgow it was Pope Gelasius in 496 A.D. who set aside February 14th to honour St. Valentine.

There are several theories about the origin of Valentine's Day. Romans had a mid-February custom to honor Februata Juno a sex and fertility goddess. It was called Festival of Lupercalcia. Boys and girls were traditionally brought up apart but on the 14th February their names were written on paper and put into jars. Young men chose a partner by drawing out the slip of paper with the girl's name. They would stay together for the duration of the festival. Sometimes the pairing lasted an entire year, and often, they would fall in love and would later marry. To suppress the pagan association, Christians may have substituted St Valentine as the focus for the day. To disassociate with the past religions many Christians are thought to replace this old cult with one that was identifiably Christian, resulting in a feast with obvious ties to the celebration of love. In the Northern Hemisphere birds begin to pair by February and it was established in folklore the 14th February was critical for partnership in medieval France lovers would express their feelings on St Valentine’s Day.

The earliest Valentine was a poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife in 1415, while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. By 1477 the English celebrated the feast of Valentine. The day started with men and women writing love letters to their Valentine. Literacy was poor so it may have been a love tokens were exchanged instead. The old Roman of selecting a partner for the day was upheld in the Middle Ages, and young men and women wore their partner’s name on their sleeves for one week. To wear your heart on your sleeve now means that it is easy for other people to know how you are feeling. In Wales wooden love spoons were carved and given as gifts. Hearts, keys and keyholes were favourite decorations on the spoons. The decoration meant, "You unlock my heart!" The date was also marked by sending poems and simple gifts such as flowers and there was often a social gathering or a ball.

The first Valentine’s card was sent in North America by spinster, Esther Howland. And by the 1800s commercial cards were introduced. And the rest is as they say is history.

Lasance F X 1924 The new missal for everyday Benziger Bros: NY.

Reviewed 6/02/2016