Thursday, 31 December 2009


Ring Out, Wild Bells

out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;

The year is dying in the night;

Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:

The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,

Ring out the feud of rich and poor,

Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;

Ring in the nobler modes of life,

With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;

Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,

But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;

Ring in the love of truth and right,

Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;

Ring out the thousand wars of old,

Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;

Ring out the darkness of the land,

Ring in the Christ that is to be.

- from In Memoriam A H H by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1849)

And here's part of Tennyson's poem set to music by Victor and Kaprena Worth...

Like many others, we face 2010 with some apprehension and not a little anxiety. There are concerns about work and health and, above all, for David and I, where we will be living next year...

But all any of us can do is put our trust and faith in hopes for a better resolution to our problems than our fears lead us to expect.

Which is why I wish you, most sincerely---

and, above all, HOPEFUL

Monday, 28 December 2009


You cannot stray far in Venice without encountering images of the lion, the companion-creature of the City's patron saint, St Mark.

The most famous of these creatures stands atop one of the two columns on the Piazetta San Marco, greeting travellers approaching the City across the lagoon.

Once covered in gold, the origin of this sculpture is much debated - it is thought to be either Etruscan, Persian or even Chinese.

Certainly, wherever the Venetians 'liberated' it from, they subsequently added the holy book on which its forepaws stand and the wings in order to make it a suitable pet for the Evangelist.

Following the fall of the Venetian Republic, it was taken to Paris by Napoleon's army in 1797 (along with San Marco's famous horses) where it suffered the indignity of having its tail chopped off and then reattached between its legs before becoming part of a fountain! It was finally brought back to Venice, in pieces, in 1815 and reinstated on its column.

Many writers have speculated on this guardian angel-lion, among them - D H Lawrence in his poem, The Evangelistic Beasts...


There was a lion in Judah
Which whelped, and was Mark.

But winged.
A lion with wings.
At least at Venice.

Why should he have wings?
Is he to be a bird also?
Or a spirit?
Or a winged thought?
Or a soaring consciousness?

Evidently he is all that
The lion of the spirit.

Lion Vignette

It is thought that, before it was sanctified with wings, that the creature represented on the Piazetta in Venice was not intended to be a lion but the Chimera, the monstrous fire-breathing creature of Greek mythology that was composed of the parts of multiple animals and which was the origin of the term chimera, meaning an improbable fantasy.

If St Mark's Lion was (prior to its conversion to Christianity) a chimera, then it is a doubly appropriate heraldic creature for a city that is, itself, a fantastical illusion...

Images: Brian Sibley © 2009

Saturday, 26 December 2009


Just two days left to hear (or re-hear) Miss Penelope Keith and ...And Yet Another Patridge in a Pear Tree, being my account of what happened on the Twelve Day of Christmas, by tuning into the BBC i>Player

And when you're done - or if you simply can't bear to listen to it Yet Again - here's another fun version of the seasonal song as rendered by the a capella group, Straight No Chaser...


How did you spend Christmas Day? For these Venetian shopkeepers it was a day for sweeping-out and mopping-up after an exceptionally high tide (60" or 145 cm above sea level) on Christmas Eve...

Mopping-up I

Mopping-up II

Mopping-up III

Mopping-up IV
Staff at Etro were not in evidence, but the reflections of their mannequins is not in the polished marble of the floor, but in the several inches of water swimming around in the showroom...


Of course, not everyone was occupied with the flood. Most tourists carried on enjoying themselves regardless...

Christmas warmer

Friday, 25 December 2009







Image: Nativity from the bronze door panels of the Duomo, Milan, Italy.
© Brian Sibley 2009

Thursday, 24 December 2009



Tonight's the night!

SANTA is - well, hopefully - on his way!

Even though he has to share the seasonal honours in Italy with La Befana, BABBO NATALE, as he is known here, has already arrived in our Venice apartment...

One of the strongest influences shaping collective perception of Santa Claus, Father Christmas or however you know him, was a nineteenth century poem - or, more truthfully, a piece of delightful doggerel, the unsophisticated nature of which is a huge part of its enduring appeal.

Long years before Tim Burton came up with his Nightmare Before Christmas, there was Clement C Moore's The NIGHT Before Christmas...

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:

Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all,
and to all a good-night."

It is said that Clement Clarke Moore (right) wrote his poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas (also known as The Night Before Christmas), for his family on Christmas Eve 1822. He never intended that it be published, but when a family friend, Miss Harriet Butler, learned of the poem some time later from Moore's children, she copied it into her album, and submitted it to the editor of the Troy Sentinel in New York where it made its first appearance on December 23, 1823.

The poem was soon being reprinted in other newspapers, almanacs and magazines and was first published in a book in The New York Book of Poetry of 1837.

A few year later, in 1844, Moore finally acknowledged authorship of the verses in, Poems, a volume of his poetry published at the request of his children. Today it is one of the most-published, most-read, most-memorized Christmas poems of all time.

And here's Walt Disney's 1933 Silly Symphony version...

Sleep well, tonight!

The illustrations to A Visit from St Nicholas are by Jessie Willcox Smith (1863-1935)

Wednesday, 23 December 2009


My good friend, Boll Weavil - late of this blog and fellow Christmas Carol-fancier - excelled himself with his Christmas present this year. Not just a big box of...


...the perfect antidote to Quality Street Assortment and marzipan fruits, but also THREE new (and hitherto unseen) additions to my ever-growing A Christmas Carol collection! Brilliant work, Boll!

One of them is a book version of Disney's Mickey's Christmas Carol, the other two spin-offs from the current Disney-Zemeckis version. In one of these, Boll has augmented the title page's A Christmas Carol with the following addition: "Re-originated from the original" adding "A hundred and sixty years on, we're still doing it!"

Boll was referring to the fact that within a month of the publication of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Parley's Illuminated Library published a pirate edition entitled, A Christmas Ghost Story, Re-originated from the original by Charles Dickens, Esq., and analytically condensed expressly for this work.

Dickens was incandescent about the flouting of his copyright, and not without cause. Here's a reminder of how the original began:
Marley was dead, to begin with.

There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don't mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country's done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail...

Scrooge never painted out Old Marley's name. There it stood, years afterwards, above the warehouse door: Scrooge and Marley. The firm was known as Scrooge and Marley. Sometimes people new to the business called Scrooge Scrooge, and sometimes Marley, but he answered to both names: it was all the same to him.

And here's what happened to it when it got 're-originated':

Everybody, as the phrase goes, knew the firm of "Scrooge and Marley"; for although Marley had "long been dead" at the period we have chosen for the commencement of our story, the name of the deceased partner still maintained its place above the warehouse door; somewhat faded, to be sure, but there it was...
So, how did these two versions (the Mickey book makes no pretensions about adapting Dickens' text) cope with the opening sentences?

A Christmas Carol: The Book of the Film (no author credited and no reference to Mr Dickens) begins thus:
Jacob Marley was dead.

That much is certain. There will be points during this story when a reader might wonder if in fact he was still alive or perhaps if it was merely a rumour that he had died. But rest assured that Jacob Marley took his last living breath in London on Christmas Eve 1836.
True, the first line is almost right and the general gist is there and as for the date, that's a valid enough guess since the book was published in 1843 and, according, to Ebenezer Scrooge, Marley had died seven years previously...

Turning to Disney's A Christmas Carol Adapted by T T Sutherland, based on the classic story by Charles Dickens based on the screenplay by Robert Zemeckis (that's the wrong way round surely?) we find that it sets off in this way...
Marley was dead, to begin with.

He lay in his coffin with his pale hands folded. His business partner Ebenezer Scrooge glared coldly down at the body. It was a poor, wretched funeral. There were no mourners except Scrooge, and he did not look very sad. No pain or grief passed across his face... until it came time to pay the undertaker. Then Scrooge counted out three pounds as if each coin were being torn from his own flesh.
Full marks for getting the opening words right, at least. After that, I think we may all agree that Charles Dickens has nothing to fear Mr T T Sutherland!

It turns out that there are at least six other books based on this one film! But what all these versions - in books, on films, wherever and however they appear - prove is the compelling nature of the original and its ability to survive so many adaptations and embellishments.

It came home to me recently when watching the new film Sherlock Holmes that there are certain literary characters - Alice, Peter Pan, Long John Silver, Dracula, Frankenstein and Holmes - who have become so well known to us, that they are now part of popular culture and, as such, can be said to have escaped their creators and gone on to live a life of their own, unrestrained by any considerations of what-was-in-the-original.

Without question, Ebenezer Scrooge is one of the most liberated of those characters but, whilst we might regret the cavalier treatment of Dickens prose, as long as Scrooge - together with Jacob Marley (dead as a doornail), the Three Spirits, the Cratchit family and Tiny Tim continue to haunt our annual Christmas festivities, in some shape or form, I say...


Tuesday, 22 December 2009


Once more and probably for the last time (at least for a while) we fly to our beloved Venice for the festive season...

Ventian Vignette

Poet and critic Arthur Symons once said: "Yes, it is difficult to believe in Venice, most of all when one is in Venice." And that is so very true.

Symons also wrote in his poem, 'Alle Zattere'...

Only to live, only to be
In Venice, is enough for me...

Here my ambition dies; I ask
No more than some half-idle task,
To be done idly, and to fill
Some gaps of leisure when I will.
I care not if the world forget
that it was ever in my debt;
I care not where its prizes fall;
I long for nothing, having all...

Life dreams itself: the world goes on,
Oblivious in oblivion;
Life dreams itself: content to keep
Happy immortality, in sleep.

From the dream city of Venezia, we wish you whatever happy dreams you wish yourself...

UPDATE: Well, we made it - against what looked like being overwhelming odds! Over three hours driving through heavy snow to the airport last night only to find all departures suspended.

This morning: up at 5:00 with little expectation of flying - especially when most other European flights were being cancelled while we watched. Amazingly, we got away an hour after our scheduled departure time and arrived around 14:30 to rain and the remnants of very heavy snow - a great rarity in Venice.

All safe and sound with only one minor (hopefully) disaster: getting off the bus at Gatwick South Terminal, I managed to twist my knee quite badly so am hobbling rather more than usual, but hoping a night's rest will help it. David is out shopping for supper and I must get on with the unpacking! More anon...

Images: Brian Sibley © 2009

Monday, 21 December 2009


In case you've never heard it, my Christmas squib ...And Yet Another Patridge in a Pear Tree, starring the delicious Penelope Keith, has just had Yet Another re-run on BBC Radio 7.

As usual, of course, I only discover this fact after the event, but you've still time - at least for the next seven days - to catch all those partridges, French hens, calling-birds etc here on the BBC i>Player.


Talking about Christmas trees...

I sincerely hope yours doesn't come with existing residents...

As to what you put on top of the tree, some people prefer to have a Fairy rather than an Angel - although (judging from their comments yesterday) obviously not most of my female readers!

Anyway, many years ago, I wrote a sketch for that superb comedienne, Dora Bryan, about the seasonal contemplations of one such young lady perched amongst the uncomfortably spiky needles of the topmost limb as the average family Christmastide unfolded.

Sadly (being composed in the pre-computer days of typewriters) I don't have a copy with which to entertain you - although maybe that is just as well, since the jokes are probably a lot funnier in my memory!

So, in compensation, here's an appropriate fairy from Flower Fairies of Winter, by Cecily Mary Barker...


The little Christmas tree was born
And dwelt in open air;
It did not guess how bright a dress
Someday it's boughs would wear;
Brown cones were all, it thought, a tall
And grown-up Fir would bear.

O little Fir! Your forest home
is far and far away;
And here indoors these boughs of yours
With coloured balls are gay,
With candle-light, and tinsel bright
For this is Christmas Day

A dolly-fairy stands on top,
Till children sleep, then she

(A live one now!) from bough to bough
Goes gliding silently.
O magic sight, this joyous night!
O laden, sparkling tree!

Personally, I've always thought that Ms Barker (1895-1973) was a rather better artist - with her meticulously precise botanical observation - than she was a poet.

However, she definitely has sustained reader-appeal since her Flower Fairies books (which started in 1923 just a few years after the sensation caused by the supposed sightings of the Cottingley Fairies ) are still best sellers.

You can discover (or, perhaps, rediscover) more about the Flower Fairies on their Official Website which, I would suggest, they ought to re-name (in-joke for Shakesperian scholars coming up) Official Cobwebsite!

Anyway, whatever you put on the top of your tree, the Christmas Fairies will be wishing you a...


And here they are to prove it...

Photo: Mandy Davis © 2008

Sunday, 20 December 2009


Well, the season-to-be-jolly is almost upon us and the Christmas movies are stacking up in cyberspace like aircraft waiting for a runway.

Here, for example, are the closing moments from one of my all-time favourite movies, Frank Capra's 1946 classic, It's a Wonderful Life...

And, no doubt, as you're dressing the Christmas tree (always supposing that you didn't put it up four weeks ago and it has already shed all its needles and and been trashed by the kids and the cats) you'll find a little angel to pop on the top.

There is, I've discovered, quite a trade in Christmas angels. The Christmas Decorations & Gift Store has a couple of pages of them.

There are a great many white ones with blonde hair and at least one African American angel with a braided ponytail tied with gold lame ribbon.

Their dress sense is, if you'll pardon the pun, immaculate: one sports "a beautiful gown of ivory damask and pink crushed velveteen"; another has a dress of "sheer lace with an ivory and gold glitter holly design on the skirt and sleeves [and] off-white faux fur collar, cuffs and hem."

But angels do not come cheap: prices range from $6.96 (down from $8.00) to $83.41 (was $100) for the 16-inches tall Animated Table Angel...

The Animated Table Angel has 8 clear mini lights around the bottom of the base that illuminate the Angels dress. She also carries a mini light in each hand that is topped with a clear acrylic star.

The Animated Angel has delicate, ivory, feather wings that move forward and back along with her torso. Her head moves forward, tilts down softly then makes a gentle circle to the left and bends softly back and to the right, then comes forward again.

At the same time her wings, torso and head are moving her arms open and come together again. These motions are continuously repeated. Her elegant gown is shinny winter white poly satin with sheer white organza covering her long poly satin sleeves. The bodice is winter white brocade with sheer white embroidered organza lace around the neck, accented with a row of small gold beads.

Attached to the candles in each of her hands is a bow of sheer white organza ribbon with gold edging and a white poly satin flower with gold beads. Behind the bow is a soft white feather. At her waist is a bow formed from narrow white poly satin ribbon with gold and white edging with a flower of sheer, pale yellow organza.

The skirt has a panel of sheer white embroidered organza. The stitching is in white and iridescent threads. She is wearing a circlet of two double rows of faux pearls in her curly, soft blonde doll hair. The Angel has porcelain head and hands.

Do Not Pick This Angel Up By The Head or Arms

On the subject of picking up angels, one could, alternatively, go for something like this...

Saturday, 19 December 2009


From a recent issue of Metro...

Click on image to enlarge

Thank God (if I may) for the 'National Newspaper' (don't know which one, but we can probably guess!) that began it's report on this scandalous event with the following:

"There may be no mushroom at the inn, but baby carrot Jesus is away in a mange tout in this nativity scene..."

You can see more 'offensive' images of the Baby JC (for Juicy Carrot?) on the website of World Carrot Museum

Friday, 18 December 2009


I was amused by this story from Hannah Stott of Sky News Online...

Muppets Take on Cowell and Co.

Simon Cowell watch out: The Muppets are taking the X Factor winner's Christmas release on with their version of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody.

After becoming one of YouTube's most watched clips the furry characters' record label EMI has decided to release the song in time for the prized Christmas number one slot. If successful, it would be the third time the song has topped the charts over the festive period.

Although the wise money suggests it doesn't stand much chance of booting the
X Factor off the summit.

William Hill is giving The Muppets 25/1 odds of claiming the top spot. A spokesman for the bookies added: "You'd have to be a real muppet to think anyone could beat the
X Factor winner to Christmas number one."

All smiles: Kermy and Joe go head to head

I have to say, if I was sweet, young Joe McElderry and - after months of fighting my way through to X Factor victory - I was pipped to the number one spot by a bunch of multi-coloured fluffy puppets, I'd seriously think about ditching show-biz!

However, no doubt the Wisdom of the Great British Public will prevail!

Meanwhile, at the risk of exposing my readers to a surfeit of Muppetry, here's another of their latest video specials: Beethoven as you have never experienced him before - thanks to the incomparable Beaker...


Wednesday, 16 December 2009


Here are the answers to yesterday's cryptic crossword clues...

Colin Dexter's favourite clue was:

Nothing squared is cubed
(3 letters)

the answer to which is


'O' signifying nothing, squared (times 2, or 0 x 0),
cubed = oxo as in the famous stock cube

and Sandy Balfour's choice:

I say nothing
(3 letters)

which gives


'I' is the whole word, 'ego'; 'say' gives 'eg'
(as in e.g., for example, or 'say')
nothing is, once again, zero or O

Well done ROB for being the first to correctly guess both clues, followed closely by SHEILA who was also the first to solve Gill's favourite cryptic clue posited in yesterday's comments: HIJKLMNO (5 letters) which was 'water'. Why? 'H' to 'O' or H2O! Brilliant! All we need now is the answer to Rob's 'Spokeswoman in aircrash' (5 letters) Any answers, anyone?

In the meanwhile, here's another puzzle - a seasonal one that is ideally suited to this busiest of times, since it is absolutely self-solving! Not sure who 'Jim & Marsha' are but, since it's the season for sharing, I've borrowed their greeting!

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009


I recently heard a discussion on on the wireless about cryptic crosswords and how to solve them with reference to a new book on the subject by Colin Dexter (creator of the crossword-loving Inspector Morse) and another crossword-booker, Sandy Balfour.

They were both asked for their favourite cryptic clues and here they are from Mr Dexter:

Nothing squared is cubed (3 letters)

and from Mr Balfour:

I say nothing (3 letters)

Answers (if you're not crossworders) tomorrow...

Saturday, 12 December 2009


I've always been intrigued by what makes a good film poster and whether that sometimes differs from what makes an effective film poster...

In my book (or, I suppose, on my wall) an iconic movie poster is, well, ICONIC...

I mean, consider any of the following. The merest glance and you know just about all you need to know about the movie on offer...

One image said it all. We all knew where you were with posters like that!

So, how come there have been so many posters going around for Robert Zemeckis' version of A Christmas Carol?

It started, many months ago, with this 'teaser' poster...

Since when there's been this one...

And this one...

And this one, which - like its predecessor - features a historical detail strictly for the cognoscenti - the Westminster Clock Tower ('Big Ben') under builder's scaffolding: Dickens' novella was written in 1843, the year in which building commenced on the famous clock tower...

As well as this is one which is, undoubtedly, the most stylish offering, though possibly not quite mass-market enough...

And, depending on where you are the world, you might see it advertised like this...


The trouble is, of course, if a movie is iconic then the poster tends to become iconic, too; but it doesn't work the other way around: an iconic poster does not an iconic movie make!

When it comes to A Christmas Carol, as several of you commented the other day, there are already several iconic film versions of Dickens' classic, including this much loved one...