A level crossing is an interesting place, not only are there occasional trains to enliven your experience but there is a certain ‘Je ne sais quoi’ about it. It is possibly the spice of danger. There is after all nothing to separate you from hundreds of tons of iron and steel thundering across. Don Quixote would have loved level crossings, but only once. It’s a good thing there isn’t a station at La Mancha – did you know that Cervantes started working on the idea for Don Quixote while he was in prison in La Mancha, for not paying his debts.
We stand there knowing that the train is confined, controlled, it is on the tracks and its route may not deviate. We can safely stand and wait while the dragon blusters harmlessly past, separated by the flimsiest of barriers. So flimsy in fact, that both Younger Grandsons could easily walk underneath the bar, if they were not held firmly by the hand.
When the lights are not active we saunter across with boastful bravado “There are no trains coming” we say “Come on, let’s go across to the other side.” We don’t need to cross, of course, a train is a train, whichever side of the crossing you stand, but it is important to establish our mastery, our control.
There is no signal so we know it is safe – and knowledge is power.
Every now and then you get an urge to commune with nature and to get your hands dirty, or so I’ve been told. I have to confess that I am quite happy to leave the garden to get on and grow, within reason, without any micro-management from me. I don’t mind giving it the odd haircut, just to keep the lawn looking presentable and if it gets a bit out of hand and starts to encroach upon areas that I consider reserved for my recreation, I am happy to lop off an occasional tree branch or brandish secateurs threateningly at a rose bush. Should my righteous indignation be aroused, I have been known to reduce the offending shrub to an insignificant bunch of twigs. It made me feel a lot better! I must add, that although there followed several months of trepidation, we did have a good show of roses that year.
Autumn, of course, is the right time to get stuck in and do the larger reconstruction jobs around the garden. You know, move plants around, dig stuff up and put it on the compost heap – you can read about the right time and the right way to do any amount of heavy lifting in your gardener’s world, on any number of web sites. Don’t forget that the healthy exercise is doing all sorts of good and valuable things for you – while it wears out your body and causes any number of aches pains and other signs of a virtuous life.
Perhaps, here I ought to add “don’t work harder – work smarter”
Sometimes time just vanishes. One minute it isn’t very late and there will be plenty of time to continue to work on the current project. And the next? Well, somehow the time that we had a few seconds ago just seems to have taken French Leave. As an aside did you know that the equivalent expression to French Leave in French, translates as “to take English Leave”. That’s all the explanation of this phrase we need, really. The Hundred Years War (about who was the King of France) lasted for about – a hundred years actually, pretty much until the two sides, England and France, forgot what it was they were fighting about. But, back to the inconsistency of time. When you are busy, time goes faster – everyone knows this – sometimes however, when you aren’t exactly gainfully occupied, not exactly idle either but just not keeping an eye on the time, time has a habit of hoping around from slow to fast to slow again, just to keep itself amused while it waits for it to be time for something to happen. It suffers a bit from Attention Deficit Disorder you know, it just can’t keep its hands and feet still and it will squirm and wriggle and fiddle with the buttons if you don’t watch it continually.
Somehow, it was past two a.m. this morning before I remembered that I should be in bed. So I switched everything off and did my best to remedy the situation as quickly as possible. As a result of the late night, I slept in late this morning, so it was nearly mid-day before The Dog and I stuck our noses outside to test the weather. We wandered off on our rounds, trying to look as though we’d been up for hours. Then we came across this guy sitting by the brown, leafless hedge. He’d obviously been up late and missed summer this year and so was trying to make up the lost time after-hours.
As the year has drawn to a close we have seen some subtle, and some not so subtle, changes as The Dog and I walk our walk each day. The leaves have fallen off the trees for instance. At first just a few here and there, so that it was interesting to find dry leaves whirling round in the little eddies round the edges and corners of buildings. As we walked up the hill, the occasional leaf would run on ahead of us and The Dog would follow in hot pursuit. Then, it became hard to see the road for the drifts of leaves, very colourful it was too. Soon though, the carpet of reds and browns decomposed into a black slushy veneer that was thankfully washed away by the next heavy rain.
There are a few sheep around, along our walk, but there are far more cattle, or at least there were. Most of them have now been moved into their barns for the winter. There are still a few of the more hardy types pottering around in the fields but each time we pass by we notice that they are less and less obvious. More and more fields stand empty, looking quite forlorn and deserted without the munch and crunch of their bovine occupants.
In previous weeks we have rarely come across evidence of horses, marking their passage, as they do, in a way that would have left Hansel and Gretel green with envy. Very seldom have we caught the sound of their clip clopping approach as we strain our ears for the sound of vehicles but most of all for the almost silent whisper of bicycle tyres on the road. Now all that has changed. Horses too, we guess, are currently stabled against the wild winds rude lament – and so in need of exercise. Three times this week, we have stopped to chat to a horse out for a trot round the block. And very pleased we were to meet them.
There’s one particular place in our walk, just before we get to where the road goes through a tunnel in the embankment under the railway line. The hedge around that part of the road seems to have been neglected for a good few years. Now, The Dog and I have mixed thoughts on that. Back to nature is good in some cases but we humans have been living in, and modifying, our landscape for, probably, a good few thousand years. This means that quite a bit of our wild life has become accustomed to having hedges around.
Hedges are completely unnatural constructions and left to themselves, over ten or so years they will restore the natural order of things. The strong will deprive the weak of the necessary nutrients and what was a hedge soon becomes a line of trees, with larger and larger gaps as the trees grow and shade out their competing neighbours. It really is only those interfering, busybody humans with their fetish for tidiness that keeps a hedge a hedge.
Now the leaves are almost all gone, the skeleton is showing and interesting aspects of our hedge are coming to light. This tree is this shape because, some years ago, two shoots were used as ‘pleachers’ in a neatly laid hedge. As you can see from the thickness of the trunks that was a good few years ago.
We wondered what kind of tree it was and we discussed this with Google who had two possibilities to offer. One was Field Maple, this is the only native British Maple so it ranks pretty high on our list of guesses. Next was Sycamore. This isn’t a native to these islands but it has been carried around and planted by people on their peregrinations for aeons, and its ancestry is lost in the impenetrable fog of ancient history. These days we tend to blame things like this on the Romans who are, conveniently, currently unavailable for comment.
The main difference between these two types of tree is their leaf shape. This is Autumn and the leaves have all fallen off the tree. It looks like we will have to wait till spring, but we’re going to stick our neck out here and plumb for Sycamore – but it might be Field Maple.
This is white heather – it’s a cultivated variety of heather obviously. Real heather isn’t that colour and the good luck that is associated with white heather comes only when you find a stalk of white in among the purple that is the hue of the majority of plants. Like the four leafed clover which can now be purchased to order by florists everywhere, white heather is now so common as to negate any of the luck that it used to bring. Still, if you bought a white heather at your local nursery believing that it would bring you good fortune if you planted it in the garden – it probably will. That’s the way good luck works.
Many years ago (sheesh, was it really that many?) I was in London and making my way towards the Planetarium when a very large lady with a ‘My Fair Lady’ gown and a basket of flowers stood right in front of me and, in a very thick foreign accent, pushed a bunch of white heather under my nose and demanded “You! Buy!” Luckily, I am fairly resistant to high pressure sales tactics so I declined the offer. I don’t recall if the ensuing curse was ever effective but as all this happened more than seven years ago I guess I must have survived.
I’m not sure if it’s possible to compare the negative of the lack of good luck I suffered from as a result of not buying the white heather, with the positive bad luck I received as a result of the curse, if so we would be able judge the merits of each and so have useful data to access should we ever again have such on the spot decisions to make.
I must remember to carry a pair of dice in case I find myself in a similar situation in the future, then I can carry out a proper scientific study.
At this time of the year, things hibernate, or just hide themselves away waiting for a sunny day. So you’d think that a bird like a Buzzard, who relies on small furry things to do a bit of scurrying about if they are going to get a snack with a quick swoop, would start to take life seriously. After all, if there’s nothing to eat then you eat nothing. A few days ago, on our way home, we stopped to watch a buzzard being harassed by a large black bird – rook, crow or jackdaw – the buzzard wasn’t overly flustered but it did leave the area. You could almost hear it saying, “All right. All right! I’m going. I’m going. Keep your hair on!” I can’t imagine that there are young rooks about at this time of the year so the disagreement must have been based on territory rather than nest raiding. Competition for the food resources that the local area can provide is definitely hotting up.
On our way round to the level crossing today, just to make sure that it was level you know, we watched two or three buzzards playing with the wind. There really is no other way to describe it. They would float down wind for a few seconds, then turn and ride into the breeze with wings unmoving, just holding their position, hovering, until with a slight twitch of their tail feathers they would loop off to pick up a bit of speed and have another go at holding a hover.
There really wasn’t any point in this – they were just having fun. Come on guys, be serious!
Just lately we’ve had a flurry of posts showing a picture of autumn leaves or, failing falling foliage, we’ve had likeable locomotive largess in pictures of trains. This paucity of purposeful pictures (OK I’ll stop now, I promise) has even led us to consider the advantages of hibernation. The other option, of course, is to go to Australia, where summer is fast approaching and, no doubt the natural word is awakening and making its diary available for photo sessions, to amateur and professional alike.
As we search the brown and dried hedgerows along our walk for something /anything worth taking a picture of, the sun is now at such a low angle that even with moderate cloud cover, there is not enough light to take a photo of anything that will not sit still. Here I must interrupt this jeremiad to add that there is still plenty of wild life about, only this morning I startled a small deer and as it raced off, it in turn sent a rabbit scampering off in the other direction. A couple of days ago, not twenty yard ahead of me a large bird with long tail feathers shot up into the air and disappeared over the hedge into the wood, calling as it flew. My first thought was that it was our resident pheasant, but its call was reminiscent of the ‘Go. Back!’ of the grouse. In each case, with better illumination I would have chanced a ‘quick click’, to then see if enlarging the result on the computer could shed any light on the situation.
So it looks like it’s Australia then. The only problem is, it’s a bit far to be able to get back in time for coffee, which is an important part of our current schedule.
Honesty, in Winter. Shall I write a novel do you think? I think it’s too long to make a good song title. Billy Joel and Harry Hess (Harem Scarem) just called their songs ‘Honesty’, as did many others who wrote using that title. Wikipedia even remembers a horse called Honesty in the 1842 Grand National – what a long memory it has. To be honest, I can’t remember if the horse came in anywhere.
Some people say that it’s the phase of its life shown in the photo that won it its name. When everything is so open and overt, well, you have to be honest, don’t you? It’s certainly the least complicated way to run your life. When you leave your seeds prominently displayed in transparent seed pods, while the rest of the plant dies back you better be honest.
It’s also called Silver Dollar and Chinese Money. In Europe its various names translate as Judas pennies, pieces of silver and all that.
Money didn’t make it big to start off with – it was another one of these ‘overnight success that took twenty years to achieve’ acts. The first coinage was gold and gold is just too heavy to cart around as lose change. A Silver Penny appeared in the Middle Ages, with a cross marked on it, not to show any religious affiliation but so that it could be easily cut into four to make it more useful.
The big trouble with a coin is how much it costs. It is expensive to make (our ‘coppers’ are currently made of steel coated with bronze) and it’s expensive to handle. In fact, the lower denomination coins can cost, over their lifetime, far, far more than they are worth either as coinage or just plain metal.
This expanse of autumn leaves is at Talkin Tarn. Now Talkin Tarn is called Talkin Tarn because it is near the village of Talkin. The village of Talkin is called Talkin because that’s its name. I hope that explains everything.
Talkin Tarn itself, in common with many similar small bodies of water round here, was created by an itinerant Holy Man who was passing through and received short shrift from the population of the village, now beneath its waters. Except, that is, for one old woman who lived on the outskirts of the village and who took him in and offered him food and shelter. In exchange, he asked her to throw a shovel as far as she could towards the village. He then spoke the magic words – or whatever Holy Men did in those days – and the waters rose up and covered the whole village, only stopping when it reached the shovel.
Judging by how many small lakes or tarns around here have a similar story attached to them, we’ve had a very touchy bunch of Holy Men in the past. I’m not sure if they’re any better these days, I haven’t come across any recently. I am keeping a shovel handy though – it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Well, we’re back to the autumn leaves I’m afraid. The lovely sunny and clear but cold air mass has passed on to the next place on its list and left us back were we where before. The skies are not low and oppressive but they are grey – or grey-ish at the best.
So here’s a group of trees in various stages of preparation for winter. Soon they will all lose their leaves. Looking round the base of some holly bushes that we pass along our route I noticed that they too have been losing their leaves. I’m guessing that the thing that keeps them looking green is that they continue to grow leaves all year round. Does this infringe the trades description act? Is there a tree ombudsman we could complain to?
I’m getting a little bored with half-clothed trees, not to say piles of leaves clogging things up and getting in everyone’s way. I’m beginning to wish they would just get on with it, turn the sap off and retreat down into the roots in the basement until spring.
I won’t let you oversleep – I’ll wake you in plenty of time.
Another bright sunny day greeted us this morning as The Dog and I set off for our morning ramble. Still very cold but only a light breeze, when this happens on a Sunday it’s known as ‘good flying weather’ in some quarters. There seemed to be even less warmth in the sun today than there was yesterday. Yesterday we hurried through any shady patches we encountered along the way. Today it didn’t seem to make much difference, the air was cold and, although bright and cheerful, the sun didn’t seem to be adding any warmth to the day.
Once again the air was clear and the mountains were thrown into sharp relief. Some of the mountains we see are part of the Lake District – Skiddaw and all that – some of them are part of the Pennines. This morning we went all the way round the block and at one point in our walk, I thought I recognised the form of the hills the other side of the Solway estuary, over in Scotland, this is the first time I’ve seen them since we moved here.
While it’s quite pretty having snow on the mountains this early in winter, there is a more serious point to be considered. If the snow stays there and more snow falls, as winter progresses, the depth of snow will build up and the pressure will solidify the lower layers, it will form ice and start to slide down the mountain side as a glacier. Luckily for us Carlisle is directly in the glacier’s path and so when Carlisle disappears this should tell us that something is amiss. Of course, when the trains can’t get all the way into Carlisle and start terminating at Wetheral we won’t notice, but when they move the terminus to Brampton we won’t get any trains on our part of the line any more and this will be a warning to us that all is not well.
Of course, we might get the odd mammoth wandering past before this – which could be a good clue.