Archive for March, 2010

lesser celandine

The lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) covers a bank in the garden and finds its way into cracks in walls and steps

The little green book that accompanied my childhood was “Wild Life Through the Year” by Richard Morse. It was published in 1942 and I particularly like the sketchbook page for every month. So every month I am showing these pages on my blog and making my own observations, based largely on my 2010 city garden. I don’t get out much! Read earlier months here.


Daffodils for St David's Day on March 1 - although these are a cultivated variety, Golden Ducat, not the wild daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus)

So far this year has been great – I have always (more…)

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Amazing origami silverfish by Robert Lang - click on the picture to learn more...

I particularly noticed the silverfish at bedtime. As a child, I lived in a stone cottage in a village – no cavity walls, just a permanent dampness, especially in upstairs rooms without a fireplace.

For those who don’t know silverfish, they are nothing like goldfish. According to (more…)

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The Romans are coming... the Ermine Street Guard are a society dedicated to the accurate reconstruction of Roman armour and drill

Discipuli Picturam Spectate – pupils look at the picture…

Every chapter in that old schoolbook Latin For Today started with those words. I almost feel a thrill when I remember (more…)

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The mad March Hare in Alice in Wonderland, portrayed in Disney's latest movie - click on the picture to visit the official website

It’s that time of year again when, allegedly, hares go mad. According to my Wild Life Through the Year “bible” from the 1940s, “It is in March that you usually see the first signs of the quaint and amusing courtship antics of the hare, whereas rabbits have been breeding since the beginning of the year.”

Just to be clear, I will be talking here about the (more…)

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Playing with words, Judith Toms translated some industrial pallets into an artist's palette

I’m taking a huge liberty here in showcasing an impromptu work of art by one of our regular letter-writers to the South Wales Echo, Judith Toms of Aberdare.

I edit the Viewpoints page and every day I have the problem of finding a main picture to illustrate the double-page spread. Often it is a nostalgia picture submitted by a reader or found in our own archives. Sometimes I use a recent picture to illustrate a letter about a controversy.

But on days when I am running short of pictures, Judith always keeps me going by sending something that has struck her as interesting and from which she has created an artwork. This pair of pictures (above and below) particularly amused me. They went into our Viewpoints page on Monday, March 8.

Spotting some old wooden transport pallets with unusually attractive colouring, Judith photographed them and then went one step further and made a work of art out of it, on the theme of translating a pallet into a painter’s palette, a play on words.

Which brings me to palette, pallet and palate. Here are the definitions (and etymology) from Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary, 1972 edition, which gives them a certain quaint quality 40 years later…

PALETTE: a little board with a thumb-hole on which a painter mixes his colours : the assortment or range of colours used by a particular artist or for any particular picture : a plate against which one leans in working a drill : a small plate covering a joint in armour, especially at the armpit (French, from the Italian palette, from pala, Italian and Latin for a spade)

PALLET (1): a palette : a flat wooden tool with a handle, as that used for shaping pottery : a flat brush for spreading gold-leaf : a tool for lettering book-bindings : in a timepiece, surface or part on which teeth of escape wheel act to give impulse to the pendulum or balance : a disk of a chain-pump : a valve of an organ wind-chest, regulated from the keyboard : a board for carrying newly-moulded bricks : a piece of wood built into a wall for the nailing on of joiner-work : a platform or tray for lifting or stacking goods, used with the fork-lift truck, and having a double base into which the fork can be thrust (same etymology as palette)

PALLET (2): a mattress, or couch, properly a mattress of straw : a small or mean bed (French dialect word paillet, diminutive of French word paille, meaning straw, from Latin palea, meaning chaff)

PALATE: the roof of the mouth, consisting of the hard palate in front and soft palate behind : the prominent part of the lower lip that closes the tube of a personate corolla (botany) : sense of taste: relish: mental liking : ability to appreciate the finer qualities of wine, etc (from Latin palatum)


Judith Toms' original photograph of abandoned pallets outside one of the industrial units at Hirwaun, near Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales

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Beaky the blue tit

Beaky the blue tit (Parus caeruleus) in February last year

It must have been around this time last year when we last saw Beaky the blue tit in the garden. He had been with us only a month or two.

I wish him well (or her – it’s hard to tell with blue tits), but I fear he probably went away and died a sad, lonely and hungry death.

It’s not often you can identify a garden bird individually, but Beaky’s features were distinctive and it meant we looked out for him at the bird table.

At first I thought the blue tits had learned how to use tools – perhaps conifer spines – to poke seeds out of the feeder. They are renowned for their ingenuity, pecking the foil tops from doorstep milk bottles to get at the cream. More recently research has shown that they use sprigs of aromatic plants such as lavender and apple mint to keep bacteria at bay in their nests.

It was only when I looked closer and took a picture that I realised this blue tit’s tool was his own deformed beak. It was not a very clever tool, sadly, as he could pick out seeds but then not master the trick of juggling them from the end of his beak to swallow them.

I could hardly believe it. But I find he is not unique – someone in Hampshire managed to keep such a tit alive by putting soft wholemeal bread fried in beef dripping into a feeder, as he couldn’t manage to eat seeds and nuts.

It seems the deformity may be a symptom of “feather and beak disease”.

I feel guilty I didn’t do more to save the poor little chap, although he probably would not have had much chance of finding a mate and breeding. A Cyrano de Bergerac among birds, he didn’t seem to have many friends.

Next time I’ll know what to do to help…

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A wonderful old book on the English language by Professor Meiklejohn

I have a wonderful old book called The English Language – Grammar, History, Literature by Professor Meiklejohn. It was printed in 1905.

It is full of interesting stuff about the making of the English language and I dare say I will return to it several times to share some of its gems.

There is a fascinating section on the effect of Norman French on the language used in Britain after William the Conqueror (1066 and all that). We often see lists of the new words given to the language by the invaders, but we don’t so often hear about the losses from the previous Anglo-Saxon vocabulary.

To paraphrase the book, before the coming of the Normans, the English language was in the habit of forming new compounds with ease and effect, but afterwards this power disappeared and (more…)

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