Sunday 31 May 2009

Carry On Tuesday

There are sleeping dreams and waking dreams . . .

She thought she was asleep and kept telling herself she was asleep even though she could hear a fox barking in the distance. She must sleep well for tomorrow would come all too soon and there would be so much to do on what would be such an unforgettable day. Her mind raced as she tossed and turned in the tangled bed coverings.

Gradually she became aware of his hand on hers squeezing her fingers in the old familiar way. Love expresses itself in so many ways – a wink, a gesture, a gentle nudge. She sighed and relaxed and the fox’s shrill cry faded as she slipped further into the delicious heavy-limbed approach to deep sleep. That loved and loving hand caressed hers, stroking soothingly, leading her into sweet dreams and promises of joys to come.

With the full bright of the day came awakening. She stretched and smiled as she turned to her husband. She could still feel the warmth of his body next to hers but he was not there. Today, this momentous day, was the occasion of his funeral.

Read more stories at Carry On Tuesday

Today's Flowers - Holly

Not a flower but new growth on the holly tree in our garden.
To see beautiful photos of growing things please click here.
Thank you to the Today's Flowers team,Luiz Santilli Jr., Denise Gullickson, Laerte Pupo, Denise BC

Monochrome Weekly - Magpie

Magpies are great favourites of mine - cocky, intelligent, noisy and very handsome. They wrongly get the blame for reducing the songbird population - they certainly will take eggs and fledglings but so will Great Spotted Woodpeckers and Crows (and rats! and foxes!)

To see some really good Monochrome photographs please click here.
Thank you to Aileni for organising this meme.

Saturday 30 May 2009

Camera Critters - Contentment

Monty the chocolate silver Ocicat with Frodo the Faller.

Monty was born into a house with a black Giant Schnauzer who took all the many cats and kittens in her stride. His particular favourite of our four dogs is Jenna-the-Labrador, a small black working Lab.

Frodo was born into a Dalmatian breeding kennels and had never met cats face to face before he came to live with us when he was five months old. He then met our two elderly blue Burmese and was extraordinarily gentle with them, mourning them when they travelled on.

If you'd like to see other 'Critters' please click here.

The Dog Days of My Life: #3 - Punch

One morning when I was about six I went downstairs to find a liver and white English Springer Spaniel at the foot of the stairs. Punch had arrived by train the previous evening. My sister and brother-in-law had been told of a dog needing a good home and thought of my parents.

Punch was a gentle, friendly dog and became a great favourite with our regular customers. He lay on the doorstep all day, front paws dangling over the edge, and most people stopped to pat him and have a word. At night he settled at the bottom of the stairs and we all learnt to step over him carefully.

Then one day he started to wander. He would begin the day at the shop door in his accustomed manner and then slip away unobtrusively to trot about the neighbourhood with his doggy pals. He stayed away for hours on end, coming home for his evening meal. My parents worried about him having an accident or even causing one. Eventually, one of our customers, knowing of their concern, offered to give him a home. He had a large house and garden in the Kent countryside and Punch would be safe there. My parents liked and trusted this man and knew he had always been very fond of Punch so reluctantly but with some guilty relief they said goodbye to the boy.

It felt strange not to have him around and for many months after Punch had left us we continued to step carefully over – nothing – at the foot of the stairs.

It would be a few years before I lived with a dog again, of which more anon.

The Dog Days of My Life: #2 - Sombre

Sombre was my sister's dog. She was a gorgeous Rough Collie and had a long and impressive kennel name to go with her equally long and impressive pedigree. I remember her principally because she ate a £5 note which was a very expensive snack at that time. My sister was married by the time she acquired Sombre and I saw little of either of them after they moved away.

Friday 29 May 2009

Haiku Friday - Clearing the attic

Haiku Friday

Yesterday we were
Emptying out the attic -
Sweet memories there.

Children's first paintings,
Colourful daubs and splodges -
Jackson Pollocks, all.

Faded pressed flowers,
Mementoes of special times,
Bring joy and laughter.

Our love letters too
From courting days to marriage
Each other's best friend.

Photographs of friends
From our young and silly days -
Where are they all now?

School reports cause groans,
Old journals make us guffaw,
Baby toys bring smiles.

Mouse droppings abound,
Holes chewed in all our old clothes
Make throwing out quick.

We've kept many things
We couldn't bear to part with -
They're back in the loft!

Click here to read more Haiku

Skywatch Friday - playing with Lightroom

The original unadulterated photograph . . .

After using auto adjust . . .

After camera calibration . . .

See more beautiful skies around the world at Skywatch Friday

Wednesday 27 May 2009

The Dog Days of My Life: #1 - Bob the Collie

The first dog I remember was a handsome black and white Collie called Bob. As far as I recall he came into our family and my life when I was about three years old. I'm sure he arrived as a fully-grown dog for I have no recollections of a puppy in the house.

Bob was a member of the family from the start and my father used to lay a place at the table for him, complete with cutlery and a chair to sit on. I don't think he actually ate from the table; I think the exercise was meant as an entertainment for us children.

One day Bob went out of the front door and I followed him. Up the road he trotted with me close behind. At the end of our road was a junction with a main road. Bob, off the lead and having no road sense whatever, walked out into the traffic and so did I. Suddenly I was grabbed and lifted back onto the pavement – my elder sister, fifteen years older than me, had noted my disappearance from the house along with Bob's and had managed to catch up with us before either of us came to any harm. In those long-ago days there was very little traffic. Most people could not afford cars and heavy lorries and trucks were creations for the future. The cars that were being driven then were neither powerful nor fast, though equally their brakes were not as swift to act nor as reliable. I suppose that Bob and I were lucky – we surely would not have survived such an event without incident or injury in our current vehicle-laden roads.

When I was four my family moved. My father had left the Royal Navy and had no wish to spend the rest of his working life in Chatham Dockyard. He and my mother decided to buy a business and we left our large, comfortable house and moved into a small flat above the shop. Of course, Bob came with us. It was not long before he developed 'a lump' which caused him pain and soon he had travelled on to his eternal rest. As an introduction to dogdom Bob could not have been bettered. He was gentle and obedient, an example for all other dogs.

The next dog in my life belonged to my sister, of which more anon.

Tuesday 26 May 2009

Tales from the Academy – Company Night and a Dip in the Lake

In the 1960s officer cadets were assigned to companies in Old College, New College or Victory College. Now there are only two colleges, Old and New, and the intakes are no longer entirely male.

It was then the custom to have a Company Night, which was a fancy term for a pub crawl. Dettingen Company had a memorable night – and morning after – in the early 1960s.The cadets, full of enthusiasm for a good night out and unused to large quantities of drink, no matter how they might boast of their capacity, enjoyed a raucous evening with their Sergeant Major and returned to the Academy in high spirits. In the general hilarity their unfortunate Warrant Officer found himself tipped unceremoniously into the lake.

The cadets rose for parade the following morning with sore heads and bleary eyes. The Sergeant Major, their entertaining and jovial companion of the previous evening, brought them to attention and then ordered them to march into the lake where they remained for some considerable time while he advised them of his views on the proper attention and respect due to Warrant Officers in the British Army.

The shivering cadets, in their soggy service dress uniforms, listened abjectly as they were berated for their appalling lack of judgement. Those nearest the bank were more fortunate than their companions further back for the water only reached their belts rather than their chests but the lesson was thoroughly learned by them all. There was no repetition of the exercise.

Monday 25 May 2009

Lily Beetles

In our garden we grow colourful scented flowers to attract bees and birds and butterflies. Naturally, these blooms also invite attention from less welcome visitors – aphids, slugs, an occasional young rat. The lilies play unwitting host to Lily beetles (Lilioceris lilii), bright red shiny beetles which at first glance might be mistaken for ladybirds. Closer inspection shows them to be longer and spotless. Unlike the ladybirds that help to control the aphid population, red lily beetles are most unwelcome guests. They are not a native species and first appeared in the UK at the end of the 19th century but were not known to have become established until 1939, when a colony was found in Surrey. From concentrated beginnings in the Home Counties they have spread gradually throughout most of the English counties and are now also found in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Left to their own devices the adults and larvae can devour a lily plant in a few days. Eggs are laid on the underside of leaves and hatch after about a week. Two weeks later, fully grown, the larvae pupate in the soil and emerge as adults two or three weeks later. Adults overwinter in the soil in sheltered places and emerge from late March to May. An orgy of feeding continues from May to the end of September.

They may be found on several plants but their life cycle is only ever completed on lilies and fritillaries. Beautiful as they are, they are a pest and as such provide the fish in our pond with unexpected snacks.

A very attractive-looking beetle in his scarlet coat but RED means DANGER!

Just doing what comes naturally - and with potentially devastating consequences for lilies and fritillaries . . .

One small beetle (and her friends and relations) can cause an awful lot of damage!

Sunday 24 May 2009

Garnering energy from youth

It's half-term here in the UK. No matter when the Summer term commences, half-term always falls in the week of the late Spring Bank Holiday which is the last Monday in May. (It's also Memorial Day in the USA.)

Gillian and her husband and their family have gone camping for a few days and their two dogs have come to us for their holiday. Barry went to Dorset to collect them yesterday and great was the excitement when the dogs saw him. Arriving home there were ecstatic greetings between the dogs and between dogs and humans. Jenna-the-Labrador turned widdershins when she saw Foxy - a fox-red Labrador a couple of months older than her. They raced around the garden and then up and down the stairs. Tia, also a Labrador, established herself in the pecking order. She is a few months older than Frodo the Faller and has no qualms about asserting her authority. Dominie remains the leader of the pack and they all defer to her.

Last evening we took them all out for a walk. Always when the Labradors come to stay they form a neat pack with Jenna, working together to seek and retrieve the ball, though Foxy's really more interested in retrieving biscuits.

The Dalmatians are a different sort of unit; they will pace along for hours while the Labradors tear around and wear themselves out.

The effect on Dominie was incredible. She greeted the visitors vociferously and when we were out walking she was rushing along on her wheels with renewed interest and energy. She seemed rejuvenated and yet I shouldn't be surprised at this for it happens with people too.

Put young people - babies, children, teenagers - among their elders and see how the older folk respond. I noted this with my parents. My sister was fifteen years older than me, my brother six. I was eleven when my first niece was born and my oldest great-niece is only two years older than my youngest daughter. This meant that my parents had continuous contact with young people for most of their lives. I cannot know for sure if that was the reason my parents always had inquiring minds and were more interested in the future than their own remarkable past. They didn't talk about or turn the conversational spotlight on themselves but needed to know what was in the minds of the younger people around them.

I do know, however, that young people gave them mental stimulus and kept them alert and vital and living independently to the end. I believe that they were interesting because they were interested and so were much loved by their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Today's Flowers - May 2009

Growing in my garden, Aquilegia (Columbine, Granny's Bonnet) 'Nora Barlow'

This Aquilegia is named after Emma Nora Barlow, the granddaughter of Charles Darwin. She edited and published examples of her grandfather's work which had previously been unseen.

NEW LOGOClick on the logo to see more beautiful blooms from around the world.
Thank you to the Today's Flowers team,Luiz Santilli Jr., Denise Gullickson, Laerte Pupo, Denise BC

Monochrome Weekly - Bracken

Bracken fiddleheads May 2009
Spot the spider!
See more Monochrome photographs here

Saturday 23 May 2009

Camera Critters - adult male Starling

Camera Critters

Adult male Starling, May 2009. Males have blue-based beaks. Females' beaks are pink-based.

Haiku Friday


I, in deference,
Offer you my inmost thoughts
On themes various.


With age comes wisdom -
How old must I grow before
My foolishness stops?

Bet Diets or I Bet You a Pound to a Penny

At last! The diet we've all been waiting for, the diet that's going to work. Fresh from the USA, this new approach to dieting is bound to succeed where others have so spectacularly failed, for on this diet you put your money where your mouth is. In case you think I mean that literally and that eating money rather than food is the way forward (special fat-consuming inks in the notes, perhaps, or the heavy metal of coins leaving you feeling fuller for longer?) let me put your minds at rest. The concept behind this tactic is that the enthusiastic dieter bets a sum of money against his weight loss per week. If he achieves his objective he pays nothing. If he fails, the money he has wagered is paid to a charity of his choice.

Now there is a quandary here. A truly altruistic or maybe greedy person might actually determine not to lose weight so that charity might benefit. I jest!

There is a twist that is sometimes employed as an added incentive; a charity which the dieter does not support and is indeed opposed to might benefit from his failure to drop the pounds thereby making him more determined to win his bet.

Would anybody like to bet on how long this new weight-loss tactic will last and how soon another crackpot method will emerge?

Friday 22 May 2009

Flower Crampons for Busy Bees

Many plants rely on insects for pollination. The insect that probably comes to mind most readily as a pollinator is the bee.

Some flowers have petals covered in tiny cells like pyramids and scientists have discovered that the purpose of these conical structures is to help bees get a good foothold. In order to discover this the researchers created very convincing artificial flowers from epoxy resin, making some with cones and some without. A sugar solution was placed inside and bumble bees were set free in the laboratory to ascertain their preference.

When the flowers were horizontal the bees showed no particular inclination, treating coned and coneless flowers impartially. However, when the flowers were angled the bees preferred the rough surfaces to the smooth and more so as the angles grew steeper. High-speed film showed that on the smooth petals the bees’ feet were unable to gain a good purchase and they were having to beat their wings fast to maintain their position, using a great deal of energy in the process.

In a separate study the pyramidal cells were found to act like solar panels, warming the petals and the nectar which benefitted the bees, allowing them to use their energy for their prime purpose of collecting nectar and pollen.

In the following photographs there are different species of bees. Bee identification is not one of my skills so I am unsure of naming them correctly!

White-tailed bumble bee - Bombus lucorum - on Chives

Bombus lucorum again

Honey bee - Apis mellifera - on flowers of Physocarpus Opulifolius (Common Ninebark) 'Dart's Gold'
Bumble bee - Bombus terrestris? - on Common Ninebark flowers

Buff-tailed Bumble bee - Bombus terrestris - on Herb-Robert

Tales from the Academy – bike and bash

Officers, retired, old or new, who were trained at the RMA, will have memories, fond or otherwise, of the 'Ten Mile Speed March' or 'Ten Mile Bash'. It is a test of endurance and must be completed within a specified time and will be repeated for any individuals not meeting the requirements.

On this particular day in the 1960s the officer cadets were assembled and ready, though perhaps not willing, to begin. A Sergeant Major accompanying them appeared wheeling his bicycle. Groans and mutterings abounded, albeit sotto voce, as the young men surveyed the man and his machine. No doubt they felt it unfair and not a little cruel for a senior NCO to make fun of them thus.

To their surprise, the Sergeant Major marched the whole distance with them, pushing his bicycle all the way. Their respect for the man increased ten-fold.

Thursday 21 May 2009

Skywatch Friday

Berkshire skies mid-May 2009

Click here to see skies of different hues from all corners of the globe.

Squadrons of Starlings

It's the time of year when the bird feeders are louder than usual with squabbling Starlings. Swooping squadrons of smart Starlings stream down on scimitar wings and cluster round the fat cakes, shrieking, whistling, chattering, jockeying for position. The newest members of the clan, though capable of feeding themselves, shrilly demand that the adults feed them and the adults oblige. Some of the adults, beautifully attired in iridescent green and purple, gather great gobbets of fat to carry away to offspring perched elsewhere among the trees.

It is rare to see a single Starling and should one individual alight on a feeder and start pecking busily at the food it is soon joined by legions of friends and relatives. Generally they arrive and leave as one screeching unit.

The inexperienced youngsters’ spatial awareness is not fully developed and so collisions with windows are not uncommon. Sometimes, sadly, the young bird breaks its neck and the bright eyes soon fade. At other times it may be dazed or incapacitated for a period ranging from a few minutes to several hours. Last year one juvenile spent several hours on our patio, moving away carefully when we or our dogs drew too close. We put seed within its reach and by evening we were pleased to see it fly away. The next day a young bird flew onto the patio and spent some time there – we thought it was the same one and mused that it had come to thank us for looking after it the previous day.

The following photographs illustrate (some) Starling antics in Spring.

An adult flies in to feed a youngster.

Learning to keep a watchful eye while feeding.
Feed me! Feed me!

Me too! Be fair!

A respite for two adults to feed themselves. The male (on the left) has a blue-based bill. The female's bill is pink-based.

Comings and goings . . .

Landing together . . .

Chattering . . .

Aerial manoeuvres . . .

Other birds and beasts visit the feeding stations - a subject for another day!

Tuesday 19 May 2009

A walk in the forest - May 18th 2009

Last evening we walked with our dogs around 7:00 p.m. It was a lovely evening, rich with the scent of may blossom and of tall nettles coming into flower.
Young growth on Scots Pine

Bracken fronds are unfurling. The tightly curled heads are called fiddleheads and can be eaten cooked or preserved. Suddenly I caught sight of a roe deer - the following photos are rather blurred . . . In the first one the deer has seen me and is watching intently.

In the second photograph it is taking flight. Fortunately Jenna-the-Labrador and Frodo the Faller didn't see or scent it or our walk would have been greatly extended.

In the third and last photo it is about to find cover in the trees.There are many rhododendrons in the forest. They are considered rather a pest but most walkers enjoy their flamboyant colourful flowers. Here their buds are beginning to open. In winter ladybirds hibernate on the undersides of the leaves.
Dominie enjoys the independence her wheels give her - she can stop and sniff at will.
The only problem with walking later in the day is the midges!

Monday 18 May 2009

Camera Critters

Jenna-the-Labrador launches!

Surfacing and striking out . . .

Bit shallower here - hidden logs!

Surging forward . . .

Can you tell how fast I'm swimming?

Just got to get past the tree . . . that might puzzle the boys . . . how to pee in a pond!
Nearly there . . .
Got it!
Creating a bow wave and a wake

Still paddling hard

About to pass Frodo the Faller. He chases biscuits but I retrieve balls.

This is a typical outing with our dogs. (I don't know why some of the photos have uploaded to look so dark - it was actually daylight!!) We've grown to find the smell of damp dog quite alluring.
To see more Camera Critters click here and enjoy!