Monday, 22 July 2013

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Yesterday in History (Catcher in the Rye)

Yesterday, 62 years ago, on July 16, 1951 'Catcher in the Rye' was published. Catcher in the Rye was written by J.D. Salinger and is his only novel. The book, about a confused teenager disillusioned by the adult world, was an instant hit and has been taught in high schools for half a century.

Salinger worked on the novel for a decade before publishing it. He had previously written stories in the 1940s for the New Yorker, and continued to do so after the novel was published. 

The book took the country by storm, selling out and becoming a Book of the Month Club selection. However Salinger did not like the fame he was receiving and retreated  to a hilltop cabin in Cornish, New York. Whilst 'Catcher in the Rye' was his only novel  but he continued to publish stories in the New Yorker periodically. He published 'Franny' and 'Zooey' in 1963, based on two combined New Yorker stories.

Salinger stopped publishing work in 1965, the same year he divorced his wife of 12 years, whom he had married when he was 32. In 1999, journalist Joyce Maynard published a book about her affair with Salinger, which had taken place more than two decades earlier. Notoriously reclusive, Salinger died at his home in New Hampsire on Jan. 27, 2010. He was 91 years old.


Last week I went on a short weekend away with my family to Montreuil, Pas-de-Calais, France. It is surrounded by medieval ramparts, part of the reinforcement work of the famous French military engineer Vauban from his fortification of northern France in the 17th century.

Montreuil was the headquarters of the British Army in France during the First World War. General Haig stayed in the nearby Château de Beaurepaire and there is a statue commemorating his stay outside the theatre on the Place Charles de Gaulle. During the German occupation of the town during the WWII, the statue was taken down. It was never found and is thought to have been destroyed. It was rebuilt in the 1950s, using the sculptor's original mould.

Lawrence Sterne visited the town in 1765 and wrote about his visit in his novel A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy. Montreuil is also the setting for part of Victor Hugo's novel Les Misérables. Hugo had spent several vacations in Montreuil.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Why Don't People Like James Buchanan?

People often nickname James Buchanan as the "worst US president ever", and blame him for not stopping the Civil War. When Buchanan left the presidency to Abraham Lincoln in 1861, he left Washington with his reputation at rock bottom. Buchanan could no longer live a normal life as he was so despised by the public he spent much of his days holed up at his home in Pennsylvania.

Buchanan was born in Cove Gap, Pennsylvania, in 1791, but aged 18 settled in Lancaster, where the city still takes great pride in his achievements.

Many people claim Buchanan caused America and the Democratic Party to fall apart. People also criticise Buchanan over his attitude to slavery. He supported a Supreme Court decision that denied that African-Americans were citizens, and he backed the admittance of Kansas to the Union with a pro-slavery constitution, to the disgust of many Democratic colleagues. However many people argue that Andrew Johnson, who followed Lincoln, was a worse president than Buchanan, because he squandered the opportunity to take the country forward after the war.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

The Victorian Seaside

I spent the last week at the seaside in Southend, enjoying the sun, sea and sand. The fabulous weather, classic English food (such as fish and chips) and roller coasters made it a fantastic trip, but it also sparked my interest in Victorian holidays to the seaside.

The seaside resort was an eighteenth-century invention due to new 'romantic' ways of viewing beaches, making them more attractive them previously believed. These new opinions grew alongside the change in taste that drew the fashionable and cultivated to the Lake District and the Alps.

There were many different types of Victorian seasides. Many small, informal villages developed where fishing and farming were the main functions and tourists entertained themselves and each other. At the other end of the scale huge purpose-built holiday towns were built which housed large crowds of visitors and held many different forms of commercial entertainment. Expensive local government systems provided drains, gasworks, tramways, promenades and even orchestras.

The bigger Victorian resorts, and especially those popular among the working class, which was a fast growing holiday market, offered 'pleasure palaces'. For example places such as Blackpool and Southend had music-halls, zoos, opera houses, theatres, aquaria, lagoons with Venetian gondolas and gondoliers, pleasure gardens and exhibitions.

In 1841 a June census showed Brighton had 40,000 residents, most of them permanent. However growth on a large scale occurred mostly with the beginning of the railway age, as the railways boosted existing small settlements (they very rarely started new resorts from scratch) by making access cheaper in time and money. The main beneficiaries around the mid 1800s were middle-class families, however many young bachelors used the anonymity of the resort settings to reinvent themselves and go on the spree for a fortnight.

Most working-class families in Britain relied on cheap trips organised by Sunday Schools, employers, temperance societies or commercial promoters, such as Thomas Cook. The penny-a-mile Parliamentary trains under the Act of 1844 actually turned out to charge more and take longer than the 'cheap trips'.

From the 1870s onwards Lancashire cotton workers developed a working-class seaside holiday system, to convert tradition unpaid holidays (which ended after WWII), into seaside breaks. Londoners, Sheffielders and coal miners depended on 'St Monday', an unofficial extension of the weekend. They also used August Bank Holiday, 'St Lubbock's Day' after its inventor in 1871, as a popular holiday period.

Bathing machines were small, four wheeled carriages that were used in the 18th and 19th century to allow people to change out of their usual clothes into swimwear. Some had solid wooden walls; others had canvas walls over a wooden frame.The bathing machine was part of etiquette for sea-bathing more rigorously enforced upon women than men but was observed by both sexes for people who wished to be "proper". Especially in Britain, men and women were usually segregated, so nobody of the opposite sex might catch sight of them in their bathing suits, which (although modest by modern standards) were not considered proper clothing in which to be seen.

Sunday, 7 July 2013


On the 2nd July this year thousands of people celebrated World UFO day, a day dedicated to the existence of UFOs. The first World UFO Day was celebrated in 2001 by UFO researchers Haktan Akdogan.

World UFO Day was founded in order to to raise awareness about the 'undoubted' existence of UFO’s and with that intelligent beings from outer space. The day is also used to encourage governments to declassify their knowledge about sightings throughout the history. Many governments, the US government for instance, are believed to have gained exclusive information about UFO’s through their military departments. A subject that still raises a lot of curiosity is the Roswell incident in 1947 when a believed UFO crashed in Roswell New Mexico.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

4th July

Today is Independence Day, celebrated in America as the birthday of the USA. In April 1775 an American Revolution began and in June 1776 Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. On July 2nd 1776 the Continental Congress declared independence, however the Declaration was not signed until August 2nd 1776 and not delivered to Great Britain until November 1776. 

On July 4th 1776 the Continental Congress approved the final wording of the Declaration of Independence after days of editing. July 4th 1776 became the date that was included on the Declaration of Independence, and the handwritten copy that was signed in August. It’s also the date that was printed on the Dunlap Broadsides, the original printed copies of the Declaration that were circulated throughout the new nation. So when people thought of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776 was the date they remembered.

For about 15 or 20 years after the Declaration was written, people didn't annually commemorate it. However by the 1790s the Declaration had become controversial, with the Democratic-Republicans admiring Jefferson and supporting the Declaration versus the Federalists, who believed the Declaration was too French and too anti-British.

By 1817, John Adams complained in a letter that America seemed uninterested in its past. But that was all about to change.

After the War of 1812, the Federalist party began to splinter off and many new parties formed in the 1820s-30s, who considered themselves inheritors of Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans. Printed copies of the Declaration began to circulate again, all with the date July 4, 1776, listed at the top. The deaths of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams on July 4, 1826, helped promote the idea of July 4 as an important date to be celebrated.

Celebrations of the Fourth of July became more common as the years went on and in 1870, almost a hundred years after the Declaration was written, Congress first declared July 4 to be a national holiday as part of a bill to officially recognize several holidays, including Christmas. Further legislation about national holidays, including July 4, was passed in 1939 and 1941.