Summer Solstice

June 21st 2019 is the longest day and the first day of summer, known as the Summer Solstice.Photo of sunrise

Here in the northern hemisphere the earth is at its maximum tilt towards the sun. This is the day that the northern hemisphere experiences the longest amount of daylight. It is also known as midsummer and later, in the Christian world, St John’s Day, as it is believed to be when John the Baptist was born.

photo of bumblebee on blue blossomMidsommar is a particularly important event in Scandinavia and the Baltic. In pagan times, bonfires were lit to drive out evil spirits and the healing properties of plants such as St John’s Wort and Calendula were thought to be enhanced. Will-O’-The-Wisps are supposed to appear on this night, hovering over hidden treasure, sadly the phenomenon is probably just marsh gas.

In the UK Neo-Druids are allowed access to Stonehenge. It is thought that Stonehenge may have been built, approximately 3000 years BC, to make the best use of the sunrise at the summer solstice and that the stones could have been used as some sort of calendar. In Cornwall many old midsummer festivals have been revived in the Golowan festival, including lighting bonfires and parading hobby of cuckoo pint

The National Geographic website has some photos celebrating the summer solstice here.

“Glad midsommar och SKÅL”.

I shall leave the last word on the subject to William Shakespeare, from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”:

Puck. How now, spirit! whither wander you?
fairy Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough brier,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire,
I do wander everywhere,
Swifter than the moone’s sphere;
And I serve the fairy queen,yellow flower photo


Happy New Year 2018

Happy New Year, Gott Nyttar, с новым годом, Prosit Neujahr, Bonne Annee, Feliz Ano Nuevo, Gelukkige Nuwe Jaar, Blwyddyn Newydd Dda, Khushi Nayam Varsa, Xin Nian Kuaile, Nav Varsh Ki Subhkamna, Aremahite Omedieto Gozaimasu. I wish you all the very best in 2018.Drawing of Rambling Ratz with Mistletoe

In the UK it is traditional to kiss under the mistletoe at Christmas. Mistletoe is a symbolic kissing plant due to the Norse legend of Baldur.  Baldur the son of Odin and Frigg was killed by a spear of mistletoe, but then resurrected. Henceforth, a grateful Frigg vowed to kiss anybody she caught strolling under the repentant mistletoe. However, in another interpretation of this legend Frigg declares that mistletoe be a symbol of peace and good luck. During WWI it was common for silk cards embroidered with mistletoe to be given as good luck tokens, and it was the custom in France to give mistletoe at New Year; “Au gui l’An neuf” (Mistletoe for the New Year).

Photo of old mistletoe New Year Card

Mistletoe New Year Card c 1900 – via Wikipedia

Merry Christmas 2017

I would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas; Frohe Weihnachten; Joyeux Noel; Kreesmasko Shubhkaamnaa; ‘S Rozhdestvom Khristovym; God Jul; Feliz Navidad; Meri Kurisumasu; Sheng dan Kuai Le; Shubh Krismas; Geseende Kersfees.Photo of baubel in tinsel

Christmas is a time for family, friends and merriment. However, for some it is also a poignant time of year when bereavement and losses are felt keenly. My thoughts are with those who are feeling sad and lonely at this time of year.Photo of rose in tinsel

A Cemetery Stroll

Photo of chapelAs it is nearly All Hallow’s Eve, the night when the souls of the dead are supposed to return to the mortal realm, I though it would be apposite to post about a cemetery stroll. This is especially true as I believe I am acquainted with more souls in Hereford Cemetery than in the rest of the City!Photo of cemetery

The last time I took you on a Graveyard Bimble it was the middle of summer. Now as we are well into autumn the place is even more windswept and barren.Photo of cemetery

I visited shortly after dawn on a rainy morn.Photo of tree

There is still autumn colour to be found.Photo of autumn leavesAnd the gardener had made good use of some ornamental grasses.Photo of cemetery gardenThe nearly bare trees made beautiful outlines against the moody skies.

“Grandpa Ratz” is the latest family member to book in to Hereford Cemetery’s bed and board. His flowers survived Storm Brian and added a splash of colour to the bleakness.

He loved flowers and I’m sure he would have approved of these.

So here’s to all souls past and present; have a safe and enjoyable Hallowe’en.Photo of sunset

Happy New Year 2017

Happy New Year, Gott Nyttar, с новым годом, Prosit Neujahr, Bonne Annee, Feliz Ano Nuevo, Gelukkige Nuwe Jaar, Blwyddyn Newydd Dda, Khushi Nayam Varsa, Xin Nian Kuaile, Nav Varsh Ki Subhkamna, Aremahite Omedieto Gozaimasu. I wish you all the very best in 2017.Photo of happy new year written in sparklers

Yes, I have been playing with sparklers again 🙂

Running out of Festive Cheer

I noticed in my local Tesco Express that the self-service tills no longer make their Christmas jingly noises. Also, these Christmas Malteser reindeer chocolates were being sold for half price (I only bought one for the purposes of this blog post, honest). No doubt this is to make room for their “Malteaster Bunnies”.Photo of Malteser Reindeer

The shops have been hyping Christmas since at least October, yet the minute Boxing Day is over it is all packed away. People; the Twelve Days of Christmas commence on Christmas Day. The original Pagan Yule festival was twelve days of feasting between 20th and 31st December, and the Christian celebration is supposed to last until Epiphany on the 6th January. We have put all of this effort into preparing for Christmas, let us make the most of it before we start clearing up the tinsel and buying our Easter eggs.

Merry Christmas 2016

I would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas; Frohe Weihnachten; Joyeux Noel; Kreesmasko Shubhkaamnaa; ‘S Rozhdestvom Khristovym; God Jul; Feliz Navidad; Meri Kurisumasu; Sheng dan Kuai Le; Shubh Krismas; Geseende Kersfees.

Here is my tree being decorated, first of all the lights.Photo of Christmas tree lightsThen the tinsel, you can never have too much tinsel.Photo of tree with tinsel

A few baubles.Photo of tree with baubles

A few more baubles.Photo of tree with more baubles

The star to top it off.Photo of tree with star

Some Christmas tree decoration close ups.

I made a gif of my Christmas tree being decorated, I hope it shows up okay for you all. I know it isn’t exactly thrilling, but I have never put an animated gif on my blog before. It is Christmas, be kind! 🙂

gif of Christmas tree being decorated

Christmas Eve Dawn

We had a beautiful start to Christmas Eve with this gorgeous sunrise. The carpark of my local Tesco Express might not be the most glamorous place to view it, but we take what we can.Photo of sunrise

Here is another view of it.Photo of sunrise

It was more impressive than the sunset from a couple of evenings ago. Can you spot the sun skulking away?Photo of dismal sunset

Happy Christmas Eve folks.

Winter is Here

Wednesday 21st December 2016 is the start of astronomical winter. It is also the Winter Solstice, the shortest day and longest night. For northern European Pagans it marked the start of Yule, a 12 day festival.Photo of sparrow in bare branches

A Christmas carol, “In the Bleak Midwinter”  was originally written by Christina Rossetti in the 19th century as a poem. Here are the first and last verses:

In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone:
Snow had fallen, snow on snow
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter,
Long ago.

What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give him –
Give my heart.

The Holly and the Ivy

As I have mentioned in previous posts, holly and ivy, being winter evergreens, were often used to decorate homes for winter festivals. They signify the promise of new life and so were adapted from Pagan rituals to fit nicely in with the Christian festival celebrating the birth of Jesus.Photo of holly

The Holly and the Ivy is also the name of a Christmas carol. This carol seems to have existed in some form since the 17th Century and has been rewritten over the centuries. The first verse goes like this:

The Holly and the Ivy
When they are both full grown
Of all the trees that are in the wood
The Holly bears the crownPhoto of ivy berries

Apparently, no doubt whilst strumming idly on his lute, King Henry VIII came up with his own ditty about holly and ivy. Given his somewhat turbulent lovelife the lyrics sound more hollow than holly:

Green groweth the holly,
So doth the ivy.
Though winter blasts blow never so high,
Green groweth the holly.
As the holly groweth green
And never changeth hue,
So I am, ever hath been,
Unto my lady true.
As the holly groweth green
With ivy all alone
When flowers cannot be seen
And greenwood leaves be gone,
Now unto my lady
Promise to her I make,
From all other only
To her I me betake.
Adieu, mine own lady,
Adieu, my special
Who hath my heart truly
Be sure, and ever shall.Photo of holly

Polish Santa

Regular readers will remember my post about Polish shop signs in Hereford – don’t worry there isn’t a quiz, you didn’t need to be paying attention. The back door of one of these shops has a large illuminated inflatable Santa waving to us, how jolly!Photo of Santa outside shop

These shops have sprung up, in what was getting to be quite a derelict part of town, to provide familiar products to many agricultural workers who came to Herefordshire from Eastern Europe to pick our famous apples and strawberries.

Wesołych Świąt Bożego Narodzenia”

St Nicholas’ Day

This comes a little late as the feast day of Saint Nicholas is on 6th December. However, I have just received some chocolates in the shape of St Nicholas and Zwarte Piet, from a friend in Belgium.Photo of chocolate St Nicholas and Zwarte Piet

St Nicholas was the bishop of Myra (in modern day Turkey) during the 4th century. There are various stories of him performing miracles during his lifetime, including saving a ship during a storm. He was renowned for his charitable works and secret gift giving and is the patron saint of sailors and children.  Saint Nikolaos was known as Sinterklaas in Dutch, which is just a hop, skip and a jump to Santa Claus.

Painting of Saint Nicholas

Saint Nicholas by Francesco Guardi [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It is traditional to give gifts on St Nicholas’ Day in many countries and a lot of folklore has been built up around this event. St Nick is represented as an elderly gentleman with flowing beard and bishop’s robes, riding a white horse and carrying a book with lists of who has been good and who has not.

Illustration of Saint Nicholas

By Clara Bruins (Groot St. Nicolaasboek) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

He is accompanied by Zwart Piet, a controversial figure. The pair were thought to represent night and day/light and dark/good and evil. Some suggest that the dark skinned Zwart Piet represented Spanish Moors, others that he was a chimney sweep. He is dressed in 16th century clothing and his role seems to be to beat naughty children while Sinterklaas hands out sweeties to good children.

Illustration of Santa Claus

Saint Nicholas as Santa Claus – By unknown, publisher is Fisher & Brother of Baltimore [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Protestant reformists abolished such frivolities as Saints’ feast days and gift giving, but the festivals remain in parts of Europe where Catholicism prevailed. St Nicholas is also highly revered by Eastern Orthodox Christians. However, he has clearly made a revival in many of the Christmas traditions we know today. Interestingly some people think that the St Nicholas traditions themselves can trace their origins to Pagan times. Similarities exist with the Pagan god Wodan/Odin who rode through the air on a white horse checking on whether people were behaving themselves or not.

Illustration of Odin riding Sleipnir

Odin – Lorenz Frølich [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

One ceremony performed on the Feast of St Nicholas was the ordaining of a Boy Bishop. The chosen boy would perform all of the ceremonies of the Bishop from 6th December until 28th December, Holy Innocents Day. In England this ceremony was abolished by Henry VIII in 1542. However, it was revived in my home town of Hereford in 1973 where Hereford Cathedral selects a Boy Bishop annually.Photo of Hereford Cathedral

Oddly enough, this whole train of research was started by my purchasing this cute ratty Christmas decoration from my friend in Belgium via her website, and her kind gift of some chocolate! Some of the proceeds of the sales of her adorable figurines go towards her rat rescue.Photo of rat decoration

#CharityChristmas5 No.1

The thing about insomnia is that while you are lying there, failing to repair mind and body with restorative sleep, the brain comes up with silly ideas. This is one of many that my brain has come up with, but as it can be labelled “mostly harmless” I shall commit it to the World Wide Web.Photo of festive twigs

I thought of the Twitter hashtag #CharityChristmas5 whereby 5 times during December people could donate five pounds/dollars/euros etc to a charity. By 25th December, Christmas Day, 25 bits of currency would have been donated to 5 different charities by each individual. I thought perhaps people could choose smaller unsung charities. The people who run these don’t get executive levels of pay, they often do it to their own financial cost. They also don’t have armies of volunteers cold calling or chugging for them. I know that in these difficult times even this is a lot of money for many people, but even if people could think of a charity and retweet them with the hashtag it would raise useful publicity for them. You never know, a millionaire might see the tweet!Photo of £5 note

My first charity nominee is @otslondon and their sister campaign @breakfastinabag They help people and their dogs who are sleeping rough, in any way that they can. Take a look at their Twitter feeds to see the many things that they do and how to help them. They also have Amazon wish lists and donation pages here and here so that you can purchase items directly for them with your fiver. I’m looking forward to seeing who other people nominate.

Photo of Rodney a street dog

Rodney – provided with collar, food and treats by @otslondon – image courtesy of @otslondon

Being charitable to those less fortunate is a natural human trait for people of all religions and none. The Nativity story is a powerful one; a Jewish child who grows up to be the inspiration for Christianity, a prophet of Islam and a champion of other sects (Samaritans) is visited by rich Magi (probably Zoroastrians) and impoverished shepherds alike, all united by their hope of peace on Earth.

Bonfire Night

The UK is currently celebrating Bonfire Night. Every 5th November we light bonfires and set off fireworks to celebrate the saving of Parliament from the plot by Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators to blow up parliament with barrels of gunpowder. Although given the current standing of our parliamentarians I think sympathy is shifting towards Mr Fawkes. Photo of fireworks

Rather than attend the local firework display, or to buy my own fireworks, I tried to take some photographs of them as they lit up the sky between the houses.

It is a law of physics that what goes up must come down. Here are the remains of a firework outside the front door!Photo of spent firework

Here is a traditional poem to help remind us of the date of Bonfire Night:

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t’was his intent
To blow up the King and Parli’ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below,
Poor old England to overthrow;
By God’s providence he was catch’d (or by God’s mercy*)
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holla boys, Holla boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
And what should we do with him? Burn him!

Help the Hedgehogs!

Eight year old Daisy designed these fabulous posters to raise awareness of the plight of hedgehogs. It is very heartening to see young people caring about the future of our native wildlife. Daisy is a great hedgehog advocate, she has even appeared on the BBC’s “Newsround”.Photo of Daisy's Help the Hedgehogs Poster

Hedgehog numbers have declined dramatically in the UK and it is thought that they are continuing to fall at a rate of 5% per year. It is believed that increased urbanisation and the way that we are living is contributing to this. To find out what small changes you could make to help hedgehogs, take a look at the Hedgehog Street website. Also in the UK we have Guy Fawkes/Bonfire Night coming very soon; hedgehogs see our bonfires as a cosy place to hibernate in. So please check for hedgehogs and other critters such as toads and frogs before lighting. There is more information on how to have a wildlife friendly bonfire here.

All Hallow’s Eve 2016

I wish you all a happy All Hallow’s Eve. Have fun, stay safe, and remember to clean your teeth after eating all of that candy.Photo of sparkler pumpkin

I “painted” these rough estimations of pumpkins with a sparkler. Using the camera’s manual settings of ISO 80, f8 and shutter speed of 15 seconds and manually focusing beforehand using a torch. I then lit a sparkler and waved it about in what I thought was a pumpkin shaped pattern. I’m sure most children will be able to paint a better pumpkin than mine.Photo of sparkler pumpkin

St George and the Dragon

April 23rd is St George’s Day. He is the patron saint of England as well as Bosnia, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and many cities across the world (Eastern Orthodox churches, using the Gregorian calendar celebrate on 6th May).

Photo of dragon ornament

This is my tame (but hot to handle) Welsh dragon – he does not need slaying!

Russian WWI poster of St George

Russian WWI poster – Mykola Samokysh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

St George was an important figure for the 12th century Crusaders, his emblem of a red cross on a white background was adopted as the flag of England during this time. In the 1300s Edward III put his Order of the Garter under the banner of St George. During the 15th century his feast day was celebrated by compulsory church attendance and a prohibition of work. The importance of St George’s Day has waned since the 18th century, after the union with Scotland in 1706 created the United Kingdom. The English are much more reticent to celebrate their nation than the Irish, Scottish or Welsh. Perhaps wary of nationalism after two World Wars, the Balkan conflicts and the wars amongst former Soviet Union countries, not to mention the near break up of the UK after last year’s Scottish independence referendum. Sadly the symbols of England and St George have all too often been appropriated by right wing, rascist nationalist organisations. Fortunately this seems to be starting to change and people of all races and religions are finding the confidence to be English within a United Kingdom.

So who was St George anyway? He was born around 280 AD to a Greek Christian family in the Middle East, controlled by the Roman Empire.

Painting of St George slaying dragon

By K1959x (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

He followed his father and joined the Roman Army, serving the Emperor Diocletian. This pagan emperor was getting paranoid about the increasing influence of Christianity and ordered the execution of all Christian soldiers. Holding George in high regard he attempted to convert him and tried to persuade him to make offerings to the Roman gods. However, George refused to recant his Christianity, even after torture, and was beheaded. However, he did manage to convert Alexandra, Diocletian’s wife to Christianity. She swiftly followed him to martyrdom!

So where does the dragon slaying come from? This seems to be a legend from the Middle East, brought back by Crusaders. Apparently a city had the misfortune to have a dragon that lived in their only water source. The only way to get water was to appease the dragon with a sheep to eat. When they ran out of sheep the sacrificial offering inevitably became maidens, drawn by lots. One day it was the bad luck of the daughter of the king. In a remarkable turn of fortune St George happened to be passing as she was being offered to the dragon. George slayed the dragon, rescued the princess, converted the city to Christianity and saved the day.

Icon of St George slaying dragon

By nun Agathe Details of artist on Google Art Project [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Art from all over the world depicts St George slaying a dragon as a maiden looks on. This is of course metaphorical; the dragon represents Satan and the maiden is the Empress Alexandra saved from Paganism.

By a serendipitous coincidence April 23rd is considered the birth date of William Shakespeare, it is also thought to be the day he died 400 years ago (1616). It seems apposite to leave you with a quote from his play, “Henry V”; the rallying cry prior to the battle of Agincourt:

“Cry God for Harry, England, and Saint George!”