Archive for category Everyone Should Know

7 Things Everyone Should Know About: Pancake Day

1) Otherwise known as ‘Shrove Tuesday’, Pancake Day precedes ‘Ash Wednesday’ which is the start of Lent in the Christian calendar. Lent marks a period of fasting in the run-up to Easter. Shrove Tuesday became a day of using up all fatty foods before Lent, like butter and eggs.

2) ‘Shrove’ comes from the old English word ‘shrive’ roughly meaning ‘to confess’.


A pancake race in London. By Pedro Figueiredo


3) Before Christianity, Pancake Day was originally a pagan holiday. The Slavs believed that the change of seasons was a struggle between Jarilo, the god of vegetation and springtime, and the evil spirits of cold and darkness. The most important part of the celebration of the arrival of spring, Shrovetide week, was the making of pancakes. It was believed that the hot, round pancakes symbolised the sun and by eating them the Slavs got power, light and warmth from the sun. The first pancake was put on a window for the spirits of the ancestors.

4) According to sources, Britons eat roughly 52 million eggs on pancake day – this is approximately 22 million more than on a regular day.

5) The tradition of tossing pancakes is said to originate from 1445 when a housewife in Olney, Buckinghamshire, was so busy making pancakes that she forgot the time until she heard the church bells ringing for the service. She raced out of the house to church while still carrying her frying pan and pancake, tossing it as she went.


Playing football on Shrove Tuesday


6) Around the world, different countries have their own name for Pancake Day:

  • Mardi Gras in France.
  • Fastnacht Day for German-American populations.
  • In Portugese, Spanish and Italian speaking countries, it is known as Carnival (or carne levare, meaning ‘to take away meat’). It’s often celebrated with street processions or fancy dress, like the Brazilian Carnival in Rio de Janerio.
  • In Maderia, on Terça-feira Gorda, they eat malasadas (using up the lard and sugar in the house, much the same was as Pancake Day in the UK). This tradition was taken to Hawaii as Malasada Day.
  • In Denmark and Norway it’s known as Fastelavn.
  • Iceland = Sprengidagur (Bursting Day).


7) In London, the Rehab Parliamentary Pancake Race takes place every Pancake Day, with teams from the House of Commons, the House of Lords and the Fourth Estate doing a fun run to raise awareness of the charity. Elsewhere in England, many towns had traditional ‘mob football’ games which date from the 12th century until the practice died out in the 19th century.



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7 Things Everyone Should Know About: ISIS

A soldier from the RAF Regiment on patrol near Basrah Air Base, Iraq.

Some blame the Iraq War for the rise of ISIS

1. The organisation has variously been known as AQI (al-Qaeda in Iraq), ISI (Islamic State in Iraq), ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), SIC (State of the Islamic Caliphate), ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and Da’ish (an abbreviation of the Arabic for ISIL).

The numerous names demonstrate the changes the group has undergone (from being aligned with al-Qaeda to claiming to have founded a new caliphate*). They also give an insight into the ambition of ISIS, which has pretensions to rule territory spanning the Middle East and even North Africa. There has also been some debate as to what foreign governments should call the organisation: while the American and British governments prefer ISIL, France uses Da’ish – a term which the group itself very much dislikes but which, the French government points out, denies the terrorists any air of legitimacy.

* (an Islamic state ruled by a supreme religious and political leader, the caliph).

2. Muslim groups in Britain have stood out against ISIS

The situation is far more complex than simply Christian vs Muslim. For, while the group may claim to have founded a new caliphate, many Muslims reject ISIS’s self-professed religious authority. Organisations such as the Islamic Society of Britain and the Association of British Muslims have argued that the terrorists are neither Islamic, nor a State. Meanwhile, however, a number of young British Muslims have been travelling to Iraq to join ISIS. Just how far these men (and women) are motivated by religion is debateable. As Thomas Babbington Macaulay, MP, historian and poet, put it in 1848:

“The experience of many ages proves that men may be ready to fight to the death, and to persecute without pity, for a religion whose creed they do not understand, and whose precepts they habitually disobey.”

3. Some have blamed the Iraq War for the rise of ISIS

ISIS is made up of Sunni Muslims. Under Saddam Hussein, Sunnis held much of the power in the country, despite the fact that the majority of Iraqis are Shias. After the Western invasion of Iraq, Shia militias seized upon the chance to seek revenge against their erstwhile repressors, as Frank Ledwige describes in his book Losing Small Wars. Today the Iraq government is dominated by Shias, which provides ample recruitment propaganda for ISIS. As long as sectarian violence continues in Iraq and as long as either Sunnis or Shias feel under-represented in government, Iraq will struggle to find peace.

4. Al-Qaeda broke their association with ISIS because the group defied orders to not kill so many civilians.

ISIS is too violent even for al-Qaeda. Which is worrying. The high-profile beheadings which the terrorists have carried out of journalists and aid-workers has further fuelled their reputation for brutality.

The killing of war photographer, John Cantlie, shocked the world. Photo: War photographer John Cantlie in the Pech valley, Afghanistan June 2012. via Wikimedia Commons

The killing of war photographer, John Cantlie, shocked the world. Photo: War photographer John Cantlie in the Pech valley, Afghanistan June 2012. via Wikimedia Commons

5. ISIS gets a large amount of revenue from the sale of oil and electricity, and from extortion.

As well as being ambitious and extremely violent, ISIS is organised to the point of looking like something of a mini-state. The capture of Syrian power plants and oil fields means the group does not have to rely on funding from outside sources. Add the money ISIS gets from ‘taxing’ local humanitarian and commercial operations and the organisation is a well-funded terrorist outfit. This money allows the group to pay high salaries to its fighters, making them better paid than the Iraq military. It also apparently allows them to offer free healthcare, housing and other benefits to those in the areas they control. And guess who is buying the oil and electricity from ISIS? The Syrian government.

6. When attacked in Iraq they escape to Syria and when attacked in Syria they escape to Iraq.

This makes ISIS that much harder to defeat militarily. Known as using a ‘rear area’, this tactic has been seen in places like Afghanistan where the Taliban would frequently cross the Afghan-Pakistan border to escape prosecution by either country. The incompetence of the Iraq army (which suffers from high desertion rates and lack of morale) has compounded the problem. Current US bombing strategy aims to counter this by cutting-off the ‘rear area’ and preventing ISIS from retreating.

7. ISIS is not the only anti-government group in Iraq

One such rebel group is Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandia (JRTN). These are Sunni nationalists, many of whom are former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party loyalists. This illustrates just how deep the sectarian divisions are within the country and the difficulties faced by peace-builders there. The military defeat of ISIS will not alone fix the problems facing Iraq. There is a real danger that another terrorist group would simply take its place. Solutions therefore need to include building religious tolerance and national unity in Iraq.

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7 Things Everyone Should Know About the Gun-Powder Plot


1. On 5 November 1605 Guy Fawkes was caught in the cellars beneath the Houses of Parliament with 2,500kg of gunpowder, about to light the lot and kill King James I.

This was one of the most important terrorist plots against the British monarchy in all its history. Had the plan succeeded the British government would have been destroyed. Four centuries later, we still celebrate the fact our Parliament and monarch were saved from a fiery destruction…by lighting bonfires and watching fireworks displays. Ironic?

2. Guy Fawkes wasn’t the only one involved.

Fawkes may have gained notoriety by getting caught with the barrels of gunpowder, but there were 12 other main plotters, including: Robert Catesby, John Wright, Thomas Wintour, Thomas Percy, Robert Keyes, Thomas Bates, Robert Wintour, Christopher Wright, John Grant, Ambrose Rookwood, Sir Everard Digby and Francis Tresham. The point is, the plot wasn’t the work of one lone disaffected man but a group of conspirators.

3. The plotters intended to replace James I with his nine-year old daughter, Princess Elizabeth, and force her to convert to Catholicism

The men were organised and had a plan. The explosion was to occur during the State Opening of Parliament when not only the King but all members of the House of Lords and House of Commons would have been present. Senior judges, bishops, members of the Privy Council and many of the royal family were also present and would have been killed, making way for the plotters to erect their new government.

4. All the plotters were Catholic and wanted to kill James I because he was Protestant (and a Scot).

Despite the fact that James I was relatively tolerant when it came to his Catholic subjects, there were still deep divisions within England when it came to the issue of religion. Also, James was originally James VI of Scotland and inherited the English throne when his predecessor, Elizabeth I, died without producing an heir. He united the two kingdoms under his rule, much to the annoyance of some Englishmen (and Scots).

Fawkes_arrest25. The men rented a cellar which happened to go right under the House of Lords, in which they were able to put the gunpowder.

This sounds like a crucial oversight by the government of the day, but in the early 17th century the Palace of Westminster (where the Houses of Parliament sit) was a warren of buildings that was easily accessible to merchants, lawyers and others who lived and worked in the lodgings, shops and taverns. Security wasn’t considered in the same way as it is today.

6. This lead to the ceremonial searching of the cellars by the Yeomen of the Guard (Beefeaters) before the State Opening of Parliament which still happens today.

A small reminder that history is deeply ingrained in so much of British life, from our politics to our legal system to our national celebrations. The symbolism should not be forgotten.

7. Today, the mask of Guy Fawkes is worn by political protestors across the world, in countries where the Gun-Powder plot is almost unknown.

Although many would say that Fawkes was a terrorist, others now see him as a hero and freedom fighter, largely as a consequence of the film V for Vendetta. In the film, a vigilante wears a Guy Fawkes mask as he fights a fascist government. Activists (particularly the group Anonymous) have since adopted the mask as a symbol of their anti-establishment movements.

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