If you should ever have the good fortune to visit Cumbria, could I ask a favour? If you happen to be riding a bicycle and you find a little old guy crouched in the middle of the road, with a small black dog snuffling amongst the vegetation on the verge, with her lead stretched to its limit at the most inconvenient angle – could you cough or back-pedal or ring the bicycle bell for me – or something? Bicycles move fairly silently and their sounds are imperceptible amongst the various tractors, hedge trimmers, sheep, cows, the wind in the trees (pine trees are especially vocal) that go to make the the idyllic sounds of the countryside that you came here to enjoy.
We came across this, the other day, making its way over to the far bank of the tarmac river. The Dog wanted to prod at it with her nose to see if it would jump, but I wouldn’t let her, so she grumped off to peer through the hedge while I took its picture. When I first started taking pictures of the inhabitants of the natural world (the non-human ones) I would have immediately assumed I knew what it was. I’m more cautious these days and I took a few photos from different angles, to see if it was anyone Google recognised.
Google and I think that she, yes she’s a female, is a Meadow Grasshopper, who is the only UK resident grasshopper who can’t fly.
So she had to walk – I hope she made it across all right.
“Look, look. I think that’s him again. He went past here yesterday, remember? I know you said he was just another human, but I’m not sure, I’ve not noticed another human with that black box thing growing out of their fore legs. Why on earth they walk round on their hind legs all the time like that is beyond me. Wouldn’t you think they would have worked out by now how much simpler it is to walk on all four feet. And his language! Well, if you can call it that. He hardly seems able to string two words together to make a recognisable sentence. Remember yesterday? We went over to the gate and really concentrated, trying to make some sense out of what he was saying, and it was just impossible. It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s been talking to that Stephen Hipperson in Yorkshire. They’re very isolated down there in Yorkshire you know. It’s not at all like living in Cumbria. It’s all ‘So tha says’ and ‘Hey up!’ down there, whereas here, well, I mean we’re all bilingual up here, aren’t we? Good grief I mean, I’ve spoken both Scotch and Cumbrian all my life. Yes, I’m fairly sure he’s a foreigner of some kind, probably from Down South. They’re a funny bunch down there you know. And, come to think of it he does have a really weird sort of accent. Doesn’t he?
We are finding these all over the place underneath Oak trees. I chatted to Google about them, but he just shrugged and asked me why I didn’t buy some oak furniture, like everyone else.
The Good Folk over at Wild About Britain were much more helpful – “It’s a Knopper Gall” they said. So off I went to Google armed with the updated information. “Oh, yes. Why didn’t you say so.” he said, offering me ‘About 587,000 results (in 0.26 seconds)’.
Let me go through a few of them with you. First, I better deal with the Knopper part of the story. In the seventeenth century – that’s sixteen hundred and odd – in Germany, people wore a felt cap called a knoppe. I will say nothing here. Except, look at the picture and look at my title.
Secondly, I can now tell you, it is produced by a tiny little wasp who has an, as almost unbelievable, lifestyle. It’s a circular sort of thing so we’ll start with how we arrived at where we’re up to now. That tiny wasp laid an egg in the bud of the acorn. It made the acorn grow into the thing in our picture. If the egg/bug doesn’t get eaten by all the things that eat little scratchy things, the egg/bug will live in there until Spring when she (they are all She) will escape through the hole in the top and fly off, find a specific type of Oak Tree only, and lay eggs in the flowers. These eggs will hatch into the more usual male and female who will mate. The females will then toddle off to find an ordinary Oak tree, like ours, to lay eggs in an acorn bud.
We’re keeping an eye on things, but so far, no Oak trees have been harmed by all of this.
There are people who enjoy camping. They enjoy the feeling of freedom and lack of restriction. If you’ve been reading any of our previous posts, it will come as no surprise to you, to find out that this whole camping thing is totally beyond our comprehension.
In the hushed, dark depths of some city somewhere, in an office, insulated from the hard cruel world by legions of secretaries, surrounded by clerks and typists each with the required duplicity of assistants, there is an office where they hold a bi-annual meeting to make those major decisions that require an instant response. Pinned to the wall is a large chart. A man stands before the chart wearing a blindfold. Solemnly his companions rotate him three times then turn him to face the chart. With deliberation he draws a line from top to bottom. They remove the blindfold, to the left of the line he writes boldly ‘Microlight’. They shake hands, pick up their briefcases and leave.
There are people who trundle round the skies, dangling underneath a flimsy contraption that looks like a cross between a beach umbrella and a roll of fencing wire. They enjoy the feeling of freedom and lack of restriction. I put this sort of thing in the same box as camping.
The picture today is not an aeroplane, it is an SLA 80 Executive Microlight. Do you get the feeling that there is a little fudging going on?
Surely, flying round in this is a bit like going camping in a three bedroom cottage with all mod cons.
We went round to the level crossing the other day and stopped to look over the fence at the beck. Just here he’s running down a staircase as he climbs down from one side of the road to the other, so he’s quite vocal. We stopped to chat. It turns out that he didn’t always come this way. He used to cross the road higher up the hill and sit around in a mill pool. He says it was quite hard work turning the mill wheel so he doesn’t miss it all that much. He’s been retired for a good few years now and he’s grown used to having more time to himself.
It wasn’t a bad job, he tells me, and there was something very satisfying about regular work. He ground corn mostly, he says, but the saw mill wasn’t idle and had reasonably regular business. They used more timber in those days. There was talk of building a canal from Carlisle to Newcastle but nothing ever came of it. It wasn’t going to come past here anyway, but for a time he did think it might be nice to flow east down the Tyne into the North Sea instead of the Eden into the Irish. Then the railways came and that was the end of his international travel aspirations.
Still, as he says, he’s retired now and his times his own.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there is nothing we like better here, than having a good moan about something. Preferably about a problem or issue that there is no reasonable solution to, this gives us a completely free reign. Well, as you can guess from the picture, we’re going to whinge about Indian Balsam. Well, no that’s not true, we’re going to whinge about people who whinge about Indian Balsam.
Let me ask all you environmental addicts out there something. We know for instance that squirrels bite the ends off acorns before they bury them. This stops the acorn from germinating. Good for squirrels – bad for oak trees. Squirrels are just parasites. They do nothing for the tree that provides them with food and shelter. The Jay also collects and buries acorns, but the Jay buries them undamaged. Any acorns that the Jay doesn’t need are left in the ground to germinate and sprout into new trees. So, the question is, of the Squirrel and the Jay, which is the most environmentally friendly?
Let’s use a bit of vision here. If nature invented a creature (as in – us) that took advantage of almost every plant and animal on the planet, could it not be that the appreciation of the beauty of her works as well as their utility, was built in to us specifically so that we would collect and spread those denizens of her kingdom who were rooted to the spot?
We invited Indian Balsam to come in – and now suddenly we can’t wait to get rid of him. It’s no wonder the guy in the picture looks ready to bite your hand off, is it?
It was a nice day on Sunday so we went down to The Little Salkeld Water Mill. We went there before looking for Long Meg and her daughters – I did mention it. We didn’t want Long Meg to think that, now we knew the way, we could drop in unannounced at any time, so we stopped at the Watermill, ate fruit loaf and drank coffee and Earl Grey tea. We are constantly conscious of the responsibilities we took on when we moved up here, you’ll notice.
The mill was working, so we went round to have a look at the water sloshing over the wheel. Mill wheels come in different shapes and sizes. Just over two thousand years ago, the Greeks started to take the idea seriously, and then the Romans had a go, then the rest of us chimed in and it wasn’t until the steam engine came along, water wheels had any real competition. Over this time, we had worked out that you can turn the wheel in three different ways. You can dip the bottom of the wheel in the river – cheap and cheerful, but not for serious work. You can raise the water so that it hits the wheel in the middle, that’s more expensive, more technical, but not too bad. Or you can raise the water even more and to pour it on at the top of the wheel.
This is high-tech stuff, as the taller the wheel, the more horse power it produces.
Well, it’s happened. We knew it would, sooner or later, and in our case it has turned out to be sooner. As The Dog and I set off this morning the sun was still shinning and the clouds were scurrying about, measuring up the blue bits to make sure there would be enough grey bits to give a nice even cover later in the day. We turned left to go down to the beck. The cows on the corner were all lying down near the gate. I couldn’t remember if this meant that it was going to rain or if they had been up late last night. We stopped to ask, but the one next to the gate couldn’t remember if they had to stand up or lie down for rain, so we went on.
It was then that we saw the devastation. Well actually, it looked very nice and tidy. The man with the machine has been round and the verge and hedge are looking trim and neat – and completely stripped of berries. So, no Hawthorn Berry Jelly from this hedge then – and we were supposed to wait until after the first frost before we picked them. I wonder if the Neanderthals had this problem.
The other side of the road, with its bank of Rose Baywillow Herb was untouched. You know, I had always thought it acquired the name of Fireweed from its habit of colonising burnt ground.
But just look at these leaves. The bank of purple flowers we admired in the summer is now a bank of flame.
As we walk our walk, The Dog and I notice the changes along our route. We don’t walk the same path every day but we do walk around in a fairly small, local area. As Autumn has approached, we have noticed the vegetation in our verges die back, not so much leaving bald patches, but there are quite definitely places in the roadside’s coiffure where its scalp is visible – perhaps a blue rinse might help? It gives the place a feeling that it is no longer so important to maintain appearances and that standards can be allowed to slip a little.
And today we have reached the Equinox. The few days when, in both hemispheres, the length of the day and night are equal. Up here on the top, we have the wind-down of the Autumn Equinox while down there on the bottom they have the Spring Equinox – and all the hustle and bustle that entails. The strange thing is, suddenly, our verges are hustling and bustling too. The light the die-back has allowed through to the soil underneath the verge vegetation, has caused no end of upheaval. While it would be nice to think that this portends an Indian Summer, I’m afraid that the plants in question can’t make up their minds.
The picture shows the new growth springing up from some Cow Parsley die-back, but which is already showing autumn colours.
One of the things about Plato is that we really only have his own writings to to get to know him by – mostly, what we would describe today, as his lecture notes. Now he was teaching, not just the impressionable youth of his time, but impressionable youth who’s parents were the rich and powerful. This was a time when the Greeks were feeling their way gingerly towards democracy. They lived in a dangerous world – and a military dictatorship isn’t such a bad thing when instant armed response is a good survival mechanism.
To avoid being accused – and probably executed – for treason and sedition, Plato invented Socrates. This put him in the advantageous position of being able to say that he was only commenting on the lesson, not necessarily preaching it. He developed the character of Socrates to such an extent that a great many people believed he actually existed. Like many a good author since, he found that his creation became more real than he himself. Seeking a suitable and in-character method to dispose of Socrates, he had him arrested and condemned to death, then offered a way of escape – which Socrates naturally refused, opting instead to drink the poisonous Hemlock tea, surrounded by those who were urging him to escape.
However, the vivid, eccentric, cantankerous character painted by Plato is so much a man of that era, that it is entirely possible that he did exist and was a real person.
The picture today, could be Hemlock – or it could be Cow Parsley – or it could be a few Bracken leaves.
I thought you might like this picture of our Robin, rather than the silhouette we had the other day – to go with the promotion of his latest recording. He’s a bit old fashioned and relies heavily on public performances and personal appearances. He doesn’t believe in using the Internet and all that modern kerfuffle, to push his latest and greatest.
He spent his early years helping out the Norse God Thor as a storm bird, later here in the UK at least, he was called various corruptions of Redbreast, such as Ruddock or Robinet. He has always worked in agriculture. Before people understood the importance of turning over the soil, he used to hang around with Wild Pigs. Wild Pigs, you know, can do more environmental damage and destruction just having breakfast, than an open cast mining operation in East Europe does in a year. As a mitigating factor though, Wild Pigs may have an ear for music. Then people started digging things up too. Though perhaps not as efficient at environmental damage as the Wild Pigs to start with, we soon learned, and the Robin changed his allegiance.
The Robin is not strong on long-tern planning. He is inclined to defend his territory, even against females for most of the year and he merely tolerates a female during the breeding season. So he has to go through all that courting stuff every year.
Even humans have realised that it is more efficient to go through all that hassle as few times as possible.
Sometimes when it rains, we get normal rain. It sloshes down in drops, blown by the wind in whichever direction has been specified by the weather department. These drops can vary in size from occasional splats to solid sheets but they are still – plain rain. Other times it seems as if we are actually inside the rain cloud and the entire world is wet. There are drops of water involved but they don’t seem to be actually falling, more just hanging around waiting for you to bump into them. The whole world is grey and damp, and I have often wondered if the rain drops are actually created by moving through the mist and causing small whirlpools as you go. When we have real rain, the sky is low and dark. When we have the virtual rain the sky can be quite light – depending on the depth of cloud, often you can see the ghostly form of the sun through the soggy atmosphere. It was like that today.
On our way back up the hill from the beck, suddenly, there was the sound of fifty barn doors being swung open on rusty hinges high overhead. Looking up we saw the silhouette of a formation of geese – heading south.
We have reason to believe that they are Pink Footed Geese. They’ve been in Spitsbergen consorting with Reindeer, Polar Bears, Arctic Foxes, Whales and Walruses and they are now headed for Martin Mere, just outside Southport.
I’ve been to Southport, I hope they aren’t too disappointed.