Touch wood

Many people who are not superstitious actually say things which are superstitious when wishing people well – ‘cross fingers’, ‘best of luck/good luck’ and ‘touch wood’. Cross fingers i guess comes from a religious origin – but is touching wood or knocking on wood a left-over from touching relics, or having religious relics such as a splinter from the cross, or a fragment of a ‘holy’ person’s coffin? Some people argue that it is much older than the Christian religion and goes back to pagan times when some trees were considered sacred, so touching them, or having a bit of wood with you as an amulet would keep you safe. Other people argue that the tree thing is just something made up nineteenth century romantics – and touching wood comes from reaching and touching the door into a place of safety.

There are hundreds of different explanations, from lumberjacks to cattle auctions, coal miners to sailors… here is a link to a selection:,5753,-22199,00.html

.. and here is something from the Danny Kaye film, ‘Knock on Wood’




Nobody’s fool…

I shared a clip from a Danny Kaye film a little while ago, wondering if I would find it as funny as I did when I was little. I may not have laughed as much, but I certainly enjoyed it…. I enjoyed it so much I am sharing another excerpt from the same film ‘The Court Jester’. Danny Kaye was born to Ukrainian/Jewish parents in 1911, and was named David Daniel Kaminsky; he starred in so many popular films, including The Secret Life of Walter MittyThe Inspector General, and  Hans Christian Andersen . Famous – world famous for his singing and acting, maybe his greatest legacy was his charitable work, much of which was for UNICEF.

Here he is as the court jester…

By the way, my featured image is from Efteling in the Netherlands

Swans…icebergs of white feather

I grew up in Cambridge and spent so much of my life by on and even in the river, the River Cam. To see it now, sluggish and smelly and turgid it doesn’t look very much, and even when I was a child it was already becoming polluted; but even so we boated on it, we cycled by it, we swam in it… and whenever I read ‘The Wind in the Willows’ my memories come floating back:

`I beg your pardon,’ said the Mole, pulling himself together with an effort. `You must think me very rude; but all this is so new to me. So–this–is–a–River!’

`THE River,’ corrected the Rat.

`And you really live by the river? What a jolly life!’

`By it and with it and on it and in it,’ said the Rat. `It’s brother and sister to me, and aunts, and company, and food and drink, and (naturally) washing. It’s my world, and I don’t want any other. What it hasn’t got is not worth having, and what it doesn’t know is not worth knowing.”

There was always life on the river, and in the river, fish of all different sorts and water-birds, particularly ducks, moor-hens and swans. We steered well clear of swans, nasty, vicious, hissing things, but so beautiful to look at as they swam or drifted by. They have such elegance and grace, and yet an almost spiteful temperament.  The Danny Kaye song from the Hans Christian Anderson story about the ugly duckling was also very familiar to me; I knew what cygnets looked like, and knew how they changed into swans… “a glide and a whistle and a snowy white back and ahead held noble and high…”

As a child without a television, I had read about black swans but never seen any; they sounded so exotic, and glamorous, compared to our formal and elegant white beasts. So when, a couple of years ago I saw a beautiful pair, not in Australia, their natural habitat, but the Netherlands, I was disproportionately excited!

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThe quot in the title comes from a beautiful poem by Owen Sheers, ‘Winter Swans’