Merry Christmas to you all!

Victorian Christmas card

Hmmm. They don’t look very happy, do they? In fact, the kitten on the right looks distinctly cross (because the one on the left has pinched his seat, by the looks….).

Anyway, this odd little Victorian Christmas card is from me to you, my truly fabulous readers.

I hope you’re all having a wonderful Christmas Day, wherever you are.

It’s also for you if you can’t or don’t (or even don’t want to) celebrate Christmas – I hope your day is a good one too, whatever you’re doing.

And if you’re alone today, well, fix me a gin and tonic and I’ll join you, if you’d like….

Merry Christmas to you all!

(And may you be as happy as some genuinely very happy kittens…)

xx

Incidentally, if you’re still in a festive mood and fancy some more seasonal reading, you’ll find a list of all my Christmas-related posts right here.

Christmas on Film: ‘A Christmas Carol’ (1914)

Personally, I think Christmas isn’t Christmas without at least one version of A Christmas Carol being on TV over the festive season (my favourite is actually the Muppets’ take on the story: it’s great fun, and remarkably faithful to the original source material, believe it or not) – and, most importantly, I re-read the book every year. However, I’ve also recently become intrigued by the many early film versions of this classic tale, particularly those made during the silent era of British cinema. And it is there that we are heading today, via the BFI National Archive.

Last year, I posted a fascinating film clip of the 1901 version, which is possibly the earliest cinema adaptation of Charles Dickens’s festive fable of redemption known to exist. This Christmas Eve, however, we’re moving forward in time by thirteen years, with a short extract from the 1914 version. Released during the first Christmas season of World War One, which, with hindsight, adds a stark layer of poignancy to the Victorian sentimentality of the story, this film is regarded as being among the best Dickens adaptations of the period.

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Christmas in London: The First Trafalgar Square Tree (1947)

O Christmas Tree

Back in 2012, I wrote about the history of that well-loved icon of a London Christmas – the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree. Recently, while looking for something else entirely (as is always the way!), I came across a couple of vintage pictures of what appears to be the first tree to go up in the Square back in 1947, which I thought I would share with you this Christmas. From two different sources (click on each image for more information), these pictures were taken from different angles and seemingly by different photographers, but they clearly show the same tree and the crowds of Londoners who came to see it.

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The Red, Red Robin…

Robin Redbreast (1880)We love the robin. This cheeky, cute little garden bird with its distinctive red breast and vivid song is a popular visitor to feeders and bird tables all round the UK – and it is one of the animals we most closely associate with Christmas too. But how well do we really know this much-loved creature? And why is it connected to the festive season anyway? Today, I’m going to attempt to find out more…

The European robin (Erithacus rubecula) is a common sight all year round and across the country, favouring hedgerows, gardens and parks in particular. They eat worms, seeds, insects, and fruit; frequently provided by us humans. They often nest quite close to us too – sometimes in unusual and unexpected places such as sheds, hanging baskets, discarded kettles or pots, and farm machinery – and have two broods of young a year, often more. The birds and their nests are protected by law.

Both the male and female adult robins have red breasts (young birds are a sort of spotty golden brown), and it is these red feathers that seem to trigger the highly territorial nature of this otherwise innocuous-looking small bird. Indeed, they will often aggressively defend their territory, and have been known to viciously attack other robins they perceive as a threat – and scientists have found that they will also go for small stuffed ‘toy’ robins or even clumps of red feathers!

Their attractive song is used to find a mate, although it is also part of their territorial display. Both the male and female sing, and have different songs for different times of the year, depending on the song’s purpose. During the summer time, territories will be held by mated pairs who defend it together, but by the time winter rolls round, each robin will be singing noisily to protect its own individual patch.

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Under the Mistletoe…

A Kiss Under The MistletoeAsk any average person in the UK what they know about mistletoe and the majority of respondents will probably mention the tradition of kissing under it at Christmas. A few might know something about its possible much earlier connections to Druidry – but it’s the snogging most people focus on, for obvious reasons! Like the young lady in the image to the right I’m not too keen on this aspect of the festive celebrations (she really doesn’t look very impressed with his attentions at all!), but I was curious about what else is known about this unusual evergreen seasonal plant, and I was fascinated by what I found out…

There are actually hundreds of different and often ancient species of mistletoe growing in numerous places worldwide, and new types are still being found in the wild by scientists (most recently in 2008) – but I’m going to focus on the traditional, white-berried European mistletoe (Latin name: Viscum album); the one we’re all most familiar with.

It may actually sound like it ought to be something out of a cheap horror b-movie, but mistletoe is scientifically defined as a parasitic plant. As such, it grows on the branches of various different trees, particularly favouring apple orchards. This can have a distorting effect on the growth of these trees if the mistletoe is not pruned back from time to time, preventing the tree from growing new leaves and even killing it in extreme cases.

However, and despite the slightly creepy effects of its parasitic nature, mistletoe actually plays an important role in biodiversity via its interactions with other plants and animals, which ends up creating what can only be described as the mistletoe plant’s very own ecosystem. Such complex associations between these different creatures are crucial in supporting specialist species of birds (such as the aptly named mistle thrush, which helps to distribute the plant’s seeds), insects and fungi.

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Vintage Christmas Puddings: A Fourth Helping

The Empire Christmas Pudding (1926-1939)

Considering I don’t actually like Christmas pudding, it may seem a little strange that this is actually the fourth post I’ve written concerning the stuff in as many years (you can find the previous three here, here and here) – but I keep finding interesting and unusual historical recipes for this most seasonal of desserts! And this recipe is a particularly interesting one, which dates from sometime during the interwar period.

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Christmas on Film: ‘Lonely Lightship’s Christmas’ (1922)

For many people, Christmas is about family and friends and home and comfort. But it’s not always like that for some, and a surprising number of folk also have to work over the festive season. This is by no means a modern 21st century phenomenon, as this unusual and rather cheering 1922 Topical Budget newsreel clip from the BFI National Archive shows.

Stuck out in the North Sea for Christmas, the crew of the Lynn Well lightship are still determined to celebrate, and are delighted when a chaplain from the Seamens’ Mission arrives with the makings of a festive feast. We see the men preparing their well-earned Christmas dinner, observing a religious service, and then having some fun with music and dancing on deck. But the lightship’s lamp must still be trimmed to keep shipping in the area safe, just as it would be on any other day of the year…

Lightships (more commonly known now as lightvessels – a term which will be familiar to anyone who, like me, is a devotee of the Shipping Forecast on BBC Radio 4) are basically floating lighthouses which, in some cases, also function as weather stations. Modern lightships in British waters have all been unmanned and automated since 1989.

For more from the BFI National Archive, visit their website or their excellent YouTube channel.

You can also find more BFI festive goodies (and numerous other seasonal posts) on Another Kind Of Mind here.

December Update: New Christmas Posts

It’s nearly Christmas again. I hope you’ve all stocked up on plenty of booze and written your letters to Santa….

And, round these parts, the approach of Christmas can only mean one thing: new festive blog posts.

They’ve become a bit of a tradition on Another Kind Of Mind (indeed, folk read them all year round – you’d be surprised how many people seem to feel Christmassy in the middle of June!), and I try to do something different every year.

So, from next Saturday (that’s the 19th December) until Christmas Day, there will be a brand new seasonal blog post for you every day.

Until then, if you’re looking for some festive reading (and watching), you can find all my previous Christmas posts right here – and I’ll be adding links to the new posts there as soon as they’re published. Enjoy!

A sprig of holly

The Festive 50 Top Five Songs 2015

Update 14/12/15: VOTING IS NOW CLOSED! Watch out for a link to the Top 50 soon…

Update 18/12/15: Sadly, none of my choices made the final list, but you can check out the full Festive 50 for 2015 here!

You know me, I love my lists! Over on Twitter, @TheFestive50 is busy compiling a chart of this year’s favourite songs (voting on Twitter closes next weekend, and the 2015 Top 50 will be available on the Festive 50 Mixcloud soon – you can find the final lists for the last two years at that link too). Obviously, this was a challenge I couldn’t resist. In reverse order, here are my top five choices….

5) Therapy? – Helpless Still Lost (from the album ‘Disquiet’):

As a long-time fan who always welcomes a new album by this kick-ass Northern Irish punk/metal trio, it was inevitable that I would include one of Therapy?’s excellent 2015 tracks in my top five – but it was really difficult to decide which one, since Disquiet (incredibly, their fourteenth studio album – I feel old) has pretty much been glued to my stereo on repeat since it came out earlier this year. With a sound and production which echoes their earlier material but that still feels fresh, this sludgy, riff-heavy clatter of a track was my eventual choice. This is a real return to form, and, like all of Therapy?’s best moments, this track manages to weave a bleakly twisted melody into the distinctively tangled raw-edged mesh of driving guitars and breakneck drumming that the band have utilised to great effect over the course of their career. More please!

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Making Sense of Breaking News

Like many people, I was glued to social media on the night of November 13th as the terrorist attacks on Paris unfolded. When something terrible like that happens, it is easy to become confused and bewildered by the conflicting reports that fly around on TV and online. So I decided to write a guide to understanding and demystifying the kinds of sources (newspaper articles, TV and radio reports, live blogs, social media posts, visual images etc.) that you will encounter in all forms of the media when a major news story is breaking. But what qualifies me to write such a guide?

While studying for a degree in history some years ago, I was taught how to analyse and interrogate sources of all kinds; a skill which has come in handy when attempting to understand how breaking news works. By ‘analyse and interrogate’ I mean placing a source (whether written, illustrated or audio-visual) in its wider context in order to understand and assess it. This involves asking a lot of questions about the source, its origins and its creator – the who, what, where, why, and when that you will see in this brief guide to interpreting and making sense of the media’s reaction to breaking events. The answers to those questions can help you decide whether a source can be trusted or whether it needs to be taken with a pinch of salt…

Who?

Who wrote/produced/directed/photographed/filmed this source? Are they a professional journalist/photographer/film-maker? Or are they a member of the public who happened to be there at the time and snapped a photo or filmed events with their phone then posted it on Facebook? If they’re a professional, what do you know about them? What can you find out about them? Are they well-known for personally having a particular political bias? Or do they work for a media outlet known for having a particular political bias? How might this affect their work?

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