Friday 29 June 2012

A whinging ramble in my shorts

Yes, the weather is hot enough for shorts (I'll spare you a picture).  In fact Thursday was one of those muggy days that promised thunder and lightning and heavy downpours. Well, we got the latter, complete with sand that the clouds had picked up somewhere and dumped on our newly washed cars. In 2008 the same thing happened when sand from the Sahara covered everything in sight.  The Saharan dust itself was not responsible for the thunderstorms, but the hot air from Africa is what provoked the torrential downpours.  And the rain was so heavy we couldn’t hear ourselves think as it rattled on the conservatory and poured over the edges of the gutters.  The postmen abandoned their rounds and although normally their working day finishes at 2 pm (having started early to sort the post) our mail wasn’t delivered until 4 pm.  But we had only one tiny roll of distant thunder and no lightning.  Indeed, I was commenting to Friend-über-special the other day that they don’t make thunderstorms nowadays like they did when I was young. At least, not on Merseyside.  We haven’t had a decent amount of lightning for about twelve or fifteen years.  Never having been struck by lightning or experienced a bombing raid (of which thunder used to remind my Mum) I really enjoy a good thunderstorm now and again. 

My health has been a bit dodgy this week and twice I nearly had to call an ambulance but I’m pretty sure that was due to a change of medication and I’ve changed back so hopefully all will be well.  There’s not much anyone at home can do when I’m really bad but Son-who-watches-films cares for me as best as anyone can and makes me meals and, most importantly, regular cups of tea.  And when she’s home, Partner-who-loves-tea provides hugs and an ear to listen to my whinging.  And I do whinge.  It’s the price she pays for being partner to someone who puts on a brave face to everyone else he meets.  Sorry Partner – your patience and forbearance are very much appreciated.  As for everyone else, to borrow a phrase from someone far worse off than I,  Fake it until you Make it!  Right!

Sometimes I come across book titles which make me want them, without knowing anything at all about their contents.  One such was "The Englishman Who Posted Himself and Other Curious Objects "by John Tingey.  It was recommended by a fellow postcrosser, appropriately enough.  I instantly ordered it and am dying to see what it’s all about.

I’m busy packing at the moment because GB comes down at the weekend and we are then going to see Daughter-who-takes-photos and Son-in-law-and-friend-who-loves-otters for a few days.  Then we shall amble back up North and cross over from the Isle of Skye to GB’s home on Lewis.   So my attendance on the internet will be erratic.  Not so much because of lack of access but I shall be busy enjoying myself in other ways.  And I still haven’t caught up with what is going on in other folks’ lives from my time off a few weeks ago.   I hope you are all well and once I’m at GB’s I hope to have the time to visit you all.  One reason I have time to spare at GB’s is because he is such an excellent host and chauffeur and I contribute little or nothing to the running of the place, the provision of meals and even the washing of clothes. I'm sure if I put my shoes outside the bedroom door he'd polish them for me!  Much appreciated GB.

The garden is super at the moment. I’d love to share all the photos I've taken of the flowers but I haven’t processed many of them yet and there are so very many.  But here is a taster so this posting isn’t all words.

Hanging around...


 Welcome to my world...


A Green-veined White.

On one of the tree stumps in the garden are some orangey pink balls. These are a member of one of the lower orders of fungi; the Myxomycetes or slime moulds.  In this case they are Lycogala terrestre.  

 Buttercups and Daisies

And an Ox-eye Daisy (with Bindweed taking advantage of it).

Have a good weekend.

Wednesday 27 June 2012

Lonesome George

Lonesome George, the giant tortoise who became the face of the Galapagos Islands conservation effort, was found dead in his corral last Sunday morning, according to a statement by the Galapagos National Park Service. He was believed to be more than 100 years old and weighed 200 pounds.

 He is the last known Pinta Island giant tortoise (Chelonoidis abingdoni), and his death likely marks the complete extinction of his subspecies.

Fausto Llerena, Lonesome George’s long-time caretaker, discovered the tortoise stretched out, leaning toward his watering hole. The cause of death remains undetermined and the tortoise’s body is being held in a cold chamber to avoid decomposition before officials conduct an autopsy.

Lonesome George was found on Pinta in 1972 although Pinta tortoises were thought to be extinct. Since then, Lonesome George has been part of the Tortoise Program of the Galapagos National Park Service. Various unsuccessful efforts were made to get George to reproduce.  Mind you, at a hundred I don’t think I’ll be too interested either…

A postcrossing card and a cry for help

This is a postcrossing card I recently got from Kai-Eric who lives in a village near Lorrach in S W Germany close to the Swiss and French borders.

The local recipes illustrated on the card are -

Nussle which translates as nussle which didn’t help me much; schäufele mit sauerkraut -Pork shoulder with sauerkraut; Spargel – which translates as Asparagus but which seems absent from that third picture; and Linsen & spätzle which translates as lenses and spätzle.

 I decided I should have to blog it on this blog and ask my friends Monica and Meike for help!!

Tuesday 26 June 2012


I’m catching up on my notes about the books I’ve read since my last book post.  They are as follows:- (Oops – just realised some are duplicated from the last post but I’m not amending this.)

Carlos Ruiz Zafón - The Shadow of the Wind [La Sombra del Viento] (2004) 10/10 (see separate review)

Carlos Ruiz Zafón – The Prince of Mist (1992 – English translation 2010)  7/10
A Young Adult novel of magic and mystery. Well written but I didn’t take to the plot.

Sally Gardner – I, Coriander  (2005) 8/10   Children’s Book.  The story of a girl born in 1643, the evil which befalls her in Commonwealth England and the magic that helps her survive.  “The world we live in is nothing more than a mirror that reflects another world below its silvery surface, a land where time is but a small and unimportant thing, stripped of all its power.  I hope to find you there.” S.G.

Mary Stewart – Touch not the Cat (1976) 10/10  I have read most of Mary Stewart's srories two or three times before and knew what I was getting.  So probably only 8/10 this time because I’ve read it twice before and know the plot but that was the whole point of reading it.  I wanted a cosy but well-written romantic mystery with a tinge of the uncanny. 

Martin Hopkinson - ‘Ex Libris, The Art of Bookplates’ (2011) 10/10 See separate review.

Neil Gaiman – Stardust (1999) 10/10.  A book to rival Terry Pratchett.  In the Victorian town of Wall the beautiful Victoria Forester tells lovelorn Tristran Thorn that she will marry him if he finds the falling star they have just seen. In a charming faerie world he makes his quest and seeks his prize.

She laughed, and the sound was a clear rill bubbling over rocks and stones.

…for no one crossed Bridget Forester: she had a tongue that could, the villagers said, blister the paint from a barn door and tear the bark from an oak.

Every boy in the village was in love with Victoria Forester. And many a sedate gentleman, quietly married with grey in is beard, would stare at her as she walked down the street, becoming, for a few moments, a boy ince more, in the spring of his years with a spring in his step.

Tristran could smell the distant winter on the air – a mixture of night-mist and crisp darkness and the tang of fallen leaves.

While clothes do not, as the saying would sometimes have it, make the man, and fine feathers do not make fine birds, sometimes they can add a certain spice to a recipe.

Essie Fox – The Somnambulist (2011) 8/10. Set in Victorian England this mystery and romance covers lost love, grief, murder, madness and a stern morality. When seventeen year old Phoebe Turner loses her favourite Aunt Cissy and around the same time becomes companion to the reclusive wife of a rich merchant she finds her life changes in so many ways. 

James Patterson & Andrew Gross – The Jester (2003) 9/10 A historical mystery and adventure set in eleventh century France where a serf’s life is worth nothing but where one serf sets out to combat the tyranny and oppression of the local lords.  Chivalry and honour – but not among the lords!

Terry Pratchett & Bernard Pearson - The celebrated Discworld almanak for the year of the prawn (2004) 129 p. 10/10
Terry Pratchett joined forces with Bernard Pearson to produce the definitive Almanak to the Common Year 2005. An essential guide to all aspects of life, and a sure means of ensuring fertility of crops and livestock. It includes recipes, horoscopes, and an extract from the 'Cabbage Companion'.  Including homemade remedies for common ailments, recipes, horoscopes, scientific discoveries, a calendar, strange tales and many valuable facts about the cabbage. With witty illustrations from Paul Kidby, this is an artistically presented package guaranteed to tickle the funny bone of all Pratchett fans.  I can't understand why I didn't get it when it came out.

Martin Davies – The Conjuror’s Bird (2005) 10/10
The novel switches between the worlds of Joseph Banks (seventeenth century English naturalist, botanist, patron of the natural sciences and a hero of mine) and that of a twentieth century taxidermist who is hunting for a missing bird specimen. Not only enjoyable and informative but with a twist of the mysterious and a hint of romance. I loved it.

Markus Zusak – The Book Thief (2005) 10/10
I read this only a couple of years’ ago and it was reviewed on my book blog.

Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter – The Long Earth (2012) 9/10.  This is very much a Stephen Baxter science fiction with an over-glaze of Pratchett humour. Much as I enjoyed it I felt it was unfinished.  I can only conclude it is to end up as part one of a trilogy or series.

If Humphrey Llewellyn III could have his way, every book ever written would be treasured, aqt least one copy bound in sheepskin and illuminated by monks (or specifically by naked nuns, his predilection being somewhat biased in that direction).  So now, he hoped, here was a chance to bring mankind back into the book-loving fold.  He gloated. There was still no electronics in the pioneer worlds, was there!  Where was your internet? Hah!  Where was Google? Where was your mother’s old Kindle? Your iPad 25?  Where was Wickedpedia? (Very primly he always called it that, just to show his disdain; very few people noticed.)

Felix J Palma – the Map of Time (2011) 8/10.  Originally published in Spanish in 2008. Never have I read a more infuriating and frustrating novel and yet it not only read well with realistic expression of emotions but it was almost impossible to put down. Part of the frustration came from the excessive biographical detail about H G Wells – I like to learn things from a novel but I don’t want it to be non-fiction. The other part came from trying to get one’s head around the possibilities /impossibilities of time travel and the theories of what happens when someone goes back in time and changes events.  All in all a brilliantly conceived plot but be prepared to be driven up the wall at times!    The first two quotations below relate to feelings upon the loss of a loved one and the fourth is the sort of book review I wish I had written at times!

His sorrow intensified until it became physical torment.  Suddenly it was agony to be in his body, as if he lay in a sarcophagus lined with nails.  He wanted to feel, unshackle himself from the excruciating substance he was made of, but he was trapped inside the martyred flesh.

He gazed out of the window.  People were coming and going, carrying on their lives without the slightest token of respect. Why did they not notice that the world had changed, that it was no longer habitable? He gave a deep sigh. The world had changed only for him.

Anyone who has been to Billingsgate fish market in the early hours knows that smell travels faster than light.

“In my opinion, not only have you started out with a rather naïve premise, but you have developed it in a most unfortunate way, stifling its few possibilities.  The structure of your narrative is inconsistent and muddled, the episodes are linked only tenuously, and in the end one has the impression that events occur higgeledy-piggledy, without any inner cohesion, simply because it suits you. This tiresome randomness of the plot, added to your writing style – worthy of some legal clerk who admires Jane Austen’s romantic novels – inevitably produces boredom in the reader, or if npt, ab profound aversion to what he is reading.”

Jen Campbell - Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops (2012) 7/10. Knowing from personal experience, and from many a good story in the staff room, what weird things customers say in libraries I had hoped for better of this book.  It is fun and will be an eye-opener to those who don’t work with the public but, perhaps, unfortunately, many were all too familiar, like

“I read a book in the sixties.  I don’t remember the author, or the title. But it was green, and it made me laugh. Do you know the one I mean? “

Or –
Customer: I don’t know why she wants it, but my wife asked for a copy of The Dinosaur Cookbook.
Bookseller: The Dinah Shore Cookbook?
Customer That must be it; I wondered what she was up to.

The one that I loved was -

“Do you have this children’s book I’ve heard about? It’s supposed to be very good. It's called Lionel Richie and the Wardrobe’.”

I was most annoyed by the page numbers which are tiny things hidden within dark grey blobs and suitable only for those with 40/20 vision or an illuminated magnifying glass.  Why do publishers so often get the little things (literally) so wrong!

Barbara Vine (pseudonym of Ruth Rendell) – The Chimney Sweeper’s Boy (1998) 10/10.  A mystery occurs when a famous novelist dies and one of his two overly devoted daughters decides to write his biography. He seems to have invented himself in his twenties.  As she delves deeper she finds out he was not the person she thought he was.  I loved the idea of quoting from the famous author’s own books at the start of each chapter.  A clever twist.

 When the guests had gone, Peter said, quoting Goethe or someone, They are pleasant enough people but if they had been books I wouldn’t have read them.

Our children when young are part of ourselves but when they grow up they are just other people.

Ursula knew very well how a penetrating comment on the incongruities of one’s behaviour, a remark that brings home an unacceptable truth, arouses dislike for she who utters it.

Neil Gaiman – Smoke & Mirrors (1999) 8/10 A collection of Gaiman’s short fiction. OK but disappointing by comparison with Stardust. Mind you, I loved it when an elderly lady found the Holy Grail in a charity shop…

Christopher Paolini - The Inheritance Cycle
1. Eragon (2001) 10/10
2. Eldest (2005) 9/10
3. Brisingr (2008) 8/10
4. Inheritance (2011) 10/10

I loved Eragon – written when Paolini left school at 15.  An epic fantasy of 2270 pages with the obligatory dragon and all the other characters one would expect.  The saga became a bit repetitive after a while.  Nevertheless, in my view, it joins the classic fantasy sagas. 

Books should go where they will be most appreciated, and not sit unread, gathering dust on a forgotten shelf.

Saturday 23 June 2012

Barnston, Wirral

Barnston is a village just three quarters of a mile from my house as the crow flies – though a bit further as the human walks! 

According to the Barnston website the  “countryside surrounding the village is home to several species which indicate a healthy habitat. The Dale and the woodlands along the Fender stream are home to all three species of woodpecker, and at the last count 17 species of butterfly. The fields have both partridge and brown hare, indicators of healthy farmland.”  

 How come they have had 17 species of butterfly and we have so few.  And all three woodpeckers yet only the Large Spotted Woodpecker (once) has visited us.  Don’t they know how welcome they would be? 

During the Triassic period this area was much nearer the equator and the three colour types of Wirral sandstone, red, yellow and white, were deposited.   In Barnston can be seen the soft easily weathered yellow sandstone in the Dale, the Church built of white sandstone, quarried from Storeton, and a granite boulder popularly known as the 'Barn Stone' swept from Scotland, and now resting by Beech Farm.

Christ Church Barnston built in 1871 at a cost of £3,500.   

It was built from stone quarried at Storeton a couple of miles away and was designed to serve the communities of Pensby and Barnston.

There seems to have been a pub or pubs in the village since at least the sixteenth century – the first recorded licensee being in 1561. Over the years it has had several changes of name including the Flag, Hen and Chicken, Black Horse, Sportsman’s Arms and Fox and Hounds.

The former Post Office, now the hat shop of Jo's friend Sue.

In 1888 a local historian, Phillip Sulley, described the road through the vale as ‘a delightfully uneven roadway, a source of tribulation alike to horse and passenger’.

 When we get to Barnston Dale
All the passengers turn quite pale
Conversation flags, no-one can talk 
For the driver shouts - get out and walk.


Even more interestingly Phillip Sulley commented  ‘In this old hostelry, a model of neatness is to be noted the ancient Cheshire custom, now fast expiring, that of tracing angular patterns on the tiles with fresh dock leaves each morning.’  That’s a tradition I’d never heard of before.

One facet of modern Barnston is the proliferation of stables and riding schools.

Horses, horses  everywhere.....

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