Saturday, 29 September 2012

The outbreak of the War of the Spanish Succession

In 1700 King Charles II of Spain, the last of the Spanish branch of the Hapsburg Dynasty, died without children. His closest heir was Duke Philip of Anjou, his sister’s grandson. Unfortunately, Philip was also a grandson of King Louis XIV of France and so might conceivably inherit both crowns. Louis was delighted, but most other European countries were horrified. The prospects of the two most powerful states in the world being united was a direct threat. War broke out in 1701 with France, Spain and Bavaria being pitched against Britain, the Holy Roman Empire, the Dutch Republic and numerous smaller states. After much bloodletting the war ended with the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Philip was allowed to become King of Spain, but only on condition that he renounced all claim to the French throne and gave Spanish lands in Italy and the Netherlands to the Austrian Hapsburg’s. Britain gained Gibraltar from the Spanish and various French colonies in North America and the Caribbean.
At this date, infantry were armed with smoothbore muskets to which bayonets could be fitted. The muskets had a range of about 100 yards, but were highly inaccurate. To get effective fire it was necessary to fire hundreds of muskets at the same time. For this reason infantry formed in formations three or four men deep and 200 men wide standing shoulder to shoulder. British infantry, such as Meredith’s Regiment, were proudly able to fire three times a minute which gave them the edge in a straight fire fight with most continental infantry. Like all British infantry, Meredith’s men wore a long red coat reaching to their knees over white trousers and black boots. To distinguish the regiments it was usual for the cuffs, collar and other “facings” to be of a distinctive colour. Meredith’s Regiment had  bright yellow facings while button holes and the like were edged in white. Officers wore silver lace. Men and officers wore black felt tricorn hats, those of the men edged in white and officers in silver.
Cavalry were armed with carbines — even less accurate than muskets — and swords. They would skirmish with their carbines, or charge with swords. Artillery fired solid cannonballs over a ranges of up to 1,000 yards with reasonable accuracy. At short range cannon fired grapeshot, a bag containing dozens of musket balls that spread like shot from a shot gun.

from "The Battle Honours of the Royal Hampshire Regiment" by Rupert Matthews
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About the book
The history of the Royal Hampshire Regiment and its predecessors as traced through the Battle Honours won by the regiment.

Friday, 28 September 2012

The Battle of Alnwick 1093, the armies gather

By the 11th century both England and Scotland had become unified kingdoms with a single monarch taking the place of the various princes, earls and kings who had ruled petty states such as Lindsey, Mercia or Dalriada. England was the more united of the two as the rule of the King of Scotland was enforced only sporadically in the Highlands and islands. Nevertheless the formation of two powerful kingdoms was a significant step in the history of Britain. It was, perhaps, inevitable that trouble would eventually flare up between the two kingdoms. When it came, however, it took everyone by surprise. For the outbreak of hostilities was not due to border disputes or feudal intrigue but to a badly timed joke.

In the summer of 1093 King Malcolm III of Scotland travelled south to the court of King William II of England. Malcolm had married an English wife and, through her, owned several estates in England. Under the feudal law of the time Malcolm was expected to do homage to the King of England for these lands, though Malcolm was careful to ensure that the form of oath did not affect his independence as King of Scotland. The negotiations over exactly what form of oath should be taken had lasted six years, but at last Malcolm was heading south.

The two kings met and got on well, although they were very different men. Malcolm was a talented administrator, devout Christian and devoted family man. William was rash, witty and gay – in both senses of the word. Unfortunately William, after a few drinks, chose to crack a joke at the expense of Malcolm. William and his gay friends thought the jest hugely funny, but William thought it insulting and obscene. As soon as he could do so without arousing suspicion, Malcolm gathered his entourage and returned to Scotland. Once home Malcolm declared war and mustered an army with which to invade England.

The Scottish army marched south in October, plundering its way down the prosperous plains east of the Cheviot Hills. Early in November they reached Alnwick, one of the most powerful castles in Northumberland. Malcolm knew that if the invasion was to continue he had to take Alnwick. He camped his main army north of the Aln on the slopes of the hill overlooking the valley and set to work.

Robert de Mowbray, Earl of Northumberland, was at Bamburgh Castle when the Scots invaded. Malcolm had bypassed the impregnable stronghold, leaving scouts to watch Mowbray and his small force. Lacking in number Mowbray’s force may have been but it included some of the most talented and skilled knights of northern England. Mowbray decided to act. He slipped out of Bamburgh and rode quickly towards Alnwick.

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Northumberland is one of the most beautiful counties in England, but also one of the most fought over. It has seen countless skirmishes, some very bloody, between invading and looting Scots and the avenging English families of the Percies, Umfravilles and Nevilles.

Rupert Matthews, ‘the History Man’, presents fifteen guided walks around the battlefields of Northumberland. He provides an account of events as they unfolded on the ground along with full background and context. His expertise, descriptive powers and lively enthusiasm bring the drama of history vividly to life.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Mercia vs Kent, the war breaks out spring 798

After his victory at Otford, King Egbert of Kent was able to enjoy the independence of his kingdom for the rest of his life. His successors were not so lucky.

By 785 King Elmund of Kent had been persuaded, presumably by the threat of Mercian military might, to acknowledge King Offa as his overlord. Offa soon tightened his grip. He began to insist that the King of Kent could not enact any law nor grant any land unless the King of Mercia agreed first.

In the spring of 796 Kent gained a new king in the shape of King Edbrit Praen. Quite how he was related to Elmund, Egbert or the previous kings is unknown as the contemporary chroniclers do not bother to record this detail. There is some indication, however, that he was not the legitimate heir. Perhaps the true heir was a babe in arms, in exile or otherwise unavailable to sit on the throne.

Wherever he came from, Edbrit Praen was clearly not a man to laze about. Within weeks of coming to the throne he heard that King Offa of Mercia was on his deathbed. Praen decided to match the example of Egbert. He declared Kent to be fully independent of Mercia and refused entry to Offa’s men. When Offa died he was succeeded by his son Egferth, who promptly fell ill and died a few months later. It was Praen’s misfortune that another death that year was that of Archbishop Janbert. This supporter of Kentish independence also passed away to be replaced by Archbishop Athelhard, a Mercian.

With Egferth dying, the Mercians were too busy deciding on a new king to take much notice of events in Kent. But by the spring of 798 the new ruler, King Cenwulf, was securely on the throne and determined to prove his power. That meant subduing Kent. Unlike Offa in 776, Cenwulf was marching to Kent himself with the full might of Mercia marching with him.

from Battlefield Walks in Kent and Sussex by Rupert Matthews
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The outbreak of the Prayer Book Rebellion 1549

The religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries between Catholics and Protestants largely passed England by. Perhaps the recent bloodletting of the Wars of the Roses dissuaded the English from civil conflict, or perhaps the skill of the Tudor monarchs in steering a moderate path ensured little conflict.

Whatever the case, there were some outbreaks of religious violence of which by far the most bloody took place in Devon during the summer of 1549. King Henry VIII had died in 1547 leaving as his heir the ten year old Edward VI. While Henry’s Protestantism could be termed “Catholicism without the Pope”, Edward’s was altogether a more radical and fiery faith. Under the guidance of his uncle, the Duke of Somerset, Edward approved a new Book of Common Prayer that set down which services were allowed to be performed in English churches. Crucially a new law was passed stating that only those services could be celebrated and that no local variations would be allowed. The new rites were clearly Protestant, banning the music and colourful ceremonies of Catholicism.

In Cornwall and Devon most people had been content with the old services and there was none of the fervour for Protestantism that held sway elsewhere in the country. It was unfortunate that the religious move coincided with a crisis of government finances that necessitated debasing the coinage of the realm and also with a crop failure. The new Prayer Book became the focus of opposition to the government of Somerset.

On Whit Sunday the parish priest of Sampford Courtney stood up to begin his service according to the new rites. Within minutes he had been set upon by his congregation who roughed him up, tore up his book and forced him to continue according to the traditional rituals. The news spread rapidly and the following Sunday the parishioners in most Devon churches likewise forced their priests to revert to the old practice.

from BATTLEFIELD WALKS IN DEVON by Rupert Matthews
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About the book
A peaceful county today, Devon has seen clashes between Dumnonian and Welsh kings in the seventh century, Viking raids in the tenth and eleventh centuries and baronial uprisings in the fifteenth century. In 1549 the so-called Prayer Book Rebellion led to violent skirmishes at Sampford Courtney, Fenny Bridges and Clyst St Mary. It was the Civil War in the mid-seventeenth century that brought the greatest bloodshed to the county.

Rupert Matthews, ‘the History Man’, presents eighteen guided walks around the battlefields of Devon. He provides an account of events as they unfolded on the ground along with full background and context. His expertise, descriptive powers and lively enthusiasm bring the drama of history vividly to life.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Cena Libera - a Gladiator's Last Supper

By the first century AD, the format of a munus, or show in the amphitheatre, had become well established. The crowd knew what it was likely to see, although novelties were always welcome, and the editor staging the show knew what he had to provide.

Some weeks before the event was due to take place the editor, who was holding the munus to honour a dead father, uncle or other relative, would contact the lanista of his local gladiatorial troupe, or would choose one out of several if he was in an area with more than one lanista running a business. Together the two men would decide how elaborate the munus was to be, how many gladiators would perform, how many animals would be displayed and a whole list of other details. Much depended on how much hard cash the editor was willing to pay, and to what extent he could bargain prices down with the lanista. Once agreement had been reached, the editor had relatively little to do except turn up on the day and enjoy the adulation of the crowd.

It was the lanista who would send out men skilled in sign writing to daub graffiti on the public walls. These notices detailed the date and time of the munus, where it was to take place and who was the editor. As the date approached, the signs would be rewritten to boast of the programme of events and the lavishness of the coming display. Two or three days before the munus there was usually a parade through the streets or the Forum. The gladiators would march in column, followed by boys carrying their weapons. The wild beasts were trundled along in cages on carts and the various performers would follow behind. The night before the games it was traditional for the gladiators, animal hunters and others to be treated to a sumptuous banquet by the editor of the munus. This cena libera, as it was known, always took place in a public area so that the crowd could come to eye up the combatants who would be in the next day’s events.

from THE AGE OF GLADIATORS by Rupert Matthews
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Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Secutor Gladiator

The secutor, or chaser, wore medium weight armour. His sword arm was encased in armour and he wore short leg armour. His shield was smaller than that of the more heavily armoured types of gladiator.


from ACTION FILES - GLADIATORS by Rupert Matthews
Witness the awesome spectacle of gladiators in battle with this fully interactive book. Packed with fascinating facts and activities, it contains all you ever wanted to know about the warriors of Rome. Includes: 90 stickers, 24 page fact book, Gladiator helmet to make, 24 page action packed storybook, Giant foldout poster and 18 info cards with box.

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Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The Powers of an Egyptian Pharaoh

The Two Crowns
Before the time of Narmer Upper and Lower Egypt were two separate kingdoms. The ruler of each kingdom wore a special hat to show his position, a red crown for Lower Egypt and a white one for Upper Egypt. Narmer put the two hats together to form the crown of a united Egypt. Identical crowns were worn by all future pharaohs.

Unlimited Power
In theory, the pharaoh could do anything he liked. He could create new laws or abolish old ones. He could order people to be punished or even executed for no reason at all. Pharaoh was considered to be a god and it was the duty of all Egyptians to obey his commands at all times.

The Limits of Power
In reality no pharaoh was able to behave exactly as he liked. Pharaohs had to act according to the traditions and customs laid down as laws by the ancient gods. If a pharaoh issued unpopular laws or imposed harsh taxes he risked sparking a rebellion.

Delegated Power
The pharaohs ruled Egypt through a network of officials. The most important of these were the nomarchs, or local governors. They collected tax due to pharaoh and enforced law and order in their area. This picture shows a nomarch checking the taxes gathered while a criminal waits to learn what punishment he will suffer.

Royal Banquet
The Pharaohs held regular banquets to celebrate religious events or to welcome important visitors. The pharaoh could demand the finest foods and drinks. Roast gazelle, goose or heron were favourite dishes along with a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Musicians an dancers provided entertainment.

Quiz Question
What title was given to local governors in ancient Egypt?

That’s Amazing
The pharaoh was head of the legal system, the tax system, the law system and the religious system.

From Action Files - Egypt (comes complete with stickers, info cards, head-dress, games etc)
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Sunday, 16 September 2012

Germany turns West in 1918

Two days after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed, Germany, Bulgaria and Austria signed a peace treaty with Romania. The Treaty of Buftea forced Romania to hand the province of Dobrudja to Bulgaria, but gave Bessarabia from Russia to Romania.

As soon as the treaties of Brest-Litovsk and Buftea were signed, the Germans began their preparations for a mighty offensive in the West. Hundreds of railway trains steamed east to carry the vast German armies from Russia to France.

The German army was now in the hands of two men: General Paul von Hindenburg and General Erich von Ludendorff. Of the two, Hindenburg was the more senior, but Ludendorff was the logistics genius. He alone knew how to move and supply the large armies of Germany.

In July 1917, Ludendorff had calculated the relative strengths in manpower, supplies and money of the various countries involved in the war.

Ludendorff estimated that by spring 1919 neither France, Germany nor Austria would be able to continue fighting. Britain, he thought, would be able to continue only at sea, while Turkey would be exhausted but would not be under serious attack.

Only the United States of America, Ludendorff thought, would be stronger in 1919 than in 1917. America would by then have mobilised an army of over 2 million men and would be using her great wealth to manufacture huge supplies of modern weapons.

Ludendorff believed that if Germany had not beaten Britain and France by the autumn of 1918, she would lose the war.

American forces would prove to be decisive in 1919. They would win the war and impose a peace on Europe drawn up in America.

Ludendorff believed that the British might continue the war alone if France were defeated, but that France would not fight on if Britain were knocked out.

Ludendorff decided he had to defeat the British. He drew up his plans accordingly.

from 1000 FACTS ON WORLD WAR I by Rupert Matthews
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Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Oratory in Ancient Rome

Oratory, the art of public speaking, was highly regarded in ancient Rome. It was taught in all schools, even the youngest boys were taught the basics of the skill. Some scholars thought that oratory was the most important of all the arts.

Most Roman citizens would be expected to speak in public at some stage of their lives. They would give their opinions during meetings of the Comitia (see page 136), speak out at meetings of local government and take part in court cases.

Even when a citizen hired a lawyer for a court case, he was still expected to make a speech putting forward his point of view. Being able to speak out with skill and confidence was vital.

Oratory was a wide-ranging subject. The basics include the ability to speak clearly and loudly so that an entire audience could hear what was being said. A speaker also had to dress smartly and have a neat haircut.

Vocabulary was a prized skill. This did not men knowing lots of different words, but knowing the precise meanings of words and how to vary the intensity of meaning by putting different words together in a sentence.

History was also included in the subject of oratory. It was thought to be useful to compare the subject of the speech with the actions of a famous man from Rome’s past.

A knowledge of the gods and religion was considered vital. An orator who could include references to the gods and their actions in his speech in an appropriate way was highly regarded.

Philosophy was considered to be important as it allowed an orator to produce underlying reasons why the subject of his speech was important and why people should agree with him.

The Romans believed that their greatest orator was Marcus Tullius Cicero, a politician and lawyer who lived during the time of the civil wars (see page 26). Many of Cicero’s speeches were written down and used in schools.

Cicero rose to be consul in 62bc and made some of his most famous speeches in defence of the republican constitution in the face of attack by Julius Caesar. Cicero was executed in 43bc after trying to oust Mark Antony (see page 28) from power.

from 1000 FACT ON ANCIENT ROME by Rupert Matthews

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Friday, 7 September 2012

The Lesser Gods of Ancient Greece

Although the Olympian gods were the most important and powerful of the Greek gods, there were many others. Some were worshipped only in a small area, others were known across all the Greek world.

Themis was a female Titan who had helped Rhea hide Zeus from Kornos (see page 178). She acted as the judge in disputes between the various gods, and so became the goddess of justice.

Iris was the servant of the Olympian deities, especially of Zeus and Hera. She brought messages from the gods down to earth by sliding down the rainbow.

Hebe was the god of young women before they married. Together with her handsome young brother Ganymede she carried out the tasks on Olympos that were the job of unmarried girls in Greek families.

Boreas was the god of the north wind, who loved creating storms to lash the houses of men. Zephyros was the god of the gentle west wind, while Notus was the god of the south wind and Eurus the god of the east wind.

The Harpies, of which there were several, were greatly feared. They had the faces of old women and the bodies of birds. They destroyed crops with disease and brought famine to the earth.

The Tritons and Nereids were the male and female servants of Poseidon (see page 182). These supernatural beings were generally friendly to sailors and fishermen.

Nymphs were the beautiful female spirits who guarded rivers, springs and other sources of fresh water. Every water source had its one nymph, but the names of nearly all of them have been forgotten.

The three Horae were Eunomia, Dike and Irene. Together they controlled rainfall on the earth and did their best to ensure that fruit trees were laden down at harvest time.

The Greeks thought that there was one thing more powerful than all the gods put together: Destiny. Even Zeus did not argue with destiny.

from 100 Facts About Ancient Greece by Rupert Matthews

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Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Hywel the Good Prince makes laws in Wales

When he got back from a pilgrimage to Rome, Hywel Dda decided that the one thing the Welsh needed more than anything else was a system of laws. So he gave them such a system.

Hywel gained his nickname of Dda, meaning ‘the Good’ rather late in life. Until then he had been just one of many petty princes in Wales, most of whom spent their time squabbling with each other and stealing each other’s cattle.

Hywel was appointed as Prince of Ceredigion and Deheubarth by his uncle, King Idwal of Gwynedd. No doubt Idwal wanted a reliable ally governing the rich pastures in the mountain lands of Ceredigion. The system worked well for some time, especially when the rulers of Powys became truculent. However, it was not long before Hywel began putting his own interests first.

In 918, just two years after taking power, Hywel made an alliance with Edward the Elder, King of England. The precise terms of the alliance are unclear, though Hywel acknowledged Edward as the superior ruler and promised to help him in certain ways. This probably did not impress Idwal who had just seen his father killed in a civil war fought over the question of friendship to England.

The alliance did, however, bring Ceredigion a degree of safety from attack. No Welsh prince wanted to attack an ally of their powerful eastern neighbour, England. Free to concentrate on his own affairs, Hywel toured the country settling disputes between his lords, and savagely enforcing his decisions. Having sorted out all the petty disputes over land, cattle and dowries, Hywel made certain of the friendship of his neighbouring princes.

Then in 928 Hywel announced he was going on a pilgrimage to Rome. This was an unusual step for a king. The journey was not unduly dangerous and was made by several noblemen and churchmen. However, it did involve a journey of many months. Hywel must have been confident none of his lords would rise in rebellion.

When Hywel returned to Wales he had seen much and learnt much. Instead of spending their time sorting out difficult disputes, the rulers of southern France and Italy had set up a system of laws. These gave judges guidance over what punishments to inflict on wrongdoers and what actions were, indeed, a crime. Hywel realised that if all the Welsh had a single set of laws, many of the disputes that led to wars could be resolved peacefully. He sent out messages to all his fellow princes inviting them and their lawyers to a meeting at Whitland on the Teifi. Hywel had a comfortable hunting lodge at Whitland where everyone could stay.

The princes came, though one or two maintained they only came to hear Hywel’s stories about Rome. The meeting at Whitland went on for weeks. The lawyers compared the law codes of all the different lands. Where the laws were identical, or similar, the lawyers agreed on a standard wording. But when the laws were quite different, the princes were brought in to argue the matter out.

Eventually a complete set of standard laws was produced. Copies of the laws were made and sent to all corners of Wales. They became known as the Laws of Hywel and were referred to in difficult cases up to 300 years later.

It was after these laws had been in force for some years that Hywel began to be called Dda - The Good. His laws led to many disputes being settled without recourse to fighting and warfare. Hywel used the moral authority this gave him to settle most princely squabbles. Eventually Hywel was so popular that he was virtual ruler of Powys and Gwynedd as well as his own lands.

In the years to come the Laws of Hywel Dda became a defining issue for the Welsh. Those lands which followed these laws were considered to be free of English influence and to be truly Welsh. Although the laws changed and were altered many times over the years, they remained the basis of a Welsh legal system for centuries. Without them it is likely that the Welsh would have continued to think of themselves as Breconmen or Powysmen rather than as Welsh.

Monday, 3 September 2012

When should you buy a round?

Buying a round in a pub comes so naturally to most Britons that they do not even stop to think about what they are doing. But for outsiders it can be a mine of difficulties and offer endless opportunities to give offence.

In pubs the customers go to the bar, order drinks from the staff and pay for them then and there - the continental custom of running up a bill is copied only in a few wine bars. The pub system is simple and straightforward. It has the advantage from the publican’s point of view that he gets his money when he serves the drinks and there is no possibility of dishonest customers ‘doing a runner’. From the point of view of the customer, the system means it is impossible to run up a bill larger than can be afforded, no matter how drunk

When several people meet in a pub, it is the custom that one person goes to the bar and buys one drink for each person - a ‘round of drinks’. The difficulties can begin, of course, when the subject arises of who goes to buy the first round. In general good common sense will show who should buy the round of drinks. Usually the person who arrives first buys a drink for the next person to arrive. When a third or subsequent person arrives it is usual for him to offer to buy a round as he is going to the bar anyway to buy his own. Whether the offer is accepted depends on how empty are the glasses of those already drinking. It is, of course, bad manners to accept the offer if you have taken only a sip or two from your first drink.

Once everyone is settled and their glasses grow empty it is time for somebody to buy the next round of drinks. Who this should be is open to debate. Typically a person who cannot recall buying a round of drinks for those present in recent weeks should be the first to put their hand in his pocket and head for the bar. It is certainly the height of bad pub manners to accept drinks from other people buying rounds, and then never to offer to buy a round in return. There can be no quicker way to find yourself excluded from invitations to meet down the pub than to ‘cleverly’ avoid buying rounds while supping drinks bought by others.

Of course, the changes in society affect pub culture as much as they do any other part of life. Time was when women would not enter a pub on their own for fear of giving out the wrong signals of the type of woman they were. Also in years gone by, pubs were not the clean, well upholstered places with good toilet facilities that they are now. Most country pubs had only a little hut at the bottom of the garden with a container lined with dead leaves as a ‘convenience’. No woman would want to go into a pub under those conditions. And in the days before cars were universially owned not many men would venture into pubs out of their own district. Pubs were for local people who lived within walking distance. Only an outsider who has walked into a pub like that can know the chill of the concentrated suspicious, hostile stare of suddenly silent local yokels. 

However once pubs were modernised, the sawdust on the  floor replaced by carpet and the ghastly smell banished from the “little room”, women started venturing in. Nevertheless the inhibition on women going to the bar remained. In any case, when most married women did not go out to work, it was the men who had the money in their pockets and went to the bar to buy a round. But circumstances change. Most women are in gainful employment and are these days expected to pay for a round on equal terms with their male companions - though some still prefer to give the money to a man for him to elbow his way to the bar.

One unfortunate hang over from earlier times is that some couples seem to think that are one person for the purposes of buying rounds of drinks when out with single friends. They take two drinks when somebody else is paying, but only offer to buy one round in return. The excuse is often given that only one of them is drinking alcohol as the other drives, but soft drinks can be surprisingly expensive and, in any case, manners dictate that each person should buy a round.

The old days when everyone in a group was expected to buy a round before the evening ended are now long gone. The prevalence of cars and the strict drink driving laws put an end to such customs. After all, it only takes two pints of beer to put a man in danger of going ‘over the limit’ so the days of five men meeting down the boozer to get away from their respective wives for a few hours, and drinking five pints, have gone for good.

It still pays, however, to remember who last bought a round so that, if it was not you, you can be the first to the bar and so prove that you are generous and fully acquainted with the etiquette of rounds.