Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Learning our lines

According to the Daily Mail, a study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development says that "the number of families saying they are going hungry has fallen over the past five years – as the number of food banks has risen."

This is obviously because more people are being fed, so fewer are going hungry, right? But such deductions are not the Daily Mail way. Their take is based on Lord Freud's, (the UK Welfare Minister), statement that "it is very hard to know why people go to food banks". They report, "while he conceded nobody turned to charities for food parcels ‘willingly’, more people were visiting the banks simply because there were more in existence." Personally I find that to be an argument worthy of Comical Ali, Saddam's Information Minister, who said "there is no presence of American infidels in the city of Baghdad," as the world's media recorded the line of tanks rolling across the bridge in shot behind him. And while Freud says (to all intents and purposes) "let them eat cake", that is not really the nature of this post and it's not that kind of line.

The foodbank situation has led to a considerable amount of commentary about people in the UK being "below the breadline" and getting lines crossed is the nature of this post. People can be 'near the breadline' and they can be 'on the breadline' but they cannot be 'below the breadline'.

The term breadline is borrowed from the Americans who use 'line' where we would use the word 'queue'. So a breadline is a queue for bread. It is not some arbitrary measure of relative poverty, some economic Plimsoll line below which one must not be sunk. The breadline is a physical queue for food handouts - the literal end of the line is the foodbank.

It is an absolute disgrace that some commentators (who should know better) should use the term 'breadline', frivolously and relatively to score political points without seeing it for what it is, when it is an absolute that many Britons are on, or near, or approaching.

There is no 'below the breadline'. When you can't afford food there is no going 'below' that.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Seminar on Herbal illustration and identification at Kew -18 June 2014

British Library MS Harley 3736/10r. Charlemagne and the plant Carlina
This is a heads up for any of my herby friends (or arty or historically minded ones) who might like to attend.

Illustration and Identification in the History of Herbal Medicine

18 June 2014

Organized by Anne Stobart (Herbal History Research Network) and  Frances Watkins (University of East London, UK)
Jodrell Lecture Theatre
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Richmond TW9 3DS
United Kingdom
The aim of this day seminar on Wednesday 18th June 2014 is to bring together researchers to explore issues related to plant illustration and identification in the history of herbal medicine. Correct identification of plants in the past has been of great importance, whether for foods, medicines or other purposes. But to what extent did people in medieval and early modern times learn about plants with medicinal uses from illustrations in herbals or elsewhere? Matters of interest include ways in which illustrations were produced, the role of illustrations, dissemination of information about plant identification, significant observers of plants and their approaches to plant description. This day seminar at Kew Botanic Gardens near London, UK, has been organised with a particular focus on presenting research into finding and interpreting archival and other sources relating to the history of herbal medicine.
Main speakers:
Julia Boffey, Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London
Isabelle Charmantier, University of Exeter
Maria Daronco, University of Udine, Italy
This event is organised by the Herbal History Research Network group which aims to promote research into the history of herbal medicine. The Network helps to connect together people who share common interests in researching the history of herbal medicine through seminars and other events. For further details of the Network contact Anne Stobart at
Please see the supporting material for the day seminar programme and registration form at: