Monday, 30 June 2008

Out of this world

Long time readers of this blog will know that back in April I posted a blog featuring a crazy Christmas lights display.

Well, following on from my post the other day about seeing festive lights for sale in June, I found this the other day on YouTube.

I don't know what I like more about this video; the fact that the lights display is just so OTT, or that it's set to that well know Christmas hit Star Trekkin' by The Firm.

For those of you who remember the original from 1987 as fondly as I do, here's a reminder of what can be achieved with simple puppetry and claymation. Who needs CGI anyway? (Hey, that sounds like a potential title for another book!)

And then there's this version which was specially created for the 2006 Star Trek Convention, featuring the original cast.

Christmas number 1 challenger!

Some of you have already started having your say as regards your favourite Christmas songs and, funnily enough, they're not necessaruly the tunes that made it to the top slot in any one year.

A strong undercurrent have it that 'I Believe in Father Christmas' by Greg Lake, from 1975, should actually be remembered as the number one Chritmas song of all time (partly thanks to the inspired use of Prokofiev's 'Lieutenant Kije Suite'), even though it only made it to number 2.

So, which song do you think should be the number one Christmas song of all time, regardless of whether it made number one, or not?

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Only 180 shopping days to Christmas

So surely now must be the best time to buy your festive lights, mustn't it?

Well, according to my local garden centre that would seem to be the case. But then again, the lights there are on sale at a massive 50% off!

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Only 183 shopping days to Christmas

Which means that Christmas Day is exactly six months today! (And that means it's about 120-odd day until the publication of What is Myrrh Anyway?)

Now, for those of you thinking you need to crack on with the Christmas preparations why not start off with a traditional Christmas pud? The sooner it's ready, the longer you can have it steeping in alcohol, ready for the big day!

So here's the recipe for the famous Mrs Beeton's Traditional Christmas Plum Pudding. This recipe actually makes two puddings (enough for eight or nine people), so you can keep one and give one as an early Christmas gift.

Mrs Beeton's Traditional Christmas Plum Pudding

8 oz moist sugar (use soft brown )
8 oz chopped suet or modern day equivalent
8 oz sultanas cleaned
8 oz raisins halved and stoned
4 oz currants washed and dried
4 oz shredded mixed candied peel - Cut your own or use ready cut
4 oz of plain flour
4 oz breadcrumbs
2 oz almonds blanched and shredded
the grated rind of a 1 lemon
3 eggs
a salt spoonful of nutmeg grated
half a teaspoon of salt
quarter pint of milk

1 small wineglass of brandy (optional)

Start by greasing 2 basins. Mix the dry ingredients together, stir in the well beaten eggs, milk and brandy (if used). Turn the mixture out into the well-greased basins, and steam from 5 to 6 hours.

N.B. Please note that no raising agent is mentioned in this recipe, but the flour must be plain flour, as elsewhere self raising flour is mentioned by type when used.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

What's your number one Number 1?

Everyone has their favourite Christmas song and every year, popstars release more of the things, the more memorable of which will ultimately end up on some Christmas compilation CD. But many of those much-cherished pop ditties never actually made it to Number 1 in the charts. In fact the songs which did were often far from festive in nature.

For a start, there have only actually been 56 Christmas Number 1s, since records began (excuse the unintentional pun) in 1952. And here they all are (arranged by year, artist, song and then weeks at #1):

1952 - Al Martino - Here in My Heart - 9
1953 - Frankie Laine - Answer Me - 8
1954 - Winifred Atwell - Let's Have Another Party - 5
1955 - Dickie Valentine - Christmas Alphabet - 3
1956 - Johnnie Ray - Just Walkin' in the Rain - 7
1957 - Harry Belafonte - Mary's Boy Child - 7
1958 - Conway Twitty - It's Only Make Believe - 5
1959 - Emile Ford & The Checkmates - What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For? - 6
1960 - Cliff Richard & The Shadows - I Love You - 2
1961 - Danny Williams - Moon River - 2
1962 - Elvis Presley - Return to Sender - 3
1963 - The Beatles - I Want to Hold Your Hand - 5
1964 - The Beatles - I Feel Fine - 5
1965 - The Beatles - Day Tripper / We Can Work It Out - 5
1966 - Tom Jones - Green Green Grass of Home - 7
1967 - The Beatles - Hello, Goodbye - 7
1968 - The Scaffold - Lily the Pink - 3
1969 - Rolf Harris - Two Little Boys - 6
1970 - Dave Edmunds - I Hear You Knocking - 6
1971 - Benny Hill - Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West) - 4
1972 - Little Jimmy Osmond - Long Haired Lover From Liverpool - 5
1973 - Slade - Merry Xmas Everybody - 5
1974 - Mud - Lonely This Christmas - 4
1975 - Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody - 9
1976 - Johnny Mathis - When A Child Is Born (Soleado) - 3
1977 - Wings - Mull of Kintyre / Girls' School - 9
1978 - Boney M - Mary's Boy Child / Oh My Lord - 4
1979 - Pink Floyd - Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2) - 5
1980 - St Winifred's School Choir - There's No-one Quite Like Grandma - 2
1981 - The Human League - Don't You Want Me - 5
1982 - Renée and Renato - Save Your Love - 4
1983 - The Flying Pickets - Only You - 5
1984 - Band Aid - Do They Know It's Christmas? - 5
1985 - Shakin' Stevens - Merry Christmas Everyone - 2
1986 - Jackie Wilson - Reet Petite - 4
1987 - Pet Shop Boys - Always on My Mind - 4
1988 - Cliff Richard - Mistletoe and Wine - 4
1989 - Band Aid II - Do They Know It's Christmas? - 3
1990 - Cliff Richard - Saviour's Day - 1
1991 - Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody / These Are the Days of Our Lives - 5
1992 - Whitney Houston - I Will Always Love You - 10
1993 - Mr Blobby - Mr Blobby - 2
1994 - East 17 - Stay Another Day - 5
1995 - Michael Jackson - Earth Song - 6
1996 - Spice Girls - 2 Become 1 - 3
1997 - Spice Girls - Too Much - 2
1998 - Spice Girls - Goodbye - 2
1999 - Westlife - I Have A Dream / Seasons in the Sun - 1
2000 - Bob The Builder - Can We Fix It? - 3
2001 - Robbie Williams & Nicole Kidman - Somethin' Stupid - 3
2002 - Girls Aloud - Sound Of The Underground - 4
2003 - Michael Andrews & Gary Jules - Mad World - 3
2004 - Band Aid 20 - Do They Know It's Christmas? - 4
2005 - Shayne Ward - That's My Goal - 4
2006 - Leona Lewis - A Moment Like This - 4
2007 - Leon Jackson - When You Believe - 3

So, what’s your favourite Christmas Number 1? Let’s carry out an online poll, right here. Simply post which of the above is your favourite and we’ll find out which Number 1 is at the top of the chart (as it were).

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

I Hate Christmas!

I thought that would pique your interest... Now let me explain.

During the course of writing What is Myrrh Anyway? I inevitably ended up buying various books about Christmas, its history and its traditions. Well, imagine my surprise when I logged onto Amazon today to find that the following book (by Daniel Blythe) had been recommended to me.

Does the sight of a house festooned in glowing coloured bulbs with an illuminated reindeer in the garden bring you out in a cold sweat? Or is the thought of days of endless cold turkey sandwiches enough to make you become a vegetarian? And what of the adorable little carol singers - does their out-of-tune wailing and screeching set your teeth on edge? And the oh-so-annoying Christmas albums constantly on playing in every crowded shop you visit...the jumper-knitting relatives pouting to be kissed under a poisonous plant...the freezing, dark mornings that make you wish you could stay under the duvet forever...If all these things make you want either to jump aboard the next plane to Timbuktu or stick your head in the oven along with the roast tatties, then this is the must-have survival book for you. Find comfort in the curmudgeonly comments. Laugh at the ludicrous festive facts. And pity those about you who are taken in by the silly-season madness!

Now, I would just like to point out that I do not hate Christmas and possibly enjoy it now almost as much as I did as a child. If I didn't love Christmas and find it so fascinating, I wouldn't have written the following book (available from October 2008, from Icon Books). ;-)

This is a hugely enjoyable, festive excursion through the history, science, music, culture and traditions of everyone's favourite winter holiday.Why is Christmas celebrated on 25 December? Why is turkey the traditional festive meat? Why are stockings hung up on Christmas Eve? What is figgy pudding? Who were the three kings? And did Coca-Cola really invent Father Christmas as we're all told?Just like the perfect Christmas stocking, "What is Myrrh Anyway?" contains all manner of delightful surprises and delicious morsels of information. Jonathan Green uncovers the truth behind such familiar festive traditions as carol-singing and cards, and demystifies the origins of Christmas.If you've ever wondered how to cook the perfect roast turkey, what mince pies should really taste like, or why you are forced to endure the cross-dressing antics of a traditional pantomime every year, then simply open this Christmas cracker of a book and discover the answers to all those questions you've been too afraid - or embarrassed - to ask.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Saint Francis and the wolf of Gubbio

I have recently returned from a trip to Umbria in Italy. While I was there I visited the medieval towns of Gubbio and Assisi, both of which have associations with Saint Francis, who gets a far few mentions in What is Myrrh Anyway?

Most people know about Francis’ fondness for animals and how he preached to the birds but have you heard the legend of Saint Francis and the Wolf? This is a legend which didn’t make it into What is Myrrh Anyway? so I thought I’d share it with you here.

While Francis was staying in the town of Gubbio, he learned of a wolf that was terrorising the area. This beast was so ravenous that it not only killed and ate animals, but attacked people too. People had already taken up arms against the wolf and gone after it, but any who encountered the wolf were killed. The people of Gubbio were so afraid that they dared not leave the safety of the town, and kept their doors and windows shut and bolted.

Francis took pity on the people but also the wolf as well, and set out to resolve the issue. The people warned Francis not to put himself at risk but he insisted that God would take care of him. A brave friar and several peasants decided to accompany Francis beyond the relative safety of the town gates, but the peasants soon became terrified and refused to go any further.

Francis and the friar were forced to walk on alone. Suddenly the wolf, jaws wide open, bounded out of the woods at ran at the two holy men, intent on tearing them limb from limb. Without any hesitation, Francis made the sign of the Cross before the wolf and the savage creature immediately slowed down and closed its mouth.

Francis called out to the wolf: ‘Come to me, Brother Wolf. I wish you no harm.’ At that moment the wolf lowered its head and lay down at the saint’s feet, as meek as a lamb. Francis went on: ‘Brother Wolf, I want to make peace between you and the people of Gubbio. They will harm you no more and you must no longer harm them. All past wrongs are to be forgiven.’

The wolf showed its assent by moving its body and nodding its head. Then to the absolute surprise of the gathering crowd, Francis asked the wolf to make a pledge. As the saint extended his hand to receive the pledge, so the wolf extended its front paw and placed it into his hand. Francis invited the wolf to follow him into town to make a peace pact with the townspeople. The wolf followed willingly.

By the time the wolf and the saint reached the town square, every inhabitant of the town was there to witness the miracle. Francis offered the people of Gubbio peace on behalf of the wolf, and they in turn promised to look after the wolf.

From that day on the people kept the pact they had made. The wolf lived for two years among the townspeople, going from door to door for food. It hurt no one and no one caused the animal any harm in return; even dogs did not bark at it. When the wolf finally died of old age, the people of Gubbio were greatly saddened. The wolf’s peaceful ways had been a living reminder to them of the wonders, patience, virtues and holiness of Saint Francis. It had been a living symbol of the power and providence of the living God.

This statue of Saint Francis and the wolf can be seen in the Italian town of Gubbio, in Umbria.