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 🙂

Rime Frost

We had another night of freezing fog. The fog was still pretty dense by the morning. Bulmer’s woodpecker was well lit though.Photo of Bulmer's woodpecker in fog

The happy thing about a foggy night when it is very cold is that rime frost is created. The water droplets in fog are very much smaller than rain droplets. When these tiny droplets hit an object that is below freezing, such as a branch of a tree, these droplets release their heat very rapidly. This results in them freezing at high speed and pretty much maintaining their form. These frozen droplets build up on top of each other with air gaps between, this makes them appear white. And so rime frost is formed creating a very pleasing effect upon objects.Photo of Frosty trees in the fog

The effect is similar to hoar frost; this is formed when the air is humid, but it is a clear freezing night. Glaze frost is created when rain droplets freeze onto objects, being larger they spread before freezing and so form a clear “glaze”. Enough of the science, let’s enjoy the pretty pictures. First of all, some rose hips in the hedgerow.Photo of rime frost on rose hips

A rime frosted seed head.Photo of rime frosted seed head

The frozen field.

Some frosty trees.

Some more frosty trees as the sun starts to burn off the fog.

Frosty Mornings

After some unseasonably mild weather, we have had a couple of frosty mornings. This always makes the garden look prettier.

It does seem that my poor apple tree has a case of coral spot. This is a fungal infection caused by the pathogen, Nectria cinnabarina. Apparently it is a sign that the poor tree is already ailing. I fear that neglect followed by amateur pruning has brought it to this sorry state.Photo of frosty apple branch with coral spot

Last night the frost rime was even thicker. The cobweb draped frosty seed head of the golden rod looked like something Miss Haversham might have in a vase.Photo of frosty golden rod seed head

The fallen leaves looked like the Ghosts of Autumn Past.Photo of frosty fallen leaves

The holly and laurel berries were given a wintry sugar frosting.

Who doesn’t love a frosty log covered with ivy?Photo of frosty log with ivy

The rose hips were looking good too.Photo of frosty rose hips

The orb weaving spiders always give good value in a frost, or a dewy morning.

This is what freezing fog looks like in the camera’s flash, similar to a car’s headlights, which is why you must drive so very carefully in it.Photo of freezing fog in flash

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.

#CharityChristmas5 No.5

The fifth and final #CharityChristmas5 is here. There is so much need in the World and so many good people doing their best to meet it, it has been really hard to choose just five. However, dire financial circumstances limit one’s generosity, so the selection has been rather personal. The fifth charity is St Michael’s Hospice in Herefordshire, who provide palliative care. You can follow them on Twitter @StMichaelsHosp Photo of Christmas bauble

There are many of you out there volunteering, fundraising and donating every day of the year, to no fanfare. We know you are out there and we are grateful – thank you.

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.

#CharityChristmas5 No. 4

The fourth charity is a little different to the others. Larger and more international, it is Animals Asia. It was founded in 1998 by Jill Robinson and campaigns to end bear bile farming. They have sanctuaries where bears rescued from this vile practice can live out their lives happily.

Illustration of Moon Bear

Richard Lydekker [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Asian countries, particularly China have a poor reputation for animal welfare; from the unspeakable horrors of the Yulin dog meat festival, to the pointless hunting to extinction of endangered animals for worthless folk medicine. However, there are many activists from these countries working hard to change attitudes and practices and Animals Asia supports them with their cat and dog welfare and captive animal welfare campaigns.

Photo of moon bear eating jam

Photo of rescued moon bear enjoying some strawberry jam – image courtesy of Animals Asia Foundation

Your £5.00 will purchase a jar of strawberry jam for the rescued bears, more expensive gifts are available from their site here. Of course in previous years it used to a pot of honey and I was going to say, “What Winnie The Pooh fan could resist buying a bear a pot of honey for Christmas”, so they have kind of ruined that for me. However, I cannot hold a grudge against people who do such good work, so a pot of strawberry jam it is!

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

Jasmine Garden Decorations

Nearly everyone else in the street has a dazzling display of flashing lights in their gardens as we approach Christmas. I have a broken fence and an untrained Winter Jasmine that resembles some carelessly strewn fairy lights.Photo of winter jasmine climbing fence

It is such a cheery yellow flower to have in the garden during the bleak winter. However, I feel that it should be cascading magnificently over something rather than straggling up this old fence. So if anyone has any tips please let me know.Photo of Winter Jasmine flowers

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”

#CharityChristmas5 No. 3

I thought number three should be devoted to those selfless people who protect and care for our native wildlife. Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a penchant for hedgehogs. These endearing little critters have been voted, yet again, the UK’s favourite mammal; yet their numbers are crashing alarmingly.Photo of hedgehog in Santa hat

Thankfully there seems to be an increasing awareness of the problems facing hedgehogs and a willingness by the public to help them out. The flip side of this is that the hedgehog rescues are being inundated with poorly, injured or underweight hedgehogs. These good people are often self-funded and devote so much of their time. The stand out hedgehog rescue for me personally is Oggles. Vicky who dedicates her life to caring for these precious balls of spikiness suffers from a lot of health problems, but always puts her hogs first. She is fortunate to have a lovely lady who runs Facebook and Twitter (@OgglesHoggyQuiz) accounts on her behalf to raise much needed funds. Vicky’s dream is to have a dedicated “hogspital” to care for her charges and to be able to teach others her skills. Please do take a look at the website and help in any way that you feel able.Photo of hedgehog in dish

Other hedgehog rescues have found their own ways of raising funds to pay for the very expensive care these hedgehogs need. As well as food, the hogs often need medicines and veterinary treatment and we all know how those bills can mount up. Having looked after two hedgehogs for one night and then a third hog for two nights I have an inkling of how much work they take just to keep them clean and tidy. However, these hedgehog carers have to find the time to raise their funds; Little Silver Hedgehog makes lovely jewellery, Leicester Hedgehogs makes figurines and Wildlife Orphans puts together charming videos outlining the stories of the hedgehogs she helps as well as providing a wealth of information. Photo of hedgehog

As well as the rescues there are dedicated folk who give of their time and money to foster or care for hedgehogs, taking some of the strain from the rescues who can then concentrate on the sickest animals. Twitter users can use the hashtag #pricklypals to find a group of lovely people always willing to offer support and advice as well as sharing stories and pictures of their charges. Daisy the 8 year old daughter of hedgehog carer @EmmDonald not only provides a top notch maid service for their resident hogs, but she has also raised a stunning £130 for her local rescue, Poppies Creche. Daisy designed this fabulous logo and created keyrings and other merchandise to sell.Photo of Daisy's Help the Hedgehogs Poster

Equally importantly Daisy is raising awareness of the plight of hedgehogs and what can be done to help them and has even appeared on BBC Newsround. She is a real hedgehog champion. It is behoven upon us to protect our environment and wildlife for future generations, we have a duty to be responsible custodians.

Photo of Daisy holding hedgehog

Daisy and B&B resident, Frankie – image courtesy @EmmDonald

It is well worth finding the details of your local wildlife rescues and having their contact details to hand, you never know when and where you might encounter some wildlife in need of assistance. You can also find information on how to donate, their Amazon wishlists or any other way that you might help with time or skills.Photo of rescued hedgehogs

Another member of our beleagured wildlife is the much persecuted badger. The Badger Trust provides a wealth of information and assists smaller local groups. It is well worth taking a look at their website as a starting point if you wish to help badgers. There are also bTB vaccination programmes going on to counter the unscientific badger cull.

Photo of painting of badgers by Thorburn

The Badger by Archibald Thorburn 1918

Perhaps the biggest pressure our native wildlife faces is habitat loss. By supporting conservation charities such as the Woodland Trust you are helping a wide range of animals from birds to bees. For a more hands on approach you can probably find a local conservation group that you could volunteer your time with. This will have the added bonus of fresh air, exercise, good company and gaining new skills and knowledge. An example would be Mike’s volunteering days at Wilden Marsh. Photo of Credenhill Wood

I am sure that you will be able to find some way to help nature this Christmas and beyond.

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

December Supermoon

We shall see the final full moon of the year on December 13/14 and it will be another supermoon. However, the full moon will make it more difficult to view the Geminid meteor shower, if our cloudy British weather doesn’t already scupper it. Photo of moonlit clouds

The December moon is also known as the Full Cold Moon and Long Nights Moon as it coincides with the month of the Winter Solstice.