Archive for November, 2009


Liquidambar styraciflua - a posterised image


The autumn glory is over for another year

In late November the autumn glory of our red sweetgum tree is just about over for another year.
Every time I am amazed that this simple tree, so common in the southern United States of America, can provide such a centre of attention in a Welsh front garden.
When our modern house was built the developers planted a (more…)

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King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid

King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid by Edward Burne-Jones

A recent BBC TV programme, “Art On Your Wall”, examined seven pieces of mass-market art: Vladimir Tretchikoff’s Green Lady, the classic poster photographs Tennis Girl and Man and Baby, Jack Vettriano’s Singing Butler, Ullswater, (a photograph of a jetty extending into a lake, available from Ikea), Sam Toft’s Doris Earwigging (two fat-bottomed ladies and a fat-bottomed dog) and Steven Pearson’s Wings of Love.
I possess none of these, but if you want to see what they look like, a Google image search should do the trick.
The programme explored how household “art” has gone from showing off your good taste to choosing something which has colours to match the decor.
Miranda Sawyer wrote a good piece in The Guardian (read it here) that prompts me to remember my generation’s love affair with the great poster company Athena during the 1970s and 1980s.
When I was a teenager at the beginning of the 1970s, the glossy Athena catalogue was (more…)

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There’s nothing like a misused word to grab my attention. Today I heard a BBC radio foreign correspondent, who should have known better, say he was “on tender hooks”.

Of course, that should have been “tenterhooks”. But it got me thinking and sent me off to the big red dictionary.

I was surprised. I always thought tenterhooks were some sort of gruesome hooks for hanging up bleeding meat carcasses. But no, they couldn’t be cleaner or more civilised.

Apparently a “tenter” is a frame for stretching cloth – not really so different from the camping tent, if you think about it. And a “tenterhook” was a shark hooked nail used on such a frame. The word probably originates in the Latin, tendere, to stretch.

The above picture of tenterhooks is from the excellent Witney Blanket Story website, which gives a great insight into the making of woollen cloth in Oxfordshire for 300 years…

The Petard

The Petard - an 1812 engraving by Gros

Association of ideas being what it is, my mind moved on from tenterhooks to petards – and again I wrongly thought I knew what a “petard” was. You will of course recall the Shakespeare line “hoist with his own petard” from Hamlet. I guess I was getting confused with the “bare bodkin” from the same play, as I always thought a “petard” was a small sword, just as a bodkin is a dagger. So if someone was hoist with his own petard I visualised him being lifted into the air on the point of his own sword.

Wrong, and quite topically so at this Guy Fawkes time of year. For a petard is a firework or a case containing explosives, used to break in doors etc in Shakespeare’s time (amusingly from the Latin pedere, to break wind). To be hoist with your own petard means to be blown up by your own explosive or caught out by your own trick.
You learn something new every day…

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Mahonia x media 'Charity'

Mahonia x media 'Charity'

If I had to name my number one shrub for a wildlife garden it would be Mahonia x media “Charity”. It gives year-round interest and cover, while its pollen, nectar and berries feed a wealth of birds and insects.

It’s a bushy, upright, evergreen shrub with dark-green, spiky, glossy leaves that are (more…)

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