Saturday 30 April 2011

Camera Critters #160 Six little ducks

We saw six mallards on one of the ponds the other day. They were quacking and reminded me of the song I used to sing with five and six-year-olds.  It’s an odd song, really, because it refers to ‘the one little duck with the feathers on his back’ as though all the other ducks were bald!

Six little ducks that I once knew,
Fat ones, skinny ones they were, too,
But the one little duck with the feathers on his back,
He ruled the others with his quack, quack, quack,
Quack, quack, quack!
He ruled the others with his quack, quack, quack!

Down to the river they would go,
Wibble, wobble, wibble, wobble, to and fro,
But the one little duck with the feathers on his back,
He ruled the others with his quack, quack, quack,
Quack, quack, quack!
He ruled the others with his quack, quack, quack!

Home from the river they would come,
Wibble, wobble, wibble, wobble, ho hum hum,
But the one little duck with the feathers on his back,
He ruled the others with his quack, quack, quack,
Quack, quack, quack!
He ruled the others with his quack, quack, quack!

I'm linking to Camera Critters with this post.

April A to Z blogging challenge Zed

Z is the 26th and final letter in the modern alphabet. It is pronounced zed in UK (sometimes zad) and zee in USA. Its older English name was izzard.

Z stems from the Greek zeta which originates from zayin, the seventh letter in the Semitic alphabet.

In mathematics z is the third unknown quantity in an algebraic expression. Descartes introduced x, y and z as symbols for unknown quantities in 1637.

In mediaeval times z was the symbol for 2000. 

Friday 29 April 2011

Kate and William

Just married! HRH Princess Catherine emerges from Westminster Abbey, wearing an Alexander McQueen dress, holding hands with her new husband Prince William
Image copyright Mail Online
Will they ever be known by any other names? Certainly, they are now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, but somehow Duchess sounds far too stuffy for Kate.

I watched the Royal Wedding and I must say I have hopes for this marriage. When William’s parents married we were travelling to the South of France and listening to the coverage on the car radio. I remember saying to Barry, ‘I wonder if she’ll turn up’ – there must have been something about the relationship between Diana Spencer and Prince Charles that could be seen to ring not quite true. They had similar privileged, very aristocratic backgrounds but Diana was young and shy and not very sure of herself. She was not Charles’ first choice. He should really have married Camilla when he first had the opportunity, in his youth. She had many of the right credentials, being the great-granddaughter of Alice Keppel, a mistress of Edward VII, but got fed up waiting for him and married Andrew Parker-Bowles.

By contrast, Kate and William come from very different families. She is a true commoner, he a prince of the blood royal. They met at university, on common ground, met, fell in love and lived together while they completed their degrees. They even split up for a while afterwards but eventually rekindled their relationship. I wonder how hard William had to fight to have the Royal family accept his choice of bride. I think they should be most impressed.

On their journey in the state Landau from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace, William saluted to honour the fallen, notably at the Cenotaph, and as he did so his bride bowed her head humbly – very nicely done. She is graceful and charming and brings a welcome shot of fresh DNA to the royal bloodlines.

I hope my expectations and those of many of my fellow Brits will not be dashed and that this marriage will be a long and happy one.

Book Blurb Friday #9

This meme is hosted by Lisa Ricard Claro at ‘Writing in the BuffJ

 Each week she posts a photo that could be the cover of a book. The aim is to:
‘Write a book jacket blurb (150 words or less) so enticing that potential readers would feel compelled to buy the book.’

Here is this week's photo followed by my offering. 

Image copyright Christina Claro 
What holiday are you after? Do you want sun, sea and sand or are mountains and horses more your style? Are you a culture vulture or a hippy? Do you want crowds or solitude? Home or abroad? Self-service or fully catered? Whatever your desire, this book will help you plan your break.

From the cheapest do-it-yourself hiking holiday to the most extravagant, no expense spared spree, you can’t ask for the wrong thing. A snip at £6.75!
(77 words)

April A to Z blogging challenge Ye

I expect many, if not all of you have seen signs like ‘Ye Olde Curiositie Shoppe’. ‘Ye’ was pronounced ‘the’.

The y in this ye was never pronounced (y) but was rather the result of improvisation by early printers. In Old English and early Middle English, the sound (Description: was represented by the letter thorn (þ). When printing presses were first set up in England in the 1470s, the type and the typesetters all came from Continental Europe, where this letter was not in use. The letter y was used instead because in the handwriting of the day the thorn was very similar to y. Thus we see such spellings as ye for the, yt or yat for that, and so on well into the 19th century.
Nonetheless, I suppose most of us will continue to say ‘Ye’ rather than ‘The’ – it sounds so quaint!

‘Ye’ is also the archaic second person plural, though sometimes used in the second person singular.

It is well known from Robert Herrick’s ‘To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time’ –

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day,
Tomorrow will be dying.

It is seen frequently in the Authorized King James Bible as in ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ (Matthew 11:28)  

Thursday 28 April 2011

April A to Z blogging challenge Xanthippe

A common shrew sits on a moss covered log
Common or Eurasian shrew (Sorex araneus)
Image copyright Andy Sands

Parents often wish to give their children unusual names, to endow them with some individuality. Xanthippe trips off the tongue quite neatly but should be avoided, for fear that the characteristics of Socrates’ wife are imparted with the name.

Xanthippe was a shrew – not literally, of course, heaven forefend. Why would anyone marry a small furry beast? If the small bright eyes and long pointed snout didn’t put off a potential suitor, then the red-tipped teeth might prove less than attractive. Add to that the potential for a female to raise four litters of seven babies each year – that’s fifty-six babies in two years (they only live for just under two years) and you can see that a shrew is not a desirable mate for anyone earning an average wage, whatever that is these days.

No, Socrates married a scold, a nagging, vexatious woman and so such women are sometimes referred to as Xanthippe. Some scholars believe that Socrates’ delight in outdoor discussions was a direct result of his wife’s irritability. Others assume that because he was unconventional he was difficult to live with and tried Xanthippe’s patience so that she became exasperated.

Anyway, don’t choose Xanthippe for your sweet new-born daughter. Xanthe could be a good choice, so long as she isn’t jaundiced – that might not be thought very diplomatic. 

Wednesday 27 April 2011

ABC Wednesday O is for Oudenaarde

ABC Wednesday O is for Oudenaarde

The War of the Spanish Succession began because Great Britain, the Netherlands and the Holy Roman Empire were aghast at the possibility of a union between Spain and France under one Bourbon monarch.

The Battle of Oudenaarde in Flanders was a major battle in the War of the Spanish Succession and was fought between the British, Dutch, Danes, Austrians, Hanoverians and Prussians on one side and the French and Bavarians in opposition. Scots, Irish, Germans and Swiss fought on both sides. It took place on 11th July, 1708 and was the Duke of Marlborough’s third victory in the field over Louis XIV’s army.
The Duke of Marlborough in his garter robes
Image courtesy of Wikipedia
The British and their allies were commanded by the Duke of Marlborough, aided by his close friend, the commander of the Empire’s army, Prince Eugène of Savoy. The French and Bavarians were under the command of the Duc de Bourgogne and the Duc de Vendôme. The latter was an experienced soldier but the Duke of Burgundy was much less proficient and had gained his position by dint of being the grandson of King Louis XIV. Quarrelling and poor communication between the two denied the French the possibility of defeating the British at their one remaining fortress at Oudenaarde and cutting them off from the coast and communication with England.

Half the French army did not engage in battle at all, being kept in reserve, and there were many other ill-considered decisions. In the end, as dusk fell, the tattered French army fled the field, leaving the allies victorious.

The future King George II fought with the allies in the Hanoverian army and had his horse shot under him. He was the last British monarch to be born outside Great Britain, becoming King of England in 1727. He later rode at the head of his troops at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743 and was the last British monarch to lead his army into battle.

Thanks as ever to Denise Nesbitt and her team for hosting and organising this weekly meme. Click here to see more Os.

April A to Z blogging challenge Wisdom

April A to Z blogging challenge Wisdom

‘Wisdom comes with age,’ it’s said,
But what age must I reach
Before perception fills my head
And thoughts precede my speech?

With every passing year I find
I’m child-like yet and silly,
While others educate their minds
I’m still just froth and frilly.

I should be wise by now, you see,
It’s showing in my teeth,
But though I may look ninety-three
I’m eighteen underneath.

Tuesday 26 April 2011

April A to Z blogging challenge Violets

This is an edited version for the A to Z blogging challenge of a story I wrote a few months ago.
My grandmother lived a short distance from our house and I visited her every day. She was a gracious old lady who had been an important part of my young life. Sometimes I stayed with her and slept in her guest bedroom, a pretty room decorated in lavender and white.

I enjoyed the bedtime ritual in her house. First I would have a bath in the claw-foot tub in her huge, chilly bathroom and then wrap myself in one of her large soft white towels and go through to her bedroom where she would brush my hair – one hundred strokes counted out in her soft voice as the bristles swept smoothly through my long straight locks. Then she would give me her box of talcum powder and I would dip the puff into the silky dust, loving the feel of the satin ribbon between my fingers. Sometimes she would dab a little of her perfume on my wrists – it matched the powder – then I would feel so grown up.

Whenever I stayed with her she gave me a sprigged nightgown to wear that had belonged to my mother when she was a child. It had a high neck and long sleeves and fell from a smocked yoke to my feet in gentle folds. There was plenty of room in it to tuck up my feet until they were warm enough to make contact with the cool bed linen.

Then we would go downstairs to the sitting room, a room full of curios and books and plants. The subdued light made the room welcoming and comfortable and though I must have stayed with my grandmother at different times of the year, it is the winter evenings that I recall most clearly, a log fire burning brightly in the grate and casting flickering shadows on the walls and ceiling. My face would grow hot as I leant forward to hold the long toasting fork ever closer to the glowing coals. Crumpets dripping with butter and honey – ‘As many as you like,’ she always said and I would hug myself with glee at the promise. At home such treats were strictly rationed and I always longed for more.

Strangely, at my grandmother’s house I never managed to eat more than the two I was given at home, but it was the thought that I could have more if I wanted that gave me a wonderful feeling of being indulged. Afterwards my grandmother would read to me as I sipped hot chocolate from a delicate china mug. When the story finished, always at the same moment that I drained the last sweetness, my grandmother would hold out her hand and together we would climb the stairs. She would tuck me in, pulling the sheet and blankets firmly round me so that I felt safe and contained. She would kiss me – ‘Night, night, sleep tight. Sweet dreams.’

I would turn on my side and draw up my knees and gaze around the room, lit by a night light – my grandmother knew I hated the dark. The pictures on the walls were of flowers that she had painted and framed - primroses, honeysuckle, bluebells. The curtains and bedspread were soft cotton patterned with tiny pink rosebuds entwining dainty violets. On the bedside table, next to the water carafe and glass, was a small charmingly decorated tin of Parma violets more treasured for their scent than their taste. They smelt like my grandmother – or should it be that she smelt like them?

The next morning I would go home, happy to join my family once more and knowing that I would see my grandmother the next day. I thought I would see her every day for the rest of my life.

My granddaughter lives nearby and visits me most days. Sometimes she stays overnight. Yesterday she burst in excitedly. ‘Look, Grandma, look at these. Aren’t they lovely? Mummy put them in a special box for me. She said you’d like them.’ She thrust a tissue wrapped parcel into my hand and hopped from foot to foot, impatient for me to open it.

The first thing I saw was the lid with its painted flowers and I knew, before I removed it, what was inside. Slowly I took off the top and there, nestled in shreds of lavender paper, were Parma violets. The released scent filled the air. I offered one to my granddaughter. She smelt it then put it in her mouth. ‘Ugh!’ she said and I smiled. I don’t like the taste, either, but the smell reminds me of my grandmother – it was the cologne she always wore. 

Monday 25 April 2011

Magpie Tales #63 Kaleidoscope

Thanks go to Willow who organises and hosts this meme J To read more Magpies please click here.
Image copyright Tess Kincaid


The day I was given my kaleidoscope was one of the happiest of my childhood. I was entranced by the colours and the ever-changing patterns.  I took it to Danny’s house, excited to share my new treasure with him. Danny was older than me and more worldly but I could see he was impressed.

He said, ‘How does it work?’ and I showed him but he shook his head impatiently.

‘No, I mean where do the patterns come from?’

I didn’t really understand but mumbled something my father had told me about mirrors and pieces of coloured plastic. Danny scoffed, ‘I don’t believe that.’

I asked him how he thought it worked and he pondered a while and then said there might be a small roll inside like a musical box but with pictures instead of spikes. I was struck with his knowledge of things mechanical and cautiously agreed that he might be right but I was sure my father had mentioned mirrors.

Danny said, ‘Let’s find out.’

I was reluctant but he was insistent – and older – and I really wanted him to carry on being my friend, so I went along with his suggestion. Danny took out his penknife and prised off one end of the kaleidoscope. A shower of bright plastic shapes fell onto the floor and Danny conceded that my father had been right about those. He maintained his suspicion about the mirrors, however, and quickly ripped open the other end of the cardboard tube.

When he saw the mirrors, he grunted and said that though his idea about the roll of pictures had been a good one, the mirrors and coloured plastic worked just as well. I nodded miserably, tears threatening, and asked Danny to put my kaleidoscope together again. He did his best with sticky tape but it didn’t really work properly. Danny was better at taking things apart than mending them, I realised.

Our friendship continued for a while after that but then we drifted apart, going to separate schools in different towns. I never forgave Danny for breaking my special toy, though it was more than fifty years ago.

The day I was given my kaleidoscope was one of the unhappiest of my childhood. 

Succinctly Yours Week 5

Grandma's Goulash at Succinctly Yours hosts this microfiction meme. Each week she posts a photographic prompt for inspiration and the challenge is to write a story using no more than 140 characters or words. 

Below is this week's photo followed by my offering.
Image courtesy of Grandma's Goulash
‘Look out, Bluebell,’ said Buttercup, ‘Here comes Fergus, all bullish and full of himself.’

‘H’mm,’ said Bluebell, ‘He’d better not try it on with me again. I haven’t got my figure back from last time yet.’

‘Come and lie down with the rest of us,’ suggested Lily. ‘You know that always makes it rain and Fergus doesn’t like getting wet.’

Buttercup sniggered, ‘He’s all talk and no horns, that one.’

The rest of the herd joined in the laughter and carried on chewing the cud. Fergus, watching from the adjoining field, snorted in disgust as the first drops of rain fell and went to shelter under the huge oak.

(109 words)

Saturday Centus #51 Bunny Boy

Jenny Matlock hosts this weekly meme. Thank you! J

Her challenge to participants is to use the prompt to inspire a piece of writing  
of not more than 100 words in any style. Click here to read more and perhaps be inspired to join in!

Here is this week's prompt followed by my offering.
Image courtesy of Jenny Matlock

Bunny Boy

The Playgirl Club was thick with the cackling of bejewelled women. Bernard wondered why he had become a Bunny Boy. The tips were generous but he didn’t like the way the members patted his scut.

Threading his way between bony knees, he tried to recall who had ordered margaritas. The women were almost identical – skin stretched expressionlessly over orange faces, hair coiffed into impossible confections, insanely white teeth.

Suddenly he remembered! It was the red-haired group with almond eyes. As he approached, they watched him hungrily. He noticed how prominent their canine teeth were.

Fear gripped him.
(99 words)

April A to Z blogging challenge Uvula

Uvula – we all have one. It’s that funny little soft bit that hangs from the roof of the mouth near the back of your throat.
Tonsils diagram.jpg
Diagram courtesy of Wikipedia
I looked up uvula, just to make sure I’d got the right word – I always check everything, even when I’m absolutely sure I’m correct – and found out some interesting facts. It’s fairly obvious that the uvula plays an important role in speech but for some people it does not close correctly against the back of the throat. This results in nasal speech when a lot of air comes down the nose and the speaker cannot articulate some consonants.

English has no uvular consonants, though many European and African countries do. The most remarkable example of uvular consonants is in the Khoisan or click languages of Southern and Eastern Africa.

Sometimes the uvula becomes swollen, typically in children with tonsillitis. Other causes include, among other things, dehydration, infection and allergic reaction. Some children are born with a split (bifid or bifurcated) uvula. New-born babies with a cleft palate will also have a split uvula.

Do you or your partner snore? Blame it on your uvula! It will not be a problem to people born in some parts of Ethiopian and Eritrea where a traditional healer removes all or part of the uvula. Strangely, this does not seem to result in nasal speech unless the tonsils have also been removed.

In the course of my reading I discovered something unbelievable! Some people have their uvulas pierced and decorated with rings. It is an unusual piercing, since there is a strong gag reflex associated with the uvula. There is also an associated health hazard for if the jewellery should come loose and be inhaled, surgery would be necessary to locate and remove it.

Saturday 23 April 2011

April A to Z blogging challenge The Thief of Time

The Thief of Time
Steals my days
And makes me indolent.

Time marches on
Relentlessly -
I watch it go.

Those moments gone
Will not return
But still I dream.

To stand and stare
Is Life’s rich gift –
There’s always time.

Friday 22 April 2011

Book Blurb Friday #8

This meme is hosted by Lisa Ricard Claro at ‘Writing in the Buff’ J
 Each week she posts a photo that could be the cover of a book. The aim is to:
‘Write a book jacket blurb (150 words or less) so enticing that potential readers would feel compelled to buy the book.’ 
Image copyright Sioux Roslawski
Remember me
Clearing out her late father-in-law’s house, Carol finds a photograph in a book. On the back are the words, ‘Remember me. Berlin 1976. Angelika Brandt.’ A telephone number is scribbled in the corner but the photo has been torn and the number is incomplete.

Carol determines to discover more about Angelika and travels to Berlin. Her husband insists on accompanying her. Marcus claims to know nothing of the mystery woman but seems uneasy. After a while Carol suspects that Marcus is hindering her research and starts to wonder what influence this woman yields. Was she associated with Marcus’ father or was it Marcus who knew her?

As she draws nearer the truth she realises that she is about to uncover a dark secret that has been hidden for more than thirty years. Her husband and the family that she thought she knew are changing before her eyes.

(147 words, excluding title)

April A to Z blogging challenge Soused mackerel/herring

Mackerel in an ovenproof dish
I really wanted to souse herrings but couldn’t get any so I opted for mackerel. Mackerel is best eaten soon after it is caught as it is inclined to develop a muddy taste but as it was going to be soused I thought it would probably be alright. Time will tell!

In the past I have soused fresh fish in a mixture of vinegar and herbs and spices but this time I have tried a different method by which the fish is cooked in the mixture and not merely left to pickle.


8 mackerel, prepared
1 onion, (I used a red onion) peeled and sliced
198g/7 oz soft brown sugar
3 bay leaves
12 peppercorns
6 juniper berries
500ml/17½ fl.oz cider vinegar
Ready for the oven
1:  Set oven to gas mark 2/150˚C/300˚F
2:  Put fish in an ovenproof dish
3:  Put onion, sugar, peppercorns, juniper berries and sugar over the fish
4:  Pour vinegar over to cover the fish. If more liquid is required, add water
5:  Cover the dish with a lid or kitchen foil
6:  Bake for 50-60 minutes until the fish is tender
7:  Remove from the oven and serve hot or cold

The fish will keep in the fridge for several days if required. 

Thursday 21 April 2011

April A to Z blogging challenge Roses

Our garden is burgeoning. There are very few flowers I dislike and many, many that give me immense pleasure. Summer brings a rich diversity of blooms, their scents carried on the warm breeze - jasmine, honeysuckle, mock orange and roses.
 The roses we have work hard for their places, producing flowers, scent and colour to delight bees and butterflies and providing shelter for birds as they pick and peck among the leaves and petals for sustenance.
The late Eva Cassidy sings Rabbie Burns’ ‘My love is like a red, red rose’. Listen and enjoy. 

O my Luve's like a red, red rose, 
That's newly sprung in June: 
O my Luve's like the melodie, 
That's sweetly play'd in tune. 

As fair art thou, my bonie lass, 
So deep in luve am I; 
And I will luve thee still, my dear, 
Till a' the seas gang dry. 

Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear, 
And the rocks melt wi' the sun; 
And I will luve thee still, my dear, 
While the sands o' life shall run. 

And fare-thee-weel, my only Luve! 
And fare-thee-weel, a while! 
And I will come again, my Luve, 
Tho' 'twere ten thousand mile!

Wednesday 20 April 2011

ABC Wednesday N is for Nelson, Napoleon and the Battle of the Nile

Portrait of a man in an ornate naval uniform festooned with medals and awards.
Rear Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson by Lemuel Francis Abbott, 1800
National Maritime Museum
Image courtesy of Wikipedia
The Battle of the Nile (also known as the Battle of Aboukir Bay and in French as the Bataille d'Aboukirtook place on August 1st – 3rd, 1798, east of Alexandria off the coast of Egypt in the Mediterranean. The French Fleet of 17 carried 1,196 guns. The British Fleet of 14 had 1,012 guns.
An engraved print showing a tightly packed line of 13 warships flying the French flag. The ships are firing on eight ships flying the British flag that are steadily approaching them from the right of the picture.
Battle of the Nile, August 1st, 1798 byThomas Whitcombe (1816) 
National Maritime Museum
Image courtesy of Wikipedia
It was a major naval battle fought between the British and French fleets and proved to be a resounding success for Rear Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson.

Napoleon Bonaparte’s intention was to invade Egypt in a bid to force Britain out of the French Revolutionary Wars, support Tipu Sultan of Mysore in his fight with the British in India and re-establish French influence in India. Naturally, the British government and the East India Company were greatly alarmed at this prospect. The French fleet was pursued by the British across the Mediterranean for more than two months but Napoleon was able to capture Malta and then land his army in Egypt.

The French fleet anchored in Aboukir Bay, its commander believing it to be in a strong defensive position. Nelson’s fleet arrived on August 1st and he ordered an immediate assault. As his ships drew near the French line they divided into separate forces. One division sailed between the French ships and the Egyptian shore and the other took on the seaward side. The French commander, Admiral Brueys d’Aigalliers, had mistakenly believed that the British would not attack, it being then near sunset and late in the day to engage in battle. Trapped in crossfire, the French suffered a fearsome few hours of fighting.

They had taken advantage of being at anchor to conduct refits and took a long time to bring the batteries on land into action, set about as they were with stores and equipment from the ships. The French flagship, the Orient, had been in the process of repainting and highly flammable paint and turpentine were stored on deck. During the fighting these caught fire and the ship exploded at 10:00 pm watched by Nelson on his flagship Vanguard. 

Admiral Brueys died of his wounds before the explosion and the captain, Commodore Casabianca, was blown up with his ten-year-old son. Desperate efforts were made by both French and English ships to pick up survivors, but only 70 crew were saved. The great quantity of valuables looted from Malta by Napoleon was lost. The French ships to the rear of the line tried to sail out of the bay but of the seventeen ships engaged, only four managed to break free. Of the rest, four were destroyed and nine captured, two of which fought on the British side at Trafalgar.

Following the defeat at Aboukir Bay, Napoleon left his army to fend for itself and returned to France. Any risk to Britain’s claim to India was averted and other European countries were encouraged to resist France. Nelson was hailed as a hero throughout Europe (though not in France!) and was created Baron Nelson.

During the battle Nelson ordered British colours to be flown from Vanguard’s rigging in six different positions so that at no time would there be an absence of colours, regardless of how much rigging was destroyed. Afterwards he ordered all his ships to conduct thanksgiving services. The captured atheist French revolutionary officers were impressed by the piety and discipline of the British crews.

ABC Wednesday is brought to you by the Noble Denise Nesbitt and her Noteworthy team. Please click here to see more Ns.

April A to Z blogging challenge Quotidian

This challenge is inspired and initiated by Arlee Bird at Tossing It Out. The objective is to  post every day in April, apart from Sundays, using the alphabet sequentially.

The co-hosts are as follows:-

Jeffrey Beesler at World of the Scribe
Alex J Cavanaugh at Alex J Cavanaugh
Jen Daiker of Unedited
Candace Ganger of The Misadventures in Candyland
Karen J Gowen at Coming Down the Mountain
Talli Roland
Stephen Tremp of Breakthrough Blogs

Quotidian is a wonderful word to roll around the mouth. Before I knew what it meant I imagined it standing tall and proud, chest thrust out, gazing with steely expression into the far distance. I expected it to describe something outstanding. It is a noble word, one to be classed with Quinquereme and Quiescent and Quietude.

How disappointing, then, that it is merely a synonym for commonplace.