Keeping it real!


I am now firmly back in the toad land of work, the long  day stretches ahead and the sky can just be glimpsed through the bars of the firmly shut blinds.

My garden is another five days away and only a few pot plants on the desk remind me of the green I am missing.

A few unexpected specks of spherical black, dot my desk and I realize they are insect frass.  On close inspection of my rose scented geranium, I spot eaten leaves and more frass.  There can only be one explanation.  A caterpillar has hitched a ride from the garden and is slowly devouring my plant, utterly safe from all predators on my desk.

I think it is a garden tiger moth caterpillar and as I write, its hairy body is swelling as it ingests the perfumed leaves.  It doesn’t mind being here.  This is safe and profitable for a caterpillar.

Time to take another lesson from nature, I suppose: but when it turns into an extravagantly patterned moth, I will need to find a way to set it free!

Gertrude Bell – The Ketrun – Desert Queen — Stephen Liddell

I reblog this fascinating post about a very important woman and her legacy. We all have those day dreams about who we wished we had been in another life, well Gertrude Bell is mine. Thanks to Steven Liddell for this excellent read.

From time to time, I have written about iconic and pioneering women in relative recent history, well recent by British standards 🙂 I also sometimes write about the Middle-East which is actually the one area of life that I can actually claim to have some academic expertise. So I have finally taken the opportunity to […]

via Gertrude Bell – The Ketrun – Desert Queen — Stephen Liddell

A cautionary tale .

This photo shows sparrows eating a mound of instant noodles on my bird table. They don’t believe in clean eating and would turn their beaks up in righteous disgust at a spiralised courgette . This doesn’t mean however that I normally cooked up such preprocessed junk even for the birds, so why this heap of quick cook gunk today?

The answer lies in tectonic plates and inescapable caution. We live on a fault line, the Rhine Valley, which may have been dormant for 700 years, but you can never be too careful. If the faults should shift and the house should fall, and we should some how escape, we would be ok, as we have an emergency box in the garden shed.

That is a lot of “shoulds”, but if we managed to drag ourselves out of the wreckage and dig through the flattened wooden shed, we would discover a large trunk of life sustaining goodies.

We have a tent, sleeping bags, first aid stuff, water purifying tabs . We also have basic food that could be cooked on wood from the wood store. These delicacies include tins of hot dogs and instant noodles.

Assuming we survive the nuclear power plant melt down, the zombie apocalypse and final release from the internet, we could get by for a few days. There is even cat food in the box.

This monument to hope/stupidity was assembled some years ago. This summer we opened it again, to find many out of date cans and a lot of mice nests. The mice were evicted, in date food replaced the old, and voila the sparrows got to eat the old noodles!

I hope in a few years time to repeat the exercise, use the next batch of out dated food to feed these sparrows off spring and continue to hope for peaceful times, a quiet earth and a cautious approach.

Slip, slop.

IMG_1984Larkin’s “Work Toad” is slowly, slip slopping his way towards me. With webbing and slime he makes his heavy, warty and unwanted way towards me, slowly, inexorably muttering bills, and health insurance and pension and taxes. And then plop! He is in my lap, heavy and inevitable. I wriggle, but there is no escape and we must share each other’s cold burden for another long year together.

Caught in time.

This tiny blue butterfly took a fancy to my hat and spent much of the day photogenically attached to me, as we wandered around an upland meadow earlier this week. It sat on my hair, when I took off the hat and it rested on my water bottle when it tired of riding on the hat. I don’t know what the butterfly got out of our interaction, but when I looked closely at his wonderful compound eye, I knew I was looking into something immensely old and extraordinary.
This photo was taken using a microscope of a fly caught in a chip of amber bought recently. The eye is concave from the pressure of the ancient resin, but still very recognisably and unchanged: an insect.

Some other insect eyes from recent moth trapping, watching me across the ages, include lesser elephant hawk moth and oak eggar moth.

I wonder which one of us understands more of life on this planet?

The First Flower

Apologies to any one who clicked on my last post and found nothing.
I was trying to repost a fantastic article from the Guardian news paper about the evolution of flowers. This is a link to allow you to read it for yourself.

Mother of all blooms: is this what the last common ancestor of flowers looked like?

I never ceased to be astonished by the variety and beauty of flowers, which I think is actually a very deep seated human acknowledgement of their absolute centrality to human existence. They are not just pretty – they give us life!

To prevent further pontification, here is a picture of one of my garden ornaments contemplating a bat dropping on the bathroom window sill.

Being in the right place.

I used to steal flowers. There have been times when I have kept a small pair of scissors in my handbag to facilitate a quick snip as I strolled nonchalantly by.

In my defence I never stole prize blooms from tidy gardens, but I could not resist the sprawling rose from the over grown garden; the unappreciated lilac from the building plot; the perfumed  mock orange flowers from the municipal bush; the lavender spike to crush between the passing fingers.

My criminal days are over. After so many years of waiting I have my own garden and I have loaded it with flowers. When I pass other gardens, I admire and walk on, as my hunger for the beauty of flowers has been satisfied .

I rarely pick my own flowers as I know they will last longer in the garden. Now a days I pick flowers as gifts for neighbours and friends or to save a particular beauty from a threatened hail storm.

These flowers were all picked because they were in the wrong place. The everlasting peas had climbed into my neighbour’s apple tree; the Russian sage was sprawling over the lawn; the artemisia was lying over the gladioli; the marigolds were crowding out my new irises; the phlox had fallen over in the rain and the geranium had been broken by a cat.

I don’t have the flower arranging eyes of the clever bloggers who fill vases on a Monday. These were just crammed in a pot; but none of them were stolen and for now they are in just the  right place!



Harvesting Starts

It is still high summer, but many vegetables are ready already!

Our vegetable plot is chaotic, nothing is in straight rows and the most obvious thing that we grow are self sown marigolds and wild borage, bowed down with bees. But somehow, some edible plants survive and we have been eating beetroot and beetroot leaf salad, curly kale, swiss chard, peas, lettuce, green cabbage and courgettes that turn into marrows over night. There are endless dishes if green beans and a tray of shallots are drying in the cellar.

The potatoes are ready to dig up when we get the time, but there has been time to locate and tickle up the garlic, that was ready to harvest weeks ago. It has come to no harm in the ground and is now happily, plumply drying in the sun.

Sometimes life seems very good!

An Alsace Day.

Today was a very Alsace day.

Firstly we went to a very small and a very strange museum called the museum of love in the nearby village of Werentzhouse.  In a tiny renovated Alsace house there is an astonishingly rich collection of vintage post cards in albums neatly stacked on wooden shelves. All are connected to love .

There is barely room to open the album, but each one holds a treasure trove of beautiful post cards. I looked at the album of cards made of real human hair, which was slightly creepy, but also very funny and touching.

I also looked at cards sent by French soldiers in the First World War to their sweethearts back home and was amazed by their variety and also the sauciness  of some of them! The ladies explained that they were bought by soldiers in packs of 12 and they built up to tell a story of longing and love, for the shy or the inarticulate. Both world wars are still so close in the Alsace, I couldn’t help wondering how many young men got to send all twelve cards or to experience the effect on the loved one.

Returning home saddle sore from unaccustomed cycling, we decided to try a glass of Auxerrois wine recommended by our next door neighbour. I love all white Alsatian wines, especially the wonderfully perfumed Gewürztraminer  and Pinot Gris, but Auxerrois is a rarity, possibly because it is so hard to say. This wine was a delight. I am going to stop myself burbling wine snob nonsense, but it is light, and full of flavour and perfume. Not much of this variety is grown and often it is blended in to make Pinot Blanc and essential in Crèmant d’Alsace.  I include a photo and a link

to a you tube clip that gives some sense of the history, complexity and great wines of this little border region, where I have planted my unexpected garden .




Upcycling – Plastic Bottle Greenhouse 

This is a brilliantly simple way of turning a problem – empty water bottles – into something useful to start seedlings off in the spring, or force tomatoes in cool countries! I am going to try it!

Botanical Adventures

Today Kady (Curation Scholar) had arranged for us to go on a tour of Bethlehem Natural History Museum. The Museum doesn’t have much money but are accomplishing great things. Few institutions are assessing the ecology of the Palestinian Territories, the museum is one of them. Helping institutions like the museum is so important for world conservation.

Detailed assessments of the flora in the area could be incredibly interesting. This is because new data could be compared with ‘Flora Palaestina’. Published in 1966 the texts include a fairly comprehensive distribution atlas, this could be compared with new data. It could help raise the alarm about plants that are in decline. Though so far the museum has worked more on fauna.

The museum has a glasshouse constructed with a timber frame and coated with plastic bottles. It’s very effective and seems pretty similar to the expensive, air filled, plastic coatings. It has…

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