Archive for January, 2010


Letraset dry transfer lettering in 1974

I still treasure a Letraset catalogue from 1974. I’m not sure why, as I never really got on with Letraset. If you don’t remember it, I had better explain that in those days it was a form of instant “dry transfer” “rub-down” lettering. And I never could get it lined up straight.

Those were the days long before QuarkXPress (launched in 1987) and Adobe PhotoShop (launched in February 1990).

The catalogue (more…)

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grey squirrel in snow

Grey squirrel in snow, January 2010 - they don't properly hibernate

The little green book that accompanied my childhood in a country village was “Wild Life Through the Year” by Richard Morse. I was only eight years old when I wrote my name in it, having inherited it from my much older brothers, who were the type of lad, in those days, who collected birds’ eggs and pinned butterflies.


Male blackcap in the garden in January 2010 - the female has a chestnut cap...

It was published in 1942 – before the words global warming were thought of – and it is probably (more…)

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hybrid tea rose

We did grow beautiful - well-manured - hybrid tea roses

I read the other day that the outside toilet “once a sign of social deprivation, now adds value to the price of a property” (see the article here). Oh do come on, get real!

I grew up in a village in the country, with an outside toilet in a shed 10 yards or so down (more…)

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eider duck

An eider duck (Somateria mollissima) on the ice at Llanelli Wildfowl & Wetlands Centre, Christmas 2009

Eider ducks are different. For some reason I have always thought of them as rather “Art Deco” in design. I hope the pictured Clarice Cliff plate gives you some idea where I am coming from on that one!

Clarice Cliff plate

A Clarice Cliff plate

For a couple of years I have (more…)

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red wellies

Were my wellies red, or were my toes?

The recent “big chill” in the UK has taken me back to the much bigger freeze of 1963 and one of my few memories of my mother.

I recall playing out in the snow for much too long, despite being ordered to come inside on many occasions. I think I was wearing red wellies. Wellies, definitely, but maybe in those days they were boring black ones and the red I remember is the colour of my feet.

Going back inside, I took my boots off and sat with my feet by the paraffin (kerosene) fire. The awful ache as the circulation returned…

The paraffin fire (a “Sankey Senator”) was very effective at heating the small cottage and easier than the alternative of a coal fire in the grate. Although years later, when my mother died, my father blamed himself for ever buying it, as he thought it might have made her asthma worse and contributed to her early death. He had bought it to try to keep her warm…

But back to the feet… My mother would shriek at me: “You’ll get chilblains!” and indeed she was right.

I haven’t seen a chilblain, apart from the gruesome picture on Wikipedia, for donkey’s years. They can be caused by bad circulation, but in the old days before central heating we would get them simply from heating up our feet too quickly after getting them cold. So we were warned against holding our feet too close to the fire and from using a too-hot hot-water bottle in bed at night and resting our feet on it.

Remember hot-water bottles? That smell of rubber and the wobbly feel when you picked it up? Ours were usually pink, occasionally blue. Once my hot-water bottle burst in the middle of the night, when it had already cooled off, so I woke up in a chilly puddle in the bed.

But back to chilblains… They are hot, red and shiny and very itchy areas on your toes and do go eventually, but they are very annoying and you blame yourself for being so stupid in the first place. Put cold feet close to a hot fire? You’ll get chilblains!

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A superb cockerel painted by Xanthe Mosley - click on the picture to go to her website...

Come January 5 every year, my dear old Yorkshire mother-in-law would say: “The days are getting a cock’s stride longer”.

And I know what she means. Although I couldn’t say exactly how long a cock’s stride is, or how you relate inches to minutes.

She also used to say that: “As the days lengthen, the cold strengthens”.

It’s no wonder we decided to put Christmas on December 25. Preparations for the feast take our minds off the year’s shortest day and winter solstice* around December 21/22 (in the Northern hemisphere).

Then, before you know it, Christmas and New Year have passed by in a haze of overindulgence and, given clear skies, there seems to be a whole lot more daylight around…

*solstice comes from the Latin: sol, meaning sun; and sistere, to stand – because on this day in winter the sun seems to stand still in the sky, having reached its southernmost position for the year before turning back to the north. Similarly around June 20/21, at the summer solstice, the sun reaches its northernmost position. That’s all in the Northern hemisphere. In the topsy-turvy world of the Southern hemisphere these winter and summer solstices are reversed.

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Push pins

Push pins like the pawns in a travelling chess set but with a sharper attitude...

As I pin my new wall calendar to my office notice board, I feel a need to share my feelings about the merits of push pins over drawing pins.

I think Americans probably call drawing pins thumb tacks, which is reasonable, as you do press them firmly into place with your thumb. In the UK we call them drawing pins because they can be used to pin drawings to the wall.

push pins

Clear and colourful push pins from the Pound Shop in Ebbw Vale

I grew up using drawing pins and discovered push pins only a couple of years ago, when I bought a small box of lovely rainbow-jelly-coloured ones for 69p from the Pound Shop in Ebbw Vale. I always like to treat myself to something when my work takes me out of town. I know they were 69p because I still have them in my drawer. They were too pretty to use.

However, I did soon buy some plainer ones and I am now a convert to push pins.

The worst drawing pins are those very thin, cheap ones that bend uselessly under pressure. Worse than that, when you try to remove them from the wall, their sharp heads cut into that tender flesh under your nails. Ouch! Although I admit that I recently found a very old box of nice thick brassy ones with milled edges that aren’t so bad in that respect.

drawing pins

Brassy drawing pins

Drawing pins also tend to land point upwards if you drop them on the floor, while push pins just roll around.

To be fair, there is a down side to push pins. They take a bit more pressure to stick into a stubborn notice board, as you can’t put your whole weight into it.

In fact, after all that praise for push pins, I end up using drawing pins for my wall calendar as they lie flatter and you can pin other bits of paper over the top…

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