Monday 30 May 2011

Suburban Hawks

Yesterday I saw my first Lime Hawk Moth of the season (and it might well be the last, to judge by the past two years' poor showing). It was a lovely fresh specimen - so fresh in fact that its wings hadn't fully expanded - and it was sitting about six inches up from the pavement on the bole of a street lime tree. It's one of the natural wonders of suburbia that every year, around this time, if you keep your eyes peeled, you stand a chance of seeing one of these large, beautifully marked moths on the trunk of one of our commonest (if least suitable) street trees. Other hawk moths occasionally turn up too - I remember the occasional Poplar Hawk from my boyhood, and one that flew in through an open window one evening in the great drought summer of 1976. Similarly an Elephant Hawk graced my breakfast room with a nocturnal visit a couple of years ago. But my most vivid memory of suburban Hawk Moths dates from way back in my childhood, when my father returned home from work in high excitement, clutching a matchbox into which he had coaxed a Privet Hawk that he'd spotted on a garden hedge. Now that is a truly spectacular moth...

The Pain of the Past

I'm not sure how long ago I first read J.L. Carr's A Month in the Country - maybe 20 years - but when I spotted a copy of the Quince Tree Press paperback on the shelves of my Favourite Bookshop, I snapped it up, wondering what it would be like to read again this short sad tale, set in rural Yorkshire in 1920. J.L. Carr was - as well as novelist, painter, teacher, mapmaker, dictionary-maker, Yorkshireman and 'English eccentric' - a great small-press publisher, and his Quince Tree Press books are wonderful little volumes (some of the them very little indeed). Not notably 'beautiful' productions (in the fine art sense), they are full of delights. A Month in the Country has a perfect front cover design, incorporating part of a larger wood engraving by Monica Poole, and scattered around the endpapers are motifs by Thomas Bewick and Joan Hassall, while the text itself is illustrated by drawings by Christopher Fiddes (a little dense and heavy for my taste). The colophon includes this bold declaration of press freedom:
'This is a Printing Office,
Cross-roads of Civilisation,
Refuge of all the Arts against the Ravages of Time.
From this place Words may fly abroad
Not to perish as Waves of Sound but fix'd in Time,
Not corrupted by the hurrying Hand but verified in Proof.
Friend, you are on Safe Ground:
This is a Printing Office.'
Underneath this, Carr's life is summed up thus: 'James Lloyd Carr, born 1912, attended the village school at Carlton Miniott in the North Riding and Castleford Secondary School. He died in Northamptonshire in 1994.' His educational career was in fact almost the only undistinguished thing about J.L. Carr's life - but no doubt he chose that curiously reticent epitaph himself...
As for A Month In The Country - rereading it, I found I'd remembered the core of the book very clearly: the love story, the uncovering of the medieval wall painting in the church, the long hot summer in the Yorkshire countryside, all of which were evoked every bit as vividly as I'd remembered. What I'd forgotten was the bone-dry humour in the telling of the tale - and, especially, the narrator's involvement with the Wesleyan Methodist chapel life of the Ellerbeck family, whose head is (as Carr's own father was) the village stationmaster. This world of strenuous hymn-singing in chapel and front parlour, huge teas and hellfire sermons is clearly the world in which Carr grew up. In re-creating it so richly, he brings back to life what is so often missed in period fiction - the central place of religious faith, or at least observance, in virtually everybody's world - a fact of life that lasted well into the 20th century, and seems so strange to us now, one of the things that make the past irretrievably the past.
Yet, above all A Month In The Country remains a tale - a classic tale, I think - of love and loss, and the pain of the past:
'We can ask and ask but we can't have again what once seemed ours for ever - the way things looked, that church alone in the fields, a bed on a belfry floor, a remembered voice, the touch of a hand, a loved face. They've gone and you can only wait for the pain to pass.'

Friday 27 May 2011


Holland Park, with its woodland area that is as near to rus in urbe as anything in London, is surely the most rewarding of all the city's large parks, constantly coming up with unexpected delights. Today, on my way to visit the pigs - they're thriving and send their best regards - I was greatly cheered by the sight of two male Blackcaps flitting about on the fence that encloses the pigs' former territory (now a riot of poppies, foxgloves and campion). These pretty, plump warblers are always a pleasing sight, and they're increasingly common now that many of them are overwintering here instead of flying south. The females have a beautiful chestnut cap, but the male's is a black cap indeed - very black and very much a cap, pulled down almost over the eyes. While so many of our warblers come in indistinguishable shades of pale brown, the Blackcap makes a welcome change for the amateur bird-spotter - an instantly identifiable warbler!

Thursday 26 May 2011

Peter Cushing

Here at Nigeness, we can't let the day pass without celebrating what would have been the 98th birthday of that fine actor and, by all accounts, lovely man, Peter Cushing. From boyhood I always had a soft spot for him, and rather wanted to be like him (that didn't work out). I especially loved his Sherlock Holmes, a part he was made for, as he was for Baron Frankenstein and Dr Van Helsing, not to mention Doctor Who (before the characterisation went wacky). He was a memorable Winston Smith in an early TV version of 1984 - and he even had the honour of appearing with Laurel and Hardy, in A Chump At Oxford (Cushing played a student), and, much later, with Morecambe and Wise on several of their TV shows. A great face, a great voice, one of a great generation of British film actors.
Sadly, his last years were overshadowed by grief after he lost his wife, the actress Helen Beck. After his death, his friend Christopher Lee, in an interview, paid him this moving tribute: 'At some point of your lives, every one of you will notice that you have in your life one person, one friend whom you love and care for very much. That person is so close to you that you are able to share some things only with him. For example, you can call that friend, and from the very first maniacal laugh or some other joke you will know who is at the other end of that line. We used to do that with him so often. And then, when that person is gone, there will be nothing like that in your life ever again.'

Wednesday 25 May 2011

Six Pigs, No Book

This lunchtime, in my haste to slip the surly bonds of NigeCorp HQ and get a little sunshine and fresh air, I set off without anything to read - calamity! My fixed habit is - in the masculine spirit of multitasking and filling the unforgiving minute - to read while I eat my alfresco sandwich. What to do? The solution was obvious - go to see the Holland Park pigs. They are now six in number - four whites and two saddlebacks, all sows and all fine specimens of contented pighood. They tend to form into a quietly grunting party of five, two of whom are inclined to squabble with each other, and a straggler who wanders off, then comes running to join the others. I took a seat and watched them while I munched my sandwich, and came to the realisation that there are few more pleasurable, relaxing pastimes than watching a party of pigs rootling around. I could have sat all afternoon enjoying them. Into the bargain, I was able, undistracted by a book, to watch a pair of bluetits coming and going every half-minute to a nestbox full of hungry chicks, and a robin following the pigs in hope, just as robins would have followed the wild pigs in the woods before we humans came along to turn the earth for them. Sun and shade dappled the trees, people came and went, pausing to admire the pigs, a Speckled Wood flew past and settled nearby on a sunny leaf... I think I must try a bookless lunch break again - it's easy to forget that there are times when it is more restorative and more rewarding simply to sit and look around.

Tuesday 24 May 2011

White Americano: The Mystery Deepens

You know how it is - you ask for an Americano, and back comes the question, 'Do you want milk in that?' Rather than wearily remind the coffee jockey that an Americano is by definition black, being an Espresso to which hot water is added (in fact my own preference is the other way round, which preserves the crema and is technically known as a Long Black, but I know better than to ask for that), you politely reply, 'No, thank you.' Today I discovered from a barista that there is a further complication to all this - the White Americano. Ah, you might think - that'll be the Americano with milk that they're always offering me. But no, it is not - a White Americano, the barista explained, is an Americano that is not filled to the top, hence leaving white space visible above the coffee. But somehow I know in my bones that if I asked for a White Americano, I'd get an Americano ruined by the addition of milk. You can't win.


It's Bob Dylan's 70th birthday - a date I was sure would be marked by a fancy graphic on the Google home page, but it isn't. The BBC is, of course, all over this like a rash - especially the radio networks - but so far the low point has been hit, predictably enough, by our old friend Will Gompertz who, on last night's News, treated us to his very own homage to Subterranean Homesick Blues, throwing down a succession of cue cards as he delivered his usual stream of banalities - Enuf you sla me, as Nigel Molesworth would say. What's more, the BBC was going big on the 'new' shock revelation that Dylan had been on the heroin for a while (next week, What bears do in the woods)... Needless to say, the Dabbler rises to the occasion nobly with a thoughtful festschrift. Anyway - Happy birthday, Bob! And thanks for everything. Really.

Monday 23 May 2011

Over at The Dabbler...

I celebrate tall daisies.

Three Things

'That recovery, the first day at Weatherend, had served its purpose well, had given them quite enough; so that they were, to Marcher's sense, no longer hovering about the head-waters of their stream, but had felt their boat pushed sharply off and down the current. They were literally afloat together...'
Yes, 'literally' - and yes, that's the unmistakable prose of Henry James (in The Beast in the Jungle). If even The Master, the most fastidious of prose artists, was content, back in 1903, with this loose usage of 'literally', perhaps the rest of us should just get used to it. And it's not only Henry James...

'I have finished another book, only a short one and not quite a novel, and we are now looking for a really good jacket design. I always used to have Old Masters of some kind on the cover but the sales department say that they are now hopelessly out of date.'
That's Penelope Fitzgerald, writing to her friend Maryllis Conder in 1994. The book - 'not quite a novel' - she so casually refers to is her masterpiece, the utterly extraordinary The Blue Flower, a novel like no other. One of the joys of reading Fitzgerald's letters is her disarming modesty, her complete lack of writerly affectations. Perhaps it was because she found literary success so late in life - or, more likely, such modesty was deep in her nature. If only today's writers had a little more of it.

'Among nets
some are stout
and cast by
sailors who
venture out
in boats and
talk of knots
and floats and
diesel and
gruesome accidents
to decent people.
Whereas the
nets approached
by birds and moths
and set by
Nabokovs in white
are lighter stuff
tied by threads
to branches
as though for sport...'

That's Kay Ryan (unmistakably), in a poem called The Catch, and that is surely Vladimir Nabokov's only appearance as a plural generic noun. It is also the most gloriously unlikely rhyme ever made with 'moths'. Has any other (single) writer's name been used in the plural? I can't think of a case...

Friday 20 May 2011

They're Back!

I'm happy to report that the Holland Park pigs are back! I saw them earlier, lolling contentedly in the sun - three whites and a saddleback - building up their strength before getting down to some serious rootling. They're in a new patch of the woods (duly fenced off) - and, as proof of their good work, the patch where last year's pigs did their transforming work is now gloriously adorned with poppies and foxgloves. Pigs - what's not to love?

The Sammies!

As if a nocturnal visit from Gordon Brown wasn't enough, this morning I found in my inbox this mind-boggling press release, which I think speaks for itself (at punishing length). I will only add - Tesco?! Greggs??!! Subway???!!! And I'm tempted to enter myself in the Smoked Port Salut Cheese Sandwich category - there are surely only so many things to be done with smoked Port Salut.
(We've all been there. You're feeling peckish, you've got a couple of pieces of bread and some smoked Port Salut. Enter the sandwich...)


With commercial sandwich sales continuing to grow – by 2% in volume in the last year - the industry was in good mood at the Sammies, the British Sandwich Industry Awards, when they took place at the Lancaster Hotel in London on Thursday evening (May 19). The awards saw winners, both big and small, from all sectors of the market and from across the UK.

While sandwich multiple retailer of the year was Tesco, the industry also paid tribute to the long standing contribution made by bakers Greggs in helping to shape the UK sandwich industry by giving them the overall British Sandwich Industry Award. Rivals Subway, who have stormed into the UK market in recent years, were also recognised by winning the Specialist Sandwich Bar Chain award

But while the big names of the industry were well represented in the awards, there was also lots of recognition for the small independent sandwich bars which are so much a part of this dynamic market. Indeed, five won coveted Gold Awards this year – Moolis (London), Made By Ben (Bath), Taste UK (Romford), Kaffeine (London) and Delaney’s (Southsea).

“The UK commercial sandwich market is a major contributor to the UK economy, employing over 300,000 people – so it is really good news that it is continuing to prosper,” says BSA Director Jim Winship, “The Sammies provide us with an opportunity each year to recognise those that are continuing to drive this vibrant market.”

A full list of award winners is shown below.


British Sandwich Designer of the Year
Oasis Citrus Punch Category (sponsored by Oasis)
Winner: Chris Rai from Chapati Man, St Leonards on Sea - Chicken saag wrap with mint chutney and cachumber salad

Smoked Port Salut Cheese Sandwich Category (sponsored by Bel UK & The Cheese Cellar)
Winner: Ben Curtis from Bradgate Bakery with a Smoked Port Salut, carrot and coriander raita and Brinjal pickle sandwich.

Chicken Sandwich Category (sponsored by Moy Park)
Winner: Sumaya El Kroni, Greencore, Bromley-by-Bow, London - Chicken, lemon, coriander, roast vegetable and salad flat bread sandwich

Chunky Tomato Chutney Sandwich Category (sponsored by English Provender)
Winner: Frank Boltman, consultant from London N11 - Grilled chorizo sausage, chunky tomato chutney, manchego cheese with mixed baby leaves dressed with olive oil in grilled sourdough roll

Wild Alaska Salmon Category (sponsored by Alaska Seafood).
Winner: Keith Allen, The Foodservice Centre, Cheddar, Somerset - Alaska Salmon and wasabi wraps with beetroot slaw and peashoots

Overall British Sandwich Designer of the Year
Winner: Sumaya El Kroni, Greencore

New Sandwich of the Year Award (Sponsored by Sam Browne Foods)
Winner: Pret a Manger Sweet Chilli Crayfish and Mango Bloomer

New Sandwich Product of the Year Award (Sponsored by Marks & Spencer)
Winner: Boots/Buckingham Foods Wrap Twister Pack

Workplace Sandwich Provider of the Year Award (Sponsored by Barclaycard)
Winner: Beetroot Blue, Edinburgh

Bakery Sandwich Shop of the Year Award (Sponsored by Rank Hovis)
Winner: Greenhalgh’s

Independent Sandwich Bar of the Year Award (Sponsored by Norseland)
Gold Awards were presented to:
Moolis, London
Made By Ben, Bath
Taste UK, Romford
Kaffeine, London
Delaney’s, Southsea

Specialist Sandwich Bar Chain of the Year Award (Sponsored by Friday’s)
Winner: Subway

The Sandwich Marketing Award
(Sponsored by Vion)
Highly Commended: Co-operative and SSP (UK)
Winner: Pret a Manger for their Christmas Campaign

Coffee Bar Sandwich Retailer of the Year Award
(Sponsored by Solway Foods)
Winner: Caffe Pausa (Dunelm Mill)

BSA Sandwich Manufacturer of the Year Award (Sponsored by TMI Foods)
Winner: Solway Foods

En Route Sandwich Retailer of the Year Award (Sponsored by The Cheese Warehouse)
Highly Commended: Harvest Market and Espression By Lavazza
Winner: M&S Simply Food

Sandwich Multiple Retailer of the Year Award
(Sponsored by Buckingham Foods)
Winner: Tesco

Sandwich Convenience Retailer of the Year Award (Sponsored by Shel)
Highly Commended: Wilkinson
Winner: The Co-operative

The British Sandwich Industry Award (Sponsored by Ginsters)
Winner: Greggs.

Talking to Gordon

So there I was, chatting away to Gordon Brown. It was all going surprisingly well, as we exchanged light-hearted remarks about family life, football (a bit one-sided there) and this and that. Good Lord, I thought - it's true what his supporters (or is it just his wife?) say: he really is a rather warm and witty human being. I made a mental note to revise my prejudices... At this point, a relaxed Gordon reached into a box of large expensive cigars, took one and lit up, without so much as waving the box in my direction. It smelt delicious too. Brown withdrew into his inner darkness, we fell silent, and I took my leave. 'See you' he said, with a small smile and wave.
Yes of course it was a dream, don't worry, and it visited me, for reasons unknown, last night. It was at once rather sweet and funny, and faintly unnerving, especially as Gordon seemed to have ensconced himself in one room of a large house otherwise filled with family and old friends (many of whom I now see in dreams more often than in the waking world). I do occasionally have these dreams of eminent figures - once, as long-memoried readers might recall, of Vladimir Nabokov. Another time it was Robert Frost, and a terrifying old man he was...

Thursday 19 May 2011

Buy This eBook/PDF

Followers of The Dabbler will not need telling about Noseybonk's masterly treatise on The Theory And Practice Of Blogmanship, which is being serialised on that indispensable website. However, that's not going to stop Nigeness giving a shameless plug to this painfully funny anatomy of the low tricks we blogmen occasionally stoop to (even I, on this largely non-polemical blog, felt the odd twinge of shameful self-recognition). It's the funniest thing yet written about the strange world of blogging - and, what's more, it includes a picture of 'Mr Nige' posing proudly with the 8lb comment he landed back in April 2010. That alone is worth the (eminently reasonable) purchase price.

Wednesday 18 May 2011

Life in Ponds and Gardens

I always enjoy stories like this in which a chance discovery increases our consciousness of the vast extent of our ignorance. This find may double the (known) diversity of fungi, of which we might have identified about 5 percent of species - while we're probably aware of as little as 1 percent of microbial diversity. It puts me in mind of Newton's remark about the great ocean of truth lying all undiscovered before him.
I also relish stories like this which show the extraordinary riches that are to be discovered simply by staying in one spot and looking really really hard at what is there - in this case, nearly 3,000 species in one ordinary suburban garden.

Life in Kitchen Drawers

I was going to set this as a quiz, until I discovered that it was instantly Googleable (albeit in mangled form). The question would have been - Who wrote this poem? And the answer is pretty unlikely...

The Kitchen Drawer Poem

1. The nutcracker, the skewer, the knife,
are doomed to share this drawer for life.

2. You cannot pierce, the skewer says,
or cause the pain of in one place.

3. You cannot grind, you do not know,
says nutcracker, the pain of slow.

4. You don't know what it is to slice,
to both of them the knife replies,

5. with pain so fine it is not pain
to part what cannot join again.

6. The skewer, nutcracker, and knife
are well adapted to their life.

7. They calculate efficiency
by what the others cannot be

8. and power by the pain they cause
and that is life in kitchen drawers.

The surprising answer is that great novelist Penelope Fitzgerald. The poem appears as an appendix to her letters (So I Have Thought Of You, which I'm reading at the moment), complete with an accompanying illustration drawn by the author. This is rather geometrical and brutal in style, but enlivened by the addition of a small, narrow eye to each of the kitchen implements, with which each looks askance at its drawerfellows. It's an odd, unsettling poem, as sharp and effective as the implements it describes. Despite its utterly straightforward and regular structure (emphasised by the numbering of each couplet), it put me in mind of Kay Ryan in the way it enters into the life of things, in its apparent simplicity of statement and shifting depths of meaning. It is surely about far more than 'life in kitchen drawers'...

Tuesday 17 May 2011

Whither France? Whither the Euro?

This Dominique Strauss-Kahn business - couldn't have happened to a nicer chap, could it? Another Master of the Universe, believing himself untouchable, brought down by his unruly loins. But to the girdle do the gods inherit... It's said that his aides warned him to amend his predatory ways while in the US, where you can't reasonably expect to get away with that kind of thing (unless your name's Kennedy). Clearly he took no notice, and his imagined untouchable status cut no ice with the no-nonsense judge who dispatched him forthwith to Rikers Island.
The beauty of it is that this will destroy the French Socialists' chances of winning anything for quite a while, and, with Monsieur S-K (and his deputy) gone from the IMF, that body will come to its senses and stop the endless bail-outs of Europe's basket cases. In the long run, Monsieur S-K's ill-advised pounce might kill off the Euro, at least in those countries where it was never going to work. Here's to a future of drachmas, escudos and cheap Mediterranean holidays - merci, monsieur!

Sunday 15 May 2011

Hats Off to Moldova!

What with the rush of events, and the sunshine, and the gardening, and the unaccustomed joy of having my daughter home - and married - my blogmind has recently lapsed into torpor, largely indifferent to the passing scene and incapable of forming much in the way of coherent thought. Only one thing could rouse it to return to the blogscape - the Eurovision Song Contest, always a landmark event here on Nigeness, which launched two years ago in the stunned aftermath of Russia's infamous victory. And talking of stunned aftermaths, here's the Daily Mail's characteristic we wuz robbed take on last night's Azerbaijani triumph - though technically it's an Ireland wuz robbed take. Jedward, in their deranged and uncoordinated way (identical twins who can't make a single movement in synch!), did give one of the few memorable performances of the night. Azerbaijan's was deeply forgettable, just a fairly slick bit of bland Europop - but that, alas, is the way Eurovision is going. The heats having weeded out most of the ethnic nutjobs, the finalists tend to turn out dreary stuff, mostly in English (the international language of pop!). Most of the fun is now in the staging and design, which tends to be appalling, in a kitschy camp way - and here too Jedward beat the rest, as they pranced around against bright, ever-changing graphics in their strange, big-shouldered suits, channelling Britney Spears, the Pet Shop Boys and Gilbert and George simultaneously. This was Eurovision lunacy of a high order, and few of the other entrants got near it. After a promising start - a smug blond kid from Finland singing a terrible song about saving the planet, and a touch of ethnic eccentricity from Bosnia and Herzegovina (a lively band led by a man who looked like Alan Sugar crossed with Eric Idle, with much random dancing, blasts of brass, etc) - the entrants were mostly bland and dreary, apart from Moldova, whose enthusiastic band of men in 6ft-tall fur hats briefly brought things back to life. A disappointing contest then, which Graham Norton's torpid commentary did little to enliven. The German staging was interesting - each entrant nation was represented not by a cheesy film of its attractions but by dreary footage of an exile from that country who lived in Germany. Hmm... The German after-show 'entertainment' - provided at great length by a tall man in a tight checked suit and porkpie hat who sang, among much else, a song titled I Love Four Of My Five Kids - injected a little last-minute Euromadness. But it was too little, too late. Next year in Baku! That might be fun...

Wednesday 11 May 2011

Vernon Again

While in Derbyshire, I was also introduced to a most delicious liqueur that I'd never come across before - Noyau de Vernon. It's made from the kernels not of apricots (as amaretto and various others are) but of cherries - and it certainly tastes of cherries. In fact it's rather like a cross between kirsch and amaretto, but without the sharpness of kirsch or the sweetness of amaretto - and it's got a good 40% kick. If you spot a bottle, buy it - as I would have done, had I but known, last October, for Vernon was the very town in which my brother and I found ourselves locked out of the hotel. Small world.

Tuesday 10 May 2011

Dingy in the Dale

Well, here I am, back from Derbyshire, restored in body and soul, and ready for anything (except the grim prospect of saying goodbye to my daughter and new son-in-law and returning to work next week). In the course of the Derbyshire visit, I finally saw my first Tortoiseshell of the year - I was going to say 'spotted', but it was my sharp-eyed cousin who spotted it, basking sleepily beside the path along Milldale, a beautiful dale north of the famously scenic Dovedale. It was a day of intermittent sunshine, with showers (or short sharp downpours) never far away - we later got caught in a notably heavy one. When the sun shone, Orange Tips and whites were flying in numbers, with the odd Peacock, Speckled Wood and Brimstone - and then the Tortoiseshell. It was a faded beauty, long past its prime - but the extraordinary thing about this sighting was that barely a foot away from the Tortoiseshell was my old friend the Dingy Skipper - a fresh and bright (dingy indeed!) specimen, also basking in blissful abandon, wings fully spread. The sight of these two so close together is one I never thought to see. And, to complete the picture, a fine Orange Tip was basking on a leaf a few yards away, and in the background a Green-Veined White fluttered around prettily. My cousin, armed only with a mobile phone (I was, as usual at such times, cameraless), closed in, first on the Tortoiseshell, then the Skipper, neither of which stirred, even with the cameraphone a few inches from them. The results were a beautiful but blurry picture of the faded Tortoiseshell, and the fine image of the Dingy Skipper that adorns this post.
And now I intend to head for the Surrey Hills...

Sunday 8 May 2011

A Day - and Night - to Remember

Well, I am happy to report that the Big Day went swimmingly and joyfully. It was, like my son's wedding two years ago, one of the very happiest days of my life. Unfortunately the swimmingness didn't last quite to the very end, as, in an eerie replay of my own experience in Normandy last year, they found themselves locked out of their hotel in the small hours, in all their finery, with no one answering the night bell or night service number. They ended up trudging down to the other local hotel, only to find another late returner in identical plight there, after which the three of them returned to the after-party and attempted to get some sleep in a house without a single internal door (they're away being 'dipped') and with a dog who likes sharing a human bed. Truly a night to remember... But they bounced back with admirable good humour, and are now in Edinburgh on a 'minimoon' that will include a brief stay on Orkney, which I look forward to hearing about. And me I'm off to my spiritual second home - beautiful Derbyshire - tomorrow, but only for a day.

Thursday 5 May 2011


A spot of illness being (like death in the old joke) Nature's way of telling you to slow down, it brings consolations with it. My recent bout gave me the opportunity to lie around reading Penelope Fitzgerald's letters (which are quite wonderful), to sit in the sun in the garden - and to do a good deal of productive and enjoyable gardening at a leisurely pace. Something about gardening feels so right, so natural - and it is immensely therapeutic to body and mind. Holly Blues are flying in all the gardens around here, with the odd Speckled Wood - and, not being able to get out for a proper butterfly walk, I thought that would be it. But no - in the scrubby grass bordering a path beside the railway (classic suburban edgeland), I spotted yesterday a Common blue, which obligingly landed for some minutes, wings folded, allowing me to make a firm identification while admiring its lapidary underwings. An uncommonly beautiful butterfly, the Common Blue - and that was my first of the year, taking my species count to 13, though I've yet to see a Tortoiseshell. There's a nice picture of a Common Blue on this post from last year. And now, busyness calls...

Wednesday 4 May 2011


to those coming here recently for their daily dose of Nigeness, the tonic to the nation ('Since discovering Nigeness, I have used no other' - A. Person, Porlock). The 'cold' mentioned in the last post developed into what we medical men refer to as a humdinging stinker, which even deprived me of my voice for the whole of Sunday. I'm as good as over it now, but have also been beset by the inevitable busyness attendant on the Daughter's Wedding on Friday. Not technically a Wedding (the formalities having been attended to last month in New Zealand) but a Blessing. But then, as Groucho said, If it looks like a wedding, talks like a wedding and quacks like a wedding - it's a wedding.
As before, I shall be working up my speech from the finest models - and I anticipate another Happy Day. Normal blogging will be resumed soon, then - after the Big Day.