Sunday, 21 February 2016

Twelve Things From My Week










Half term has been a welcome week here. A chance to slow down, set aside routines and pause responsibilities. L has spent most of it in his PJs; Pop has been relieved of matted fur; Teddy's wet eczema is a thing of the past; M has stepped up marathon training a gear or two and I have pottered in the garden, bought flowers and tools, turned the earth, made lists and cooked.

1. A new blue vase. Every Friday, I buy yellow flowers. Daffodils, Roses or Tulips. I am not sure why, only that I have always listened to that inner voice that sometimes whispers, sometimes yells, so yellow flowers for the time being it is.

2. A new purchase from CK in Oxford. I could almost pretend I made it myself, were it not for the label. I find I am more selective in clothes purchases these days. I think about them more before committing and more often I don't buy anything. I'm also no longer to be fooled by expensive garments promising to last forever.

3. Fresh wood to add to the log pile. We stack it high beside the fire and for a day or two afterwards it talks as it settles. These sounds can be alarming, until you realise it isn't about to topple over and squash you. Even the dogs ignore it now.

4. A kneeler. I can't think why I've waited so long to buy one. It has revolutionised gardening. No more wet/ muddy/ sore knees for me, thank you. I'm finding excuses to kneel down in the garden all the time now.

5.On Guard Duty by the front gate. This responsibility is taken Very Seriously, as you can see. The Postman finds himself a daily target and Mr Amazon flatly refuses to come through the gate until I remove them both.

6 and 7. M bought me a white climbing rose for Valentines, and with it, this little book which he found waiting patiently in a basket of second-hand books. It was written by the Dean of Rochester and first published in 1869 (this edition is dated 1932). It is our Book At Bedtime and is charmingly written. It makes me feel settled and dreamy listening to it.

8. Not yellow, but I couldn't say no to these tulips who came in under the guise of two for a fiver.

9. Witch Hazel Flowers from the tree M bought me for my birthday a couple of years back. I checked on them last week and they were looking a little anaemic. Today, they are impersonating small flames dancing merrily along the branches.

10. It has been my aim over recent years to ensure my winter wardrobe contains colour. I may live in jeans and walking boots, but at least I can look at the colours when I walk past it.

11. Salted Caramel Florentines. A weakness, but not one I am remotely sorry about.

12. Poppy and I played football together in the garden this afternoon. It is her favourite game. Ted mostly isn't interested. She dashes over to the ball, puts her front paws on it and looks expectantly at you. It would take someone in possession of a heart far harder than mine to say no to her. The look of disappointment is just too much to bear. We kicked it about for a bit before it went into the flowers. She knows flowers and football don't mix and shot me a worried look before rushing after it to hook it out. Playing footie with Pop is an instant cure for melancholy (which, fortunately, I don't suffer from, but if I did I'd know where to go to get over it).

Hope all are well?

CT x

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Of Hawks And Falcons

Female Sparrowhawk 

Light is returning. I know this because I have been in the garden tidying, planting and planning as the gloaming fell twice this week. It was almost 6pm when I went indoors. Robins are the last birds up at that time of day; they hop about in the semi-darkness bobbing their tails and tilting their heads in anticipation of Worm Ofference. Apparently, they are completely unconcerned that everyone else is roosting by then. Blackbirds are the last birds singing, usually from the top of a tree, mixed in with Song Thrushes and the odd Dunnock. 

There is a feeling of Spring's approach, but even so, it will be a while before butterflies, bees and beetles return. This morning our ponds were frozen so I am hoping the newts haven't moved back in yet.

I woke up a morning or two ago and looking out of the window across the garden sensed an anomaly but couldn't immediately put my finger on what it was. There was a discordant note; a feature not usually there. I looked more closely, got the binoculars and realised it was a female Sparrowhawk perched in our hedge. Luckily, she completely ignored the (in my opinion) foolhardy Blue Tit who dotted about the hedge within three feet of her, gaily oblivious of the danger so near. She made no attempt to grab it, so evidently had already fed. Instead, she looked about her, occasionally making eye contact with me but again not appearing especially perturbed by the human face who watched her. Eventually, she opened her wings and glided off silently, leaving me feeling I had been touched by a Wild kind of magic.

A day or two later I got a call asking if I wanted to go and watch a Harris Hawk working on a friend's farm. Frank (the Hawk) is six and has been with Chris (his person) since he was 18 months old. Harris Hawks hail from the States and are unusual in birds of prey because they hunt in groups. Frank is trained to catch rabbits and although he didn't get any while I was there it was impressive to observe his complete focus and concentration as he worked.

They say things come in threes. This morning we took the Tower Tour up Salisbury Cathedral. A pair of Peregrines have nested there for the past two years. As we got to the base of the spire (from the inside, I hasten to add!) I thought I caught the tail end of a Peregrine's cry. Its the sort of sound that raises the hairs on the back of your neck. But everyone was talking and when they stopped I couldn't hear it any more, so I figured perhaps I'd imagined it. 

Our guide then opened one of the tiny medieval doors that leads out onto a kind of balcony half-way up the Cathedral spire and as we emerged out into daylight to stare down at the tiny weeny people on the ground far below, a grey bird with long, sharp wings shaped in an arc (a bit like a Swift's) flew beneath us, something small and black clutched in its feet. I knew exactly what it was, and the diagnosis was confirmed a second later as the cry came again, eerily echoing around the spire and the cathedral grounds. 

Jumping up and down in excitement squeaking incoherently that you've just seen a Peregrine Falcon is perhaps not a very wise thing for a person to do when they are 200 feet up in the air balanced on medieval architecture. Particularly if that person is a teeny weeny bit scared of heights and has been experiencing odd sensations in their stomach and other (less mentionable in polite society), parts of their anatomy, but then again how many times do people get to look down on a wild Peregrine Falcon flying?

No-one else seemed particularly bothered. It's only the second time I've seen a Peregrine, and the first one was a distance away across a cold January field and all I saw was the characteristic Long Wing that gives the species its other name. Did you know they've been recorded reaching 200 mph in less than 2 seconds and pulling 6G? (I refer you to the truly excellent book A Sparrowhawk's Lament by David Cobham). If that isn't enough to impress I don't know what is.

Incidentally, in case you were wondering, the difference between a Hawk (of which the Sparrowhawk and Harris Hawk are examples) and a Falcon (Peregrine) lies in the genus they belong to and in differences in their anatomy.

  • Falcons belong to the genus Falco.
  • Hawks fall into several genera. 
  • Hawks have a curved beak.
  • Falcons have a notched beak (just before it curves at the base). 
  • Hawks use their feet to kill their prey (the Sparrowhawk has an extra long central toe for this purpose).
  • Falcons use their beaks. 
Tercel or Tiercel is the name given to a male Falcon. It comes from Latin tertius, meaning third, probably because male birds of prey are often a third the size of females.

Hope that was interesting and that all are well? Half term here at the moment and we are all appreciating a little time off from routine. Poppy is thrilled because she is now on Teddy's yummy lamb roast dinners. This will change when she realises she's going to see Mrs Danning on Friday for a hair cut and Teddy's isn't because of his wet eczema which is still healing up. I will be Miss Popular with her then..... :o)

Thursday, 11 February 2016

The Story Of The Land.

I've had a re-organise of my time. Prompted by being unable to remember the last time I had a day to myself to potter. I've given up a few things and am being strict with myself about not taking on anything new. 

As a result, the dogs and I have spent three blissful hours over the last couple of days walking through the woods and fields, along green lanes and beside ancient hedgerows.
I am learning winter twig IDs (having recently had to work on a hedgerow survey, an impossible feat unless you can tell what species you're looking at). I knew a few already- ash is a good one to start with because the bud tips are always black- and it's surprising how quickly you can build on this knowledge by walking in the countryside with a good key like the FSC guide above. After a while, you begin to recognise the look of a tree and you find you know it without needing to examine the buds on the twigs. Hazel, for example, has new stems that stand upright with an alternate bud pattern, while Field Maple has opposite buds and the new stems look like tiger bread- you know the mottled crust effect? Wild cherry has concentric rings running around the bark and blackthorn has a dark purple sheen to it.

There is an old, old, hedge nearby (close to, but not the same as the one I've written about before) and I found myself airily waving a hand at the various species that are in it this morning as the dogs scampered through the frost-framed grass and I followed along behind. Breezily, I informed them what they were running past without having to press my nose to the twigs to be sure. Field Maple, Hazel, Sycamore, Beech, Oak, Willow, Buckthorn, Blackthorn, Hawthorn, each has a character, a look and feel that is quite distinctive and once you know them they announce themselves quite clearly.

You can age a hedge by knowing the secrets of its species, depending on where you are. Hazel and Field Maple are rarely planted here and make for poor colonisers, so if a hedge contains them then the likelihood is it's Old. The plants along the margins tell a story too: Lords and Ladies, Dog's Mercury, Butcher's Broom, Primroses, Wild Daffodils, Bluebells, they all whisper of a past that contained, at some point, an ancient woodland.

I like to amble through the fields learning the plants and listening to their stories. It makes me feel connected to the land, a part of its story. It helps me understand it.

I spent some time with an old Yew yesterday, my hand on its bark, my forehead pressed against its trunk and waited for it to tell me its story. Yew is slow-growing. Many of the Yews in the UK are our oldest living trees, some believed to be thousands of years. This one felt old and although it now stands like a hunched-up guardian on the outer edge of a thin strip of woodland on the margin of a field, as I stood quietly in its company I got a sense of how the land once looked there, before the woods were cut down and stripped back to make way for the fields. Once, this Yew was deep inside an old, old, wood and all manner of woodland creatures passed beneath his branches and knew him well. Now he feels like a sentry quietly guarding what's left of it. 

Not far from the Yew at the bottom of the hill there is a badger's sett, still very much active with many doorways and shining white mounds of freshly excavated chalk. The sett is carpeted with bluebells and the badgers' pathways thread between them. The sett has probably been there hundreds of years, in the way of these things, with countless generations of badgers treading those same paths through the wood until they were well-known and well-established. At some point in the last hundred years, the wood that once stretched over acres and acres of this land retracted around them leaving behind this small thin strip among a sea of green fields. I spent some time wondering how the badgers felt about the loss of their wood, did they know what the old place used to be like, had a muscle memory been passed down?

There's a lot of pathos in that and I found myself feeling an overwhelming urge to give the land back to the trees. If ever I found myself in possession of a farm I know exactly what I would do. Plant some wildflower meadows, create bare ground, lay existing hedges and connect them up so a complete network was established linking wood with wood. Plant native trees, put in a pond or two, cut some rides through the woods for the butterflies to navigate, allow standing deadwood and rotten fallen wood to remain where it lies, reintroduce coppice on some parts and allow others to find their own cycle and balance. Remove the chemical load from the land and allow the wild things to find their way back. Wouldn't that be worth being part of?


Monday, 8 February 2016

I'm a Bit Grumpy.....

....About the naming of storms. A storm is a storm is a storm. I remember the Hurricane of '87 and frankly it would be diminished if someone were to refer to it as, oh I don't know, Frank, or Elsie, or something equally human-sounding. The Great Storm of '87 has a much more powerful ring to it, don't you think? I feel reverential about Storms (and I mean ones like the one we've got today: those that deserve respect, Proper Storms, not a touch of wind and rain). To me, Storms are semi-mythical, belonging firmly in the realm of Wild Nature not in the sphere of Human Beings and I don't want to give them cosy-sounding names as if they were a person I might meet in the playground or at the bakers.

Anyhoo, I was out in Imogen the Storm this afternoon. Doing a Farm Survey for a Countryside Stewardship project. We nearly got blown off our feet. Unfortunately, this happened just as we were struggling past an enormous pile of winter cattle bedding (complete with winter cattle poo) that had been dumped in one of the fields which was already several miles deep in mud. Imogen the Storm (who is clearly possessed of a sense of humour) chose that moment to summon up an extra ten miles an hour of wind speed to lash on top of the 57 she was already chucking at us, and Rob and I were blown onto the fence and forced to cling on to it and each other to prevent landing on the (disgusting) straw. The upside was we disturbed a pair of yellowhammers who took off into the wind, gamely struggling against it for a few fruitless seconds before giving up and landing in the straw a few feet from us. Birds like pooey straw, or rather, they like the insects that like the poo, and it made up for the near-yuk experience.

I had a hat on while we battled the elements (have you ever attempted to make notes on a piece of rain-spattered wind-torn A4 paper gamely pinned to a clipboard in a force 25 gale? It isn't easy) but despite this my ears were ringing when we regained the shelter of one of the classrooms (which felt absurdly hot and stuffy after being out in the hoolie), and in fact if I'm quiet now I can still hear the wind raging inside my own head. It's bit like picking up a shell at the beach and listening to the sea lapping inside it, only you can't put your head down and walk away from it for a few moments of peace.

When I got home it was to discover that Imogen the Storm had blown out the power and broken the central heating. Possibly because I expressed too much scorn at having to call her by a human name.

This won't be the last you'll hear from me on this subject (the naming of wind and rain I mean, not the broken heating, because hopefully Ian The Plumber is racing over on his metal steed to rescue me sort that out tomorrow morning. I say hopefully not least because I've just realised it's ten days since L last had a bath and although teenagers are happy as larks stewing in their own juices, it isn't especially pleasant for anyone else. Added to that M is out at Running Club - I know, it's ridiculous given that Imogen the Storm is currently battering our house with raindrops that have the pneumatic strength of pile drivers and wind that would wrench the hair out of your head never mind drying it- and is facing a definite Cold Shower when he gets home). Roll on tomorrow, eh?

Hope you're all well? Teddy has stopped itching! Yay!

CT :o)

Saturday, 6 February 2016

A Teddy Up Date and Bits and Bobs

Raspberry & Blueberry Puffs (take approx 5 mins to make)

Terana caerulea (Cobalt Crust Fungus).

The Pink Bandage Of Doom

35 Year Old PJs :o)

New Fabric (I am a sucker for chooks and eggs on eggshell blue fabric)
The Mysterious Insides of the Gaming Comp

Teddy's New Tea (and breakfast)

Patchwork cushion cover WIP. Just what every New Girl At Uni needs :o)

Being Very Good Indeed- nurse Poppy

The Patient

I think M is taking this whole modelling apron thing a Bit Too Far..

Teddy has had a rough week. The second patch of wet eczema exploded on Wednesday evening over the course of an hour (as they do) from five small spots into one enormous oozing itchy weepy pussy crust that spread up his neck and around his ears. It drove him crazy and looked terrible. The natural remedies weren't keeping pace with it so he had a steroid injection on Thursday and the V.E.T. also gave us some topical cream to put on it twice a day. Thank goodness, they seem to be doing the trick. We went back this morning for a check-up and our lovely V.E.T. was happy with his progress. The itchiness has abated over the last 48 hours thanks to the steroids so he isn't scratching so much, as a result the scab is drying off and the inflammation which had bulged his neck out and made it red and tender and burning hot has also gone.

He still has to wear a sock (which he finds most undignified) incase he scratches it, because the scratching is what spreads the eczema, which means I can't leave him for more than a few minutes in case the sock comes off. Wee and poo trips all have to be accompanied and this morning he had to come to Bournemouth with us because he can't be left at home on his own. He had a ball of course, made a point of sniffing everything and weeing on every brick he encountered. He even got to go into WH Smiths :o)

All in all it has been a Pretty Horrid Week and although I am relieved it is improving, I am really worried it's going to return again.

On the Plus Side he has some delicious new food which has been made specifically for skin reactions in dogs and smells like Roast Dinner, complete with herbs and vegetables (Pop can't wait to finish the old food so she can go on the new one too). None of this is cheap of course, but as you'll know if you catch up with me here regularly, T and P are our furry kids and frankly I'd do anything for either of them.

I have been clinging on to my sanity throughout all of this by sewing and walking in the woods and fields. I'm half-way through a patchwork cushion cover for J to take back to uni when she comes home for a weekend at the end of Feb, and I've also made a pair of PJ bottoms out of an old duvet cover which (I discovered when I showed them to Ma) is at least 35 years old! Retro PJs By Accident :o).

L's gaming computer has arrived and is currently being set-up. He is mega-excited about it. It looks very futuristic (to me, because I am an Old Fart and understand nothing whatsoever about hard drives, graphic cards, storage space etc etc. Give me something I can switch on and type on and I'm happy :o) ). The timing is good because it's blowing a hoolie here and the rugby is about to start, so we're all house-bound for the rest of the day. After the stresses and strains of this week I am happy to hunker down, light the fire and let the wind rage. The possibility of an ice cold G&T is presenting itself Somewhat Forcibly, and as I've just handed in the next college assignment AND done three loads of washing after nursing a poorly pooch all week I don't intend to argue!

Hope all are well? Huge Apologies for not getting round to reading your blogs much this week. Hope you all understand- a sick dog is a sick child in our house and it has been rather full on here. Hoping the coming week will be easier. I'll try and pop round and see you all before Monday.

All the best to you all,

CT x