Monday 31 July 2023

Writing without thinking


Writing without thinking

Most people have had to paraphrase. It is something that villainous teachers demand of their reluctant students. The advice runs along the tracks of, ‘Read and inwardly digest, then rewrite in your own words.’

Just as a calculator is not helpful to those who have not grasped the basic principles of arithmetic, so can a thesaurus lead the unwary astray.

‘It was a dark and stormy night and the Captain said to his mate, “Tell us a story.”.’ 

                                        can become

‘It was an obscure and passionate dark and the Boss revealed to his partner, “Voice us a floor.”.’

Top marks for effort, but many fewer for comprehension. It could be worse. if the paraphraser decided to try more ambitious vocabulary, excited by the words but not having a clear understanding of nouns, verbs and adjectives.

‘It existed a dim and hot-blooded brunette and the Torment displayed to his accompany, “Caution to us an item.”.’

 In an effort to make our writing more interesting, less formulaic, less prone to cliché, we search for different ways to say ‘said’. So our characters gasp, sigh, shout, scream, whisper, implore, question, cry instead of simply 'saying'.

Our characters never walk – they sway, sashay, march, stagger, stumble, totter, trip, race, hurry, and never do they start an engine – it is powered up, and so is a computer. 




Sunday 30 July 2023




Herschel, very relaxed.

It is bliss to cushion one’s weary head and feel the troubles of the day drift away, even as the bitter gale whines round the house, its chilling fingers probing cracks and crannies. It moans and whimpers, screams and sobs, and the cushioned head dreams on, oblivious, safe and warm – and attached to a body, in case you’re thinking it’s disembodied.

This flight of fancy was inspired by Roxy and Herschel, peacefully slumbering while Gilbert attended to other matters in the conservatory – just a little pruning here and there . . . mostly there. Jellicoe was on my lap, 'helping'. 


Saturday 29 July 2023

Labour-saving devices


Labour-saving devices

                            Old treadle-operated Singer sewing machine

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

My dear husband is a technophile and thereby am I granted wondrous machines that do a thousand different things in twice the time it would take me to do the one thing required.

For example, I enjoy embroidery and a little sewing. I voiced the thought that a sewing machine would be useful for certain tasks. Immediately, research was undertaken, and very thoroughly, and before I knew it I was the owner of a super-duper machine with bells and whistles, embroidery hoops, a dongle, three massive tomes of instruction and umpteen ‘feet’ for the production of complicated stitches a dress designer would sigh for. I was afraid to touch it for fear it would take off and become my master.

 Eventually, I overcame my apprehension and have managed to complete some occasional very neat hemming. Together, my husband and I embroidered some dog portraits, and they are the sum of our efforts at artistic creativity through the medium of a sewing machine.

When the subject of ironing arose, back in the days when I actually ever attempted to iron anything, back in the days when non-iron fabrics were an impossible dream, back in the days when creases and holes were not de rigeur and definitely not a fashion statement, my husband suggested that an ironing machine would be a good investment. His argument was that it would free me to do other things. The ‘other things’ were unspecified, but it was the thought that counted.

Anyway, research duly commenced and it was discovered that an ironing machine could iron a shirt in two minutes. I don’t think that included setting it on the ironing stand or whatever it was. I timed myself ironing a shirt – it took two minutes, and so no ironing machine came to darken my doors.

A knitting machine was another suggestion. I had seen my mother and sister setting up their knitting machine. It took a very long time and seemed an awful kerfuffle. More importantly, it took away the pleasure of feeling the wool through the fingers and the comforting clickety-clack of the needles. Dropping a stitch in hand knitting is fairly easily resolved, but on a knitting machine it could take aeons, or so it seemed to me. 

I’m sure there are plenty of people who love their knitting machines. Kaffe Fassett uses one now, I think, though he started hand knitting during a train journey, being taught by a fellow passenger. The Knitting Bishop, Richard Rutt (who died in 2011) might never have discovered the joy of creation if his first experiences had been with a table-top machine.

Labour-saving machines are useful but one should always retain the knowledge and ability to do things by hand. Using a balloon whisk for scrambled eggs is satisfying, or, failing that, a fork will do. Plugging in an electrical device to do the same task is not so pleasing, at least, not to me. My efforts at bread-making, however, are dire, and so the bread-maker is most welcome.

Do you like machines that save you time and effort? Which is your favourite? Which ones now gather dust in your cupboards?

Friday 28 July 2023

Hearty phrases


Hearty phrases

A fashionable man in the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714)

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Here are some encouraging phrases for use when you can’t think of anything else to say in what may be a difficult situation.

Adopt a ‘hearty’ voice for these phrases!

‘Best foot forward’ is a strange expression, since it implies one has more than two feet. There is a suggestion that it stems from a time, probably in the 1700s, when prospective suitors were judged on the comeliness of their legs. Apparently, men would add padding to their calves to make them appear fuller and better muscled. At the same time, footmen in grand houses were appointed for their appearance and needed to look attractive in knee breeches.

Today, putting one’s best foot forward means trying one’s best in attitude and apparel to make a good impression, particularly in job interviews. It can mean, simply, ‘buck up’. 

‘Buck up’ originated in the 1800s. A buck is a male deer, handsome, strong and virile. Young men were often referred to as young bucks, in their fine clothes. To buck up would mean to dress smartly and adopt a confident posture. Now, it’s often used in the sense of ‘getting a move on’; ‘It’s later than I thought – we’d better buck up.’ It is also used as a more robust alternative to ‘cheer up’.

‘That’s the ticket’ means all is well and you’re going in the right direction, making the correct decisions. It is a corruption of the French, ‘C’est l’étiquette’, meaning that’s the right way. ‘L’étiquette’ also means ‘the ticket’. In 16th century Spain the phrase was adopted and adapted to ‘etiqueta’. It referred to the written rules of precedence and practice for the correct behaviour at court.

‘Worse things happen at sea’ is an idiom intended to make an unhappy person realise that circumstances could be much harsher. Obviously, disasters at sea often have tragic consequences, but it is difficult, in the throes of misery, to contemplate the misfortune of others.

In fact, all these hearty motivational expressions do more to reassure the speaker than the person to whom they are addressed. Nonetheless, rather than refraining from speaking, something seems to drive the urge to encourage. ‘Foot in mouth syndrome’ usually follows!

Thursday 27 July 2023




                                            Melia, learning to sit

On Monday evening I had a ‘phone call from my eldest grandson, Callum. Were we doing anything the next day? I confirmed that our day was clear so he said he and Kat would come and see us. This was to be our first meeting with Melia, our youngest great-grandchild.

They arrived mid-morning. They live about 1½ hours away, a distance of about 70 miles. Travelling during the summer holidays is much easier and their journey was trouble-free. Melia slept all the way. She is five months old and such a smiley, happy baby, with big, dark blue eyes. She has made tremendous progress since her heart operation in May and is really well and strong.

Susannah and Melia
It was lovely to see them all. Susannah took a break from work and popped round to see them and have a cuddle with Melia. Babies don’t stay small for very long. She is already rolling and teeth are imminent. We shall see big changes the next time we meet.

Gilbert was most interested - his first baby!

Wednesday 26 July 2023




This is an exclamation often uttered when success has been achieved after fruitless hours of toil. For example, a domestic device has stopped working. It’s something that is used every day, a simple appliance that has always been reliable, never given a moment’s trouble. Everything has been attempted to try and sort out the problem. The book of words associated with the machine has been consulted, the internet has been trawled, and all in vain, until someone suggests, ‘Have you tried switching it off and on again?’

Hope lights the tired eyes and the switch is duly depressed or flicked or the plug is unplugged and plugged back in. That doesn’t work and gloom descends once more until someone else says, ‘Perhaps it needs a new battery’, the new battery or batteries are put in place and Bingo! it works again. (Note: this only succeeds if the appliance in question needs batteries to make it function. Do not search for batteries in contraptions that don’t require batteries – that way madness lies.)

Early British slang records Bingo as “a customs officers’ term, the triumphal cry being employed on a successful search.”

The game of bingo is thought to have its origins in 16th century Italy as a lottery game called, ‘Il Gioco del Lotto d’Italia.’ From there it made its way to France and was called ‘Le Lotto’, where it was played by French aristocrats. Louis XIV himself may have played it, jubilantly crying, ‘Maison’ when he achieved a full house.

By the 18th century it was established in Great Britain and the rest of Europe. Today, bingo venues can be found in most communities, the lure of winning a money prize attracting many to its doors. As a form of gambling it seems fairly innocuous, with relatively small winnings. At least, that was my impression, but when I looked more closely, I discovered it is possible to win millions. Bingo is now big business online, no longer confined to village halls and former cinemas, with hosts calling all the old favourites – legs eleven, key of the door, two little ducks, clickety-click and so on. Perhaps another layer of innocence and simple pleasure has been pared back, even laid waste, to commercialism.

This is the Bingo with which I am familiar. Please sing along! I can almost guarantee it will sit in your ears all day.


Tuesday 25 July 2023

Cat’s paw


Cat’s paw

Herschel's paws

In nautical terms, a cat’s paw is the pattern of ripples on the water’s surface caused by a light breeze. It is also a knot used in sailing to connect a rope to an object.

For carpenters, it is a tool used to extract nails.

For people wishing to use others for nefarious means, a cat’s paw is a dupe, a mug, a fool. The latter meaning derives from the tale of the monkey and the cat.

In the 17th century Jean de la Fontaine wrote many fables, including ‘Le singe et le chat’. The monkey in the tale persuades his friend the cat to retrieve roasting chestnuts from the embers of a fire. The monkey promises to share the spoils with the cat. As the cat pulls out the nuts, burning his paw in the process, the monkey quickly eats them. Their exploits are disturbed by the maid and so the cat gets nothing for his pains, other than sore paws.

Herschel washes his paw, oh, so carefully


Monday 24 July 2023

Playtime in a new garden


Playtime in a new garden

Susannah and James have just moved.

 Roxy and Gilbert are enjoying playing in their garden.

Sunday 23 July 2023

Go to the ant, thou sluggard


Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise

                                                                                            (Proverbs 6:6)

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Most flying ants, known as alates, are the the winged version of the common black garden ant, Lasius niger.  Sexually mature queens and males appear on a hot day when the sun is out and people are enjoying a barbecue, perhaps, or gardening, or walking, or simply sitting and enjoying a fine day. The ants like hot, humid days, for the dampness in the air keeps their wings and bodies moist. Rain and wind are their enemies, and then they will keep close to their nests.

There is no one ‘flying ant day’ - they can occur at any opportune time between June and September.  Already this summer in England we have had some auspicious days for the ants. You may notice one or two traversing your arm or leg. Brushing them off, you notice them all over the ground, walking, not flying, quite slow-moving, quite sinister, wings glittering unnaturally in the bright sunlight. In the woods, too, the wood ants are out and about, intent on their flying day. Suddenly, the ants ascend into the air and if you are unlucky enough to be caught in the swarm, your hair or your mouth may trap a few of them.

An ant colony has one queen served by about 5,000 workers, though some nests may have three times that number. The queen’s purpose is to lay eggs and increase the colony. The female workers look after the queen, the eggs and the larvae. They also enlarge the nest and collect food.

Most of the eggs develop into workers but once the nest has been expanded as far as possible, which will vary according to the availability of food and nesting materials and the proximity of other ant colonies, virgin queens and drones will develop. On a suitably fine, warm day, the alates emerge and take flight, looking for a mate. They scatter as they leave the nest to try and ensure that they mate with individuals from other colonies, thus reducing the risk of inbreeding and weakening the species.  There is safety in numbers and a large swarm limits the extent of predation by birds. Each queen usually mates with several males.

The males live for only a day or two after mating while the queen bites off her wings and seeks a suitable location where she burrows underground to lay the first of her eggs. She raises this first brood to maturity, not eating for weeks until her workers are ready to forage for her. She will continue laying eggs for the rest of her life, which may be as long as 15 years in the wild. Queens in captivity have lived for 28 years. She will never emerge from the nest again.


The Ants

What wonder strikes the curious, while he views

The black ant’s city, by a rotten tree,

Or woodland bank! In ignorance we muse:

Pausing, annoyed – we know not what we see.

Such government and thought there seem to be;

Some looking on, and urging some to toil,

Dragging their loads of bent-stalks slavishly:

And what’s more wonderful, when big loads foil

One ant or two to carry, quickly then

A swarm flock round to help their fellow-men.

Surely they speak a language whisperingly,

Too fine for us to hear; and sure their ways

Prove they have kings and laws, and that they be

Deformed remnants of the Fairy-days.

John Clare (1793 – 1864)


Saturday 22 July 2023



Ashes - the Fourth Test

Relaxing and watching cricket, although it’s raining at the moment. It has been very exciting . . .




All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


                                                        White's seahorse

Of all the fishes in the sea,

Seahorses are the ones for me.

There are around 50 species of this quaint little creature, ranging in size from the diminutive pygmy seahorse at 1.5 cm to the pot-bellied seahorse, which can reach 35 cm. In captivity, the smallest individuals live for about one year, while some of their bigger cousins can live for as long as five years. All of them exhibit a unique equine head and neck profile and prehensile tail. Seahorses have a horn or spine on the head, called a coronet, particular in appearance to each species.  It is believed that Hippocampus has existed for at least 20 million years.

                                                    Pygmy seahorses

Seahorses are unusual in that they swim vertically. At the beginning of the breeding season, which lasts six months, male and female seahorses form pairs. After several days’ courtship, involving quivering and swimming together, tails entwined, the female deposits her eggs in the male’s pouch so that he can fertilise them. He then incubates them for 9 to 45 days. When they are fully developed they are released into the sea, to fend for themselves. The babies cling together in small groups, using their tails. A very small percentage of the thousands that are ‘born’ each year survive.

Seahorses lack a stomach and have just a digestive tract, so must eat all day to survive. They are omnivorous, using their snouts to suck in plankton, tiny crustaceans and other small animals. Some seahorses prefer to eat live food, even consuming their own young, while others like it dead. They are exceptionally poor swimmers and cannot pursue their prey, so anchor themselves to plants or other stationary objects by their tails. They rely on camouflage to protect themselves from predators and use it to hide among plants to ambush their prey. Their eyes move independently of each other, much like a chamaeleon.

 The slowest-swimming fish in the world is the dwarf seahorse, which manages a distance of 1.5 m an hour.

On 21st July, the BBC reported that Australian scientists from the Sydney Institute of Marine Science had released hundreds of the endangered White’s seahorses into Sydney Harbour. However, when I looked for more information I discovered that this release had been effected more than two months ago, in May! Wake up, BBC!

The 380 little seahorses have all been tagged in an effort to track their progress.

Friday 21 July 2023

Traditional pursuits in July in UK


               Traditional pursuits in July in UK

All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons  
             'Swan Upping on the Thames', from Henry Robert Robertson's; 'Life on the Upper Thames.', (1875)              

I am indebted to Andrew for inadvertently suggesting this post.

Roast swan was a favoured dish in the Tudor courts of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.  Swans are no longer eaten but the ownership of all mute swans is shared between the sovereign, the Vintners’ Company (Vintners are people who make and sell wine) and the Dyers’ Company.

The Swan Master, by Diana Thomson  

The annual tradition of Swan Upping has been practised for 900 years. This year, 2023, it commenced on Monday, 17th July in Sunbury-on-Thames and will finish five days later in Abingdon, covering a distance of seventy miles. The King’s swans are recorded by the Marker of the Swans. They are marked with a ring linked to the British Trust for Ornithology. Those belonging to the Vintners and Dyers have an additional ring on the other leg. Originally, the swans’ beaks would be nicked with a metal tool to indicate who owned them, which was probably no more painful than clipping one’s nails.

Worshipful Company of Dyers' Flag  

Swan Upping provides an opportunity to count, weigh and measure the young cygnets, as well as ringing them. They are also checked for injury, as often birds have been caught and damaged by fishing lines and hooks.

The Royal Swan Marker commences swan upping in Sunbury

The Royal Swan Uppers wear a scarlet uniform, under the guidance of the King’s Swan Marker, who wears a swan feather in his cap. The Vintners wear white and are commanded by their Swan Master and the Dyers wear blue and are under the control of the Barge Master. All travel in a small fleet of skiffs under the royal flag of King Charles III. The skiffs work together to pen the birds so that they can be picked up. The cygnets are pulled from the water onto the river bank, quickly checked and marked and returned to their parents. The cygnets belong to the same owners as their parents.

Avian flu had a devastating effect on swans in 2022, hundreds dying from a disease that is so easily spread in the wider bird population. There is concern that it may still be wreaking terrible harm. Swan Upping may provide some answers.

Why is it called Swan Upping? The King’s Swan Marker, David Barber, says that is so called because the skiffs travel ‘up’ the Thames and pick up the cygnets from the water.

"PROCLAMATION OF THE LAWS OF MAN. The famous Tynwald Hill from which the laws of the Isle of Man are annually proclaimed in Manx and in English, is situated nine miles from Douglas, and is supposed to be in the very centre of the island. The hill itself is made by the hand of man, and is said to be composed of earth brought from each of the twenty-four parishes of the island. On July 5th, the eve of old Midsummer Day. the quaint and ancient ceremony of proclaiming the laws takes place. The ladies, as is proper in a land where women have long exercised a vote, play a prominent part in the ceremony. It is not till the Acts of Tynwald have been proclaimed from the Tynwald Hill that they become law. The name "Tynwald" itself recalls the language and the history of a very ancient day. It is the same as the Danish Thingvalla and the Icelandic Thingwall and means the "Field of the Popular Assembly."

Another tradition in the UK in July is the annual observance of Tynwald Day, (Laa Tinvaal in Manx) in the Isle of Man, on 5th July. 

On this day, there is an open air ceremony at Tynwald Hill in the small village of St John’s. The Governor of the Isle of Man officiates, unless the Sovereign or another member of the Royal Family, attends. You can read more about it here and here.

               Bakewell, Derbyshire, 2014

An interesting tradition that takes place in Derbyshire between May and September is well dressing, also known as well flowering. Wells and springs are decorated with mosaics created from flower petals. The origins of the practice are not clear, and range from a pagan custom offering thanks to the gods for a consistent water supply, a celebration of water purity after the Black Death, or gratitude for the constancy of water during a long drought in 1615.

                                                    Bradwell, Derbyshire, 2007

In 1840, Buxton introduced well dressing in thanks to the Duke of Devonshire who arranged and paid for the supply of water to the town. Over time, well dressing was extended to include piped water taps.  Although principally a Derbyshire tradition, it has also been adopted in various parts of Staffordshire, South Yorkshire, Cheshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire and Kent.

                                                    Whitwell, Derbyshire, 2012

To dress the well, wooden frames are covered with clay and a design is traced onto it. Usually, the design is religious in nature, and is completed with flower petals and mosses, sometimes with the addition of seeds and other natural materials.                              

Thursday 20 July 2023




O.K. sauce, 1913

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

O.K. sauce was one of several vinegar-based brown sauces available for slathering over food like chips, bacon, sausages or cheese in the UK. It isn’t the oldest – that honour belongs to HP sauce, which is also the most popular, accounting for three quarters of all sales. It is not now available in UK but is still produced by Colmans for the Asian market.

I may be mistaken - it happens frequently – but I recall reading the label on the back of a bottle of O.K. sauce when I was young. I’m sure it described the derivation of O.K. as the abbreviation of an incorrect spelling by a young army officer of ‘All correct’ as ‘Orl Korrect’.

Seeking corroboration, I find no record of this. In fact, there are many conflicting stories of how O.K. originated, and very interesting they are. One says that derives from the Scottish ‘och aye’, meaning ‘oh yes.’ Others suggested that O.K. were the initials variously of a Swedish worker, Olaf Knutsen, or an American quality controller for General Motors, called Oscar Kirby, each of whom would stamp their initials on components that had reached the quality requirements.  Yet another suggests a connection with the Established Church of Scotland. Communion tokens were distributed four times a year to parishioners examined and found worthy to take communion.

See the following, from Karl Felsen of New York:

‘The "K" stands for Kirk, and the "O" stands for a particular parish in Scotland (Ochiltree-1762, Oldhamstocks, Ormiston-1733). There were also several tokens with a stand alone "K" on a circular token (These stand for Kilmorack, Kilmuir, Kingussie, Kintail, and Knockbain.)This all comes from "Communion Tokens of the Established Church of Scotland, Sixteenth, Seventeenth, and Eighteenth Centuries" by Alexander J.S. Frook, FSA, in the "Proceedings of the Established Church of Scotland, May 13, 1907. The Charlton Standard Catalogue of Canadian Tokens shows an "OK" token for Ormstown but says the "OK" stands in this later 1841 token for "O(ld) K(irk). . . . . . . . . . . Now the vast, vast majority of communion tokens do not have "OK" on them or a "K" on a circular token, but if "OK" did come to mean "Old Kirk" as the Charlton Catalogue claims, I could see how it could enter the Scottish settler's vocabulary as just what it came to mean. I have absolutely no evidence of OK either in speech or writing in this sense, but there is no doubt that there were chunks of metal (round and square) with "OK" stamped on them floating around in the 18th and 19th centuries, and that these chunks of metal literally meant that the possessor had been found OK in our understanding of the term and should be accepted for communion in any kirk he or she enters.’

However, Wictionary says it is

‘A deliberate, humorous corruption of all correct, dating from the 1830s, recognized as one of several possible origins for the term OK.

O.K. became popular in the USA in the 1830s. It was used in the 1840 American Presidential Election. The Democratic candidate seeking re-election as President was  Martin van Buren, nicknamed Old Kinderhook after his birthplace. His supporters formed O.K. clubs around the country and O.K. had a double meaning – it was all right or acceptable – O.K. - to vote for Old Kinderhook – O.K.   Van Buren was defeated, which was not O.K. for the Democrats.

The expression was cloaked in mystery until a Columbia University professor of English, Allen Walker Read, discovered its true origins in the 1960s. O.K. first emerged in the Boston Morning Post, courtesy of its editor, Charles Gordon Greene, as he took literary pot shots at a Providence newspaper in 1839.                                      

Wednesday 19 July 2023

Gilbert the Good – feeling guilty


Gilbert the Good – feeling guilty

It wasn’t my fault, not really. We were having fun near the big pond in the forest when I saw two dogs coming towards me and raced to greet them.

Unfortunately, I tripped Barry up and he flew gracefully through the air and landed headfirst. He tried to stand up but he felt woozy and had to lie down in a mosquito nest in a ditch. I mean, he didn’t choose to lie in a mosquito nest – it just happened to be there.

He couldn’t stand up without falling over so an ambulance came. The ambulance people checked all his vital signs and found them suitably vital but decided he should go to hospital as he had banged his head. Meanwhile, James came to take Roxy and me home. 

Then Gareth, Susannah’s brother, arrived to help.

When the doctor said Barry could be discharged, Susannah and Gareth suggested that it might be better to wait until he could stand up without feeling dizzy and sick and needing to sit down again. So, he stayed in hospital.

The next day he came home and we were ever so pleased to see him. Nothing was broken and it was just his brain that had been shaken about like a jelly. He slept a lot at first, but now he’s tickety-boo.

Susannah’s sisters, Bethan and Gillian, came on different days to satisfy themselves he was okay.

This all happened almost six weeks ago.  Susannah has been taking Roxy and me out every morning but now Barry’s head is fine and Janice’s knee is much better so they are walking us again and everything is back to normal . . . but I still feel a bit guilty.






Tuesday 18 July 2023

The New Forest


The New Forest

                                        Dominie in the New Forest, many years ago

 This ancient forest covers 140,000 acres of pasture, heath and forest in south-west Hampshire and south-east Wiltshire in the south of England. William the Conqueror decreed it a royal forest in 1079 for the purpose of hunting ‘the beasts of the chase’  - that is, the two native deer, the red and the roe, wild boar, and the fallow deer which were introduced by the Normans after 1066.

The New Forest was recorded in the Domesday Book, which was a survey and valuation of land and property in England. It was commissioned by William the Conqueror in 1085 and completed in 1086. The Domesday Book is actually two works – the Great Domesday, which was probably written on parchment by just one person and the Little Domesday, which had at least six people working on it.

                                                        New Forest ponies

It is home to the New Forest Commoners, who continue to exercise their ancient rights of common pasture. Anyone living in the forest has the right to turn their animals out to graze for pasture and is thus known as a Commoner. Their rights are protected by verderers and agisters. The Court of Verderers are unpaid officials who oversee commoner rights, such as the grazing of ponies, and ensure the protection of land and wildlife.

From Wikipedia:

The Court has the same status as a Magistrates Court, and acting under its authority the Verderers are responsible for regulating commoning within the Forest, for dealing with unlawful inclosures, and for a wide range of other matters relating to development control and conservation such as proposals for new roads, car parks, camping sites, recreational facilities, playing fields and so on.

The agisters are a small group of people who help the verderers in monitoring the free-roaming animals which graze the Forest. They spend much of their time on horseback, checking the land and the animals. There are several thousand semi-feral ponies as well as many thousand cattle to oversee. Sheep and donkeys are also turned out to graze, though in lesser numbers. In the autumn, pigs are turned out for about 60 days to feed on acorns, beechmast and other nuts. This practice is known as pannage.

 Ponies have right of way 
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

                                                            Homeward bound
                                            Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Pony power versus horse power at Beaulieu garage
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
 Each agister has responsibility for a specific area of the Forest and is on call every day to deal with emergencies, like injured or trapped animals. Every year between August and November the agisters organise ‘pony drifts’. The Commoners, who pay an annual fee, called the ‘marking fee’ so that their ponies are allowed to graze, round up their ponies to be checked and recorded.

The drift provides an opportunity to worm the ponies and brand the new foals, each owner having a distinctive brand. This is the time that ponies may be withdrawn for sale or taken in for the winter. The ponies that are to be turned out for another year have their tails clipped in a style that identifies them as belonging to a particular agister’s area of the forest. 

                                                            Pony tail cuts

Courtesy of New Forest Show, 2012

Someone once remarked that the ponies’ tails look as though they’ve had a bad haircut, but they are clipped to prove that their owners have paid the marking fee for the coming year.

Because the animals are free to roam, they often wander onto unfenced roads. There is a speed limit through the unfenced areas but accidents happen, because drivers do not adhere to the speed limit. Last year, 2022, 41 animals died, either killed outright, or destroyed because they were too badly injured to survive. The unfortunate animals were 34 ponies, 3 pigs, 2 cows and 2 donkeys. Nineteen more were injured but lived to tell the tale.