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.


  1. ah yes witch hazel...the Middle English word wych means bendy or pliant...and the witch hazel was popular as a divining rod by our beloved and well-respected American cousins across the seas...so witch hazel could mean a bendy twig used by a diviner...although the petals do look rather like a clawed hand as you suggest...have a good day! :)

  2. Yes Nigel I so agree! An ass is a donkey and an arse is a bum and that bum is not a tramp!! But if you think about many of those that use such americanisms it makes sense!!!Enough said but hooray for the rant!
    And the Hammamelis is beautiful!

  3. My personal favourite irritation is when sports reporters say Chelsea v Arsenal as opposed to versus it is just lazy and sounds ridiculous. I also have a dislike for 'brand new' - as opposed to what 'less than new'!

    Glad you are enjoying twitter and it is rubbish for productivity but it keeps me sane in my job which can be extremely tedious at times

  4. Nigel - What a lovely photo of that beautiful seedling pelargonium. You are so right - every bloom at this time of year in my greenhouse just lifts my spirits. Totally agree with you about the Americanisation of our lovely English language -and baseball caps on the over 50's.

  5. "Something is Seriously Narking me this week".

    Well you see, Narking...that's a new word to us across the pond..it isn't in Websters. Could it be an English slang word?

    24/7...hate to hear it, I will agree.

    Interestingly enough though, as much as 'carriageway' seem a terrifically ancient word for a highway (what we call them over here), most folks on this North American continent are pretty generous and fair and kindly and even interested in the origins of the English Language.

  6. this American loved your post...and I am glad to see that you want to keep your English language separate from ours...I love your English language...so here, here!!

  7. You're not far fro me - I have often watched barn owls using the dykes to cut across farm land - i have even pedalled alongside and above them as they go - as far as the language rant goes - well we wouldn't want static language would we ? i'm with you on muffins though

  8. Is it wrong that I fervently wish you are this 'narked' every week? You make 'grumpy' so readable.

  9. Mike - thanks for the info. Is Wych Elm called so for the same reason?

    Sara - I agree totally.

    Patient G. Dickens uses 'Bran new' rather than 'Brand' which is interesting.

    Gwen - what about baseball caps on under 50s? Do you find those OK?

    Anon - Concise Oxford English Dic says 'nark' derived from the Romany word 'Nak' meaning nose and is used as a transitive verb, to annoy or infuriate. Thanks for the query, I too, thought it was slang. And I have agree that most folk on your side of the Pond are generous, fair and kindly - and extremely hospitable as well.

    Donna - bless you for the compliment! Richness in speech and writing is all important, I feel.

    A Year In - absolutely we wouldn't want a static language. I love the flexibility and fluidity of English. My moan is that perfectly good terms get dumped, thereby impoverishing English English, if you see what I mean.

    Dawn - a kind comment, thank you too!

    BTW Does anyone know where the term 'bangs' for a fringe comes from?

  10. Benodorous (spellcheck doesN'T like that) Melianthus is chosen by our sunbirds. Obviously ben if you are a bird ;~)
    24/7 is partly that new language you will be learning to tweet on Twitter??
    I hate when they call our city Capetown, that's like, Newyork?

  11. In answer to your question:

    (this from www.word-detective.com - though don't go there, you will be lost for weeks)

    "Bangs," the hair style, does indeed come from the same roots as "bang," the sound of a gun, a slamming door, or countless other abrupt noises. The word "bang" first appeared in written English in the 16th century, but is thought to have been known in the dialects of Northern England long before that date. "Bang" comes from an Old Norse word "banga" meaning "to hammer," and is a linguistic relic of the Viking invasions of England beginning in the eighth century. "Bang" at first meant "to strike violently," but gradually the word came to be used for any sudden or violent movement, especially one which caused a loud noise. One of the earliest written examples of this expanded sense of "bang" refers to slamming a door, an apparently universal human action which may yet prove to be as great an instrument of self- expression as the typewriter. Aside from doors, nearly anything could go "bang," from guns to pianos, and "bang" also came to mean fight or beat up.

    "Bang" continued to evolve, and by the 19th century was used to convey suddenness or finality, which brings us at last from Old Norse hammers to modern haircuts. "Bangs" are so-called because they are created by cutting the hair "bang- off," abruptly and straight across the forehead. And finally, at the risk of offending our bang-coiffed readers, I must tell you that "bangs" as a young lady's hairstyle almost certainly originated with the practice of cutting horses' tails straight across, a style known to this day as a "bang-tail."


  12. Ah yes Nigel but the Romany word 'nak' for nose comes originally from the Hindi word 'naak'. A travelling friend taught me this. Tis the same with their word 'panni' for water. Words move about I guess....

  13. Welcome to twitterland, Nigel! good to meet you there.

    Of course words evolve and move around but that's no reason not to be narked when they do. To which point I never heard of 'cupcake' when I was little - it was a bun (too dubious now?!) or, bless, a 'fairy cake'. And - you are right there too - a fraction of the size. Good reason to revive a tradition?

    And love that old familiar word, nark. It's got the right edge, which 'grumpy' lacks.

    Baseball caps - you're right of course, but they are excellent at keeping rain of glasses in the garden and fit nicely under ear defenders..

  14. The muffin is an endangered item. In fact I think I have only ever eaten a proper muffin, toasted, once in my life. The crumpet was more prevalent. do they have crumpets in America?
    The American muffin is not a good thing as reproduced here in coffee shops and station buffets. The cup cake however, is a thing of sublime perfection. Until recently the only cupcakes were Mr Kiplings chocolate, lemon and orange versions which, while delicious , are not a patch on the American version.

    The baseball cap is very useful when playing cricket.

  15. Now you are on Twitter.

    Last year, @DorsetWildlife had a webcam in a Barn Owl nesting box. People following would describe what they could see when they 'visited' and these comments arrived as tweets. It was a way of making a log of what was happening as the chicks hatched and grew - and was fascinating.

    You might find it worth following - and watching - if they do it again.