6 December 2013

Ornithological Notes

Well, it had to happen.  I have just glanced at my well-thumbed diary and realised that Christmas is just around the corner.  Quelle surprise!?  So as we grind our weary way to the end of another year, mistletoe clamped between our teeth in the hope of getting lucky, it occurs to me that we are knee-deep in the Advent Calendar.  Never heard of it?

It turns out that the Advent Calendar is a special calendar used to count or celebrate the days in anticipation of Christmas, and overlaps with the Christian season of Advent.  I don’t know whether the Hindus, Muslims and Jews have anything similar, but apologise just in case, as I am seriously allergic to religious persecution.  Most commercially available Advent Calendars start on December 1 and have 24 windows, one for each of the days leading up to Christmas Day.  Some anonymous person (probably a Chinese Buddhist) has endless joy putting little poems, pictures of puppies and portions of religious stories in these, each of which is ripped open in the mindless spree leading to the big day itself.  Apparently these are very popular in communities where television and conversation have yet to penetrate.

Why am I telling you this?  Well, it turns out that a dear friend believes my life will be enriched by a daily dose from the Advent Calendar and, being a generous sort of fellow, I felt compelled to share these riches with you, given that our bird life seems to be on holiday in Margate.

Given the limited frequency of this esteemed publication, you get to share Day 5 on the aforementioned calendar today, and next week Day 12, and so forth.  It turns out that the riveting information contained in this window tells us that, and I quote, it is illegal in Britain to eat a mince pie on Christmas Day.  Perhaps not surprisingly, this is the liberating work of one Oliver Cromwell and has never been removed from the Union’s statute books.  But wait, there’s more!  Window 5 tells us that the British Legal system only began to update its laws in 1965, before which there were many laws still in place that, while perfectly reasonable at the time, sound utterly ridiculous now! Here are 19 pearlers to enrich your day:

– It was illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament – simply because if you did you would fall under the jurisdiction of the royal coroner and could have been entitled a state funeral.

– It was also illegal to enter Parliament wearing a suit of armour.

– In the Cathedral Close of Hereford and within the city walls of Chester it is legal to shoot a Welshman with a long bow (not surprising really).  It is also legal to shoot a Scotsman within the city walls of York, providing he is carrying a bow and arrow, except on Sundays of course!  These laws were made to keep out Welsh and Scottish invasions before Britain became united as one.

– It is still legal for a pregnant woman to relieve herself wherever she wants – including in a policeman’s helmet should she have the urge!

– You cannot enter the hull of the Titanic under the Protection of Wrecks order 2003 without permission of the Secretary for State.

– In Scotland, it is an offence to be drunk whilst in charge of a cow. This law also applies to horses and steam engines across the rest of the country under the Licencing Act 1872.

– You must carry a bale of hay in your vehicle at all times, why? To feed the horse of course!

– In London it is illegal for cab drivers to transport rabid dogs and corpses.

– Polish potatoes are illegal in England… no seriously, under the Polish Potatoes (Notification) in England Order 2004, “No person shall, in the course of business, import into England potatoes which he knows to be or has reasonable cause to suspect to be Polish potatoes”.

– It is illegal to gamble in a library as of 1898 – internet gambling is off the cards then! The same law prohibits “abusive or obscene language” in there too.

– You could be breaking the law if you have a pigsty in front of your house, unless it is duly hidden. As good of an excuse as any to keep your front garden nice and tidy!

– It is illegal to beat or shake your carpet, mat or rug. You may beat your doormat (ooooooh!) but only before 8 in the morning!

– Any washing line that is put up across a street is an illegal erection.

– It was illegal to eat mince pies on Christmas day – we found this hard to believe too, but Oliver Cromwell actually banned these yummy treats when he was attempting to tackle rising gluttony.

– All dead beached whales must be offered to the monarch before you can do anything else with them. Realistically, the royal family have no interest in beached whales, your best bet should you ever come across such a sad sight would be to contact the Natural History Museum or the police.

– The death sentence still applies if you poach a royal deer or allow your pet to mate with a pet from the royal household without due permission. Note to self – don’t take the dog for a walk around St. James’ Park any time soon!

– It is still illegal to eat Mute Swan as they belong to the Queen and only she is legally allowed to eat them, weirdly you are an exception if you are a guest of St. John’s College in Cambridge though.

– The royal family are forbidden from marrying Catholics – clearly created when Henry VIII disowned the Catholic Church and created the Church of England, although it’s hard to imagine this being enforced today.

– It is illegal to sew the royal coat of arms onto a bed quilt!

Can you but imagine what our own fair Legal System has lurking in the archives, although I am reliably informed – for example – that it is still illegal to wear short pants in Durban’s West Street.  Think on these things as Christmas unerringly approaches.

The Twitcher