Jonathan's Mistletoe Diary

October 18, 2018

Some mistletoe events at Tenbury Wells 2018

Filed under: Current Affairs,Media,Mistletoe,Religion,social history,Travel — Jonathan Briggs @ 2:41 pm

Tenbury is hosting its mistletoe auctions and festival again this year.

auction1Mistletoe Auction dates are:

  • Tuesday 27th November
  • Tuesday 4th December
  • Tuesday 11th December

All take place at Burford House Garden Stores, Burford, Tenbury Wells, WR15 8HQ and are organised by Nick Champion.

 

druids1Druid Mistletoe Ceremony is on Saturday 1st December
This is organised by The Mistletoe Foundation who will be on the Burgage in Tenbury Wells for the Mistletoe Ceremony at 2pm as part of Tenbury Mistletoe Festival 2018.

The ceremony will honour the Mistletoe, male and female plants, and the harvests of the Teme Valley.  Participants (all welcome) are invited to meet at S.E.N.S.E (Temeside House, Teme St, Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire, WR15 8AA) at 1.15pm. The procession to the Burgage will begin at 1.45pm. Or you can join in at the Burgage from 2pm.

Other Mistletoe Festival Event information will be available soon – you can check the Tenbury Mistletoe Association website (showing last year’s events at present)  or their facebook page for updates.

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October 17, 2018

Plans for Mistletoe Diary winter 2018/9

Filed under: Biodiversity,Current Affairs,Gardening,Media,Mistletoe,Science — Jonathan Briggs @ 4:22 pm

mistletoemachineIt’s that time again, again.  With my first mistletoe talk of the season tomorrow (18th Oct) I’m dusting down the Mistletoe Machine and planning what to say, do and report on this season.

Current thoughts, for the blog this season, include:

  • Reviewing the state of the ‘crop’ (though I never really go along with this ‘crop’ concept – which implies someone actually tends it!)
  • Biodiversity news – reports on latest findings on mistletoe and conservation in the UK including…
    • a possible new UK mistletoe insect, albeit one that simply eats one of the existing mistletoe insects
    • new studies showing how UK mistletoe growths can influence (positively) the wider biodiversity around themselves
  • Plus corresponding news about other mistletoes worldwide – their insects, their conservation value etc.
  • A discussion about recent research on mistletoe’s interesting mitochondrial biology – specifically the lack of Complex 1, part of the respiration chain used by all multicellular organisms, except, er, mistletoe… Don’t be put off, this may be sub-cellular biology but it is, in discovery terms, fairly massive.
  • And, maybe, if that goes well, a review of recent research into mistletoe phylogeny – how mistletoe(s) have evolved.
  • Plus a series of tangential discussions about other plant parasites, particularly the Dodders and Toothworts and how they are, or might be, grown in gardens. Yes, I admit some are, visually, somewhat challenging but others are downright pretty parasites which deserve more appreciation
  • And, talking of growing in gardens, there will be updates on growing mistletoe itself (clue – don’t do what the gardening books say – even the RHS still spouts complete bol**cks on this, it really does make me despair.  I do wonder about their grasp of basic plant biology!)

More info, as always, on the sites linked at http://mistletoe.org.uk/

And, for growing it, try englishmistletoeshop.co.uk or growmistletoe.co.uk

December 20, 2017

Birdlime #2 – Sticky Bombs

Filed under: Blogroll,Mistletoe,Science,social history — Jonathan Briggs @ 10:29 pm

The sticky mistletoe uses I mentioned last week – catching birds with mistletoe glue  – seem tame compared with some of the other activities associated with Birdlime. Again, whether it really was ever made from mistletoe may be debatable – but there are certainly strong traditions. You can even buy modern versions of it, and though I doubt there’s much mistletoe in them, the name does stick (no pun intended).

71LMMmgJ7KL._SL1500_Here, for example is Nuovo Vischio Marrone, a tube of glue from Italy.  The name translates as New Brown Mistletoe Glue, and is sometimes simply translated as ‘Birdlime’. It seems to be merely an everyday glue for card and paper, nothing like the sticky trapping birdlime it derives from.

Such ‘artificial’ birdlime, unrelated to the original, is quite a well-established concept.  One noted British manufacturer in the mid 20th century was a firm called Kay Brothers, based in Stockport, who produced a wide range of domestic chemicals including hand-cleaners, grease removers and metal polishes.  They made a version of birdlime in a tin, branded simply with their trademark K.

Manufacturing Sticky Bombs

Manufacturing Sticky Bombs

This played an odd, but significant, role in WW2 – when the concept of a ‘Sticky Bomb‘ to attack tanks was first discussed.  The idea was that if a soldier could get close to a tank he might be able to stick some concentrated high explosive to it – which would be activated a few seconds later after the tank had moved away. The explosives part took some research – and so did finding the right glue for the sticky part.

The story goes that birdlime was suggested, a tin was procured, but branded just with ‘K’ and Stockport. Inventor Stuart Macrae, working in ‘MD1’, one of the British secret gadget-making units, had to travel to Stockport to track down the firm and, having done so, recruited them to work on his sticky bomb project, developing a new glue specially for the sticky bombs. Macrae tells the story himself in his book Winston Churchill’s Toyshop (1971). The account in Wikipedia suggests that the bombs had a somewhat sticky (no pun intended) start, slow to catch on (ditto), but were successfully used in many wartime arenas.

And the concept certainly caught on in popular thinking – I was recently re-reading a book from my childhood, The Otterbury Incident by Cecil Day Lewis, and was reminded that the rival schoolboy gangs in the opening chapters use (pretend) Sticky Bombs in their war games.  Published in 1948, very soon after the war, this may reflect the ubiquity of the concept at the time.

It would seem that mistletoe glue might, ultimately, be behind the success of the anti-tank sticky bomb – which is somewhat sobering.


If you want to handle (and grow more) some of those sticky berries yourself, why not buy a Mistletoe Grow-Kit from the English Mistletoe Shop?  Details here: https://englishmistletoeshop.co.uk/live/

December 18, 2017

Mythletoe Growing Myths

Filed under: Blogroll,Current Affairs,Gardening,Media,Mistletoe,Science — Jonathan Briggs @ 7:37 am

Every year. EVERY year.  The media, even the gardening media, peddle rubbishy old nonsensical myths about how to grow mistletoe.  Yesterday BBC Radio 4 Gardener’s Question Time were telling people to make a hole in the bark, stick the seed in and, wait for it…..  seal it in with Sealing Wax!!! An astonishing thing to suggest – not least because who has a stick of Sealing Wax handy these days?

Meanwhile Smallholder Magazine’s January issue is telling people to cut flaps in bark, stick the seeds under and bind it all up with hessian.

These are not unusual – gardening lore for mistletoe is full of these weird, mediaeval-sounding methods.  Even the official RHS ‘Advice’ does so.

And then they say ‘only one in ten seeds germinate’ (RHS, Smallholder magazine) or that successfully growing mistletoe is the ‘Holy Grail’ of gardening (BBC GQT).  In other words they think it is fiendishly difficult.

Well yes, if you follow their methods it is. As their methods will inhibit germination and kill the seeds.

Whereas, if you apply the tiniest piece of common sense and think about how mistletoe spreads naturally – by birds wiping or excreting seeds onto branches, whereupon they germinate and grow – you’ll realise that there’s no alchemy to this.  The seeds just need to be put on a branch.

The seeds need light, need to penetrate bark their own way and need space to grow.  None of which they get if you’ve buried them in an early grave inside the tree. The seeds just need to be put on a branch.

The seeds just need to be put on a branch.

The seeds just need to be put on a branch.

The seeds just need to be put on a branch.

The seeds just need to be put on a branch.

For considered advice visit mistletoe.org.uk/homewp/index.php/grow-your-own/ and for Grow-Your-Own Kits visit englishmistletoeshop.co.uk

December 13, 2017

Mistletoe Kissing #1 – the good side

Filed under: Blogroll,Current Affairs,Media,Mistletoe,social history — Jonathan Briggs @ 8:29 am

Every year there are media stories on – how shall I put it? – the potential ‘nuisance’ caused by the mistletoe kissing custom. Usually this centres on the dreaded Office Party. But this year is worse than most – the press, inspired by the avalanche of molestation stories, is overflowing with dire warnings about mistletoe.

I should report on that, as it is a serious issue and there are ways (mistletoe ‘etiquette’) to at least reduce the risks.

But not yet. Today I’d prefer to be a little more light-hearted and cover mistletoe kissing in the right spirit. So here’s an innocent video from 1992 – a TV advert for Yellow Pages.  This was immensely popular, and was re-used by Yellow Pages every Christmas for several years.

It’s not shown anymore though – probably because Yellow Pages is no longer as thick!

Dean Cook reprising his role for a Daily Mail article (but this time with plastic mistletoe – yuck!)

Researching the two young actors is interesting – there are several media reports on the boy, Dean Cook, with a specific feature in the Guardian in 2014 and inclusion in a Daily Mail ‘famous poses’ feature in 2017 (they picture him taking the same pose now – see left). Dean is, depending on which reports you read, either still acting or running an upholstery firm, possibly both of course.

But who was the girl?

 

 


I’ll venture into ‘Mistletoe Kissing #2 – the Dark Side ‘ in a day or two…

 


Meanwhile, of course, if you want to find out more about mistletoe, try the Mistletoe Pages and the English Mistletoe Shop.

December 12, 2017

Birdlime #1 – Sticky Ends

Sticky excreted mistletoe berry pulp, and seeds, at a thrush toilet in a mistletoe-laden tree

Sticky excreted mistletoe berry pulp, and seeds, at a thrush toilet in a mistletoe-laden tree

Turdus ipse sibi malum cacat, an old latin proverb, relates directly to mistletoe, and to the capture of birds.  It translates as ‘the thrush excretes its own trouble (or death)’ and is all about Birdlime, a sticky substance once used widely to capture small birds.  One of the traditional, and perhaps fundamental, ingredients of Birdlime, was mistletoe, especially the sticky juice form the berries.  The proverb is about mistle thrushes, eating mistletoe berries and creating long strings of sticky turds, formed of semi-digested mistletoe gunk, very similar to manufactured birdlime.

It seems an odd concept now, the idea of taking a load of mistletoe berries to make a gluey paste to then capture birds.  Why and how would it be done? And how long ago did this start?  The latin saying has origins over 2000 years ago, with early attributions including Plautus (254-184 BC) and slightly later ones to Athenaeus (2nd-3rd century AD). It was repeated in various forms over the centuries, notably by Erasmus (1466-1536) in his Adagia (c 1500).  This antiquity does raise some questions over which thrush and which mistletoe is meant (Plautus was based in Italy, 2200 years ago) but, putting that aside, it does seem to make sense – if birdlime is indeed made from mistletoe berries.

As for why and how, the why is to capture birds for food or, sometimes, for caged birds.  The how is simple – smearing the birdlime onto branches, sometimes with a a tethered captured bird to lure others in.  It sounds old and barbaric – and it is.  But it is also an ongoing phenomenon in some countries around the world, including, apparently, in Europe (see this story from 2007).  The indiscriminate nature of this trapping method was and is a particularly nasty aspect.  Spain continued (and possibly still does continue) the practice until recently – a 2004 EU review of the legality is outlined here and some more news on this from 2006 is outlined here.

But, getting back to the Birdlime itself, was this really made from mistletoe and if so was it really from the berries? That’s certainly what the proverb implies – but in reality many Birdlime recipes exist and mistletoe isn’t often a major ingredient.  Interestingly (just to keep a seasonal theme!) Holly bark is a major ingredient in many European recipes, boiled up to create a sticky mess. Slippery Elm bark appears in US recipes. Mistletoe also features in these recipes, but some refer to Loranthus europeaus, the yellow berried (and disappointingly deciduous!) mistletoe of central southern Europe. Plautus might have known that mistletoe better than our white-berried Viscum album.

So whilst mistletoe was an ingredient it may never have been the primary one, and it may not even have been our mistletoe. But let’s not let that get in the way of a good story…

My favourite version from the historic accounts isn’t Plautus, but good old Aesop (620 – 564 BC) in his fables, where the story is referenced in the fable ‘The Owl and the Birds’.  This isn’t, probably, an Aesop original but one of the many added in later editions, so it is not as old as his dates imply. You only find it in some of the longer compilations, and even then the mistletoe story is only mentioned as part of a general warning to the birds of other risks.  Here’s the story from the Folio Society version:

There’s a lot more to say about Birdlime – I’ll post Birdlime #2 in a few days…


In the meantime, if you want to handle (and grow more) some of those sticky berries yourself, why not buy a Mistletoe Grow-Kit from the English Mistletoe Shop?  Details here: https://englishmistletoeshop.co.uk/live/

December 10, 2017

Radio Gloucestershire, despite the snow

kateclarkI was talking mistletoe, and mistletoe Grow-Kits, with Kate Clark from Radio Gloucestershire this morning. In the studio in Gloucester, despite the snow.

Can’t add audio direct to the blog but click the link below to go an extract of the mistletoe bit:

http://mistletoe.org.uk/audio/BBCGlos10thDec2017.mp3?_=1

Or, for the whole programme try iplayer here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p001y3bx/episodes/player

And for Grow-Kits themselves try here:  https://englishmistletoeshop.co.uk or here: http://growmistletoe.co.uk

December 8, 2017

Two more mistletoe men gone…

Filed under: Blogroll,Current Affairs,Media,Mistletoe,social history — Jonathan Briggs @ 10:09 pm

The TEME team in 2005: Jen Green, Alec Wall, Jonathan Briggs, Stan Yapp and Reg Farmer

Two more grand old mistletoe men were lost to us in 2017 – Reg Farmer and Alec Wall – both of Tenbury Wells.  I first met them both back in 2003, or maybe 2004, I can’t recall exactly.  They were hoping to promote Tenbury Wells’ mistletoe heritage at a time when it seemed that the mistletoe auctions were soon to cease. Others involved were Stan Yapp (the ‘Mistletoe King’, who died in 2013 aged 80) and local author Jen Green (still with us as far as I’m aware!).  They persuaded me to join their campaign and the five of us formed a business partnership – Tenbury English Mistletoe Enterprise, or TEME for short.

Reg, a farmer by profession as well as by name, died in August, aged 88, after a remarkable career in local government and politics, beginning in 1961 on Lindridge Parish Council and only finishing in 2011, during which he spent many years representing his area at District and County level, twice as Chair of Malvern Hills District Council and also their first and only honorary Alderman.  Alec, a former police detective who had retired to the area to farm at Stoke Bliss, died in September, aged 82.  He too had taken an active role in local politics, also serving several stints as a local councillor.

TEME’s aims were to keep Tenbury’s mistletoe trading tradition alive through whatever trade and promotions we could think up.  And we really thought the auctions would cease (the auction site was being sold and the auctioneers who ran it were moving out of town) .

On the promotional side we created the Tenbury Wells Mistletoe Festival, along with National Mistletoe Day and the Mistletoe Queen, all of which seem like long-established fixtures now.  And we (mainly me actually) encouraged the druid Mistletoe Foundation to bring their mistletoe ceremony to town each year – this is also now an established fixture.

On the trading side we launched Britain’s first online mail-order mistletoe business, sending Tenbury mistletoe all over the country (and beyond!) and launching a range of mistletoe-related products including Grow-Your-Own Kits.  All of this was surprisingly successful – not particularly remunerative in financial terms but immensely satisfying.  And whilst TEME disbanded some years ago our online mistletoe trading concept lives on through many other similar sites – which I like to think were inspired by us.

Meanwhile, to our slight surprise but immense relief the auctions carried on, albeit at an out-of-town site, run by Nick Champion (who had been employed at the old auction yard) who set up by himself and keeps the mistletoe auctions going (to the present day).

That TEME team was a mixed bunch though – Stan was an old-fashioned farmer and mistletoe trader, Jen was primarily promotional, utilising her substantial experience in media and marketing work.  Alec was the practical man, with a police and agricultural background, running all the admin (considerable for the online business), Reg, with huge local agricultural and political knowledge, was the contacts and ideas man.  I, by far the youngest, brought technical mistletoe knowledge, online know-how and media and promotional experience from many years in environmental media work.

Despite, or possibly because of, this breadth of background and experience  it wasn’t always sweetness and light within TEME – there were a few falling-outs now and then!  And sometimes with the conservative Alec and Reg it was best (for me) to avoid mentioning politics (though I do still miss some of the arguments!).  But I think TEME’s legacy is secure – the Mistletoe Festival is now well-established and mistletoe trading continues to thrive – both at the auctions (for which we can thank Nick Champion rather than TEME – though we did substantially help their promotion!) and via the various online trading companies selling direct to the public, probably inspired by TEME and most of which are still, directly or indirectly, associated with Tenbury.

So thanks Reg, Alec and Stan – for your mistletoe legacy.  It was fun too.


kissestest3

 

 

 

And, if you want to try to grow your own mistletoe, Grow-Kits inspired and developed from the original ones I designed for TEME are available from the English Mistletoe Shop:

 

 

December 6, 2017

Tenbury Auctions Week #2

Filed under: Blogroll,Current Affairs,Gardening,Media,Mistletoe,Science,social history — Jonathan Briggs @ 6:58 pm

Another mistletoe auction this week – and another week with lots of lots.  All very well-berried and mostly nice green foliage, so good stuff.  Some lots were looking a little yellow here and there. The standard yellow auction labels tend to accentuate any yellow in the foliage – which is a little unfortunate!

Prices this week were higher than last week “1st Quality” fetched up to £3 per kg and averaged £1.50, “2nd Quality” fetched up to £1.00 and averaged £0.50.  No great fortunes to be made but reassuring after last week’s low prices.  Full details are on http://nickchampion.co.uk/auctions/holly-and-mistletoe/

A few pictures below – click to enlarge them.

Meanwhile back in Tenbury Wells town centre every shop was still bedecked with bunches of ribboned mistletoe, following the mistletoe festival day last weekend.  And, on  this visit, I had a look at Tenbury’s new Tesco, built on the site of the old mistletoe auction yard (actually the old cattle market but most famous for the mistletoe!).

This Tesco has been 7 years in the making, controversial from the start, with worries about its effect on trade in the rest of the town and, because of the riverside site, the impacts on flooding (a serious problem for Tenbury).  But in May this year it was finally opened, and they’ve included a mistletoe theme around the car park!   All the bollards and the frieze alongside the open ‘market’ area have mistletoe imagery.

Or do they? It’s not very convincing mistletoe! Tesco’s designers need to try harder – they’ve got the paired leaves but not grasped the equally, if not more, distinctive geometric paired stems.  But it’s too late to grumble now – and at least they tried.  I’d give it ‘5/10’ and a ‘See Me After Class’. Make your own mind up from the pictures below:

An accurate design; with paired leaves but also its classic perfectly bifurcating branches

To be fair they’re not alone – despite mistletoe being one of our most visually distinctive plants a lot of seasonal Christmas designers end up designing the distinctiveness out.  It is sometimes quite baffling!

 


kissestest3

To grow your own distinctive mistletoe plants visit the English Mistletoe Shop and have a look at the Grow-Kits!

 

December 1, 2017

December 1st, National Mistletoe Day! 

Filed under: Current Affairs,Media,Mistletoe,Religion,social history — Jonathan Briggs @ 9:23 am
From the Daily Telegraph, 29th November: “A buyer carries bundles of mistletoe away after the first Christmas holly and mistletoe auction of the season in Tenbury Wells, Worcs, an event 160 years old”

From the Daily Telegraph, 29th November: “A buyer carries bundles of mistletoe away after the first Christmas holly and mistletoe auction of the season in Tenbury Wells, Worcs, an event 160 years old”

December 1st, National Mistletoe Day!  And interest in mistletoe is building rapidly (as usual!). The first of the Tenbury Wells Mistletoe Auctions was held last Tuesday and was, I’m told (sorry I wasn’t there guys, missed the craic, hope to be there next week), much the same as normal. Lots and lots of mistletoe lots, and the ever-present media interest.  The Daily Telegraph published a photo (see right) the next day but I’m not sure who else ran features.  Some may be waiting until nearer Christmas.

Prices for this first auction seemed a bit low – “Mistletoe 1st Quality” fetching up to £2.50 per kg but an average of £1.25 and “Mistletoe 2nd Quality” only £0.75p per kg and averaging £0.25p.  For details on these and previous years visit the mistletoe and holly page of Nick Champion’s website at http://nickchampion.co.uk/auctions/holly-and-mistletoe/

Those are wholesale prices of course – don’t confuse them with what you’d pay in the florist, greengrocer or supermarket – by the time mistletoe gets there much has been discarded and it has been handled, washed and cut numerous times (and therefore much more costly!).  But if you’re a supplier these prices are a little worrying – they’d hardly pay for your fuel getting the mistletoe to the auction.  I prefer to think of the mistletoe sales as a way to subsidise mistletoe management rather than a way to make mega-profit!

From The Guardian 29th November:

From The Guardian 29th November: “Mistletoe farmer Mark Adams harvests the Christmas crop from his family orchard in Worcestershire”

Meanwhile I’ve been busy all week with other mistletoe business, as indeed have others: I was the sole male at the 100-strong Wolverhampton Ladies Luncheon Club (est. 1932) on Wednesday where the table decorations were made with mistletoe supplied by mistletoe supplier Mark Adams.  Mark himself featured in a picture in the Guardian a few days ago (see left).

Tomorrow, Saturday 2nd, is Mistletoe Festival Day in Tenbury Wells, where there’ll be a mistletoe kissathon in the morning (details at http://www.tenburymistletoe.org/festival.html) and in keeping with the spirit of very ancient Christmas past, a Druid Mistletoe Ceremony in the afternoon.

The Druid Ceremony is organised by the Mistletoe Foundation and officially starts at 2pm at the Burgage recreation ground .  I won’t be there (sorry Suzanne!) as I’m busy talking about mistletoe elsewhere tomorrow, but I hope it goes well – it’s well worth attending if you can.  Just turn up at the Burgage at 2pm or, if you want to be part of the procession, volunteer for a part etc, be at the Rose & Crown (on the north side of the river just outside Tenbury) from 1pm.  Details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/296475577498104/


Mistletoe Information: for general mistletoe info visit the Mistletoe Pages website.

And for mistletoe books, cards or kits to grow your own druidic berries visit the English Mistletoe Shop website:

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