Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Our publication yesterday featured a total of ten celebrations – far from our record, but an ample summation of a busy Sunday. Today’s epistle will be far less ambitious. At the time of this paragraph’s writing it is 26 degrees outside, with a heat index making it feel like 31. This is simply not a day for combing the city in search of the best crème brulée. We are keeping that on our to-do list, but yesterday was for the sun. And, I suppose, for all of this:

National Scotch Day

We have celebrated scotch whisky on three separate occasions this year (at least). We indulged in Robbie Burns night in February, downed some for National Whiskey Day in March, and here we are once again.

So what makes a scotch a scotch? First off, it has to be made in Scotland. There are specific rules about what goes into a scotch (malted barley, whole grains of other cereals, water and plain colouring). It must be aged in oak casks for at least three years. It has to be at least 40% alcohol by volume, no less. And it must maintain the colour, smell and taste of the materials used in its creation. Also, it must say ‘whisky’ on the label, not ‘whiskey’, or (for whatever reason) ‘wiss-kee’.

Three years ago it was estimated that the production of scotch whisky accounted for about 40,000 jobs, with a contribution of over 5.5 billion pounds to the UK’s economy. This stuff is an essential global commodity, and I’m pretty sure almost no one enjoys their first sip. Most alcohol, apart from the fruity and sugary drinks, require a bit of palette conditioning in order to appreciate it. Scotch may be the most intricate and flavourful beverage on the hard liquor shelf. It might not be. I honestly don’t know, and I don’t care because scotch is tasty on ice, and that was the extent of what I needed to experience yesterday.

Sometimes learning about these items we should be celebrating squeezes out the romance. Scotch is meant to be tasted, not understood.

Norfolk Day

Norfolk is a lovely county on England’s eastern elbow, a land of exquisite beauty and bountiful history. That said, from what I can understand, the good folks of Norfolk are often the butt of jokes elsewhere in England, which sparks in me an empathetic comparison to New Jersey, which we celebrated the day before yesterday. Apparently folks from the region are known as ‘Norfolk Dumplings’ which references the flour dumplings they eat there. There are also tales of inbreeding and backwards-ness there, so maybe it’s more American-South than Garden State.

Whatever. Yesterday was the day for all Norfolk Dumplings to gather together (so to speak) and celebrate their Norfolkiness. The 5k and 10k runs were celebrated virtually. There were picnics and some outdoor activities, but people were advised to stay safe, and maybe watch a movie that was shot in Norfolk, like Out of Africa, Full Metal Jacket, or Avengers: Endgame. The website also suggests a paper hat one can make that features the Norfolk flag. So make a hat, run on a treadmill, eat some cold chicken in your backyard and watch a disturbing Stanley Kubrick movie. Sounds like a party.

Another option would be to celebrate the great humans that Norfolk has produced. I scanned the names and didn’t recognize a single one, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth celebrating. There’s Tracy Philipps (a man-Tracy, not a woman-Tracy), who spent some time as a secret agent before helping to create African national parks. Or Olive Custance, who was a notable poet of the aesthetic movement of the 1890s. Or how about Black Bart, who moved to America and became an outlaw on the wild frontier, notable for leaving little poetic messages behind after a robbery.

Norfolk is, I’m sure, a delightful place full of astute and groovy people. Even if your experience may vary, it doesn’t matter – yesterday was the day to celebrate those little Dumplings. Happy day, Norfolks.

Bagpipe Appreciation Day

I guess it makes sense to celebrate the bagpipes on the same day as we celebrate scotch. But it doesn’t make me any more excited about it. We already honoured International Bagpipe Day on March 10 – how many times this year am I expected to listen to this instrument?

At least twice, I suppose. I’ve already covered the history of the bagpipes so I’m just going to report on my listening experience. Because I did. As pictured above, I opted for a selection of songs by the Red Hot Chilli Pipers. I don’t know what to say. “Baba O’Riley” with bagpipes is not horrible. “Low Rider” was shockingly intriguing. Even “Radio Ga Ga”, which is no one’s favourite Queen song, was worth a listen.

Bagpipes don’t have to be all solemn and funeral-ish. They can also leave you longing for a teenage wasteland among the moors. I can appreciate that.

Cross-Atlantic Communication Day

On this date in 1866, the first sustained working cable was laid across the Atlantic Ocean, enabling a steady means for communication between North America and the UK. It wasn’t achieved on the first attempt: back in 1857 two ships set out on the dime of entrepreneur Cyrus Field. The USS Niagara and the HMS Agamemnon met up in the middle of the ocean, spliced their cables together, then scooted off in opposite directions, laying cable as they went. Which was great, except for all the times the cable broke, rendering the effort moot. Cyrus was successful in an attempt the following year, but after a few weeks the cable deteriorated and the signal was lost.

Cyrus wasn’t licked. He had to take a breather while the US went through a pesky Civil War, but in 1865 he set out again, this time with a single ship that would take care of all the work. The Great Eastern set out from Ireland, en route to Newfoundland with a massive length of cable. They made it about 1,000 miles, then the cable snapped. I can imagine the feeling of the folks aboard the Great Eastern as they watched that length of cable gently drift into the dark ether, destined for an ocean floor no human would ever reach.

The next year, Cyrus gave it another shot. He used the same ship, but they improved the strength of the cable this time. And on July 27, 1866, it was done. It was an absolute game-changer in bridging the world together, and it led to a huge increase in trade. That little cable is no longer used, but it’s most likely still sitting there, watching the sea life float by, satisfied that its place in history was pretty awesome.

I sent a note to my buddy Josh in Israel yesterday, using no cables at all, apart from the one that connects my modem to the wall. The future is kick-ass.

National Coffee Milkshake Day

We get to celebrate vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and coffee milkshakes this year. I mean, we can celebrate any damn milkshake we want, but the calendar specifies these flavours, which I suppose presents the surprise that coffee is actually a popular flavour of milkshake. Indeed, the thing tasted like a Coffee Crisp, which, for my American friends, is a delicious type of candy bar you would be fortunate to find at a local import shop, and grateful if you purchased it.

We made these for dessert – actually Jodie did all the heavy lifting, though I did read her out the directions. It’s simply a quarter-cup of cold brewed coffee, a half-cup of milk, three scoops of ice cream and a tablespoon of chocolate syrup, blended into a blissfully chilly dessert beverage.

It was excellent. We’d pushed this one back from Sunday (which already featured the hot fudge sundaes we’d bumped from Saturday) and it was very much worth the wait. I can’t wait to see what desserts we’ll get to dive into next.

Today is my one day at work this week, albeit from my cozy remote office just a few feet from where I sleep off all these food celebrations. Here’s what’s on the menu:

  • National Milk Chocolate Day. We’ve got some delicious Dairy Milk to savour for this one.
  • National Waterpark Day. We couldn’t even if we wanted to – and with the weather outside we absolutely want to. So we’ll make our own with our hot tub.
  • National Hamburger Day. We… we already did this on May 28. How many National Hamburger Days can there be?
  • Buffalo Soldiers Day. A bit of a history lesson for today.
  • World Nature Conservation Day. We will do what little we can without leaving the house, because we really hate leaving the house right now.

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