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.

Dredge

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.

 

Experimental

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.

Convenient for the Beech

Beech Buds
Beech Buds

Just as we get to the top of the hill, before we come to the alpacas, there is a small beech tree by the road. It looks like an escapee from someone’s hedge, but it has never been clipped into any shape. At first I worried a bit for it, in case it felt left out but, now I’ve come to know it better, I’m sure that it is actually revelling in its freedom. During the summer, we often paused to ruffle its leaves as we passed and in autumn we complimented it on its colourful display. Then, as autumn progressed, it nodded off. The few remaining leaves became bored with hanging around waiting and dropped off, to rush round in circles with all the others. Eventually, they all went off, over the hills and far away, to dance with Beatrix Potter, Pigwig and Pigling Bland.

Edward Bach thought his essence, made from Beech flowers, would help people who needed to see good and beauty in all that surrounds them. Magical wands made from beech wood are very good at allowing energy to flow through them but not so good at holding the magical energy for any length of time. Beech tablets have been used for writing for years, because the very fine grain doesn’t send the writing implement off at strange angles when you’re trying to form runes or letters.

I once tried to draw astrological signs on pine tablets with a soldering iron, I can’t remember why – it was important at the time though, a very frustrating experience it turned out to be.

Old Timer

Holly Tree In The Snow
Holly Tree In The Snow

You remember the dinosaurs, and them all dying out after they’d finished making that movie? Well, I have some more bad news for them I’m afraid. You see, you remember the strange event that led to their departure, whatever it was – and we won’t get into that argument. It had been given the name of the K-T event, to save scientists admitting that it might actually be caused by whatever it was that they didn’t want to believe at the time. Well, I’m afraid they’ve been metricated.

The International Commission on Stratigraphy has decided that Tertiary is not the right and proper time for Dinosaur Demise. They will all be getting a letter soon informing them that they actually died out during the K-Pg event. They needn’t panic though. There will be a paragraph saying “You need take no action.” and going on to reassure them that the new amount will be debited from their bank accounts as normal. They now became extinct at the start of the Paleogene period. There, I’m sure you feel better for that.

It was about this time that the climate changed. Really, it is just so undependable. It is possible of course, that the climate changed because the dinosaurs died out. May be they had been keeping it warm for us, or perhaps it changed when they stopped breathing it. Whether the dinosaurs were at fault or not, things just weren’t as damp as they had been and so the ground, under all those forests of acres and acres of laurel trees that the dinosaurs had scratched their backs on, began to dry up. So the laurel trees grumped off muttering to themselves about climate change and fridges being dumped in land-fills and the like.

Now, every warm blooded mammal knows that it was only the absence of dinosaurs that meant that you could get a decent square meal, without being eaten for one. But it goes deeper than that. The laurels might have felt that the neighbourhood had gone downhill but the holly bushes, who had been sheltered by them until then, heaved a sigh of relief and stood up straight and stuck their elbows out.

In a way you could say that we and the holly grew up together.

Fire Hazard

Rosebay Willowherb
Rosebay Willowherb

Seen in the summer, rosebay willowherb (also known as Fireweed) is a tall spike of pink to purple flowers. Once the flowers die and autumn shuffles in, this is what you get. I’ve been watching it for a while wondering what it could be. Names like Old Man’s Beard floated around in the back of my mind. But old man’s beard is the wild clematis and its seed head is indeed like an old man’s beard – all scraggly and wiry, it doesn’t look at all like a badly packed bag of string and cotton wool.

One of the problems you face trying to explain to Google exactly what it is you would like to find, is that he has a great many pictures of the plant in full flower. In the summer I expect that this will be a very useful trait. Now, however I’m faced with buds, dead leaves and seed pods, all of which fail to excite contributors to wikipedia and other such aggregates of human knowledge.

But he came up trumps this time. A page from Wikipedia with, not just pictures of tall spears of rose coloured flowers, but also a picture (not as good as mine though) of the seed spreading stage of the plants growth.

Just up the road from here and hopefully upwind, although I didn’t check, is the paddock with the alpacas in. Reading about alpacas when I first discovered them, I found that for them, bracken and rosebay willowherb are poisonous.  All the hedges surrounding the paddocks have been cleared back, leaving bare ground.  Now, rosebay willowherb is a coloniser. There’s nothing it likes better than a nice clear plot. The hedges that have been removed were gorse, perhaps not very tasty – but reasonably harmless.

We do make problems for ourselves, don’t we?

All White on the Night

White Crocus
White Crocus

The derivation of the name for a crocus, is one of those circular arguments that make you wonder how serious the people who decide where names come from, are about all this. Our word crocus comes from the word for saffron in various old Mediterranean languages. So good so far, and pretty reasonable really, seeing that crocuses and saffron are fairly intimately connected. We are using the word intimate here for a very good reason, considering what saffron is and where it comes from, anatomically speaking. The name for a crocus spoken in any of these ancient and mostly unspoken any longer, languages sounds a bit like the word for a crocus in Sanskrit. So, it could have been borrowed from there by Hebrew, Aramaic or Arabic. Unless of course, Sanskrit borrowed it from Aramaic, Arabic or Hebrew first.

Anyway, wrenching ‘ze leettle gray cells’ away from this croceus conundrum, what I really wanted to show you the crocus picture for, was to validate a piece of information I had passed on to you, in a previous post – Still to Come. Here, I mentioned that the pollen of the white crocus was white, while that of all other colours was yellow. Since that time we have prowled the local garden centres peering down the funnel of every white crocus we can find – to allay the suspicions of the staff I have flitted from plant to plant, on tip-toe, making a soft, contented buzzing noise and flapping my arms rapidly.

So far, all the pollen we have found has been yellow. Have we been fed duff gen? This (pictured on a sunny day last week), is our only white crocus so far, it is currently rolled up tight all day, against the bitter weather and we can’t give a definitive answer.

We’ll just have to mark this one as ‘On-going’.

See Gull

Black Headed Gull
Black Headed Gull

When you see a gull, it may not be a sea gull. Some gulls, while being happy to revel in the glory of their nautical connections, floating round in ponds and splashing in the breakers at the sea side, as if they really did belong out at sea, in practice seldom go out of their depth. This black headed gull for instance is a fake and a phony. First and perhaps most disturbing to non sea gull lovers, is the fact that he doesn’t often have a black head. Moreover, in the case of the suspect identified by our photo, he is actually wearing his summer plumage. They are not great travellers, so it is unlikely that he has recently arrived here from the frozen north and assumes he has arrived in midsummer.

As an aside. Is it still frozen up in the frozen north or have the ice caps emigrated to Mars? I believe that they have is a vacancy. It is true that they have become unhappy with their lot here on earth these last few centuries. They feel ignored and unappreciated and haven’t been able to find the enthusiasm to sink an ocean liner or anything lately. That hole in the ozone layer is probably big enough for them to slip through by now.

Back to black – headed gulls, who are so often found without black heads and who are most commonly found sorting through the debris on rubbish tips, (doing a little recycling). In spite of having those webbed feet, they quite definitely haven’t found their sea legs.

You Lookin’ At My Bird?

Attack Swan
Attack Swan

It’s the mating season, every where we look there are unmistakable signs. The blackbird has started singing in the evenings – he might be singing in the morning too but that is outside my terms of reference. Apart from seeing a blue tit examining a nesting box, fixed to a tree in a garden we pass on the road round to the level crossing, we haven’t seen any overt nest building yet. Remembering that we are not overly observant, that doesn’t mean that nest building isn’t under way, just that so far, we’ve not noticed birds flying round with sticks in their beaks.

We went to Talkin Tarn this morning and walked round the tarn, seeing ducks in pairs wherever we looked. Black-headed Gulls, with and without the full black faces, had congregated in a gang out in the middle of the tarn and were taking it in turns to show off their flying skills.

There were two swans over the other side of the tarn – doing the drifting and admiring your reflection thing that swans do so well – when another appeared from under the branches of the overhanging trees and followed along as we made our way round the waterside path. I looked out over the water and to my surprise one of the pair, previously peacefully gliding by the far bank, was coming at full tilt directly across. Obviously aiming straight at the nearby swan who it appeared, was persona non grata.

I really, never imagined that a swan could move that fast!

Uncertain Airs

Wind often blows windmills round. It has been known to grind corn, amuse aged Spanish adventurers, hammer ore to dust and occasionally, even generate a feed in tariff. It comes in different sizes depending on what you had in mind for it. At the moment we have an energy difference between the equatorial regions and us. The wind is rushing out of the north to reach the lower latitudes as quickly as it can. It would seem that the fastest way down south is via the M6 and this takes the air masses right past our front door. This is not something we are happy about.

As you know, a windmill works by the air moving over the aerofoil shape of the wing, sail or blade. It pushes on the front as it arrives in the vicinity, it then cuddles up to the blade for a while leaning on it and giving it a warm embrace. Naturally, when it leaves it leaves regretfully, creating a vacuum in the blade’s life and pulling the sail along after it.

Wind always flows from a high pressure to a low pressure – but having said that I must also add that it takes its time doing the flowing and can wander round either clockwise or anticlockwise for quite a while before it eventually decides where the low pressure is.

As you can see from the short video.

Snowfall

Our Hill In The Snow
Our Hill In The Snow

Jackie climbed out of bed this morning to a white world. I think I’ve mentioned before, in our house ‘Early to bed and early to rise makes a woman healthy, wealthy and wise.’ Man and dog prefer to stay in bed in ignorance. I raised a sleep clogged head and gazed out with bleary eyes in response to her “oh” and “ah” and other expressions indicating that I really should, at least, sit up and see what was outside the window.  It was all white. This is common in cases of snowfall, so I made an effort to regain the comfortable doze I had been aroused from.

Later, when I emerged from bed, scrubbed and dressed, the sun was putting in sporadic appearances and the snow blanket, that had been pulled right up the the edges of the lawn earlier, had been turned down to show the brown and green sheets underneath a strip along the sunny edge. Even though the sun was becoming more serious about the whole business, outside continued to snow quietly to itself. This went on for most of the morning, with the sun suddenly remembering an earlier appointment and cold grey clouds sprinkling little ice crystals, rather than snowflakes, on us. Then, the sun would pop back and pick up where it had left off. By mid afternoon, just the odd patches of snow in cold corners were still doing their best to maintain a cohesive cover.

An interesting day, full of weather. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Sunshine and Snowflakes

Daffodils
Daffodils

A strange day. Sunny and warm one minute – then blowing a blizzard the next. The Dog and I delayed our departure this morning because, just as we were about to open the front door, we took a glance out of the window and noticed that the snow was streaming past, driven virtually horizontally by the howling gale. We paused, thinking it might be best if we were to postpone our perambulation permanently, but we were premature. By the time we had decided that we needed to make a decision, the heavy purple clouds had blown past, on their way to the Isle of Man, the sun had reappeared and the hurricane had dwindled to moderately irritating gusts that chilled the fingers and numbed the ears.

So off we went. The crocus flowers, I noticed had rolled themselves back up and, poking out of the leaf litter in the wood along the drive, were reminiscent of those coloured plastic straws that come stuck to the side of cardboard drinks boxes. If I had any sense, I told The Dog, I’d do the same. She was busy at the time, in the grass by the gate, where every one (I mean every Dog) leaves their calling card as they pass.

We didn’t meet a soul on our walk this morning, all too busy making breakfast in bed for their mothers, I guess.

Still to Come

Crocus
Crocus

Well here we are with another day all doom and gloom. The world is about to break out in winter again, just when we were quite happy for it to be on it’s way. It has an appointment in the southern hemisphere in a few months and we wouldn’t like it to be late now, would we? Some seasons just never know when to go, do they? Winter has definitely overstayed its welcome.

That being the case I thought you might like this picture from a few days ago, when Spring had grown impatient and sneaked in ahead of the first point of Aries. It’s nice to remember that the skies can still be blue, as hard to believe as that seems these last few days.

White crocuses or croci (does that mean that you have one crocodile but two crocidile?) have white pollen but other colours all have the normal yellow. The flower is a tube, with the bit that will turn into the seed hidden underground, to protect it from weather and grazing until it’s ready to branch out on its own. If you want to be that way, there are crocus varieties that flower all the way through from late August.

But what’s the point of that? We only have crocuses to tell us that the long wait is over and Spring is nearly here.

Black Bird or Not

Pied Blackbird
Pied Blackbird

Since last summer we have had occasional sightings of a white flash as a blackbird dived for cover, when we ambled past. We looked on the RSPB web site and found that a blackbird with the odd white feather was not an unusual thing. They also mentioned that such birds didn’t usually last long as they weren’t popular with other birds of the same species and they were more visible to predators. Over the last eight or so months we have actually seen several birds, one with a white tail feather that is only visible when seen from the rear as he lands after flying, at least one with a white feather in one or the other wing. Again only noticeable when the bird is flying at the right angle, making it difficult to decide if this is the same bird we saw last time. It’s tempting to think that our friend with the white chest is being successful enough to spread his genes around.

This condition, having some white feathers where there should be dark, is called leucism, quite distinct from albinism, where the bird is all white and has pink eyes. Then there’s the complimentary option, melanism, which is having dark feathers where they should be a pale colour.

Then there is the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, the spy plane that replaced the A-12, that replaced the slow and clunky U2 – that kept getting shot down over Russia. The SR-71 Blackbird was quite a bit faster than the U2. In fact, at high speeds the air was squashed so much when it tried to get in the front of the engine, it became so hot that they couldn’t mix any fuel with it in case the turbine blades melted. They just diverted it straight to the back of the engine and burnt the fuel there as a ram jet.

The Blackbird flies at over 85,000 feet and 2,000 miles an hour, it might have a spot of bother landing on our bird table.

I Wandered Lonely in the Mist

Daffodils In The Wood
Daffodils In The Wood

Did you know that Wordsworth didn’t wander lonely as a cloud at all? He went out for a walk with his sister Dorothy. Dorothy, being a writer herself, kept a detailed daily journal. Whenever he felt lost for words, William would borrow Dorothy’s journal and leaf through looking for inspiration.

It must have been a day a bit like today . . .

Winter ends – and Spring waits. Impatient as I,
beneath the cold, grey-blanketed and heavy sky
Vague and indistinct we sense the near horizon,
no sun-lit hills bask for us to feast our eyes on.
What adjective of mist drips on the sodden earth?
What noun? What verb, can I use to get my word’s worth?
If Spring came now, could she end these mists eternal?
Hmmm. Today looks like a good day to borrow Dorothy’s journal.

A bit like that, was it Will?

Buzzard of a Sort

Buzzard
Buzzard

I had a look around (or at least Google did) to see what else there was I could tell you about buzzards. They don’t actually do much so there isn’t a lot you can say. We do have a nice picture of one, just hanging around, so I felt you wouldn’t mind if we drifted off to other topics.

Did you know that the Buzzard Oilfield is the largest oilfield found in the last twenty five years? It’s just over there, a bit up and to the right, in the Outer Moray Firth. The oil is between eight and nine thousand feet below sea level. As there isn’t much gas in with the oil they have to pump water down, to get the oil to come up.

Rolls-Royce scaled up the Kestrel engine and produced a Buzzard, towards the end of the 1920s it wasn’t a tremendous success, only about a hundred were sold. It did however, lead to the Rolls-Royce R engine, an engine that was designed specifically for racing. Racing aeroplanes was very popular at that time, one of these powered the Supermarine S6B to more than four hundred miles an hour in 1931 and the development work done became the basis for the Merlin engine that went into the Spitfire.

Then there was the Martinsyde F4 Buzzard a single seater fighter designed and built just in time to be cancelled as the First World War ended.

A bit of a shame as it was a great little plane by all accounts.

Violet

Violets
Violets

Roses are red is something we can’t really quibble with, always providing we are talking about red roses, of course. The Queen of Hearts might prefer it otherwise but no one would expect white roses to be red. Just the assertion that roses are red is quite enough to establish that we are talking about red roses. My love is like a red red rose doesn’t cause any problems, there are red roses that it would be very complimentary to be likened to.

If any one should ever liken you to a red, red rose it would seem churlish to enquire as to the variety. Especially if the phrase is being used in a poetic sense, so that some license should be given. It is after all, well known that all poets have a license to make things rhyme at the expense of solid fact. Solid facts tend to be prosaic and therefore not inclined to fit with the meter or to have conveniently sonorous synonyms or even, if all else fails an antonym with sufficient sympathetic syllables.

Still there are some things that must give, even poets, pause. To say that black is white may have its uses in marketing and advertising and may be essential in the real estate business. To call all cats grey in the dark, may be acceptable to all who are not cats. But violets are blue?

If we’d called them blues instead of violets, would we say blues are violet?

Deep Breath

Lungwort
Lungwort

This is Lungwort, or Lungenkraut in German. (Is that Lung Cabbage? You know, Sauerkraut – Pickled Cabbage). Even the Latin name is Pulmonaria, pulmo being Latin for lung. Back to Sauerkraut for a moment. The cabbage is shredded and layered with salt and left to ferment. It ferments because the ‘good bacteria’ are present on the cabbages anyway. The idea of fermenting cabbage came from China, probably brought to Europe (or at least Asia Minor) by the hordes of Genghis Kahn. Having despoiled China, they rode off to repeat their performance in the west, carrying jars of pickled cabbage in their saddlebags. It’s no wonder they have such a bad press, is it? The fermentation process makes the environment in the cabbage jars too acid for botulism to feel comfortable, so if you keep the lid on it will last several months without going bad.

This seems to be another one of those foods that have vitamin C in so it must be good for you and is now considered a delicacy. In reality, people, even the Chinese I’m guessing, because it was still edible after a few months storage, only ever ate the stuff when there was nothing else to eat.

In the Middle Ages, I’ll bet they were even pleased to see Spring Greens on the supermarket shelves after a couple of months on a diet of sauerkraut – vitamin C or not.

So They Say

Buds on a Wild Cherry
Buds on a Wild Cherry

Pliny the Elder, a Roman army commander who wrote natural history books on his days off, writing about 50AD or so, said that cherries were brought to Rome from Turkey by Lucius Licinius Lucullus, a famous Roman general of about 150 years earlier. There were, he asserted no cherries in Italy before then. If only things were that simple. Cherry stones have shown up in Bronze Age deposits all over Europe, Britain and Ireland, taking cherry eating back a good two thousand years before Pliny wrote his books.

Cherries need a cold period before they germinate, a survival tactic to stop the stones germinating in autumn and the young trees being killed off by the winter weather, so they only grow in latitudes that will give them this. This is pretty much everywhere in temperate parts of the world. Traverse City, Michigan in America calls itself The Cherry Capital of the World, and to prove it they make the World’s Biggest Cherry Pie every year during the Cherry Festival. Round the other side in New South Wales, Australia, the town of Young is known as The Cherry Capital of Australia and they too hold a National Cherry Festival.

In Spain, snuggled up against the Portuguese border, in the Extremadura region, they have two million cherry trees and a Cherry Blossom Fiesta in the Jerte valley. In Japan too, it is the Cherry blossom that is important. Important enough to take a picnic and a bottle of sake to the park for Hanami.

Given all the above, we really hope that these buds are on a cherry tree. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Jackdaw from Rheims

Jackdaw
Jackdaw

The Jackdaw of Rheims was a humorous poem written by The Reverend Richard Harris Barham in the 1850s. He was a contemporary of Sir Walter Scott, whom he met many times and Charles Dickens. Like Dickens, he had his writings published in the magazines that were a popular feature of the times, such as Blackwood’s Magazine and Bentley’s Miscellany.

His father died while he was quite young and left him an inheritance. He had intended to go into law after university but decided instead to go into The Church. His first congregation was in the Romney Marsh area of Kent, the scene of much ‘Free Trade’ at that time, particularly in brandy and tobacco. It seems that the vicar and the smugglers soon reached an understanding.

An accidental meeting brought him the chance of a position on the staff of St Paul’s which he took with pleasure. Unfortunately the pay wasn’t so good and he was now married with children, so he started writing under the nom de plume of Thomas Ingoldsby to supplement his income.

His poems were colloquial and often parodied recent happenings so that his audience would easily make four from his rhymes and allegories. Today, much of this is lost to all except avid historians. His light and unaffected style made his writings very popular, but he never achieved the breadth and depth of Scott and Dickens.

As Jackie says – he would have made a good blogger.

Seeing is Believing

What Bird?
What Bird?

The Dog and I were stepping it out, in a hurry, no time to spend rooting in the debris from autumn’s tidy up along the verge. Much to her disgust. We were late, you see. We had unaccountably been delayed and fallen behind our expected time of departure. I don’t remember exactly what the underlying cause was, it might have been the postman, he’s always ready for a chat, and he’s a dog owner too, which gives us a fair amount of common ground. Then there’s our neighbour, from a few houses up the road, he has a water leak somewhere – and every now and then he digs a hole to see if he can find it. We often stop to commiserate with him on the insidiousness of leaking water. It gets everywhere you know, and you can follow red herrings as they swim all the way up blind alleys and never come anywhere the source of the drip.

Still, whatever had held us up, we had an appointment, and our expected time of return was non negotiable, so we needed to move right along. We reached the T junction we had set as our goal and turned to go back the way we had come. Checking the time as we turned I felt that we could still make the deadline. Off along the road and back over the beck we raced. There in the trees by the beck perched a bird. I could only see it in silhouette. I could spare precisely one second, I whipped out the camera and took two very quick pictures, then we pressed on, driven by our merciless deadline.

We made it home in time. This is the photo we took of the ‘bird’.