Sunday, 17 August 2014

Blogallimaufrey - A Weekend in August

Sometimes, I just potter. Days without plan, without purpose,
days when I can land on any activity I fancy, at any time, suit me well.
They don’t come around very often but this weekend was a real treat.

Digging around in the ‘spare’ freezer I came upon two bags of last year’s plums.
This year’s crop is all but ready to pick, so what to do with them?
Why, make a few pots of jam, of course.


And then there’s the garden, an hour here and there is always a pleasure. It’s neither hot nor cold, fairly dry, perfect weather for some pruning, chopping back and even a touch of weeding. The clumps of daisies, faded now and wilting, have gone, weeds have been pulled from cracks in the paths and a few shrubs have been thinned and pruned. The currently freshly filled compost heap is gigantic; it’s needs turning and shovelling into the one next door, which is still filled with ripe and ready compost. That’ll be a job for Paul when he next comes.

But there’s been a lot of standing and staring in admiration as well. The flame bush is out, the shrub border which has lost all its flowers is looking very interesting and the flower border proudly presents an attractive display of late summer flowers.

Yes,  for once  I am pleased.

Just look at clematis ‘Abundance’, climbing high up into the plum tree.  It’s name is a fitting one.  In one season, after being cut right down to the ground the preceding autumn, it climbs and rambles and spreads itself without thought for any other plant in its path; even a tree doesn’t stand a chance. Up and over it goes. The flowers last for weeks, right until the early frosts. Anyone who has a tree that looks better dressed up could do worse than try ‘Abundance’. It’s fully hardy too.

Not a bad show for late summer.
Yes, I am quite pleased, for once. 
I complain too much about weeds and mess and disorder,
I should take a step back and look at the overall picture more often,
forget about weeds.


A neighbour came to collect Millie for an hour’s walk this afternoon.
That meant that we could take our time over Sunday lunch
and enjoy the best part of a bottle of Merlot with our meal.

But I didn’t want Millie to feel abandoned by her mum so I gave her a very thorough brushing in the garden when she came home. That is a big pile of dead fur. During her last illness, which was most probably due to a deep seated infection caused by mites getting into the skin and erupting into small, bloody, craters all over her nose, she was on steroids and antibiotics and parasite repellent for her coat, all of which came with nasty side effects, making her feel a bit sorry for herself. The medication didn’t improve the condition of her coat either. But she’s getting better and the thoughtful expression on her face is mainly due to the close attention she is giving to a large treat in her mouth, which takes some serious chewing.


The rest of the time I have been reading. A never ending yarn of 832 pages, ‘The Luminaries’ by Eleanor Catton, a hugely entertaining novel about the New Zealand goldrush of the 1860s. It’s a fascinating story of hardship and skullduggery,  a consummate literary page turner, intricately crafted and beautifully written. But it definitely requires staying power. I have reached page six hundred and fifteen.  An awful lot of words.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

I Want Dogs' Ears, Please

Last weekend we went to a dinner party, that high point of social interaction. Yes, there are still people who invite us; in case you are wondering why, I keep this blog secret. You know my general opinion of parties and social events, but some dinner parties are great. This one was. A group of bright, clever, articulate people assembled round the table in a convivial house, I really don’t know how we got through the IQ security gates; a temporary wand malfunction? There was a real life published literary novelist (not like so many of us blog scribblers calling ourselves writers when all we do is pen blogposts of questionable quality - yes, you in high dudgeon over there, I am including myself). There was a painter, again real life, a journalist and writer of academic books,  and assorted actors - teachers - singers. All very much real life. And, like I said, us.

A dazzling company. No wonder the host forgot about my food allergy and cooked Coronation Chicken with creme fraiche instead of mayonnaise. He gave somebody who can’t eat red onions a side dish containing lots of them and another guest carefully examined the chicken for bits of mango. Mangoes bring on an asthma attack in him. (Notice that I am handing you an idea for an icebreaker if you ever need one at one of your own lavish parties?  Free of charge. Just make the food memorably inedible for a section of the guests and you’re more than halfway to a successful evening. Provide enough quality wine and the guests will be begging you for another chance to be poisoned by you).

But the conversation was great. So was my food in the end. The host magicked me a delicious omelette in the blink of an eye. I was served before the other diners had had access to all the dishes going round.

Getting back to the conversation - the two gentlemen either side of me were extremely adept socially, each spoke to me in turn.  Just as it should be. You turn to your partner on your left and then, at a suitable break in the conversation, or when the next course is served, you dazzle the lady on your right. And so on round the table.

I  hate it when there are several conversations going on at the same time because I always want to listen to the other one. You could just have four people, of course, but then there wouldn’t be enough different viewpoints. And I admit to liking a rowdy table, particularly as the evening progresses. I noticed that the ladies sitting in the middle didn’t bother with dinner party rules: they just spoke across and to right and left as they pleased. This particular host frequently places me at the top end of the table, thereby putting me at a disadvantage, at least until we are all suitably relaxed and I can lean over, usually into the pudding, to catch what is being discussed at the other end.

This is where dogs’ ears come in. Dogs can swivel their ears independently from each other, helping them to identify and capture sounds from different directions, even pick up sound from far away. They can hear things that haven’t even been said yet. As in thunder, for instance. Mille knows about thunder in the next county when I’m still chewing on the first course and she can hear a doggie biscuit tin rattle while she is deep in conversation (i.e. with her nose up another dog’s bottom) in the field by the river.

Hang about though, I’ve just thought of another, more easily achievable way of not missing out at table: dinner parties with a round table. Then we will all be shouting across at each other! No tops or bottoms involved! In or out of the pudding.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Bertha’s Tail End

Before The Storm

Not Long Now

During The Night
(through the window glass)

Bertha Leaving Again

 Next Day

No flooding,
no serious damage,
a few broken branches littering the ground,
some carelessly unsecured garden pots strewn about,
that’s all.

Our small corner of the Marches got away with it.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Ornithology For Beginners


It doesn’t do to neglect your bird feeders. Maybe.

We have a lot of bird visitors to the garden, most of them lbjs (little brown jobs), but we are also blessed with crowds of blackbirds and, even more fortunately, several pairs of beautiful song thrushes, all of whom seem to have survived the breeding season.

We also have raspberry, worcester berry and gooseberry bushes growing close to a thick mixed holly, elder and maple hedge. The berry bushes used to be under netting in a fruit cage, but when this collapsed in heavy snowfalls, we didn’t bother to replace it. Laziness, lack of foresight, can’t-be-bothered-ness, call it what you will, we no longer have a fruit cage.

Paul, my new gardener - henceforth only gardener - said he’d take some of the tart goose- and worcester berries off my hands. Beloved uses some to make wine, but the rest of the annual crop usually remains in the freezer; I can’t eat them in gooseberry fools because of the lashings of cream and I don’t much like them otherwise.

So we took what we wanted for ourselves and left the rest for Paul and maybe any other interested parties to pick at their leisure. Unfortunately, the other interested parties turned out to be birds. Whenever I visited that part of the garden I heard scuttlings and scuddings and scrabblings and scratchings, which I took to be birds hastily seeking refuge from human intervention in the hedge; but the fruit remained on the bushes. Until one fateful morning: overnight every gooseberry, worcester berry and raspberry had disappeared,  not one single berry was left, the bushes picked clean as a whistle. A whistle and a quick cheap-cheap is all that the blighters left behind. They’re not even bothering to repay me in song.

Paul took some of our frozen gooseberries home with him.

The bird that feeds from off my palm
Is sleek, affectionate and calm,
But double, to me, is worth the thrush
A-flickering in the elder-bush.

so says the incomparable Dorothy Parker, but I don’t think so.

*Fruitless fruit bushes are boring, I’m giving you a picture of my leucanthemums/argyranthemums/marguerites instead. These flowers change their botanical name so often you might as well call them daisies and be done with it.

Friday, 1 August 2014


While my mac was away from home for a bit of R&R I felt utterly bereft. Every time I passed the empty desk there was a tiny jolt. Fine, I said to myself, so you can’t go online to blog but you could prepare a blog post or catch up on emails. For a moment I was quite serious about that, eagerly making for the computer corner, until I realised that, no, I can’t do that either. I use the mac for writing, researching and blogging, ipads have small keyboards, they’re of no use to me for ‘proper’ writing.

There was definitely something missing to which I have become seriously addicted. How do people who say they have no need of a computer manage to live with themselves?

After an absence of a day and a half mac’s R&R was over and I could fetch him (him?) home. Mike the macman explained that all was well again and that he’d added an extra 2Gb of RAM to the measly 1Gb available on such old (old? OLD?) desktop computers and that that would speed it up a bit and that he’d sorted out a lot of inconsistency on the hard disk. I felt exactly as I do at the Vet’s when I pick up Millie after a minor op. I embraced my mac as I embrace Millie and put him on the back seat. Millie only gets to ride in the boot (of the hatchback - last time I mentioned that Millie rides in the boot somebody threw up their (blogging)-hands in horror at the very idea of such cruel incarceration).

But here comes the contrary bit: once I’d carried the mac upstairs to my study and set him up on his desk, I reconnected everything, checked that all was in working order and promptly ignored him for the rest of the day.

A bit like a man; it’s nice to know they’re around to use anytime you need them.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

A Friend

Many of you praise the friends you have and how you would find life without them much less rewarding. You speak of the support they give, how they help out when there is need, how you enjoy each other’s company, the hours you spend together for no particular reason, just being friends.

I always say I have acquaintances, not friends. Being able to make friends seems to elude me, it’s not one of my, admittedly few, talents. It doesn’t occur to me that anyone would want to seek my company, although I am quite reasonably polite and not altogether socially inept. Just not madly forthcoming.

And yet, to my surprise, there are people here in Valley’s End who want to spend time with me, just like that. Not for any ulterior motive. Even an intolerant old grouch like me finds that gratifying. There was an Open Studio event the other day; a dozen or so of the many artists living here opened their doors to give the rest of us an idea of how they work (and perhaps sell a few pieces). Not only did somebody suggest we accompany each other on these visits, but I was also greeted by a few people I hadn’t seen socially for some time with warmth and pleasure. All most encouraging. Thank you.


My mac is going to a nice man  for a little bit of care and attention tomorrow morning. Some gremlin has moved in who greets me with a stupid ditty of “this is what you want, this is what you get” when I go online and he needs to be evicted before he does further damage, or invades other computers. I hope all will be well again soon.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Women in Medicine

They say you can tell you are getting old when you see policemen getting younger. You know you must be old when your doctor, who is younger than you, retires.  In our time here the head of our country practice has always been a woman, although we also have a much appreciated and very popular male doctor. My lovely female doctor has retired, another female practitioner has taken her place. Even the most old-fashioned and hidebound countryman now accepts these providers of medical care without turning a hair.

From earliest times, women have nursed the sick and cared for newborns and the elderly in their homes. Childbirth was entirely in the hands of trained midwives; but it was not until the 1900s, and after much struggle, that women won the right to study and practice medicine in the same way as men. Even so, this right is still not granted in all parts of the world.

Women have always been central in providing medical care, whether in the home, nursing or acting as herbalists. However, the medical profession has been male dominated for most of its history. In Europe this came about from the 1400s, when many cities and governments decided that only those trained in universities were allowed to formally practise medicine. As women were not allowed into the universities they could not gain a licence.

In my copy of 'The Portable Medieval Reader' I found The Case Of A Woman Doctor In Paris. (1322)  A certain Jacoba Felicie was prosecuted by the medical faculty of the University of Paris for practicing without their degree of the Chancellor's license. :

“ . . . . in the inquisition made at the instance of the masters in medicine at  Paris against Jacoba Felicie  and others practising the art of medicine and surgery in Paris and the suburbs without the knowledge and authority of the said masters, to the end that they be punished, and that this practice be forbidden them . . . . . “

The Court produced a whole range of indictments, i.a. that Jacoba visited many sick persons, afflicted with grave illnesses, touching, feeling, holding their pulses,  examining body and limbs, and inspecting their urine.  Not only that but she also said to these sick persons:  "I shall make you well, God willing, if you will have faith in me”, making an agreement concerning the cure with them and receiving money for it."

Many witnesses came forward to testify that Jacoba had indeed healed them whereas, although enduring the care of very many expert masters in the art of medicine, they had not been able at all to recover from the illnesses, although the masters applied as much care and diligence to these as they were able. And the said Jacoba, called afterwards, had cured these sick persons in a short time, by an art which is suitable for accomplishing this.

In their wisdom the medical faculty accepted defeat and Jacoba was allowed to continue to cure the sick. It is a pity that it took the medical profession another 600 years to come to the conclusion that women could do more than wipe a fevered brow.