30 March 2015

Maybe this is the answer ... maybe not...

A recent speaker at the WI gave me all sorts of hints about dealing with squirrels although his real interest was birds. Over a cup of tea I mentioned my frustration over the four-legged friends creatures that eat all the birds food so Chris ... that’s Chris Edwards from the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) ... gave me a few ideas and some leaflets.

Apparently the best way to fool squirrels is to hang a feeder from fishing line because it’s too thin for them to get a grip. Well, that would mean rethinking the whole problem from scratch, like where would I hang the fishing line bearing in mind that squirrels can leap to great heights. I suppose it would be okay if (a) there was an isolated branch about a mile high on which to attach the line, (b) we had a tall enough ladder to reach the branch, or (c) I had an aptitude for climbing.

I found Chris’ second suggestion more appealing. Actually is was an idea thought up by my cleaning lady, which I dismissed as – er – rubbish since she knows nothing about birds or squirrels (apologies to Paola). Surprise, surprise, Chris came up with the same piece of information. Chilli Powder! In fact, one of the suggestions in the literature said the same thing. Chilli Powder! Apparently birds don’t mind the hot stuff but squirrels can’t stand it.

Today I bought my first jar of chilli powder. I didn’t realise there was more than one grade of heat, so I searched the supermarket shelf until I spotted one marked HOT. I couldn’t wait to try it out on the wildlife!

There are four feeders on the feeding station. One contains dried meal worm, one holds peanuts, and the other two are filled with peeled sunflower seed. I decided just to add chilli powder to one and leave the other as it was. I didn’t want to deprive the birds altogether if they didn’t like the hot stuff. So far, so good! The chaffinches aim for the chilli-free feeder, the bullfinches don’t mind it, and the goldfinches and greenfinches seem to love it. The squirrel, though, heads for the chilli-free feeder. After watching him for a while to be certain, I sneaked out and switched the feeders. It is obvious that he prefers chilli-free seed. Of course, the slightly reddened seeds gave the game away but secretly I hoped he was colour-blind.

After a couple of days I noticed that the birds definitely preferred chilli-free seed. Goldfinches and Greenfinches would have a few then transfer to the feeder the didn't contain the hot stuff. However, it's something new and they may just need time to get used to it. 

Decision: continue the watching brief until certain that the experiment is a success. If so then I'll fill all the feeders with hot chilli and you’ll probably hear me cackling as I do it. On the other hand, you might just hear a few sobs.

28 March 2015

Songs and Sounds on Saturday

Rod McKuen, American poet and songwriter, who died in January this year.

There is no single day or time
within the life
I've so far lived
that I'd have changed 
or altered

Possibly there are some days
I could have missed
and never missed,
but I suspect that I could not
have come down to this place
a different way.
As I suspect that being here
I don't as yet know where I am.
(taken from Rod McKuen's book of poems 'Seasons in the Sun')

23 March 2015


It was there, wedged deep in her imagination, as monumental a dwelling as any other she could remember; not monumental in the true sense, but remarkable in its importance. She could visualize the latticed casement-windows; the crooked chimney and its four pots, even in summer issuing smoke; and the old-fashioned roses around the low, warped door, its thorny offshoots stealing towards the brass horseshoe, displayed with a kind of imperious pride, if domiciles were capable of possessing such sentiments. The image was as true as any photograph; only, however detailed a photograph, it could not immortalize the smells of the place: the aroma of Weetabix and warm milk and honey that greeted each day, and the farmyard odour ever present beyond the cottage door. Ascending into the endlessly azure sky were two granolithic gate pillars, tops like pyramids and girths as wide, it seemed, as the chicken house. It was where she would climb to watch the cows come by for milking.
She allowed her mind to wander the surrounding sunlit lanes, hop-scotching shadows the way she used to, frequently interrupting the game to perform handstands against crumbling walls, or select the longest grasses to tickle her father's neck. And then, prompted by thoughts of her father and his favourite pastime, she recalled those restful periods when, surrounded by angling paraphernalia, she quietly watched the salmon leap.
Yes, it was there, immutably lodged in her imagination, and that's what she wanted to find; it was what she'd been searching for this past hour.

Vida Maitland reversed the Renault onto a bumpy dirt path and switched off the engine, thinking, in her frustration, that if anyone told her to move she'd probably explode. She had been driving from one coterie of cottages to the next, coasting the unnamed narrow lanes, none of which had passing places, and had even enquired in isolated shops, but no-one knew the location of the place she sought. Despondently, she unscrewed a beaker of orange juice and took a sip, seriously wondering if the journey had been a waste of time. Balancing the beaker on her knee, she leaned back and closed her eyes, willing the picture to return. Her mind's eye travelled the lanes, giving way at crossroads, unnecessarily since hers was the only car. It was then, during one of the mandatory pauses, that she saw where she had gone wrong. The signpost in the foreground was askew; it pointed straight ahead instead of sending her to the left: to Verdun Cottage.
Forgetting the beaker, she shot up and swiftly started the engine, unaware of  the orange juice seeping through her tights. She drove recklessly in her eagerness, bidden by memories to visit the cottage she remembered so well; to see the sheep and the goats, and the arbor with the overhead brush of honeysuckle, and the wilderness garden to the side of the farm, all set in the heart of pasture-land and encouragingly near the river.
A second signpost told her to turn right and this she did; and, as she rounded the corner, lo and behold, she saw it: Verdun Cottage, as beautiful as it ever was, but significantly smaller. She stopped the car and wrenched the brake, staring disbelievingly at the scene. The granolithic gate supports, the crooked chimney, and the door with the strong-smelling roses, were, after the enlargement in her mind, almost fairylike in size. The chicken house which she was sure had been at the side, by the back door which opened onto the farm, was now by the stone wall which ran along the lane. Slowly, she climbed out of the immaculate red Renault, and walked towards the restyled structure, looking for evidence of a busy farm; but all she could see were the relics of bygone days: a dilapidated tractor parked alongside a gang of rusted milk churns, a disused pig trough, and a roll of chicken wire with a duration of grass growing through.
'Not thinking of buying it, are you, m'dear?' The full-toned voice belonged to a wizened old man with a twinkling eye and a straw in his mouth.
Vida gulped, and incoherently gabbled something about visiting a childhood haunt. 'For holidays,' she whispered, unable to take her eyes off the bobbing straw; and, without another word being spoken, she knew she'd been right to come. Her memory had played tricks over the cottage, nothing was as she remembered, but the ageing farmer, with his white hair and unshorn chin, wearing the same impish grin and bearing the same, familiar, rustic scents, made the excursion wonderfully worthwhile. The crooked chimney might be crumbling, the roses might be holding the woodwork intact, and the monstrous gate pillars might be too big for such a bantam property, but this was where she wanted to be.
Impulsively, she reached out to touch the farmer's skinny arm. 'If you're thinking of selling,' she said, 'I'm definitely buying.'

21 March 2015

Songs and Sounds on Saturday

Ralph McTell, English singer-songwriter and acoustic guitar player, along with poet and singer, Rod McKuen (more about him another time), were favourites of mine over thirty years ago. Their music never fades.

19 March 2015

Potpourri of Favourite Pics

 Do you ever look at photographs and remember every detail of where you took them? Some places more than others impinge on the memory. For example, I can remember everything I did or saw in Italy (Sorrento) and America (particularly New York) yet other places are now a blur. 

Saw this young lady taking pics as we sailed by on our gondola in Venice. I remember the incident, the trip on the canal, and the glass museum, but that's all. 
Cactus in all its splendour
Somewhere in America!
Now ten years! I still look at this and wish I was there. 

One of Capri's scenic views
Guess where this was taken!

And the bad news is that I can't find the many holiday photographs I took. They seem have been lost somewhere in the changeover of computers. However, I may find them on old blog posts so there's still hope.  

16 March 2015

Books and their binding...

Have you noticed that bookbinding is no longer the art it once was? I can understand it in paperback books but hard covers also prevent the opening of a page without it turning back to a closed position. Yes, tight bookbinding makes reading difficult at times.

It is so frustrating when an enthralling story is interrupted by a need to try and force the pages into an open position – a permanent one.  Having rheumy hands doesn’t help although they don’t present a problem at any other time.

The worst time is if I want to read in bed. I can’t read in a sitting position so I have to lie down and hold a book in front of me. Paperbacks are the best, unless I get one that is too tightly bound, in which case I spend half the time forcing the pages to defy the binding. Real problems come with hardbacks. They’re too heavy, you see, and they defy all attempts to keep pages open if the binding is too restrictive.

So, it’s paperbacks in bed and hardbacks in my chair in the lounge where I can use a lap tray to rest the book; this leaves both hands free, one to hold the book and tray steady and the other to stop the pages flipping over while I’m reading.

Book binding skills seem to have gone by the board. From what I can make out they are now glued solid into their covers instead of hand stitched, although I suspect valuable tomes are still bound the old way. Still, it’s only to be expected that cheap methods lead to cheaper products and larger sales. I just wish someone would tell the bookbinders about my hands! 

14 March 2015

Songs and Sounds on Saturday

You all know how much I love Sorrento... and this takes me back there

The Three Tenors, which one do you like best? My favourite is Placido Domingo

12 March 2015

Lunching out...

Saturday lunch at the restaurant was a dazzling affair, the sun on the lake almost forcing us to draw the blinds. Most enjoyable, pity the next day was so wet.

When two swans came into view I wondered if they would avoid the obstacle in the water

But no, they sailed right over it!

Joe and I still manage to dine out on Saturdays since his hospital visits are confined to weekdays. He had a spell in hospital last week, when a stent was fitted to or in an artery. It was to help blood to flow more freely and keep his heart ticking. Mind you, I think it might have been an excuse to have a week off housework, since he was forbidden to do any. Nor could he drive for a week 
(whisper - I wonder which doctor came up with THAT idea. Couldn't have been a man, surely!).

And the good news is - we are going to have some wonderful Spring weather. 
I'll keep you posted on that.

09 March 2015

Town Crier

There was an interesting speaker at the Townswomen’s Guild (TG) the other week. It was Ken Knowles, Town Crier for Lichfield, one of our neighbouring cities. Ken was resplendent in his red outfit. He was a portly gent, just how I always pictured a town crier to be. When he arrived he walked into the room waving his big bell and shouting O-yez, O-yez. There was thunderous applause once we’d unplugged our ears.
(Ken Knowles)
Town criers used to be officers of the court who made public pronouncements as required. They could also make public announcements in the streets. Dating from the 28th century the criers dressed elaborately, in red or gold, with white breeches, black boots and a tricorne hat. They always carried a handbell in order to attract attention, and would cry O-yez, meaning ‘hear ye’ which was a call for silent attention.  

However, times do change and the need for town criers disappeared. However, local councils reinstated the position for ceremonial purposes which I can honestly say are wonderful to watch. My Dad and I used to pop over to Lichfield to see the Lichfield Bower which was always held on the Spring Bank Holiday.

Here’s a piece about it, found in Wikipedia.

The Origins of the bower go back many centuries to the time of Henry II (1145-1189). At that time England had no standing army and when the King needed troops to defend the realm he had to raise them by mustering all the able bodied men between the ages of 16 and 60 throughout the kingdom.
To enable him to do this Henry set up a Commission of Arraye (an early example of quango) which had every year to submit to the king, a return of all the men-at-arms available throughout the kingdom. To do this they ordered every city and town to hold a muster of fighting men on one day in the year and to send the figures in to the Commission of Arraye. These musters were known as the Courtes of Arraye, and in Lichfield the Courte if Arraye was always held on Whit Monday.
It was held at Greenhill, where a “Bower House” was erected and decorated with laurel and lilac. Here the men-at-arms mustered before the magistrates with their arms and armour and were regaled with free beef and wine. At the end of the day the magistrates sent a return of the numbers to the Commission of Arraye in London. As an example of this, in 1604 the report of the Commission contained the following: “Leichfield Town, able men 285; armed men 150; pioneers 50; high horses 50”.
At Lichfield someone must have decided that having got all the men-at-arms together it was a pity not to do something with them, and so they were paraded around the streets of the city. They were accompanied by the Lichfield Morris dancers with drum and tabor and by people from the churches carrying figures of saints garlanded with flowers. Whitsun being as important festival of the Church: these garlanded figures were known as “posies”.
After the Reformation, the figures of saints were replaced by the tableaux representing different trades, but the term “posie” was still used to describe them.
The introduction of gunpowder led to musketeers being included in the procession. When the procession halted outside the horses of the principal citizens, the musketeers would fire a volley over the house, whereupon the principal citizen was expected to offer cakes and ale to those in the procession.
This went on all day, until late in the evening the participants staggered into the Market Place to be dismissed by the Town Clerk.
By the time of James II the country has a standing army, famous regiments such as the Coldstream and Grenadier Guards and the Royal Scots were already in existence, and it was decided that the Commission of Arraye was no longer needed. So it was abolished in 1690 and Courts of Arraye ceased to exist throughout the country – except in Lichfield where the inhabitants decided that as they enjoyed Bower Day so much they would continue to observe it. And this they have done right up to this day.
Most of the ancient features of the Bower still survive – the Court of Arraye is held in the Guildhall, when the Mayor inspects the “men-at-arms” the procession through the streets includes the Morris Dancers and military bands, and the place of the posies has been taken by the tableaux mounted on lorries and trailers. But, as in the past, the principal feature of the Bower is a jolly good day out for all.

According to Ken there are now only fifteen criers in this country but they have a great time entering competitions for the best delivered speech. Our man had won several trophies, which he brought to show us.
(Ken, showing what went underneath the coat!)
(The daffodil display is actually a recent trophies he won) 

Ken gave the most interesting and riveting talk, with plenty of humour interspersed, and I shall definitely be inviting him to talk to the WI next year. 

07 March 2015

Songs and Sounds on Saturday

For several days this song has flooded my brain. It is strange how that happens and I wonder why we can't just switch off?

Katie Melua has a distinctive style, don't you think?

02 March 2015

A welcome awaits....

A recent travel programme on television reminded me of an incident in another part of the UK. Another nation, actually.

The UK comprises these nations, England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Hence the name United Kingdom. However, the word ‘united’ is a misnomer – according to the history books it was never thus. But we grow up, don’t we, and learn to get on with people of all nationalities and denominations. Or we should!

It is a sad fact that certain people on these islands don’t like their neighbours and it was a much publicised fact that the Welsh didn’t like the English. Nevertheless, Wales is a lovely place to visit, which is what we did one summers day, many years ago.

I think we were in Machunclyth at the time but I could be wrong about that. The memory fades with age, you know. Anyway, we were definitely by the sea. One thing I noticed was that certain shopkeepers didn’t speak. A purchase could be made and the sale completed without a word exchanged, yet conversations would be in progress with other folk in the shop. Sometimes there would be a noticeable change of language - moving rapidly from English to Welsh. 

It took a while for it to dawn on me that we were English and some people didn’t like us. Joe thought I was being daft. ‘People aren’t like that,’ he said, being a tolerant man who always sees good in people. However, the next incident brought it home that maybe I was right.

We had taken Goldie, our first Labrador, who adored the seaside. He was a friendly dog and loved to mix with other dogs when the occasion arose. On this particular occasion Goldie had had his run on the sand and we were just standing there enjoying the weather and the view.

Walking down the lane behind us was a young lady and an older man, maybe daughter & father, with a small dog on a lead. Naturally, Goldie wanted to say hello and ran towards the couple. The woman promptly snatched her dog up and bellowed to us to ‘remove’ our dog. I called out that Goldie was friendly and wouldn’t hurt her dog, at the same time calling him to heel. It didn’t help. The woman was outraged.

The incident passed when the couple and their dog moved on. Or so we thought. A few minutes later we moved away from the spot, walking to where our car was parked. Imagine our surprise and horror when they passed us in their car to hear the woman screaming ‘GET BACK TO YOUR OWN B***** COUNTRY.’ 

I don’t think I’ve been back to Wales since but I did learn from English friends that similar experiences were shared. How sad is that? 

I have yet to work out how divided turf can change people's opinions of each other.