Thursday, December 30, 2010

Bonne Année /Happy New Year 2011!

Here I have shown old two-faced Janus, the Roman god of doorways and portals, and hence, by extension, the End of the Old Year and the Start of the New. He's where we get January from (my month!).

He is often depicted with his symbols of a key (to unlock the door) and a cock (to crow the new dawn).

2010 was a mixed bag for me. I had many great times and have made some wonderful new friends, as well as making great strides in my work. But I also embarked on a certain venture which caused me a lot of anxiety and sleepless nights, and which I am so glad to have behind me (NOT my Advent Calendar, which, though stressful, was also great fun!) . A lesson well-learnt!

I would like to wish everyone an exciting, delightful, love-filled and prosperous New Year. Here's to 2011. Bonne Année à tous!

Paul B x

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Advent Calendar - 24th Dec - 'Nativity'

Advent Calendar - 24th Dec - 'Nativity'

Not much to say here: We all know the story, pretty much.

Advent Calendars traditionally end on Christmas Eve (as does Advent itself, as all the magic takes place to-day, this very night) and usually features the Nativity. A family scene, a sense of peace and calm, and mystery and magic - we can relate to that, Christian or not.

And so that's it, for now. I hope you have all enjoyed my Advent Calendar - I have certainly enjoyed creating it. A big thank you to all those who offered support, words of encouragement, suggestions and praise - I have really appreciated all the feedback. Keep it coming!

Ok, I'm off for a glass or two of something sparkling and a lie-down.

Merry Christmas, One and All!
Paul B x

Advent Calendar - 23rd Dec - 'Wren Boys'

Advent Calendar - 23rd Dec - 'Wren Boys'

Wren Day, also known as Wren's Day, Hunt the Wren Day or the Hunting of the Wrens (Irish: Lá an Dreoilín) is traditionally celebrated on 26 December, St Stephen's Day in parts of Ireland, the Isle of Man, Wales and Newfoundland. The tradition consists of "hunting" a fake wren, and putting it on top of a decorated pole. Then the crowds of mummers, musicians or strawboys celebrate the Wren (also pronounced as the Wran) by dressing up in masks, straw suits and colourful motley clothing and, accompanied by traditional céilí music bands, parade through the towns and villages in remembrance of a festival that was celebrated by the Druids. These crowds are sometimes called wrenboys.

In past times, an actual bird was hunted by Wrenboys on St. Stephen's Day. The captured wren was tied to the Wrenboy leader's staff pole, sometimes dead, sometimes alive (to be killed after the parade). The parade song, of which there are many variations, asked for donations from the townspeople. Often, the boys gave a feather from the bird to patrons for good luck. The money was used to host a dance for the town, held that night. The pole, decorated with ribbons, wreaths and flowers, as well as the Wren, was the center of the dance. Over time, the live bird was replaced with a fake one that is hidden, rather than chased. The band of young boys has expanded to include girls, and adults often join in. The money that is collected from the townspeople is usually donated to a school or charity. A celebration is still held around the decorated pole.

Some theorise that the Wren celebration has descended from Celtic mythology. Ultimately, the origin may be a Samhain or Midwinter sacrifice and/or celebration, as Celtic mythology considered the Wren a symbol of the past year (the European wren is known for its habit of singing even in mid-winter, and sometimes explicitly called "Winter Wren"); Celtic names of the Wren (draouennig, drean, dreathan, dryw etc.) also suggest an association with druidic rituals. The tradition may also have been influenced by Scandinavian settlers during the Viking invasions of the 8th-10th Centuries. Various associated legends exist, such as a Wren being responsible for betraying Irish soldiers who fought the maurading Viking invaders by beating its wings on their shields, in the late first and early second millennia, and for betraying the Christian martyr Saint Stephen, after whom the day is named. This mythological association with treachery is a possible reason why the bird was hunted by Wrenboys on St. Stephen's Day, and/or why a pagan sacrificial tradition was continued in Christian times. Despite the abandonment of the wren killing practice, devoted Wrenboys continue to ensure that the gaelic tradition of celebrating the Wren continues.

In 1955 Liam Clancy recorded "The Wran Song" (the Wren song), which was sung in Ireland by Wrenboys. In 1972 Steeleye Span recorded "The King" on "Please to See the King", which is along similar lines. They made another version, "The Cutty Wren", on their album "Time". "Hunting the Wren" is on John Kirkpatrick's album "Wassail!". The Chieftains made a collection of Wrenboy tunes on "Bells of Dublin".

I lived in Ireland for five years and sadly never saw nor heard anyone mention the Wrenboy tradition in that time, but perhaps that was just being in Dublin. I did once have a very bizarre conversation with a couple of Rent Boys, but that's a different story.

These fine fellas shown are the Bogside Wranboys of Ballygramore and can play many a tune to set your feet a-tapping!

Advent Calendar - 22nd Dec - 'Mari Lwyd'

Advent Calendar - 22nd - 'Mari Lwyd'

The Mari Lwyd (in Welsh, Y Fari Lwyd) is one of the strangest and most ancient of a number of customs with which people in certain parts of Wales used to mark the passing of the darkest days of Midwinter.

The Mari Lwyd (or Grey Mare in English) is a Welsh New Year celebration. Perhaps deriving from an ancient rite for the Celtic goddesses Rhiannon and Epona, the Mari Lwyd is associated with south-east Wales, in particular Glamorgan and Gwent , but was almost forgotten during the mid-20th century. Nowadays, some folk associations in Llantrisant, Llangynwyd, Cowbridge and elsewhere are trying to revive it.

The Mari Lwyd consists of a mare's skull fixed to the end of a wooden pole; white sheets are fastened to the base of the skull, concealing the pole and the person carrying the Mari. The eye sockets are often filled with green bottle-ends, or other coloured material. The lower jaw is sometimes spring-loaded, so that the Mari's 'operator' can snap it at passers-by. Coloured ribbons are usually fixed to the skull and to the reins (if any).

During the ceremony, the skull (sometimes made of wood) is carried through the streets of the village by a party that stands in front of every house to sing traditional songs. The singing sometimes consists of a rhyme contest (pwnco) between the Mari party and the inhabitants of the house, that challenge each other with verses, often insulting.

The Mari Lwyd has become associated with a resurgent awareness of Welsh folk culture. For example, the town council of Aberystwyth (in Ceredigion, well outside the Mari Lwyd's traditional area) organised "The World's Largest Mari Lwyd" for the Millennium celebrations in 2000.

A mixture of the Mari Lwyd and Wassail customs (see yester-day's entry) occurs in the border town of Chepstow, South Wales, every January. A band of English Wassailers meet with the local Welsh Border Morris Side, The Widders, on the bridge in Chepstow. They greet each other and exchange flags in a gesture of friendship and unity and celebrate the occasion with dance and song before performing the 'pwnco' at the doors of Chepstow Castle.

My mother is Welsh, but from Ruthin in the great wild North of Wales.

Here I have shown a scene from the small mining village of Pen-Y-Senfi in Glamorgan. The lady at the door is Mrs Dai Bread, the baker's wife. The man asking her the questions is Ifor Rees-Davies, a handyman, and the figure under the blanket is young Gereint Pritchard (known as 'Mitzi'), son of Nelly the Tripe.

This particular Mari Lwyd actually imagines herself to be Marie Lloyd, the star of Edwardian Music Hall. She was known and infamous for her saucy performances and innuendo - when town councillors banned her from singing her song 'I Sits Amongst the Cabbages, and Peas' because of its implied reference to micturation, she promised to alter the lyrics appropriately - and sung 'I Sits Amongst the Cabbages, and Leeks' instead!

Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Advent Calendar - 21st Dec - 'Wassail'

Advent Calendar - 21st Dec - 'Wassail'

The word Wassail refers to several related traditions; first and foremost wassailing is an ancient southern English tradition that is performed with the intention of ensuring a good crop of cider apples for the next year's harvest. It also refers to both the salute 'Waes Hail', the term itself is a contraction of the Middle English phrase wæs hæil, meaning litereally 'good health' or 'be you healthy' and to the drink of wassail which is a hot mulled cider traditionally drunk as an integral part of the wassail ceremony. Howver the offering of libations, a ritual pouring of a drink as an offering to a god, diety or spirit was common in thereligions of antiquity and the practice probably goes back millennia.

In the cider-producing counties in the South West of England (primarily Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire) wassailing refers to a traditional ceremony that involves singing and drinking the health of trees in the hopes that they might better thrive. The purpose of wassailing is to awake the cider apple trees and to scare away evil spirits to ensure a good harvest of fruit in the Autumn.{'England In Particular', 2007} The ceremonies of each wassail vary from village to village but they generally all have the same core elements. A wassail King and Queen lead the song and/or a processional tune to be played/sung from one orchard to the next, the wassail Queen will then be lifted up into the boughs of the tree where she will place toast soaked in Wassail from the Clayen Cup as a gift to the tree spirits (and to show the fruits created the previous year). Then an incantation is usually recited such as

Here's to thee, old apple tree, That blooms well, bears well. Hats full, caps full, Three bushel bags full, An' all under one tree. Hurrah! Hurrah!

At Carhampton, near Minehead, the Apple Orchard Wassailing is held on the Old Twelfth Night (17 January) as a ritual to ask God for a good apple harvest. The villagers form a circle around the largest apple tree, hang pieces of toast soaked in cider in the branches for the robins, who represent the 'good spirits' of the tree. A shotgun is fired overhead to scare away evil spirits and the group sings, the following being the last verse:

Old Apple tree, old apple tree;
We've come to wassail thee;
To bear and to bow apples enow;
Hats full, caps full, three bushel bags full;
Barn floors full and a little heap under the stairs

My Partner's surname is Appleton.The name is of Anglo-Saxon origin, and is locational from any of the several places thus called, for example Appleton in Cumberland, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Norfolk, Cheshire, Berkshire and Kent. Recorded as "Apeltun" and "Epletune" in the Domesday Book of 1086 for the various counties, the name derives from the Olde English pre 7th Century "aeppeltun", an orchard, a compound of "aeppel", an apple, plus "tun", an enclosure or settlement.

Here I have shown two of Nick's ancestors in the Kentish orchard from which they got their name. They wear broadly typical Anglo-Saxon garb (note Aethelwulf Aeppeltun's garnet-encrusted cloak broach), drinking ale or cider from horns and generally making merry on this, the shortest day of the Year. Note too the drink-soaked crust in the branches, the now dormant skep in the orchard and the tipsy Robin Redbreast looking on. Behold, the birth of the English binge-drinking culture!

Wassail! Drink Hale!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Advent Calendar - 20th Dec - 'The Box of Delights'

Advent Calendar - 20th Dec - 'The Box of Delights'

The Box of Delights is a children's fantasy novel by the then Poet Laureate John Masefield. It is a sequel to The Midnight Folk, and was first published in 1935. It is set around Christmas-time, culminating on Christmas Day, and I always find myself reading it at this time.

The central character is a young boy of ten, Kay Harker who, on returning home to Seekings House from boarding school, finds himself mixed up in a battle to possess a magical box, the eponymous Box of Delights. This box allows the owner to go small (shrink) and go swift (fly), experience magical wonders contained within the box and go into the past.

The owner of the box is an old Punch-and-Judy man man called Cole Hawlings or Hollings, whom Kay meets at the railway station on his way home. 'And now, Master Harker, now that the Wolves are Running, perhaps you could do something to stop their Bite?' entreats the old man. He asks Kay to protect the magic box with which Kay and his friends have many adventures. But Kay is in danger: Abner Brown will stop at nothing to get his hands on it. The police don't believe Kay, so when his guardian, friends and the Bishop are 'scrobbled' just before Christmas, he knows he must act alone...

Its a great book with mysterious bright-eyed immortals, cars that can fly, Romans, Druids, fairies, Herne the Hunter, gangsters dressed as curates, talking rats, witches and much much more besides. It is quite dated and all the more charming for it - characters in the book use expressions like 'it's the Purple Pim' and 'queer coughdrops'!

Here I have shown Cole Hawlings, the Punch-and-Judy man, with his show wrapped in green baize upon his back, walking near the Drop of Dew Inn (aka Cockfarthings) in the Bear Ward of old Condicote, with his dog Barney beside him. Note his exceptionally bright eyes that few have got, and his ring, a 'longways cross' of gold and garnets. In fact he is very old indeed, coming from 'Pagan times' and is none other than the (real-life) medieval Spanish Philosopher and Alchemist Ramon Llull ( here called Ramon Lully).

The story also features a Bronze or Brazen Head used by the evil wizard Abner Brown (assisted by his wife and Kay's former governess, the sly witch Sylvia Daisy Pouncer) for divination, a motif that has long fascinated me, and after which Dublin's oldest pub is named. The medieval mystic friar Roger Bacon was believed to possess one.

If you have not read it, I suggest you do.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Advent Calendar - 19th Dec - 'Marley's Ghost'

Advent Calendar - 19th Dec - 'Marley's Ghost'

So much of what we now think of Christmas comes, it seems, from the works and writings of Charles Dickens, and in particular A Christmas Carol, his famous ghost story of 1843. The book opens thus;

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don't mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country's done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

And so opens 'Stave One', the first of 5 chapters (or Staves, as Dickens calls them)

Here the reader meets Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserable but wealthy old man. Scrooge works in his counting house with his clerk, Bob Cratchit.

Bob writes out records of accounts and Scrooge oversees the business but we don't know (it's not important) what it exactly does. (There may be a clue in the next chapter, where we see Scrooge as an apprentice with Mr. Fezziwig.) It is Christmas Eve, and Scrooge receives several visitors.

One is his nephew, Fred, who invites Scrooge to dine with him for Christmas. Then come two gentlemen who are collecting for charity. We learn here that Scrooge had a partner, Jacob Marley, who died on Christmas Eve seven years previously.

Scrooge refuses to give the gentlemen anything, saying he helps the poor already through supporting prisons and workhouses. Scrooge allows Bob to have Christmas Day as a holiday, but insists that he be back at work all the earlier next day. (Boxing Day was not usually a holiday in the 19th century, but was the day when tradesmen collected their Christmas "boxes" - gifts from their customers.)

When Scrooge returns to his lodging he is visited by the Ghost of Jacob Marley who is weighed down by a massive chain, made up of cashboxes, keys and padlocks. The ghost says that any spirit which does not mix with other people in life must travel among them after death. Marley tells Scrooge that he, too, wears a chain, larger than Marley's. Marley has often sat by him unseen. Now he warns him of three more spirits which will visit to help him change his ways...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Advent Calendar - 18th Dec - 'Christmas Cracker'

Advent Calendar - 18th Dec - 'Christmas Cracker'

Christmas crackers or bon-bons are an integral part of Christmas celebrations in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, &c.). They are also popular in Ireland.

A cracker consists of a cardboard tube wrapped in a brightly decorated twist of paper, making it resemble an oversized sweet-wrapper. The cracker is pulled by two people, and, much in the manner of a wishbone, the cracker splits unevenly. The split is accompanied by a small bang produced by the effect of friction on a chemically impregnated card strip (similar to that used in a cap gun).

Crackers are also a part of New Year celebrations in Russia (where they are called "хлопушка") and some countries of the former Soviet Union. Those are however more similar to pyrotechnical devices, normally used outdoors, activated by one person, and produce a stronger bang accompanied by fire and smoke.

In one version of the tradition the person with the larger portion of cracker empties the contents from the tube and keeps them. In another each person will have their own cracker and will keep its contents regardless of whose end they were in. Typically these contents are a coloured paper hat or crown (a hang-over from Saturnalia perhaps?); a small toy or other trinket and a motto, a joke or piece of trivia on a small strip of paper. Crackers are often pulled before or after Christmas dinners or at parties.

Assembled crackers are typically sold in boxes of three to twelve. These typically have different designs usually with red, green and gold colours. Making crackers from scratch using the tubes from used toilet rolls and tissue paper is a common Commonwealth activity for children. Kits to make crackers can also be purchased.

Crackers were invented by Thomas J. Smith of London in 1847. He created the crackers as a development of his bon-bon sweets, which he sold in a twist of paper (the origins of the traditional sweet-wrapper). As sales of bon-bons slumped, Smith began to come up with new promotional ideas. His first tactic was to insert mottos into the wrappers of the sweets (cf. fortune cookies), but this had only limited success.

He was inspired to add the "crackle" element when he heard the crackle of a log he had just put on the fire. The size of the paper wrapper had to be increased to incorporate the banger mechanism, and the sweet itself was eventually dropped, to be replaced by a small gift. The new product was initially marketed as the Cosaque (i.e., Cossack), but the onomatopoeic "cracker" soon became the commonly used name, as rival varieties were introduced to the market. The other elements of the modern cracker, the gifts, paper hats and varied designs, were all introduced by Tom Smith's son, Walter Smith, to differentiate his product from the many copycat cracker manufacturers which had suddenly sprung up.

The image I have created is based on a late Victorian or Edwardian greetings card that I stumbled upon here on Facebook, showing a Pine-cone sprite (whatever that is!?) and Mr Punch pulling a cracker, with the legend 'Merry Christmas' above them. I have replaced that with the German, which I think has a charm all of its own. Plus, to my Englische ears, sounds funny!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Advent Calendar - 17th Dec - 'Saturnalia'

Advent Calendar - 17th Dec - 'Saturnalia'

To-day marks the start of Saturnalia, an Ancient Roman festival that was held in honor of the god Saturn.

Saturnalia became one of the most popular Roman festivals. It was marked by tomfoolery, mayhem, merriment and the reversal of social roles, in which slaves and masters ostensibly switched places (much like the Lord of Misrule in later Medieval Christian celebrations).

Saturnalia was introduced around 217 BCE to raise citizen morale after a crushing military defeat at the hands of the Carthaginians. Originally celebrated for a day, on December 17 (to-day!), its popularity saw it grow until it became a week-long extravaganza, ending on the 23rd. Efforts to shorten the celebration were unsuccessful. Augustus tried to reduce it to three days, and Caligula to five (Party poopers! How did these guys get the reputation of being Hell-raisers?). These attempts caused uproar and massive revolts among the Roman citizens.

Saturnalia involved the conventional sacrifices, a couch (lectisternium) set out in front of the temple of Saturn and the untying of the ropes that bound the statue of Saturn during the rest of the year. A Saturnalicius princeps was elected master of ceremonies for the proceedings. Besides the public rites there were a series of holidays and customs celebrated privately. The celebrations included a school holiday, the making and giving of small presents (saturnalia et sigillaricia) and a special market (sigillaria). Gambling was allowed for all, even slaves.

Saturnalia was a time to eat, drink, and be merry. The toga was not worn, but rather colorful and informal 'dinner clothes'; and the pileus (a freedman's hat: close-fitting and brimless, a little like a fez) was worn by everyone. Slaves were exempt from punishment, and treated their masters with (a pretense of) disrespect. The slaves celebrated a banquet: before, with, or served by the masters. Yet the reversal of the social order was mostly superficial; the banquet, for example, would often be prepared by the slaves, and they would prepare their masters' dinner as well. It was license within careful boundaries; it reversed the social order without subverting it.

The customary greeting for the occasion is a "Io, Saturnalia!" — Io (pronounced "e-o") being a Latin interjection related to "ho" (as in "Ho, praise to Saturn").

Saturn (Latin: Saturnus) was a major Roman god of agriculture and harvest, whose reign was depicted as a Golden Age of abundance and peace by many Roman authors. In medieval times he was known as the Roman god of dance, agriculture, justice and strength; he is often portayed holding a sickle or scythe in one hand and a bundle of wheat in the other. Saturn is often identified with the Greek Cronus, the god of Time (hence chronological, chronic, &c..) who famously ate his children. Fear not though, gentle readers, the children were later regurgitated intact through the intervention of their mother - and went on to become the Gods of Olympus! A gruesome tale perhaps, but viewed metaphorically it can be seen as a simple moral - that Time eats everything in the end.

I have shown old Saturnus in his chariot pulled by winged serpents, wearing his purple robes and party pileus and brandishing his scythe. The roundels on his chariot depict the star-signs Capricorn and Aquarius which he governs. Flying like this through the Winter sky he puts me in mind of a Classical Santa Claus - I did think about labelling his serpents Cometa and Vulpes (Comet & Vixen) or Saltor and Cupido (Dancer & Cupid) as a homage to 'A Visit From St. Nick', but I wasn't sure my Latin was up to the task!

Saturday is sacred to Saturn.

Io Saturnalia!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Advent Calendar - 16th Dec - 'Three Kings'

Advent Calendar - 16 Dec - 'Three Kings'

In Christian tradition, the Magi, also referred to as the (Three) Wise Men, (Three) Kings, or Kings from the East, are a group of distinguished foreigners who are said to have visited the infant Jesus shortly after his birth, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They are regular figures in traditional accounts of the nativity and in celebrations of Christmas. Magi is a term derived from Greek, meaning a priest (often, of Zoroaster).

The Gospel of St. Matthew, the only one of the four Gospels to mention the Magi, states that they came "from the east" to worship the Christ, "born King of the Jews". Although the account does not tell how many they were, the three gifts led to a widespread assumption that they were three as well, although some early traditions held that they were as many as twelve in number. Their identification as kings in later Christian writings is linked to Old Testament prophesies such as that in Isaiah, which describe the Messiah being worshipped by kings.

Traditions identify a variety of different names for the Magi. In the Western Christian church they have been commonly known as:

  • 1) Kaspar, Caspar, Gaspar, Gathaspa, Jaspar or Jaspas.
  • 2) Melchior, Melichior or Melchyor
  • 3) Balthasar, Bithisarea or Balthassar.
In my image I have shown, hopefully, the Czech names for the Magi (as well as the Czech words for Three Kings and the names of their gifts). The Three Kings' names apparently derive from a Greek manuscript probably composed in Alexandria around 500 A.D., and which has been translated into Latin with the title Excerpta Latina Barbari. In contrast, the Syrian Christians name the Magi Larvandad, Gushnasaph and Hormisdas, probably Persian in origin. In the Eastern churches,Ethiopian Christianity, for instance, has Hor, Karsudan and Basanater, while the Armenians have Kagpha, Badadakharida and Badadilma. One Armenian tradition identifies the Magi as Balthasar coming from Arabia, Mechior coming from Persia and Gasper coming from India.

The gifts are thought to symbolise Christ's Sovereignty (gold), Divinity (frankincense) and Death (Myrrh, an oil used in embalming).

Marco Polo claimed that he was shown the three tombs of the Magi at Saveh, south of Tehran, in the 1270s:

In Persia is the city of Saba, from which the Three Magi set out and in this city they are buried, in three very large and beautiful monuments, side by side. And above them there is a square building, beautifully kept. The bodies are still entire, with hair and beard remaining.

A Shrine of the Three Kings at Cologne Cathedral, according to tradition, contains the bones of the Three Wise Men. Reputedly they were first discovered by Saint Helena on her famous pilgrimage to Palestine and the Holy Lands. The Magi are still sometimes referred to as the Three Kings of Cologne and the city's coat-of-arms has three crowns on it in their honour.

The feast day celebrating their arrival in Bethlehem is January 6th (aka Twelfth Night, or the Feast of the Epiphany) and, in some cultures, is the date on which children receive their Christmas gifts.

In Poland people take small boxes containing chalk, a gold ring, incense and a piece of amber, in memory of the gifts of the Magi, to church to be blessed on the evening of Twelfth Night. Once at home, they inscribe the date and "K+M+B+" with the blessed chalk above every door in the house to provide protection against illness and misfortune for those within. The letters, with a cross after each one, stand for names of the Three Kings -- Kaspar, Melchior and Balthasar. They remain above the doors all year until they are inadvertently dusted off or replaced by new markings the next year. My dad, who is Polish, also has the initials KMB - Krzysztof Maria Bommer!

Advent Calendar - 15th Dec - 'Yule Log'

Advent Calendar - 15th Dec - 'Yule Log'

The Yule Log is a large wooden log which is burned in the hearth as a part of traditional Yule or Christmas celebrations in several European cultures.

The Yule log was originally an entire tree, that was carefully chosen and brought into the house with great ceremony with the purpose being to provide maximum warmth and endurance throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas (from Christmas Eve until the Feast of the Epiphany on 6th Jan). In some European traditions, the largest end of the log would be placed into the fire hearth while the rest of the tree stuck out into the room.

Ideally the log would be lit with a brand made from a remnant of last year's log, and it was hoped, and considered a sign of great luck, that the log would burn ardently across the twelve days.

The Yule log has frequently been associated with having its origins in the historical Germanic paganism which was practiced across northern Europe prior to Christianisation (as so much of Christmas has). One of the first people to do so was the English historian Henry Bourne, who, writing in the 1720s, described the practice occurring in the Tyne valley. Bourne theorised that the practice derives from customs in 6th to 7th century Anglo-Saxon pagan religious practice.

The log's role was primarily one of bringing prosperity and protection from evil - by keeping the remnant of the log all the year long the protection was said to remain across the year.

The Yule log was not only seen as a magical protective amulet in traditional British rural culture. There are many reports of rivalries occurring between members of a community as to who had the largest log.

The traditions of the Yule log died out in Britain in the latter 19th and early 20th century because of, according to historian and folklorist Prof. Ronald Hutton (a hero of mine), "the reduction in farm labour and the disappearance of the old-fashioned open hearths".

In English folklore, Father Christmas was often depicted carrying a Yule Log.

In France and Wallonia, and hence also in other francophone regions of the world, such as Quebec and in Lebanon, the Bûche de Noël ("christmas log") is a traditional dessert, in origin a facsimile of the actual yule log. The tradition of the yule log was discontinued as large fireplaces became an increasingly rarer feature of the average living room. The dessert is usually in the form of a large cylindrical 'roulade' cake, covered with chocolate icing forked to resemble the tree's bark - one end is then lopped off and stood on end to indicate the rings of the "log."

I have shown here a Quebecois lumberjack, Alain Hauteville, sitting on the Yule log he has just chopped down. The tree he chose was one that a childhood sweet-heart of his had written his initials into the bark of many moons before, before spurning him for a wealthy silk-merchant in Montreal. Its thirsty work, so young Al is enjoying a quick brew from his Thermos and a smoke before dragging the thing back to his cabin at the forest's edge.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Advent Calendar - 14th Dec - 'Christmas Pudding'

Advent Calendar - 14th Dec - 'Christmas Pudding'

Christmas Pudding is a steamed pudding or dessert traditionally served on Christmas Day (December 25). It has its origins in England and Ireland, and is sometimes known as Plum or Figgy Pudding.

The pudding's origins can be traced back to the 1420s (though probably goes back much further) when it contained meat as well as fruit and spices. By the Victorian period Christmas pudding had become a steamed pudding, heavy with dried fruits and nuts, and usually made with suet (all that remains of the Medieval meat ingredient!). It is very dark in appearance - effectively black - as a result of the dark sugars and black treacle in most recipes, and its long cooking time. The mixture can be moistened with the juice of citrus fruits,brandy and other alcohol (some recipes call for dark beers such as mild, stout or porter).

In the nineteenth century, Christmas puddings were boiled in a pudding cloth, and they are still often represented as round. However at least since the beginning of the twentieth century they have usually been prepared in basins.

The pudding is traditionally made four or five weeks before Christmas on what is called 'Stir-up Sunday' with all the household stirring the mixture for good luck, although they may be made a year or even two in advance! It was common practice to include small silver coins in the pudding mixture, which could be kept by the person whose serving included them.

Once cooked, turned out, decorated with holly, doused in brandy, and flamed (or 'fired'), the pudding is traditionally brought to the table ceremoniously, and greeted with a round of applause. Charles Dickens descibes the scene in A Christmas Carol:

"Mrs Cratchit left the room alone -- too nervous to bear witnesses -- to take the pudding up and bring it in... Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper. A smell like a washing-day. That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook's next door to each other, with a laundress's next door to that. That was the pudding. In half a minute Mrs Cratchit entered -- flushed, but smiling proudly -- with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top."
Today, the term Figgy Pudding is known mainly because of the 16th Century secular Christmas carol 'We Wish You A Merry Christmas' which repeats, "Oh bring us a figgy pudding" in the chorus, indicating that it was a Christmas traditional dish served during the season and thus might potentially be given to Christmas carolers.
Good tidings we bring to you and your kin
We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Now! bring us some Figgy Pudding
and bring some out here!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Advent Calendar - 13th Dec - 'St Lucy's Day'

Advent Calendar - 13th Dec - 'St Lucy's Day'

Saint Lucy (283–304), also known as Santa Lucia, was a wealthy young Christian martyr, killed in Syracuse, Sicily by Diolcletian for refusing to submit to her heathen husband, and is now venerated as a saint by Christians around the World.

Her feast day in the West is 13 December (to-day!); with a name derived from lux, lucis "light", she is the patron saint of those who are blind or have eye-trouble (as well as, bizarrely, salesmen, writers and those with throat infections). In the legend surrounding her she had her eyes put out before being killed. In some versions of the tale God restores her sight. She is shown here on the right with two of her traditional symbols or attributes - the palm-frond of Martyrdom and her own eyes upon a salver or cake-stand!

Saint Lucy is one of the very few saints celebrated by members of the Lutheran Church among the Scandinavian peoples, who take part in Saint Lucy's Day celebrations that retain many elements of Germanic paganism.

December 13 was the date of the Winter Solstice in the Old Julian Calendar (replaced by to-day's Gregorian Calendar in Britain in 1752, where Wednesday, 2 September was immediately followed by Thursday, 14 September - a change that brought considerable consternation and rioting at the time). This timing, and her name meaning light, is a factor in the particular devotion to St. Lucy in Scandinavian countries, where young girls dress as the saint in honor of the feast. Traditionally the oldest daughter of any household will dress up in a white robe with a red sash and a wreath of evergreens and 12 lighted candles upon her head. Assisted by any siblings she may have, she then serves coffee and a special St Lucia bun (a Lussekatt in Swedish) to her parents and family. The Lussekatter or Lussebollar are spiced buns flavoured with saffron and other spices and traditionally presented in the form shown in the image, an inverted S with two raisins a-top (perhaps representing St Lucy's plucked out eyes!?).

The Metaphysical Poet, and Dean of St. Paul's cathedral, John Donne wrote his poem "A Nocturnal upon St. Lucie's Day, being the shortest day" in 1627. The poem begins with: "'Tis the year's midnight, and it is the day's," and expresses, in a mourning piece, the withdrawal of the world-spirit into sterility and darkness, where "The world's whole sap is sunk." A good day for coffee and buns, in other words!

I would like to take this opportunity to wish all my Scandinavian friends (plus any Lucies) a 'God Jul!'.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Advent Calendar - 12th Dec - 'Mr Fezziwig's Ball'

Advent Calendar - 12th December -'Mr. Fezziwig's Ball'.

This jolly couple are Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig, two lovable characters featured in that perennial favourite Charles Dicken's seasonal novella 'A Christmas Carol'.

Mr. Fezziwig is the owner of a warehouse business for whom Ebenezer Scrooge worked as an apprentice with Dick Wilkins; and in Stave 2 of A Christmas Carol, has a Christmas Ball for his family, friends and emplyees. Old Fezziwig is a happy man with a large Welch (or welsh) wig. Here Fezziwig and his beloved Wife are shown dancing to 'Sir Roger de Coverley', a lively tune popular in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Scrooge revisits Fezziwig with the Ghost of Christmas Past. Fezziwig is one of the few people to whom Scrooge is thankful, for he says, “He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil…The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.” Scrooge is reminded how much he once appreciated Fezziwig. Since Fezziwig is the elder Scrooge's opposite in many ways — in kindness, generosity, affection for his employees, relationship with family, and apparent happiness — Scrooge is thus confronted with the fact that his own choices have diverged greatly from those of someone he admires. He has a sudden and painful stab of remorse for how he has treated his own employee, Bob Cratchett.

The only other Fezziwigs mentioned by Dickens are the couple's three unnamed daughters, described as 'beaming and lovable', and courted collectively by six young gentlemen!

Yo ho, my boys! Hilli-ho! Chirrup!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Advent Calendar - 11th Dec - 'Christmas Truce'

Advent Calendar - 11th December - 'Christmas Truce'

This image commemorates those extraordinary moments around Christmas 1914, at the start of World War I, when men from both sides come together in a act of defiance and goodwill. Although there was no official truce, about 100,000 British and German troops were involved in unofficial cessations of fighting along the length of the Western Front. The first truce started on Christmas Eve, 24 December 1914, when German Troops began decorating the area around their trenches in the region of Ypres, Flanders in modern-day Belgium.

The Germans began by placing candles on their trenches and on Christmas trees, then continued the celebration by singing Christmas Carols. The British responded by singing carols of their own. The two sides continued by shouting Christmas greetings to each other. Soon thereafter, there were excursions across the 'No Man's Land' where small gifts were exchanged, such as food, tobacco and alcohol, and souvenirs such as buttons and hats. The artillery in the region fell silent that night. The truce also allowed a breathing spell where recently-fallen soldiers could be brought back behind their lines by burial parties. Joint services were held. The fraternisation was not, however, without its risks; some soldiers were shot by opposing forces. In many sectors, the truce lasted through Christmas night, but it continued until New Year's Day in others.

General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, commander of the British II Corps, was irate when he heard what was happening, and issued strict orders forbidding friendly communication with the opposing German troops. In the following years of the war, artillery bombardments were ordered on Christmas Eve to try to ensure that there were no further lulls in the combat. Troops were also rotated through various sectors of the front to prevent them from becoming overly familiar with the enemy. However, situations of deliberate dampening of hostilities also occurred. For example, artillery was fired at precise points, at precise times, to avoid enemy casualties by both sides.

On Christmas Day, after a night of carol singing, a private with the Welsh Fusiliers recalled that feelings of goodwill had so swelled up that at dawn Bavarian and British soldiers clambered spontaneously out of their trenches. A football was produced from somewhere – though none could recall from where. "It wasn't a game as such, more a kick-around and a free-for-all. There could have been 50 on each side for all I know. I played because I really liked football. I don't know how long it lasted, probably half an hour."

A wonderful moment of hope and peace in that awful conflict that was then the costliest in Human history.

Peace on Earth, Good-will to all Men.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Advent Calendar - 10th Dec - 'Old Father Christmas'

Advent Calendar - 10th December - 'Old Father Christmas'

Please welcome Old Father Christmas. He was, in times past, also known as Grandfather Christmas, Old Christmas or even simply Old Winter.

Nowadays, with the global domination of American commercial culture, this fellow, Britain's Father Christmas, and Santa Claus, an import from the US, have become virtually synonymous and almost indistinguishable. But let me tell you, Gentle Readers, that once upon a time they were two very different creatures.

As you will all know Santa Claus is a Anglicised corruption of 'Sinterklaas', the Dutch for St Nicholas, bought over to the States by immigrants from the Low Countries in the 17th Century (when New York was called Nieuw (or New) -Amsterdam). There he fused with the British Father Christmas and became Santa, losing his Bishop's robes on the way. The Victorian poem 'A Visit From St Nick' by Clement Clarke Moore, did much then to embellish and describe the figure. In 1931 the Coca Cola company gave him their red and white livery, which he wears to this day.

Old Father Christmas, on the other hand, is a much more ancient manifestation. Pagan in origin and an embodiment of arcane MidWinter revelries, he is made up, in part, of the Norse god Odin and the Roman gods Jupiter (Jove) and Saturn ( who's great feast, Saturnalia, was at this time). He is no gift-bearer (Christmas presents almost never featured in Yule-tide celebrations before the mid- to late-Victorian period) but was instead the very personification of festive Cheer, Feasting, Warmth and Merriment, so very welcome in the bitter, bleak, icy Winter months.

He has a longer beard that his American counterpart, and wears long gowns and a hooded robe, often fur-trimmed ( and almost never red!) - as opposed to Santa's soft-drink branding tie-in tunic and pant suit. He is big, and he is Merrie - he is, in essence, the Ghost of Christmas Present, as portrayed by Dicken's in 'A Christmas Carol'.

As for transport, he has many ways of getting about. Sometimes he would arrive on a white horse, bells a-jingling, sometimes a white donkey, or, as here, a white goat! In some parts of the country the tradition was that he came out from the North a-stride a great white goose!

During the Commonwealth in the 1650s the Puritans banned the celebration of Christmas, deeming it an orgy of pagan idolatry (they were not, I suspect, far off). One of the earliest surviving images of Father Christmas is a subversive pamphlet published in 1653. Old Winter approaches a border or city wall, where a soldier on guard says 'Keep out, you come not here' to which the old man (here sporting long robes and a very fetching broad-brimmed felt or fur hat) counters 'O Sir I bring good cheere'. Behind him stands a country peasant who says 'Old Christmas Welcome, do not fear'.

Ladies, Gentlemen, I hope and trust that you will all make Old Christmas very welcome in your homes and hearts. The world would not suffer any from a little more Merriment and Good Cheer!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Advent Calendar - 9th Dec - 'Babushka'

Advent Calendar - 9th December - 'Babushka'

Babushka is a traditional figure in Russian folklore who distributes presents to children around Christmas-time. Her name literally means 'Grandmother' (which makes you think, what was Kate Bush singing about?!). The legend is that she declined to go with the Wise Men, who stopped at her house for food and rest en route to Bethlehem, to see the baby Jesus - because of the cold weather, and because she had housework and baking to do.

However, after the Magi had left she began to regret not going with them and set off to try and catch up, filling her basket with presents and pastries. She never did catch up, nor find the baby Jesus, and it is said she wonders the earth 'til this day, visiting each house at Christmas and leaving toys and treats for good children.

The moral of this story? Don't put off 'til to-morrow what you can do to-day! And a clean house, its not all that!

I have a great old book entitled North Russian Architecture. It has a slip-case, a faux wood cover and hundreds of gorgeous photographs of log-cabins and shingled, onion-domed shrines and chapels. They provided the reference for the buildings behind her.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Advent Calendar - 8th Dec - 'The Spider & the Cave'

Advent Calendar - 8th December - 'The Spider & The Cave'

When I was a child, my father, who is Polish, would tell me a traditional tale that he himself had been told when he was a boy.

According to the legend the three Kings stopped at Herod's Palace in Jerusalem on their way to Bethlehem looking for the new-born king that the Star had prophecised. Herod, of course, knew nothing about this new-born king, but was unsettled by the news.

In the days following the Magi's departure the perceived threat to his sovereignty grew and grew, until at last, in a fit of rage, he ordered his men to kill all new-born male children across the land.
Getting wind of this from the three Kings (or Wise-Men), the Holy Family fled Bethlehem in Judea for Egypt (known as the Flight to Egypt).

At one point, as Herod's men approached, they took refuge in a cave. There a Spider, sensing who was hiding in his cave, quickly wove an intricate web across the cave entrance. Herod's men, seeing the web, assumed that the cave had been unoccupied for some time and passed on without entering.

There is no mention of this story in the Bible, but there is, I believe, a reference to it in the Qu'ran. Tradition holds that the cave in question to-day lies on the outskirts of Cairo.

The moral of the story? Don't kill spiders. And look out for small miracles.

One of my favourite carols, the 16th Century 'Coventry Carol' tells the story of Herod's slaughtering of the innocent children. Here is Alison Moyet's version; -

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Advent Calendar - 7th Dec - 'El Caganer'

Advent Calendar - 7th Dec - 'El Caganer'

This cheeky fellow is what the Catalans called El Caganer - literally the Pooper - and has been a characteristic of traditional Nativity scenes all over Catalonia for centuries. No self- respecting Catalan Bethlehem scene would be complete without him!

Although an integral and essential part of the Nativity scene, this colourful character is often difficult to spot. He is usually to be found in an ''outlying'' area - behind a suitably placed bush, for example - and not actually centre stage with the infant Jesus himself!

Originally, the Caganer was always portrayed as a Catalan peasant wearing a traditional hat called a barretina — a red stocking hat (sometimes with a black band), a bit like a Liberty or Phrygian cap .Nowadays he comes in many shapes and forms, from monks to shepherds, Barcelona or Madrid football players to famous film stars - all performing the exact same action - defecating. That's right! They are actually squatting down, with their trousers round their knees, having a bowel movement! A google search will soon reveal Barak Obama, Queen Elizabeth II, Nicolas Sarkozy, even Pope Benedict, all having what the cockneys call an Eartha Kitt!

So what do they actually stand for? Believe it or not, the widely-accepted answer to that question is really a very simple one. Their ''fertilizer'' enriches the earth around them, thus promising a buena cosecha (a good harvest) during the forthcoming year. This translates into a general good omen for the future. Upon purchasing a Caganer, you are told that owning him will bring good luck and prosperity. Another explanation is that he represents the equality of all people: regardless of status, race, or gender, everyone poops! One thing is certain, they do say much about the Catalan sense of humour.

I hope this post does not cause (too much) offense. The Catholic church in Catalonia (Catalunya) tolerate him - I suggest you keep it light and do the same.

I have shown our man attending to nature's needs in the beautiful Catalan countryside. In the background stands Montserrat (literally means 'jagged or serrated mountain' in Catalan), a mountain shrine outside Barcelona. The name describes the peculiar aspect of the rock formation, which is visible from a great distance. The mountain is composed of strikingly pink conglomerate and has a Benedictine Abbey near its summit the the famous Black Madonna is housed. The Jesuit order was founded here by St Ignatius of Loyola.


Monday, December 6, 2010

Advent Calendar - 6th Dec - 'St. Nicholas'

Advent Calendar - 6th December - 'St Nicholas'

St Nicholas was the greek Bishop of Myra (Demre, in Lycia, part of modern-day Turkey) in the early 4th Century AD. Many miracles are attributed to his intercession and, over the centuries, he became a hugely popular saint. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and thus became the model for Santa Claus, whose English name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas ( St Nick). In 1087, his relics were furtively translated Bari, in southeastern Italy; for this reason, he is also known as Nikolaos of Bari. His feastday is to-day, December 6th. Happy St Nick's Day!

Saint Nicholas is the Patron Saint of sailors, merchants, archers, thieves, pawnbrokers, children, and students (amongst other things) throughout Christendom. He is show here in classical episcopal attire, with a few of the symbols assigned to him on the right - the 3 golden balls (pawnbrokers), a ship (sailors) and the infants in a barrel (children).

The most famous story about him involves helping out a poor man with three daughters. The father was so poor that he couldn't afford a dowry for his three girls - in those days it would have meant they remained unmarried and possibly be forced into prostitution. St Nick interceeded by secreting donating 3 purses of gold coins over 3 nights, one for each of the 3 daughters. In some stories he threw the purses in through a window to avoid being identified as the donor, in others he dropped the money down the chimney, where it landed, plop, into the stocking of one of the girls. Hence the pawnbroker's balls, Christmas stockings and gift-giving associated with the saint.

Another legend tells how a terrible famine struck the land and a malicious butcher lured three little children into his house, where he slaughtered and butchered them, placing their remains in a barrel to cure, planning to sell them off as ham. Saint Nicholas, visiting the region to care for the hungry, not only saw through the butcher's horrific crime but also resurrected the three boys from the barrel by his prayers. Hence the symbol of kids in a barrell or vat ( I have only shown 2 not 3 as I ran our of space)! And hence St Nick's association with children.

However, it is likely that the legend grew up from a misinterpretation of ancient icons and images of the saint where he is shown baptising heathens in a font. To show reverence for the Saint, the men being christened were shown small, and over time, mis-read as being nippers in brine. ( Misinterpretation of icons happened a lot in the past it seems - Google St Agatha, Patron Saint of Bell-ringers to see another example!)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Advent Calendar - 5th Dec - 'Krampus'

Advent Calendar - 5th December - 'Krampus'

Krampus is a mythological creature or demon, particular to parts of eastern and northern Europe, especially Austria and Hungary. It is believed that Krampus accompanies Saint Nicholas during the Christmas season, warning and punishing bad children (in contrast to St. Nick, who gives gifts to good children). Due to German and Austrian influence, the myth of Krampus is also prevalent in Croatia, (Czecho)Slovakia, Slovenia and northern Italy.

The word Krampus originates from the Old High German word for claw (Krampen). Traditionally, young men dress up as the Krampus in the first two weeks of December, particularly on the evening of 5 December (St Nicholas' Eve, known in German as 'Krampusnacht'), and roam the streets frightening children and women with rusty chains and bells. In some rural areas the tradition also includes birching - corporal punishment with a birch rod – by Krampus, especially of young girls.

Images of Krampus usually show him with a basket on his back used to carry away bad children and dump them into the pits of Hell. He is occasionally shown with wings (though not here!) and usually with two different sorts of feet, one cloven and the other taloned.

In old Czechoslovakia Krampus is known as Cert, and here I have shown him trawling the streets of Prague, this very night! Don't worry about the child in Cert's basket - he has been very naughty and had had many stern warnings from his grandparents, so he had it coming!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Advent Calendar - 4th Dec - 'Boar's Head'

Advent Calendar - 4th December - 'Boar's Head'

Long before the Turkey, and even before the Goose, the traditional centre-piece of any Tudor or Medieval Yule-tide feast worth its salt (if indeed a 'centre' could be found amongst all the pies, roasts, marchpanes and sweetmeats!) was the roasted head of a Wild Boar, replete with apple or citron in its mouth.

According to folklorists the boar's head tradition was:

"initiated in all probability on the Isle of Britain by the Anglo-Saxons, although our knowledge of it comes substantially from medieval times....[In ancient Norse tradition] sacrifice carried the intent of imploring Freyr to show favor to the new year. The boar's head with apple in mouth was carried into the banquet hall on a gold or silver dish to the sounds of trumpets and the songs of minstrels."

In Scandinavia and England, St. Stephen may have inherited some of Freyr's legacy. His Feast Day is December 26 ( Boxing Day) and thus he came to play a part in the Yuletide celebrations which were previously associated with Freyr (or Ingwi to the Anglo-Saxons). In old Swedish art, Stephen is shown as tending to horses and bringing a boar's head to a Yuletide banquet. Both elements are extracanonical and may be pagan survivals. Christmas Ham is an old tradition in Sweden & England, and may have originated as a winter solstice boar sacrifice to Freyr.

The Boar ( or just its head) was adopted by Richard III ( A Horse! A Horse! My Kingdom for a Horse!) as an heraldic badge, a fact still commerorated to-day by a smattering of taverns across the land named the Boar's Head.

So, now you know!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Advent Calendar - 3rd Dec - 'Jack Frost'

Advent Calendar - 3rd December -'Jack Frost'

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping on your nose, Yuletide carols being sung by a choir, And folks dressed up like Eskimos.

In English folklore, Jack Frost appears as an elfin creature who personifies crisp, cold, winter weather but it appears his origins stem from Scandinavian legend where he was named Jokul Frosti, meaning Icicle Frost, by the Norse Vikings. He is renowned for his artistic talents while sneaking through towns late at night painting beautiful frost designs on windows and over the winter leaves and grass. As well as nipping noses, fingers and toes wherever he can!

The verse above is, of course, from the Christmas Song, written and composed by Torme and Wells in 1946 and most famously song by Nat 'King' Cole.

Wrap up warm!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Advent Calendar - 2nd Dec - 'Smoking Bishop'

Advent Calendar -2nd December - 'Smoking Bishop'

Nowadays we still celebrate Christmas with a glass or four of Mulled Wine. But our Victorian and Georgian forebears had a vast panoply of Punches, Cups, Caudles, Noyeaux, Neguses, Shrubs, Flips and Possets at their disposal to mark the Season.

This included a range of 'clerical' punches, spiced and served piping-hot with the addition of roasted (and clove-studded) lemons and/ or seville oranges. If the drink was Burgundy based it was termed a Pope, if Claret-based it was deamed an Archbishop and if Port was the main constituent the Punch was called a Bishop, and so on.

At the very end of Dicken's A Christmas Carol a reformed Ebenezer Scrooge tells Bob Cratchett that “… we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon over a bowl of Smoking Bishop, Bob!”. Now you know.

This particular Smoking Bishop is Monsignor Cathal Septimus O'Herlihy, Bishop of Ballygramore, enjoying a glass of this edifying brew after a hard day. Note his mitre, crozier, cincture and zucchetto!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Advent Calendar - 1st Dec - 'Christmas Is Coming'

Christmas is coming,
The Goose is getting Fat.
Please put a Penny
In the Old Man's Hat.
If you haven't got a Penny
A Hapenny will do.
If you haven't got a Hapenny
God bless you!

My first image for my first online Advent Calendar/ Calendrier de l'Avent/ Adventskalendar/ Calendario de Adviento - one new (and bespoke) image each and every day, from Now until Christmas Eve. Wish me luck!

As ever, Click on the Image if you wish to see it bigger. And please feel free to leave any comments!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Illustration Friday - "Sneaky"

I have just finished reading Tolkein's The Hobbit: There & Back Again, again.

Here is Smaug the Dragon in his treasure-strewn lair beneath the Lonely Mountain.
I love the way this has turned out, the dragon and gold seems to glow against the dark of the mountain rock.

Click on the Image to Enlarge. Feel free to leave any comments!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Old Town - Waste Coat

A piece I have just done for the forthcoming issue of Old Town's Evening Star newspaper ( coming out at the start of the New Year I think). The subject is the social mobility and sartorial elegance afforded to the wearer of that must-have item of clothing, the Hi Viz jacket.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Restaurant magazine - Dec 2010

A piece about the latest trend in eating-out sweeping the Capital (and country as a whole), Fine-Casual - A hybrid of Fine Dining cuisine in more relaxed ( and cheaper) Casual Dining settings.

Click on the Image to Enlarge.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Illustration Friday - "Burning"

The infamous moment in English history when Alfred the Great, whilst lost in thought over the fate of his people, absent-minded burned the cakes of a Swine-herd's Wife in whose cottage he had taken shelter, incognito.

Click on the Image to Enlarge.

Feel free to leave a comment! Go on, you know you want to.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Friday, November 5, 2010

Delft Tile -W.S.

A quick Delft tile I mocked up.

I think his name is William or possibly Walter Smudge, mill owner.

I would love to create a set of these. Perhaps I will.

Click on the Image to Enlarge

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Friday, October 22, 2010

Restaurant magazine - Nov 2010

My latest piece for regular client Restaurant magazine.

This is about new head of the British Hospitality Association, Ufi Ibrahim, who is making a huge and positive impact. She is lobbying the Government to invest in the hospitality industry as she argues, very convincingly, that it is a great engine for job creation and economic growth.

Click on the Image to Enlarge

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Illustration Friday - "Transportation"

The Djinn Malabar transporting the City of Khassina.
Here he rests a-top the Great Star, Adhara.

Click on the Image to Enlarge

London Illustrators' Gathering - Autumn LIG (Amended)

The same poster as before, but amended now that we've booked a room upstairs!

London Illustrators' Gathering
'Autumn LIG'

Tuesday 26th October 2010, 7 pm onwards

@ The 3 Kings tavern (upstairs),
7 Clerkenwell Close,
London, EC1R 0DY
Nearest tube: Farringdon


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Museum Journal - Part 7

Part 7 of the Museum Director's Diary.

Here our man is handed back the Holy Toad of Lancaster after its disastrous tour of Lancashire.

Click on the Image to Enlarge.

Museum Journal - Part 6

Part 6 of the Diary of the Museum Director.

Here our man encounters a Minister smeared in fox blood at a secret departmental meeting!

Click on the Image to Enlarge

London Illustrators' Gathering - Autumn LIG

London Illustrators' Gathering
'Autumn LIG'
Tuesday 26th October 2010, 7 pm onwards
@ The 3 Kings tavern, 7 Clerkenwell Close, London, EC1R 0DY
Nearest tube: Farringdon

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Illustration Friday - "Beneath"

Most things and people are beneath this snooty fellow, the 7th Duke of Stratfordshire.

'Ears!' is how posh English people pronounce 'Yes!'

Friday, September 24, 2010

Illustration Friday - "Acrobat"

A for Acrobat.

Ok, this is late. Nemmind.

Click on the Image to Enlarge

Balloon Lady

A counter-point to my recent Butt-cheek Balloons.

Click on the Image to Enlarge.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Restaurant magazine - Oct 2010

A piece I've just done for regular client Restaurant magazine about Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) - a brewery giant now making a big name for themselves in mass-market eating-out in the UK.

Very happy with this - the characters, the linework, the scale and the unsual ( for me) and limited colour palette.

Click on the Image to Enlarge

Monday, September 20, 2010

Butt-cheek Balloons

The posterior in question comes from a book I have of male nudes from the 1970s.

Click on the Image to Enlarge

Bilbo Baggins

A quick sketch of Mr Bilbo Baggins the Hobbit


The old name for a cockerel in fable, in much the same way as Reynard is the fox. Mentioned in Chaucer and coming from the french for 'Clear Voice' - something I only realized the other day when drinking a bottle of red wine emblazoned with a proud gallic coq and called 'Chante-clair'.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Jitterbug Perfume - Perfém blaznivého tance

A mocked-up cover for the book I'm reading at the moment.
You know that way you find a great read but the cover lets it down - simple solution, create your own!

2 motifs from the story - a Beet(root) and the glass bottle etched with an image of the great god Pan and containing the Elixir Vitae.

Click on the image to Enlarge.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

La Baignade a Noyers

N and I skinny-dipping in the Serein nr Noyers in Burgundy last week.

Click on the Image to see more detail.

FessesBouc/ FaceBook

French lessons No. 34:

Fesses = buttocks, Bouc = Billy Goat

FaceBook = GoatButt

Class dismissed!

Monday, September 13, 2010


A quick sketch to get me back in the swing after a week abroad.

The pernicious gnome doing a Thatcher in France.

Unipen fine line 0.3 and brush & ink, workied up in PS.