Toronto has a street full of ‘kissing stations’

mistletoekissingstationtorontoThe Utah mistletoe kissing experiment reported earlier isn’t unique – they have something similar, though not for research, in Toronto.

mistletoekissingstationtoronto2There they have a whole street (Bloor Street) with 21 ‘kissing stations’ set up along it – each marked with a circle on the pavement/sidewalk and each with a little bunch of mistletoe hanging up above.

It’s difficult to tell from the pictures but it looks as if they might be using real mistletoe (though it could be plastic!) under that ball of tinsel (unlike that Utah experiment).  Though this would be one of the American Phoradendron mistletoe species, not the ‘proper’ European mistletoe of true kissing tradition (but that would be hard to come by in Toronto).

The project has been organised by the Bloor Annex Business Improvement Area as part of their promotional activity – and is, perhaps, a concept we should consider over here – not least in Tenbury Wells (it would test the nerve of people walking along Teme Street if there were two dozen kissing stations dangling over the pavement…).

TV news story about the Toronto kissing stations below:

Utah students ‘research’ mistletoe kiss

Some light relief from Utah this morning – students, apparently from Brigham Young University (BYU), have uploaded a Youtube video called the Mistletoe Kissing Prank. They interview people about their Christmas habits, ending with a question about kisssing under mistletoe, at which point mistletoe is lowered, by an unseen assistant, over their head.

It’s an interesting video, and the slap at 30 seconds in is a must-see, but it’s also interesting for two fascinating anomolies:

Firstly BYU is a private university operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – i.e. the Mormons, and of course mistletoe, and kissing under it, is deemed pagan and unacceptable by many far less conservative churches (so why aren’t there more slaps?).

Secondly, that stuff dangled over their heads surely isn’t mistletoe – looks like a bit of fake fir-tree and a few big red baubles.

BYU has an ‘honor code’ requiring particular standards of dress, grooming, no alcohol or drug use, no extramarital sex etc – but it obviously doesn’t extend to requiring proper mistletoe.  Though perhaps it does the opposite, and actually bans mistletoe, so maybe this was the best they could do?

Similar story from Toronto to follow later…

Birmingham media get mistletoe story right…

I’ve often had reason to rant at the national media for their apparent inability to grasp mistletoe crop v. conservation issues – so it’s good to see that the Sunday Mercury, a local paper in Birmingham, got it right last weekend.  Online story is here, or you can read the print version in the photo (click to enlarge).  I particularly like the quote from me:

“It’s utter b****cks – and you can quote me,” said Midlands mistletoe expert Jonathan Briggs.

Now that’s what I call a good quote!

So, come on Telegraph, Guardian, Independent, Times, Mail etc – if the Sunday Mercury can get this right why can’t you?

Thanks to Dale Martin of dmphotos (who took that pic of me in my wonderfully warm hat) for drawing my attention to the piece.

Mistletoe everywhere…

End of a long mistletoe-filled week and weekend – and another one looming…

We’re trying (this year) to divide the Nov/Dec weeks into mistletoe supply at the start of the week and mistletoe talks, promotion etc at the end, but it all drifts together into one.

Last week worked fairly well overall – lots of mistletoe harvesting, sorting, boxing and despatching on Mon/Tues and then a sequence of talks and media stuff on Weds, Thurs, Fri, Sat – only to go straight back into mistletoe harvesting today…

It can be a weeny bit stressful at times – and normal life is suspended for a few weeks – but it does have its moments, sometimes of farce.  For instance my old ‘smart’ brown shoes, hastily yanked out of retirement as all my others were muddy, split (sole came off upper – on just the right foot) in the midst of a presentation to the Royal Forestry Society in Gloucester on Friday – I don’t think they noticed, even after the sole started slapping the ground when I moved.  And Caroline, when delivering mistletoe to a wedding venue the same day, noticed a bird-crappy leaf (regular hazard of mistletoe) which she discreetly detached it and put in her pocket, only to find it lodged in her nostril a couple of minutes later when she used her hanky.  And Saturday, leaving a gardening club mistletoe do in Gloucestershire, already seriously late for a rare family gathering for lunch, with my siblings, two nieces and a great nephew, I was delayed further because the old lady parked next to me had left her lights on and I had to jump-start her car.  But mistletoe is a symbol of friendship and peace so that’s the sort of thing that should, perhaps, be expected?…

The good news (for me) is that I finished my (‘short’) OU course on Linux computing this afternoon (within 12 hours of deadline – an improvement on last time) – so I can devote myself entirely to mistletoe again this evening– perhaps starting with cleaning all the mistletoe berries and leaf debris out of the car and house before it gets too ingrained.

Back to serious mistletoe blogging soon…

Mistletoe rarity, abundance – and media myths

LowRes_V3Mistletoe_on_apple_in_neglected_orchard_JBRIGGScopyright
Unsustainable overladen mistletoe crop in remnant old apple orchard on the banks of the Severn

Have been dealing with the usual seasonal flurry of media enquiries about mistletoe abundance, rarity, impacts of apple orchard loss, etc.  Often from fairly uninformed journalists who base their understanding on what they read in, er, the papers…

And so I’m often repeating the same mantra as the last few years (rarely accurately reported in the press) that YES, the mistletoe crop/harvest is threatened (through loss of apple orchards, the main harvesting location) but NO mistletoe as a species is NOT threatened as it lives in many other habitats other than apple orchards and may even be spreading more than it used to.

Plus (but only for those sound-bite speakers who’ve managed to grasp the last two points) I add that the threat to the crop, in apple orchards, whilst ongoing, may be temporarily reversed because some old orchards are unsustainably overladen with far too much mistletoe – so there is, temporarily, a lot about.  That temporary ‘glut’ may last a few years yet, but it is killing the trees concerned, accelerating orchard decline and so the medium-long term prognosis is still bad.

It’s complicated – apparently too complicated for most media writers and broadcasters – which is frustrating.  A lot of journalists this year and last still major on the National Trust story of 2010, which should have focussed attention on the loss of the mistletoe harvest/crop from apple orchards but instead, through some over-enthusiasm by one or two NT staff (plus some Wildlife Trust staff in 2011), became a doom’n’gloom tale of mistletoe ‘about to become extinct in Britain’ – which is just utter nonsense.

So, for those looking for a more informed story I’d suggest a quick read of the info online and in recent publications.

Online:  have a look at the Mistletoe Pages information – specifically:

Or the Mistletoe Matters info sheets

And in publications try the recent (December 2012) mistletoe articles in The Garden (RHS) and The Biologist (Society of Biology) or the October 2011 mistletoe article in British Wildlife.

Hope that clears that up (but I’ll bet it doesn’t…)

Urban Mythletoe – the story of the Mistletoe Bride

A painting showing the unfortunate mistletoe bride hiding in that trunk - by David Cox

The street drama at Tenbury’s Mistletoe Festival this year was based on the legend of the Mistletoe Bride, immortalised in Thomas Haynes Bayly’s song/poem The Mistletoe Bough, penned in the 1830s and purporting to tell the story of a tragedy that took place at a Christmas wedding. During a post-wedding game of hide and seek the bride, who hid in a trunk in a forgotten attic, found herself locked in, was never discovered, died and was only found, eventually, many years later as a wedding dress-clad skeleton.

The story has caught popular imagination for many years – so much so that it was apparently sung in every house at Christmas in the mid-nineteenth century. This despite it being such a horror story! Several great country houses, some now gone, laid claim to be the location, some of them reckoning that they still possessed the actual trunk! Modern versions sometimes extinguish the horror of the story by conjuring a happy ending – for example in Tenbury’s version last weekend the dead bride is brought back to life with mistletoe (what else?)

But is it, even remotely, true? And if so which great country house is the real location? Contenders include Castle Horneck (Cornwall), Exton Hall (Rutland) Bawdrip Rectory (Somerset), Marwell Hall, Bramshill House (both Hampshire), Brockdish Hall (Norfolk), Basildon Grotto (Berkshire) and Minster Lovell Hall (Oxfordshire). Which one is true? Or did a similar thing happen at all of them? Surely not.

Bayly’s poem (put to music by Sir Henry Bishop) refers to a Lord Lovell, and Minster Lovell Hall is often considered the most likely contender. But there’s no historical account of any such happening there – and, as Minster Lovell Hall itself is now derelict, there’s no attic to see, and no trunk to peer into. It is said to be haunted...

We spent a speculative afternoon there back in the summer – trying to imagine the place in its heyday (helped by a useful interpretation panel) and vaguely looking around for any suggestive mistletoe growing nearby as a token symbol – but there wasn’t any. Though it was summer, so it wouldn’t have been obvious…

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The whole story is, sadly, probably just a fanciful invention – what we’d call an Urban Myth these days. There’s some evidence it is based on similar stories from mainland Europe, where similar lost bride stories abound – one of the best known of these is an Italian story about a bride called Ginevra – though the best-known version of this is a very similar verse to Bayly’s, written by the English poet Samuel Rogers in 1822 – which is, probably, where Bayly got his inspiration from 10 years later – though it was Bayly who implicated mistletoe.

Bayly’s cheerful verse is given below – you can read Rogers’ version at the Urban Myths website here.

The mistletoe hung in the castle hall,
The holly branch shone on the old oak wall;
And the baron’s retainers were blithe and gay,
And keeping their Christmas holiday.
The baron beheld with a father’s pride
His beautiful child, young Lovell’s bride;
While she with her bright eyes seemed to be
The star of the goodly company.

“I’m weary of dancing now,” she cried;
“Here, tarry a moment-I’ll hide, I’ll hide!
And, Lovell, be sure thou’rt first to trace
The clew to my secret lurking place.”
Away she ran-and her friends began
Each tower to search, and each nook to scan;
And young Lovell cried, “O, where dost thou hide?
I’m lonesome without thee, my own dear bride.”

They sought her that night, and they sought her next day,
And they sought her in vain while a week passed away;
In the highest, the lowest, the loneliest spot,
Young Lovell sought wildly-but found her not.
And years flew by, and their grief at last
Was told as a sorrowful tale long past;
And when Lovell appeared the children cried,
“See! the old man weeps for his fairy bride.”

At length an oak chest, that had long lain hid,
Was found in the castle-they raised the lid,
And a skeleton form lay moldering there
In the bridal wreath of that lady fair!
O, sad was her fate!-in sportive jest
She hid from her lord in the old oak chest.
It closed with a spring!-and, dreadful doom,
The bride lay clasped in her living tomb!

More from Mistletoe Day 2012 at Tenbury Wells

A few more pictures from Tenbury on Saturday, where National Mistletoe Day was celebrated with mistletoe drama, druids, brides, queens and princes.  And the sun shone! (probably something to do with the druids…)

These are just a few pictures as a slide show – excluding those I posted on Saturday evening showing Jake throwing the druid mistletoe into the river after the ceremony (see those in the post below – if it’s not showing click here) .  Other events included the Mistletoe Bride drama enactment – a new street theatre event that hadn’t been tried before at the Tenbury Mistletoe Festival (more details on how it was done here), plus the crowning of the Mistletoe Queen accompanied by her consort the Holly Prince, and of course the druid mistletoe ceremony and gathering organised by the Mistletoe Foundation.

Plus, for those staying all day, the popular Damh the Bard gig in the evening.

Now, you may be asking yourself, what was all that Mistletoe Bride drama about – and, more precisely, what was it based on?  Well, it’s a popular legend of a newly-wed who hides and gets trapped in a trunk on her wedding day – a bit grisly perhaps, but a good yarn too.  I looked into some of its origins earlier this year, visiting some of the alleged locations – I’ll post more about it soon…

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