Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Oh those crazy, whacky Catalonians.

In Catalonia – that’s the bit in the North East of Spain constantly arguing with Madrid – think Barcelona and surrounds – don’t be surprised if you’re admiring someone’s nativity scene and there, hidden among the traditional nativity characters, is a little figure, trousers down, doing his business right in the middle of the holy scene.

As the BBC report, a pessebre, a Catalan nativity scene, contains all the usual suspects. There’s Mary and Joseph gazing down lovingly at baby Jesus, sleeping in his manger. There are the oxen, gently lowing, and perhaps some shepherds. But look closer, and hidden among the traditional characters is a little figure, trousers down, “taking a dump” right in the middle of the holy scene.


Yes, he’s doing what you think he’s doing.


The caganer – literally ‘defecator’ – is a staple of Christmas in the area. The traditional figure depicts a peasant wearing black trousers, a white shirt and the classic red Catalan cap – the barretina. He may also be smoking a pipe and reading a newspaper. As you do, when …

“It’s like the funny part of something that is supposed to be very serious – the nativity,” laughed caganer collector Marc-Ignasi Corral, 53, from Barcelona. Yes, the figure is so popular it even has its very own society, the Friends of the Caganer Association (L’associació Amics del Caganer), of which Corral is a proud member. Founded in 1990, the society has around 70 members – some from as far afield as the US – who meet twice a year.

Traditional caganers are made from clay, fired in a kiln of more than 1,000C, then hand-painted. As the industry has grown, the caganer has evolved; now there are many different kinds, both in design and material.

“I’ve got ones made of soap, I’ve got chocolate ones, but those are meant to be eaten of course,” said Corral, whose bookshelves are dotted with his collection of more than 200 caganers. “I’ve got glass ones… I’ve seen them made from Nespresso capsules.”

Firmly planted in folk tradition, the roots of the caganer are vague, but generally agreed to date from around the late 17th or early 18th Century when the prevailing Baroque tradition, both in Catalonia and beyond, focused on realism in art, sculpture and literature.

In their book El Caganer, authors Jordi Arruga and Josep Mañà write: “This was a time characterised by extreme realism… all of which relied heavily on descriptions of local life and customs. Here, working conditions and home life were used as artistic themes.”

The reason it has been passed down the generations, however, is clear: the idea of defecating has traditionally long been linked to everything from good luck to prosperity to good health.

“Excrement equals fertilisation equals money equals luck and prosperity. Or so say the anthropologists,” said historian Enric Ucelay-Da Cal, emeritus professor at Barcelona’s Pompeu Fabra University“It is said that to not put a caganer in the crib will bring bad luck,” added caganer maker Marc Alos Pla, whose family runs, the world’s biggest caganer producer. This year he predicts sales will surpass 30,000.

And far from seeing the caganer as uncouth or even graphic, Catalans have a relaxed view of them as merely depicting a natural act.

“We don’t see it as rude. I mean as rude as when you go to the toilet,” Corral laughed. “We hide things – we’re in a society where we’re hiding everything. We hide death for instance.”

Furthermore, Catalans do not stop at one unusual Christmas tradition.


Give the poo log a whack!


Caga Tió, literally the ‘Defecating Log’ (also called the Tió de Nadal, the ‘Christmas Log’) is also a staple in many Catalan homes in the run-up to Christmas. On the feast of the Immaculate Conception, on 8 December, families start ‘feeding’ Caga Tió scraps of food. He is covered with a blanket to keep him warm until, on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, when he has had enough to ‘eat’, the children hit him with sticks while singing a song that encourages him to defecate:

Caga tió / Poo log
Caga torró, avellanes i mató / Poo nougat, hazelnuts and mató (cheese)
Si no cagues bé / if you don’t Poo well,
et daré un cop de bastó / I’ll hit you with a stick
Caga tió / Poo log!

Of course the log doesn’t produce any old excrement … he defecates Christmas presents.

Before hitting the Tió, children go to another part of the house to pray for him to bring them gifts, while their parents take the opportunity to stash small treats like Christmas sweets under the blanket.

“The Tió seems to be a pretty old Christmas idea… in medieval times it was found all over Europe, from Scandinavia down to the Western Mediterranean: the idea of a ‘Yule Log’, which lasted until about World War Two,” Ucelay-Da Cal said.

What is it about these traditions, which in other parts of the world might be seen as explicit or rude, that attracts so many Catalans?

“I love the transgression of norms, the tradition they represent and the artwork in itself,” Corral explained, while Ucelay-Da Cal said the caganer “has a pleasantly subversive quality, naughty but nice, as it were.”

In fact, the themes of defecation are reserved not only for Christmas, but run like a common thread through Catalan culture, from idioms to art.“This fits in with a Catalan (and Spanish) taste for egalitarianism: everybody [poos], however important they may be,” said Ucelay-Da Cal.

When it comes to language, Catalan is filled with stool-related sayings and idioms. Where in English we might say two extremely close people are ‘as thick as thieves’ and in Spanish that phrase would be ‘como uña y carne’ (like [finger] nail and flesh), but Catalans cheerfully say two are people are like ‘cul i merda’– backside and excrement.

“There is a cliché that Germanic languages are [full of] faecal metaphors, while Romance languages stress virility. But certainly the Spanish tradition – and very specifically Catalan scatological custom – would deny this assertion,” Ucelay-Da Cal said.

Defecation has also appeared in Catalan art and literature going back hundreds of years.

In his book, Barcelona, which looks at Catalan history, art and culture, art critic Robert Hughes writes that the figure of the caganer “makes an unmistakable entrance into 20th-Century art” in the work of Joan Miró.

Really? Look closely at Miró’s 1921-22 painting The Farm, and you will see what looks like a small child squatting close to his mother while she does the washing.

This boy, Hughes writes, “is none other than the caganer of Miró’s childhood Christmases. It may also be Miró himself, the future painter of Man and Woman in Front of a Pile of Excrement (1935).”

A whole new take on Santa

Christmas is full of funny stuff.

At our business, Dear Reader, Magnum Opus Partners, we have had some fun this year with the Santa Claus tradition.

Did you know the image of Santa we know in many parts of the world today was crafted by ad agencies – and especially Coca Cola’s team of creative thinkers?

He’s not even the same the world over – the traditional British Santa is actually supposed to wear green and has a wreath of holly on his head, and in Russia Santa is a demon accompanied by a snow maiden! In Sweden Santa is a dwarf, in Iceland he’s thirteen naughty elves, and in Holland Sinterklass is a saintly character wearing a bishop’s hat.

In Germany, Austria, and the Czech and Slovakian regions, Santa Claus isn’t even male – children are visited by a female “Christ Child”, who is a benevolent gift-bringer with long curly blonde hair! In Spain and other Hispanic countries, kids welcome Three Wise Men bearing gifts. And it doesn’t even happen on Christmas Day, but on January 6th, the day the Three Wise Men supposedly arrived at the stable.

So what, we wondered, what would Santa look like if his legend was being created by some groovy lunch of creatives today? No great big rotund guy with a white beard, that’s for sure!

Have a look and see what you think of our musings!



And a very Merry Christmas to all Wellthisiswhatithink readers.

May your Christmas-time be filled with wonder, joy and contentment. And may 2019 bring you at least some of what your heart desires.




The Twelve Days of Christmas” is an English Christmas carol that enumerates in the manner of a cumulative song a series of increasingly grand gifts given on each of the twelve days of Christmas (the twelve days after Christmas). The song, published in England in 1780 without music as a chant or rhyme, is thought to be French in origin. The standard tune now associated with it is derived from a 1909 arrangement of a traditional folk melody by English composer Frederic Austin, who first introduced the now familiar prolongation of the verse “five gold rings”.

Anonymous broadside, Angus, Newcastle, 1774–1825

 “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is a cumulative song, meaning that each verse is built on top of the previous verses. There are twelve verses, each describing a gift given by “my true love” on one of the twelve days of Christmas. There are many variations in the lyrics. The lyrics given here are from Austin’s 1909 publication that first established the current form of the carol. The first three verses run, in full, as follows:

On the First day of Christmas my true love sent to me
a Partridge in a Pear Tree.

On the Second day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree.

On the Third day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Three French Hens,
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree.

Subsequent verses follow the same pattern, each adding one new gift and repeating all the earlier gifts, so that each verse is one line longer than its predecessor, as in:

4 Calling Birds
5 Gold Rings
6 Geese a-Laying
7 Swans a-Swimming
8 Maids a-Milking
9 Ladies Dancing (or Prancing)
10 Lords a-Leaping
11 Pipers Piping
12 Drummers Drumming

Variations of the lyrics

“Mirth without Mischief” (1780)

The earliest known version of the lyrics was published under the title “The Twelve Days of Christmas sung at King Pepin’s Ball”, as part of a 1780 children’s book, Mirth without Mischief. Subsequent versions have shown considerable variation:
  • In the earliest versions, the word “On” is not present at the beginning of each verse—for example, the first verse begins simply “The first day of Christmas”. “On” was added in Austin’s 1909 version, and became very popular thereafter.
  • In the early versions “my true love sent” me the gifts. However, a 20th-century variant has “my true love gave to me”; this wording has become particularly common in North America.
  • The 1780 version has “four colly birds” – “colly” being a regional English expression for “black”.

    This wording must have been opaque to many even in the 19th century: “canary birds”, “colour’d birds”, “curley birds”, and “corley birds” are all found in its place. Frederic Austin’s 1909 version, which introduced the now-standard melody, also altered the fourth day’s gift to four “calling” birds, and this variant has become the most popular, although “colly” is still found. (Especially in our household.)

  • The “five gold rings” may become “five golden rings”, especially in North America. In the standard melody, this change enables singers to fit one syllable per musical note.
  • The gifts associated with the final four days are often reordered. For example, the pipers may be on the ninth day rather than the eleventh.


In Scotland, early in the 19th century, the recitation began: “The king sent his lady on the first Yule day, | A popingo-aye [parrot]; | Wha learns my carol and carries it away?” The succeeding gifts were two partridges, three plovers, a goose that was grey, three starlings, three goldspinks, a bull that was brown, three ducks a-merry laying, three swans a-merry swimming, an Arabian baboon, three hinds a-merry hunting, three maids a-merry dancing, three stalks o’ merry corn.

Faroe Islands

One of the two “Twelve Days of Christmas” Faroe stamps

In the Faroe Islands, there is a comparable counting Christmas song. The gifts include: one feather, two geese, three sides of meat, four sheep, five cows, six oxen, seven dishes, eight ponies, nine banners, ten barrels, eleven goats, twelve men, thirteen hides, fourteen rounds of cheese and fifteen deer. These were illustrated in 1994 by local cartoonist Óli Petersen (born 1936) on a series of two stamps issued by the Faroese Philatelic Office.


The French folk song “La Perdriole” (“The Partridge”) is a cumulative song with the same kind of lyrics and a similar (but slightly different) melody. One variant iterates over the 12 months of the year (“Le premier mois d’l’année”, etc…). Another version may be found in the Rondes et chansons de France, Vol. 10. It iterates over the first 12 days of May (“Au premier jour de Mai”, etc…)

Origins and meaning

The exact origins and the meaning of the song are unknown, but it is highly probable that it originated from a children’s memory and forfeit game.

The twelve days in the song are the twelve days starting with Christmas Day, or in some traditions, the day after Christmas (December 26) (Boxing Day or St. Stephen’s Day, as being the feast day of St. Stephen Protomartyr), to the day before Epiphany, or the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6, or the Twelfth Day). Twelfth Night is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “the evening of the fifth of January, preceding Twelfth Day, the eve of the Epiphany, formerly the last day of the Christmas festivities and observed as a time of merrymaking.”

(Which is why we are supposed to take our Christmas decorations down on the 6th of Jan, even though in our household we never do, we like the pretty lights too much!)

The best known English version was first printed in English in 1780 in a little book intended for children, Mirth without Mischief, as a Twelfth Night “memories-and-forfeits” game, in which a leader recited a verse, each of the players repeated the verse, the leader added another verse, and so on until one of the players made a mistake, with the player who erred having to pay a penalty, such as offering up a kiss or a sweet. One hundred years later, Lady Gomme, a collector of folktales and rhymes, described how it used to be played every Twelfth Day night before eating mince pies and twelfth cake (also known as “King’s cake).

Writing around 1846, Edward Rimbault stated that “[e]ach child in succession repeats the gifts of the day, and forfeits for each mistake.”

Salmon, writing from Newcastle, claimed in 1855 that the song “[had] been, up to within twenty years, extremely popular as a schoolboy’s Christmas chant”.

Husk, writing in 1864, stated:

This piece is found on broadsides printed at Newcastle at various periods during the last hundred and fifty years. On one of these sheets, nearly a century old, it is entitled “An Old English Carol,” but it can scarcely be said to fall within that description of composition, being rather fitted for use in playing the game of “Forfeits,” to which purpose it was commonly applied in the metropolis upwards of forty years since. The practice was for one person in the company to recite the first three lines; a second, the four following; and so on; the person who failed in repeating her portion correctly being subjected to some trifling forfeit.

“Twelve days of Christmas” was adapted from similar New Years’ or spring French carols, of which at least three are known, all featuring a partridge, perdriz or perdriole, as the first gift. The pear tree appears in only the English version, but this could also indicate a French origin. According to Iona and Peter Opie, the red-legged (or French) partridge perches in trees more frequently than the native common (or grey) partridge and the red-legged variant was not successfully introduced into England until about 1770.

Cecil Sharp observed that “from the constancy in English, French, and Languedoc versions of the ‘merry little partridge,’ I suspect that ‘pear-tree’ is really perdrix (Old French pertriz) carried into England”; and “juniper tree” in some English versions may have been “joli perdrix,” [pretty partridge]. Sharp also suggests the adjective “French” in “three French hens”, probably simply means “foreign”.

(The French are very foreign, of course.)

In the northern counties of England, the song was often called the “Ten Days of Christmas”, as there were only ten gifts. It was also known in Somerset, Dorsetshire, and elsewhere in England. The kinds of gifts vary in a number of the versions, some of them becoming alliterative tongue-twisters. “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was also widely popular in the United States and Canada. It is mentioned in the section on “Chain Songs” in the Motif-Index of Folk-Literature (Indiana University Studies, Vol. 5, 1935), p. 416.

There is evidence pointing to the North of England, specifically the area around Newcastle upon Tyne, as the origin of the carol. Husk, in the 1864 excerpt quoted above, stated that the carol was “found on broadsides printed at Newcastle at various periods during the last hundred and fifty years”, i.e. from approximately 1714. In addition, many of the nineteenth century citations come from the Newcastle area.

So facepalm worthy, they made a statue for it.

So facepalm worthy, they made a statue for it.

OK, forget Cock Flavour Soup. I mean that was good, but we’ve gone one better.

Thanks to our eagle-eyed correspondent, we have now have what must be the all-time unfortunate packaging f*** up – yes, two in just a week!

OK, it’s from Iceland. Or at least, it’s from the frozen foods retailer called Iceland. But they speak English in both places, right?

This apparently got through the client, the marketing department, the quality control dept in the agency … no one in the retailer said anything …

Honestly. I mean, really?

And you thought the horse-meat pies was big news.




Rumours of single men heading to Iceland for Christmas are greatly exaggerated. And if you don’t get the joke, which we’re sure you do, just click here. If you absolutely feel you need to.

As always, for a full list of F*** Ups we have brought to the world for group derision, just pop F*** Up in the search box top left of this page and hit Enter.

Go on, you know you want to.

This has to be the best ever. Unless, Dear Reader, you know better? And yes, we’re not idiots, we know it could be a photoshop internet meme joke thing, but at this point, sans evidence from, we’re treating it as a real F*** Up, especially as we have seen other equally unlikely ones that we know to be true.

Some fancy dusting, right there ...

Some fancy dusting, right there …

Meanwhile, just coz we’re nice, here’s the best mice pie recipe ever. After all, Christmas isn’t far away now, right? And Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without mince pies. This easy recipe for the rich, sticky, sweet fruits wrapped in pastry reveals why they are so more-ishly delicious.

Mince pies have been eaten as part of a traditional British Christmas since as long ago as the 16th century. Back then they were made with meat (hence the name) but now they are made with sweet mincemeat; a mixture of dried fruits, sugar, spices and brandy.

Cute new design that has become popular recently.

Cute new design that has become popular recently.

Home made “mincemeat” is quick and easy to make and there are also many great commercial brands out there to use instead. The advantage of making your own is that you can, ahem, sample it as you go. Fun for all the family. And your tummy. And the kitchen smells simply awesome.

Suet is an important part of the mincemeat and is an animal fat, so if you don’t eat meat, look out for vegetarian version or make mincemeat using an alternative fat.

Shortcrust pastry is my preferred mince pie case, some like puff pastry, you choose.

  • 350g / 12oz plain / all purpose flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 225g butter / 8 oz cubed or an equal mix of butter and lard
  • 1 beaten egg + 1 cold water as needed
  • 1 jar of mincemeat, shop bought or home made (see below)
  • 2 tbsp icing sugar
  • Prep Time: 25 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: Depends on size of tin used.

Heat the oven to 205°C/400°F/Gas 6

Make the Pastry

  • Place the flour, butter and salt into a large clean bowl.
  • Rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs, working as quickly as possible to prevent the dough becoming warm.
  • Add the egg to the mixture and using a cold knife stir, add cold water a teaspoon at a time until the mixture binds but don’t make it too wet that it is sticky.
  • Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for a minimum of 15 minutes, up to 30 minutes

Assemble the Pies

  • Choose a muffin or bun tin for the size of the pie you want. Choose from a standard 12-cup muffin tin down to small canapé size. The number of pies will depend on the size of cup you choose.
  • Dust a work surface lightly with a little flour and roll out two-thirds of the pastry to 1/8″/3mm thick. Cut circles to line the cups of your tin, don’t worry if the pastry doesn’t come to the top.
  • Fill the pastry lined tins 2/3 full with mincemeat.
  • Roll out the remaining pastry to the same thickness and cut smaller circles to fit as lids on the tarts or to be decorative, cut stars or other fancy shapes.
  • Dampen the edges of the tart bases with a little cold water and press the lids on. Make a small hole in the surface of each pie with a small sharp knife to allow the steam to escape (you can omit this if using star-shaped lids).
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 20 mins (15 mins if making canape size) or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the icing sugar.Mince pies are delicious served hot or cold on their own or with Brandy Butter.They will keep well if placed in an airtight tin – up to seven days. Depending on your personal preference, they benefit from a gentle warming in the oven before serving. As an alternative, eat them with any creamy cheese like Brie or Camembert – unexpectedly perfect combination!

Mincemeat recipe

  • 6oz/175g raisins
  • 4 oz/ 110g sultanas
  • 10 oz/ 275g currants
  • 4 oz/110g candied, mixed peel, finely chopped
  • 6 oz/175g shredded suet (beef or vegetarian)
  • 1/2 lb/ 250g soft, dark brown sugar
  • ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 tsp mixed spice
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 1 Bramley or cooking apple, cored and finely chopped, no need to peel
  • 4 tbsp brandy
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 150 minutes
  • Total Time: 170 minutes
  • Yield: 3 X 1 lb Jars
The other good thing about Christmas catering!

The other good thing about Christmas catering!

If you prefer, add whiskey instead of brandy.

If you prefer, have a glass or two yourself while cooking.

It’s Christmas. You’re allowed.

Nom nom nom.



Teenager buys £600 worth of shopping for 4p and donates food to charity.

Cheer yourself up, click the link.



I am often to be heard murmuring, and more than usual round about this time of year, that wonderful phrase “first world problem”.

“The oven doesn’t cook fast enough.” Well, no it doesn’t, but it does just come on at the turn of a switch, and you don’t have to gather wood before you can eat every day.

“The supermarket is out of my favourite bread.” Yes, but there are 47 other types of loaves within an arm’s reach.

“God, there’s nothing on the TV.” True, but you also have your laptop, the internet, your playstation, musical instruments, hobbies, or you can even go for a walk without someone sniping at you from a nearby rooftop. As you stroll down the street, if you’re lucky, people will actually smile at you. They may even say “Good evening.”

And most of all. “I can’t think of anything to give so-and-so this year.” Well, turn on the tap then, and give them a glass of water. Clean, pure, uninfected water. Then give a gift of clean water tor someone who needs it, on behalf of your friend or family member.

I don’t consider myself an especially holy or even particularly good human being. Like most people, I have my good bits and bad bits. I can be as thoughtless and as selfish as the next person. And while I always try to find a few bob for those less well off than myself, I know I can and should always do more. And every year, round about this time, I hear my old Mum saying “Count your blessings, Son”.

She came from another era, to be sure. An era when there wasn’t enough medicine or doctors, when children died of vitamin deficiencies in “advanced” countries, countries that were periodically locked in titanic death struggles with the forces of evil, when food was hard to come by, when fuel was in short supply, when tens of millions of workers were unemployed and it seemed like no-one cared. As she turned out Depression-era meals onto the dining table long after the need to be so careful with our pennies had passed, she quietly inculcated in me a profound respect for what we have, instead of an envy for what we don’t. What that woman could do with a chicken that was years past the moment it should have been popped in an oven was a small miracle.

So as you struggle with your first world problems this Christmas, please, give what you can to those with nothing. This is how I do it. It’s even fun, too. Who said doing good has to be boring? Not the ‘Beests.

(This is why you cant get any sense out of me after noon on the first Friday of every month. Well, you can try … new ‘Beests always welcome. Spread the conspiracy.)

Shopping malls. Dangerous places for all men. You have been warned, ladies.

Man jumps seven storeys after fight with girlfriend

(From Yahoo, Daily Mail and others)

A Chinese shopper has tragically taken his life after he couldn’t bear to enter another shop with his girlfriend.

Witnesses said the man leapt to his death at a popular shopping centre after getting into an argument with his partner.

Tao Hsiao had been shopping with his girlfriend for five hours.

Despite already carrying a large number of bags, the woman insisted that they go into one more store where there was a sale on shoes.

An eyewitness said: “He told her she already had enough shoes, more shoes that she could wear in a 
lifetime and it was pointless buying any more.

“She started shouting at him accusing him of being a skinflint and of spoiling Christmas, it was a really heated argument.”

The pair argued until Hsiao dropped the bags he was carrying and jumped over the rail, falling seven storeys through Christmas ornaments.

Authorities said the man died immediately on impact when he hit the floor.

A shopping spokesman said: “His body was removed fairly quickly. He actually landed on one of the stalls below and then fell to the floor so although the store was damaged it meant he didn’t hit anybody.”

“This is a tragic incident, but this time of year can be very stressful for many people.”


Memo to Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink: a few new pairs of socks is fine, thanks.

A set of the ever popular series "Sunrise Anticipation"

A set of the ever popular series “Sunrise Anticipation”

It is tough, when one is so obviously a genius oneself, Dear Reader, to confront the fact that one’s better half is rapidly proving to the world that she is smarter than one by a considerable factor.

One has the pleasure, sometimes, of visiting Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink in her Richmond, Melbourne studio, to sit and watch her producing her glass: measuring, scoring, breaking, rearranging, merging, melting, creating.

Her eye for colour and what goes with what betrays her genes as the daughter of an oil painter and member of the Royal Academy on one side, of a talented pencil sketch and portrait artist on the other, with one brother who is a highly regarded watercolourist and another who is a talented amateur sculptor.

jenie's bowl

At dinner parties or with clients, at the drop of a hat she can wax lyrical about the various melting points of glass, the way it behaves under certain treatments, how it’s manufactured, and has also developed an encyclopaedic knowledge of other glass artists around the world, with whom she networks effortlessly and with great generosity of spirit.

So anyway, last night she presented her latest work – a multi-coloured 40cm x 40 cm lattice fruit bowl – you can see it in the picture above –  to her newest client, who was duly gobsmacked with its beauty. The clever thing about this item is how it combines solving a real life problem with beauty. The holes in the lattice let air circulate under the fruit, keeping it fresh for longer. The nexus where practicality meets art has long been a source of inspiration for artists, (Clarice Clift, anyone? Alessi?), and we see it again here.

I see this reaction again and again – how people admire the glass from different angles, marvelling not only its artistry but also it’s crafted mechanical aspects, how it simply “works”, and how it is nothing like they have ever seen before, which, of course, it always is, as every single item that comes out of the kiln is unique.

How it both refracts and reflects the light, turning our world into something new as it is rotated, leaned, lifted, peered around and through.

Detail from another favourite design of Jenie Yolland's. called Sparkling Chlorophyl

Detail from another favourite design of Jenie Yolland’s called Sparkling Chlorophyl

Artists do not receive, in my opinion, anything like the recognition they deserve, as they meander through our lives wide-eyed in wonder at the world about them , lifting gloom, inspiring, causing us to pause and reflect on the nature of life, of the things we see around us, and on each other.

I am very proud of my wife. So I thought, after nearly 600 blog posts, it was long overdue that I said so.

That is all.

If you would like to experience more of her work, you are more than welcome to head to her Etsy shop at But do us all a favour, if you’d like something as a Christmas gift, delivered to Ulan Bator, please don’t leave it till December 24th.

Or you could head yourself over to and like her FB page and join in the conversation.

flierIf you live in the Melbourne area (or if you feel like visiting) Jenie will even teach you how to make your very own piece of art glass.

One was one of the guinea pigs for her class, and one promises you hand on heart it’s the best couple of hundred bucks you’ll ever spend, and amazing value for money.

She even throws in a light lunch. Remember what we said about generous?

If you’re interested, give her a ring direct on 0408 899 900. (From outside Australia, +61 409 899 900.)

You go, grrrl.

One of the weirdest thing about being a northern hemisphere fellow in a southern hemisphere world is obviously the fact that it’s blazing hot at Christmas-time in the antipodes.

Readers who were on board this time last year will remember the article Home Thoughts From Abroad when Melbourne was visited by the thunderstorm to end all thunderstorms on Christmas Day 2011. I am pleased to report Christmas Day 2012 was much less dramatic.

Summer in the heat has its own traditions. Using the barbecue not the oven, for one. (Indeed, wandering the streets at this time of the year at any mealtime will leave most people salivating by the time they get home, as the air is perpetually heavy with the sweet smell of grilling steaks and snags – otherwise known as sausages or links, depending on where you’re from.) Oyster Bloody Mary shooters are a regular in the Wellthisiswhatithink household – they’re a hell of a good way to start the meal preparation time. Most people down here now choose seafood not turkey on Christmas Day itself – especially lobster, (hang the price), and, of course, the ubiquitous prawns. (Which down here are gigantic, not the shrimps you get around northern Europe.) Heading to the beach or the cricket on Boxing Day is another favourite.

(We actually prefer to call Boxing Day “St Stephen’s Day” in our home, for obvious reasons.)

And not least in the traditions of the Christmas-New Year is the annual “Blimey, it’s Christmas already, we really need to get the pool ready for use!”

It was particularly the case for us this year, because during the off season we had the pool re-painted, after years of it looking like a patchwork quilt of the previous three paint jobs, all of which had worn off the base concrete to some degree or other.

The ineffably beautiful Jacaranda tree, inspiration for our "new" pool.

The ineffably beautiful Jacaranda tree, inspiration for our “new” pool.

So the pool is now unique. No, I don’t mean it’s nice, or new looking, or all that. On a whim, we chose a colour that the pool painter said the paint company told him had never been ordered before! It’s called “Jacaranda”, after the flowers of that lovely tropical tree which abounds throughout Australia at this time of year, or if you feel a little more prosaic, “Purple” would describe it just as well.

We now have the only purple pool in Melbourne. Unless you know different.

So, sure as the most common comment you hear at this time of the year is “My God when is it ever going to rain?” Dad gets despatched to the pool to get the accumulated detritus off the floor of the pool so it can be enjoyed in the warmer months. Our pool is surrounded by very beautiful trees that shed constantly (not a smart idea to plant them in the first place, but we inherited the problem) so a decent blow and it can look like there’s a small field growing on the floor of the pool overnight.

The funny thing is, we have one of those automatic pool cleaners. The ones that quietly vibrate their way around your pool, vacuuming up the crap and cleaning the water at the same time. But ours is seriously old. It was given to us as a gift years ago, and has been quietly putt-putting around on and off ever since, gradually getting less and less efficient. But we can’t bring ourselves to chuck it out. It’s almost like a pet. We call it the Putt-Putt and nurse it back to life every summer with loving care, which this year involved actually taking it to the pool shop in desperation, whereupon Mr Putt-Putt Vet (known to the rest of the community as the man who runs the pool shop) diagnosed a near fatal hole in a critical part of the structure, which he repaired for free with something akin to cement. Thus far, Putt-Putt is well, and I am eternally grateful to his saviour. If you want to know a pool man who actually does something – anything – for free, call me.

But Putt-Putt has a problem. It’s on the end of a hose which doesn’t reach easily to the shallow end of the pool. In addition, the pool was dug many moons ago, when they didn’t make structures that are peacefully sloped to the deep end that isnt so deep anyway.

In our pool, the slope down to the deep end is like the north face of the Eiger and the deep end is so deep that you could drown a brigade of cavalry in it and no one would notice. Putt-Putt simply can’t make it up the hill.

Walking the Putt-Putt ... a time honoured Wellthisiswhatithink Christmas tradition.

Walking the Putt-Putt … a time honoured Wellthisiswhatithink Christmas tradition.

So every year, we undergo a ritual called “Dad’s walking the Putt-Putt”.

This involves me using the device exactly as it isn’t meant to be used, in other words, carefully shepherding it around the shallow end of the pool as if it was, indeed, a gentle old dog needing a bit of help finding his water bowl. Automatic it ain’t.

It’s all worth it in the end. There is nothing much as wonderful as reading the newspaper by a sparkling pool and plonking into it when one gets overheated. Friends come round and share quality time – once they get past worrying that we’ll think they only want to see us because we’ve got a pool – we are quite happy to acknowledge that they want to see us AND we’ve got a pool ready and waiting on a 100 degree day – bonus.

One Christmas tradition in Australia is not so welcome. The fires have started up in Tasmania over the last couple of days and it is feared lives have been lost along with plenty of homes. And today there are over 100 fires burning in New South Wales with over 20 of them out of control. In Victoria, we lost 173 hundred people (with another 414 injured) in February 2009 in an event called Black Saturday. The event is still seared into the minds of the entire community. For twelve terrifying hours the fire separated me from my family, still on holiday in an area with a fire roaring towards it, as I had chosen to return from our family holiday early. My daughter’s best friend was with her and my wife. At one point, her parents phoned my wife and asked for the numberplate of her car. No one needed to ask why. If they got caught in the firefront, they wanted to know how to identify that their daughter had died.

It is hard to explain the horror of the inevitability, the inexorability, the sheer uncontestability of a large grass or bush fire in Australia. Of course, we are not the only country that suffers these frightening events, but as the driest continent in the world we suffer them more often, and more severely.They are a natural part of the bush renewing itself. Essentially, humans were never meant to live here, and we do so at our peril, clinging to the land nervously, knowing full well we are not in charge.

As the world warms, the fires will come earlier, and harder, than ever before, just as they have this year. Indeed, the weather in NSW today was reported earlier as the worst fire danger day ever recorded.

As I walk the Putt-Putt around the shallow end, you can’t see it, but I am praying. You can read below about Australia’s “Dome of Heat”.

Er … Mayor? Someone?



Merry Christmas to all my friends in Brighton.

I bet local councils everywhere add “Christmas Lights” to their risk assessment profile from now on!

Christmas in Australia

Christmas in Australia ... dirty work, but someone's gotta do it.

OK, so I have to confess: I never really get used to Christmas in Australia. I don’t think I ever really will. Not a complaint, merely an observation.

It’s often bloody hot, for a start. Not just warm, but hot. A friend posts to Facebook that he’s excited to be going to Florida for the holidays where it’s due to be 80 degrees on his arrival. I guess when most of the Northern Hemisphere at this time of year is either cold, or wet, or perhaps cold and wet, that’s good.  Then again, the mercury passed 90 in Melbourne about the same time, and has been climbing steadily ever since.

It’s just not right, somehow.

Last night, at Midnight Mass, the hot weather broke, for about fifteen minutes, as a sharp, severe thunderstorm hit semi-rural Warrandyte, near Melbourne.

(Why we were in Warrandyte? We had met the vicar at the local craft market some weeks previously, where she was cheerfully selling wooden toys and home-made jams to raise funds for the Lord’s cause. A cheerfully chubby lady (says he, who was last described as slim, er, well, never, actually) I hollered out “It’s the Vicar of Dibley!”  She smiled wanly at me, and murmured, “I’m OK with that, really, the therapy sessions have been working.” In response, it seemed only right that we should patronise her pretty little Church for Christmas – and it was called St Stephen’s, as it happens – spooky or what? Anyway, I digress.)

So right in the middle of the Vicar’s homily, God started moving the furniture around upstairs. It started with a few distant rumbles, then some refreshing rain, and then whammo, God dropped the leather recliner armchair he uses for watching sports on TV, right over our heads.

Megan the Vic had just got to the core of her sermon: how important it is that we remember to do the little things at Christmas, the ordinary things that touch people’s heart, when all the lights went out, bar a few well-placed candles. After a brief pause, she carried on, and a few more trenchant remarks later, there was another percussive, punctuating clap of thunder, and the lights all came back on again. People shot each other meaningful looks.

In a small country Church, with a total of maybe forty people, everyone can hear everything. I turned to the future father of my grandchildren and remarked: “Neat trick.”  Hardly pausing for breath, Megan deadpanned from the pulpit: “That’s why I get paid the big bucks.”


After the service, we drove future-son-in-law back to his place, windows wide open, oceans of warm, wet air streaming into the car. At 2am, steam rose off the road, almost fog-like. The sky was now perfectly clear, the deepest imperial blue, almost black, like wet just-laid tar, and studded with a billion billion stars. Anyone who has ever seen the Southern hemisphere sky will understand. It is wildly, unfathomably more brilliant and dramatic than the north. Frankly, it’s worth heading south just to see it, at least once, before you die.

Rising bleary-eyed on Christmas morn, the day was already oppressively hot. All the new blue blinds are wound down around the house, the three small air-conditioning units are labouring ceaselessly and largely ineffectually, and the ceiling fan whirls and clicks in the kitchen, stirring the sticky air to no purpose whatsoever that I can divine. By the time we are halfway through the present opening, sweat pops uncontrolled on the forehead and trickles down one’s chest.

Time for champagne, with a block of ice in it. Hang tradition, and snobby wine critics with it. Champagne was not invented to be drunk on days like this, or, indeed, in Australia, but it is Christmas, and I am damned if I will resort to water.

As one glances outside at the pool, it is clear that the overnight thunderstorm has also encouraged the water, by some miracle of chemistry that I will never understand, to turn milky-white and opaque, instead of crystal Mediterranean clear. And then on cue, the good Lord decides he is not happy with the interior design from last night, and starts shifting furniture around again. The heavens open, then shut again. And then again.

Family swim tomorrow, then. And I take a management decision – the duck will remain un-basted and uncooked in the fridge, because it’s too hot for a roast.

Wherever it is I have got to in my wandering life, it is never where I expected to be. So I sit down at my computer instead of pottering with the duck, and idly reminisce over what Christmas used to be like before I ended up on the other side of the planet, more by accident than intent. I recall that when a mere youth I would always wander down on Christmas morning to the Saxon King pub in Southbourne, and have a couple of pints of Gales 6X while Mum struggled to make sense of cooking a turkey for two people.

Need a recipe for left-over turkey rissoles? Just message me.

It rarely snowed, but it was often bitterly cold, and roughly every other day a biting wet wind would sweep in off the English Channel, lashing the little seaside town with horizontal rain. We would cower in the pub, and eat free Stilton provided by the publican, stacking on the body blubber for the walk home like so many vigilant Eskimos. And later in my life, you would find me trudging home from watching Southampton play on Boxing Day, invariably either frozen or sodden – but happy – to thaw out or dry out in the Bevois Town Hotel with mates.

Yes, I am a long way from home.

When you’ve moved around a fair bit, it never really stops being a long way from home, even when what you perceive as home stops being home and home becomes where you are now. I run the idea past my daughter, and she remarks that this will be her memory of “home”, when she has moved on.

Lobster tails on the BBQ

Too hot for Duck. Damn it. Oh, well.

On the other hand, there are compensations for the life Antipodean. The oyster and Bloody Mary shooters for breakfast are already a happy memory. The “champagne”, grown just up the road, is seven bucks a bottle, and by the third glass I am feeling no pain, memsahib and the fruit of my loins have finished breaking open the Antarctic Crab legs that we have decided on instead of duck, and the crayfish tails that I am about to barbecue momentarily and serve with white wine and garlic butter are looking moist and inviting.

Later, we will even get to chuckle at the Queens Speech before it’s seen in her own country.

The message of Christmas is surely to be thankful for small mercies. The small mercy of a tiny child, laid on straw and wrapped in rags, whose words and actions were to change the world, mainly for the best, for the rest of time. And the fact that although the heat may be weighing on my aging British head  like a ton of bricks, we have been blessed with enough good fortune to have a choice of Christmas lunches, and a damn fine choice, at that.

So, Merry Christmas, everyone, wherever you call home today. As I write, the mother of all thunderstorms is now breaking over us, with hail so bad the better half and daughter rush out and cover the cars in the driveway, and so intense and lasting so long that the roof is leaking in 20 different places, and every towel and receptacle we have is rushed into service to prevent the entire house (and all the Christmas presents) disappearing under water. It’s called a “super cell”  storm apparently, which I suspect isn’t good. There’s a tropical cyclone due in Darwin, tomorrow, as well. Then again, that is a long, long way from here, too, and in this case, thank goodness.

“Weird country we live in,” mutters my daughter, serving us panacotta and fresh strawberries, as we watch the pool making like it isn’t a suburban front yard pool but a storm-tossed sea some latitudes further towards the equator.

Indeed, it is. Anyway, anyone mesmerised by the opening photo of this article will be amused by this little flash, hot off the presses. Personally, I am going to bed for a snooze: isn’t that what Christmas afternoon is all about? I see I am supposed to turn the computer off. Isn’t this exciting? Isn’t it like actually being here? The wonders of modern communications, eh?

For coverage of how bad the storms now are this afternoon, just pop here. or here

Meanwhile, I shall set the alarm for Her Maj. Pip pip.

Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology
Victoria Regional Office



For people in the Inner, Eastern, Northern, Western and parts of the South East,
Geelong and Bellarine Peninsula, Outer East and Port Phillip Local Warning

Issued at 5:19 pm Sunday, 25 December 2011.

The Bureau of Meteorology warns that, at 5:10 pm, very dangerous thunderstorms
were detected on weather radar near Bacchus Marsh, Greensborough, Hurstbridge,
Lilydale, Yarra Glen and the area south of Bacchus Marsh. These thunderstorms
are moving towards the east to southeast. Very dangerous thunderstorms are
forecast to affect Deer Park, Healesville, Melton, St Albans, Sydenham and the
area south of Melton by 5:40 pm and Craigieburn, Essendon, Footscray, Melbourne
Airport, Preston and Sunbury by 6:10 pm.

Other severe thunderstorms were located near the area north of Meredith and the
area west of the Brisbane Ranges. They are forecast to affect Anakie East,
Brisbane Ranges, Lara, the You Yangs, the area south of the Brisbane Ranges and
the area west of Werribee by 5:40 pm and eastern parts of the Bellarine
Peninsula, northern parts of the Bellarine Peninsula, Portarlington, waters off
Portarlington, waters off St Leonards and the area east of Lara by 6:10 pm.

Destructive winds, very heavy rainfall, flash flooding, large hailstones and
tornadoes are likely.

A tornado has been reported near Fiskville [15km west of Bacchus Marsh]
associated with the thunderstorm currently south of Bacchus Marsh.
Very large hail has been reported with thunderstorms this afternoon.

The State Emergency Service advises that people should:
* Keep clear of fallen power lines.
* secure any loose objects in the vicinity of your home.
* keep away from creeks and drains.
* do not drive vehicles through flooded areas.
* stay indoors if possible.
* Avoid using the phone during the storm.
* if you are outside, avoid sheltering under trees
* listen to the radio for storm updates
* switch off your computer and electrical appliances

The next warning is due to be issued by 6:20 pm.

As we hurtle ever faster down the slippery slope that leads us to Christmas,  for many in the world tonight is the start of Hanukkah – it was last night here in Oz – and someone kindly reminded me of this HILARIOUS seasonal-specific piece by Sarah Silverman, who is not only one of the cleverest comediennes in the world but undoubtedly one of the cutest. Just bloody funny – enjoy 🙂

And a Happy Christmas and a Happy Hanukkah and a Happy Whateverthehellelseitis to all of you from all of us at Planet WellThisIsWhatIThink. Which is just me, of course.