Friday, 29 August 2014

And a Moth

I spent some while last night trying to identify a moth - a fool's errand, of course.
 The moth had settled on the bathroom wall, and what piqued my interest was that its wings were held in a decidedly butterfly-like pose, half-way between flat and folded, much like a Blue butterfly - and indeed, in size it was on just that scale. The colour, however, could hardly have been less blue: a wheaten ground, with three wavy brown bars across the forewings, two very thin and one thicker and darker. What, I wondered, could it be? Foolishly I thought the butterfly-like pose might narrow down the field - not by much, I discovered, and, after a fruitless on-line search, I was soon forlornly rifling through my ancient, but notably compendious and well illustrated, book of British butterflies and moths, written by W.F. Kirby around a century ago. In the end, I had it narrowed down to some kind of Thorn moth - indeed, with its small size, it really should have been the Little Thorn (Cepphis advenaria) - but that one, I discovered, flies in May and June (and the August Thorn is too large).
 That's the trouble with moths - there are just too many of them. Whereas we British butterfly fanciers have barely 60 species to identify - in practice far fewer, unless we're making a point of travelling around the country ticking them all off the list - moth species add up to a daunting 2,400-plus, of which more than 800 are macro-lepidoptera (i.e. easily visible). The genus that includes the Thorns (Ennominae) alone includes more than 80 British species. Moths are undeniably beautiful, often in a subtle and understated way (as with my Thorny enigma), but really it is far easier just to say 'Oh - a moth', to look and enjoy, than it is to identify the little beauties (there are several species of Beauty moth in the genus Ennominae).
 As for the stranger on my bathroom wall, when I last saw it, it was resting in a much more moth-like pose, its banded wings spread flat. And this morning it was gone.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Birthday Betjeman

Born on this day in 1906 was John Betjeman, 'poet and hack' as he described himself in Who's Who. He was, of course, much more than that, but he was a  rare example of a literary (if often low-brow) poet who was hugely popular and well-loved, a 'national treasure' and a celebrity. His penchant for jogalong metre kept him firmly in the light verse tradition, but there is often in his works an interesting counterpoint between the jaunty rhythm on the surface and a strong undertow of melancholy below. Here is a curiosity, taken from a Michael Parkinson chat show (Betjeman was a great talk-show favourite), in which the late Kenneth Williams and Maggie Smith (now enjoying a late flowering as Lady Violet, the only character in Downton with any lines) reading Betjeman's early Death in Leamington, to the apparent delight of the author.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

'A permanent trail of imagination...'

Exciting news here for us retroprogressives, as the clacking of manual typewriters is heard again in the newsroom of The Times (where, sadly, it seems to be causing more bemusement than anything). I guess there must be many working in newspapers now who have never heard the sound, let alone used a manual typewriter - and if they did, they'd probably wonder how anyone ever managed to bash out a story with such a cumbersome machine. But for some, the manual typewriter still has a certain inky allure - not least Tom Hanks, who has even developed an app that gives the illusion of writing with an old-fashioned typewriter. Typing with a manual, he says, 'stamps into paper a permanent trail of imagination through keys, hammers, cloth and dye' - an eloquent expression of what is special about manual typing. It is closer to a craft process than the frictionless, resistance-free electronic transaction that is 'typing' with a modern computer keyboard - writing in cyberspace rather than on paper.
 It is surely true that the sheer cumbersomeness of manual typing and the difficulty of rewriting encouraged forethought, care and brevity, whereas the ease of the modern keyboard encourages the reverse - get it all down any old how, knock it into shape afterwards, and if it's too long, well, it's too long. The endless stories on the BBC News website (and many others) are classic products of keyboard writing - as, I suspect, are many overlong works of contemporary fiction. The modern keyboard has made writing too easy.  

Monday, 25 August 2014

Sign of the Times?

Talking of the Today programme, as we were the other day (and so often before - truly it 'sets the agenda for the day', alas), I noted recently that John Humphrys, while interviewing some big wheel in the warmist world, mentioned the inconvenient truth that 'global warming' has barely happened over the past 15 years or so. I wondered if this might be a sign that the times are changing, that even the BBC might now be open to a degree of scepticism that would have been condemned as heretical just a couple of years ago. Well, the other day I happened on this story on the BBC News website, which looks like a hopeful sign - up to a point. The 'pause' story is never presented in terms of 'Whoops, looks like we were wrong' but only as a case of certain factors having been overlooked - and, in this case, the new prediction is that warming will be even worse when it does happen. In other words, we might have got it hopelessly wrong last time, but this time we're right, you'd better believe it, there can't possibly be any factors we're overlooking. Hmm...

More Butterflies

Bank Holiday Monday, and the rain is siling down in the time-honoured manner. However, the past couple of days had enough sunshine for a few late butterflies to venture out. On Saturday I was gifted with my first Small Copper of the year. I was skirting a golf course (averting my eyes), wading through the long dry grass beside the fairway, when suddenly, out of nowhere, it appeared - a bright, fresh and beautiful specimen. It perched on a flowerhead almost at my feet, flashed its wings a couple of times, and was off.
That was the only butterfly I saw that afternoon, but yesterday I headed for the Surrey Hills determined to see more. By the time I arrived at the hillside I was heading for, clouds had covered the sun, a wind had come up and my hopes were not high. However, as I explored, I soon came across a Chalkhill Blue - a tired and tatty female, but a joy to see, especially as it was my first of the year. Happily it was not to be the last. In the course of my wanderings, despite the unpromising conditions, I came across at least a dozen more, some fresh and vigorous, others looking decidedly end-of-season, but all of them beautiful in that unique silvery, cloudy, milky-blue Chalkhill way. And, by way of a bonus and to show just how intensely blue a blue can be, a male Adonis Blue flew past in all his shimmering glory. These were just the highlights; there were also Common blues galore, Small Heaths, Brown Argus... Even if it rains for the next month, that was a splendid climax to the butterfly year.

Friday, 22 August 2014

You read it here first

Those whose business involves making statements that are effectively meaningless but must appear to be full of pith and moment are always in need of new turns of phrase to make their airy nothings sound important. For some while, the phrase 'going forward' has been much employed, but lately it seems to have fallen out of use, having perhaps been too often lampooned. Time for a new form of words - and this morning I caught one that I think might well catch on. It was, of course, on the Today programme. I can't remember what the subject was, but a representative of HM Government found himself approving (or obliged to pretend he approved) of something his interlocutor had been doing. 'That,' he declared, 'is exactly the journey of travel the Government has been on.'Yes, journey of travel...
 I think we are all, in a very real sense, on a journey of travel, are we not? Going forward.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

The Awakening and a Hedgehog

This week Radio 4 is running a dramatisation of Kate Chopin's once-scandalous novel The Awakening as its 15 Minute Drama. Someone has had the bright idea of framing the action by having it observed through the eyes of a black maidservant, who provides a running commentary in the kind of caricatured, eye-rolling style you might have thought would be frowned on in these PC times. However, as the white characters too lay on the stage Southern accents and intonations with a trowel, it doesn't seem entirely out of place. What it does do, though, is fatally distance the action of what is on the page an intense and challenging read - just the kind of novel that would benefit from the intimacy that radio can achieve. Unless things pick up in the last couple of episodes, this looks like a sad misfire.

And in other news... This morning, on the way to the station, I saw a hedgehog. Sadly it was a two-dimensional hedgehog, having been flattened by a passing car, but I was still glad to see it, as it was the first evidence I'd seen of a hedgehog presence in the area for a decade or more. When I was a boy, hedgehogs came as standard with every suburban garden, and they thrived in town (well, suburb) and country alike - but by the late Nineties, seeing one was becoming a bit of an event. And then there were none - or so it seemed. It's good to know they're still around after all, and I hope the next one I see is alive and well and taking care when crossing the road.