Saturday 30 September 2023

Michaelmas Day


Michaelmas Day

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday, September 29th, was Michaelmas Day, Là Fhéill Micheil, the Feast of Michael and All Angels. It marks the end of harvest and the beginning of autumn and its shorter days. The archangel Michael was the leader of Heaven’s armies and defeated Lucifer.

Traditionally, blackberries should not be picked after St Michael’s Day because that was the date that Lucifer was expelled from Heaven as punishment for his dreadful deeds. He landed in a bramble bush, and burnt, stamped and spat upon the berries so picking them after that date is not advisable.

A traditional Michaelmas meal might consist of a goose fattened on the stubble of the harvested fields and carrots. This meal foretold good luck for the coming year. Sometimes the day was known as ‘Goose Day’ and goose fairs were held, when labourers looking for work after harvest could be hired.

Nottingham Goose Fair still takes place around this date. It is said that Queen Elizabeth I was eating goose when she heard that the Spanish Armada had been defeated and declared that she would eat goose on Michaelmas Day. Thus was a tradition formed.

The name ‘Goose Fair’ was first recorded in 1541-1542, though it probably had been in existence since the Charter of King Edward I (who reigned 1272 to 1307) referred to Nottingham city fairs, around 1284. 20,000 geese raised and fattened in the Lincolnshire fens each year were driven to Nottingham to be sold.  Goose Fair used to be held for eight days from September 21st but was moved to early October in 1752, after the adoption of the Gregorian calendar.

                                Sculpture of goose girl, Wittingen, Lower Saxony, Germany
                                                     Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Asters, also known as Michaelmas daisies, are associated with Michaelmas Day. They are perennial, nectar and pollen-rich flowers which bloom in late summer and autumn and come in a variety of colours from white to pink, purple, blue and red. They are easy to grow in all but the most difficult soils, like heavy clay.

Asters are named after the Greek for ‘star’ because their flowers resemble stars. The flowers were formed from the tears of Astraea, the ‘Starry Maid’, the Greek goddess of innocence, who cried when she saw there were no stars on earth.

Asters signify love, wisdom and faith and became representative of love after being offered on altars to the gods. In the Language of Flowers they symbolised love, patience and wisdom, as well as elegance and grace, two qualities greatly admired by the Victorians.

A posy of asters carries the message that the recipient should take care of themselves for the sender. Different colours say different things. Purple asters stand for dignity and admiration. Pink flowers symbolise innocence and love and white flowers also represent innocence as well as purity. Blue asters signify faithfulness and trustworthiness.

Friday 29 September 2023

Reading in accents

Reading in accents

When an author depicts a character as living in or from a particular geographic location I find myself reading in the accent of that character. This is fine if all the characters are ‘local’ but if the story includes individuals from diverse parts of the country it can become quite trying.

Some authors are adept at writing in the distinctive speech rhythms and patterns of different localities, but others are not and it can be quite jarring. With yet other authors it doesn’t matter at all and I read in my normal voice. I don’t read aloud, of course . . . well, not often.

I have recently read books set in Norfolk, Lincolnshire, Dorset and Kent, with all of whose cadences I am familiar. I have family in Norfolk and Dorset, went to college in Lincolnshire and was born and brought up in Kent. I have also lived in Ireland, Wiltshire, Cambridgeshire and West Midlands (and Germany, where I spoke poor German!) and for much time past have lived in Berkshire.

Although familiarity with a regional accent is useful it does not prepare one for a ‘deep-dyed’ local. One day, my son-in-law, Paul, met an acquaintance in Dorset and started talking to him. I happened to be there but could not understand a word his acquaintance said. It was a most extraordinary experience.

I learnt later that the Dorset dialect stems from Old West Saxon and is preserved in the Blackmore Vale, where this encounter took place. Paul was speaking standard English with a Dorset inflection while his acquaintance was responding in rapid dialect. It was fascinating and quite musical and completely incomprehensible to an outsider.                                       

The following is from William Barnes’ book, ‘Poems of Rural Life in the Dorset Dialect’.

Ees; now mahogany’s the goo,

An’ good wold English woak won’t do.

I wish vo’k always mid auvord

Hot meals upon a woakèn bwoard,

As good as think that took my cup

An’ trencher all my growèn up

(‘Wold’ is ‘old’, ‘woak’ is ‘oak’, ‘vo’k’ is ‘folk’ . . . )

William Barnes (1801-1886) was a polymath, poet, priest and artist among other things. He believed strongly that foreign words should not be brought into the English language, saying that ‘strong old Anglo-Saxon speech’ should prevail.

Everyone who has read or watched Harry Potter knows at least one Dorset word. Dumbledore is dialect for bumblebee.

  This is the 1972 Yetties version of "Dorset is Beautiful", originally written by Bob Gale from Beaminster....

Oh! Dorset is a'beautiful wherever you go

 And the rain in the summer-time makes the wurzle tree grow

 When you're sitting in the spring-time in the thunder and the hail,

With your true love, on a turnip plant, to hear the sweet nightingale...

As I was a'walking one morning with a lass,

Two Dorsetshire farmers I chanced for to pass.

And one said to the other as we went strolling by;

"There be more birds in the long grass than there be in the sky"

Oh! Nellie is my girlfriend and I loves her so.

Her's as big as an haystack and 40 years old.

 Farmer says hers ginormous and loud do he scoff

For you has to leave a chalk mark to show where you left off.

 Farmer looks at young Gwendoline and he looks at young Ned

"What a handsome young couple, they ought to be wed".

Farmer says sadly "It's impossible of course

For Gwendoline is my daughter and Ned he is my horse".

One day as her went milking with Nellie the cow,

Her pulled and her tugged but her didn't know how.

So after a short while, Nellie turned with a frown,

                    Saying "You hang on tight love and I'll jump up and down".

Thursday 28 September 2023

War horses


War horses

'Goodbye, Old Man' by Fortunino Matania (1881-1963) 

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I am indebted to Joan(Devon) for introducing me to the Brooke Charity for horses, donkeys and mules. I must also thank her and Willie for telling me about the poem, ‘A Soldier’s Kiss’ by Henry Lang Chappell (1874-1937)

Henry Chappell worked at Bath railway station for most of his life and was a prolific poet.


A Soldier’s Kiss


Only a dying horse! pull off the gear,

And slip the needless bit from frothing jaws,

Drag it aside there, leaving the road clear.

The battery thunders on with scarce a pause.


Prone by the shell-swept highway there it lies

With quivering limbs, as fast the life-tide fails,

Dark films are closing o’er the faithful eyes

That mutely plead for aid where none avails.


Onward the battery rolls, but one there speeds

Heedlessly of comrades voice or bursting shell,

Back to the wounded friend who lonely bleeds

Beside the stony highway where he fell.


Only a dying horse! he swiftly kneels,

Lifts the limp head and hears the shivering sigh

Kisses his friend, while down his cheek there steals

Sweet pity’s tear, ‘Goodbye old man. Goodbye’.


No honours wait him, medal, badge or star,

Though scarce could war a kindlier deed unfold;

He bears within his breast, more precious far

Beyond the gift of kings, a heart of gold.

The Brooke Charity owes its existence to Dorothy Brooke. Living in Egypt and knowing of the plight of war horses abandoned at the end of the First World War she appealed for funds to alleviate their suffering. With generous donations, she was able to found the Old War Horse Memorial Hospital in Cairo. The work expanded and today the charity helps to care for working horses, donkeys and mules in countries including Ethiopia, Latin America and India.

Wednesday 27 September 2023


Are you Scottish?

 There are pronunciation guides online if you get stuck 😉




"Thank heavens we've got a navy". 

Less than three months before the start of the First World War, on 28th July, 1914, the popular perception of Great Britain’s ability to defend itself against invasion was neatly summed up in this ‘Punch’ cartoon by Leonard Raven-Hill (1867-1942)

‘Punch or The London Charivari’ was a weekly British magazine established in 1841. Its content was humorous and satirical. It was published for 150 years, closing in 1992. Four years later it was revived, but finally closed for good in 2002.

Great Britain had no conscription (state-ordered enlistment to a national, usually military service) until 1916, two years after the commencement of war, while all the other belligerents had conscription from the start. Thus, Great Britain was always under strength and had great difficulty replacing casualties. By the end of the war the land force numbered just over 2 million. However, nearly 5½ million served in the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in total, of whom around 880,000 perished. Thousands of others suffered life-altering injuries.

The British Army had 28,000 veterinary staff serving in France alone. There were huge animal hospitals to care for sick animals which had often been damaged due to neglect and overwork as much as injury.

Pack mules carrying ammunition

Two million horses, mules and donkeys were used during the First World War In addition to carrying cavalry troops, they moved heavy artillery, transported stores and ammunition and drew ambulances. War dogs were used as messenger dogs and to carry medical supplies and water to injured soldiers in no-man’s land. Pigeons were also used to carry military messages.

Tuesday 26 September 2023

Video tutorials


Video tutorials

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
        There are online tutorials available for all manner of subjects, from draining the dishwasher sump to sewing French knots to researching the effects of differing focal length in photography. We frequently turn to them for guidance.

Some presenters approach their task straightforwardly and make their points comprehensibly. Others demonstrate a need to furnish viewers with a personal history before addressing the subject matter of the tutorial. Some speak very quickly and with so few pauses between sentences that they are difficult to follow, while others enunciate so carefully that they are almost incomprehensible.

Often, viewers are invited to ‘like’ a video with a ‘thumbs up’ or an invitation to subscribe (often meaning ‘pay money’) for further videos/information.

Some people like video tutorials. Seeing something demonstrated makes it easier to understand. Others prefer to have information in word form, often in print, as they find it simpler to refer to.

Would it be a sweeping generalisation to say that those who understand their subject matter best are the most succinct tutorial presenters?

Monday 25 September 2023

Gilbert the Good - time to go to bed


Gilbert the Good - time to go to bed

My humans stay up too late so I have to remind them when it’s time to go to bed. I bring Barry his slipper, just one – I can’t carry two at once. Janice doesn’t wear slippers so I climb on her lap instead. She does make funny noises when I do that, but I suppose I am a lot bigger than I used to be.

Here I am on the day I arrived.

Herschel, Roxy and me 
I was ever so pleased to see a big dog in my new home. It was so nice to cuddle up with Roxy. Now I’m bigger than her and she’s gone back to looking like a little dog again – well, as little as a Labrador can look. My humans say she’s not as small as Jenna-with-the-big-paws.

Once I’ve persuaded the humans to lock up and turn off the lights, we all go to bed and then we can relax until the morning. I think if I didn’t remind them about bedtime they would stay up all night and that wouldn’t be good for any of us. It’s all very well napping during the day, like the cats do and us dogs (and sometimes the humans) but it’s important to have a proper sleep.

 The humans say it’s to recharge our batteries, but I haven’t got any of those, so I don’t know what they mean, really.



Sunday 24 September 2023

The Old Grey Mare

The Old Grey Mare

I didn’t understand why white horses were always called greys so I looked it up several years ago. Then, looking it up again to make sure I was correct, I discovered I wasn’t and that not all white horses are called greys. A grey (white) horse is born with coloured hair and black or grey skin. As the horse ages, the colour gradually fades until they are an overall silvery white. Only horses with the grey gene turn white. Other horses without the grey gene retain their coat colour but may develop white hairs around their eyes or muzzle.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Genetically white horses have pink skin and white hair from birth. They usually have brown or blue eyes. The difference between horses born white and those who go white with age can always be told by the underlying skin colour. A grey will have dark skin around the eyes and muzzle while a white horse will always have pink skin.

Most genetically white animals have a tendency to deafness, though this does not seem to be the case with white horses. For example, Dalmatian puppies are born white, the spots developing over the ensuing months. There have been many instances of deaf Dalmatians but careful breeding is eradicating the problem. All registered Dalmatian breeders are required to have their proposed breeding animals tested. The BAER (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response) test measures brain wave activity in response to particular sounds or tones. It is completely safe and non-invasive and is also used in small humans or others who cannot reliably cooperate with a standard hearing test (though obviously not for breeding purposes!)

                        Jack Russell Biddy with Dalmatian puppy Cariadd 1984

Affected registered Dalmatians are not allowed to be bred from, even if only unilaterally deaf. In this way, the number of deaf Dalmatians has been reduced considerably.

The Old Grey Mare is a traditional American folk song from the early years of the 19th century. It is about an old, tired horse that is still loyal to her owner.  It is not a compliment to be likened to an old grey mare, another name for old mare being 'nag'.

                                      Although it might not appear to be an appropriate name for a welcoming pub, The Old Grey Mare is the name of at least four pubs in the UK, as well as a pale ale brewed by Greene King. Greene King is a brewery in Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk.

 On the other hand, The White Horse is the name of around 270 pubs, and is the eighth most popular pub name. The White Horse at Blakeney was run for several years by my late sister and brother-in-law. Their younger daughter and son-in-law ran The King’s Head (tenth most popular name) in Letheringsett. My grandmother, a teetotaller, ran a pub in Saffron Walden, so the tendency seems to have run in the family. 

Saturday 23 September 2023




999 is the UK emergency number. If we require the immediate assistance of police, fire or ambulance our trembling finger jabs that number. It is also the number to be called if help is needed from HM Coastguard, Mountain or Cave Rescue and also for Lowland Search and Rescue.

The Berkshire Lowland Search and Rescue team can sometimes be found training in one of our local woods. On one occasion, when we were returning from a walk, Bertie, our late very placid and gentlemanly Labrador suddenly stopped, stood stock still and barked ferociously at a bush several yards away. Sure enough, a volunteer was hiding in it, waiting to be ‘rescued’.

We count ourselves extremely fortunate that we have had little need to call the emergency services. Once we had to call the local fire brigade when our daughter’s car caught fire. 

Crowthorne is an on-call (retained) fire service that has always been crewed by local people. A retained firefighter is a trained professional who may have a full-time job without the fire service but responds to emergency calls in the area.

On the occasion of the car fire, Barry had just got home from the ‘village’, which is more of a small town, actually, where he had been chatting to one of the retained firemen in a local shop. The car caught fire, though I can’t remember how or why, and 999 was called. Among the fire crew who attended was the chap Barry had been talking to a few minutes before. It was quite funny, really, when we looked back on it.

Whenever Barry set off on a sailing trip he always made sure I knew where he was going and what times he would call me, as he always liked to contact me daily. It was a safety strategy, as he had no desire to sail off the edge of the world! He said, ‘If you don’t hear from me by . . . (whatever time it was) . . . call the Coastguard.’ This was in the days before mobile ‘phones and GPS when courses were plotted on charts. 

I didn’t think any more of it until the day I didn’t hear from him. Feeling a little apprehensive, I called 999 and a rather bored-sounding operator said, ‘Which service do you require?’ When I said, ‘Coastguard’ I could almost hear her sit up straight as her voice changed. We don’t live anywhere near the coast so I suppose it was surprising.

I explained the safety plan to the Coastguard and where Barry had been heading. He then asked me, ‘What colour is the yacht’s deck?’ I told him it was white. Most boats have white decks so I couldn’t see how that could help, but he was the expert and I was now rather worried. He said he’d call me back with any news. A couple of hours later he called to say, ‘We’ve found your wandering boy.’ I was mightily relieved.

 It turned out that the boat was outside St-Vaast-La-Hougue, in Normandy, north-western France, unable to get into the port because it was low tide and the lock gates were closed.

                         Images of St-Vaast-La-Hougue courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Friday 22 September 2023

‘Stab me vitals’


‘Stab me vitals’

 It wasn’t really a case of being stabbed, more skewered, as I attempted to remove Jellicoe from my lap and he attempted to prevent me doing so. He’s a gentle cat, not given to scratching or biting humans, but he was trying to hang on to his comfortable place and accidentally hooked my finger with his claw. It was just one claw and just one finger but it hurt like billy-oh and bled freely. Two days later it’s still sore and causes me to wince if I forget and grab something with the hand to which it is attached.

‘Stab me vitals’ came into my head quite by chance and though my fingers are important to me, they could hardly be described as ‘vitals’. Vitals are the main organs of the body, or so I believe. It would take a very long, very strong claw to reach them.

Apparently, the original expression was ‘Stap my vitals’, meaning ‘Stop my vitals’. I gather it was an affectation of Lord Foppington in the play ‘The Relapse’ to substitute ‘a’ for ‘o’ (thanks to David McKie for that information)

It reminds me of how people used to pronounce ‘hat’ as ‘het’ and ‘impact’ as ‘impect’.

 ‘Thenks for the mammary, but I’ve rather gorn orf topic nyee.’

Thursday 21 September 2023





The NHS (National Health Service) defines a phobia as follows:

‘A phobia is an overwhelming and debilitating fear of an object, place, situation, feeling or animal.

Phobias are more pronounced than fears. They develop when a person has an exaggerated or unrealistic sense of danger about a situation or object.

If a phobia becomes very severe, a person may organise their life around avoiding the thing that's causing them anxiety. As well as restricting their day-to-day life, it can also cause a lot of distress.’

The word phobia comes from the Greek ’phobos’ which means irrational fear.                                           

I suppose that most people are familiar with the more attention-catching phobias like arachnophobia, agoraphobia and claustrophobia, but there are many more, and some are very unusual. I came across one in a newspaper article recently. It was saltomaphobia, a fear of tomato products, usually ketchup. I could imagine how that might have arisen but would probably be wide of the mark.

Phobophobia is another strange one – it is a fear of phobias. Are people thus afflicted terrified by the thought that they might one day develop a phobia, without realising that that is the very thing they have acquired, and in spades, too?

 I think many people suffer from nomophobia – a fear of being without their mobile ‘phone. So afraid are they that they cannot be parted from it at any point in their waking lives that a phobia results. This phobia develops in early life, almost the moment a mobile ‘phone is placed in their hands with the words, ‘Don’t drop it!’

I can understand how lilapsophobia might arise. If I lived in an area subject to tornadoes and hurricanes, I’d be afraid, too!  I don’t think such a fear as that is irrational, at all. 

Phobias are real and can be extremely distressing. The following list is not exhaustive and some of them don’t sound real. I haven’t checked them all. It is interesting that my spellchecker skipped some of them, so I take those to be legitimate. To the list I would add triskaidekaphobia, fear of the number 13 and pteronophobia, fear of feathers. 

Do you know of any other phobias?

Ablutophobia: Fear of bathing

Achluophobia: Fear of darkness

Acrophobia: Fear of heights

Aerophobia: Fear of flying

Algophobia: Fear of pain

Agoraphobia: Fear of open spaces or crowds

Aichmophobia: Fear of needles or pointed objects

Amaxophobia: Fear of riding in a car

Androphobia: Fear of men

Anemophobia: Fear of air

Anginophobia: Fear of angina or choking

Angrophobia: Fear of anger

Anthrophobia: Fear of flowers

Anthropophobia: Fear of people or society

Aphenphosmphobia: Fear of being touched

Arachibutyrophobia: Fear of peanut butter

Arachnophobia: Fear of spiders

Arithmophobia: Fear of numbers

Astraphobia: Fear of thunder and lightning

Astrophobia: Fear of outer space

Ataxophobia: Fear of disorder or untidiness

Atelophobia: Fear of imperfection

Atychiphobia: Fear of failure

Automatonophobia: Fear of human-like figures

AutophobiaFear of being alone

Bacteriophobia: Fear of bacteria

Barophobia: Fear of gravity

Bathmophobia: Fear of stairs or steep slopes

Batrachophobia: Fear of amphibians

Belonephobia: Fear of pins and needles

Bibliophobia: Fear of books

Botanophobia: Fear of plants

Cacophobia: Fear of ugliness

Catagelophobia: Fear of being ridiculed

Catoptrophobia: Fear of mirrors

Chionophobia: Fear of snow

Chrometophobia: Fear of spending money

Chromophobia: Fear of colors

Chronomentrophobia: Fear of clocks

Chronophobia: Fear of time

Cibophobia: Fear of food

Claustrophobia: Fear of confined spaces

Climacophobia: Fear of climbing

Coulrophobia: Fear of clowns

Cyberphobia: Fear of computers

Cynophobia: Fear of dogs

Daemonophobia: Fear of demons

Decidophobia: Fear of making decisions

Dendrophobia: Fear of trees

Dentophobia: Fear of dentists

Domatophobia: Fear of houses

Dystychiphobia: Fear of accidents

Ecophobia: Fear of the home

Elurophobia: Fear of cats

Emetophobia: Fear of vomiting

Entomophobia: Fear of insects

Ephebiphobia: Fear of teenagers

Erotophobia: Fear of sex

Equinophobia: Fear of horses

Gamophobia: Fear of marriage

Genuphobia: Fear of knees

Glossophobia: Fear of speaking in public

Gynophobia: Fear of women

Haphephobia: Fear of touch

Heliophobia: Fear of the sun

HemophobiaFear of blood

Herpetophobia: Fear of reptiles

Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia: Fear of long words

Hydrophobia: Fear of water

Hypochondria: Fear of illness

Iatrophobia: Fear of doctors

Insectophobia: Fear of insects

Koinoniphobia: Fear of rooms

Koumpounophobia: Fear of buttons

Leukophobia: Fear of the colour white

Lilapsophobia: Fear of tornadoes and hurricanes

Lockiophobia: Fear of childbirth

Mageirocophobia: Fear of cooking

Megalophobia: Fear of large things

Melanophobia: Fear of the colour black

Microphobia: Fear of small things

Mysophobia: Fear of dirt and germs

Necrophobia: Fear of death or dead things

Noctiphobia: Fear of the night

Nomophobia: Fear of being without your mobile phone

Nosocomephobia: Fear of hospitals

Nyctophobia: Fear of the dark

Obesophobia: Fear of gaining weight

Octophobia: Fear of the figure 8

Ombrophobia: Fear of rain

Ophidiophobia: Fear of snakes

Ornithophobia: Fear of birds

Osmophobia: Fear of smells

Ostraconophobia: Fear of shellfish

Papyrophobia: Fear of paper

Pathophobia: Fear of disease

Pedophobia: Fear of children

Philematophobia: Fear of kissing

Philophobia: Fear of love

Phobophobia: Fear of phobias

Podophobia: Fear of feet

Porphyrophobia: Fear of the colour purple

Pteridophobia: Fear of ferns

Pteromerhanophobia: Fear of flying

Pyrophobia: Fear of fire

Samhainophobia: Fear of Halloween

Scolionophobia: Fear of school

Scoptophobia: Fear of being stared at

Selenophobia: Fear of the moon

Sociophobia: Fear of social evaluation

Somniphobia: Fear of sleep

Tachophobia: Fear of speed

Technophobia: Fear of technology

Thalassophobia: Fear of the ocean

Trichophobia: Fear of hair

Tonitrophobia: Fear of thunder

Trypanophobia: Fear of needles/injections

Trypophobia: Fear of holes

Venustraphobia: Fear of beautiful women

Verminophobia: Fear of germs

Wiccaphobia: Fear of witches and witchcraft

Xenophobia: Fear of strangers or foreigners

Zoophobia: Fear of animals

Zuigerphobia: Fear of vacuum cleaners