Monday 25 February 2013


Damn! I must have slept right through it!

Curiously, instead of celebrating, I spent most of today 'cleaning up' at the flat we have just vacated; and I'll be spending most of the next few days clearing out cardboard boxes from our current residence!


Today's the day when we finally quit our temporary accommodation (if a year can truly be considered 'temporary') and move ourselves and the last of our stuff back into our old (but now greatly improved) flat.

Let's just hope we don't face any of the nightmares befalling this galaxy of stars that includes several of television's funniest funny men – among them Eric Sykes (who wrote and directed the film) and the much-loved and recently departed Richard Briars...

I hope that gave you a laugh or two and that you'll forgive me for the absence of blogging in the immediate future – at least while chaos and upheaval remain the order of the day!

Thursday 21 February 2013


Another favourite photo from my flicker photostream: today, the Lady of Liberty Island, New York...

Monday 18 February 2013


As every American knows, today is Presidents Day or, according to choice, President's Day or Presidents' Day.

It was certainly singular when it was initiated in 1879 to mark the Birthday of the States' first President, George Washington...

The holiday was originally observed on Washington's date of birth, 22 February...

...but then, in 1971, the 'Uniform Monday Holiday Act' shifted the event to the third Monday in February, thereby ensuring that it would never fall on the great man's actual birthday!

By the '80s, the phrase 'Presidents Day' had begun to take hold, inspired by a failed attempt in 1951 to so rename the holiday as a way of commemorating both Washington and the country's 16th President better known today as Daniel Day Lewis....

Thus President's Day became popularly (but never officially) known as Presidents' Day and now is seen as a way of celebrating the office of President rather than either Washington, Lincoln or both!

So, in that spirit, here are the forty-four Presidents of the United States of America (including all those ones you've never heard of) from 1789 to the present day... 

Back to Georgie boy and what is, of course, the most famous story about his pre-Presidential years: the saga of the Cherry Tree, as recounted by Mason Locke Weems (known as 'Parson Weems') in his 1800 biography, A History of the Life and Death, Virtues and Exploits of General George Washington...
When George was about six years old, he was made the wealthy master of a hatchet! of which, like most little boys, he was immoderately fond, and was constantly going about chopping everything that came in his way. 

One day, in the garden, where he often amused himself hacking his mother's pea-sticks, he unluckily tried the edge of his hatchet on the body of a beautiful young English cherry-tree, which he barked so terribly, that I don't believe the tree ever got the better of it. 

The next morning the old gentleman, finding out what had befallen his tree, which, by the by, was a great favourite, came into the house; and with much warmth asked for the mischievous author, declaring at the same time, that he would not have taken five guineas for his tree.

Nobody could tell him anything about it. Presently George and his hatchet made their appearance. "George," said his father, "do you know who killed that beautiful little cherry tree yonder in the garden? 

This was a tough question; and George staggered under it for a moment; but quickly recovered himself: and looking at his father, with the sweet face of youth brightened with the inexpressible charm of all-conquering truth, he bravely cried out, "I can't tell a lie, Pa; you know I can't tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet." 

"Run to my arms, you dearest boy," cried his father in transports, "run to my arms; glad am I, George, that you killed my tree; for you have paid me for it a thousand fold. Such an act of heroism in my son is more worth than a thousand trees, though blossomed with silver, and their fruits of purest gold."

Historians today have little truck with this anecdote, dismissing it as nothing more than a romantic and sentimental fable...

Of course, the Muppets know better!!

Caricature of George Washington by Rodney Pike
'Parson Weems' Fable' by Grant Wood, 1939

Thursday 14 February 2013


Lest you were wondering – but I'm sure you weren't – here is the TRUE meaning behind why we celebrate the Feast of St Valentine...

And in case you are among the many millions of Valentine-less people irritated by the fact that seemingly everyone else is celebrating being (or hoping to be) in love, here are a few decidedly cranky – in some cases downright scary – vintage Valentine's cards to make you grateful not to be on some people's romantic mailing list!

This one moves...

...though you might wish it didn't!



And one for the lads...

Some of these cards are quite old (the hippo, the pig and the heart-eating monkey) others, I have learned, are from a later period as 'Anonymous' intriguingly reveals in the comments below.

Anon's entertaining reminiscence was accompanied by a link to one of his favourite Valentine's Day cards, featuring a couple of Disney characters, and (to save you having to copy and paste the link), I've 'madly' decided to add here for everyone's amusement...

These cards come from various sites on the net, including The Mitch O'Connell Blog where you will find a great many more!

Monday 11 February 2013


Another favourite photo from my flicker photostream: police officers on duty outside Buckingham Palace...

© Brian Sibley, 2011

Friday 8 February 2013


Don't you just love Vintage Ads?

What can one say? Other than to wonder whether this 1940s ad for Jester Wools was the origin of that old joke:
"My mother made me a homosexual!"

"If I give her the wool, will she make me one, too?"

Tuesday 5 February 2013


Here's another favourite photo from my flicker photostream...

Today, Martin Jenning's wonderful statue of Sir John Betjeman on London's St Pancras Station, the masterpiece of Victorian architecture which the former Poet Laureate helped save from dereliction...

Inscribed around the base of the statue are words from Betjeman's poem 'Cornish Cliffs':

And in the shadowless unclouded glare
Deep blue above us fades to whiteness where
A misty sea-line meets the wash of air.

Saturday 2 February 2013


Today – forty days after Christmas – is the ancient Feast of Candlemas...

Marking the mid-point of winter, halfway between the shortest day and the spring equinox, the name Candlemas derives from the custom of taking into church the candles to be used in the coming year and blessing them.

Since the earliest days of the Christian church, this festival has signalled the formal ending of the Christmas season by commemorating an event recorded in the Gospel of St Luke.

Following the Jewish tradition of pidyon haben, Mary and Joseph presented their first-born child, Jesus, in the Temple in Jerusalem. According to Luke, the event was witnessed by an elderly devout Jew named Simeon who had received a promise from God that he would not die until he had seen the Saviour of the world.

Taking the child in his arms, Simeon spoke words that, across the centuries, have featured in the daily services of worship throughout the Christian church.

In Greek the words say...
νῦν ἀπολύεις τὸν δοῦλόν σου, δέσποτα, κατὰ τὸ ῥῆμά σου ἐν εἰρήνῃ·
ὅτι εἶδον οἱ ὀφθαλμοί μου τὸ σωτήριόν σου,
ὃ ἡτοίμασας κατὰ πρόσωπον πάντων τῶν λαῶν,
φῶς εἰς αποκάλυψιν ἐθνῶν καὶ δόξαν λαοῦ σου Ἰσραήλ.
In Latin...
Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine, secundum verbum tuum in pace:
Quia viderunt oculi mei salutare tuum
Quod parasti ante faciem omnium populorum:
Lumen ad revelationem gentium, et gloriam plebis tuae Israel.
 And in the English of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer...
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace : according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen : thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared : before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles : and to be the glory of thy people Israel.
The prayer, known as the 'Nunc Dimittis', became part of the night time office of the Christian church called Compline, or Evening Prayer, and many composers have written settings for the 'Nunc Dimittis' from Thomas Tallis to Arvo Part. (You can click on the composers' names to link to recording of their versions.)

In popular culture, the 'Nunc Dimittis' will be forever associated with the closing titles of the 1979 BBC TV dramatisation of John le Carré's spy novel, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy in a setting by the late Geoffrey Burgon (responsible for another magnificent television score accompanying Brideshead Revisited).

The Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy version was sung by a boy soprano (the uncredited Paul Phoenix) and, despite having a child singing what is the prayer of an old man, it it has a haunting and gloriously ethereal sound as you can hear here.

Here's another famous former boy soprano, Aled Jones singing Burgon's setting in company with a current young chorister, Ben Crawley...


This Candlemas, I wish you all a day of peace and tranquillity.

Images: Candle in St John the Divine, Kennington by Brian Sibley © 2012; 'Simeon's Song of Praise' by Aert De Gelder c.1700