Sunday, 5 April 2015

VICTORY IN DEFEAT

Remember Jesus of Nazareth, staggering on broken feet out of the tomb toward the Resurrection, bearing on his body the proud insignia of the defeat which is victory, the magnificent defeat of the human soul at the hands of God.
– Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat

Photo: 12th century mosaics in Basilica San Marco, Venice; Brian Sibley © 2015

Friday, 3 April 2015

THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY

 
The Rood [Cross] of Christ speaks:
“It was long past – I still remember it – That I was cut down at the copse’s end,
Moved from my root. Strong enemies there took me,
Told me to hold aloft their criminals,
Made me a spectacle. Men carried me
Upon their shoulders, set me on a hill,
A host of enemies there fastened me.
“And then I saw the Lord of all mankind
Hasten with eager zeal that He might mount
Upon me. I durst not against God’s word
Bend down or break, when I saw tremble all
The surface of the earth. Although I might
Have struck down all the foes, yet stood I fast.
“Then the young hero (who was God almighty)
Got ready, resolute and strong in heart.
He climbed onto the lofty gallows-tree,
Bold in the sight of many watching men,
When He intended to redeem mankind.
I trembled as the warrior embraced me.
But still I dared not bend down to the earth,
Fall to the ground. Upright I had to stand.
“A rood I was raised up; and I held high
The noble King, the Lord of heaven above.
I dared not stoop. They pierced me with dark nails;
The scars can still be clearly seen on me,

The open wounds of malice. Yet might I
Not harm them. They reviled us both together.
I was made wet all over with the blood
Which poured out from his side, after He had
Sent forth His spirit. And I underwent
Full many a dire experience on that hill.
I saw the God of hosts stretched grimly out.
Darkness covered the Ruler’s corpse with clouds
His shining beauty; shadows passed across,
Black in the darkness. All creation wept,
Bewailed the King’s death; Christ was on the cross….
“Now you may understand, dear warrior,
That I have suffered deeds of wicked men
And grievous sorrows. Now the time has come
That far and wide on earth men honor me,
And all this great and glorious creation,
And to this beacon offers prayers. On me
The Son of God once suffered; therefore now
I tower mighty underneath the heavens,
And I may heal all those in awe of me.
Once I became the cruelest of tortures,
Most hateful to all nations, till the time
I opened the right way of life for men.”



From The Dream of the Rood
Translated by Richard Hammer (1970) from the 8th century Anglo-Saxon, this is the earliest Christian poem in English
Photo: 12th century mosaics in Basilica San Marco, Venice; Brian Sibley © 2015

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

THESE FOOLISH THINGS

I'm sure readers of this blog are far too worldly wise to be caught by any April Fool's Day pranks, but just in case, here's a few facts (or fancies) about the origins of this strange festivity...

The custom of setting aside a day for the playing of harmless pranks upon one's neighbor is universally recognised. Precursors of April Fools' Day include the Roman festival of Hilaria (celebrated on the venal equinox to honor Cybele), the Holi festival of India (also known as the Festival of Colours) and the Medieval Feast of Fools. 
 
In 1561, Flemish poet Eduard de Dene wrote a comical poem about a nobleman who sent his servant on foolish errands on 1 April supposedly to help prepare for a wedding feast. In the closing line of each stanza, the servant says (translated) "I am afraid... that you are trying to make me run a fool's errand."
The first British reference appears in 1686 in the writings of diarist, John Aubrey whose Remains of Gentilism and Judaism mentions "Fooles holy day. We observe it on ye first of April. And so it is kept in Germany everywhere."
The April 2, 1698 edition of the British newspaper Dawks's News-Letter reported that "Yesterday being the first of April, several persons were sent to the Tower Ditch to see the Lions washed."

Sending gullible victims to the menagerie at Tower of London to see the non-existent ceremony of "washing of the lions" was a popular April 1st prank and examples of it being played went on into the 19th Century as can be seen from this 'ticket' for just such an event advertised as taking place in 1857...


A number of vintage cartoons show the popularity of April Fools Day pranks – often at the expense of the elderly or those susceptible to being sent up...





In Italy, France, Belgium, and French-speaking areas of Switzerland and Canada, 1 April tradition is often known as "April fish" (poissons d'avril in French or pesce d'aprile in Italian). This involves attempting to attach a paper fish to the victim's back without being noticed. Such fish feature prominently on many late 19th and early 20th-century French April Fools' Day postcards...










And if you do happen to do anything foolish today or succumb to someone else's prank, always remember...


Tuesday, 17 March 2015

A MAP FOR TODAY

I love maps! Maps in all shapes and forms; maps of real places and fantasy realms alike.

This map combines realism with a fantastical interpretation...


...and comes to wish you a very–––

HAPPY St PATRICK'S DAY!

Sunday, 15 March 2015

MUM'S THE WORD

It's Mother's Day, or as my Mum and David's Mum always insisted on calling it...

MOTHERING SUNDAY

Unlike Father's Day, Mothering Sunday is a very old custom preceding - by many centuries - the current annual bonanza for choc-makers and florists.

In fact, a religious event celebrating motherhood has existed in Europe since around 250 BCE, when the Romans had a mid-March festival in honour of Cybele (right), the Magna Mater, or mother of the gods.

As the Roman Empire and Europe converted to Christianity, Mothering Sunday celebrations became part of the church's calendar with the fourth Sunday in Lent being set aside to the honouring of the Virgin Mary and 'mother church'. On this day, during the sixteenth century, people used to attend a service in the church where they were baptized and folks who did this were commonly said to have gone 'a-mothering'.

Other names given to this festival include Refreshment Sunday (because, being half way through the 40 days of Lent, the fast was relaxed for a day) and Simnel Sunday, from the custom of baking Simnel cakes.

Simnel cake (the name probably comes from simila, the Latin word for fine, wheaten flour) is a fruit cake, not unlike a Christmas cake, covered in marzipan and, sometimes, with another layer of marzipan or almond paste baked into the middle of the cake. Yummy!

Around the top of the cake are eleven marzipan balls representing the true disciples of Jesus (Judas being excluded) and, in some cases, with single, larger, ball of marzipan placed in the centre of the cake to represent Christ. Today, they will probably also feature a few fluffy chicks and be dotted with mini-chocolate eggs, but there are all kinds of variations on the Simnel cake tradition.

In the 18th and 19th Centuries, Mothering Sunday was the one day in the year when domestic servants were given a day off in order to visit their mothers and families, often taking with them a home-made Simnel cake, baked in their employers' kitchens.

If Valentine's Day is one of the least popular dates in the calendar for the unattached, then, I guess, Mother's Day is the equivalent for the motherless son or daughter.

It's almost fifteen years since the death of my Mum, Doris.

She was great worrier, my mother - a trait she passed on to me in spades (thanks, Mum!) - so there are some things that I'm glad she didn't survive long enough to worry about, such as seeing me walking with a stick and affected by a similar arthritic disease to the one that so painfully crippled the last years of her life.

But there are many other things that I really wish she had lived to see - like David and I getting legally hitched, because she and my Dad (along with David's parents) not only accepted, but lovingly embraced, our relationship.

And I'm so thankful that she saw me achieve some of my best work and justify the support and encouragement that she and my Dad gave me when I embarked on the career of a freelance.

But -- and, oh, it is such a big 'but' -- even after so many years, I still miss my mother (irritating and frustrating through she could sometimes be - unlike me, of course!), and I'd give anything to be able to pick up the phone to her today and have a chat...

And because my Mum loved elephants, I thought I'd mark today with this evergreen (if sentimental) moment from Disney's Dumbo...

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Pi DAY SATURDAY!

Today is Pi Day!

The day on which the date is 3/14/15 (at least for those in the US and elsewhere that use this weird way of writing write dates!) matches with the first five digits of pi – 3.1415 – the ratio of every circle's circumference to its diameter.

BUT....
 
There's more... I am posting this at 9:00 am and in precisely 25 minutes and 53 seconds it will be 9:26:53 am and that will be a Pi Second when the date and time match up with the first 10 digits of pi: 3.141592653.

BUT...
 
Not only that... As University of Toronto statistician Jeffrey S Rosenthal has pointed out, at an infinitesimally brief moment just after 9:26:53.58979 am but slightly before 9:26:53.5898 am, we'll have Pi Instant!!
 
 
Drawing by Sandra Boynton

Friday, 13 March 2015

THE LATE LORD OF DISCWORLD

“Where did you say your business was?” said Lezek.
“Is it far?”

No further than the thickness of a shadow, said Death. Where the first primal cell was, there was I also. 
Where man is, there am I.
When the last life crawls under freezing stars, there will I be.



Farewell, Terry Pratchett!

You had a rare genius for storytelling and myth-making that had its roots deep in the centuries-long history of fantasy and legend but which produced exotic flowers blooming in a riot of contemporary satire...

The Discworld is flat and rides on the back of four giant elephants
who stand on the shell of the enormous star turtle...
and is bounded by a waterfall that cascades endlessly into space.
Scientists have calculated that the chance of anything

so patently absurd actually existing are millions to one.
But magicians have calculated that million-to-one chances
crop up nine times out of ten.

You could be prickly and curmudgeonly and woe-betide the idiot who tested your endurance of folly...

They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing,
but it is not one half so bad as a lot of ignorance

You battled the demon dementia with courage and humour and gave the bastard a run for its money...

The pen is mightier than the sword... 
if the sword is very short, and the pen is very sharp

We had several memorable encounters including these two conversations for the BBC World Service...




"There are times when you realise that events are so far out of your control that it is a relief to just sit back and see what happens next – that lovely sense of crystalline relief that there is nothing you can do about it. So, if Death walked in now and put his bony fingers on my arm, I think a sense of hopeful expectation would be about the most I could muster; but there's no point in saying 'Excuse me, there's something I want to finish'! One should take life as it comes ––– that's what Death always does."


"The only reason for walking into the jaws of Death
is so's you can steal his gold teeth."

Terry Pratchett
(1948-2015)

Thursday, 19 February 2015

THE YEAR OF THE...?

HAPPY CHINESE NEW YEAR!

Yes, it's the Year of the Goat...

Or, maybe (apparently), the Sheep...

Or, possibly, the Ram!

Oh, well, something with horns, anyway...






Ram and goats on Kalymnos © Brian Sible

Saturday, 14 February 2015

WEIRD LOVE

The way we were – apparently...

Sentimental, silly, strange and, sometimes, sinister Valentine's Day cards from older (and odder) times in an age before online dating...















  Ah, yes, those were the days!


TRUE LOVE

For this special day: some verses from one of my favourite humorous poets, Ogden Nash.

Written during WWII (hence the reference to the Axis in the first verse) it appeared in book form for the first time in Good Intentions, 1942.

Why not share its simple message with your own loved one...?

To My Valentine
More than a catbird hates a cat,
Or a criminal hates a clue,
Or the Axis hates the United States,
That's how much I love you.

I love you more than a duck can swim,
And more than a grapefruit squirts,
I love you more than a gin rummy is a bore,
And more than a toothache hurts.

As a shipwrecked sailor hates the sea,
Or a juggler hates a shove,
As a hostess detests unexpected guests,
That's how much you I love.

I love you more than a wasp can sting,
And more than the subway jerks,
I love you as much as a beggar needs a crutch,
And more than a hangnail irks.

I swear to you by the stars above,
And below, if such there be,
As the High Court loathes perjurious oaths,
That's how you're loved by me.