Caught The Train

Steam Train - Union of South Africa
Steam Train – Union of South Africa

Sometimes you plan and scheme, you discuss and argue, you adapt and compromise. Sometimes, you’re on the A Team and you get the chance to ‘Love it when the plan comes together’, but not often. That is the way life is. To quote my favourite quote, John Lennon is reported as saying that “Life, is what happens while you are busy making other plans”. Then. Just now and again. Life does something that you couldn’t have planned for even if you had intended to all along. Now, if you are unlucky enough to not be where you need to be in order to be lucky, you will probably be quite upset about it. But then, you could be lucky enough to never find out how unlucky you have been and so not need to sooth your psyche with a glass of wine or a bar of chocolate.

Today, we had just popped to the shops for a few odds and ends. We drove in the gate and parked the car as usual, as we stood by the car scrabbling for the various parcels we had accumulated on our shopping trip, Jackie said “Look at that smoke, something must be on fire. Oh, I think it’s a train!” We both ran to the house and I grabbed the camera and rushed out to where I had a view of the embankment. As you can see, she was right, it was a train.

It’s The Hadrian, LNER A4 Class 4-6-2 No. 60009 “Union of South Africa”, come from Hellifield, through Settle, Ribblehead, Appleby to Carlisle in time for luncheon. Then off to Haltwhistle, Hexam, Durham, Darlington to end up in York.

And they timed it exactly right for our return from shopping. Thanks, Hannibal!

Snow Accident

Snowflake Crash Landing
Snowflake Crash Landing

You know that snow? Well, our snow, up here on the edge of England, actually slipped over the eaves and slid down all over Scotland. I know that some places had some snow and some places had quite a lot of snow – and then there were the places that had loads of snow. The wind was just bitterly cold in most places but if you where in one of those places with more snow than we had here, the wind did its best and took the snow and piled it in varying sized heaps for you. I suppose you should have left a note out, telling it where you wanted the snow drifted to.

Personally, well, let me put it this way. You know how, over this last year or so, everyone has become rather grumpy with climate warming overload? And you know how they picked on the Met Office for trying to push the temperatures up? I suppose there is a possibility that someone in the purchasing department there, didn’t realise that there are a hundred and forty four packs in a carton and that snow comes freeze dried (just add water) and then ordered a thousand cartons when they only meant to order a thousand packs.

But it would be easy to think that it wasn’t an accident, wouldn’t it?

There He Is

Great Spotted Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker

The woodpeckers rattle around in the trees of our wood, sending off bursts of high speed Morse code, whenever they find a chunk of wood that has the correct consistency. Apparently they need to tap between ten and forty PPS (pecks per second) to match the resonant frequency of the wood.

Samuel Morse, who gave his name to the Morse, code actually only coded the numbers, as soon as the telegraph became useful Alfred Vail added all the letters. Alfred came up with the really good idea of using the shortest bursts of dots and dashes to represent the most used letters in English. He popped round to the local newspaper and looked at the quantity of each letter amongst the movable type that he found in a type case there. This gave him a good starting point. Endeavour Morse, luckily for him, was purely fictional. He was a master of the sleight of hand necessary to keep his first name hidden from the entire police force and his TV audience.

Both male and females woodpeckers signal with this drumming during the spring and early summer. It is a call or territorial marker. They do chip bits out of tree trunks looking for food, they have a very long sticky tongue that they can use to fish around under the bark looking for insects – but that’s different.

There’s not that many trees in the wood behind our house and this guy is generating his staccato chatter almost all day. I have been trying to get a view of him for weeks.

And today. Snap!

The Wrong Kind of Crocus

Purple Crocus
Purple Crocus

Typically British, the variety of crocus we grow here is not the useful sort. Our crocus is probably poisonous and nor does it contain any saffron. We are good at this sort of thing aren’t we? When ever there is a choice to be made we can be guaranteed to pick the wrong option. We definitely have the wrong type of weather and, if we were to get right down to basics, I’ll bet we live on the wrong kind of island too.

In ancient Egypt, if you woke up one morning and found that someone had half-inched your pyramid, you could burn crocuses and alum together and find out who the nasty little tea-leaf was, even if he had left it parked at the station with no petrol in.

Most of us would be quite happy to attract love into our lives, easily done by planting crocuses in the garden. This is also thought to grant you the occasional vision. Whether the two are interrelated, would have to be discovered by trial and error.

The nice thing about saffron is that it was one spice that Europe actually exported to the orient, quite an achievement. It also bucks the trend in another instance. In spite of it being almost de rigueur for pretty much everything you find that could be remotely healthy, to be rich in vitamin C, saffron is rich in vitamin B2.

The Crocus is a rugged individualist – it’s no wonder he’s the wrong kind, is it?

Snow Use

Grass, With A Snow Coat
Grass, With A Snow Coat Pulled Up Round Its Ears

Everyone knows that all snowflakes are different, no two are identical. Obviously, this can’t be taken literally. All snowflakes haven’t fallen yet so that person who has been saving them as they fall, hasn’t managed to collect them all yet. We don’t have any way of knowing if the one that turns up tomorrow will be exactly the same as that one that came out of the core sample, recently removed from the glacier in the very centre of Antarctica.

What we could do with I suppose, is a pre-paid envelope with each snowflake, with the address of a regional collecting office. Each snowflake could then be popped into its own packet and the packet put in the postbox.

At the regional centre, to avoid the project becoming overly labour intensive, the envelopes would only need to have the date and region code stamped on them. The bar code printed on the back of the envelope would be scanned to register the serial number and then the computer would print out a list of the missing serial numbers from this batch.

This is where we build in community involvement, These lists are then emailed out to a local controller whose job it is to put together teams of pensioners and school children to scour the neighbourhood, collecting up all the remaining snowflakes, taking them to have their serial numbers checked against the master list.

This, I’m sure you can see, is a crucial scientific study. I think I’ll apply for an EU grant.


Daffodils In The Woods Along Drive
Daffodils In The Woods Along Drive

There is still a handful of snow left in the big sieve in the sky and we are being given a light dusting. I noticed that the dictionary definition of dredge was ‘to sprinkle generously’ and I’m pleased to report that we are not being dredged. When we went out this morning, the wind had dropped – it was still there, but nowhere near as biting as it has been.

The wind has been playing games with the lanes around us. While most of the roads in the area and even their verges, are clear of snow, except for neat piles under the hedges, the little lane that leads to the ‘main’ road and up to the traffic lights, has had snow after snow piled in between the hedges that line it. We did go that way once – and it was quite exciting ploughing through, with the snow scrapping noisily underneath the car as we slid along with a very fetching salsa movement. Luckily it was downhill all the way. We’re going the other way round for the moment.

In case you hadn’t noticed we have a picture of daffodils today. They are starting to dominate the verges and woods so I expect that we will have many more to follow. Talking of sprinkling, there is now a sprinkling of lambs in the fields around, so we might manage a few photos of lambs if daffs get too monotonous.


But Which One?

Song Thrush
Song Thrush

We don’t often see a thrush in the garden. This guy was a little coy. I noticed his spotted breast and rushed for the camera, he promptly turned his back on me and stayed that way until he flew off. Thrushes and Blackbirds are the same family, it’s just that blackbirds are (mostly) black. The Song Thrush is slightly smaller than it’s cousin the Mistle Thrush. The Mistle Thrush goes out of his way to emphasise this by standing straight and tall. He’s inclined to be aggressive and will protect a holly or other tree with a good supply of berries against all comers. He has a similar song to a blackbird and his habit of often singing from a high perch in stormy weather has earned him the name Storm Cock.

I’m fairly convinced that this is the Song Thrush. He is blackbird size and when I first saw him he was scratting around in the the dead leaves, just the way the blackbird does. I don’t think I’ve heard him sing yet. His song is quite distinctive. He sounds just like a blackbird but whereas the blackbird will take a phrase and treat you to endless variations on the theme, the song thrush repeats each phrase twice – just to make sure you heard it the first time. His alter ego, the throstle, is a corruption of the German for thrush – drossel

Wordsworth in 1798, wrote a poem called The Tables Turned which, showing how little things change, is as valid today as it was then. Just change ‘books’ to ‘computer’ and he says it all.

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.

This is the fourth verse – go and read it all – it’s worth  the words!

Dressing Down

Snowdrops - Gone To Seed
Snowdrops – Gone To Seed

As we came round the corner, under the hedge, where there is still a reasonably deep bank of snow, I noticed a patch of snowdrops. They were, well shall we say, not looking their best? There were a few other patches nearby, looking as daintily spruce and pristine as usual. These were all standing there in their sea green dresses, with those pretty white knitted hats they always wear when they go out – to keep their ears warm, you know. We have become quite used to seeing them, along under the hawthorn, chatting animatedly with each other, each little patch tending to remain within their peer group. Probably friends who have grown up together, All started nursery school on the same day; in the same intake in infants’; same junior school; same senior school – and took the same options at A levels too, no doubt.

And then of course, life intervenes. In the clunky, loud-noisy, gauche form of boys, usually. The friendships built over years, dissolve faster than butter on a baked potato. In no time a group of close knit friends become a battalion of gladiators willing to do battle to the death, at least. Then the combat phase passes and suddenly they are all attending ante-natal classes – together again!

From here it is but a short step to standing around chatting outside the school gates – waiting to pick up the children.

But that’s life.

Quickly Please

Daffodils In The Snow
Daffodils In The Snow

Come along. Quickly please! Where’s my group? Over here please, if you came with me this morning. Please don’t leave anything behind. Bring everything with you. Over here! Over here! Are you my group? No. Just those who came with me this morning, please. My group! This way! Follow me, please. Quickly please. We have quite a lot to fit in, so we must move along. Stay together now. We don’t want to loose any of you. Stand still please, let me count you. Please stand still for a moment. Are you my group? No. Please, your group is over there. Please stay with them, this is just my group, those who came with me this morning. Are we all here? Please stand still for a moment and I will try to count you. How many did you say? Let me look. No, we should be one more than that, let me count again. Oh, will you please stand still, just for a moment. Good. This way please. Everyone follow me. This way. Try to stay together, now. Please don’t wander off! Stay with the group. My group. This way. Quickly please. There will be time later to look around. We mustn’t dawdle now, we need to hurry along. Now, tomorrow is a free day, so those of you who want to sit around under the hedge have all day to yourselves. Those of you who opted for the local tour? Will you put up your hands? Thank you. Please note that the wind will be here to pick you up at eight o’clock sharp!

Sitting, staring out of the window at the snow is mesmerising, isn’t it?

Blackbird Singing at Dusk – not in the dead of night

One of the first signs that I look for, while impatiently waiting for winter to pack up and push off, as a hint that spring is almost upon us, is the blackbird starting to sing. Birds, in general only sing in the spring, it’s part of the mating ritual. I suppose it’s a bit like wearing really expensive trainers (of a well known brand that needs no promotion from me – although if they would like to try to bribe me to mention them I’m happy to consider their offers, ditto jeans, etc.) or having your hair long, or short, or cut off except for a stripe over the middle. Just because not all humans make good singers, doesn’t mean we need to feel left out. In this connection, we could mention Sweet Sixteen in Putting On The Style by Lonnie Donegan who only went to church to see (and be seen by) the boys. You get the picture, I’m sure.

Birds call, of course, all year round and bird calls are a much more useful means of identification than the transitory birdsong.

Our blackbird found the TV aerial a week or so ago and has staked his claim to it as the place to be heard from. From this height, he has a clear view west and can watch the sun and set his watch by it’s setting. Dusk is his time. The robin has been whimpering on all day and as the twilight gathers he falls silent.

He better!

The Spring has Sprung

Hawthorn Leaves - Springing into action
Hawthorn Leaves – Springing into action

Spring. Spring. Spring. Yes, Spring into action and put a Spring in your step. Spring clean, eat Spring greens, eat Spring onions. You may not have the right angle but I’ll Spring along with you – and so on and so forth. Today, as this poor old planet, with so many itches that desperately need scratching, clothed in ragged cast-offs (pinned on here and there with a decorative oil rig) and sprouting so many windmills that he definitely needs a shave, trundled past the first point of Aries. This is the bus stop on our orbit where Winter gets off, in the northern hemisphere and Autumn gets on in the southern..

Spring, of course, had been sitting quietly on the top deck dozing now and again and sporadically reading Fifty Shades of Cold and Grey, in between gazing out of the window wondering how on earth she is going to get the place looking decent in time for summer. She’s thinking to herself that it might perhaps, be best to put a nice thick blanket of snow down until she can find where the mops and buckets were put last year. She just knows that most of the April showers she stacked away so carefully will have spots of mould on them and be past their use-by date.

O-oh, here we go! She’s found her pinny and pushed her sleeves up. Heads down lads, or you’ll be given a job to do.



Freight Train
Freight Train

I’ve given you a picture of a train for no reason really. During the week we don’t have a huge amount of freight traffic travelling over our embankment and what there is tends to be late at night. We just have our two carriages of the bus with train wheels – the Class 142 diesel, at twenty to the hour.

Out of Carlisle, off towards Newcastle, the railway climbs pretty steeply up along our embankment and although the two carriages of the passenger trains usually manage it with no problem you can certainly tell from the sound of the engine whether they are straining east bound or rattling along a a good old lick west bound. It may be, of course, like a horse nearing his home after a long days ride, that they can scent their stables and, as they get closer to Carlisle, they start to become impatient to be home.

On Saturday and Sunday it is a different matter. It’s a limited passenger service and the line is kept busy with freight. Usually they are great long strings of various types of wagons and coming out of Carlisle they really have a tough time and crawl their way along the embankment panting “I think I can! I think I can!” I took this picture on Monday morning. Not only was he moving trucks on a weekday but he only had three trucks. My guess is the trucks didn’t get up early enough to be part of a proper train over the weekend and were forgotten until the morning after.

As I said, there really isn’t any reason for me to bore you with these details of our rural idyll but I do have a recording I made of the woodpecker trying to readjust the woods behind the house to be more to his liking – it’s only ten seconds and I wanted to try WordPress’ own audio widget rather than use the rather clunky Soundcloud one I’ve used before.

Give it a click and see if it works.