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?
“I mean ‘Baaaaaaa’. P – lease!”
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.