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Straight From The Horses Mouth

Two Horses
Two Horses

“Don’t make an ass of yourself for goodness sake! I’m looking for something stable in this relationship”. “Hay! Let’s not get so serious – with the number of horse shoes we have between us we can’t help but be lucky”. “Trot off and buy a lottery ticket then”.

Well, I’d heard that four leaf clovers were very lucky.

I can’t say I’ve noticed, I mainly eat the three leaved variety. How are you getting on with her next door these days?

Well, she still kicks over the traces now and again. You know what it’s like, just because they bring you the water it doesn’t mean that you want to drink it. Next door this side now. A bit of a dark horse there!

You don’t say! A horse of a different colour, then?

Oh my, yes. You wouldn’t want to be saddled with neigh-bours like that.

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A Tall Tail

Meadow Foxtail
Meadow Foxtail

Cat’s tails, rat’s tails, tall tales – the mice will play while the cat’s away. Bring on The Jubilee, run up the flag and let’s see which way the wind is blowing. Red is hard to find at the moment.

Continuing The Jubilee theme, here we have the ‘flowers’ of a grass that is standing waist high on the verges along our route. As you can see the seed heads vary in colour from a pale blueish, to a rusty red and then on to a dry white. I always thought they were called rat’s tails but when I looked them up the best match I can find between Google’s picture and my photo is with the Meadow Foxtail. The nice thing about the Meadow Foxtail is that it should be flowering about now, Google says it is one of our earliest flowering grasses.

The colours of the flowers may not be that vibrant – but they are the nearest thing we have to red so far. White, of course, we still have plenty of. Blue in various shades is not so easy to find (now the blue bells have gone) but it’s there if you go looking for it. Red is a little problematical. Yellow, we have in abundance, but I’m not sure that adding yellow to the national flag would be that popular – if you’ve a nautical bent – then yellow meant you were from a port that had The Plague.

I wonder if I could talk St George into a nice, bright, clover purple?

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The Great Escape

Dancing At Moota
Dancing At Moota

The Great Escape at Prisoner of War Camp 103. Most people seem to be more anxious to get in than to get out. Well how about a cream tea on a Sunday afternoon? I think I’d prefer a cappuccino if you don’t mind and a nice piece of toasted plumbread.

The prisoner of war camp is long gone as are the prisoners. Instead we have a very nice garden centre at Moota and an even nicer cafe.

In preparation for The Jubilee celebrations next week, the staff have taken to dancing with the customers – wearing a union flag headdress naturally.

For us, on a Sunday afternoon, it is definitely a great escape. I’m inclined to think too, that for all those, first Italian and then German, prisoners of war, given the numerous gruesome opportunities for death and maiming that life on the front line during World War II offered – it was also ‘The Great Escape’.

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Green Cheese, Hard Cheese

New Moon
New Moon

Third World Countries (except the UK of course) protest! The developed nations are deliberately minimising your chances of advancement. They never shrink at calling you a banana republic, yet nowhere in any of their cultures or religions, nowhere in their mystical traditions, not in hyroglyphs, not in pictographs, not in runes, not even in Ogham, is the New Moon likened to a banana.

Look at it – the New Moon IS a banana.

But no. Cheese; an old man; an old woman on a broomstick; a young woman; a pair of cows horns, all these and more are offered as possibilities.

Where is the banana? Why is there no reference to the new moon looking like a banana? Is it just too obvious? Do the mystics and seers, sitting round their smoky camp fires (with a copy of the I Ching concealed under a Peruvian blanket) behind their Park Lane squats, dismiss likening the new moon to a banana as being too simplistic? Are they not seekers after truth?

Difficult philosophical questions bore The Dog she has ‘No comment’.

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Cow And Gate

Cows At Gate
Cows At Gate

Called to The Bar – reminds me of the time I was stranded on the shores “What shores?” I’ll have a pint, thanks. Oh yes the old ones are the best formula. What do you have to do to get served around here? Try waiting your turn, that works sometimes. I’ve only got two pairs of hooves.

The really interesting thing about this picture is that I have no idea why these ladies were waiting here like this. The Dog and I were on our way past when we happened to glance towards the gate to find ourselves under close scrutiny.

It is possible that they were bored – you can only look at grass, walk on grass and eat grass in a green field surrounded by green hedges for so long before it get a bit samey. The hedge is quite high so the only place in the field that has a prospect of anything that is not green or grass is where the gate gives a view of the road.

They were probably comparing the time on their iphones and saying to each other “See. I told you they came past at this time.”

Judging by the deposits on the road after the herd has moved from one field to another they’ve got the [cr]app for that.

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Under Construction

House Martins
House Martins

Self-build enthusiasts arrive in flocks when word of a source of building materials spreads on the grapevine. “It may just look like a patch of mud to you,” said one enthusiast, when interviewed, “but where there’s muck there’s brass!” It’s possible that this last phrase has lost something in the translation, our interviewee wouldn’t stop to elaborate.

The Dog and I noticed a black and white bird at a muddy spot up at the T junction, so we stopped to see what he was doing. As he zoomed away, he looked like a house martin to us. By the time we had the camera switched on and ready (with my assessment of the best settings – The Dog refuses to get involved in the technicalities of photography, on the grounds that I don’t know what I’m talking about, so there’s no point arguing) half a dozen more had appeared, made their selection from the items on display, loaded up and departed.

Just across the road was a convenient bench so we went and sat there for a while. Most of the photos we took show the muddy patch just after the birds have flown (literally) but we did get a few with birds in.

I did think of getting some sheep’s wool (there’s plenty lying about) and mixing it in for them but I wasn’t sure what TOG they would prefer their nests to be.

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Lookout for the Crow’s Nest

Crow's Nest?
Crow’s Nest?

Rook takes castle! But is it something that’s worth crowing about? Judging by the noise the chicks make, it would certainly seem to be.

There’s a small wood behind the houses just up the road and there are a few tall trees in it. In one of the tallest there is a crow’s nest – at least that’s what we thought. At first, the sight of two large black birds and the sounds of loud raucous cawing seemed to confirm this hypothesis.

But we now have photographic evidence – and pretty damning evidence it is too. Look closely at the photo and you can see quite plainly that the bird sitting on the nest has a white beak – the defining part of the anatomy that marks this bird as a rook – not a crow at all.

What happened to the ‘Rooks and Jackdaws live together in large colonies’? There isn’t another similar nest for hundreds of yards (or metres either) in any direction. Do these two not read any bird books?

So what’s going on here? Have they been sent to Coventry by the rest of the flock? Are they a couple of snooty, stuck-up so-and-sos who just can’t bear to be in the same lifeboat as the working class riff-raff who live in the rookery? Is it just that they can’t stand the noise?

Personally, I think they don’t trust those Jackdaws, and I for one don’t blame them.

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Variations On A Theme

Blackbird Singing
Blackbird Singing

Das Wohltemperirte Amsel, (The Well-Tempered Blackbird). Improvisation on a theme. Bach-wards and forwards – and from side to side. Heeey, cool man!

There’s a blackbird who lives just up the road who has very modern, experimental musical ideas. He’s often singing away as we pass his clump of small trees with a large holly bush at its centre. This clump of trees in the corner of the house-across-the-road’s garden is the favourite singing place for many of the local birds – we’ve had the song thrush perched on to of the telephone pole that stands next to it and the lower parts of the bushes are always full of sparrows. The Chaffinch too, will flit up and take over any time one of the branches near the top falls vacant.

Having found out how to add little audio clips to the blog  – here’s a short piece the Blackbird composed on the spot for us as we started out on our morning rounds today.

This is just a sample – he went on, just playing around with this little tune for most of the morning.

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Rib Rub

Plantain or Ribwort
Plantain or Ribwort

I always thought that these looked like space ships. I’ve actually seen one just like it on the cover of Amazing Stories, or Analogue – Science Fiction Science Fact, or maybe it was one of the space ships used by the various aliens that gave Dan Dare so much trouble in The Eagle.  Or, I know, it was a thing called an Ion Ramjet – I seem to remember that to make it fly you had to set off a string of nuclear bombs just behind it and each blast knocked the space ship forward a bit – it all fell through because a bunch of anti-nuclear whingers objected to having it flying round the earth trailing enough nuclear debris to sterilize the planet.

Oh yes, and it’s actually a pretty useful plant – it’s called Ribwort (I asked Google) and is one of a bunch of similar looking plants that tend to get called plantains (nothing to do with bananas). It’s good for almost everything from bee stings to constipation. It’s one of those herbs with so many uses that you begin to doubt it.

I couldn’t find any reference to rolling up the leaves and smoking them – but I’m sure it’s a good cure for something.

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4 a cross

Crosswort (or Honeywort)
Crosswort (or Honeywort)

If you look at the picture closely you’ll notice that the leaves are arranged, four at a time in a cross on the stem. Other people have noticed this too so it’s not too hard to guess why it’s called ‘Crosswort’. They say that it also has a pronounced honey smell (The Dog and I checked – and it does) and so its other name is Honeywort. It’s a member of the bedstraw family and when it has dried it smells of new mown hay – we haven’t checked this by the way, but this is most likely why it was used for stuffing mattresses.

The Dog and I can’t imagine that a straw mattress would be very comfortable for very long and neither of us is inclined to give up our comfortable beds to do a ‘live’ trial.

Not many people do the crosswort these days – it’s more sudoku isn’t it?

Of course you could always gather a bunch for your Honey – because she’s wort it.

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A Hopeful Sign

Skiddaw - with a coat of gorse
Skiddaw – with a coat of gorse

It was clear and crisp this morning as The Dog and I set off for our morning constitutional, Scotland was dozing over on the other side of The Solway and Skiddaw was up early enjoying the sunshine. He’s taken to wearing his new shirt of golden gorse – and very smart he looks too.

Mrs Grieve (A Modern Herbal) says that cows give good milk if fed nothing but well bruised Furze (that’s his middle name) and that gorse is from the old Anglo-Saxon gorst  meaning ‘a wasteland’ referring to Gorse’s favourite habitat.

Dr. Edward Bach felt that the uplifting golden show that Gorse provides – once he gets into his stride – was all about bringing new hope into people’s lives. There’s definitely something bright and cheery about the way there’s always gorse in flower somewhere, even through the worst of the winter, and of course, now that spring is well and truly here, there’s gorse in flower everywhere.

Still, whether you’re looking for hope or for cattle fodder, don’t forget those thorns.

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Duck!

Ducks
Ducks

Someone mentioned that we had had three inches of rain in three days. It sounds even wetter in centimetres. The Dog and I thought it felt more like centimetres. Going out late the other night for The Dog’s last ‘comfort break’ before bedtime, we were intrigued by the sound of rushing water. Looking around we eventually pinpointed the noise to the little stream (beck?) that runs down at the back of the houses. We went round to the bridge and looked over to find it shouting and laughing like a gaggle of teenagers as it hurried on its way.

Next day we visited the river at the bottom of the village. It was far too busy to talk. It had put on its old brown dust coat and was hard at work, rolling rocks around and pulling low hanging branches off the trees and bushes – and generally having a good old tidy up.

Today we popped down again to see how it was getting on and found it in a much more relaxed mood. It had hung up its dust coat and there was a family of ducks pottering around, giving things a last minute check over.

I don’t know who we’re expecting – but I think we’re ready now.

 

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Cast your clouthes

May Blossom
May Blossom

Ta-Da! The May is out! So if you have faith in old country sayings this is the time to pack away all your warm winter clothes (or clouthes). However I recommend erring on the side of caution. This is the first blossom we have found and there are still vast areas of hedge without a single flower.

Hardy folk, who want to nail their colours to the mast, will no doubt be rushing to join the queue at the tanning parlour to get a quick spray-on so that they can wear that skimpy vest that is all the rage on the beaches of the Red Sea resorts (and which cost them an absolute fortune). Have you noticed that the price of clothing varies in inverse proportion to the amount of fabric required to make it?

The Dog and I won’t be joining in with either the skimpy vest or the spray-on tan. In fact we might just wait till June.

 

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The Greeks Had A Word For It

Cow Parsley?
Cow Parsley?

We’ve started to come across clumps of this on the roadside. What, we wonder is it? A quick look on google gives us a number of options. And they all look the same to us. We’ve decided to title this photo Cow Parsley for no particular reason. It could easily be Wild Carrot or even Hemlock. We did have a poke around the base of the clump looking for a pile of dead Greek philosophers and even called out “Socrates, Socrates. Wherefore art thou?” Getting no reply we tried calling out “Plato, Plato, are you around?” Some people think he just made Socrates up, you know, and the whole poisoning with Hemlock thing was just a literary device, to save himself embarrassment when people asked to be introduced. Conan Doyle had the same problem with Sherlock Holmes.

Our plant is probably quite harmless – but we won’t be tasting it – we’ll trust to rhetoric rather than the scientific method this time.

You can’t really talk about philosophers without quoting one of their wise sayings now, can you?

Socrates (or Plato) said:

I decided that it was not wisdom that enabled poets to write their poetry, but a kind of instinct or inspiration, such as you find in seers and prophets who deliver all their sublime messages without knowing in the least what they mean.

For a moment you thought I knew what I was talking about there, didn’t you?

 

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A Stitch In Time

Lesser Stitchwort
Lesser Stitchwort

Sometimes The Dog and I wonder about the names of the flowers we find by the roadside. Google is usually happy to provide us with a picture that looks sufficiently like our photo for us to assume that we’ve found the right plant. We’ll get it’s Latin name – it’s usually a member of the rose family – and half a dozen colloquial names. It’s these, the plants real name, that causes us the most irritation. How on earth, we wonder, did it get to be called that?

Somewhere there’s an old Granny, seated in her rocking chair, with her knitting on her lap.

Sitting patiently next to her is the botanical equivalent of Alan Lomax.

“And what do country people call this Granny?” he asks.

“Oh, arh.” says Granny (speaking in the vernacular of course) trying not to be too irritated with him – anyone can see it’s just a white flower – but he did bring her a nice bunch of dianthus caryophyllus (common name: carnation) and she doesn’t want to be impolite and tell him to be off and annoy someone else.

“That be,” looking down at her knitting, “That be Stitchwort, that be.”

We won’t go into why the Cuckoo Flower got its name.

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The Sky’s The Limit

Sky over The Solway Firth
Sky over The Solway Firth

Sometime, The Dog and I are just walking along and The Dog will stop to investigate some blade of grass or just stop to think about things and I’ll stop and wait while she ruminates. When this happens I sometimes look away in the distance instead of in the ditches and hedgerows nearby.

The sky can be quite amazing sometimes. There are times when we walk along in a bubble of grey, perhaps a mile or so in diameter and we could be walking along a country road anywhere. At these times the sky and the horizon merge a few fields and a couple of hundred sheep away. The hedges, the trees and the verges are full of interest and we hardly notice how small our world has become.

At other times we can see if the tide is in on The Solway and the hills of Dumfries and Galloway glow in the sun.

There are times when it’s a good thing that I’m actually there – because if I saw that sky in a picture I’d think the artist made it up.

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Three in a row

As Close As It Gets
As Close As It Gets

The Dog and I poodle along ’round the block’ – it takes us an hour or so, depending on which way we go, who we meet to talk to, what there is to take a picture of and so on. The moon poodles around the earth in twenty eight or so days, it too, isn’t in any hurry and wanders from one side of the road to the other as it travels ’round the block’. This means that those purists who get irritated by this sort of thing are able to work out when it is nearer to us and when it isn’t so near.

Yesterday was one of those times but in a special way – not only was the moon at its closest but it was also the time of a full moon. The moon at its closest is called perigee and when three astronomical bodies line up three in a row (sun, moon and earth – as they do for a full moon) it’s called sysygy. So a close and full moon is perigee-sysygy.

It’s all those long cold dark nights sitting peering through telescopes waiting for a big bang, you know – with nothing to keep you occupied except a box of scrabble tiles.

That’s 10 + 16 = 26

 

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Ups-a-Daisy

Daisy
Daisy

You don’t get daisies just any old where. They seem to be very particular about where they grow. They prefer to grow on short, well mown grass – like a lawn for instance.

This raises interesting questions. When they were evolving we can presume that the grass was much shorter and natural selection gave them this preference for lawn like areas. Then as the pace of evolution picked up and the grass started to get longer they found their quality of life deteriorating. It was most likely at this point that they set up a working party to advise on all the possible options.

There is no doubt that the outcome of the committee’s deliberations was that someone should invent a lawn mower. A few interglacial periods later and there it was – the very first lawn mower! The whole of daisy-dom rejoiced and it no doubt seemed that their troubles were over.

It was at this point that the fatal flaw in the plan became apparent.

Still daises are a persistent bunch and it only took an eon or so before the first hominids appeared.

Unfortunately we have no records to show exactly how long it was before this latest solutions to the  daisy’s problem learned to push the mower.

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Flavoursome

Garlic Mustard
Garlic Mustard

Well, here’s another plant we notice a lot now it has come into flower. Jack-By-The-Hedge or Garlic Mustard. There was certainly no shortage of Garlic flavouring around in the olden days. There’s no mention of bears digging this one up though.

Mrs Grieve (in the 1931 edition of A Modern Herbal) mentions that it was quite a useful plant medicinally – it can, for instance, be used to work up a sweat without all that exercise. She also says it is a ‘deobstruent’ for which Google suggests ‘aperient’  looking up aperient gave me a list of things such as “Constipation in Kids”, etc. – so I looked no further. She also mentions that eaten as a salad “. . . it warms the stomach and strengthens the digestive faculties”. Herbs that strengthened your ‘faculties’ were very common in the early 1900s.

It only flowers every second year and you can check to be sure it’s the right plant by – guess what? Crushing the leaves to see if they smell of garlic.

We’ll try it next time we see some.

PS The Wild Garlic smells of garlic – we tried crushing a leaf, it’s not a very strong aroma – but quite definite.

Edit: We tried some of the Garlic Mustard – and it is really tasty and tangy!

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Tourists

Crab Apple
Crab Apple

As The Dog and I left the house there was a right old racket going on next door. A bunch of tourists were looking at property in the area. There seemed to be some some dissension about the choice of abode – mainly by one of the partners. She was, apparently, being too picky. I could hear him say “I know it’s in a terrible state – we’ve been away for nearly a year – we’ve just got to get started and we’ll soon get it cleaned up. If you go picking holes in every place I find for you we’ll never get the nest built!”

The whole argument was aided and abetted by a small flock of bystanders who had congregated to give advice and also, on the side, to keep an eye on the main chance. Sparrows are not above moving in and taking over a half build house martin nest.

Later on, I noticed that work on the conversion and extension had begun so I suspect that he had given her a couple of drops of Crab AppleDr. Edward Bach would have approved.

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Shoes and Ships and Sealing Wax

Large White Butterfly
Large White Butterfly

A white butterfly without the dots on the wings is apparently OK. Looking at the pictures it would seem that butterflies cherish individuality. Good for them, but a little consideration would go a long way. It would make it so much easier if they would decide on a uniform and stick to it. It’s their own fault if we are reduced to calling them ‘Large White’ or ‘Cabbage White’.

The taking of this picture was a small triumph. The Dog is interested in butterflies and while I tip-toed along after it as it fluttered randomly around, trying to take a picture – The Dog practised her ‘stalking lion’ pose, hoping to do a pounce and kill on it. The butterfly appeared to be totally unaware of either of us and flitted from hedge, to grass, to flower, following its own inner urges. Being a bit of a butterfly really. It eventually sat still for long enough and far enough away from ‘The Stalking Dog’ for me to point and focus the camera.

By the way – no butterflies were harmed in the taking of this picture.