Women’s Christmas

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January. Back to work, sleet and snow, Christmas trees are rotting on the kerb. It’s miserable – but this is because, in the UK at least, the festivals are so badly managed. Everything happens in autumn, then you’re left with nothing but a few pancakes to look forward to between now and Easter. Unless you really enjoy giving things up for Lent.
The answer is simple: create more. Or rather, because creating things from scratch is hard work and for mugs, dig up some obscure forgotten ones or steal them from elsewhere.
I suggest we start with tomorrow, which is apparently known in parts of Ireland as Women’s Christmas. Women have parties or go out to celebrate with their sisters, aunts etc, while men stay at home and do all the housework. And children give their female relatives presents. Ideal! Let the celebrations begin.

Ask Fed by Birds

I can’t help noticing that the search terms that lead people to this blog are often in the form of questions. We hate to disappoint, so here are some of those questions answered.
1. Why birds stare at humans?
Because they do things like this:
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2. How do marshes get fed?
Like this:
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3. How to achieve best wardrobe?
Make everything bigger:
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4. Who fed the birds on saturday nite?
He did (is that an egg?):
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4. Knit new inoaktive?
I’m not familiar with an inoaktive: if, as I imagine, it’s something like this, then please don’t make any more:
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And for the person who just wanted “fashion sternly”:
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The Story So Far…

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Fed by Birds is three today! Please don’t get too rowdy in your celebrations: think of our neighbours.
For the benefit of new readers, here is a summary of the plot to date:
The sinister truth about bird geniuses and the secret life of priests was revealed.
Long sleeves posed a deadly threat, but the English spirit won through.
Seemingly hopeless quests were resolved.
We were haunted by the sounds of wolves, Cornwall and
Brighton Pier.
Times were hard, but we learnt to forage for luxury, divine the future and automate the creative process.
Plus, we met the Gwolphs of Saturn, listened to the ravings of a robot and finally got our speedle.
Now, read on…

Recipes for Dreaming

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Dreaming = free and fun. Done correctly, it can fill those apparently useless sleeping hours with adventure. For the benefit of mankind, we have tested the following notorious dream-causing foods, to see which has the most spectacular results:
1. Cheese
This is probably the most famously dream-inducing food in popular myth. To test this thoroughly, we ate a large amount of Gorgonzola pizza shortly before bedtime.
Result: Tedious dreams which are mostly administrative – having a lot of visitors turn up without enough beds, people whose invitations I haven’t replied to, packing suitcases for a plane that’s about to leave, etc.
Conclusion: Quantity, but not quality.
2. Chocolate
Eating chocolate before bed seems to be widely associated with having bad dreams.
Sounds like a myth invented by unscrupulous, tooth-protecting parents. Sceptical, the subject ingested a combination of “double chocolate” mousse, hot chocolate, and a few truffles to be on the safe side.
Result: Surprisingly, that parental threat turns out to be completely true. An almost text-book nightmare follows: a figure suddenly sits up in the next bed, in the style of Whistle and I’ll Come to You, and says, “I am The Undertaker.” It’s all downhill from there.
Conclusion: Listen to your mother.
3. Chilli
Spicy food is often blamed for vivid dreams. We ate at a Sichuan restaurant, where all the food is exceptionally fiery.
Result: A cascade of dreams. I am at a banquet wearing a gaberdine mac which I realise will infuriate the king. I am being chased so turn into a bird, and fly over a pub where I overhear the owners discussing the secret recipe for their special burgers (they use coconut). My fortune is made! And so on.
On the minus side, my fellow guinea pig complains that he’s spent the whole night fighting imaginary gatecrashers at a student party.
Conclusion: Impressive, but may require a lie-in afterwards.
4. Lobster
There’s a reason why the surrealists loved lobsters: they and other shellfish have long been thought to cause wild dreams.
A recent trip to the French seaside gave us the opportunity to test this out.
Result: A night packed with entertainment and strangeness. Robots made of blue-and-white patterned porcelain; people playing boules on a dark river with candles in paper boats; using a saw like this:
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Conclusion: Deluxe dreaming. Highly recommended.
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La Séduction

Back from the Cote Basque, where one shop has found the ultimate window display for enticing the ladies inside: a little black dress, covered with macarons.
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Sir Osbert’s Chicken

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Hooray, the V&A have put more of their collections online, including objects that are in store, and it’s hard to know where to start, there’s so much good stuff. I like their theatre costumes, like the wolf from the Royal Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty above, “devised by the great mask-maker Rostislav Doboujinsky”.
They include some designs by famous names, such as David Hockney, for The Nightingale at the Royal Opera House, and Gerald Scarfe, for Orpheus in the Underworld at the ENO:
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I don’t know who I feel more sorry for, the dancer who had to wear this 1959 costume on the left, or the member of the Royal Ballet forced to dance in Sir Osbert Lancaster’s chicken costume in 1960:
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Exploring throws up some strange comparisons – for instance, there’s a surprising similiarity between a Gilbert and Sullivan Queen of the Fairies and Maggie Smith’s costume as Lady Bracknell on the right:
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Shipwrecks and Sea Monsters

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Norfolk on the east coast of England is a mysterious place, for those who don’t know it, of mudflats and eerie marshland, so it’s not surprising that the Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service online collections throw up all sorts of weird flotsam, among the usual seaside jollity:
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There are pictures of unexpected catches being marvelled at, such as this shark in Sheringham in 1913 (the back of the postcard apparently says “Dear F, just a card to show you the latest production of this enlightened hamlet; please note by cross, future Prime Minister and coming Amateur Billiard and Golf Champion standing in his characteristic attitude with hands in pocket, write later, CR”)
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There are men rescued from a shipwreck being given tea by kind Cromer ladies in the Bath House Hotel:
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Strangely spooky scenes from the British Gut Factory in Kings Lynn:
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A large number of glaring stuffed birds:
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and page after page of the most frightening dolls I’ve ever seen:
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But the best is this 1786 sketch of a sighting of a (Cornish) sea monster by Charles Catton: “first discover’d by two boys at day break. / from top of the Head – to the end of its tail 48ft 10ins – the thickest part of the body”:
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Word of the Week: Cephalophore

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A saint depicted in art carrying his own head. Perhaps the most famous is St Denis, who appears among the statues on the front of Notre Dame, above, and who walked two miles and continued preaching a sermon after his head was chopped off. But there are many others, including St Valerie of Limoges, who gave her head to the bishop who converted her.
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And St Alban, who seems to get to have his head and carry it:
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