Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ye Olde British Cultural History

The following came my way with no indication of authorship. To whoever wrote it, thank you for a great bit of cultural history. All of it might not be true, but it is amusing.

There is an old Hotel/Pub in Marble Arch, London that used to have a gallows adjacent to it. When prisoners were on their way to be hanged their horse-drawn prison cart would stop outside the pub and the guard would ask the prisoner if he wanted ''ONE LAST DRINK''.

If he had a drink it was "ONE FOR THE ROAD." If he declined, he was "ON THE WAGON."

Urine was a saleable item in Britain, for it was used to tan animal skins. Poor families used to all pee in a pot for sale to the nearest tannery. If you had to do this to survive you were "PISS POOR." Even worse off were those who did not "HAVE A POT TO PISS IN."

The popularity of June weddings dates back to the time when the British used to bathe once a year. That annual wash was usually at the end of May. In June everyone smelled pretty good, and bride and groom could get pleasantly intimate. Just to be on the safe side, though, brides carried a bouquet of flowers to dampen the body odour.

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water. All the adult males went into the tub next in order of their age (or status), then the women and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the warning, "DON'T THROW THE BABY OUT WITH THE BATHWATER!"
Houses in the old days had low thatched roofs piled high with straw. The straw captured the sun's warmth, so enterprising dogs and cats would go to sleep in it. When it rained and the straw became slippery animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying "IT'S RAINING CATS AND DOGS."
Bugs and mice and other critters dropped from the roof inside the house too, and that was a particular problem in the bedroom. The need to keep them off the bed led to the invention of the four-poster canopy bed.

The floors inside the homes of the wealthy were made of slate that would get slippery when wet. In winter it was customary to spread straw (thresh) on floor to help keep from slipping. To keep the straw from sliding out of the room a piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way: the THRESH-HOLD.

Most people could not afford to eat meat. A man who could afford to do so "BROUGHT HOME THE BACON." When friends gathered around such a prosperous man, they were given bits of pork and they would sit around "CHEWING THE FAT."

Bread was divided according to status. The lowliest got the burnt bottom of the loaf, those of middling status got the middle, and the toffs got the ''UPPER CRUST''

The belief that tomatoes are poisonous arose because the wealthy ate off pewter plates, from which food with high acid content leached lead. Eating tomatoes off pewter could cause lead poisoning and death.

Dying was also a tricky business in Ye Olde Britain. Corpses were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days to ensure that they were not merely drunk or unconscious. Family and friends would gather around and eat and drink and make merry as they waited for a definitive outcome. Hence the custom of ''HOLDING A WAKE.'' To make sure that the dead were really gone for good people were buried with a string tied to a finger, allowing the corpse, if it came alive, to ring a bell by the graveside.

It wasn't only in the boxing ring that you could be "SAVED BY THE BELL."

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