The Eagle and Child

Babies delivered by birds of prey? Pull the other one

The origin of this pub name can be traced to the fourteenth century. Sir Thomas Latham, who lived near to Lytham St Annes in Lancashire, had one legitimate child, Isabel. His wife failed to fall pregnant with his desired son and heir and, as so often the case with the great families of England, the maid soon fell pregnant instead with the healthy son her master wanted.

Desperate for a son to succeed him, Sir Thomas devised a plan to persuade his wife to adopt the boy as her own, legitimizing him in the process. He arranged for the child to be left at the base of a tree where he had recently observed eagles nesting. His plan was to claim the baby had been abandoned by the birds, a story that his wife apparently accepted, adopting the boy soon afterwards. But after Sir Thomas died it was his daughter, Isabel, who inherited the estate.

Locals were said to have commemorated this story of man’s inability to really fool his wife by naming a local tavern the Eagle and Child, and several other establishments were similarly named in successive years across the country. The most famous inn by this name is in St Giles, Oxford, once the Royalist capital during the English Civil War (1641–51). It is claimed that the Chancellor of the Exchequer lodged there during the conflict and the building served as the paymaster’s quarters for the Royalist army, their horses being fed and watered in the courtyard.

The pub also has strong literary connections: C. S. Lewis (author of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and the rest of the Narnia books) and J. R. R. Tolkien (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, both featuring child-sized hobbits being rescued by giant eagles) met at the Eagle and Child every Friday between 1939 and 1962 for drinks and conversation.

These days the pub is affectionately known by those wacky university students – destined to be running the nation’s judiciary, industry and even government, God help us all – as the Bird and Bastard, the Bustard and Bastard, the Fowl and Foetus and, most ridiculous of all, the Bird and Brat. (For more on the symbol of the eagle in pub names, see The Spread Eagle.)

Extract from My Favourite Pub – Thirty Great Pub Name Histories – US Here   UK Here

Albert Jack books available for download here

Georgie Porgie

Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie,
Kissed the girls and made them cry;
When the boys came out to play,
Georgie Porgie ran away.

There is a sinister undertone to this nursery rhyme; Georgie Porgie really seems to be up to no good, otherwise the girls would not be crying and he would not have to run away when the boys came out to play. So what is it all about, then?

There are two Georges whose stories fit the events. One was George Villiers (1592–1628), the handsome son of an insignificant nobleman but who soon climbed his own way into the court of James I and the king’s favour. Aged just twenty-three, he was given the somewhat unnerving position of Gentleman of the Bedchamber.

Rumour had it that he and the king were more than good friends. It certainly would explain why within two years he had been made an earl and then a marquess. Five years later, aged just thirty-one, George became the 1st Duke of Buckingham, proving quite clearly that the king’s bedchamber was the place to be for any aspiring nobleman in the early seventeenth century.

The nursery rhyme is said to mock both James I and George Villiers over their open romantic interest in each other. In fact, the king even proclaimed to the Privy Council that ‘you may be sure that I love the Duke of Buckingham more than anybody else and I wish not to have it thought to be a defect’. Although the king once announced that that homosexuality was among the crimes that ‘we are bound in conscience never to forgive’, it is now believed by historians studying court diaries and correspondence that the pair were indeed lovers. The king even called Georgie ‘my sweet child and wife’ as if to emphasize the point.

But George was also known to be partial to both sexes and had many affairs with both the young ladies of court and the wives and daughters of other powerful Englishmen, causing resentment all around, although his relationship with the king gave him a certain amount of immunity. It had also been whispered that he often took advantage of his privilaged position and forced his affections upon the said ladies, causing outrage (Kissed the girls and made them cry) while managing to avoid confrontation or retaliation (When the boys came out to play, / Georgie Porgie ran away).

George Villiers’ luck eventually ran out when, in 1672, he became embroiled in military matters and led an unsuccessful campaign on behalf of James’s son, Charles I, during which the former rent-boy-made-good accidentally lost over four thousand men out of an army of seven thousand. On his return to Portsmouth, he was stabbed to death by one of the wounded soldiers, furious at his commander’s lack of military judgement and the loss of so many of his English comrades. ‘Georgie Porgie’ was laid to rest at Westminster Abbey later that year.

Another candidate for the real Georgie Porgie is the prince regent George IV, the hapless son, with half an inch of brain, of mad King George III (see The Grand Old Duke of York). Immensely fat (Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie), his corset-wearing was the source of constant ridicule and satirical cartoons. By 1797, his weight had reached seventeen and a half stone and by 1824 his corsets were being made for a waist of fifty inches.

This George was unquestionably heterosexual but he took as much advantage of his position as George Villiers had done. He had a roving eye: attractive female visitors to the parties he gave at the Pavilion in Brighton were often advised to avoid being left alone with him. His chequered love life involved several mistresses, illegitimate children and even bigamy. He had an official wife, Caroline of Brunswick, whom he detested so much he even banned her from his coronation, and an unofficial one – Maria Anne Fitzherbert (as she was both a Catholic and a commoner, their marriage was not formally recognized and remained a secret) – and he managed to make both women miserable (Kissed the girls and made them cry).

In addition, although George loved watching prizefighting (bare-knuckle boxing), which at that time was illegal, his own physical and emotional cowardice was legendary. This is illustrated by a story of the most infamous prizefight of the day where one contestant died of his injuries. George was known to have been present, as he was included in a sketch of the match by James Gillray (the famous political cartoonist), but when the man died he ran away, terrified of being implicated in the fallout and attempting to conceal his presence at the match (When the boys come out to play, / Georgie Porgie ran away).

Three Blind Mice – The Dark History of Nursery Rhymes

Albert Jack books available for download here

The Missing Men of Eilean Mor

The Mysterious Disappearance of the Lighthouse Keepers of Eilean Mor – What drove three experienced lighthouse keepers to abandon their post one calm day?

It was a cold and gloomy afternoon on the Isle of Lewis and the watchman strained to see the Eilean Mor Lighthouse, located on one of the FlannanIslands, through the mist and rain. Situated on a major shipping route between Britain, Europe and North America, the rocky Flannans had been responsible for so many shipwrecks over the centuries that the Northern Lighthouse Board had finally decided to build a lighthouse there to warn sailors of the peril.

It had taken four long years to build. But on 16 December 1900, just a week after construction had been completed, a report came that the light had gone out. Roderick MacKenzie, a gamekeeper at Uig, had been appointed as lighthouse watchman and his duty was to alert the authorities if he was unable to see the light. He noted in his logbook that the light had not been visible at all between the 8 and 12 December; he was so concerned, in fact, that he had enlisted the help of all the villagers to take it in turns to watch out for the light, until it was finally seen on the afternoon of 12 December.

But when another four days went by and the light failed to appear yet again, MacKenzie alerted assistant keeper Joseph Moore. Moore stood on the seafront at Loch Roag on the Isle of Lewis and stared west into the gloom, looking for the smallest flicker of light, but he also saw nothing. The notion that the brand new lighthouse might have been destroyed in the recent storms seemed highly unlikely and at least one of the three resident keepers should have been able to keep the lamp lit, so Moore summoned help.
Eilean MoreThe following day, due to high seas, Moore was unable to launch the Board’s service boat, the Hesperus, to investigate. It would be nine agonizing days before the seas calmed sufficiently for the anxious assistant keeper to leave for Eilean Mor.

Finally, at dawn on Boxing Day, the sky had cleared and the Hesperus left Breasclete harbour at first light. As it approached the lighthouse, the boat’s skipper Captain Harvie signalled their approach with flags and flares, but there was no acknowledgement from the shore. As soon they had docked at Eilean Mor, the assistant keeper jumped out, together with crew members Lamont and Campbell.

Hammering on the main door and calling to be let in, Moore received no reply. But it was unlocked so, nervously, Moore made his way inside, to be greeted by complete silence and absolutely no sign of life. The clock in the main room had stopped and everything was in its place, except for one of the kitchen chairs, which lay overturned on the floor.

Moore, terrified of what he might find, was too frightened to venture upstairs until Lamont and Campbell had joined him. But the bedrooms were as neat and tidy as the kitchen and nobody (or indeed ‘no body’) was to be seen. The three lighthouse keepers, James Ducat, Donald McArthur and Thomas Marshall, appeared to have vanished. Ducat and Marshall’s oilskin waterproofs were also gone, but McArthur’s hung alone in the hallway, in strangely sinister fashion.

Moore saw this as evidence that the two men had gone outside during a storm and that perhaps McArthur, breaking strict rules about leaving the lighthouse unmanned, had raced outside after them. Moore and his fellow crew members then searched every inch of the island but could find no trace of the men. Three experienced lighthouse keepers had seemingly vanished into thin air. Captain Harvie then instructed Moore, Lamont and Campbell to remain on the island to operate the lighthouse. They were accompanied by MacDonald, boatswain of the Hesperus, who had volunteered to join them.

With that, the Hesperus returned to Breasclete, with the lighthouse keepers’ Christmas presents and letters from their families still on board, where Harvie telegraphed news to Robert Muirhead, superintendent at the Northern Lighthouse Board: ‘A dreadful accident has happened at the Flannans. The three keepers, Ducat, Marshall and the Occasional [McArthur in this instance], have disappeared from the Island. The clocks were stopped and other signs indicated that the accident must have happened about a week ago. Poor fellows must have been blown over the cliffs or drowned trying to rescue a crane [for lifting cargo into and from boats] or something like that.’ It had been twenty-eight years since the Mary Celeste had stirred the public’s imagination and now there was a baffling new mystery to puzzle the world.

In the seventh century ad, Bishop Flannan, for reasons best known to himself and perhaps his God, built a small chapel on a bleak island sixteen miles to the west of the Hebrides on the outer limits of the British Isles. The group of islands were known to mariners as the Seven Hunters and the only inhabitants were the sheep that Hebridean shepherds would ferry over to graze on the lush grass pastures. But the shepherds themselves never stayed overnight on the islands, fearful of the ‘little men’ believed to haunt that remote spot.

The lighthouse on Eilean Mor, the largest and most northerly of the Seven Hunters, was only the second building to be erected on the islands – over a millennium later. Designed and built by David Stevenson, of the great Stevenson engineering dynasty, the building had been completed by December 1899 and Superintendent Muirhead of the Northern Lighthouse Board had selected 43-year-old James Ducat, a man with over twenty years’ experience of lighthouse keeping, as the principal keeper at Eilean Mor. Thomas Marshall was to be his assistant and the men were to spend the summer of 1900 making preparations to keep the light the following winter.

During that summer, Muirhead joined them for a month and all three men worked hard to secure the early lighting of the station in time for the coming winter. Muirhead later reported how impressed he was by the ‘manner in which they went about their work.’

The lighthouse was fully operational for the first time on 1 December 1900 and on 7 December Muirhead returned to Eilean Mor to inspect things for one final time. Satisfied that all was well, he then returned to the Isle of Lewis. Although he was not to find out until a few weeks later, the light went out only a day after he had left the island.
eleanmorWhen Muirhead returned to join Joseph Moore and the relief keepers on 29 December, he brought the principal keeper from Tiumpan Head on Lewis to take charge at Eilean Mor and then he began to investigate the disappearance of the three men. The first thing he did was to check the lighthouse journal. He was very perturbed by what he read.

In the log entry for the 12 December, the last day the lighthouse had appeared to be working, Thomas Marshall had written of severe winds ‘the like I have never seen before in twenty years’. Inspecting the exterior of the lighthouse, he found storm damage to external fittings over 100 feet above sea level.

The log also noted, somewhat unusually, that James Ducat had been ‘very quiet’ and that Donald McArthur – who had joined the men temporarily as third keeper while William Ross was on leave – was actually crying. However, McArthur was no callow youth, but an old soldier, a seasoned mariner with many years’ experience and known on the mainland as a tough brawler.

In the afternoon Marshall had noted in the log: ‘Storm still raging, wind steady. Stormbound. Cannot go out. Ship passing sounding foghorn. Could see lights of cabins.’ This was distinctly odd: no storm had been reported on 12 December and what could possibly have happened to upset an old salt like McArthur?

The following morning Marshall had noted that the storm was still raging and that, while Ducat continued to be ‘quiet’, McArthur was now praying. The afternoon entry simply stated: ‘Me, Ducat and McArthur prayed’, while on the following day, 14 December, there was no entry at all. Finally on the 15 December, the day before the light was reported for the first time as being not visible, the sea appeared to have been still and the storm to have abated. The final log entry simply stated: ‘Storm ended, sea calm. God is over all.’

Muirhead puzzled over what could have frightened three seasoned veterans of the ocean so greatly, and also what was meant by that last sentence, ‘God is over all.’ He had never known any of the men to be God-fearing, let alone resort to prayer. Equally troubling was where such violent storms had come from when no poor weather, let alone gale-force winds, had been reported in the vicinity at any point up to 17 December.

Muirhead also wondered how nobody on Lewis could have known of such a frightening storm when the lighthouse was actually visible (bad weather would have obscured it during the day), and for that matter how the passing boat Marshall recorded on the 13 December had managed to stay afloat in such a gale. Equally, if it had sunk, why had no boat been reported missing?

Finally, Muirhead wondered if a three-day hurricane raging over such a localized area was too unrealistic to consider, or simply if one or even all of the lighthouse keepers had gone mad, which might explain the unusual emotions recorded in the lighthouse log and the men’s subsequent disappearance. He could think of no other reason for them to disappear on the first calm and quiet day following the alleged storm. If they were going to be swept out to sea, surely that would have more likely to have happened during the gale, if they had been foolish enough to have ventured outside, rather than during the spell of calm weather reported in the final log entry.

One interesting thing to note was that the log that week was written by Thomas Marshall, the second in command and youngest of the three men. That is not so unusual but for him to be making insubordinate comments about his principal in an official log is certainly out of the ordinary. Especially as the log was bound to be read at some point by the Northern Lighthouse Board and, of course, James Ducat himself. And to record the aggressive McArthur as ‘crying’ when he would also certainly have read the log himself once the storm had passed seems strangely foolhardy. Yet there it was, in black and white, in the official lighthouse log. The whole point of such a record is to note times, dates, wind directions and the like, not to record human emotions or activity such as praying. The investigators were baffled by this.

Clearly the men on the island had been affected by a powerful external force of some kind, however, and so Superintendent Muirhead turned his attention to the light itself, which he found clean and ready for use. The oil fountains and canteens were full and the wicks trimmed, but Muirhead knew the light had not been lit at midnight on 15 December because the steam ship Archtor had passed close to Flannan Islands at that time and the captain had reported he had not seen the light, when he felt sure it should have been clearly visible from his position.

The kitchen was clean and the pots and pans had been washed, so Muirhead concluded that whatever had happened to the men had taken place between lunchtime and nightfall, before the light was due to have been lit. But there had been no storm on that day, as evidence from the both the lighthouse log and from the Isle of Lewis confirms

Muirhead then decided to make a thorough search of the site and, despite high seas, was able to reach the crane platform seventy feet above sea level. The previous year a crane had been washed away in a heavy storm, so the superintendent knew this to be a vulnerable spot, but the crane was secure, as were the barrels and the canvas cover protecting the crane.

But curiously, forty feet higher than the crane, 110 feet above sea level, a strong wooden box usually secured into a crevice in the rocks and containing rope and crane handles was found to be missing. The rope had fallen below and lay strewn around the crane legs and the solid iron railings around the crane were found to be ‘displaced and twisted’, suggesting a force of terrifying strength. A life buoy fixed to the railings was missing but the rope fastening it appeared untouched and a large, approximately one-ton section of rock had broken away from the cliff, evidently dislodged by whatever it was that had caused the rest of the damage, and now lay on the concrete path leading up to the lighthouse.

Muirhead considered whether the men could have been blown off the island by the high winds but decided this would have been impossible during the calm weather of 15 December. Further inspection revealed turf from the top of a 200-foot cliff had been ripped away and seaweed was discovered, the like of which no one on the island could identify. Muirhead thought that a mammoth roller wave could have swept away the two men in oilskins working on the crane platform but such a freak wave had never been reported before.

Unable to come to a definite conclusion, Muirhead returned to Lewis, leaving a very uneasy Joseph Moore with the new principal keeper, John Milne, and his assistant Donald Jack. In the report he made on 8 January 1901, a sad and baffled Muirhead noted that he had known the missing men intimately and held them in the highest regard. He wrote that ‘the Board has lost two of its most efficient Keepers and a competent Occasional’. And he concluded his report by recalling: ‘I visited them as lately as 7th December and have the melancholy recollection that I was the last person to shake hands with them and bid them adieu.’

At the subsequent Northern Lighthouse Board enquiry, also conducted by Robert Muirhead, it was noted that the severity of the storm damage found on Eilean Mor was ‘difficult to believe unless actually seen’. The enquiry concluded:

From evidence which I was able to procure I was satisfied that the men had been on duty up until dinner time on Saturday the 15th December, that they had gone down to secure a box in which the mooring ropes, landing ropes etc. were kept, and which was secured in a crevice in the rock about 110 foot above sea level, and that an extra large sea had rushed up the face of the rock, had gone above them, and coming down with immense force, had swept them completely away.

But this pathetic attempt by the Board fails to explain why McArthur was there without his oilskins and does not account for his disappearance, unless the Board believed he had run to the cliff top and, on finding his colleagues in the sea, thrown himself in after them wearing just his smoking jacket and carpet slippers. The enquiry also makes no reference to the fact that the damage to the railings and landing platform could have been caused after the men had gone missing on the 15th, possibly even during the heavy storms and gales recorded on the 20 December. Nor does it consider how the heavy rock might have fallen on a calm, still day, knocking two of the men to their deaths.

Later, it came to light that a further piece of evidence had been submitted to the enquiry, but which it had failed to make public. Two sailors who were passing Eilean Mor on the evening of 15 December claim to have been discussing the lighthouse, and why it should be in complete darkness, when they noticed a small boat being rowed frantically across the sea by three men dressed in heavy-weather clothing. By the light of the moon, they watched as the small boat passed closely to them and they called out to the men. Their calls were ignored, however, and the boat made its way past them and out of sight.

Over the years, all the usual theories have been trotted out – yes, including sea monsters and abduction by aliens, not to mention the curse of the ‘little men’ – but staying within the realms of reality and based upon observations made at the time, only two explanations seemed feasible.

The first is that the west landing at Eilean Mor is located in a narrow gully in the rock that terminates in a cave. During high seas or storms, water forced into the cave under pressure will return with explosive force and it is possible that McArthur, noticing heavy seas approaching, rushed out to warn his two colleagues working on the crane platform, only to become caught in the tragedy himself. This would explain the overturned chair and the reason he was not wearing his oilskins. Even so, it seems somewhat unlikely that, while in such a tearing hurry, McArthur would have paused on his way out to carefully close both of the doors and the gate to the compound.
gonemissingthThe second theory is that one man in oilskins fell into the water and the other rushed back to the lighthouse to call for help. Both men then fell in while attempting to rescue the first. But once again this explanation fails to explain the closed doors and gate, and is not consistent with the sighting of three men in a boat by moonlight. In 1912 a popular ballad called ‘Flannan Isle’ by William Wilson Gibson added to the mystery by offering all sorts of fictional extras, such as a half-eaten meal abandoned in a hurry – conjuring up images of the Mary Celeste. But this only clouds the very real tragedy of three men losing their lives on a bleak, windy rock in the North Sea, by working to prevent others from losing theirs.

Following the terrible and mystifying events, the lighthouse nonetheless remained manned, although without incident, by a succession of keepers, and in 1925 the first wireless communication was established between Eilean Mor and Lewis. In 1971 it was fully automated, the keepers withdrawn and a concrete helipad installed so that engineers could visit the island via less hazardous means for annual maintenance of the light. Nobody has lived on Eilean Mor since.

The most plausible theory arose by accident nearly fifty years after the disappearance of the lighthouse keepers. In 1947 a Scottish journalist called Iain Campbell visited the islands and, while standing on a calm day by the west jetty, he observed the sea suddenly heave and swell, rising to a level of seventy feet above the landing. After about a minute the sea returned to its normal level. Campbell could not see any reason for the sudden change. He theorized it may have been an underwater seaquake (see also ‘Whatever Happened to the Crew of the Mary Celeste?’, page 000) and felt certain nobody standing on the jetty could have survived. The lighthouse keeper at the time told him that the change of level happened periodically and several men had almost been pulled into the sea, but managed to escape.

Although this seems the most likely fate of the men on 16 December 1900, it is by no means certain and still fails to explain several known clues, such as why the third man disappeared wearing his indoor clothing after carefully closing and latching three doors behind him, or who the three men in the rowing boat could have been. Nor does it account for the strange logbook entries or why the light appeared not be operational for a number of days. The only thing we know for certain is that something snatched those three brave men off the rock on that winter’s day over a hundred years ago, and nothing was seen or heard of them since.

Extract from Gone Missing

Albert Jack books available for download here

Murder, Mafia and The Vatican

The Mysterious Death of God’s Own Banker – Did Roberto Calvi, head of a bank with close connections to the Vatican, take his own life or was there a more sinister reason why he was found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge?

Early in the morning of 18 June 1982, in a scene redolent of a real-life Da Vinci Code, the body of Roberto Calvi, chairman of one of Italy’s most influential financial establishments, the Banco Ambrosiano, was found hanging from scaffolding under London’s BlackfriarsBridge by a passing postman.

Calvi’s pockets were full of stones and, bizarrely, a brick had been pushed into the zip of his trousers. The smartly dressed banker was carrying nearly £10,000 in cash in three different currencies in his jacket pocket – lire, Swiss francs and pounds sterling. The man who provided banking facilities for the Vatican, earning him the media nickname of ‘God’s Banker’, had, apparently taken his own life. It seemed pretty clear to most people that he had committed suicide, but had he? Others were far more doubtful, especially on discovering that Calvi was supposed to have been in Milan at the time. Indeed his passport was back there, and he had made no plans to travel to London at all.

Milan was where Roberto Calvi had been born, on 13 April 1920, just as Europe was recovering from the aftermath of the Great War. It was at the end of the Second World War that Calvi joined the Banco Ambrosiano, becoming gradually promoted within the organization and, in the mid 1960s, acquiring the patronage of an important shareholder,  Sicilian-born Michele Sindona, known to his associates as ‘the Shark’.

Sindona had begun his working life as a tax accountant, but he soon switched to less law-abiding pursuits and began to assist his Sicilian associates in their smuggling operations. When he moved to Milan, he quickly impressed Mafia bosses with his tax-avoidance skills and in 1957 started work with the Gambino family by managing their growing profits from heroin smuggling. By the end of the first year, Sindona had not only actually bought his first bank, but he had also become firm friends with Giovanni Battista Montini, the future Pope Paul VI, who was among those who grew to rely upon the Sicilian’s financial acumen, profiting considerably from it.

By the time Montini became pope in 1963, Sindona had enlarged his Mafia-related banking empire. In 1968 he began moving vast sums through the Vatican Bank, which operated outside Italian law, to secret Swiss bank accounts. He had made himself indispensible to the Mob while somehow managing to retain an air of innocent respectability, even being named ‘Man of the Year’ in 1974 and widely regarded as the ‘saviour of the lira’. Throughout this time, Sindona had been grooming Calvi as his natural successor. He even introduced him to Propaganda Due, a powerful Masonic lodge, also known simply as P2, before Calvi was appointed chairman of the ailing Banco Ambrosiano in 1971. And with that appointment, Roberto Calvi had joined the Shark in highly infested waters.

The maverick P2 Masonic lodge in Milan was formed in 1877; by the 1960s and 70s it was regarded by some as something of a state within a state, and by others as a shadow government. Its members formed an elite of nine hundred influential Italians, including forty-three members of parliament, nineteen of the top judges and magistrates, fifty-eight university professors, forty-eight military generals, the heads of the Italian secret service, key banking regulators, important civil servants tasked with running government enterprise, and leading Italian businessmen, including the man who was to become the most powerful Italian since Julius Caesar, Silvio Berlusconi.

During the Cold War, members of P2 genuinely believed they could form an underground government in opposition should Communism take hold of their country. Vatican officials and the Mafia were also thought to have a large representation at the lodge. Now, not wishing to wake up with a horse’s head in my bed, I am going to proceed with rather more caution from here onwards.

Through his association with P2 and its grand master, Licio Gelli, Calvi began to transform the small-time Milanese bank into a big player of international repute, and he soon found himself dining with princes and kings. With such influential and powerful new friends, Calvi took very little time in establishing the Banco Ambrosiano as an important financial institution. Beneath its respectable surface, however, Calvi’s bank was taking the lead in an international money-laundering business. During the early 1970s, it began establishing shell companies all over the world, moving vast sums of money between them in a range of deals brokered by Gelli for his P2 network.

As the profits from drug smuggling grew and the money flowed in, Roberto Calvi’s laundering activities increased while the powerful Gelli kept a watching brief, making deals and keeping records. Then in 1974 disaster struck. In April that year, a sudden and unexpected stock market crash, known as ‘Il Crack Sindona’, destroyed most of Sindona’s banking empire, with profits falling by as much as 98 per cent in some cases. Sindona personally lost over $40 million and he was struggling to keep control of his network when one of his investments, the Franklin Bank, was declared insolvent.

Charges were then brought against Sindona relating to fraud, mismanagement and poor loan policies. When Francesco Mannoia, a Mafia member turned police informer, testified that much of Sindona’s money consisted of the proceeds of heroin trafficking, the Gambino family, determined to see the return of their ill-gotten gains, turned to Calvi and his Banco Ambrosiano and put pressure on them. Further intrigue followed when the Holy See, part of the Vatican business organization, was said to have lost $40 dollars themselves during Il Crack Sindona, placing the Vatican quite clearly in the same boat as the Mafia drug lords, whether they realized it or not.

By the close of the 1970s, Roberto Calvi was in the thick of the action, and busy setting up shell companies in Panama and the Bahamas. In 1980, no doubt in recognition for his good service, Calvi was enrolled in P2 as a full member and immediately began atoning for the mistakes of his predecessor Michele Sindona in an attempt to return some of the money lost during the banking disaster of 1974.

Banco Ambrosiano became a clearing house for politicians and businessmen alike who wanted to buy protection from government officials or American law enforcers, who were, by now, taking a close interest in Italian drug traffickers. Licio Gelli acted as deal broker and Roberto Calvi was tasked with finding a means of spiriting millions of dirty dollars away from the reach of investigators and returning them as legitimately earned income. The aborted takeover of the Rizzoli Group during 1980 was in fact a cover for one of these money-laundering deals.

The idea was that Calvi, Gelli and other powerful members of P2 would buy up a controlling number of Rizzoli shares and deposit them with Rothschild Bank in Zurich. Calvi then arranged for his bank to lend $142 million to a Panama-based company called Bellatrix. The mysterious company, which later turned out to exist in name only, then bought Rizzoli shares at ten times their value, generating a huge income for P2 members and investors and filling their Swiss accounts. When Rothschild executives realized what exactly was going on, they were alarmed to find they had been caught up in the transaction without their knowledge. According to one executive director, he was told by a senior board official that ‘we have to find a way out of this or I may end up in LakeZurich’. But within a few days, the windfall profits had been released into the accounts of the P2 organizers of the deal that Roberto Calvi had facilitated, at which some of them, key Calvi allies, immediately fled Italy, financially secure for life.

Calvi was now heavily involved in the banking/political/ religious/criminal melting pot that featured in every part of the Italian way of life during the 1960s and 70s, and many mysterious disappearances that took place during that era have remained unsolved. Indeed, knowing he knew something about everything, Calvi was becoming increasingly concerned for his own safety, paying up to 4 million lire a day for a personal armed guard and bullet-proof car. He had become further alarmed when, in 1978, Pope Paul VI died and was replaced by Pope John Paul I. By then Vatican officials had resolved to clean up their image. As soon as Pope John Paul I had taken office, he took the unprecedented step of ordering Vatican books and records to be opened for scrutiny, pledging to end corruption and fraud.

He also announced he intended to modify the Catholic Church’s position on the use of contraception. Sadly, John Paul I died within thirty-three days of becoming pope, officially of a heart attack, although many believe that he was poisoned in an attempt to keep the Vatican ‘on side’. All of which, of course, was strenuously denied by Vatican officials. Despite the suspicious circumstances of his death and calls for an autopsy, John Paul’s body was embalmed within one day. It was claimed at the time that a papal autopsy was prohibited under Vatican law, overlooking the fact that an autopsy had been carried out on Pope Pius VIII on his death in 1830, also allegedly of poisoning.

When John Paul II, the first Polish pope, assumed control following the sudden demise of his predecessor, funds from the Vatican and CIA began to be channelled via Banco Ambrosiano to Poland to support the burgeoning Solidarity Movement headed by the revolutionary shipyard worker (and later president) Lech Walesa. Pope John Paul II made many speeches that were supportive of the Polish people, who were still, at that time, caught in the iron grip of the Soviet Union. As chairman of Banco Ambrosiano, the perceived conduit between the Vatican and the Polish revolutionaries, Calvi may well have made important enemies in Russia during this time. After all, shortly afterwards an assassination attempt was made on the Pope himself in Vatican Square, thought to be a direct result of his interference in Eastern Europe.

Calvi, realizing he was in it up to his nail bag, is reported to have commented to a friend at that time: ‘The only book you’ve got to read is The Godfather. That’s the only one that tells you how this world is really run.’ But the net was finally closing in on organized crime in Italy. The Bank of Italy produced a report on an investigation into the activities of Banco Ambrosiano, concluding that bank officials had illegally exported several billion lire. During the subsequent trial in 1981, Roberto Calvi was found guilty, fined nearly 20 million lire and given a suspended four-year prison sentence for siphoning 27 million lire out of Italy in violation of currency laws.

His P2 connections facilitated Calvi’s release on bail pending appeal and, remarkably, he even kept his position as chairman of Banco Ambrosiano but the banker insisted he was innocent of all charges and was being manipulated by others. During his spell in prison in 1981 prior to being tried, Calvi is known to have taken the unusual step of asking to see the magistrates hearing his case in the middle of the night. The men duly obliged and Calvi said he would volunteer information about the funding of Italy’s political parties and their connection with both organized crime and the Roman Catholic Church. But he limited his information to a $21 million loan to the Socialist Party, and claimed he needed more time to gather further information and supporting evidence. So at a stroke Roberto Calvi had made enemies of the Italian Socialist Party, organized crime and the Vatican, not forgetting the Russians, who viewed somewhat dimly his financial arrangements with Lech Walesa and his Solidarity Movement.

The following year, in June 1982, Banco Ambrosiano dramatically collapsed after it was discovered that between $700 million and $1.5 billion had been spirited away, much of it via Vatican sources and their Institute for Religious Works (commonly known as the Vatican Bank). Following the bank’s collapse, it came as no surprise that the Vatican agreed, in 1984, to pay $224 million in compensation to the 120 creditors of the failed bank.

Most of the compensation found its way to the island of Sicily, perhaps very wisely too in the circumstances. Extraordinarily, the Vatican managed to remain out of the scandal, citing its compensation payment as ‘recognition of its moral involvement’ in the bank’s collapse. Calvi himself was by now exceedingly twitchy, stating in a rare interview for La Stampa that he felt threatened. ‘In this sort of atmosphere any barbarity is now possible. Many people have a lot to answer for in this affair,’ he said to the newspaper, before announcing cryptically, ‘I am not sure who yet, but sooner or later it will all come out.’ He went on to confide in his lawyers: ‘If the whole thing ever does come out, it will be enough to start the Third World War.’ Clearly a reference to the anti-Communist activities of the Vatican and P2 members.

Shortly afterwards, on 10 June 1982, Calvi disappeared from his Milan home, having shaved off his trademark moustache and acquired a false passport in the name of Gian Roberto Calvini. He was armed with cash in three currencies, including Swiss francs, indicating his intention to travel to that country, and a single black leather briefcase stuffed with documents. A Calvi confidant from Sardinia, Flavio Carboni, who had recently been paid $11 million by Calvi to provide ‘security’ arrangements, then spirited the banker out of Italy using a speedboat, helicopter, eight private planes, three false identities and fourteen separate safe houses. Roberto Calvi must have been exhausted by the time he checked into Chelsea Cloisters residential hotel in London on 13 June. He was found hanging under the bridge only five days later.

Against this background of intrigue on an international scale, it is extraordinary that a British coroner concluded that – despite the middle-aged banker suffering from vertigo and requiring the agility of an Olympic gymnast to reach the position he was found hanging from under Blackfriars Bridge – Calvi must have committed suicide. The fact that the only time anybody, short of said athlete, could reach that part of the bridge was at high tide, and by boat, seemed not to trouble the coroner; and neither did the bricks found in Calvi’s pockets, nor the small matter of his hands being tied behind his back.

And that’s not all. Any dust or other bits of debris that would have clung to Calvi’s clothing as a result of Calvi clambering along the scaffolding under the bridge was not taken into account. And neither was the medical evidence of Professor Keith Simpson, despite being the man who had pioneered forensic investigation, who concluded that Calvi had been strangled and not hanged, as there was no evidence of the type of neck injury associated with a drop. The fact that police officers found enough barbiturates to fell an elephant in Calvi’s room at Chelsea Cloisters – suggesting that the banker could have committed suicide, painlessly, sitting comfortably in bed in his pyjamas and dressing gown, had he wanted to end his life – was also overlooked. Quite rightly, a second inquest overruled the first, but even this one only provided an open verdict. So, what did happen to him then? And why was all this evidence seemingly overlooked?

Towards the end, Calvi hadn’t known which way to turn. He had made many enemies, albeit without intending to, and, in Mafia terms, knew exactly where all the bodies were buried – perhaps quite literally. As we have seen, Calvi had become the financial link between the Mafia, the Vatican, P2 and the Italian state. Even the Russians wanted information from the banker. And those who didn’t need his help any more and felt he knew too much preferred him to be silenced for ever. He was a wanted man, whichever way he faced.

During the weeks prior to his death, Calvi had certainly been keeping dubious company, dangerous enough for investigators not even to glance in the direction of the Vatican to begin with. But Roberto Calvi had been a close associate of the powerful American archbishop Paul Marcinkus, head of the Vatican Bank and heavily involved in the international money movement effected by Banco Ambrosiano. Marcinkus had been criticized by many in the Pope John Paul II’s inner circle and they had called for his removal. The Pope had swiftly closed ranks around Marcinkus, enabling the Vatican’s diplomatic status to protect him. Even when Italian authorities later issued arrest warrants for Marcinkus and two senior Vatican officials, declaring them ‘socially dangerous’ and demanding that, if apprehended, they be denied bail to prevent them fleeing the country, the limitless immunity of the Vatican gave them safe sanctuary.

Five days before his own disappearance, on 5 June 1982, Calvi wrote in desperation to the Pope. In a letter made public during recent years by Calvi’s family, the banker pleaded with the pontiff, declaring him to be his ‘last hope’. He also gave a thinly veiled warning that the collapse of his bank would ‘provoke a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions in which the Church will suffer the gravest damage’. Calvi used the opportunity to remind the Pope, or perhaps inform him for the first time, of the assistance his bank had provided the Vatican in funding both political and religious dealings with power makers in the East and West and of the banks in south America he had created to channel Vatican funds to help halt the expansion of Marxist ideology on that continent. Calvi felt betrayed by the Vatican, claiming he had been abandoned by ‘the authority for which I have always shown the utmost respect and obedience’. He ended by informing the Pope of financial irregularities in Vatican bookkeeping, presumably manipulated by Archbishop Marcinkus.

Could that letter, tacitly threatening to reveal Marcinkus’s fraud, have effectively signed Calvi’s death warrant, while investigators were all looking in other directions, at the Mob and Propaganda Due? Casting blame upon P2 does make a great alternative conspiracy theory. After all, P2 members were believed to have addressed each other as ‘friar’. Could this be why the ‘Black Friar’ (‘black’ because he had betrayed his fellows Masons) was found hanged at BlackfriarsBridge in London? The bricks in his pockets were certainly a Masonic symbol. Furthermore, new members are warned that betrayal of P2 secrets would result in death by hanging and the cleansing of the corpse by the tides.

Certainly Calvi had suggested to investigators that he was prepared to peel back the clandestine layers of P2’s skin. But would ‘punishing’ one of their number so publicly, in the middle of one of the world’s busiest cities, and with such overt symbolism, be worth the risk? Possibly not, as the Italian government disbanded the Masonic lodge shortly afterwards. At a stroke, the century-old secret society vanished, although many believed this was simply a cover-up for the Calvi killing as plenty of P2 members were also members of Parliament.

The Mafia were also heavily implicated in Calvi’s death. Indeed they had lost the most in his money-laundering disaster and mobster Flavio Carboni featured as a key figure during the final stages of Calvi’s life. From the beginning of 1982, the little Sardinian, who once boasted he would become the richest and most powerful man in Italy, became his constant companion and security adviser. The relationship renewed Calvi’s access to real power, via Carboni’s secret-service connections, and the banker felt it could afford him some protection. He understood the advantages of hidden power, such as the Mafia and Propaganda Due possessed, but was also well aware of the downside of losing favour. As the infamous American Mafioso informer commented to US officials when he broke the omertà (Mafia code of silence): ‘It is time I left our government and joined your government.’ Calvi was on the brink of doing the same, and expected Flavio Carboni to be the man who could enable it.

On 27 April 1982, the deputy chairman at Banco Ambrosiano, Roberto Rosone, left home for his office at 8 a.m. As he stepped into the street, a man with a pistol emerged from a doorway and fired directly at him, wounding Rosone in each leg. But armed guards posted at the Rosone residence had been alert to the possible danger and immediately returned fire, killing the would-be assassin outright.

Was Calvi trying to rid himself of those around him who knew too much about his activities, or, instead, was the net closing in on him? What is known is that the banker rushed to the hospital bedside of his deputy with the customary bunch of grapes – in this case trodden, fermented and presented in a bottle – and is reported to have exclaimed: ‘Madonna! What a world of madmen. They are trying to frighten us, Roberto, so that they can get their hands on a group worth 20,000 billion lire.’ Calvi was said to be shocked to hear later that the would-be murderer had been identified as the feared Roman gangland figure Danilo Abbruciati, who emerged as a key Carboni ally when it later became known that, the day after the shooting, Carboni had paid an associate of Abbruciati, Ernesto Diotavelli, $530,000.

Flavio Carboni was soon in possession of a Calvi-funded cool $11 million, safely hidden away in a Zurich bank account, and a cigarette smuggler called Silvano Vittor was then employed as Calvi’s personal bodyguard. Vittor, Carboni and Calvi all met up in Zurich five weeks after the shooting and Calvi was smuggled to Austria where he boarded a private jet to London disguised as an executive of Fiat Motors. In London, Calvi thought he would be safe and would be able to meet with the Italian magistrates to provide them with detailed information about the international money laundering by both the Mafia and the Vatican Bank in return for immunity from prosecution. But, instead, the very men he had paid to look after him delivered the banker into the hands of London Mob boss Francesco De Carlo, a seemingly respectable banker otherwise known as Frankie the Strangler.

Ironically, it was the Mafia themselves who would eventually solve the mystery of the death of ‘God’s Banker’. During the bloody Mafia war of 1981–3, as in-fighting rose to new levels of viciousness – entire families being wiped out to avenge acts of disloyalty both real and imagined – several high-ranking mobsters in both Italy and America, once safely under arrest, became valuable informers. In July 1991, one of these, Francesco Marino Mannoia, testified by video link from America (where he was living on a US witness protection programme) that he had been told on two separate occasions that the death of Roberto Calvi was murder, not suicide:

‘I remember I was on the run at the time and hiding at a villa in the countryside when news of Calvi’s suicide in London appeared on the television. With me at the time was Ignazio Pullara [a member of the Mafia] who told me in a very excited manner that he knew Calvi had been murdered. Then, a while later when I was in jail in Trapani, Sicily, I spoke to Ignazio’s brother Gio who also told me Calvi had been murdered by the Mafia. When I asked him why, I was told it was because he had been given a large amount of money from drugs and contraband cigarette sales to launder but he had failed to do so. After that he was considered to be no longer reliable and Cosa Nostra [the Sicilian Mafia] could not trust him any more.’

The Italian police subsequently re-opened the case and in 1998 they exhumed the body of Roberto Calvi. In 2002 new forensic methods confirmed the banker had indeed been killed and Roberto Calvi’s family were finally able to claim the $10 million the banker’s life had been insured for. By then Frankie the Strangler was already in prison, but for other crimes. He had been given a 25-year jail sentence at the Old Bailey in 1987 after being captured following Britain’s largest-ever heroin smuggling bust. As he began his sentence in a maximum-security British prison, he listened in horror at the stories filtering back about the true extent of the Mafia war in the early 1980s, including the slaughter of women and children. It was at this point that Frankie finally decided to start cooperating with anti-Mafia prosecutors. As he later told the court, ‘I just don’t want to be a part of Cosa Nostra any more.’

Other Mafia supergrasses, known as pentiti (‘those who have repented’), then came forward; one was another senior Mafia member called Antonio Giuffre, who confirmed to the police that the reason for the Mafia murdering Calvi was ‘poor money laundering’ and offered other information that directly led to the arrest, in 2004, of five people for the murder of Calvi. These were Giuseppe ‘Pippo’ Calo, a convicted gangster; Flavio Carboni and his former girlfriend, Manuela Kleinzig, who was charged with providing Carboni with a false alibi; Silvano Vittor (Calvi’s bodyguard in London); and Ernesto Diotallevi, the head of the most dangerous criminal network in Rome and the man paid $530,000 the day after Calvi’s deputy had been shot in Milan.

Carboni immediately protested to the Italian newsagency Apcom that Roberto Calvi had close links to the Vatican and suggested the financier may have been killed on orders from the Church. Pointing the finger of blame directly at Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, he stated, ‘Perhaps the Vatican would have wanted him [Calvi] dead, but I didn’t.’ However, by the time of the arrests, Paul ‘the Gorilla’ Marcinkus was back in America leading a quiet life and still protected by Vatican diplomatic immunity. He has never spoken about his time in charge of the Vatican Bank. In fact, Marcinkus never said a word about anything right up until his death in 1990 – of ‘undisclosed causes’.

At the pre-trial hearings in December 2005, De Carlo, speaking from behind a security screen, explained how at the time of Calvi’s death he had been travelling from London to Rome: ‘A few days before Roberto’s death I heard that Bernardo Brusca [a leading Sicilian family member] wanted to see me. I also heard Pippo Calo wanted me to “do something for them”.’ He continued: ‘But when I saw them a few days later they told me things had been taken care of and they didn’t need me after all. I didn’t ask what they had wanted me for, it didn’t seem necessary. Calo just kept saying that a problem had now been resolved. That is how it works in the Mafia. We never said anybody had been killed, we just say a job has been taken care of.’

So, a quick recap then. We have the murder of Roberto Calvi following the collapse of Italy’s leading independent financial institution; we have the shooting of the bank’s deputy chairman, Roberto Rosone, and the death of his would-be assassin, the Roman gangster Danilo Abbruciati. Then we have the payment, the day after the shooting, of $530,000 to Abbruciati’s lieutenant Ernesto Diotavelli by Calvi’s friend Carboni, who both now stand accused of murdering Rosone’s boss. In addition, we have characters such as Frankie the Strangler and Marcinkus ‘the Gorilla’.

Other elements of the story include the Vatican’s involvement in international money laundering and even in the suspected murder of Pope John Paul I, who may have threatened to reveal the truth. In 1986 Calvi’s black leather briefcase, containing all his secrets, turned up and the Vatican bought it without explanation – for $40 million. A London-based Italian antiques dealer, said to be about to reveal the identity of Calvi’s killers to London police investigators, was himself murdered in 1982. We have Propaganda Due, the secret Masonic lodge whose members – including prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who was certainly involved with Roberto Calvi – benefited from the fraud Calvi assisted the Vatican with. At the time of writing, the only defendant in court to hear the charges being presented has been Flavio Carboni, who later told Sardinian journalists: ‘I know as much about Calvi’s murder as I do about the killing of Jesus Christ.’

On June 6, 2007, after nearly two years of hearing evidence, argument and the detailed defence of the five standing trial, the presiding judge, Mario Lucia d’Andria sensationally drew an end to the proceedings when he threw the case out of court, arguing ‘insufficient evidence.’ However, the court did rule that Roberto Calvi’s death should be treated as murder and not suicide. A conclusion that asked more questions than it answered. Legal experts argued that there were many people, including senior mafia members and Vatican officials who had a clear motive for Calvi’s murder and who would benefit fro his silence. Observers also noted that as twenty five years had passed, since the hanging banker had been discovered, prosecutors had found it almost impossible to present a credible case. After all, key witnesses had been either unwilling to testify, unable to be found or were no longer alive.

The Calvi family’s private investigator, Jeff Katz, claimed that senior figures, both commercial and political, had escaped attention and to bring evidence against them would be impossible. He also conceded that it was ‘likely’ that the Mafia had been involved but suspects were either dead or missing. The surprise verdict failed to put an end to the matter as the Roman prosecutor’s office opened a second investigation naming others, some of whom were already serving life sentences on unrelated matters. On May 7 2010 there were further acquittals due to lack of evidence and on November 8 2011 the Court of the Last Resort, better known as the Court of Cessation, confirmed the acquittals and closed the files. There is now very little, if any chance at all, that the mysterious death of the financier found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge miles from his native land, will ever be solved. Although we all have our own suspicions, don’t we.

Albert Jack books available for download here

Restaurant Lingo For Dummies

A la Carte

This expression is a practical one used to describe fine dining when the Parisian restaurants began to appear during and after the French Revolution. The reason for that was the finest chef’s in the world were usually employed by the French aristocracy and were exclusively tied to the kitchens of the great estates and palaces. After Napoleon had cut them down to size many great cooks opened their own establishments and enjoyed the freedom the Revolution had provided.

Prior to this, meals would only be taken communally and from a set menu as coffee houses and street vendors would only provide one meal and the hungry only had two choices, yes or no. (Which is still your only menu option on many budget airlines these days) But the new Parisian restaurateurs were eager to display their skills and provided a menu offering diners a wide choice of specially prepared meals at varying prices from the menu card, which translates as ‘A la Carte.’ The word ‘menu,’ evolved from the Latin ‘minutus,’ meaning something small.

By contrast table d’hote describes a complete set meal of several courses for a fixed price and translates as ‘the table of the host.’ In other words the restaurateur has chosen the menu for you, a particularly popular way of eating in large groups.

Maitre d’ Hotel

As the earliest fine dining establishments were usually hotel dining rooms that were open to non residents the translation of Maitre d’ Hotel into Master of the Hotel is obvious. The Maitre d’ is in complete charge of the restaurant with responsibility table arrangements, customer enquiries, front of house staff and every other detail of a busy restaurant, apart from the kitchen. The expression dates back to the middle ages and is used in many varieties. For example the Maitre d’ Château was the keeper of the castle and Maitre d’ Arms is in charge of the armoury.

Al Dente

Usually apasta dish would be described as al dente if it had been deliberately undercook and offering some resistance to the bite, but beans, rice and any vegetable could be also prepared al dente. Meat and fish can be prepared al dente although, usually, would be finished off with other ingredients before service. The term is often misunderstood to mean virtually raw but the traditional Italian style of cooking their pasta literally translates from the native language as ‘to the tooth, or  bite.’ This means chefs would be looking for a firm bite to an otherwise thoroughly cooked food. Hard pasta that turns to paste when chewed is not al dente, it is just badly cooked.

Haute Cuisine

When Catherine de Medici (see Florentine) arrived at the French Court of King Henry II in 1519 she was only fourteen years old. But, as Queen of France she was able to invite her considerable entourage along with her and this included some of the finest Italian chefs from her home region of Florentine. This began a period of change in the way the French understood their cooking as new ingredients were introduced along with techniques that the rest of Europe were unaware of, as one-pot cooking was the established way of cooking until then. But the Florentine chefs taught the French how to uses spices and herbs to enhance a meal instead of disguising the taste of game meat and butter replaced stale bread as a thickening agent for stews.

Soon the Mother Sauces were forming the base for new flavours and food presentation changed from then onwards dishes would all be served separately for diners to choose for themselves individual meal. Vegetables, for example, would be cooked separately and presented on a tray along side chicken, fish or game meat instead of being served together and, thanks to Catherine, women joined their men in the great dining rooms for the first time and enjoyed their food in a way we would now call buffet-style dining.

In 1661 the French chef Francois Pierre de la Varenne (1618 – 1678) published the founding text of modern French cooking and it is clear that by then chefs were no longer favouring the heavy flavours Marco Polo had introduced into Europe in 1295 and had all but abandoned  spices such as cinnamon, cumin, ginger and nutmeg and replacing flavours with lighter local herbs in the shape of parsley, tarragon, bay leaf and sage and most preferred light oils instead of butter.

La Varenne had learned his craft in the kitchens of Henry IV’s sister, the Duchess de Bar and Henry himself had married a younger cousin to Catherine de Medici who had arrived with her own small army of Italian chefs to teach the young Frenchman. Combining all of his knowledge with a desire to develop new flavours, and a natural ability to write, Le Cuisine François became an instant best seller and would change attitudes towards cookery and presentation throughout Europe for the following century.

The peasant classes, however, were unmoved by the winds of change and continued to eat stale bread and rotten vegetables, or, if they were not so fortunate, starve, but the higher class of society, the bourgeoisie rich of most European countries, would benefit from the groundbreaking chefs La Varenne’s book had been influencing. The remaining eighty percent continued to suffer the potato famine and every other disaster that enveloped them. Then the great event, that changed all of our lives, rocked France in the shape of the Revolution between 1789 and 1799.

Now, most people agree that whilst the uprising was good news for the majority of the population, it clearly wasn’t much fun for the nobility who, thanks to Monsieur Guillotine didn’t have to worry about their dining habits any more, the immediate aftermath was bad news for anybody who worked in the great Chateaus and Palaces, especially the chefs who were not regarded as high class although were certainly used to living and working in high class establishments.

The only option the chefs and their kitchen staff had was to move into one of the many buildings in Paris that had also been liberated and hope the people would need feeding, and be able to pay or barter for it. Within a few years these restaurants were highly fashionable and full of an entirely new class of people who were prepared to pay to eat the new high class cuisine that became known as Haute (high-class) Cuisine.

During the 1860’s Urbain Dubois, owner of three successful restaurants in Paris and formerly head to the King of Prussia, introduced Service A La Russe, a method borrowed from the Russians, of waiters delivering hot food and serving individually to diners already seated, from their left hand side. This reduced crowding at main buffet and introduced order to what was quickly becoming a dining experience, instead of just having dinner. This gave chef’s more control over their food and ensured it was always hot at the point of service, a system of control that is virtually unchanged since.

Extract from Money for Old Rope Parts 1 & 2

Albert Jack books available for download here

Global Warming – We Are All Going To Drown!

Global Warming

Yet another warning about Global Warming comes along with calls from environmental activists to cut down on emissions, ban cars and all airplanes. In fact turn off all your electricity and live in a hut, forever. Hang on,  that is what it is like in parts of central Africa to this day and it is no cooler there than it is here, I can assure you. But I was looking out of my window when I heard the latest report and it was about minus three degrees outside and I began to think I could do with a bit of Global Warming myself around here. It is fair to say that with any belief system, extremist elements will emerge. So how long will it be then before the Extreme Green emerges, a modern day version of the mythical General Ned Ludd’s Army of Redressers who attempted to prevent the Industrial Revolution in the early 1800’s by using force and terrorism against all new technology?

The Luddite Movement ended in 1817 with twenty-three executions and thirteen men being transported to Australia for life, (which they later complained was worse) but just you try suggesting that sort of end to the Green Movement today. Global Warming, we are told, will result in the polar ice cap breaking up, sea levels rising and, as a result, millions of people drowning in 50 years time. But I won’t drown. I won’t be standing on the coastline waiting for the water to reach the top of my Wellington Boots; I will simply walk up the road, uphill, for a few yards. And so too, I imagine, will everybody else.

So I wondered if I could dispel this myth and found out, like anybody else can for himself or herself, that our climate warms and cools all the time, quite naturally. Whilst there are occasions of global warming, we also have global cooling from time to time. True, our human activities can add what are known as ‘greenhouse gases’ to our atmosphere and that can produce a warming effect. But it is important to put this into some sort of context. The Great Ice Age began a million years ago and reached its zenith 20,000 years ago. As recently as 6,000 years ago Canada was still covered in ice and parts of it still are but it has taken 20,000 years for the sun to melt the ice age and, although both polar ice caps are all that remain from that period to this day, they too are slowly but surely melting away, resulting in more ice bergs.

But to blame this on air travel and a few big cars with heavy carbon dioxide emissions seems a little ridiculous to me. American satellite monitoring has not shown any warming of the atmosphere since studies began in 1979 and whilst most scientists ‘guess’ human activity may have some effect on our atmosphere it will be tiny in comparison with the natural fluctuations of our climate. Even if any change at all is noticed some scientists are quoted as saying that while it may have ‘some interesting scientific curiosity, it will have no practical importance at all.’ There has also been no ozone layer depletion since 1992.

Apparently the climate did heat up a little between 1880 and 1940 and that warming is responsible for the current so called break up of the polar ice cap, which in fact means just a few more icebergs appearing as they split from the main body of the Antarctic. But fear not, as the period between 1940 and 1975 was, once again, a cooling period.  The effects of that are likely to be felt during the later part of this century. So it seems that despite all the efforts of the scaremongers and activists, none of us are going to be drowned by Global Warming as this process has been going on for around a million years and may still have 10,000 years to go.

I can think of many more ways we will ruin the planet than the cars we drive or the aerosols we use. Many even believe that the increase in carbon dioxide in our atmosphere will be a good thing, especially for agriculture that thrives in such conditions and crops will grow stronger and more reliably. And finally, the earths own climate creates natural filters. For example, if we heat the sea it will produce more water vapour and more evaporation, which will produce more clouds, which will prevent the sun’s rays from reaching the earth’s surface. And that, in turn will cool it down again.

In 1997 a global warming agreement was written in Kyoto, Japan proposing limits on greenhouse gases that would ‘harm the environment, hinder the advance of science and technology and damage the health & welfare of mankind.’ But over 20,000 qualified scientists signed the following petition in response;

‘We urge the United States Government to reject the global warming agreement that was written in Kyoto, Japan in December 1997 and any other similar proposals. The proposed limits on greenhouse gases would harm the environment, hinder the advance of science and technology and damage the health & welfare of mankind.

There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate. Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth.

The United States Government never did sign the Kyoto Agreement. But none the less, ruin the planet we probably will although not in our lifetime and not through Global Warming, which is a shame because it is snowing in my kitchen now and my head is numb.

Extract from The President’s Brain is Missing (And Other Urban Legends)

Albert Jack books available for download here

Who was Benedict and what does he have to do with breakfast eggs anyway?

The Name’s Benedict, Eggs Benedict

The world’s favourite brunch dish, eggs Benedict comprises an English muffin cut in two, each half topped with ham, a poached egg and a dollop of HOLLANDAISE SAUCE. A number of Benedicts claim to have invented it. In 1942, the New Yorker published an interview with one Lemuel Benedict, a retired New York stockbroker, who told the story of his breakfast one day at the Waldorf Hotel back in 1894. Unimpressed by the menu and with a thumping hangover, he asked for ‘buttered toast, poached eggs, crispy bacon and a hooker of hollandaise’. According to Benedict, the maître d’, Oscar Tschirky (see also THOUSAND ISLAND DRESSING and WALDORF SALAD), was so taken with the dish that he immediately included it on the hotel menu, replacing the TOAST with a muffin and the BACON with ham.

But this is disputed by a letter sent to The New York Times in September 1967 by Edward P. Montgomery, who suggested the dish was in fact the idea of Commodore E. C. Benedict, a yachtsman and retired banker, who died at the age of eighty-six in 1920. Montgomery insisted he had the original recipe, which he included in his letter, saying it had been given to his uncle, a close friend of Benedict. Publication of this letter prompted another one, from Mabel C. Butler of Massachusetts, in which she claimed that the ‘true story’ behind the original recipe was ‘well known to the relations of Mrs Le Grand Benedict’, of whom she was one. According to Mabel Butler, when the Benedicts lived in New York City, at the turn of the century, their habit was to dine regularly at Delmonico’s Restaurant. One morning Mrs Benedict complained that the menu had become too familiar and suggested more variety. As she was a regular customer, the head chef asked the good lady what she had in mind, to which she replied: ‘I would like poached eggs on toasted English muffins with a thin slice of ham, hollandaise sauce and a truffle on top.’

Each tale was firmly believed by its narrator and but it is equally likely that all three were referring to a dish that had been around for a lot longer, probably going by a different name. What is certain is that printed recipes for the eggs Benedict were beginning to appear from the turn of the centrury. In Eggs, and How to Use Them, published in 1898 and subtitled (clearly with Mrs Benedict in mind) ‘A Guide for the Preparation of Eggs in Over Five Hundred Different Styles’, the reader is encouraged to ‘split and toast some small muffins; put on each a nice round slice of broiled ham, and on the ham the poached egg; pour over some creamy Hollandaise sauce’.

Meanwhile, in 1900, the Connecticut Magazine printed a similar recipe, suggesting readers should ‘Broil a thin slice of cold-boiled ham … toast a slice of butter it and moisten with a little water; lay the ham on it and on that a poached egg’. However, it turns out that this all-American dish could well have been European in origin. Elizabeth David, in French Provincial Cooking (1960), refers to a traditional French dish called oeufs à la bénédictine and consisting of puréed fish and potatoes on fried bread with a poached egg on top. So maybe eggs Benedict was originally a sort of full French breakfast enjoyed by Benedictine monks on days when they were forbidden to eat meat? (They’d have been tucking into a FULL ENGLISH otherwise, given half a chance.)

These days there are many variations on the theme, including EGGS FLORENTINE (the ham substituted by spinach), seafood Benedict (the ham replaced with crab, lobster or prawns) and waffle Benedict (with a waffle instead of the muffin and lashings of maple syrup in addition to the hollandaise). Eggs Benedict Arnold, in which the muffin is replaced by an American biscuit (a bit like an English scone) and the hollandaise sauce with gravy and is very curiously named for such a staunchly American dish. Benedict Arnold was a general during the American Revolutionary War of 1775–83 who famously switched sides and fought for the British. One of the most hated figures in US history, his name has since become a byword in America for treason.

Extract from Money for Old Rope Parts 1 & 2

Albert Jack books available for download here