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What does Eostre have to do with it, anyway?

What does Eostre have to do with it, anyway?

Easter, Eostre, Ostern

Easter. Bunnies in pink waistcoats. Eggs everywhere in a gamut of unlikely colours. It’s part of the season, and very few people stop to ask themselves – what the bunny duck do rabbits, eggs, and chocolate have to do with the death and rebirth of Christ?

…actually, nothing at all. Rabbits and eggs are spring and fertility symbols, and while there’s learned argument over whether Eostre, Ostara, or even Freya was the original spring / dawn goddess who inspired the various traditions, you will note that unlike Christmas, the birth of Christ, which has a fixed date in the calendar (despite the calendar having changed a couple of times in 2,000 years), Easter wanders all over the place. You’d really think that the date of Christ’s death would be at least as fixed as his birth date, right?

In actual fact, reasonably solid rumour indicates that Easter was originally a pagan spring festival (take your pick), and the Christian Church wallpapered a ceremony over the top of it. The simplest line between two points involves a Germanic fertility / spring / dawn goddess named Eostre, and a lot of spring and fertility imagery (rabbits, eggs, daffodils…please don’t make me draw you a diagram).

Which is why you have one of the most solemn celebrations in the Christian calendar stuck rather cockeyed over the bright colours and chocolate-infested imagery of Easter, and at random points in the calendar any time from end of March to end of April.

Personally, I’m in for festivals that involve hunting down chocolate and then holing up somewhere comfy to eat it. I’m very culturally flexible for festivals that involve food.

May the chocolate-distributing bunny be good to you.

Eostre

Egging on Easter traditions

Egging on Easter traditions

Egging on Easter – some of the less traditional traditions

I’m a big fan of any festival that involves bright colours and good things to eat. Chinese New Year is one of my personal favourites, since it includes firecrackers as well as all of the above. Christmas, too, is a great excuse for competitive gluttony followed by a food coma with a mound of new books by my side.

However, the one currently up on the roster is Easter, that icon of the Christian calendar, marking the death and resurrection of Christ. Which, for some reason, is widely celebrated with chocolate bunnies and eggs in weird colours (more on that later). As I’d be struck dead if I tried to claim I was a devout anything, I thought I’d have a look at some of the lesser-known Easter traditions and where they came from.

Pretty much everyone’s familiar with the bunnies and the dyed hard-boiled eggs. So how about fashion shows, kites, and murder mysteries?

Well, the fashion show apparently started in New York, according to Mental Floss, sometime in the mid-1800s. Traditionally, it’s considered lucky to wear new clothes on Easter (no real idea why, but I’d posit some link between new beginnings and new clothes…), and apparently some of the New York upper crust felt they should be displayed for a bit more than just the Easter church service. The tradition’s broadened a bit over the years, but still exists today in the Easter Parade.

And I mentioned kites, too, didn’t I? Well, in Bermuda they fly kites to symbolise Jesus’s ascension to Heaven. The kites are brightly coloured, and designed both to fly and to make noise in the air; a great tradition for an island where the Trade Wind blows from the East 364 days of the 365.

Murder mysteries. Well, I have no idea why murder mysteries, but in the Nordic areas, Easter is celebrated with murder mystery TV shows, book releases, and even short mysteries on the sides of the milk cartons. The Visit Norway site thinks it started as a marketing stunt in the early 1900s by a couple of young authors, but whether they’re right or not, Easter in most of the Nordic countries means crime mysteries galore. (And, may I say, Nordic crime shows are fantastic? Generally I have an issue with crime shows, because I figure out whodunnit it five minutes in and spend the remaining 40 minutes being sarcastic, but there’s a couple of Nordic ones that knocked my socks off: check out Trapped and Border Town.)

So… what’s your favourite weird and off-beat Easter tradition? (Beat kites and murder mysteries, I dare ya.)

Easter 2019 Sparkly Badgers

New job, new me?

New job, new me?

New job and lots of changes

Well, for them as follows this blog (all two of you ;)) you’ll have noticed that my posting’s been a bit sparse this past month. So here’s the scoop.

My previous day job was quite demanding and technical (not that this is entirely a bad thing, I get bored easily), but essentially until September 2018 I was trying to handle solo a workload that would generally have required two to three people (make that six if you’re in government). In September my team expanded to two people, which helped. However, unfortunately, March saw my team again reduced to just me, which, in short order, led to me looking for a new job.

There were a number of boring, office-politics style items that contributed, but also the fact that my stress levels have been hovering around the ‘get short of breath to the point where I’m seeing sparkles’ for the past year. To my irresponsible, Millennial mind, no pay cheque is worth that.

Mood swing chains

I found this on Rebel Circus/FB

I therefore began a job hunt, and was lucky enough, towards the end of March, to go from resume submission to job offer in under a week (no, I’m really not that good, although it’s vaguely possible my competition was that bad). I’m therefore starting a new job in the middle of April, and at the stage of swinging wildly between ‘awesome, new job!!’ and ‘OMG, new job!!’

The new job, similar to the old job, will focus on regulatory compliance, but will add some data security elements, which will be (yes, yes, thank you, I do know I sound masochistic) a really interesting new item to learn about.

The new company is also an established tech start-up, so I fully expect that regulatory compliance will offer some interesting new questions to research as we explore how to develop new services and offerings that are also compliant. I also have hopes that the workload may be calibrated to the ‘one industrious person’ level, rather than the ‘two to three peoples’ worth’.

Not being permanently on the edge of meltdown would be very nice. Who knows, I might even have a bit more energy after work to get the wurdz in order in a slightly more accelerated manner.

Phantosmia and marine diesel

Phantosmia and marine diesel

Phantosmia – what is it?

Phantosmia is essentially a nasal hallucination; you smell something continually, usually something unpleasant, that isn’t there.

In my personal case, that ‘something’ is marine diesel exhaust. As in ‘I’m standing a few feet downwind of the exhaust of a WWII battleship that’s just started its engine for the first time since the Armistice’ smell of marine diesel exhaust.

Because it’s a fairly rare problem, there’s no real treatment for it that doesn’t sound as if it got imported from the Dark Ages. Additionally, because it’s fairly rare, and apparently varies pretty widely, the literature on it is less than consistent.

No one really seems to have a clue why phantosmia occurs. They’ve put together a lot of commonalities, some of which (brain tumour, or Parkinson’s, anyone?) are pretty scary, and others of which (allergies, stress, depression, sinusitis) are at least generally non-fatal if treated. It’s rare enough that when I went to my doctor and told him I was smelling diesel fumes all day every day, he laughed and welcomed me to the big city.

But it stinks!

Luckily for me, my phantosmia seems to be stress-triggered (I’m working under the assumption that several years later I’d probably have noticed a brain tumour…), and so when my stress levels get to the ‘get the f*** out of Dodge’ level, I get marine diesel exhaust.

Also luckily, for me, marine diesel exhaust is annoying but it’s also a smell I grew up with, so a few days to a few weeks of it isn’t pleasant but doesn’t have me planning to jump under a bus. Strong scents (peppermint, or sharp berries, for example) can cut through it, as can actually trying to sniff something.

I’m working the theory that I get marine diesel stench under stress because at some subconscious level, I associate the smell of a boat’s engine starting up with moving somewhere new and different. Marine diesel exhaust wafting across the yacht was the prelude to getting the anchor up and going for most of my childhood. To appropriate a Monty Python line, it’s a nasal ‘Run away, run away!’ reaction.

Solutions?

Well, there’s not a lot. I haven’t found that saline spray does anything for it, and I confess to no real desire to have my olfactory bulbs removed – generally I have a pretty good sense of smell, I use it, and when I’m not on public transit, I even enjoy it.

I’m working on reducing my stress levels. It’s a project. It’s not a project that’s going awfully well, but I am chipping away at it, in my copious free time.

Whether getting rid of some of the stress will equal getting rid of phantosmia, who knows. On the other hand, lowering stress levels is a good idea in general.

English, the ‘universal language’

English, the ‘universal language’

Bordering on English

I’m seeing a lot of noise online recently about English, the ‘universal language’. And it makes me laugh.

I invite these optimists to try travelling from York to London in the UK and ordering a Maccy D’s. Come to that, try asking if you can wear thongs into a restaurant in Newcastle and in Sydney. I guarantee two very different responses, but I’d only bother standing by with a camera for one of them.

This is because English has several oddities out of the gate. It’s spoken widely, and suffers from all the inconsistencies normal to wide geographical spread. Put a Scouser and a Texan together at an open bar without an internet translator and watch the fun.

English is built from a smattering of Celtic overlaid forcibly by Latin, in turn overlaid by Saxon and then Norman French, meaning it takes part of its vocabulary from the largely Germanic North, and a lot of it from the Romance languages to the South.

Have a look at some untweaked Chaucer (c. 1343 – 1400), the first person to actually write in English, rather than French or Latin. At that point in time, actually writing literature in English would be roughly comparable to someone now writing a work of philosophy in text-message shorthand…doable, but something of a freak of nature.

Whilom, as olde stories tellen us,

Ther was a duc that highte Theseus;

Of Atthenes he was lord and governour,

And in his tyme swich a conquerour,

That gretter was ther noon under the sonne.

Ful many a riche contree hadde he wonne,

What with his wysdom and his chivalrie;

He conquered al the regne of Femenye,

That whilom was ycleped Scithia,

And weddede the queene Ypolita,

And broghte hir hoom with hym in his contree,

With muchel glorie and greet solempnytee,

And eek hir yonge suster Emelye.

The Knight’s Tale

Certainly you can unfocus your brain a little, and stare at it, and you can make it out without too much trouble. If you have some grounding in Classic Mythology, you can cheat and fill in any blanks (cheat. There’s another good word, etymologically. ‘To escheat’, a shortening of Old French ‘escheat’.) If you feel particularly technical, you can even take a red and a green pen and highlight the words that are clearly Saxon in origin, and which are clearly Latin / French.

Let’s take one of the words there (just one, in the interest of having a post that doesn’t equal a full-length novel). Let’s look at contree. Obviously, modern English, ‘country’. Or you could say ‘nation’. Or, hang on, what about ‘county’? Doesn’t ‘county’ have anything to do with it? Starting to feel a twinge of sympathy for those who have to actually learn this language the hard way? I do. You’ve already got two completely different words meaning pretty much exactly the same thing and a third that looks really, really similar.

Among other oddities from its mixed heritage, English has nearly twice the vocabulary of most languages, with most estimates pinning it at somewhere near 1 million words. Given that the majority of English speakers actually commonly use about 5,000 words of that, and even a highly-educated university graduate only about 20,000…that’s still a lot of variation for a second-language speaker to try to master.

For example: fish is a plural noun. Except when it’s not. Anyone want to take a stab at why and when you can actually say fishes? What’s the difference between a belfry and a belltower? Come to that, which English-speaking populations can you insult by calling them a bellend, and which will just look at you blankly?

As practical choices go, picking English as the ‘universal language’ scores a resounding E for effort. It’s hard to pronounce, regional dialects vary wildly, and the vocabulary is, if possible, more enormous even than the number of grammatical irregularities.

Of course, as far as writers go, that makes English a whole bundle of fun with occasional streaks of psycho. You can do nearly anything in English. (Well, you all knew I was going to end up talking about writing.) You can turn up ten or so synonyms for pretty much any word you care to use (or not use. That’s what synonyms are for.) And if you care to dig yourself into regional slang for some character colour…well, the Urban Dictionary is a writer’s boon there. If you weren’t planning on slang to start with, you’ll almost certainly end up wanting some after ten minutes in there.  Not to mention if you put any two grammar nerds into a bar with a pitcher of beer, you can get five different opinions on something as basic as when and where to put a comma (Oxford commas, anyone?).

Basically, English as a universal language is a moderately shitty choice. Why do I blaspheme? Well, because language, at its most basic, and basic is really what you want as a universal interface, is a means to communicate easily and clearly. Yup, really. I can lose most native speakers in three sentences if I make the effort. English has weird pronunciation, which varies wildly depending on region. It has a massively complicated grammar structure. And don’t forget that huge, doubled vocabulary. As far as simple, clear, universal communication goes…well, some of the Eastern writing systems might, possibly, throw more of a wrench in the works, but only by a whisker.

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