A Hemel Hempstead writer’s quirky collection of curious tales can answer us this and much more...
Have you ever questioned why in the Western world we feel compelled to scramble around for a suitable number of pound coins to constitute a ‘tip’ after eating in a restaurant?
Well, wonder no more, as a Hemel Hempstead author has unconvered a whole host of little-known nuggets of information for her latest book – which acts as its very own compilation of social history over the centuries.
Rona Levin, who lives in the town’s Longdean Park, is a communications specialist with more than 30 years’ experience in journalism and has worked on newspapers, teletext news services and Sky News.
Her Comic, Curious & Quirky: News Stories from Centuries Past is tipped for success after coverage by the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme, BBC News Online and the Daily Telegraph.
The book, published by the British Library, brings together some of the strangest human-interest stories written in UK newspapers over the past 200 years.
Just days after its release, Rona’s title became a number one bestseller in the history category in Amazon Wales and Amazon Scotland.
Among the book’s highlights is a 250-year-old letter which arguably reveals the person to blame – or applaud – for the custom of adding tips to bills , while allowing for a fair wage for workers.
In a vividly descriptive letter to a newspaper in 1768, written after being constantly abused by staff begging for tips while staying at inns, the writer proposes that ‘sufficient wages’ should be paid while allowing for a voluntary lump sum to be added to the bill, to the benefit of both staff and customers.
The letter was discovered during Rona’s extensive research of the British Library’s newspaper archives, over which the book spans the years 1729 to 1930.
The stories present bizarre, funny or sometimes simply bewildering tales of ordinary lives that were recorded in newspaper pages.
Rona said: “I was fascinated when I discovered this letter because it shows that the issue of tipping or paying a fair wage was as contentious nearly 250 years ago as it is today.
“Most of us will never have stopped to consider how or when the custom of tipping started, let alone whose idea it first was to add tips to the bill for fair distribution to staff.”
The letter was printed in the ‘letters to editor’ section of an old edition of The London Magazine, or Gentlemen’s Monthly Intelligencer, dated January 1768.
Among other juciy tidbits Rona has ferreted out include a performing bull who could have been the Britain’s Got Talent star of its day: “The beast jumps over hurdles and through hoops, lies down at the word of command, walks on his knees, and finally allows himself to be carried out of the ring in triumph on the shoulders of a number of men.”
It additionally reveals the bizarre recommendation by a doctor for a rest cure – scrubbing floors on all fours – telling patients “charwomen enjoy it.”
Rona added: “ It has been utterly engrossing to be able to step back in time and gain insight into the social mores, preoccupations and sensibilities of society over the two centuries covered in my book.
“The stories all struck me in some way as being quirkily strange or amusing, although sometimes, admittedly, for all the wrong reasons.
“In that vein, as well as entertaining the reader, I hope the content will also be thought-provoking, serving to reflect on human life and remind us that we get the press we deserve.”
Comic, Curious & Quirky: News Stories From Centuries Past costs £10 in hardback, available in shops and online.
Search for it on amazon.co.uk for more details.