Retting And Scutching

Nettle Flowers

Nettle Flowers

Google thinks that people have been making clothing out of nettles for over two thousand years – he found it on the Internet, so it must be true.

Probably, on someone’s time-line from around AD 0 or so, there is a picture like the one we have today. The status says “Must get back to the retting and scutching – that sounds like my hubby’s oxen in the drive!”

First, you need a big pile of nettles. Then we come to the retting. Tie the nettles up in bundles and dump them in the nearest pond or stream. You might need some rocks to weigh them down.

Set the kitchen timer for eight days and go and have a cup of coffee. When the timer goes off, take the nettles out of the water and spread them out to dry. When they are thoroughly dry – bundle them up and put them back in the water for a few more days.

Take them out of the water, let them rest for a while, then run them through the mangle – of course you’ve got a mangle, it’s in the shed behind the kitchen, with the big copper boiler you use to wash the clothes. Now, spread your nettles out and beat the living daylights out of them with a big stick (this is the process, less threateningly, known as scutching). Sort out the longer fibres, spin them into thread, weave them into cloth, and you’re done.

Otherwise, you could just chop the nettles up small and feed them to the chickens – suit yourself.

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Jay Talking

Young Jay

Young Jay

After we’d been here for a couple of years, one day, out of the blue so to speak, a Jay appeared in the garden. Jays are normally shy and retiring birds, not unusual for members of the crow family, who all feel that humans and birds can really only co-exist peacefully, if they lead totally separate lives. As a general rule they tend to go about their business in such a manner as to avoid humanity wherever possible – and to studiously ignore them where avoidance isn’t an available option.
The next scene in the unfolding drama involved, after several months of sporadic visits, the escalation of the investigation from the garden to the bird table. This, too, required a protracted protocol. Presumably this was needed to confirm that the quality of the offerings maintained an acceptable standard, in the longer term.
Then, the day came when not one but two Jays appeared. The plot thickened! They did scrabble half-heartedly in the undergrowth beneath our Oak Trees, but there was no doubt that the bird table was their main target.
This week, four Jays appeared. Obviously, our original two adults – and two youngsters. The youngsters were introduced to the nuts, the fat balls, and the assorted offerings on the table. Then the two adults left.
“That’s the freezer, that’s microwave, you two can sort out your own meals from now on!”

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In The Clover

Red Clover

Red Clover

So far this year the plan for world domination, hatched late last year by the White Clover, has succeeded admirably. Everywhere we go, the verges and lawns show unmistakable evidence of the spreading tentacles of the Underground White Clover Movement. Not that they don’t have considerable local support, Honey Bees, and their ilk, work tirelessly for the cause.
Now, we actually prefer the Red Clover. But until recently he has been far too shy to put in an appearance. He tends to be uncomfortable on his own and only feels at his best in group settings. The White Clovers tend to be a bit snippy and make fun of his accent, which just triggers his neuroses, so he’s taken to avoiding them when they get together in large gaggles. On a one to one basis though, he feels much more at ease and, in fact, there are a few Whites Clovers that he gets along very well with.
As summer moves on, the bees stop offering table service and the sangria in the pitcher is reduced to a mush of orange peel and cucumber. Then, the White Clovers will roll up their towels and straggle off home, and the sun beds become available. We’re hoping to see more of the Red Clover in the coming weeks.

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A Sliver of Silver

Silverweed

Silverweed

We’ve been away – did I mention that? We left behind narrow lanes, made even narrower by rampant growth over-flowing what small verge there was. When we came back, we found that this state of affairs had forced itself upon the man with the mower, raising in him a righteous indignation – leading, inevitably, to feverish activity.
It was as if we had returned to a new country. Old friends, many of whom we had known since they were seedlings, were gone. Obliterated by this overpowering need for tidiness. In his defence, I must add that we did enjoy the improved visibility, and the newly mown strip gave us access to the denizens of the second rank. Those, previously too shy to push to the front, who, now found themselves in a leadership role.
Then, within a few days, revelling in the newly accessible sunlight, many of those we thought lost and gone, started to reappear – but with a subtle difference. Take the Silverweed, for instance. Those we left behind, wore their silver coats with pride – dare we suggest, arrogance? This new generation is more community aware, and has bowed to peer pressure. The silver sheen is still there – but muted. The leaves are now a more, socially acceptable, green.

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One Of Those

Bush Vetch

Bush Vetch

Sue, over on Sue’s Words and Pictures, mentioned that, when in doubt, she tends to classify unknown plants as “probably some kind of vetch”, and I’m pretty sure that today’s photo falls into that category. I’ve always called this sort of thing Bush Vetch, but a recent chat with Google (hoping he would confirm my superior knowledge of the natural world) proved frustrating. At first, he appeared willing to bolster my ego, producing several pictures very similar to mine, plainly labelled so as to induce feelings of smug satisfaction.

If I had any sense, I would have left it at that and gone on my way secure in my infallibility. However that first flush of over confidence pushed me to cross the Rubicon. What then was the difference between my Bush Vetch and, say for instance, Common Vetch?

In response to this enquiry Google produced another large selection of images – as close to identical to the first set as to cause me to wonder if he had misheard me. A quick application of the ‘Back’ button showed that the second set of photos was, in fact, a different selection. However, the differences among the individual pictures in each set seemed to be greater than the supposed differences between the sets themselves.

I wish Linnaeus had just put a bar code on each plant instead of messing with all that Latin.

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Neither Here Nor There

Red Campion

Red Campion

We went away. Well, I mean to say, we are away, or perhaps, depending on when you’re reading this, we might be back now, or even travelling back at this very moment, or at that very moment.

Just after I posted last weeks in-depth psychological analysis of the current situation, we left our pastoral view of the Cumbrian countryside and our peacefully grazing cattle. We drove for six hours, until we arrived at our holiday destination – a cottage in a lovely rural location. Complete with views of the Welsh countryside and peacefully grazing cattle. They do say ‘A change is as good as a rest’, don’t they.

While we have been too busy having a lovely holiday to spend too much time talking to the locals, (other than the resident Blackbird, of course) there are a few things we’ve noticed. Geographically speaking, we are still on the west coast, but we are now a couple of hundred miles farther south. When we left home there were a few places where patches of Red Campions were starting to put forth the odd bloom, with a promise of a full display in a few weeks.

Down here, they already have on their, freshly washed and pressed, full summer uniform, and are standing around in groups, chatting idly, just waiting for word to arrive – that summer is really here.

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All Right On The Night.

Bistort and Wild Carrot

Bistort and Wild Carrot

‘Quickly, Darling, quickly. I need my new point shoes for my next number and my ribbons are still on my old shoes. Here, here they are.
‘Yes, yes. I know. But this is the dance before mine, so there’s three minutes yet. They’re just pinned on with safety pins, there look, I’ve already undone this one.
‘Well, they’re new shoes, Darling – and I haven’t had time. It’s been one rehearsal after another for days, then, when I get home, I’m just too knackered to think about sewing ribbons on.
‘Don’t shout at me, Darling, I really will do it after the show tonight, I promise – if there’s time. Oh, quickly Darling, quickly, this is their finale music. Yes, bit tighter, please. Don’t forget to tuck my ends in. My left ribbons. Look. That’s better, thank you Darling. See, plenty of time, oops, this is my intro.
‘Excuse me, everyone. I need some space.
‘I am smiling two three-and-a-one two three. . .’

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