Friday, 2 June 2023

Saving time


Saving time

In common with many people, I save time. Waiting for the kettle to boil for morning tea (not mine, I don’t drink tea or coffee) I save time by stacking or emptying the dishwasher, filling or emptying the washing machine, cleaning the kitchen sink. It’s satisfying to know that I haven’t wasted time.  

What happens to the time I save? Is it stored somewhere safe to be used on another day when time is running short? Why can I never access this precious stash of time when I really need to, when visitors are coming and I’m never going to be ready in time, no matter how long I have allowed myself to complete various tasks?

Where does the time go? Perhaps it sneaks off to someone else’s life. You know the sort of person I mean – the one who’s always prepared for every eventuality, who sometimes complains of having time on his or her hands or boasts, rather unkindly, of having all the time in the world.

 I save so much time that I should have plenty left over, yet there are never enough hours in the day.

 Then again, a verse by W.H. Davies (1871-1940) comes to mind and gives me pause.




What is this life, if full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.


No time to stand beneath the boughs

And stare as long as sheep or cows.


No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.


No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night.


No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance.


No time to wait till her mouth can

Enrich that smile her eyes began.


A poor life this if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare. 


Thursday, 1 June 2023

Right hand or left hand?


Right hand or left hand?

One of the things I look for in infants is their hand preference. In my experience this does not usually begin to assert itself until about the age of 12 months, though people far more expert than me say that it shows at 6 months. Some even suggest that it is apparent in the womb. Until a preference begins to be established, the child handles everything in either hand with equal ease. Even at four years old it may not be confirmed. I have seen children start to write across a sheet with the left hand and continue with the right hand with no hesitation or difficulty or discernible difference in letter formation or size.

When I was teaching I was always aware of a child’s hand preference and made sure to seat left-handed children to the left of right-handers so that they were not bumped as they worked.

We talk of people being ‘dexterous’, meaning adept or nimble-fingered. ‘Dexter’ is Latin for right. Another synonym for dexterous is ‘adroit’, from the mid-17th century French ‘à droit’ for ‘according to right’ or ‘proper’. So we can see that it is ‘good’ and ‘proper’ to be right-handed.

Late Middle English ‘sinister’ carried the meaning of ‘malicious’ or ‘underhand’, deriving from the Latin ‘sinister’ and Old French ‘sinistre’ for left. If something is described as sinister it is assumed to be evil and better not encountered.

In Matthew 25, Jesus spoke of the Day of Judgement, when people would be separated into sheep and goats, the sheep to the right and the goats to the left, the sheep for glory, the goats for damnation.

Elsewhere in the world, in Muslim countries, the left hand is still considered dirty. It is discourteous to offer that hand to help someone or to eat with it. In modern China there are virtually no left-handers.

In the late 80s I was told that a left-handed Japanese little girl in my class educated in England and returning to Japan would have to adopt right-handed ways for calligraphy. When I queried this, the child’s mother shrugged and said, ‘I had to do it’.

Until 1950 British left-handed children were forced to use the right hand, the left hand being tied back to prevent it being used. This custom was still in use when my husband went to school, but it didn’t work for him and he remained resolutely left-handed. The practice continued until the 1970s in Canada.

The methods used to obtain this result were often tortuous, including tying a resistant child’s left hand to immobilise it. Typical of the reasoning to justify such practices is a 1924 letter to the British Medical Journal endorsing “retraining” of left-handers to write with their right hands, because otherwise the left-handed child would risk “retardation in mental development; in some cases…actual feeble-mindedness”. As late as 1946 the former chief psychiatrist of the New York City Board of Education, Abram Blau, warned that, unless retrained, left-handed children risked severe developmental and learning disabilities and insisted that “children should be encouraged in their early years to adopt dextrality…in order to become better equipped to live in our right-sided world”’

King George VI was naturally left-handed but forced to become right-handed. Did this contribute to his terrible stammer? It seems at least possible.

The reasons for handedness are complicated and there seem to be no definitive answers other than it is determined by genes and environment. About 50% more males than females are left-handed and 17% of twins.

The Netherlands has one of the highest incidences of left-handedness, followed by the USA and Canada, all around 13%. The UK is just below 13%.

I am intrigued by the question of hand preference. My husband and the youngest of our four children – a daughter - are left-handed. All my family, as far back as I know, were right-handed and that was the case for Barry’s family. So far, none of our grandchildren or great-grandchildren have proved to be lefties.

How many of you are left-handed?

Wednesday, 31 May 2023

Heronry or rookery?


Heronry or rookery?

Young heron on outbuilding roof

Apparently, a heronry is a breeding site consisting solely of herons. If other birds are also breeding there it is a rookery. I always thought a rookery referred solely to a breeding colony of rooks, but I have just discovered that the name can also be used for breeding colonies of seabirds, wading birds, seals and turtles.

 I was going to say that we have a heronry near us, but actually, it’s a rookery. (I still prefer 'heronry') In any case, we often see herons flying overhead. Occasionally, a heron visits our garden, or, more specifically, our pond.

More mature heron - the markings are more defined - I think!

Herons (Ardea cinerea) are large wading birds that mainly feed on fish but will also take frogs, small birds and mammals. They have long necks and legs and an impressively large wingspan of about 6’. They also have long toes, which are useful when they are wading in mud. When flying or roosting, they tuck in their necks. Sitting on a tree branch with its head tucked in, a heron resembles a little old person, looking grumpy and out of sorts.

Resting heron at the heronry

Herons are extremely  wary and therefore very difficult to photograph in a garden setting, the slightest movement being enough to make them take flight. Even so, herons have sampled our fish in the past, which is particularly galling when they have taken fish that we have had for several years and which have grown quite large. 

Nonetheless, it is exciting to see an enormous bird, almost one metre tall, swooping down and landing in the garden. The one we have seen recently looks younger and smaller than others in the past.

Herons are sociable birds and nest in long-established heronries. Heronries can be extremely large - in 1866 one heronry in Sussex contained 400 nests. The largest one in recent years has been in Kent and had 150 nests. Commonly one tree can support 10 nests.

Beware of getting too close to a nesting heron, for when disturbed, it is normal for it to regurgitate its last meal. A shower of half-digested fish is not destined to enhance anyone’s day!

Heron on nest - steer clear!

At the heronry - note the long, strong toes

Young herons on the nest

Increasingly, little egrets (Egretta garzetta) can be found nesting alongside herons. Little egrets are small white herons that started breeding in UK in Dorset in 1996, about seven years after they first started appearing on these shores. Their diet consists mainly of fish, though they will also eat frogs, worms and occasionally small rodents.

                                      Little egret in flight

Much less common in the UK is the Great White Egret (Ardea alba)  This is essentially a super-sized little egret, almost the size of a heron but with longer legs and neck. Great White Egrets are mostly seen in south-eastern England and East Anglia, but if conditions continue to be favourable, it is likely that numbers will slowly increase from the current approximate number of 12 breeding pairs. The first breeding pair was recorded on the Somerset Levels in 2012.

Tuesday, 30 May 2023

The devil finds work for idle hands


The devil finds work for idle hands

Andrew, of ‘From the High Rise’, wondered if Isaac Watts’ poem, featured in my last post, made the first mention of this proverb. Of course, I had to try and find out.

There is a general consensus that most versions of the proverb arise from Christian teaching. Proverbs 16:27 says, ‘An ungodly man diggeth up evil: and in his lips there is as a burning fire’

This may have inspired St Jerome (c.342-347 – 420 B.C.) to write in his Letter 125:

‘Fac et aliquid operis, ut semper te diabolus inveniat occupatum’ which translates as

‘Do something, so that the Devil may always find you busy’

The first rendering to appear in Middle English was about 1405 in Chaucer’s Melibeus (The Tale of Melibee)

‘Dooth somme good dedes, so that the deuel, which is oure enemy, ne fynde yow nat ynocupied’

translated in modern English as

‘Do some good deeds, so that the Devil, which is our enemy, won’t find you unoccupied.’

The same sentiment is repeatedly found in religious texts throughout the Middle Ages but does not appear in its more widely known form until the 19th century. In February 1848, The Indicator, Amherst College’s student-led literary magazine, recorded

‘The boys are not permitted to idle away their time in the streets . . . for the inhabitants firmly believe that ‘the devil finds work for idle hands to do.'

However, some hundred years before that, Isaac Watts (1674-1748) had published his little poem about the busy bee, and included

‘For Satan finds some mischief still

For idle hands to do.’

Just as an aside, ‘The Devil Makes Work for Idle Hands’ is an album of greatest hits by the New Zealand rock band ‘Head Like a Hole’. It’s amazing what you find out when you start looking . . .

Monday, 29 May 2023

Another lovely topper


Another lovely topper

I hope it’s still there when the children return to school after half-term!

How doth the little busy bee

Improve each shining hour, 

 And gather honey all the day 
From every opening flower!

How skilfully she builds her cell! 
How neat she spreads the wax!

And labours hard to store it well 

With the sweet food she makes.

In works of labour or of skill, 

I would be busy too;

                     For Satan finds some mischief still
                    For idle hands to do.


                    In books, or work, or healthful play, 

                               Let my first years be passed,  

                       That I may give for every day 

                       Some good account at last. 


                                  Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

Saturday, 27 May 2023

Head to toe


Head to toe

Infants and puppies alike are fascinated by feet. That is not really surprising, as they’re on nodding terms with feet much more than the great expanses of person above them.

Sit with a group of very young children and very soon one of them will remark on your shoes, often touching or stroking them. Feet are important and interesting.

Gilbert is no exception to this rule. In addition, he likes appropriating items of clothing belonging to his humans.

This morning, Barry’s flat cap mysteriously appeared in Gilbert’s bed. I didn’t see Gilbert carrying it so I don’t know how it got there. It was being used as a pillow. Dogs do like pillows.

A short while later, Gilbert carefully picked up one of my trainers and carried it to a sunny spot by the patio door, where he proceeded to pay close attention to it. I can’t really describe it as chewing, although chewing noises were discernible – it was more like sucking. I retrieved it (who’s the Labrador retriever here?) and put it out of reach.

I next saw Gilbert proudly transporting my other trainer to his bed to join the flat cap. He lay down contentedly and gently started chewing it. I think his method is to lick first, then ‘mouth’ it before engaging his teeth.

Note the flat cap under the trainer, completely unadjusted by canine mouth.

He looked so happy and innocent that I had to take a few photographs before removing these items of apparel before any harm came to them. 

He has history with shoes. Here’s a photograph of him sleeping with a pair of Barry’s trainers.

He’s now asleep on my feet, while Jellicoe yowls and prowls around on my lap. Jellicoe would like me to stop what I’m doing and pay attention to him. A cursory stroke is not sufficient – he wants a sustained massage . . . 

. . . but now it's time for elevenses!

Friday, 26 May 2023

Gilbert the Good - my morning


Gilbert the Good - my morning

I slept in a bit this morning. It was a busy day in the garden yesterday, helping to repot lots of plants. Roxy didn’t do much; she doesn’t really like gardening but I like to get my nose into everything. The humans call me a Monty Don dog. So, anyway, I was a bit tired and didn’t get up until 6:15.

After breakfast, I played with Frankie when he came round and after he had gone to school I made Roxy play with me.

Later on we all went for a walk. It was lovely and green. We didn’t go to any of the ponds but I managed to find a muddy puddle and bowled Roxy over in it. She was covered in mud and she’s still quite damp, several hours later. I only got mud on my paws.

When we got home it was time for my elevenses and then I had a snooze on Janice’s feet. That way I can be sure she doesn’t go anywhere without me knowing.

There are lots of boxes in the house. New ones come every day, big, small, heavy, light, all filled with interesting things, though some of them seem to have more paper in them than anything else. I reckon it’s my job to make sure nothing has been hidden in the paper. I’m very thorough. I did a really good job today.

 When my humans saw the results of my work, they laughed, but I went away from my bed to lie somewhere different, just in case I was in trouble. I don’t think I was, but a lad can’t be too careful.


Look! No mud now!

After a while, I went back to my bed because I wanted to play with my squeaky pig. When Callum gave it to me I was only very little and I was frightened by the noise. Now I love it, especially when one of the humans steps on it by mistake and it makes them jump - that makes me laugh.
Arthur and Lottie came to stay last weekend and I thought they were coming again this weekend, but they’re not. It was fun, but we were so tired when they went home, we slept and slept.

 I think my humans had a bit of a zizz, too, though Barry calls it ‘watching rugby’ and Janice says she’s doing cross stitch. Is it called cross stitch because she gets cross when she’s doing it?

 This is a video from earlier this month showing my approach to searching. See how meticulous I am? 

Turn the sound up and you'll hear my pig!

Thursday, 25 May 2023

Stag beetles again!

Stag beetles again!

Last evening, about 6:00, Barry found a stag beetle. 

He was making rapid progress across the grass towards shelter under one of the garden arches.

 On the way he passed a lesser stag beetle going about its business.

Fortunately the cats didn’t spot him – too busy soaking up the late afternoon sun. We kept the dogs away, too. They would not knowingly have hurt him but might have drowned him with severe sniffing.

Gilbert on a mission

It was a lovely evening and we were so pleased to have seen a 'proper' stag beetle again, 6 cms long, including those remarkable mandibles, and duly reported to PTES (People's Trust for Endangered Species)

Wednesday, 24 May 2023

Stag beetles


Stag beetles

Stag beetle with five and a half legs, brought into the conservatory by the cats a few years ago.

The stag beetle (Lucanus cervus) is Britain’s largest native beetle.

The stag beetle is so called because the male’s large jaws resemble a stag’s antlers. The female’s jaws are smaller and the female is markedly smaller than the male. However, the female’s mandibles are much more powerful than the males, though I cannot discover why that should be. The male uses his jaws in courtship displays and in wrestling other males. Males fly at dusk between May and August looking for a mate.
Stag beetle exploring toy railway track

Stag beetles are fairly widespread in Southern England but are extremely rare or even extinct in other parts of Britain. They are an endangered species across Europe. ‘Tidy’ gardens are not helpful for these creatures as there is nothing to sustain them. They are attracted to the warmth of roads and pavements, which makes them vulnerable to crushing by wheels or feet. Some people are scared by their appearance and kill them, believing them to be dangerous. Foxes, corvids and kestrels all prey on them.

They prefer areas which have the highest average air temperatures and lowest rainfall during the year. Once she has mated, the female stag beetle returns to the place she emerged from and burrows into the soil to lay her eggs, the resulting larvae being found as much as half a metre underground.

Stag beetles spend the majority of their lives underground as larvae, feeding on decaying wood. The underground stage may be anything from three to seven years. After pupating and metamorphosis, newly-emerged adults spend their first winter underground, eventually tunnelling their way to the surface in mid-May. By the end of the summer, most of them will have died. None of them will survive the winter.

The most propitious time to see males is on a sunny day, when they gather strength from the sun to enable them to fly in the evening, searching for a mate.

Yesterday we thought we had spotted our first stag beetle of the year, a female. We hadn’t seen a female before. As in past years, we reported our find to the Great Stag Hunt, organised by the PTES (People’s Trust for Endangered Species)
Lesser stag beetle

Then, in true ‘fire, aim, observe’ mode, while studying the photographs I realised that our stag beetle was actually a lesser stag beetle (Dorcus parallelipipedus) and is far from being endangered, common, in fact, and found throughout England and Wales. I had never seen one before, so it was a discovery for me. I identified it as a female because there are two small bumps on the forehead between the eyes. She reared up when Barry was photographing her, poor thing. 

We have just seen her again, making her way into the undergrowth, perhaps looking for a place to lay her eggs.

Hopefully, we will see a stag beetle or two in the garden. They are fascinating beasts, completely harmless. The larvae feed only on rotten wood and neither they nor the adults cause any harm in the garden. Adults cannot eat solid food and rely on the fat reserves built up in the larval stage, but they can drink from sap and fallen soft fruit.

Stag beetles are a priority species in the UK and are legally protected from sale.

Tuesday, 23 May 2023

The Colonel’s Breakfast


The Colonel’s Breakfast

I like a gentle, quiet start to the day, with no radio or television to assault my senses.

Frequently, I am the first human to go downstairs, usually because one or more of the non-humans requires access to the great outdoors.

 I enjoy the morning stillness, the false sense of being the only one awake in the world. I like the quiet as the house stretches and comes to life and the feeling of organisation and accomplishment as little tasks are completed. I appreciate the time of the day that is entirely mine, with no expectations or requests.

 I am not a morning person, but I am no longer a night owl. I’m more of a middle-of-the-afternoon person now.

Barry and I both have a robust sense of humour, but my funny bone doesn’t work early in the day. Like most couples, we have developed a verbal shorthand and ‘the Colonel’s breakfast’ is one that we often use. It means that, although not immersed in doom and gloom, I am not ready to engage in light-hearted banter. Barry has always been able to make me laugh, but his skills are wasted first thing in the morning.

‘The Colonel’s breakfast’ arises from Barry’s time as a subaltern living in an officers’ mess with several other young officers. The colonel in question, N.P., had been an officer in the Parachute Regiment who had jumped into Arnhem in 1944 during the Second World War.

After the war he gained an Oxbridge accelerated double first (accelerated usually means two years) Many military personnel were sent to university after the war in an attempt to reintroduce them to civilian life, or to allow them to continue studies disrupted by their war-time service.

 After university and still in the army, N.P. worked on advanced technologies for the networking of radio communications, a precursor to the technologies used today for mobile networks. In the early sixties he was given command of a regiment and Barry was one of his subalterns.

 He was a gentleman who disliked being disturbed at breakfast. Any chatter was frowned upon. Breakfast was a short, informal meal and his desire for peace and quiet was acknowledged and respected, for after all, he had done his duty and done it well.

Monday, 22 May 2023

Teenage enterprise


Teenage enterprise

This really made me laugh, from the Independent.

 A teenager in Australia tried to avoid Jetstar’s excess baggage fees by wearing several layers of clothing. She was travelling home to Adelaide from Melbourne with a friend and didn’t want to pay Aus$62 for the over-limit weight of her bag.

She ended up wearing 13 lbs of clothes but still had to pay the fine.

Now, although I understand the reasoning behind baggage limits, there don’t appear to be any limits on the weight of passengers. I know it would cause outrage to suggest that people should pay according to their weight, but it seems ridiculous that a petite person should pay the same as a gargantuan one.

How would such a scheme work? Would people pay extra money for excess weight and how would that be determined? What is a reasonable average weight and how would exceptions be made for illness or disability causing extra poundage?

It is extremely uncomfortable to have one’s seat space invaded by a larger than average passenger (whatever the average is). However, it is also unpleasant to sit next to someone who has an historical association with soap and water. Once we start down that route there’s no turning back. There are just too many variables!

Anyway, hats off to the Australian miss for giving this Pom a good laugh.




Martha is thirteen and a sweet-natured, effervescent girl. She loves animals and was sad for us when our dogs died. She gave me a little black cushion with a yellow Labrador embroidered on it – very fitting to remember our black and yellow dogs. It was such a thoughtful gesture.

In November, Martha will become our step-granddaughter. It’s so nice to think she will be part of our family, together with her brother, Edward, and her lovely father, James. Susannah knows she is a lucky woman!

Sunday, 21 May 2023




 Last evening, as I was cutting mint for our supper’s new potatoes, I discovered a caterpillar. It was quite large and fairly unprepossessing but when I identified it I discovered it was the caterpillar of the mint moth (Pyrausta aurata). Mint moths are very pretty little day-flying moths that feed on various culinary herbs.

If the caterpillar survives long enough to pupate, it will join other second generation mint moths and fly in late July (I think – it’s quite difficult to find a detailed life history of a mint moth!)

 Mint moth

This particular caterpillar was feeding on the underside of an apple mint leaf.

Apple mint

 I love mint. I know some gardeners regard it as a garden thug, but I’m not a proper gardener and am pathetically grateful for anything, no, not anything, but many things that deign to grow in our ground.

 I don’t think we’ve ever had couch grass – actually, at some points in the year we don’t have any grass. Reseeding is not merely annual, it is ongoing. The plant that pops up everywhere just to irritate me is a sedge.


Anyway, mint grows beautifully in our garden. Apart from apple mint, we have spearmint, black peppermint, grapefruit, pineapple and eau de cologne.

 Pineapple mint, just emerging. 

I hope the grapefruit mint will put in an appearance, too.

 Eau de cologne mint

I wondered how eau de cologne mint could be used. It’s quite strongly scented. I found that it can be used in pot pourri, mint teas, herb vinegar, fruit salads and jellies. The leaves make an excellent addition to a relaxing bath and crushed leaves rubbed over arms and legs are a good insect repellent.

It is also reputed to be the best mint for making mint julep, for which there are many recipes online but I grow it simply because I like it.

I shan’t be adding it to salad or new potatoes, though!