Peter Rhodes on Putin's folly, flickering flames and an encounter with a rare bird

A reader tells me he has an old electric fire with a flame effect feature powered by a small electric motor. The motor broke. So, in the spirit of make do and mend, he bought a new one. The snag is that before his repair the flames flickered upwards. Now, unsettlingly, they flicker downwards.

 Bleak outlook for a white pheasant?
Bleak outlook for a white pheasant?

Curious start to Xmas viewing with Inside Number Nine (BBC). You couldn't fault this ghostly epic, The Bones of St Nicholas, set in a haunted church, for atmosphere and suspense. But does anyone have a clue what was going on?

The drama succeeded, however, in reminding us of the extraordinary miracle that turned Bishop Nicholas into Saint Nicholas. These days, the miracles required for canonisation tend to involve unexpected cures of sick people. Nicholas was canonised after a wicked butcher murdered three little boys, chopped them into pieces and chucked them in the pickling tub. Despite these medical setbacks, Nícholas brought them all back to life. Eighteen hundred years ago the bar for sainthood was set pretty high.

There is speculation that Russia may launch a massive attack on Ukraine in a few weeks from now. If so, let us hope President Putin has planned for the results. If he sends 100,000 freshly-trained conscripts against the entrenched positions of the battle-hardened Ukrainian army, the lesson of history is that he should order 100,000 body bags. So far, every stage of this bloody war has mirrored the early months of the First World War. Coming soon: Putin's Battle of the Somme.

'Tis the season, if you are so inclined, to knock back the port, load the shotgun and traipse through frozen meadows blasting innocent birds out of the sky. So I felt a flash of sympathy a few days ago when a very rare pheasant wandered into our garden. It is a genetic oddity, being pure white.

My first thought was that, in an encounter with a shooting party and a barrage of mixed metaphors, a white pheasant would be a sitting duck and possibly even a sore thumb. And yet its outlook may not be too bleak. On the ground, a white pheasant is highly visible. But once in flight, a white bird against a wintry white sky must be harder to bag than a normal pheasant. I'll keep you posted.

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