Thursday 31 August 2023

The Gardener’s Friend


The Gardener’s Friend

When working in the garden, one may have the sensation of being observed. A rustling in the leaves and a glimpse of bright red indicates that the watcher is the friendly robin. He will hop and fly after the gardener, perching on nearby branches, closely watching for tasty morsels.

Robin Redbreast (Erithacus rubecula, European robin) may be a friend to the gardener but he is extremely territorial and very aggressive to other birds. Males and females, alike in appearance, defend their territories rigorously, singing loudly from perches. Although they look indistinguishable, each robin’s red breast pattern is unique.

In the breeding season, which starts around March, male and female work as a pair to hold their ground and are among the first birds to sing in the dawn chorus and the last to finish singing at night. Some sing all night and are often mistaken for nightingales. This used to be attributed to street lighting but is now thought to be because their song is more easily heard in the still of night. Apart from when they’re moulting in mid-summer, robins sing all year round, unlike most other birds in UK, which sing only during the breeding season.

These little birds, with their bright black eyes and red breasts, are always a welcome sight in the garden and can become very trusting of people, even feeding from their hands. They have learnt to associate gardeners with an easy source of food, following them as the ground is turned over to reveal wriggling invertebrates. Young robins don’t develop a red breast until after their first moult, but can be recognised by their spindly legs and speckled brown feathers.

There are several legends concerning how the robin acquired its red breast. One says that a small brown bird was present when the fire keeping the baby Jesus warm died down. The bird flapped its wings to fan the flames and a burst of flame scorched its breast. Another story claims that the bird drew a thorn from Christ’s crown of thorns and was splashed with blood. A third folk tale says that the little bird took water to the tormented souls in Purgatory and was singed by the flames.

Until 1861, during the reign of Queen Victoria, postmen wore red waistcoats as part of their uniform. They were nicknamed ‘robins’. As they delivered Christmas cards and letters the association with the birds became stronger and they started being pictured on Christmas cards, perhaps representing the postmen. Thus, the centuries old belief that robins were harbingers of good luck and happiness and messengers of joy and peace was reinforced.

There is an old belief that robins bring messages or even visits from departed loved ones – ‘When robins appear, loved ones are near.’ Such beliefs bring comfort and peace. As robins are widespread across the British Isles, the chances of seeing one are very good.

Wednesday 30 August 2023

Gilbert the Good - a Monty Don dog


 Gilbert the Good – a Monty Don dog

I told you a while age that my humans call me a Monty Don dog. Monty Don presents a television programme called Gardeners’ World and there are two dogs that help him, a Golden Retriever and a Yorkshire Terrier. I’m more the size of a retriever – well, I am a Labrador Retriever, so that makes sense.

Anyway, I think I could offer my services to Monty Don if he ever needs a stand-in, say if his dogs are on holiday or something. I like helping in the garden. I even bring things indoors sometimes – the odd branch, perhaps, or I particularly like flower pots and I don’t mind if they’re full or empty.

               I like to stick my nose in when Janice is weeding. Some of the things she pulls up look quite appetising. She pulled up a lot of mint the other day as it was growing everywhere, even in the pond. I like mint. It smells wonderful.

.Barry has been pruning trees and then he does something called ‘graunching’ which is very noisy. I stand well back. I don’t like loud noises.  He uses a big machine and wears things on his ears and over his eyes – I don’t know how he can see what he’s doing! Then he puts all the graunched bits back on the garden. He says the graunched bits are now called ‘mulch’. There’s a lot I don’t understand but I’m willing to learn. I could graunch some branches for him if it would help. He wouldn’t even have to take them off the trees.

I like smelling the flowers. My humans told me that Buddy Liver Spots liked to stand among the plants in the conservatory. He hated getting wet, so never went swimming, and always walked round puddles if he could, but loved to run through long wet grass. He was a Dalmatian, though, and I’m a Labrador, so we are quite different.  My long-ago relatives used to help the fishermen haul in the nets in Newfoundland and I’m sure my distant cousins still do. All Labradors have partially webbed feet so we’re all good swimmers.

I don’t like going into the garden when it’s raining and neither does Roxy, but we love to go walking when it’s wet. Bertie, who came before me, didn’t like going out in the rain when he was a puppy. If he needed a pee he used the cats’ litter tray. I haven’t done that and I’m too big now, anyway. I’m a good boy – I know that because my humans keep telling me I am.

Anyway, back to being a Monty Don dog. I think  I’d enjoy being on television. Lights! Camera! Action!




Tuesday 29 August 2023

The garden in late August


The garden in late August

 Lavatera 'Barnsley Baby'

A couple of months ago We moved this buddleja from the front garden, where it has lived for several years, to the back garden, and feared it would not survive. It has flowered beautifully - I hope it's not its last gasp!

 Achillea millefolium 'Summer Pastels'

 Coenosia tigrina on yarrow

Little fly with a big name on yarrow



Garlic chives



Saururus cernuus in the pond

Commonly called 'lizard's tail', this aquatic plant disappears completely in winter.

Pears have been disappointing.  Lots of pear rust and only three or four pears from the trees.

Apples have been very productive - a large basketful every day.


                                                       Apple mint




Begonia fuchsioides on its summer hols
This cane begonia is ridiculously easy to propagate and grows like a weed. 

This is another of the house plants enjoying a summer holiday outside. This is Pachira aquatica, known as the Guiana chestnut or Money tree.

Monday 28 August 2023

Small, but perfect

 Small, but perfect  


We are enjoying a glut of apples and plums this year which we are happy to share with others, human or otherwise. The over-ripe, the serially pecked and the windfalls drop to the ground, to be consumed by a myriad tiny creatures.

In this morning’s harvest, a small but perfect passenger was brought safely indoors, travelling on a ripe apple. All babies are beautiful, even snails. 

I liked the first verses of this poem by John Bunyan, Upon a Snail:

She goes but softly, but she goeth sure;

She stumbles not, as stronger creatures do:

Her journey's shorter, so she may endure

Better than they which do much further go.  

She makes no noise, but stilly seizeth on

The flower or herb appointed for her food,

The which she quietly doth feed upon, 

While others range and glare, but find no good.

And though she doth but very softly go,

However, 'tis not fast, nor slow, but sure;

And certainly they that do travel so,

The prize they aim at, they do procure.


Sunday 27 August 2023

Morning wash and brush up


Morning wash and brush up

Jellicoe attends to Gilbert

Why so noisy?


Why so noisy?

Someone on the local Facebook group asked why the local nudists were so noisy. This caused a good deal of mirth and prompted many questions and much speculation. Some people had no idea there was a gathering place for Crowthorne naturists and wanted to know where it was and how likely they were to stumble upon a group of nudists enjoying life.

I discovered on its promotional website that ‘The Heritage Family Naturist Club’ has been active for eighty years and that some families have been enjoying its facilities for four generations. It is situated on four acres in local woods, and is enclosed by a high wall. All that can be seen from outside are the roofs and chimneys of chalets, and a multitude of ornamental trees. From within the walls come the sounds of people enjoying themselves, in a quiet, restrained way – no loud music or voices.

We were walking past with the dogs one day when Barry spotted an RAF flag flying from the flagstaff. He was intrigued by this and asked some friends of his, very senior RAF officers, if they knew anything about it. They didn’t, or at least didn’t admit to knowledge of it, but seemed rather pleased at the thought.

The Heritage has been a source of amusement and challenge for generations of local teenage boys trying and failing to climb high enough to catch a glimpse over the wall. Naturism is a harmless pastime. It must cost its participants a fortune in sunscreen creams, though.

You can learn more about it here. What amused me was the sight of naked people wearing hats and footwear and there being a changing room for the sauna. How do you change your skin?


Saturday 26 August 2023



Last night I had the strangest dream – where have I heard that (sung) before? As with most (of my) dreams, there was no logic to the sequence of events. A series of problems was presented and no answers were forthcoming. I met people I hadn’t seen for years, who were in fancy dress as teddy bears. I went into a lift with half a dozen others but which further people couldn’t access, so it was secure in a worrying sort of way. With no money or credit cards I had no means of paying for travel home and as I had forgotten my mobile ‘phone I was unable to contact anyone. I woke up feeling slightly mystified but neither relieved nor upset. It’s unusual for me to remember my dreams in much detail, but this one will remain with me for some time. Gerard Culpeper was another vivid dream, here.

Apparently, humans dream for about two hours every night and the dreams may be as short as five minutes or as long as twenty. They occur during the REM (rapid eye movement) phase of sleep when the brain is more active. Some people claim that they never dream but perhaps they simply don’t remember.

Events that have been experienced during waking hours are processed through dreaming. Research has shown that creativity and problem-solving skills are enhanced while dreaming, and memory and learning are strengthened.

Some dream themes are very common and experienced by a multitude of people. They include being chased, being naked in public, being able to fly and pregnancy. I wonder if any men have dreams about pregnancy?

One familiar dream is about falling. Whenever I have that dream I wake up with a start just before the fall finishes. Awakening is accompanied by a pounding heart and a sense of relief.

A recurring dream is of being late for work. There was always a stressful element to travelling to work – perhaps there is for everyone. The more one has to rely on other people, the more anxiety is created. Will the train be on time/running?  Will the bus break down? Will the traffic jam ever ease?

Some dreams are pleasant and provide a cushion against hardship and deprivation. One lady who had been in a hellish concentration camp during the war dreamt constantly of beautiful, tasty meals. Once she was free, she never had that dream again.

Sometimes, people are aware that they are dreaming and may even be able to exert some control over what is happening. This is known as lucid dreaming and has been studied since ancient times. Aristotle said, “often when one is asleep, there is something in consciousness which declares that what then presents itself is but a dream.” Such an experience occurs quite frequently and is not usually frightening, unless it is during a nightmare. Research suggests that half of all people studied have had lucid dreams at least once in their lifetimes but only a small percentage have them regularly.

   Dogs and cats dream. A dreaming cat twitches whiskers, paws, tail, and other muscles and may emit little noises, perhaps experiencing again the thrill of the chase. A dreaming dog twitches all over, ‘runs’ and howls or barks. It can be very noisy at night if dogs, cats and humans are all engaged in reliving the day’s events as they sleep.

Friday 25 August 2023

Where have they gone?


Where have they gone? 

The decline in the left-hand members of the gardening glove community has been happening for quite some time. Finding a pair has become a mix and match affair and can look rather jolly and quite colourful but yesterday I could find no left-handers at all. They had all disappeared.

I keep buying pairs in a variety of patterns and colours, so that I can have a left-handed glove. I have been conscientious about storing them in partnerships, or so I thought, but now I have about ten right-handed gloves and none for my neglected left hand. I have even tried wearing a right-handed glove on my left hand, but it’s quite constricting and not at all comfortable.

I’m right-handed and my husband is left-handed, but we both have the same frustration with gloves. If there were any logic to it, I would expect my husband to have problems with right-handed gloves, but he doesn’t. It’s always the left-handed gloves that vanish.

I researched the possibility of buying only left-hand gloves, but that idea didn’t fly. One day I shall find the missing gloves, along with all the pencils and other things that mysteriously go astray. Meanwhile, I await the delivery of a few more pairs of gloves.

This phenomenon doesn’t occur with winter gloves, just the ones I need for gardening, although I do find that a similar thing happens with rubber gloves, the ones everyone calls ‘Marigolds’ even if they’re not that brand.

It’s always the left-hand gloves that develop a split that isn’t apparent until the glove is full of water or the hand is covered in whatever the glove was meant to thwart. It’s quite sinister. Is it the work of the Devil, perhaps, or mischievous spirits, like boggarts?


Thursday 24 August 2023

The world turned upside down

 The world turned upside down

‘The world turned upside down’ implies a state of disarray or describes a radical change in personal circumstances or mode of life. It could apply to the parlous state of my beloved homeland.

 It is based on a verse in the Bible, Acts 17:6, which says, ‘These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also.’ It referred to some of the Jews in Thessalonica who were angered by Paul and Silas preaching the gospel, accusing them of attempting to overthrow the established religion and way of life.

In 17th century England, Parliament decreed that the holy day of Christmas  should be observed with appropriate solemnity. It passed laws making traditional Christmas celebrations illegal. The Puritans and the Presbyterians thought them too closely related to Catholicism and inclined to incite drunkenness and misbehaviour.

‘The world turned upside down’ was a ballad composed in 1646 towards the end of the First English Civil War. It protested against the laws and against the civil war, which aimed to limit the powers of the king

Wednesday 23 August 2023

Working in retirement


Working in retirement

Many people find when they retire that they do not wish to stop working entirely. Some may volunteer in various capacities, others may opt for a part-time job, perhaps in a large superstore. Such businesses often employ people to greet patrons – a friendly and gracious way to encourage business.

Now, Charlie was just such an employee. He was courteous, took a pride in his appearance and was intelligent and well-liked by everyone. In short, he was an asset to the company. There was one problem, however – every day he was late, sometimes by 5 minutes, others by 10 or even 15 minutes.

One day the boss called him into his office for a chat.

‘Charlie, I must tell you, you do a fantastic job and I like your work ethic, but you’re late for work every day and it could become a problem.’

Charlie said, ‘Yes, I realise that, boss, I’m working on it.’

His boss said, ‘I’m pleased to hear it. It’s rather odd, though, you always coming in late, because you were in the armed forces. What did they say if you arrived late for work then?’

Charlie said, ‘They said, “Good morning, Admiral. Would you like some   coffee now, sir?”’

Tuesday 22 August 2023




All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

There was a time, before electricity was discovered, when all homes and workplaces were lit by candlelight, oil lamps or rushlights. Rushlights were rushes soaked in fat or grease and were a common form of lighting for poorer people.

 Gas lighting was introduced in the 19th century.

The first well-documented experimental use of gas street lighting was in Pall Mall, London, in 1807. Until then street lights were fuelled with oil, often whale oil. Most London streets were gas lit by 1816 but the general populace distrusted this ‘new-fangled’ form of lighting and were slow to accept it in their homes. Some fifty years after the introduction of gaslight, it was installed in the Houses of Parliament in 1859 and became thereafter more widely accepted.

Gaslights were often left dimly burning, to be turned up when brighter light was needed. Matches were always ready to hand to light the gas lamps in rooms that were not regularly in use.

 Electricity wrought a revolution. Light could be accessed at the flick of a switch and people who had been used to leaving the gas lamps on a low flame now had to remember to turn off the electric lights when they left a room. However, some people in UK continued to use gaslights as late as the outbreak of the Second World War.

There is a second, more sinister meaning to gaslight. Gaslighting someone is a method of psychological, emotional abuse, creating confusion and anxiety, with the intention of gaining control of an individual or situation. The objective is to undermine the victim’s self-esteem and confidence by creating doubt in their minds.

The term ‘gaslighting’ comes from a 1930s play called ‘Gas Light. The male character intends to steal from his wife and uses gas lights to persuade her that she is going mad. 

Its modern application can include examples like a victim being repeatedly told they are unwell, mad, selfish, manipulative, lying, or simply stacking the dishwasher incorrectly despite being told numerous times how to do it ‘properly’, This makes them jumpy and afraid of ‘doing the wrong thing’.  However, the ‘wrong thing’ may change without warning so that they are constantly on tenterhooks, worrying about what might happen next and beginning to doubt their own judgement and sanity. 

It is an awful way to live and is not always easy to escape or explain to others. The perpetrator may also try to influence others to accept their version of events, destabilising formerly good relationships with friends or family and further isolating the victim.

Not every perpetrator realises that their behaviour could be described as gaslighting but others make a conscious decision to gaslight. There are many reasons a person may choose to play mind games – control, self-aggrandisement, avoiding taking responsibility – but whatever the reason, the perpetrator needs professional help just as much as their victim. 

Just as practices like candle lighting moved with the times to provide gas and subsequently electricity, so bullying, now known as coercive control, has moved on and been recognised, thankfully, as a crime.

’section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 has stated that controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or familial relationship is a criminal offence.

On January 20th, 2022, the term ‘gaslighting’ was acknowledged for the first time in the High Court.’

Monday 21 August 2023




Macaroni penguins
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
There are about five million penguins in Antarctica. When a penguin is found dead, members of the colony use their beaks and wings to dig a big hole. When the hole is deep enough, the dead body is rolled into it and buried. The rest gather round in a circle and sing, ‘Freeze a jolly good fellow, freeze a jolly good fellow . . . ‘
Actually, dead penguins are scavenged by skuas and petrels. The few that die on land rather than ice do not decay but dry out. Strong winds erode the bodies, gradually turning them into dust.

Sunday 20 August 2023




I received a message a several days ago that told me I was ‘due a medication review with one of our clinical pharmacists’ and to book an appointment ‘ASAP’.  So I did as duly instructed and contacted an extremely flustered receptionist, who was trying to negotiate between three different practices that have been merged recently to make the management of patients, doctors, nurse practioners, pharmacists more effective. She kept apologising for keeping me waiting as she negotiated her way through several lists, with comments like, ‘No, he’s working from home,’ and ‘Oh, she could . . . oh, no’ and ‘Maybe he might be able to’. I felt so sorry for her.  Eventually, she gave me a date and time for a telephone consultation, which was a week hence between 10 and 12 with ‘Chris’.

I wrote the date and time in my diary and, when the day came, I waited and waited. I carried my ‘phone with me in case ‘Chris’ called – I didn’t want to keep him waiting, with him probably being a busy man and all that – but no call came. It didn’t worry or annoy me – my ‘medication’ is only for eye drops and is well-monitored with annual ophthalmology appointments at hospital departments which are wandering geographically from county to county in a search for the most efficient setting. The most recent was in Aldershot, ‘The Home of the British Army’.

The ophthalmology appointment was conducted very smoothly and the ophthalmologist was most complimentary, so much so that I wondered if her eyes needed testing. I am grateful to the optician (optometrist?) who detected a potential problem ten years ago (at least!) and referred me. I don’t like having my eyes closely examined, but it’s a small price to pay to make sure they remain healthy and problem-free.

Meanwhile, I wait to find out if I am commanded again to make an appointment ‘ASAP’ and give grateful thanks for the healthy genes my parents gave me. I just hope I’m not tempting Providence. Superstitious? Never!

Saturday 19 August 2023

The end is in sight


The end is in sight

                                Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons 
For some, in Scotland, it has already arrived but the rest of the United Kingdom must wait until the beginning of September for the end of the looooonnnnng summer holidays and the start of the new academic year. Quite why Scotland has to be out of step with everyone else is anyone’s guess. Maybe it has something to do with being much further north, with shorter daylight hours in winter, though that seems illogical on a warm day in the middle of August before the clocks have gone back.

     Regardless of start of term dates, small children about to begin the 14-year journey called ‘school’ will have been hauled or are still being dragged from shoe shop to hair dresser to uniform suppliers to stationers to set them up with everything they could possibly ever need and may not necessarily ever use. Hereafter, thrift shops or PTA organisations do a roaring trade in good quality, second-hand uniform.

Thus, tiny girls and boys are thrust into unfamiliar clothes which are too long and too broad, but which leave plenty of room ‘for growth’. This is particularly noticeable if the child is about to enter an ‘independent’ school – that is, not a state school.

 Independent schools often require garments that are not easily available online or in the chain stores. Indeed, some schools insist that all uniform must be bought from the official uniform suppliers, at official uniform prices, of course. The colours are sometimes startling, and the cut can be unique. I have seen small girls drowning in ankle-length plaid kilts, which will last them until they are 16. Uniform manufacturers don’t realise that most small humans don’t have much in the way of hips and waists, so skirts and trousers are constantly slipping down and shirts and blouses are always untucked.

I remember one very small, very young boy appearing at school, an independent one, on his first day, in the entirety of his winter uniform. This comprised knee-length socks, long trousers, long-sleeved shirt, tie, jumper, blazer and duffel coat. I don’t think he was wearing his school scarf, but cannot be sure. He could hardly move and was extremely warm. Older, wiser children with greater experience, were wearing summer uniform. The duffel coat was cut in such a way and made of material so stiff that a child could move around inside it independently, like a hamster in its skin.

I don’t know which committee of people decides what a school uniform should be, but there is not much thought given to practicality. The youngest children in school are at different stages of development.  In the Reception class, to which children are admitted in the September following their 4th birthday, there will be a range of ages, abilities and experience. The oldest child in the class may be 5 soon after the beginning of term in September, while the youngest may only just have had their 4th birthday at the end of August or even the beginning of September. Some may even still be wanting an afternoon nap and will find a full school day very tiring, notwithstanding a new routine, new children, big adults with scary voices.  They are still very tender.

Changing for P.E. can take an entire lesson, even with a teaching assistant to help. Stiff button-holes defeat little fingers, some may be reluctant to remove their socks, others may get completely carried away and strip off as if ready for a bath. Getting changed back is challenging. Arms can’t find armholes, jumpers go on back to front, shoes, often someone else’s, are forced onto the wrong feet, and all this alongside sometimes uncertain bladder control or worse in the very youngest and least mature.

Somehow, the children survive unsettling activities – lining up for lunch is very different to sitting down quietly at home with mummy, the toilets are often less than appealing, choice of partner is limited and sometimes non-existent and the child may have to hold hands with another who made faces earlier. Going to the hall for assembly is worrying – it’s a large, echoing room with lots of big children! The playground is noisy and everyone has to go outside, even if they don’t want to, especially if they don’t want to.

Eventually, ‘home time’ arrives and the children rush to their relieved parents (relieved because the child survived the day without mishap) and who bombard them with questions. ‘What did you do today? Who did you play with? Did you eat all your lunch? What’s your teacher like? Did you have a nice day?’

A school day is a work day and, just like adults, children often do not wish to discuss their day. They have had no choice in their activities or their companions. They have had to sit when told, stand when told, go to the toilet, wash their hands, queue up for lunch, go out to play, line up to come in again, join one group for one activity, go to another for something different.

Children will speak about their day when they are ready, but it may not be anything to do with what they may or may not have learnt. It will be something random, like ‘I want to wear glasses’.

Friday 18 August 2023




                        All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Last night’s supper was moules. I don’t know why we always call them moules, but by so doing we avoid misunderstanding in any young humans who might be listening.

 Anyway, the furry friends were more than usually interested so the empty shells had to be secreted far away from them. If we were ‘proper’ gardeners, we would have dried, crushed and powdered them or composted them. The journey from empty shell to gardener’s ally is too fraught with potential hazards for our liking so into the collectable, recyclable food waste bin they were deposited. The bin is locked so it should prove impossible for passing foxes to purloin the contents.

Meanwhile, in the back of my mind, where so much rubbish is located, came the haunting refrain of ‘Molly Malone’, a song I learnt in my long-distant childhood and whose words I remember still. To be fair, the words are remarkably easy to learn, and fit well with the simple, lilting melody.

Who was the legendary Molly Malone? Some say she is based on a woman who died in 1699 in Dublin, but this has never been proved. The story claims that she was a beautiful young woman who lived and died in Dublin. By day, she was a fishmonger, selling her wares in the street. By night, she supplemented her earnings by selling her favours. She is sometimes referred to as ‘the tart with the cart’ or ‘the trollop with the scallops’.

When the charming fishmonger died, of a fever of unknown provenance, but perhaps not unconnected with her occupation as a lady of the night, she was said to haunt the streets of the city and continues to do so to this day. The legend was kept alive through Molly Malone Day, which had been observed annually on 13th June with a parade, live music and street entertainment. I can find no information on whether the day is still acknowledged.

In 1988 a bronze sculpture of Molly Malone was unveiled during Dublin’s Millennium celebrations. The statue, created by Jeanne Rynhart, is a notable tourist attraction and the song associated with it is known as the unofficial anthem of Dublin.     

In Dublin’s fair city,

Where the girls are so pretty,

I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone,

As she wheeled her wheelbarrow

Through streets broad and narrow

Crying cockles and mussels alive, alive o!


Chorus: Alive, alive o! Alive, alive o!

Crying cockles and mussels, alive, alive o!


She was a fishmonger

But sure, ‘twas no wonder

For so were her father and mother before

And they each wheeled their barrow

Through streets broad and narrow

Crying cockles and mussels alive, alive o!


She died of a fever

And no-one could save her

And that was the end of sweet Molly Malone

But her ghost wheels her barrow

Through streets broad and narrow

Crying cockle and mussels alive, alive o!