Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Rainforest SOS

I've just posted my Rainforest SOS to
This was my message:

This planet needs the rainforests. Life on this planet needs the rainforests. We need the rainforests. The scale is tipping against us every day as deforestation continues. We still have the power to right that balance, preserving what is left and turning our efforts to nurture rather than destruction.

Have you sent yours?

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

The Great Nut Hunt

There's very little chance of me catching a picture of a Dormouse even if they still had territory near me. They are way to shy and nocturnal. Dormice or to be precise in the UK, Hazel Dormice are one of the most adorable little animals but unfortunately their numbers have been declining. I borrowed this picture from Ceri Richards' blog to show you the distinct way the Dormouse eat their hazel nuts. Finding these little nutty relics may well be the only evidence you will see of the presence of a Dormouse. Today they mainly live in the south of England and parts of Wales. Some isolated pockets still exist (or did) in the north - mainly in parts of Yorkshire and the Lake District. The closest to my neck of the woods (sorry) where they might be found would be in the Forest of Bowland. A survey organised by the PTES is about to start soon. It is called the Great Nut Hunt and will gather information from participants over the Autumn and Winter months to find woods that still have Dormice in England and Wales. There will also be Mad Hatter Tea Parties and other fund raising efforts.
I was once cast as the Dormouse in a school production of Alice in Wonderland. I think this was at the stage when the drama teacher was trying to limit my roles in the school plays because I had a bad habit of 'taking over'. I still managed to wake up more times than the script suggested with sleepy ad libs though. And boy did I milk that treacle well.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Shagrat's Attic

My sister launched her blog yesterday. It's called Shagrat's Attic. I don't know what is going to be on it yet but my guess is it may feature Labradors, gardening, foraging, photography, cookery and maybe some VW van envy.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Shady ducks

Here's my first Shadow Shot Sunday picture brewed up by Mark and myself. These ducks are catching a bit of shade in the afternoon.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Gone with the faeries

Wednesday afternoon I was having a bath and the front door opened downstairs. Debbie's voice boomed out from below telling me to get dressed and fetch my camera. She'd found some odd mushrooms growing nearby (not the ones pictured here). Anyhow by the time further investigations ensued aforementioned fungi had completely disappeared.
She's been taking pictures of fungi recently. I think they tie in with the whole foraging culture she's interested in. These are some from the nearby woods. The fungi at the bottom of this post are a shelf fungi or bracket fungi from the polypore group. A variety of which was recently photographed on one of the blogs I subscribe to here.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Duck's Ditty

This is one of my more treasured possessions. It's a silk Wind in the Willows bookmark that Debbie bought me over twenty years ago. It's a bit rough around the edges these days and maybe it could do with a bit of a spruce up (much like myself) but I like it and I still use it daily. I love the whimsy of it. Ratty composing his little ditties about his friends the ducks and Mole venturing his usual cautious opinion of his friend. There are several more verses in the book which altogether don't impress Mole much. What could be nicer than sitting by the riverside in the sunshine, with a picnic, talking nonsense about ducks to your best friend?
"All along the backwater,
Through the rushes tall,
Ducks are a-dabbling,
Up tails all!
Ducks' tails, drakes' tails,
Yellow feet a-quiver,
Yellow bills all out of sight
Busy in the river! "
Kenneth Grahame

Monday, 21 September 2009

The garden cave

Sometimes at this time of the year, at a certain time of the day, the sun can escape its cloudy gaolers and slant transforming rays between the trees. The tops of leaves turn to silver and the flowers become gems illumed from within. And if you own a mind that is prone to such fancies, you might for a moment look out from a cave filled with a pirate's treasure.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Mystery of the House Sparrows

Here are Mr and Mrs House Sparrow chilling out in my front tree. I think it's hard for the public to get their heads around the fact that House Sparrows in the UK are in serious decline. They are still regarded as a fairly common and historically ubiquitous little bird by many. In fact they are a Red Listed bird. "But surely there are millions of House Sparrows breeding in the UK," people might argue. Well, yes there are. More important than the base number though are the actually rates of decline. The decline of the House Sparrow isn't a recent thing. Numbers of the bird have been falling since the end of the First World War. In the last 30 years or so it is estimated that the decline is over 68% in the UK and it is figures like this that has triggered the bird's Red List status. This is not just limited to our country either - numbers are in freefall all over Europe. Scientists like Kate Vincent have been studying the phenomenon for years, trying to formulate an answer to why this is happening. One of the most likely theories is the lack of small insects that are needed for the survival of chicks and young birds. These birds can't eat nuts, seeds or many of the other foods that adult birds survive on and so if the insects are scarce, the chicks starve. The possible root cause: the loss of green spaces in urban areas and increases of pollution from car exhausts. Green spaces, trees etc are needed to support the large numbers of insects that the young birds need but unfortunately such habitats are disappearing as housing developments, roads and car parks proliferate.

Thursday, 17 September 2009


I love the Mary Russell books and the Martinelli series is my favourite police procedural. I also thoroughly enjoyed Folly which I encouraged my Mum to read recently. So it was with some surprise that I discovered I wasn't really enjoying Touchstone. The problem with this book is the plot is too slight to carry through 500 pages. American Bureau Agent Harris Stuyvesant is tracking a bomber in England amidst the turmoil of social unrest preceding the general strike of 1926. He has a suspect but no direct proof. This would have been fine if the story had just been from Stuyvesant's point of view but unfortunately all six major characters get their turn at the helm. Sure it adds depth and layers to the characters but wreaks havoc with the pacing. There's one section where all six characters get a quiet introspective chapter to themselves and the plot moves nowhere. Laurie R. King's writing is fine. Her knowledge of the political landscape of the time is impressive. But the only real suspense is wondering when the plot is going to start moving.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009


Debbie is trying to branch out a bit with her foraging. The usual blackberries and raspberries won't do anymore. I think she wants to start making cordials from elderflower next year. Just don't mess with the leaves and the bark as they can be poisonous. She brought a sprig of elderberries to me to see if she'd located some nearby - and for me to get some camera practice. I hope we don't have any angry dryads knocking on the door soon.. Oh, the folklore surrounding this tree - endless... endless. She would also love to have apple trees but I don't think we have room.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Stone pigs can vroooom

I tried to make the most of the recent bit of sunny weather. You never know how long it could be before we get any more days like this. This is the corner of the garden that is in my eye line when I am reading down there. If you look closely you can see the pig on a motorbike. The Robin and the Dunnock have been warring over this bit of territory recently. Though mostly the Dunnock just minds its own business until the Robin spots him. It's the only time I ever see the Dunnock fly when he does his aerobatic evasive manoeuvres to avoid his nemesis.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Red Chilli Abandoned!!!!

Would the owner of this red chilli please report to reception please. The owner of pictured chilli was last seen heading west accompanied by black Labrador.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Lucky Bun

I got my new camera yesterday. Here is the first test shot I did last night. So this tested the camera but more importantly it got Lucky Bun in on the action. No I haven't flipped out. This chap really is lucky. When I tried to boot up my newly delivered high spec computer (for the time) about a decade ago... well nothing. It woudn't work. Debbie didn't know this but she happened to come round with a lucky mascot for my new computer. I placed the fluffy thing next to the monitor and gave the misbehaving PC another go before I got on the phones. It worked first time. In fact it never stopped working. It never needed a visit to the repair shop ever. It's still working. I can't get rid of the thing. So thumbs up to Lucky Bun - keep doing your stuff dude.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Like cats on poor mice

Love this picture by Dave Thompson from NWT. Our back garden mice have been a lot more shy this year. You can't really blame them with Mofo and the rest of the street's feline cohort prowling about. He's shucked his bell three times this summer. Last year the mice (yes up to three) used to sit on the wall a couple of inches from the Robin or sometimes the Dunnock, happily munching some oats together. I saw the mouse and the Dunnock arrive at the same time once. A Scooby Doo moment ensued with both creatures almost bumping into each other and making a swift terrified retreat back into the safety of the thick green stuff. I think Dunnocks are slowly evolving into mice. The problem with cats hasn't just arrived with Mofo though. A couple of years ago I was night filming a mouse eating nuts from the birdfeeder in the front tree using night vision. His little beady eye was lit up white as he nibbled. Then all of a sudden the entire picture shook. I viewed the footage back but still couldn't work out what had happened. I slowed the film down and then I could just see the top of a cat leaping up at least five feet through branches and the mouse doing his own leap away just before the cat arrived.
And today is my Birthday. My family are buying me a little digital camera for the blog. I'm going to pick it up later in the week.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Phantasms of the Living

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters is one of those novels that might be better enjoyed if the reader comes to it without the knowledge that this is a ghost story. Although it does have strange goings on at the big house, it has a lot more going for it than just a few ghostly chills. The story is told to the reader by a country doctor, who documents a year in his life, slowly becoming embroiled in the struggles of the last three members of the local landed gentry. A glamour of nostalgia draws him to their manor house even though its best days are long past. The old and the new collide again again throughout the story; from the doctor's country practice to the proposed NHS; superstitions and science; traditional remedies and the doctor's new treatments; the old manor encroached by new cheap housing; even poetry gets a mention - "What's wrong with nice long lines and a jaunty rhythm?" asks the old lady of the house, comparing Tennyson to Emily Dickinson. An air of melancholy slowly builds into foreboding before the first terrible event rips into the family. It's all very well written with lots of little undertones that keep the narrative interesting. The old matriarch lost in her memories and clinging to a world that has largely been washed away. The young son, scarred inside and out by the horrors of war, driven too far by the responsibility expected of a male heir. The doctor falling in love, but with the young daughter, or the house, or an ideal and too quick to fit everything into what is rational or reasonable. I lived in Warwickshire when I was away at college back in the early 1980s and I felt that the place depicted here could just as easily have been any rural area in an English county. The book doesn't really work as a ghost story. It's too long and not paced right but I don't think that matters, because I don't think the book was ever even trying to fit into that genre.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Great weather for ducks

It's been one of those long, quiet, wet weeks. Here are some Tranquil Otter ducks from my secret stash. Well this is Badelynge.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Smithills Hall

Mark and I have visited Smithills Hall near Bolton. We took the tour and a guide told us all the history and legends. It's a fine old place that has been around since the early 14th century. Well some of it has. It started out much smaller and bits kept being added or converted over the centuries even to this day. More recently in the 20th century it was bought by Bolton Council who converted the upstairs into a nursing home for a time. All the downstairs rooms have wildly different design and architecture, which sort of gives the illusion of time travel as you move from room to room. My favourite rooms were the chapel and the great hall. There is a steep step leading into the great hall but there are some portable metal tracks that the guide drops down to get a wheelchair through. There is no disabled access to the upstairs but all the good stuff is downstairs anyhow. The chapel has some very beautiful Victorian & Tudor stained glass windows. The great hall is a mass of solidity - you can almost feel all the history living in the stone. The place has a multitude of ghost stories, though the guide mostly stuck to the history of the major families that have owned it and to the details of the architecture. My folklore antennae did perk up when she showed us George Marsh's footprint. It sort of looks like a footprint on one of the paving stones at the bottom of a staircase. The story goes that George was a local Protestant curate who was arrested for heresy under the reign of Queen Mary in 1554. He was questioned and held at Smithills and folklore tells that he stamped his foot so hard on the stone to declare his steadfast faith that it left an imprint before he was led away. He was burnt at the stake for heresy a year later. All sorts of colourful ghostly stories have sprung up around the footprint over the centuries. The hall was featured on Most Haunted a few years ago, though my guess is they did not get full access to the best parts of the hall as the show seemed to mainly feature Stuart pretending to be petrified in the empty stripped rooms upstairs. I believe the Hall now does Ghost Hunts of their own. I suppose it all helps with the upkeep of the building. The guide tossed in the usual speculation that the Bard might have visited here during his youth. It's possible but most halls in the North West claim something similar, even though hardly any of them have any physical proof. We skipped the gift shop and wandered off into the gardens to take some pictures.