There is an unending struggle since time immemorial between authoritarian forces and the masses seeking their right as the sole arbiter of power. And Pakistan is one example where the tug-of-war started since its inception and continues to this day. Since the 15th Century whenever there is fight between the people and authoritarian individuals over who is ruler, the most popular example cited to warn the usurpers is the tussle power between English Monarchy and General Oliver Cromwell. He ruled strongly for more than five years after beheading King Charles I. He died a natural death only to be tried posthumously for what was termed as an act of treason against the Parliament. His body was exhumed and hanged.
History of Great Britain is reflected in its architecture unravelling tales full of curiosity. My love to know more about the historic sites got a boost when one sunny day in the year of Coronavirus my eyes ran into a blue plaque meant for identifying monuments. There is an old hotel /Pub in Marble Arch in London which used to have gallows next door to it to execute criminals. Convicts were driven to the gallows in horse carts after they had been found guilty and sentenced to be publicly hanged.
The horse-drawn dray as it was called carried the convict to the gallows. He was accompanied by an armed guard, who would stop the dray outside the pub and ask the prisoner if he would like ”ONE LAST DRINK FOR THE ROAD!’. If he said YES, it was referred to as ONE FOR THE ROAD. If he declined, that prisoner was ON THE WAGON. The place, however, became world famous for the hanging of the first British General who decided to be a dictator.
It was English general/statesman Oliver Cromwell who led the English Parliamentary forces against King Charles I during the English civil war. He subsequently ruled the British Isles as Lord Protector (equal to in modern lexicon Chief Martial law Administrator). He was a blue-bloodied Puritan, an iron handed administrator and ruthless in persecution of Catholics. In recognition of his firm rule one can see Cromwell’s statue outside the House of Commons. He was buried in the Hall of Westminster.
British House of Parliament, historically known as the Palace of Westminster, is in itself a treasure house of history. Not only it’s red stone building, every step that one takes to go inside or get out of it is loaded with remnants of historic events reflective of long catalogue of crimes, follies and intrigues of kings, queens and princes. Its walls are decorated with huge frescos by its famous artists.
As one takes a journey to the main entrance one cannot miss a drawing of the historic Magna Carta being signed by King John in 1215 granting the British people right of Habeas Corpus that erected the solid foundation of rule of law, evolutionary democracy and set the future course for the British people and history—nay history of most of the democracies in the world.
It was after 300 years of the signing of Magna Carta General Oliver Cromwell decided to pack up democracy as ‘his horse knew more of religion and laws then the legislators sitting in the house’. He led Parliament’s army against King Charles I during the English civil war. Subsequently King Charles I was tried for committing an act of treason against the state and Parliament. He was beheaded in 1649 outside the Banqueting House—one of the last remaining pieces of neo-classical architecture in the Whitehall Palace.
Oliver Cromwell styled himself as Lord Protector— something akin to what in our times came to be known as Chief Martial Law Administrator under Puritan General Ziaul Haq or later Chief Executive General Pervez Musharraf. Notwithstanding the fact that he earned quite notoriety for his debauchery, abuse of religion and sectarianism, he was accessed to be buried in Westminster. Later he was further honoured when his statute was allowed to be erected outside the House of Commons that could not be missed by any visitor or passer-by.
King Charles II defeated the Parliamentary army and restored monarchy. Later to set an example for all times Cromwell was tried posthumously, convicted of high treason and his body was exhumed, his skeleton with his head on a pike was brought to a place next door to Marble Arch meant for execution of criminals. Here Cromwell’s skeleton along with his bare head was hung for public display for days.
There are interesting books regarding life in London in the 1500s when modern technology was not there. It is said most people got married in June, because they took their yearly bath in May and they still smelled pretty good by June. However, since they were starting to smell, brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odour.
There were no separate bathrooms or showers. Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The master of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other members of the family, men first, then the women, and finally the children. Last of all, the babies. And then the water used to become so dirty that one could actually lose someone in it. It is the origin of the saying– “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!”
If you visit Shakespeare’s birthplace Stratford-Upon- Avon you cannot miss his cottage and other houses that still have thatched roofs, thick straw piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived on the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. That’s why they say to this day— “It’s raining cats and dogs.”
There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom, where bugs and other droppings could mess up a nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That’s how canopy beds came into existence and are still in fashion. The floor was nothing but layers of dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the saying, “dirt poor.”
The wealthy, however, had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on the floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way. That’s how the word ‘threshold’ got in the dictionary.
In those good old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight. In the morning they would lit the fire, warm the stew for the day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme: ”Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot, nine days old”. Sometimes they could buy pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over they would hang up their ‘bacon,’ to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could, “bring home the bacon.” They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around talking and ”chew the fat”. Rich with money could afford plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning and death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous. Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or ”The Upper Crust”. Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of ”Holding a Wake”.
England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people, so they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realised they had been burying people alive. So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, thread it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift) to listen for the bell; thus someone could be, ”Saved by the Bell” or was considered a ”Dead Ringer”.
Religion plays a big role in the sub-continent in providing home remedies. A Pakistani quack has hit the headlines by claiming that sana makki I can eliminate COVID. India cow urine considered holy is traditionally consumed by many as a medicinal drink with curative qualities. Late Prime Minister Mr Moraji Desai consumed it regularly as a health nurturing tonic’. Cow urine is also known to have enough chemical elements that are found effectively useful for tanning animal hides. This efficacious utility of urine made people and families collect all their pee in a pot and then once a day it was taken and sold to the tanneries.
This is practice of collecting ones pee proved to be of commercial use for survival of poor families as such the practice that came to be used for survival of the poor described as “piss poor”, but worse than that were the really poor folk, who couldn’t even afford to buy a pot, they “Didn’t have a pot to piss in” and were the lowest of the low in the society. Now in this age of Coronovirus when all over the world painstaking efforts are being made to invent anti-COVID vaccine, experts in indigenous medicine in India are advising people to take cow urine as an antidote to COVID.
Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Health Dr Zafar Mirza—has made his name as a hand-washing expert for elimination of COVID by using soap notwithstanding the fact that he is the most condemned member of Prime Minister Khan’s government by the Supreme Court. It has become a joke among kids who ask their parents how pandemics kill so many thousands of people all over the world when it can be killed by ordinary washing soap.