Monthly Archives: December 2012

Do Moths Have Ears?

Cute Moth
Mum’s favourite cashmere jumper has been savaged by a moth. But it’s turned its nose up (do moths have noses?) at her woollies.
Apparently this is normal. Moths have expensive tastes. They prefer cashmere to wool and synthetic fabrics, preferring to get their teeth (do moths have teeth?) into posh natural ones.
Anyway, Mum’s not happy and has filled her cashmere drawer with lavender and conkers to put the varmint off.
Now, when anything goes wrong in the house, we’ve taken to saying, ‘It must be the moth.’ It’s so far been blamed for a marmalade stain and a power cut.

‘If I find it, I’ll clip it round its ear,’ said Mum, who isn’t normally prone to violent outbursts.

This then (inevitably) occasioned a discussion about moths’ ears and whether they actually have them.

Well, it turns out they do. They’re very basic, with a mere four vibration-sensitive cells. But, paradoxically, they’re also extremely sophisticated, having evolved to detect the high-pitched calls of bats – their main predators.

Research at Bristol University has revealed ‘unexpected sophistication in one of the simplest ears known’. Moths can hear the tiniest of high-pitched noises, detecting displacements the size of an atom.

So moths do have ears, but they’re too small to clip.

New Year’s Eve Eve

New Year’s Eve – Allendale, Northumberland

Gosh. It’s New Year’s Eve Eve already.

In these wild and woolly northern parts, New Year’s Eve itself is still pretty eccentric and some families still insist on the ritual of ‘first-footing’. It basically involves a young man with dark hair leaving the house before midnight and lurking in the garden. He then confers good luck by being the first person to enter the house in the New Year. Oh – and he has to bring a bit of coal in with him.

It’s even odder in Allendale in Northumberland, where I used to spend Hogmanay as a yoof. Shortly before midnight, 45 ‘guisers’ process through the village with blazing barrels of tar on their heads, then fling them on a huge bonfire on the green, accompanied by a brass band and church bells. Needless to say, it goes back to pagan (possibly Viking) times.

In Germany, they all watch an old English comedy called Dinner For One on TV, then drop molten lead into cold water. And it’s good luck to touch a chimney sweep. I have no idea what German chimney sweeps make of this.

As for the Danes, they jump off chairs in unison and throw crockery at their neighbours’ doors.

In a slightly less violent tradition, the Spanish eat one grape per bong at midnight. No idea what that’s about.

In Peru, they have a Takanakuy (Blood Boiling) Festival, where jolly locals gather in a bullring and settle scores with bare-knuckle fights. They fire bullets in Colombia – normally into the air – but the tradition has killed 700 people in the last decade. Ecuadorians burn pictures of people and things that symbolise the outgoing year. Meanwhile in Talca in Chile, they all head for the local graveyards to see in the New Year with the dead.


I was amused to stumble on a little-known book by the late astronomer Sir Patrick Moore – a guide to getting revenge on jobsworths.

I met him several times – at the Cat of the Year Show and his house in Selsey – and got the distinct impression he wasn’t a fan of such people.

‘We are not ruled directly by Parliament,’ he wrote in his guide (now sadly out-of-print) ‘but by minor officials — bureaucrats of all descriptions, with immunity from dismissal and nice, inflation-proof pensions.’

Here are his top ten rules on correspondence –

1. Never say anything clearly. Word your letter so that it could mean almost anything … or nothing.

2. Don’t be legible. Always write letters by hand, and make your verbose scrawl as impenetrable as possible.

3. Garble your opponent’s name. If the correspondence is signed ‘M Harris’, address your reply to ‘N Hayes’ or ‘W Hardy’. Don’t get too flippant though — the penpushers might lack a sense of humour, but if you write to ‘M Hedgehog’, they will sense a legpull.

4. Give fake references. If you have a letter from the tax office, ref: EH/4/PNG/H8, mark your reply with some other code in the same format, such as DC/5/IMH/R9.

5. The same goes for dates. Get them slightly wrong, every time.

6. Write to request a reply to letters that you haven’t sent, and include bogus reference numbers.

7. Never pay the right amount. Include a discrepancy in every envelope — never too much, but always more than a few pence. A sum between £1.20 and £2.80 is recommended. Then you can start an interminable correspondence to reclaim the overpayment.

8. When enclosing a cheque, staple it to the letter. With two staples. Or three. Right in the middle of the cheque.

9. As a point of honour, never give up on a correspondence before at least six pointless letters have been exchanged.

10. If a postage-paid envelope is not supplied, send off your reply without a stamp. The bureaucrats will have to pay much more at the other end.

By way of a variation on point 10, you could put the wrong postage on, in the wrong place. One man who got into a war of letters with the Royal Mail itself persisted in sticking his stamp right in the middle of the envelope. This makes it difficult for the franking machines. This petty but effective tactic riled every official in the postal hierarchy.

When filling in a form, always keep a candle handy. Whenever you come to a box marked ‘For official use only — do not write in this space’, rub the candle gently over the box. A thin layer of grease will make it impossible to write on the paper.

When filing in forms, do not feel obliged to use English. Why not employ that smattering of Spanish you picked up on your holidays? If you or a friend speak a really obscure language, so much the better — especially one that doesn’t use the Roman alphabet.

Happy Wren Day (Unless You’re a Wren)

It may be Boxing Day in England. But in Ireland, it’s Wren Day.

Until the 1930s, Irish ‘Wrenboys’ would hunt for a wren, kill it and stick it on a pole. Then, wearing weird straw hats, they’d process round the village, selling its feathers for good luck and asking for contributions towards its funeral, chanting rhymes such as A penny or tuppence would do it no harm.

No-one quite knows the exact origins of Wren Day, but the wren is often seen as a symbol of the old year, as opposed to the forward-looking robin.

There are Wrenboy songs in various parts of the UK. In this one, the Wrenboys are called Fozie Mozie, Johnnie Rednozie and Foslinene –

Will we go to the wood? quoth Fozie Mozie.
Will we go to the wood? quo’ Johnnie Rednozie.
Will we go to the wood? quo’ Foslinene.
Will we go to the wood? quo’ brother and kin.
What to do there? quo’ Fozie Mozie.
What to do there? quo’ Johnnie Rednozie.
What to do there? quo’ Foslinene.
What to do there? quo’ brother and kin.

To slay the wren, quo’ Fozie Mozie.
To slay the wren, quo’ Johnnie Rednozie.
To slay the wren, quo’ Foslinene.
To slay the wren, quo’ brother and kin.

You’ll be pleased to know, especially if you’re a wren, that they just use effigies nowadays.

Charming Christmas Pics with Pets

Some touching photos of delightful families posing with their pets for Christmas.






Octopuses – Tentacles? Arms? Legs?

This morning’s Peacock conversation turned to the dexterity of cephalopods. Are all their tentacles identical?
In an octopus’s garden, would your typical octopus use one tentacle for, say, weeding and another more suitable tentacle for holding the watering can?
We concluded that this could be easily tested by asking an octopus to play the organ. It would then use two tentacles for the keys, two for the pedals and the spare ones for the stops, turning over the music and so on … thereby revealing its tentacle preferences.
But then we Googled it, as you do, and discovered that octopuses actually have two legs (their back two tentacles) and six arms.
They’re ambidextrous too, but they tend to use the third tentacle from the front for eating.

Paranormal Santa Claus

Unidentified Flying Santas are attracting the attention of paranormal researchers, according to the Boston Globe. Could aliens or ghosts be manifesting themselves as St Nicholas?

Christmas Up North

Bolly and I are up north for a few weeks. Here she is in her holiday HQ – a little nook under the sofa-bed. It’s a bit like a lobster pot. She can get in but not out, so she miaows and I lift the sofa up.

Alternative Christmas Tree

Following the tragic demise of my Christmas tree Spruce Willis, my olive tree Nana has taken on the role.