In a recent blogpost, I told the often harrowing tale of how what appeared to be a small army of men descended on our hitherto tranquil house, and after a period of some four days, managed to install both a new central heating system and a multi-fuel stove. Most interesting, though, was the tiling revealed in the back bedroom, when the old radiator was taken off.
There was no trace of a fireplace ever having been behind this tiling and we were told that it appeared to be a practice exercise, perhaps carried out by a young apprentice, and placed on the bedroom wall in 1932 to echo the fireplace in exactly the same position one floor below. In the 1960s, we think, the house was given its first dose of central heating and the young man’s work from thirty years before was covered over and lost. Being a sentimental and nosey old fool, I always wonder about the ordinary working men and women who laboured for such brief moments in endless time and whose work may, paradoxically, then sometimes go on to last for so many years, long after the deaths of the people who made them. Working men are born, live their lives for good or bad, and when they are gone, they leave little trace behind them. And once their grandchildren pass on, those men are then banished for eternity to “Trace your Ancestry” websites, as just names on forms, too far back in history to connect with. Did this apprentice tiler go on to fight in the Second World War? Did he survive? And the man who gave him the job to do – had he come back from the Somme a mental wreck of what he had previously been?
Nearly ten years ago, I went to visit Lincoln Cathedral, which has a fascinating parallel to the tiling exercise, except this one is getting on for being a thousand years older. This early medieval practice exercise is for carving lots of little squares with decorative flowers in the middle. Even twelfth century boys will be boys, though, and instead of a flower, one bright spark has carved a bird’s nest, complete with baby birds.
On the right, somebody has carved one of the adults, arriving with a worm in its mouth.
And on the left, there is the other parent flying away, its beak empty, in search of more food for their hungry offspring.
Those inventive young men of the twelfth century, however, were not to realise that one day, a tower in the very cathedral that they had had the privilege of helping construct, was to play host to its very own parent birds, a pair of Peregrines.
They are not easy to film!
This is “Lincoln’s Falcons” by Mark Taylor
Not everything always goes to plan! This is called “Peregrine falcon chick saved after fall” and comes from the local newspaper, the Lincolnshire Echo.
Even more interesting, though, are the medieval man’s opinions of his bosses. Asked to carve decorative heads onto the rood-screen, the stone carvers have obediently done so, but at the same time, they have taken a golden opportunity to transform important people, such as their foremen, into cartoon figures, with big noses and stupid expressions. I cannot believe that these carved faces were unrecognisable to the stone carvers’ contemporaries.
Martin, always over eager, with his big fleshy lips…
Will with his big nose…
Jack, what a chubby little chap!
Greedy Tom with his pig’s ears…
Stupid Henry with his donkey’s ears…
Harry, turning into a mouse…
Walter. metamorphosing slowly into Satan, complete with horns…..
The priest with his buck teeth and drooling tongue…
Even the bishop looks as if he is about to explode, with either anger or constipation…
In the ancient castle nearby is the religious graffiti carved by bored guards during a long forgotten night around 1350 or 1400, as they waited to take the condemned man out to be hanged the next day…
Most of all though at Lincoln, I love this old ring, set into one of the internal walls of the cathedral. This is where Oliver Cromwell’s troops tethered their horses, when the Roundhead cavalry was stabled inside this lovely old cathedral during the English Civil War.
What a magnificent building.
For a short period in the Middle Ages, when the towers had their spires, it was the tallest structure in the world.
To my shame, I did not appreciate that July 13th, the 121st anniversary of his birth, was “John Clare Day”. I found this out by googling retrospectively “John Clare”, and coming across an absolutely superb article by George Monbiot in the Guardian.
Furthermore, I must confess that I actually knew very little about John Clare other than the fact that he was a poet and that, unlike the vast majority of poets, he was of working class origin. His biographer Jonathan Bate described him as “the greatest labouring-class poet that England has ever produced. No one has ever written more powerfully of nature, of a rural childhood, and of the alienated and unstable self”.
The first port of call, therefore was Wikipedia.
The bare bones of Clare’s life were that he was born into desperate agricultural poverty in the tiny village of Helpston, just to the north of Peterborough in Northamptonshire.
The area was amazingly rich in wildlife.
He would have seen and heard corncrakes everywhere.
Nightjars too, were as common in England then as they now are in this excellent film from Denmark…
There were ravens in the old, giant oak trees, wrynecks, which still bred in old woodpeckers’ holes, and the last few wildcats…
“Tasteful illumination of the night,
Bright scattered, twinkling star of spangled earth.”
Clare’s cottage, where he spent his childhood, still remains…
Like all his fellows, Clare became an agricultural labourer while still a child, but he attended the school in Glinton church until he was twelve. He also began to write poetry, something which was to cause him great problems throughout the rest of his life among simple farm workers.
“I live here among the ignorant like a lost man in fact like one whom the rest seemes careless of having anything to do with—they hardly dare talk in my company for fear I should mention them in my writings and I find more pleasure in wandering the fields than in musing among my silent neighbours who are insensible to everything but toiling and talking of it and that to no purpose.”
Clare’s first love was Mary Joyce, but alas, she was to die, by our standards at least, a premature death.
Clare was to marry Martha Turner in 1820. Her nickname was “Patty”.
Where are you going lovely maid
The morning fine & early
“I’m going to Walkerd”, Sir she said
&made across the barley
I asked her name she blushed away
The question seemed to burn her
A neighbour came & passed the day
&called her Patty Turner
I wrote my better poems there
To beautys praise I owe it
The muses they get all the praise
But woman makes the poet
A womans is the dearest love
Theres nought on earth sincerer
The leisure upon beautys breast
Can any thing be dearer
I saw her love in beauty’s face
I saw her in the rose
I saw her in the fairest flowers
In every weed that grows”
Clare, though, was to have many bouts of severe depression, which worsened as his family increased in size and his poetry sold less well.
Gradually over the years, his behaviour became progressively more and more erratic. In July 1837, he went of his own accord to Doctor Matthew Allen’s private asylum. In 1841, though, Clare absconded and walked all the way back home from Essex. He thought, in his madness, that he would be able to refind his first true love, Mary Joyce. He believed firmly that he was married not just to her, but to Martha as well, and had children by both women. He refused to believe Mary’s family that she had died accidentally three years previously in a house fire. He stayed a free man at home for a little while, but was back in the asylum by mid-1841, his wife having called for help from them between Christmas and the New Year of 1841.
Clare was sent to the Northampton General Lunatic Asylum, where he lived out the rest of his life. He was helped enormously by the kindness and humanity of Dr Thomas Octavius Prichard, who encouraged and helped him to continue writing his poetry. It was at the Northamptonshire County General Lunatic Asylum that Clare wrote possibly his most famous poem…..
I AM! yet what I am none cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish, an oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death’s oblivion lost;
And yet I am! and live with shadows tost
Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
And e’en the dearest–that I loved the best–
Are strange–nay, rather stranger than the rest.
I long for scenes where man has never trod;
A place where woman never smil’d or wept;
There to abide with my creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept:
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie;
The grass below–above the vaulted sky. “
Clare’s problems with depression had not been helped by having to watch his world disappear as, between 1809 and 1820, various Acts of Enclosure allowed the greedy, idle, useless rich to increase their already great wealth by putting fences across the previously open fields, heathland and woodlands., and declaring that everything now belonged to them.
This, of course, was the early nineteenth century equivalent of “Trespassers will be Prosecuted”, and, as it was designed to do, prevented anybody poor from enjoying what abruptly became the rich man’s landscape.
In due course, the idle rich realised that they could make even more money by destroying the ancient countryside, and farming it in an exclusively profit orientated way. There was no room for five hundred year old oak trees or sleepy marshes, no more meandering streams or cool copses to give shade on a hot summer’s day. Faced by the onslaught of Agribusiness, the wild animals, the birds, the insects and the butterflies all began to disappear.
In other words, it was pretty much the beginning of the country landscape we are asked to tolerate today.
This poem was finished by 1824, but was published only in 1935.
Far spread the moorey ground a level scene
Bespread with rush and one eternal green
That never felt the rage of blundering plough
Though centurys wreathed springs blossoms on its brow
Still meeting plains that stretched them far away
In uncheckt shadows of green brown and grey
Unbounded freedom ruled the wandering scene
Nor fence of ownership crept in between
To hide the prospect of the following eye
Its only bondage was the circling sky
One mighty flat undwarfed by bush and tree
Spread its faint shadow of immensity
And lost itself which seemed to eke its bounds
In the blue mist the orisons edge surrounds
Now this sweet vision of my boyish hours
Free as spring clouds and wild as summer flowers
Is faded all–a hope that blossomed free
And hath been once no more shall ever be
Inclosure came and trampled on the grave
Of labours rights and left the poor a slave
And memorys pride ere want to wealth did bow
Is both the shadow and the substance now
The sheep and cows were free to range as then
Where change might prompt nor felt the bonds of men
Cows went and came with evening morn and night
To the wild pasture as their common right
And sheep unfolded with the rising sun
Heard the swains shout and felt their freedom won
Tracked the red fallow field and heath and plain
Then met the brook and drank and roamed again
The brook that dribbled on as clear as glass
Beneath the roots they hid among the grass
While the glad shepherd traced their tracks along
Free as the lark and happy as her song
But now alls fled and flats of many a dye
That seemed to lengthen with the following eye
Moors loosing from the sight far smooth and blea
Where swopt the plover in its pleasure free
Are vanished now with commons wild and gay”
For me, Clare’s best work is his nature poetry. Because he was a poor labourer, he saw far more details as he walked along than the rich poets who thundered past in their coaches. John Clare’s nightingale actually was a real nightingale, not another species misidentified.
George Monbiot in his wonderful article urges us to read the poem…
“…Everything he sees flares into life…his ability to pour his mingled thoughts and observations on to the page as they occur, allowing you, as perhaps no other poet has done, to watch the world from inside his head.”
“The Nightingale’s Nest” is indeed a fabulous poem, and is just like going for a stroll into the woods with John Clare himself, to view a bird whose nest he has previously staked out at some point during his working day. The reader becomes a fellow birdwatcher, who can follow John Clare’s instructions about where to look…
“The Nightingale’s Nest
Up this green woodland-ride let’s softly rove,
And list the nightingale – she dwells just here.
Hush ! let the wood-gate softly clap, for fear
The noise might drive her from her home of love ;
For here I’ve heard her many a merry year –
At morn, at eve, nay, all the live-long day,
As though she lived on song. This very spot,
Just where that old-man’s-beard all wildly trails
Rude arbours o’er the road, and stops the way –
And where that child its blue-bell flowers hath got,
Laughing and creeping through the mossy rails –
There have I hunted like a very boy,
Creeping on hands and knees through matted thorn
To find her nest, and see her feed her young.
And vainly did I many hours employ :
All seemed as hidden as a thought unborn.
And where those crimping fern-leaves ramp among
The hazel’s under boughs, I’ve nestled down,
And watched her while she sung ; and her renown
Hath made me marvel that so famed a bird
Should have no better dress than russet brown.
Her wings would tremble in her ecstasy,
And feathers stand on end, as ’twere with joy,
And mouth wide open to release her heart
Of its out-sobbing songs. The happiest part
Of summer’s fame she shared, for so to me
Did happy fancies shapen her employ ;
But if I touched a bush, or scarcely stirred,
All in a moment stopt. I watched in vain :
The timid bird had left the hazel bush,
And at a distance hid to sing again.
Lost in a wilderness of listening leaves,
Rich Ecstasy would pour its luscious strain,
Till envy spurred the emulating thrush
To start less wild and scarce inferior songs ;
For while of half the year Care him bereaves,
To damp the ardour of his speckled breast ;
The nightingale to summer’s life belongs,
And naked trees, and winter’s nipping wrongs,
Are strangers to her music and her rest.
Her joys are evergreen, her world is wide –
Hark! there she is as usual – let’s be hush –
For in this black-thorn clump, if rightly guest,
Her curious house is hidden. Part aside
These hazel branches in a gentle way,
And stoop right cautious ’neath the rustling boughs,
For we will have another search to day,
And hunt this fern-strewn thorn-clump round and round ;
And where this reeded wood-grass idly bows,
We’ll wade right through, it is a likely nook :
In such like spots, and often on the ground,
They’ll build, where rude boys never think to look –
Aye, as I live ! her secret nest is here,
Upon this white-thorn stump ! I’ve searched about
For hours in vain. There! put that bramble by –
Nay, trample on its branches and get near.
How subtle is the bird! she started out,
And raised a plaintive note of danger nigh,
Ere we were past the brambles ; and now, near
Her nest, she sudden stops – as choking fear,
That might betray her home. So even now
We’ll leave it as we found it: safety’s guard
Of pathless solitudes shall keep it still.
See there! she’s sitting on the old oak bough,
Mute in her fears ; our presence doth retard
Her joys, and doubt turns every rapture chill.”
I have not quoted some of Clare’s poems in full. They are extremely accessible on the Internet, and will fully repay your efforts.
The vast majority of his poetry can be found very easily.
Just find “Poets by Name” on the left of the screen, and click on “J” for “John Clare”.
The poet’s grave is at Helpston….
And, as one of England’s greatest poets, he has a memorial…
This is my first attempt at being creative in a blogpost. Given the subject matter I have chosen, World War I, or the Great War as it was called until 1939, it would be easy to offend people. That is not at all my intention. Indeed, I am trying to draw the attention of the living to just how much those 888,246 young casualties were asked to give up….all the rest of their young lives, the wives and husbands they never had, the children, the careers, their quiet old age. Everything.
Cue the first section of this well-known song, written by John Lennon…
“I read the news today, oh boy
About a lucky man…..”
“And though the news was rather sad
Well, I just had to laugh”
Well, I felt closer to crying actually. So many young men were slaughtered, so many young lives came crashing to a halt, and above all, the unknown potential of so many young minds was snuffed out.
What might some of those 888,246 young people have discovered for the benefit of the rest of Mankind? And how would all of them have spent another fifty or sixty years of family life, if they had been lucky enough to have had one?
The war started more or less, by pure chance.
“On Sunday, 28 June 1914, Franz Ferdinand and his wife were killed in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip, a member of a group of assassins organized by the Black Hand. Earlier in the day, the couple had been attacked by Nedeljko Čabrinović, who had thrown a grenade at their car. However, the bomb detonated behind them, hurting the occupants in the following car. On arriving at the Governor’s residence, Franz angrily shouted, “So this is how you welcome your guests — with bombs?!”
After a short rest at the Governor’s residence, the royal couple insisted on seeing all those who had been injured by the bomb. However, no one told the drivers that the route had been changed. When the error was discovered, the drivers had to turn around. As the cars backed down the street and onto a side street, the line of cars stalled. At this same time, Princip was sitting at a cafe across the street. He instantly seized his opportunity and walked across the street and shot the royal couple.”
“I saw the photograph.
They blew his life out in a car.
He didn’t notice that the route had changed.
A crowd of people stood and stared
They’d seen his face before
Nobody was really sure if he was from the House of Lords”
What a pointless reason for the deaths of millions and millions of people, not just from this country and the British Empire, but from our fellow members of the present day European Community: Belgium, France, Italy, and of course, our good friends in Germany and the USA.
The total number of deaths worldwide, was between 15,163,603 and 17,989,782.
“I saw a film today, oh boy
The English army had just won the war”
“A crowd of people turned away”
Perhaps they were disgusted when they were told that the paperwork for the Armistice had been signed at 5.00 a.m. but that 11,000 more men were to be killed over the course of the next six hours. And of course, there were lots of excuses at hand for this heartless bungling by people to whom the ordinary soldiers’ lives were, ultimately, of little or no consequence.
Worse than that, in many places on the front line, well after that 11.00 a.m. deadline, combat continued, and men died pointlessly.
There is no record of who looked after and loved those 40 million horses, dogs, pigeons and other animals which perished.
Nobody will ever know what the world could have done with the £109,000,000,000 that was spent on the conflict.
And just in case you didn’t know, here is how a very large proportion of those desperately young men were to end their lives….
And while the ordinary working man came to understood the real truths of international brotherhood and comradeship…
Last week we had the builders and plumbers around to our house to put in a new central heating system. At first it felt exactly as if the whole building had been hit by a tsunami. Not quite as dramatic or as destructive though as this one…
The problem was that every one of the six men was armed with his very own Mjölnir, his very own Hammer of Thor, with which he was capable of sending thunder echoing round the house whenever he felt like it.
In actual fact, it was more that the jobs they had to do in the first couple of hours were by far the noisiest of the entire four days. Believe me, a dining room is no is no place for a pneumatic drill.
In 2013 we had the same company come round and put a multi-fuel stove in our living room. We were sick and tired of the money guzzling gas fire, to which the only other solution was to switch on the central heating for the entire house. Here is our first stove which was put in last September.
Over the course of the winter therefore, we lit our new multi-fuel stove in the late afternoon, and after feeding it sparingly with coal for the evening, we then discovered that it would then keep the room pleasantly warm for the whole night and for much of the next day. In addition, it also kept the bedroom above equally lovely and warm. Only very infrequently were we using the central heating.
We soon realised that having a second stove fitted in the dining room at the back of the house might have the same effect and save a great deal more money. So, as well as having our central heating revamped, we were having a second stove put in.
In the dining room, we had a ten or fifteen year old gas fire. It always seemed to remind me of somebody, perhaps a character out of Wallace and Gromit.
First of all they removed the gas fire. Here is just a small selection of the rubble that the builders created. Notice though, that it is neatly put into special plastic buckets, so that nothing whatsoever remained at the end of the day.
Here is the old gas fire, and the old radiators, gone for ever…
The majority of the old radiators had to go. They had been there since probably the mid-1960s. Here, plans are being laid to put the new boiler in the bathroom where an old cabinet had been.
In the loft, the old boiler had come to the end of the road. The fat lady really had sung for the last time.
Unfortunately, here and there, the wallpaper will need repair, but there are very few things that a Pritt stick will not be able to remedy. In actual fact, in some places, a number of different layers of wallpaper were revealed.
The top pale green one, I think, was our responsibility but the green leafy pattern looks to me to be either 1940s or 1950s, and the relatively bright coloured wallpaper to its left dates from the more optimistic days of the 1980s.
Here you can see not only Mjölnir, the hammer of Thor, but also the pneumatic drill which caused all the scariest noise for the first half hour or so.
The chimney had to be inspected. Would an eighty year-old chimney be up to the job, or would it require extensive and expensive repairs? Well, what do you think?
This hole, drilled in the bathroom wall for the new slimline boiler, gave a view over the garden which could be enjoyed for only twelve or so hours in nearly eighty years.
The princess of boilers is now in place.
Meanwhile the new fireplace will need some imitation bricks. The builder works so fast his trowel is just a blur. Behind him is the Safety Superintendent.
At last everything is ready. The stove is connected up. And then, the all important test firing.
All those lovely warm happy flames. I do so love flames and lovely warm fire. Flames and fire. Fire and flames.
With two radiators now though, there will be no repetition of that unfortunate business with the polar bear.
In the bathroom, there is yet another radiator. It will now be impossible for me to put my Stahlhelm on and re-enact “Showering Facilities on the Eastern Front”.
Best of all though, is the fact that I took advantage of all this building work to have a new, much more powerful shower installed. No more problems now with having to wash like this…
Every single morning now, I’m in the new shower just like this.
Man’s most faithful insect friend is the Bee. Not everybody may like bees. Some people might be frightened of their sting. But everybody respects their industry and their willingness to work hard for the common good. That’s why we have all been saying “As busy as a bee” for the last five hundred years. Buzz, buzz, buzz…
Unfortunately, though, there’s a new type of insecticide around. They are called Neonicotinoids, and appear to be killing indiscriminately vast numbers of insects which are helpful to Man.
I really do hope that this is not the reason that I seem to be seeing so few butterflies, bees, wasps or any other insects in my organic, insecticide and pesticide free garden.
Recent research in Holland has revealed, though, just how catastrophic the widespread use of Neonicotinoids may be, not only for bees and other helpful insects, but for birds and then for animals higher up the food chain. The story in full is revealed at greater length here, but I have selected the most important elements for you here:
Have the patience to read about this grim scenario…
“Neonicotinoids are causing significant damage to insects, and now a new Dutch study has revealed that these pesticides are having a significant negative impact too on birds.
Insects form a large part of the diet of many birds during the breeding season and are essential for raising offspring. We investigated the most widely used neonicotinoid, which is called “Imidacloprid”. Here in the Netherlands, local populations were significantly smaller in areas with high surface-water concentrations of Imidacloprid. At concentrations of more than 20 nanograms per litre, bird populations declined by 3.5 per cent annually. Additional research revealed that this decline appeared only after the introduction of Imidacloprid to the Netherlands, in the mid-1990s. The birds most affected included Starling, Tree Sparrow and Swallow.
The overall impact on the environment is even greater than has recently been reported and is reminiscent of the effects of insecticides like DDT in the past.”
The BBC News Environment Correspondent, Matt McGrath, has several times reported similar worries about the declining numbers of valuable insects. In one report, it was argued that the process of evolution might lead us into some very bad places indeed…
“Neonicotinoids are causing great damage to a wide range of beneficial species and are a key factor in the decline of bees…..the evidence of damage is now conclusive, and the threat to nature is the same as that once posed by the notorious chemical DDT.
When seeds are routinely coated in these chemicals, the resulting plants will then grow up with an inbuilt ability to destroy many species of insect.”
Manufacturers deny totally, of course, that these pesticides are harming bees or any other species (surprise, surprise). Scientists, though, are extremely worried about their use. Professor Goulson, one of a team of 29 researchers, has developed this nightmare scenario one stage further…
“”The more neonicotinoids are used, the likelier it is that pest insects themselves will then become resistant to them. Using them like this is absolute madness.”
The situation is worryingly reminiscent of the crisis described by Rachel Carson in her book “Silent Spring”.
The Los Angeles Times recalls…
“Carson’s 1962 book, “Silent Spring,” kick-started the modern environmental movement, it suggested that better protection for pollinators and plant life was required for healthy people and healthy agriculture. Without her intelligence and eloquence, we would already be living in a world of unspeakable impoverishment, one with silent springs and fruitless falls.”
Opposition to Neonicotinoids is already enormous.
In addition to protests, there is a large number of petitions you can sign. 363,258 supporters signed this one, which has now closed. There’s another petition for Ontario that has 54,984 supporters . Some other petitions are just starting up, with only 180 signers so far… This is not, though, a cranky minority issue. Another site has a staggering 331,872 signatures…. The comments on this particular petition are even stronger….
“The chemical companies are all and far too powerful – they have friends in high places, they lobby very strongly and are nothing more than drug-dealers. Just research the companies that ex-MPs work for after their stint in public service – that’s who runs the country…..”
“Of course the farmers are denying that they are the problem yet again, just like they claim poverty, always seem to running around in big fancy cars, polluting the atmosphere just like they pollute the earth, and the price of food spirals all the time”
We need to do something about this, or the world will be a much, much poorer place without bees. And a considerably hungrier one. Up to one third of our food is produced by bee pollination.
And then we will all start to be on the side of Alan Partridge.
In 1948-1952, the then US Secretary of State, George Marshall, launched his famous Marshall Plan ($61 billion today) to help reenergise not just one, but sixteen different European countries. Money was even offered to the Soviet Union and its allies, but they refused it. Nearly sixty years later, Aghan corruption and waste have now pushed the price of reconstruction of that one single country to more than $62 billion, thus exceeding the amount the USA provided for Europe under the Marshall plan.
Despite all this cash spent in Afghanistan, the country remains in what appears to be almost permanent and insoluble political crisis and may well remain dependent on hand-outs for years to come, even though British and other foreign troops prepare to withdraw at the end of the year.
Development projects meant to provide Afghans with a sound structural foundation have cost American taxpayers $61.5 billion, but John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, told Congress that…
“The majority of the projects seen were hampered by poor planning, shoddy construction, mechanical failures and inadequate oversight. Billions were spent on ill-fated agricultural and infrastructure projects that failed to take into account Afghanistan’s culture. More than £2 billion was spent on improving the Afghan police, yet tens of thousands of ghost officers collect their pay, but never turn up for work. Nearly half of the 747,000 firearms provided for Afghan security forces at a cost of £372 million have vanished. The annual cost of maintaining Afghans police and military is likely to be double what the country collects in tax revenue.”
Well, poor old Afghanistan.
What more help do they need?
What else do we have to give them?
Have we not given enough?
The whole situation is so very reminiscent of a previous involvement of the USA in Asia, now almost fifty years ago. This time, the American forces are helped by their many allies, but the situation is not so very different. They are fighting a frequently invisible foe, on behalf of people who may well not be worth fighting for.
It may not quite be a case of “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” but so often it seems like that…
This amazingly spikey plant is called a “teasel”, and it is easily the most fascinating plant in our garden.
It is a very thrilling plant from an English point of view, for, alas, we just do not seem to have the same exciting inhabitants in our gardens as they have in the USA…..
These American killers are deadlier than wolves or bears.
Our English plant, though, can consume a reasonable number of insects, medium sized mammals and small children.
It performs this valuable service by drowning them, and then absorbing their nutrients. Equally well, you can easily feed the plant yourself by tipping in the dregs from your cup of tea or coffee. On this caffeine based diet, our plant has now reached an amazing twenty seven flower heads. Here are two of them….
The biggest flower heads are now in bloom. They provide a fabulous source of nectar for all kinds of interesting flying insect, especially butterflies….
This is a Peacock…
This is a Red Admiral. Its Latin scientific name is “Vanessa atalanta”, which sounds a little bit like one of the old Admiral’s girls in every port…
The flowerheads are a lovely bluey-pink colour…
Eventually seeds will appear. Indeed, in our worryingly early autumn, many have already arrived as early as the fifth of August.
The seedheads are an absolute magnet to England’s most colourful bird, the improbably beautiful Goldfinch…
The population of these splendid birds is gradually increasing, and teasels are an excellent way to entice them into your garden.
This could easily be your garden…
I would be very surprised, though, if you managed to attract as many of these beautiful birds as Gunnar Fernqvist has done, although, to be fair, he does seem to have a VERY large garden.
Interestingly, the Goldfinch has always been of great symbolism in medieval European art. According to Wikipedia, because of the thistle seeds it eats, and the spiky nature of the adult thistle plant, the goldfinch is associated with Christ’s crown of thorns. When it appears in pictures of the Madonna and child, the bird is thought to represent the knowledge both Mary and Jesus had of the latter’s Crucifixion.
Teasel seeds can be found fairly easily on your local brownfield site in late summer or early autumn. Otherwise, it’s another expedition up the Amazon.co.uk….
This week, the Hillbilly Hunters set off to Pike County, in Kentucky, in search of the legendary Hell Hound.
This infernal creature was first reported as far back as 1939, and reports continued throughout the 1940s. They came mostly from the moonshiners who were working their magic, way back in the woods, in log cabins. There were so many reports of the beast that a bounty of $20 was posted, and incredibly, this generous reward was duly collected when a hunter managed to kill one of the creatures. Unfortunately nobody could identify the corpse, and sadly, no trace, either physical or photographic, seems to have survived.
The first four members of the Hillbilly Hunters arrive in this cattle raising area, and they soon ascertain the facts. Firstly, the Hell Hound is actually blue because of its nocturnal habits, and it seems to have some kind of mane. It is about four feet tall at the shoulder and between seven and nine feet long. It is a creature which seems to have lost all fear of Man, and is using the tractor trails through the cornfields to get closer to the farmers’ barns and outbuildings. A Hell Hound then be quite capable of dragging off an adult cow.
The team are shown a Black Angus calf by the worried farmer who owns it. The poor animal has enormous wounds on its back, which seem to me like no predator that I recognise. They appear to be symmetrical, and I think careful thought should be given to the idea that they may have been carried out with a knife by the member of some crazy cult.
A second farmer, Drew, shows us his video, which he took looking through a stand of trees towards a small barn, from which HH duly emerges. I do feel that experienced photo analysis from a person who has talents in this field might well be able to establish what creature this may be. I am clearly no expert in the wildlife of Kentucky but as an English outsider, I might even put suggest that what Drew saw was a very large wild boar.
The last two to arrive are the enfants terribles of the programme, Willy and Wild Bill, who now has some fluffy dice dangling charmingly from the mirror of his vehicle, put there by his mother-in-law.
The two of them quickly make what looks to be an extremely strong trap from long lengths of local bamboo.
Wild Bill immediately steals the show as he mimes shaving himself with a macheté. “ I spent time or two trying to bust out of the old jailhouse, never figured I’d be building one.”
Quite extraordinarily, Wild Bill, having climbed the tree for the trap, then sees HH on the far side of the field. He sets off on the chase, brandishing his macheté. He gets a glimpse of him… “He’s a dandy big’un.” Is he fast? “ He can put her down the old canyon”. Bill measures his height and puts his hand out, “He stands about yay tall.”
In the night hunt, the team hears growls and roars and they find where HH takes his cows to dismantle. It is awash with blood and fat and goo.
Standing next to a greenhouse which is brightly illuminated from the inside, they see the blurred shadow of an animal, presumably HH, come hurtling past them at huge speed. They chase after him, and three of the group manage to physically touch him, probably the first time he’s ever been literally in contact with Man. They may not manage to capture HH, but their determination remains as strong as ever.
“I am on his ass and I wanna get him.”
“I wanna put the old heat on his hide.”
“I’ll see if I can’t get his old hide on the wall. ”
But as Willy says philosophically though, “He lives to be hunted another day.”
The usual discussion then follows…
I gain fantastic enjoyment from the Big Six. Their program remains enormously entertaining, and is certainly the highlight of my viewing week. I try always to watch it twice, as on first viewing, you can miss many informative details.
I know from various sources on the Internet, that there are many people out there who seem to be ferociously upset by this program. As I’ve repeatedly said, I think the programme is marvellous. I do not think it makes anybody look like an idiot, either a local inhabitant, a Hillbilly Hunter or, hopefully, a reviewer.
And whether or not you believe in the Hell Hound of Pike County, Kentucky, there will always be doubt in your mind, because so many similar creatures have been seen across the world.
In one of my future blog posts, I will be talking about the Beast of Gévaudan, which ravaged the bleak highlands of central France some 250 years ago. It is an established fact that this animal killed many people, perhaps in excess of a hundred. Eyewitnesses, of course, varied in their descriptions, but none of them seems really to be describing a known animal.
Here in England we have our very own Hell Hound, an enormous black dog, with red eyes, who is called “Old Shuck”. He is never a very nice doggy to meet with, as he usually foretells the imminent demise of the person who sees him.
This charming little chap may well figure in another blog post in the future.
Above all, though, until next time, never forget the company motto, “I am a Marine and I will get the job done.”
You might not think so, but this is a good time to be buying a bird table. It will give the birds plenty of time to get used to the presence of this new garden furniture, and with a little bit of luck, they might even start coming to the table fairly quickly. At the moment, for example, there are lots of recently fledged baby birds who could all do with a little help to find food.
For me, the most basic thing to buy is a free standing weighted block in which to insert the framework which will eventually hold your food dispensers.
This is the type of thing I mean….. The top is like this….
Our bird table looks like this….
There are three metal bird feeders…
The leftmost one encourages them to nibble nuts…
They love the middle one, which contains a pretty revolting block made of suet and either insects or mealworms.
The tiniest birds, like baby Long-tailed Tits, can even manage to get inside two layers of anti-squirrel proofing!
On the right is a dispenser which allows birds to take away sunflower seeds.
In time, the birds will get used to it, and your bird table will attract lots and lots of them. At the moment, it is almost totally baby birds, who can make up for this summer’s apparent lack of insects by snacking on the food we provide. So far, we have helped out Great Tits, Coal Tits, Blue Tits and Long-tailed Tits. In winter, there are many other species which turn up, such as Dunnocks, Chaffinches, the increasingly rare House Sparrow and the showy Siskin.
If you want some extra variety, there is a fabulous bird table webcam, at the Cornell Institute in Ithaca, New York State. Every single bird here is different from ours, except, of course, the ubiquitous Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris).
Your biggest enemy for a bird table anywhere in England is the pesky Grey Squirrel, but half an hour watching the Ithaca website at the moment will show that we in Nottingham are not the only ones with difficulties. The real problem is that what you think is just one Grey Squirrel is, in fact, two, the male and the female, but you, as a mere human being, cannot necessarily tell the difference. At the moment, the youngsters are slightly browner, but even then, there might well be five separate ones which you think is just one very fast moving individual!
So make sure that anything you buy is squirrel proof. They might be more expensive, but given that squirrels will not just eat bird food on the spot, but will also take it away to store for the winter, in the long run you might actually save money, as you avoid two or three kilos going missing every single day.
We bought all the different bits for our bird table from Amazon Marketplace. That is, of course, not the only place where you can purchase bird tables, but in my opinion, you would certainly be better to avoid garden centres, to avoid wood and to go for metal, and, above all, never ever to have a bird table with a nest box attached.
Above all, remember the five golden double entendres of bird table purchasing…
All of the above feeders are, in my experience, squirrel proof, although in July and August, smaller adolescents can get through the bars to feed, but, because they grow fairly quickly, this will not last for ever.
Don’t frighten them too much! A young squirrel dead from sheer fear will not be easy to get out of the feeder, and, from a moral standpoint, it’s not really very Dalai Lama.
Initially the expense of feeding the birds, and not the squirrels, can be rather high. It is reminiscent of when, in Monty Python, Michael Ellis goes to the pet shop to buy a pet ant….
“Is there anything I’ll need with my ant?”
“Yes, sir – you’ll need an ant house. This is the model we recommend, sir. And then you will need some pieces of cage furniture which will keep him entertained. Here’s an ant-wheel, an ant-swing, and a very nice little ladder. He can run up there and ring the bell at the top, that’s a little trick he can learn.
Here’s a two-way radio he can play with… and of course you’ll need the book. So, sir, that is, if I may say so, one hundred and eighty-four pounds twelve pence, sir.”
On the other hand, if you set up your metal fortified bird table a few yards from your panoramic dining room window, you will be able to watch the comings and goings of the birds, and relieve the stresses and strains of the day for the rest of your life, even if your camera is showing its age, the curtains cast a reflection, the sun is in the wrong place, all the usual excuses….