Wednesday 30 June 2021

Nearing the End of the Big Read

It's getting on for two months since I embarked on my latest Big Read – The Maias by Eça de Queiróz, a hefty Portuguese classic of which I've written briefly before (here). I'm now nearing the end, having been swept along enjoyably by Eça's superb storytelling, marvelling at how he manages to do so much with so little: for a novel on such a grand scale, it has surprisingly few characters and surprisingly little action, and yet those characters come fully alive, and there is plenty going on under the surface. The succession of apparently static set pieces, often with a satirical edge, add up to a rich panoramic portrait of life at a certain level of Lisbon society in the later 19th century. But what else is the author up to? For a long while, The Maias seems (or seemed to me) to be going nowhere in particular – but, oh boy, is that a misleading impression! This novel turns on what is surely one of the most breath-taking twists in fiction. Even though I'd half guessed what it was going to be, it still came as a jaw-dropping shock, so brilliantly does Eça choreograph the scene in which the big revelation is made, and such is the excruciating moral dilemma it presents. Twists being what they are, I cannot reveal any more. All I will say is that, if you feel like a big read from the field of classic European fiction, make it The Maias – you won't be sorry.  And stick with it... 
(You might like to get the flavour of Eça de Queiróz by reading one of his shorter novels first – Cousin Bazilio is probably the best, or for something really short you could try The Yellow Sofa.)

Monday 28 June 2021

Natural Ignorance

 There's a passage in a book I'm currently reading (for review) where the author, a professor of biology at an English university, tells how, when he gets a new batch of first-year undergrads embarking on his ecology course, he takes them out for a walk on the campus, pointing out common trees and birds and finding out how many they can name. The results are depressing: these 18-year-olds, who have been through 13 years and more of school and have elected to study ecology, know almost nothing about the natural world around them. Around half of them can identify the likes of robins and blackbirds (though they might also apply the latter name to jackdaws and starlings). A very few can identify wrens and blue tits – and, when it comes to trees, almost none of these budding ecologists can identify such common species as sycamore and ash. What on earth is happening? Presumably these youngsters are being taught nothing of such matters in school, and have developed no independent interest in nature. When did 'nature study' cease to be a part of every child's education? And why? There are surely few more rewarding fields of study. It seems the more wildlife documentaries there are on television, the less anyone knows about the nature that is actually out there in the real world around them. 

Saturday 26 June 2021

Hedgehogs – What Can You Do?

 I thought for a moment it must be a novelty boot scraper, especially as it was just by the front door – but no, it was a genuine, living hedgehog. Living, but strangely torpid, not moving and barely breathing, with its snout poking through the fence into next door's front garden. This was the first living hedgehog I'd seen in these parts for some years, so it was quite exciting – but also worrying, as this was clearly not a well hedgehog. 
  After a while wondering what to do, I scooped the poor thing up onto a sheet of cardboard and moved it into a sheltered position in the shrubbery, even providing a saucer of milk in case it stirred and felt thirsty. A couple of hours later, I came out to have a look, and the hedgehog had gone. Excellent, I thought: it has rallied, come to its senses, and wandered off to resume its urchin* life. But no, as I soon discovered when I came out of the house again: it had only rallied sufficiently to plonk itself on the pavement in a still more exposed position than it was in before. Once again I scooped it up and put it in a safe and secluded place – and once again, as I later discovered, its hedgehog death wish kicked in and it headed straight back to the pavement.
  This, apparently, went on all evening, with concerned passersby carefully returning the hedgehog to safety, only for it to reappear in short order on the pavement. I found this out when, some time after 10 (when, as it happens, I was in my dressing gown and pyjamas following an early bath), a woman from up the road, with a dog on a lead, knocked on the door and told me what had been going on. The hedgehog was, of course, back on the pavement yet again. We debated what to do, and in the end I put the hedgehog in a box and she took it off to her house to see if she could coax it back to something more closely resembling life. She told me that this particular hedgehog was well known on our road and was often seen about the place. Which begged two questions: How come I haven't seen it? And, er, how do you know it's the same hedgehog?
  Anyway, I hope the poor creature recovered – and, it if did, I hope it didn't head straight for the road. 

* 'Urchin' is an archaic (indeed Middle English) word for hedgehog. 

Friday 25 June 2021

Converted to Pyjamas

 For most of my adult life I have unthinkingly dismissed pyjamas as a kind of sartorial analogue of Horlicks, most definitely not for me. Then, earlier this year, I had, for no evident reason, a sudden conversion and, at last, I saw the point of pyjamas. Not, I hasten to add, the cosy brushed-cotton jimjams of my boyhood with the white drawstring, but light pyjamas of thin cotton (or ideally, if I could afford it, silk). As with my less recent conversion to the cravat (see early Nigeness, passim), I seem to have discovered the virtues of pyjamas just as they are falling out of use. Standard sleepwear these days looks more like some kind of sportswear, with various combinations of T-shirts and what I believe are known as 'sweat pants', all pretty unattractive and surely uncomfortable to wear in a warm bed. Pyjamas, on the other hand, allow the skin to breathe and air to circulate around the body – and they do look rather good, they have a certain elegance about them. What's not to like? Apart, that is, from the odious habit of tucking the pyjama jacket into the trousers, but I'm sure my discerning readers would never do that. 
  The word 'pyjama' or, in the American form, 'pajama', is of Persian and Urdu origin, and originally meant only the trousers ('pae' leg, 'jamah' clothing), 'worn by both sexes among the Mohamedans', as the OED puts it, 'and adopted for night wear by Europeans'. 
  As it happens, I have a pair of pyjamas very similar to the ones in the above painting, 'The Conversation' by Matisse. This only confirms me in my new-found love of this stylish and versatile garment, perfect alike for sleeping in and lounging about in before addressing the vexed question of what to wear for the day. As Beerbohm puts it in his essay on Dandyism, 'So to clothe the body that its fineness be revealed and its meanness veiled has been the aesthetic aim of all costume.' Pyjamas, correctly worn, seem to me to achieve that aim rather well. And, if not, they can always be covered by a dressing gown.  

Wednesday 23 June 2021

Dark Green and Marbled

 Life is proving very busy, or at least time-consuming, just now, on several fronts – domestic, grandparental, medical (don't ask), literary (ditto) – hence the relatively sparse posting. Today, however, I did manage to get to one of my favourite local butterfly haunts. The sun was shining intermittently and it was warmer than it has been for some while, so I was hopeful of seeing good things. Sure enough, soon after I arrived, I spotted two Dark Green Fritillaries sparring vigorously in the air, about six feet above the flowery downland. As I watched, a large blue dragonfly that was cruising nearby charged them and sent them packing. Soon afterwards I saw a few more DGFs, two of them settled and nectaring, allowing me to get close enough to have a good look. The more I see of these fritillaries, the more beautiful they seem to me, with their chequered tawny-white-and-black upperwings and the subtle green patterning of their underwings. Quite large, fast-flying, bright and distinctive, they are always a joy to see.

Also a joy to see were my first Marbled Whites of the year. This is another uncommonly beautiful butterfly, one of the cheering sights of high summer, and one of our butterflies that is increasing its range – or at least it was until this year's dismal spring and early summer. 
As there were still Small Blues flying, and I saw my first Large and Small Skippers of the year, I headed home with my spirits much lifted, to resume the busyness of life. 

Monday 21 June 2021


 It seldom profits a man (especially a man) to listen to Radio 4 these days, but this morning I caught the new Book of the Week, Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez. A natural, social and cultural history of the Arctic region, this seems to be quite interesting, and is, I discover, something of a classic in its field, having been around since 1986 (the author died last year). But my point, if I have one, is this: listening to it, I discovered a new word – which is always a pleasure. The word is 'subnivean', which means under the snow: the 'subnivean zone' is the world between the snow surface and the terrain below, in which many creatures live at least some of their lives, relatively insulated and relatively safe from predators. 'Subnivean' – I like it...

Sunday 20 June 2021


 A reader has written to ask me if I have stuck to my resolve – expressed in this post from last year – to resist the government's mask-wearing edicts. The answer is, mostly, yes. If it's a question of putting on a mask for a very short time, e.g. when entering a restaurant or popping into some mask-insistent shop for a few minutes, I'm not going to make an issue of it. However, I'm not going to suffer the entirely pointless discomfort of wearing a 'face covering' while doing a supermarket shop – still less while doing anything outdoors. The science (not to be confused with The Science) has not changed: no reputable study has shown that mask-wearing has anything more than a marginal effect on Covid transmission (similarly, no study has shown that Covid can be transmitted from contaminated surfaces, and yet hand sanitising is still being enforced on a huge scale, library books 'quarantined', etc.). Mask-wearing is clearly little more than a ritual observance that reassures the anxious and terrified – which is no reason at all for mandating it for the rest of us, in any circumstances. If people want to wear the things, that's fine – though the masking of toddlers and young children strikes me as a kind of child abuse – but the legislation is in essence arbitrary. 
  I have only been challenged a few times, and then weakly, for not wearing a mask. My usual response is to point to my chest and say I have breathing problems (which has a grain of truth in it); officials who know the law will know they can't question anyone about exactly what is wrong with them. The main thing, I think, is comportment – well, comportment and age: it probably helps to be older. As I am 6ft 4in at full height and can pass for 'distinguished', I have an inbuilt advantage, but it is still important to stand tall, to cultivate the air of a respectable senior citizen rather than a troublemaking refusenik – and, important this, to appear lost in one's own thoughts: this deters people from approaching. Keep the gaze focused on the middle distance and don't catch anyone's eye, at least if they look at all unsympathetic, and you should be fine. 
  My correspondent writes that she sees people driving around on their own in their cars, wearing masks and gloves. So do I. It is a sign – one of many – of the state of irrational fear to which the government's panic reaction to Covid has reduced much of the population. Many people will continue in that state of fear whatever happens next – 'Freedom Day, if it ever comes, will be wasted on them. But the rest of us should not be corralled into an anxious, anonymised, atomised and alienated future for no good reason at all. 
  By the way, the 'mask' I use when obliged to, is a slip of patterned silk with ear loops – about the most breathable option, and no more ineffective than other models. I recommend it. 

Thursday 17 June 2021

Carl van Vechten

 Born on this day in 1880 was Carl van Vechten, novelist, photographer, figurehead of the Harlem Renaissance and literary executor of Gertrude Stein. The name might ring a bell with students of Ronald Firbank, as it was Van Vechten who got Firbank's name known in America. In March 1922 he wrote to Firbank out of the blue, warning him archly that 'there is some danger of you becoming the rage in America'. Firbank was delighted, and the two men corresponded in a mildly flirtatious manner for some while. It was Van Vechten who persuaded Firbank to change the name of his latest novel – a whimsical account of a black Caribbean family's attempt to 'enter society' – from the blameless Sorrow in Sunlight to what must now, I suppose, be written as Prancing N-Word. This, Van Vechten assured Firbank, would get his novel noticed in America. And so it did: the American edition, with its provocative title and an introduction by Van Vechten, was Firbank's biggest success in America, and overall his most commercially successful book. A couple of years later Van Vechten tried the same trick himself, publishing a panoramic novel depicting African-American life in Harlem as, er, N-Word Heaven. It proved controversial and divisive, and made Van Vechten famous. A few years later he gave up writing altogether and devoted himself to photography. This is his delightful photograph of Ella Fitzgerald –

Nature Notes: Good News and Bad

 Well, after a jittery start, the swifts have arrived in full force, and they've been wonderfully lively and vocal in recent days. Such a joy – and relief – to have them back.
  When it comes to the butterflies, however, it looks as if the dreadful spring weather – cold and dry, then cold and wet – has taken its toll. I haven't known butterflies so thin on the ground (or rather in the air) for some years. Even the ones you'd expect to see everywhere – the Whites – have been few and far between, and the numbers of virtually every species flying so far have been worryingly low. The other day, in my son's garden, a Tortoiseshell was nectaring at length on a flowering Cotoneaster and, as I pointed it out to the grandchildren, I realised that it was only the second I've seen this year. It's been the same with most species – I've seen them, but in far lower numbers than I'd expect in a normal year (if there is such a thing, when it comes to butterflies). Brimstones, Holly Blues and Peacocks have been about the only species flying in normal healthy numbers, at least around here. 
  Yesterday afternoon – hot and sunny – I visited one of my favourite local haunts to see its colony of Small Blues (below), those tiny beauties. Happily they were there, though in lower numbers than usual. Otherwise, however, there was almost nothing flying on that stretch of flower-rich chalk downland – one Common Blue, one Small Heath, a few Meadow Browns (my first of the year), and that was it.
  And then, by early evening, it was raining hard, and continued to do so through the night. And the forecast is for more days of cloud and intermittent rain. Oh dear, oh dear.

Tuesday 15 June 2021

'As far as Englishness is concerned...'

I've been off on my Mercian travels again. This is Staunton Harold, just over the Derbyshire border in Leicestershire. 'For position,' says Pevsner, 'Staunton Harold, the house and chapel, are unsurpassed in the country – at least as far as Englishness is concerned...' The chapel is a unique survival – a church built during the Commonwealth, and built in a fully Gothic style. A plaque on the West tower tells the story: 'In  the yeare: 1653 when all things sacred were throughout ye nation Either demolisht or profaned Sir Richard Shirley Barronet Founded this Church whose singular praise it is to have done the best things in ye worst times And hope them in the most calamitous.'

  In 2021, a message from the present owner can be seen on a notice board. It is less eloquently expressed, but it too speaks of trying to do the best things in the worst times:
 'It is more than three hundred years since the first earl began to make Staunton Hall into a stately home. In that time the Ferrers family and others must have hosted hundreds of grand celebrations here, including a fair sprinkling of masked balls. Surely never, until last week, a masked wedding. Limited to thirty people, music but no dancing, and daughter Caroline spending much of her time disinfecting surfaces. One redeeming feature; the weather was fine and sunny.
I am fed up with the whole business and just hope that 21st June will see an end to it all. Covid 19 has been reported to the exclusion of all else. Even the reported number of cases is a nonsense. I, and a dozen others I know, have had the virus, but only three were tested. Approximately one thousand four hundred people die in England and Wales each day, of which a handful have Covid. The collateral damage to our physical and mental health, and to the economy, is known to be immense, but not assessed. We must be allowed to judge the risk for ourselves.'

Well, all hopes for 21st June have now been dashed. The lunacy goes on, but there are many, many people who have had more than enough of it...

Thursday 10 June 2021

Two Cathedrals

 There was an excellent documentary on BBC4 last night that told the story of the redesign and rebuilding of Coventry cathedral after German bombs had reduced much of the ancient structure to rubble. Several things were striking about this trip back in time to the postwar world, among them the astonishingly high quality of (most of) the commissioned artworks, and the equally high quality of Kenneth Clark's intelligent and critical response to the new cathedral. Filming his own documentary about the then new building, he asked real, searching questions of the architect, Basil Spence, and had certainly not hung his critical faculties up at the door, being clear about what he thought worked and what he thought did not. This was very refreshing, especially as we tend to caricature the postwar period as one of unquestioning deference (and Lord Clark of Civilisation as a presenter sauntering into view and asking only 'What could be more agreeable...?')
  Watching the BBC4 film put me in mind of another new cathedral, less grand and less iconic, which was consecrated a year earlier (in 1961) in my home county. Guildford cathedral had a long gestation – 25 years – and a troubled one, beset as it was by financial problems and various controversies, including a pretty basic one about the style of the building. At Coventry, Spence, in keeping with the spirit of the time, had turned his back on Gothic and created an unmistakably modern building. At Guildford, however, the Gothic style had one of its late triumphs. Edward Maule's building is in a plain, pared-down Gothic idiom, in keeping with the architect's aim to 'produce a design, definitely of our time, yet in the line of the great English cathedrals, to build anew on tradition, to rely on proportion, mass, volume and line rather than on elaboration and ornament'. A fine statement of intent, and one that Maule kept to, producing a noble building with airy, numinous interior spaces. 
  I remember the latter stages of the building of Guildford cathedral, when we would take family trips to see how it was getting on. And I remember a brilliant fund-raising scheme that was launched to raise money to finish the building – 'Buy a Brick'. For half a crown in the old money (equivalent to a fiver or so today), anyone could buy a brick and sign their name, or someone else's, on it. More than 200,000 people bought a brick, making a huge contribution to the cathedral's seriously limited building budget. 
  What I did not know at the time was that the project had been saved years before, in 1947, when a former Canadian prime minister, R.B. Bennett, the 1st Viscount Bennett, bought much of the land intended for the cathedral's site on Stag Hill and donated it to the diocese, as a memorial to the sacrifice of his fellow Canadians in the two world wars. Bennett had retired to Mickleham in Surrey after his Canadian political career, which coincided with the Great Depression, had ended in failure. The fine building that stands on Stag Hill is his best memorial, and a worthy one to the extraordinary sacrifice made by Canada in the world wars.

Wednesday 9 June 2021

Too Darn Hot

 It's Cole Porter's 130th birthday today – and the weather here is very nearly hot (by English standards). So, what could be more fitting than this Porter song, sung to perfection in every point  – and in a voice beyond compare – by Ella Fitzgerald...

Tuesday 8 June 2021

A True Great

 On the 89th birthday of the great Ray Illingworth, the best Test captain England ever had, it's tempting to wonder what he might be making of the present England shower. Actually I don't think we need to wonder...
The exemplar of Yorkshire grit, Illingworth forged a distinguished career in his own right as a hard-to-hit bowler and hard-to-shift batsman (upwards of 2,000 wickets and 20,000 runs in first-class cricket), but it was as a captain that he reached the heights. When he took charge of the England team, they had lost only one of their previous 14 Test matches and none of their last seven. Under Illingworth that unbeaten run was extended to 27 Tests without defeat between 1968 and 1971, and only one defeat in 40 Tests between 1966 and 1971. In Australia in 1970-71, Illingworth's team beat the Aussies 2-0 in the Test series – an unprecedented feat on Australian soil. They played tough, not stinting on mental and physical intimidation, and they played to win – defeat was not to be contemplated. How different, how very different, from today's approach, and today's players, whose lamentable performance against New Zealand over the weekend must have had Illingworth shaking his head in disbelief, along with the rest of us. 
And we may be sure that every other word uttered by Illingworth's men in their prime would have been enough to get them suspended from international cricket today. 

Sunday 6 June 2021

Jon Redmond

 When this image turned up online, my first thought was something along the lines of 'Wow!' and my second was, Who painted this? An intense, boldly worked still life of everyday objects, it's clearly in a tradition that stretches back from the present to Manet, to the great Dutch still-life painters and to Velazquez. Could it be a contemporary painting? Well, yes, it could: it's called 'Silver', and it's by one Jon Redmond, a Pennsylvania-based painter of whom I had never heard. 
  I immediately sought out more, and found a good many online, also an interview with the artist, who has been exhibiting for 20 years or so, and seems uncommonly sensible for a contemporary artist (which may be why he isn't better known). Redmond paints landscapes and buildings as well as still lifes and interiors, all drawn from his immediate surrounding in Chester County. His paintings are very much about the play of light on surfaces, and his technique is vigorous and immediate, painting alla prima (wet on wet), without preliminaries, least of all any line drawing – 'I hate line. I want to do the searching and struggling while I am painting, because that is when the painting becomes interesting ... What is important is what is happening on either side of where a line would be.' And he likes to show his workings, leaving areas unfinished.
  He has no anxiety about influence or tradition and is happy to channel, for example, Degas, as here, in this accomplished nude, which explores the play of light on convex (the model) and concave (the bath) surfaces –

Redmond also sees no need to make a fuss about being 'contemporary': 'If you try to be "contemporary" your work will suffer. We are contemporary by being alive today, so why work hard at it?' He is attracted by 'ordinary', simple subjects rather than by big and obviously picturesque ones. 'The most important thing,' he says, 'is that I am excited about what I see.' Well, you can sense the excitement in a painting like this one, with its singing, zinging colours – 
And, talking of colour, how about this one, titled 'Eclipse', which reminds me of the work of our own Robert Dukes...
Redmond is refreshingly honest about the painter's life: 'Painting for me is really just a legal excuse to sit down and look at something for hours on end. What other profession allows you to go out, find something really cool, and stare at it as long as you want?' Well, quite. And that 'something really cool' might include, as here, washing hanging out to dry on a clothesline. This one is called 'Pink Pants' – 

And here, finally, is one of Redmond's haunting interiors – 

This, it seems to me, is a fine painter. I'll be looking out for his work from now on...

Saturday 5 June 2021

Amis's Camberwell Beauty

 Ageing has its pleasures. One is that, as my memory becomes lightly perforated, I find myself 'discovering' something – a poem, even a book – that I subsequently discover I had read before. It reads as if for the first time, but, no, I've been here before... Case in point: the other day I heard someone on the radio mention that Kingsley Amis had written a poem about seeing a Camberwell Beauty butterfly when he was a boy – in Camberwell. I soon found it – not exactly a poem about seeing a Camberwell Beauty but the first stanza of a poem of regret, 'To H.', addressed to Amis's first wife, Hilary 'Hilly' Bardwell, whom he had treated appallingly when they were married. Nevertheless, Hilly and her third husband ended up living in Kingsley's big house as a kind of upmarket housekeepers. By then, Amis's sex drive (the lunatic to whom he'd been handcuffed for fifty years, to use his own image) had finally waned, so life was that bit simpler. Looking back in this poignant poem, Kingsley clearly regrets the way he undervalued and mistreated Hilly when he had her – but I think what we're looking at here is wistful regret rather than repentance. Or is that uncharitable?

To H.

In 1932 when I was ten
In my grandmother’s garden in Camberwell
I saw a Camberwell Beauty butterfly
Sitting on a clump of Michaelmas daisies.
I recognised it because I’d seen a picture
Showing its brownish wings with creamy edges
In a boy’s paper or on a cigarette-card
Earlier that week. And I remember thinking,
What else would you expect? Everyone knows
Camberwell Beauties come from Camberwell;
That’s why they’re called that. Yes, I was ten.

In 1940 when I was eighteen
In Marlborough, going out one winter’s morning
To walk to school, I saw that every twig,
Every leaf in the vicar’s privet hedge
And every stalk and stem was covered in
A thin layer of ice as clear as glass
Because the rain had frozen as it landed.
The sun shone and the trees and shrubs shone back
Like pale flames with orange and green sparkles.
Freak weather conditions, people said,
And one was always hearing about them.

In ’46 when I was twenty-four
I met someone harmless, someone defenceless,
But till then whole, unadapted within;
Awkward, gentle, healthy, straight-backed,
Who spoke to say something, laughed when amused;
If things went wrong, feared she might be at fault,
Whose eye I could have met for ever then,
Oh yes, and who was also beautiful.
Well, that was much as women were meant to be,
I thought, and set about looking further.
How can we tell, with nothing to compare?

Anyway, having read 'To H' as if for the first time, I noticed an online link to Stephen Pentz's wonderful First Known When Lost blog, and discovered that, back in 2010, he had posted just this poem – and, what's more, I had commented on it. Ah well – it was good to 'discover' it again. 

Thursday 3 June 2021

Lost Lanes, Cut Grass, a Golden Anniversary

 Yesterday, while enjoying my constitutional, I took this photograph of a path bordered by lush cow parsley (or Queen Anne's lace) and posted it on Facebook, captioned 'Lost lanes of Queen Anne's lace' – a line from Philip Larkin's 'Cut Grass'. Today I discover that this poem – surely one of the finest really short poems in English, certainly one that packs the most charge into the fewest syllables – was written (or signed off) on this date exactly 50 years ago. Surely a golden anniversary worth marking...

Cut grass lies frail:
Brief is the breath
Mown stalks exhale.
Long, long the death

It dies in the white hours
Of young-leafed June
With chestnut flowers,
With hedges snowlike strewn,

White lilac bowed,
Lost lanes of Queen Anne's lace,
And that high-builded cloud
Moving at summer's pace.

Tuesday 1 June 2021

Monument and Butterflies

 Noting that today was the birth date (in 1563) of the great Elizabethan (and Jacobean) statesman, courtier and survivor Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, I was reminded of those happy days when I was out and about researching my book, The Mother of Beauty. Cecil's striking monument, in St Etheldreda's, Hatfield, was designed by the Fleming Maximilian Colt, and is one of the greatest of its period. When I visited Hatfield, with my cousin, to see it, we found the church closed and locked, but this was one of those happy occasions when (a) the rectory was next to the church, (b) the rector was at home, and (c) he was only too happy to let us in and leave us to wander at large in his magnificent church. This fortuitous combination of circumstances did not often occur in the course of my researches, but the quest for monuments – in those heady days before the lockdowns – was a joy in itself. 
   The research for my latest production, a small book on butterflies, was mostly conducted on the living-room sofa that is my 'work station' these days – though, in a sense, the real research was done in the course of many years of watching butterflies and reading about them. It was written partly to while away the winter months when there are no butterflies to be seen, and  I am hoping the book will become available, in some form, before too many months have passed. I'll let you know.
  As for this butterfly season, it is finally under way after a dismal couple of months – cold dry April, cold wet May – and, after that prelude, it is unlikely to be a bumper season. Although I have seen a respectable 19 species so far, numbers of most have been very low, and the relentless rains of May have left a legacy of lush grass and overgrown vegetation that will not be to the liking of many of our butterflies. Let's hope things improve as the season goes on. If this sun continues shining for a few more weeks, it could make all the difference..