Jun 022011

My life would not be worth living if I lived in Denmark. The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration has just banned the sale of Marmite. Apparently, any foodstuff fortified with minerals and/or vitamins has to gain special exemption to be sold in Denmark.

Other foodstuffs facing a similar ban, under legislation passed in 2004, include Rice Krispies, Shreddies, Horlicks and Ovaltine.

Marmite, a bi-product of the brewing industry and first developed in my home county of Staffordshire, England, is fortified with vitamins B6 and B12.

For as long as I care to remember my breakfast has consisted of cereal, orange juice, Marmite on toast, and coffee. When I first moved to the United States in 2000, one of the first things I did was track down a store selling Marmite.  I became a frequent visitor to the British Emporium in Grapevine, Texas.

Moving to Jacksonville, I was not so lucky. Jacksonville being Jacksonville has no store selling British foodstuffs. However, recently the Publix supermarket I visit on a weekly basis has started a small selection of British food items, including Marmite. Publix only stocks the small jars and they are  prohibitively expensive. My supply now comes from British Delights, based in Connecticut. I order the 500 g jars online.

Marmite is one of those strange foodstuffs that you either love or hate.  I love it. Back in Britain, one of my favourite snacks was Marmite on toast made with Hovis bread baked by a local bakery — Marsh’s of London Road, Stoke. A couple of rounds and I was in seventh heaven, at least as far as my tastebuds were concerned.

Marmite was first manufactured in 1902 at Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire, and is still made there today. The town has an association with brewing that goes back centuries.

[Based on a report by The Copenhagen Post.]

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Apr 202011

Two things caught my eye during my recent rail journey from London to Stoke-on-Trent.

First, the presence of spring lambs in the green fields of middle England. In the 11 years that I have been in America, I have yet to see a single sheep in a field let alone a lamb. I obviously need to travel more extensively within the United States.

Second, for much of the journey the railway line ran parallel to its mass transport predecessor — the canal.

Trent & Mersey Canal, Stoke-on-Trent, England. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

The pace of Britain’s Industrial Revolution and the growth of the canal network went hand in hand. A system of transport was needed for the safe and large scale  movement of goods and raw materials and canals provided the answer.

The pottery manufacturers of Stoke-on-Trent were in the vanguard of the move to building canals. Transporting a fragile commodity such as pottery by pack horse had the inevitable consequences with such a fragile product.

Trent & Mersey Canal runs by the former Dolby Pottery works, Stoke-on-Trent England. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

The success of the Bridgewater Canal in transporting coal from Worsley to Manchester, and also cutting the cost of coal to consumers by two-thirds, was taken up by the famous potter Josiah Wedgwood. Wedgwood saw canals as the ideal way of transporting clay, particularly the china clay from St Austell in  Cornwall, to his factory via the port of Liverpool and also as a means of getting his finished goods to the domestic markets of Manchester, Birmingham and London, as well as markets overseas, particularly North America.

Wedgwood was a driving force behind the construction of the Trent & Mersey Canal and shared engineer James Brindley’s vision of a canal network linking the four major rivers of England —  the Mersey, Trent, Severn and Thames.

The Act of Parliament allowing the construction of the Trent & Mersey Canal was passed in 1766. In 1777, the 93.5-mile canal, including more than 70 locks and five tunnels, was completed.

Narrowboat on the Trent & Mersey Canal, Stoke-on-Trent, England. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

At the peak of canal transport, the canal system extended for 4,000 miles before it was eclipsed by the advent of the railways, which from 1840 onwards could carry greater loads and at a faster pace.

The growth of road transport in the 20th Century also spelled the death knell for canals and many of them fell into sad decline after the Second World War.

It was largely thanks to canal trusts and an army of volunteers that the waterways have been preserved not only as part of England’s industrial heritage but also as a valuable recreational amenity.

Glebe Street Bridge and the Trent & Mersey Canal, Stoke-on-Trent, England, ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

In urban areas, such as Manchester and Birmingham, the old canal basins have seen a rejuvenation in the past 30 years, with the development of Salford Quays and Gas Street Basin, respectively, as entertainment and upmarket residential areas.

Canals, with their narrowboats, locks, bridges, tunnels, warehouses and wharves, also provide a great subject for photography.

Growing up in the Potteries, the canal was always referred to as the “cut” as in, “Ast bin dine cut?” In Queen’s English it translates to,  “Have you been down to the canal?”

The construction of the canals by men known as navigationalists, usually Irish in origin, led to the word navvy, to describe a general labourer, passing into the English language.

Apr 172011

Today is an important day for the city of Stoke-on-Trent and its premier football club, Stoke City.

The team takes on Bolton Wanderers in the semi-final of the FA Cup and is just 90 minutes away from a first appearance in the FA Cup final. Stoke City was founded in 1863. The club has never won the First Division/Premier League championship and its appearance in an FA Cup final is long overdue.

The last time Stoke City reached the FA Cup semi-finals was 39 years ago, when they lost to Arsenal, 2-1 in a replay at Goodison Park, after a 1-1 draw at Villa Park. I attended both those games.

So I proudly display the coat of arms of the City of Stoke-on-Trent, with its motto Vis unita fortior — United Strength Is Stronger.

Stoke-on-Trent, England. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Stoke-on-Trent came into being when the six towns of the Potteries — Stoke-upon-Trent, Hanley, Burslem, Tunstall, Longton and Fenton — federated in 1910. Various elements of each town’s coat of arms were incorporated into the Stoke-on-Trent arms.

The boar’s head comes from the Stoke-upon-Trent coat of arms and that of the Copeland Family, while the Staffordshire Knot either side was part of Tunstall’s coat of arms.

The Portland vase is part of Burslem’s coat of arms; the camel comes from Hanley’s coat of arms.

Longton’s coat of arms provided the eagle and the scythe was taken from Burslem and Tunstall’s coat of arms.

The Fetty Cross is part of Fenton’s coat of arms.

The Egyptian potter at his wheel symbolizes the city’s once illustrious pottery industry.

Stoke-on-Trent was granted city status in 1925 after a direct appeal to King George V who thought the centre of the pottery industry should be a city. The elevation to city status was announced by the King during a visit to Stoke on 4 June 1925.

Stoke lost its county borough status in 1974 under the local government reorganisation but its status as a unitary authority was restored as Stoke-on-Trent City Council on 1 April 1997.

I will be rooted in front of my computer screen at 11:00 am EST and just hope that I can get a decent livestream of the match. What I would give to be at Wembley.

Borrowing the words of William Shakespeare:

And gentlemen in America now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap while any speaks
That went to see Stoke play on FA Cup semi-final day.

Mar 082011

As a former newspaper man, more and more these days I find myself despairing of the fall in standards in journalism. Poor spelling, incorrect facts and serious omissions seem to occur with greater frequency in newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic.

A day seldom goes by without me shaking my head at the computer screen and muttering, “What is happening to journalistic standards these days?”

Today, I learned of the death of Sir Arthur Bryan from the Obituary section of The Daily Telegraph. Sir Arthur was the former chairman of the world-famous pottery firm Wedgwood. From a humble background, he rose through the ranks of Wedgwood and also became the Lord Lieutenant of Staffordshire.

Sir Arthur’s name was often mentioned during my childhood. Like me, he was born and raised in Penkhull and attended the same school as my late mother. She often used to reminisce of times when they used to play together in the school playground.

In its obituary, The Daily Telegraph correctly stated that Arthur Bryan was born on March 4, 1923, at Penkhull, Stoke-on-Trent.

Eager for more information, I checked out the This Is Staffordshire web site of the Stoke-on-Trent newspaper, The Sentinel.

In the web site’s tribute to Sir Arthur, The Sentinel’s Louise Psyllides wrote: “Sir Arthur, who was born and brought up in Stoke-on-Trent, joined Barclays Bank at Trentham aged 17 after leaving Longton High School.”

The local paper could not be more specific as to Sir Arthur’s birthplace than to state Stoke-on-Trent?

How did the omission of Penkhull get past the news editor, the sub-editor and editor?

And where is the internal logic of this story? It specifies the Stoke-on-Trent district of Trentham for Sir Arthur’s first job but cannot state the district where he was born and grew up.

This poor standard of journalism makes me recall one of the stone hands, a man called Dennis, when I worked the stone sub shift on The Birmingham Post.

It was the job of the stone sub to catch the errors that occasionally slipped past the chief sub-editor. Sometimes, the errors were real howlers.

As Dennis was cutting the bromide of the corrected version of the story to be attached to the page, I would say in an apologetic tone, “We can’t get the staff.”

In his Brummie accent, Dennis disagreed. “We can but they are crap!”

Fifteen years on, it would appear that the pithy words of Dennis still ring true for The Sentinel and a great many more newspapers the world over. What is worse, those running the newspapers do not seem to care.

As for The Birmingham Post, it ceased to be a daily morning newspaper in November 2009 and became a weekly, or should that be weakly, publication. I guess it was a good thing I left in 2000 and came to America.