Friday, 15 October 2010

First Frost

We have had a run of the most beautiful weather; warm, sunny days, clear blue skies and starry nights which were chilly but not so cold as to produce a frost - until a couple of nights ago. The first frost here is usually around the equinox – it was quite reliably on 23rd September for a number of years. So our first frost of the autumn this year was nearly three weeks late. Still, better late than early enough to catch out the swallows and martins. Our swallows left about a month ago now, slightly early and quite suddenly, leaving an emptiness in the sky above the farm. It’s a couple of weeks since I last saw some stragglers overhead, jinking to catch the occasional insect as they flew south east, riding Summer’s tail.

Interestingly, the swallows arrived slightly late this year too, which was a good thing, since our spring was about three weeks late. Cold and snowy became cold and dry, and the grass took a long time to start growing again.

Now the true autumn weather has begun, chill mists and drizzle. The leaves are falling into soggy drifts. Soon, we will return to the winter land, full of its own beauty and interest. Even so, on grey, nondescript days, my mind will range forwards to next April, anticipating the return of the swallows in the bright spring sky.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010


You know those tunes which get stuck in your head?  I get them all the time.  Thankfully, they are usually songs which I have heard recently and like, rather than advertising jingles or TV programme theme tunes.  I remember feeling quite irritated when I had ‘I should be so lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky …’ revolving in my head like a stuck record.  Clapping my hands over my ears and singing LA LA LA loudly and tunelessly didn’t seem to work, but I can’t remember now what I did to get rid of it, or whether it eventually went of its own accord.

I first heard the term ‘earworm’ a few years ago, following a discussion on the Radio Paradise website.  It seemed to fit, even if the image it brought up was a bit off-putting.  I remembered hearing something on the radio not so long ago about earworms, and thought no more about it until yesterday, when I had a head full of songs.

I was listening to Flanders and Swann’s At the Drop of a Hat at the weekend and The Gnu song stuck.  (If you haven’t heard of Flanders and Swann, then I’m sorry, we’ve just identified a hole in your education.  Please go and look them up.  Admittedly, some of their pieces were very much of their time, when HiFi and kitchen gadgets were new things, and those born in an age of CDs and microwaves might not get some of the historical and cultural references without programme notes.  But some of their work is timeless.  You can listen to The Gnu on YouTube here).

I love Flanders and Swann.  If ever there were songs made to stick in the mind, then surely some of theirs are the aural equivalent of superglue.  The combination of Flanders’ lyrics and Swann’s music and the wonderful way in which they delivered them stuck with me from childhood until I came across a boxed set of CDs and was able to listen to them properly again.  Even so, after a day of singing/thinking ‘I’m a g-nu …’ I was beginning to wonder what I would see if I looked in the mirror.  So, how to get rid of an earworm?  One way is to replace it.  So I listened to another album of Flanders and Swann’s, At the Drop of Another Hat.  That did it.  The Gnu was replaced by The Gas Man Cometh and its repeating refrain ‘it all makes work for the working man to do’.  I was talking to a builder friend at the time and he was talking about how one job leads to another.

All this led me to remember the radio comments about a project on earworms, so I looked it up.  Goldsmiths University is running the Earworm Project and you can help their research by filling in their questionnaire about your earworms.  So I did, noting with interest the psych profile questions investigating the links to obsessive-compulsive behaviour, and feeling impatient that they only asked about two earworms, a recurrent and a recent.  But I found I could list as many as I liked using the earworms short form in conjunction with Radio 6.  It occurred to me that perhaps earworms triggered by events, habits or discussions may in some way form a soundtrack for our daily lives.

The research project might eventually help those who find their earworms disturbing, making it difficult for them to concentrate or seeming like they’re hearing voices.  Fortunately, most of my earworms are songs or music I like and if they switch themselves on and hang around for a bit, it’s no big deal.  But I guess I’d better stop writing and go do something more productive.  I’ll just go put some music on first.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Swimming Solo

Gliding forwards over the buoyant deep
I watch my glistening nails
Pushing towards the horizon,
The small bow wave they made
Breaking over my hands
Softly chill on my skin.
Floating weightless I lie,
Quiet except for my splash
And laughing, spin and dance,
Swirling bubbles in my wake.

Rain Dance

Raindrops pitter patter,
Tapping on the pavement.
Syncopated splashes
Spin on the swirling water and
Jump into puddles.
A blackbird shelters in the hedge,
Just singing in the rain.

Elemental Dancer

Rooted in the earth,
Arms flowing like water
As the body
Veils catch the air,
Floating, turn and fly.
Motion blurs the starlight sequins,
Move and glitter like fire in the dark.
Show your spirit

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Butterflies + Nettles + Sunshine = More Butterflies

I was absent-mindedly scratching my leg earlier, wondering why it itched and remembered that it was a nettle sting.  Blasted things, as if the immediate burning and stinging wasn’t bad enough, I seem to prickle, tingle and itch for a fortnight or more afterwards.  And this is just from the relatively mild Urtica species found in the UK.  I could cheerfully uproot them all, were it not for the insects they support, not to mention their use as food, tea, medicine, dye, plant food and fibre for clothing.

So I leave the nettles to grow, especially clumps in sunshine, as these attract butterflies such as like the Small Tortoiseshell Aglais urticae.

A couple of months ago, I saw a pair on a clump next to the compost heap and a little while later, the nettles were being stripped by caterpillars.  Now the nettles are looking the worse for wear and we are surrounded by Small Tortoiseshell butterflies. 

A quick count outside just now revealed 16, on Buddleia, sunning themselves on leaves or walls or just generally hanging around.  There are so many around, you don’t even have to look for them, and I love it.  It makes me feel as though I’ve got something right.

Earlier today, I was following a female Common Blue Polyommatus icarus around our pond, but couldn’t get a photo.  It’s a new species for the farm, as in previous years we have only had Holly Blues Celastrina Argiolus around occasionally in the hedgerows (with the Holly!).  Unfortunately, I have not seen any Painted Lady Vanessa cardui at all this year, which is a shame because we have lots of thistles for them.

And the lack of honey bees for the second year running is freaking me out.

I was idly casting about for information on nettles and came up with this link, which told me that there was also a national ‘be kind to nettles’ week back in May.  I missed it, but perhaps covering my plants, path and walls with butterflies is the nettles’ way of being kind to me.

Monday, 16 August 2010

One Size Fits Nobody?

Although this blog is supposed to be about things which amuse, inspire and interest me, sometimes the inspiration to write comes from not being amused at all. One of the things which makes me growl are meaningless size descriptions and the lack of real measurements for clothing and accessories which abound in online shops.  This is especially true on eBay, but it happens elsewhere too, including descriptions from some companies who really should know better.

Consider the following descriptions, gleaned from a few trawls recently:
  • One size.  Usually used to describe something stretchy which covers a range of sizes, or which doesn’t come in fixed sizes.  So, not one size at all.
  • One size fits all.  No, it doesn’t, don’t be silly.
  • One size fits most.  Might be true, but what about those whom it doesn’t fit?
  • Small, medium, large, extra large. On further reading, you might find this means sizes 10, 12, 14, 16, but are these UK or US sizes?  Even ‘standard’ UK sizes differ by up to 4 inches, and that’s without counting any fashion ease.
  • Plus size.  Which then turns out to be a size 18.
  • Long.  How long?
  • Big.  (Oh, please.)  How big?

Some potential customers who are really interested might get in touch with the seller to ask for exact measurements, but for most items, I’d bet most people won’t bother.  Sellers, do yourselves and your customers a favour – provide a size chart, or get a tape measure, and use it to provide real measurements.

Sexy? Who, Me?

I'm in my late forties, frankly obese and would not describe myself as sexy.  But after dancing three different pieces on different occasions, I've been told by two complete strangers and one friend how sexy I've looked when dancing.  Sexy?  Who, me?  You're kidding, right?  No, they were being warm and complimentary, saying how much they had enjoyed my dancing.  I felt flattered and very pleased to have entertained them.

One of the strangers then went on to express her surprise, as at first sight, she wondered what I was doing coming onto the stage to do a solo – someone that fat can’t dance, surely?  So she had been very pleasantly surprised to have enjoyed my dancing so much.

This back-handed compliment left me with conflicting emotions and something to think about.  I was fleetingly irritated by the unthinking insult, but glad to have opened her eyes to the misconception that belly dance is only for slender young things, showing a lot of flesh and wiggling their hips.  I’d like to think that other rounded, older women in the audience might think, ‘I’d love to do that, that could be me’, start taking classes and get a whole new interest in their lives.

On the other hand, I felt uncomfortable about being thought sexy, when I was not intending to portray that.  Given the ongoing debate about belly dance and burlesque, and the efforts to separate belly dance from connotations of sex, was I coming across the wrong way?

My friend put me straight.  It’s the fine line between ‘sensual’ and ‘sexy’ which is in play here.  I am an unashamedly sensual person and it’s apparent when I dance that I am caught by the music, lost in the movement.  This engenders a fascination for those watching; there is something compelling about someone dancing, present in the moment, projecting strength and confidence.  The glitter and swirl of the costume with the dancer’s movements may have a mesmerising effect, but ‘sexy’ is in the eye of the beholder.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Any colour you like ...

Living out in the back of beyond as I do, my window shopping is frequently of the virtual kind, using online catalogues.  Like real window shopping, it's a source of interest and entertainment, but you get descriptions and zoom-in features too. Some of the descriptions leave me wondering who writes this stuff?  Do they get to handle the clothes they’re describing?  Take three tops, apparently the same shape and length.  One is described as a blouse, the next a tunic, the last is a dress.  Everything seems to be described as ‘stunning’. What does it do, hit you over the head and leave you mildly concussed?

I find the colour descriptions most intriguing at the moment.  It’s mid-August, and the winter catalogues are here.  I love colour, but some collections leave me with an impression of greyness.  Clothing to blend in with the typically overcast British skies.  Given the standard warning that colour reproduction may differ between monitors and lighting conditions in outdoor shots may change how the colour looks as well, you’d think consistent colour descriptions would be important.  Granted, some of the muted shades at the moment are difficult to describe, but the copy writers seem to be taking a distinctly inventive approach to using colour names.

For example, khaki might be anything from dark olive green to a greyish beige which I would normally describe as taupe.  I’ve seen a shade I would think of as aqua described variously as sky blue, turquoise, sea green and celadon.  A collection of similar blue-green shades are described variously as teal, cedar, emerald, (never seen an emerald this colour), green, peacock and petrol blue.  A quick search for other teal items results in soft teal, in other words, a light blue-green somewhere between sea foam and duck egg blue.  Also a dark or dusky teal describing a muted, greyish green which no self-respecting duck would include in their plumage.

Very dark blue might be navy, midnight, night blue or ink.  Ink may also be a very dark purple or a dark grey-blue, although the latter may also be gunmetal or steel blue.

Searching by colour, I find that beige is also natural or linen. White seems to include ice, winter, ivory, ecru, string, cream.  Pale yellow isn't yellow, but lemon or straw.  Grey can be light, dove, pearl, marled, lead or charcoal.

Black is just black, though, isn’t it?  Oh, but this item is ‘deep black’.  And look, there’s a ‘pale black’ as well, which is a more a more interesting way of saying very dark grey.

I'll stick to brighter or richer colours which stand out from the clouds in their shades of dove, pale black, lead and ink, lifting my spirits in our drab winter weather.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Moths? Do you really like moths?

Hawkmoths and Honeysuckle. Top to bottom: Privet Hawk-moth, Elephant Hawk-moth and Poplar Hawk-moth.
This is becoming one of those ‘I wish I had a pound for every time someone says …’.  A moth flies around, I scuttle over to see what it is, and someone in the assembled company will say, ‘Ugh, can’t stand moths.  Don’t bring it near me.’  Guaranteed.

And then the conversation may go something like ‘They’re small and boring (and brown) or big, furry and scary (and brown). They eat your clothes, carpets and garden plants, bash into lights and crash into your face. And they fly at night and anyway, butterflies are nicer to look at. Do you really like moths?’

Yes, I do. It’s true, many are brown. Some do destroy fabrics, others damage plants and many are attracted to lights, crashing madly around the room. But they are important, and more interesting than you’d think.

Moths are divided into two main groups – macro-moths and micro-moths. As the names suggest, macro-moths are generally the larger moths, although in fact some micro-moths are larger than macros and vice versa. Almost all of the macro-moths have English names. The names generally describe some aspect of their appearance, such as their wing colours or markings. Some have intriguing names – the Exile, Delicate, Conformist and Non-Conformist, Suspected, Uncertain, and Confused (referring to the recorders being confused, not the moths!). Even the brown moths may be intricately marked, with all shades of brown, but many moths have patterns containing shades of red, orange, yellow, green, pink, purple or grey, splashed with gold, silver, copper or brass.

Moth recording is fascinating – you don’t know what you might find, and there is the possibility of finding an uncommon moth. Records add to our knowledge of moth species and help to assess the impact we’re having on the environment.

Moths form a vital part of our wildlife and ecosystems. They pollinate many plants (yes, even at night!). Although the caterpillars damage leaves, they also recycle nutrients back into the soil. Moths and their caterpillars are part of the food chain, being eaten by birds, bats and other mammals, insects and spiders, lizards and amphibians.

Moths add significantly to our biodiversity, with around 2500 species in the UK, found in all habitats from the sea shore to the tops of mountains. Moth caterpillars mostly rely on plants for food and many require somewhere undisturbed to overwinter.

Moth numbers are affected directly and very rapidly by our influence on their habitats and by climate change. Differences in moth numbers have been found between organic or extensive farms and intensive farms, with reduced numbers recorded where herbicides and pesticides have been used. The reduction in moths, as well as other insects, has a knock-on effect to other plants and animals. Moths are therefore an important indicator of the state of our environment.

62 moth species became extinct in Britain during the 20th Century and many more species are now considered to be nationally threatened or scarce. The UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) lists 53 moths as national priority species for conservation. Recent research suggests that two thirds – 66%!- of common moth species are in decline.

So the next time you see a moth, why not take a closer look? A really good field guide to macro-moths is Waring, Townsend & Lewington ‘Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland’.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Overheard on a Train

On the rare occasions when I take the train, I amuse myself by gazing out of the window, daydreaming and, if I'm not in a 'quiet' carriage on a cross-country service, listening for snatches of conversations which rise above the general hubbub.

Picture, if you will, a chap in a suit,  mobile phone in place, calling out 'Yes, running late.  I'm on the train.' (No, really?)  'Look, not a word to anyone, this is highly sensitive, treat it as Top Secret.  I'm to meet Charles on Friday ....'  and he falters and stops, aware that the carriage is silent, all of us listening agog to his 'secrets'.

And a conversation between two ladies getting off the train:
'I like to do it every few weeks.'
'I try to do it at least once a month, but, well, it’s the end of July now and it was April last time … no, I tell a lie, it was the end of May, so there’s two months gone just like that.'
'I find if you leave it a little while it gets harder.'
'Of course, it doesn’t help in the long run, you have to do it regularly to stay on top.'

Sometimes, the mind just boggles.  It was probably something mundane, like cleaning, but you never know ....

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Favourite Things (in no particular order)

Sunlight on water, sequins and glitter,
Velvet and satin, silk and brocade,
Gold, silver, copper, brass, bronze and pewter,
Beads, stones and crystals, things that I've made.
Coffee and chocolate, fruits, breads and spices,
Colours and scents, Celtic knotwork and braid,
Dragonflies, butterflies, leaves in the Autumn,
Mothwings and flowers and long summer days.
Blue skies and starry nights, beaches and birds,
Computers and books, lounging, log fire ablaze,
Cats, friendships, happiness, laughter and love,
Music and singing and dancing always.

Toes in the Water

I always wondered: Why blog?  Why keep your diary online, available for others to read?  Isn't it all just a bit vain and self-centered?  Are they worth reading?

On the basis that you don't know until you look, I started reading blogs and was amazed.  Okay, there were a few which were pretty much a load of misspelled, self-absorbed drivel.  Mostly, though, they were just people, sharing their experiences and ideas, their pictures and thoughts.
Just people, sharing their lives; good times, bad times, the  hum-drum day-to-day times, triumphs and heartbreaks, loves and hates.

I'm not very good at keeping a diary or journal, so what would motivate me to blog?  Would anyone read it?
Who cares?

The pool looks tempting, the water warm on my toes ... here goes!