Friday, 29 May 2015


This is Koliva, a special Greek Orthodox food made to commemorate the souls of the departed...

It contains wheat or barley (the seed which is buried in the ground brings for the new life), thrice cleaned, steeped in hot water and then dried on cloths before being mixed with sesame seeds (toasted and ground), cinnamon, nutmeg, honey and, sometimes, pomegranate seeds. The finished dish is then blessed by a priest at a Mass at which the living remember and pray for their loved ones and all souls who have died in faith of the church as part of a tradition dating back to the 12th Century.

The recipe actually predates even Christianity to the ancient Greek culture with particular reference to the Pantheon of deities: the barley or wheat representing Demeter the earth goddess, pomegranate signifying her daughter, Persephone, the queen of the underworld and, when other almonds and raisins were added, Aphrodite and Dionysus to whom those nuts and fruit were sacred.

It was a privilege to be able to share in a moment of Greek (and Eastern Orthodox) culture that is both truly historic and full of spiritual symbolism – especially as tomorrow marks the 15th anniversary of my own mother's death...

You can read all about Koliva here.

Photos © Brian Sibley and David Weeks

Thursday, 28 May 2015


Something brewing on the island...

Photo © David Weeks 2015

Monday, 4 May 2015


It was June 1939 and the world was teetering on the brink of war.

In the United Kingdom, the Government's Ministry of Information was preparing for what now seemed an inevitability. It was widely predicted that, in the event of war, major cities in Britain could be subjected to German air bombardment deploying poisoned gas. What was needed was a campaign to confront these public fears and boost morale in the face of impending death and disaster.

2,500,000 copies of the Keep Calm and Carry On poster – its slogan surmounted by a Tudor crown – were printed between 23 August 1939 and 3 September 1939 but, despite hostilities beginning on 1 September, it was decided that the poster should be held back for use following the first serious air-raids.

Instead, two other posters were produced for distribution...

However, the campaign was not a success: people criticised it as a waste of money and its slogans as patronising and it was abandoned in October 1939 with the stocks of the Keep Calm and Carry On poster being pulped as part of a paper salvage drive.

It was 2000 that Stuart Manley, co-owner with his wife Mary, of Barter Books Ltd, came across a surviving copy of the poster and displayed over the cash register in their shop. It caught people's imaginations and the Manleys were soon reproducing and selling copies.

This was the beginning of what has developed into a mega-industry in which the poster has been parodied, adapted and hijacked for several thousand alternative versions that have been reproduced on a legion of commercial products (cards, mugs, tea-pots, aprons, t-shirts, cuff-links and iPhone covers) that – depending on your view – have either provided inspiring and amusing comments on contemporary society or have trivialised and bastardised a relic of a momentous event in the history of the twentieth century.

Just when I had begun to think that the 'Keep Calm' joke had really worn more than a trifle thin (despite my own use of it in the sidebar on the right!), along comes a version that really made me LAUGH!

My friend, Sheila Shrigley (incidentally one of the calmest people I know!) spotted this sign on the cage of a Eurasian Griffon Vulture at the International Centre for Birds of Prey in Duncombe, Yorkshire...


Saturday, 2 May 2015


Most of the books I've ever written have lived a short spell and then vanished into obscurity for ever. Only two have shown any sense of survival: Shadowlands, that has been periodically resuscitated across a good many years and Cracking Animation that has never been out of print – ironically in that it is one of the few books I have written that wasn't on a royalty agreement!

However, an anniversary this month – seventy years since the publication of The Three Railway Engines, the first in the long-running Railway Series books by the Reverend W Awdry – prompted one of my publishers to pick up a title first published by another publisher thirty years ago...

My biography of Wilbert Awdry, The Thomas the Tank Engine Man was originally published by Heinemann in 1985 alongside Mr Awdry's famous little books, but Heinemann is now Egmont and they were not interested in giving the book a new lease of life. However, Lion Hudson kindly offered to get it back on the rails again for a new generation of readers and – with an updated introduction and epilogue and nice foreword by Gyles Brandreth – will be steaming into bookshops from 15 May...

Tuesday, 21 April 2015


Nine years ago, I blogged the following post on the topic of puppets and vent acts and one in particular featuring a Big Cat...

I was perhaps seven or eight years old and - rare event - had been given some money as a Christmas present!

So, what to spend it on? Well, in my mind there was no question! It was sitting there in the toyshop window and I been eyeing it up for weeks!

It was -- and you must promise NOT to laugh -- a Lenny the Lion glove puppet!

There! I’ve said it!

I was hooked on puppets and ventriloquial acts (my favourite radio show was Educating Archie with Peter Brough and Archie Andrews) and on television Lenny the Lion made a HUGE impact by being one of the first - if not the first - vent doll to be a character other than a child or an old man…

Lenny’s partner was Terry Hall who had the ability to operate the lion’s right arm (paw) in addition to the usual facial movements and this greatly increased the sense of animation.

I was an avid fan of Lenny’s television shows (one of which featured an early appearance by The Beatles), his weekly appearance in TV Comic as well as various spin-off books and annuals, not to mention records (he and Terry memorably recorded the seasonal hit I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas); and, I suppose, that what I really loved about Lenny was his personality that was - well, frankly - CAMP!

Lenny (or Terry) had considerable trouble with his “r’s” which meant that the character had a bit of a lisp! He was also very easily embarrassed which frequently resulted in a gesture - which all TV-Oldies will recall in which Lenny would fling a paw across his eyes and say: “Oh, Tewwy, don’t embawwass me!”

So the truth of the matter is that Lenny was very probably my first gay icon!

Anyway, back to the subject in hand - or to be precise the puppet in (or on) hand…

I really, REALLY wanted it and very, VERY nearly got it...

But (not for the last time in my life) sensible adults put a great deal of sensible pressure on the wayward child and finally convinced him that, instead, he should buy ---- a WRISTWATCH.

Useful, admittedly, but boring… So, I got the Junior Timex and waved goodbye to a life with the Lion.

To be brutally honest, I'ver never quite got over making what was obviously a very stupid mistake and one which, in all likelihood, accounts for the fact that I now only ever wear Mickey Mouse or Snoopy watches and explains why I’m still scanning eBay in the hope of - one day - finding a Lenny the Lion glove puppet…

So, that's what I wrote back in 2006, and Somebody Out There must have remembered my love for Lenny because a parcel has just turned up containing a copy of...

There's no indication who bought it and had it sent to me, but whoever who was responsible for gifting me this delightful relic of my childhood, I send a huge and appreciative 'Thank you'!

Sunday, 5 April 2015


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 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


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


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–––


Sunday, 15 March 2015


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


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...