Struwwelpeter: Why people are ‘p*ss poor’ today

And why brides carry a bouquet on their wedding day

A week is a long time in politics, they say. Well, last week started with much cooing and billing as Ramphela and Zille announced their betrothal.

But the kissing soon stopped, after Ramphele committed political suicide by reneging on the deal, meanwhile shooting Zille in the foot.

(If you will forgive my mixed metaphors!)

Now, Ramphele is said to be an internationally successful woman. Why, one wonders, would she do something so manifestly silly?

Well is she really so successful? Political commentator RW Johnson does not think so. During the disastrous four years that Ramphele served at UCT as vice chancellor she made a complete mess.

As chairperson of the Independent Development Trust she handed the whole organisation to the ANC. Once again she let down those in the IDT who trusted her. The IDT lost millions when this money was expropriated by the ANC and many staff lost their jobs.

Then she moved to the World Bank which was also less than a success.

Johnson continues: “The kindest verdict that I could come up with a year ago is that she was always comprehensively out of her depth. Sadly she is just not up to it. Agang was never more than a damp squib. It was a vehicle for her ego and her party workers were treated like serfs.”

Johnson wraps it all up with the following little rhyme about Lord Lundy, who, because of his aristocratic antecedents, was put into the British Cabinet at 26. He made a mess of his job:

“They let him sink from Post to Post

From fifteen hundred at the most

To eight and barely – six and then

To be curator of Big Ben”

This ignominy enrages his grandfather, the Duke, who reprimands him indignantly:

“Sir, you have disappointed us!

We had intended you to be

the next Prime Minister but three

The stocks were sold, the press was squared

The middle class was quite prepared

But as it is – my language fails

Go out and govern New South Wales!”

* * *

Some interesting sayings:

In the old days urine was to tan animal skins. Families used to all pee in a pot and then once a day it was taken and sold to the tannery. If you had to do this to survive you were, “P*ss Poor”. The really poor folk, who couldn’t even afford to buy a pot, “Didn’t have a pot to p*ss in”.

More facts about the 1500s:

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 their body odour.

Hence the bridal custom today, of carrying a bouquet.

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water.

The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the sons, then the women and finally the children.

Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it.

Hence the saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!”

Houses had 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 in the roof.

When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying “It’s raining cats and dogs”.

The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the saying, “Dirt Poor”. The wealthy 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. A piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way to keep it inside. Hence: a threshold.

Sometimes they could obtain 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 ”chewing the fat”.

Those with money had 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”.

Now, whoever said history was boring!

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