Wednesday, 4 October 2023

Mushroom or Fungus?


Mushroom or Fungus?

All mushrooms are fungi but not all fungi are mushrooms. Fungi include moulds, yeasts and rusts. All fungi differ from plants and animals in the way they obtain their sustenance. They cannot ingest food like animals or photosynthesise like plants. They ‘feed’ by absorbing nutrients from the environment, decomposing organic matter, which becomes compost.

The fungi commonly called mushrooms grow all year round but are most noticeable in late summer and early autumn.

Not all mushrooms grow low down. Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) grows on tree trunks, notably oak trees and can be seen from late spring to autumn. It is valuable for wildlife. Some beetles only feed on bracket fungi like this one. Deer eat it, too.

 Humans can eat Chicken of the Woods but it can cause dizziness and stomach upsets in some people. It is poisonous if growing on yew. It is said to have a texture similar to chicken when cooked, so is an acceptable substitute for meat in vegetarian meals.

Orange Peel Fungus (Aleuria (Peziza) aurantia)

This edible fungus grows on open ground in woods and is very common in autumn. It starts as very small cups, looking flat, but grows to 3-4" across. 

From August to November walking with the dogs in the woodlands takes on a new aspect. Silent figures in ones or twos may be seen, causing warning barks or excited approaches, depending on the character of the dogs. The objects of their interest walk quietly among the trees, eyes cast down, frequently stooping to gather something from the rich soil. 

They may emerge suddenly from the cover of the woods, holding plastic bags weighed down with their booty. Occasionally, they carry shallow baskets. These folk are the mushroom seekers, the amateur but very knowledgeable mycologists, for at this time of year the earth gives up an abundance of mushrooms. 

think this is Brown Birch Boletus (Boletus scaber) - but I could be wrong!!

It is quite common in summer and autumn in woods around birch trees.  The caps are edible and good to eat but the stalks are rather tough.

English people have little folklore about mushrooms and many of the tests to decide which ones are edible and which poisonous are not to be trusted. They may well grow in grass or not blacken a silver spoon but these are dangerously ill-informed methods for testing the toxicity or otherwise of them.

 In Europe the knowledge is deeply ingrained, with France having perhaps the greatest interest and understanding. Until the Second World War Englishmen were very suspicious of wild mushrooms but learnt much from immigrant Poles and other Europeans who taught them that some toadstools can be delicious. Others, though edible, are so bland as to be not worth eating.

 The most prized fungi of all, the truffles, do not generally grow in UK, but when they do they are mostly found under beech trees. In France they usually grow under evergreen oaks. Specially trained pigs or dogs are used to sniff out the wondrous treats that develop underground, often at a depth of a foot or more. 

 Since the end of the Second World War, interest in the UK in collecting mushrooms has grown and is causing some concern, because mushrooms are very important in maintaining moisture in the soil and providing a source of water for trees. In times of extended periods of dry weather such water caches are invaluable. 

This is one of my favourite books. The glorious illustrations are by Beatrix Potter

Fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) is a striking mushroom often seen in children's books. In Alice in Wonderland Alice is given fly agaric to eat. For more than 4,000 years it was used in religious ceremonies in Asia. It is hallucinogenic. 

Just as scavenging birds and beasts  keep the world largely free of decaying carcases, so fungi perform a similarly significant service. Indeed, they have been described as ‘the great scavengers of the vegetable kingdom.' (‘Wayside and Woodland Fungi’, W.P.K. Findlay D.Sc., F.I.Biol., F.I.W.Sc)

Trametes (formerly Coriolus) versicolor, commonly called Turkey Tail in USA

This is very common on fallen branches and trunks. It is a medicinal mushroom in China and used in China and Japan as an immunoadjuvant therapy in the treatment of cancer.

  Together with bacteria mushrooms break down organic detritus. Without them the world would be cluttered with dead trees, fallen branches and deep, deep leaf drifts. The enzymes they produce liquefy the wood of trees and the soft tissues of leaves and fruits to provide nourishment for the fungi. Anything that is not consumed forms rich humus on the forest floor and acts as a sponge to retain moisture. Some fungi are adapted to decomposing hoof and hair remains of animals.

 Fungi are a source of food, drugs, poisons and diseases. They cause most of the serious plant ailments and some that are troublesome to man and animal, like ringworm. Every gardener who maintains a compost heap owes its success in part to moulds as well as bacteria and worms.

 If you should feel inclined to eat wild fungi please don’t rely on identification through illustrations. Toxic and non-toxic mushrooms can look remarkably similar and a simple mistake can lead at best to several hours’ discomfort and at worst to an agonising death. Take advice from a knowledgeable mycologist and if in doubt, DON’T!

Tuesday, 3 October 2023

Thunder and Lightning – André Rieu

Thunder and lightning!

In this rendition by André Rieu and the Johann Strauss Orchestra the polka is played at a fast and furious pace and sometimes seems in danger of running away with itself. 

It's great fun, though, and certainly gets the toes tapping. All the members of this privately owned orchestra look as though they are really enjoying the experience and surely that should be the case with all music performances.

André Rieu founded The Johann Strauss Orchestra in 1987 with twelve members. Now there are more than 50 musicians who travel around the world to perform concerts in large venues.

The Austrian violinist and composer Johann Strauss II, (Strauss the Younger)  wrote the Thunder and Lightning Polka (Unter Donner und Blitz) in 1868.  He composed it in Vienna for the Artists’ Ball. He was known in his lifetime as ‘The Waltz King’ and wrote over 500 pieces of dance music, as well as operettas and a ballet. He is credited with popularising the waltz in 19th century Vienna.

We have had thunder and lightning today. It had been forecast for many days, but the weather sometimes passes us by. Our 'thunderstorm' was rather pathetic but maybe we'll have more action later. I may live to regret that last sentence! 

Our storm was more on a par with the nursery action rhyme:

I hear thunder, I hear thunder.

Hark! Don’t you? Hark! Don’t you?

Pitter, patter raindrops, pitter, patter, raindrops.

I’m wet through, so are you!

Monday, 2 October 2023

The Teddy Bear's Picnic

The Teddy Bears’ Picnic

 The name teddy bear came from President Theodore Roosevelt, whose childhood name, which he disliked, was Teddy. The first teddy bears were created in 1902 and quickly became very popular, following a bear-hunting trip in which Roosevelt took part. He was unable to locate a bear, unlike others in the party, so someone caught and beat a black bear and tied it to a tree and invited Roosevelt to shoot it. He thought that was unsportsmanlike and refused, asking someone else to shoot it to put it out of its misery. A political cartoonist, Clifford Berryman, seized on this incident, depicting Roosevelt with his back turned to the bear and The Washington Post published it.

Clifford Berryman's cartoon, Washington Post, November 16th, 1902

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons     

The music for The Teddy Bears’ Picnic was written by American composer John Walter Bratton in 1907. It started life as the ‘Teddy Bear Two-Step’ and was often used to accompany circus acts. The words, by Irish songwriter Jimmy Kennedy, were written in 1932 and the Two-Step was renamed The Teddy Bears’ Picnic.

In the same year, Henry Hall and his orchestra recorded the song with the singer Val Rosing. The recording was of such high quality that it was used by BBC sound engineers until the early 1980s to assess audio equipment.

If you go down in the woods today, you're sure of a big surprise
If you go down in the woods today, you'd better go in disguise
For every bear that ever there was
Will gather there for certain because
Today's the day the teddy bears have their picnic

Every teddy bear who's been good is sure of a treat today
There's lots of marvelous things to eat and wonderful games to play
Beneath the trees where nobody sees
They'll hide and seek as long as they please
That's the way the teddy bears have their picnic

Picnic time for teddy bears
The little teddy bears are having a lovely time today
Watch them, catch them unawares
And see them picnic on their holiday

See them gaily gad about
They love to play and shout
They never have any cares
At six o'clock their mummies and daddies
Will take them back home to bed
'Cause they're tired little teddy bears

If you go down in the woods today, you'd better not go alone
It's lovely down in the woods today, but safer to stay at home
For every bear that ever there was
Will gather there for certain because
Today's the day the teddy bears have their picnic

Some critics have claimed that the lyrics are grim and menacing and not at all suitable for children.  Not everyone likes the song. I think it’s rather charming and I really like teddy bears!

                                Here is someone who's gone 'in disguise'

The 1992 illustrations in my board book version are by Michael Hague, an American illustrator who has created drawings for many books,  mainly children’s.

Sunday, 1 October 2023

Traditional pursuits in October – part 1

Traditional pursuits in October – part 1

Two children playing Pease Porridge hot
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

October 1st is the traditional start of the English Pudding Season. (No, I didn’t know there was such a thing, either!)

September is harvest time and was traditionally followed by the slaughtering of animals and the preservation of their meat. Keeping animals not needed for breeding would require them to be fed throughout the winter, an expense most families would not wish to incur. By October 1st most of the slaughtering would have been completed and the meat salted to preserve it. Women would then start making puddings and pies.

In days of yore, English puddings were savoury. Ingredients included meat, vegetables and spices and sometimes dried fruits were added, to give sweetness.

The word ‘pudding’ derives from the French ‘boudin’ by way of the Latin ‘botellus’. ‘Boudin’ is a French kind of black pudding and ‘botellus’ means small sausage. So, traditional English puddings were essentially sausages! Mediaeval puddings were mainly meat-based. Black pudding is described as a traditional delicacy, though I’m not sure that’s really the right word as black pudding is not ‘dainty’. It is made from animal blood, usually from pigs. It is mixed with fat, onions, cereal and seasoning.  White pudding is similar but doesn’t contain blood.

By the 17th century English puddings could be either savoury or sweet.

One mediaeval dish that is still eaten, particularly in North Eastern England, is pease pudding or porridge. It is usually made from yellow split peas and spices and is often cooked with a ham joint. It is similar in texture to houmous (hummus).  

The nursery rhyme is a clapping game between two children, who stand opposite each other. They clap their own hands on the first word, right hands with each other on the second, own hands on the third,  left hands with each other, own hands and then both hands with their partner. The sequence is repeated, getting faster with each repetition until one of the pair makes a mistake or they both collapse in a heap of giggles.                                                                                 


Pease pudding hot
Pease pudding cold
Pease pudding in the pot
Nine days old

Some like it hot
Some like it cold
Some like it in the pot
Nine days old

It is very entertaining watching children playing clapping games. The nimbleness they display is impressive and it would be a shame if such pastimes lapsed. Among other things, clapping games promote memory skills, improve fine motor control, and encourage concentration. 

The following clip shows two girls playing a traditional clapping game.

Saturday, 30 September 2023

Michaelmas Day


Michaelmas Day

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday, September 29th, was Michaelmas Day, Là Fhéill Micheil, the Feast of Michael and All Angels. It marks the end of harvest and the beginning of autumn and its shorter days. The archangel Michael was the leader of Heaven’s armies and defeated Lucifer.

Traditionally, blackberries should not be picked after St Michael’s Day because that was the date that Lucifer was expelled from Heaven as punishment for his dreadful deeds. He landed in a bramble bush, and burnt, stamped and spat upon the berries so picking them after that date is not advisable.

A traditional Michaelmas meal might consist of a goose fattened on the stubble of the harvested fields and carrots. This meal foretold good luck for the coming year. Sometimes the day was known as ‘Goose Day’ and goose fairs were held, when labourers looking for work after harvest could be hired.

Nottingham Goose Fair still takes place around this date. It is said that Queen Elizabeth I was eating goose when she heard that the Spanish Armada had been defeated and declared that she would eat goose on Michaelmas Day. Thus was a tradition formed.

The name ‘Goose Fair’ was first recorded in 1541-1542, though it probably had been in existence since the Charter of King Edward I (who reigned 1272 to 1307) referred to Nottingham city fairs, around 1284. 20,000 geese raised and fattened in the Lincolnshire fens each year were driven to Nottingham to be sold.  Goose Fair used to be held for eight days from September 21st but was moved to early October in 1752, after the adoption of the Gregorian calendar.

                                Sculpture of goose girl, Wittingen, Lower Saxony, Germany
                                                     Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Asters, also known as Michaelmas daisies, are associated with Michaelmas Day. They are perennial, nectar and pollen-rich flowers which bloom in late summer and autumn and come in a variety of colours from white to pink, purple, blue and red. They are easy to grow in all but the most difficult soils, like heavy clay.

Asters are named after the Greek for ‘star’ because their flowers resemble stars. The flowers were formed from the tears of Astraea, the ‘Starry Maid’, the Greek goddess of innocence, who cried when she saw there were no stars on earth.

Asters signify love, wisdom and faith and became representative of love after being offered on altars to the gods. In the Language of Flowers they symbolised love, patience and wisdom, as well as elegance and grace, two qualities greatly admired by the Victorians.

A posy of asters carries the message that the recipient should take care of themselves for the sender. Different colours say different things. Purple asters stand for dignity and admiration. Pink flowers symbolise innocence and love and white flowers also represent innocence as well as purity. Blue asters signify faithfulness and trustworthiness.

Friday, 29 September 2023

Reading in accents

Reading in accents

When an author depicts a character as living in or from a particular geographic location I find myself reading in the accent of that character. This is fine if all the characters are ‘local’ but if the story includes individuals from diverse parts of the country it can become quite trying.

Some authors are adept at writing in the distinctive speech rhythms and patterns of different localities, but others are not and it can be quite jarring. With yet other authors it doesn’t matter at all and I read in my normal voice. I don’t read aloud, of course . . . well, not often.

I have recently read books set in Norfolk, Lincolnshire, Dorset and Kent, with all of whose cadences I am familiar. I have family in Norfolk and Dorset, went to college in Lincolnshire and was born and brought up in Kent. I have also lived in Ireland, Wiltshire, Cambridgeshire and West Midlands (and Germany, where I spoke poor German!) and for much time past have lived in Berkshire.

Although familiarity with a regional accent is useful it does not prepare one for a ‘deep-dyed’ local. One day, my son-in-law, Paul, met an acquaintance in Dorset and started talking to him. I happened to be there but could not understand a word his acquaintance said. It was a most extraordinary experience.

I learnt later that the Dorset dialect stems from Old West Saxon and is preserved in the Blackmore Vale, where this encounter took place. Paul was speaking standard English with a Dorset inflection while his acquaintance was responding in rapid dialect. It was fascinating and quite musical and completely incomprehensible to an outsider.                                       

The following is from William Barnes’ book, ‘Poems of Rural Life in the Dorset Dialect’.

Ees; now mahogany’s the goo,

An’ good wold English woak won’t do.

I wish vo’k always mid auvord

Hot meals upon a woakèn bwoard,

As good as think that took my cup

An’ trencher all my growèn up

(‘Wold’ is ‘old’, ‘woak’ is ‘oak’, ‘vo’k’ is ‘folk’ . . . )

William Barnes (1801-1886) was a polymath, poet, priest and artist among other things. He believed strongly that foreign words should not be brought into the English language, saying that ‘strong old Anglo-Saxon speech’ should prevail.

Everyone who has read or watched Harry Potter knows at least one Dorset word. Dumbledore is dialect for bumblebee.

  This is the 1972 Yetties version of "Dorset is Beautiful", originally written by Bob Gale from Beaminster....

Oh! Dorset is a'beautiful wherever you go

 And the rain in the summer-time makes the wurzle tree grow

 When you're sitting in the spring-time in the thunder and the hail,

With your true love, on a turnip plant, to hear the sweet nightingale...

As I was a'walking one morning with a lass,

Two Dorsetshire farmers I chanced for to pass.

And one said to the other as we went strolling by;

"There be more birds in the long grass than there be in the sky"

Oh! Nellie is my girlfriend and I loves her so.

Her's as big as an haystack and 40 years old.

 Farmer says hers ginormous and loud do he scoff

For you has to leave a chalk mark to show where you left off.

 Farmer looks at young Gwendoline and he looks at young Ned

"What a handsome young couple, they ought to be wed".

Farmer says sadly "It's impossible of course

For Gwendoline is my daughter and Ned he is my horse".

One day as her went milking with Nellie the cow,

Her pulled and her tugged but her didn't know how.

So after a short while, Nellie turned with a frown,

                    Saying "You hang on tight love and I'll jump up and down".

Thursday, 28 September 2023

War horses


War horses

'Goodbye, Old Man' by Fortunino Matania (1881-1963) 

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I am indebted to Joan(Devon) for introducing me to the Brooke Charity for horses, donkeys and mules. I must also thank her and Willie for telling me about the poem, ‘A Soldier’s Kiss’ by Henry Lang Chappell (1874-1937)

Henry Chappell worked at Bath railway station for most of his life and was a prolific poet.


A Soldier’s Kiss


Only a dying horse! pull off the gear,

And slip the needless bit from frothing jaws,

Drag it aside there, leaving the road clear.

The battery thunders on with scarce a pause.


Prone by the shell-swept highway there it lies

With quivering limbs, as fast the life-tide fails,

Dark films are closing o’er the faithful eyes

That mutely plead for aid where none avails.


Onward the battery rolls, but one there speeds

Heedlessly of comrades voice or bursting shell,

Back to the wounded friend who lonely bleeds

Beside the stony highway where he fell.


Only a dying horse! he swiftly kneels,

Lifts the limp head and hears the shivering sigh

Kisses his friend, while down his cheek there steals

Sweet pity’s tear, ‘Goodbye old man. Goodbye’.


No honours wait him, medal, badge or star,

Though scarce could war a kindlier deed unfold;

He bears within his breast, more precious far

Beyond the gift of kings, a heart of gold.

The Brooke Charity owes its existence to Dorothy Brooke. Living in Egypt and knowing of the plight of war horses abandoned at the end of the First World War she appealed for funds to alleviate their suffering. With generous donations, she was able to found the Old War Horse Memorial Hospital in Cairo. The work expanded and today the charity helps to care for working horses, donkeys and mules in countries including Ethiopia, Latin America and India.

Wednesday, 27 September 2023


Are you Scottish?

 There are pronunciation guides online if you get stuck 😉




"Thank heavens we've got a navy". 

Less than three months before the start of the First World War, on 28th July, 1914, the popular perception of Great Britain’s ability to defend itself against invasion was neatly summed up in this ‘Punch’ cartoon by Leonard Raven-Hill (1867-1942)

‘Punch or The London Charivari’ was a weekly British magazine established in 1841. Its content was humorous and satirical. It was published for 150 years, closing in 1992. Four years later it was revived, but finally closed for good in 2002.

Great Britain had no conscription (state-ordered enlistment to a national, usually military service) until 1916, two years after the commencement of war, while all the other belligerents had conscription from the start. Thus, Great Britain was always under strength and had great difficulty replacing casualties. By the end of the war the land force numbered just over 2 million. However, nearly 5½ million served in the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in total, of whom around 880,000 perished. Thousands of others suffered life-altering injuries.

The British Army had 28,000 veterinary staff serving in France alone. There were huge animal hospitals to care for sick animals which had often been damaged due to neglect and overwork as much as injury.

Pack mules carrying ammunition

Two million horses, mules and donkeys were used during the First World War In addition to carrying cavalry troops, they moved heavy artillery, transported stores and ammunition and drew ambulances. War dogs were used as messenger dogs and to carry medical supplies and water to injured soldiers in no-man’s land. Pigeons were also used to carry military messages.

Tuesday, 26 September 2023

Video tutorials


Video tutorials

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
        There are online tutorials available for all manner of subjects, from draining the dishwasher sump to sewing French knots to researching the effects of differing focal length in photography. We frequently turn to them for guidance.

Some presenters approach their task straightforwardly and make their points comprehensibly. Others demonstrate a need to furnish viewers with a personal history before addressing the subject matter of the tutorial. Some speak very quickly and with so few pauses between sentences that they are difficult to follow, while others enunciate so carefully that they are almost incomprehensible.

Often, viewers are invited to ‘like’ a video with a ‘thumbs up’ or an invitation to subscribe (often meaning ‘pay money’) for further videos/information.

Some people like video tutorials. Seeing something demonstrated makes it easier to understand. Others prefer to have information in word form, often in print, as they find it simpler to refer to.

Would it be a sweeping generalisation to say that those who understand their subject matter best are the most succinct tutorial presenters?

Monday, 25 September 2023

Gilbert the Good - time to go to bed


Gilbert the Good - time to go to bed

My humans stay up too late so I have to remind them when it’s time to go to bed. I bring Barry his slipper, just one – I can’t carry two at once. Janice doesn’t wear slippers so I climb on her lap instead. She does make funny noises when I do that, but I suppose I am a lot bigger than I used to be.

Here I am on the day I arrived.

Herschel, Roxy and me 
I was ever so pleased to see a big dog in my new home. It was so nice to cuddle up with Roxy. Now I’m bigger than her and she’s gone back to looking like a little dog again – well, as little as a Labrador can look. My humans say she’s not as small as Jenna-with-the-big-paws.

Once I’ve persuaded the humans to lock up and turn off the lights, we all go to bed and then we can relax until the morning. I think if I didn’t remind them about bedtime they would stay up all night and that wouldn’t be good for any of us. It’s all very well napping during the day, like the cats do and us dogs (and sometimes the humans) but it’s important to have a proper sleep.

 The humans say it’s to recharge our batteries, but I haven’t got any of those, so I don’t know what they mean, really.



Sunday, 24 September 2023

The Old Grey Mare

The Old Grey Mare

I didn’t understand why white horses were always called greys so I looked it up several years ago. Then, looking it up again to make sure I was correct, I discovered I wasn’t and that not all white horses are called greys. A grey (white) horse is born with coloured hair and black or grey skin. As the horse ages, the colour gradually fades until they are an overall silvery white. Only horses with the grey gene turn white. Other horses without the grey gene retain their coat colour but may develop white hairs around their eyes or muzzle.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Genetically white horses have pink skin and white hair from birth. They usually have brown or blue eyes. The difference between horses born white and those who go white with age can always be told by the underlying skin colour. A grey will have dark skin around the eyes and muzzle while a white horse will always have pink skin.

Most genetically white animals have a tendency to deafness, though this does not seem to be the case with white horses. For example, Dalmatian puppies are born white, the spots developing over the ensuing months. There have been many instances of deaf Dalmatians but careful breeding is eradicating the problem. All registered Dalmatian breeders are required to have their proposed breeding animals tested. The BAER (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response) test measures brain wave activity in response to particular sounds or tones. It is completely safe and non-invasive and is also used in small humans or others who cannot reliably cooperate with a standard hearing test (though obviously not for breeding purposes!)

                        Jack Russell Biddy with Dalmatian puppy Cariadd 1984

Affected registered Dalmatians are not allowed to be bred from, even if only unilaterally deaf. In this way, the number of deaf Dalmatians has been reduced considerably.

The Old Grey Mare is a traditional American folk song from the early years of the 19th century. It is about an old, tired horse that is still loyal to her owner.  It is not a compliment to be likened to an old grey mare, another name for old mare being 'nag'.

                                      Although it might not appear to be an appropriate name for a welcoming pub, The Old Grey Mare is the name of at least four pubs in the UK, as well as a pale ale brewed by Greene King. Greene King is a brewery in Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk.

 On the other hand, The White Horse is the name of around 270 pubs, and is the eighth most popular pub name. The White Horse at Blakeney was run for several years by my late sister and brother-in-law. Their younger daughter and son-in-law ran The King’s Head (tenth most popular name) in Letheringsett. My grandmother, a teetotaller, ran a pub in Saffron Walden, so the tendency seems to have run in the family. 

Mushroom or Fungus?

  Mushroom or Fungus? All mushrooms are fungi but not all fungi are mushrooms. Fungi include moulds, yeasts and rusts. All fungi differ fr...