Tag Archives: nature

The autobiography of a meadow

The autobiography of a meadow

23346773Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field by John Lewis-Stempel

This is essentially an autobiography of a meadow. In some ways I would have liked this story (for it is the story of a year in life of…) to start in May or June, as being in the depths of winter the January start makes for a bit of a slow start to the story. It’s also the beginning of a relationship with the meadow for John Lewis-Stempel and this all adds to it taking a while to get going.

By the time you reach November and December you realise why the the end of the year also has to be end of the book. It is sobering tale about where farming has got us over the years – the technical developments may not be for the best.

His picture in July and August of the toils of making hay was a brilliantly painted one, and from a personal point of view, I’ve been exposed to yet more of John Clare’s poetry (after reading Melissa Harrison’s Autumn immediately before it) to the point where I think I’m going to have to properly discover his work.

A book to read with the changing seasons

A book to read with the changing seasons

28665185Autumn: An Anthology for the Changing Seasons by Melissa Harrison (Editor)

Autumn has always been my favourite season – even over and above that of Spring – the quality of the light, the temperature, and the smells of autumn make it the best ever. Melissa Harrison’s anthology, Autumn, is a beautiful and inspiring miscellany of poetry, prose, and non-fiction both collected from past writings, and specially commissioned for this collection.

We are taken on a series of personal journies that are about, inspired by, or are rememberances of how Autumn is. This is a book about Autumn to be read at Autumn.

There are sister books to this for all four seasons which I intend to read, in sequence as the year progresses.

The Sixteen Day Weekend

On the eve of going back to work tomorrow its time for a little bit of a round-up of the last two weeks which have seen me largely oblivious to what day it was. There was our professional photoshoot near the beginning of the holiday which featured 300 photos, 7 cats, 3 chickens, 2 bad bunnies and a couple of humans, which was good fun and we got some good shots that we will probably (and sadly) never be able to afford to get printed (or even have the digital files from).

The real day-confusion though, I guess it all started a week last Friday on my Birthday. Emma took me to see Bekonscot Model Village – I always thought it was Beaconsfield (which it is in) Model Village when I have seen it on the brown signs on the M40 ever since I first came to the Oxford area twenty years ago(!). It’s a fantastic place full of childhood wonder…


The thing is, that day out (and the Prezzo meal that followed it) made it seem a bit Saturday-ish (appropriately enough for our wedding anniversary any celebration-plans were dampened by waiting in all day for the Gas Man to Cometh and fix the boiler), and then we did Sunday-ish things on Saturday, so by the time we got to the bank holiday weekend I really didn’t know what day it was!

Then it got really confusing, because on Tuesday we went off to celebrate my belated-birthday with my Mum and Dad for a couple of days (after that is, the Gas Man Returneth to actually fix the boiler). We went to a very nice nursery in Suffolk where we got my present from my parents which was in the form of an Espallier Royal Russett Apple tree for the garden. Then we went out to the dinner at the local hotel in a failed attempt to stalk the Springwatch team…

11109279_10153274860950630_1718929694820422193_nWednesday saw us making the short trip down to RSPB Minsmere for some more Springwatch-stalking. Within moments of us entering the (appropriately-named) Bittern Hide, not one, but two bitterns flew in from the right and landed in the reedbeds right in front of us. One of them proceeded to wade and swim out of the reeds in front of us. Brilliant stuff! We also heard them boom, and paid our respects to Spineless Simon, and heard the guys talking about an adder called Baldrick. 🙂


So, by the time we got to drive off into the sunset on Wednesday, whether it was Wednesday or Sunday (or indeed which Sunday) was really, all very confused. I could really do with another holiday. Oh, wait, in just nine working days time I will be getting one. 🙂

On the thirteenth day of advent: of inspiring places

On the thirteenth day of advent: of inspiring places

Today has been Emma’s birthday. As something a bit different this year, we’ve had a night away at the Bourne Valley Inn in St Mary Bourne in rural Hampshire. Yesterday we visited Avebury to see the biggest stone circle in the British Isles, and to Avebury Manor – star of the BBC show The Manor Reborn.

The stone age ring of standing stones inspired me to write yesterday’s poem, whilst the homely coziness of the the Bourne Valley Inn and the lovely meal last night – which we ate in our slippers in front of a roaring open fire – gave me other writing ideas. This morning we struck off on a walk, winding our way up hill, and down valley in the cold, grey, midwinter’s light. It started to rain halfway and our return journey really was into the dark comes rising kind of weather. We retreated to the homely Inn for a light lunch to warm ourselves up.

It was over lunch that I put pen to paper on some new writing. A bit of a first (or a rediscovery) for me, as its a short story – a companion piece to my Mr Tumnal novel. Set at some point after the end of the novel, it doesn’t rely on prior knowledge of the story but shows some of the characters in a new setting. A pub that isn’t but is much like the Inn features in it, and Louis’ daughter Sarah is now working behind the bar, but more than that I cannot say.

I just like it that a change of scene, and something new, or something different can set something in my brain moving to generate this creativity. It’s something that I like very much about myself.

On the fourth day of advent: wetlands and waterfowl

After a late night last night and way too much off-diet food at Emma’s work’s Christmas meal, we were up early this morning to head out to the WWT London reserve at Barnes for the Facebook group meetup, and a guided birdwatching tour of the reserve.

Very excitingly we saw: Lapwing, Little Grebe, 11x Herons, Jack Snipe, Common Snipe, Shelduck, Shoveler, Teal, Pochard, Wigeon, Pintail, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Mallard and Bittern (our second of the year!).

in pictures

Out with the new; In with the old

One of the upsides of the Eyjafjallajoekull volcano eruption and the resulting ash cloud has been a cloudless sky, devoid of any vapour trails. Saturday began with a trip into Headington to collect 1920’s original fireplace from Nicola. Having just about fitted it into Emma’s car we headed home and carried it indoors where straight away we saw what an improvement it would be. Then we popped into Bicester to buy our veggies from the market, a cornish pasty and a custard tart for lunch and went for a picnic and potter in the Lyde Garden, Bledlow (via my sis-in-law’s home-to-be in Chinnor).

Following a relaxing amble in the birdsong and sunshine we got stressed out and rudely woken back into the 21st century by a trp to B&Q – we were duped into believing they had affordable fire hearths, when in fact all they sold were cheap and nasty tacky things. Edit: expensive and tacky hearths. So we came home from via our own Homebase where we bought three pieces of Blue/Black Limestone (which we thought was actually slate) to make a hearth and a very large sheet of MDF make a backing for the fireplace. A sheet of MDF so large in fact that it wouldn’t fit in the car and I had to leave my driving license at the desk to be allowed to walk the wood home on the trolley round the ringroad!!

On Sunday, whilst Emma cleaned out the chickies and the bunny I worked on deconstructing the old fireplace and installing the new one, and it looks fab! So, so nice!

The old, an MDF Inca Mausoleum circa 2005…

The new, a 1920s wooden fireplace that cost £20 and a half a dozen eggs…

Don’t knock him, he has a point

The TV Naturalist and Autumnwatch Chris Packham has been coming under quite a bit of stick recently for his, possibly, radical approach for conservation. The thing is, he can’t knock him really, because he speaks with his heart, in his own words, its ‘because he cares’.

There’s an interesting interview with him in day’s The Scotsman
Interview: Chris Packham – Never mind the buzzards; Jackie Hunter [30 October 2009]

Asked whether he has a preference for spring or autumn when it comes to observing wildlife, Packham has a metaphor which, if not quite Keatsian in its celebration of the seasons, is poetic in its own way. “It’s like the difference between drinking beer and brandy.

“Spring is a great slurp of instant, refreshing relief, because you’ve waited all winter and suddenly everything flows in a very short space of time, singing and flowering. Autumn, on the other hand, is a glass of brandy, something to savour. There’s all the energy and dynamism we see in spring, but it happens over a longer period of time.”

Off To Otmoor

When Em and I joined the RSPB at the far off Glenborrowdale Natural History Centre, we discovered that we had a bird reserve right on our doorstep. If truth be told I knew that there was ‘something’ in the Otmoor valley, but didn’t know it was RSPB or how you got there.

Accessed from an old Roman road, which I don’t think has altered much since the time of the Romans(!!) the reserve is lovely. Being a small one, we didn’t actually need to be members to go there, but that’s no the point. As we entered the reserve, we had to take care not to tread on hundreds of little baby frogs all frantically trying to hop from the left of the path to the right of the path. We saw lots of birds and butterflies and it was all very nice. It was also a complete sun trap under cloudless blue skies and scorching temperatures.

Springwatch: Revitalised

We like Chirs Packham. He’s a wildlife geek but he’s great. He’s just the right kind of balance between knowledgeable scientis and personable personality.

I’m not about to knock Bill Oddie ‘cos I do like him, but I do think that his presenting style was getting just that little too over the top for the programme. Now though, with the pairing of Chris and Kate, the dynamic is just so funny – it’s great!

The First Chaffinch

Or at least, I think it was a Chaffinch. It certainly wasn’t a Starling, or a Blue/Great Tit, and it looked too big to be a Sparrow. Em is the one who is good with birds, and I’m just a learner, but I think it was a Chaffinch, and if it was, then it was the first Chaffinch on my new feeding station. I’m not sure how many birds have coming to my feeder so far, but if it’s just this cheerful looking chappy then he’s going to be getting nicely big, fat and bilious on the birdseed… 🙂

Dawn Chorus

We’ve just gone back to bed, having already had breakfast. But why, I hear you ask? As decided yesterday, we got up at half past three this morning, dressed, and wiped the sleepy-dust from our eyes, and drove up to Burnham Beeches in the pitch black – passing only eight cars in the whole journey – and hearing the dawn chorus. Even at 4 o’clock, the Blackbirds had already started singing near to the houses, but further into the wood it was still quite quiet; a quietness which was soon to be replaced with song. When it got a little lighter we walked through the middle of the woods, with birdsong all around and not another single person around. It was blissful. The perfect start to a Sunday. 🙂

The Dawn Chorus
Originally uploaded by shepline

Beautiful villages and Barn Owls

My mood is so much better. I didn’t touch the A34 today. Instead, I headed off via country lanes to check out houses in villages. First on my list was Elm Cottage in Blackthorn. Very charming house, but the village was a bit spread out and a bit something of nothing with traffic noise from the A41 (and possibly the M40).

From there, I took a (longer than necessary) drive up the hill towards Brill, turning off before the windmill and headed back down the hill and round the houses woods to Ludgerhall to locate another potential house. Ludgershall it seems is all together more villagey and charming and beautiful, and importantly, blissfully quiet.

Leaving Ludgershall, I was driving along a narrow road, when suddenly; a barn owl swooped down from one hedgerow, and glided across in front of my car to the other hedgerow. I’ve never seen a barn owl before, but this was a really good view. It was amazing. I beamed from ear to ear all the rest of the way home.

A prickly subject

Fergus Drennan
The Guardian Tuesday 18 September 2007, 12:00pm

For our hunter-gatherer ancestors, the hedgehog was meat for the pot. Today, it is an acquired taste – acquired by combing the verges of roads.


Making a meal of it: first, find a pair of gloves … Photograph: Niall Benvie/Corbis.

So, archaeologist Dr Fairchild of the University of Wales Institute in Cardiff has revealed that, 6,000 years ago, hedgehog was one of the choice or, more accurately, opportunistic meat finds for the Sunday roast. Our ancient ancestors may possibly have expressed their hairy lip-smacking and furry finger-licking appreciation of its unique culinary merits with deep hedgehog mimicking grunts of guttural satisfaction; but the question that needs answering is, what exactly does it taste like?

With the language and poetic yearnings to express themselves, how might aspiring Oz Clarks of the stone age have grappled with the highly subjective nature of taste and smell in describing the culinary pleasure of hedgehog munching? No doubt comparatives would abound – descriptive words and names drawn from a range of creatures now long extinct. Yet, to answer our question, we must turn to stories of gypsies, crisps, modern-day roadkill and contemporary edible beasts.

Well, hedgehogs are nowadays a protected species, of course, and gypsies (historically partial to a bit of hedgehog) were nowhere to be found; Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, perhaps our most celebrated roadkill connoisseur was, quite sensibly, unavailable for comment, and Arthur Boyt was too busy researching his roadkill cookbook, so this is forager-chef and sometime roadkill aficionado Fergus Drennan’s verdict:

“All wild meats have their own unique flavours and hedgehog is no exception. Of course, the classic descriptive cliche for practically any previously untried meat is that it either tastes like chicken or, more curiously, tuna. What I would say, then, is that if you bear in mind that badger tastes somewhat beefy, fox a lot like mountain goat, squirrel like a turkey-lamb chimera, seagull like a rich ducky pheasant with a whisker of cat, and mole like rabbit with a hint of liver, the flavour of hedgehog could be described as follows: delightful initial bursts of badgery foxiness transform into grungy pork nutty acorn with caramalised apple flavours, together playing a subtle counterpoint to a base rhythm of peaty earth and mole. This cacophonic complex of flavours reaches a wild boar crescendo, fading out with the distant cry of seagulls…

“The perfect accompaniments, naturally, being sautéed hedgehog fungus and roast chestnuts (less their spiny cases).”

Not unlike those notorious hedgehog-flavoured crisps of the 1980s, then – only minus the salt and potato.

Woods are for walking

A nice sunny, spring day today, just right in fact for a walk in the woods. So i headed over to Amersham – it’s not actually that far and met up with Emma, and we had a spot of lunch and then went for a walk in the woods with the birds twittering in the treetops and the fresh, young green growth of beech trees. Really very nice. Blissful in fact… 🙂 And Amersham is not all that far either

Beech woods
Beech woods
Originally uploaded by shepline on 29 Apr ’07, 11.13pm BST PST.

Gorse Yello
Gorse Yello
Originally uploaded by shepline on 29 Apr ’07, 11.14pm BST PST.

Twisted fingers and dappled light
Twisted fingers and dappled light
Originally uploaded by shepline on 29 Apr ’07, 11.12pm BST PST.

The Friday Buzzz

Have you heard the story about the honey bee genome that’s taking world by storm? I certainly did. On Friday afternoon I pushed through the latest issue of Insect Molecular Biology in a record time of 2 hours and 26 minutes because the editors were doing a press release.

You can read all the articles for free (OnlineOpen don’t you know) here: http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/toc/imb/15/5 and tell yourself they passed across my computer screen first!

Nature though, have also got in on the act: http://www.nature.com/nature/focus/honeybee/index.html

…as have the BBC News website: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/6084974.stm

And not only that, but it was mentioned, in some depth, on Friday’s News Quiz: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/comedy/newsquiz.shtml. If you are too late to hear it on Listen Again, here’s the excerpt from the show.