Thursday, 29 December 2016

Bring Back Twelfth Night!

I hope you have had a lovely Yuletide and are enjoying your holiday.
     I know that a lot of people will have had to go back to work already, that is one of the drawback's of industrialisation - factories work continually, so people have to work continually to keep them going. And because they are working, they expect services to be working too. And everyone has to buy stuff, so shops have to be open.
    And, of course, there are some things that need continual attention - you can't stop looking after children, the elderly or animals, they still want caring for and feeding. Police, ambulances, medical staff and fire services etc will always have to be ready to leap into action as and when necessary.
     However I still feel that it is a shame that the tradition of the twelve days of christmas is largely forgotten, and instead we really have the two days of christmas and then everyone can't wait to start ripping down their decorations and getting 'back to normal'.
     We all know the song The Twelve Days of Christmas:
On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
A partridge in a pear tree

    Even if we are not always entirely sure just how many Lords-a-leaping or Swans-a-swimming were given on which day.
     Incidentally when I worked for the Straven Knitwear factory in Alford (Lincolnshire) many years ago, my Christmas party piece involved the local Louth Standard newspaper. I would open the paper at the classified adverts pages and give a rendition of the Twelve Days of Christmas based on items from that section.So you might get:
Twelve bales of hay,
Eleven ladies stockings,
Ten tractor seats,
Nine best meat pies,
Eight trays of eggs,
Seven brace of pheasants,
and so on .... A modern version could make use of Google Adverts.
     The midwinter festival was always a celebration that went on over an extended period of days.
     The Romans had Saturnalia which went from the 17th to the 23rd of December then ran into further celebrations including Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun on the 25th.
     This evolved into our Twelve Days of Christmas - although there is some dispute whether these start with Christmas day, or with Christmas Eve, or even with Boxing Day. But it is generally thought that Twelfth Night will cover the evening of the 5th of January, the eve of Epiphany when the Wise Men took gifts to the infant Jesus. And in Italy that is the night when Befana flies through the skies on her broomstick, delivering gifts to every child.
      Midwinter in a farming community is a time when there is minimal work to do on the land. The harvest has been gathered in and there is a glut of meat and stored fruit and veg - some of which might be showing signs of going off. So rather than sling it out, make the most of it with a time of extended feasting - there is a lot of meat on a single animal, pig, sheep or cow, enough to feed a whole community. So why not have a feast and invite all the neighbours in.
     Of course it is a myth that everyone was on holiday and that no-one was doing any work. Who was doing the cooking? The serving? The washing up? The preparations for the next feast?
     And of course the animals still needed feeding and cleaning out and milking, even if they were in stables and fields near the home, rather than out on the hills.
     In Victorian times (and into the 20th century) butchers and bakers would be open and busy on christmas day. In 'A Christmas Carol' by Dickens, on christmas morning Scrooge instructs a boy to go and buy a large turkey from the butcher to send to Bob Cratchett and his family. And the bakers were open to produce the daily bread and also their ovens were often where families would take their christmas poultry to be cooked.
     But it was still twelve days when fun, feasting and friendship were emphasised. Culminating in the last great feast on Twelvth Night itself.
     As this was the last day of this mega-festival, Twelfth Night was the climax of the festival, and a night when all inhibitions were cast aside. Masters and servants exchanged places. The ruler of the feast was chosen by whoever found a special token (usually a bean) in the Twelfth Night Cake. And whatever orders were given by the King and Queen of Twelfth Night, would be carried out with great laughter.
     So maybe the twelve days of mid-winter sloth is a myth.
     But how on earth have we managed to forget a great excuse for a party?!
     Bring back Twelfth Night! says I.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Bird Spottering

We have just got back from a quick trip to the shops - bread and milk were running low, and we fancied a little trip out anyway. Or as Graham would have it the pile of christmas food had diminished to slightly less than mountainous, so we had to stock up the lower slopes again.
       On our way into Hessle we have two supermarkets we visit just across the road from one another. Aldi at one side, and Sainsburys at the other.
       We turn off the dual carriageway, and turn left climbing on the road which bridges over the railway line, and there we head for Aldi's on the right side of the road. And Graham says to me, 'What are all those men doing with big camera lenses?' And sure enough, on the left pavement, beneath a leafless tree, are a cluster of greater-coated, bird spotters. Cameras at the ready and pointing up into the tree where a number of nondescript small, greyish birds are perched.
     We turn right and down the hill into the almost empty Aldi's car park.
     Almost empty but for another and larger flock of greater-coated and flat-capped bird watchers. This group appears to have even larger camera lenses then the previous lot. Some even have tripods, and one chap has a portable camouflage cloth with him, but the camera is already camouflage colours.
     Their attention is trained on a rowan tree, heavy with yellow berries, where more of the smallish, nondescript greyish birds are grabbing berries then returning to the other side of the road to eat them in the first tree.
     'Go ask them what they are.' I suggested (although I must admit that sounds more like an order).
     Graham returns, 'Waxwings.' he says
     By the time we had shopped in Aldi, and then Sainsbury, the pavements lining the street were becoming packed with a whole irritation of bird-watchers. Who were definitely twitching.

There is an online entry which says - although it may be just a suggestion - that the collective noun for a group of birdwatchers is a convulsion.

     Waxwings are apparently not a native bird, but a winter visitor from the continent. And a group of waxwings is called an irruption.
    This picture comes from the RSPB website

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Christmas Breakfast

For the last thirty odd years we have never had christmas dinner on christmas day.
      This started because we were expected to visit Graham's parents, and laterly his mother, where we would be regaled with plates of shop-bought 'treats' (mince pies, pigs in blankets, sausage rolls, biscuits, buns, pork pie etc) nothing home made or cooked hot food. If you were unlucky, the mince pies would be microwaved so that the inner temperature would melt plastic and burn flesh on contact, and was served with squirty cream.
     We were given a time of arrival, and we had to be there on the dot. Five minutes late and we would be told how long grandma had been waiting for us to arrive, five minutes early and 'nothing' was ready. To the extent that one day when she went into hysterics about us being early, that I simply left. We were not treated to that performance again, thank goodness.
    However this meant that Graham decided that if we couldn't have a proper christmas dinner, then he would ensure that we have a magnificent christmas breakfast.
     This started in a small way. As I have mentioned before, I am from Lincolnshire, home of the famous Lincolnshire sausages, so we always made sure that when we visited my home county, we would visit our favourite butcher (Jackson's of Louth) and buy several pounds of their sausages, which we could put in the freezer. So that come christmas, there would always be Lincolnshire sausages, a taste of home and a link back to my parents and the christmases of my childhood.
     However the simple christmas breakfast of sausages with an egg and toast has expanded a bit over the years so that now, as my Uncle Bill (Bullivant) used to say 'the table groans' with the weight and array of bowls and dishes. Graham makes a breakfast that would feed a football team if they were all peckish and brought doggy bags to take home with them.
     This year there will be eggs, toast, Lincolnshire Sausages!, baked beans, tomatoes, potatoes sliced and fried, black pudding, bacon and mushrooms - oh and this year's newest addition parsnips! Graham likes parsnips. This is not a breakfast for the faint hearted or those on a diet! This is a breakfast proud of its bacon grease and butter!
     All these foods will be arranged in dishes on the table, and everyone will serve themselves, so that your breakfast can be exactly what you want it to be. There will be four of us this year, Mike and our grandson Eden will be with us for breakfast (and afterwards presents will be opened).
     This is a breakfast which will sustain all those who partake for the WHOLE of christmas day. There will be no need for a turkey and its trimmings, just the odd top up of a liqueur chocolate or a Ferrero Roche will suffice.
     Excuse me I think I need a bit of a lie down after that.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

The Witch Ball

A traditional magical protective talisman for the home is a Witch Ball
     These were once found in many homes, particularly on the coast where they would hang in a window looking out to sea. They were placed there both to ward off evil fortune and keep the fishermen safe, but also in a way to act as a guide home on a stormy night.
     Witch Balls come in a variety of forms and sizes.
     At the coast a Witch Ball is often a glass fishing float. Glass was once an expensive and magical substance, when molten it can take many forms, and be blown into bubbles which will float on the sea. These fishing floats were once common objects, tied to the edges of the net to mark its position under the waves. Or fastened to the end of a string of lobster or crab pots.
     Even more magical was mirror glass. In order for glass to become a mirror, it has to have silver bonded to its back, and this process was originally a dangerous and mysterious process known only to alchemists. The technique involved Silver Nitrate a very volatile substance, which in the process of silvering can quickly start to give off poisonous fumes. Not to mention having a tendency to explode. So making mirror glass was a dangerous and expensive process and even small pieces of mirror were treasured.
     Some times the small pieces of mirror glass were fixed to the outside of a fishing float, making what we call a glitter ball, or disco ball, these days. A ball which reflects the light as it moves in the slightest breeze, making splashes and spots of twinkling sparkles everywhere.
     The first time I read about a Witch Ball was in the children's fiction book 'An Enemy at Green Knowe' by Lucy M Boston, where an evil Witch in disguise is trying to get into the house (Green Knowe, where Tolly lives with his grandmother and assorted ghosts), but cannot enter because there is a protective Witch Ball in the hall.
     The Witch Ball in the book is described as a large sphere of fragments of mirror glass. We are also told that the mirror will refuse to reflect an evil magician or Witch, but will reveal their demonic familiar spirit. (Incidentally this book also introduced me to the magical script known as Passing the River)

   We have two large Witch Balls in our home, one in the hall and one in the living room, but unlike the glitter ball type, these have been mirrored internally.
     The hall one is silver and positioned to reflect anyone I open the front door to. The one in the living room is a beautiful, deep blue. A protective, healing and calming colour, to constantly refresh the magical atmosphere.
     At this time of year you can see Witch Balls everywhere, in every colour you can imagine. They are the silvered glass baubles we hang on our christmas trees.
     So keep your eyes open for a fine, large one that appeals to you, and save it to hang in your home. Either in the hall to protect the entrance to your home. Or to hang in a window, reflecting away negative vibes, stray nasty thoughts or evil wishes and curse - and to invite in loving, protective and peaceful energies.
     And to guide and welcome home a loved one.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

St Thomas Traditions

The feast of St Thomas traditionally falls on the 21st of December, which is very often the Winter Solstice. It is probable therefore that many of the spells and traditions now assigned to the saint were at one time simply associated with the magic of the Solstice.
     From now until Christmas Eve were known as the Rough Nights, when demons and evil spirits were banished from homes and farms. In some places the banishing was done by making loud noises, cracking whips, banging on pots and pans and shouting. In other places incense and holy water was carried around the home, yard and stock sheds, the holy water sprinkled everywhere, the incense wafted into every nook and cranny.
     In Germany it was the tradition to make a special fruited loaf today, but in the middle of the kneading process, the baker should run out to their orchard and embrace every fruit tree.This would ensure that there would be an abundant crop the next year.
     St Thomas is sometimes called 'the Brewer' as all the beer brewing for the christmas celebrations should be completed by now and in Norway it was the custom to visit friends and neighbours to sample the results.
    In many parts of Europe there would be a school holiday today, very often ensured by the students 'barring' the teachers from the school. There are records of boys in the 19th century using pop guns to fend off their teachers.
    In Bohemia there is a tradition that St Thomas flies across the sky at midnight in a fiery chariot,  and lands in the local churchyard where he calls all souls named after him to rise from their graves. He then blesses the souls of the dead and they return to their graves. This is an obvious Pagan tradition which has had the christian saint inserted to substitute for the God, who would have originally called the dead from their graves to join him in his wild ride across the Winter sky.
     There are traditional spells associated with St Thomas' night. These are usually divination to help reveal who your future spouse will be.
     Climb on to a step, then into bed. Now remove your shoes and throw them at the door, some say you should have your back to the door and throw them over your shoulder. If they fall and lie with the points towards the door it means you will marry in the coming year.
     Sleep with your head at the foot end of the bed and with an onion wrapped in a handkerchief beneath your pillow to gain a dream of your future spouse.
    A more detailed spell says that you should take a little yellow apple and stick two long pins through it, so that they cross through its heart. Wrap the apple in your left stocking and put this bundle under your pillow. Then say the following spell out loud:
St Thomas, St. Thomas, the shortest and least,
Show me who my spouse is, this night as I sleep.
Show me where he lives, his work or his wares,
And know I will love him if ugly or fair.
St. Thomas I ask that you help me in this
And we'll seal our love bargain with a sweet, loving, kiss.

Then get into bed and say nothing more - and your dreams will be ominous!
     You can also pray to St Thomas tonight to help you stop oversleeping and getting up late. Possibly because when the days are at their shortest, you want to make sure you make the most of whatever daylight there is.

Friday, 16 December 2016


At the moment I am reading 'Mother Tongue' by Bill Bryson, which is a tour of the English language and its origins.
     As I said in my post on books, I love reading. I love words, but spellings don't always stick with me. Mind you, it isn't surprising when you read stuff like:
the word 'colonel', a rank in the British army. This was originally a French word, 'Coronelle' and when introduced into the language was spelled in the French way. However after a century or so, somehow the Italian spelling 'Colonello' became more popular, or fashionable, and this evolved into our word 'Colonel'. So we have an English word which is spelled in an Italian way, with a French pronunciation.
     We also have to remember that much as we would like to imagine that spellings are either right or wrong, sometimes there are two or more correct ways to spell the same word, ie both spellings are in the dictionary.
     One of my favourites is 'broach', which many people spell 'brooch', but according to the dictionary both spellings are ok.
     Also of course the language is continually evolving with new words being invented all the time, and there is a whole new way of spelling words now, known as 'text speak' which has developed with the use of mobile phones and text messaging.
     This is something many of us use without a second thought. I have caught myself saying 'Lol', which was not originally a word at all, but a quick abbreviation for 'laugh out loud'.
     I don't actually use a mobile phone. My son has given me one of his old ones to practise with. So far it sits, fully charged, on a shelf and occasionally whistles forlornly at us. But I have picked up some text speak from playing World of Warcraft, where it often crops up in chat.
     In this latest form of spelling, brevity is king and words which can be shortened are mercilessly hacked down.
     In light of this, I don't think I need to worry too much about whether I have the right number of double letters in 'necessary'. Incidentally the predictive spelling thingy is not all that helpful at times, and can give some strange results - and don't get me started on the spell checker! I suspect most people who write about specialist subjects find the same problems. Magical terms often get 'adjusted' and sometimes I don't realise until I'm glancing proudly over something I've 'published' without spotting the mistake. Scrying is a good one, the spell checker has no idea what that word is. And of course you have to make sure that you have it checking English English, and not USA English. I remember being told off at school for writing 'color' but that was largely because I could never remember which side of the 'l' the 'u' went, was it coulor, or colour?
     So I will instead try to celebrate the eccentric nature of my spelling, and just carry on writing.
    And enjoying the writing.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

For the Love of Books

I love books. And I have loved books as long as I can remember.
     I can't remember having to learn to read. I just know that as soon as I could read, I would read anything and everything I could get my hands on. I remember reading Jane Eyre when I was very young, because it was the only book in the house which I hadn't read, I remember it had very small print, and how sad I was when Jane's friend died.
     I read quickly and I remember what I have read. Although for some reason spellings have never stuck with me.
     Because there were never enough books around as I was growing up, I would re-read favourites, sometimes many times over - The Hobbit was one of those, although The Lord of the Rings never grabbed me in the same way - and they were never boring.
     We had a Mobile Library visited the village, fortnightly on a Tuesday. It parked near the War Memorial at the bottom of Chalk Lane, and there was always a crowd of people waiting to return books and pick up more. We were allowed six books at a time and I always picked my full allocation.
     For some reason my dad wouldn't let me and my sister have any Dr Seuss books, so these were a guilty pleasure to be devoured while in the Mobile Library.
     I discovered my first spell book in that Mobile Library, a chunky book called 'Black and White Magic' which fascinated me with its ancient spells and invocations. One I remember was an extract of an ancient Babylonian call to the God of the Winds:
Come hither, my Lord,
Let down your locks, so long and flowing.

     My fascination with books continues to this day - and luckily Graham enjoys books too, as our home is packed with them. There are books in every room.
     My main problem is often finding the book I am looking for, as I tend to carry them around with me and put them down in odd places.
     Incidentally the same applies to pens and specs, and has led to me having pens and pairs of glasses dotted around the house, so that there are always some to hand. Occasionally these form 'drifts', accumulating in certain places. Graham counted five pairs of specs (of different strengths, I hasten to add in my own defence) on the table where I had a jigsaw puzzle under construction.
     I go through phases of what I am reading and I always have a pile of books on the go at the same time, a variety and cross-section of many interests, to pick up as the mood takes me. Sometimes it is fiction which could be 'chick lit' (I love a romance with a happy ending), magical research, reference, biography, historical, sf, fantasy or even comedy.
     Sometimes I like to just dip into a book and read from wherever it has randomly opened. At other times I will read straight through from cover to cover. Graham laughs at me because with fiction I often read the end of the book first, to make sure that I want to read the book which leads to that particular ending.
     My argument is: do I want to invest in getting to know and love a character, only to discover they end up being miserable or die at the end? Mind you that doesn't always hold true.
     One of my favourite recent fiction books is 'Me Before You' by Jojo Moyes, and that is a real tear jerker.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Stop Fiddling About!

Yes, I am returning to one of my pet hates: Why is it that modern technology has to include fiddling about?
     Today we shall be bewailing the fiddling about of those who provide the programmes we regularly use.
     Today I visited the website of a friend of ours, Wicani Collies, a site I visit whenever I need a fix of pictures of many fluffy dogs. But I noticed straight away that it looked different to the last time I visited, and seemed much more difficult to navigate around.
     'Twas then I found the 'News' page with the entry from my friend asking what the provider of her template had done to her website. For some reason things have been changed, with no warning, and suddenly the system for updating, maintaining and creating her website is totally different. Things are in the wrong place and text isn't with the photos it is meant to belong to.
     I've found the same thing myself with Facebook for a start, it tweaks and fiddles with things, such as: Raven is and always has been a Mail Order company, suddenly it won't allow me to describe the business as such. I can be 'Other' - very helpful, I don't think! - or try and find a category which vaguely covers a bit of what we do. I settled on 'Bookshop' although we do not have a shop, and books are only part of what we do.
     For years I have used Microsoft Publisher as my programme for creating catalogues and Newsletters etc. But suddenly when I had a new computer with Windows 7 on it, my old Publisher CD was ignored and so I am having to use a free, cut down version which is nowhere near as versatile as my old, out of date version - and which, incidentally, I paid £150 for!
     And while we are at it: Windows, please stop updating yourself and making crappy changes.
     I was more than happy with Windows 98, it did everything I wanted - and ran my Publisher CD too!
     I love clip art and like to pop appropriate little pictures in my publications. But since I got the newer version of Windows, I can't access many of my old pics. 'Oh, they are an out of date format.' says my son, nodding sagely.
     Well, thanks for that, whoever decided that no-one uses whatever the format is that I do or did use!
     I don't like fiddling with technology, I am happy when I have got something working ok, so please, technology, stop fiddling with me!