Wednesday 28 December 2011


You know how, nowadays, wine no longer tastes of what it is traditionally made from – grapes – but, according to the back-label, may be described in terms of various fruits, coffee, chocolate, chili, pine-needles, aromatic herbs or flint – when did you last suck on a piece of flint?

Well, it could be that this is just a drinker's version of the way in which perfumes have always been been described: interestingly, usually in terms of things you eat and therefore taste as well as smell.

I came across some 'ripe' descriptions recently that I thought you might enjoy...

Paco Rabane 1 Million

This comes in a bottle that looks like a gold ingot (but isn't!) and is is described in terms of a fruit cocktail, thus: "This fragrance is fresh and sparkling with notes of grapefruit, mint and orange, creating a striking mix of sophistication and sensuality."

Or to give you the essence of that pictorially...

Then there is...

Boss Orange Man

This 'new feel-good fragrance for liberated guys', as used by Orlando Bloom, is; "An energising blend of crispy apple, comforting vanilla, warm frankincense and exotic West African bubinga woo0d." (What wood?)

In contrast...

Carolina Herrera 212 VIP MEN

Is a fragrance that might be described (apparently) as "...a party animal! It's a cocktail of vodka, passion fruit, frozen mint, ginger, black pepper, lime, caviar, leather spices, amber and king wood." (Yes, more wood!) As the ad copy says – almost incredulously – "All that in one bottle."

And (finally for this selection) there is...

CK SHOCK for him

This fragrance is, we are told, "...built around aromatic, spicy nuances. It opens with fresh cucumber and sugar. The heart of black pepper, black basil and cardamon is placed on the base of masculine tobacco [ as opposed to the feminine variety?] musk, patchouli and [yes, of course, what else?] ambrene wood."

I'm exhausted before I've even got the top of the bottle...

Oh, well, maybe just stick with the Old Spice, then...

Monday 26 December 2011


It is possible to add a seasonal embellishment to even the dullest bits of daily life!

Sunday 25 December 2011


Exhausted by yesterday's eating-drinking-present-opening-TV-watching marathon?

Time to chill out while engaging in a little brain-cell-stimulation!

A BOXING DAY (that's the Day-After-Christmas-Day for my American cousins) QUIZ on the theme of FILM MUSICALS.

Below are the titles of sixty musical films represented by their initial letters, together with the initials of one of the stars.

So, for example, the film on the left might be F-SS (42S would be too easy!) / RK (for Ruby Keeler).

I have also included one or two picture clues – just to help get you started!


2. TWOO / BL

3. DD / AN

4. MP / DT



7. S! / DM

8. HCA / DK

9. TSOM / EP

10. SITR / DOC


12. C / VR

13. C / JG


15. RW / FA

16. HD! / LA

17. SON / HS

18. TH / GR

19. TMM / MTM

20. MDM / EW

21. AAIW / FF

22. FOTR / CT

23. MOLM / SL

24. GMC / POT

25. BAB / AL

26. ASIB / JM

27. GPB / JR

28. BIA / MR

29. FR / TS

30. KMK / HK

31. SB / KG

32. TBM / BL

33. G / LJ

34. SP / RB

35. TKAI / DK

36. WSS / NW

37. O! / GMR

38. C / SJ

39. C / RZ

40. FG / OS

41. OTT / FS

42. AAIP / GK

43. MR! / EMG

44. YDD / JC

45. E / M

46. G / JT

47. ATJ / RS

48. JCS / TN

49. SBFSB / JP

50. MFL / SH

51. HS / BC

52. A / AF

53. WC / RC

54. TMCC / KTF

55. MM / PB

56. O! / RM

57. GAD / SK


59. PYW / CE


GOOD LUCK! When you've answered as many as you can send me your solutions via the comments to this post. Answers (and winners) will be blogged on 7 January!


Greetings, Love and Blessings

Away in a Manger

Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb,
Now leaves His well-belov'd imprisonment,
There He hath made Himself to His intent
Weak enough, now into the world to come;
But O, for thee, for Him, hath the inn no room?
Yet lay Him in this stall, and from the Orient,
Stars and wise men will travel to prevent
The effect of Herod's jealous general doom.
Seest thou, my soul, with thy faith's eyes, how He
Which fills all place, yet none holds Him, doth lie?
Was not His pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pitied by thee?
Kiss Him, and with Him into Egypt go,
With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe.

Nativity, A Christmas Poem - John Donne

"God Bless Us, Everyone!"

Images: Christmas Crib in Venice by Brian Sibley; Brian & David by Nghiem Ta

Friday 23 December 2011


In the words of a recent BBC press-release: "On the day before Christmas, BBC Radio 4 Extra has myriad yuletide classics..." one of which, I have (immodestly) to confess is a programme by Yours Truly!

Thirty-four years ago, I submitted what was only my second programme for radio and which is now one of Radio 4 Extra's "yuletide classics".

Entitled ...And Yet Another Partridge in a Pear Tree, it's a quirky take on that well-known song about the seasonal gifts which someone sent to his True Love on the Twelve Days of Christmas.

It was, I later discovered, not exactly a new joke and it has been re-worked by many others since, but it had the distinctive twist of literally following the cumulative list in the lyrics, thus providing the recipient not with one partridge in a pear tree, two turtle doves, three French hens and so on, but with twelve partridges, twenty-two turtle doves, thirty French hens and so forth.

I was extremely fortunate in having Penelope Keith (left) then at the height of her fame as Margot Leadbetter in the wildly successful TV sit-com, The Good Life, play Miss Cynthia Bracegirdle, the increasingly harassed lady who has to cope with (among other nuisances) forty maids a-milking, thirty-six ladies dancing, thirty lords a-leaping and twenty-two pipers piping...

...And Yet Another Partridge
was repeated annually for many years and is still broadcast at Christmas from America to Australia. In fact, every year I get requests for copies of the broadcast (which unfortunately is not possible because the BBC have never commercially released the programme) and transcripts of Miss Bracegirdle's correspondence.

Anyway, if – like others – you remember this little piece of fluff and would like to hear it again or if you've never heard it and think it might tickle your funny bone (as, indeed, I believe it might), then TODAY'S the DAY!

This tragi-comic tale gets yet another outing this afternoon on BBC Radio 4 Extra and the partridges start coming home to roost at 14.40, after which, it can be heard on 'Listen Again' via BBC iPlayer for the next seven days.

And as a little Christmas Gift from Me to You, here are the uncensored Bracegirdle Letters (illustrated with photographs of the fabulous 2007 window displays from the Piccadilly emporium of Messrs Fortnum and Mason); you may care to ponder its message as you wrap - and unwrap - your Christmas gifts!


A Cautionary Tale for Christmas Showing
that it is Better to Give than to Receive

by Brian Sibley

My very dearest Algy,

How can I begin to thank you for your charming Christmas gift? What
luxury! My very own pear tree, with that dear little pheasant in it - or is it supposed to be a partridge? You really are a foolish boy! Actually, the birdie isn't wildly attractive, but the pear tree should be lovely - when pears are in season again.

Thank you, my darling.

All my love - forever.

Your ownest affectionate,


My dearest Algy,

You are quite impossible, my love. The turtle doves are
adorable! They're already cooing away like anything; and, I must say, their amorous behavior leaves very little to the imagination. But I expect they will settle down in time.

Thank you, my sweeting.

Affectionately yours,


PS: I almost forgot to thank you for the second partridge-in-pear-tree thing: it balances up the other side of the fireplace so nicely.

Dearest Algernon,

You know, poppet, you are simply going too,
too far! Your latest gift has just been delivered: what an imaginative boy you are to think of sending me something as unusual as three French hens. I'm only sorry that I hadn't told you that I am allergic to eggs. Never mind I can always sell some to the neighbours who, incidentally, have been much entertained by the sight of the postman struggling along each morning with the pear trees. Much love, Cynthia

Dear Algernon,

I suppose it's silly of me, but I am seriously beginning to wonder whether you aren't trying to get me to start an aviary. Your four 'colly birds' have just arrived and could, more aptly, be described as '
call-y birds', since that is what they seem to do best! Perhaps you could let me know whether colly birds are in the laying business or whether they are intended for human consumption; Mrs Beeton is, I find, surprisingly silent on the matter.

I can honestly say, Algernon, that I'd always thought birds were rather pleasant little creatures,
until you gave me this opportunity of observing them at such close quarters.



PS: I do hope you got a reasonable discount on all the pear trees.

Algernon, Thank you for your latest gift of five curtain rings, a somewhat curious present but, nevertheless, a refreshing change from all those very pretty, but somewhat noisy, birds you will keep sending me. I doubt if I should have bought so large a turkey for Christmas had I known what you had in mind. Could we ease up a bit on the fowl, do you think? Cordially, Cynthia

Dear Algernon Fotherington-Smythe,

I see we are back with the birds again! Your six geese a-laying have just arrived, and are happily doing so for all they're worth. I rather thought I'd mentioned to you how it was with me and eggs...

Thank you for putting me right about the curtain rings - I never could tell the difference between brass and gold. Of course, I am very pleased that you should have thought of sending me
another five, just so that I have one for every finger. But as I now have more hens, doves and partridges than I rightly know how to cope with, and as they aren't too fussy about personal hygiene, I seldom seem to have my hands out of a bucket of water long enough to try them on! Yours, Cynthia B

Dear Mr Fotherington-Smythe,

I have just succeeded in accommodating your seven swans a-swimming
in my bath - which was no mean achievement when one considers the number of pear trees on the landing! Regrettably, the geese got to the rings before I could, so that's probably the last we've seen of them - would I could say the same for the geese! I must now ask you to desist from sending me any more of these well-intentioned but slightly impracticable gifts. Cynthia Bracegirdle PS: I hadn't realised just how messy moulting partridges can be, or how badly they seem to get on in captivity with other birds.

Mr Fotherington-Smythe,

Fresh milk is one thing, eight enormous Friesians in the drawing room is something else altogether!

True, the milkmaids have a certain rustic charm, but you wouldn't believe how much they eat. You may also care to note that my bath has only so much room in it for swans with a seemingly insatiable urge to be a-swimming, and it will definitely
not hold fourteen of them! Take that from one who has tried!

Please call a halt to this absurd behavior.

Miss Cynthia Bracegirdle

Mr Smythe!

Thanks to your weird sense of humor, my house is now in utter chaos! As if it wasn't bad enough having sixteen cows producing milk by the gallon, we now have nine 'ladies' - as you amusingly call them - dancing here, there and everywhere, one of whom seems to be working out a somewhat extraordinary routine involving several doves and a goose!

The most charitable view I can take of your actions is that you are out of your tiny mind.

Enough's enough!


Miss C Bracegirdle

PS: Fortunately, one of the partridges has just drowned itself in a bucket of milk.

Unspeakable wretch!

Your misguided generosity has apparently now led you to suppose that I could find some use for ten Lords a-leaping. They might lend a hand with cleaning up all the rancid milk and bird-lime - if they'd only stop leaping around after the dancing girls for five minutes!

I understand the entire neighborhood is now up in arms about it all and the Residents' Association has sent a petition to the local Member of Parliament.

Thumping on the front door at this precise moment are no less that two dozen representatives from various government bodies and from the Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to hens, doves, geese, swans, cows, partridges and, for all I know, pear trees! And the bizarre inter-breeding amongst the birds is to be the subject of an article by a leading ornithologist in the next issue of
Bird Monthly!

The recent outbreaks of crop-blight, fowl-pest and foot-and-mouth disease have now reached
epidemic proportions; and if the antics I witnessed behind the pear trees this afternoon are anything to go by, several of the milkmaids should soon find themselves in, what polite society calls, an interesting condition.

For your information, I have now reached the end of my tether - which is more than can be said for those damn cows of yours!

C Bracegirdle (Miss)


Have you got even the remotest idea what eleven pipers piping sounds like at two o'clock in the morning? Of course, it only adds very slightly to the hideous cacophony of noise that I must now daily endure. I swear there's more mooing, cooing, honking, clucking and calling here than in the zoological gardens. If there were any room left, I might seriously consider opening the place to the public.

Your latest shipment of lords, ladies and livestock is now settled into the furore and by the same post came received a letter advising of a visit which the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries intends to make this afternoon - supposing he can get in the door that is!

One good thing at least is that the latest influx of birds have put the cows off giving milk; I can hear them now - uprooting the pear trees in the orchard I once called a living room!

My landlord has taken out an eviction order against me, as he claims, somewhat surprisingly, that the terms of my lease do not cover utilisation of the premises as a menagerie, dancing school, smallholding or annex of the House of Lords.


PS: Please be advised that all future correspondence between us will be handled by my solicitors, Messrs Grabble, Twister and Fleecem.

Grabble, Twister and Fleecem Chancey Chambers Suet-under-Writ (Off the Eastbourne Road) Sussex

Dear Mr Smith,

Re: Miss Cynthia Bracegirdle, deceased

We are the executors of the estate of the above-named deceased, and are writing to acknowledge receipt of your recent delivery of twelve drummers drumming.

You will no doubt be distressed to learn that, shortly after the arrival of these gentlemen, our client, in what must be described as a somewhat deranged state of mind, travelled to Eastbourne and threw herself off the top of Beachy Head.

Before taking this step, however, she left instructions with ourselves for the adding of a codicil to her Last Will and Testament, under which you become her sole beneficiary and legatee.

I am, therefore, arranging for the following items to be delivered to you later this day:

12 drummers drumming
22 pipers piping
30 lords a-leaping
36 ladies dancing
40 maids a-milking
42 swans a-swimming
42 geese a-laying
40 gold rings
36 colly birds
30 French hens
22 turtle doves
and 11 partridges with 12 accompanying pear trees.

With our sincere congratulations on your inheritance and assuring you of our best attention at all times,

Yours faithfully,

Grabble, Twister and Fleecem

...And Yet Another Partridge in a Pear Tree was originally broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Christmas Day 1977 and starred PENELOPE KEITH as Cynthia Bracegirdle with TIMOTHY BATESON as Mr Graball. The programme was directed by JOHN THEOCHARIS.

Text and photographs: © Brian Sibley, 1977, 2007, 2011


There's just one more sleep until the night when that fat, jolly, old, bearded gent in the red suit will (hopefully) be squeezing himself down our chimneys and distributing his annual largesse!

But, as few of us have ever seen him on his 24 December rounds (unless we caught him kissing mummy under the mistletoe) how come we recognise him so easily?

Well, much of what we know about Santa's appearance was established by the American cartoonist Thomas Nast, responsible for the iconic image on the right and others which you will find here.

But, certainly as far as American sensibilities are concerned, the image of Christmas' Patron Saint (aka St Nicholas, Father Christmas and many other names in different lands) was reinforced by the work of the great illustrator, Norman Rockwell (you can view some oif his Santas here), as well as through a series of annual advertising campaigns for Coca Cola that began 80 years ago, this December!

For a considerable time, Coke was thought of as a being warm weather drink – a thirst-quencher – but from 1922, the Coca-Cola Company began advertising their drink as one to be consumed the whole year round with the slogan: "Thirst Knows No Season".

Then, in 1931, came the first of a long line of seasonal promotions featuring Santa as an enthusiastic drinker of Coke.

The work of Michigan-born illustrator, Haddon Sundblom (left), who used himself as a model for his portrayals of Santa, provided much loved advertisements in the pages of The Saturday Evening Post, The National Geographic, The New Yorker and The Ladies Home Journal.

These ads (in addition to selling Coca Cola) helped shape our perceptions of our late-night Christmas Eve visitor.

Here is that Santas on a few of his annual outings...

And, 80 years on, Santa is still raising a bottle of Coke to the Season on bill-boards the world over and in TV commercials...



If you haven't heard it, my dramatisation of P L (Mary Poppins) Travers' mystical Christmas fable, The Fox at the Manger, is being re-broadcast today on BBC Radio 4 Extra at 11:15 and 21:15 and repeated tomorrow, Christmas Eve, at 04:15 and for the next seven days on BBC iPlayer.

The play tells the story of what gift the wild and wayward fox took to stable in Bethlehem and gave to the new-born Christ Child.

Starring Wendy Hiller as the Storyteller and Alec McCowan as the Fox, it features the ancient Carol, 'The Friendly Beasts', and a memorably evocative music score by Dave Hewson.

Image: Fox woodcut by Thomas Bewick

Thursday 22 December 2011


My very good blog friend, Eudora, sent me this beautiful Adoration of the Magi as a Christmas greeting...

Painted with tempera on pine in c. 1420 it forms the right wing of a triptych altarpiece for the church in Ortenberg (a town in the district of Ortenau in Baden-Württemberg in Germany) but now housed in the Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt.

The picture is full of symbolism – such as the basket of bread (representing the Eucharist) hanging above the head of the Christ Child or the cross-shaped gift held by the King on the right, but what immediately caught my attention was the diminutive figure in the bottom left hand corner of the picture?

Who is that doing the cooking? By a process of elimination, there was only one person it could be...

I asked Eudora: "The chap with the cooking pan, is that Joseph?"

After a bit of research, Eudora, came back to me with some answers: yes it was Jesus' earthly father and the way he is represented by the anonymous artist is particularly interesting.

As one commentary puts it...
Joseph, the Virgin's husband who had not yet been canonized... was taken to typify the poor among the more distinguished personages of the Bible. In scenes of the Adoration of the Magi he is definitely depicted as the symbol of poverty... shown plying his craft as a carpenter or as the modest and diligent father of Jesus, doing household tasks, hanging up napkins to dry or cooking soup....

These pictures do not always evince a sympathy for poor people. Sometimes Joseph is mockingly ridiculed. In the Ortenberg Altarpiece, for example, the shabbily dressed, tiny figure is so fully engrossed in stirring the soup with a spoon he is grasping with both his hands, that he does not notice the presence of the Magi.
Personally, I'm with those who see in the image something less mocking and a reminder that this painting was made in an age when poverty and humility were regarded as virtues: I see Joseph as the practical provider of his little family.

The noble, ermine-clad magi may lay aside their crowns and bend their royal knees and present their mystical gifts to the holy Child, but Joseph just gets on with making sure there will be something to eat when the great and the good have gone on their way...

Wednesday 21 December 2011


Apologies, but I'm on about A Christmas Carol yet again...

Every year – pretty much without fail – somebody, somewhere comes up with a fresh take on Charles Dickens' seemingly immortal story: a newly illustrated edition, perhaps, or a stage, film or TV version that sets out to tell the oft-told tale anew.

Mr Magoo, Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, The Flintstones and The Jetsons have all – for better or worse – had a go!

This year it's the turn of the on-line kid's show character, Ruffus the Dog and his puppet chums to tackle the classic.

It's not quite The Muppet's Christmas Carol and All Dogs Go to Heaven were there first with a canine re-working of the Carol, but it's got great charm and – all one can ask really – an obvious desire to capture the spirit of the original: which it does, wonderfully...

And here's a little behind-the-scenes video showing how a handful of people with, clearly, very limited resources, spent four days putting together their engaging little film.

You can visit Ruffus the Dog's website here; and you can read an interview with Ruffus' creator, Rob Mills, here.