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  • Writer's pictureMartin Castle

Tenuous links ...

We all exploit tenuous links when it suits us - "I danced with a man who danced with a woman who danced with the Prince of Wales" was something people said from my dad's time - the Prince of Wales in question being the Future Edward VIII. I have one of my own - I shook hands with a man, who shook hands with a man (his grandfather), who shook hands with Flora MacDonald (of Bonnie Prince Charlie and Skye Boat Song fame). Very old shaking hands with very young on each 'transfer'.

George W Joy's painting now adorns the marketing for Walkers biscuits!

So the Tenuous link that is relevant to today's post is one of Canada and memories of the pandemic of 100 years ago - what is, in many countries, commonly called 'Spanish 'flu'.

The Rev. Francis Stevens remembers feeling cheated and adrift when the Spanish flu swept through his household and East Vancouver neighbourhood because it came at Christmas time.

"Well, it was cumulative, like a snow slide or something. It got worse and worse. It got so bad that some of the churches didn't have service. We didn't go to Sunday school. School was closed. They told people not to go anywhere where there was a crowd. That was pressed on people, in the paper, almost every issue. 'Don't go out in the crowds.'"

Nearly a century later, he remembers the loneliness of the time, but doesn't recall a sense of relief when the viral assault subsided. "I don't remember the all-clear. I just remember that we went on."

Isabelle Dunn was one of the fortunate ones in 1918. When the Spanish flu swept through MacGregor, Manitoba, Canada, the­ then 10-year-old Isabelle Moore ­ did not contract the vicious influenza bug. She remembers the disruption in the community.

She recalls, the women who worked the local telephone exchange would call around to homes with telephones to check on how people were fending. They would then try to round up help for those who needed it.

Dunn and her eight siblings, however, were on strict orders not to stray from home. "There were an awful lot of sick people. And the schools and church,­ everything was closed," she recalls. "And we were kids and we had to stay home in our own yard. You didn't run around so much."

Dunn's father, the local policeman, [a key worker!] made his children work on lessons at home. When they went back to school, both Isabelle and one of her brothers got put into a grade ahead, "because we were so advanced. I guess that's because we didn't get the flu. We had to sit there and do our homework."

La Gripe Española (the Spanish 'flu), also known as the 1918 flu pandemic or La Pesadilla (Spanish for "The Nightmare") was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic. Lasting from January 1918 to December 1920, although it may have been circulating at a lower level before that. It infected 500 million people – at the time about a quarter of the world's population. The death toll is estimated to have been anywhere from 17 million to 50 million, and possibly as high as 100 million, making it one of the deadliest pandemics in human history, behind the Black Death. Despite its popular name, there is no known geographic origin of the Spanish 'flu. The origin of the name stems from the pandemic's spread to Spain from France in November 1918. Spain was not involved in the war, having remained neutral, and had not imposed wartime censorship unlike the UK, where information on the disease was controlled. Newspapers in Spain were, therefore, free to report the epidemic's effects, such as the grave illness of King Alfonso XIII (he survived), and these widely spread stories created a false impression of Spain as especially hard hit. A 2006 study in the Journal of Political Economy found that "cohorts in-utero during the pandemic displayed reduced educational attainment, increased rates of physical disability, lower income and lower socio-economic status compared with other birth cohorts." A 2018 study found that the pandemic reduced educational attainment in populations.

The Spanish flu was the first of two pandemics caused by the H1N1 influenza virus; the second was the swine flu in 2009.

Now that we're glad it's not 1920 here's that tenuous link - We have good friends in Canada and I don't know if they are typical Canadians but this is, apparently, a typical Canadian recipe...


Brunch-style cheddar-apple crispI

This dish combines rolled oats, cheddar cheese, apples, cinnamon and brown sugar served warm with maple yogurt. (Courtesy of Alison Kent)

Ingredients 7 cups peeled and chopped apples 4 tsp lemon juice 1 cup strong/vintage Cheddar cheese, grated 6 tbsp maple syrup 3 tbsp all-purpose (plain) flour ¼ tsp cinnamon 1 ¼ cup large-flake rolled oats ½ cup chopped walnuts ⅓ cup packed brown sugar ¼ tsp salt ⅓ cup melted butter 1 cup vanilla or plain yogurt

Method 1. In a large bowl, toss apples with lemon juice. Add cheese, 4 tbsp of the syrup, the flour and cinnamon, tossing to combine; spread in a greased 9-inch square (or equivalent-sized oval) baking dish.

2. In a bowl, stir oats, walnuts, sugar and salt; add butter, tossing until combined. Sprinkle evenly over apple mixture.

3. Bake in preheated 350°f/180°c/gasmark 4 oven until apples are tender and topping is crisp and deep golden, about 1 hour.

4. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir yogurt and remaining syrup to combine. Serve apple crisp warm with maple yogurt.

Robert Macfarlane's Word of the Day is ...

"gobhan gaoithe" -- literally "wind-fork"; Gaelic name for the swallow (Hirundo rustica). Arriving in the UK now after migrating from South Africa, across desert, mountain & sea.

When we moved in in 2014, what is now the studio was a completely empty and open space where we put all that we couldn't unpack - and that was a lot! Swifts nested in the A-frames of the roof for two summers. We waited until they had fledged, before putting in doors to close off the space. I still feel a little guilty that we denied them a nesting space. They don't seem to hold it against us as they return to the area each year - indeed, I saw my first one last Thursday. (photo Ros Macfarlane)


and I rose up, and knew that I was tired, and continued my journey” - Edward Thomas.
"Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible." - St. Francis of Assisi
“All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well”. - Julian of Norwich

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Apr 14, 2020

Mum’s 2nd sister, auntie Kit, contracted the Spanish flu when she was 5 years old. Grandma was really worried that she would lose her but she pulled through. However in her late thirties she started coughing up blood and it was found that she had a heart condition (mum couldn’t tell me what the condition was but believed it was due to damage done from the flu). So maybe the flu got her in the end as she died young unlike her 4 sisters who all lived into their 90s!


Martin Castle
Apr 14, 2020

Thanks Dave - its a bit of fun. Hope you’re both well.


David Burns
David Burns
Apr 14, 2020

Excellent work my friend!! Love the Francis of Assisi quote, he is my confirmation saint and my hero. Looking forward to the next publication.

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