Sunday 30 June 2024


Microfiction again

Microfiction 6

Tell a story or describe a scene in 140 characters or fewer. Spaces count as characters.

Will you join?

The two young couples were absorbed in each other but Walter watched the lava flow and wondered if he should warn them of impending danger.

(139 characters)

Alfred was unlucky with the ladies. He gazed into the distance. A beard might make him more attractive. He could feel a few bristles now.

(137 characters)

While Jane and Theo read poetry and Josiah dreamed, May told John the facts of life. He couldn't wait to practice! She bade him be patient.

(139 characters)

Saturday 29 June 2024

Goats and coffee


Goats and coffee

                                        Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Coffee is grown across the world but has its origins in Ethiopia. Barry was telling me this morning about the dancing goats that devoured the berries of the coffee bush and were so energised that they could not, would not sleep.

 At least, that is the legend of the 9th century goatherd, Kaldi, who observed the antics of his goats after they had consumed the berries of a tree unknown to him. He was so impressed that he tried them for himself and experienced the energy they gave him, though he disliked the taste.

‘Kaldi Coffee’ and ‘Dancing Goat’ are popular names worldwide for coffee shops and companies.

Kaldi watched as the goats in his herd ate the small red ‘olives’ and then kicked up their heels with apparent joy and enthusiasm. He wanted to find out what caused such behaviour and took some of the berries to the local monastery. The Abbot, declaring them to be the Devil’s work, threw them on the fire, which caused the berries to release their delectable aroma. The monks rescued them and put them in water and shared the liquid, receiving the benison of the concoction.

                                         Coffee beans ripening

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The growing and consumption of coffee became popular throughout the Islamic world and the Arabs tried unsuccessfully to control the spread of the shrubs. In the 17th century, a coffee plantation was established in India and soon beans were transported by sailors, merchants and travellers to far-flung lands, like Central and Southern America, Hawaii and East Africa.

Coffee is now grown in such diverse places as Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden.

In Italy, in the 16th century, Pope Clement VIII, was begged by the clergy to ban the drink of the ‘infidels’, but he tasted it and liked it. Some say that he banned it in public, but drank it in private, ‘baptising’ it to make it holy.

King Charles II despised it because all classes of people gathered in the coffee houses to drink it and talk between them might lead to insurrection. His sanctions were soon dropped when there was a great outcry against the ban.

The London Stock Exchange, Sotheby’s and Christie’s auction houses and Lloyds of London all had their humble beginnings from meetings in coffee houses.

Coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the world and is produced in more than 50 countries. The two largest coffee growers are Brazil and Vietnam, and the two heaviest consumers are Finland and Sweden, each drinking more than 10 kg per person.

Friday 28 June 2024

Social battery

                                                                                  Social battery

                                                    Mood ring
                                        Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

I came across this expression recently. For all I know, it’s been in use for aeons, but it meant nothing to me, so I looked it up.

Briefly, it’s a metaphor which refers to the amount of energy a person has for socialising; to put it another way, it indicates a person’s ability to socialise before exhaustion sets in. It’s a lazy metaphor, much like ‘24/7’ because it obviates the need for careful thought and clear expression. It’s a kind of shorthand to explain a person’s reactions to different social situations.

Much as might be expected, one’s social battery can be charged or drained, according to personality and circumstance.

Extroverts may find that socialising charges their emotional battery, while introverts may experience the opposite and feel the need to retire to a quiet room to pursue their own, often solitary, interests. However, categorising people as either extrovert or introvert is far too simplistic. I suspect that most people show signs of both extremes in their personalities, reacting in different ways to a range of experiences and mixes of people.

                                                    Mood ring
                                        Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Mood rings became popular in the 1970s, but were not a true indicator of emotional mood, as they responded to changes in temperature rather than mood. They are still available along with a range of other wearable mood gauges. I think the best indicator of disposition is a person’s face, the eyes in particular.

                                          Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Thursday 27 June 2024




Clarissa is the mother of the little boy cat who came to live with us a short while ago. She told us his name was Cuthbert.

I think there's quite a strong family resemblance, though, obviously, Cuthbert still has a lot of growing to do.

I don’t know if there will be any other members of the family joining us.

Wednesday 26 June 2024

Gilbert’s view


Gilbert’s view

                                       The other day, this arrived.

It looked like a cat but it didn’t feel or smell like one. My cats are soft and furry and this one was hard and cold. It didn’t make any noise, either, which was strange. All cats make a noise. 

                             Ah! It's a she and she's called Clarissa.

Then I realised! She was an outdoor cat, like the little boy cat, Cuthbert, with the smiley face. I think she's going to have a plant in her. I wonder what she will have?

How many more of these strange creatures will there be?


Tuesday 25 June 2024

All creatures . . .


All creatures (great and) small

Mr and Mrs Robin have young to feed.

High up in the trees the youngsters wait.

Goldfinches share the trees with them.

Camera-shy goldfinch.

Meanwhile, a very small crab spider on the mallow played hide and seek with Barry’s camera.

Can you see it?

Here's a close-up


It wasn't playing - it was hunting!

It managed to trap a tasty meal.

Monday 24 June 2024

Bucket list


Bucket list?

I have always found this phrase irritating
(or maybe it’s the people who use it who aggravate me) but didn’t really understand its origin. Apparently, it derives from ‘kick the bucket’ and means a list of things people want to achieve before they die.

I suppose that’s a positive outlook but it suggests, to me, anyway, a measure of desperation as well as a certain sense of entitlement and ambition to ‘keep up with the Joneses.’

Or perhaps it is simply ambition, a desire to achieve something beyond the everyday, the normal, but when everything is achievable – for some – will the items on the bucket list become more fantastic? A trip to the moon or to the depths of the oceans might then leap to the top of the list.

Strangely, because of our recent internet problems, the book I read was about a bucket list. It was also a different interpretation of a pact with the devil. ‘If Cats Disappeared From The World’ by Genki Kawamura, was entertaining, well-written and thought -provoking. I really enjoyed it and shall look for more of his books.

Sunday 23 June 2024

Yah boo sucks


Yah boo sucks

 Jimmy, the messenger of the gods, more formally known as Mercury

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Our internet went down on Friday afternoon and it has taken more than 24 hours to get it going again. We have a hybrid hub, a 4G/5G back-up, that kicks in to cover our needs, but the data side of the mobile ‘phone network failed as well, so we were bereft, back in the pre-digital age. 😉

Listening to the conversations between Barry and various engineers is interesting because they tell him all the things they tell other people. Then he tells them that he was heavily involved in internet technology development many years ago and other digital technology, including messaging, as far back as the 70s, and the conversations take another path entirely, and are much more interesting.

Anyway, it’s up and working again. While it was down, I read a book - a complete, hard copy. It was great! We had to relearn how to turn on lights and radios without the assistance of Alexa. When we forgot, she solemnly informed us that, basically, she couldn’t do anything, but we could unplug and plug in again and maybe that would work. It didn’t!

It did make me think about the ramifications of a cyber-attack, though. Frightening!


Saturday 22 June 2024

A pubful of dads . . .


A pubful of dads . . .

One day, with a class of 7-year-olds, I talked about collective nouns and the children became quite excited and started making up their own. I wish I had noted them all, for they were imaginative, but the one that stuck in my head was ‘a pubful of dads.’

'Two pints of your best, please, Landlord'

The latest post box topper marks Fathers’ Day, which was 16th June.

I wonder if the next – if there will be a next – will celebrate the local biennial carnival, the election, the Olympics, or something else entirely.

Friday 21 June 2024




Do you believe in fairies?

 In the woods there used to be a fairy tree. Children would hang trinkets on it and leave little messages. 

Now it would seem there is more of a fairy village, with several trees, ranging from spindly saplings to tall, full-grown adults.

                    Many and wondrous are the offerings to be seen there.   

At the foot of the trees are poems, drawings and a host of fairy doors.

It seems that the fairies are quite patriotic – hand-knitted red, white and blue bunting adorns one tree.

Around and about are the sharp, sweet-smelling fronds of bracken, interspersed with wild foxgloves, with their amazingly detailed flowers – their spotted throats inviting passing bees to stop and enjoy and pollinate.

Foxgloves – where does the common name for Digitalis purpurea come from? Is it to do with the little folk wearing ‘folks’ gloves’ or does it refer to foxes wearing ‘fox fingers’ to keep the dew off their paws?

Did it come from ‘foxes-gleow’? A gleow was a ring of bells and Norse legends spoke about foxes wearing a ring of bell-shaped flowers. The bells rang to protect the foxes from the hounds of the hunt.   

A Welsh legend says that foxgloves bend and sway, not because of a passing breeze, but because the flower is sacred to the fairies. When it senses fairies nearby, it bows to show respect for the fairy folk.

Thursday 20 June 2024

A summer cold?


A summer cold?


Joy, from‘Diary of a (retired) teacher,’ mentioned that she was suffering from hay fever, and it made me think about this affliction. Barry used to get hay fever every summer and was tested for all sorts of allergies. One year, he gave up drinking milk and his hay fever abated and has never returned – so far . . .

Hay fever is the body’s overreaction to pollen, the immune system mistaking it for a virus.

My father had a ‘summer cold’ every year. I realised some years ago that it must have been hay fever and wondered when the term came into being. I was surprised to learn that it was first used in the early 19th century. John Bostock (1772-1846) wrote a paper on ‘summer catarrh’, described as ‘Case of a periodical affection of the eyes and chest.’ This eventually became known as hay fever and was considered an illness.

He had used his own experience as a case study, recording that in June each year, from around the age of 8, he suffered, ‘a sensation of heat and fullness in the eyes, first along the edges of the lids, and especially in the inner angles, but after some time over the whole of the eyeball; a slight degree of redness in the eyes and a discharge of tears; worsening of this state until there was intense itching and smarting, inflammation, and discharge of a very copious thick mucous fluid. To these symptoms were added sneezing, tightness of the chest and difficulty in breathing, with irritation of the fauces (the opening at the back of the mouth leading to the pharynx) and trachea.’

The true cause of hay fever was diagnosed in 1859 by another afflicted British scientist, Charles Blackley (1820-1900). Popular theories suggested that it was the smell of new-mown hay and excessive summer heat that gave rise to the condition, but Blackley conducted many experiments, finally narrowing the culprit down to grass pollens.

The season starts in March when tree pollens are released and ends in late summer, with the wild flowers, but the most common form of hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, is caused by an allergy to grass pollens. Grass pollens are most prevalent from the middle of May to July and affect 90% of sufferers.

Hay fever was not common before the 19th century and the start of the Industrial Revolution. In UK now, 1 in 4 people suffer from it. Obsessive hygiene, destroying our bodies’ abilities to build up immunity, and excessive use of antibiotics, are thought to be two of the major contributors.

One last, happy thought – hay fever can start at any age, and there is no cure, though there are plenty of natural remedies, some more effective than others. A daily teaspoon of locally produced honey may help, as may probiotics in foods like sauerkraut and kimchi. Quercetin, an antioxidant found in onions, apples, berries and capers, acts as a natural antihistamine. Finally, a herbal tea, like chamomile, can soothe sore throats. If you add your daily honey to it, it might be even more efficacious.


Wednesday 19 June 2024




Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
When I was quite a little girl, around 8 (which equates to 16 today – children grow up as soon as you look away!) my favourite thing to do at school was ‘composition.’  I loved writing stories and one day I told my brother, five years older than me, that I could write about anything.

That was a foolish thing to say. He said, ‘Write about nothing.’ I was completely flummoxed, of course, and went away, which is probably what he wanted me to do. This was the boy who, forced to ‘play’ with me, tied me to a drain pipe by my plaits and left me. He was an odd person – even my parents said that he was ‘different’. I can’t remember who rescued me, probably my sister, who was fifteen years my senior.

I’ve often thought about that sentence, ‘Write about nothing’.

What is ‘nothing’?  It is an absence, a lack of existence, of no importance, a nobody. Sweet nothings are fanciful remarks, often flirtatious. When asked if something is amiss, we may answer, ‘Nothing’, but that is usually untrue. It simply means that we are not prepared to discuss the problem that troubles us, or perhaps we’re trying to avoid an argument, or unpleasantness.

A child complains, ‘I'm bored. I’ve got nothing to do,’ although he or she apparently has every device under the sun and shelves full of books. Children need to learn to cope with boredom and to realise that life is not a carousel of delight and entertainment. They have to rely on their own resources, to learn how to manage their time or they will grow into discontented adults.

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

‘Write about nothing’ – these days, naturally, I do little else than write about nothing, or, at least, nothing in particular.

Tuesday 18 June 2024


Pussy cat, pussy cat . . .  


where have you been are you going?

This cat came to live with us a little while ago. He just looks like a boy cat to me and I love his smiling face and pink cheeks.

He is going to live on the front door step, with a pretty plant growing in him.

I actually bought a plant – the one plant I bought at the garden centre a while ago - a bright verbena, which may have been pink or red. I cannot tell the colour now, as it seems to have died a death. I suppose it may resurrect itself but I’m not optimistic.

I’m considering what I might try in there instead. At the moment, I’m thinking of nasturtiums, but I’m not sure. I’ll keep you posted.

Pussy cat, pussy cat,

Where have you been?

I’ve been up to London

To look at the Queen.


Pussy cat, pussy cat,

What did you there?

I frightened a little mouse

Under her chair.

This traditional rhyme was first published in 1805. The queen referred to in the nursery rhyme is believed to have been Elizabeth I, who reigned from 1558 until 1603. Illustrations often depict the queen of the verse in Elizabethan costume, some 200 years after her death. Some suggest the queen might have been Caroline of Brunswick, the estranged wife of George IV, again based on the style of dress illustrated, but she was queen from 1820 until 1821. The truth is that we do not know the exact origins of the rhyme and it really doesn’t matter.          

Monday 17 June 2024

String of hearts


String of hearts

Ceropegia woodii is a succulent flowering trailing plant native to South Africa and Zimbabwe. It was discovered in 1881 by John Medley Wood, the curator of the Durban Botanic Gardens, hanging from rocks on Groenberg Mountain. In 1894, J. M. Wood sent a living plant to The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The plant eventually flowered and was named for the man who discovered it.

The plant has heart-shaped mottled grey-green leaves and thrives on benign neglect. It dislikes being heavily watered and the recommendation is to allow it to dry out between waterings, some say until 'the top two inches of soil are dry.’

It is grown principally for its pretty leaves, but also produces pale pink tubular flowers in summer. In its natural habitat, its trailing vines can reach 4 metres, though it is unlikely to reach such lengths in a Northern European conservatory.

Other names for it include rosary vine, sweetheart vine and chain of hearts. 

Sunday 16 June 2024

Daily column


Daily column

                                        Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Professional writers who produce a daily newspaper column find inspiration where they may. Sometimes, it’s personal – a reflection on a recent colonoscopy, perhaps, or a death in the family. At other times, they look to the news, good, bad or indifferent, and weave a story from it. Entertainment can supply a rich vein of material, but the requirement remains that a column must be written, of a certain length and by a defined date and time.

Even more taxing, I imagine, is the job of the cartoonist. It is difficult to encapsulate current affairs through drawing. Some artists are very successful and manage to convey their comment clearly, with small, telling details half-hidden to be discovered with joy by eagle-eyed observers. Other cartoons are almost indecipherable. On such occasions, it is often comments from readers that make matters clearer.

When there is a rapid turnover of political figures, it is not easy to caricature people relatively unknown to the public.

At present, with at least three elections being contested, political commentators and cartoonists are spoilt for choice. Biden versus Trump (how can that continue - a convicted felon being allowed to stand for re-election?), Sunak versus Starmer (and maybe Davey), and Macron versus the rest, all present rich pickings. 

Every gaffe, blunder, outright lie, is picked over and dissected mercilessly, and speculation, already rife, is approaching fever pitch, or would be, if there were anything riveting to discuss. We are three weeks away from the General Election in UK. The French election must be done and dusted before the onset of the Olympics on 26th July and the American election rumbles on in its hugely divisive manner until polling day in November.

 I’ve just received a notification on my watch to say that Trump has a significant lead in the contest. Oh, dear!

Saturday 15 June 2024

Regimental mascots


Regimental mascots

                                            Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

A regimental mascot, also known as a ceremonial pet or military mascot differs from a military animal, in that it is not deployed for any purpose other than ceremonial. Since the 18th century, British army regiments have adopted mascots, to bring luck and strengthen morale among the troops.

Some mascots have official status, with a regimental number and rank, and can be promoted or demoted, according to their behaviour. For example, Lance Corporal Billy Windsor, the goat mascot of the 1st Battalion, the Royal Welsh, was demoted to fusilier in 2006, charged with unacceptable behaviour and disobeying a direct order. He had marched out of line, in front of Queen Elizabeth II, and attempted to head-butt the drummers. He eventually regained his former rank and retired to Whipsnade Zoo three years later.

While he was the regimental mascot, he received two cigarettes a day to eat and a drink – maybe a pint! – of Guinness.

The Royal Welsh and their predecessors have maintained goats as mascots since the 1770s. The legend is that during the American War of Independence, at the 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill, a wild goat wandered onto the battle field and led the Royal Welsh Fusiliers’ colour party from the field. From that time the Royal Welsh have always had a goat as their mascot. The current mascot is Lance Corporal Shenkin IV, 3rd Battalion, the Royal Welsh.

                                        Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

A more unusual mascot was a Bengal tiger, who was named Plassey after the famous battle of 1757.  He belonged to the 102nd Regiment of Foot (Royal Madras Fusiliers) and in 1870 he travelled with them and two leopards, to Dover, where he lived at the regimental base. He was not chained and wandered at will, but had a habit of frightening the local populace and so was given to London Zoo, where he died seven years later.

The cap badge of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, successors to the 102nd Foot, depicted a tiger, a symbol in Indian culture of grace and strength. The Royal Dublin Fusiliers were disbanded in 1922, following the establishment of the Irish Free State (Eire).

The Staffordshire Regiment has as its mascot a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, always named Watchman. The current holder is Lance Corporal Watchman VI. Their association started during the Egyptian War in 1882. When leaving Cairo by train, the South Staffordshire Regiment were accompanied by their bull terrier, Boxer. He was frightened when the train started and jumped onto the tracks. He was assumed to be dead, as he lay so still. A few days later, having arrived at their destination, the soldiers noticed a dog following them. Remarkably, it was Boxer, who had run 200 miles across the desert to rejoin his regiment.

                                    Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Other mascots include a Shetland pony, a Welsh mountain pony, an Irish wolfhound and a ram. The 2nd Battalion the Royal Yorkshire Regiment has two ferrets, Imphal and Quebec.    

                                                Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

In other countries, the mascots can be unusual. Major General Sir Nils Olav III, Baron of the Bouvet Islands, is a King Penguin and Colonel-in-Chief of the Norwegian King’s Guard. He lives at Edinburgh Zoo.

Meanwhile, in Australia, the 5th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, has Quintus Rama as their mascot. He is a Sumatran tiger and accompanies them during military parades. The 2nd Cavalry Regiment has a wedge-tailed eagle, Courage, the 3rd Combat Engineer Regiment has a dingo called Wooly, and the 1st Aviation Regiment has a peregrine falcon called Penny Alert.