Friday 31 May 2024




There are many varieties of garden mint – apple mint, grapefruit mint, peppermint and so on, but Uddermint has nothing to do with them.

Those with a working knowledge of cows may have heard of Uddermint. It is a product that has been developed to enhance udder health. It is a soothing liniment which is rubbed into the problematic quarter/s of the udder. It is also a valuable ointment for massaging muscles and joints and is useful at calving, particularly for heifers, the bovine primigravidae. It contains 35% pure Japanese peppermint oil and smells fresh and wholesome.   

I don’t know any cows so how did I come by a tube of Uddermint? My son-in-law meets an interesting range of people in the course of his work, one of whom (actually, probably several!) was a Dorset dairy farmer. I don’t know how big his herd was or if he was still milking by hand (unlikely, I would have thought, knowing nothing whatsoever about it!)   Anyway, he had occasion to apply Uddermint to one of his cows. This poor man had arthritic joints in his hands and he noticed that they were less painful after he’d finished anointing the afflicted cow.

A while later, another cow fell victim to an unnamed complaint and the heady unguent was again employed to ease the pain. Once more, the farmer noticed the easing of aches in his hands and it seemed to him that the coincidence was remarkable, so he continued to rub the ointment into his hands, with highly satisfactory results.  

My son-in-has some problems with his hands, not least being a lack of complete fingers on one of them (but that’s a story for another day) The farmer told him his tale and gave him a tube of cream to try. Discovering how effective it was, he proceeded to carry some with him at all times, and advised others to try it for their various muscular and joint ailments, too.  

He smiled through all the jokes – ‘Holy cow!’, ‘You’re barmy (balmy) and what seems to be everybody’s favourite, ‘Pull the udder one.’

If it’s still available* and you are tempted to try it, don’t forget to read the advice on the back of the tube – ‘avoid contact with eyes and nose and keep it out of the reach of children.’   I thought it said ‘chickens’ before I put on my glasses and was imagining all sorts of poultry (or even paltry) reactions. 

It ought to be kept away from sheep, too. They don’t like mint, perhaps because they know they might soon be keeping company with it at the dinner table!     

* I've just checked and it is still  available over the counter. The packaging is different now.

Thursday 30 May 2024

Salad Days


Salad Days


Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

In 1606, William Shakespeare’s play, Antony and Cleopatra, has Cleopatra lamenting her youthful passionate relationship with Antony. She says of that time, ‘My salad days, when I was green in judgment.’

Salad days were the days of our sometimes intemperate youth, when passion overruled reason and there was a degree of carefree innocence and unaccountability. How delicious it was to please ourselves, to have no responsibilities and to be able to play before the necessities of adult life took over, even though we may have considered ourselves quite mature.

The idiom became popular in the 1850s. Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage says:- ‘Whether the point is that youth, like salad, is raw, or that salad is highly flavoured and youth loves high flavours, or that innocent herbs are youth’s food as milk is babes’ and meat is men’s, few of those who use the phrase could perhaps tell us; if so, it is fitter for parrots’ than for human speech.’

I found that definition quite confusing – is salad highly flavoured? I suppose it can be. The reference to the phrase being better fitted to parrots’ speech suggests that it’s an idiom that is used without thought, and perhaps that is correct.

Sometimes, using the adjective ‘green’ implies inexperience or ignorance. ‘He’s young, no experience, a bit green.' In 1865, one person wrote the following, demonstrating the foolishness of (his) youth. He was trying to buy a horse and looked in the classified advertisements:-

 ‘Being in want of a horse at the time — it was in my salad days, reader — looked through the advertisements in The Times, and noticed one which at any rate promised well.’

 Today, ‘salad days’ refers to a time of life when a young person is full of energy and enthusiasm and potential. It no longer implies thoughtlessness or silliness.

There used to be a phrase, I think from the North of England, ‘I’m not as green as I’m cabbage-looking’. Here, green means inexperienced and cabbage-looking means uneducated, or simple. A cabbage is roughly the same size as a human head and cabbage and cabbage-head have long been terms of abuse for a dullard.

However, I have read that a more modern interpretation of green is used on TikTok. A ‘green person’ is someone who came into another person’s life and made a difference, maybe even saving them from themselves (!). A green person knows and understands you more than anyone else in your life. Green characterises progress and kindness.

Language evolves! and TikTok remains a mystery to me.


Wednesday 29 May 2024

Full of beans


Full of beans

Jumping beans

                                    Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons


lively; in high spirits.


This phrase originated in the 14th century as ‘full of prunes’ at a time when dried plums were associated with digestive matters.


Beans are a good source of protein and energy. ‘Full of beans’ gradually replaced the original phrase and was associated with horses, which, when fed on fodder based on beans, were observed to be vigorous and in good condition. Thus, to say that someone was full of beans has become quite complimentary.


Interestingly, Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, says ‘beans have long been popularly regarded as an aphrodisiac’, to which I can only say, ‘Well, I never!’


Jumping beans are even more associated with liveliness. Mexican jumping beans are not actually legumes, but spurges or euphorbia.


 When the plants are flowering in the spring, the small jumping bean moth, Cydia saltitans, lays eggs on the hanging seed pods. When the eggs hatch, the larvae devour the developing seeds of the shrub, Sebastiania pavoniana. As the pods ripen, they fall to the ground and split into three parts, which are known as Mexican jumping beans. The larvae continue to consume the inside of the beans.


                                    Each bean is 7 to 10 mm long

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

As they curl and uncurl, their actions make the ‘beans’ move. When the temperature rises, the beans jump even more as the larvae seek to move away from the heat. That is why a jumping bean held in the warmth of a hand will move significantly. If left in heat, the larvae will die. Those that have sufficient moisture and congenial temperature will develop and eventually leave the bean as adult moths, which will live long enough to lay eggs, dying after a few days.

Tuesday 28 May 2024

Victor Borge


Victor Borge (1909- 2000)

One of my all-time favourite performers was Victor Borge, an extraordinarily talented musician. Born Børge Rosenbaum in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1909, it was apparent at the age of two that he would be a prodigy. He gave his first piano recital when he was eight and was awarded a full scholarship at the Royal Danish Academy of Music when he was nine years old.

He performed as a classical pianist for several years and then began what was to become his signature career blending comedy and music. In 1940, the Germans invaded Denmark while he was performing in neutral Sweden. He travelled on to Finland and boarded the last ship to sail from that country to the USA. He returned once to Denmark during the occupation, disguised as a sailor, to visit his dying mother. That was a courageous journey to undertake, as he had publicly recounted jokes to the detriment of the Germans. Had he been intercepted, it is likely he would not have survived.

He became known variously as the Clown Prince of Denmark, the Great Dane and the Unmelancholy Dane.

When he arrived in the USA, he spoke no English and learnt it by watching films. This makes it all the more remarkable that he was able to joke in English and engage in word play. 

Two of his most amusing routines were ‘Phonetic Punctuation’ and ‘Inflationary Language.’ In the first, sound effects illustrated the different punctuation marks, like question marks and full stops and inverted commas. The second routine took numbers or homophones and inflated them by one. In this way, today became threeday, once upon a time was twice upon a time and so on and so fifth.

Victor Borge continued to perform into his old age, appearing 60 times when he was 90.

The available recordings are quite long and not of exceptionally good quality, but I hope this one  and this one will give a flavour of the man. Obviously, some will appreciate his humour, while others will be completely indifferent.

 Watching him always makes me laugh – such talent, such humanity.

Monday 27 May 2024

‘High on the Hog’


‘High on the Hog’ or ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’?

Diagram showing British cuts of pork

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

If people live ‘high on the hog’, they have sufficient funds to live comfortably or even extravagantly. The phrase originated in the USA, and is believed to refer to the cuts of meat from a pig. The best and therefore the most expensive meat comes from the loin, the chump and the upper leg or ham, the ‘high’ parts of the animal.

In the UK, the word ‘high’ has been used since the 17th century to imply that something is outstanding or without parallel. Samuel Pepys’ diary in 1667 refers to people ‘drinking high’.

Compare this to those who are ‘keeping up with the Joneses.’ It was believed that this phrase was first made public in a comic strip of that name, by Arthur R. ‘Pop’ Momand in 1913.  It featured the upwardly mobile, social climbing McGinis family and their struggles to keep up with their neighbours, the Joneses. The cartoon strip ran for over 35 years and popularised the expression.

                                    Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
I was intrigued by the depiction of 'Aloysisus P. Mc Ginis'. There appear to be three 'faces'- one to the left,with black ovals for eyes and a large cigar, and one to the right, with a large nose, small moustache and 'teardrop' eye. The third one is  a view of the left side of the face, with a bead of sweat and glasses. 

The following, from Wikipedia, gives an alternative view:

‘The use of the name Jones to refer to metaphorical neighbors or friends in discussions of social comparison predates Momand's comic strip. In 1879, English writer E. J. Simmons wrote in Memoirs of a Station Master of the railroad station as a place for social exchange: "The Joneses, who don't associate with the Robinsons, meet there." American humorist Mark Twain made an allusion to Smith and Jones families with regard to social custom in the essay "Corn Pone Opinions", written in 1901 but first published in 1923. "The outside influences are always pouring in upon us, and we are always obeying their orders and accepting their verdicts.  The Smiths like the new play; the Joneses go to see it, and they copy the Smith verdict." Starting in 1908, D.W. Griffith directed a series of comedy shorts starring The Biograph GirlFlorence Lawrence, featuring the people next door, The Joneses.’

A different explanation suggests that the Joneses were the rich mid-19th century New York family associated with Chemical Bank, who appeared to vie with other wealthy families in building ever grander residences. They were eventually outshone by even richer dynasties like the Astors and the Vanderbilts. 

People who try to keep up with the Joneses like to give the impression of living high on the hog, but struggle to maintain the lifestyle, frequently falling into debt and funding their extravagance through extensive use of credit cards, one of the most expensive ways of borrowing. The façade is upheld with difficulty, the followers unwilling to cut their expenses for fear of ‘losing face’, often unaware that their friends and acquaintances are fully cognisant of their problems. Indeed, they are sometimes viewed with amused pity.

Failure to keep up with the Joneses is considered by such people as being socially and culturally inferior. It is such a shallow way of life and can only lead to misery.

It is just not worth it!

Sunday 26 May 2024

Ospreys 2024


Ospreys 2024

                                        Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons 

I look in on a few Osprey nests in the UK, with most of my attention on the Loch Arkaig website. This year, Dorcha and Louis are raising three osplets, two hatched on 22nd May and one today. Many things may happen before they can be said to be safe and out of danger. Dorcha and Louis will share the fishing and feeding. Osplets are not kind to their siblings, and often the youngest and weakest fall prey to vicious bullying.

Maya and Blue, the Ospreys at Manton Bay, Rutland, are raising three chicks, which are now two weeks old. Last year, they successfully raised three, and in 2022, four osplets were reared.

                                         Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons 

Meanwhile, the Osprey pair in Poole Harbour have four eggs to hatch.

                                                Osprey eggs 

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons 

 Sadly, the nest at Loch of the Lowes has seen tragedy. Lassie laid three eggs and she and Laddie had to protect them from intruders. Laddie disappeared at the beginning of May and his body was found later. Lassie continued incubating the eggs, but eventually, a young and inexperienced incomer destroyed them and appears to be trying to form a partnership with Lassie.

                                        Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons 

It is sad to see such events occurring, but this is Nature and we are only onlookers.

                                     Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons 



Saturday 25 May 2024

Three lighthouse keepers


Three lighthouse keepers

                     Eilean Mor Lighthouse, Flannan Isles, Outer Hebrides

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

In common with many others, I find lighthouses magical and awe-inspiring. When they were managed and maintained by lighthouse keepers, I marvelled at the life the men lived, cut off from society for weeks on end, living in the midst of the elements. It seemed a romantic life, dangerous, self-sufficient, vital.

The Eilean Mor Lighthouse, situated on one of the Flannan Isles of the Outer Hebrides, 70 miles off the mainland west coast of Scotland, was erected at the top of a 200-foot cliff and was first lit on 7th December, 1899. The seven small islands, sometimes called the Seven Hunters, were named after Saint Flann, an Irish saint who lived in the 7th century.

The Eilean Mor lighthouse was one of the first buildings to be constructed on the island and there is a mystery associated with it, which has never been solved and probably never will be.  In 1900, three lighthouse keepers were responsible for maintaining the light, with a fourth relief keeper, Joseph Moore, left ashore. They were Thomas Marshall, James Ducat and Donald McArthur and on or around 15th December, 1900, they disappeared without trace and were never seen again.

The first indication that something was amiss was when the logbook of the steamer Archtor recorded that, despite appalling conditions, the light was not working. The observation was relayed to the Northern Lighthouse Board, (the authority responsible for lighthouses in Scotland and the Isle of Man) when Archtor docked in Leith on 18th December. Continuing poor weather meant that a relief vessel was unable to reach Eilean Mor until 26th December.

On arrival, Joseph Moore discovered that the lamps had been cleaned and refilled and the kitchen was clean and neat, but there was no sign of the three keepers.  Only one set of oilskins was found indoors, indicating that at least two men had gone outside the living quarters and perhaps, that one had disobeyed Lighthouse orders and ventured out without an oilskin.

A search of the island proved fruitless, but it was clear that storm damage had been considerable; iron railings were bent over or broken, a huge rock had been displaced and turf had been torn up some 33 feet from the cliff edge.

On 12th December, the last entry in the log book recorded severe weather conditions, with hurricane force winds. The assumption was that a dreadful accident had befallen the men and that they had been swept away while outside.  No bodies were ever found.

Naturally, superstition and folklore took over the public imagination and rumours were rife that they had been carried off by a sea serpent, or a ghost-filled boat had spirited them away. Sadly, no absolute solution was found to comfort the wives and children of the keepers.

The sea is a cruel mistress. 

                                          Eilean Mor Lighthouse
                                    Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Friday 24 May 2024

Microfiction 5


Microfiction 5

How would you comment on this in no more than 140 characters? (Spaces are characters, too.)  It’s more nonsense, really, but I’d love to know your reaction. Answers on a postcard, please!

They hadn't realised New York would have its name writ large, like Hollywood. Surely the laser beams would disrupt air traffic! (127 characters)

Thursday 23 May 2024

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch


The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch

Image source

I love this book and used to enjoy reading it to my own children, as well as the children I taught. Mr Grinling, the lighthouse keeper, has his lunch sent across to him every day on a line by Mrs Grinling. The problem is that the seagulls really appreciate Mrs Grinling’s offerings and she is constantly seeking a way to prevent them stealing her husband’s food.

It was published in 1977, written by Ronda Armitage and illustrated by her husband, David. Ronda Armitage was born in 1943 in Kaikoura, New Zealand. In 1974, she and David and their two children moved to England, and the book was inspired by the lighthouse at Beachy Head on the southern coast of UK.

Beachy Head Lighthouse

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Beachy Head Lighthouse, in East Sussex, was commissioned in October, 1902, as a replacement for the Belle Tout Lighthouse, which now serves as a hotel. 

Belle Tout was built on top of the cliffs, but was never very successful, as the light was obscured by sea mists. That’s a strange thing to say, for surely all lighthouses are subject to the vagaries of the weather. Apparently, under such conditions, the light did not reach far enough out to sea, and ships sailing close to the rocks could not see the light because it was blocked by the cliffs. Coastal erosion solved that problem for a few years, until it was decided to build an alternative on the rocks below.

BelleTout, a Grade II listed building, was moved in 1999 because erosion was threatening the foundations, and after passing through several sales, finally settled as a quaint guesthouse.

The red and white Beachy Head Lighthouse is the last offshore lighthouse to be built by Trinity House, ‘the official authority for lighthouses in England, Wales, the Channel Islands and Gibraltar’. It was also one of the last lighthouses to be electrified, bringing to an end the tradition of lighthouse keepers. For the first eighty years of its existence, three keepers cleaned and maintained the light, living in quarters lit by paraffin lamps.

Royal Sovereign Lighthouse
Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Contenders for the oddest lighthouse must include the Royal Sovereign Lighthouse, which marked a sandbank off the coast of East Sussex, near Eastbourne. A single pillar rose from the seabed to support a lighthouse tower and helicopter platform. In 2023, the top section was taken away. The pillar is destined to be removed in 2024.

Wednesday 22 May 2024

Leaning Lighthouses


Leaning Lighthouses

El Faro Inclinado, Mexico
                                Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The Leaning Lighthouse of Puerto Morelos, Mexico, 'El Faro Inclinado', is a distinctive blue and white landmark in the seaside town of Puerto Morelos, halfway between Cancun and Playa del Carmen. It was built on the beach in 1946, replacing a rudimentary light on a metal pole, which had been in place since 1905.

About twenty years after its construction, Hurricane Beulah struck it, washing away the foundations, and causing it to tilt. Efforts to remove it failed and so it remains, a testament, were it needed, to the destructive power of hurricanes.

A lighthouse was essential, to warn vessels of the Great Mayan Reef that stretches more than 700 miles along the coasts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras, so in 1968, a third lighthouse was built. It also fell foul of a hurricane, Wilma, in 2005, but managed to remain vertical.

Kiipsaare Lighthouse, Estonia
                                            Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

In Estonia, the Kiipsaare Lighthouse stood on the tip of the island of Saaremaa. It was built in 1993, to warn seafarers in the Baltic Sea of the peninsula and to act as a waypoint.

Although it was originally almost a mile inland, erosion has meant that it is now 160 feet offshore and leaning. It is no longer active.

                                        Bremerhaven lighthouse
                                        Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, in Germany, the Bremerhaven lighthouse, at the entrance to Bremen’s port, was listing so dangerously in 2022 that ships were forbidden to enter the Geeste River, for fear the building would collapse. The proposed plan was to demolish it if it didn’t topple by itself. This is quite a confused story and research leads to different accounts and photographs of structures that look completely unlike each other. However, it appears that it was pulled down eventually and part of it used in the construction of a replacement. 

Tuesday 21 May 2024

The holiday – part three


Pumpkin Mice Tales (4)

The holiday – part three

The next morning, the Pumpkin Mice ate their breakfast quickly and set off to the harbour to meet the Fishermice. Although the sun was shining brightly in a clear blue sky, there was a brisk breeze and Big Brown Mouse had told them they must wear warm clothes.

‘It can get very cold on the water,’ he said. ‘The sun might be shining now, but the weather can change very quickly.’ The Mousekins grumbled a little, for they felt silly when they saw all the holidaymakers in their shorts and tee shirts, but they knew better than to argue with Big Brown Mouse. They were delighted when Skipper Fishermouse told them he was pleased they were dressed sensibly, and giggled when Big Brown Mouse winked at them.

Once they were on board, they struggled into oilskins and life jackets and had safety lines attached to them. ‘Can’t be too careful on a boat,’ said Skipper Fishermouse.

First Mate Fishermouse started the engine and the Mousekins squealed at the noise and held their noses at the smell of the diesel, but soon forgot such small annoyances as the boat bucketed across the waves. This was an adventure!

After half an hour, First Mate Fishermouse set the engine to idle as Crew Fishermouse One dropped an anchor. There were two other Crew Fishermice, but they had remained at home, for, after all, it was their rest day. Then the engine stopped and the silence was wonderful.

Skipper Fishermouse gave each of the Pumpkin Mice a fishing rod and they were soon watching the floats to see if any fish had taken their bait. Any disappointment they felt at not hauling in nets of silvery fish quickly disappeared as they watched each other’s lines and hoped to be the first to land a catch.

It was Big Brown Mouse who caught the first fish, a fine, shining silver mackerel with green and black tiger stripes on its back. Soon after, there were cries of delight and pride as more wriggling fish were caught. All the fish were returned to the sea, to live another day, to the joy of Little White and White Mouse with the exceedingly long and beautiful green tail, (startling green and quite the longest tail ever seen in Mousedom) for they did not want to see the pretty fish knocked on the head.

Skipper Fishermouse said, ‘We’d better be heading back. There’s a storm brewing.’

Sure enough, the once blue sky was now a dirty grey, with looming dark clouds. The Pumpkin Mice had been so busy fishing that they had not noticed the change in the weather. They shivered in the strengthening wind and for the first time realised how far they were from land. A sharp flash of lightning lit up the sky and an ominous clap of thunder sounded almost overhead and then the rain started. It fell like a heavy sheet, and the Pumpkin Mice were glad of their sou’westers and oilskins.

As the boat turned for home, it passed the lighthouse, red and white and standing tall like a guardian of the rocks. ‘Why isn’t it standing up straight?’ Tiny Grey asked, and Skipper Fishermouse said, ‘Never you fret, little man. ‘Tis the famous Leaning Lighthouse and has always been thus.’  Then he added, ‘Not as famous as the Puerto Leaning Lighthouse, mind, in Mexico.’

He was about to tell them more when First Mate Fishermouse shouted, ‘Look to port!’ The Mousekins weren’t sure what he meant, but Big Brown understood and pointed. Out on the rolling waves was a little yellow duck-shaped raft and in it was a small mouse with big black eyes and pretty pink ears. She looked terrified as her raft headed for the rocks surrounding the Leaning Lighthouse. Skipper Fishermouse got on his radio and called the RNLI.

‘Can’t we save the little mouse?’ said Little White, almost in tears.

Skipper Fishermouse shook his head. ‘No, my little maid,’ he said, ‘The tide and the wind’s too strong and even if I could get near, those rocks would tear my boat apart. Besides, I’ve got all you littluns to think about,’ he added.

Just at that moment, they saw a bright orange lifeboat racing towards them. In it were the rest of the Mousekins’ Fishermice cousins. Their day off had turned into a day of work, for, of course, they were always on call for the lifeboat.

When they reached the safety of the beach once more, the Fishermice helped the Pumpkin Mice out of the boat and they all went home for fish and chips.

Their Fishermice cousins from the RNLI lifeboat arrived just in time to join them. They told everyone how they had rescued the small mouse and taken her home. She was very frightened and rather wet, but she was safe. Her little yellow duck-shaped raft, however, had foundered on the vicious rocks and then sunk beneath the towering waves.

‘Coo,’ said Small Brown. ‘That really was an adventure.’

Monday 20 May 2024

Reincarnation 2


Reincarnation 2

This is another reworked treatise on reincarnation – a post reborn, you might say.

Strictly speaking, reincarnation is rebirth as a different life form, but I’ve often thought I might be reincarnated as something lowly, like a doormat, which, though inanimate, sees many events throughout its existence. On many occasions, I have felt like a doormat, so perhaps that was the Great Universe preparing me for my next iteration.

I was thinking about it more deeply in the wee small hours of the morning, which is when I do the majority of my philosophical contemplation. Obviously, my life is so full that I must think when I should be sleeping.

Having decided that my next life would see me as a doormat, I began thinking about door mats in general. Of course, one has little choice in the form of one’s reincarnation, but should I be allowed to choose, what would be my decision? There are many different types of doormat, the simplest distinction being indoor and outdoor mats. Which would be better? There are pros and cons for each.

Outdoor mats are hardy creatures, exposed to the elements, surrounded by the sights and sounds of Nature, rough, tough, no-nonsense characters. They are not philosophers but practical, straight-talking individuals. I do not mean to imply that philosophers are impractical wafflers, though some may be, simply that outdoor mats lack imagination and see things in black and white. They do not sit on the fence, prevaricating. They are loyal and hard-working and ask and expect little in return other than a good beating now and again, not because they are masochistic, but because they wish to be relieved of the detritus deposited on them – extraneous samples of Nature that have escaped from birds, trees, flowers, people’s footwear.  

Exterior mats may be composed of rubber, which is hard-wearing, but neither absorbent nor particularly attractive. Metal mats are not quite pukka; they’re useful for scraping mud from boots but in the hierarchy of the external mat community, they are the untouchables. They look as if they have escaped from a giant’s grill pan. Coir matting looks smart and is the only natural fibre that is resistant to damage from salt water, which makes sense, considering its provenance.

Yes, a doormat’s life could be quite interesting, even if being ground under the heel is not a pleasant prospect.

Internal door mats are quite distinct from their lowly outdoor relatives. They live in protected environments and are usually constructed of softer, more colourful materials. Sometimes, they have messages printed on them, things like PLEASE WIPE YOUR PAWS (can dogs read?) or THE BIG HOUSE (is that a boast or ironic?)

HELLO on the mat saves the people of the house greeting their guests; LOSE THE SHOES, and GO AWAY are downright rude. Some mats are plain, while others have illustrations of dogs, or cats or cartoon characters. I would prefer not to have words on me, but I wouldn’t have an option.

On balance, I’d rather be an indoor mat than an external one. I wouldn’t choose to be a shop door mat or one that fits in the car well. A bath mat’s life would be cold and damp. A bedside mat would be agreeable, welcoming warm feet from a comfortable bed. My favourite situation would be just inside the front door of a really tidy house with no children or pets, welcoming considerate visitors who would remove their shoes on entering – nothing like my house, then!

Sunday 19 May 2024




Breakfast is a moveable feast in our house. It is rarely eaten before nine and often it is early afternoon before we have it.

Looking at my breakfast the other morning, I was struck by the appearance of the strawberries. They reminded me of Fly agaric (Amanita muscaria). It is the toadstool of fairy stories and children’s books. In Alice in Wonderland, Alice is given Fly agaric to eat, which may explain her strange experiences in growing and shrinking. It is hallucinogenic and was used in religious ceremonies in Asia for more than 4,000 years.

Fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) can be seen in woodland and heathland in light soil under beech, pine or spruce from August to November.

Fly agaric is poisonous if eaten, but not usually fatal, unless ingested in great quantities. (It’s suggested that something like 10 mushrooms would have to be eaten to kill . . . ) Historically, it has been used as a basic insecticide; pieces of the red cap were broken off and added to milk, its smell attracting flies, intoxicating and killing them.

Fly agaric has an association with Christmas, from a hangover or crossover from earlier pagan associations. It is believed that Father Christmas’ jolly red and white robes were inspired by the colouring of the mushroom. Fly agaric often features on Christmas cards.

This beautiful illustration is from one of my favourite books, 'Wayside and Woodland Fungi' by W.P.K. Findlay. The illustrations are by Beatrix Potter. 

 Why do reindeer fly? Maybe they ate Fly agaric – in Siberia, reindeer have been observed becoming intoxicated by them, though I’m not sure if they have ever eaten them. Some records suggest that the Siberian herders fed the mushrooms to the reindeer and then drank their urine to experience the hallucinogenic effects. The only other mammals that eat them occasionally are red squirrels. Otherwise, they are consumed by slugs and fungus gnats (sciarid flies)

My breakfast was not toxic, but very filling – porridge, strawberries, dates, grapes, pumpkin seeds and yoghourt.