At The Top Of The Game

Sun At Its Zenith
Sun At Its Zenith

For some time The Dog and I believed that, when the sun was where it would be around midday, it would be at its zenith. Now, we find that the zenith is directly above your head and not where the sun is at all. Through some convoluted and tortuous semantics, almost too complex to be believable, medieval Latin scholars produced our word zenith from an Arabic phrase meaning ‘directly above the head’. So, while it isn’t correct to talk of the sun reaching the zenith – because it certainly doesn’t, unless you live within the tropics – which we certainly don’t, the sun still reaches a high point above the horizon in its daily peregrinations. When it arrives at this height, it is all right to call this ‘the sun’s zenith’ because that’s what it would be if we lived somewhere where it was.

All of this is interesting of course, but not really the sort of, handy for day to day use information you’re used to finding here. Unless, you happen to be one of the many telescope mounting makers that we meet wandering pensively along the country byways. Knowing all about zeniths, for them, is crucial if they want to avoid the keyhole problem.

Imagine you are following the sun through your telescope. Just a note here – it is not safe to do this during the day, please only indulge in this type of experiment after sunset. As the sun rises your telescope points higher and higher until it is aimed directly overhead. Now, the sun is going to go down the other side, so the whole telescope must turn round. This leaves you with a slot of sky that doesn’t make it into your observation. The dreaded keyhole!

I’m happy to say that currently, the sun does not rise high enough to give us this type of problem.

I’m sure you’re all very relieved.

Veni Vidi Vici

Vinca (Periwinkle)
Vinca (Periwinkle)

Oh. No! The cruel PlantFathers of P.L.A.N.T. (the Peoples Liberation Against Natural Territorialism) have been round with their whips and sub-machine guns, forcing poor helpless flowers out in the cold, freezing, sub-Arctic weather we’ve been having lately. They have given scant regard to the fact that the plants are orphans, have had a terrible childhood and their grandmothers have swollen knees so are confined to wheelchairs.

P.L.A.N.T. of course, is that multinational sponsored, underground organisation that upholds the right of every plant to grow everywhere, whether the weather suits it or not.

We found this poor, shivering specimen crouched against a hedge on the edge of the village, whimpering with every icy blast of today’s chilly winds. It really should be allowed to creep back into some nice warm bed in someone’s garden. It must have been scared to death to have wandered so far from civilisation. Still we have to confess, we find ourselves making excuses not to interfere, although, we haven’t seen any of those Russian built Cadillacs that the Men In Black drive round in lately.

We suspect that our little flower here, is just an offshoot of their current campaign to spread the Periwinkle round the shores of the Atlantic. It is already the fourth (or fifth or sixth – take your pick) most harvested shellfish on this side.

And it’s not doing too badly on the other side either.


Small White Flowers
Small White Flowers

Odysseus, or Ulysses, depending on your point of view, was on his way home. Easy to say but not so easy to do. You see, just when the Trojan war was all sorted out and it looked as if this glorified Greek soap opera was going to come to a nice tidy end, Odysseus upset Poseidon. Not a good plan, as it turned out – Poseidon being the God of the Sea and Odysseus needing to sail away from Calypso’s island on a raft. So, fighting pirates, being chased by cannibals and all the normal things you would expect to find in any good Coronation Street plot, he landed on Circe’s island. The name of the island was totally unpronounceable, so he sent half his crew to see if they could find someone who knew how to say it.

As luck would have it, Circe was a witch who’s party trick was turning men into animals. So that sorted out the first half of the crew. Odysseus decided he better do something about it – half a crew isn’t much use, especially if they all row on the same side, so he rushed to the rescue. Half way there, he bumped in to Hermes. Hermes was the messenger of the Gods – this was in the days before mobile phones. Hermes said that he should use moly to combat Circe’s magic. Once the moly had defeated the enchantments, Odysseus was to threaten Circe with his sword so that she would suggest that they hop into bed. Just in case you’re thinking of trying this at home, I should mention that they ended up with three children.

Which is all a long and roundabout way of telling you that moly, turned out to be a small white flower with a black root.

Black And Blue

Coal Tit And Blue Tit
Coal Tit And Blue Tit

Today we had, for various reasons, to take a trip over the page into Northumberland. Northumberland is just up the road from us. We do indeed live on The Edge, with Scotland within shouting distance that way and Northumberland hardly a stones throw that way. All of these dividing lines are, of course, in common with the Equator and the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, quite imaginary. We have on many occasions driven over The Edge and felt not the slightest bump as we went over. Nor are the people we encounter in any of these foreign parts in any way foreign. They are who they are, just as in fact, are we.

Coal Tits and Blue Tits no doubt, feel much the same way about each other. They are alike enough to get along and dissimilar enough to be sure of themselves. They will both eat pretty much whatever is going and are happy to share the delights of the bird table. Coal Tits however, prefer the seeds. Their beak is perfectly adapted for removing the seeds from pine cones and other hard to reach places. Blue Tits, on the other hand just love aphids, moths and caterpillars. They will eat seeds but only as a second choice.

We do our best to keep them both happy.


Yay! Slush!

Our picture today is a photo of slush, in case you hadn’t guessed. You see so many pictures celebrating the snow. Snow on mountains, snow on holly bushes (with and without robins), cars stuck in snow, people digging snow, but when the snow goes, it recycles itself in a magical, totally environmentally friendly way, and yet no-one seems to celebrate the marvelousness of slush. So, look, look, it’s slush! It’s slush!

We set out this morning a little sandy-eyed. The trees in the woods behind the house had held a Burns Night Supper last night – and they had invited the wind. It certainly sounded as if the whisky flowed freely. I must say that the whole thing seemed fairly convivial. They must be old friends. There were times when the merriment appeared to be becoming quite out of hand. Perhaps the entertainment was someone reading some of Burns’ more humorous verses, but from our position on the outskirts of the frivolity it seem more of an adult nature. The woodland version of Billy Connolly, possibly?

As a nod to Robbie – here’s a piece he wrote. It seems to be particularly apt.

The sweeping blast, the sky o’ercast,
The joyless winter-day,
Let others fear, to me more dear
Than all the pride of May:
The tempest’s howl, it soothes my soul,
My griefs it seems to join;
The leafless trees my fancy please,
Their fate resembles mine!
In case you’re wondering it’s the second of three verses from Winter: A Dirge.

Broad Ladies

Roof Slates
Roof Slates

At the front of the property we live upstairs, over the barns. If you go round the back though, you’ll find that we live at ground level. So, if you walk out of the back door and round to the front door, you then need to climb the stairs to get back where you started from. This circuit can put parts of the various roofs that cover the different sections of the building at eye level. Depending on which door you are using to enter or leave, the patterns of the slate roofing tiles are are like a kaleidoscope that moves round in the corner of your eye as you walk past.

Slate, most likely for roofing tiles, has been mined or quarried in The Lake District for ever. Probably going back way before the Romans. The biggest problem of course, was getting it from the mine or quarry to somewhere from which it could be transported to somewhere useful. This meant – until people took transport seriously enough – the odd mule-full was the best you could expect. We always take visitors from ‘down south’ up over the Honister Pass and past The Honister Slate Mine, if we possibly can – and it’s a difficult enough road even in a modern car.

Slate roofing tiles come in various sizes, such as, Countesses, Duchesses, Princesses, Wide Ladies, Narrow Princesses, Narrow Ladies and these shown here. They are, at a guess, based on a quick dash outside in the rain to take a few measurements, Broad Ladies.

I like to think that they are not just broad ladies but also broad minded ladies.


A Surprise
A Surprise

This piece of  rural landscape doesn’t look as though there can be anything interesting to say about it, does it? Would you believe me if I told you it was one of the most interesting things around here? As a matter of fact it really is one of those things that you look at for ages without even noticing – then suddenly, while you are thinking about something quite different, there’s a sort of ‘click’ in your head and the part of your mind that has been turning over thoughts that you wouldn’t think are related, is, without you having to do anything to prompt it, semi-transparently overlaid with another thought or perhaps, as in this case an image. Immediately after, it is all perfectly obvious and you wonder how you missed it.

If The Dog and I take the route round to the level crossing, over the other side of the lines, we can look over the fence, where the beck gallops down a steep ladder of assorted small boulders and large stones then hurries off through a pipe under the road. On the other side of the road we look down on where the beck runs through a broadening of its small valley where, now, are several houses, redeveloped from what used to be a mill and its supporting buildings. The mill itself is long gone to the great waterwheel in the sky.

We stopped and looked at the beck, just as we always do. Then we started thinking about watermills and about micro hydro power and then as we stared inwardly at the possible head of water available in our beck and wondering how it was enough to turn a mill wheel. The piece of our mind that was on duty, listening for traffic, looking for something to photograph, etc. noticed this apparently orphaned line of trees wandering round the hill.

Click. Ding. Sproing. Clang. The penny dropped, this is the mill leat or head race. This line is probably the old hedge that marked the channel that brought the water to our mill. Who’d of thought.

Train Of Thought

Tunnel To Nowhere
Tunnel To Nowhere

Sometimes you wonder about things, don’t you? As you can see, today we have a picture of a tunnel through the railway embankment, or rather, perhaps we should call it a hole in the railway embankment. There doesn’t seem to be any road, attached on either side of the railway line, that would give meaning to the need to put a tunnel just there.

Now, our railway was built in the 1830s and it was built with the blood sweat and tears of the navvies who were the bleeding edge of technology at that time. In the next village there is a lane whose meandering takes it across the route of the railway. There isn’t that much on that side of the line that you can’t get to by other routes and ditto this side of the line. Still, you can imagine the outcry of the villagers living in the half a dozen houses on this side “Am I never to see my brother/sister/uncle/aunt/cousins again once that embankment is built?” So they put a tunnel through the embankment there – over what must have been little more than a wide-ish footpath.

This tunnel doesn’t have anywhere to go to on either side of the line. And notice, this is not some alleyway but the 1830s equivalent of a six lane highway. Was it really so important to be able to bring a cart fully loaded with hay or a whole herd of giraffes through here, rather than use the other one, half a mile up the road? Perhaps there was a regulation that stipulated one tunnel per half mile of embankment – whether you needed it or not.

Or do you think, at four o’clock on Friday the Gang Boss looked at his watch and said “Down tools, lads. We’ll give the brickies a chance at the overtime. See you all next week.”

No Room No Room

Birds At The Bird Feeder
Birds At The Bird Feeder

The title comes from Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland – in the chapter headed A Mad Tea-Party, Alice tries to join the tea-party but the Hare and the Hatter insist that there is no room, to Alice it seems as though there are plenty of spare seats. She finds out by the end of the chapter why the empty seats and tea time, are so important.

Watching the birds that come to the bird table and feeder, I sometimes wonder if there is some complex protocol. Perhaps on the lines of one of those ‘Logic Puzzles’ where Jane wears a yellow T-shirt, doesn’t wear glasses, doesn’t have a moustache, is blonde but has long hair. So who get’s the peanuts and who has to put up with the seed feeder?

The Blackbird is definitely the bossiest and he definitely has it in for the Robin. Yet he seems to be on the best of terms with the Dunnock. Sparrows and Chaffinches come and go with complete indifference to the other occupants of the bird table. The Wood Pigeon, at first, shied away from the Stock Dove. I think he went home and told his wife what had happened – and had a good telling off – because he returned a short while later and threw his weight around in no uncertain terms.

The Great Tits think they own the whole garden and swagger about the place – but a gaggle of Long Tailed (smaller) Tits will crowd them off even the fat balls.

Here we have, from left to right, a Great Tit, a Coal Tit, a Blue Tit and a Sparrow. Strange company. Times must be hard.

Bach And Bite

Sheep May Safely Graze
Sheep May Safely Graze

When, in Germany, in 1713, Duke William Ernest wanted to give fellow German, Duke Christian, a 31st. birthday present, he asked Johann Sebastian Bach, who was working for him at the time, to knock up a little something – suitable for a man who had everything. Duke Christian had decided on a days hunting followed by a ‘Myths and Legends’ party, for his special day. Now, this was no mean request, Duke Christian was a serious patron of the arts (so much so, in fact, that he bankrupted his Dukedom and had to be taken into the 17th century version of administration), so Bach went off to have a chat with his mate Salomon Franck, who wrote poetry in this new cantata thingy which had recently gone viral in the Holy Roman Empire.

A couple of pints of good German beer later and we had ‘The lively hunt is all my heart’s desire‘ (in fluent German of course). This was an entertaining little thing, it included various gods and goddesses and others from Greek mythology, which was all the rage at that time and fitted in rather neatly with the theme of the party. It lasted for nearly an hour and and managed to mention the birthday boy in four different places, in suitable juxtaposition to the various deities.

The bit you’re bound to recognise is the forth aria called ‘Sheep May Safely Graze‘. Try YouTube.

Given his strained financial circumstances, Duke Christian would probably have been quite happy with an M & S voucher.

Bird’s Eye View

Woodpecker At The Birdfeeder
Woodpecker At The Birdfeeder

I asked Wikipedia where the phrase ‘Bird’s Eye View’ came from. Wikipedia just shrugged and said that it had been around for centuries. It did suggest a couple of things that I might be interested to look at. The first was Pictometry. This is taking lots of photos, usually from low flying aircraft, at an angle of forty degrees. This produces pictures where the exact global position of every pixel is known. As with anything that humans meddle in, unfortunately the pixels are trapezoidal, so you need special software to be able to see the photos.

Wikipedia did mention that prior to the advent of cameras,  ‘Bird’s Eye View’ paintings and drawings were popular. It offered me some examples, one of which was a depiction of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle in 1909, taken from a postcard of the period. This was another of those ‘World Fair’ things that everyone was doing at that time. They had originally intended to hold it in 1907 – and they could easily have been ready in time but the organisers heard of another fair being held that year so they re-scheduled their event. A lucky break as it turned out, 1907 was a poor year for the economy, by 1909 things had picked up – they had three and a half million visitors.

Newsworthy items from the time of the exposition included two young lads, just out of school, who cycled a thousand miles of back-country tracks and paths from Santa Rosa in California to arrive at the fair in time to earn a twenty-five dollar prize – and a one month old orphan baby, Earnest, who was raffled off. The raffle was drawn – but the prize doesn’t appear to have ever been claimed. No one is too sure, but Earnest probably went back to the orphanage.

Then Google found this for me  ‘Bird’s Eye View‘ a UK organisation , hard at work ‘Celebrating Women Filmmakers’ as they put it.

Clever name hey?

Fair Maids


Look, what we have here. Snowdrops, February Fair Maids, poking their heads up and having a quick look around to see if the reports they have heard of snow moving in from the east (or was it west), have any substance. It is hard to give them and exact answer. ‘Don’t know’ won’t do because there are flurries of snow around and, wherever they thought no one would notice, they have left small patches of white. I’d hardly go as far as to call it snow fall, it’s more like a light dusting of castor sugar.

Wordsworth did Daffodils – so you could be fairly sure that he would do Snowdrops and he did, he wrote two poems, ‘ON SEEING A TUFT OF SNOWDROPS IN A STORM’ and ‘TO A SNOWDROP’. A great many poets have done snowdrop poems.

Snowdrops come originally, in common with almost everything else in our gardens, it would seem, from Crimea. They were probably brought here around that time when the British thought they owned it all and wandered the globe taking plants and marbles indiscriminately – with completer disregard for Health and Safety Regulations.

The Photographer’s Lament To A Snowdrop

Hello, Snowdrops. Where’d you think your growing?
There’s no point having your flowers up here, if it’s snowing.
It might be ‘Well cool!’ to stick up through a blanket of snow,
but white flowers on a white background – just don’t show.

There you go, Will – what do you and Dorothy think of that?