Well, Here We Are

Cow Parsley - Sprouting Autumn Leaves
Cow Parsley – Sprouting Autumn Leaves

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.

Trying to keep a foot in both camps, perhaps.

Uncertainty

Cow Parsley or Hemlock
Cow Parsley or Hemlock

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.

Top of the Hops

Robin
Robin

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.

Opportunistic

Four Blackberries
Four Blackberries

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.

The Long and the Short

Common Oak
Common Oak

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.

He looks to young to be retired though.

Socrates the Knife

Wild Rose Thorns
Wild Rose Thorns

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.

Potty Training

Three Acorns
Three Acorns

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.

Birds of a Feather

Robin
Robin

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.

Does it sound anything like yours?

A Twist

Hazel Nuts And Catkins
Hazel Nuts And Catkins

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.

Maybe he sent a text.

Pack Mentality

Buzzard
Buzzard

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.

I’m afraid the Rooks never learn.

Decisions

Dandelion Puff
Dandelion Puff

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’.

Just Teasing

Teasle
Teasle

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.

People do strange things, don’t they?

Can We Bring the Children?

Spear Thistles
Spear Thistles

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”

It’s a problem, isn’t it?

Another One

Privet
Privet

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.

Get the Message

New Wiring up the Telephone Pole
New Wiring up the Telephone Pole

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.

mush Rooms to Let

Mushrooms
Mushrooms

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?

Coming for to Carry Me Home

Ferry Approaching Pooley Bridge
Ferry Approaching Pooley Bridge

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.

Cwm, Coombe

Hanging Valley
Hanging Valley

And not just a cwm or a coombe but also, possibly, a corrie or a cirque. You know, once we lived on the edge of a massive ice sheet. Here, I’m tempted to ask, just what is it with humanity? Give them an active volcano and they plant their crops on it, give them a poisonous plant and the use it as a food flavouring and give them an ice sheet and they potter around and make themselves at home on it. In fairness though, I must admit that the ice sheet in question had covered most of what they and their predecessors called home, so wandering up and down the edge of it was something to do while they waited for someone to invent coal mines and get global warming under way.

The minute the ice sheet melted and they could all go home, dozens of them rushed off to climb up and down mountains and scramble about on glaciers, to ask why would be fruitless. Whatever, they gave the sort of valley shown in our photo today all those different names. It’s a sort of a cup carved out of the hills by the snow compacting and piling up layer on layer until the pressure got too much for the poor stuff so it turned into ice and slid its way out of the V shaped hole we have a photo of.

Another glacier happened to be passing just then and our baby glacier was swept along in the euphoria of it all – so we have this valley hanging there, half way up the side of the hill.

A Buddleia by Any Other Name

Yellow Budlia
Yellow Budlia

I know we normally deal in those ferocious denizens of the countryside – wild flowers. So, I hope you don’t mind if we peek out from our safe haven, behind the wooden chair we use to keep them all at bay, take off our top hat and bow tie, and rest on our Laurels for a moment. Just round the corner, as we head off downhill, in the direction of the beck, hanging over the garden wall is a large Buddleia, usually full of bees and butterflies. We often stop to admire them on our way past, but the best flowers, and therefore the most butterflies are at the top of the plant, wrapped around with foliage and outlined against the sky. In other words, not good material for a photo. Then, of course, there is the fact that it is a common or garden, completely tame, well behaved bush, not our sort of thing really.

On the way past yesterday, I noticed a branch with yellow coloured flowers sticking out of the middle of the swathe of purple, so I went over for a closer look. At first I didn’t believe it, but I had plenty of the normal Buddleia flowers nearby to compare with. They looked exactly the same to my unpractised eye, except one was purple and one was yellow. There is no reason that Buddleias can’t be yellow, of course, I just haven’t seen one before. While there were bees and butterflies all over the purple flowers, the yellow blooms only attracted bees.

I wonder what the difference is?

Discard

Beech Mast on the Road
Beech Mast on the Road

Today The Dog and I wandered up to the level crossing. Here I must tell you that the last three or four days have been unbearably hot and humid. I can remove a few of my customary layers of clothing but she is still wearing her full winter outfit. At the level crossing, with both of us approaching dehydration – or possibly even dessication, The Dog pointed out that by carrying on straight ahead, down the road past the rookery, we would be under the shade of the trees. Even though it meant increasing the distance between us and our final destination, the shade ahead was irresistible.

That part of the road is now strangely silent. The rooks have raised what youngsters they were able to protect from the depredations of the buzzards and moved out to forage over a wider area. There is still the occasional disconsolate mewing of a melancholy buzzard reminiscing over the time of plenty, but they too have extended their search area and are now finding that road kill is not as unappetising as they had thought earlier in the year.

The road under the Beech trees is covered with Beech mast. Some of them ground under the wheels of passing vehicles, but many just lying with the prickly husk partially open as if they had ripened and made a break for freedom. The nuts inside the cases proved to be totally undeveloped when we levered the case apart and bit the nuts open.

Far from making a break for freedom, I think that they’ve been specifically asked to leave.

The Forbidden Path

Gate in the Wall
Gate in the Wall

In those days, there was war. War between the unseen things of the Dark and Secret Place, the name of which, even now, is best remembered – but not spoken, and those who dwelt in The Light.

At this time, King Allwyngarth, a leader of men, called upon Daghtwaal the Doughty and Ancient, who was called The Double Headed Axe of the Dwarves, and he came unto him. Unto him also he called Locham Green Leaf who was Oldest Oak of the Fleet Folk. Gathered they three, in a tall tower and well guarded from all sides. There they spake, each one unto the others, of The Dark and Secret Place.

At an instant, came a crash and a flash, the door to the chamber was flung open and stood there, a stranger, where no man should gain entry.

“Wæs Hæil. Kings three. Rise and take just and awful war unto that Dark and Secret Place. Now is the time for deeds not for words. I, Zalwigg, have spoken!”

At this, they arose and went, taking pain and vengeance, to That Place and laid waste all about them. Also went Zalwigg and in his power brought terror to That Place.

Then, when all had seen justice, they went out and stood, all the hosts, once more before the gates to The Dark and Secret Place.

Spoke then Zalwigg at the first. “Wæs Hæil, Kings three! Now must The Gates of Doom be sealed. Never more may Dwarf pass through. ” Then spake he a word of power, such that all fell to their knees and up rose the earth and covered the chasm that gave access to That Place.

Now, spake he at the second. “Never more may the Fleet and Fair Folk pass this way.” Then spake he a word of power, such that all covered their ears in terror and arose up two mighty and tall Beech Trees and between them a barricade of moonbeams that Fair Folk durst not break.

And spake he then for thrice. “Never more may Men pass this way.” Then spake he a word of power, such that all covered their eyes in awe.

After, arose all and saw, where once had been The Evil Way, now was only a hill, two Beech trees and a stone wall. And peace came unto The Three Kingdoms.

A Book by its Cover

Solway Aviation Museum
Solway Aviation Museum

We live in a faraway, forgotten corner of England. In fact we only just live in England, just inches away on the map is Scotland. Gretna Green, no longer that haven from the harsh realities of English marital law but still holding weddings at the Blacksmith’s Forge, is just one stop up the motorway. We have an airport. It was so long since anyone had flown from it to anywhere on a regular basis that, when a large transport company bought it, protests from the locals about the noise of aircraft taking off and landing, means that they haven’t been able to use it yet.In a part of the airport complex is the Solway Aviation Museum. I’ve know it was there for ages but I couldn’t imagined that it would have anything worth looking at. However, the latest batch of family to pay us a visit wanted to go and see it – they’re into aircraft and such like and that should be encouraged.

The first thing we found when we arrived, was a notice saying that the museum existed on donations and was run by volunteers. I personally didn’t feel this was a good start – but we paid our moderate entrance fee an set off on the recommended route.

I will just say that we found a hidden gem. I could say much more but it would be too embarrassing for me to have to admit how far from the mark my assumptions had been. It was brilliant!

The photo at the top is one view of a very large display case full of military aircraft. I think the image below is the description of it – amateurairplanes pops in here from time to time, I’m sure he’d know.

Model Display Text
Model Display Text

Three Leaves For Luck

Red Clover
Red Clover

I came across this Red Clover yesterday. We’d just been talking about how Darwin found that the field mice eat the bumble bees nests and if you had cats around that eat the field mice then the Red Clover prospered – leading him to assume that the bumble bee pollenised the Red Clover.

So, I prodded Google and told him to wake up and go and have a look to see if there were any medical uses for our plant. Well, it turns out that it was used medicinally in days when most prescriptions were filled by the apothecary or local wise woman – but it wasn’t a top tier cure. There were, I gather, other more popular herbs.

It has suddenly become very much sought after and you can now buy it as pills – which saves you the bother of having to venture into the nasty smelly countryside to pick-your-own. However, it isn’t good for just any one and can have serious side effects if it is taken with some modern drugs and supplements – things our apothecary had never heard of.     “It is metabolized by CYP3A4” says Wikipedia – whatever that means. So I looked up CYP3A4 – it’s in your liver and it’s part all the things that you’d expect to be going on in there.

Do you remember, a few years back there was a sudden panic. Someone found out that the world’s favourite breakfast drink – grapefruit juice (suitably mangled by the food industry) – had a strange effect on some medications? Well it’s this CYP3A4 thingy that works with the grapefruit juice to the detriment of the pharmaceutical industry.

So no Red Clover for breakfast then.

Gossip

The Cattle At The Gate
The Cattle At The Gate

Well, you know how it is, you live, up here, in a scenic part of England and most of the family live, down there’ in the dust and grime digging away at the coal-face with nothing but their iPhones between them and starvation.

Every now and then we manage to talk a batch of them into coming, up the long weary motorway, to see us. When you have children – with all the ancillary equipment they require, it takes organisation and focus. So we do really appreciate it when we have a bunch of them around for a few days.

In the field behind the barn, our farmer keeps a small, half a dozen or so, herd of cattle. On some days, he comes round with a bag full of something-in-the-way-of-a-treat for them, a sort of spoonful of malt and cod liver oil each. He goes to the feed trough and shouts and bangs the trough and the animals come running, each eager for their share of the bounty.

When he turned up today the family were busy redistributing the contents of various cars to make the day’s outing a little less cramped. Did I mention that our roof has been removed – it was put up in 1856 so it need a little attention – so, we had added the family chariots to the builders and roofers and their assorted vehicles already in the farm yard, then the postman turned up in his little red van. In and out of all this ran our youngest grandson, closely followed by an even younger granddaughter.

The cattle couldn’t believe their eyes!

Keeping on Track

Train At Level Crossing
Train At Level Crossing

As the countryside eases into autumn, the pace of life and growth slow down and almost all the plant life is beginning to show signs of, at least relaxing a little and in a good few cases, dying back in preparation for the over-winter doze. We do seem to have been waiting for summer for such a long time, it is quite hard to accept that there’s a chance that we’ve had all we’re going to get. Admittedly it hasn’t turned cold on us yet, but it looks as if it is – when you peer out at it from behind the safety of a window.

One of the things that happen, here on the blog, in autumn and winter, is we fill up the space with pictures of trains. There are days when autumn leaves of assorted colours take their place, but trains are our staple diet though the bare times. Over the last year, through thick and thin, sleet and snow, rain and hail, the trains have kept going. Allowing for the slings and arrows that beset any company trying to provide a public service, at around twenty to the hour, the train from Newcastle to Carlisle trundles past our house. Shortly after, usually within five or six minutes, the train from Carlisle to Newcastle grunts, groans, huffs and puffs past, climbing up the long slope that goes to make up our embankment. Over the year we’ve been here, on two occasions, the two trains have actually passed each other as they passed in front of our house.

It’s third time lucky, isn’t it?

Funny Bunnies

Silverweed
Silverweed

There isn’t much around to photograph at the moment and it’s getting harder and harder to keep up the post-a-day habit. It was at the beginning of October last year, after a three week blank spot, that I set myself the target of posting every day for a year. We’ve done all right so far – but I am looking forward to being able to cut down to once a week or so, as I have loads of other things I want to be able to get on with.

The patch of Silverweed has bowed to peer pressure and turned from shiny silver to boring old green but it does still have a few flowers to relieve the paucity of picture possibilities, so we have some Silverweed complete with tiny insects today.

I’ve talked about Silverweed before, so I asked Google if he could find us something new to chat about. He pointed out that there was an unsettling character in Watership Down call Silverweed. Now, I must say here that Watership Down is not a story that I’ve read fully. I’ve tried once or twice but I just can’t stick with it. You know how it is sometimes. I do realise that I’m in the minority here. It’s not just Watership Down either, there are several other, very popular, stories that I have the same problem with. It’s not just about anthropomorphism, more that, because  the authors have gone out of their way to avoid anthropomorphism they end up with something that winds my cynicism selector all the way round.

There’s nothing wrong with anthropomorphism. It is after all, a very ancient technique. Ask Aesop.

Not Mush room

Toadstools
Toadstools

I spent hours looking all over the Internet trying to find out what kind of toadstools or mushrooms these are. They look so ‘almost’ like many both toadstool and mushroom pictures I looked at – that I gave in. I wondered if Fairy Estate Agents (I believe they are called something like Fairy Realtors in America. Is that right?) had the same problems when it comes to advertising a vacancy. Is it important, I wonder? Is it perhaps a status symbol? Would some Fairies rather die than be seen living in a toadstool? Or are Toadstools in fact, the more desirable residences? If I advertised a three bed, two reception, two bath, detached Toadstool, would I have responses from a more up-market selection of purchasers if I offered it as a Mushroom with separate double garage? If the location was identical in both cases, of course.

I started searching for the origin of the idea that fairy folk lived in mushroom houses. So far, Google and I have drawn a blank. We have found that Fairies often live in magical trees, also in the ‘wild-woods’. There are many authorities that hold that they live underground or even that they live all around us but that we just can’t see them. Just who do you believe?

In my opinion, Fairies live at the bottom of the garden. But do they live down there in mushroom or toadstool houses? On a vital question such as this, Google is strangely silent.

The End is Nigh

Rose Baywillow Herb Seeds
Rose Baywillow Herb Seeds

I woke up this morning and looked out on, what has become, a pretty normal scene. In the distance, at about where it would be nice to see the sun shining on the slopes of the Cumbrian mountains, there was a vague grey wall. Here and there the occasional tree faded in and out of view. To say I was tempted to lie straight down and pull up the duvet, is only to tell you the obvious, but it wasn’t to be so. The Dog awaited, impatiently, her opportunity to check all the local canine points of reference – and it’s hard to get any sleep with a dog’s paws dug into parts of your anatomy and a wet nose stuck into any available eye or ear.

By the time I reached the necessary state of readiness, the view through the window had changed, the mountains had thrown off their blankets and were prepared to take on the day. There was quite a wind and the greyness overhead was moving along at a good pace.

Now, a couple of days ago, I took some pictures of the Rose Bay Willow Herb and they were covered in a fine fluff, I could say a fine thistledown, but I don’t want any thistles who read this to take umbrage. The picture we have today is one flower in a vast fluffy, pinky-purple bank of those Rose Bay Willow Herbs, over all of which the white, downy seeds were poised, sitting on the branch outside the nest, chirping excitedly to each other.

Today, the roadside verge is bare – the birds have flown.

Big Fleas

Butterfly With Smaller Fly on its Wing
Butterfly With Smaller Fly on its Wing

I was flicking through some pictures today, looking for something interesting to show you. I almost flipped straight past this pic – we have done white butterflies quite recently and I do try not to bore you with over-much repetition. By chance I twiddled the wheely thing on the mouse and the image expanded – and there was that tiny fly sitting on the butterfly’s wing – I’ve circled it in the photo. How strange is that?

This brought to mind the silly rhyme :

Big fleas have little fleas, upon their backs to bite ’em
Little fleas have lesser fleas, and so on ad infinitum.

I had always thought this came from the master satirist Jonathan Swift so I poked around on Wikipedia to see where he said it. Well, he didn’t, not quite. He did say something similar in a poem he wrote, but it was actually Augustus De Morgan an incredibly clever mathematician who put it into the form I remember it.

Augustus’ daughter Mary De Morgan was an ‘enfant terrible’ and upset many adults in her circle – but children loved her fairy tales. Among those who tripped gaily through her audience were, William Morris the great textile designer and between-the-wars writers, Rudyard Kipling, Angela Thirkel and her brother Denis Mackail.

She told stories to story tellers – and so on ad infinitum, indeed.

Which Witch

Rowan Berries
Rowan Berries

Google thinks Rowan (Mountain Ash) berries are edible, but he doesn’t advise eating them. They taste terrible. They have more vitamin C than Lemons and you can tell straight away. The best I could find was a recipe for Rowan jelly, I assume it’s a bit like Crab Apple jelly. Crab Apples are a fruit that you wonder why the tree bothered. They are hard and bitter. They may not poison you but they try their best. I’m guessing that Rowan Berry jelly will be the same – you need to use loads of sugar and even then it makes a better accompaniment to savouries than a jam. Perhaps like having Apple Sauce with pork, for instance.

But it’s as a protection against witchcraft that Rowan really comes in to its own. A house with a Rowan growing nearby is protected against all sorts of things that go bump in the night. If you want to upgrade to the ‘Pro’ version though, it isn’t so straight forward. Pieces of Rowan tree must be placed carefully over the front door of the house, the door to the cowshed and pigsty too. They must be put there by an unknown person who must not speak to anyone when he comes to do the job. The branches should not really be cut with a knife but a kitchen or other household knife is acceptable. The branches must be cut from a Rowan tree that the branch collector did not know existed and, having found his tree and cut his branch he must return home by a different route.

As all this had to happen on St Helen’s Day, around the beginning of May. The countryside must have looked like Piccadilly Circus on that day.

The Company You Keep

Impatiens glandulifera
Impatiens glandulifera

You shouldn’t really be looking at this picture, so try to just glance at it out of the corner of your eye. I’m very much afraid that it has been known to keep very bad company and you wouldn’t want to be tarred with the same brush now, would you? It hasn’t happened just once or twice either, this unfortunate alliance has been going on for quite a few years. This chap, Himalayan Balsam, Impatiens glandulifera, was deliberately introduced in the UK in around 1839. He came over on the same boat, as Giant Hogweed and Japanese Knotweed. He was recommended to gardeners for his Herculean proportions and his splendid invasiveness. Well, they were absolutely right about the invasiveness. He’s everywhere – across Europe, America and Australia.

Where it grows along streams and rivers, apparently it is best not to try to pull it up, you just tend to make things worse. It’s better to concentrate on improving the quality of the water and it will go away on its own. It really doesn’t like riverbanks that much and it is only there for the free lunch. Remove the excess nutrients from the water and it will wander off. The other thing about it is, although it may out-compete the occasional local plant, it does provide shelter for various local fauna that wouldn’t be there otherwise, so it isn’t all bad.

It really does seem to be trying its best to integrate.