Saturday, 25 March 2017

Herring salad

Daddy, daddy, what's a herring?
Well, son, they're all gone now, but it was a medium sized fish on which millions of people depended for protein.
The Atlantic herring Clupea harengus is a medium sized salt-water fish which breeds promiscuously on the sea-bed with females laying about 30,000 eggs each having cranked up their gonads to about 1/5th of their body-mass in the previous few weeks. If you are, or know, a woman imagine having ovaries the size of two sacks of potatoes. There is another species Clupea pallasii in the Pacific and the genus is related to sardines Sardina pilchardus, shad Alosa alosa and menhagen Brevoortia tyrannus all of which are hunted for food. Indeed the family Clupeidae comprises at least 200 named species. The promiscuity at mating time (it is a free-for-all down there both males and females loosing their gametes - eggs and milt - into the unforgiving ocean and hoping for the best) continues in 'normal' life as most members of the family cruise about in huge schools looking for smaller animals - copepods and other plankton - to eat. The herring in turn are consumed in huge numbers by larger fish and marine mammals and this is one reason why they hang out together. The fish in the centre of the school are less likely to be eaten, but they are also less likely to get stuff to eat as the edges encounter fresh copepods.  It is similar at spawning time, there are optimal places to lay eggs but these key locations are often so over-subscribed that the mass of eggs suffocates itself before any of them hatch. In English we call them herrings from the Old High German heri = a host, multitude: a root shared with Heer the modern German for the Army. This word seems to have been loaned to French hareng, Spanish/Portuguese arenque. Nords have a different word: sild NO/DK or sill SE. Herring last a good while if you pack them into barrels with salt and this ability to be preserved and transported made herring an asset in Catholic Europe when everyone  ate fish on Fridays and through Lent . . . except the peasantry: they ate turnips and were right grateful Thank 'ee sir to get that.

Now I like a flag as much as any vexillologist. I've written about some aspects of these symbols before. In particular there's a colorful collection of related flags from the Nordic regions that ring the changes compared to the rather boring tricolours that we have in, say, Ireland and France. No matter how enthusiastic you are for The Republic, it is hard to be inspired by 3 blocks of colour in and of itself. Of course the Pavlovian associations [triumphs at the Olympics, or emotional state funerals Martin McGuinness going L and the like] will work insidiously on the mind until eventually the mere sight of your flag will elicit the tune of your national anthem and a sense of patriotic pride.

Now here's a flag that nobody could love. It looks confused in design and a quite hideous jangle of colours. It's not obvious that this is a variant of the Nordic theme until it's pointed out that it is two flags cut up and sewn together so that two nations obtain parity of esteem from their union. The area covered by the Norwegian cross (top and bottom) is exactly the same as that occupied by the Swedish ditto (left and right).  The two kingdoms had shared a monarch, and a sense of uneasy antipathy, since the end of the Napoleonic Wars when Denmark had been forced to cede Norway to Sweden under the terms of the Treaty of Kiel [1814]. In 1844, after long deliberations in committee, the Unionsmärket [see R] was made the official flag for navies and diplomacy.
It was mocked by many on both sides of the border as neither fish, nor fowl, nor good red herring and was dubbed sillsallaten / sildesalaten from its supposed resemblance to the herring salad [L - egg yolks, egg whites, parsley and pickled beetroot - looks delicious] that appeared on many a Scandinavian smörgåsbord.  The citizens of both countries were forced to tolerate, if not to love the flag for another 60+ years, until Norway unilaterally separated itself from its larger neighbour in 1905. They acquired a rent-a-king from Denmark in June 1905 when a younger brother of the Danish king called Prins Carl accepted the Norwegian throne as Haakon VII. He was there until 1957! I've written about Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, a French soldier, was offered the throne of Sweden right at the beginning of this king-swapping saga.

1 comment:

  1. I have to say I was intrigued as to how you were going to link herring and flags...h'interesting indeed