Thursday, December 31, 2009
Well I will be getting togged up in my finest Haggis Hunt refinery later today to join in the annual event. I am expecting it to be especially cold down in the Trossachs this year, so will be attiring myself accordingly.
If any of you guys see me and the rest of the hunt running around the Glens on all fours, whilst chasing the blighters known as Haggis, the only animal in the world to have evolved its anatomy in such a way as to have one leg, front and back, longer than the opposite sides to enable it to run incredibly fast on the hillsides of Scotland, then please do stop and shout hello, won’t you?
I am really relishing the thought of the spit roast dinner afterwards accompanied by lashings of Strong Ales and a wee dram or two of single malt, preferably Dalwinnie.
I hope you all have a great time this evening too…
…and I’ll see you all on the morrow, the Noo!
Until next time have fun!
December 31st 2009
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Well with one day left to go before the final day of the year and indeed the New Millennium decade I thought I would take a look at all that has happened to the world and my place in it during that time.
Well way back in 1999 I was still working full time as a comic artist, although I was finally under the realisation that I was not enjoying it any more and felt like a hack, as a result of the creative stifling I saw and experienced first-hand for those I was working for.
It was towards the end of that year following a lack of interest from certain parties, who shall remain nameless, when trying to get a new UK adventure anthology comic off the ground, earlier in October, when I was confronted by two editors, who have to be the most unprofessional guys I have even had the privilege of having to work with.
They were the final straws, which sadly broke the camels back and I found myself in a position whereby I could no longer take their opinions seriously and I no longer wished to do that, which I had wanted to since being a young eight-year old boy, which was to write and draw comic books.
I found another outlet for my creativity within the worlds of the theme park industry, where I began working as a conceptual artist and designer. The first two weeks, as I may have said here before, were the hardest two of my career, as I felt each successive job would be my last.
I soon came to the realisation that all that was required from the job was to create new worlds for a 3D world, rather than the 2D I had been so used to creating. The trouble for me was, as I say, that I had become so constrained by the power-that-be inside the comics industry that I had forgotten what it was like to be creative. Here suddenly I was without the tightly written briefs and scripts, which told me the size and shape of the panels, as well as the content, down to the last nut and bolt.
Whereas in comics I felt I had become merely an extension of a writer or editor’s hand, there to merely serve the will, without any right to do things differently, even if they could be made better, despite the fact that those making such decisions could not draw themselves – suddenly here I was given a new lease of life and the ability to think again creatively for myself. Suddenly my vision, as I saw each project was meaningful, to those employing me and my thoughts on why any given project should be handled in the way I had chosen, was suddenly given value and the skills, which I brought to the table had gained their respect.
It was here that I was headhunted and given the chance to help set up an animation company working on a series of features and TV projects. Had this happened straight out of my time in comics, I figure I could well have floundered and failed in the task, but this transition was made much easier for me with the route I had taken through the theme park industry.
Here I was hired not just as an artist, but also as a writer and story developer and it was here I was to hit my stride running and return to my routes, as both an artist and a storyteller. My experience working in Dubai and similar places in the theme park industry was highly valuable, but my experience, which I gained in the animation world, was even greater. For it was here that I would learn to advance the basic computer skills I had gained prior, by learning a little about 3D packages and Photoshop for real.
The work I produced here though, was to have a profound effect on my beliefs, which were the same as those I had, just before I was about to embark upon entering the comics industry in the mid-eighties, as I realised fully I had never really wanted to work on the characters I had read from being a kid, as my portfolio, shown to Marvel UK attested to them all those many years ago, full of SF and Fantasy comic work – not superheroes. Now that is not to say I do like superheroes, just that I did not really want to tell those kinds of stories. The nearest I would say my leanings are towards is Jack Kirby’s Fourth World – although not for one instant do I sit here claiming my work to be as great as this magnificent opus.
With that realisation and the fact I was given full rein to do as I pleased, I produced some of the best work of my career, both artistically and as a writer, up to that date, during my tenure there.
There was one terrible moment though that anyone born before that time will remember and it is one which would prove to be the undoing of what could have been a fantastic venture and that happened sadly on Tuesday September 11th 2001. I remember the day clearly, it was a sunny morning and we were excited about a new development, which meant our future looked pretty much mapped out and rosy.
One of the first things I remember is thinking of all those I had worked with in NYC, when I worked for Defiant and wondering if they were all okay.
I immediately called Joe James from the studio at Morpheus and was unable to get through, the lines were jammed up with international calls, so I dropped him an email and then tried again. I tried several times, before I got through and heard his voice on the other end of the phone. It was a great relief, but the description he gave of the events only a few blocks away from his apartment made the images being shown to us via CNN on the computers and the TVs at ITM, whose building Morpheus resided within, all the more poignant.
That was to change my direction yet again and I continued to work for TV and some feature work, but as most of it was never seen by the general public I was becoming less inclined to work within those arenas, despite the greater money being earned through those avenues and longed to work as a sequential artist once more in comics, rather than even storyboards.
There has always been a love of comics for me and by 2003, whilst between jobs, an opportunity arose for me to draw some comic book work once more, just following my starting to develop an old idea into a graphic novel format, which was, as you all know by now, Worlds End.
February 2003 saw the ill-fated Columbia Space Shuttle disintegrate upon re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven crew members.
In the interim period between 2003 and 2005 I was to hook up with a lot of my old buddies working in comics once more, which was great and meant there was a lot of catching up to do. It was during the Christmas period of 2003, Boxing Day to be exact, that I received the dreadful news from my good mate, and fellow comic artist Dave Windett that our mutual mate, Art Wetherell whom I had just got back in touch with just prior to Christmas had died on Christmas Day.
I was gutted, having just got back in touch and imagining a return to the good old days of phone bills which read like a shopping list on them due to speaking to Art, John Ridgway and Jon Haward too, finding that was never going to be. I still miss the guy and often wonder what he would have worked on and what we may have worked on together again. I was asked later in 2004 by another of my good mates in comics and the best letterer in the business, Richard Starkings to write a tribute to Art, which you can read here. It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to write and even now I find it emotional to re-read the words I chose to write.
The human race had faced the scourge of the potential Millennium Bug and come out the other side unscathed, witnessed a destructive act unprecedented up until it happened and we hadn’t even hit the middle of the decade. 2003 also saw the beginning of the second war in Iraq, which is continuing to this day, with casualties mounting almost on a daily basis.
Since the beginning of the decade we have seen third world countries enter the nuclear arms race, huge weather pattern changes, hurricanes wipe out entire coastal cities, tsunamis devastate coastal regions, floods throughout the world, and all manner of terrible events.
We have seen the rise of Broadband and the ever-increasing speeds to both upload and download files and information. We have seen mobile phones become Jack Kirby’s Mother boxes, with their cameras, personalising, music storage and now Internet access.
We have also seen the rise of Wii games, Ipods, Nanobot technology, Cybernetics and Bionics advancement, GPS first in cars and now on phones, incredible leaps in 3D technologies, which make everything seem real and possible, all alongside an attempt to create the equivalent of the Big Bang in the middle of a European mountain, and thus potentially chancing creating a black hole…madness!
We can do all of this and yet we continue to strip-mine our world of all its valuable assets, irrespective of the harm we do to the planet and the environment and those fellow creatures that cohabit our fragile world with us. We can build buildings that reach to the sky and yet we cannot cure the common cold. We find cures for one terrible ailment and find another ten to replace it. We watch millions starve every year and yet share the wealth of the entire world between a privileged few. We talk about world peace and build bombs with the power to decimate worlds and most of the contents of this paragraph we have bore witness to during this very decade, one which I have barely scratched the surface of by looking at some of the major events that have occurred between.
We now have unbelievable Computer systems, with incredible sized memory and capabilities, with the software to match, along with sub orbital space flights by groups of entrepreneurs, and in 2005 something much more personal for me.
For it was in June of that year that I incorporated Wizards Keep Limited set up the website followed by this Blog and then over 22 other networking websites too, and began to work in earnest on volume one of my first series of graphic novels, Worlds End.
The decade also saw me return to drawing comic books and more recently writing them too, first with Thor Losers and Sergeant Minor and later with Hot Wheels, producing the full art chores on all of them.
It saw me keep my hand in with a number of TV projects, some illustration projects, children’s books projects, numerous graphic design projects and charity projects too.
It also saw a return, two years later, to my attending comics conventions and shows and similar events, the first one with Margaret then later with the full company exhibition stands and assistants to accompany me. My most recent to the very first one ever held in Malta was, for me, an incredibly moving experience and one, which I consider myself very lucky to have been invited to.
These past almost four and a half years have seen me working again with some of the best talent on this planet, artists such as; Joe Rubinstein, John Ridgway, and Frank Zigarelli, sculptors such as; Sean Green, Jeff Meckley and Choi Chow, as well as adding graphic designer Paul Finch to the list for his wonderful work on the alien motifs on the Worlds End project helping me to create some spectacular Logos.
It has also seen me set up an affordable lithographic printing service, which many of the UK comics creatives have jumped at the chance to enjoy the benefits of, develop new products for the company and new stories, which have yet to be shown to the public – Yes you heard it first here and will hear more later on in 2010 about such stories.
Recently the Worlds End project has stepped up a gear and seen me hire the services of the very talented, Yel Zamor producing the flat colouring, James Hill, as co-editor, casting his ever-eagle eye over the script, and the services of Richard Starkings, the best letterer in the business, to letter the book.
So this last decade has seen some highs and lows with tragic natural disasters occurring and man-made ones too like the recent recession, brought about by the greed of the bankers and governments too soft, or corrupt themselves to bring about the demise of this corruptness, but now for the first time in four decades we are looking to the future again with America promising to re-visit the Moon and then land a man on Mars, in the next five to ten years, maybe it isn’t just with Orange that the future looks bright.
I am very excited at what the prospect of this next decade will bring along to the table and wonder if this next ten years will be given over to the dreamers amongst us, the visionaries, and the creatives with a view that makes all things possible and seeks to expand our horizons even further.
Who knows what tomorrow holds…like Jack Kirby once said, in the world to come?
I, for one am excited to find out…now who’s with me on that one?
Until next time have fun!
December 30th 2009
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
We all tend to do our bit for the elderly, if we have any decency at this time of year, but what about our furry and feathered friends that live outside?
How many of us remember that this time of year means it can be hard for our friends from the wild to survive?
My mate, Bentley Bogtrotter is all the reminder that I need. When he goes outside at the moment, he does what he needs to then he lets me know he wants to come in, no messing, whereas in the warmer months he quite happily plays outside for a while, or whiles away the hours nonchalantly chewing on a bone in the shade of one of the trees outside.
We are quite lucky, living as we do near to the outskirts of town, with fields and a large reservoir at the side of the house, so we are quite often frequented by all manner of wildlife, although the Herons have been away for a number of years thankfully, as they liked to go on raiding parties, which ended up with several of our larger fish in the pond outside being killed.
Our trees here are decorated with balls and dangly things of all shapes and sizes, all full of goodies for the local birds and other wildlife that may chance upon them. We had to hang them in the main part of the garden at the back of the house, as Colin decided he quite liked the taste himself, when they dangled from some of the trees in the patio area. They were a little too high for Bentley to reach, but even he had his eye on the tasty treats.
Anyhow, I am off now to make some more preparations for New Years Eve and Day, when we will be joined by family and friends once again for a little more festive fun, before turning our sights on what 2010 will have in store for us.
Until next time have fun!
December 29th 2009
Monday, December 28, 2009
First of all I would like to wish my best friend, Paul a Very Happy Birthday and add I am looking forward to some Karaoke fun later today!
Well, yes, it always happens we are faced with the decision of what to do with the Turkey leftovers, although this year there wasn’t too much left, if I am honest, but that was due to the house full of folks we had here when it came out of the oven.
Usually I end up making a casserole, or a curry from the remaining Turkey…and you can always guarantee on that day there will be someone knocking on the door to join us in eating it all.
I must admit that after the turkey sandwiches sequences are over I will sometimes slice some of the meat into strips and add it to some lightly sautéed onions, mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes, which I will lightly stir fry, adding some pepper, chillies and spices too for good measure. Served with a portion of rice it is a great little supper for those cold winter evenings in by the fire.
Nowadays though, Bentley and our other little furry friends have their share too, which helps to cut down on the amount of leftovers.
Boiling the bones can make excellent stock too, once the contents of the pan are finely strained.
The fun thing about this season though is paying family and friends a visit. The first thing they ask is do you want a mince pie, closely followed by, would you like a turkey sandwich? Maybe we should all club together and buy turkeys between us. That way we may not have to eat as much of it where ever we go.
I would just like to add a Happy 87th Birthday to Stan (The Man) Lee on his birthday today. If you catch this humble Blog, Stan, have a great time!!!
Well it’s another short Blog today, as the holiday season continues on its merry way.
Until next time have fun!
December 28th 2009
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Just a quick reminder that folks wishing to make seasonal purchases (including special offers) from the Wizards Keep Website that the offers and Manga Competition are open until Midnight on January the 1st.
We will of course still be shipping products during this period though, but any shipments will probably arrive in the New Year now.
I hope you guys are all ready for the New Year, as it’s just around the corner now.I hope all you kiddiewinks out there received some fantastic presents off Santa this year too.
Until next time have fun!
December 27th 2009
Saturday, December 26, 2009
Well, that’s the rush over for another year and wasn’t it a rush?
I remember as a kid thinking that Boxing Day was thus called, because we had all the boxes and wrapping paper to throw out and then with the TV programmes showing boxing matches thought maybe that was the reason too.
It’s only as you get a little older that you come to realise the true significance of the day and that with all the above you were not a million miles away from the truth.
The 26th of December is also known as Saint Stephen's Day and is a public holiday that forms part of the Christmas festivities, at least as far as most of the countries that were once a part of the British Empire are concerned. Originally it was celebrated on the first working day after Christmas Day, but nowadays it is always celebrated on December 26th, regardless of which day of the week it falls.
The name for the day comes from the old tradition of using Christmas boxes, which were originally earthenware boxes. In mediaeval England, before the advent of the banking system we have today, these boxes were used by the poor such as servants, apprentices etc. to save money throughout the year. Maybe it might be frugal to go back to this kind of system after the recent disgraces of the worlds banking systems and their greed.
It was at Christmastime, that these earthenware boxes were broken open and the savings shared out to fund all the Christmas festivities and this tradition dates back to at least the early 17th century.
Another tradition, which is almost as old as the one above and which is the one that has stayed with us until the present day, and where the name actually does stem from, had the Christmas boxes as gifts, usually money, which were then given to trades people or others who had rendered some service throughout the year but who did not usually receive payment directly by the donor - for example, office cleaners, milkmen etc.
My earlier conjectures, as a young child, may not have been too far from the truth either, however, as a great many sporting fixtures, which included boxing matches have taken place over the holiday season for centuries.
I managed to find this little ditty on the Internet when referencing Boxing Day, which holds the view that Boxing Day was indeed a day for pugilism and is found in The Sporting Magazine -Volume 25 – 1805 where it states that:
“On boxing-day, Dec. 26, a numerous assemblage of the holiday folk were amused by a hard fought battle, in St. Pancras-fields. This fight was one that afforded plenty of diversion to several pugilists and admirers of the art present!”
Although this little piece on boxing is appropriate, it is in actual fact purely coincidental.
For me Boxing Day, has always been a day to recover from the trials and tribulations of the mad rush on the weeks up to the final day, ensuring everything is in order, more so as an adult than a child, when the day was often an anticlimax of a sort, having opened your presents and wondered what the heck had just happened with the whirlwind approach to the previous day’s events.
It is, nowadays, usually a day to visit folks, or have them visit you for a few party games, or a song, or ten on the Karaoke – no that is not a typo, I mean at least ten.
Today is just one of those types of days and will see us partying with a few close family and friends…time for the charades, Wii, and the Karaoke to step foot once more into the limelight.
Whatever you guys are doing today and this evening, I hope it is a safe and most enjoyable one for you.
Until next time have fun!
December 26th 2009
Friday, December 25, 2009
Well the day has arrived and if any of you are visiting this little Blog of mine today of all days, then my family and I and Bentley and the Gang would just like to say that we are…
Hope you all have a great time today and this evening too.
Until next time have fun!
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Well kiddiewinks, here we are finally at the penultimate day…Yes, it’s Christmas Eve buddies and guess who’s coming tonight…
Yes, Father Christmas, or if you prefer it, Santa Claus, or even Kris Kringle, he has so many names…and I spoke to him the other day, whilst he was making one of his last minute flying visits to a local centre near to the Keep. He said he had Bentley’s letter and mine too, and was almost certain the stuff on both little lists was packed into his magic sack and about to hoisted onto the sleigh.
Oh yes, he also asked me to say hi to all the little folks who read my Blog and that he would be around at your house soon.
So, remember, early to bed and no peeping, or he won’t drop by and leave your presents.
Well I am off now to do some last minute chores around the house and then it’s early off to bed for me and my little mate, Bentley Bogtrotter, who has also hung his stocking up by the side of his little basket, which has been moved for this evening from the studio to the house and my bedroom.
Good Night all and to all a Good Night!
Until next time have fun!
December 24th 2009
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Just before you look at today's Blog, I would just like to say that this is my 300th Blog, which I find incredible to admit, as it doesn't seem two minutes ago I posted my first one.
Well with two days left on the run up to the big day I can tell you I am still working hard on the painting of the Worlds End graphic novel and, although enjoying the work immensely I have to admit the need for a short break of a couple of days, if possible to spend with family and friends, so hopefully the karaoke will find its way into our lives again at some point, at least if I have anything to do with it.
It’s always nice at this time of year to snuggle up in an armchair, or on a settee, or in bed with a good book and over the years I have done this a great many times, with a great many books and comics too.
Then there is always the TV and DVDs to watch in front of the roaring fire, whilst outside the weather may be windy, snowing, or wet. It’s almost as if the entire process of winter is set up to show us the opposites in life with the cold harness of winter outside the door and the warmth and contentment of indoors, sharing the time and space with family and friends, which we may not always have the time to do otherwise, despite all out protestations to the contrary.
The smells that permeate the house at this time of year are a fantastic accompaniment for the senses to reel in, as they bear witness to a wonderful blend of mince pies, mulled wine, cinnamon, mixed spices, single malt whisky, sage and onion stuffing, baking pies and tarts, basting turkey, Brussels sprouts, spiced Christmas ales and a myriad other smells that mix together to form the season of goodwill to all men.
I especially love the visits to both my Mum and Dads and Margaret’s mother’s for that very reason, for something is always cooking and cooking well.
Tonight I plan on stopping work early to spend some of that quality time in just such a way. Whether that is watching a film, chatting, or having fun with a game, or a song, is irrelevant. This time of year is great for reflecting and is maybe nature, or God’s way of making us do just that, but whatever it is, the spirit of the season, just like with good old Ebenezer found out is great for doing just that.
I plan on returning to an old favourite this evening, when I retire to bed for the night, by reading one of my old books…accompanied by my sleeping wife, Margaret on one side of me and my little mate, Bentley Bogtrotter on the other, as I, in hushed tones, read the story aloud to him too.
But for tonight, here on the Blog, I’ll turn off the lamp and bid you a fond goodnight.
Until next time have fun!
December 23rd 2009
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Today I thought I would look at another festive ingredient that makes everyone think of Christmas, Mistletoe, which from the earliest times has been one of the most magical, mysterious, and sacred plants within European folklore.
In older times it was considered to bestow life and fertility, as well as being a protection against poison and also an aphrodisiac. The plant is a parasitic growth, which grows on the branches or the trunk of a tree sending out roots that then penetrate inside the tree and take up its nutrients. However mistletoe can also grow of its own accord, as it can an produce its own food by photosynthesis, like other plants.
The much rarer species of mistletoe that grows about the oak tree was especially sacred to the ancient Celtic Druids, when on the sixth night of the moon white-robed Druid priests would cut the oak mistletoe with a golden sickle. This reminds me of the Asterix tales, especially the one about Asterix and The Golden Sickle. Two white bulls would then be sacrificed with prayers said to the effect that the recipients of the mistletoe would prosper.
Later, the ritual of cutting the mistletoe from the oak represented the ascendance of the old King by his successor and it was though of as both a sexual symbol and also as the "soul" of the oak.
It was gathered at both mid-summer and mid-winter solstices, and the custom of using mistletoe to decorate houses at Christmas is a continuation of the traditions of the Druidical and other pre-Christian Pagans. The ancient Greeks also thought that it had mystical powers and there too, down through the centuries, it became associated with many folklore customs.
In the Middle Ages and in later centuries, branches of mistletoe were hung from ceilings to ward off evil spirits, much like the use of garlic in Vampire tales, nowadays. In Europe they were placed over house and stable doors to prevent the entrance of witches. It was also believed that the oak mistletoe could extinguish fire, although this is not something I would like to test out personally. This seems to stem from a much earlier belief that the mistletoe itself could come to the tree during a flash of lightning. If only the lottery numbers could do the same, eh?
These traditions, which began with the European mistletoe and its legends were then adopted in American and given over to this similar plant with each progressive stage in the process of immigration and settlement of the European peoples.
Kissing under the mistletoe is first found associated with the Greek festival of Saturnalia, yes it’s that Pagan festival again, with its drunken, feasting and partying, and later it became associated with ancient marriage rites too.
The act of kissing under the mistletoe quite possibly originated from two beliefs, one being that it had the power to bestow fertility and the other that it was also believed that the dung from which the mistletoe grew would also possess "life-giving" power.
In Scandinavia, mistletoe was considered a plant of peace, under which enemies could declare a truce or warring spouses would kiss and make-up. I guess the Vikings didn’t use it too much if that was the case in the former use.
Later, in 18th Century England it was credited with a certain magical if a young woman was kissed under a kissing ball. Traditionally during the Christmas period a young lady standing under a ball of mistletoe, which was usually brightly trimmed with evergreens, ribbons, and ornaments, could not refuse to be kissed. Such a kiss could mean deep romance or lasting friendship and goodwill, or even marriage. If the girl remained un-kissed, she could not expect to marry the following year. In some parts of England, due to this legend, the Christmas mistletoe is even burned on the twelfth night in case all those who have kissed under the ball never marry.
Whether we believe it or we don’t, it is always seen hanging in homes and you will always see someone, usually young women, with it tied in some way to their hair and it always makes for lots of festive fun and frolics at many Christmas celebrations.
Even if the pagan origins have long since been forgotten, the customary exchanging of kisses under the mistletoe sprig can still be found in many countries.
The mystical power mistletoe has long been at the very core of many folklore tales. A Norse myth says that Mistletoe was the sacred plant of Frigga, who was the goddess of love and the mother of Balder, and also the god of the summer sun.
Balder had a dream of death, which frightened his mother, for should he die, Ragnarok would be brought about and that would mean that the gods would die in the final battle and, as a result of this, all life on earth would end.
In an attempt to keep this from happening, Frigga went at once to the elements of air, fire, water, earth, and every animal and plant seeking a promise from each that no harm would come to her son. Balder now could not be hurt by anything on earth, or under the earth.
Balder had an enemy, however, Loki, god of evil and, being the slyest of beings, knew of a plant that Frigga had not seen in her efforts to keep her son out of harms way. It was not grown from on the earth nor from under it, but it did grow on apple and oak trees and its name was mistletoe.
So it was that Loki created an arrow tip from the mistletoe, which he then gave to Hoder, the blind god of winter, tricking him into shooting it, thus striking Balder dead. The myths tell that the sky paled and all things in earth and heaven wept for the sun god and that for three days each element tried to bring Balder back to life.
Balder was eventually brought back to life by his mother, the goddess, Frigga. The myth goes on to say that the tears she shed for her son then turned into the pearly white berries on the mistletoe plant and that in her joy Frigga kissed everyone who passed beneath the tree on which it grew. Again there is a cross reference to the story of Jesus and the crown of holly and his spilt blood creating the colour of the holly berries and the legend of the kissing under the sprigs too from other Pagan legends.
The Norse myth ends with a declaration that who should ever stand under mistletoe, should have no harm befall them, only a kiss, a token of love.
It could be argued, what better way to translate the spirit of this old myth into a Christian way of thinking and accept the mistletoe as the emblem of a Love, which conquers even Death?
Whatever the real roots of the tradition, I am sure this season will be no different and will witness lovers around the globe doing just as they have for centuries and that is to kiss under the mistletoe.
Until next time have fun!
December 22nd 2009
Monday, December 21, 2009
Well here I am with the fifth and final of my favourite things to eat at Christmastime and like the previous two Blogs, tradition takes over for me with this one too…
Well it had to be a Turkey dinner didn’t it with lots of delicious gravy, made from actual turkey stock and the water from some of the vegetables, especially when added to the accompanying seasonal vegetables, peas, sprouts, carrots, and roasted potatoes and everything else you can cram on the plate.
Now with the addition of tins of chocolates, biscuits, and Christmas ales there isn’t much room for the sherry or strawberry trifle, or profiteroles in chocolate sauce, but there is the threat of a trip to the scales to check how much weight we have gained in a few short days.
Well I’ll leave you now to reflect on the excesses of the holiday period...and I am just going to sample another of my Dad’s wonderful mince pies…hmm.
Until next time have fun!
December 21st 2009
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Well here I am with the fourth of my favourite things to eat at Christmastime and like the previous two Blogs, tradition takes over for me with this one too and a Turkey dinner is set for being perfect with this wonderful accompaniment. It is a simple combination, but one, which just makes the meal that bit special, especially when accompanied with tomorrow’s final addition.
Something else I love at this time of year is eating cheese and biscuits with my wife, Margaret, as we watch a late night film, although sometimes we have to turn the sound up with all the crunching that is going on.
Well I’ll leave you to guess what tomorrow’s final treats will be in the last remaining Blog in this short series of five.
Until next time have fun!
December 20th 2009
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Well here I am with the third of my favourite things to eat at Christmastime.
Well, like yesterday’s Blog, tradition takes over for me with this one too and a Turkey dinner without Stuffing is not a Turkey dinner. I like the out-of-the-pack Paxo stuff, but you cannot beat homemade stuffing with herbs and spices added to sausage meat and apple, or cranberry, or apricot, or orange…hmm my mouth is watering already.
I always loved the carry-on type humour on some British TV comedy Christmas Specials, which would have two characters that fallen out previously sitting at dinner and see one of them asked, by the waiter, if he would like stuffing, to which the other character, still fuming would retort back, yes he should be!
Something else I love at this time of year is sharing a wee dram or two of my favourite single malt, Dalwhinnie with my best friend, Paul. Although we don’t mind sampling most single malts either, given the chance.
Well I’ll leave you to guess what tomorrow’s treats will be and those of the remaining Blog in this short series of five.
Until next time have fun!
December 19th 2009
Friday, December 18, 2009
Well here I am with the second of my favourite things to eat at Christmastime.
Well once again tradition takes over for me with this one and a Turkey dinner is never complete without lashings of Cranberry Sauce, although I do love apple sauce too, both if I can get ‘em and yes, this year will hopefully be no different, if I can help it.
Something else I love at this time of year are mince pies, especially those my Dad makes, which I can never get enough of.
Well I’ll leave you to guess what tomorrow’s treats will be and those of the following two remaining Blogs in this short series of five.
Until next time have fun!
December 18th 2009
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Well here I am with the first of my favourite things to eat at Christmastime.
No matter how many meals out we are invited to during this period and how many different choices of sweets I am faced with this particular traditional one is number one on the list for me and I never resist the temptation to indulge myself with a portion, or two if Margaret is full and does not fancy anything else on the menu.
This year will hopefully be no different, well not if I can help it.
Something else I love at this time of year are honey-roasted peanuts, which I can never get enough of.
Well I’ll leave you to guess what tomorrow’s treats will be and those of the following three remaining Blogs in this short series of five.
Until next time have fun!
December 17th 2009
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Well here we are again and, as promised, here is another little missive partly concerning a Christmas Tree.
I first bought this book back in 1993, on the run up to Christmas, whilst I was out in New York working for Defiant Comics. I had never heard of the book before, But Joe, knowing I was a big fan of Mike Ploog’s work, took me along to a comic shop, in Greenwich Village and pointed it out to me.
Well without hesitation I bought the book and what a wonderful story with some lovely artwork to boot it is.
It really was a labour of love for Mike and I have spoken to him personally since about the work. Rendered in watercolours it is a lovely adaptation of the 1902 book by the same name written by L. Frank Baum of “The Wizard of Oz” fame.
There are some changes made to the graphic novelisation, but in the main it stays true to the spirit of the original. The real major change for me with this version is the addition of a monkey character that he adopts and names Toy, in lieu of the cat character from the book named, Blinky.
In Mike’s version the character of the aptly named Toy is quite a poignant addition to the storytelling. Without telling the whole story, the basic premise behind this additional character is one, which serves to add an essence of sadness into the tale and create a potential new reason for one of the legends of Christmas.
After he is given the little monkey by old Pogan, the younger Santa Claus begins to make gifts for all his friends in a new house built by all the faerie folk for him.
Soon afterwards the Awgwas, nasty pig-like creatures find out about his gift making and decide to stop Santa making any more, so the leader of the Awgwas, Swine, can control the children once again.
Despite a warning about the impending attack on his sleigh with a view to stealing all the toys, Santa decides to delivery this shipment to the children. He is duly attacked and the toys are taken from the sleigh. Once recovered from the attack he returns home to see his house and workshop burnt to the ground, all his toys taken and his monkey friend Toy taken by Awgwas.
Again without giving too much away the consequence of this and other events leaves Santa to eventually find Toy, but sadly he is dead. He is told “I am very sorry Claus. He loved you very much. He hid here with the toys and waited for you to come for him.”
Santa is obviously too late and I remember thinking to myself, this is great stuff, but very sad, especially for a kid to read. The consequence of this moving moment though is a sequence, again not in the original book, but one, which Mike has set up perfectly here, is to explain how we got our first Christmas Tree.
Toy’s body is laid to rest beneath a young fir tree around, about, which is placed a garland of winter flowers and candles.
Eventually another sequence takes place with Santa and one of the reindeers sat in the snow beside the once more decorated fir tree reminiscing about how he wishes Toy could be with them on this, their first Christmas eve.
The upshot of the sadness of this tale comes as Santa and his Reindeer turn and walk back to the sleigh and the other Reindeers and Santa says, “But I know in my heart that Toy knows he has become an important part of every child’s life.”
The hard-backed book is a favourite of mine and is a wonderful story to boot, not exactly the same as the original, but a great adaptation and re-telling.
The book was published by Tundra Publishing Limited by arrangement with Guy DELCOURT editions in 1992, so if you haven’t already bought this book here is the ISBN number:
It’s a great gift for Christmas, but so good, it can be read and appreciated all year around…it certainly is for me…especially as mine was signed by Mike a few years ago, when I visited him and his family at their home in Dingly Dell…
Until next time have fun!
December 16th 2009
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Personally I love this time of year, despite the accusations of it being too commercialised nowadays. It is like anything, to my mind, it is all about moderation.
What I like best is the ability to make people you love, dearly smile, as you hand over a gift to them. Okay don’t get me wrong I love to receive gifts too, but there is something about the nature of giving at this time of year especially, that makes one feel warm inside.
Even World War Two stopped for a short while to give the soldiers on all side a respite from the fighting. If only we could bottle up the essence of the nature of Christmas, at its best and put that into the water supply eh? Hmm…maybe there’s a new story there for me…
One of the favourite things for me when I was a kid, was that amongst the toys and other gifts there were always the annuals and books, which, when all the festivities had finished and the normality of life resumed for the remainder of the winter months there were always the books and the annuals to read.
This continues to this very day with me, as my family give me all manner of toys and books, as though I am the biggest kid on the house…okay well yes, I guess they are correct in that assumption, but for me it is nice to know the days of my youth are constantly being rekindled by those around me.
I know I am personally looking forward to the grand Christmas Day gathering, which should see us all together at our home, sharing some great food, some great gifts, some great TV, or a movie or two on DVD and perhaps the greatest one of all, love.
Until next time have fun!
December 15th 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
Today I figured I would follow on the thoughts regarding the legends of the Christmas Tree from a couple of days ago and ask the question, why do we decorate our Christmas Trees?
Nowadays foiled tinsel and several types of garland or ribbon are commonly used to decorate a Christmas tree, but these are relatively recent developments in our choice of décor for them.
Back in the late 19th century in the glass factories in the Thuringian Forest especially in Lauscha, delicate mould-blown and painted coloured glass Christmas ornaments were a speciality and are now a large industry, complete with famous-name designers.
Back in the days of the early Christmas Trees, they were often lit by candles, but nowadays we see few of them lit with candles and more lit with electric lights, or fairy, or pixie lights, as we call them, usually topped off with a tree topper, traditionally either an angel or a star, to complete the full ensemble.
Silvered saran-based tinsel was introduced, which many have found to be unsatisfactory, since it did not drape well, leading to the demise of tinsel in tree decorating in the United States, although it remains popular in many European countries.
Baubles can also often be seen as decorations on the trees, and they are usually made from a small hollow glass or plastic sphere coated with a thin metallic layer to make them reflective akin to mirrors, which are then treated with a further coating of a thin-pigmented polymer in order to provide colouration. Nowadays some of these baubles can be quite large in comparison to the older ones.
We have seen a return in recent years to more traditional beaded glass baubles, made into a multitude of shaped objects, such as animals, vehicles, or Christmas icons, or very finely made glass baubles, harking back to the nostalgia of days gone by.
Every household will have many different decorations, which will all vary widely depending on the ages of those residing there and the fashion of the moment too. They will consist of a most eclectic mix of both personal tastes and those of family traditions with some decorations being passed down from generation to generation. Passed down from a parent or grandparent even a small unattractive ornament, may come to carry many happy memories and be of huge emotional value giving the bauble a place of pride on the tree.
Professional designers, working in-house for department stores and other institutions will usually have a "theme" when decorating their trees. This may entail a set of predominant corporate colours, or just a coordinated set of colours for the season, multiple instances of each type of ornament, which could carry the company logo, or the logo of one a number of the supplier companies, or licensed products and much larger decorations then those used in the home, which may be more complicated to set up correctly and quite possible need more space to exhibit, as a result.
In the USA some churches decorate with Chrismon trees, which use handmade ornaments depicting various Chrismon symbols, although in the main traditional decorations are seen most often.
Many people also decorate outdoor trees with lighting and some folks do so with food that birds and other wildlife will enjoy, such as garlands made from unsalted popcorn or cranberries, orange halves, and seed-covered suet cakes.
Nowadays at home, my family and I decorate our trees with more “Olde Worlde” looking fare; with natural and organic decorations, such as pinecones, bundles of cinnamon sticks, holly, rustic garlands and the like, so they look just like the ones you would expect to see outside. Our trees outside on the front are usually decorated with white fairy lights and icicle lights adorn the front canopy across the front of the house too. We also have a traditional three, or four-foot high snowman, that the neighbour’s children love us to put out, alongside some other ground level animated lights in the shapes of Santa and his Reindeer, etc.
The above décor we now use ourselves is a return I suppose to those first Christmas Trees, which were used way back when in Germanic homes a few centuries ago.
Until next time have fun!
December 14th 2009
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Today, I thought I would like to look at the reasons we celebrate Christmas.
Christmas is marked on the 25th of December or 7th of January for Orthodox Christians and is a Christian holy day that marks the birth of Jesus, of Nazareth, whom Christians believe is the Son of God.
Jesus' birth, known as the Nativity, is described in the New Testament of the Bible, in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, which give different accounts and it is from them that the Nativity story is pieced together.
Both Gospels tell us that Jesus was born to a woman called Mary who was engaged to Joseph, a carpenter. The Gospels state that Mary was a virgin when she became pregnant.
In Luke's account Mary was visited by an angel who gave her the message that she would give birth to God's son. According to Matthew's account, Joseph was visited by an angel who persuaded him to marry Mary rather than send her away or expose her pregnancy.
Matthew’s Gospel tells us about some wise men who followed a star that led them to Jesus' birthplace and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh and Luke’s tells us how shepherds were led to Bethlehem by an angel.
Joseph and Mary travelled to Bethlehem shortly before Jesus' birth, because Joseph had been ordered to take part in a census in his hometown of Bethlehem. The Roman Emperor needed to determine how much money to collect from the Jewish people in tax so he had them counted in the census. Anyone that had moved away from their family homes, like Joseph had, was made to return there so they could have their names entered in the Roman records.
It was a long, arduous 90-mile journey from Nazareth along the valley of the River Jordan, past Jerusalem to Bethlehem for Joseph and Mary, so Mary travelled on a donkey to conserve her energy for the birth.
However, all was not well and when they arrived in Bethlehem the local inn was already full with people returning for the census. The innkeeper, seeing Mary was close to having the baby, let them stay in the rock cave below his house which was normally used as a stable for his animals. It was here, in the lowly company of the animals, that Mary gave birth to her son and laid him in a manger.
There is no mention of the date of Jesus’ birth in the Gospels and it was not until the 4th century AD that Pope Julius I decided upon the 25th of December as the date for Christmas and the birth of Christ. This act sought to Christianise the Pagan celebrations that already took place at that time of year and by 529 AD, the 25th of December had become a civil holiday and by 567 AD the twelve days from 25th December to the Epiphany were public holidays, which is where the popular song comes from.
The Christmas period is not only a Christian festival, however and the celebration has roots in the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, the festivals of the ancient Greeks, the beliefs of the Druids and the folk customs of Europe, which all occur similarly at this time of year.
Christmas comes just after the middle of winter, the winter solstice, whilst the sun is strengthening and the days are beginning to grow longer. For lots of people all throughout history this has been a time for celebrations and for feasting.
Our ancient ancestors were hunters and spent most of their time outdoors, which meant the seasons and the weather played a vital part in their lives and because of this they had a great reverence for, and some even worshipped, the sun. The Norsemen of Northern Europe saw the sun as a wheel that changed the seasons and can be seen represented in much of their artwork. It was from the word for this wheel, houl, that the word yule, which is another name we use for Christmas, is thought to have come. During the Winter Solstice the Norsemen lit bonfires, told stories and drank sweet ale, which to me sounds like many of the celebrations we may attend. I wonder if they had monopoly, or charades on the tables there?
The Romans also held a festival to mark the Winter Solstice, which they called Saturnalia, taken from the name of one of their gods, Saturn, which ran for seven days from the 17th of December. It was a time when everything was turned upside down and men dressed as women and masters dressed as servants. This Roman festival also involved processions, decorating houses with greenery, lighting candles and giving presents, which is again similar to what we all do today at this time of year.
Nowadays sprigs and wreaths of holly are commonly used during the Christmas period and we see them everywhere we look, hung on doors and inside windows. The religious significance of its use pre-dates Christianity and it was previously associated with the Sun God, again the Roman god, Saturn and was important in Pagan customs. Some ancient religions used holly for protection and they even decorated doors and windows with it in the belief it would ward off evil spirits, so its roots could very well stem from a continuation of these beliefs.
Before Christianity came to the British Isles the Winter Solstice was held on the shortest day of the year, the 21st of December when the Druids, the pagan, Celtic priests, would cut the mistletoe that grew on the oak tree and give it as a blessing. Oaks were seen as sacred and the winter fruit of the mistletoe was a symbol of life in the dark winter months. Nowadays it is also associated with love at Christmas and sees many couples beneath its sprigs, kissing each other.
At the time of Jesus' birth, Judaism was the main religion of Israel and the Jewish midwinter festival of Hanukkah marked an important part of Jewish history. It is still celebrated today and is eight days long, with each day seeing a candle being lit. You can see the Hanukkah candles on sale in the stores, alongside the Christian decorations whilst out shopping. For the Jewish people it is a time of remembrance, celebration of light, a time to give gifts and have fun, once again just like the ones at Christmas.
Christmas has always had a strange combination of Christian, Pagan and folk traditions. As far back as 389 AD, St Gregory Nazianzen, warned against 'feasting in excess, dancing and crowning the doors', for he saw that the Church was already finding it hard to bury the Pagan remnants of the midwinter festival.
During the medieval period from around 400 AD to about 1400 AD the festival of Christmas was a time for much feasting and merrymaking. It was predominantly a more secular festival, but it did contain some religious elements.
This medieval Christmas lasted 12 days from Christmas Eve on the 24th of December, until the Epiphany, or Twelfth Night, on the 6th of January, which is where the song comes from and is also the traditional date at which we take down the Christmas decorations until the next one. The Epiphany comes from a Greek word that means 'to show', pertaining to the time when Jesus was revealed to the Magi by Mary and Joseph. The Epiphany was at least as big a celebration as Christmas day up until the 1800s, when it was superseded by Christmas day itself.
Many of the Pagan traditions which had been brought to Britain by the invading Roman soldiers, are still in use today and these include the covering houses in greenery and bawdy partying that have their roots in the unruly festival of Saturnalia.
The Christian Church attempted to curb such Pagan practices and popular customs were re-used, or re-written to give them a new Christian meaning, which is where a great many of the yuletide customs come from. Pagan songs used in celebrations such as the midsummer and harvest festivals were taken up by the Church and by the advent of the late medieval period the singing of Christmas carols had replaced such songs and become a traditional pastime for the seasonal period.
The Church also added a new Christian meaning for the use of holly, making it symbolic for Jesus' crown of thorns. It is told that the holly's branches were woven into a painful crown and mockingly placed on Christ's head by the Roman soldiers, chanting: "Hail King of the Jews." It is also said that holly berries were originally white, but when they made contact with Christ's blood it left them with a permanent crimson stain.
There is another legend, which tells of a little orphan boy who, living with shepherds, was there with them when the angels came to announce Jesus' birth. The excited child, wanting to offer a gift, set about making a crown of holly for the newborn baby's head. But when it came time to give it to the newborn baby, he was awash with shame at his gift, thinking it unworthy and he started to cry. At this point the baby Jesus suddenly reached out and touched the crown, whereupon it miraculously began to sparkle and the orphan boy's tears turned into beautiful, bright, scarlet berries.
There was a time, however, when the festivities were frowned upon and from around the middle of the 17th century until the early 18th century the Christian Puritans suppressed all the Christmas celebrations in both Europe and America. Beginning during the reign of Queen Elizabeth in England between 1558 and 1603, due to a belief in strict moral codes, plenty of prayer and close following of New Testament scripture this movement was formed by the group calling themselves, Puritans. One can only imagine the relief when this viewpoint fell out of favour with the people and the festivities started again, although back then the re-runs of the Morecambe and Wise Christmas shows had not yet begun and the Queens speech was heard by only a few folks living nearby too.
The Puritans were of the belief that, as the date of Christ's birth was not in the Gospels then Christmas had too strong a link to the Pagan Roman festivals and were thus opposed to all celebrations, particularly the lively, drink riddled celebrations inherited from Saturnalia. By 1644 all of the Christmas festivities had been banned in England. I wonder how many folks moved over the borders to avoid missing out on the parties though, as this included decorating houses with evergreens and even eating mince pies. No wonder the Puritans didn’t last, my Dad, who is a baker and confectioner by trade, still makes us mince pies even now. He told me the other day he is due to start making some any day…hmm I cannot wait.
The re-telling of the Christmas story, over centuries has been an important part of the Christianisation of Christmas and one way this has been achieved is through the crib, which is a model of the manger that Jesus was born in. This tradition of crib making dates back to at least 400 AD when Pope Sixtus III had one built in Rome.
In many parts of 18th century Europe crib making was very skilfully executed and was considered a very important craft form, but this was not the case in England until much later, which may account for why British Christmases were less Christian than those in other parts of Europe and had their roots more based with Pagan traditions. This tradition of crib making lead to the use of the Nativity plays, which began in churches where they were used by the Priests to illustrate the Christmas story as it was told in the Bible.
Thankfully, the Victorian Era, which lasted from around 1837 to 1901, saw the festivities return to full swing following the lull in Christmas celebrations during the Puritanical period. This new Victorian Christmas was based on their love of the nostalgia for Christmases past and Dickens' novella, “A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas” written in 1843 inspired thoughts of what the ideal Christmas should be, whilst managing to capture the imagination of both the British and American middle classes, because these groups of people were the ones that had money to spare and to spend and they were able to make Christmas a very special time for all the family.
This is really were the traditional forms of Christmas that we know today have come from, with the reviving of the traditions of carol singing, borrowing the practice of card giving from St. Valentine's day and popularising the Christmas tree first made a part of the festivities in Germany. The idea of using Christmas trees was originally brought to Britain and popularised by the royal family. The first time this happened was in 1834 when Prince Albert introduced the Christmas tree into the royal household, when he had been given a tree as a gift by the Queen of Norway, which was displayed in Trafalgar Square.
In Art the Victorians idealised a lot of their views of the medieval world and although the Victorians also attempted to revive the Christmas of medieval Britain, many of the new traditions were Anglo-American inventions from across the pond. From the 1950s onwards, carol singing became the norm again, especially in America, who incorporated them into their celebrations of Christmas in the Church. The tradition of Christmas cards was started by the British, who were the first to send them, but the Americans, many of whom were on the move, during this period and away from their families, picked up the practice because of their cheap postal service and because it was a good way of keeping in contact with people at home.
Advent is the period of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus and begins every year on Sunday nearest to the 30th of November. The word Advent originates from the Latin "adventus", which means coming and traditionally it is a penitential season, but is no longer kept with the strictness of Lent and Christians are no longer required to fast. During this time Advent wreaths are popular especially in churches, which are made with fir branches and four candles with one candle lit each Sunday during Advent.
Christmas Day is the Christian festival most celebrated by non-churchgoers, and quite often one can see churches completely full for the service late on Christmas Eve, which has a special feeling about it.
A big and very important part of today's Christmas is the part played by Father Christmas also known as Santa Claus and Kris Kringle in America. His origins lie in Christian and European traditions, but the visual image of Father Christmas that we have today is the one popularised by American card-makers during the Victorian era, which is pretty much the standard of all we see nowadays at Christmas. The Victorian view of Christmas has become the template from which all other things flow.
Every year on Christmas Eve, following a frantic rush to fulfil all the orders for toys and games from all the boys and girls around the world, Father Christmas visits houses at midnight, coming down the chimney to leave presents. Children hang up their stockings and large socks with Christmas patterns knitted into them, so that Father Christmas can fill them with little toys and presents, which we call 'stocking fillers'. Some Presents are left under the Christmas tree and some in small sacks.
When the new smokeless houses began to be built, with gas and electric fires replacing the old style traditional coal and wood ones, the children were afraid they would no longer be able to receive presents, but Santa, ever the resourceful one, had a special magikal key created by The Elves of the north, which meant he could get inside even if the door was locked and there was no chimney.
I have often wondered about hiring some of his Elves to help out here at the Keep, but I have always worried that with all the workload there at the North Pole, Santa’s Elves may have no one spare, without causing mayhem at the winter workshop.
Some traditional accompaniments used by Father Christmas pre-date even Christianity, with his sleigh, pulled by reindeer, stemming from Scandinavian mythology and the practice of leaving mince pies and a glass of milk or brandy for him on Christmas Eve may be a remnant of Pagan sacrifices made to mark the end of winter and the coming of spring.
Whatever comparisons we can make though, he and his Reindeer and Elves never complain and love all the little goodies left by the kind children wanting to thank him for their gifts.
Santa Claus, whose name comes from Saint Nicholas, which in turn comes from the Dutch word Sinterklaas is known the world over. Saint Nicholas of Myra, Turkey is, among other things, the patron saint of sailors. There is a very famous story, which is told, which has him anonymously delivering bags of gold coins to a man who could not afford the dowry for his daughters to get married. Some versions of this story even have Saint Nick, as he is sometimes known, dropping the bags down the chimney.
All that matters though, is that all the little boys and girls are tucked up in bed early that night and that they have been good all year, or as good, as possible, and they have sent off their letters to Santa at the North Pole in time for his deliveries on Christmas Eve.
In previous centuries the Church worried about what repercussions the Pagan influence had on the Christian festival, but nowadays any ethical considerations are quite firmly focused on the over-commercialism of the holiday, with the average person in the UK spending hundreds of pounds on Christmas-related purchases. Protests against consumerism have been made by Christians and non-Christians such as 'Buy Nothing Christmas', encouraging people to spend time with their families instead of spending money on them. For me, it’s all about moderation and sharing with your loved ones. If there is one time of year, which shows people putting their hands in their pockets to help others and also seeing them looking out for others, including complete strangers then this is it.
If only we could bottle up that sentiment, warmth, love and friendship and ship it around the world, it may just be a much nicer and safer place to be.
With all the many Carol Concerts, Christmas Trees, Office and Works Parties, Midnight Mass, Seasonal Songs, Festive Films and Television Programmes, today's Christmas festival has elements of the Pagan, Christian and folk traditions and continues to thrive despite the attempts of the PC Brigade to turn it into a Winter Festival with Winter Lights and all the other offensive, supposedly none-offensive nonsense we hear them spout.
No chance it is Christmas Time, with Christmas Trees, Christmas Lights and Christmas Presents!!!
It is a time to share, to love and be amongst those you wish to share that love with.
Christmas remains a time to forget about the long, dark, dreary, grey, days and one in which to celebrate life with friends and family in the knowledge that for that one night in a little town in the Middle East, called, Bethlehem this would not exist.
Until next time have fun!
December 13th 2009
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Well this time of year sees our family erect all the Christmas decorations, so today I thought I would like to look at the legends surrounding why we use Christmas Trees.
One legend is that of Saint Boniface, an English monk who organised the Christian Church in both France and Germany. One day, he came upon a group of pagans gathered around a great oak tree about to sacrifice a child to the god Thor. In order to stop the sacrifice and save the child's life Boniface struck the tree once with a mighty blow of his fist, felling the tree, which proceeded to crush all the other shrubs around it except for one small fir tree. The saint told the pagan worshipers that the tiny fir was the Tree of Life. Then Saint Boniface, attempting to win converts, interpreted the fir's survival as a miracle, concluding, "Let this be called the tree of the Christ Child."
Another legend tells of a time when Martin Luther, a founder of the Protestant faith, was walking through a forest on Christmas Eve. As he did so he looked up to the heavens and was awed by the beauty of the millions of stars glimmering that he could see, their twinkling light cutting through the branches of the evergreen trees. He was so amazed with this beautiful sight that he cut down a small tree and carried it home to his family. Then in order to recreate the same kind of starlight beauty, he placed candles on all its branches to emulate what he had seen in the forest earlier.
Another such legend tells the tale of a poor woodsman from long ago, who met a lost and hungry child on Christmas Eve. Although he, himself, was very poor too, the woodsman gave the child food and also shelter for the night. The next morning the woodsman awoke and found a beautiful, tree, which was glittering in the sunlight outside his door. The hungry child had really been Christ in the form of a child and had created the tree to reward the good man for his charitable deeds.
Yet another legend places the origin of the Christmas tree with the "Paradise Play," which in medieval times, because most people could not read, used plays to teach the lessons of the bible all throughout Europe. The Paradise Play, which showed the creation of man and the fall of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden in the Book of Genesis was performed every year on Christmas Eve, December 24th. However there was a problem with the time of year in which the play was performed, it being in winter and an apple tree being needed. As apple trees do not bare fruit in winter and a substitution was needed, it was decided to use Evergreens instead, which were hung with apples.
One last legend I wish to share with you comes from Germany and concerns spiders and Christmas trees. Back then families allowed their animals to come inside and view the Christmas trees on Christmas Eve, because the Christ Child was born in a stable and they felt that the animals should take part in the Christmas celebrations too. However, spiders were not allowed to join them, as housewives did not want cobwebs all over everything. This of course made the spiders feel unhappy thus one year inside a little cottage they decided to complain to the Christ Child, himself. Feeling sorry for them, he decided that late at night he would let them in to see the trees himself. Well the spiders were very excited about this and loved the Christmas trees and all night long they crawled about in the branches, leaving them covered with their webs. That very Christmas morning the housewives saw what the spiders had done, however, instead of being angry, they were delighted, for during the night the Christ Child had turned all of the cobwebs into sparkling tinsel. And even today, tinsel is often used to decorate Christmas trees to add that same sparkle that the Christ Child gave the cobwebs long ago, in that little cottage in Germany.
I hope you enjoyed these little tales of the Christmas Tree legend. Be sure to check back on the 16th to hear another, more modern take on the Christmas Tree legend, another, which I am sure you will enjoy, as much as I do.
Until next time have fun!
December 12th 2009
Friday, December 11, 2009
Today, I thought I would like to share the last of my favourite Christmas films with you, before moving on to other festive fare. This time around it is the turn of the animated TV feature, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.
This is the longest-running holiday special in television history and has entertained millions of families since 1964, with a world-renowned musical score from Johnny Marks and the voice talent of the legendary performer, Burl Ives who plays the part of Sam the Snowman.
The story tells of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, a shy, young reindeer who has become a joke to the folks of Christmastown who always laugh at his shiny red nose. Rudolph and his friend Hermey, the Elf who wants to be a dentist, decide to get away from this and set off to make a life on their own.
However, they soon find themselves pursued by the Abominable Snowmonster. You have to see this scene – it’s a classic! They flee to the Island of Misfit Toys in the Arctic wilderness where a prospector called; Yukon Cornelius meets them along the way and comes to their rescue.
The gang return to Christmastown, where they learn that bad weather may cause Christmas to be cancelled. Rudolph's headlight…his illuminated nose, however, saves Christmas by serving as a beacon to guide Santa's sleigh, just like in the song.
I managed to buy this and a sister DVD, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, a few years ago and added them to my Christmas collection. If you get chance to see both do so, they really are great fun and have been digitally re-mastered!
Once again this is a fun, festive one to watch with all the family. I promise you the kids will love it!
Since writing this little series of Blogs on Christmas Films I enjoy, I have to admit to thinking of others too, which I may continue with next year, as there are a lot more things I have written this year for me to allow any more space to them now.
Well we are continuing to receive some great illustrations for the Manga competition and I thought I would add a little reminder to those of you still wishing to enter the competition.
What you need to do this year is look at the Worlds End characters and draw them in a Manga style. You can find what they all look like here on The Worlds End Gallery.
So hurry up and get your artwork sent into us here at the Keep.
Until next time have fun!
December 11th 2009
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Today, I thought I would like to share another of my favourite Christmas films with you. This time around it is, White Christmas starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen.
This black and white 1954 Technicolor film is loosely based on the earlier film Holiday Inn, also starring Bing Crosby.
The story is the typical musical themed one from the period filled with its ups and downs for the cast members, but proves how successful the song White Christmas was by being featured in the earlier Holiday Inn and then again in this film, which also took the song title as its own.
Once again this is a fun, festive one to watch and you get a chance to sing along if you want too.
Until next time have fun!
December 10th 2009
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
Today, I thought I would like to share another of my favourite Christmas films with you. This time around it is, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” starring James Stewart and Donna Reed.
This black and white 1946 film is loosely based on the short story "The Greatest Gift" written by Philip Van Doren Stern.
The heart-warming tale is Dickensian in tone and similar to A Christmas Carol, but told from the point of view here as Bob Cratchit rather than Ebenezer Scrooge.
It was actually a box-office flop at the time of its release, and really only became a Christmas classic in the 1970s due to the repeated television showings it received at Christmas time when the copyright protection slipped and it entered the public domain in 1974 when TV stations could air it for free.
Once again this is ideal festive viewing and one you should see at least once, because if you do, if you haven’t already, you will be glad you did.
Until next time have fun!
December 9th 2009
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
Today, I thought I would like to share another of my favourite Christmas films with you. This time around it is Miracle on 34th Street, starring Edmund Gwenn in the title role with supporting roles from Maureen O’Hara, John Payne and a young Natalie Wood.
This black and white 1947 film is, once again, despite other versions being produced my favourite version.
The heart-warming tale of Santa having to prove himself to the authorities is for me a classic seasonal story and one not to be missed. Okay, the secret is out, I am a sentimental sucker for all this stuff and I admit I love it!
I remember seeing this film as a youngster and being absolutely enthralled and somewhat dismayed at the predicament that the powers-that-be put poor old Santa in.
An absolutely wonderful family film that I highly recommend to anyone that hasn’t seen it before and one, which I am sure those of you that have will relish the chance to revisit over this festive period.
Until next time have fun!
December 8th 2009
Monday, December 07, 2009
Today, I thought I would like to share some of my favourite Christmas films with you starting with my all-time favourite, A Christmas Carol starring Alistair Sim.
This 1951 film adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novella, has stayed with me, as my all-time favourite, since first seeing it as a young child on TV, although I do admit I have a fondness for both the Disney’s A Christmas Carol and also Jim Henson’s Muppet’s Christmas Carol too and I like the look of the new Jim Carrey version too out at the moment at the cinema.
The authenticity and attention to detail of the props, costumes and even the haircuts, elevates it above similar period piece films.
For me, in spite of several versions of the story being produced since this one, none have come as close to adapting the book, despite the additional scenes added to the film, which were not in the original story. These only serve to drive the story forward, however and unlike other adaptations, which add and subtract from the original source material, in this case, at least the additions are masterfully done and cause the viewer to believe they were indeed in the book too, until upon re-reading the novella they find them suddenly missing.
I have to admit to be somewhat dismayed when I first saw the film on video under its newly re-mastered colourisation. This was the case with the original DVD, until it was reissued as a black and white and colour version.
For me, just like the mood and atmosphere within the first Frankenstein, King Kong and The Day The Earth Stood Still films the original black and white version of A Christmas Carol was perfect without the addition of colour.
I expect at some point, given the chance I will watch it either on TV, if it is aired, as it most rightly should be, or on DVD over this seasonal period. I usually watch it late in the evening, with a cup of tea and a mince pie with maybe a wee dram o’ whisky at the end.
Hmm sounds good to me…perhaps this evening.
Until next time have fun!
December 7th 2009
Sunday, December 06, 2009
First of all I would just like to take this opportunity to wish my Mum, a Very Happy Birthday! I hope you have a great time today and we’ll see you later for some fun!
Now just a quick reminder that folks wishing to make seasonal purchases (including special offers) from the Wizards Keep Website that the last shipping dates for goods are:
Friday 18th December - Second Class
Monday 21st December - First Class
Recorded Signed For™ - has the same last posting dates as the 1st or 2nd Class service that the customer has chosen to apply it to
Tuesday 15th December - Standard Parcels
Wednesday 23rd December - Special Delivery™
Friday 4th December South & Central America, Caribbean, Africa, Middle East, Far East, Asia, New Zealand and Australia
Thursday 10th December Japan, USA, Canada and Eastern Europe
Friday 11th December Western Europe
We will of course still be shipping products during this period, but any shipments will probably arrive between Christmas and New Year or even in the New Year now.
I hope you guys are all ready for Christmas, as it’s just around the corner now.I hope all you kiddiewinks out there have remembered to send off your letter to Santa.
Until next time have fun!
December 6th 2009