Archive for August, 2013

Good in a Scrape



Today we have Plantain. Common Plantain, Greater Plantain, Waybread, White Man’s Footprints, or any of half a dozen other local names in various localities. I’ve noticed, but don’t quote me on this, that whenever a plant has a load of different names, it usually means that it has been found to be quite useful over the years. Once again, this is one of those that fall into the  – you can eat it but why would you bother – category. To the delight of archaeologists, it grows best on disturbed ground and it makes its point by being very tolerant of being walked on. It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? How did it manage before people came along and dug up the ground for it? I suppose that you could point a finger at pigs and other rooting animals as its main benefactors but then that leaves you with the question of who came first man or pig.

But enough unresolvable ancient mysteries – what is it actually useful for? Well, the list of things it does just goes on and on, depending on who you read. If I tell you that one of its names is Snake Weed, would it come as a surprise to you that it is said to be useful against snake bite? Other authorities content themselves with plant and insect stings, blisters and bruises. A common user was the reaper with his scythe, an indication that harvest time was also a time of raw patches on the hands from the gruelling labour.

Then, of course, it was also handy to have around to ward off mad dogs.

Categories: Uncategorized

Three Leaves For Luck

I came across this Red Clover yesterday. We’d just been talking about how Darwin found that the field mice eat the bumble bees nests and if you had cats around that eat the field mice then the Red Clover prospered – leading him to assume that the bumble bee pollenised the Red Clover.

So, I prodded Google and told him to wake up and go and have a look to see if there were any medical uses for our plant. Well, it turns out that it was used medicinally in days when most prescriptions were filled by the apothecary or local wise woman – but it wasn’t a top tier cure. There were, I gather, other more popular herbs.

It has suddenly become very much sought after and you can now buy it as pills – which saves you the bother of having to venture into the nasty smelly countryside to pick-your-own. However, it isn’t good for just any one and can have serious side effects if it is taken with some modern drugs and supplements – things our apothecary had never heard of.     “It is metabolized by CYP3A4” says Wikipedia – whatever that means. So I looked up CYP3A4 – it’s in your liver and it’s part all the things that you’d expect to be going on in there.

Do you remember, a few years back there was a sudden panic. Someone found out that the world’s favourite breakfast drink – grapefruit juice (suitably mangled by the food industry) – had a strange effect on some medications? Well it’s this CYP3A4 thingy that works with the grapefruit juice to the detriment of the pharmaceutical industry.

So no Red Clover for breakfast then.


The Cattle At The Gate

The Cattle At The Gate

Well, you know how it is, you live, up here, in a scenic part of England and most of the family live, down there’ in the dust and grime digging away at the coal-face with nothing but their iPhones between them and starvation.

Every now and then we manage to talk a batch of them into coming, up the long weary motorway, to see us. When you have children – with all the ancillary equipment they require, it takes organisation and focus. So we do really appreciate it when we have a bunch of them around for a few days.

In the field behind the barn, our farmer keeps a small, half a dozen or so, herd of cattle. On some days, he comes round with a bag full of something-in-the-way-of-a-treat for them, a sort of spoonful of malt and cod liver oil each. He goes to the feed trough and shouts and bangs the trough and the animals come running, each eager for their share of the bounty.

When he turned up today the family were busy redistributing the contents of various cars to make the day’s outing a little less cramped. Did I mention that our roof has been removed – it was put up in 1856 so it need a little attention – so, we had added the family chariots to the builders and roofers and their assorted vehicles already in the farm yard, then the postman turned up in his little red van. In and out of all this ran our youngest grandson, closely followed by an even younger granddaughter.

The cattle couldn’t believe their eyes!

Keeping on Track

Train At Level Crossing

Train At Level Crossing

As the countryside eases into autumn, the pace of life and growth slow down and almost all the plant life is beginning to show signs of, at least relaxing a little and in a good few cases, dying back in preparation for the over-winter doze. We do seem to have been waiting for summer for such a long time, it is quite hard to accept that there’s a chance that we’ve had all we’re going to get. Admittedly it hasn’t turned cold on us yet, but it looks as if it is – when you peer out at it from behind the safety of a window.

One of the things that happen, here on the blog, in autumn and winter, is we fill up the space with pictures of trains. There are days when autumn leaves of assorted colours take their place, but trains are our staple diet though the bare times. Over the last year, through thick and thin, sleet and snow, rain and hail, the trains have kept going. Allowing for the slings and arrows that beset any company trying to provide a public service, at around twenty to the hour, the train from Newcastle to Carlisle trundles past our house. Shortly after, usually within five or six minutes, the train from Carlisle to Newcastle grunts, groans, huffs and puffs past, climbing up the long slope that goes to make up our embankment. Over the year we’ve been here, on two occasions, the two trains have actually passed each other as they passed in front of our house.

It’s third time lucky, isn’t it?

Funny Bunnies



There isn’t much around to photograph at the moment and it’s getting harder and harder to keep up the post-a-day habit. It was at the beginning of October last year, after a three week blank spot, that I set myself the target of posting every day for a year. We’ve done all right so far – but I am looking forward to being able to cut down to once a week or so, as I have loads of other things I want to be able to get on with.

The patch of Silverweed has bowed to peer pressure and turned from shiny silver to boring old green but it does still have a few flowers to relieve the paucity of picture possibilities, so we have some Silverweed complete with tiny insects today.

I’ve talked about Silverweed before, so I asked Google if he could find us something new to chat about. He pointed out that there was an unsettling character in Watership Down call Silverweed. Now, I must say here that Watership Down is not a story that I’ve read fully. I’ve tried once or twice but I just can’t stick with it. You know how it is sometimes. I do realise that I’m in the minority here. It’s not just Watership Down either, there are several other, very popular, stories that I have the same problem with. It’s not just about anthropomorphism, more that, because  the authors have gone out of their way to avoid anthropomorphism they end up with something that winds my cynicism selector all the way round.

There’s nothing wrong with anthropomorphism. It is after all, a very ancient technique. Ask Aesop.

Not Mush room

I spent hours looking all over the Internet trying to find out what kind of toadstools or mushrooms these are. They look so ‘almost’ like many both toadstool and mushroom pictures I looked at – that I gave in. I wondered if Fairy Estate Agents (I believe they are called something like Fairy Realtors in America. Is that right?) had the same problems when it comes to advertising a vacancy. Is it important, I wonder? Is it perhaps a status symbol? Would some Fairies rather die than be seen living in a toadstool? Or are Toadstools in fact, the more desirable residences? If I advertised a three bed, two reception, two bath, detached Toadstool, would I have responses from a more up-market selection of purchasers if I offered it as a Mushroom with separate double garage? If the location was identical in both cases, of course.

I started searching for the origin of the idea that fairy folk lived in mushroom houses. So far, Google and I have drawn a blank. We have found that Fairies often live in magical trees, also in the ‘wild-woods’. There are many authorities that hold that they live underground or even that they live all around us but that we just can’t see them. Just who do you believe?

In my opinion, Fairies live at the bottom of the garden. But do they live down there in mushroom or toadstool houses? On a vital question such as this, Google is strangely silent.

The End is Nigh

Rose Baywillow Herb Seeds

Rose Baywillow Herb Seeds

I woke up this morning and looked out on, what has become, a pretty normal scene. In the distance, at about where it would be nice to see the sun shining on the slopes of the Cumbrian mountains, there was a vague grey wall. Here and there the occasional tree faded in and out of view. To say I was tempted to lie straight down and pull up the duvet, is only to tell you the obvious, but it wasn’t to be so. The Dog awaited, impatiently, her opportunity to check all the local canine points of reference – and it’s hard to get any sleep with a dog’s paws dug into parts of your anatomy and a wet nose stuck into any available eye or ear.

By the time I reached the necessary state of readiness, the view through the window had changed, the mountains had thrown off their blankets and were prepared to take on the day. There was quite a wind and the greyness overhead was moving along at a good pace.

Now, a couple of days ago, I took some pictures of the Rose Bay Willow Herb and they were covered in a fine fluff, I could say a fine thistledown, but I don’t want any thistles who read this to take umbrage. The picture we have today is one flower in a vast fluffy, pinky-purple bank of those Rose Bay Willow Herbs, over all of which the white, downy seeds were poised, sitting on the branch outside the nest, chirping excitedly to each other.

Today, the roadside verge is bare – the birds have flown.

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