Singing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice after washing one’s hands, even sung silently, must be one of the most uninspiring Government directives ever given. OK, I can understand why they chose it – everyone knows it and it offends nobody, but all the same, you must admit that it’s dull.
A Tudor kitchen
I was thinking of this, when a sentence in a Tudor recipe sudden;y popped into my head: ‘Stir for as long as it takes to say a paternoster.’ Pater noster is Our Father in Latin and it means, of course, The Lord’s Prayer. How long does it take to say, I wondered, so I took off my watch and timed it.
It took 22 seconds. So, instead of singing (silently) Happy Birthday twice, saying The Lord’s Prayer is one alternative.
Remember, clocks were very expensive in Tudor times. A wealthy parish church might have a clock – but it wouldn’t have a second hand, of course, but it did chime the hours. The lord of the manor might own one but ordinary country people either told the time by the sun or, if baking in the kitchen, said as many paternosters as the recipe demanded!
W. B. Yeats, photo by George Charles Beresford
Another option is W. B. Yeats’ poem He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, which comes in at number 10 (out of 100) in The Nation’s Favourite Poems. It’s certainly one of my favourites.
He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet,
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
This takes fractionally over 20 seconds. I have always loved this poem. I have printed it out in triplicate and stuck copies above the kitchen sink and my two wash basins. Not only do I enjoy saying it out loud while washing my hands – I now know it off by heart.
Or what about the following:
Thomas Ernest Hulme (1883-1917) Courtesy of Wikipedia
Thomas E. Hulme was killed in action in World War I in 1917, and only a handful of his poems survive. He liked short, pithy, cheerful poetry and the poem below is typical.
The Embankment (The fantasia of a Fallen Gentleman on a Cold, Bitter Night)
Once, in finesse of fiddles found I ecstasy,
In a flash of gold heels on the hard pavement.
Now see I
That warmth’s the very stuff of poesy.
Oh, God, make small
The old star-eaten blanket of the sky,
That I may fold it round me and in comfort lie.
Again this takes just over 20 seconds.
So, if ‘Happy Birthday’ doesn’t appeal, I offer you the above suggestions but any suitable poem of no more than eight lines should be OK.
A happy and healthy Easter to you all.
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