Lockdown Extension Day 95

Having muttered about keeping this running because the lockdown wasn’t over I got distracted by other matters – mostly reading books that I’d picked up here and there, and doing some other more idle scribbling, and bubbling.

So the garden has been sitting quietly.

And I’ve not been thinking of the blog so much.

However, Boris has done his little thing today and announced that the public-transport-using majority can now go and see their relatives this weekend.

Who may be surprised to find the station looking busy, and people looking cheerful, and not really expecting these sudden visitors anyway, having been making a point of avoiding the news and especially Boris’s pronouncements for several months.

(May be a bit quiet, but best I could find with the lead-in.)

Lockdown Extension Day 85

Back to the garden. The crocosmia are in flower.

Like the gladiola they start off as two-dimensional plants, but end up on stalks rather than as a splay of leaves rising out of the ground. The flowers are distinctively different – small things on branches off the central stalk instead of big fluffy things rising out of soft green spike. When dug up in winter there is no risk of confusion – a glad has a slightly squashed and rounded bulb, while the crocosmia has a small blackish corm.

When not admiring the efficiency of my snail population (which are tidying up my surplus petunias at an alarming rate) I am hiding inside with the Great Western Railway Magazine. This article is from August 1929, and starts with a good tabloid pun:

A Thame Mouse

An unusual incident recently came to light at Thame station. It appears that a bottle of meal and water that had been used to feed some calves was thrown away in the goods yard, and lay on its side, while still containing some of the mixture.

If the story were told in dramatic fashion it would next be necessary to say “Enter a mouse, lean and hungry, through the neck of the bottle”.

Nothing is known of the mouse’s meal on the meal and water, but the evidence is that it was quite a good one, for by the following morning the rodent had been caught in a trap of its own contrivance, having grown too fat to get out of the bottle.

(What the staff of Thame station then did with said mouse is not recorded.)

Lockdown Extension Day 84

Today’s insect picture is from a roadside hedge on yesterday’s cycle ride. I think this ugly little thing, sticking its nose out from a nettle leaf, is a highly desirable ladybird larva.

I’ve been browsing some more copies of the Great Western Railway Magazine and found this little snippet from 1929. Originally it was in The Times, but the GWR’s Editor thought it worth quoting:

Sir – The discussion on bad handwriting reminds me of…

Horace Greenley, editor of the New York Tribune and chairman of a railway company, was another of the “illegibles.” In the former capacity he had occasion to dismiss a member of his staff and wrote him a personal letter conveying the decision. The journalist used it as a free pass over Mr. Greenley’s railway for a long time before he was detected. No one could read it.

(In case you ever wondered why computers are brilliant – important communications don’t have to be carefully written out in incomprehensible handwriting any more.)

Lockdown Extension Day 83

Today’s picture is from a walk a few years ago along the Malverns, in the days when I could go to interesting places. (Car owners – this series is continuing because as someone reliant on public transport I am still in effectively the lockdown imposed on 23rd March plus access to bubbles, and am not sure when this will end. When the media seem to think the whole thing is now over I am beginning to resent these restrictions, for obvious reasons.)

We’re up on Jubilee Hill, looking north towards the aptly-named Perseverance Hill, after climbing up from Colwall station. This is the weather in one of its more favourable moments. It went full white-out-blizzard as I approached the Worcestershire Beacon, so I lack interesting pictures of the view from the top across a snowbound landscape.

I did actually have an interesting outing today – I took the bike off to a bookshop that I wanted to visit. Unfortunately the bookshop is 20 miles away over a couple of stiff hills, so my legs are exhausted and my back is expressing comments about abrasive rucksacks. Took about two-and-a-quarter hours each way, which manages the remarkable achievement of being slower than the normal roundabout rail journey. Not sure this bike thing is really suited to long-distance bulk transport.

It was slightly reminiscent of a time when a holiday journey ended up in a 22-mile rail replacement cycle (the bus, put on at the last moment when the line was shut because the weather forecast predicted rain, couldn’t take bikes). This was irritating enough on the outward journey (I am certain that one of the circles of hell involves pushing an overloaded bike up a forest track in the dark and light rain for eternity) but when the exercise had to be repeated on the way back I had a mild urge to murder the managing director of the train operator involved (I also remain of the view that the jury, or at least a jury of moderately unfit people who had done a 22-mile hilly cycle ride carrying a rucksack with a fortnight’s laundry inside, would have unanimously acquitted). Towards the end of the journey home, during one of the legs where the train showed up, a fellow customer watched me struggling the bike into an on-train cycle rack and remarked cheerfully that I must wish I’d just cycled. I may have unwittingly responded in a tone which suggested that this remark was not in the slightest bit funny.

Anyway, speaking of difficult journeys, here is a clip from The Huggetts Abroad. Britain’s great post-war film family have decided to try their luck in South Africa and emigrated, complete with the partners of the elder daughters and an ex-Army truck for the luggage. To while away the voyage, the younger daughter – a certain Petula Clark – begins singing about the secret to eternal youth.

(A charming little series, although the producers never managed to get the actress playing the eldest daughter to return for another film so the character was continually recast.)

Lockdown Extension Day 82

Today – some geraniums share colour with the mallow.

I’m sure I used to have an array of geraniums in various hues, but they seem to have all settled on pink. Still, it goes with the mallow bush, and the mallow is the dominant flowering plant at this time of the year. Some mint shoots continue their battle for domination while the unfortunate euonymus lurks under the mallow and waits for the end-of-year heavy prune of the bigger bush. (The mallow is living proof of the old adage about pruning hard for vigorous growth.)

I haven’t a clue what this is supposed to achieve:

Still, it’s very funny.

Lockdown Extension Day 81

I was busy writing something else yesterday (whoop!) so had the night off blogging too. But tonight is quieter, so here are some wine-red lilies.

Not so quiet though that I fancy being imaginative in finding bits of entertainment. So here we have a dispossessed drop-out Vietnam War pilot expanding on his memoirs during a flight to Los Angeles to an entirely innocent fellow-passenger. The death rate of these passengers is something of a running joke.

(Immediately before this sequence he has been expanding on the challenges of teaching basketball to various members of a jungle tribe. The Guardian had an article recently suggesting that this was an uncomfortable scene that was borderline racist. I always thought that the joke was on our hero for being so excruciatingly wedded to his view of the difficulties of basketball and how innocent these isolated natives were that he failed to notice they had taken to the game in about ten seconds.)

Lockdown Extension Day 77

I have been allowing a couple of ragwort plants in the garden to thrive for three reasons – 1) it saves time, 2) they have nice bright flowers and 3) they support cinnabar moth caterpillars.

The third point seemed for some time to be rather wishful thinking, but at the weekend the caterpillars were finally spotted feasting on one of the ragworts, wearing their wasp-stripe warning jumpers:

Unfortunately they have no sense of self-control, so the ragwort – which was not a terribly big ragwort – is no longer with us. Apparently this is a perfectly normal problem, and is usually resolved by the bigger caterpillars eating the smaller ones. I don’t think that will be quite enough on this occasion, and I may have to find them some more plants.

For today’s entertainment, one of the few funny moments from Gilbert & Sullivan’s Yeomen of the Guard. Colonel Fairfax, under sentence of execution for annoying someone in high power, has been discreetly and unofficially released from his cell in the Tower of London in the disguise of a Yeoman tasked with escorting him to his execution. He is now out in the cool of the evening and quietly wooing the woman who married him, in exchange for a large sum of money, in the belief that he would be executed within an hour of the marriage. His wooing efforts are unexpectedly interrupted by the firing of a shotgun down on the wharf and shortly after interrupted by the arrival of the entire cast, wandering chorus included, come to investigate the noise. Bringing up the rear are Wilfred the Torturer and Jack Point the Jester, who both have a certain interest in Fairfax’s demise – Wilfred has his eye on a young lady about the Tower who is more interested in Fairfax, and Jack Point is the young man of the woman who has inadvertently married Fairfax. The good Colonel is then obliged to stand quietly for a couple of minutes and watch the two put a remarkable amount of badly co-ordinated effort into setting up the fun at his expense:

Having sat through this nonsense, followed by some very uncomplimentary exposition by Point on the man that Wilfred has just shot, Fairfax subsequently gets his revenge on Point with an unexpected amount (for G&S) of cold venom. The chorus miss that bit of excitement, being busy recovering backstage from having to do a G&S patter song.

Lockdown Extension Day 76

This is a small blue flower out of a wildflower seed pack (it being from a pack of some generic wildflowers I am not sure exactly what it is, except quite pretty):

Here are some people enjoying themselves with a hosepipe while dressed as the Dad’s Army cast, representing a mild but moderately satisfying level of amateur daftness as they attempt to put out a cardboard fire. (Actual Dad’s Army clips on Youtube appear to be lacking. There are merely some full episode uploads which are so bad as to be an incentive to buy the DVD to find out what the missing bits of the picture looked like.)

Lockdown Extension Day 75

(Or actually Day 77, especially if you’re one of those people who can keep track and count during times of stress.)

The gladiola have started flowering.

There are a lot of them dotted around the garden – a consequence of finding a garden centre doing packs of 50 for some pleasantly low figure.

A post I wrote long ago called “Employment advice for Students” has had some views recently (hopefully from people who realise that some bits of advice regarding the benefits system may have changed since then) and indeed apparently I have picked up some hits for an old webpage entitled “How To Fail Your GCSEs”. As both pupils and students may be worried about the value of their qualifications this year, here is some advice from Professor Lehrer on how to produce quality output while in lockdown.

I have never intentionally followed Professor Lehrer’s advice on the subject, and I believe scrutiny has been stepped up since the era in question.

Lehrer followed the great tradition of varying the words between performances, as Michael Flanders and Donald Swann did with their numbers (like the language used for the second chorus of “The Hippopotamus Song” and the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company updated some of W. S. Gilbert’s songs (“The Little List” being the obvious one). Consequently in other recordings Brigitte Bardot played the hypotenuse.

Lockdown Extension Day 74

It’s been good mollusc weather recently, so here is a picture of a grazing snail looking up with mild curiosity at an approaching camera:

I always find animals which carry their house around with them rather endearing, although it can be awkward at times – like for this one trying to examine a crack in my wall:

They’re also moderately intelligent and capable of a reasonable amount of self-preservation (if their hideaways are found and they get ejected from the garden then once they have found their way back to the garden they will identify an alternative hideaway) although they show a tendency to wander around on garden paths late at night, and so get trodden on. They have a spirited curiosity with a liking for exploration, with the irritating consequence that halfway up a wall they will discover a hanging basket full of snail-friendly plants that were put up there out of harm’s way. They have a tendency towards a sort of social interaction – sharing hideaways and food, and leaving trails for other snails to follow if they find something worth eating after wandering off by themselves. And they seem to like climbing trees and wooded shrubs, where they presumably find something of interest to eat – as the shrubs tend not to show signs of having their leaves nibbled by molluscs, presumably they scoff slight coatings of mould off the bark. The one in the upper picture appeared to be tidying up some unwanted moss.

One very human tendency possessed by snails is that if you pick one up and carry it off then it will come out of its shell to see what is going on, and peer around with interest, and wave its eye stalks at you. Once put down, it will examine its new habitat for food and then begin the long walk home.

A scientific study was done a few years ago into how molluscs determine when to search for food, how to identify if they’ve found it and how much energy they want to use in the process (and whether if food is to hand they will just idly munch at it now to save time later, which if I read it correctly has the interesting revelation that if you put a snail in a lettuce patch it will just keep eating until it encounters the snail equivalent of boredom, whether or not it is actually hungry). It can be found at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4895806/

There is the interesting consideration that humans do not necessarily act wholly differently, but the invention of convenience stores – rather like the invention of domestic gardens for snails – has had an impact on the amount of exploratory behaviour required.

Snails are of course much noted in popular culture: