Tuesday 25 January 2011


Good Morrow, good folk!  'What news, what news in this our tottering state?'

I was going to post something anodyne about the signs of spring, and the starlings which are doing imitations of swifts, on our chimney.  One even mimics the 'beep-beep' of the reversing garbage truck - quite  a repertoire.  

But there's too much momentous stuff going on in the real world and I need to do a double rant.  And it's a couple of  big ones, too.  But I think we can only stand one per week, don't you?  So here's the first:

Anemone nemorosa growing in ancient woodland near where I live.
(I've made the pictures bigger than the template allows but they look nice big
I must, must, must re-design this blasted blog.  It's horrible like this.)

Newspapers, blogs, Twittings and TV are full of sound and fury about the Coalition’s plan to sell off our publicly owned woodland. I don't know how you feel about that, but it strikes me as pretty pointless because no one stands to gain much. The Exchequer gets a tuppeny-ha'penny payment, barely glint in the bottom of the dark, empty coffer. Purchasers will end up with assets of dubious financial value, unless they are changed, exploited and possibly wrecked.  And above all we, the voters, the punters, the poor sods who have to put up with flaky governance and who have to finance the bank-buggered deficit with our hard-earned, risk losing a substantial and cherished chunk of our natural heritage.

Whichever way you look at it, it's likely to be a lousy deal with all sorts of nasty little trade-offs.

UNLESS – and it's a big UNLESS – there are safeguards of such cast-iron strength, that the woodlands' new owners make a better fist of managing them than the Forestry Commission has.  Indeed, it's an opportunity to change priorities on much of our woodland, and put biodiversity, conservation and accessibility at the top of the priority list.

I have no particular affection for the Forestry Commission.  Bad planting between the wars, and up to the 1980s has compromised diversity in much of our woodland and, when you compare ours with those of France, it becomes clear that we get a raw deal in terms of accessibility.  

The Bluebells, Hyacinthoides nonscripta, in Bourne Woods.  My father, my grandparents and great grandparents all gathered the flowers here each May, cycling over from Spalding on Sundays.  It was acceptable, in past generations, to gather wildflowers, just as it was to go birds nesting, and to collect Lepidoptera.

We're remarkably lucky, in my area.  We have large patches of ancient woodland, some Forestry Commission, some private.  Accessibility should be greater in the private woodlands than it is, but the Forestry land is well pathed - if there is such a verb - and greatly enjoyed by the local community.  Naturalists, cyclists, dog walkers - wish they'd keep their beasts on leads during nesting time - and others enjoy the woods greatly, particularly in spring.

I would think that the wildlife and amenity value of much of our woodland outweighs the commercial value of the timber, so the Forestry Commission could be more sympathetic in the way it harvests its crops.  But they have got a lot better in recent years.  

And what would new owners do?  Developers would love to get their hands on the fringes of Bourne Woods, and I know the council has beady eyes on its eastern edge for building a byepass.  Bye Bye bluebells; hello doggers and cruisers?  White admiral butterflies and nightingales?  Gone, and who cares?  Few knew they were there and anyway, there's room for an ASDA, now, on that wasteland. Hurrah!

If you want to sign a petition, to prevent selling the woods off, here's a link. And here's another.  

Otherwise, I'd just like to say why I love our local woods - and woods in general - so much.

Bluebells and Stitchwort, Stellaria holostea.  You couldn't plant better.

I love the woods because. . .
                                                Nature seems instantly accessible in them.  When you walk into a wood – especially if you do so alone – the change in habitat is arresting, at first, but after a moment of adjustment, becomes welcoming and soothing.  Sounds of the outside world are softened, and a normal spoken voice within the wood might jar, unless you hush up a little and begin to listen.

Wind sighs, in the branches but at ground level, the calm airs are rich with a cocktail of smells that might contain leafmould, fox, primrose flowers, oak tannin, bluebells, sweet violets, oxlips, sweet woodruff Galium odoratum, or honeysuckle.  In damp woods, there’s the balsam whiff of emerging willow leaves; in dry ones, the rankness of herb Robert, Geranium robertianum.  Garlic woods smell like a French kitchen in May and in October, fungal decay makes the air musty.

Primroses, celandines, anemones, bluebells, moss and birdsong.

A woodland picnic, a deux, is a joyous event.  If you sit still, in the same spot for half an hour, the less obvious things begin to appear. Coal tits, marsh tits, willow tits and with luck, a goldcrest or two might entertain you with their acrobatics while they forage for tiny invertebrates. In spring, the cuckoo repeats too much but the falling cadences of willow warblers, and sweetest songs of blackcaps make up for that.  If you're lucky, a nightingale might pipe up, drowning everything else.

A bank of wild garlic in Elsea Wood, Lincolnshire

You can gather free food in some woods. Bear garlic, Allium ursinum has fine flavour but you use the fresh leaves, rather than the bulb.  Our woodland edges are hung with blackberries ever autumn, there are hazel nuts if you can beat the squirrels to them and for the brave - or foolhardy - there are plenty of toadstools, both edible and extremely poisonous.

In wildest days of October or March, you can find sheltered walking, among the trees.  The wind howls and hisses over the top but your hair is hardly ruffled, as you stroll.  The dried, dead grass stems, in winter, look as lovely as the bare trees and lighten up the scenery with pale buff and dun.  And if it snows, you can walk through a photographic negative, with dazzling ground, looking lighter than the leaden winter sky.  

Woods are full of suprises, too.  I discovered small teasel Dipsacus pilosus locally - a rare plant I'd never seen in these parts.  I know too, where deadly nightshade grows, though busybody idiots try to uproot all the plants because they're so poisonous.  Would they plough in the foxgloves, too?

So those are a few reasons why I care so much about our lovely woods.

A foxglove explosion, in pinewoods in North Norfolk.  Digitalis purpurea does this sometimes. 

Next week, we'll do food.
Meanwhile, here's a vision of 2050:-
Nine billion people, a crashing climate, new top dog superpowers replacing the old top dog superpowers and a looming resources crisis.  Food for thought? And probably not for eating.

I'm listening to the prelude to Wagner's music drama Lohengrin.

And I think I've said more than enough!

If you've read this far, you should be sainted and granted three huge wishes.

Tuesday 18 January 2011


Well the tip tip top of a beautiful January day to you.  Things are on the move at last but I've a little ranting to do.  First though, meet Diane. . .

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Diane' in my garden yesterday.  She's lovely when the sun shines through the spidery flowers.  Witch Hazel?  Could it be called that because the petals resemble fingers crisped in a claw shape?  I never prune my with hazels, other than to remove a crossing branch.


1.  Three Short Eared Owls delighted us yesterday when the PG and I watched them hunting the dykes along our Fen.

Seeing them cheered us up.  We've had a heartbreaking dearth of Barn Owls, following the hard winter of 2009 and the last six weeks of 2010.  Most afternoons, in the winter dusk, there would be several resident Barnies on the wing, down on our fen.  But not this year.  Nationally, a significant proportion of the Barn Owl population has perished or is in a weakened state.  In our parish, we've only seen one this year and less than half a dozen in the months leading to Christmas.

2.  Thunder Plants are Go!  Our aconites and snowdrops are popping up in increasing numbers and soon, they'll be exploding into a floral carpet. I'm reminded of making popcorn.  First, a few sporadic pings under the pan lid, but the rate accelerates until it sounds like the 'rifle's rapid rattle' at Ypres and the fills in a moment with hot, white, benodorous deliciousness.  (Benodorous? I can make up words if I want to, so there!)

3.  Wendy, my greenhouse, is beginning to smile again.  Her interior has been dank, chilly and the plants have looked miserable in the gloom.  But today, a Gazania opened, the heliotropes look as though they might win the battle with botrytis and a couple of pelargoniums are budding (see below.)  Time, soon, to sow the tender veggies.  And I'm already concerned about lack of space.

4.  Other plants blooming include Hepatica transsylvanica, Crocus imperati 'De Jaeger,' a single primrose, winter jasmine, Chimonanthus praecox, Viburnum farreri, Erica 'Springwood White' and Chaenomeles 'Rowallane.'  There are one or two others, but I won't bore you any more with those.

5.  I've survived almost a week on Twitter.  It's murdered my productivity, but I absolutely love it.

And 6.  A zonal pelargonium flower cluster. OK, it's just a crappy seedling I saved, mainly because it has excellent, dark leaf markngs, but I spotted this bloom cluster, in Wendy, and had to go and get the camera.  The Texture and colour is superb, and the smell of a zonal pelargonium is delectable, in a pungent, herby sort of way.  Funny how these are two-a-penny in summer, but positively drooled over in January.


It has been nurturing itself like a nest of infant vipers in my basoom - and when you're a grandpa, your basoom does sort of develop a little more than you'd really consider manly, apart from the hair - which has migrated there from my head.  So I need to get both off my chest.  The hair and the vipers, that is.

The first concerns bad language. 
Speaking as one of the most foul-mouthed, though hopefully creative swearers going, I do NOT mean using what our American friends euphemistically call 'curse words.'

Actually, it's about Americanisms that I rant.  
Don't mistake me - I love American English and have read a reasonable amount of New World literature. Melville, Twain, Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Steinbeck and the peerless and wonderful John Updike are all my heroes.  They share my personal literati pantheon with the likes of Hardy, Lawrence, Dickens, Greene, and so on. I know I haven't mention poets, or Milton or Shakespeare.

And I love the way verbs such as 'to slay' are used in American newspapers, and that a girl with a fringe has 'bangs,' and that whereas I leap out of bed sometimes, with a cramp, your American grandpa would be suffering from a charleyhorse.

But what I hate - really, really hate - is the adoption of what I'll call Columbian terms and expressions over here, particularly when we don't need 'em.  We've already got our own.  Let me give you a couple of examples:

The title of this posts suggests the beginnings of a dubious assignation.  But an 'ass' is a donkey - though its misuse as a term for bum or bottom probably grew up like 'goldarned' or 'dad-blamed' as a euphemism for a ruder word.  We have arses over here, derived from the old word, I expect, which is 'erse' or something similar.  But increasingly, people - English people - are writing 'Ass'.  It simply won't do, really it won't.  (Oh, and a bum over there is, of course a tramp. Alleluyah!)

Muffin is another one.  Muffins were invented over here and are a kind of baked bread which must be toasted and buttered before it is edible.  Americans, on the other hand, call over-blown cup cakes muffins - and that's fine. They have a perfect right to misapply the word if they want to.  But what I REALLY HATE is when OUR muffins are called ENGLISH muffins over here.  They are just muffins; they are NOT English muffins. .  

A newsreader, last night, referred to a SIDEWALK, in Nottingham.  But we DON'T HAVE SIDEWALKS in nottingham.  They're called 'pavements' or footpaths.  

We British fly in aeroplanes, not airplanes; small vessels are dinghies or sailing boats, they are not sailboats. 

The affectionate name for a female parent is MUM or MUMMY.  NOT 'Mom' and we DO NOT HAVE SUCH THINGS AS HOCKEY MOMS OVER HERE.  (Probably just as well.)

Oh, and one more thing, going forward, pushing the envelope and out of a clear blue sky, draped with low-hanging fruit, can I just say this:

24/7 IS NOT A WORD.  It isn't even a proper number.  The words that mean the same thing include 'always' or, 'constantly' or the phrase 'day and night' - all have fewer syllables than twenty four seven.

And before I've finished insulting everyone, can I just ask whether anyone has ever invented a more ridiculous item of apparel than the classic baseball cap?  They make even intelligent people look like twats and if you wear them when you're over 50, you should hang your chapeau'ed head in mortification.  On a flight from Seattle to Heathrow, a man in the seat opposite me, wore one all the way.  He even slept in it.  I had to fight a mischievous urge to break my briefcase over his silly head.   

Rooted cuttings on part of my propagation bench, in Wendy.  I'll swear everything has doubled its size in a week.  Amazing what lengthening days and a little sunlight can do.

I'm listening to Tammy Wynette singing D-I-V-O-R-C-E

This day in 2007 I attempted to drive to Malvern to take part in a Judge's seminar but was thwarted by violent gales and the police closing practically every main road west of where I lived.  After five hours of abortive route-searching, I gave up and went home.  I had travelled about 60 miles in five hours.

This week's film was East is East a the 1999 gem, adapted from the play,  about life in Salford in 1971. Loved every minute of it.

Tuesday 11 January 2011


Aeonium tabuliforme - my 'splat plant' in winter, sheltered in the greenhouse.

Sorry if this NASTY NEW TEMPLATE has come as rather a shock.

No, I don't like it either, but I've got myself into rather a mess.  The old system of editing and fiddling with templates seemed far easier than, when I did it, than now with this new set up. I've just spent a frustrating couple of hours trying to make my Twitter thing fit in to the the old template, which it wouldn't.  So I went on to make some serious bishes, trying to change everything and have ended up with this frightful mess and no time to put it right.  PLEASE REGARD THIS AS A TEMPORARY, OR AS YOU MIGHT SAY A COALITION TEMPLATE.

The idea was to revive my neglected Twitter thingy so that I could post messages to everyone about blog posts and so on.  But now it's all messed up and I need a six year-old to come and help me sort out the mess and somebody nerdier than me to develop a more artistic layout.

If anyone wants to Tweet me I - the details are somewhere to your right - I will be flattered, tickled pink, delighted, amazed and elated.


I had tea with John Major, yesterday. We discussed cricket.

I've seen one legitimate snowdrop, in someone else's front garden.  

Dubiously hardy shrubs which I expected to succumb to this winter, have.  Others, which I thought would survive have perished as well.  But am I downhearted?  Of course I bloody well am.  I loved them and wanted to help them have babies.  And now they're gone.

Survivors include Euphorbia mellifera, left, which I planned to destroy because it's in the wrong place.  Isn't life grand?!  However, I've got some excellently raised seedlings in Wendy. I have about a dozen but will need one plant.  Perhaps it's time to think of starting a small nursery, again.

Euphorbia mellifera - bloody but unbowed

You may recall, on my last post, that I had an embarrassment of fallen Bramley apples and a welter of wet but unrotted leaves.  Well in the past four days, a massive flock of fieldfares raided the garden and have made short work of them.  And now, the dozy blackbirds which have lived in the garden all the time, have driven off the fieldfares and are finishing them off.  And the leaves are beginning to rot in record time.  Hurrah!

Apple remains, after the fieldfares have been.

I'm listening my son, Tom, playing the guitar superbly in the next door room.  He's a Delta Blues man but can turn his hand to almost anything.  We've just had a delightful improvised spell based on the tune Greensleeves, and now were back to an 'I woke up this mornin' ' type thing.

This time yesterday, I had a nicer blog template.  Ah me!

This week's film was  The Man Who Watched Trains Go By, a curious British thriller set in Holland and Paris starring Claude Rains, Herbert Lom and Marius Goring.  Not a major classic, but it had its moments.  Marius G as a smoothie sleuth was worth a guinea a minute - and he managed it with a fag dangling from his mouth throughout.  (For Transatlantic friends, 'fag' means cigarette, not the other thing.)

Sorry about this hateful layout - but give us a tweet.  Go on, you know you want to!

Tuesday 4 January 2011


And a very happy New Year to you, too! And to everyone!

Aeonium 'Zwartkop' - I love the way it goes green in winter. One of the prettier things overwintering in Wendy, my Hartley Botanics greenhouse.

What a bizarre but enjoyable Festivemass that was! We went to jolly drinky doos, ate and drank far too much, experienced some delicious wines, gorged on evil but delectable chocolate, finished the damned turkey yesterday - thank goodness - and had, generally, a relaxing time. The PG's Xmas pudding, Xmas cake and micro-mince pies were utterly delicious.

It's been a time since I touched my computer - lovely! But now work has started again and obviously, one is in need of reaching out into the world.

Some casual observations, therefore:

1. To celebrate the Yuletide season, the Photographer General purchased a bumper edition of Radio Times so we could choose which bits of Telly to watch and which ones to miss. (We are neither of us, very big TV watchers, preferring to gawp at films on DVD.)

But we ended up watching even less than we expected. UK TV is so absolutely bloody awful! Everything seemed to be about cooking. The Perfect Christmas, bish bash bosh, with that Mockney bloke and his family; How to Defeat the Tyranny of the Turkey, by someone who clearly doesn't know how to cook one without it being dry; How to Roast a Country Cottage without Scaring the Horses, by that educated one with ringlets and specs.

When cooking was off the menu, the screen seemed to be filled with celebrities pouting, celebrities gushing, celebrities doing eccentric things at great personal risk to themselves or celebrities and ordinary folk doing competitive dining. But from time to time, you could watch some spectacularly mediocre films.

We attempted to view the new version of Murder on the Orient Express, being Suchet fans, but the almost constant barrage of advertisements for furniture emporia, interspersed with tiny snippets of the ITV production, cause the PG to go into a deep and almost irreversible coma while I railed, fumed and finally went to bed, determined NEVER to buy another sofa, even if our current one fell into a thousand pieces.

What do I get, of value, for my TV Licence? Radio 4, Channel Four News, NO TEST MATCHES and not a lot else. Good value - I don't think so!

Prettiest flowers in Wendy at the moment - a wild species from South Africa, Pelargonium ionidiflorum.

We also watched a much hyped, new, adaptation of M. R. James's chilling ghost story, Oh Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad. Despite starring the magnificent John Hurt, it was dreadful. The story - a superbly self-contained work with not a syllable out of place - was rogered brutally, with character changes, plot changes, pace changes and - well, it was completely awful, and, in its denouement, incomprehensible.

And that story can be adapted to TV, as was sublimely shown by Jonathan Miller, with the late Michael Hordern playing the pedantic, self-centred Oxbridge don. I'm so glad we have a DVD of that one.

2. The disgusting winter weather - festive my foot! - finally relented and I was able to get into the garden to begin the serious winter jobs. To my dismay, the freeze-up has 'preserved' all the fallen leaves, so instead of rotting quietly, through the weeks leading up to the Solstice, they have lain, almost unaltered, forming a slug-refuginous layer over everything.

This plays havoc with my 'Slow Gardening' technique. I'm loath to rake too many up, since that defeats the object of allowing natural decay, thereby recycling the nutrients and building the humus, in situ, rather than wasting time and energy raking up, primping borders, and then having to barrow the bloody compost back to shovel all over the border again.

Leaves all over the border in my 'woodland' garden.

So I'm not sure what to do. I also blush with shame at the quantity of unharvested Bramley apples which litter the ground. I'm posting a piccy, to prove that I'm Boy Scout enough to own up to seriously under-harvesting such a bountiful crop. What a waste!

If anyone has any ideas about what to to with the leaves, I'd be glad of some advice - apart from the obvious one of raking them up.

3. We've had a visitation of waxwings - or if you're American, Bohemian Waxwings - in the village. Although I'm a keen birder, this is one species that has managed to evade me. They're like that cat called Macavity - never there when I'm around. It's not a particularly rare bird, and frequently visits the UK in substantial flocks, but whenever waxwings are around, I manage to miss them.

Until a friend in the village phoned me at lunch time on 28th December to say a small flock were feeding on his Sorbus. In moments we were there, and at last I could enjoy their buff plumage, fancy crests, sealing wax wing edges and beautifully marked facial features. You can find good picture of waxwings here and particularly here.

Since I haven't seen this species in the UK before - this was what birdie folk call a 'lifer.' Though I have seen the same species, Bombycillus garrulus in the Canadian Rockies.

The fallen, unharvested Bramleys. Shockingly wasteful - but the blackbirds love them.

This day in 2006 I was dug a trench for a new hornbeam hedge which is now 2 metres high in places, but still a bit thin in others. I had to dig through gravel, old tarmac, brick rubble and finally, cold, blue clay. Lovely! The PG was recovering from 'flu.

This week's film was Frank Capra's 1937 masterpiece, Lost Horizon with Ronald Colman. Watching it made want to re-read James Hilton's original book. My son had a copy handy, and lent it to me. But you know, the most surprising thing is that it is not available as an e-book at all, either from Amazon or iTunes. And Gutenberg hasn't produced it either. It seems that 'great' books of their time - it was a massive success - fall between two stools. They're perhaps not 'classic' enough for Gutenberg, but neither are they popular enough to keep in print. Interesting!

I'm listening to a Beethoven Piano Trio, Opus 1 number 3.

The happiest of Happy New Years to you, and bye bye for now.