Another Kind Of Advent Calendar 2020: December 3rd


Welcome to the Another Kind Of Advent Calendar! Every day until Christmas Eve, I’ll be posting a little something unexpectedly Christmassy for you in honour of the festive season. It’s been the weirdest year, so let’s have a bit of fun…

Meet Jimmy the Raven. He’s a handsome chap, isn’t he?

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “Ravens aren’t very Christmassy!”. I beg to differ – this one was. The unsung co-star of one of the most beloved festive movies of all time, Jimmy is a minor Christmas legend…


Like so many movie stars of the era, Jimmy’s true origins are somewhat shrouded in mystery. The story goes that he was born some time in 1934, and his nest was found in the wilds of the Mojave Desert by Hollywood animal trainer Curly Twiford, who took him in. His first film role was in Frank Capra’s Oscar-winning You Can’t Take It With You (1938), where he acted alongside the likes of Lionel Barrymore and Ann Miller.

Ravens are intelligent birds, so it hadn’t taken long for Jimmy to learn some useful acting skills. He could type, open letters, understand a certain amount of human language – and even apparently ride a little motorbike! Indeed, James Stewart, the star of It’s A Wonderful Life, described Jimmy as “the smartest actor on the set”, and director Capra clearly agreed, casting the raven in many of his films.

From the late 1930s until his death sometime in the 1950s, Jimmy appeared in hundreds of Hollywood movies (including a brief cameo in another festive favourite, 1939’s The Wizard of Oz), and was considered important enough to be insured for $10,000 by the studio. Quite a sum for a raven!

Despite the fact that he was uncredited in many of his film roles, Jimmy was a proper movie star, with multiple stand-ins on set – and was so well known for entertaining the troops during and after the war that the American Red Cross presented him with a medal.

His last known film was Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis’s 3 Ring Circus (1954), after which he seems to have gone into retirement. Little information is available about his later years, but his performance in It’s A Wonderful Life remains an indelible part of our Christmas celebrations more than eighty years after his discovery out in the desert…

If you’re feeling festive, you can find lots more Christmas reading and watching from me here – there are now over a decade’s worth of seasonal posts to explore…

Another Kind Of Advent Calendar 2020: December 2nd

Black and white postcard from 1914 of a small and grumpy tabby cat dressed in a winter coat and muff, pulling a sled piled with presents.
“Honestly, Tabby. I told you we should have taken the bus…”

Welcome to the Another Kind Of Advent Calendar! Every day until Christmas Eve, I’ll be posting a little something unexpectedly Christmassy for you in honour of the festive season. It’s been the weirdest year, so let’s have a bit of fun…

After yesterday’s aquatic Christmas tree, hiding behind the second door of the Another Kind Of Advent Calendar is an old festive favourite round these parts…

Yes! The Grumpy Victorian Kittens are back! And this year they’ve been Christmas shopping – although this particular kitty looks quite seriously grumpy about it.

I can relate.

Actually, this one isn’t technically Victorian since this photo was taken in 1914, and she comes from the collection of the New York Public Library, which probably explains a lot – she’s definitely got that New York [c]attitude!

In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen such an exasperated and fed up kitty in a long time (and I once had to give a cat a bath). She quite rightly looks like she wants to escape from this weird human who has put her in these stupid clothes to take stupid photos of her and go home to curl up in front of the fire. I don’t blame her…

If you’re feeling festive, you can find lots more Christmas reading and watching from me here – there are now over a decade’s worth of seasonal posts to explore…

Vintage Magpies!


I found some vintage magpies!

These beaky little balls of annoyed monochrome fluff could very well be the 1930s ancestors of our very own Toon Magpies – they may not look much like the sleek black and white adult birds we are used to seeing, but the resemblance is certainly there!

I have to say that I love this picture. If there was a magpie equivalent to the school photo, it would be this. Annoyed, uncomfortable, almost defiantly unfashionable, and with really bad hair (the chick on the left is certainly rockin’ a seriously punk-style hairdo, forty years too early); this is the kind of image your mum would proudly display at home and which would embarrass you in front of your mates in your teens.

Just imagine being a teenage magpie…

Kitchen Birdwatcher: Everybody Needs Good Neighbours…

How many of you can bird watch while you’re doing the washing up? I can, and it’s fascinating! It was while scrubbing away at a particularly recalcitrant baking tray one afternoon that I looked up and saw a magpie with a beakful of twigs flying into the tree on the embankment across the railway tracks.

Then a second twig-laden magpie came in, and I realised they were building a nest – so I kept watching them. And I’ve been watching them ever since. In this post, I’d like to introduce you to some more of my local wildlife (and update you on the Toon Magpies, of course!). It’s time to meet the neighbours…

All photos from the wonder that is Wikimedia Commons. Click through on any pic for more info and licensing details.

The Pidge Family

A wood pigeon at City of London Cemetery and Crematorium
A wood pigeon at City of London Cemetery and Crematorium

The Pidge Family are Wood Pigeons. Pidge himself has become a regular visitor to my kitchen tree over the last year or so, especially on rainy days when he will come and snuggle up in the crook of a branch with his feathers all fluffed up in an attempt to keep dry.

Continue reading “Kitchen Birdwatcher: Everybody Needs Good Neighbours…”

Quote of the Day: On Peter, the Lord’s Cat

Havana Brown cat
Sadly, there are no photos of the real Peter… so this beautiful boy will have to do!

Since it’s the cricket season and we’re in the middle of the Ashes Series, I wanted to share this lovely quote from the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack. Peter the Cat was the much-beloved feline resident at Lord’s Cricket Ground in North London during the 1950s and 1960s, and it’s clear he was quite a fan of the sport.

When his “ninth life ended” in 1964, Peter was given a singular tribute, becoming the first and only animal to receive an obituary in the cricketing bible Wisden – a real honour, and testament to his reputation at Lord’s:

Cat, Peter, whose ninth life ended on November 5, 1964, was a well-known cricket-watcher at Lord’s, where he spent 12 of his 14 years. He preferred a close-up view of the proceedings, and his sleek brown form could often be seen prowling on the field of play when crowds were biggest. He frequently appeared on the television screen. Mr SC Griffith, Secretary of MCC, said of him: “He was a cat of great character and loved publicity.”

I reckon he would be great friends with the modern-day Barmy Army

Sadly, it appears there are no actual photos of Peter himself in existence, despite his many television appearances, so you’ll have to make do with a picture of a rather handsome model cat instead!

Kitchen Birdwatcher: Spring with the Toon Magpies


Exciting news from the Toon Magpies – they’re building a new nest! It’s in the same tree they used last year, as you can see from the photo above (the 2018 nest is top right, this year’s is top left), which means I’ve had a grandstand seat in my kitchen for the building process again.

The new nest is looking a bit scruffy, but it’s large and I am sure it will be perfectly cosy for the forthcoming eggs. The recent unseasonably warm weather in the UK has increased the building activity to the extent that I now actually think that TWO nests are being built in adjacent trees, by two different pairs of magpies!

Spring is very nearly here…


Beware the Yule Cat!


I am really very fond of kitties, big and small. Ask anyone who knows me well, and they’ll tell you I’m a mad cat lady in training. But I think I would run away screaming if I ever met the Yule Cat…

The Yule Cat is not your average domesticated feline; the sort who purrs like a lawnmower, and is only really guilty of attempting to pinch your dinner and leaving the odd half-dead rodent in your shoe.

The Yule Cat is, in fact, from Iceland, and it seems certain moggies in this part of the world are a little bit… um… different. The National Museum of Iceland explains further:

It was customary in the old rural society that employers gave the employees in their home a new garment and sheepskin shoes for Christmas. This was done to reward the people for good work as the tasks that had to be accomplished before Christmas were numerous and therefore the weeks leading up to Christmas were characterized by a rigorous workload.

The saying went that those who did not receive a new garment for Christmas would be ‘devoured by the Christmas Cat’ which was a fate to be avoided at all costs – whether this meant that the Christmas Cat would eat them or eat their food. Thus everyone worked zealously at finishing all the woolwork and knitting of garments for the members of the household before the arrival of Christmas.

You have been warned.



If you’re in the mood for lots more festive reading, click here!

Kitchen Birdwatcher: Blue Tits and Toon Magpies

Autumn colour 2018

Yes! The magpies made it through! I am delighted to report that all went well for the brave little magpie pair whose progress I was following from my kitchen window back in the spring, and there is now a large gang of youngsters squawking noisily round the neighbourhood

They are now officially known as the Toon Magpies thanks to my friend Jim, who is a Newcastle United fan (for non football readers, United play in black and white striped shirts, are nicknamed the Magpies, and their fans are known as the Toon Army).

As a result, Jim has decided to name the young magpies after his favourite players and managers from the club. This means we have Sir Bobby [Robson], Rafa [Benitez], Shola [Ameobi], [Alan] Shearer, Speedo [Gary Speed] and more…

Continue reading “Kitchen Birdwatcher: Blue Tits and Toon Magpies”

Kitchen Birdwatcher: The Magpies’ Nest

The Kitchen Birdwatcher’s essential kit

I live in west London, right under the Heathrow flightpath, and my flat backs on to a fairly busy railway line that sometimes sees traffic at all hours of the day and night. Noisy, yes, but still a great place to live because (and this may surprise some people) of all the wildlife in the area. There is a perhaps surprising amount of green space nearby, creating perfect habitats for numerous creatures – you’ll find a small park and various allotments (some in use, some derelict) within a block or so of my flat, and the railway line itself is flanked by trees and other greenery.

Continue reading “Kitchen Birdwatcher: The Magpies’ Nest”

A Room With a View

This is the view from my living room window.

Lovely, isn’t it?

I can see these beautiful sycamore trees from my desk, and they make a great distraction when writer’s block comes calling. For example, this morning there were several enthusiastic magpies bouncing about on the branches, squawking loud enough to wake the dead, and I often see the local squirrel gang playing in these trees, fearlessly leaping and bounding about like tiny Olympic athletes with fluffy tails. Occasionally there will also be green parakeets, which are always a colourful treat to see (albeit a distinctly noisy one!).

Continue reading “A Room With a View”