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Archive for June, 2014

How to Save the World

Coltsfoot - Highly Poisonous

Coltsfoot – Highly Poisonous

Bing. Bong.
“That’ll be her now.” June pushed her bra strap back up, she tucked it under the strap of the black vest she wore with her loose black trousers. Mary was wearing her long black skirt and black cape but June, being more physical, didn’t like to feel restricted when casting a spell.
Mary opened the door to a slight, elderly lady in a beige skirt, floral top and a floppy pink sun hat. “Hello, Evadne,” she said importantly, “Please come in.” she stood back, invitingly. “I’m Mary, and this . . .”
“Ah. Of course.” Evadne interrupted “You must be The Vicked Vitch of the Vest!”
June glared at her. “I’m June.” she said jerking her bra strap up abruptly.
“There now dear. Just my little joke.” Evadne said soothingly. They all sat down.
“Would anyone like a nice cup of herbal tea?” Mary said into the awkward silence. “The Red Berry Mix is very earthing.”
“I feel the vibration of. . . Hibiscus.” said June with her fingers resting lightly on her temples.
“Could I have a cup of coffee, do you think?” asked Evadne, “With one sugar would be nice.”
“Erm, yes of course.” Mary raised her eyebrows at June.
“Now.” June began seriously, “The world is in need of powerful magic. The old beliefs are lost and ignored, witchcraft no longer commands the respect it deserves. I propose that the three of us form a coven and invoke the oldest and most powerful spell of them all.”
“Oh. What a lovely idea.” Evadne smiled brightly. “Which spell were you thinking of, dear?”
“Double, double. Toil and trouble.” June’s voice shook with the power implicit in the words.
“The ingredients are our first business, then.” Mary did her best to copy June’s portentous tone.
“Eye of newt and wool of bat.”
“Oh, no, no.” Evadne shook her head emphatically, “I’m sorry dear but I am a strict vegan, could we have something a little more, er vegetarian?”
June’s eyes flashed but clamping her jaw closed, she reached into her tote bag for her phone. “Magical. Plants.” she pronounced each word slowly as she tapped the letters in. She flipped through the results. “Coltsfoot, that’s a good one, deadly poison.”
“Oh, the poor little horses.” Evadne murmured.
“Mandrake.” A statement, June didn’t even bother ask.
“Wolfsbane.”
“Well now dear,” Evadne interrupted, “I’m sure there must be an easier way. Whenever I have a little problem, you know, I just turn my hat inside out. Like this. And then I put it on back to front. Like this.” she turned to June with a girlish smile and a coquettish tilt of her head.
Well. That did it. That was the last straw. June exploded!
A few soggy bits splatted against the cupboards behind her. Accompanying the vast sound, too short to actually be heard, a cloud of sluggish brown smoke roiled and swirled – finally settling into a a neat pile of dust that trickled over the edge of the chair that June had so lately occupied.
“Dry as dust.” murmured Evadne shaking her head, “No sense of humour, you know.” She flipped her hat the right way round and popping it back on her head, stood up and reached over to take Mary’s stunned hand.
“I must be going dear, it’s been lovely to meet you. Thank you so much for the coffee.” She paused with her hand on the door. “I’m sorry about the mess dear, but I’m sure she’ll vacuum up quite easily.”

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If the Devil Catches a Cold

Elder Flowers

Elder Flowers

I think I must have mentioned this before, but one of the things that continues to provoke me is that, whenever we discuss plants poisonous to people, people take great delight in eating them. Here today we have another example, the elder. The flowers, leaves, bark, roots are all poisonous at all times of the year. The berries, when fully ripe, are reasonably safe. The only concession to humanity that the plant makes, is that the flowers and berries can be eaten, with minimal chance of ill effect, if they have been cooked.

The Woodland Trust mentions that it is thought the word elder derives from the Anglo-Saxon word for fire – because the stems could be hollowed out easily and used to blow through, for furnaces and things. My friend Google also pointed out, at one time it was thought that planting elder by your house would keep The Devil away, but anyone who burned elder could expect a prompt visit from him. And then, there have been some real scientific tests done that show elderberry extract really does help to relieve flu symptoms.

Do you think there’s a connection here? He is used to a warmer environment, you know. He probably doesn’t have a nice warm coat to wear while he’s around these parts.

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Smelling of Roses

Wild Rose

Wild Rose

The big news this week must be the sudden sprinkle of roses in the hedgerows. Almost overnight it seems, places that had survived all through the winter as a dull grayish brown. Who had surged into green in spring. Who had then ‘just sat there’ – seemingly waiting for autumn to arrive before committing themselves to any further chromatic exertion – suddenly have pink and white bits coyly peeking out everywhere.
Roses made me think of an attar of roses. I had a chat with Google, he referred me to Wikipedia. Attar was a Persian person. A poet, a philosopher and a pharmacist and his pen name, Attar, or Perfumier, was a reference to this last occupation. He lived around 1150 – 1220 in what is now northern Iran, and suffered from that irritatingly common problem – his writing talent was not recognised until after his death.
Bulgaria is, globally, the largest producer of rose flowers. The flowers are picked in that murky half world believed to exist, although I personally cannot vouch for it,  just before daybreak. The flowers are put into copper kettles and boiled for a couple of days. If we are making an attar, the steam from the boiling is condensed and mixed with sandalwood oil.
Strangely, the sandalwood oil is the most expensive ingredient, and this, not the smell, is the reason perfume has such a high price tag.

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Work In Progress

House Martins at Work

House Martins at Work

You wouldn’t recognise our house at the moment. We’ve got the builders in. They’ve come to take the roof off. If all goes well, they will then put a nice new one on. The front of the house is covered in scaffolding and every time it rains large tarpaulins are unrolled and tied down, then, the minute the sun comes out, the roofers rush back up the ladder and crawl all over the roof unlashing and rolling back the covers. They are hoping that the wood worm and assorted nasties will get fed up with the noise and disruption and pack up and leave to seek more tranquil lodgings.
Now, I’m sure you are all aware that one swallow doesn’t make a summer. In the olden days, when people had nothing better to do than sit around making up phrases that could be posted on Facebook – as soon as someone invented Photoshop – the devil was safely at home, down in the nether regions, and not in the detail.
As some bird flips fleetingly past with the characteristic strut of the swallow, today we have (at least) four choices. Is it a swallow, a house martin, a sand martin or a swift?
Just round past the beck is another farm. In its yard is a large puddle with an amply muddy surround. A building site and a convenient source of materials proved to be difficult to resist. We managed to photograph the construction crew picking up supplies at the puddle so we can confirm that these self-build enthusiasts – not easily identifiable here – are a pair of house martins.

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