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.

Odyssey

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.

Celebration

Slush
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.

Surprise

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

Snowdrop
Snowdrop

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?

Bird Of Pray

Buzzard On Electric Pole
Buzzard On Electric Pole

A long time ago, when I was still enthusiastic and youthful, (now, of course, I am merely old and youth-less) I lived in Africa. I can remember the great excitement of having electricity installed on the farm. The overhead lines had to be brought from where the line currently ended, about ten miles away, across our farm, on their way to connect the several other agricultural establishments who were sharing the cost with us.

We had hardly relaxed into this new world where lights could be switched on, instead of having to be pumped up and then have the methylated spirit lit to heat the mantle before the paraffin would ignite, when a flock of flamingos flew over the cables, leaving eight or ten burned corpses on the ground under the wires, in their wake. Flamingos, with their long trailing legs, are large enough to touch two wires at a time and this is fatal.

This is quite a common occurrence –  large raptors and owls are especially at risk as they use electricity post and pylons for perching when hunting. Taking off with wings wide spread is asking for electrocution. In Australia and America many bush and forest fires are believed to have been started when a burning bird falls on the dry undergrowth beneath the power line.

Let’s hope our guy has his fingers crossed when he takes off.

Poised To Spring

Catkins And Buds
Catkins And Buds

While the rest of the country snuggles down under a blanket of snow, up here in the frozen north, not only do we have no snow but we have a great many signs that spring is just around the corner. There has been snow for the last few weeks, visible on the tops of the various mountains on both sides of the Solway Firth – when there are any mountains to break the monotony of the grey wall that passes for the horizon these days.

Out on our rounds though, things are starting to change. Things that have been around for a while, but which we have considered too insignificant to be bothered climbing through the thick, slushy under-felt of rotting leaves to be able to frame a photograph of. Now, suddenly, there they are, dominating the landscape of leafless sticks that we’ve become inured to.

But what are they? Well, the most popular guess is, that at this time of year they will likely be Hazel. They could be any of the trees and shrubs that produce catkins but they are not Pussy Willow – Google and I seem to remember from last year that the Pussy Willow was the first of the willows to show life.

In a couple of months there will be leaves and, hopefully, we will be better able to offer a more definite identification.

Thistle Do

Thistle
Thistle

This looks like a thistle to us. There are a couple of problems. The first problem is that it is dead. So it has no leaves or flowers that could give us a clue as to which variety of thistle it is. The other problem is that, as a general rule, thistles are biennial. They grow they first year as a bunch of leaves with few or no flowers. The second year they grow to their full height and flower. They then die. This means that waiting for spring to see what size and shape the leaves are, is going to be a little unproductive.

The thistle is the emblem associated with Scotland and it is also the emblem of  Encyclopædia Britannica which was first printed in Edinburgh around 1771 as a three volume set. Since the 32 volume 2010 edition, it is no longer available in a printed publication but has retreated behind closed doors and is now, only accessible in its on-line persona.

Mrs. Grieve said that ancient writers had thought an extract of thistle would improve the brain and cure baldness, both useful attributes for something that many people assume is only truly appreciated by Eeyore, being found in profusion in Eeyore’s Gloomy Place. Talking of places, Carduus is Latin for thistle and in French a thistle is a chardon. So Chardonnay, the village that is believed to be the ancestral home of the Chardonnay grape, is actually ‘the place of the thistles’.

Nice glass of thistle wine anyone? Cheers!

Viva La Difference

Two Pigeons
Two Pigeons

Now you might think, as I did before the RSPB web site put me right, that here we have two pigeons. And in a way I suppose we do. At first I assumed that the big fellow with the white collar was a wood pigeon, but I thought I had better check. So, Google and I had a look around to see what we could find out about wood pigeons. Yes, that’s him alright. I have to confess that I don’t have a very high opinion of him at all. I don’t think he is very bright. He builds a nest that looks as if a handful of twigs and pine needles had been blown together by the wind, no sides or any form of cup. Then the female will lay a couple of eggs on it. How they expect them to just sit there and not roll off, I can’t imagine. It always amazes me that any eggs ever hatch into chicks and that the chicks live long enough to ever leave the ‘nest’.

The other bird, I had put down as a feral pigeon, a by-blow of the rock pigeon that has taken over cities around the world – as Nelson knows only too well. But I was wrong. No, it turns out to be much more interesting than that. This is a Stock Dove. It has been quite rare, possibly due to a fashion for treated seed that sprang up in the 1960s, but seems to be recovering well. It nests in holes in tree trunks and it won’t raise two broods in the same hole.

It’s name is derived from the Old English word stocc – a tree trunk, a post or possibly a stake?

No Happy Medium

Pheasant On The Bird Table
Pheasant On The Bird Table

Our pheasant has given a great deal of thought to the problem. You see, the various small birds only scatter the seeds that they consider not worth eating on the ground. It stands to reason then, that the best and tastiest seeds must be in the seed feeders. Now we’ve resolved that issue, the solution is obvious and straightforward. To be precise, we need to be able to reach the seed feeders. It’s as simple as that. We just do not want to rely on the crumbs from the table any longer.

That blackbird isn’t too bad, he after all, doesn’t eat that much, but those pigeons! Well, they really make pig-eons of themselves, if you don’t time your arrival to give yourself a sufficient feeding slot before they turn up, I mean, they go through the scattered seed like a plague of locusts.

Even if you stand on the ground and stretch your neck up as high as you can, there really is no improvement. You just risk getting an eyeful of chaff. So then, that’s one solution that doesn’t solve anything. Excuse me, I must just see to this bunch of pigeons, they have no respect for their betters, you know. Now, where were we, ah yes, it seems that no matter what we do we can’t reach up to the seed from ground level, so you’d think that if we were a little higher . . .

Hmmm. . . . It’s not quite a straightforward as you might think.

Catching On

Blackbird At The Fat Balls
Blackbird At The Fat Balls

We have several blackbirds that potter round the patio under the bird feeder. Some of them are quite possessive and others make the effort to get along. There seems to be a family of a male, a female and a youngster, the female and the youngster tolerate each other – a mother and a teenager I suspect, they don’t speak the same language but they do have a large pile of dirty clothes in common – but the male is determined that it’s time that that layabout was out of bed at a reasonable hour and out of the house trying to find a job. He misses no opportunity to put this point of view across, should they ever be in the same patch of garden.

This particular chap had grown tired of relying on the largess of the great tits. They do distribute the seed from the seed feeder fairly randomly but when it comes to the fat balls, ‘One for me’ seems to occur far more often than ‘One for you’.

His supply chain has disappointed him and he is not convinced of its environmental credentials. He has decided it is time to cut out the middle man and deal directly with the source. He does agree that sitting on a branch eating may not be the best of manners, he does know how to scratch among the leaves with the best of them. It’s just that there are times when it is more convenient to put your knife down and hold your fork in your right hand.

Fool’s Gold

Goldfinch?
Goldfinch?

What do you think of this? It isn’t distinct enough to be sure, but I think it is a Goldfinch. That would be nice, we haven’t seen one around for ages.

The Dog and I came out of the drive the other day and turned right, right into a flock of small birds filling the hedge and bushes along the road. I’m not always wide awake when we set off, sometimes it needs a couple of hundred yards of bracing Cumbrian air before I start to pay attention. Still, I struggled the camera out of my jacket and started to take pictures. Small birds don’t hang around, you know. I don’t think I frightened them particularly. Our small birds seem happy to be ignored from three or four yards away, and even when they leave, they leave in a way that suggests that they were going anyway. I took quite a few photos before they dissipated, unfortunately, because of the bright background, most of them are identifiable only as small brown birds.

Not only are Goldfinches striking to look at but they have a sweet trilling song – this makes them attractive as cage birds. And cage birds are taken off round the world by their owners. Then, it becomes tiresome to take care of them and, even though you are now on the other side of the planet in New Zealand or Australia, the easiest solution to your problems is to just open the cage door and walk away.

These released Goldfinches are, as we speak, busy colonising the antipodes. I hope they’ve got a work visa.

Up Early

Proto Pine Cones
Proto Pine Cones

Some people are morning people, or so I’ve heard. I’m not that fascinated by mornings, myself. I don’t know who said it, but I repeat it here for the younger generation – ‘Early mornings are glorious! They should happen later in the day, so more people can enjoy them’. Generally I find mornings cold and blurry. It’s only later in the day that the fuzzy edges wear off. The Dog doesn’t mind early mornings, but she does come back to bed as soon as she is given the chance.

It must be difficult for a tree. You only get one chance a year to stay in bed late. Ash trees like to lie around in bed and enjoy that delicious feeling that everyone else is up and busy doing all sorts of things – and you’re not. You know, you’ve just a few more clues to sort out in this crossword and then you’ll be ready for anything, maybe you’ll even be ready to start the next crossword.

Pine trees, on the other hand, don’t really ever go to bed, they stay up all winter, just taking a cat nap now and then. It must be boring, being up all night with all the other trees fast asleep. Just standing there waiting, and waiting, and waiting. Is it spring yet? What time is it? Oh, only January. Would anyone mind if I had the radio on? I’ll keep it turned right down.

I wonder if the other trees snore.

On The Way Down

Sunset In January
Sunset In January

How would you like 4.1 million euros? Me too! Well, first you need the political clout to get three cities to agree that they agree with you, then you need an app for a mobile phone – not difficult these days, Google and almost everyone else has a thing that makes an app in a few clicks for you. Next you need a pamphlet and a web site that are full of all the current bureaucratic buzz words – don’t worry if it doesn’t make much sense. Now you’re ready to go, and the European Commission will be round begging you to spend their money. The Sunset Project is busy spending the 4.1 million on ‘Sustainable Social Networking Services For Transport’. Great, hey? I wish I’d thought of that.

Sunset is when the sun has just disappeared. This is followed by twilight. Twilight lasts while there is any light left in the sky and then we officially have dusk. Talking about sunset, did you know that it happens before it happens? The ‘real’ time of sunset is the instant that the last bit of the sun disappears below the horizon. There’s a slight problem, because of the refraction of the atmosphere, as it gets closer to that last moment, the sun appears to be higher in the sky than it really is. So, even something as simple and straightforward as the sun setting, is so complicated you can’t actually measure it.

Do we do this deliberately?

A Little Sunshine

Cow In The Sun
Cow In The Sun

Off we went this morning, feeling quite cheerful in the sunlight. Yes you read that right, it was a lovely sunny day. The clear skies did have the side effect of a definite bite in the air, not as cold as it was when we had the frost and the icy roads – but it was doing its best. It might have been the coal man doing it deliberately. Those people he delivered to yesterday must be feeling pleased with themselves.

Clicking around on the Internet recently I discovered ‘preppers’, people who are doing the Noah thing and getting in supplies of whatever they consider to be essential. What is essential will depend on which of a range of disasters you believe is imminent. There are plenty to choose from, from ‘Peak Oil’, to ‘The Zombie Apocalypse’ and every letter in between. I’m not sure if having three bags of coal delivered in case winter isn’t over yet allows you to count yourself as a genuine prepper, though.

As we came round the corner we noticed that the front door of the cows winter quarters had been left open. One of the cows was taking her turn in the sunny spot.

She had a mouthful of silage, so wasn’t able to return our “Happy New Year” – but she gave us a nod.

The Time Of Day

Just Chatting
Just Chatting

Today we were out walking much later than usual. I’m not sure why. That’s just the way it was. As we were so late setting out we decided to just go round to the level crossing and back. The time wasn’t right for us to be there synchronously with a train so we set out expecting just a short walk – there and back – at a reasonable pace, just for the exercise, not expecting to stop and take photos. Indeed, not even expecting that there would be anything to take a photo of.

There was nothing to take a photo of, our buzzards seem to have drifted father afield and it was too late in the day for most rabbits to be about. At the level crossing – a small digression here: When Chris, Jen and Fin were here last week, Fin wanted to know why it was called a ‘level’ crossing, this is an interesting question as our crossing is obviously not level (as in flat). It’s taken a good few days of searching but Google has come up trumps in the end. The crossing is a level crossing because the road and the railway are on the same level, as against a crossing with a bridge or a tunnel – so that’s another box ticked – back to today, at the level crossing, we decided to carry on up to the top of the hill.

At the top of the hill we found the alpacas in the nearby paddock and noticed that the white one had become a nice shade of Cumbrian-mud- colour, so that’s twenty three, not twenty two, different colours of alpaca. We stopped to chat to a guy checking the electricity cables, he pointed out the lines that he had checked today and the route he had taken – I’d be surprised if he hadn’t walked twenty miles following the wires across country. He told us he had the best job in the world. On our way back, halfway down the hill we found the coal man juggling the sacks of coal on his lorry so that he could lift one on his shoulders easily. I suggested that he must be busy as this was probably his peak season. “Not busy enough.” he replied, “We could do with a nice cold spell!”

It has been quite mild recently.

Plenty Of Time

Our Rabbit Visitor
Our Rabbit Visitor

Here’s our rabbit – working his shift for the clean-up squad. He appears first in the rockery, does a quick check around to make sure that the coast is clear, then he hops down and gets to work. Rabbits have been around for a while – they may have come over with the Romans or even with William The Conqueror. The problem they have, is that they are not easy to tell apart from The Hares. The archaeological record tends to focus of rabbits eaten by humans – so if they were running wild and too clever to be caught, they wouldn’t have left their mark.

Eddie Rabbitt wrote a song “Any Which Way But Loose” and Peter Rabbit wrote a much loved series of children’s books, in between visits to Mr McGregor’s garden, using the pseudonym Beatrix Potter. It goes without saying that nothing in the Hundred Acre Wood would have ever been properly organised without Rabbit. During the Second World War a German half-track motorcycle was referred to as a “rabbit” by allied forces and, if you have a nuclear reactor in the garden shed, you probably have a ‘rabbit’ to stick lumps of ‘stuff’ into holes in the core – to see what happens to them.

White rabbits, no relation to the present company, only appear, of course, from magician’s top hats and when you need to go down a rabbit hole as you’re late and you’re worried because you have to catch a Jefferson Airplane.

Old Photo

Blackbird-  Old Photograph effect
Blackbird- Old Photograph effect

I took this picture of a blackbird the other day. It was one of those dark days with a low sky and a horizon so close that it made it seem as though we were living in a dirty upturned plastic bowl. The only wildlife we see these days is at the bird feeder. Even here they seem to come in waves. There are days when it seems as if we must have said something to upset everyone. Then a day or so later, we are back in favour and not only the feeder but the ground around it is so popular that the bossiest of our birds are hard pushed to keep the clamouring hoards at bay – or at least in an orderly queue.

There is also a rabbit who has taken to popping in from time to time. The fallout from a burst of tits of all varieties on the seed feeder covers quite an area of patio around the feeder and he often finds the odd morsel to his liking amongst the debris.

Back to the blackbird picture. At first I thought it might make a nice silhouette and I opened it in a photo editing programme (GIMP) to try to make it a bit more, sort of silhouette-ish. I wasn’t really happy with the results and started clicking on various effects to see what happened. I found this one called ‘Old Photograph’. What do you think?

At least it didn’t make the picture any worse and it does capture the feeling of the day.

Here’s A Surprise

Great Tit In The Hedge
Great Tit In The Hedge

I really thought that Great Tits only existed round our bird feeder – in the same way that milk comes in bottles from supermarkets. I was quite surprised to see a flickering in the hedge, close to us, as we walked by – and even more surprised to find that I had a decent shot of a great tit. I’m sure that when people refer to point and shoot in camera adverts, they do mean you to have some idea of what you are pointing at.

My modus operandi is slightly different. I see or hear something scrabbling in, or flitting through the hedge. I point and shoot. Quite often this results in a section of hedge or an area of tree, perhaps even a branch or bunch of leaves. When this is transferred to the computer, I can extract hours of gainful employment, enlarging the picture or shrinking the picture and going over it pixel by pixel looking for something that will give me a clue as to why I would have taken this particular shot.

There is, of course, always the chance that some bird, animal, flower or tree would stray into the picture by accident. If the fates have presented us with this sort of opportunity, we are, naturally, happy to take all the credit and to jump to the conclusion that that was actually what we had intended to photograph.

And why not? It might very well have been.

Advice

Spot The Child
Spot The Child

I would advise you to to be careful about whose advice you take. There are plenty of people who think they know the answer to everything – as long as it doesn’t involve them bleeding themselves. They are always prepared to give advice, and to insist that they give the very best available. Of course, it is always possible to ask for and receive conflicting advice. Any time you ask for advice from more than one person, there is almost a guarantee that you will garner separate and different advice from each and every one, each convinced that he (or she) alone has all the answers.

Once you have asked around and collected advice from all quarters, naturally, you need advice on which advice will give you the advice you need. It is at this point, that you need to consider if you really needed advice at all.

There are times when too much advice can be too much of a good thing. At other times, too much advice can lead to delays and prevarication to the point where, whatever it was that you needed advice on has happened, not happened, been put off, been cancelled or otherwise moved on to the back-burner on the hot-dog stand of urgency and so the advice, while interesting has considerably reduced value.

There are other times when you get advice whether you like it or not and whether you like it or not, sometimes, decisions have to be made based on that advice without any advice as to the validity of that advice.

What can your mother possibly know about climbing trees for instance?

Master Plan

Herdwick Sheep
Herdwick Sheep

Here’s a Herdwick sheep. Sheep is a funny word, isn’t it? How do you know how many there are? Perhaps, for a farmer sheep only come in flocks so anything you’re doing for one you’re doing for them all, so a single sheep is a meaningless concept. This begs the question, why can cattle be cows – even a herd of cows with each cow an individual? Then there’s one pig that becomes many pigs. You might think that pigs are just so straightforward, but if they are swine the become as bad as sheep.

But back to this Herdwick sheep that seems to have sneaked down from the high hills and fells of Lakeland. There is a very special job for Herdwicks up on those high hills. It is their duty to see that the hills of the Lake District remain in the best possible condition and as attractive as possible to tourists.

All Herdwick lambs are raised by their mother with a vision of what the Lake District should look like. Each flock has it’s own territory and boundaries which each of them learn as a lamb and an innate understanding of how their piece of the jigsaw fits into the overall whole. They graze everything, grass bracken, heather, equally and constantly and maintain a uniformity that no other breed of sheep can provide.

We just couldn’t do without them, in fact.

Out For A Walk

Out For A Walk
Out For A Walk

When people say you’re going out for a walk, you’d think that you were entitled to expect to walk – even if you’re really not up to doing it without a bit of assistance at the moment. How fair is it to be told we’re going to be out and about, and then to be bundled up until there’s hardly enough of you sticking out to be able to breath – let alone walk. As if that wasn’t enough, this buggy doesn’t have anything that remotely resembles suspension. You can tell that buggies aren’t designed by children. Any adult who was forced to ride round in one for hours at a time would soon fit a decent seat and much better suspension, you mark my words!

The problem really shows itself when the buggy is travelling on exterior surfaces – that rumbling vibration has a hypnotic quality about it and before you know it, however cold and uncomfortable you may be, you drift off to sleep. Is it right to treat a child like this? Children should have more say in their transportation arrangements. How can you wriggle and squirm and jerk around to try to upset the buggy when you’re fast asleep?

It just isn’t fair!

Over The Hump

Alpaca - He called out Happy New Year as we passed
Alpaca – He called out Happy New Year as we passed

Well here we are. 2012 is gone forever, never to return. It’s a bit of a shame really – I was just starting to enjoy it. Most years do that to you, don’t they? They start off a bit rough and with quite a few sharp edges but by the time we’ve lived in them a bit and bent the most uncomfortable bits over so they don’t stick into us it’s almost December. Even though our good old year is starting to be a little worn in places it still is comfortingly familiar and we feel a reluctance to remove the old and put on the new. The new year feels a bit coarse and you just know that they’ve ‘improved’ it to the point where all the useful bits have been replaced with things you don’t really need.

You know what they say about the camel? It was a horse designed by a committee. New years tend to be sort of that way to start off with. You feel as though you ought to fill the toes with damp newspaper – or was it boiled potatoes? The exact reason and precise materials escape me for the moment, I’m sure it did whatever it was supposed to do, though.

Now, if you were going to design a camel, for instance. The first thing you’d do is to get rid of the hump. Wouldn’t you?