Sunday 31 December 2023

New Year’s Eve


New Year’s Eve

A joyous song for today, ‘Deck the hall with boughs of holly’. It is sung by the Choir of St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle. 


Deck the hall with boughs of holly,
Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!
'Tis the season to be jolly:
Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!
Fill the meadcup, drain the barrel,
Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!
Troll the ancient Christmas carol.
Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!

See the flowing bowl before us,
Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!
Strike the harp, and join in chorus:
Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!
Follow me in merry measure,
Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!
While I sing of beauty's treasure.
Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!

                        Fast away the old year passes,
                        Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!
                        Hail the new, ye lads and lasses:
                        Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!
                        Laughing quaffing all together,
                        Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!
                        Heedless of the wind and weather.
                        Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!


Happy New Year and may 2024 bring peace and good health and happiness.

Saturday 30 December 2023

A Goose of a different feather

A Goose of a different feather

All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Spruce Goose (H-4 Hercules) was designed and built by the Hughes Aircraft Company during the Second World War.  It was intended to be a means of transporting troops and supplies to Europe. At the time many ships were falling victim to German U-boats in the Atlantic. The industrialist Henry Kaiser formulated the idea of working with Howard Hughes to create the largest flying boat in the world. Work started on it in 1942 but by the time it was completed the war had been over for two years.

 Fighter planes under the right wing of H-4 Hercules

It was then the biggest aircraft in the world, retaining that record until 2019. Because of wartime restrictions on the use of aluminium and steel, the plane had to be constructed of wood. Although it was nicknamed the Spruce Goose, the majority of the wood used was birch. Allegedly, the mechanics working on it referred to it as the Birch Bitch, a rather less attractive name! Another name for it was the Flying Lumberyard, which was politer but still quite demeaning.

 On display at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in Oregon.  

It remains the largest seaplane ever built but the prototype never went into production, critics suggesting that its wooden framework was not sufficient to support its weight during long flights. It had a potential range of 3000 miles and was intended to carry 750 passengers, but was never tested over that distance. or with that payload. The need for large flying boats had passed.

In fact, it made just one short test flight of one mile in California, taking off and landing on water on 2nd November, 1947. Thereafter, it was exhibited in Long Beach, California until 1992 and is now on display at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in Oregon.  

Friday 29 December 2023

December 29th


December 29th

HMS Warrior in full sail, with HMS Black Prince, painted by Charles Edward Dixon (1872-1934)

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

On this day two days remain until the end of the year. It is the 363rd day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. Next year, 2024, is a leap year and so this date will be the 364th day of the year.

It is a date to be remembered for many reasons.

In 1170, Thomas Becket was murdered.  Originally, Becket was a good friend to the King, Henry II, (reigned 1154-1189) who appointed him his Chancellor. Henry wished to gain control over the church and to that end he created Becket a priest, then a bishop and finally Archbishop of Canterbury. Becket was not persuaded to the King’s point of view and eventually Henry accused him of treason. Becket fled to France, where he remained for six years. Facing excommunication, he was allowed to return to England but still would not accede to Henry’s wishes.

 In exasperation, Henry one day expressed a wish to be rid of Becket, not, apparently, ‘Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?’ but something lengthier and less pithy. Four knights heard and acted, on 29th September, 1170, assassinating Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. Subsequently, he was declared a saint and martyr in the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches.

In 1845 the Unites States annexed the Republic of Texas, nominating it the 28th state. Texas had declared independence from Mexico in 1836 and applied for annexation the same year but did not accomplish it for another nine years, on 29th December, 1845.

On this date in 1860 HMS Warrior was launched, the largest and most powerful of Queen Victoria’s fleet. She was not the first iron-clad ship in the world – that was the French ship, Gloire – but she was bigger and more powerful and gave her name to the Warrior class warships. She had an iron hull, while Gloire was wooden. She is now a museum ship in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, where she has been docked since 1987. Her sister ship, HMS Black Prince, was the second ship of the Warrior class ironclads.

In 1979, Richard Tecwyn Williams, the Welsh biochemist, died aged 70. Part of his citation for election to become a Fellow of the Royal Society reads:

His work is of immediate relevance to an understanding of drug metabolism and action and that of the biological effects of food additives, pesticides, and other compounds foreign to the body"

From Wikipedia:

 Fellowship of the Royal Society (FRSForMemRS and HonFRS) is an award granted by the Fellows of the Royal Society of London to individuals who have made a "substantial contribution to the improvement of natural knowledge, including mathematicsengineering science, and medical science".

December 29th is Constitution Day in Ireland (Eire), Independence Day in Mongolia and the fifth day of Christmas, when ‘my true love sent to me Five Gold Rings’.

It is also my youngest daughter’s birthday. With two lively young sons, her day is unlikely to be calm but I am sure she will enjoy her day and find some time – probably after the boys are in bed! – to relax and celebrate.

Happy birthday, Bethan!

Thursday 28 December 2023

Gilbert the Good - the banana


Gilbert the Good – the banana

The other day I noticed a lovely bunch of bananas on the kitchen work top. They looked delicious and my mouth was watering at the prospect of eating one. I sniffed and gazed and sniffed again. 

I’ve often heard Janice telling Frankie to ‘help himself’ so I thought I could do the same. After all, I’m a big boy now and I like bananas very much, so I did what anydog would do and helped myself.

The bunch landed on the floor and I carefully separated one and took it to my bed. I was just about to eat it when my humans noticed and removed it. I was disappointed but also very proud of myself; there were no toothmarks on the banana and it wasn’t at all bruised.

We Labradors have very soft mouths.




Wednesday 27 December 2023

Drunk as a . . . duck!


Drunk as a  . . . duck!

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

This is a true story, or so I’m told.

A farmer’s wife in Eastern Europe had been making cherry liqueur. When the cherries had steeped in the vodka for long enough, she removed them and threw them into the garden, whereupon the ducks ate them. They soon became inebriated and passed out.

 When the farmer’s wife chanced to see them she thought they were dead. She didn’t know how they had died so preferred not to cook them, but decided to pluck them anyway, for at least the feathers would be useful. She left the bodies in a heap for her husband to bury while she busied herself with other chores.

After a while the ducks woke up. The farmer’s wife was so concerned that she knitted them little sweaters until their feathers grew back.

Another story, this time from the Lake District, tells of a lady in Victorian times who discovered her ducks stretched out in the road. She assumed they were dead, so plucked them ready for the oven. To her surprise, they woke up and she was so overcome with guilt that she knitted little waistcoats for them. It transpired that a barrel of beer in the cellar had slipped its metal bounds and the contents had leaked into the ducks’ feeding area, soaking their food and thus intoxicating them. 

The Drunken Duck Inn in Ambleside takes its name from this incident.

There was also a tippling duck called Star who lived in Devon. He was raised by Barrie Hayman, who used to carry him in his shirt pocket when he was a small duckling in 2011. Star followed his owner everywhere, and in the pub he developed a taste for ale. He wore a selection of bow ties and was a popular local character, helping to raise money for charity, busking with his owner. He lived in the house with the family, including the dog. One day, after a drinking session in the pub, Star irritated the dog so much that she pounced on him and bit his bill, splitting the lower part. You can read more about the incident here.

Star also attended church, joining in with the Lord’s prayer, quacking every line.

Star died in December 2022, aged eleven.

The YouTube clip below features Star. I turned off the sound and fast forwarded to the parts starring this very special duck, at 0.09 seconds, 0.45 seconds 1.21 minutes and 2.25 minutes.


Tuesday 26 December 2023




Good King Wenceslas’ is a popular English Christmas carol, telling the story of Saint Wenceslaus, Duke of Bohemia in the tenth century. He is the patron saint of the Czech Republic.

He was a good ruler and generous to his people. Every Christmas he would go with several of his pages to take food, firewood and clothing to his poorest and most needy subjects. He also encouraged the rich to give to the poor.

The ‘Feast of Stephen’ mentioned in the first verse is St Stephen’s Day, the second day of Christmas, more familiar to most as Boxing Day.

Good King Wenceslas looked out

On the feast of Stephen

When the snow lay round about

Deep and crisp and even

Brightly shone the moon that night

Though the frost was cruel

When a poor man came in sight

Gath'ring winter fuel.

It is another of those carols that children are taught and often do not understand. Thus ‘Wenceslas’ becomes ‘Wences last’. In similar vein, in ‘Away in a manger’ the verse that asks

‘And stay by my side  

Until morning is nigh’     

is rendered as

‘And stay by my side  

Until morning is night’     

 . . . and who can forget that wonderful character in ‘The angel Gabriel’ – ‘Most highly-flavoured lady’ ?

Children adapt the words that are unfamiliar to them to their evident satisfaction and to the amusement of listening adults.


Monday 25 December 2023


Christmas Day

A stirring carol for today, 'Joy to the world' arranged by John Rutter and sung by the WDR Radio Choir. accompanied by the WDR Symphony Orchestra at the Kรถlner Symphonie, Cologne. 

Wherever you are and whatever you may be doing, I wish you peace, comfort and good company.

Happy Christmas!

Sunday 24 December 2023

Christmas Eve


Christmas Eve

                                                        All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons                                                        

At the first stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve legend has it that all animals are given the power of human speech for that one special night. So, in homes and stables, fields and forests, animals domestic and wild acknowledge the miracle of Christmas, along with the bees, who sing a hymn at midnight just as Christmas Day breaks.

 The Adoration of the Christ-child by Mary and St Joseph from the Book of Hours of Simon de Varie

The origins of this folklore are lost but it is repeated to generations of wide-eyed children who try to stave off sleep so that they may hear the beasts speak.

                 Detail from 'The Nativity' by Zanobi Strozzi (1412-1468)  
                                    Note the kneeling ass and ox 

Saturday 23 December 2023




Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The first time I saw reindeer I was so surprised at the size of them. I had expected them to be much larger, probably because of childhood years imagining them pulling a sleigh through the cold midnight skies. They range from 85 cms (2' 8") for a female to 150 cms (4' 9")for a male at the shoulder.

As we approach Christmas Eve, the traditional time for spotting flying reindeer, I looked more closely at these lovely creatures. Wild herds once roamed freely across Scotland until the 13th century but were hunted to extinction.

There is a free-ranging reindeer herd of around 150 animals in the Cairngorms National Park. The deer were introduced to Scotland in 1954 by a Swedish Sami reindeer herder, Mikel Utsi.

With their built-in snowshoes, which are effective on snow, but less so on ice, these beautiful animals have eyes that adjust to the harsh light reflected from snow. Reindeer are the only deer in which females can grow antlers and the shape and style of the antlers varies in different subspecies.

They may not have red noses but they do have many blood vessels in their noses which ensure that their brains are constantly supplied with warm blood to keep them active.

The following short video clip explains a little more about their lives.

Friday 22 December 2023




December 22nd is the 2023 date of the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere.  This day is variously known as Midwinter, the Shortest Day or the Longest Night. We expect to have around 7½ hours of daylight, though if it’s a gloomy day it will seem much less than that. In the most northerly parts of the northern hemisphere there may be no daylight at all. After that, the days start to lengthen, at the rate of about 15 minutes per week.  

In my experience the coldest weather comes in the months following Midwinter. January and February are nasty, brutish and cold.

Christina Rossetti’s poem ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ is a favourite carol of mine and has been sung to two major settings, one by Harold Darke (1888-1976)

and the other, perhaps more familiar, by Gustav Holst (1874-1934)

Thursday 21 December 2023


An unexpected gift

It’s a pleasure to receive an unexpected gift – the wrapping, the shape, the weight – all intriguing. Then comes the joy of unpeeling the paper to discover what is hidden inside. If a small child is opening a present, the accompanying narrative will run along the lines of, “I wonder what it can be?’ and ‘What do you think it is?’ and, if you are the giver, a rather nervous, “I hope you like it’ and “If you’ve already got one, we can change it.’

Somehow, the anticipation lessens as one leaves childhood behind. Very often, we know what we’re receiving. In years past, when my husband was frequently away for weeks on business, I would be tasked with buying and wrapping my own present from him, as well as the rest of the family’s gifts. I didn’t mind – it made me laugh and enjoy it all the more.

 Though he is now retired, I am still consulted about his gift to me, because he doesn’t want to risk getting the wrong thing. I won’t tell you how many years we’re known each other but I would have thought he’d have some clue to my taste by now. To be fair, he has, but he likes to be sure! He knows not to give me things with plugs on – surely every man knows that?

 We have more than enough and need no more but, for our children’s sakes, we accede to the spirit of the season (and also to birthdays) to please them. They’re very sweet.

Anyway, today an unexpected gift arrived in the form of a positive Covid test for Barry. Robert and James have also tested positive. We were invited to spend Christmas Day with Susannah and James and Bethan and Robert were planning to visit us on Boxing Day, but neither of those things will happen now. It’s just as well – we have no appetite for a delicious banquet and would not make entertaining guests as we keep sneezing and falling asleep – not at the same time, of course. That begs the question, do we sneeze when we sleep? Answers on a postcard, please.  

At present we are drinking water and eating nothing, but still dutifully feeding the animals at regular intervals. I hope they don’t catch it – it is a zoonotic disease and the advice is to avoid contact with them. The trouble is that if I do that, they’ll starve, which is not a happy alternative.

I haven’t yet tested to discover if I have Covid or just the lurgy. The headache and fogginess of the last few days is somewhat trying, but as I always have a headache and no appetite before Christmas I’m not too bothered.

I hope any gifts you receive will be welcome and enjoyable!


Wednesday 20 December 2023

Let there be light!


Let there be light!

In the dark and often dreary winter mornings it is cheering to come downstairs into the light. At the bottom of the stairs the hall table holds a lighted tree and some candles while in the sitting room the Christmas tree lights glow a warm red.

 We have a number of candles of various sizes, all powered by batteries. They were dotted all over the room and though they were pretty they didn’t make much of an impact.

Should we instal a prie-dieu?

Tuesday 19 December 2023

The Entropy Gang’s December 2023 blog


The Entropy Gang’s December 2023 blog

Herschel: I think Gilbert has kept you up to date with goings-on in our household. He’s still very young, though, and doesn’t always realise what’s happening.

Jellicoe:  He’s a good-tempered pup and doesn’t make much noise. He only grumbles when I try to steal his food.  Feeding times are the highlights of my day.

Herschel: I just wait patiently. Well, I do yowl sometimes but I think my brother is quite rude. He moves closer and closer to the MAID when it’s nearing time for her to feed us. Then he starts patting her face and giving her little nips on her arm.

Jellicoe: I object to that. I’m just gently reminding her. She’s getting on in years, you know.

(The MAID: Harrumph!)

Herschel: So are you and I and we don’t need to be reminded about anything.

Jellicoe: You’re right. I’d apologise to her if I thought she’d understand, but, well, HUMANS, you know . . .

Herschel: There you go again, being all superior. Where would you be without the HUMANS?

Jellicoe: I know, but you must admit they can’t do half the things we can. I mean, have you ever seen them leap up to the top of the grandfather clock?

Herschel: No, and neither have I seen them catch birds, though they don’t like us doing that. Leaving all that aside, how would you cope without the MASTER and the MAID and the VETS?

Jellicoe: You’re right. The MASTER took me to see the VETS again the other day. I wasn’t ill but he and the MAID were having difficulty getting blood to test for my glucose curve, whatever that is.

Herschel: Yes, I’ve watched the MASTER pricking your ear while the MAID holds you tightly. It doesn’t look much fun for you – or them.

Jellicoe: My poor ears were getting sore but I’m very good and don’t struggle much. The MAID said that as my ears were getting pierced I might need some earrings soon. I didn’t fancy that.

Herschel: So? What happened?

Jellicoe: Well, the VETS showed the MASTER how they do it and now he won’t use five or six testing strips every time.

Herschel: Why does he have to do it?

Jellicoe: It’s all to do with numbers. They mustn’t be too high or too low or I start to wobble and the stuff the MAID injects has to be adjusted. We were there for ages but when the MASTER asked how much he owed them, they said he didn’t and they were happy to help.

Herschel: That’s good, then. How much stuff do you have to have each day?

Jellicoe: It went down to 2½ units but now it’s 3 again. I think the MAID needs a microscope to read the scale.

Herschel: It will be Christmas soon. There are pretty lights everywhere.

Jellicoe: We hope all the HUMANS on earth can find some peace and joy and learn to live together.


Monday 18 December 2023




We went to a party on Saturday at Susannah and James’s house. I think they were catering for the 5,000, with many bottles of champagne and other inviting beverages, 30 litres of tonic water -  and associated nibbles, naturally.

Children of 15 and under who hadn’t made other plans accompanied their parents. They were all boys, funnily enough. Some were friends or at least acquaintances, but none of them were particularly socially aware, so there was an element of Lost Boys without the leadership of Peter Pan. Thank goodness for screens of various sizes!

Anyway, as they were mostly out of sight and mind, though perfectly safe in the house, the adults carried on enjoying themselves regardless.  

No-one who goes to a house belonging to any member of our family can expect or hope for an animal-free environment. Susannah and James have two dogs and four cats and we took Roxy and Gilbert, as they had been invited. We were a little anxious about it as we knew there would be lots of food conveniently placed at dog’s nose level and Labradors are not known for their reticence where food is concerned. We need not have worried. They behaved beautifully and were sociable and friendly guests, although Gilbert’s wildly wagging tail narrowly missed knocking over glasses several times.

It was lovely to see such a mix of affable people and it was a thoroughly enjoyable time. It was particularly pleasant to see our daughter-in-law and her two very tall handsome sons. All the rest of the family had been unable to come – it’s such a busy time before Christmas and everyone and everything seems to be booked up months in advance. We slipped away to feed our starving cats, leaving behind a diminishing but happy throng.

Gilbert and Roxy have been exceptionally quiet today, being unused to socialising,  and so have we.

Sunday 17 December 2023