April Fool!!

Whence proceeds the custom of making April Fools?” This was the question asked of the wonderfully-entitled publication ‘British Apollo or Curious Amusements for the Ingenious’ in 1708.

In British folklore, April Fool’s Day is associated with Gotham in Nottinghamshire and an event from the 13th century. According to legend, King John decided to ‘acquire’ some of the land of Gotham for a hunting lodge. Naturally this was not popular with the townsfolk and so they decided on a cunning plan to dissuade the king. They decided to ‘play the fool’ so when the king’s men arrived in the town, they found the townspeople doing all sorts of crazy things such as trying to drown fish. This was enough for the king’s men to counsel the king to choose somewhere else for his lodge, as Gotham was obviously full of madmen. Ever since then, according to legend, April Fool’s Day has commemorated their trickery.

The idea of April Fools’ Day spread rapidly throughout Britain during the 18th century. It was particularly popular in Scotland where it became a two-day event, starting with ‘hunting the gowk’, gowk meaning ‘cuckoo’ or ‘fool’. It entailed sending folk on phony errands, often carrying messages reading, “Dinna laugh, dinna smile. Hunt the gowk another mile.” The recipient would send the messenger on to another person with the same message, and so on. This was followed by Tailie Day, which rather bizarrely involved playing pranks on people’s bottoms, such as attaching pretend tails or ‘kick me’ notes to them.

Nowadays when someone has an April Fool trick played on them, the prankster will generally shout “April Fool!”. Pranks can be quite simple, such as sending people on wild goose chases or quite complicated, as some of the following examples illustrate.

Some people may remember a famous April Fool prank from 1957, when the BBC program ‘Horizon’ apparently showed Swiss farmers picking spaghetti from spaghetti trees. The BBC received so many enquiries from viewers asking where they could buy a spaghetti plant that they had to own up to the hoax the following day!

The BBC do enjoy a good prank and in 1965 they were at it again, with another famous hoax: smell-o-vision. A trial was announced whereby smells were to be broadcast along with the regular TV shows. Apparently many viewers declared the trial a great success!

Then in 2008 the pranksters at the BBC reported that during filming for their natural history series ‘Miracles of Evolution’ they had captured footage of flying penguins. Presenter Terry Jones of Monty Python fame was shown walking with the penguins in Antarctica, and then following their flight to the Amazon rainforest where the penguins would “spend the winter basking in the tropical sun.” The video went viral on the internet.

The Guardian newspaper got in on the act on 1st April 1977 with a seven-page supplement on the entirely fictitious island nation of San Serriffe.

And in this new digital world, let’s not forget the internet giant Google with its annual April Fool’s Day jokes!

Saint George’s Day

The feast day of Saint George is celebrated by various Christian Churches and several countries and cities where Saint George is the patron saint – including England. The day is remembered on April 23 each year – this is the date traditionally accepted of his death in AD 303.

While St Patrick’s Day and St Andrew’s Day are bank holidays in Ireland and Scotland respectively, St George’s Day is sadly NOT a bank holiday in England.

The heroic soldier slayed a dragon and now we celebrate each year with quintessentially English traditions. Here’s what you can do on April 23 to get involved….

Although Saint George is England’s patron saint, George would likely have been a soldier somewhere in the eastern Roman Empire, probably in what is now Turkey – if he ever existed. He is also the patron saint of Ethiopia, Georgia and Portugal, and cities such as Freiburg, Moscow and Beirut.

The well-known story of the dragon mainly comes down to the Golden Legend – a popular collection of saints’ lives written in the 13th century. According to one version, a town in Libya had a small lake inhabited by a dragon infected with the plague. Many of the townsfolk were being killed by the dragon so they started feeding it two sheep a day to appease it.

When the town ran out of sheep, legend has it that the king devised a lottery system to feed the hungry dragon local children instead. But, one day his own daughter was chosen and as she was being led down to the lake Saint George happened to ride past. The story says that George offered to slay the dragon but only if the people converted to Christianity. They did, and the king later built a church where the dragon was slain

In the past, a traditional custom on Saint George’s Day was to wear a red rose in your lapel – but not many people practise this anymore.

More popular customs include flying the Saint George’s Cross flag, with English pubs often festooned with them

In cathedrals, churches and chapels on Saint George’s Day it is common for the hymn Jerusalem to be sung.

We celebrate the day with anything involving English traditions – including morris dancing and fetes. The odd Punch & Judy show can also be seen and there are also town crier contests.

Many places across England also host a feast with traditional fare and some areas hold theatre events, jousting and re-enactments.

Dinner party entertainment ideas

Pianists are fantastic for creating mood and providing a soundtrack to your evening, no matter the function. Providing a repertoire of modern and classic hits, they tend to provide a fun and informal atmosphere for a whole host of events including dinner, drinks receptions or a small networking function.

Classical Guitarist
What is there to say about classical guitarists that hasn’t already been said (or assumed)? Well, for starters it’s not only western styles of music that are often booked; flamenco is extremely popular whilst many prefer a slightly different sound to what they ordinarily listen to as it promotes a sense of occasion for the evening.

Now you may be thinking that a magician wouldn’t fit in at all at your intimate soiree but they can be extremely effective for engaging a room and have been proven to be great for informal networking events. For dinner parties, there are some brilliantly parlour magicians that can sit with you at the tables.

The cello is the perfect sound for a classy dinner private party amongst a few choice guests. It has a sound that many people absolutely adore, its low timbre fitting perfectly with a number of other instruments or in a solo setting.

The Violin is popular across all private parties and corporate events, no matter intimate or otherwise. Mixing a Cello and a Violin are extremely popular which fits for virtually any occasion. Another act combination that people enjoy for intimate dinner parties is violin and…

The harp is a gorgeous, gentle instrument that many adore but rather interestingly, rarely get to experience live. It could be because it’s a rather bulky instrument for a child to play, so many performers actually learn when they’re adults. Perfect as an accompaniment to dinner, the harp is also great in combination with strings or woodwind.

As ever with these things, it’s all about finding the right entertainment for you.

Is Jingle Bells an original Christmas song?

You might think of Jingle Bells being a Christmas classics, it isn’t actually a Christmas song!

If you can recall – we highly expect you to be able to – the very first lyrics to Jingle Bells sound eminently Christmassy; “Dashing through the snow, in a one-horse open sleigh, over the hills we go, laughing all the way…” Horses aren’t really associated with Christmas and although snow certainly is, there’s not really anything else to link the song to everybody’s favourite holiday entertainment song. The reason for that? It…isn’t a Christmas song.

You see, although we only ever sing the first verse and chorus, there are many more lyrics to Jingle Bells that none of us really know. Some believe that the song was written for children to sing to the congregation at Sunday School. Alas, the verses none of us know go in a pretty intriguing direction with references to the sleigh crashing, a race with another sleigh owner and…err.. picking up women: “Now the ground is white, go it while you’re young, take the girls tonight, and sing this sleighing song…” Would children sing that? Probably not, though one could easily argue for the innocence of youth.

The song we sing today was written by a man named James Lord Pierpont in or around 1850. Nobody is exactly sure of the precise time at which it was written or indeed, where. What we do know is that Pierpont was an American and although he hailed from Medford in Massachusetts, he only published the song when living in Savannah, Georgia. The only reason that this is of importance is that both towns lay claim to being the birthplace of Jingle Bells.

Others believe that Jingle Bells is actually a drinking song. Historians are aware that it was a hugely popular song to sing at private parties and events, with guests ‘jingling’ the ice cubes in their glasses as they sang. Jingle all the way indeed! So which holiday is it about? If we go back to what we’ve previously written, the clue might be found in the history of Medford, Massachusetts. Back in the 1840s and 1850s, the Medford Sleigh Races were a hugely popular event with townsfolk cheering on the sleighs as they tore around the town. But they didn’t take place in December! They actually took place during Thanksgiving, which makes Pierpont’s classic ballad a song for the holidays, just not the one we all thought!

Music for your Irish party

We thought we’d provide a few ideas on Irish entertainment. When thinking about the Emerald Isle and the entertainment that it has provided to the world, an obvious place to start is the harp.

It is known that the harp was revered across Celtic culture and Europe in the 1100s with various leaders having their own resident harpist who enjoyed a high status and special privileges. What did they have to do? As one might expect, they were expected to play music in accompaniment to other forms of party entertainment – poetry recitations or reading of psalms, etc. Alas, no music for the harp is written down from this period.

As any lover of history may tell you, Celtic culture wasn’t as popular as it used to be and the social status of a harp player began to lessen as the years wore on. No longer retained amongst the higher echelons, they took to the streets, performing as travelling musicians to the delight of crowds. Perhaps they were enjoyed too much; although the Irish harp was a symbol of the country and embraced around the world, it was now see as an emblem of resistance against the Crown and England. It was henceforth banned from the end of the Middle Ages and in just a few centuries, the Irish harp had all but disappeared.

…Well, almost. In 1792, a group of harpists travelled to Belfast for a traditional harp festival. A passionate musician, Edward Bunting, noted down the music they played and it is thanks to him that traditional Gaelic music lasts to this day; it had never previously been written down on paper (presumably because nobody ever saw the point or most harpists couldn’t read or write sheet music.)

There are less than a dozen Celtic harps that have survived from the medieval period. The oldest one is also the most famous – the Trinity College Harp, upon which the official emblem of Ireland is now based. It can be seen if you decide to visit Trinity College in Dublin and no doubt, you’ll learn even more about this lovely instrument.

Photobooth alternatives

When it comes to booking entertainment for events and parties around London, clients often opt for a photo booth. But what if they could be improved? That’s where Staged Photography comes in!

The backdrops are what this is all about. You can pretend you’re in a horror movie, a Venetian ball, a rainforest. Pretty much any photo is possible with these backdrops. All you have to do is book Staged Photography, state the background you’d love to see on your photo and… That’s it. Come the day of your event, the incredibly immersive – “Is it 3D?” – backdrop will be unfurled and you’ll be stunned at the realism. Even more so when you join the picture later on!

Staged Photography will require a little more room than a hired photo booth. Most booths can take up a small space in the corner of your venue, while a Staged Photography takes up quite a bit more space than that. But here’s the thing, you won’t mind because you want people to notice this amazing form of entertainment. You want people to have an incredible photo taken against the backdrop that you have chosen for your event!

Just like a photo booth, photos are available almost immediately so you can take your home your entertaining snap for use however you please. Want it digitally? That’s not a problem either! A truly brilliant form of party entertainment.

Monopoly and its history

Monopoly was originally designed to warn players about the dangers of capitalism – but it ended up celebrating getting rich.

The first version of the board game was called ‘The Landlord’s Game’ and was supposed to show the unfairness of private property ownership. It was created in 1902 by Elizabeth Magie who believed in fairer taxation and wanted a single tax on land ownership to replace all other taxes.

She thought it was grossly unfair that landlords raked in profits by passively owning land and wanted to change it.

The board game she called ‘The Landlord’s Game’ was essentially a satire and she thought that when people played it they would ‘see clearly the gross injustice of our present land system. How wrong she was, in her original version players used paper money to buy utilities and property, just like the modern game. But instead of passing ‘Go’ and collecting £200, you passed a square marked ‘Labor upon Mother Earth produces wages’ and got £100.

One corner of the board was marked ‘No Trespassing. Go to Jail’ which she said was owned by a British lord and was to signify ‘foreign ownership of American soil’.

Magie patented The Landlord’s Game in 1904 and approached board game makersed Parker Bros.. but they passed, saying it was too complicated.

Meanwhile the game spread around the country – people made their own versions with paper – until it found its way to Charles Darrow in Philadelphia in 1933. He was shown the game by his friend Charles Todd and promptly stole the idea and passed it off as his own, adding some more colour to the board and suggesting people use small household objects as playing tokens.

During the 1930s it began to sell steadily at stores until in 1935 Parker Brothers decided to buy it from Darrow for £7,000, around £121,000 in current money.

Parker Brothers added playing pieces like a shoe, a top hat and an iron, the Chance and Community Chest cards and a cartoon character who was called Mr Monopoly, which spawned the game’s new name.

Parker Brothers tried to patent the game but realized that Darrow did not actually own it.
They had to pay £10,000 to Daniel Lyman who had patented his own version called Finance.
They also tracked down Magie, who was living in Arlington, Virginia and paid her with a commitment that they would make a version of the Landlord’s Game.

Darrow meanwhile made millions, even after Parker Brothers reduced his royalties.
In 1939 when Parker Brothers eventually made The Landlord’s Game it bombed and most of the 10,000 copies were returned. Magie would no doubt have been heartbroken.
Author Tristan Donovan writes:: ‘Players looked at Monopoly and decided they wanted to be the rich monopolistic landlord’ After all who wants to be poor?

A quintessentially English game

The game of croquet was introduced to Victorian England by John Jaques and marketed to the growing middle class via the manufacture of croquet sets, which were showcased at The Great Exhibition of 1851. Great Exhibition sets were reissued in the 21st century by Jaques of London to mark 150 years since the introduction of croquet to England.

The popularity of the game in Victorian times engendered a wave of publications. Each publication offered a different number of rules, ranging from 20 to 126! Consensus arrived in 1870 with the publication of The Conference Rules of Laws. The current Laws of Association Croquet number a modest 55, though that number climbs into the hundreds if you count the many sub-sections.

As the world went to war in 1914, Stanley Paul & Co. published Lord Tollemache Croquet. The text describes the game of the Edwardian golden age, supported by event photographs demonstrating the techniques of a sequence game (as golf croquet today), involving ‘tight croqueting’ where the striker put his foot on his ball and hit it to move the ball in contact over the lawn, sending it ‘up the country’.

Croquet illustrates hoops run from circles rounding them on a square court with 4 baulks, 6 hoops and 2 pegs (1st below fifth hoop, 2nd above sixth hoop). The player was required to hit the 2nd peg (turning peg) with the striker’s ball, thus gaining one stroke before advancing to 1-back. The end game involved a peg-out at the peg below the fifth hoop.

As croquet grew in popularity, so clubs were formed. In 1860 the first club was established at Worthing in west Sussex, followed by the All England Croquet Club at Wimbledon in 1868. A need to coordinate the activities of a growing number of clubs led to the formation of The Croquet Association (CA) in 1897; it remains today the national governing body for the sport in England and produces the Laws of Croquet for both Association and Golf.

The introduction of lawn tennis in 1875 challenged the popularity of croquet, but croquet continued to be played and perhaps benefited from the higher standards of lawn care that tennis demanded. Lawn mowers, first invented in 1830, improved and evolved to suit the leisure market.

Planning a picnic event

‘Picnic’ began life as a 17th-century French word — it wasn’t even close to being an American invention. A 1692 edition of Origines de la Langue Françoise de Ménage mentions ‘piquenique’ as being of recent origin marks the first appearance of the word in print. As for how the French came by this new term, it was likely invented by joining the common form of the verb ‘piquer’ (meaning “to pick” or “peck”) and a nonsense rhyming syllable coined to fit the first half of this new palate-pleaser.

The first documented appearance of the term outside the French language occurred in 1748, but it was 1800 or thereabouts before anyone can prove it made it into the English language. Even then, it still wasn’t in America, it was in England.

Originally, the term described the element of individual contribution each guest was supposed to make towards the repast, as everyone who had been invited to social events styled as “picnics” was expected to turn up bearing a dish to add to the common feast. This element was picked up in other ‘picnic’ terms, such as ‘picnic society,’ which described gatherings of the intelligentsia where everyone was expected to perform or in some other way contribute to the success of the evening.

Over time, the meaning of the word shifted to emphasize an alfresco element that had crept into the evolving concept of what such gatherings were supposed to be. Nowadays one thinks of a picnic as a casual meal partaken in a pastoral setting, not as a repast enjoyed either indoors or outdoors but which was contributed to by everybody. Modern picnic baskets can be provisioned by only one cook, and no one would think anything of it — what matters now is the food be eaten outdoors.

By the 19th century, ‘picnic’ had successfully made this linguistic shift in meaning. Its history (and that of every other word in the English language) is documented in the Oxford English Dictionary.

May Day Traditions

Nothing beckons summer forth more effectively than dancing around a pole adorned with long, coloured ribbons. The British May Day tradition of dancing around a maypole is around 600 years old and the activity often brings communities together. But what does dancing around a maypole on 1 May involve, and what does it represent?

Dancing around a maypole involves a group of dancers taking a coloured ribbon attached to it and weaving around each other, often to music. Traditionally the dancers position themselves in pairs of boys and girls before beginning their routine. The dance creates a multi-coloured pattern which creeps steadily down the pole. The dancers then reverse their steps to undo the ribbons. This is said to represent the lengthening of the days as summer approaches, but the significance of the pole itself is not really known.

At Offenham in Worcestershire, a very complex dance routine around the pole is performed on May Day every year. The first recorded instance of a maypole dance came during the 14th century in Llanidloes, central Wales, and the tradition is thought to have come from Wales and Scotland before spreading around the country. Due to the ever-changing religious doctrines of the kings and queens of England over the centuries, the maypole was seen as an anti-Christian symbol for a time, right up to the end of the 19th century. The tallest maypoles in the country are at Nun Monkton, North Yorkshire (88 ft), Barwick-in-Elmet, West Yorkshire (86 ft) and Welford-on-Avon, Warwickshire (65 ft).

There is also the hilarious tradition of maypole scrambling, which involves people trying to climb to the top of the pole. This also mainly happens in Germany and Austria. Though not always held on 1 May, maypole celebrations also happen in the States, Malta, Scandinavia, Canada and Italy, with Italians using the pole to celebrate International Workers Day too.