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And the Hallowe’en winner is………..

Around ten or fifteen years ago, I was a teacher of Religious Studies as well as my main subject of French. We were  studying the Afterlife, so, towards the end of, I think, the Christmas term, I asked the boys to write down for homework their own ghostly experience or a ghostly encounter that either their parents or anyone close to them had had. Here is a selection of the stories they came up with.
And, of course, yes, boys can tell lies just like everybody else, but by then I had taught this class for four months, seeing them for an hour and a half every week and I did not really think that anybody was lying. They may have been mistaken in their interpretation of events, but I’m sure they were sincere in what they thought was happening. This effort came from the parent, or even grandparent, of one of the pupils…

“My ghost story”

from Daniel J Furse who lived in the Old Manor House from 1956 to 1964.

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“I bought the house from one of the printer Milward family and he told me that when he moved in there was a row of wire operated bells hanging in the passage by the kitchen, although they were all disconnected. Every now and then, at night, these bells would ring wildly. On investigation, no one was ever seen but the bells were all swinging on their springs!
Our own contribution was fairly mundane but baffling. In what was the dining room – next to the kitchen where there now appears to be a door, we had a very large Jacobean oak sideboard tight against the wall, and above it hung a picture. Sometimes, when coming down in the morning, we would find the picture neatly stowed under the sideboard, with the hook still in the wall, and the cord intact.”
I live in the Old Manor House in Lenton regularly referred to as haunted. We have some accounts of manifestations of the ghost in the past one of which I have quoted above. There is one room that is thought to be the “haunted” room. It was in this room that someone was so frightened by what they saw or heard that it caused the previous owners to have an exorcism in the house. We ourselves have had some strange experiences. We seem to have a “Visitor’s curse”. More often than can be explained, something has happened with our lighting, heating or kitchen appliances when a guest was either there or coming. Sometimes just one system fails, but the most dramatic was when a bar of spotlights fell down from the ceiling near some guests. Another time when we were expecting guests for Christmas, all lighting, heating and cooking appliances, including the Aga which runs on gas and the electric cooker which relies on electricity, refused to work.
Hopefully we can have a ghost- free Christmas this year!”

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This was a very popular topic indeed with boys of fourteen and fifteen.
One young man told me the story of how he had seen a ghost when he met up with one of his friends who attended another school in, I think, Grantham. The boy went from Nottingham to spend the whole weekend as his friend lived quite a long way out in the Lincolnshire countryside. They stayed in the friend’s house which was very large with a very large garden. On the Friday evening, as soon as the visitor had unpacked, both boys went outside to see if they could see the phantom which the host had already explained could often be seen as it walked in the garden. The visitor from Nottingham was very excited that the garden was haunted and that he might actually see a real ghost.
The young man told me that as he stood there with his Lincolnshire friend in the early evening they saw not a sharply defined ghost, but a pale blue patch of mist or smoke, shaped like a human form. It moved across the end of the garden from right to left and by the time it reached the left-hand edge it was beginning to disappear.
Supposedly, it was the ghost of a Second World War Luftwaffe flier whose aircraft, a Heinkel III bomber had been shot down, and he had been killed.

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Previously, I had been told about a slightly similar ghost by a now retired school technician called Frank. When he was young he used to live on the southern side of the Humber Estuary in Lincolnshire. Naturally, as a boy, he was keen to explore, and on one occasion he went with two of his friends out onto the salt marshes south of the estuary. He told me that there was a lookout tower right on the edge of the land, overlooking the waters of the estuary and of the North Sea. It had been put there for military purposes, probably either in the First or the Second World Wars. It was now in ruins but the shell of the brick built building was still there.

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As the three boys made their way across the absolutely flat landscape, a saltmarsh covered in vegetation which was no more than four or five inches high, they suddenly saw a figure on the top of the tower.
Apparently an adult man, he stood there for a little while, and the boys watched him. I do not remember from the account whether he seemed aware that he was being watched, but I suspect that he did not. Anyway after five minutes or so, the figure leapt off the top of the tower which was at least twenty or thirty feet high, exactly as if he was doing a parachute jump or, as they always say, something silly. The three boys certainly thought so because they ran along the path which led to the building, to see if they could help what they presumed would be a fairly severely injured man. When they got there though, the place was completely deserted. Nobody was there.
What makes it so strange is that the landscape was such that he could not possibly have run away across either the saltmarsh or to the distant sandy beach without the boys seeing him. In any case it had not taken the boys long enough to get to the tower for him to have disappeared. He had not passed them on any of the paths which led across the marsh. They searched the tower but he was not there. They presumed therefore that he was a ghost of some kind. Later on, Frank explained that tales had been told of an occurrence just like this having been seen before in the very same location, but nobody had ever been able to explain what it was.

Two other stories were very scary indeed…..

“The crippled Ghost that learns to walk

Every so often when I lie awake in my bed at night and I leave the door open I see an old man in a brown wheel chair. He has grey hair and a mutilated face like it’s been taken off and jumbled about and then stuck back on.
It moves towards me without using its hands to move the wheels at all. Then when it reaches the door it stops and stands up. It starts to walk towards me. At that point I turn away and face the wall and try to force myself to believe it’s not real, it’s not real.

Then when it reaches my bed, it reaches out to touch me. The reason I know this is because I see its shadow on the wall. But as soon as it touches my head it disappears and so does the wheelchair which disappears as soon as he gets out of it. The only other thing that is strange about the man is that he is extraordinarily long thin fingers and shoulder length white hair.”

This extraordinary tale is recounted more or less exactly as the boy wrote it down. I have not altered anything at all except to make the tense used the present tense, rather than a mixture of several different ones.
What would be really interesting would be to try and trace in the history of the house if there was anybody who ever lived there who had the long fingers and long white hair, perhaps of a musician, or the mutilated face and the wheelchair of, perhaps, a Great War victim. It is however, even with the Internet, extremely difficult to trace who has lived in any house, and what his job was, or the hardest thing of all, what he did during his life and what happened to him.
And the winner is…….
…….This very last final story, which was clearly connected with my preparations for Christmas with the class. It is dated November 4th 2005, and is entitled…

“The white man with no face”

Interview with my Dad:
What size and age did the ghost appear to be?
He was a six-foot male…age impossible to say.
But roughly did he look middle-aged or quite young?
He was oldish but that’s the most accurate description I could give.
Did you contact any spiritualists or mediums about the ghost?
No I didn’t; it never crossed my mind. It didn’t really bother me personally, but I never thought to ask my wife whether she thought we should get somebody in to try and sort things out.
What was the scariest thing about the ghost?
It would be that every time you were fast asleep, this ‘thing’ could be looking over you; I wasn’t frightened about it at all, but it didn’t do anything… just stared endlessly at you.
If only I had ever seen the ghost and you hadn’t, would you believe me about it being ‘around’ or not? Would you look out for it?
I would believe you, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to find something that could only be found if ‘it’ wanted to be.
How did the ghost appear and what did it look like?
I was in deep sleep and there was a wind as if all the windows were open, and my shoulders felt cold like ice. Both your mum and I woke up basically at exactly the same time, and we saw ‘it’. All it did was just look down at us. I can’t remember the curtains blowing just a fairly strong wind, so the windows were definitely not open. My wife asked me: “Tell me what you just saw?” trying not to put any ideas into my head, and her expression when I replied, confirmed this was not a dream. We both looked away, and after a period of time I cannot remember, I eventually look back to see ‘it’ had vanished.
Did you ever feel like you are being watched?
Well obviously you knew there was something around but you just had to ignore it. My wife at the time was so terrified; she nearly moved out of the house and lived with her parents for a short time.
Did you ever stay on your own in the house?
Yes, of course, it didn’t bother me that much, it was your mum who was worried about it the most. However, this was one of the reasons why we eventually moved house. My mum has told me that for weeks she was terrified of the ghost reappearing, and too many times felt her shoulders turn ice cold even during the summer (just like when she first saw the ghost).
Apparently I saw the ghost on many occasions – more than my parents – and that I asked them “Who the white man in my room was” more than once. The ghost could communicate with “the living” as it asked me what my name was.
Chloe my sister regularly saw the ghost – which was obviously concerned my mom, and on one occasion she told my parents “a white man with no face keeps waking me up and then just staring at me”. At the time she wasn’t afraid of ‘it’ as she was too young to realise what was happening. Chloe can’t recall any of this but my parents remember it all too well.

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Neonicotinoids: a disaster about to happen

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…

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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.”

dead bees
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”.

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The Los Angeles Times recalls…

book 1
“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.

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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…..”
Laurie Allan

“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”
William Thom

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.

 

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Teasels: the best plant in our garden

This amazingly spikey plant is called a “teasel”, and it is easily the most fascinating plant in our garden.
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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…..
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These American killers are deadlier than wolves or bears.
Gulp
Our English plant, though, can consume a reasonable number of insects, medium sized mammals and small children.
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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….
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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…
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…
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The flowerheads are a lovely bluey-pink colour…
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Eventually seeds will appear. Indeed, in our worryingly early autumn, many have already arrived as early as the fifth of August.

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The seedheads are an absolute magnet to England’s most colourful bird, the improbably beautiful Goldfinch…
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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…
goldfinch on teasel
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.

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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….

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The five golden double entendres of buying a bird table

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…..
41oKJ7McgdLThe top is like this….
feeding station
Our bird table looks like this….
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There are three metal bird feeders…
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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.

 

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The tiniest birds, like baby Long-tailed Tits, can even manage to get inside two layers of anti-squirrel proofing!
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On the right is a dispenser which allows birds to take away sunflower seeds.

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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.

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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…

Firstly, you will need a very big, heavy, bottom.

And an impressive top to hang your feeders on

Hang your nuts where the squirrels can’t get at them.

Don’t let your suet blocks get nibbled either.
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And finally, don’t  let your seed spill on the floor.

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….


The bird above is a blue tit.


These are great, blue, and coal tits.

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