Sunday 31 March 2024

Easter Sunday 2024


Easter Sunday 2024

The clocks went forward at 2:00 a.m.

Fortunately, the schools are on holiday so the children, especially the youngest ones, haven’t got to adjust to earlier mornings. By the time they return to school in just over two weeks’ time, they will be quite used to the ‘new’ time.

To make their days brighter yet, there is a new post box topper.

Happy Easter, everyone!

Saturday 30 March 2024

The Dickin Medal


The Dickin Medal

Maria Dickin founded the PDSA (People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals) in 1917 in a cellar in Whitechapel, London.

Through her social work in the slums of London’s East End, Mia, as she was known, quickly realised that animals suffered as much as their poverty-stricken owners. Veterinary treatment was beyond the means of the poor and so she put a notice outside her basement, which said, “Bring your sick animals. Do not let them suffer. All animals treated. All treatment free.”

She had no veterinary training. Before her marriage she had given singing lessons! Most of the helpers at her clinic were volunteers and initially her efforts were opposed by the veterinary profession, who declared that her work was dangerous. Her response was to suggest that they help rather than hinder her.

By 1921, there were seven PDSA clinics across London and in that year, she added a horse-drawn clinic. Within the first decade of the foundation of the PDSA, there were 57 new clinics, including in Europe and the Middle East, and three mobile clinics. In 1928 she opened a rest home for horses and donkeys and a year later she founded a children’s club, called Busy Bees, with the focus on animal welfare. She also created a training centre for veterinary students, on the site of what is now a modern PDSA Pet Hospital.

In recognition of her pioneering work, she was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1929 and became a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 1948.

In 1943, during World War II, she introduced the PDSA medal for animal valour. This is now known as the Dickin Medal and is considered the animal kingdom equivalent of the Victoria Cross. It was awarded between 1943 and 1949 to 75 animals.  In 2000, it was decided to restore the medal, and since then 20 dogs and two horses have been honoured. (Correct at time of writing, in 2024.)

It is awarded to animals serving with the Armed Forces or Civil Defence Units who have shown conspicuous gallantry, devotion to duty and loyalty, or to any animal in civilian life who has demonstrated outstanding courage and selflessness.

An award honouring the service of all animals in the First World War was conferred in 2014.

The Dickin Medal is made of bronze and has engraved on it, within a laurel wreath, the words, ‘For Gallantry’ and ‘We Also Serve’. On the reverse are details of the recipient. The ribbon on which it hangs is striped green, brown and blue, to represent sea, earth and air. 

Maria Dickin died in 1951, aged 80. A blue commemorative plaque marks her birthplace in Hackney.

Friday 29 March 2024

Beetling along


Beetling along

We had some bright sunshine today, for a while, which was pleasant after so much rain.  

When I was out in the front garden, I noticed this little chap. At first, I thought it was a piece of coloured glass, glinting in the bright sun, but then it moved and started beetling along, quite rapidly for such a little thing.

It cast a large shadow for something so small.

Trying to identify it later, I decided it must have been a rose chafer, but it’s not supposed to be around until May, poor, confused creature.

It was a perfect little jewel on legs.

Pizza for supper


Pizza for supper

We fancied having pizza on Thursday evening so spent an enjoyable thirty minutes assembling ingredients – spelt pizza base, chorizo, anchovies, dill pickles, capers, cherry tomatoes, sliced tomatoes, olives, grated cheese, sliced cheese.

                            Herschel and Jellicoe were in the conservatory, playing with their puzzle board, and Gilbert and Roxy were ‘helping’ in the kitchen. They cleared up tomato ends and cheese fragments, licked up the oil from the anchovies – carefully shared between them – and looked on with immense interest.

The finished article was very tasty, though also rather saltier than we’re accustomed to.  I haven’t included a photograph of it – it tasted better than it  looked. 😉  


Thursday 28 March 2024

Open wide!

Open wide!

Comfortable chair in the waiting room

Part of my tooth disintegrated on Saturday. I couldn’t believe it, although, since I have been remiss for many reasons in visiting my dentist, I should not have been so surprised. It didn’t hurt, though the broken edge was making my tongue sore. You know how you can never resist revisiting something different in your mouth.

Anyway, on Monday I made an appointment for Wednesday afternoon. The receptionist said, rather reprovingly I felt, ‘We haven’t seen you for some time,’ which made me feel like a naughty school girl. This morning, she ‘phoned to say that Vishal, my very pleasant dentist, was ill and would I mind seeing Charlotte instead. As the appointment would now be in the morning, I readily agreed. I hate spending an entire day waiting for things of that nature and trotted along – well, drove, actually – in good time. At the moment, one can never be sure which road will have been shut off with temporary traffic lights and/or diversions, so I left twice as long as I would normally need.

                                                                                                         Large Yucca

I arrived early. The waiting room was empty. The time for my appointment came and went. The receptionists were busy on the telephones, arranging and rearranging appointments. I learnt that Neena, Vishal’s wife, would not be working today as she had an emergency. Maybe Vishal was the emergency! I hope not.     

Eventually, Charlotte came to introduce herself and we proceeded to the surgery. I think Charlotte was more anxious about me being apprehensive than I was and kept checking that I was okay. She explained everything she was going to do and away we went. Insofar as any dental appointment can be enjoyable, I was most appreciative of Charlotte’s approach and thanked her for her care and attention.

So now I have a complete molar again, albeit mostly filling, and I have made an appointment for a check-up with Vishal at the beginning of April. I will soon be back in the routine again.

Mother-in-law's tongue

Vishal and his associates have gone a long way to helping me overcome my fear of dentistry and for that I am grateful.                                   


The occasional table in the waiting room had a selection of magazines, but I was amused to spot a Bible on a lower shelf.

Wednesday 27 March 2024

Easter eggs and rabbits


Easter eggs and rabbits . . . or hares?

Why does Easter fall on a different date every year? Easter is a moveable feast because it is decided by the lunisolar calendar, which aligns the moon’s phases with the sun’s position in the sky. All clear? Jolly good!😉

The date of Easter Sunday is dependent on the first full moon after the spring equinox, which this year, 2024, was on Wednesday 20th March. The first full moon after this date is Monday 25th March and the first Sunday after that is 31st March. 

However, if the first full moon after the vernal equinox were to fall on a Sunday, Easter Sunday would be celebrated on the following Sunday. The Jewish holiday of Passover also follows the lunisolar calendar, but Islam follows a purely lunar calendar, so that holidays like Ramadan occur at different times and seasons of the year.

Eggs are a symbol of renewal and Easter in the Christian church celebrates the resurrection of Christ. That connection is quite clear, but why rabbits? Traditionally, it was hares that were associated with the resurrection, but over time they were displaced by rabbits.

                                                Hare on a mug

When farming was not as intensive and mechanised as it now is, ground nesting birds like lapwings were more common and numerous. When hares seemed to ‘disappear’ into their forms in the fields, people coming upon eggs laid by lapwings and the like, would think the hare had laid the eggs and so the association between hares, later rabbits, and eggs was made.

The brown hare (Lepus europaeus) is one of the largest hares, but it is not native to Britain. Like the rabbit and the edible dormouse (Glis glis) it was introduced by the Romans as a source of food. The Romans ruled Britain for more than 350 years and had a lasting influence on life on this island.

Britain’s only native hare is the Mountain hare (Lepus timidus) which is also known as the blue hare, the white hare and the snow hare, among other names. It has been in existence for at least 130,000 years. The Irish hare (Lepus timidus hibernicus) is a subspecies and is found only in Ireland. It is 30,000 years old.

The Mountain hare is greyish-brown, called blue, and can be seen in Scotland and the North of England. In winter, its coat turns white to allow it to camouflage itself in the snow. It is most noticeable in spring, when any snow may have melted but its coat colour has not reverted. Irish hares do not usually turn white in winter but retain their reddish-brown coats.

Hares are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981.

Hare coursing remains a popular ‘sport’, one for which greyhounds, lurchers and other gaze hounds are used. The Hunting Act of 2004 made it illegal to hunt hares with dogs, followed by the Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 making it a criminal offence to use a dog to search for a hare. Police officers can stop and search vehicles if they suspect the act has been breached. 

Hare on the other side of a mug 

It is also illegal to trespass on land with the intention of coursing hares, attend or assist a hare coursing event, or allow your land to be used for hare coursing. Despite all the legislation and the threat of the imposition of fines and prison sentences, illegal hare coursing continues across the country.

There are superstitions attached to hares, as to most living things. The hare is considered a creature of magic and mystery, the Celts associating both it and the rabbit with the full moon, night and the supernatural. It was believed to be a messenger of misfortune. Sailors and fishermen would not mention it by name and would not set sail if they saw one for fear of bad luck, for a hare was thought to cause storms. If a farmer saw a drove of hares in March, he would be sure his farm would not prosper that year. Conversely, others believed they would have good luck if they saw a hare.

                                                Moon gazing hare

William Cowper (1731 – 1880) was an English poet and writer of many hymns for the Church of England. He suffered great depression and many nervous breakdowns, but found solace through adopting three leverets, all males, that he called Puss, Bess and Tiney. His letter to ‘The Gentleman’s Magazine’ in 1784 gives an account of his experience as a keeper of pet hares.

Tuesday 26 March 2024

Cher Ami


Cher Ami

Cher Ami on display at the Smithsonian Institution

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Last night we were watching Guy Ritchie’s 2024 television series, ’The Gentlemen’. It is by turns funny, dark, unbelievable, hysterical and actually very entertaining, with a cast of very good actors playing interesting characters. It was one of those characters, played by Ray Winstone, who mentioned Cher Ami (Dear Friend) and his role in WWI.

Cher Ami was a homing pigeon, one of 600 donated by the British Home Forces Pigeon Service to the U.S. Army Signal Corps.  Pigeons were used to carry messages when it was difficult to use other methods of communication, either because telephone lines had been cut or it was too dangerous to use human runners.

During the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in October 1918, a battalion of the 77th Division, under the command of Major Charles W. Whittlesey, became separated from other American troops and found themselves surrounded by the enemy for five days. The 594 troops became known as the Lost Battalion, as Allied Commanders could not locate their position. Seven messages were sent by pigeons, one with incorrect coordinates, resulting in the battalion being attacked by their own side, believing them to be a regiment of German soldiers. Some pigeons were shot and killed.

Eventually, the last pigeon, Cher Ami, was dispatched with a message attached to his leg. As he flew, he was shot but managed to continue his flight and deliver the message, which read, ‘We are along the road parallel to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven’s sake, stop it.’

Cher Ami was very badly wounded; his right leg, holding the message canister, was almost severed, he was blind in one eye and had a severe wound in his breast. Army medics treated him and he survived, though he lost his leg. He was taken to the USA with other surviving homing pigeons, but never fully recovered from his injuries, dying a year later.

Because of his determination to complete his mission, the bombardment was stopped and 194 survivors of the Lost Battalion were rescued and returned to American lines. The French government awarded him the Croix de Guerre for bravery on the battlefield. The Animals in War and Peace Medal of Bravery was bestowed on him in 2019, and in 1931 he was posthumously inducted into the Racing Pigeon Hall of Fame.

The story is not inconclusively verified, since many pigeons were used, and there are contradictory reports of events. What is known is that Cher Ami had already successfully flown twelve other missions, proving his worth and deservedly gaining his reputation as a symbol of courage under fire.

In gratitude, when Cher Ami died, the Signal Corps chose to have his body preserved and presented to the Smithsonian Institution in 1921.

Homing pigeons are remarkable birds and can fly hundreds of miles to their home lofts. They were employed in both World Wars and there were documented incidences of pigeons walking when they could no longer fly, so strong was the instinct to reach their home loft.

A few years ago, a Scottish racing pigeon landed in our garden and stayed for a few days. We feared the local wood pigeons might attack it, but it was perfectly at home among them. 

Cher Ami was hatched on April 21st 1918 in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, England. He died in New Jersey, USA, on June 13th 1919 – a short but valued and valuable life.

Monday 25 March 2024

The Riace Bronzes


The Riace Bronzes

All images courtesy Wikimedia Commons 

This caught my attention on Twitter, or X, as it is now so inelegantly named.

‘In 1972, while on vacation, Stefano Mariottini, an engineer from Rome, snorkelling off the coast of Monasterace near Riace, noticed a human hand sticking out of the sand. Deciding that it was a corpse, he called the police. From the bottom of the Ionian Sea, two statues of "Warriors from Riace" were raised - ancient Greek bronze statues of the 5th century BC.

The report is not strictly accurate. As soon as Stefano Mariottini touched the hand, he realised it was not human. On discovering a second statue, he informed the appropriate department in Reggio Calabria.

The Riace Bronzes or Riace Warriors are two life-sized Greek bronze statues that were created between 460-450 B.C. They are about 6'6" tall and are now on display in the Museo Nazionale della Magna Grecia in Reggio Calabria. At the time of their creation, most of Calabria was part of Magna Graecia (Greater Greece) and inhabited by Greek-speaking people.

It is thought that the statues were on board a ship that sank, and were possibly en route to a local destination.

Sunday 24 March 2024

Flutter by, butterfly


Flutter by, butterfly

Brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamnni)
All images courtesy Wikimedia Commons

I was delighted the other day to see a butterfly. I thought it was a Cabbage White, but then discovered it was too early in the year to be that. I looked it up and found that it was (probably) a Brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamnni)

There is a belief, unconfirmed, that the word butterfly derives from the colour of male Brimstones. Although the females have pale green wings, which look almost white, the males’ underwings are yellowish-green and the upper wings are quite a bright yellow, rather like butter. Both male and female have an orange spot on each wing.

The Brimstone is defined as a large butterfly with a wing span of 60mm (about 2½”) Brimstones are often considered the first butterflies to be seen in the spring, emerging, ready to mate, from the woodlands they have hibernated in during the winter.

At rest, or while feeding, the leaf-shaped wings are closed, so that they blend in with the leaves of plants they are feeding on and are less conspicuous to predators. The wings are quite noticeably veined, like the leaves of the Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) on which they lay their eggs. The emerging caterpillars feed on the leaves, going through several developmental stages (instars) before pupating in the summer. The new butterflies feed until autumn when they start their hibernation.

Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) 

Brimstones are very rare in Scotland, less so in Ireland and common in England and Wales.

Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) flowers, giving way to black berries

Today we have seen bright sunshine, a very heavy hailstorm, a chill wind and no butterflies!

Saturday 23 March 2024

Happy Birthday, dear Roxy


Happy Birthday, dear Roxy

Saturday, 23rd March is Roxy’s 9th birthday.  Until she was seven, she had three older canine companions, Jenna, Gus and Bertie, and three cats, Herschel, Isambard and Jellicoe.  

    She enjoyed being with all of them but Bertie was the one she played with                                             the most. 

He was four years older than her and was most indulgent. He always allowed her to take his stick and now she shows Gilbert the same courtesy.

             She enjoyed playing with Frankie as they grew up together. 

She had the loudest snore of any puppy we’ve ever had, though she is challenged now in that department by Herschel.

 She has vivid dreams, during which she growls and whimpers and runs. Generally, she is a quiet dog and doesn’t bark unless she sees a good reason to do so and then she sounds quite ferocious. This is quite misleading as she greets all visitors with wild enthusiasm and any thief would be assured of a warm welcome and more likely to be knocked over through an excess of excitement.

        Labradors are bred to cooperate and collaborate with each other. They             work together to retrieve. They are the kindest of dogs.

          Roxy loves playing with balls and if they're squeaky balls, she's even                                                     happier.
Like most Labradors, she relishes water. For a very long time she held her head very high as she swam, as though she didn't want to get her hair wet.
    When Roxy lost her three companions in rapid succession, she became         quite depressed. The arrival of Gilbert lifted her spirits and he has become a wonderful playmate for her. They're rarely far apart. Although he's now much bigger than her, he is still subordinate. 
She's not always the most elegant sleeper.
Happy Birthday, Roxy!

Friday 22 March 2024

The dog’s whiskers


The dog’s whiskers

This shows muzzle and chin whiskers. The muzzle whiskers are not as luxuriant as a cat's. Modelling them is the late Cariadd.

There is a similar phrase to the cat’s whiskers referencing a part of the dog’s anatomy. It has the same meaning but is somewhat redundant, since dogs not required for breeding are usually neutered, so the expression is meaningless. If you are unaware of the phrase, please ask.😊

Dogs’ whiskers serve much the same purpose as those of cats. In addition to eyebrows and muzzle whiskers, dogs also have whiskers on their chins and cheeks.

Cheek and under chin whiskers, as worn by the late Bertie

The muzzle whiskers are not symmetrically placed like a cat’s and do not grow in proportion to the size of the dog. This is fortunate since, although a chihuahua would have quite short whiskers, a Pyrenean Mountain dog’s whiskers would be long and strong enough to slice its owner’s legs. I exaggerate, of course, but only slightly. Dogs’ whiskers are very coarse.

The cheek whiskers are few in number and are used in the same way as the muzzle and chin whiskers, enabling the dog to understand its environment. The eyebrow whiskers serve to protect the dog’s eyes, acting as a warning that something is in the immediate vicinity.

                            Eyebrows, modelled by the late Bertie

 Although a dog is perhaps less acutely dependent on its whiskers, it is still rather unfeeling to trim its muzzle whiskers. It will affect the dog’s confidence. I believe it is sometimes done to ‘enhance’ the dog’s appearance, probably for the dreaded show ring.

Thursday 21 March 2024

The Nab Tower


The Nab Tower

The Nab Tower with the original red lantern and steel cladding, before 2013
                                            Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The Nab Tower was designed by Guy Maunsell or G. Menzies, choose your source accordingly, and was the first of eight towers intended to be located in the Straits of Dover. The Admiralty’s objective during the First World War was to close the English Channel to enemy ships and protect it from German U-boats. The proposed towers were to be linked with steel nets and each one equipped with two 4-inch guns.

By the end of the war, only one steel and concrete cylinder had been built and it sat on dry land in Shoreham Harbour on a honeycombed concrete base of eighteen compartments. (A second tower had been partially built, but it was demolished in 1924, six years after the end of the war. It took nine months to disassemble.)

In 1920 two or five tugs, according to the source of your choice, towed the tower to the Nab Rock, four miles off the Isle of Wight at the approach to the eastern Solent. The Nab Rock was marked by a lightship which had served its purpose since 1812. The tower was to replace the lightship. Once in position the eighteen compartments were flooded so that it sank to the seabed, where it has remained ever since, at a slight but noticeable angle.

During the war a pair of Bofors guns were installed to provide some defence to the Solent and saw active service, shooting down several enemy aircraft. The lighthouse also served as a Royal Navy signal station until some years after the end of the Second World War.

This is not the Nab lightship, but LV 78 that used to be anchored off Calshot Spit and is now a museum ship in Southampton.

The lighthouse was manned by lighthouse keepers until 1983, when it was automated and a helicopter pad built on the tower. In 1995 the lighthouse was converted to solar power. It is monitored and controlled from Harwich, in Essex.

In 2013 – 2015 renovation was commissioned by Trinity House, which has had responsibility for Nab Tower since 1929, though it only acquired the freehold from the Ministry of Defence in 1984. The external casing of steel had corroded badly and was replaced with concrete. The helicopter pad was removed and the height of the tower was reduced from 27 to 17 metres.

Image courtesy Hurst Castle

 The iconic red lantern was taken away and is now on display at the Lighthouse Museum Rooms at Hurst Castle. The museum is maintained by a group of volunteers known as the Association of Lighthouse Keepers. 

A new light with a range of 12 nautical miles was installed, which flashes once every ten seconds, as well as a new fog signal, which sounds one blast every thirty seconds.    

                                                      Hurst Castle 
                                    Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Hurst Castle was built by Henry VIII between 1541 and 1544 and was a formidable artillery fortress. Charles I was imprisoned there in 1648.                       

Nab Tower in current condition
Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons       

Wednesday 20 March 2024

Dates to remember in March 2024 – 3


Dates to remember in March 2024 – 3

                                        Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

20th March: London Druid Spring Equinox

The Vernal Equinox is the time of equal day and night, when the light begins to gain ascendancy. The soil starts to warm up and it is a time to sow seeds. The equinox is celebrated at many locations in the British Isles and one of the most well-known is that held by the Druid Order at Tower Hill in London. About 30 Druids, dressed in flowing white robes, process in silence to Tower Hill Terrace. The ceremony lasts for about three-quarters of an hour. The Druids celebrate the changing of the seasons and rebirth.  They welcome the Earth Mother, Ceridwen, who represents fertility and new beginnings.

What do Druids believe? This is some of what I found:

While there are no set texts or traditions for the Druid religion, most Druids believe in the following: Spiritual truth is found in nature and all things are interconnected, honouring one's ancestors and the divine through celebration is integral, souls go to another place when they die (sometimes known as the Otherworld), and they believe in reincarnation.



 Tichborne Dole, Painting by Flemish painter Gillis van Tilborch (c1625 - c.1678)

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

25th March: Tichborne Dole, Hampshire

The festival of the Tichborne Dole (gift) is held annually in Tichborne, Hampshire, on Lady Day, 15th March. At 2:30 on that day, residents from the parishes of Tichborne, Cheriton and Lane End are entitled to claim a gallon of flour each. Children may claim half a gallon. The flour is blessed by the local priest before distribution at the front door of Tichborne House.

The Dole dates from the 13th century. Lady Mabella Tichborne was known and loved for her kindness and charity. During her final illness, she asked her husband to create an annual gift of produce for all those who came to Tichborne for the Feast of the Annunciation. Sir Roger Tichborne was not enamoured of the idea but agreed on one condition. Flour for the bread would only be provided from the land that his wife was able to encompass unassisted, while carrying a burning torch. Lady Mabella, though greatly enfeebled, managed to crawl round a field of 23 acres before her torch went out. This area is still known today as The Crawls.

Lady Mabella, fearing that her bequest might not be honoured, put a curse on the Dole. If it were to be abandoned, the Tichborne family would bear seven sons, followed in the next generation by seven daughters. In this way, the family’s name would die out and the house would fall into disrepair.

The Dole continued for 600 years until 1796, when disturbances by tramps during the ceremony caused it to be suspended by local magistrates. Remembering the curse, local people were alarmed when part of the house subsided in 1803. When Sir Henry Tichborne, one of seven brothers, succeeded to the baronetcy in 1821, and subsequently fathered seven daughters, the curse seemed to have been at least partially fulfilled. The tradition was re-established around 1836 and continues to this day.

The Tichborne baronetcy became extinct in 1968 on the death of the 14th baronet.


Near Hammersmith Bridge

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

30th March: The Geminin Boat Race, River Thames, London

Generally referred to as ‘The Boat Race’, it is also known as the University Boat Race or the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. It first took place in 1829 and has been an annual event since 1856, apart from WWI and WWII and the Covid pandemic in 2020. The inaugural women’s boat race was in 1927 and it became an annual event in 1964. Since 2015, it has been conducted on the same day as the men’s race and along the same course. The reserve crews also race.