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.
We were just passing the railway crossing this morning when we were beset by a sudden shower of rain. We hurried on along the road that passes the rookery, hoping to find some shelter under the beech trees that border the road (don’t try this at home children – it is dangerous to shelter under trees in a storm). By the time we had reached a dry patch of road, the shower had passed on, but while we stood there we heard the tok, tok, tok of a woodpecker in the trees above. Trying to pinpoint the source of the sound we caught a glimpse of a woodpecker sized bird in the branches not far away. The next part of the story will be familiar to anyone who has read any of our previous witterings. By the time we had the camera lens cover removed and the camera switched on – the bird had flown. So, no picture of a woodpecker for you today, I’m afraid.
Moving on up the road, we thought we could make out the shape of a white horse in the field ahead. Well, a horse isn’t a woodpecker, but horses can be quite chatty, so we hoped a snapshot of the equine aspect of rural life might give us a discussion point for today’s epistle. When we reached the field gate, there was no sign of any livestock whatsoever. So no horse photograph either, I’m sorry.
On the way home we saw a bunch of blackberries gleaming in the sunlight. We loitered along and picked a half a pound or so.
I tried to convince The Dog that Jackie’s apple and blackberry crumble would be well worth the effort, but she remained unconvinced.
Going up the hill yesterday, we passed an oak tree and something about it caught my eye. Now, the road snakes its way up the hill from the level crossing with some quite tight bends, so it isn’t easy to stop and take a picture safely. The Dog is used to the quiet lanes of our normal route and is inclined to sit down in the middle of the road while she waits for me to engage in my artistic activity. Occasionally, when the mood to explore takes her, she might even decide to investigate the verge on the other side of the road – this stretches the lead right across the road and we have, in the past, been embarrassed by the silent approach of a cyclist. Because our level crossing is one of the few places that gives access to the world on the other side of the railway line, this section of our route is fairly busy – as in, we will usually see two or three large trucks or a car or two on our way up or down.
With all this in mind, I suggested, quite firmly, that she consider the delights of the verge at the base of the tree in question, while I focused on focusing on the acorn in the photo. Did you notice that it was dangling at the end of a long stalk? All the other Oaks I’ve spoken to around hear have had acorns with a short stalk. According to The Woodland Trust, they are Sessile Oaks, They have long stalks on their leaves and short stalks on their acorns. This guy is a Common or English Oak and like us, he’s a southerner.
We have been feeling a bit cooped up lately. You know how it is. Over summer you get used to having decent weather to wander around in, then things start to go downhill and you start to wait for a break in the clouds before you venture out. Thinking back to winter, when The Dog and I wandered far and wide whatever inclemency of the elements, put me to shame. So, today we set off determined to ignore mere hail, sleet and tempest, of which luckily, there was none.
At the level crossing we turned and went up the hill to see if the alpacas were up and about, they were at the farther end of their paddock, so not available for comment. We decided to carry on round the block and give our legs a proper stretch. At the bottom of the hill we came across a guy with a fancy theodolite. In response to our greeting he replied that yes, he was surveying for a new motorway and that he would probably have to move the railway line too and no, it wasn’t a GPS, the prism thing on the pole worked with that laser over there. He was busy, so we left him and carried on down past the olfactory experience of the pig farm.
In the hedge, just upwind of the piggery, we noticed this wild rose climbing around amongst the bushes. Does this reminded any one else of the first few lines from Mac the Knife – in The Threepenny Opera?
Socrates on the other hand, is a tame, pink blend tea rose.
As I sit here writing this, the sun is shining and the wind, while still quite blustery, is nothing like the howling gale we had earlier in the day. I don’t have to tell you do I, that earlier in the day, as The Dog and I set out for our circadian constitutional, the sky was so low that it needed the washing line prop to keep it from dragging on the ground. It was also a very unattractive grey, they need to look into which washing powder they are using up there – it certainly isn’t making their whites whiter.
The rain was busy watering the plants first thing this morning so, by common agreement The Dog and I put off our exercise – ‘until later, when it clears up’. Well, later happened and the rain was replaced by a sort of heavy mist, so we thought we had better make a run for it while the going was good. We made ready for a quick dash down to the beck to check that the water was still following our instruction to make its way downstream. Outside, we found the trees very grumpy, with the wind pushing and shoving them about, calling them rude names and throwing handfuls of last years leaves around. The Dog suddenly remembered that there was something she wanted to watch on television, but I insisted.
We made it back just before the rain came down in bucketfuls but we did manage to get a quick pic of some Hawthorn Berries for you. Very good for your heart, you know.
Here in the UK, babies wear nappies, in America babies wear diapers, so I wondered how we managed to keep the babies on both sides of the Atlantic dry at night. Wikipedia knows of course, but he was much more interested in discussing how environmentally kind and courteous the reusable versus the disposable types were.
Most of the disposables were developed by and for women who, in the equal opportunity, hard times following World War II, wanted to get on with the work and not spend their entire life kneeling over the bath tub, washing soiled garments. The buyers at the big companies were all men however, and they just didn’t see the point. Women are persistent though – and the men soon changed their minds.
A diaper is a diamond shaped piece of cloth or to be more precise it is the name of a type of cloth with repeated diamond shapes all over it. But it’s just the stuff to use for nappies so the two became one – so to speak. Diapers went off to America with the Pilgrim Fathers, while here in the UK, it became posher to refer to the smelly squares of white towelling as Napkins. Now napkins, or little tablecloths, were also serviettes, to be used to wipe your fingers at meal times but we managed to stay posh and keep our fingers clean by reducing the infant version to a nappy.
It’s hard to imaging that these three, looking so cute lying there in their nappies/diapers, will one day be sixty foot, football playing Oak trees, isn’t it?
We’ll keep this photograph, just to bring out when their girlfriends come round.
Houston, we have a problem. You see, these last few days we quite definitely have autumn in the air. Spring is full of suppressed emotion as everything is busy getting dressed up for their first grown-up dance. The air is heavy with anticipation. Will the object of our fixation be in attendance? Will we be able, at the critical instant, to pluck up the courage to speak? Will they have the courage to answer? It is all so full of promise, so full of angst.
Autumn on the other hand, brings with it a different kind of excitement. Big changes are coming and everyone is old enough to appreciate them this time. Summer, so full of the stresses and pressures of modern life, the constant need to be somewhere, do something – or to be back home in time for whatever is next on the agenda is, thankfully, over. The children have either flown from the nest, the seed-head or they are just about ready to drop off the twig. It is a time of plenty, a time to refill the store cupboard. A time for some ‘me’ time.
Which brings me to the Robin, who defends our garden from his station in the Silver Birch tree by the gate, he has started singing again. The problem, of course is that people in America have a different Robin to us. You guys have a kind of thrush – ours isn’t. I’ve made a recording of our Robin singing – you’ll find it at the end of the post.
I have this nice picture of the Hazel tree from just down the lane. If you look you’ll see that, even though the nuts are not yet ripe, we have nice new catkins starting to form. I wondered what I could tell you about the Hazel today. We’ve looked at Hazel two or three times, so it needed to be something we haven’t touched on before. So I asked Google to have a look around and see what he could come up with on coracle building.
Well, it turns out that, as a general rule, coracles are built of whatever is to hand but mostly willow. So no Hazel there then. But while I was looking at those funny, flimsy cockleshells that our hardy ancestors put to sea in, I came across Prince Madoc, another Celtic hero, but a Welshman this time.
Prince Madoc came from a large family and when his Dad died civil war broke out amongst the siblings – to decide who’s turn it was to play king. Eventually he became bored with all of this or maybe he noticed he was loosing more than he won, so he decided to sail away and discover America before Columbus got round to it. Apparently he did that – and he sent back for more of his folk. They went off and disappeared into the pages of myth and legend. In spite of the fact that no one knows anything about his actual destination, we have a large body of literature covering his adventures in America.
A word about Buzzards, in particular ‘our’ Buzzards. There are around a half a dozen of them and they hang around The Rookery. In spite of their size, they are wimpy birds and allow themselves to be bullied by the Crows, who are not quite as big. The Rooks often gang up on the Buzzards and will chase them away at every opportunity.
At one time, I wondered if the area that includes The Rookery, was large enough to support six or seven Buzzards but I have realised that there are two mitigating factors.
First must be: For several months of the year it is necessary to drive with great care along the local lanes as they become inundated with Pheasants. I can’t imagine that the Buzzards haven’t noticed this. I should think any number of the silly birds find it quite simple to run into a car – and the Buzzards are good at tidying up road kill.
Second, and more interestingly: The Buzzards hunt as a pack. I have watched as a couple of them, mewing piteously, flap clumsily round the edge of the copse that contains The Rookery. They are immediately set upon by all The Rookery’s occupants so they pull their heads in and flap off – being careful not to outdistance their harassers. Once the decoys are a decent distance away – the raiding party swoops in.
The year is definitely on the turn. At this point I think I’d better mention that Ptolemy was one of Alexander The Great‘s generals and when Alexander died he was given Egypt to look after. Which his family did for nearly three hundred years until butterfingers Cleopatra dropped the ball in about 30 BC. Claudius Ptolemy, on the other hand, lived a hundred years later around 60 AD. The nice thing about Claudius Ptolemy is that he sorted astronomy out, once and for all – or at least for the next 1400 years. He sorted through odd bits and pieces going back 800 years and worked it all into formulae and tables. This made the whole thing very straightforward and it became really easy to foretell eclipses, the horoscopes of the king’s family, etc.
So, it was 1400 years later, people started picking holes in Ptolemy’s work. There’s always someone, isn’t there? The fact that the earth had stood still, in the middle of the Universe, for all that time irritated some Middle Aged mathematicians and they grumpily started doing things – like making the world turn – and before you knew it, the world, very out of condition from sitting in front of the television for all that time, had been elbowed out of the middle and had to run, panting, round the outside, like any common planet without a Company gym membership.
So you see the problem don’t you. The year is definitely on the turn – but is it the year that’s turning?
You could try blowing the Dandelion and see if you get a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’.
As I mentioned yesterday, we’ve been away. We’re back now and today we have the last of the ‘Archive’ pictures that I’ve been subjecting you to, to make it easier to keep the postings coming while we were out and about.
On 7th. October last year, I set myself the task of posting every day for a year. It hasn’t been easy to find a nice picture everyday for you. Still we’ve struggled through this far and I didn’t want to spoil our record just because we weren’t here. So I scoured the thousands of pictures that litter my computer and found a few that I thought would be easy to write about in an odd minute of peace and quiet. I then uploaded them to my Library ready to be clicked on when the need arose. As the year of a-post-a-day draws to a close, I’m feeling quite sad about it in a way but as I mentioned in the post last year – time moves on and I’ve lots of other things needing my attention – and I’ll talk to you about them over the next few weeks.
Oh yes, the picture. It’s a Teasel or a Teasle or a Teazel, suit yourself. Its name comes from the use of its spiny flower head in woollen cloth making, as a brush to tease or raise the nap of the cloth.
Its lower leaves clasp the stalk tightly and dew and rainwater collect there – and for which the plant collected the name Venus’ Basin. Someone thought of dropping dead insects into these basins and found that there was an increase in the seeds in the flower heads of the plants involved.
The last thistle I found for you was a bit of a disaster. Chris over on WildAboutBritain had a look at it and pointed out that it was in fact a Bush Thistle and not a Spear Thistle at all. Now, you might think that once bitten twice shy might be the appropriate response here and under normal circumstances you would be quite right. However, as you know, we do not normally do normal, and as autumn is fast approaching we move into the ‘any port (photo) in a storm’ season.
So once again, we present, for this performance only, the Fabulous, the Amazing, the Unique, the World Renowned, the One and Only. The Spear Thistle! You can, of course, insert a drum roll or a fanfare – or indeed both if you so wish, at this point. If Chris comes past again and leaves me a note to the effect that we have once more been guilty of attempting to spread misinformation and delusion, then I must beg your indulgence as at the moment Neptune is parallel to Venus and the Moon is in Libra and this lends itself to the far-fetched.
Isn’t it strange that we have one old and grizzled adult Spear Thistle and a babe in arms, together on the same stalk. Did you ever get one of those wedding invitations with a small note at the bottom saying “No Children Please”
Here we have another One of Those. This is Privet and you might wonder what can possibly be wrong with something that has been used as a hedge in thousands of gardens for hundreds of years. Pliny the Elder, that Roman General and Naval Commander who collected wild flowers in his spare time, mentions it in his encyclopedia Naturalis Historia (in around AD 60 or so). In England it was mentioned in the Oxford English Dictionary of 1542 and in 1777 it was recommended to people planting gardens in the smoke filled suburbs of London, as it tolerated this highly polluted environment well. Not much changes, does it?
It is found at its most diverse in China and the Himalayas – they say, and it is on a round-the-world working holiday, trying to fit in as many countries as possible.
So, you might think that we and the Privet are on good terms and get along well together. Come on, you know humanity better than that. The leaves are very poisonous to horses, the scent from the flowers is unpleasantly strong, the pollen causes skin complaints and the berries are poisonous to people. Moreover it out competes many bee-friendly native plants, while not being particularly bee-friendly itself.
Naturally, we have surrounded ourselves with the stuff and use it as a remedy for stomach ulcers and a tonic to improve the appetite. Kill or cure is alive and well.
A long, long time ago, three or four or perhaps ten, years at least, why, that’s almost last century, Research In Motion started picking Blackberries. I thought it was a silly name at the time, but they were so pleased with themselves that I didn’t say anything. Perhaps I should have. I probably could have saved them all this trouble. I doubt if they would have listened, though.
I’m not at home at the moment. We have ‘Folded our tents like the arabs and silently stolen away’ (ask Longfellow – he understands) but unlike the cares that infest the day we have merely gone down south. We are visiting family and making sure they remember what we look like and how really irritating we can be if we put our minds to it.
The photo is the current, bleeding edge status of our Blackberries ‘up there’. When we arrived ‘down here’ we found that their Blackberries are way ahead of ours and in some cases the harvests have been so good that people are starting to freeze them because they don’t know what to do with them any more. This sort of thing is often referred to in government protocols, white papers and memoranda as the North South Divide. and there is no doubt that Something Should Be Done About It.
We should, of course, have a committee and I’m pleased to be able to offer to chair it, for the usual fee.
As we went down the road today something caught my eye high in the hedge. The hedge just here is a fairly robust hawthorn. On the other side of it is our field with the cattle in, so it does need to be robust. Cattle just don’t appreciate their own mass. They could easily knock you over and trampled you to death – and for once I’m not exaggerating – it happens, but I don’t think they do it with any malicious intent. In their interactions with each other, they quite normally use their shoulders or buttocks to lever each other aside and if a human is accepted as a part of their world then they can’t understand that a swift, friendly (lethal) thwack with the buttocks should be taken as anything other than a mark of comradeship.
But back to the hedge and to the glimmer of blue that caught my eye. I had to stand on tiptoe and hold the camera as high as I could above my head to take the picture. Luckily the camera has a view screen that you can tilt, so it is possible to do this and check that you do have something in the field of view. And what did we have – a blue spike of Bush Vetch. Bush Vetch that we associate with a knee high tangle of green and blue.
Now, I had always assumed that it was called Bush Vetch because it was a small bush. Could it be that its name derives from its habit of climbing up into any bush it finds?
We were pottering along, as we do most days, just taking our time and giving The Dog ample opportunity to smell the ‘roses’. At the beck we confirmed that a stick thrown in on the upstream side will appear on the downstream side of the bridge. It’s good to keep these things under observation you know. The first sign that we have entered an alternate reality, a black hole or even a different dimension, could be that the water in the beck flows up the slope. Perhaps even, that the water continues to flow downstream but the sticks float upstream.
Leaving the beck in this reality, we wandered on down through the tunnel of trees, on towards the corner with the bungalow. This tree tunnel would be an ideal place to have a wormhole through to a fifth dimension, if fifths seem a bit passe perhaps we could twirl into a seventh or a ninth.
As we approached the corner we noticed a Blackbird sitting on the weathervane on the bungalow, doing all the head up tail high, Blackbird things. Fiddling with the camera lense cover and settings as we hurried forward, we stopped at the end of the trees and framed the perfect picture. As the electrons in the camera microprocessor, moving at the speed of the rather slow light we have in this dimension, began to record the scene – you’ve guessed it – the wretched Blackbird flew away.
What is the matter with people these days – they are just so impatient. Why couldn’t he have just waited another second or so?
When The Dog and I venture out each morning, our path is straight and uncomplicated – until we reach the gate. Here we are faced with a choice. Shall we turn left or shall we turn right. From time to time I may have a particular stretch of hedgerow that contains some bud about to burst, seed head about to open or berry about to ripen and I want to visit it on a regular basis. For most of our diurnal dawdles though, our direction really doesn’t matter to me.
I often stop at the gate and peer in amongst the bushes there, waiting to see if The Dog has any preference. She very often has, and while I prevaricate, she will set off in one direction or the other, as if it was really important to take this route, this day. Along the way, there are certain points that she absolutely has to visit. The routine is fixed. First you stand and look. Next, you, very gingerly, smell a couple of places, this can develop into a protracted exercise. Finally, we leave a message for whoever comes along next.
Dogs sense of smell is far more discriminating that ours and I often wonder just what latest news she is tuning into at these popular points.
Today we passed the Telephone Guys stringing wires up a pole. “Installing our Gigabit Internet, then?” I asked with friendly cynicism. “No, ” they replied, “That’s not ’til the end of the year.”
Apparently it’s true. We will be getting fibre to our cabinet soon. That’ll teach me.
Once upon a time a little elf, called Beech Leaf, lived in a tall Plane Tree at the side of a busy main road. He worked hard at his tree pushing at the old flakes of bark until they dropped of the tree trunk. Because the road was so busy, the bark of the tree very quickly became covered in soot from the car exhausts. It was quite hard, keeping the tree looking at its best, but he enjoyed his work and his tree looked so smart, he was very proud of it.
Suddenly, a gang of men appeared and chopped down all the trees and made a parking place for big trucks instead. His life was turned upside down – he was homeless and out of work! But he wiped his eyes, blew his nose and told himself that crying never solved anything and decided he would go to the country for a week or so and see if he felt any better in the nice fresh air.
In the country he found an old mushroom with a ‘Rooms to Let’ sign up and knocked at the door. The sweetest little fairy he had ever seen popped her head out of an upstairs window “Down in a mo” she called and next minute she opened the door. Suddenly he felt quite shy, she was so pretty! “Have you come to fix the phone?” she asked. He shook his head “The Gas? The Electricity? The drains? The water?” she asked before he had time to reply.
“No. The room.” he managed to blurt out.
“Oh,” she said and her face fell, “I’m afraid I’ve just moved in and everything is in such a muddle and actually,” she paused and bit her lip and gave him such a sweet smile, “that sign is left over from the previous owners.”
“Oh,” said Beech Leaf sadly.
“I am quite good at cleaning,” he added hopefully “I’ve just lost my job so I don’t have anything to do now, so I would love to help you put everything to rights.”
“Are you sure?” the sweet little fairy asked and Beech Leaf nodded “Oh, how kind you are.” she said, “Come on in and I’ll show you round”
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you or Brenda that they lived happily ever after – do I?
Those of you who have found a good lifebelt and are content to float through the seas of life, allowing the wind and waves to waft you in whichever direction they choose, content in the knowledge that wherever you end up will be pretty much the same kind of frying pan, have my admiration. I can’t do that. I have to try to figure out which way the wind is blowing and if the tide is ebbing or flowing. I have an urgent and irrepressible need to be able to steer, control, plan ahead and all that other stuff – which I actually do know is totally pointless. I don’t want to get involved in the dichotomy of how God or the Universe or Fate or Somebody You Know, manages to do something good for me by doing something bad for you, so mostly I go with the greatest common denominator and accept that some you win and some you loose.
The problem is that while I can accept that intellectually, it doesn’t alter the fact that I find not being in control very frustrating. While I am content to leave the daily routine of life to a beneficent Kismet or Fate, I’d just like to be sure they understand the problem properly.
We had parked the car at Glenridding and taken the boat up to Pooley Bridge – and why not? At Pooley Bridge we wandered around the village, peering in the shops with the amazement of travellers from a strange land then walked back to the boat pier for the return journey.
As you can see Somebody Up There loves us – or maybe The Universe and The Ullswater Steamers were working to the same timetable that day. That’s our boat, there.