Her Hair

Hare Bell
Hare Bell

I’ve always thought that Harebells are much nicer than Bluebells, Bluebells do look nice as a large drift of blue, in the dappled shade of woodland glades, but as soon as you look too closely, that clunky stem destroys the illusion. Harebells have enough common sense to not try to compete and seldom grow in that sort of density. They know it is their individual delicacy that sets them apart. And anyway, they like their elbow room.

The Harebell is dedicated to St Dominic, St Dominic founded the Order of Preachers, popularly known as the Dominican Order. During his life he did his best to punish himself, walking miles without shoes and sleeping on the floor to prove something, probably to himself. Perhaps this is why he became the patron saint of astronomers.

Flowers so delicate and fragile, yet of such vibrant colour, must obviously be magical, and Harebells do go a bit over the top in the occult. You see, they represent the veil between human and faery. I’m not quite sure how you do it but using a Harebell you can improve your chances of seeing a fairy. Now, before you all rush off to, illegally, pick wild flowers, I must stress that there is a greater chance that you will be unlucky enough to catch sight of an irate imp than a fortunate enough to find a frolicsome fairy.

Just remember, if you can see them – they can see you.

Two Way Traffic

Pineappleweed
Pineappleweed

There  was quite a bit going on in 1871.

Kaiser Wilhelm proclaimed the second German Empire and, following Germany’s victory in the Franco-Prussian war, the Parisians revolted, starting another bloody chapter in French history. Marx and Engles took notes and discussed what the Parisians were doing wrong.

Henry M Stanley set off for Africa and started going over good opening lines in his mind in preparation for his meeting with David Livingston. By the time he found him, Stanley had the sound bite he wanted.

The Great Fire burned down a big chunk of Chicago and in New York, Susan B Anthony was arrested for voting in an election – Good Lord what was her husband thinking of? Get back in the kitchen, woman.

Margarine, in the US and Rugby Union, in Britain, put in an appearance and in the first Rugby International, Scotland beat England. Back in America, Brigham Young was arrested for bigamy, while Jesse James pottered from bank to bank, collecting any spare cash he could find.

Aida was performed in Cairo, so they opened the Suez canal while everyone was there. Victor Hugo hadn’t been invited so he stayed at home and wrote a poem about the revolution and wondered if  Les Misérables would have been better as a musical.

Oh, and in Britain, they recorded the first sighting of that wretched, American, pineappleweed. Who knows how it came to be here!

Green is Good

Large Emerald and Muslin Footman
Large Emerald and Muslin Footman

Luckily, we don’t use candles the way we used to. The odd tea light now and again and the odd candle-lit dinner is a far cry from candle-light being the only light available after dark. Moths, generally approve of that. These two had picked up an amazing deal on that website that sells South American rivers and just couldn’t put the book down. They popped in to our place to read a few more chapters while we had the bed-side lights on. I think they were both so engrossed in the story, they didn’t notice each other. I did the upturned tumbler and the drinks mat trick and opened the window so I could shake the glass, outside. They were quite irritated with me and promptly made their way back in. Eventually they came to the end of the chapter and I was able to persuade them to leave.

The bigger of the two is a Large Emerald (thank you Wild About Britain), he is much greener when he first takes his caterpillar suit off, but that green stuff is just so difficult to keep clean, you know. He likes Birch and Beech and Hazel and, very sensibly, sleeps through the winter. The little guy is a Muslin Footman. As a larva he is partial to lichen on dry stone walls.

There’s a few of those around here, so he’ll be fine.   

Upright

Hedge Bedstraw
Hedge Bedstraw

Today we have Hedge Bedstraw, I can say this with confidence as the information has come direct from Chris on Wild About Britain. It has been much harder to find something interesting to say about it though. Everywhere Google and I looked, it was a case of “and , of course, there’s Hedge Bedstraw” or “there are many other members of the Bedstraw family, such as Hedge Bedstraw.”  I definitely began to get the impression that Hedge Bedstraw is the poor relation, or perhaps the middle child.

Goosegrass or Cleavers seems to be the favourite, we certainly have it in abundance around here. Perhaps this is the reason for its popularity, just its plain numbers. If you needed a new mattress and you were gathering Bedstraw to fill it, you would be pleased to find large quantities readily to hand. Just think about how much Bedstraw you would need to have a mattress-full, not just full but stuffed full, so as to keep you off the cold, hard ground.

I really don’t have to tell you that this boringly common Bedstraw, uses those little hooks to climb all over the plants nearby. It certainly doesn’t stand on its own two feet or its own one stalk either. It needs something to provide support. Something like a hedge, say?

Hedge Bedstraw on the other hand is quite independent and self supporting. It does not require a hedge to climb on.

What can I say?

Knapweed

Knapweed
Knapweed

There is a concept ‘out there’ that real life isn’t real at all. It is all in our imaginations and there is some kind of over-spirit that melds the various imaginings from, not just people , but animals, trees and plants too, so the real life we see is actually the result of the sort of slush that comes from the mixing and melding process.

I sometimes think I’ve dropped through into that slush when Google and I are prodding around, looking for something that might interest you. Today’s photo is of Knapweed – the Common or Black variety.  It’s name comes from its resemblance to a hammer. These days, knapping means flint, arrow heads and other stone tools. Looking to see if the Internet knew anything interesting about knapping led me to Ishi.

In 1911 Ishi caused quite a stir in California when, nearing starvation, he was arrested for stealing food. He had been born in around 1860 and had spent all his life dodging bands of roving ‘Indian hunters’ who had succeeded in wiping out his entire tribe and most of the other tribes he was related to. As he had spent the last forty-odd years in the wilds, living the life that his ancestors had lived, he was completely ‘out of his depth’.

What is now the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology  in Berkeley, California took him in and gave him a job. He lived for another five years, passing on his unique knowledge of the lives and customs of his vanished tribe. Then he succumbed to TB – one of the ‘benefits’ of civilisation..

As well as passing on all that priceless information, he took the time to teach friends and colleagues the right way to knap flint and how to make stone tools that actually work.

Talk about forgiveness.

Touchy

Prickly Sow Thistle
Prickly Sow Thistle

We were on a tight schedule today, so needed to move right along. A pity really, because the air felt fresh and there was a nice breeze keeping things cool. The sky was full of clouds admittedly, but they were compact cotton wool balls, well perhaps a bit larger than that – but with plenty of blue sky for them to wander round in. Even the mountains, who we haven’t seen for weeks, away for their summer break I think, were back in their usual place.

We went down to the beck, to see how he was feeling after the heavy rain of the last few days. He seemed quite relaxed and was murmuring quietly to himself. With all that hot weather he has been feeling a bit drained, you know. On our way over from the upstream side of the bridge to the downstream side, we came across this guy, just standing nonchalantly, in the gutter. Yellow flowers but prickly leaves – sort of thistley but not thistley. We thought we’d have a chat with Google about it.

Now, I must tell you here, Chris, over at wildaboutbritain, has been kind enough to give my posts here, a cursory once over. He found that on average, my guesses at identification were mostly wrong. You have been warned.

I’m going to stick my neck out here and label this photo Prickly Sow Thistle. After they become bored with being mad, March Hares eat it to restore themselves to normal, apparently.

I have met a few sows and they seem to be mostly good natured, perhaps it’s the weather.

A Bad Hair Day

Tree, Caught In The Rain
Tree, Caught In The Rain

We’ve had some very heavy rain the last day or so. Thunder, lightning, the works. This is quite a change from the blistering (relatively) heat we were subjected to for the previous week or so. Now, I know I was chiding Global Warming for his laid-back approach, but I didn’t mean to upset him. I obviously touched a raw nerve. At this time he could probably do with sympathy, not nagging. He has been handed the sticky end of the stick, you know. With the thousand and one things that go into the pot when you cook up a batch of climate, it’s hard to get the recipe just right. If you have too much of this and too much of that at the same time you end up with an Ice Age. A few (tens of thousand) years ago there was too much pepper. The pot held swamps and ferns and palm trees and it was splashed around liberally all over the world. Just recently, we’ve added more water and it has started to cool down, another eon or two and we’ll be back in an Ice Age again – all mammoths and fur coats and igloos. Poor old Global Warming is completely out of his depth, he was born too soon – or too late.

The Dog and I walk past this tree often and I’ve never noticed these markings before. We had waited for the worst of the rain to stop and then made a quick dash up the road and back. It took me a minute to realise that the tree, in common with everything else, had accumulated a coat of dust in the hot weather and being caught in the downpour had caused the colour to run.

It’ll be needing to make an appointment at the hairdresser.

That’s the Spirit

Wild Cherry
Wild Cherry

If you wanted to be at the bleeding edge of technology four thousand years ago, what you needed was an alchemist. The word alchemy itself, is as confused about its origins as we are today, about the origins of alchemy. Alchemy, the word, could be a corruption of an old French word. The French word is derived from Medieval Latin. The Medieval Latin word in question comes from joining up a couple of Arabic words. The Arabs had pinched the words from the Greeks (nice to see we’re not the only ones who do this). We think the Greeks were actually using an Egyptian word. The problem is, after all that, it’s hard to make the Egyptian word mean anything that could be classed as alchemy. Still it does make a good story, I suppose.

The main differences you would notice about your Alchemist, once you had one cornered, was the way they mixed the spiritual in with the practical. I recently came across a reference to using the correct spell with herbal medicine (sorry Google, I can’t remember where). As the commentator pointed out, at a time when temporal divisions consisted of winter, and then the rest of the year, the choice between telling someone to boil the pot gently for four minutes or telling them to recite a spell that took four minutes to say, was pretty much a no-brainer.

With science or magic or whatever, alchemists developed the still and used it to distil everything in sight – including wine.

I marked out these trees when they were the first in flower. I’ve picked a few of their cherries, put them in a jar and covered them in Brandy.

We will see what happens.

 

As You Like It

Burdock
Burdock

Burdock has led an interesting life. While on holiday in Switzerland in the early 1940s, it bumped into Swiss inventor George de Mestral, while he was out hunting with his dog. As a result of this brush with destiny, on returning home, George spent a frustrating few hours trying to remove the Burdock’s burs from his clothes and his dog’s fur. He became sufficiently irritated with the tenacity of the Burdock seeds that he put a few under the microscope to try and figure out why the burs were so hard to pull off. The strange arrangement of hairs and hooks stayed in his mind and he began to see how it could be useful in the clothing industry. It took him until 1955 to make it work in a reliable, easy to manufacture product and to patent it.

Now, everyone knows that if you invent a better mouse trap the whole world (except for the mice) will beat a path to your door. Unfortunately for George, the world was quite happy with the current rodent control measures and it took to Velcro unenthusiastically. George spent a good few more long years, traipsing round from one textile manufacturer to another, from fashion house to fashion house, in France, Germany, Britain, and America, before he began to collect interested parties. It was really the astronaut’s complex space suits, made easier to put on and remove by the Velcro fasteners, that started things moving for him.

In As You Like It, Rosalind, the heroine says “How full of briers is this working-day world.” to which her BFF, Celia replies comfortingly, “They are but burs, cousin, thrown upon thee in holiday foolery.”

Shakespeare could have invented Velcro if he’d put his mind to it.

A Bitter Brew

Wood Sage
Wood Sage

Wood Sage, Sage Leaved Germander, Hindheal, Ambroise or Garlic Sage, what’s in a name? Well, here I must thank the kind people of Wild About Britain, without their help I wouldn’t have any idea what its name is. Whenever Google and I reach the end of out tethers, that’s where I go for assistance. Wood Sage is another one of those plants that contains poisons, in this case chemicals that cause liver damage. So, naturally we use it to flavour all sorts of food and drinks. We just can’t resist living on the edge, can we?

The Italians have just nagged the European Union into upping the limit of the teucrin from our Wood Sage, allowed in drinks. It is the main flavouring used in Vermouth and Tonic waters, if the EU is going to insist on keeping it down to safe levels, the Italian drinks industry will suffer.

You can use it instead of Hops to give beer its bitter taste too. It is said to help the beer to clear quicker than Hops does but it makes the beer darker.

Mrs Grieve, in 1936, noted that Culpepper suggested it be used to clean old wounds or bruises – no issues there – but also as an appetizer and a tonic. A glass of Vermouth, perhaps? Mrs Grieve also mentions that the leaves can be dried and a snuff made from them.

So rub it on the outside, drink it for the insides, or if all else fails – stick it up your nose.

What’s the Hurry?

Foxglove Gone To Seed
Foxglove Gone To Seed

It hardly seems more than a few days ago I was complaining to Global Warming, that if he didn’t get a move on he would miss his chance completely. Well, he took my advice to heart and we have had a week or so of blisteringly hot, and at times very humid, weather.

Spring was very late this year. I think she missed the bus to the station. She did manage to catch the next one, but by the time she arrived at the station the train had left. Of course, she caught another train as soon as she could but, instead of arriving with plenty of time, she only just managed to squeeze in before summer turned up.

Summer seems to be in a tearing rush as well. We have hardly had time to admire the flowers and already they are being pushed off the ends of their stalks by the seed pods. I have a feeling that winter left unfinished business behind him when he grumped off to the southern hemisphere and all the plants want to make sure they have time to complete the programme, before he decides to come back.

We come this way every other day and last time we passed here this foxglove still had a decent compliment of flowers.

Where have all the flowers gone – indeed.

A Bit Distracted

Blackberry - Fighting its Way Through the Hedge
Blackberry – Fighting its Way Through the Hedge

I was having a look to see what Mrs Grieve wrote in 1936 about Blackberries, she is usually a mine of information. She invariably has anecdotes from Gerard or Culpeper to support her opinions. In the case of the Blackberry, while bemoaning the multitude of hybrids that hinder identification, she mentions that the London Pharmacopoeia (1696) says that Blackberry Cordial “contains a notable restorative spirit.” She talks of Blackberry vinegar, made by covering the Blackberries in malt vinegar and leaving to stand for three days before straining, adding a pound of sugar to every pint of juice and boiling for five minutes, cool and bottle. A teaspoonful, mixed with water to be taken in cases of a feverish cold. She also mentions that Blackberry leaves, boiled with lye make a very effective black hair dye.

Lye is an assortment of chemicals, including caustic soda, that dissolve fat. This, as you can imagine, is quite dangerous to use. Naturally, people, being only human, use it to flavour and preserve various foods (including olives) and to clear blocked drains. To make lye you need a nice big heap of hardwood ash. You put it in a barrel (Note here – it will attack glass – so bottles and jars are out) and cover it with water. After a few days strain it off, now pour it back in and repeat as often as you like.

I had intended to give you a recipe for a nice Blackberry jam or jelly but I’m afraid making lye proved to be too tempting to ignore – so here’s one I found on a wee bit of cooking (amongst many other recipes) – will this do?

Not So Straightforward

Thistles
Thistles

Eeyore, of course, wouldn’t understand the problem. I’m sure any thistle that hadn’t been bounced on, would be reckoned a good thistle. In Scotland, in 1687, James VII (James II in England – even in those days, apparently, you needed two jobs to make ends meet) decided to reinstate the Order of the Thistle. There isn’t any record of there ever being one before, so it must have been unofficial. The Thistle had certainly been around in Scottish royal circles for a few hundred years or so. In Edinburgh, around 1768, the Encyclopædia Britannica decided to use a stylised Thistle as their emblem.

None of the above, while interesting no doubt – if you’re interested in that sort of thing, is the least relevant to the current discussion. You see, if you ask Google to tell you what he knows about thistles, the first thing he will want to know is “Which one of the two hundred varieties do you mean?” I begin to feel as if I’m dealing at a horse fair – you know.
“How much is that one?”
“Well, what do you think it’s worth?”

In the end, after trawling through more Thistle’s than you ever thought existed and which, to my untrained eye I have to confess, all looked very similar – sort of, like Thistles. You know?

I’ve come to a decision. It’s a Spear Thistle.

A Lost Art

Juvenile Blue Tit With a Parent at the Bird Feeder
Juvenile Blue Tit With a Parent at the Bird Feeder

When I first took up electronics, about a hundred years BC (that’s Before Computers, of course) there were valves to be plugged in and out and each one performed its own esoteric function. To know which valve to replace required that you be initiated into the intimate and arcane knowledge of the art. I spent a good ten years immersing myself in that. Then transistors came along and the merry-go-round started again. Another few years passed another life’s worth of hard won experience and suddenly integrated circuits were all the rage, and with them came the thin end of the wedge of the digital age.

We read all the books – no Google in those days – and then read some more books, before we knew it we were into computers. Computers needed software and we needed more books. Each microprocessor had its own language and if you wanted anything done you wrote the machine code that it needed – to make it happen. I can remember sitting with a pad of squared paper trying to form recognisable alphabetical symbols with the minimum possible number of dots – then turning those patterns of dots into bits and bytes to be hand fed to computing’s current leading edge.

This Blue Tit understands. Here he is, trying to teach the youngster the intricacies of the seed and nut feeder, wondering to himself if his father was right and his grandfather really did peck holes in the top of milk bottles – whatever they were.

A Triumphant Return

Regrowth
Regrowth

When you walk up through the village, past the building that once housed the post office, but which now seems to have been converted into a very comfortable home, there is quite a steep dip in the road. In fact, in miserable weather, there can be quite a wind blowing hail, sleet or snow, depending on which setting they have it switched to ‘up there’, outside the post office. Just a few yards farther on and you drop down into a calm and sheltered little oasis. The trouble is, of course that you can’t just stop there, you have to carry on ahead and climb out the other side of the dip or turn round climb out the way you have come and face whatever slings and hailstones outrageous fortune had chosen to grace your journey with. At the bottom of the dip, on each side of the road, stood a row of trees, that in the dim and distant past had probably been a hedge.

Around the turn of the year, while there isn’t that much farming to be done, the farmers turn to tidying up and sorting out the ravages of a year’s hard labour. Fences are mended hedges are trimmed things get painted, gravelled, lubricated and generally given all the care and attention that they missed out on while stuff was growing.

This year the row of trees on one side of the dip was cut back – hard. But life goes on.

Black and White and Green all Over

Green Veined White Butterfly
Green Veined White Butterfly

Butterflies are an independent lot, they wear whatever they want, whenever they want. Butterfly enthusiasts are used to this and take it in their stride. When the butterflies emerge from their cocoon, they are issued with the correct uniform. but they modify it to their own tastes as the year progresses. If you catch them early enough in the year, before they start getting creative, you’re in luck and when you ask Google to see if he can find anything like your photo, there’s a good chance you’ll see something similar near the top of his list.
We hit the jackpot with this picture. It seems that this guy has emerged fairly recently and he still has his school uniform on. He is male, we can tell because he only has one dark spot on his fore-wing, He’s still quite young, with the green still looking fresh and new. There is just a little grey showing around the top of his rear wing and this shows that he is from the second brood this year.

They differ from their other White cousins in that they prefer wild brassicas to the cultivated variety, they’re more of your wild foraging, than your pop to the supermarket types.

I have to tell you that The Dog is not having a good summer. She is not allowed to chase next-door’s cat, she is not allowed to chase the chickens up the road, she is not allowed to chase the back garden blackbird – and now she isn’t allowed to chase butterflies any more.

She is more than a little disgruntled.

Rag To A Bull

Ragwort
Ragwort

It’s hard to talk about Ragwort without getting in to trouble with someone. A bit like aspartame really. There is the issue of Ragwort being poisonous if eaten by horses, a bit like Rhododendrons or Buttercups. Both Buttercups and Ragwort taste pretty vile while they are green and growing. Buttercups loose their taste and toxicity when they are mown, dried and made into hay. Unfortunately, Ragwort looses its scent and taste but not its toxicity, so a horse who would normally avoid Ragwort in the paddock or meadow, is quite likely to eat it in the stable. The Ragwort toxins damage the liver, so for maximum effect the horse needs to either, eat a couple of kilos of the stuff at one sitting, or smaller amounts every day over a longer period. The odd mouthful, like the occasional slice of Rhubarb Crumble, doesn’t do much damage.

Then, there is the Cinnabar Moth and the eight or nine other moths, butterflies and beetles who exists only if the Ragwort exists. As the incidence of Ragwort is declining currently, so are the populations of these Ragwort dependant species. Moreover, there are around a hundred and twenty other insects for whom Ragwort is an important part of their life cycle.

The really irritating thing about insects of course is, that they are at the bottom of the food chain for many other insects, birds and animals.

As with so many plants, if you take Ragwort away, the whole inverted pyramid comes tumbling down and we loose a big chunk of our wildlife.

My Two Penneth

Creeping Jenny
Creeping Jenny

Moneywort or Creeping Jenny, Creeping Joan, Wandering Tailor, Wandering Sailor or even Meadow Runagates, these latter, all referring to this plant’s habit of distributing itself by sending out long tendrils with a pair of rooting buds at the end. The plant dies back at the end of the growing season then, when the next opportunity for growth occurs, a new plant springs up at this point. It has become so used to spreading itself about in this way, that it often can’t be bothered to produce any seed, even though its flowers may have been fertilised.

The Spinning Jenny is often thought to have been named after either, one of James Hargreaves‘ daughters, or perhaps his wife. Unfortunately, according to the parish register, none of his daughters nor his wife were named Jenny. Around that time a ‘gin was a common corruption of an engine, and this colloquialism was applied to any vaguely mechanical device. Could it be perhaps, that we have a Creeping Engine?

Moneywort, on the other hand, goes with the plant’s other names, such as Tuppenny Grass or Herb Tuppence. The shiny, green leaves are quite broad and short, with only a small point at the end. Moreover they are arranged along the stem in pairs, looking quite like a string of coins.

Herbalists recommended it for healing wounds both inside and outside the body. In fact it was so good at healing wounds, that it was said, even serpents would use it. Perhaps if they bit their lip?

True Blue

Cornflower
Cornflower

This is a Cornflower, there’s not a lot of them about. They used to be called Hurtsickle because they blunted the reapers scythes. They’re inedible too, so they became Agricultural Enemy Number One. They couldn’t stand up against the wrath of the herbicide companies and so now they have almost disappeared. Certainly this one is on the opposite side of the  road to the field that it probably once lived in.

Being such a striking colour, it has been adopted by almost everyone at some time or other. Political parties of all shades and in many countries have claimed it as a representative of their dogma. It has been the favourite flower of individuals as diverse as Pharaoh Tutankhamun, Kaiser Wilhelm I and John F. Kennedy, and it is used by First World War veterans in France to commemorate Armistice Day, in the way that the Poppy is used in Britain.

It’s Latin name associates it with Chiron, the Centaur who dared to be different. Centaurs, generally, were a riotous bunch. Wine women and song was the way they wanted it and they didn’t mind trampling on any human stupid enough to come between them and their lifestyle choice. Chiron didn’t do orgies and all that, he stayed home in his cave and taught a string of Greek Gods and heroes about medicine and how to be a real human etc.

Oh, and the chemical that gives the Cornflower its vibrant blue colour is the same chemical that makes red Roses red.

Ringlet

Ringlet Butterfly
Ringlet Butterfly

The big problem with butterflies is that they just can’t concentrate. I’m sure they’d get a lot more done if they’d just focus. They have a very short life, so you would think that they would knuckle down from the minute they first flapped their wings. Obviously you can’t write your autobiography until you’ve lived enough life to have something to write about. Occasionally though, you do need to sit still and gather your thoughts. This constant flitting from one thing to another just won’t get you anywhere.

This guy is a case in point. I must have chased him/her up and down the road half a dozen times trying to be within range and in visual contact. This is the best picture I could manage – and I needed to cut a piece out of the middle of the original, just so we would have an image that you wouldn’t need a magnifying glass to find the butterfly in.

He or she is a Ringlet (only another Ringlet can tell the difference without a microscope) so named because of the little dots on the wings – which not all ringlets have, but they do all have the light coloured edging on their wings. They love a damp climate (no problem there then) and will even fly about in a light rain. The female makes no attempt to lay her eggs in a secure place, she just drops them where ever she happens to be at the time.

Whatever happened to parental responsibility?

Up Late

Sunset
Sunset

It’s been very hot lately, so The Dog, Jackie and I went for a walk in the evening. I took a few pictures of the sunset. When I moved the photos on to the computer, I noticed that I had taken most of them at around ten thirty, that’s quite late for the sun to still be up. I wonder if he was sitting reading and forgot to keep an eye on the time? It happens to all of us, you know. He probably thought that he’d just read to the end of this chapter, then just a few pages of the next one – and before you know it, it was nearly midnight and he needs to be up early these days. I hope he has a bookmark. I’d hate to think he is one of those people who mark their place by folding the corner of the page over.

It’s the angle of the earth’s axis that has him working so hard. If it would just stand up straight then everything would be equal and he’d be able to rise and set at a decent hour of the day. And what about sundials? They need their springs wound extra tight to make it through a twenty hour day you know. I had a sundial that doubled as a bird table, although not of its own choice, I’ll admit. The top part, with the clock face, was loose, so it could be adjusted until it showed the right time. That may be lucky. The earth’s axis wobbles around, swinging from one extreme to the other over a period of forty one thousand years. We’ve been up the one end recently and now we’re on our way back.

Don’t set your watch by it – your sundial may not be showing the correct time.

Catalog

Cat's Ear or Flatweed
Cat’s Ear or Flatweed

Catkins are those, usually yellow, flowers that hang around on trees – and all sorts of other plants too. Wikipedia says that he once thought that all plants that produced catkin like flowers, belonged to the same family. He’s recently changed his mind though, and now he thinks that quite a few plants thought of the catkin idea for themselves, completely independently. It’s interesting to speculate that, if the first one to think of it had patented the idea – there would be a good few trees and plants sitting at home now, wondering how they were ever going to meet someone.

Cat’s Tails are totally unrepentant grasses. Among them are the things we often call Bulrushes. The nice thing about Bulrushes is that they are large, so you get a good pile of vegetation for the effort of collecting it. When we, here in Europe, lived where we now have mostly North Sea, there were plenty of marshy areas – just the sort of place Bulrushes love. It really isn’t surprising then, that grinding stones have been found in sites occupied thirty thousand years ago, with traces of ground-up Bulrush root still on them.

Cat’s Ear, especially the Common variety, will grow anywhere, it really has absolutely no preference. Here in the UK, against Jackie’s better judgement, it is growing happily in the lawn. In Australia it grows so well that many horse pastures become clogged up with it – and if you force horses to eat enough of it they can get stringhalt from it.

That sounds most unpleasant.

Stung

Nettle With Male Flowers
Nettle With Male Flowers

This gentleman, standing by the bridge over the beck, is looking a little forlorn. There isn’t a lady in sight, just this bunch of guys, leaning on the railings alone with their fantasies, watching the water as it flows under the road, off and away – to who knows where? You can’t help but feel a little sorry for them. Nettles come in two kinds, much like the sheep and the cows, like you and I. Here, we have the guys all standing in a little self-conscious knot, while over on the other side of the road, the girl Nettles are all dancing together round their handbags.

The main trouble with Nettles is they are too fussy. You see, long before Flax and Hemp turned up – they’d been loafing around in warmer climes – we made all our best clothes out of Nettles, and very nice they were too. Nettles can be made into finer cloth than either of those young upstarts. Even the coarser Nettle cloth was harder wearing than either Flax or Hemp produced. So what happened? It all boils down to economics.

During World War One, (The Great War) Germany ran short of cloth for soldiers uniforms. They resorted to making it from Nettles. The first year they went out and collected all the nettles they could find growing wild. It was such a success that they decided to plant them and harvest them like any other crop. They hit a snag straight away, you see Nettles will only grow in the very best of soils – those usually used for food crops.

As I said, they’re just too fussy.

Three For Luck

Yellow Loosestrife
Yellow Loosestrife

Every now and again we seem to get a run on the past. A few months ago we were discussing Pliny the Elder, the Roman cavalry officer who, when he wasn’t suppressing the Gauls (or anyone else the Romans took a dislike to) liked nothing better than to spend a few quiet hours cataloguing his pressed flower collection. He wrote about them too, we still have his writings to prove it, which is very handy for people who need something to post on the web. He died in a dockside accident when he took a ship to rescue a few friends from Pompei harbour, while Vesuvius was doing its thing, prior to slopping lava all over the town.

Then yesterday we had a little chat about Cicero, another Roman. A politician this time. He wasn’t a good soldier and did his best to stay home and provide essential services, like running the empire, etc. He and his pushy wife worked hard, in the scary world of Roman politics, to stay au fait with all the latest trends and to make sure that if ‘they’ voted, ‘they’ voted for him. He was voted out of office by assassination when he reached retirement age.

Today, we’d like to mention Dioscorides. He was a Greek, but he too, pottered around Europe with the Roman army. He collected plants and the folk remedies surrounding them. He wrote them up in five volumes and it was sixteen hundred years before anything better came along. The Yellow Loosestrife was in his book. It stops bleeding and chases away flies.

Oh, and it will dye your hair blonde.

Simon Says

Cow Weather Vane
Cow Weather Vane

This is such a silly game that you can’t really take it seriously. I mean, Simon says put your hands up, so you put your hands up, but unless Simon says you can put them down you better keep your hands up. It’s really strange to think that it has been played for, probably, two thousand years. There is a game recorded  in Latin called Cicero Says, well, in rough translation. Cicero was a very powerful figure in history and wrote copiously so his writing featured in education at a time that Latin was the language of education. I can’t imagine that someone with a well known name didn’t give the commands even before Cicero’s time.

It is possible that some ancient deity (I wonder if there is a female form of the word deity?) gave the orders way back in the stone age, but I doubt it. Although there must have been periods when the influence of religion crumbled to the level it stands at today, I can’t see Gods and Goddesses wanting all their worshippers to put their finger on their nose. Periods of low regard for religion generally spawn a rash of newcomers too, and I can see that that would be a very quick way to loose your congregation.

The picture today is of a wind vane we pass most days on our ramblings. Unlike the blackbird we’ve shown previously, this cow generally takes things a little easier and swings round in a much more leisurely manner, but he is certainly not a trustworthy indication of the wind direction. I think the cows in the field must be keeping an eye on him though.

Simon says look west.

Artistic Assylum

Wild Roses
Wild Roses

In the spring of 1890, just before he left the mental hospital that he had agreed to be confined to, Vincent van Gogh painted ‘Wild Roses’. Two months, later, at only thirty seven, he died from a gunshot wound. He told the police and his doctor, “Do not accuse anybody, it is I that wished to commit suicide.”  He died, having completed nearly nine hundred paintings – but having sold only one. It was only the financial and emotional support of his brother, Theo, that kept him going. He lived his entire life as an obscure and unknown artist.

Vincent’s younger brother Theo, who worked for an art gallery in Paris, sent artists’s materials and encouragement, as well as money, to his elder brother, who was by then living just north of Paris. On Vincent’s death, it was Theo who collected all his paintings together. But hardly six months after Vincent’s death, Theo died. Although he had been unwell for some months, the doctors of the day put his early death down to the trauma of Vincent’s suicide. He left behind a wife, a son, a collection of paintings by a little known artist and a large pile of correspondence.

Theo’s wife Johanna was made of sterner stuff. It was she who now began to promote and publicise Vincent’s work. It was she who donated examples of his work to be placed in influential exhibitions. It was she who wrote the history of the van Gogh family. It was she who collated and published Vincent’s letters (he was a prolific letter writer).

In short it was his sister in law Johanna who really made Vincent van Gogh famous.

Brand New

Green Carpet Moth
Green Carpet Moth

To be brutally honest, The Dog and I are not early risers. Jackie prefers early mornings and I do try to join in as she greets each bleary morning with gusto, but I just can’t whip up the enthusiasm. The Dog will get up with Jackie, but she comes back to bed as soon as she is given the opportunity. It’s only when it’s past nine in the evening that I really wake up. Dogs, of course are content to doze all day, all they ask is to be fed regularly.

Here we have a Green Carpet Moth. It’s a bit too early for him as well. Until very recently, he’s spent his days, as a caterpillar, happily munching his way through the maze of Hedge Bedstraw, that has taken it upon itself to fill up all the gaps it can find in the Hawthorns alongside the road. I would imagine that he has kept normal business hours during this, caterpillar, stage of his existence. Now, suddenly, he has been transferred to the night shift. He’s a little confused, he’s not sure if he should dose off or eat a leaf.

Jackie and I changed out of our caterpillar costumes some considerable time ago. There can be no doubt that Jackie became a butterfly when that particular transformation took over her life. I’m reasonably sure that I changed into a moth.

Must watch out for lighted candles.

One Good Turn

Foxglove
Foxglove

This picture is the result of this Foxglove growing in a convenient position, so that I was able to stick the camera right up its nose. The really interesting thing is the little hairs, almost like a turnstile across the entrance to each flower. The bee lands on the lip of the flower and, as all bees can’t resist a new puzzle – to take back to the beehive, they become intrigued by the pattern of dots ahead of them. They push inwards, trying to discover some system or reason for the pattern. Totally flummoxed, they give up and stop for a drink at the bar, there’s no one else in though, so they don’t stay long. They make their way out, not realising that their activity has been recorded by the computer and the statistics have already calculated what the bee will purchase on its next trip to the shops.

If you want someone to blame for all this, Clarence Saunders is your man. He worked in the wholesale grocery business, selling to small grocers. He decided to solve the twin horns of the small business dilemma, high overheads and getting paid (no change there then), he tried various ideas but in 1916 he set up his most successful, Piggly Wiggly. This was a grocer with limited staff, pre-packed goods, a turnstile at the entrance with a pile of shopping baskets nearby.

And of course, a cashier at the exit.

Pensioned Off

Sea King Mk4
Sea King Mk4

If you were a Greyhound and getting to be a bit less supple, it would be nice to think, somewhere there was a comfortable chair, near a fire when necessary, out there, waiting just for you. If you were a Donkey and you had spent a long and profitable life in one of the countries of the Mediterranean region, it would be nice to think that somewhere in the Chilterns, there was a cosy stall with a door looking out onto a field, that was knee deep in lovely, green grass. From the jungles of the Congo basin to the islands of the Philippines, every Gorilla or or Orang-utan, as they get older, must be keeping an eye out for a naturalist or TV crew, come to carry them off, to a peaceful old age in a zoo somewhere in Europe or America.

But what do you do if you’re a helicopter? Say you are a Westland Sea King and you’ve been in service in the far corners of the world, for over forty years. For more than forty years you have picked up and put down people in the jungles of Borneo, the South Atlantic, the Arabian deserts, or the foothills of the Himalayas. You’ve picked people up off the decks of sinking ships or sliding mountains – when they’ve been lost and when they’ve been injured. Wouldn’t you think you’d be entitled to a decent retirement?

This chap is due to retire in 2016, I wonder if he’s just looking around, thinking of settling in this area, maybe.

Mordant, Morbid and Maudlin

Redshank - Growing in the Gutter
Redshank – Growing in the Gutter

I found these growing in the gutter, up by the village green. A quick scratch around on Google brought up Redshank, or Lady’s Thumb. A peruse of its edibility rating found it in the, edible-but-I-don’t-know-why-you’d-bother category, when you add that it’s also in the, not-recommended-for-people-with-gout section, I began to wonder if I should have bothered to take the photograph. But wait, all is not lost, it makes a yellow dye when alum is used as a mordant.

Morbid (non-medically) is an unhealthy preoccupation with dying. When it come, to dyeing, you can use salt or vinegar to help the dye to penetrate the fabric but this doesn’t ‘set’ the dye and it will soon wash out. To fix the dye firmly in the cloth, you need to involve the dye in a chemical reaction, which will hook the colour molecules round the material fibres. There is a way to do this, by boiling the cloth in a very large pan of urine. As it takes a while to accumulate a decent pan-full of urine, the other way is to use a . . . .

Mordant, don’t try to use a mordent as this is a musical effect similar to a trill. No, what you need is Alum. I remember, long ago and far away, buying a large bag of the stuff, to dissolve in water to form a fire-retardant coating for some stage scenery I’d built. I doubt if you can acquire it so easily today. It’s poisonous, if you don’t use it the right way.

Maudlin is a weepy over sentimentality.

Please. Not in front of the children.

A Cat Called Timothy

Meadow Cat's Tails
Meadow Cat’s Tails

I think that I must be fundamentally unobservant, for the majority of the time. Then, just now and again, I look in the right place by accident. I suppose it comes down to living in the jungle and having to keep an eye out for things hoping to eat you. At least, I’ve always understood, that that’s what Eve O’Lution had in mind when she put our vision systems together. You can see fine, as long as you don’t look at anything, and then, when something clicks as your brain maps what the eyes report, against the news the brain expected to hear, it sends a message back pointing out the difference and asking for a full investigation. In the jungle you probably just shouted “Duck!” or “Run!” These days, you probably just say, “Oh. Wow!” Luckily, I’ve managed to avoid things looking for a quick snack, so far – but I did, suddenly,  come across this grass on a roadside verge that I’ve walked past often.

Google thinks that this is Meadow Cat’s Tails – he’s probably right. It’s often called Timothy. It probably toddled over to America with the early settlers and made itself at home. It was noticed in New Hampshire by a John Hurd and naturally, being a naturalist, he named it Hurd Grass. Unfortunately for him, a few years later, Timothy Hansen began promoting and selling it, so, to his customers, it became Timothy Grass.

I hope John Hurd wasn’t too discouraged.