… I began the annual practice of giving my readers an online gift.  In the first year everyone was sent a Higgs Boson; I also donated one to charity.  Some people said that the download was missing – well they are difficult to see, but it was definitely there, or they wouldn’t have received it; that is the glory of quantum physics.  Others questioned whether the one I provided was real.  I can assure you that it was, indeed, the genuine particle.  And each year since I have uploaded a further eco-friendly seasonal gift for you: something unexpected yet welcome. 

Why, dear friends, revisit the past in this, my new annual message of good will for 2024?  While it is true that the future looks not only uncertain, as is usual, but also highly worrying, this is no reason to look backwards.  The present moment is already yours to enjoy – I gifted it to you in 2019 you may recall, and for those who have mislaid it, stop thinking for a moment and it will instantly be available.  But the future is not mine to give. 

However, I do not wish to break this tradition of odd blogs and even odder gifts, and so I have spent much time in considering what this year’s offering is to be.  It must continue to exemplify all the qualities already established, and thus be portable and useful, interesting and significant, timely and personal, beautiful and…, and…  

and there you have it: 


The not so humble ampersand.  Deriving its name from the indication “and per se and” (this riddling tag is saying something like ‘and, speaking for itself, this symbol on its own means “and”’) the ‘&’ was commended in Punch (issue of 17th April 1869) – by the jingle:  

Of all the types in a printer’s hand
Commend me to the ampersand.

And now you have your very own one. 

The symbol itself is first noted in 1837 though is significantly older.  It is drawn from joining together the two letters of ‘et’ E  T.  This is, of course, simply the Latin word for ‘and’, and you should restrain any impulse to call home, unless it be to deliver a seasonal greeting. 

I trust that you will be able to enjoy your new ampersand with immediate effect, and I can assure you that there is no “use before…” limitation.  I personally find it a difficult symbol to write, never being sure at which end to start the thing.  But then, isn’t that the perennial burden of the writer?  It appears on a keyboard, however, merely requiring (on most models) the shift key and the 7.  And for those of you who have one already, well, you can never have too many ampersands; they are gregarious little creatures and enjoy each other’s company – “and” is quite used to something being added to it. 

As every year, I shall sign off, as usual, “with all the best wishes you can possibly imagine”.