Apparently, we have been saying “One swallow doesn’t make a summer” – or variations, since at least the year 1600. We have to assume that, today, we are talking about a different swallow. It would be unnecessarily cruel to demand that the same swallow not make the summer for more that four hundred years. Google did a quick count, and he reckons there are about 1.4 million swallows in the UK at the moment. So, based on his estimate, allowing for the one swallow who is off duty this year, there are 1,399,999 swallows currently making our summer.
Now, I don’t really want to complain, and I certainly wouldn’t want to risk hurting any swallow’s feelings. After all, what if I upset all the swallows and they decide only to send the one who isn’t making the summer next year? As I was saying, I don’t want to complain but, the fact is that this year, it is painfully obvious that some of those 1,399,999 are not pulling their weight.
I suppose, it is possible, that some of them are busy in the south of the country, but come on, now! How about a few of you focusing on us, up here in the north!
(Not sure if the one in the picture is the one who isn’t making the summer this year – or one of those slackers!)
Google thinks that people have been making clothing out of nettles for over two thousand years – he found it on the Internet, so it must be true.
Probably, on someone’s time-line from around AD 0 or so, there is a picture like the one we have today. The status says “Must get back to the retting and scutching – that sounds like my hubby’s oxen in the drive!”
First, you need a big pile of nettles. Then we come to the retting. Tie the nettles up in bundles and dump them in the nearest pond or stream. You might need some rocks to weigh them down.
Set the kitchen timer for eight days and go and have a cup of coffee. When the timer goes off, take the nettles out of the water and spread them out to dry. When they are thoroughly dry – bundle them up and put them back in the water for a few more days.
Take them out of the water, let them rest for a while, then run them through the mangle – of course you’ve got a mangle, it’s in the shed behind the kitchen, with the big copper boiler you use to wash the clothes. Now, spread your nettles out and beat the living daylights out of them with a big stick (this is the process, less threateningly, known as scutching). Sort out the longer fibres, spin them into thread, weave them into cloth, and you’re done.
Otherwise, you could just chop the nettles up small and feed them to the chickens – suit yourself.
After we’d been here for a couple of years, one day, out of the blue so to speak, a Jay appeared in the garden. Jays are normally shy and retiring birds, not unusual for members of the crow family, who all feel that humans and birds can really only co-exist peacefully, if they lead totally separate lives. As a general rule they tend to go about their business in such a manner as to avoid humanity wherever possible – and to studiously ignore them where avoidance isn’t an available option.
The next scene in the unfolding drama involved, after several months of sporadic visits, the escalation of the investigation from the garden to the bird table. This, too, required a protracted protocol. Presumably this was needed to confirm that the quality of the offerings maintained an acceptable standard, in the longer term.
Then, the day came when not one but two Jays appeared. The plot thickened! They did scrabble half-heartedly in the undergrowth beneath our Oak Trees, but there was no doubt that the bird table was their main target.
This week, four Jays appeared. Obviously, our original two adults – and two youngsters. The youngsters were introduced to the nuts, the fat balls, and the assorted offerings on the table. Then the two adults left.
“That’s the freezer, that’s microwave, you two can sort out your own meals from now on!”
So far this year the plan for world domination, hatched late last year by the White Clover, has succeeded admirably. Everywhere we go, the verges and lawns show unmistakable evidence of the spreading tentacles of the Underground White Clover Movement. Not that they don’t have considerable local support, Honey Bees, and their ilk, work tirelessly for the cause.
Now, we actually prefer the Red Clover. But until recently he has been far too shy to put in an appearance. He tends to be uncomfortable on his own and only feels at his best in group settings. The White Clovers tend to be a bit snippy and make fun of his accent, which just triggers his neuroses, so he’s taken to avoiding them when they get together in large gaggles. On a one to one basis though, he feels much more at ease and, in fact, there are a few Whites Clovers that he gets along very well with.
As summer moves on, the bees stop offering table service and the sangria in the pitcher is reduced to a mush of orange peel and cucumber. Then, the White Clovers will roll up their towels and straggle off home, and the sun beds become available. We’re hoping to see more of the Red Clover in the coming weeks.
We’ve been away – did I mention that? We left behind narrow lanes, made even narrower by rampant growth over-flowing what small verge there was. When we came back, we found that this state of affairs had forced itself upon the man with the mower, raising in him a righteous indignation – leading, inevitably, to feverish activity.
It was as if we had returned to a new country. Old friends, many of whom we had known since they were seedlings, were gone. Obliterated by this overpowering need for tidiness. In his defence, I must add that we did enjoy the improved visibility, and the newly mown strip gave us access to the denizens of the second rank. Those, previously too shy to push to the front, who, now found themselves in a leadership role.
Then, within a few days, revelling in the newly accessible sunlight, many of those we thought lost and gone, started to reappear – but with a subtle difference. Take the Silverweed, for instance. Those we left behind, wore their silver coats with pride – dare we suggest, arrogance? This new generation is more community aware, and has bowed to peer pressure. The silver sheen is still there – but muted. The leaves are now a more, socially acceptable, green.